Amérique latine


  • ‘Threats to women’s and LGBTI rights are threats to democracy; any retrogression is unacceptable’

    Recent years have seen an apparently growing tendency for anti-rights groups to seek to claim the space for civil society, including at the intergovernmental level. CIVICUS speaks about it with Gillian Kane,asenior policy advisor for Ipas, a global women’s reproductive health and rights organisation.Founded in 1973, Ipas is dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion. Through local, national and international partnerships, Ipas works to ensure that women can obtain safe, respectful and comprehensive abortion care, including counselling and contraception to prevent future unintended pregnancies.

    1. Do you observe any progress on sexual and reproductive rights in the Americas? What are the main challenges looking ahead?

    Ipas has robust programmes in Latin America, and we have definitely seen progress on legislation that increases women’s and girls’ access to safe and legal abortions, including in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico City. Still, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organisation, more than 97 per cent of women of childbearing age in the region live in countries where abortion is restricted or completely banned. A woman who lives in restrictive settings and wants an abortion will have to do so under illegal conditions and at great risk to not just her health, but also her security. Women who have abortions are vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, arrest, prosecution and even jail time.

    We also see that restrictive abortion laws are damaging the provider-patient confidentiality relationship. A study by Ipas and the Georgetown Law School’s O’Neill Institute found that an alarming number of medical staff across Latin America are reporting women and girls to the police for having abortions. Many countries now require, protect or encourage medical providers to breach their confidentiality duties when they treat women seeking post-abortion care.

    1. Are we facing a democratic regression at the global level? Do you think women are being targeted?

    We are indeed facing a democratic regression, and I do think women are being targeted, both which are incredibly alarming. With the United States leading, we’re seeing the rapid degradation of the political and legal infrastructure that is designed to promote and protect the interests of citizens. For example, you see this in attacks against the Istanbul Convention, which is intended combat violence against women. You would think this would be uncontroversial. Yet, there are right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) objecting to the Convention, claiming that it takes away parental rights and that it promotes gender as social construct, and not as a binary biological truth, as they see it. This is also happening in international spaces. This year at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, the US State Departmentappointed two extremists to represent it. One was an executive leader of a known LGBTI-hate group, and the other was from an organisation that has advocated for the repeal of legislation that prevents violence against women. And at the country level, for example in Brazil, conservative leaders are downgrading the power of ministries that promote equal rights for women and black communities.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom. Women are responding forcefully. Poland provides an amazing example of women organising and effecting change. In late 2016 thousands of women and men crowded the major cities of Warsaw and Gdansk to join the ‘Black Monday’ march, to protest against a proposed law banning abortions. The full ban wasn’t enacted, which was a huge victory. And of course, the women’s marches and the #MeToo movement are incredible, and global.

    1. Not many people in Latin America have ever heard of the Alliance Defending Freedom. How is this organisation surreptitiously changing the political conversation in the region?

    ADF is a legal organisation. It was founded in 1994 by a group of white, male, hard-right conservative evangelical Christians. It was designed to be the conservative counterpoint to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which they saw as out to squash their religious liberties. They are huge, and have a global reach, which they say is dedicated to transforming the legal system through Christian witness. To that end they litigate and legislate on issues linked to the freedoms of expression and religion.

    I wouldn’t say that their actions are surreptitious; they’re not deliberately trying to fly under the radar. They are intervening in spaces that don’t necessarily get a lot of news coverage, such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But in recent years they have definitely increased their activism both at the regional and country level in Latin America. In terms of the conversation, what they are doing is reframing rights issues to use religion as a sword, rather than a shield. Right now they are litigating, in the United States Supreme Court, the case of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. As my colleague Cole Parke has explained, they are corrupting religious freedom. They are claiming it is legal to discriminate against a gay couple because of religious beliefs: that religion trumps all other rights. They are doing the same with conscientious objection: they have supported a midwife in Sweden who has refused to provide abortion as required by law. The list goes on.

    1. What strategies have anti-rights groups used, and what accounts for their success in international forums?

    As I have explained in a recent op-ed, in international forums these groups express concern for the wellbeing of children, who they claim are being indoctrinated by permissive governments in the immoral principles of ‘gender ideology’. Of course there is no such thing as a gender ideology, and much less governments forcing children to learn inappropriate material. The wellbeing of children is being used as a cover to disable efforts to enforce rights and protections for girls, women and LGBTI people.

    The 2013 General Assembly of the OAS, held in Guatemala, witnessed the first coordinated movement agitating against reproductive and LGBTI rights. This was, not coincidentally, also the year when the OAS approved the Inter-American Convention against all forms of discrimination and intolerance, which included protections for LGBTI people.

    At the 2014 OAS General Assembly in Paraguay, these groups advanced further and instead of only being reactive, began proposing human rights resolutions in an attempt to create new policies that they claimed were rights-based, but were in fact an attempt to take rights away from specific groups. For instance, they proposed a ‘family policy’ that would protect life from conception, in order to prevent access to abortion.

    From then on, their profile increased with each subsequent assembly, in the same measure that their civility declined. At the 2016 General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, they even harassed and intimidated trans women attending the event as they entered women’s restrooms. As a result, the annual assembly of the OAS, the regional body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and democracy in the western hemisphere, turned into a vulgar display of transphobic hate.

    1. Should progressive civil society be concerned with the advances made by these groups in global and regional forums? What should we be doing about it?

    Progressive civil society should definitely be concerned. Constant vigilance is needed. There are many ways to respond, but being informed, sharing information and building coalitions is key. I would also recommend that progressive movements think broadly about their issues. Consider how groups like ADF have managed to attack several rights, including abortion, LGBTI and youth rights, using one frame, religion. We need to be equally broad, but anchored, I would argue, in secularism, science and human rights. We started the conversation talking about democracy, and this is where we should end. We need to show how threats to specific rights for women and LGBTI people are threats to democracy. Any retrogression is unacceptable.

    Get in touch with Ipas through theirwebsite or theirFacebook page, or follow @IpasLatina and @IpasOrg on Twitter.


  • Advocating for women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Peru, a risky fight against powerful enemies


    CIVICUS speaks to María Ysabel Cedano, Director of DEMUS –Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights, a Peruvian feminist organisation that since 1987 defends human rights, and particularly women’s sexual and reproductive rights, by promoting their free exercise and questioning the hegemonic cultural paradigm on women and their sexuality. DEMUS carries out public opinion campaigns and advocacy work with the three branches of government; it conducts strategic litigation and promotes mobilisation on issues related to the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, a life free from gender-based violence, access to justice, and sexual and reproductive rights.

    1. How would you describe the context for the exercise of feminist activism in Peru?
    Generally speaking, conditions for activism greatly depend on the ideology, programme and nature of the organisation and movement in question - on its stance regarding the state and the incumbent government, and on its relationship with political forces and the powers that be.

    Due to our agenda, we feminists are antagonists of Fujimorism, the political movement founded by Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru between 1990 and 2000. Our organisation has criticised and opposed them since the 1990s, as we have fought for justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of the Fujimori administration’s policy of systematic forced sterilisation. Its victims were mostly peasant, indigenous and poor women who underwent irreversible surgical contraception without being able to give their free and informed consent, in a context of widespread violence.

    On this issue, in 2003 we reached a Friendly Settlement Agreement (FSA) in the Mamérita Mestanza case. As a result, the Peruvian state acknowledged its responsibility for human rights violations in the context of the forced sterilisation policy and committed to providing justice and reparation to victims. We also obtained favourable statements by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that have boosted our work to defend the right to access justice and to promote a policy of integral reparations. That made us a target of Fujimorist attacks, in the form of defamation in the national media as well as in social media. We have in fact sued former congressman Alejandro Aguinaga, under investigation in the preliminary examination of forced sterilisations as a crime against humanity and other serious violations of human rights, which the Public Ministry opened in 2004 in compliance with the already mentioned FSA. The case still remains in its preliminary stages due to political interference, which we have publically denounced. For more than fourteen years, the Public Ministry has failed to accuse former President Fujimori and his former Health Ministers, including Aguinaga, and no prosecution has taken place. In the meantime, Fujimorism has not undergone any renovation whatsoever: it still does not believe in human rights and cannot fathom the right of women to decide on their own. In fact they all remain very convinced that it is the state that has to decide for them.

    The other antagonists we have as a result of our feminist agenda are the Catholic and Evangelical ecclesial hierarchies, as well as other conservative and fundamentalist religious groups such as Opus Dei, Sodalitium and Bethel. These are the leaders of an anti- sexual and reproductive rights agenda and seek to legislate and implement public policies to strengthen the institutions that guarantee their political, economic, social and cultural dominance, thereby ignoring the secular character of the state that the authorities in turn fail to enforce. For decades they have run a strong campaign against what they call “gender ideology”, not just in Peru but throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and beyond. These are multimillion-dollar campaigns that maintain that “gender ideology” attacks life, marriage and family. The funding they poured into the fear campaign against the peace accords in Colombia is a good example of this. They have also promoted a campaign called "Don't mess with my children" in several countries in the region.

    While these actors have questioned the scientific and legal validity of the gender perspective, the concept of gender has been adopted in the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and in standards such as CEDAW, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Convention of Belém do Pará. In Peru it was included into several laws, public policies and institutions, as a result of which conservative sectors are currently trying, for instance, to eliminate the gender perspective from the school curriculum, including all allusions to sexual orientation and gender identity. They have done so by means of both street actions and lawsuits. These however have not yielded the desired results: the overwhelming response from the Ministry of Justice’s Attorney General even covered them in ridicule. As a result, they had no alternative left other than using their power in Congress, where there are currently two bills that have been submitted by Fujimorism towards that aim.

    Lastly, in addition to harassing us through their press, as they have always done, these sectors now also attack us for our funding sources. They say we are the instruments of great powers seeking to impose Western models of family and sexuality in our country.

    Thanks to a journalistic investigation that then became a criminal investigation, we currently know of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Sodalitium, one of the most conservative and powerful groups within the Catholic Church. The scandal contributed to weakening the attacks coming from the ecclesial hierarchy. We are also beginning to know about the unholy business the Church does with education, health and even cemeteries within the framework of the Concordat between the Peruvian state and the Vatican. The very same priests who have spent years fighting us on the decriminalisation of abortion for rape cases, and who have said the worst things about us because they consider themselves to be the “defenders of life”, have allegedly covered for rapists of children and adolescents in their congregations and communities. This has helped people overcome their fear of denouncing the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy and double standards, and has limited the church’s ability to demand the government implement specific policies. For instance, the government has recently obeyed a court order to resume the distribution of emergency oral contraception despite pressures from Cardinal Cipriani.

