Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics round-up in 2018

As 2018 reaches its end, SPW publishes a recollection of main events, trends, discoveries and challenges as we start 2019 and prepare for all the struggles we will face together.



In the very beginning of 2018, the #MeToo movement (originally launched in 1997 by black feminist Tanara Burke) on sexual harassment arose through social media shaking up all political dimensions — religion, arts, corporations etc — in what would set a tone for the year. Since its beginning, it started dissidence between feminists, when 100 French feminists signed a manifesto calling the attention towards the collateral effects and moralist frame of the movement. SPW prepared a wide compilation of articles and news.

In response to a consultation tabled by Costa Rica, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) took the remarkable decision, on January 9, to issue an Advisory Opinion to all OAS member states recommending that they fully recognize the right to gender identity and the right against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Costa Rica itself, the recommendation pushed a conservative Evangelical singer to the presidential election frontrunners.

Pope Francis’ silence on the Church’s systematic sexual abuse case in Chile and Perú during his first visit to these countries displeased the population, who demonstrated by rallying in the streets. Another symptom of the distance from the Church was the partial approval of the Gender Identity Law at Chile’s lower house – which does not demand any compulsory requirement of medical diagnosis or interventions. SPW’s partner José Manoel Morán Faúndes analyzed the episode at the time.


We said goodbye to the Uruguayan feminist Teresita de Barbieri, a pioneer of Latin-American feminist thinking. In the occasion, Sonia Corrêa wrote on her intellectual and political legacies.

February and early March

The trail of #MeToo continued and expanded reaching high-rank actors in political institutions and aid agencies, with special highlight to the Oxfam case when male staff exchanged money and other benefits for sex with women and girls during rescue operations after the 2010 Haiti earthquake (check here for a compilation of articles). SPW also collected a compilation of articles that tell on the movement’s repercussions in the Global South with its particularities.

In El Salvador, where criminalization of abortion is absolute, Teodora del Carmen Vasquez was released from a 30-year sentence for having a miscarriage after the Supreme Court ruled favorably to her defense appeal.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on the right to gender identity without any medical or legal requirement on March 1st. As Sonia Corrêa reported, the Court, however positive the decision may be, had been erratic in containing undemocratic and militarized decisions as the Army Federal Intervention in Rio was enacted on March 3.

The Protocol of Santo Domingo, a key instrument for the promotion of rural women’s rights, was signed during the Regional Consultation for Latin America and the Caribbean preceding the UN’s 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

In the US, the SESTA and FOSTA laws, which are intended to confront sex trafficking by bringing down sites that host sex ads and allowing prosecution of trafficking victims against these platforms, were passed in the House on February 27 and in the Senate on the 21st by a broad coalition between Democrats and Republicans. These laws have detrimental effects on sex workers, their safety and income because they cannot rely on the safest selling strategy via the internet anymore.


Asma Jahangir, an icon of feminist litigation and activism in Pakistan and worldwide, departed.

March and April

In Spain, an intense reaction of the feminist movement broke out against the final condemnation of the case of collective rape suffered by an 18-year-old girl. The five members of the La Manada group were convicted of the lighter crime of sexual abuse, while feminist movements demanded a conviction for rape and accused the Navarra Court of sexism.

Also in India, an episode of collective rape against an eight-year-old Muslim girl has inflamed the debate on criminal response and discrimination against Muslims in the country. The controversy was seized by the Hindu majority party BJP, which lifted the sentencing of the crime of rape of children under 12 years to the death penalty, despite the negative consequences of this measure.

Mourning and struggle

In what would set the year a grieving tone and preceded the assault on human rights, Rio de Janeiro’s Councilor Marielle Franco — a fierce advocate for people living in favelas, black women, and sexual and reproductive rights — and her driver Anderson Gomes were brutally murdered on March 14 in Rio de Janeiro, already under military siege over the state’s security. This most unfortunate event resonated widely across the globe — it was the object of the 62nd Session of the Commission of the Status of Women, of the 32nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and promoted a huge wave of protest and solidarity. Check here for a compilation of articles.

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 these murders and requested a formal response from the Brazilian state with regards to the police and the judicial procedures. Since then, ten months have passed and these provisions were not met by investigative authorities.

Furthermore, as if this was not enough, anti-gender campaigners seemed more resolute to riot against the inclusion of gender language in the text of the Municipal Plan for Public Education on the occasion of the vote on March 27th, when Marielle’s prepared speech was read: “If you are in favor of life, then you should be in favor of gender equality. Equality can only be promoted by conscious education and debates with our children as to ensure them to mature as better adults.” Conservative forces used the figure of Marielle, who became a symbol for human rights, to fuel their anti-gender and anti-rights election campaign.


