Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in October, November and early December 2019


Latin America: Politics in Trance

In the period covered by this newsletter, Latin America has been the scene of three simultaneous elections – in Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay – with decidedly paradoxical results. Since September, we have seen major political eruptions: the Ecuadorian popular revolt against rising fuel prices, the vast and deep Chilean rebellion against the deleterious effects of 40 years of neoliberalism and two decades of “constitutional freezing”, and the crisis and coup in Bolivia that has culminated in the disturbing scene of the “bible returning to the governmental palace”. The conditions, structural trends, forces and actors at play on these various national stages – with the exception of Bolivia – were studied by SPW’s Gender & Politics in Latin America project (G&PAL), which analyzed the eruption, spread, and effects of antigender policies in Latin America and which is now being finalized. We cannot, therefore, ignore the present political scenario, even though it is not yet possible to offer an exhaustive analysis of the quickly evolving dynamics we are witnessing. We are thus sharing a very extensive compilation of articles on election results, rebellions, and crises and, more particularly, analyses by our partners, whom we thank for their collaboration: the Wambra community communication project analyzes the protests in Ecuador; Jaime Barrientos writes on the Chilean insurgency; and Santiago Puyol discusses the worrying results of the first round of the Uruguayan elections.

Other highlights

IACHR Debates on Gender Policies – At the 174th Session of the Inter-American Commission in Quito, Ecuador on November 11th, a public hearing was held on antigender and human rights offenses in Latin America. The hearing was proposed by Protestant organizations from Peru (Peace and Hope and IPRODES) and Brazil (Koinonia Ecumenical Presence and Service), the latter being a member of the ACT Brazil Ecumenical Forum. A document was presented on this occasion, Gender Focus on Human Rights Public Policies, covering the four countries of the region: Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru, with contributions from the G&PAL Project (read in Spanish).

ICPD 25 – The Nairobi Summit was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Action Program of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. As is well known, the ICPD has produced a paradigm shift in the population debate around the world, establishing policy parameters and guidelines based on human rights, poverty reduction, women’s empowerment, gender equality and, especially, reproductive health and rights agendas. The ICPD has been very relevant to Brazil. Brazilian diplomacy played a significant role in these negotiations and in the creation of the contents of this agreement, as well in the Fourth World Conference of Women held in Beijing a year later, reviving national debates, particularly about the right to abortion. In the period from Cairo to Beijing, however, the term “gender” first came under attack by the Holy See, allied states and organizations of the North American Christian right (see Corrêa, 2018).

The antigender and antiabortion forces mobilized a digital campaign against the Forum, organized a competing event – which was highly visible in the local media – and were represented in official delegations. Polish feminists, for example, denounced the presence of Ordo Iuris in the official country’s delegation. According to an openDemocracy report, the impact of the antigender voices on the meeting was not substantive. The special report of the International Campaign for the Right to Safe Abortion (ICWRSA) questions whether these forces were, in fact, silenced given that the defense of the right to abortion was not quite visible in the Forum debates.

On the other hand, the condemnation of abortion was a strong point of the Brazilian position in Nairobi. The Brazilian ambassador’s statement omitted references to gender and human rights and repudiated abortion, reiterating the defense of the “right to life from conception”, a position that is not consistent with Brazilian constitutional text. Brazil has also signed the US-led statement (supported by Belarus, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Poland, Saint Lucia, Senegal and Uganda) that attacks abortion rights as well as the concepts of sexual and reproductive rights and comprehensive sexual education programs. The organizations that made up the Brazilian civil society delegation (and other supporters) made a public statement that strongly criticizes these official positions. This document was signed by 170 organizations and institutions.

September 28 International Safe Abortion Day – The Independent Rapporteurs of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, the Independent Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to the Highest Standard of Mental and Physical Health, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions published a joint letter recommending that Member States ensure access to safe and legal abortion. The text argues that comprehensive health care includes the right to abortion and it repudiates the conservative wave that seeks to impose regressions on sexual and reproductive rights.

WAS2019 – Between October 12th and 15th, Mexico City hosted the 24th World Congress of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). SPW co-coordinator Richard Parker spoke at the session on Global Pleasures and Danger Policies: Fights for Sexual Rights and Sexual Health in the 21st Century. We also recommend reading the Intersex Intervention made by GATE director Mauro Cabral in another plenary session. At the conference, WAS launched the Declaration of Sexual Pleasure, which argues that sexual pleasure is fundamental for the full exercise of human rights and the quality of sexual health services.

