Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in times of pandemic: contribution of guest authors

The SPW Announcement for May and early June 2020 will have the same format adopted in March-April 2020, it will organize the newly compiled information and analyses within a frame that charters Sexual Politics in Times of Pandemic. Yet, the scale, intensity and complexity of the political, biopolitical and economic dynamics and related crises arising from COVID-19 make the collection, selection and analysis of informationcirculating in the media and academic circuits very demanding in terms of effort and, above all, time. Therefore, the new edition will only be available in the third week of June.

However, since for this edition we have received a number of exclusive and very qualified contributions from SPW’s partners, we have decided to organize a specific compilation. It encompasses the articles authored by Debjyoti Gosh, Lorena Moraes, Jacob Breslow, Bárbara Sepúlveda and Lieta Vivaldi Macho that analyze the effects and emblematic episodes manifested in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes an article by David Paternotte, which was published in the LSE Gender Department’s blog Engenderings and interrogates the “backlash” conceptual framework as a productive lens for critically interpreting anti-gender politics. We thank all of them for their generous collaboration.

The article by Debjyoti Gosh, a researcher at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, To drink or not to drink: that is not the question, analyzes the background, justifications and problems arising from alcohol ban policies as responses to the pandemic in India and South Africa. The topic may seem marginal, but it is not quite so. Firstly, because a long history underlies the adoption of this type of measure in epidemics. Barbara Tuchmann’s masterly book on the black plague in the European 14th century mentions, for example, how ecclesiastical and secular authorities, but also fanatical Catholic groups, recommended or imposed a ban on alcoholic beverages to temper the divine fury that was believed to be at the root of the pestilence. Examining the 2020 scenario, the article focuses on the cases of India and South Africa. But, as the responses to COVID-19 around the world have been very decentralized, alcohol bans have certainly been adopted in other contexts, such as in the state of Piauí in Brazil. Gosh recalls that, both in India and South Africa, the culture of alcohol consumption has a long and complex history that is entangled in the experiences and legacies of colonization, including in respect to its social representations and markers of race, caste and gender. Moreover, according to him, nowadays the use and abuse of alcohol cannot be detached from the brutal social inequalities that persist in both societies. One of his central arguments is that the adoption of alcohol ban in these two countries must be situated in relation to the deeply sedimented cultural and moral condemnation of alcoholic beverages. Most principally, he underlines that one evident effect of ban policies was the surge of clandestine production and sale of alcohol, with all the risks that this entails, including in terms of the health of the people who consume these products.

The article by Lorena Moraes, professor at the Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Science, Political Crisis and The Lives of People examines situations of arbitrariness and violence that proliferate due to the effect of the pandemic in the extremities of societies or at the micropolitical levels of states of exception. Brazil is the context analyzed and the article recaptures what happened in three cities in which episodes of panic and authoritarianism by state agents have erupted in reaction to the implementation of a national survey on the prevalence of Sars-CoV-2 virus. The survey contracted by the Ministry of Health is coordinated by the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel) in partnership with the public opinion poll institute Ibope, and it aims to conduct three series of rapid tests and interviews in 133 cities. In the three towns that are looked at in the article, as well as in other locations, this research, albeit official, caused panic in the population and, above all, in many of those places research teams were prohibited of doing field work and were even detained or quarantined. The author situates these “problems” in relation to the policy management chaos installed in the Brazilian state, in particular at the Ministry of Health. But she also stresses that these episodes of panic and arbitrariness must be addressed as classical effects of biopolitical crises. The article also evokes the bioethical parameters of research in social sciences as premises that, if properly adopted, could have prevented the episodes of pandemonium provoked by the Brazilian national research on COVID prevalence.

The article by Jacob Breslow, professor at the Gender Department at the London School of Economics, The “Non-Essential” Transfobia in Pandemic Disaster Politics, was also originally published at the Engenderings blog. Its starting point is the arbitrary hierarchization between health services considered essential and the so-called “non-essential” services, which emerged in the context of COVID-19 and whose effects have been problematic from the point of view of health programs that affect LGBT people, especially trans people. Its main focus is, however, the announcement made by the UK’s Ministry of Women and Equality of its new policy and the potential impacts it may have on the rights of trans people. According to Breslow, the minister’s speech makes an assumption that trans people are always trans women and, in an even more problematic way, projects a marked distinction between, on the one hand, trans people and, on the other, women and children, arguing that hat this distinction is to be safeguarded by the state. In Breslow’s view, this formula not only obliterates the fact that trans women are systematically discriminated but also, which is still more problematic, establishes eighteen as the minimum age for the initiation of gender transition hormonal treatments. According to the author, the proposed protocol crystallizes an artificial partition between trans adult trans persons and children whose gender identity does not coincide with the norms of binary sexual order. In other words, it creates the “fiction” that trans people are always adults, implying trans childhood to be paradoxical or even impossible.

In Chile, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the appointment of Macarena Santelices as the new head of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality provoked a wide repudiation on the part of feminist movements. In the article #NoTenemosMinistra: The Crisis of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality in Chile, Bárbara Sepúlveda, director of the Association of Feminist Lawyers of Chile (ABOFEM), and Lieta Vivaldi Macho, director of the Gender, Rights and Social Justice Program at Alberto Hurtado University, write about the #NoTenemosMinistra (We don’t have a minister, in English) campaign and the political background that made this response possible. The authors critically analyze how, since 2019, the Ministry has been unable to respond to feminist demands to include LGBTTI issues and, above all, point to the agency’s incompetence in curbing sexual violence perpetrated by the Carabineros (state police) during the social insurgency that took over the country between October and December. The female minister, who was in office during this period, resigned in March 2020 and the tensions reached a climax two months later when Macarena Santelices was appointed. Mrs. Santelices is the granddaughter of dictator Augusto Pinochet, is inexperienced in the area and openly supported police repression during 2019 Chile’s demonstrations. The blatant repudiation of Chilean feminist movements led Santelices to resign on June 9, 2020. More to come.

The article Backlash: a misleading narrative, by David Paternotte, who is a professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, brings a unique contribution to the debates on how to interpret the wave of anti-gender politics that we have been witnessing in Europe and Latin America, since 2013 and, more recently, in the US. Paternotte examines the limitations of the backlash conceptual frame to capture more accurately and rigorously the trajectory, spread and direction of these mobilizations. According to the author, this frame is limited because it reiterates the reactive character of conservative movements in the face of political gains made in the realms of gender, sexuality and rights. In his view, it also leads one to lose sight of the depth and breadth of the phenomenon, whose genealogy often precedes the conquest of these rights. Paternotte further stresses that the logic underlying the backlash lens has made it difficult to establish intersectional responses to the threats posed by anti-gender policies that are not just about specific policies or laws, but rather have implications for the overall political order. For Paternotte, anti-gender mobilizations can be read, perhaps, as a Frankenstein who emancipated himself from his original creator (Catholic orthodoxy), to acquire more heterogeneous and ambitious outlines and whose containment requires much clarity and conceptual and political creativity.

Wish you all a good reading!

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