Following the religious conservative trail, in one of the most violent episodes of the Israel-Palestine conflict since 2014, Trump fulfilled his promise of transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem, while two extremely conservative Evangelical pastors ministered the ceremony, a gesture that can be read as US administration compliance with Christian values and interests, which fall more detrimentally upon sexual politics.

In a landmark referendum, Ireland complied with Human Rights framework in detriment of its Catholic influence, and voted against abortion criminalization, overthrowing the Eighth Amendment (see a compilation). January 2019 already began with free abortion services throughout the country.

Unfortunately, though, this positive measure was not followed in Latin America, as Chile’s President amplified the scope of the Conscientious Objection Protocol for abortion procedures, restricting the recently enacted law. The same language was introduced to the Uruguayan Senate debate on Gender Identity Law.

A surprising feminist wave grew across Chile – a phenomenon unseen for the last ten years – after a gang rape against an Argentinian young woman and a sexual harassment case in the Austral University sparked wide social repudiation, mobilizing rallies and occupations in 53 universities across the country.


On June 18, the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, in its 11th version (ICD-11), stopped classifying transgender identities as mental disorders due to long and fierce advocacy work. Read GATE’s assessment on this reform and a compilation of news and analysis.

After a long debate, the Argentinean House of Representatives approved a law provision on June 14 that authorizes the right to abortion upon request until the 14th week of pregnancy (see a compilation of articles). This bill is the work of relentless feminist struggle since 1980, especially fought by the Campaña por el Aborto Seguro, Legal y Gratuito. Read Malu Moreno, Mario Pecheny, and Maximiliano Campana’s comments.

Colombia elected Uribe’s candidate as President on June 17. Rightist Iván Duque will rule for the conservative religious and secular forces, as Franklin Gil Hernandez and Sandra Mazo Cardona assess the implications, which already impact directly on the national gender and sexual politics.


In Brazil, the troublesome connection between Israel and Christian Evangelicals was established when the Israeli Consul made a speech in the March for Jesus in São Paulo. Israel also sponsored a float in the São Paulo Pride Parade, despite anti-pinkwashing protests. The problematic and obscure links between Israel, LGBT rights, arms trade and securitization, is analyzed by Marco Aurélio Prado and the Israeli pinkwashing tactics were analyzed by Berenice Bento.

The Bulgarian Constitutional Court repealed the European Council Convention on preventing and combating gender-based violence due to the definition of gender that comprises gender diversity (read LeftEast analysis of the decision’s wider implications).

In Chile, a report disclosed by the National Prosecutor’s Office on the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal found 58 perpetrators and 266 victims, mostly underage girls and boys. The investigation led to Bishop Muñoz arrest — the first in Chile — and the resignation of five Cardinals. Concurrently, Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Cardinal McCarrick on July 28, a prominent member of the US Church, and of Australian Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson on July 30.

Fortunately enough, the Portuguese Parliament approved on July 12 a new law granting the right to gender identity without the need for medical diagnosis or intervention to those over 16 years old, as well as prohibiting genital surgery procedures in intersex children. In its final text, due to the presidential veto, the requirement of medical diagnosis for minors was added.


The Indian Supreme Court issued a final decision on the unconstitutionality of article 377 of the Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex relations (see a compilation). HR Lawyer Vivek Divan recollects the long and arduous trajectory to scrape down this colonial-era law and the historic opportunity it is for Indian LGBT population and other countries under colonial anti-sodomy laws.

On August 8th, the Argentinean abortion bill did not pass the Senate vote, which was credited to the Catholic Church intensive campaign. This consequently led to a popular outcry against the Church as pro-choice voices already declared the bill’s return in 2019. This democratic process filled Argentina’s and the world’s streets of hope and solidarity as the green pañuelo became a great feminist symbol.

A few days earlier, the Brazilian Supreme Court held the two-day Public Hearings on ADPF 442, that aims at decriminalizing abortion. Prior to the event, professor Débora Diniz suffered serious threats due to her struggle for the right to abortion, and later Evangelical Pastor Lusmarina also suffered from being one of the exhibitors in favor of the action. On this occasion, Sonia Corrêa’s article analyzes antecedents and contents mobilized during the SC session.