    Given that our struggles for transitional justice have led us to seek justice and integral reparations for the victims of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict (1980-2000), we face not only Fujimorism but also APRA, a traditional party that ruled during a part of this period. They both seek to divide Peruvians between terrorists and non-terrorists and associate the left and human rights with terrorism. They never get tired of asserting that those who attack the military are terrorists - or ungrateful to say the least, for persecuting those who freed us from terrorism. If we strive for the legalisation of abortion we are abortionists, and if we defend human rights we are terrorists.

    2. How does DEMUS work to overcome these obstacles?
    We combine organisational and mobilisation strategies to strengthen the feminist and women’s diversity movement, public and political advocacy for legislation, public policies and access to justice measures, and strategic litigation. Among the latter were for instance the Manta y Vilca trial on rape during the internal armed conflict, which established that this was a crime against humanity; the case of forced sterilisations during the Fujimori administration; and other cases that have allowed us to move forward in terms of the recognition and guarantee of the human right to therapeutic abortion, among other sexual and reproductive rights.

    Ours is not just a lawyers’ struggle: we work in multidisciplinary teams and in alliances and within networks including other feminist, women’s, LGBTIQ and human rights NGOs, groups and platforms. Experience has taught us that it is not enough to obtain jurisprudence, standards, laws and public policies if there are no social movements and citizens defending them, that is, if there is no social base accompanying and empathising with the victims. Strategic litigation, legal defence and psycho-legal and therapeutic help are therefore always to be accompanied with mobilisation and campaigning.

    3. Is the Peruvian women’s movement integrated into regional or global networks, so as to face an adversary that is?
    There are indeed very important global and regional networks. In Latin America, the level of articulation reached by indigenous, peasant and environmental women human rights defenders is astonishing in contrast with the weakening of some feminist networks. New technologies have revolutionised communications, and we now have various alternative means to organise ourselves in networks.

    We must think about how to strengthen our thematic networks, for instance in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, in order to resist together. This is facilitated by a number of conceptual convergences, but complicated by the scarcity of resources reaching Latin America, competition around which affects alliances and articulations. Neoliberalism has also had an impact on inter-subjective relations: conflicts and rivalries arise due to scarce funding. It is impossible to understand the degree of difficulties we face without analysing the changes in and the new rules of international cooperation and funding mechanisms.
    On the other hand, we must not forget that Peru’s is a post-conflict society, with open wounds and an abundance of distrust, which has not yet learned to resolve differences without violence. We need to be aware of these limitations, so as not to reproduce what we criticise. But we are certainly still very strong: with much greater organisation and resources than we have, Catholics and evangelicals have not yet managed to create enough pressure in the streets and on public opinion to remove sex education from the school curriculum. Their only hope is now placed on authoritarian conservative forces in Congress.

    4. What progress or setbacks do you perceive in the struggle for women’s rights in Peru?
    Taking stock of the forty years of contemporary feminism in Peru, there has been net progress in terms of the legal-institutional framework. Advances have been the result of constant struggle and permanent dispute, and are neither ideal nor stable: they need to be continuously defended and perfected.

    For instance, in late 2015 a substantial amendment to Law No. 26260 (1993) on domestic violence was finally passed. The new legislation, Law No. 30394, is a law against gender-based violence. Shortly after, in July 2016, the Third National Plan against Gender Violence (2016-2021) was passed. In both cases there was a dispute over the diversity of the women to be protected. There was much resistance against the possibility that legislation would also protect lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. In fact, recognition of the variety of forms that gender violence can take was not as resisted as the extension and recognition of the objects of protection. The women’s movement succeeded in getting some previously unacknowledged forms of gender violence recognised as such, including gender-based violence in the context of social conflicts. We wanted the new law to protect women human rights defenders of land, the environment, and natural resources, that is, indigenous and peasant women who are currently criminalised and on whom conflicts have a differential impact on the basis of gender. This we achieved. We had also proposed that the violation of sexual and reproductive rights be recognised as gender violence. And while we achieved recognition of forced sterilisation, rape in the context of internal armed conflict, violence due to sexual orientation, and obstetric violence as forms of gender-based violence, such recognition was not expressed in the language of sexual and reproductive rights. In additional, sexual orientation-based violence was recognised but gender identity-based violence was not.

    Fifteen years after the First National Plan was launched, and more than twenty after the first law against then-called “domestic” or “intra-family” violence was passed, tension between women’s rights and family protection persists. Although Law No. 30364 has in many respects aligned legislation with the Belém do Pará Convention, violence based on gender identity discrimination has not yet been recognised. Public debate continues to focus on nature as a determinant of sexuality, reproduction and family.

    Why is it that feminists and LGBT people perceive “family protection” as contrary to our rights? First, because not all families are protected. Family rights of the LGBT population are not recognised. Secondly, because why protect the existing family – a traditional, hierarchical, violent family based on sexual division of labour and the exclusive recognition of heterosexual sexuality? A family organisation free of discrimination and gender-based violence should be promoted instead. In other words, measures should be taken to dismantle the patriarchal family, which functions as the very first place of normalisation and control, particularly for women and LGBT persons. The family has become a space in which physical, psychological and sexual violence remain unpunished: in fact, Peru has the second highest rate of denunciation of sexual offences against girls and adolescents in the region, and these are in many cases perpetrated by family members. Finally, a person’s (and in this case a woman’s) rights can never be subordinated, conditioned or reduced to a by-product of family welfare, in the same way as the rights of an actual person cannot be subordinated to the rights of being yet to be born.

    In sum, in historical perspective there has been progress in the recognition and guarantee of rights, but these have been the product of constant struggle. We face strong resistance, and if we had not permanently defended our conquests, we would certainly have seen them retreat long ago.

    5. In this context, how has DEMUS’ agenda changed since its beginnings in 1987?
    DEMUS is an organisation well known for its work for the right to a life free of gender-based violence. We specialise in prevention, care, denunciation, therapeutic and psycho-legal accompaniment, litigation, advocacy with legislative, policymaking and justice administration bodies, and campaigning and mobilisation on gender-based violence. For instance, we developed the “Not one more death” campaign, which placed femicide on the public agenda, and the “A man doesn't rape” campaign, which contributed to call attention on the problem of sexual violence, impunity and the culture of rape.

    In the beginning we had to dispute about the very concept of what was then called “intra-family violence”, which we designated as “violence against women” and today we call “gender-based violence”. We saw violence against women as a problem of power inequality, sexual discrimination and impunity, so we advocated for equality and access to justice. However, as years passed and the first laws and policies on the issue were passed, we realised that we were not obtaining the results we expected.

    The fight against violence against women had gained consensus as part of the state agenda and had occupied a space in the institutional structure of the state (commissions, ministries, etc.), and even ultraconservatives had begun to accept equal opportunities between men and women (which was enshrined in Law No. 28983 of 2007) all the while resisting the recognition of other sexual orientations and gender identities. So we began a conceptual revision and concluded that if we wanted to combat gender-based violence, our central strategic battle had to revolve around women’s autonomy and self-determination in the field of sexuality and reproduction, the recognition of and the provision of guarantees for sexual and reproductive rights understood as fundamental human rights, and access to justice in cases where these were violated. The perspective of sexual and reproductive rights came to enrich the equality and non-discrimination approach in addressing the problems of gender-based violence and impunity.

    Thus, although the defence of LGBT rights and the legalisation of abortion were already in DEMUS’ agenda, they have since become more central to it. And our strategies became richer in the process, because besides strategic litigation and therapeutic and psycho-legal accompaniment we started to focus as well on organisation and mobilisation, public advocacy and communication. We have used the whole toolbox in our search for justice and reparations for the victims of forced sterilisations, and also in our campaigns for emergency oral contraception and the legalisation of abortion (first of all for reasons of rape, foetal malformations incompatible with extra-uterine life, and unconsented artificial insemination and egg transfers, and eventually on the basis of women’s dignity and right to decide).

    Most recently, in our work to defend victims of sexual violence and impunity, we have learned from the indigenous and peasant women defenders of land and water that women human rights defenders are being differently affected by the extractivist economy due to their gender, and are being specifically criminalised by corporations such as the Yanacocha mining company and by the state itself. In their struggle to defend lakes and resist mining projects such as Conga, women are having a hard time, since gender-based violence is being used against them. In the actions of the police and the Armed Forces we are currently seeing a criminalisation of social protest, threats and violations of women’s rights echoing those that took place during armed conflict. In order to avoid the repetition of serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, we are using the new legislation, which now enables it, to denounce Yanacocha and make it clear that there is gender-based violence behind situations of harassment like that suffered by women human rights defenders such as Máxima Acuña.

    The other agenda that we increasingly adopted as central is the defence against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in order to achieve recognition of and guarantees for the right to gender identity and lesbians’ right to maternity. We choose the issues we fight for on the basis of several criteria. One of them is that of revolutionising whatever the system resists the most, so that if we win, we will not only have obtained a law, public policy or jurisprudence, but we will also have conquered people’s common sense. And what the system most resists today is transgender identity and the right of LGBT persons to love and family. The system condemns us to civil death, poverty, marginalisation, murder, harassment and rape.

    6. In Peru, there have recently been major mobilisations with the motto #NiUnaMenos. How was the issue placed on the public agenda in such a way that mobilisation turned out to be so massive? What roles did regional networks play in the process?

    The marches in Argentina, Mexico and other countries inspired many of us: we wanted to do something similarly massive in our own country. But mobilisation did not occur in Peru as a response to a regional call, or as a result of prior coordination within a regional network.

    A year prior to this mobilisation there was a high profile case in Peru, in which a woman was savagely attacked in a hotel in Ayacucho, dragged by the hair and almost raped and murdered. The episode had been recorded on video, and everyone followed the case in the media and expected the attacker to be convicted. The ruling came out a few months before the demonstration, and it acquitted the accused. It denied that an attempted rape and femicide had taken place, and it even ruled that the injuries on the victim had been minor. This generated a social phenomenon of indignation that spread throughout the national territory and in social media. Women who were in the ideological and social antipodes from one another agreed that something had to be done, and feminists started talking about a mobilisation meant to make it clear that “if they touch one of us, they are touching us all”. The #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) slogan was adopted out of the belief that the time had finally come and that this would be a mobilisation of a magnitude similar to those that had taken place in other countries.

    In Peru, the idea persists that if you do not obtain justice it is because you cannot prove what has happened to you. You only have your word and that is not enough for justice administrators. Now, if even in a case where there is a video like that, the aggressor is eventually absolved, what kind of security and justice is left for the rest of us? This created an unprecedented feeling of helplessness. Fear quickly turned into indignation, and this in turn into mobilisation. I was invited to join a Facebook chat a few hours after the video was made public. There were ten of us to start with, and a little while later we were over sixty, and the next day we were meeting at a comrade’s place. Within a few hours, the closed group formed in Facebook went from a few women testifying to the various forms of violence in their daily lives to 20 thousand, 40 thousand women reporting on their own stories of violence: at home, in the streets, at work, in school. Terrible stories, and everybody was telling them and keeping each other company.

