Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in May and June 2019

#StopTheBans – Thousands of demonstrators marched in more than 500 cities across the US on May, 21th to protect abortion rights after Alabama state house passed, on May 15th, the strictest provision in the country (see a compilation) – which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with an exception only for when a woman’s health is at risk, and criminalize practitioners from 10 to 99 years in prison. This is the latest in a series of state legislators attacks on abortion rights, as 380 abortion restrictions were introduced and 17 bans were enacted across the country so far this year. This regressive trend reflects the investments made by Trump to please his Evangelical base with a view for re-election in 2020. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood have filed a lawsuit against Alabama’s law and will do the same in other states and the UN Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights Kate Gilmore declared these policies were a form of extremist hate, comparable to torture. SPW has prepared a compilation of analyses.

European Elections – Results reveal that the far-right and populist parties were able to increase their participation and secure 25 percent of seats at the European Parliament, a five percent increase from previous elections. It is not a growth as large as was expected, but signals towards very worrying trends in a number of countries. Salvini’s Lega won in Italy with 34 percent of the votes. Marine Le Pen’sRassemblement National came first in France with 23 percent. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party secured 31 percent of votes in Britain. The far right won in Vlaams Belan (the Fleming region) in Belgium. In Spain, Vox only gathered 10 percent of votes, while Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Party fares relatively well. But in a number of countries the far right’s vote stagnated or even fell (Germany, Spain and Portugal are examples). On the other hand, the Greens and Liberals have grown. A “green wave” was flagrant in Germany, Portugal, Ireland and Nordic countries.

ICD-11 – The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 11 was finally approved, after being published in July 2018. This marks the end of an eight-year-old struggle carried out by trans and intersex activists to remove trans-related categories from the role of mental disorders. However, as GATE argued in a public note, there is still an arduous work of activism to completely depathologize trans identities in the processes to revise and implement ICD-11 at national and local levels.

Anti-gender politics


SPW offers an assessment of the 180 days of sexual politic under JMB administration comprising essays by Sonia Corrêa, Fábio Grotz, Rajnia de Vito and Marco Aurélio Prado and an interview with Lena Lavinas (read here).

On June 27th, when this announcement was being finalized, Brazilian diplomacy for the first time since the 1990s took bold positions against gender and sexual and reproductive rights at the 41st Section of the UN Human Rights Council. The anti-gender and anti-sexual and reproductive rights are now firmly established in Brazilian foreign policy. Check a compilation of articles in Portuguese with their respective translations.

For the first time, a Brazilian president attended the March for Jesus in São Paulo. Jair Bolsonaro, who attended the event last year during his electoral campaign, was at the event this year to thank the Evangelicals for their support.


An openDemocracy investigative report revealed a draft proposal was tabled at the European Parliament that contains language to widen religious entities rights within the EU, enabling religious organizations direct access to the body’s legislative process, especially targeted to curtail sexual and reproductive rights.

On May 20th, Italian organization Pro Vita and Famiglia put up a 250 meters billboard in Rome that displayed an 11-week old fetus, which mimics the action performed a year ago in the City by CitizenGO. This year, however, the language of the demonstration directly referred to climate change activist Greta Thunberg: “if you want to save the planet, save our children” signed by the director of the World Congress of Families.

On May 18th, a “March for Life”  in Italy counted with the presence of Catholic conservative leaders from other countries, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, as well as senators and other delegates from the US, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, New Zealand and European countries.

In Poland, civil rights activist Elżbieta Podlesna was arrested for putting up posters that displayed the Virgin Mary with an LGBT flag. Her protest responded to the Catholic Church’s slogans featured during Easter classifying “gender” and “LGBT rights” as sins.

Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was welcomed at the White House. At the occasion, Orbán declared the “protection of Christian communities around the world” is the common goal of both countries and Trump reacted saying that he and Orban were like twin brothers.

In his home country, Orbán has now targeted the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in his row against academic freedom. The proposed bill would create a higher body with government-appointed delegates to manage the research networks that comprise the Academy.

The U.S.

On May, 30th the State Department announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Right, to advise State Secretary Mike Pompeo. The body was created to promote a re-interpretation of human rights from “natural law and rights” perspective (read on the Washington Post).

