Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in March 2019

The Christchurch attack

In Christchurch, New Zealand, a solitary white male Australian sniper killed fifty people who were praying in two mosques. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was appraised for the compassionate but firm handling of the tragedy, in particular because the policy measures immediately proposed to ban semiautomatic weapons among other actions (read more). The episode reactivated debates on Islamophobia and the motivations behind the massacres perpetrated by white male supremacists and nationalists. One character often appearing in these analyses is the man who shot 77 people, mostly children, in Norway in 2011, who was cited by the Christchurch sniper in his diary. The Norway tragedy was examined by Sonia Corrêa in a short essay on the global sexual politics landscape of the time, which we invite you to read (or re-read). Concurrently, however, the headscarf used by Prime Minister Ardern in one of the funeral ceremonies has revived, in New Zealand and beyond, the controversy on the use and meaning of the veil (we offer here a preliminary compilation of discussions underway).

The 63rd UN CSW session 

Since the mid-2000s, as anti-feminist forces began attending its sessions in increasingly larger numbers, the UN Commission on the Status of Women became a battlefield. Tensions and deadlocks intensified in recent years as de-democratizing trends mushroomed worldwide.  The aim of  the 63rd Session was to reach consensus in regard to “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”, a goal not easily attainable when universal social protection policies are threatened by ultra-neoliberal policies and  “gender” is  heavily under attack in a large number of countries. CSW 2019 was also a privileged stage to observe how recently elected right-wing Latin American governments may have shifted their historical position on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights. This was indeed glaring in the case of Brazil, as illustrated by the speeches of the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights and parallel events in which public functionaries have participated (check our compilation). Against this troubled backdrop,  CSW 2019 delivered a robust outcome document reaffirming long-standing commitments on gender, equality, sexual and reproductive rights and health and universal social policies. As noted in the statement issued by the Women’s Rights Caucus: “Feminist persistence at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has delivered new international standards on women’s human rights to social protection systems, access to public services, and sustainable infrastructure. These gains were achieved in spite of the increasingly polarized political environment at the UN’s biggest annual gathering on women’s rights”.


As it happens annually, International Women’s Day was intensively commemorated by feminist and women’s rights activists worldwide (check our compilation).  However, in 2019, for the first time in a visible scale, anti-feminist events have also been registered in Spain, in Uruguay (in Spanish) and Brazil (in Portuguese).

Sex work

There are a few good news on sex workers rights to report. To begin with, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa declared his support to the decriminalization of sex work. His position is aligned with the 2017 recommendation made by the Law Reform Commission on the matter.

At the 63rd Session of CSW, UNDP and UNFPA hosted a side event titled “Let’s talk about sex work: addressing the health and protection needs of sex workers”. This is a first time in a long time that representatives of sex workers organizations sit side by side with UN agencies in a public debate to discuss policy matters.  Also during the 30th ILGA World Conference in Wellington, New Zealand, a resolution was approved establishing the decriminalization of sex work as a key priority for the LGBTTI+ movement.

On the downside, however, at the same CSW session, sex workers openly complained about not being able to attend a panel on sexual and reproductive rights sponsored by the Swedish and French governments, in which inaccurate comments on the protection of sex workers were made. And, in Spain, a website extensively used by sex workers, was closed, a new measure taken under the anti-sex work policy implemented by the Pedro Sánchez socialist administration.

Antigender politics

Brazil and the US: the alliance

The US was the first country visited by Bolsonaro (JMB) after being elected. As extensively reported by mainstream and alternative media, an alliance with the Trump administration in a wide variety of policy fronts (security, trade, migration and visas) was the main result of the visit. This wide basket, not surprisingly, also encompasses the “combat against gender ideology” cited by the Brazilian president in various occasions, in particular during the visit to the White House, when in the joint press conference remarks he defined that the goals of his administration are “to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our Creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news”.


The most relevant event to be reported is the 13th World Congress of Families (WCF) held in Verona, from March 29 to 31 under the theme “The wind of change: Europe and the global pro-family movement” that counted with the presence of numerous state officials and the support of the interior minister Matteo Salvini.  As noted in the statement issued by GIFTS, a recently created network of gender scholars and activists, the event is to be seen as a stepping stone towards further anti-gender initiatives in Italy and Europe. SPW is planning a more thorough assessment of the gathering. For now, we want to remark that it was responded by many critical voices and quite extensively covered by the media.

Latin America

In Paraguay, the Ministry of Education issued a resolution, prohibiting teachers of public and private schools to use the Comprehensive Sexual Education Guide for its “libertarian” outlook on gender and sexuality related themes.

