Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual Politics in January and February 2019

#Hail International Women’s Day 2019: struggle, endurance, resistance!

#Eyes on Brazil

From an insider´s point of view, observing Brazilian politics after January 1st is like being caught in liquefier trying to make sense of the wind whirl turning one into pieces. SPW is planning a thorough assessment of the first 100 days of the new administration. For the time being, what can be said, in a nutshell, is that what prevails on the surface is cacophony,  an intense digital politics, and grotesque events. Yet, beyond this smoke´s curtain steps are decidedly being made towards the directions promised by the elected candidate: wide measures of liberalization and privatization, the release of arms control, much loser environmental regulation but also guidelines to eradicate “gender ideology” and impose further restrictions on abortion rights.

Differently from what had been predicted by mainstream observers, the attacks on “gender” and abortion were not merely campaign rhetoric. The combat on “gender ideology” was mentioned as a priority in the inaugural speech of the new president and ministers were appointed to three strategic ministerial areas who glaringly share this same vision: Foreign Affairs, Education and Family, Women and Human Rights (now created). The anti-abortion dimension of this policy agenda was made explicit by the Minister of the Family in her first declarations as well as in her speech at the Human Rights Council on February 25th.

Then, as carnival reached its end, the president twitted an eschatological image denouncing the supposed amorality of the most important Brazilian cultural manifestation. The post that was widely criticized and ironized nationally,  rapidly reached the global pages. As noted by Matias Spektor on Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), this grotesque event is not, however,  to be read just as another distracting jet of foam. It expresses a mode of governing.

Fierce resistance and struggles lie ahead. Beyond what these regressive policies and discursive trends mean domestically, attention is also needed to how they will impact on regional and international debates around gender, sexuality, and abortion. As an inspiration, in this excruciating landscape,  the samba school Mangueira that  brought to the parade a sharp and clear critical retelling of the country’s history, which included a tribute to Marielle Franco, was the champion of carnival in Rio.

Click here to read a compilation of articles and analyses of current Brazilian politics.

Abortion rights

Latin America

In Argentina, the green scarves have taken over streets again to mark the first anniversary of the 2018 attempt to reform the country’s laws to make abortion legal, initiating a new cycle of demonstrations to pressure for a new bill.

In Mexico, Dafne McPherson, who was imprisoned in 2015 for a miscarriage and whose arrest was reported by The Guardian in 2017, was finally released. The San Juan del Rio Criminal Court of the State of Queretaro found evidence of her alleged crimes to be inconclusive. And,  in El Salvador, three women condemned under the draconian abortion law of the country have been released from prison.


Old abortion laws are being reformed. In Germay, a revision of a Nazi-era law that prohibits doctors from advertising abortion services was approved by the Merkel cabinet and is now awaiting final sanction in Parliament. In the Isle of Man (UK), a Reform Bill allowing abortion on request up to 14 weeks (and later pregnancy under specific circumstances) received a royal assent in early January. In Northern Ireland, a main stronghold of abortion restriction, a woman presented a constitutional plea to the Belfast Highest Court requesting that the current ban on abortion be lifted. On the other hand, the Brexit debates got entangled with Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions, as the border controls being proposed will make it very difficult for women seeking safe procedures to reach Britain in a timely manner.

United States 

The Supreme Court suspended a Louisiana law that would reduce to just one clinic the number of service providers authorized to conduct abortions in the state. The decision was subject to much scrutiny as it raises contradictory signs at a moment when, after the nomination of Judge Kavanagh, Roe vs. Wade is under threat.  Check a  compilation.

Global Level

In November 2018, the UN Committee on Human Rights has finally published General Comment 36 on the Right to Life. The publication followed three years of consultations and debates in the Committee. In its article 8th the General Comment  36 directly provides a solid balancing of rights approach in relation to the Right to Life and women´s right to terminate an unwanted  pregnancy.

The International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion (ICWRSA) released Developing an Advocacy Agenda for Abortion in the 21st Century The report synthesizes the rich debates of an International Forum on abortion rights that was held in Lisbon 5-6-7 Sept 2018. The forum gathered around 100 participants from fifty-four countries.  

ICWRSA has also sent a letter to the World Health Organization requesting the agency’s team in charge of Maternal Health and Preventing Unsafe Abortions to include the combined mifepristone-misoprostol formula on the list of essential medicines.

Anti-gender politics and related matters

New resources

Judith Butler published The backlash against “gender ideology” must stop at the New Statesman America.

The new issue of Signs – Journal of Women in Culture and Society is entirely devoted to the analysis of “Gender and the Rise of the Global Right”.

Europe and Canada (check the US below)

In Hungary, where anti-gender politics are now well established, Viktor Órban announced an incentive to raise the country’s very low fertility rates: full income tax exemption will be offered to the mothers of four or more children. In reporting on the proposal, the Washington Post reviewed historical failures of similar measures aimed at increasing population growth rates in other countries.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, at the de Vries University, a theology lecturer connected with the US religious right compared “gender ideology” to Nazism. The good news from Europe comes from Spain, where the anti-gender NGO Hazte Oír (which gave birth to the global platform CitizenGo) had its public utility status suspended.  By contrast, in Canada, as reported by Open Democracy, the Ontario provincial government has removed sexuality education for pre-teens (including content on sexual diversity) from the public school curricula and established a hotline “for parents to report teachers who continue to teach these topics”.