SPW attends events on gender politics in Europe

SPW co-coordinator Sonia Corrêa participated in three events on gender, sexuality, and politics held in Europe. The first was the panel “Gender Disorder, Chaos in the Nation?” (watch in full) that took place during the Festival des Libertés in Brussels (Belgium). This looked at the intersections between gender attacks, the rise of right-wing populist leaders, and de-democratization. At the 30-year Sophia Network Conference, also held in Brussels in dialogue with feminist political scientist Mieke Verloo, the attacks on gender as knowledge production were debated. Finally, at the CES of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, Corrêa spoke about “Antigender Policies and Democratization in Latin America – Exploring Connections with Southern Europe”, presenting the findings of the Gender & Politics in Latin America (G&PAL) Project.

We invite our readers to watch the series of videos that translate the preliminary results of the Gender & Politics in Latin America Project (G&PAL) (in Spanish)!


Foreign policy

Despite the national and international campaign against Brazil’s reelection to the UN Human Rights Council, the country was reelected alongside Venezuela. It must be said that there was also a campaign in support of Brazil’s candidacy, mobilized in response to the first. This second campaign included some 869 organizations. Interestingly enough, 765 of these organizations are Mexican and linked to the Catholic world, including middle and high schools.

On October 29, the Brazilian Supreme Court requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide all internal documents addressed to its diplomats regarding Brazil’s position on gender, women, and the LGBTI population. The request responds to the lawsuit filed by ABGLT in the Supreme Court challenging Itamaraty’s refusal to make transparent the guidelines for its gender policies transparent. According to journalist Jamil Chade, one of the effects of the Court’s request has been a softer stance in anti-gender remarks. The fact that in Nairobi the Brazilian pronouncement omitted gender without openly attacking the concept seems to confirm this hypothesis.

Turning towards the right

CPAC 2019 – Between October 11th and 12th, the main event of North American conservatism took place in São Paulo. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) brought together members of the Brazilian and American government, activists and media figures and influencers. Eduardo Bolsonaro – the conference’s master of ceremonies – was consecrated at this event as JMB’s successor. Damares Alves was also prominently present due to a fiery speech which she made, extolling the government’s promotion of human rights, praising the fall in the country’s homicide rate as due to the current government (using relative data), and fiercely criticizing the left and feminism while increasingly speaking out against abortion.

The murder of Marielle Franco – On October 29th, a story published by Rede Globo released the testimony of a carioca doorman of the condominium where JMB lived until he assumed the presidency. The doorman claimed that on the day of Marielle’s murder, retired PM Ronnie Lessa (accused of being the city’s councilwoman’s murder) had been received at JMB’s house. Since then, the case has had several twists and turns that sometimes support, sometimes undermine the porter’s testimony. In a special article for SPW, Isabela Kalil analyzes this new episode of “the endless investigation”, arguing that it could be understood as a second “stabbing incident”, aimed at consolidating JMB’s loyalist base.

The Monitor of Political Debate in the Digital Environment study, published by USP, reveals nuances about the political polarization supposedly taking place in Brazil, focusing on the city of São Paulo. The survey comprised three groups, divided into progressive (21%), secular punitivists (35%) and religious conservatives (44%). However, the three groups all agree (more than 80%) upon the desirability of harsher prison sentences, women’s freedom, and respect for sexual diversity. The right to abortion, however, seems to be the most divisive issue among groups: 19% of religious conservatives are against it, while 78% of progressives and 71% of secular punitivists are for it.

Antigender politics


In the São Paulo’s State House, draft bill 346/2019 – which defines “biological sex” as the only criterion to be adopted in state-sponsored sports games in order to prohibit the participation of trans athletes –  gained new urgency in its legislative process, being pushed onto the floor of the House on October 2nd. Since then, it has been the subject of an amendment proposed by a coalition of progressive deputies to widen the criteria and recommended hormone rates as another parameter for decision. The proposal has also been criticized by trans athletes. As a reference for the debate, we recommend a compilation of analyses regarding the case of South African athlete Caster Semenya.

The Supreme Court continues to reject legal measures against gender. In response to the 2017 Union’s Attorney’s Office request, Minister Gilmar Mendes suspended the 2015 municipal law of Ipatinga (MG), which prohibited “any approach to gender ideology and sexual orientation” in education. In his decision, the Minister cited Nazi Germany to illustrate what this could mean in terms of restricting freedom of expression and education.

Despite the decisions of the Supreme Court, similar proposals continue to proliferate at the municipal levels of the Legislature. On October 22, the Belo Horizonte City Council approved draft bill 247/2017, which instituted the “School Without Party” project in municipal education in order to promote the “ideological, political and religious neutrality of the State”, as well as the “rights of parents to the religious and moral education of their children, in accordance with the American Convention on Human Rights.” A week after the approval, there was a demonstration against the law and the recent censorship measures promoted in its name the traditional Catholic schools of St. Augustine and Loyola.



The “Stop Pedophilia” bill, drafted by Conservative PiS congressmen, was introduced. This proposes that the understanding of the promotion of pedophilia be broadened in the Penal Code to include the promotion of sex education, providing for three-year prison sentences. The move was widely rejected by society, which took to the streets in front of Parliament. A briefing on the Polish situation and a petition are being circulated by Gender International.


