Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in Brazil: the conservative restoration a further step ahead


As SPW readers know, for some years now Brazil has been undergoing regressions in gender and sexual politics and, since last year, a full conservative political restoration. In September 2017, these trends have decidedly escalated.   Potential legislative retrogressions in relation to existing abortion rights have not relented at Congress level, where the constitutional amendment proposal, PEC 181/2015, is being processed thta if approved wiill ban all excpetion for legal abortion (rape, women’s life risk and anencepphaly). On the positive side, however, the Amnesty International campaign for pressuring parliamentarians against its approval mobilized over 8,500 supporters.  The proposal also called the attention of the mainstream media what had not happened with the same intensity when similar legislative proposals were being processed by the Congress.


Then came September 28th, the International Safe Abortion Day and  many events have taken place. The most relevant of them was the Feminist Protest Live Stream, promoted by the National Front for Decriminalization and Legalization of Abortion, as part of the global initiative #GritoGlobal #AbortoSeguro (#GlobalShoutOut and #SafeAbortion).  The Stream comprised 27-hours of live talks about abortion on Facebook.  Women from France, Mozambique, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina have also participated (watch here).  A significant media coverage of the day occurred this year:  in 2016, SPW compiled just fourteen media  events related to International Abortion Day, but  this year 40 articles were published.  Among them, an article signed  by WHO in the The Lancet  that offers data on how the prohibition of abortion does not reduce its numbers had a amjor repercussion.

While street protests were not very large in the capital cities, they have spread nationally and involved more people than in previous years.  Marches have happened, for example, in the Northern Region – Pará, Roraima and Amapá – as well as in cities located in the interior of the country Paragominas (Pará), Caxias do Sul (Rio Grande do Sul) and Ouricuri (Pernambuco). Information on protests, marches, public classes, open talks, vigils and seminars are compiled on the webpage of the National Front for Decriminalization and Legalization of Abortion that reached the staggering figure of 83,000 hits on the week of September 28th. Another significant feature of this year’s manifestations in favor of abortion rights was a strong presence of black feminist voices, as illustrated by the article signed by Jurema Werneck (Amnesty International Brazil Director) in the O Globo newspaper.

The petition presented to the Supreme Court    in March this year,  calling for the criminalization of abortion to be considered unconstitutional and demanding legal access to the procedure until the 12th weeks of pregnancy, was a main subject addressed in these debates and public events. A virtual platform for women’s lives was launched by Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) and Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender (ANIS) that are the petitioners of the claim.  There are now sixteen amici curi supporting the lawsuit tabled by feminist organizations and other institutions favorable to the legalization of abortion.  Another landmark event of the month was the “First Seminar of Research and Activism on Abortion”, held in Belo Horizonte, on September 28th and 29th,  organized by regional, national and local groups to discuss collaborative efforts and joint efforts amongst activists and researchers working in the areas of psychology, nursing, social service, anthropology, philosophy and communication.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 23.48.48As good as they are the news of September 28th must be situated in the wider sexual politics landscape in which flagrant regressions are also underway. On  September 15th,  a Federal District Judge from Brasilia, issued a decision on a case tabled by Evangelical psychologists, authorizing conversion therapy of homosexuality (“gay cure”). The decision triggered protests in various capital cities and was condemned by the United Nations.  More troubling yet,  a wave of art censorship episodes ensued mobilized by the hyper-liberal movement MBL (Free Brazil Movement) in association with dogmatic religious groups. This trail began with the suspension of the Queermuseum exhibition in Porto Alegre, that mobilized reactions in particular amongst artists and reached the international press.  Then a theatre play on the life on transgender women was suspended in an interior city of São Paulo and a painting titled Pedophilia was taken out of an art show in Campo Grande, the capital city of Mato Grosso do Sul.   Lastly, a performance held in the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo triggered a major controversy because the artist was naked and two young girls in the company of their mother attended the show. The woman was accused of pedophilia by pastors who are also politicians. The next chapter of the horror show was enacted by the mayor of Rio — who is an Evangelical bishop –declaring in a video that he will prohibit the Queermusem to be held in one of the city’s museums.

Meanwhile, on September 27th, the Supreme Court, responding to a petition tabled a few years ago, decided by one vote that confessional religious education in public schools is constitutional.  As noted by various analysts, the decision contrasts with previous ruling by the Court  emphasizing  the laicité principles of the Brazilian state.  It will also enlarge the space for dogmatic religious forces across the religious spectrum to continue propelling their attacks on what they name as ‘gender ideology in the public education system.   The “gender ideology frame”, it should be said,  was also used argued in the above-mentioned attacks on artistic expression.  All these trends must be placed in the wider cartography of the Brazilian political crisis. As noted by journalist Eliane Brum, these are times when moral panics around the ‘innocence of children’ and the ‘immorality of LGBT people’ are mobilized to distract the society from deleterious dynamics at work in the country deriving from the ongoing cases of corruption being disclosed and the police and judicial procedures there implied.  The institutional crisis also encompasses mounting tensions between the various powers of the republic and a general climate of denounces and lack of trust that is eroding the political sphere as a whole. Not to mention the escalation of the urban violence crisis, particularly in Rio de Janeiro where the Armed Forces have been once again called to intervene, in a poorly planned manner, in the favela of Rocinha. In this uncertain and highly volatile context, it is quite disquieting to also see military authorities making public declarations about the country’s political instability. The Brazilian conjuncture of mid-2017 points towards a dangerous and escalating convergence of moral, social and political authoritarianism across society but also traversing state institutions. Somber horizons lie ahead.

Reported by Angela Freitas and Rajnia de Vito

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