Latin America

The first glaring effects of new Brazilian administration attacks on LGBTTI+ rights can already be reported.  The Brazilian parliamentarian Jean Wyllys, a known advocate of LGBTI  and abortion rights, who was subject to constant death threats since when Marielle Franco was assassinated, has resigned and decided to leave the country (here and here). This painful personal decision was openly commemorated by the president, his son and part of his electorate.

Then in the State of Santa Catarina, an appeal level judge lifted a lower court’s decision prohibiting the establishment of a WhatsApp hotline to receive denunciations of professors that “indoctrinate students”. The hotline was initiated by a recently elected state level member of parliament from the PSL, the party of President Bolsonaro. The case will now go to a higher-level court.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the promise of a progressive administration under the new president Lopez Obrador is rather blurred. The government re-published  a “Moral Handbook” originally written in 1944, which evokes a “return to family, cultural and spiritual values” as the best way to resolve the country´s “moral crisis”. A bit later, the administration announced that it will de-fund community run child care centers causing immediate protests by feminist organizations.


The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, presented his report on women’s human rights defenders in which the negative impact of various factors is analyzed including anti-gender campaigns.

LGBTTI+ Rights

United States

An event requiring close attention and critical reflection across LGBTTI+ rights community worldwide is the announcement made by the Trump administration that it will launch a campaign do de-criminalize homosexuality globally. The main declared target of the new policy is, unsurprisingly, Iran.  This gesture deflects attention from the crisis in which the administration is immersed and it is also a graphic illustration of homonationalism and pinkwashing. SPW organized a compilation of press reports and analyses regarding the announcement.

But to verify the farcical nature of Trump´s initiative, it is sufficient to look at the backsliding currently underway in the US with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity related rights.  On January 24th, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a waiver  that allows faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to discriminate on religious objections, turning away potential parents who are LGBTTI or non-Christians. A bit later, the Supreme Court recognized the federal administration’s right to bar transgender persons from the military (check a  compilation of reports on the matter ).

But at least one good news is to be reported. The Democrats took control of NYC Legislature for the first time in ten years,  and the State Senate immediately approved two remarkable laws: the prohibition of “conversion therapy” for minors and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which adds gender identity as a protected class under New York’s discrimination and hate crimes laws.


In Angola, the colonial-era Penal Code criminalization of homosexuality was struck down and a provision was approved to criminalize discrimination based on sexual orientation. The reform was praised by the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the SOGI. Neela Goshal from HRW underlines the challenge ahead in terms of transforming public opinion on the matter.  In Kenya, however, to the great disappointment of activists, the final decision of the Supreme Court on a case filed in 2016 calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality  was postponed.


In India, the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) approved Transgender Rights Bill 2018 on December 17. This provision has been highly criticized by trans groups and LGBTTI+ activists. In Delhi, people rallied against the decision and the Lawyers’ Collective, the public litigation group headed by Anand Grover (ex UN Rapporteur on the Right to Health) issued a statement assessing the law as “regressive, flawed and contrary to rights” (read a full report from The Daily Beast).

On the other hand, the 2018 India’s Supreme Court decision to decriminalize same sex relations is motivating similar moves in neighboring countries.  In Singapore, a lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court that calls for the erasure of the language regarding unnatural acts that is still part of the city state’s Penal Code. Arvind Narrain from Arc International reports how the Indian decision on section 377 is inspiring local LGBTTI+ activists in Myanmar to contest similar provisions in the national criminal statutes.

By contrast, in Japan, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the law requiring trans people to be sterilized before changing their legal gender identity. And, regrettably, a crackdown on LGBTTi+ people has been reported in Indonesia.

Latin America

Since early 2018, in Cuba, Catholic and Christian-Evangelicals forces have launched a campaign against the definition of marriage as a union between two people in the new constitution currently under debate. After much back and forth, the subject was left out of the new constitution. This move shows the growing power of religious forces in Cuban politics.  Also, in El Salvador, the Constitutional Chamber ruled against a lawsuit arguing the unconstitutionality of the Family Code that defines marriage as an union between “a man and a woman”.

In Brazil, the Supreme Court is judging two lawsuits, filed a few years back, which call upon the state to criminalize homophobia and transphobia. In conditions that are highly adverse to LGBTTI+ rights, a potential positive decision is being hailed by many as a major victory. A number of voices, however, including Jean Wyllys himself, raised deep concerns about using criminal law as a privileged means to protect human rights (check out these arguments in Portuguese here and here). On the other extreme of the spectrum, however, a group of 16 conservative parliamentarians have tabled a call for impeaching the four judges who already voted favorably to the pledge.


A resolution was adopted by the European Parliament that is  considered to be a landmark in relation to the human rights of intersex people. In Germany, the ruling establishing the right to inscribe “other gender” on birth certificates came into effect on January 1st. Activists argue, however, that many challenges still remain for intersex people to be fully depathologized.

