Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual Politics in January 2018


In January of 2018, a fierce transnational feminist controversy erupted on the question of sexual harassment. In the same week of the Golden Globes Award ceremony when the #TimeIsUp campaign for equal gender pay was launched, a manifesto signed by a hundred French women artists and writers was published by Le Monde, titled The freedom to hit on criticizing what they consider to be biases and excesses of the #MeToo campaign. Reactions rapidly flared up in France and in the US, but also in other countries, as for example Brazil, where a rich debate on the same topic is also underway since 2013.  Sexuality Policy Watch followed closely the early moments of the controversy and gathered news and articles in both English and in French. This compilation includes articles published before January that reveal North Americans have already been raising questions in respect to #MeToo long before this recent eruption.


In the US, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act aimed at curtailing the right to abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy was successfully overturned by a coalition of Democrat senators. However, other problematic Trump Administration policy initiatives in this terrain are moving forward, such as the creation of the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom that will amplify the effect of conscious objection.

Ireland, in contrast, offers a new and positive prospect as one of the European countries with the strictest laws regarding abortion, as a Special Commission recommended a referendum to be held on May 2018 to decide on the decriminalization of abortion.  Also, in South Korea, where 170,000 abortions were registered in 2010, an online petition forwarded to the Constitutional Court was able to collect 230,000 signatures.

In Brazil, in the states of São Paulo and Rondonia, three women who searched for care after unsafe abortions were denounced by health professionals (read in Portuguese), a practice that violates the Ministry of Health protocol for post-abortion care. In Barra Mansa, a city in the State of Rio de Janeiro, a couple was also arrested after the women used misoprostol and aborted, and they are being accused of abortion practice and “corpse” concealment.  As importantly, a detailed investigation was carried out by the portal Agência Pública of a website titled “Unwanted Pregnancy” that is hosted by the NGO ‘Center for Helping Women’ (CAM) that has connections with Opus Dei. The site allures women in search of information on abortion as to dissuade them from terminating unwanted pregnancies. We also strongly recommend the article by Manoela Miklos and Lena Lavinas published on openDemocracy, which provides an excellent analysis of recent opinion polls on abortion rights in the country.

LGBT Rights

In Brazil, where 62,000 homicides have occurred in 2016, gender and sexuality hate crimes are also on the rise. In 2017, as reported by the news survey annually updated by GGB (Gay Group of Bahia) since 1980, 445 homicides against LGBT persons have been registered, the highest number since the data began to be collected. According to the National Association of Travestis and Transexuals research, 179 of these victims were transgender and travestis, the highest figure in ten years, and 80 percent of them were black.

On the positive side, however, Tiffany Abreu became the first transgender athlete in Brazil to join the National Top Volleyball League and this triggered a major controversy. Even so, the content of the debate has been less biased and better informed than what has been seen in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, as reported by an article written by Fernando Seffner for SPW and another by Leonardo Peçanha. And the Federal Council of Psychology published a new resolution guiding mental health professionals to act according to the depathologization paradigm when caring for transgender and travestis.

In the United States, an evangelical media channel was caught using the language of LGBT rights defenders to promote conversion therapy. In regard to this same topic, the Williams Institute launched a new study predicting that potentially seven hundred thousand young people will still be subject to these therapies in the US.

The LGBT crackdown continued in Egypt as nine men were arrested in Alexandria. It has also intensified in Azerbaijan. In Bangladesh, the main targets of this violence are now trans men, while in Pakistan two trans female activists were also brutally raped and murdered. In Indonesia, after a police raid in Aceh against hair salons owned by transgenders, police officers shaved the hair of twelve trans women, made them take off their shirts and later arrested them.

In India, however, the good news has been reported that the Indian Supreme Court will resume the revision of the Section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. (Read further here.) In the context of this debate, the National Council of (Protestant) Churches issued a public note supporting the end of the Sodomy Laws. Moving to Europe, on January 25, the European Court of Justice ruled a decision banning sexual orientation psychological tests for asylum seekers, arguing that the is practice invades intimacy.

Sex work and the porn industry

In early January, eight sex workers were murdered in the Northern State of Pará, in Brazil, including three activists engaged with the struggles for sex work decriminalization. The Prostitution Policy Watch quickly reacted and set in motion a national petition against the systematic violence that afflicts these professionals and their political organization.

In Uganda, as reported by Human Rights Watch, the detrimental impacts of the Gag Rule on access to contraception and HIV/Aids prevention is particularly felt by women working in the sex industry. And, in Vietnam, four sex workers were publically shamed by a police in the city of Phu Quoc and the operation triggered a wave of negative reactions on Facebook leading to a public statement by the policy authority that recognizes the rights violations it implied.

In Canada, five sex workers were the victims of sequential killings and these murders have been analyzed as a collateral effect of re-criminalization of the sex trade. Also in Canada and mostly in the US, the death of the fifth porn star in a row raised concerns about the precariousness of women within the industry.

Feminisms and women’s rights

On January 21st, the second Women’s March took place all across the United States and stretched further, rising in other countries, and gathering over a million people. This year, the march integrated intersectional causes and welcomed marginalized groups, such as transgender and sex workers. Sexuality Policy Watch made a compilation of news and articles on these events.