The Pennsylvania Public Prosecutor Office brought light into systematic sex abuse perpetrated by 300 clergymen over the last 70 years involving more than 1,000 children victims in the US, which triggered a virulent response from the extreme conservative sectors against Pope Francis.

In Hungary, the Orban administration threatened to ban the two existing gender studies post-graduate programs, currently at ELTE and CEU, which was met with international protest from gender programs worldwide.

The debate on #MeToo took an unexpected turn after the case involving an NYU professor was made public. The case, involving a lesbian woman and a gay man, drastically widened the talks around the premises and effects of the movement. SPW recommends Masha Gessen’s article in The New Yorker.


On September 29th, the #EleNão movement against presidential candidate Bolsonaro grew impressively fast and took over the country, congregating all people, with and without party affiliation or social movement ties, and spreading internationally. Read Isabela Oliveira Kalil’s, Denise Mantovani and Maria Lígia Elias’s articles and a wide compilation of news and articles.

In the US, Brett Kavanaugh’ appointment at the Supreme Court Justice was confirmed despite allegations of sexual violence from Christine Blasey-Ford, who deposed in the Court. Even more prejudicial are his opinions against abortion rights that promise to threaten the Roe Vs. Wade case (see a compilation of articles).

After a four-year legislative battle, the Chilean gender identity law was approved on September 12, allowing for the registry of a new social identity without any medical requirements, but demands a Family Court decision and parents consent for people aged under 14 years old — a clause lobbied by anti-gender religious groups.

Under the theme ‘The West coming together around the beauty of the family’, the 13th World Congress of Families – funded by Turkish, Chinese and Russian authorities – targeted gender, abortion and LGBTTQ+ rights.

The first union of sex workers was created in Spain in July. However, the Spanish Sánchez government — acclaimed for the high number of women and feminists in the cabinet — announced that it will annul its creation and further restrict prostitution (read in Spanish).


Far-right exponent Bolsonaro electoral win on October 28 was definitely the main event of wide politics in October. SPW prepared special materials to cast a light on the election process and results through our sexual politics lenses: read Sonia Corrêa’s essay, Isabela Oliveira Kalil’s ethnography on Bolsonaro supporter profiles and our wider compilation of articles.

Subsequently, threats and attacks on academic freedom and teachers — that have been underway for a few years — escalated exponentially by anti-gender ‘School Without Party’ forces (check here for a compilation).

On October 30th, the UN Human Rights Committee issued the General Comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights affirming that abortion is a human right, that preventable maternal deaths are a violation of the right to life, and that the right to life begins at birth (read on the debate process started in 2015 here and here)

US officials tried to eliminate the word “gender” from UN human rights documents and replace it with “woman”, alleging that it was the fruit of an “ideology”. Concurrently, a draft memo to be issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urged key federal agencies to define gender as determined “on a biological basis”, triggering the #WontBeErased reaction for trans rights.

The announced ban on gender studies program in Hungary became a reality. Hungarian and European universities protested against the measure as a violation of academic freedom (see a compilation).

In Uruguay, the Comprehensive Trans Act was finally approved on October 19 despite anti-gender pressure. The new law allows hormonal therapy for minors, but requires parental consent for surgeries and includes reparations for trans people persecuted during the military dictatorship.

In India, #MeToo expanded its trails after accusations from Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta against actor Nana Patekar, reaching far beyond the film industry domain and resulting in the resignation of State Minister of Foreign Affairs, MJ Akbar, accused of harassment by sixteen women.

In Tanzania, Paul Makonda, Dar Es Salaam’s governor, started an anti-gay witch hunt, implemented by an ad-hoc task force, to identify, under anonymous calls, and arrest LGBTs in an attempt to ramp up anti-LGBT policies on October 29. This is part of a wider pattern perpetrated since Mugufuli was elected president in 2015, rolling back sexual and reproductive rights and HIV health policies.


In November, the International Campaign for Women’s Rights to Safe Abortion sent a letter to Pope Francis repudiating his vicious attacks that compared abortion to hiring a hitman and to Nazi eugenic practices, which neglect the detrimental effects of abortion criminalization, while inquiring on the blindness towards sexual abuse within the Church.

On November 6, the US held its Midterms Elections, with a historic result that favored women, women of color, Muslim women, Native women and LGBTQ+ in federal, district and local levels. As from now, the GOP lost majority in the House but remained a ruler in the Senate. This shift in the differential distribution between parties is expected to be an obstacle to Trump’s conservative politics.