    Thus, in Peru citizens went out into the streets to reject impunity and defend the right to justice. People began to wonder why violence against women persists despite all the laws and policies to combat it. The media started talking about patriarchy and machismo as its causes. There was some recognition of the importance of the feminist struggle, at least in that particular context. Much of the leadership and organisational work towards mobilisation was done by various organised and unorganised female citizens, leaders of feminist groups in neighbourhoods, universities, trade unions, NGOs. Women of a wide diversity of movements, colours, desires, education, professions and talents, in alliance and dialogue with the survivors whose emblematic cases united diverse sectors of society. Conservative sectors have still not managed to obtain similar success in defence of their agenda.

    7. Did the mobilisation have any positive effect in terms of public policy?
    The mobilisation resulted in some concrete measures, although these were too narrowly focused and involved little public investment. A Circle of Protection program was created, thereby extending attention to 24/7 in five out of over 200 Emergency Women’s Centres (EWC). Coverage of the emergency line Línea 600 was extended to all days of the week. This contributed to an increase in addressed complaints. Also, cases of femicide and rape were subsequently included into the rewards programme to stop offenders.

    Additionally, there were announcements regarding the expansion of temporary shelters, the provision of gender training to justice operators, and in particular to the National Police, and the creation of at least 50 new EWCs in various police stations across the country. The Public Ministry adapted its guidelines to Law No. 30364 and announced the creation of prosecution offices specialised in femicide. The Judiciary established a National Gender Commission.

    Nonetheless, femicidal violence persists as a savage daily occurrence; there is in fact a patriarchal and male chauvinist counteroffensive underway. They continue to kill us and rape us, and the femicide and rape culture keeps blaming us for it. And the measures adopted by the state in defence of the gender approach and gender equality fall short: they are basically reactions and responses to public pressure. We women do the reporting and monitoring job that the state should be doing. The state and the government always give in when it comes to the sexual and reproductive rights of women and LGBTIQ people. Which makes it clear that unless it becomes feminist, public policy will yield no results. If public policy priorities do not change, women will continue to die.

    The most important changes have occurred in the realms of common sense. #NiUnaMenos has shown that there is widespread rejection of violence against women, and that women have become empowered to talk about sexual violence in the same way that we first learned to talk about partner and domestic violence. There is no longer shame in having been a victim: it is clear that the other party is the one at fault. Women now know that there are things that are not right, and that if they happen to them it is not their fault, or God’s will, or the work of nature: it is a violation of rights and a matter of justice, and those responsible have to be punished.

    Civic space in Peru is rated as ‘obstructed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with DEMUS through their website, visit their Facebook page, or follow ‪@DEMUS_f‬ and ‪@MYCfeminista‬ on Twitter.‬‬‬‬

    Image ©Peru21


  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘Their true objective is to eliminate all government policies related to gender’

    Diana CariboniAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Diana Cariboni, an Argentine journalist and writer based in Uruguay, winner of the 2018 National Written Press Award and author of several pieces of investigative journalism on anti-rights groups in Latin America. 


    Would you tell us about your experience at the Ibero-American Congress for Life and Family?

    In 2018 I covered the conference of this regional group – actually an Ibero-American one, since it has members throughout Latin America and also in Spain. It is a large group that seeks to become a movement. It is one of many, because there are several others, which also overlap, since members of the Ibero-American Congress are also part of other movements, interact with each other within these movements and serve on the boards of various organisations.

    I started investigating this group because it was going to meet here in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in late 2018, and its arrival was preceded by some incidents that caught my attention. The most important actors that I managed to identify within this movement were, in the first place, a huge number of representatives of evangelical churches and, within evangelism, of neo-Pentecostalism, although there were Baptist churches and non-Pentecostal evangelical churches as well.

    In addition to these churches, the Don’t Mess with My Kids platform was also represented. This network emerged in Peru in 2016 and includes a series of evangelical Christian personalities. Some of them are church preachers and some are also political actors; for example, there are a large number of representatives with seats in the Peruvian Congress. In fact, legislators make up an important segment of the Ibero-American Congress. In many countries, there are congresspeople who are church pastors or members of religious congregations: that is the case in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. These people are trying to coordinate a regional legislative movement. The Ibero-American Congress has been active in the legislative arena and has coordinated and issued statements on certain issues for some time now.

    Mexico is an important focus because the founder of the Ibero-American Congress, Aaron Lara Sánchez, is Mexican. The movement has established communications media such as Evangélico Digital, which is part of a group of digital media that originated in Spain. It has also created or seeks to create some sort of think tank, because they want to coat all of it with a scientific varnish, so doctors, lawyers and biology and genetics experts take part in their conferences. They all promote the religious perspective that a family can only be made up of a man and a woman, that only two sexes, male and female, exist, and that the human person emerges at the time of conception; hence their opposition to abortion. They are putting together a pseudo-scientific discourse to substantiate these arguments despite the fact that scientific research indicates otherwise. Their objective is to put forward a discourse that is not viewed as belonging to the Middle Ages; that is why they seek some convergence with the common sense of the 21st century and speak of science and the secular state, even if only as a very superficial varnish. On the other hand, the Don’t Mess with My Kids discourse fits well with prevailing common sense, because it contains a very strong appeal to families and tells parents that they have the right to decide what education their children receive in school.

    Would you characterise these groups as anti-rights?

    Indeed, because their true objective is to eliminate all government policies related to gender. In fact, I interviewed the founder of the Don’t Mess with My Kids platform, Cristian Rosas, who told me: “We started with sex education because it was what mobilised people the most, because it refers to their children, but what we really want is to eliminate gender, the word ‘gender’, altogether, in Peru and all over the world.” The thing is, behind that word, gender, is the crucial issue of the recognition of identities and the search for equality: women’s struggles to end discrimination and subordination, and the struggles of LGBTQI communities to enjoy the same rights and guarantees accorded to the rest of the population. They say that these struggles are unnecessary because our constitutions already state that we are all equal before the law, so why establish special laws or statutes for LGBTQI people? What they are overlooking is that LGBTQI people, and particularly people such as trans individuals, cannot effectively access those rights or even the conditions for a dignified existence. They insist on ignoring this, and instead argue that what LGBTQI people are striving for is for the state to fund their lifestyles.

    Uruguay offers a recent example of an anti-rights policy promoted by these sectors. Three Uruguayan members of the Ibero-American Congress for Life and Family – an alternate Catholic legislator of the National Party, an evangelical neo-Pentecostal representative, also of the National Party, and the leader of the biggest evangelical church in Uruguay, which is also neo-Pentecostal – carried forward a campaign to repeal the Integral Law for Trans People. The signature collection campaign was announced during the congress in Punta del Este that I attended.

    Who were the participants in that conference? From your description, it sounds more a reunion of movement leaders than a mass meeting.

    It was not the parishioners at large who gathered on this occasion, but rather pastors, preachers, politicians, opinion leaders and influencers seeking to take advantage of the language and codes used by a large section of the population, and especially by young people, to communicate. But still, it was a meeting of about 400 people.

    This event was closed; the press was not allowed in. So I signed up as a participant, paid the US$150 registration fee and went in without letting the organisers know that I was covering the event as a journalist. In addition to paying the fee, I had to remain in Punta del Este for three days, stay in a hotel and be in the company of these people all day long. At times it became a bit suffocating because the way they carry out their activities is not the same as in a regular congress or conference, where you listen to panel presentations, take notes and sit in an auditorium next to other people who are doing more or less the same things. In this case, every session, including panels, integrated religious prayers – evangelical-style. This is nothing like Catholic mass, which is highly choreographed, and where the priest takes the lead, everyone knows more or less what he is going to say and parishioners respond with certain phrases at pre-established times, sit, stand and little else. The evangelical experience is very different: people talk, scream, raise their arms, move, touch. The pastor gives them instructions, but still, it is all way more participatory. I found it difficult to remain unnoticed, but I made it through.

    I also managed to get a good record of what was happening, which was not really allowed. There was a lot of surveillance and I would have been thrown out had I been noticed. They realised close to the end: at the last minute they decided to organise a press conference and there was practically no media other than their own. I didn't know whether I should attend, but in the end I decided to, because I had already attended all the sessions after all. There was also a journalist from the weekly Búsqueda who attended the press conference. I was allowed to conduct interviews and was told that I could only publish anything related to the press conference, but not anything I had heard during the congress. Of course, there was nothing they could do to stop me from publishing anything, and my article ‘Gender is the new demon’ (‘El género es el nuevo demonio’) was published in Noticias shortly thereafter.

    Being there helped me understand a few things. There are certainly very powerful religious and political interests behind anti-rights campaigns. But there are also genuine religious expressions, different approaches to life: some ultraconservative sectors genuinely reject 21st century life. What I observed during this congress is the extreme estrangement that some people experience regarding our contemporary world, a reality that can hardly be reversed, but that they experience as completely alien to them: the reality of equal marriage, diverse interpersonal and sexual relationships, sexual education, pleasure and drugs, free choice and abortion. We need to recognise this: there are segments of our societies that do not feel part of this 21st century world and thus react to these advances, which they interpret as degradation and corruption.

    These groups have a nationalist discourse identifying nation-states and peoples as subject to foreign dictates that are considered to be evil – and are even seen as messages from the devil. Evil is embodied in a series of institutions that they describe as imperialistic: the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the inter-American human rights system, international financial organisations, the World Health Organization.

    Isn't it strange for these groups to appeal to nationalism when they organise themselves in transnational networks and are active in the international arena?

    Within the framework of this cultural battle that is being fought at the international level, what these groups do not see is that they themselves are actors in the international arena, even if only to weaken the scope of international law. They aim at the bodies that oversee treaties and conventions, such as the American Convention on Human Rights or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They say that these are just expert committees whose recommendations do not need to be taken into account by states when they contravene domestic laws.

    A recent discussion about this arose around the opinion issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in response to a consultation from Costa Rica regarding gender identity and equal marriage. Costa Rica asked the Court if it was obliged under the American Convention on Human Rights to recognise the gender identity of individuals and the economic rights of same-sex couples. In response, the Inter-American Court told Costa Rica, and therefore the entire continent, that these rights are protected by the Convention. A very strong discussion ensued, because for anti-rights groups this was a case of an international body acting above states, constitutions and national laws.

    You mentioned that many politicians from different countries participated in the Ibero-American Congress. Do you think that these groups want to rule and are they getting ready to get to power? If so, what is their strategy to achieve it?

    Above all, I do believe that they have the will to rule, which has a lot to do with the way the neo-Pentecostal movement that emerged in the USA and then expanded throughout the continent eventually evolved. The argument is simple: if they are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, they are being called to have an impact, so they have to seek power because they are the ones chosen to exercise it.