In the city of Dallas, a case of child custody litigation between ex-husband and wife has taken on national proportions because the father is opposed to the process of his seven-year-old daughter’s gender readjustment. Evangelical and Catholic religious leaders and Christian professional associations launched the “It’s Gone Too Far” defamatory campaign. The campaign characterizes the therapies recommended to address the health needs of children and adolescents whose gender identity requires medical attention as “castration” and “sexual abuse”. 

Reproductive rights and abortion


The “40 Days for Life” campaign, made up of evangelicals and Catholics, began a vigil on October 24th in front of the Pearl Byington Hospital, an important institution that cares for the victims of sexual violence. Demonstrators prayed for embryos and attempted to persuade women who sought out the Hospital’s service not to abort. This initiative copied Operation Rescue, created in the US in the 1980s and later reproduced throughout the world. After embarrassing acts against a hospital patient were reported, another abortion rights watch (this time mobilized by feminists) was established. See an article by anthropologist Alex Kalil on the demonstrations’ dynamics, their antecedents, and potential developments.

At the end of September, the Federal Council of Medicine approved Resolution 2,232/19, which prohibits therapeutic refusal, the right to refuse any therapeutic procedure. The measure was widely rejected by social movements, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, and the Public Defenders of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. A recommendation signed by 16 federal prosecutors also calls for the repeal of the measure. The Public Defenders of the Union in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro promoted the public hearing “Women’s Health: medical confidentiality and respect for women’s autonomy” on the 7th in São Paulo and on the 8th in Rio de Janeiro. In an article for HuffPost, feminist lawyer Beatriz Galli highlights how this resolution hurts human rights as promoted by the Cairo Action Program and mirrored in Brazilian law.


On October 27, the Argentine elections revealed the victory of the Frente de Todos coalition, composed of Fernández-Kirchner, which gained 47% of the country’s votes in the first round of the elections. Even though the central theme of the elections was the economic crisis, the right to abortion was for the first time very made visible in a presidential campaign. Recent anti-abortion legal reforms were attacked and Fernández, who had previously declared his support for decriminalization, reiterated this position in public debates. Elected on November 14, Fernández confirmed his commitment by attending the release party of the book Somos Belén. The book tells the story of 24-year-old Belén of Tucuman province, who was imprisoned for three years after having a miscarriage. On Sunday, 17th, Fernández declared he would send the Voluntary Pregnancy Interruption Act to Congress as soon as possible, for which he received the public thanks of the National Campaign for Safe and Legal Abortion. Following on his promise, on December 13th, Minister of Health Ginés González García published an updated version of the Protocol of Non-Punitable Abortion as promulgated in law in order to guarantee access for legal abortion procedures in case of rape or risk of health and also for pregnant persons under 15 years old, due to physical and emotional risks. The measure follows the recommendation issued in October by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Lucía case. The act was not ignored by the Catholic Church, Bishop Bochatey fiercely rejected the health norms.

United Kingdom

On October 21st, British lawmakers passed a new law overturning the almost total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, which had been established since 1861 with the only exception being in case of risk to life. This legislative reform aligns Northern Ireland’s standards with UK law. In April 2020, new regulations will be discussed and will come into force to determine access to abortion services. Until then, free transportation to England will be offered for voluntary terminations of pregnancies.


The Slovak parliament fortunately enough rejected draft bill that proposed women seeking abortion should be forced to have an ultrasound scan in order to convince them against the termination on December 5th.


On October 18th in the Moroccan Congress, two Parliamentarians from the Authenticity and Modernity Party proposed a bill that would abolish Articles 449 to 458 of the Penal Code that criminalizes abortion.


A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the nearly complete abortion ban passed in Alabama that punishes the practice with up to 99 years in prison. The ruling states that the law is unconstitutional. Similar lawsuits are also underway against Georgia state law, known as the Heartbeat Law.

A study published in Contraception journal found that if the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade were overturned and the states were allowed to ban abortion, 39% of American women aged 15-44 would be dramatically affected and the rate of unsafe abortions would increase dramatically.


An Open Global Rights study reveals that over the past five years, the number of references to SOGIESC / LGBTTI in recommendations made by UN treaty bodies has increased from 54 in 2014 to 138 in 2018. References to trans people more than doubled (from 48 in 2014 to 104 in 2018) and references to intersex people increased five times (from 14 in 2014 to 74 in 2018).

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on November 11th to evaluate the petition of two Jamaican citizens – a transgender woman and a gay man – who suffered serious aggressions and disputed a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual relations.

The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) passed a resolution supporting the principle that intersex children should not be operated on until they are old enough to make the decision themselves.