In Uruguay, a presidential pre-candidate presented a petition signed by 70.000 people to the Electoral Court calling for a referendum to decide on the derogation of the Comprehensive Trans Law, approved in 2018.

In Argentina, high school students have autonomously organized and published an online guide on sexuality education as to deflect the anti-SexEd attacks propelled by anti-gender religious groups. The guide also includes tools for monitoring the raids being made these groups in schools across the country (read in Spanish).

Abortion rights

Latin America

In Argentina, in February, after the pressure made by feminist and other pro-abortion rights voices, an agreement between the Ministry of Health and Social Development and an Evangelical NGO aimed at creating a hotline to counsel pregnant teenagers was suspended.

In Brazil,  the Federal Public Defendant’s Office (DPU) held a public hearing calling ANVISA – the national regulatory health agency – to revise the draconian restrictions to the access to misoprostol as to ensure its access to abortion procedures in the cases of rape, women’s life risk and anencephaly. The Public Hearing sparked a series of press reports (read in Portuguese) showing that the Ministry of Health had not purchased the drug and other commodities for obstetric care for 2019. This led the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to request the Ministry to explain this delay.

United States

The Georgia House Bill 481, proposed by the GOP that restricts the access to abortion up to six week of pregnancy is moving swiftly. The provision slips in language that redefines the status of the embryo as “natural person” and has blurred the lines between Democrats and Republicans. Check the REWIRE report.

In Alabama, as reported by The Guardian, a man is suing a feminist clinic for having provided abortion pills to his girlfriend, who voluntarily decided to terminate a pregnancy against his will. The lawsuit is being carried under the newly adopted by the state that grants the embryo the status of a person.


A study conducted by Rutgers University published on November 2018 that examines the negative impacts of Trump’s Gag Rule in Africa and also Latin America reveals that in the latter region the number of unsafe abortions has tripled since 2017.


In the US, a joint letter was issued by the ACLU, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project and the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center to denounce stark violence against eleven trans and gay people detained in a New Mexico US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.

The Brunei  Sultanate is proposing a reform of its Penal Code that aims at re-incorporating dogmatic interpretations of sharia in various domains, including capital punishment by stoning to rape, adultery and male same-sex intercourse. Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a cautionary note to Brunei authorities (see a compilation).

Sexuality & art

For March’s issue of our Sex & Art, we feature the works of female artists Helena Almeida and Mickalene Thomas who center their angle on the body, performance and its particularities.

We recommend

Papers and articles

Antigender politics

Revealed: Trump-linked US Christian ‘fundamentalists’ pour millions of ‘dark money’ into Europe, boosting the far right – openDemocracy

To understand the far right, look to their bookshelves – The Guardian

The free speech debate isn’t about free speech – The Week

Fake News Has Its Historical Origin In Christian Fundamentalism – HuffPost

What is gender ideology? – Slate

Women’s rights

We have to stop blaming ‘backward’ culture for FGM and child marriage – openDemocracy

Austerity drives populism and is a frontal attack on the rights of women – openDemocracy

We don’t only need women in positions of power, we need feminist women – medium

Why are Afghan women’s concerns being ignored? – sister-hood

Feminist solidarity with Palestine – Jadaliyya

Sex work

“I’m a sex worker and a feminist”: Fighting for sex worker rights in Argentina – openDemocracy

Abortion rights

How to confront the Courts – Dissent magazine

LGBTTI+ rights

Words for every body – Aeon


Amnesty International has released a new report highlighting the routine use of rape, violence and torture by police to punish cis and trans women sex workers in the Dominican Republic and the faulty access to justice they face.

Sexual rights at the 40th HRC Session – SRI

Centralizing Reproductive Justice – Kohl Journal



Talking with Lucille Chute – Pacific Feminist Forum

Check it out!

IWRAW Asia Pacific is seeking the services of a consultant or a consulting firm from the Global South, preferably Asia Pacific region, to conduct an independent assessment of and produce impact stories from a project on women’s human rights and gender equality. Write to before 15 April.

Intersex Asia is looking for a Coordinator in Bangkok, Thailand. Apply by April 21.

NSWP is seeking to appoint a Global Consultant to develop a Policy Brief, with accompanying Community Guide, on travel restrictions and their impact upon sex workers. Write to until April 14th.

The Pacific Feminist Forum working group invites women human rights defenders and organisations from around the Pacific to submit workshop and session proposals for the 2nd Pacific Feminist Forum taking place from 20 to 22 May 2019 in Suva, Fiji. Apply by April 19.

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