    As for strategies, they vary. Pragmatism prevails, so the strategy depends a lot on context. In some cases, they create their own parties – religious, evangelical or ultraconservative – by which they feel represented. In other cases, they prefer to insert their candidates into various party tickets. Currently in Argentina, for example, there are candidates of this sort in practically all parties, except for the most radical left. They are present in both the ruling party and the main opposition coalition. In addition, there is a recently formed small party, the NOS Front, founded on the explicit rejection of ‘gender ideology’ in the context of the legislative debate over legal abortion – but it didn’t get many votes in the recent primaries, and I don’t think it will achieve too much in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, many candidates that are running on various lists will be successful, both at the federal and provincial levels.

    Another complementary strategy is to enter governments at lower levels, especially in countries with federal structures, where they can access management positions in the areas of health, education or justice; hence their strategy of training experts – lawyers, jurists, bioethics experts – who can take positions in various areas of public administration. I am seeing that a lot in Argentina.

    In the case of Uruguay, these sectors are quite concentrated within a segment of the National Party, which already has some evangelical and neo-Pentecostal legislators; it is highly likely that there will be more after the next elections. I think an evangelical caucus will very likely emerge out of the October 2019 elections in Uruguay. There are some similar candidates in the other parties, although they are much less visible.

    Additionally, a new phenomenon has emerged in Uruguay, in the form of the Cabildo Abierto party, led by a former army chief, which is the first to declare itself an anti-gender ideology party. This is a new phenomenon because the leaders and main figures of the National Party, the one that has so far given space to most of these candidates, do not support these positions. Although it is a new and small party, polls are forecasting that Cabildo Abierto will get between seven and 10 per cent of vote, which means it will possibly get some legislators elected, who will go on to vote as a block.

    Do you find these developments worrying in a country such as Uruguay, often described as the most secular in Latin America?

    What happens is that confessional vote is not automatic. In Argentina, evangelical parishioners are an important percentage of the population, which is also growing, but for the time being there is hardly any evangelical legislator in the National Congress. Something similar could be said about most countries: people who declare they belong to a certain religious group do not necessarily vote for candidates of the same religion. In other words, the faith-based vote, which is what these sectors intend to promote, is not necessarily succeeding in every country. It has made substantial progress in Brazil, but this progress has taken decades, in addition to being related to peculiarities in the Brazilian open-list electoral system, which allows for such candidacies to spread among various parties, including the Workers’ Party when it was in power. This growth was reflected in the substantial support provided by evangelical sectors to President Jair Bolsonaro’s candidacy, whose victory also nurtured the evangelical caucus.

    A number of factors affect how people vote at any given time; when voting, people are not necessarily guided by candidates’ religious creed. But this could change in the upcoming elections. Both Argentina and Uruguay hold elections in October, on the same day; in Bolivia elections will be held a week earlier; and also in October there will be regional elections in Colombia, with many such candidates in various parties. We will soon get a better idea of how the faith-based vote evolves in each country. We need to watch it closely in order to find out if it is a linear phenomenon on the rise, a process including progress and reversals, or a phenomenon that is finding its limits.

    Get in touch with Diana Cariboni through herFacebook page and follow@diana_cariboni on Twitter.  


  • ARGENTINA: ‘Change is inevitable. It is just a matter of time’


    Twitter: Edurne Cárdenas

    In 2018, after years of civil society efforts, Argentina’s congress discussed an initiative to legalise abortion for the first time. While the ban on abortion in most cases remains, those campaigning for reform believe the debate has progressed. CIVICUS speaks about the campaign to Edurne Cárdenas, a lawyer with the international team of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS),an Argentine human rights organisation. CELS was founded in 1979, during Argentina’s military dictatorship, to promote human rights, justice and social inclusion. In its early years, CELS fought for truth and justice for the crimes committed under state terrorism, before expanding its agenda to include human rights violations committed under democracy, their structural causes and their relationship to social inequality. CELS advances its agenda through research, campaigning, alliances with others in civil society, public policy advocacy and strategic litigation in both national and international forums.

    When did CELS, a classic human rights organisation, start working on sexual and reproductive rights, and why?

    CELS has had great capacity to work in tune with the times and therefore to enrich its agenda progressively, always in alliance with social movements and other organisations. The idea of women’s rights as human rights was explicitly articulated at the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights. In the mid-1990s, and more precisely in 1996 I believe, the CELS annual report included contributions by women’s rights activists on reproductive rights. Over the following years, often in partnership with other organisations, CELS took part in submissions to human rights bodies: for instance, in 2004 we contributed to a shadow report submitted to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion was formed in 2005 and CELS joined in 2012. Shortly after those first articles were published in our annual report, our concerns about human rights violations gradually widened to encompass access to non-punishable abortions, as they are referred to in the Criminal Code - abortions that can be performed legally when the woman’s life or health are in danger or if the pregnancy in question is the product of rape. The issue was also incorporated as a result of the sustained work of feminist activists within our organisation.

    In sum, CELS works on this issue because we understand that the criminalisation of abortion has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights by women. CELS’ key contribution was to place the abortion debate within the human rights sphere and to put into circulation human rights arguments to feed debate around the issue. CELS does not specialise in health issues, but we work in partnership with other organisations that examine the problem from that angle. From our point of view, this is an issue in which freedom and equality are at stake, and that is cross-cut by another theme - institutional violence - that was historically central to our work.

    In 2018 the debate over legal abortion progressed in Argentina more than ever before, but not far enough for legal change to happen. What lessons do you draw from this experience?

    In 2018, for the first time ever, an initiative to legalise abortion was debated in Congress. It was the seventh time that an initiative of this nature was introduced, and it was drafted and promoted by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. This is a network bringing together more than 500 organisations that form the women’s movement; it is well coordinated, horizontal and has 13 years of experience in this struggle. Before 2018, initiatives had not progressed, even within the congressional committees that had to issue an opinion to allow for debate to proceed to the full house. Argentina has a tradition of highly mobilised feminism and, since 2015, the campaign has had a lot of street presence and has made a clear demand for legal abortion. 2018 began with a novelty: in his opening speech of that year’s legislative session, the president raised the issue, which alongside feminist pressure enabled parliamentary debate. This was absolutely unprecedented. Regrettably, after being passed by the House of Representatives - the lower house - in June 2018, the initiative to legalise abortion was rejected by the Senate in August.

    The whole process was led by the women's movement. All other movements and organisations aligned behind their leadership. In the House, the initiative succeeded because the strategy was multi-partisan and diverse, there was strong social movement participation and street pressure made itself heard. In the Senate, a more conservative chamber, additional work was required. Our alliances failed us, as we couldn’t make them as cross-cutting as they were in the House. A question that remains on the table, then, is how to reach out to the most conservative chamber of Congress with a demand that must necessarily be processed through it.

    In addition, the defeat in the Senate made it clear that we need to work more to understand and counter the ‘post-truth’ discourse of our opponents. We are seeing conservative advances that put institutional quality, and ultimately democratic institutions, at risk. What was interesting in the process was that all citizens were able to find out and take note of what their representatives think and how they vote.

    The results of this particular struggle could be called bittersweet. How much of a defeat, and how much of a victory were they, and why?

    The pictures of disappointment on 9 August 2018, when the Senate rejected the initiative, do not tell the whole story. When we take stock, the list of what we won is much longer than the list of what we lost. Losses of course include a missed opportunity - but we only missed one opportunity, that of 2018, because I really believe that change is inevitable, and it is just a matter of time. I do not know if it will happen in 2019, but it will eventually. But one thing does need to happen in 2019: with elections due, all the issues that were put on the table during this process have to be part of the presidential campaign agenda.

    We undoubtedly gained in terms of mass participation and public presence - both in the streets and in public opinion. In 2018 abortion was discussed like never before, so silences and taboos broke. But the process also had a negative side effect: because the issue that was placed on the agenda was so divisive, and mobilisation became so massive and acquired such centrality on the political scene, a strong reaction from the most conservative sectors ensued. These sectors gained a level of organisation and visibility that they did not have in the past.

    As these conservative voices emerged, the debate on abortion rights also brought back into the discussion some things that we thought were long settled and part of a basic, untouchable consensus. These sectors began to say out loud certain things that they wouldn’t have dared say only a few years ago. Such was the case with the campaign ‘Do not mess with my children’ (Con mis hijos no te metas), against the implementation of the law mandating comprehensive sex education, which called into question the role of the state in education.

    What role did CELS play in the legalisation campaign?

    Throughout the process, the women’s movement’s leadership, and that of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, was undisputable. As a member of the Campaign, and alongside other human rights organisations, CELS made an important contribution in terms of organisation, coordination and argumentation.

    Our history and experience give CELS much legitimacy. The fact that CELS speaks about abortion can make a difference when it comes to reaching broader audiences. Starting in 2014, when it seemed likely that the legalisation initiative would eventually be discussed in congressional committees, CELS began putting together input for the legislative debate, by revising jurisprudence and current standards and providing a justification as to why the debate on abortion had to be carried out from a human rights perspective.

    At the same time, CELS participated as amicus curiae - friend of the court - in various court cases. Although we think that our ultimate goal, and the only one compatible with the recognition of women’s autonomy as full subjects of rights, is the legalisation of abortion, we have deemed it necessary to ensure in the meantime that the abortions that are already legal can be performed effectively, along the lines established for non-punishable abortions. In 2012, in its ruling in the F.A.L. case, the Supreme Court made very clear the conditions under which legal abortions can be performed and the obligations that this confers on the state. This ruling reflected the great work done by women’s rights and human rights movements on the streets, in hospitals, in academia and in the courts. But nonetheless, access remains very uneven, and even in more ‘advanced’ provinces barriers to legal abortions still exist. To a large extent, this reflects the structural limitations of a system that establishes a restrictive set of grounds allowing abortions, which inevitably fails because it depends on someone certifying the presence of those grounds. In addition, the current system ignores the most important among all possible grounds for abortion: the pregnant person’s will. This is precisely what the bill that was passed by the House put in the spotlight.

    During the 2018 debate, CELS made several presentations in support of the initiative at public hearings in both houses of Congress. Our executive director and I presented at the House of Representatives - significantly, both at the opening and the closing of the debate - and our litigation director spoke at the Senate. At the beginning of the debate, we issued a publication that was endorsed by a large part of the women’s movement, feminists and organisations alike, with arguments, legislation and jurisprudence, to bring clear information to legislators.

    We were also present on the streets, not only sharing the vigils that were held during the voting sessions, but also in organising, providing support and coordinating with the women's movement, with the other organisations within the Campaign for Legal Abortion and with high school students, health professionals and other mobilised groups. This coordination and the sustained presence of the movement on the streets were what made the difference during 2018. Finally, we defended the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, since throughout this process the groups mobilised against legal abortion perpetrated various acts of violence against legalisation activists.