Subsequently, the biggest sex scandal in the history of sports reached the first pages when Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics National Team physician, accused of abusing over 150 women and girls, was convicted to a 175-year sentence. The investigation concluded that the US Federal Gymnastics Federation and the Michigan State University have covered his crimes, even when denounces have been made.

The politics of gender in Latin America

In Brazil, despite the ever-growing attack on gender and sexuality, the Brazilian Ministry of Education approved a protocol to ensure trans people the right of social identity in the public education system. The text of the protocol is, however, narrower than a previous version, issued by the National Secretary of Human Rights in 2012.  In any case, this federal measure positively contrasts with local governments trends, as in fourteen municipalities   have been approved that prohibit the mention of gender and sexuality in public schools and this will affect 270,000 students across the country.  In this paradoxical scenario, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo informed that one of the top 10 most read articles in 2017 was the one written by Judith Butler, in response to the attack she was the target in a visit to Brazil in November, 2017.

In Chile, the Congress finally approved a Gender Identity Law that protects the right to social identity without any compulsory requirement of medical diagnosis or interventions. The text was approved right after Pope Francis’ visit to the country, while sharp critiques of his silence on the renowned case of sexual abuse by Church authorities were flaring up. (Read here)

Lastly, in a remarkable decision on January 9, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), in response to a consultation tabled by Costa Rica, recommended all OAS member states to fully recognize the right to gender identity. In Costa Rica itself, where the Court is located, the decision was virulently attacked by the conservative secular and religious forces and impacted on the polls for the fore coming presidential elections. (Read further in English and in Spanish.)

In January, SPW has received or been requested to publish and disseminate numerous excellent materials produced by partners in academia and activism, such as the report ‘Why Gender and Sexuality Continue to Matter in China’s Relationships with the Global South’ Report, published by the Center for the Emerging Worlds of the USBCA, and the article written by GATE and the Trans Depathologization Campaigns “Depathologising gender diversity in childhood in the process of ICD revision and reform”, published at the Global Public Health Journal. Check out our section ‘We Recommend – Articles and Publications’


With deep sorrow, we regret the departure of the Uruguayan feminist Teresita de Barbieri, a pioneer of Latin-American feminist thinking. Sonia Corrêa has written a farewell note in which she recaptures personal connections with Teresita and her remarkable intellectual and political legacies.

We recommend

Papers and articles

Why are women joining far-right movements, and why are we so surprised? – openDemocracy

Anti-feminism and anti-gender far-right politics in Europe and beyond – openDemocracy

Gender Trouble in France – Jacobin Magazine

Welcome to a new kind of war: the rise of endless urban conflict – Saskia Sassen for The Guardian

‘Transphobes are driving children’s confusion about gender – not the trans community or their supporters’ – TES

Enjoyment, no matter how brief, is a philosophical good – Aeon Essays

Intersex babies killed at birth because ‘they’re bad omens’ – Mail & Guardian

The Long Brazilian Crisis – Jacobin Magazine

Publications and resources

‘Why Gender and Sexuality Continue to Matter in China’s Relationships with the Global South’ Report – The Center for the Emerging Worlds

Medical Abortion – Special Issue – Contraception Journal

Depathologising gender diversity in childhood in the process of ICD revision and reform – Global Public Health Journal

Legal barriers to access abortion services through a human rights lens: the Uruguayan experience – Reproductive Health Matters

Unmasking Sexual Harassment: How Toxic Masculinities Drive Men’s Abuse in the US, UK, and Mexico and What We Can Do to End It – Promundo

Kohl Journal Vol. 3 N. 2 (Winter 2017): Sex, Desire and Intimacy


‘Intersectionality and Queer Syrian Refugee-ness in Lebanon’ podcast – Status Hour

LGBTQ crackdowns, civil society and social change: A video conversation – Mada Masr


International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion

29 January 2018–4 February 2018

22 January 2018–28 January 2018

15 January 2018–21 January 2018

8 January 2018–14 January 2018

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (Ilga)

Ilga’s LGBulleTIn #109: January 19-25, 2018

Ilga’s LGBulleTIn #108: January 12-18, 2018

Ilga’s LGBulleTIn #107: January 5-11, 2018

Ilga’s LGBulleTIn #106: December 22, 2017 – January 4, 2018

In PlainSpeak

February Issue: Friendship and Sexuality

January Issue: The Anniversary

December Issue: Freedom and Sexuality 

Check it out!

Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) is hiring an Executive Coordinator.

Deadline: February 19th, 2018

Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights is hiring a Program Assistant

Send a cover letter, together with a resume, and two references to, subject line: Program Assistant.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is hiring a Research Assistant on LGBT Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA Region) based at the Beirut Office

Application Deadline: 28 February 2017

Art & Sexuality

On the recent landmark approval of the Gender Identity Law Chile and the fierce resistance against the Vatican, we republish the work of the Feminist Chilean artist Katia Sepúlveda.


Click here to access our website. 

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