Following the Taiwanese Supreme Court rule against the criminalization of same-sex marriage in 2017, a referendum pushed by “pro-family” religious conservative groups on 24 November managed to gather seven million votes against same-sex unions and support to creating a specific law for same-sex marriage, considered discriminatory by HR activists. The campaign, similar to Australia’s, was filled with disinformation that alleged prejudicial arguments targeting sexuality, gender identity and HIV.

On 28 November, the South African Parliament Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs adopted an Amendment Bill to the 2006 Civil Union Act that scrapes down Section 6 on the conscientious objection of public servants. The decision is a rightful win to LGBT activists in the country who have tirelessly denounced the differential right to civil unions. The amendment, however, prescribes a 24-month transitional period, largely criticized by activists.


In another attack against gender, sexuality and abortion rights, the US has tried to approve an amendment on December 17 to water down references to “sexual and reproductive health” in a U.N. resolution by adding the term “in accordance with national laws”. This cannot be interpreted without connections to the transnational anti-gender crusades, that aim at rolling back sexual and reproductive rights and other US propositions at the UN and at aid agencies.

The HRC Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice stressed the importance of health access, abortion and contraceptive rights, and, after a formal visit to Honduras where the practice is criminalized in all circumstances and emergency contraceptive are prohibited, the working group made a recommendation for law reform to address this situation.

The European Court of Human Rights issued a rule against the Kremlin stating that Russia’s continued ban on LGBTQ rallies is discriminatory and represents a violation of human rights.

As the year ended, SPW welcomed the happy news of the El Salvador Supreme Court decision to consider Imelda Cortez innocent against charges of abortion after being raped by her stepfather; 20-year-old Imelda Cortez faced a trial of a 20-year sentence due to the country’s strict abortion laws.

Sexuality & art

For the December 2018 issue of SPW’s sex&art, we recall and bridge the works of Brazilian Rosana Paulino and Cuban Belkis Ayón, black feminist artists that provoke us with what we believe to be 2018’s social struggle intersectionality main theme whilst promoting the tools to keep our strength for the year ahead.

Ex-Miss Febem

Studio Butterfly

What you don’t see: prostitution through our own eyes

Homoeroticism of the common man, by Bhupen Khakhar

QueerMuseum: In Defense of Difference

Shibboleth: lethal cracks, by Doris Salcedo

Protest poster art

Contest art during Brazilian dictatorship

Egon Schiele


Working Papers

The Catholic Church’s Legal strategies – The Re-naturalization of Law and the Religious Embedding of Citizenship | Juan Marco Vaggione – SPW

Sex at Dusk and the Mourning After: Sexuality Policy Watch in the United States in the Years of Obama | Cynthia Rothschild and Susana T. Fried – SPW


SexPolitics: Trends & Tensions in the 21st Century – Critical Issues | Barajas et al. – SPW

Vernacular Sovereignties: Indigenous Women Challenging World Politics – Manuela Lavinas Picq

Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography – Richa Kaul Padte

Papers and articles

Antigender and conservative politics

The Globalization of Anti-gender campaigns | Sonia Corrêa, David Patternote and Roman Kuhar – International Politics and Society

Gender Ideology: tracking its origins and meanings in current gender politics | Sonia Corrêa – SPW

Gender Ideology”, religious fundamentalism and the electoral campaign (2017-2018) in Costa Rica – Engenderings LSE Blog

Who’s Afraid of Judith Butler?: The Moral Crusade against Human Rights in Brazil – Cadernos Pagu

The limits of moral limitations: Re-conceptualizing morals in human rights law, written by SPW partner, Ryan Thoreson

The Criminalization of Knowledge – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Secret Cohesion of White Supremacists – Slate

How the Catholic Church—and the GOP—Came to See Birth Control as Evil – Broadly

Upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is more important than ever – Mada Masr

Éric Fassin: The neo-fascist moment of-liberalism – Brave New Europe

The Feminist Project under Threat in Europe – Politics and Governance, 2018, Volume 6, Issue 3

New Forms of Antisemitism, the Law, and the Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary France – Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism – ACTA, Vol. 39 (1)

In Bad Faith: How Conservatives Are Weaponizing “Religious Liberty” to Allow Institutions to Discriminate – Guttmacher Institute

Achille Mbembe: The age of humanism is ending – Mail & Guardian

LGBTTI+ rights and sexuality

Pinkwashing and the promised land beyond the rainbow – SPW

The Mandate of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI: What has been achieved, what can we expect and how can it be useful? – Arc International

Intersex rights activists challenge the roots of gender oppression – and we must support them – openDemocracy