    You have repeatedly mentioned the existence of anti-rights groups. Do you think these groups are on the rise? If so, what can progressive civil society do to protect the rights already conquered and keep moving forward?

    Anti-rights groups have indeed grown and are organised under a common umbrella, against what they call ‘gender ideology’. They saw this debate as an opportunity to organise like never before. Now they are more numerous: there used to be groups linked to the Catholic Church, but now there are also numerous groups with links to evangelical churches, well-organised and well-funded, alongside other groups that are not necessarily faith-based. Their presence demands our attention because their goals run against the rights of a large part of the population, as they seek to limit access to rights by children, women, lesbians, gays, transvestites and trans people. They are appearing throughout Latin America and their existence also raises questions about their alliances and goals: how and when did they arrive in Argentina? What are their demands? How far are they willing to go? We have seen that behind their ‘no to abortion’ they bring along a broader agenda that is linked to their rejection of so-called ‘gender ideology’, sexual education in schools, even vaccination, and who knows what else.

    The progressive movement needs to think of a strategy to face them. The strength of the human rights movement is our use of creativity and the strategy of reason. On the other hand, what anti-rights movements do is mirror the strategies of the human rights movement. Now, although creativity and innovation give us an advantage, the anti-rights movement is making us waste our time discussing things we thought were long settled. To top it all, what we get into is not even an honest discussion, since the statements they make and even the data they use do not withstand the slightest fact check. The result is not actual debate - that is, a genuine exchange of arguments and reasons. Still, we have no alternative but to respond. So, when we engage in such ‘debate’, we do not really discuss with them or try to convince them, but we share our reasoning before an audience, in order to try and convince that audience. We take advantage of that simulation of a debate to make our point before public opinion. For this task, social media are key, although they have clearly been a double-edged sword. In fact, it was during this debate that we were able to see first-hand the way so-called ‘fake news’ operates, particularly when they find an echo in influential voices outside social media, who disseminate them elsewhere. It so happened, for instance, that totally fake data found on social media were quoted by legislators during the congressional debate. In that area, there is a lot of work for us to do.

    Leading the debate agenda is one of the challenges that our movements face. To do this, we need to always be a step ahead in the discussion. We should not ‘debate’ with the anti-rights groups but speak to larger audiences and engage in discussion with elected representatives, whose obligation it is to pass laws for our common good and to ensure the state’s compliance with its obligation to enforce human rights. The debate over the legalisation of abortion was a spearhead to think about other issues. The system of limited grounds for legal abortion, similar to the one that has just been adopted in Chile, has been in place in Argentina since 1921. The transition from a system of grounds to a system of deadlines requires a simple legislative decision to amend the Criminal Code. Why such big fuss then? Because this debate puts other discussions on the table, including what we think the role of women is, what the role of the state should be, to what extent and regarding what issues the state should get involved - and this is where conservative sectors exhibit their contradictions: they want the state to get inside your bed to criminalise your behaviour, but when it comes to education or vaccination, they want it not to interfere.

    We cannot stay on the defensive. We need to go on the offensive and place secularism and the role of the state on the agenda. And we are forced to do so in a very regressive sub-regional context. Brazil, our biggest neighbour and partner, has just elected a president who is committed to advancing the agenda of its powerful evangelical caucus and who has just appointed to lead the Ministry of Human Rights an evangelic minister who says that women are born to be mothers.

    Civic space in Argentina is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with CELS through theirwebsite andFacebook page, or follow@CELS_Argentina and@EdurneC on Twitter.


  • ARGENTINE : « Le changement culturel a permis le changement juridique et le changement juridique a approfondi le changement culturel »

    Dix ans après l’approbation en Argentine de la loi sur le mariage pour tous, qui a marqué un jalon pour l’Amérique latine, CIVICUS s’entretient avec la dirigeante LGBTQI+ María Rachid sur les stratégies utilisées et les tactiques qui ont le mieux fonctionné pour faire avancer l’agenda de l’égalité, et qui peuvent encore être utiles aujourd’hui. María dirige actuellement l’Institut contre la Discrimination du Défenseur des peuples de la ville de Buenos Aires et fait partie de la Commission Directive de la Fédération Argentine de Lesbiennes, Gays, Bisexuels et Trans (Fédération Argentine LGBT). En 1996, elle a fondé l’organisation féministe lesbienne La Fulana et en 2006, elle a cofondé la Fédération argentine LGBT, qui rassemble des organisations de diversité sexuelle et a joué un rôle central dans l’approbation de la loi sur le mariage pour tous.

    maria rachid

    Quelle était la situation de la diversité sexuelle en Argentine lorsque la campagne pour le mariage pour tous a commencé ?

    Nous venions d'une situation où la relation des organisations de diversité sexuelle avec l'État était de confrontation. C'était de l'État que provenaient la plupart des discriminations, violences et harcèlement envers la communauté LGBT+, et en particulier envers les personnes trans, à travers les forces de sécurité et les institutions en général. La discrimination était permanente et l’incapacité d’accéder aux droits était constante. C'est pour cela que dans les années 80 et 90, nous faisions des escraches, c’est-à-dire, des manifestations de répudiation par honte publique, devant les commissariats de police, afin de dénoncer la police et les outils qu'elle employait, tels que les codes d'infraction et la loi sur le casier judiciaire, et nous avons rencontré d'autres organisations de défense des droits humains qui se battaient pour la même cause. Les outils de discrimination de l'État étaient utilisés contre divers groupes ; nous étions l'un d'entre eux, mais il y en avait d'autres qui étaient également harcelés et persécutés avec les mêmes outils qui alimentaient la petite caisse de la police.

    Après l'énorme crise économique, sociale et politique de 2001, il y a eu un affaiblissement des institutions et un renforcement de la mobilisation sociale. Très opportunément, à ce stade, la Communauté Homosexuelle Argentine (CHA), l'une des plus anciennes organisations de diversité sexuelle dans le pays, a présenté un projet d'union civile à l'Assemblée législative de la ville de Buenos Aires, la capitale. La loi qui a fini par être approuvée était très courte, de moins d'une page, et établissait fondamentalement que dans la ville de Buenos Aires, les couples de personnes du même sexe devraient être traités d'une manière « similaire » aux mariages hétérosexuels. Bien sûr, le projet original ne disait pas « similaire », mais l'expression a été introduite pour garantir son approbation. Aujourd’hui, cela serait perçu comme humiliant, mais dans ce contexte, c’était une énorme réussite. Parallèlement à cette loi, d'autres projets ont également été approuvés, reflétant également des revendications de la citoyenneté mobilisée, tel que l'expropriation d'une entreprise récupérée par ses travailleurs et l'établissement de normes pour permettre le travail des cartonniers.

    Après l'approbation de la loi sur l'union civile à Buenos Aires, nous avons commencé à réfléchir à la prochaine étape. Certaines organisations ont proposé d'étendre l'union civile à d'autres districts, comme cela s'est produit plus tard dans la province de Río Negro et dans la ville de Córdoba, et d'essayer de l'étendre au niveau national. Mais d'autres organisations ont commencé à réfléchir à l'idée du mariage, même si à cette époque-là cela semblait fou, car seuls deux pays dans le monde le reconnaissaient - la Belgique et les Pays-Bas – et il s’agissait deux pays culturellement très différents de l’Argentine, sans une Église catholique politiquement influente, qui constitue l’obstacle principal à la reconnaissance de nos droits.

    Comment l’impossible est-il devenu réalisable ?

    Dans ce contexte de violence institutionnelle, où il n'y avait eu qu'une petite avancée grâce à laquelle nos couples seraient traités de manière « similaire » aux couples hétérosexuels dans certains parties du pays, certaines choses ont commencé à changer, tant au niveau national qu’international, qui ont placé l'aspiration à l'égalité sur le terrain du possible.

    L'une de ces choses était qu'en 2003, le gouvernement récemment inauguré de Néstor Kirchner a abrogé les soi-disant « lois sur l'impunité », qui empêchaient la poursuite ou l'exécution de peines contre les auteurs de crimes contre l'humanité commis pendant la dernière dictature. C'était un changement du paradigme des droits humains en Argentine, et au début nous nous sommes demandé si cette fois cela nous inclurait. Depuis le retour à la démocratie on avait parlé des droits humains dans notre pays, mais ils ne nous avaient jamais inclus. Les personnes trans continuaient d'être persécutées, détenues et torturées dans les commissariats de police. Mais avec l'abrogation des lois sur l'impunité, nous pensions que les choses pouvaient changer.

    Peu de temps après, en 2004, nous avons été convoqués à élaborer un plan national contre la discrimination. C'était la première fois que l'État convoquait les organisations de la diversité à développer un plan de politique publique qui allait comporter un chapitre spécifique sur la diversité. Nous y sommes allés avec méfiance, pensant que nos propositions allaient rester dans le tiroir d'un fonctionnaire. Nous avons fait notre diagnostic et nos propositions, nous avons participé à beaucoup de rencontres dans différentes provinces et nous avons pensé que tout n'aboutirait à rien. Mais avant longtemps, on nous a appelés et demandés si nous pouvions revoir le plan avant sa publication, car on voulait s'assurer que nous étions d'accord avec le contenu. Nous avons commencé à le regarder en pensant qu'ils auraient sûrement effacer tout ce que nous avions écrit, mais tout était là, rien ne manquait. Il y avait l'égalité des droits, il y avait la reconnaissance de l'identité de genre des personnes trans, il y avait tout sauf le mariage pour tous, car en 2004, même les organisations de la diversité ne parlaient pas du mariage pour tous en Argentine. Nous ne l'avons jamais mentionné dans les réunions et pour cette raison, même s'il incluait l'objectif « d'assimiler les droits des couples de même sexe à ceux des familles hétérosexuelles », il ne mentionnait pas expressément le mariage pour tous. Le Plan National contre la Discrimination est sorti par décret présidentiel : ainsi, nos revendications historiques ont été traduites en un plan de politique publique et c'est le président lui-même qui a dit à ses fonctionnaires ce qu'ils avaient à faire en matière de diversité sexuelle, ce qui était exactement ce que nous avions réclamé.

    Au milieu de ce changement de paradigme des droits humains qui pour la première fois semblait inclure la diversité sexuelle, il y a eu un énorme changement au niveau international : en 2005 le mariage pour tous a été approuvé en Espagne, un pays culturellement similaire au nôtre et avec une forte présence de l'Église catholique. En effet, l'Église avait rallié un million et demi de personnes dans les rues contre l'égalité du mariage en Espagne, et la loi avait été adoptée tout de même. Dans un contexte aussi favorable tant au niveau national qu'international, un groupe d'organisations de la diversité sexuelle s'est réuni pour lutter pour le mariage pour tous en Argentine.