Latin America

In the context leading towards the Argentinean presidential elections, a conservative front is being forged around the anti-abortion and anti-gender agenda. It involves the Partido Celeste (Celestial Party), the Partido Valores por mi Pais (My Country Values Party) and Partido Nos, comprising conservative Catholic sectors, Evangelicals (gathered around the Partido Celeste) as well as right-wing military actors (see a compilation).

Similarly in Guatemala, where general elections were held on June 16th, a front to protect “life and the family” was created comprising fifteen presidency and vice presidency candidates, who signed a commitment not to approve same-sex marriage or any provision regarding abortion.

Brazilian anti-feminist activist Sara Winter, was nominated as the coordinator of National Policies for Motherhood. But before assuming the post, she traveled to the province of Corrientes, in Argentina to speak against abortion and then to Uruguay to deliver a lecture titled“Feminism and the destruction of women” in various cities across the country. This trip was done under the “celestial wave” banner, which is the anti-gender and anti-abortion abortion now unleashed across the Southern Cone  (check the Uruguayan reports here and here).

In 2017, the Paraguayan government has banned the term gender and sexuality education from education programs.  Now, an investigative report by the newspaper El Surtidor has shown that that anti-gender organization Decisiones has, for the last seven years received, public funds to promote misinformation and conservative religious convictions on sexual and reproductive rights and health across in high schools.

In Peru, the Center for Law Studies Saint Thomas More – connected to antigender organization Padres en Acción — filed a public complaint against the national branch of Catholics for the Right to Choose, demanding the organization’s annulment from public registries.

Abortion and reproductive rights

Latin America

On May 28th, International Day of Action for Women’s Health, the Argentinian National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion mobilized a demonstration while the new draft bill to reform the abortion law was tabled at Congress. Then at the Cannes Film Festival, Campaign members and activists were joined by celebrities wearing the green scarf at the launching of the documentary “Que sea ley”.

Then, in Río Negro, also in Argentina, physician Rodríguez Lastra was sentenced to prison for refusing to perform a legal abortion in 2017 as prescribed by state health protocol. The case is of a woman victim of rape carrying a 22-week pregnancy that was denied and kept at the hospital for two months and coerced to keep the pregnancy to term. While feminists celebrated the decision, anti-abortion groups awardedLastra for his medical procedures actions and rallies were carried out in support of him, who became a candidate for Congress on June 24.

On 29 May 2019, a joint transnational lawsuit — signed by Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Global, Mujeres Transformando el Mundo, Observatorio en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Surkuna, Fundación Desafío and Asociación de Mujeres Axayacatl – was filed at the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on behalf of four girls, survivors of sexual violence from Ecuador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, demanding sexual and reproductive justice and reparation for the victims as well as the enactment of better SRRH policies.

In Brazil, conservative congresswoman Janaina Paschoal (PSL) tabled draft bill N. 435, that states the c-section method must be prioritized on request of pregnant women. Feminist and women’s rights activists have argued against the provision, that should, instead, focus in enhancing pre-natal and partum care, since a c-section is 6 times more likely to lead up to death and five times more likely to lead up to an infection and also contradicts WHO most recent guidelines.

Concurrently, São Paulo councilman Fernando Holiday, from liberal-conservative MBL movement, tabled bill N. 352 aiming to obstruct access to legal abortion exemptions. The provision establishes the requirements of a Court order, an authorization of the Prosecutor’s Office and that women are submitted to psychological evaluations and dissuaded from interrupting the pregnancy. It also proposes the compulsory psychiatric hospitalization in those cases when health professionals may perceive the women “inclination”  to search for a clandestine procedure.


On May 21st, in Lagos, Nigeria, the Marie Stopes Clinic was raided by police officers who violently harassed practitioners and patients. The raid was mobilized by CitizenGo, the digital arm of the anti-abortion and anti-gender Spanish NGO Hazte Oír. Last year, six months afterHazte Oír anti-gender bus arrived in Kenya, the College of Physicians prohibited Mary Stopes clinics in the country to provide access to abortions.

