Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in March and early April 2018


On March 14th, 2018, Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were brutally assassinated in a shootout a week after Women’s International Day.  Marielle was a black feminist lesbian and a Municipal Councilor in Rio de Janeiro. A member of PSOL (the Socialism and Freedom Party), she was elected by more than 45,000 votes and has made of her mandate a platform of full commitment to the aspirations and needs of people living in favelas, black women and sexual and reproductive rights, including LGBT rights.  She systematically tackled as well the tragic effects of the war on drugs, underway for decades in Rio de Janeiro, including in respect to the violence perpetrated by state actors. She was a member of the Tripartite Commission that is overseeing the military intervention on the public security system of the State of Rio (enacted on February 2018) and,  since elected, she had persistently denounced police killings and abuses in Rio favelas.

The national coverage of her assassination was immediate and massive (see below).  Within it, SPW calls attention to the articles written in English by Brazilians authors, whose analyses of this tragic event are more precisely grounded in Brazil’s and Rio’s contextual conditions, as in the case of  Carla Rodrigues’ Can a subaltern speak?, Glenn Greenwald’s Why my friend was a repository of hope and a voice for Brazil’s voiceless, before her devastating assassination, José Roberto Toledo’s The life and death of a defiant voice and Breno Bringer’s Marielle Franco and Brazil’s Future: hope or barbarity.

Yet more significantly, the assassinations propelled a chain of protest and solidarity from all around the globe and a string of political pressure demanding the investigation to be partial and effective. Quite immediately, the European Parliament left block organized a protest in Brussels, calling for a solid investigation and for the creation of an independent oversight commission on these procedures. The killings were also object of address at the UN in New York, during the 62nd Session of the Commission of the Status of Women and at the 32nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In a protest organized in front of the Brazilian Consulate in New York, SPW Steering Committee members Rosalind Petchesky spoke about the connections between the Israeli  arms industry and the militarization of Rio de Janeiro’s public security policy and Gloria Careaga connected the assassination to the deterioration of democratic politics in Latin America, through militarization and loose of gun ownership policies.

On March 26th, a group of ten UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights issued a public statement calling for a prompt and partial investigation on the murders and requested a formal response from the Brazilian state with regards to the police and the judicial procedures. Similar calls have been made public by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the National Lawyers Bar Association and a global statement by independent scholars, journalists, actors, politicians and other personalities was initiated by Councilman David Miranda and his husband Glenn Greenwald. Then, a joint initiative involving Open Society, Ford, Ibirapitanga and Kellog Foundations launched the Marielle Franco Fund to a support the empowerment of young black women in politics.

While the scale and intensity of national and global commotion continued and expanded, in Brazil right-wing voices, including a high-level judge from Rio, began spreading fake news on Marielle’s life. These grotesque fabrications aimed at decrying her image by suggesting she had intimate relations with drug traffickers. Even when this false news were not trusted by the general public, they are strong symptoms of how the public debate is rapidly deteriorating in Brazil.  Furthermore, as insightfully analyzed by Pedro Abramovay and Manoela Miklos (in Portuguese), these viral lies should not be seen as mere effects of the internet disarray, but rather as rooted in the war on drugs and on the state cruel treatment of people living in the favelas.

It is also quite distressing that, despite the indignation caused by the assassinations, violence including from state actors continued escalating in Rio. In the last two weeks seven young men were shot to death in the favela of Rocinha and a group of five young rap musicians were assassinated in the neighbor city of Maricá credited to the military police, meanwhile, a number of military policemen were also murdered in confrontations and private assaults. Last but not least, as this announcement was finalized, the overall level of political tension in the country raised as the Supreme Court decided negatively on the judicial appeal made by former President Lula,  sustaining his immediate arrest.

Meanwhile in Latin America

Very good news is reported from Costa Rica and Argentina. In the first case, the PAC (Partido de Acción Cuidadana) achieved a landslide victory in the second round of elections over the candidate of the National Restoration Party, led by an Evangelic leader, whose popularity increased when he openly  attacked the recently issued Inter-American Court opinion on same-sex marriage. While Carlos Alvarado Quesada’s win means an open door for the realization of the ruling. While these outcomes deserve a more in-depth analysis, for the time being SPW has been able to collect a few insightful articles showing that tensions between Catholic and Evangelicals were an important element of the electoral dynamics. SPW congratulates Epsy Campbell Barr, the black feminist PAC parliamentarian, for her election as new vice president.

In  Argentina, on March 6, the law provision on Voluntary Pregnancy Termination started to be processed by the National Congress. Victoria Pedrido from Akahata offers our readers with an inside perspective on this groundbreaking effort to ensure abortion rights to Argentinean women.

Lastly, we recall Pope Francis I passage through Chile in January 2018 by sharing the insightful article of Jose Faúndes Moran that generously accepted SPW invitation to analyze the reasons why this visit was a failure.

More news on abortion

In Poland, where an attempt to curtail reproductive rights was prevented by a women’s strike on September 2016,  the Law and Justice Party led Parliament ceded under the pressure of the Polish Bishops’ Conference to rapidly process and vote the draft bill “Stop Abortion”. As the Parliament’s Commission on Human Rights and Justice waved in favor of the provision, generating another Polish Women’s Strike rally on the 23rd. The protest was called under the hashtag #HangerForABishop and the marching women carried hangers to remind the deadly risks of unsafe abortion procedures.  A group of UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs has also called on the Parliament to repeal the bill. (Read in The New York Times)

In the US, abortion rights are now radically threatened in Ohio. The Abortion Ban Bill seeks to roll back all abortion rights. And the Supreme Court will very soon decide on the legality of crisis pregnancy centers, that allure women as to convince them of not having abortions. (Read in The New York Times)

The Allan Guttmacher Report Abortion Worldwide: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access is out. It shows a decrease in the global abortion annual rate while emphasizing that these figures are very uneven across the globe. The decreasing rates come from developing countries that have decriminalized the procedure, in contrast to the rate stagnation in countries where abortion is illegal. Latin America stands out as the region with the highest rate and of the strictest abortion laws.