    Quel était le rôle de la Fédération Argentine LGBT dans la promotion du mariage pour tous ?

    La Fédération Argentine LGBT a été créée précisément à cette époque, à partir de la convergence d'un certain nombre d'organisations avec une grande expérience non seulement dans la ville de Buenos Aires mais aussi dans plusieurs provinces, pour plaider en faveur d'un agenda qui avait initialement cinq points. Premièrement, le mariage pour tous avec la possibilité d'adoption d’enfants ; nous avons spécifiquement demandé la reconnaissance du droit d'adoption car nous avons vu que dans certains pays, on a dû renoncer à l'adoption pour obtenir l’approbation du mariage pour tous. Deuxièmement, une loi sur la reconnaissance de l'identité de genre. Troisièmement, une loi anti-discrimination au niveau national. Quatrièmement, l'inclusion de la diversité dans un programme d’éducation sexuelle. Et cinquièmement, l'abrogation des articles des codes d'infraction qui, dans 16 provinces, criminalisaient toujours « l'homosexualité » et le « travestissement », en ces termes.

    La Fédération a réuni presque toutes les organisations importantes de la diversité sexuelle ; seules deux anciennes organisations ont été laissées de côté, la CHA et la SIGLA (Société d’Intégration des Gays et Lesbiennes), très en désaccord l’une avec l’autre et dirigées presque entièrement par des hommes, avec très peu de participation des femmes. Cependant, la SIGLA a soutenu la Fédération sur tout le chemin vers le mariage pour tous, tandis que la CHA était en désaccord avec cette proposition car elle pensait qu'en Amérique latine, étant donné la forte présence de l'Église catholique, ce ne serait pas possible, et donc elle a continué à parier sur l'union civile.

    Quelles ont été les principales stratégies et tactiques utilisées ?

    La première chose que nous avons faite a été de convoquer des activistes de différentes professions et de différentes disciplines. Nous avons constitué une équipe d'avocats et une équipe de communicateurs, nous avons convoqué une table de journalistes et nous avons constitué des équipes qui pourraient apporter différentes contributions à la campagne.

    Nous pensions que nous devions emprunter toutes les voies possibles en même temps. Nous avons d'abord examiné les différentes voies par lesquelles ces lois avaient été adoptées ailleurs. Par exemple, au moment où nous avons déposé le premier appel judiciaire, le mariage pour tous avait déjà été prononcé en Afrique du Sud par la Cour suprême. Nous avons également étudié les débats qui avaient eu lieu dans différents pays du monde, non seulement sur le mariage pour tous, mais aussi sur d'autres questions telles que le vote des femmes, le mariage civil, le divorce et les droits sexuels et reproductifs. Les arguments utilisés pour nier les droits étaient toujours identiques, et ils s’appuyaient sur le fondamentalisme religieux.

    La conclusion de notre analyse était qu'il fallait emprunter simultanément les voies du pouvoir exécutif, du pouvoir législatif et du pouvoir judiciaire. En même temps, il fallait s'adresser aux médias et installer la question dans la société. Cela nous a semblé d’autant plus clair après une rencontre avec le ministre de l'Intérieur de l'époque, qui nous a dit que nous avions l'accord du pouvoir exécutif, mais que nous devions créer les conditions pour ne pas perdre le vote au Congrès. Depuis lors, on a travaillé pendant des années pour atteindre l'opinion publique et créer ainsi les conditions pour faire basculer la balance en notre faveur au Congrès.

    En 2007, nous avons présenté le premier appel à la protection pour le mariage pour tous ; nous présenterions plus d'une centaine. À la suite d'une injonction, en 2009, un couple homosexuel a réussi à se marier avec une autorisation judiciaire à Ushuaia, et en 2010 huit autres couples ont pu se marier, dont une de lesbiennes, dans la ville et dans la province de Buenos Aires. À ce moment-là, nous avions changé de stratégie : au début, nous avions plaidé dans la juridiction civile de la famille, où la présence de l'Opus Dei et de son catholicisme pur et dur était très forte. De nombreux juges civiles de famille étaient des militants de l'Église catholique et en particulier de l'Opus Dei, il était donc très difficile d'obtenir une décision favorable dans cette juridiction. Le changement s'est produit lorsque nous nous sommes rendu compte que, comme nous introduisions une action judiciaire contre le Registre civil, dépendant du gouvernement de la ville de Buenos Aires, nous pouvions recourir au tribunal contentieux administratif et fiscal dès lors que l’Etat était partie au conflit. Comme il s'agit d'une juridiction qui traite principalement de questions liées à la fiscalité, et qu'en Argentine l'Église catholique est exonérée de payer des impôts, nous n'y allions pas trouver des juges militants de l'Église catholique ou de l'Opus Dei, car c'est une juridiction qui n’a pas d'intérêt politique pour eux. Dès ce changement de stratégie, toutes les décisions dans la ville et la province de Buenos Aires ont été en notre faveur.

    Bien qu'au début nous pensions aux amparos (procédure de protection des droits fondamentaux) de manière littérale, comme une recherche du soutien de la justice envers nos revendications, ils ont fini par être avant tout une excellente stratégie de communication, car chacun de ces litiges était en fait une histoire que nous racontions à la société sur les raisons pour lesquelles il était juste, nécessaire et opportun d'approuver le mariage pour tous. Pour cela faire, nous avons beaucoup préparé les couples qui présentaient leurs amparos, en particulier les premiers, dont nous savions qu'ils auraient une belle exposition médiatique. Cela a donc fini par être une stratégie de communication plus qu'une stratégie judiciaire.

    Comment avez-vous conquis l'opinion publique ?

    Nous avons beaucoup travaillé avec les médias. Nous organisions des petits déjeuners avec des journalistes, dans un premier temps seulement avec quelques alliés, mais plus tard, ces rencontres ont été élargies. Tant était le travail en ce sens que dans les derniers mois, il n'y avait plus d’articles de presse signées contre le mariage pour tous, y compris dans le journal traditionnel La Nación, qui ne s'y est opposé que par ses éditoriaux, puisque les notes signées par ses journalistes étaient également favorables. En d'autres termes, même dans les médias hostiles, les journalistes ont fini par être nos alliés. Nous avons fait un livret pour les communicateurs expliquant en quoi consistait le projet, pourquoi il était important, quels étaient les arguments. Nous avons également fait des spots publicitaires, mais comme nous n'avions pas d'argent pour les transmettre, nous avons demandé aux journalistes et aux responsables des médias de les diffuser en tant que contenu des émissions, et de fait ils les ont beaucoup diffusés. C'était des spots amusants qui attiraient l'attention.

    Pour gagner du soutien, nous devions montrer à la société le soutien que nous recevions déjà dans certains secteurs et de la part de personnes respectées. Nous avons donc commencé par publier une liste de supporters, qui au début était très courte, mais qui a fini par devenir une énorme newsletter contenant les noms de toutes les centrales syndicales, les différents syndicats, des référents politiques de presque tous les partis, des références de l'art, des médias, des religions.

    À l'approche du débat parlementaire, nous avons commencé à organiser des événements, généralement au Sénat, pour montrer le soutien que nous recevions dans différents secteurs, et qui ont eu de grandes répercussions dans les médias. L'événement « La culture dit oui au mariage pour tous » a réuni des musiciens et des artistes ; l'événement « La science dit oui au mariage pour tous » a réuni des académiques et des scientifiques, et nous avons recueilli 600 signatures d'universités, de chercheurs et d'associations professionnelles de psychologie et de pédiatrie, entre autres. Contrairement aux précédents, nous avons organisé l'événement « La religion dit oui au mariage pour tous » dans une église évangélique au quartier de Flores, auquel ont participé des prêtres catholiques, des rabbins et des rabbines, et des pasteurs évangéliques et d'autres églises protestantes. Au-delà de ce que nous pensions individuellement des religions et de la séparation de l'Église et de l'État, nous voulions montrer aux gens qu'ils n'avaient pas besoin de choisir entre leur religion et le mariage pour tous, car ils pouvaient être en faveur du mariage pour tous quelle que soit leur orientation religieuse. À cause de leur participation à l'événement, le lendemain, quelques prêtres catholiques ont été expulsés de l'église.

    Comment ces manifestations de soutien ont-elles aidé à modifier des positions de législateurs ?

    Dès le départ, nous avons utilisé la stratégie du lobbying en affichant ce soutien, ainsi que ceux qui émergeaient des sondages d'opinion. La première enquête que nous avons eue a été réalisée par le journal Página/12 et montrait que dans la ville de Buenos Aires, le taux d'approbation dépassait le 60 %. Peu de temps après, le gouvernement a commandé une enquête très importante, qui était même basée sur des groupes de discussion dans les provinces, ce qui nous a permis non seulement de savoir si les gens étaient pour ou contre, mais aussi quels arguments étaient les plus efficaces. Dans les groupes de discussion, nous avons présenté différents arguments en faveur du mariage pour tous et nous avons observé les réactions des gens ; ainsi nous avons identifié les arguments qui fonctionnaient le mieux.

    Bien sûr, nous avons toujours montré la partie de l'enquête qui nous convenait le mieux, parce que les réponses dépendaient beaucoup de la manière dont la question était posée. Par exemple, lorsque nous avons demandé aux gens s'ils croyaient que les personnes homosexuelles et hétérosexuelles avaient les mêmes droits, environ 90 % ont répondu oui ; mais si nous leur demandions s'ils acceptaient qu’elles puissent se marier, le pourcentage tombait à 60% ; et si nous leur posions la question sur les droits d'adoption, l'approbation tombait à 40 %. Mais si nous les informions qu'en réalité les personnes homosexuelles en Argentine étaient déjà légalement autorisées à adopter de manière individuelle, et nous leur demandions ensuite s'ils accepteraient de retirer ce droit, la majorité disait non. Si seulement un 40 % était en principe favorable à l'adoption par des couples de personnes du même sexe, plus du 50 % refusait de l'interdire si elle était déjà autorisée. Une partie de la discussion consistait donc à informer les gens et à expliquer que les enfants adoptés par des personnes homosexuelles avaient la moitié de leurs droits, car puisque leurs parents ne pouvaient pas se marier, l'un d'eux ne pouvait pas, par exemple, leur laisser une pension. Quand nous leur avons demandé s'ils ne pensaient pas que ces personnes devraient pouvoir se marier pour que leurs enfants puissent obtenir la garantie de tous leurs droits, plus du 80 % ont répondu oui.