72nd World Health Assembly

At the #72WHA Brazil joined the group led by the US and comprised by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, India, Egypt, Nigeria and Indonesia that tried to erase language on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the draft political declaration on universal health coverage (UHC) expected to reach a UN High-Level Meeting in September, making the accusation that this language is aimed at promoting abortion. This attack was, however, contained by a coalition of 43 countries from Europe, Latin America and Asia. Read more about the outcomes of the #72WHA here and here.

LGBTQI+ Rights


On May 17th the Taiwanese Parliament voted favorably on the implementation of same-sex marriage. Taiwan is the first country to ensure marriage equality. The vote was watched by over 30 thousand people outside of Legislative Yuan in Taipei. But the law is limited in relation to adoption rights, as biological children will have legal parental protection.


Botswana’s High Court overturned a colonial-era law that criminalized same-sex relations in a landmark victory for Africa’s LGBTQ movements on June 11th. The court unanimously ruled that the legislation was discriminatory, violated Constitutional privacy rights and was against the public interest.

Similar colonial criminal provisions were, however, kept in the books in Kenya where, on May 24th, the High Court ruled unanimously against the petition to repeal provisions 162 and 165 of the Penal Code.

Latin America

In Ecuador, the Constitutional Court responded positively to the inquiry made by the local Pichincha Court on whether the Advisory Opinion of the Inter American Court of Human Rights on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is binding and ensures same-sex marriage rights (read further in Spanish).

In Mexico, the San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo State Houses, despite conservative protests, have also approved same-sex marriage laws on May 16th.

In Cuba, the annual Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia was canceled by the Communist Party, which attributed to the march undue “political motivations”. The activists who have taken to the streets, despite the prohibition,  faced police brutality and three of them were arrested. The prohibition may be connected with the attack made by religious conservatives against same-sex marriage in the 2018 Constitutional Reform.


On May 18tn, Tirana, in Albania, held its first Pride with over 300 attendees and the event was welcomed by the LGBT community that is subject to high levels of violence. The North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina LGBT communities have also announced they will begin hosting Pride Parades. Since Kosovo’s first LGBT Pride Parade in Kosovo, in 2018, LGBT rights activism has expanded in the Balkans. In North Macedonia, in March, sexual orientation as an unjustified ground for discrimination was included in the national Law Against Discrimination.


The “Equality Act”, to protect LGBTQ individuals from various forms of discrimination, was approved at the House. The bill, introduced in mid-March, amends a series of laws to ensure protection from discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. However, on May 2nd, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published the Health Care Discrimination Rules that expands exemptions of protection of providers based on religious beliefs to all health-related services, including research and insurance coverage. HHS has also proposed new regulations to withdraw discrimination protections against LGBTs from the Affordable Care Act. Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the “Denial of Care” rule on May 28.

Pride 2019

On June 24, Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall protests were celebrated across the globe. SPW prepared a compilation of news.

This year, the US administration denied US embassies from flying rainbow flags, but the order was met with defiance by some ambassadors.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro’s homophobic declarations and regressive sexual politics were criticized and protested in the São Paulo Parade.

Vatican politics

In early June, the Vatican made public a new document entitled: Male and Female He created them- Towards a path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in EducationWhile Francis I, in various occasions, has repudiated what the Vatican names as “gender ideology”. This is the first document of his papacy to directly addresses the matter. While oriented towards Catholic educational communities, it will have a much wider audience, as shown by the immediate impact of the launching. In due time, SPW will offer a critical assessment of the newer Vatican elaboration on what it views as “gender trouble”.

Francis I has also issued a new apostolic letter establishing that sexual abuses are to be compulsorily denounced to Church authorities. The new rule defines, however, that civil authorities will just be informed when this defined national laws, which do not exist in most countries. Published on May 9th the new and highly expected regulations have already attracted much criticism.

Before the launching of these documents, on May 5th, while visiting the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Francis I made remarks on the “demographic winter” of the country in an allusion to low birth rate and migration policies. The same speech also mentioned “favorable personal and family planning policies”. Then, on May 26th, the pope delivered another condemnation of abortion rights, this time refuting prenatal diagnosis that, according to him lead to “eugenic practices”, and encouraging doctors to bring pregnancies to term even if the fetus is gravely impaired or will just survive for a few hours.

Francis I, has accepted the resignation of bishop Vilson Dias de Oliveira, from the Diocese of Limeira, in Brazil, who is under investigation for alleged extortion and cover-up of sexual abuse.