Women’s rights

Paula-Mae Weekes became the first female president of Trinidad and Tobago on March 19.

Georgia has rejected a bill on mandatory gender quotas in parliament. The bill, put forward by several national and international women’s rights groups and signed by 37,000 voters, would have required parties to field an equal number of men and women as candidates, as now the latter compose 16 percent.

Sex work

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), approved on February 27, and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), still to be voted on the Senate, aim to take down sites that host sex-for-sale ads and allow civil suits from victims against websites. These rulings have the potential to harm even further sex workers, especially the ones at the margins. The effects of a similar law adopted in Mexico since 2012 pushes sex workers to breach its rules as to be able to work in safe conditions. (Read here)

In Hong Kong, 99 female sex workers (92 cis and 7 trans) and two men who supported their activities were arrested in a great “anti-vice” crackdown. Despite the activity being legal, the menaces around sex workers seem to never cease, as other activities around it are considered illegal.

Then the choice of San Francisco to hold the 2020 International AIDS Conference has raised worried amongst activists due to the current antagonizing policies under the Trump Administration that target especially sex workers, people who use drugs, people from Muslim countries, and anyone with a criminal record (including LGBT human rights defenders  (Read the Joint Letter)

LGBTI Rights

In a significant win for human rights in Kenya, the Court of Appeal ruled that the use of forced anal examinations is unlawful.

The trial on the murder of Diana Sacayan – an Argentinian transactivist and former ILGA President – began on March 12 in Argentina.

On March 21, the Swedish parliament took the historic decision to pay compensation to trans people who were forcibly sterilized between 1972 and 2013.

Feminist group the Georgian Women’s Movement marked International Women’s Day on 8 March protesting for the rights of transgender women. They were met by a homophobic counter rally who threw eggs and chanted ‘shame’.

Gender politics in Latin America

In the Rio de Janeiro City Council, the inclusion of gender language in the text of the Municipal Plan for Public Education, voted on March 27th, was viciously attacked by anti-gender campaigners, who occupied the galleries. The scene was particularly shocking because it took place in the same place where the funeral tribute to Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes was held two weeks before.  Despite the diatribe, the speech prepared by Marielle Franco to this very occasion was read in her memory but also in defense of the language being attacked: “If you are in favor of life, then you should be in favor of gender equality. Equality can only be only promoted by conscious education and debates with our children as to ensure them to mature as better adults.”

We recommend


Gender Perspectives on Torture: Law and Practice – American University: Washington College of Law

Papers and articles

How the UN women’s talks failed to call out corporate power – letting down our human rights defenders – openDemocracy

The demise of the Nation State – The Guardian

LGBT people need to rediscover their rage in this age of protest – The Guardian

Why Muslim women’s #MeToo stories are so hard to tell – Slate

The afterlives of Torture – Jadaliyya

Tolerance only allows certain citizens to sleep – MadaMasr

The sterilization war in India that never ends – Global Voices

Gender equality cannot be achieved without tax reform for multinational companies – openDemocracy

The harshest anti-gay law in the Western hemisphere – 76 crimes

How an indigenous woman left her mark on a tumultuous presidential campaign in Mexico – openDemocracy

‘Gender ideology’: big, bogus and coming to a fear campaign near you – The Guardian

Facing time – Aeon Magazine

Struggle for justice: Women and Girls Living in Rural Areas: Reflections with my Mother – Resurj


مش آخر الدنيا – It is Not the End of the world – Bedaya

Dog fights and sex parties: the man who photographs Istanbul after dark – The Guardian

#UntoldFacts – The Initiative for Equal Rights

Publication and resources

Body Politics: a primer on criminalization of sexuality and reproduction – Amnesty International

Breaking Ground 2018: Treaty Monitoring Bodies on Reproductive Rights – Center for Reproductive Rights

Intersectional Activism Toolkit for Sex Workers and Allies – International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)

Reducing stigma and discrimination towards LGBTI and sex workers in Southern Africa – KP Reach Report


Contraception: Special Issue ‘Medical Abortion has the potential to change everything’– International Network for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion

Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition 2017 Annual Report

International Network for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion 2017 Annual Report

Our Stories Ourselves: Women speak out about religion and rights – Arrow

International Women’s Health Coalition statement on sexual and reproductive rights for rural women and girls at the United Nations 62nd Commission on the Status of Women

Kenya: How Unsafe Abortion is Draining Public Health Money – International Network for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion


International Campaign for Women’s Rights to Safe Abortion

26 March 2018–1 April 2018

19 March 2018–25 March 2018

12 March 2018–18 March 2018

5 March 2018–11 March 2018


#117 March 23-April 5, 2018

#116 March 16-22, 2018

#115 March 9-15, 2018

#114 March 2-8, 2018

Equal Eyes on Our World

April 5

March 15

Check it out!

The 2018 Out & Equal Global Fellowship Program invites visiting fellows applications to promote LGBTQ equality in the workplace. Deadline: April 20, 2018.

Reproductive Health Matters is looking for a Communications Officer Deadline: April 10, 2018.

ILGA Asia is organizing a training on human rights advocacy and UN mechanisms for LGBTI activists in East Asia from May 21-25, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. Apply for scholarships until April 15, 2018.

Opportunity as Senior lecturer in Gender Studies in Karlstad University (Sweden). Last day of application: April 8, 2018.

Art & sexuality

On the occasion of Marielle’s violent assassination, we recall Anna Khan’s work Stray Bullet.


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