    A partir du travail avec ces arguments, le soutien a grandi tout au long de la campagne, au point que des adhésions inattendues ont commencé à arriver, par exemple, du Centre étudiant d'une université catholique qui nous a appelés pour nous rejoindre. À la fin je dirais que tous les référents de l'art, de la culture, du monde syndical et du journalisme nous ont soutenus. Tous ceux qui continuaient d'être contre représentaient une religion, mais parmi nos partisans, il y avait aussi de nombreux référents religieux. Avec les chiffres de l'opinion publique et les listes de partisans en main, nous avons fait le tour des commissions parlementaires et les chambres législatives, et nous avons opéré politiquement pendant les débats jusqu'au moment même où la loi a été approuvée.

    Je pense que la stratégie consistant à parcourir toutes les voies possibles, à avoir une grande capacité de dialogue et d'articulation, et à rechercher tous les alliés possibles, a été très réussie. Même à une époque de forte polarisation politique, nous avons parlé avec tous les partis, avec les jeunes et les groupes féministes des partis, avec certains alliés LGBT+ des partis, et plus tard, au fur et à mesure qu'ils sont apparus, avec les divisions de diversité des partis. C'était très difficile, mais dans la lutte pour le mariage pour tous, nous avons réussi à prendre la « photo impossible », dans laquelle des politiciens du gouvernement et de l'opposition se sont alignés derrière la même cause.

    Pour changer la loi, il fallait d'abord générer un changement des attitudes sociales. Pensez-vous que l'adoption de la loi a entraîné d'autres changements sociaux et culturels plus profonds ?

    L'approbation de la loi a généré un certain climat dans la société, je dirais même de fierté d'être le dixième pays au monde à avoir consacré le mariage pour tous. Le secteur politique qui avait voté contre la loi se sentait exclu et ne voulait pas que cela se reproduise, ce qui s'est reflété dans l'approbation, en 2012, de la loi sur l'identité de genre, bien plus révolutionnaire que celle du mariage pour tous, pratiquement à l'unanimité. Il s'agit d'une loi à la pointe dans le monde entier, et même les plus grands opposants au mariage pour tous l'ont défendue et ont voté pour elle au Sénat.

    Ces lois ont eu de grands impacts institutionnels et l'action institutionnelle a approfondi le changement culturel. Après son approbation, tous les ministères, de nombreuses municipalités et de nombreuses provinces ont mis en place des espaces de diversité sexuelle. En conséquence, il s'est avéré qu'il y avait de nombreuses agences publiques à différents niveaux générant des politiques publiques sur la diversité, qui ont eu un impact dans de nombreux domaines, y compris les écoles. Cela a généré un changement culturel important, car il a modifié la perception de nos familles. Bien sûr, il existe des poches de résistance et des actes de discrimination continuent à se produire, mais maintenant ces actes de discrimination sont signalés et répudiés par la société et la condamnation sociale est amplifiée par le journalisme et les médias. La discrimination, qui dans le passé était légitimée par l'État, manque désormais de légitimité. L'État non seulement ne la légitime plus mais génère également des politiques publiques en faveur de la diversité. La loi n'a jamais été notre objectif ultime et ce n'est pas non plus une solution miracle pour mettre fin à la discrimination, mais c'est un outil sans lequel il est impossible de mettre fin à la discrimination.

    L'espace civique en Argentine est classé « étroit » par leCIVICUS MonitorContactez María via sonsiteweb ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@Defensorialgbt sur Twitter. Contactez la Federation Argentine LGBT via son siteweb ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez @FALGBT sur Twitter. 


  • BOLIVIE : « La pandémie est devenue une justification pour le renforcement du contrôle de l’information »

    CIVICUS s’entretien sur la situation politique bolivienne et le calendrier électoral dans le cadre de la pandémie de COVID-19 avec Cristian León, directeur des programmes d’Asuntos del Sur et coordinateur de Public Innovation 360, un projet qui poursuit le renforcement démocratique des gouvernements infranationaux et qui est mis en œuvre dans trois pays d’Amérique latine. Asuntos del Sur est une organisation régionale de la société civile basée en Argentine qui conçoit et met en œuvre des innovations politiques pour développer des démocraties paritaires, inclusives et participatives. Cristian León est également l’un des fondateurs, et actuellement un contributeur, d’, qui défend les droits numériques en Bolivie.


  • BRAZIL: ‘Discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised’

    Dariele SantosAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about migrant workers’ rights with Dariele Santos, the young founder of Instituto Alinha, a social enterprise focused on improving the work and life conditions of migrant workers employed in the fashion industry.


    When and why did you decide to create the Alinha Institute?

    When I was in college I had several jobs with which I supplemented my scholarship, and one of those jobs involved research on immigration issues, and more specifically about Latin American immigrants employed in the clothing industry in São Paulo. That’s when I began to speak with migrants and I learned about their precarious life and work conditions, that is, about the reality of the production chain in Brazil’s fashion industry.

    Brazil encompasses all steps in the production chain of this industry, from cotton production to garment manufacturing. The fashion industry is spread throughout the country, but its final link, the manufacturing of clothing, is highly concentrated in São Paulo, employing mostly migrant workers. Production is highly outsourced; clothing brands subcontract with sewing workshops that are involved in the various phases of the manufacturing process. The more workshops that are involved in the process, the more difficult it is to exercise some control and the more labour protections are lost. Many of these workshops are small and family-run, and function in the family's home, with all members of the family working, and getting paid by the piece. People work up to 90 hours per week because they get paid very little for each piece that they produce.

    When I learned the stories of these migrant workers, I began to realise the huge dimensions of the problem, and I also realised how little I had known about it, and how little we know in general about the fashion industry chain: we don't care the least about how the clothes that we wear are made. The problem of the huge inequality and injustice in the fashion industry chain is completely invisible. It is a super-luxury industry that generates a lot of money, but to the same extent, it is a chain of enormous exploitation.

    Along with a friend, I started thinking about starting a social enterprise that would apply technology to solve this problem, and we launched Alinha in 2014.

    What does Alinha do to improve the working conditions of migrant workers?

    The idea is simple: Alinha provides advice to sewing workshop entrepreneurs so that they regularise their businesses and guarantee adequate security and reasonable deadlines and pay, and connects them with clothing manufacturers and designers interested in hiring a workshop, thus ensuring fair conditions for all parties involved.

    More specifically, we begin by visiting the sewing workshops that sign up to receive advice, and we assess their deficits in order to recommend what they should do to get out of informality. We look at areas such as their forms of contracting, their health and safety conditions and their equipment. In our second visit we bring a work safety specialist. These workshops have a lot of fire hazards, because they store large quantities of cloth and tend to have precarious electrical installations; to make things worse, usually many children live in the houses in which the workshops operate. Once the safety assessment has been done, we prepare an action plan aimed at regularising the workshops or aligning them with labour and safety standards - hence our name of Alinha. We do it in plain language and translate the laws for workers. We provide the basics of accounting and help workshop owners calculate the required investment and how it would impact on product prices. Once the improvements have been made and we consider that a workshop has reached a minimum security and formalisation threshold, we upload its details to the Alinha platform so that it can get it in touch with brands and designers. Brands and designers come on our platform because they seek to change the way they produce and are willing to guarantee fair payment terms and deadlines. So we connect them.

    The prices of these products are surely higher than those of products made under conditions of extreme exploitation. Have you managed to convince consumers that it is worth paying more for them?

    We're on it. We know that it is important to connect consumers because they have enormous power in their hands: when choosing the brand they are going to buy, they can make the decision to support one that guarantees fair working conditions. But consumers can't really choose if they don't know which brands have contracts with our aligned workshops. That is why we have a platform where the aligned brands place data that users can check - for example, that they are making a certain number of pieces with such and such workshop, so that after the information has been added to the Alinha platform, the workshop can confirm on the phone that they are indeed making these pieces, earning a certain amount per hour, and working with such and such deadlines. When all the links in the production chain confirm the information, an identification code for the piece is generated to be placed on the garment’s label, so that the final user can track the garment’s history. All information and confirmations are stored in Blockchain, so that there is more security and trust in the information.

    We are also in the process of making a short film that tells the story behind the clothes, based on the story of a Bolivian migrant seamstress. The presentation of an individual’s story seeks to generate connection and empathy: we want the consumer to see a woman who has dreams and hopes similar to their own. We seek to ask the consumer a question: which story would you rather choose, one about exploitation or one about decent work?

    Do you think that the situation of migrants in Brazil has recently worsened?

    The problem of migrants is not recent; it comes from long ago. There are many migrants who have lived here, and worked in terrible conditions, for decades. Migrants who work in sewing workshops in São Paulo are mostly Bolivian, although there are many from countries such as Paraguay and Peru as well. Many of them first emigrated from their countries to Argentina, but when the 2008 financial crisis hit they moved to Brazil. The political and economic conditions back then - the Lula government and a period of strong economic growth - made Brazil a better destination.

    But it is difficult to be a migrant in Brazil. It is the only non-Spanish speaking country in the region, so difficulties in communication and access to information abound. Migrants without legal documentation or formal employment are afraid all the time. The psychological pressure is very strong: people refuse to leave the sewing workshops because they are afraid of being caught and forced to leave. Migrants fear the consequences of demanding their rights.

    While the migrant workers’ exploitation is not a new problem, and migrants’ fear isn’t new either, the situation has recently worsened. The new president, Jair Bolsonaro, represents the far right, and his discourse is extremely xenophobic. He places himself above the laws and above all democratic guarantees. His message to migrant workers is: ‘be thankful for all the good things you have here, and if there is something you don't like, you’d better leave’. The fact that hate speech is coming from so high up is emboldening people who always thought these things, but in the past would not say them and now feel it is legitimate to do so. In this sense, discrimination and hate speech are becoming normalised.

    This situation is replicated in various spheres. It is a dangerous time for activists working on human rights, environmental rights, women's rights, LGBTQI rights, black and indigenous peoples’ rights and migrants’ rights. There is a lot of fear because going against the government poses high risks. This has been clearly seen in the cases of Marielle Franco, the LGBTQI activist and councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro who was murdered in March 2018, and the LGBTQI congressperson and activist Jean Wyllys, who recently left Brazil because of threats against his life.

    Fortunately, not all Brazilians are receptive to Bolsonaro's discourse. We live a situation of high polarisation. While many have indeed moved towards the far right and have adopted nationalist positions, many people are also increasingly convinced that what needs to be done is to guarantee more rights to more people.

    In this context, what can rights-oriented civil society do?

    Civil society moves within narrow margins. Our strategy is to generate a discourse that creates empathy among public opinion rather than a confrontational discourse permanently criticising the president because this would create trouble with a broad sector of society that would immediately reject it as leftist. We are going through tough times: it is not advisable to announce that you fight for human rights because human rights are associated with the left rather than viewed as things that belong to everyone. That is why we find it more productive to focus on real people and their stories, to show the photo of a flesh-and-blood person and ask our audience, 'don’t you think this woman is a hardworking person, who is struggling just like you, and who deserves better working conditions, who deserves to get ahead?'