All the ways the world polices sex – Bhekisisa


Examining Feminist Fault Lines:  Criminalization – Resurj

Deborah Cameron: The illusion of inclusion – Language: a feminist guide

Masculinities at the Margins: A feminist Curiosity of Gender, Militarism and War – E-International Relations

Decolonizing Middle East Men and Masculinities Scholarship: An Axiomatic Approach – Jadaliyya

The dangers of NGO-isation of women’s rights in Africa – Al Jazeera


The Chilean Catholic Church and its crisis – SPW

What do we consent to when we consent to sex? – Aeon Magazine

An N.Y.U. Sexual-Harassment Case Has Spurred a Necessary Conversation About #MeToo | Masha Gessen – The New Yorker

#MeToo Must Address the Concerns of Rural Women, Labourers and Domestic Workers – The Wire

Abortion rights

Political mythology on abortion and trans men – SPW

Consequences for African countries close to France of the imminent withdrawal of Cytotec (misoprostol) from the market in France – International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion

Has Trump’s White House ‘resurrected’ Army of God anti-abortion extremists? – openDemocracy

Restricting abortion access is class warfare – Broadly

Roe isn’t just about women’s rights. It’s about everyone’s personal liberty – The Washington Post

How anti-abortion activists use cutting edge science to justify ever stricter laws – The Guardian

I-CONnect Symposium–The Chilean Constitutional Court’s Abortion Decision–Finding and Losing Women in Abortion Law Reform: The Case of the Chilean Constitutional Decision on Law 21030

Fascists find fertile ground for recruitment in anti-choice movements – Rewire

Sex work

Decriminalizing Prostitution Is Central to Transgender Rights – Slate

When former Sex Workers become SWERFS – Kelly Palmer

Publications and reports

Abortion rights

Medical Abortion – Special Issue – Contraception Journal

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

Depathologizing gender diversity in childhood in the process of ICD revision and reform – Global Public Health Journal

Legal barriers to access abortion services through a human rights lens: the Uruguayan experience – Reproductive Health Matters

Abortion Worldwide: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access – Guttmacher Institute

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

Contraception Atlas – European Parliamentary Forum

Unconscionable: When providers deny abortion care – IWHC and MYSU

Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: New Table of Cases – International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program – University of Toronto

International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health – Guttmacher Institute

3rd Abortion & Reproductive Justice Conference: The Unfinished Revolution – ICWRSA

Body Politics – Amnesty International


Enjoyment, no matter how brief, is a philosophical good – Aeon Essays

International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education revised – UNESCO

Body and desire: a cultural interrogation – Interview with Madhavi Menon at Lila InterActions

Technical Brief ‘Out With It: HIV and Other Sexual Health Considerations for Young Men Who Have Sex with Men’ – MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights, WHO, UNDP and UNFPA

Gender and feminisms

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

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

The Legal Gender Recognition in the Philippines: A Legal and Policy Review – UNDP

AWID Strategic Plan 2018-2022: Co-creating Feminist Realities – AWID

State of South Africa’s Fathers 2018 – Sonke Gender Justice

LGBTTI+ Rights

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

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

Legal Gender Recognition: A Multi-Country Legal and Policy Review in Asia – Asia Pacific Transgender Network and UNDP

Religion and conservatism

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

“Free to Think 2018” Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project – Scholars at Risk Network

Sex work

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

Meaningful Involvement with Sex Workers – Network for Sex Workers Project

Diversion from Justice: A Rights-Based Analysis of Local “Prostitution Diversion Programs” and their Impacts on People in the Sex Sector in the United States – Global Health Justice Partnership

Un-Meetable Promises: Rhetoric and Reality in New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts – Global Health Justice Partnership

The Policing Of Sex Work In South Africa: A Research Report On The Human Rights Challenges Across Two South African Provinces – Sonke Gender Justice


‘Intersectionality and Queer Syrian Refugee-ness in Lebanon’ podcast – Status Hour

Thinking in Alliance: An Interview with Judith Butler – Verso

Sonia Corrêa’s speech at Gender Threat(ened) conference – SPW

Ask a Feminist: Cynthia Enloe Discusses Gender and the Rise of the Global Right with Agnieszka Graff, Ratna Kapur, and Suzanna Danuta Walters – Signs Journal

Check it out!

SPW has the pleasure of promoting the Global Public Health Journal call for papers for the Special Issue — The Contested Global Politics of Pleasure and Danger: Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights until 4 February 2019.

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