Unfortunately, though, Gabon passed a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex relations in a Penal Code reform earlier this year, that failed to circulate previously as The Independent reports. This new language condemns homosexuality with a fine and prison sentence up to six months.

In Russia’s crackdown against LGBT rights and activists, feminist and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova is under house arrest for allegedly distributing pornography on November 22nd after publishing a photography series.


“The rapist is you”

The performance “un violador en tu camino“, organized by feminist collective Lastesis, was displayed for the first time in Valparaíso (Chile) on November 20th for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Women wore blindfolds and the abortion rights green scarfs while shouting an anthem that paraphrased police chant “A friend in your way”. The performance, however, expresses a wider call against gender inequality and is also connected to the violent police repression Chilean police employed against protesters in the previous weeks when the country was taken by a national movement.

The performance quickly spread around the world and was met with violent repression in a demonstration in Istambul on December 8th, which led to the detention of seven people. In spite of the repression not being unusual, this time it inflated the Turkish feminist movement. On December 14th, congresswomen shouted the anthem inside the Parliament against the Minister of Interior and a new demonstration was held on the 15th.


In Argentina, the city of La Plata hosted the 34th National Meeting of Women between October 12th and 14th. The event brought together thousands of women and, on the last day, conducted a march in favor of a more “dissident, plurinational and Latin American” feminism, which brought together more than 200,000 people.

Sex work

For the first time, a Prostitution Pride Day was celebrated on September 14th. The celebration occurred around the globe and was accompanied by several online support campaigns. See a compilation.

In the context of the 25-year review of the Beijing Conference to be held in 2020, representatives of the social movements of prostitutes from Africa, Russia and Central Europe, East and Central Asia (CEECA) attended the preparatory regional conferences on October 31st in Ethiopia and October 28nd in Switzerland. This participation, however, was not without conflict between different sectors of feminism, as reported by the Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NFSWP). Other meetings will be held in the Asia Pacific region from November 27-29th and in Latin America in 2020.

In Singapore, a bill was approved to “strengthen laws against online vices”. The proposal broadens the definition of “brothel” to criminalize the provision of online sexual services.

In the U.S., a group of 72 LGBTI organizations delivered a joint letter to 13 members of the Washington City Council, calling for support for the Community Health and Safety Act, proposed in June this year, which decriminalizes sex work.

In the month leading up to the general election in Canada in October 2019, more than 130 organizations issued a public note calling for the decriminalization of prostitution in order to revise the 2014 provision.

A research study commissioned by the Department of Justice of the Queens University Belfast on the effects of the so-called Nordic Model of prostitution, applied in Northern Ireland in 2015, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, found that adopting the model did not reduce demand and that, in fact, an increase in the supply of sexual services has taken place.


It is not an easy task to depict the current events in the Indian troubling political landscape. However, a high profile case of gang rape against a 26 years old veterinarian in Hyderabad on November 27th, who was then choked and burnt, has reached global headlines, which was followed by a similar case on December 2nd in Buxar province. The cases prompted indignation among women’s and feminist movements and civil society in general, claiming for harsher punitive laws and faster trials. On December 6th, police officers led four men accused of the rape and murder to the crime scene and shot them. While the event was celebrated by the general population, it triggered the Supreme Court to open a judicial inquiry and decry from authorities, who link the ‘Hyderabad encounter’ to other previous encounters that led to the murder of religious ethnic minorities by the police. SPW offers, for now, a compilation of articles.

Attacks on academic freedom

In the 2019 edition of the Scholars at Risk report Free to Think, Brazil appeared for the first time, registering an upscale of attacks against academic freedom prior and after JMB’s election. The report reveals 324 attacks around the world and comes to the conclusion that this number “suggests a distressing, global phenomenon of attacks requiring a robust, global response from all who value academic freedom and quality higher education“.

Sexuality & Art

SPW revisits the work of Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, who recently won one of the most prestigious contemporary art awards, the Nomura Art Award. Salcedo explores aspects of violence and pain based upon his experience in the armed conflict in Colombia.

We recommend

Gender Studies and the Dismantling of Critical Knowledge in Europe – AAUP

Is the nation state the best we got? – Africa is a country

Marge Berer: the veteran campaigner on a lifetime fighting for justice for women – IPPF

A lifelong fight for gender equality: In conversation with Carmen Barroso – IPPF

ICPD 25 years later: How did the historic conference impact sexual and reproductive health & rights? – IPPF

Moving out of the backstage: How can we decolonize research? – The Disorder of Things

The Terrorization of Kate Hill – The New Yorker


Planetary Utopias with Angela Davis, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Nikita Dhawan – Radical Philosophy


State-Sponsored Homophobia Report: “A Decade of Progress and Backtracking” – ILGA World

Sexual Orientation Laws in the World map – ILGA World

2 + abortions worldwide is a database for abortion stories

25th anniversary special edition (Open access) – Health and Human Rights Journal

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