Sadly, a new crackdown on LGBTTI + has been reported in Chechnya.

Sex workers rights

The Networks of Sex Workers Project has a launched a new great tool: a global map on laws on prostitutions and commercial sex. Check here!

 Vatican politics

Another sexual abuse and violence scandal erupted forcing the Pope to admit that sexual slavery has been practiced by a French congregation.  Then, while the Pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi caught media attention worldwide, former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of sexual abuse, was finally defrocked. Subsequently, a book written by a French journalist was launched, described as a deep investigation into pervasive homosexual practices within Church.

This intense cycle of troubling events ended with a summit called by Francis I to devise new rules and guidelines in response to the Church’s sexual abuse epidemic. The Pope used this opportunity to attack feminism, declaring that it is to be understood as sexism in skirts. The statement is troubling, given that feminist voices have been among the first to denounce and make public the hidden trails of sexual abuse and violence within the Catholic Church. (Check out a compilation of articles and reports on these various matters).


The #MeToo trail continues. A new wave of accusations now targets former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize Óscar Arias, cited by two women as a persistent sexual harasser.


In the context of the tragic and ongoing Venezuelan crisis, HIV/AIDS has been used by the Maduro regime as a strategy to curtail access to humanitarian aid, including ARVs.

SPW Activities

Since January 2018,  SPW has been developing a research and action initiative on antigender politics in Latin America: the project Género y Política en América Latina (G&PAL). Within this new line of work, a meeting was held between January 28 and February 2, 2019, at the School of Sociology Foundation in São Paulo. Read more about it! 

We recommend

Papers and articles

African Feminisms: Cartographies for the Twenty-First Century – Meridians – feminism, race and transnationalism – issue 2/Volume 17 –

Essential Readings: Gender and Empire – Jadaliyya

A collection of essays on the Argentinean film Un Cuento Chino organized by Petrus Liu and Lisa Rofel that analyzes China and the global South from a gender and sexuality perspective.

Enzo Traverso interview on Fascisms Old and New  at The Jacobin

Rebecca Clay writes on  Decriminalizing homosexuality in India for the American Psychological Association Journal

Arvind Narrain writes about gender norms in the 2018 Report of the Independent Expert on SOGI – ARC International

Andrea Peto writes on the attack on scientific knowledge in Eastern Europe

Lidia Kurasinca´s article Men in Europe must stop blaming migrants for ‘importing’ gender violence,  in openDemocracy

Jeffry J. Iovannone’s article We need to talk about gay toxic masculinity, in Medium

Three ways to stop the global economic system working for only rich white men – openDemocracy

The Agony of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the Hungarian Spectrum

Gabriela Arguedas Ramirez writes at the Research Gate on Justice, Human Rights and the Persistence of Hunger: A Current Issue for Bioethics and Biolaw in the 21st Century

RHM published three articles on changing abortion law at federal and provincial levels in Argentina

Masha Gessen writes on 2019 Trump´s State on the Union Address at the New Yorker

Jessica Glenza writes on the US religious unprecedented access to Trump at The Guardian

Publications and Resources

A series of briefing papers on Intersex Rights – Intersex Human Rights Australia

Editorial: Choice and Sexuality – In Plainspeak’s march issue

Trump’s Judicial Assault on LGBT Rights – Lambda Legal

Inter-Agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings – IAWG

Implications of self-care for health service provisions – WHO

Trends in misoprostol use and abortion complications: a cross-sectional study from nine referral hospitals in Nigeria – Plos ONe


Podcast: Imagine Otherwise – Ideas on Fire: Manuela Speaks on Indigenous Futures 

Podcast:  Jana Kociánová talks about  Gay under communism – Radio Praha

‘Muslim women are stuck between Islamophobes and Islamic fundamentalists’ – openDemocracy

Check it out!

Call for Applications for Tajassodat: Conversations to Advance Trans Rights and Justice in Muslim Societies – Deadline to apply: 20 March 2019

Embassy of Finland, Bucharest: 2019 Fund for Local Cooperation in Moldova. The goal of Finland’s development policy is the eradication of poverty and inequality and the promotion of sustainable development. Cross-cutting objectives of the Finnish development policy, including gender equality, non-discrimination, climate resilience and low emission development are required to be integrated into all projects funded by Finland, emphasizing those aspects that benefit most in the local context. – Deadline: 15 March 2019

The 8th ILGA Asia Conference Building Alliances to Strengthen the Movement will take place in Seoul, South Korea from August 19th-23rd, 2019. Registration is now open until June 9th.

Sexuality & Art

An encounter between Rosana Paulino and Belkis Ayón

Masha Geschen writes,  in the New Yorker,  about Robin Hammond´s series of  “uncomfortably  beautiful” photographs titled “Where Love Is Illegal”,  currently on display at the Bronx Documentary Center

Tracey Emin paints brutal portraits of female pain

Joshua  Allen photographs Sex Dreams: The beauty of queer and trans desires

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