And, on May 24, for the first time in history, four women were appointed as counselors of the Synod of Bishops, a body to advise the pontiff.

Sex work

In the context of the Indian elections, the sex workers collective AINSW released a charter of demands to candidates, calling for access to basic services, education, pension and participation in policy-making. The document also calls for the profession to be officially recognized by the Ministry of Labour.

In the US, Florida’s Senate Bill 540 and House Bill 851 — drafted by Democrat Lauren Book — will set up a database to register clients of prostitution. Sex work rights advocates contested the view that the law will prevent trafficking, exploitation and violence.

According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, in London, Brexit has increased levels of harassment against foreign sex workers, who now face police threats and unfair deportations around the country.


A new report published by the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported on the high levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced by LGBT people in the workplace. The report calls #MeToo to widen its scope and become more sensitive to intersectional forms of sexual violence.

In early June, a major and judicially troubling sexual harassment case involving Neymar the Brazilian soccer player has taken over the national and international pages and screens. The case has also ignited fierce debates in the Brazilian feminist community. We offer a partial compilation of the massive commentary and elaborations on the case and its implication.

Stella Nyanzi Arrest

Ugandan feminist and queer academic and activist Stella Nyanzi was arrested in November for criticizing the autocratic president Museveni. She is trial for cyber-harassment under the Computer Misuse Act and in a test case on freedom of expression. In May, Nyanzi who refused to be released on bail and whose health is frail attended a new Court Hearing.

Sexuality & art

SPW features the works of Chilean artist Katia Sepúlveda, also used in our assessment on the JMB Administration, for her transfeminist perspective that challenges antigender forces’ wish to domesticate or erase the dissidents.

We recommend

Antigender politics

Series Sexual politics in Brazil: Almost 180 days into the JMB Administration – SPW

Viktor Orban far-right vision for Europe – The New Yorker

How the word ‘gender’ became a slur in Bulgaria – Global Voices

The Closing of the Conservative Mind – New Statesmam

The Right-Wing Populist Plan to Destroy Europe – Der Spiegel

Sex work

Talking trafficking with Jamaican sex workers – openDemocracy

Feminists, if you support the ‘Nordic’ approach to sex work, you’re co-signing the imprisonment of women – The Independent


Feminist Gender Wars: The reception of the concept of gender in Brazil (1980s -1990s) and the global dynamics of production and circulation of knowledge – Marilia Moschkovich, Unicamp

Series Gender Equality, Norms and Health – The Lancet

Special Section on Human Rights and the Social Determinants of Health – Health and Human Rights Journal

Opinion: Gender equality is central to achieving UHC and climate mitigation – Devex

Sexual and reproductive rights

Criminalisation under scrutiny: how constitutional courts are changing their narrative by using public health evidence in abortion cases – Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters

Life or Death Choices for Women Living Under Honduras’ Abortion Ban –  HRW

Ecuador’s Crackdown on Abortion is Putting Women in Jail – The Nation

LGBT Rights 50 Years after Stonewall – HRW


This ‘cholita’ drag challenges gender and folklore stereotypes from the Argentine periphery – Global Voices

Podcast Deborah Cameron on feminism — the idea, the theory, and the political movement – Feminist Current


Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People 2019 – Rainbow Europe

Trump’s Judicial Assault on LGBT Rights: Bias and bigotry are the new norms after two years of Trump nominees – Lambda Legal

Feminist Realities: Our Power in Action | Exploratory Toolkit – AWID

Research Report on the Right to Education for Transgender People in China – Beijing Gender

Check it out!

Call for papers

Call for papers Excluding Diversity: At the Intersections of Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Gender Mobilizations by the Interdisciplinary Research Center on Families and Sexualities (CIRFASE) at the University of Louvain (UCLouvain), Belgium. Deadline for submission of abstracts: 15 September 2019.

Apply for NAGS’s and EASA’s Interannual Meeting Is gender dangerous? Unravelling anti-gender and anti-migrant movements and reflecting on the current challenges of doing research on genderon 19-20 September 2019 at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Abstract submission deadline: 5 July 2019.

Apply for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Fellowship Programme for LGBTI people in Geneva, Switzerland. Submission deadline: 5 July 2019.


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