    It is really quite tragic to have to hide the struggle for human rights because it is not seen as a legitimate cause. Since President Bolsonaro was elected, a lot of activists have had to leave Brazil. Those who have stayed are being forced to choose: if they want to continue doing a direct, head-first kind of activism, they need to be willing to take risks. Nowadays, mine is a sort of diplomatic activism: I sit down to speak with businesspeople and I need to be open to chat with people who don't necessarily think like me or do things the way I think they should be done, but with whom I can achieve some progress.

    What international support does Brazilian civil society need to continue working?

    Although it may not seem obvious at times, because Brazil is considered a medium-high-income country, Brazilian civil society needs all kinds of support to continue working in this hostile environment. In my particular case, I was very fortunate to receive support from the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator programme, which seeks to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This programme supports a group of young activists who are using data in innovative ways to address SDGs 1 to 6, that is, to seek solutions to local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation.

    This support has been super strategic, since it included funding, technical support and connections, and allowed me to acquire new tools. Many more initiatives like this are needed, because Brazilian civil society is shrinking, and not only because of the political climate but also because of the economic crisis that has been going on for several years. According to a recent study, more than 38,000 civil society organisations closed their doors in Brazil between 2013 and 2016, and many of them used to provide basic services to vulnerable populations. The segment of civil society that has suffered the most is the one working on development and human rights advocacy: more than 10,000 organisations that closed down used to work in favour of minorities, such as black people, women, indigenous people and LGBTQI people, and the rights of communities.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Instituto Alinha through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages.


  • CHILE: ‘Anti-rights groups become stronger when their narrative emanates from the government’

    hector pujols

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences and actions in the face of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to Héctor Pujols, spokesperson for Chile’s National Immigrant Coordination. The Coordination is a network that brings together activists and organisations that work for the defence of the human rights of Chile’s migrant population and advocates for legislative advances and the implementation of inclusive public policies towards migrant communities. 

    Can you tell us what kind of work the National Immigrant Coordination does?

    The Coordination is a network of organisations, migrants’ groups and movements; we think that migrants need their own organisations. The Coordination has existed since 2014, but many organisations that are part of it, especially those of Peruvian immigrants, have been around for 20 to 25 years. Our membership is diverse and includes cultural organisations; thematic ones, dedicated for instance to labour or housing issues; sectoral ones, such as the Secretariat of Immigrant Women; those that are territorial in nature, linked to particular communes; and others that are organised by nationality, and seek to provide spaces and opportunities to Argentine, Ecuadorian, or Peruvian communities.

    One of the Coordination’s main tasks, although not the only one, is political advocacy at the national level to improve the inclusion of the migrant population. We do it by organising ourselves as migrants, and coordinating with other organisations, including unions and civil society organisations of other kinds. 

    What does the Coordination think about the draft Aliens Law currently under debate in the Chilean Senate?

    Historically, at least in contemporary times, Chile has not had a flow of immigration of comparable dimensions to other Latin American countries. The phenomenon increased in the 1990s, with Bolivian and Peruvian immigration flows, but it has been over the past 10 years that it has become more significant, with an increase in the number of immigrants coming from other countries in the region, mainly Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and, more recently, Venezuela.

    In this context, about five or six years ago talk began about the need to update the 1975 Aliens Act, which had been established in the context of the dictatorship and had a national security focus. This law views the migrant as a foreign agent, an ideological agitator, someone who seeks to import the revolution. When this law was made during the dictatorship, the migrant that lawmakers had in mind was the typical one of times of the Popular Unity, Chile’s former leftist ruling party – Argentinians, Cubans and Uruguayans who came to support the leftist government or were seeking safe haven after fleeing other governments that persecuted them.

    The new migratory context is quite different, and there has been broad consensus that the 1975 law does not conform to the current reality. For years the Coordination and other organisations have been demanding a new legal framework that enables the inclusion of the migrant population.

    However, the debate has been complex and over the past year, after President Sebastián Piñera‘s inauguration, the government introduced a very similar bill to the one they had already submitted to Congress in 2013: one that shifts the focus from the foreigner viewed as an external agitator towards the foreigner as an economic asset, whose value depends on how much money they bring in their pockets. A complex debate ensued in which Chile has tried to position itself in the world by adopting a visa system similar to those of countries such as Australia or Canada, without the understanding that the migratory context and the characteristics of immigration in Chile are not the same as in those countries. This bill has already been passed by the House and is now in the Senate.

    We think that, if passed, this law would greatly encourage irregular migration, which is already a big problem in Chile. It would encourage people to arrive as tourists and overstay their visas, with no prospect of regularising their situation even if they get a job. An irregular migratory status negatively affects access to all rights – to health, education and even to decent work. A person who cannot sign an employment contract will work anyway, because they have to make a living, but they will do so in much more precarious conditions. In sum, on the surface the bill adopts civil society discourse on the need to renew the legal framework, but it is fundamentally an anti-rights initiative.

    The exercise of civic freedoms by migrants seems to have intensified. How do migrants view themselves in relationship to their citizenship status?

    I think we do not see the exercise of our rights to organise, mobilise and claim our rights as tied to any citizenship status because the Chilean Constitution equates citizenship with nationality, as a result of which foreigners cannot be citizens. However, the Constitution also establishes that after five years of residence foreigners are allowed to vote. And regardless of length of residence or the rights assigned to us by the Constitution and the laws, in practice we exercise other rights that are related to being a citizen - we organise, mobilise and do political advocacy, even though this is banned by the Aliens Act.

    The Aliens Act lists attacks against the interests of the state and interference with political situations of the state as reasons for expulsion. The ways it is interpreted and enforced are very arbitrary: it always results in the expulsion of people with progressive or critical views, rather that people with far-right political leanings. Not long ago, in 2017, some young Peruvians were expelled for having books on Marxism. The Coordination submitted an amparo petition – an appeal for the protection of basic rights – and won, but the expulsion order had already been executed and they were already out of the country.

    This was not an isolated case; there have been several others. An Italian journalist was expelled because he did visual communications for the mobilisation process of a very important union. A Basque colleague was also expelled because of his involvement with the indigenous Mapuche communities; he was accused of having links with ETA, the Basque terrorist organisation. This was proven false but he was expelled anyway. All this happened under the administration of former President Michelle Bachelet, that is, independently of the incumbent government’s leanings.

    You were in the middle of the discussion of the bill when calls for an anti-migrant mobilisation began. Who were the groups behind this mobilisation?

    These groups were not new. They had already made another call before but it had not resonated as it did this time. These are groups linked to a long-existing far right, the kind of far right that never dies in any country. Although perhaps its presence declines at times, it always remains latent, waiting for the opportunity to resurface. These are groups that defend the dictatorship but know that if they go out to the streets to shout ‘Viva Pinochet’ many people will reject them. So they find different themes that allow them to further their narrative. For instance, they took advantage of the salience of the rejection of so-called gender ideology and joined anti-abortion marches, and now they are working around the issue of immigration.

    Far-right groups are characterised by an extremely simple and exclusionary discourse: the other, the one that’s different, the one coming from outside, the stranger who is not Chilean – they are the enemy, because they are the cause of all the country's ills. These groups come from various places, but they all find protection under the current government’s institutional discourse, which blames everything on immigration. Weeks ago, President Piñera said that the increase in unemployment in Chile was caused by the arrival of migrants, even against his own Minister of Labour’s denials. His former Minister of Health said that the increase in HIV/AIDS in Chile was the migrant population’s fault. This institutional discourse, based on falsehoods, is taking root and is being taken advantage of by far-right groups.

    What explains the fact that this time around they have had more of an appeal than in the past?

    These groups become stronger when their narrative emanates from the government. The proposals put forward by the far right are the same as the government’s: for example, to deny healthcare to people with under two years of residence and to eliminate access to education. The government says, ‘let’s take rights away from immigrants’ and these groups move just one step further and say, ‘let’s kick immigrants out’. The underlying diagnosis is the same in both cases: we are being invaded, they are coming to take our jobs, they are coming to take our social benefits, Chile First.

    Additionally, in this case social media is playing an amplification role. These groups have learned how to use social media. They learned a lot from Brazil’s experience; some actually travelled there to support then-candidate Bolsonaro. The skilful use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allows them to reach a wide audience –­ the Chilean who is going through hard times – to whom they offer a simple explanation and a solution: you can't find work; the fault lies with immigrants; the solution is to throw them out.

    You mentioned a curious phenomenon: ultra-nationalist far-right groups that become internationalists, by networking, collaborating and learning from their peers in other countries.

    Yes, there is an ongoing international process in which the Chilean far right learns from what the Argentine far right does, and the Argentinian far right learns from that of Brazil, and so on. The narratives we have heard in Chile are an exact copy of those used by the extreme right in Spain, where the phenomenon of the far-right Vox party emerged almost a year ago. They are an exact copy, even though the Chilean reality is very different. In Spain, the claim that migrants take up all social support was very intense, and in Chile the same discourse was attempted, since it is an international tactic, but not surprisingly it had less of an impact because social support in Chile is very limited. So it is not always working for them; it is a matter of trial and error. But these groups do form a network that is becoming stronger internationally, which is very worrying.

    These groups summoned a mobilisation against immigrants that was scheduled for 12 August 2019, but in the end the march did not materialise. Can you explain what happened?

    The call to the march was spread through social media, and a far-right influencer, a member of one of the organising groups, called on protesters to bear arms to defend themselves against the anti-fascist groups that had summoned a counter-demonstration.

    In Chile it is necessary to request an authorisation to hold a street mobilisation, and in the capital, Santiago, the Municipality is in charge of giving the authorisation. After several conversations, and under pressure from socialorganisations and the Bar Association, which requested that the permit be denied, the Municipality did not authorise the march. There were some isolated incidents caused by about 20 people who attended notwithstanding, but not much else happened.

    The Coordination convened another event on the same day, given that it was complicated for us to support the counter-demonstration held by anti-fascist groups in light of the limitations placed on immigrants’ rights to political participation. On that very same Sunday morning we held an event at the Museum of Memory, a space dedicated to the victims of the dictatorship. The focus of our call was the rejection of hate speech, which today happens to be targeted against immigrants but at other times has been targeted against women or against those who thought differently, and which leads to the practices we experienced under the dictatorship. When you dehumanise a person then you can then torture her, drop her body into the sea or make her disappear. That was our response. Around 150 people attended, which is not that many, but it should be enough to show that we are also part of this country and that we have memory.

    What strategy should adopt the civil society that advocates for the human rights of migrants in the face of anti-rights groups?

    These groups are here to stay, and they have already planned a new demonstration for 7 September 2019. The prevalent narrative focuses on an alleged migrant invasion, so ours is a dispute for common sense, a long-term struggle. We work in a strategic partnership with progressive and democratic movements, but these need to put aside their paternalistic attitude towards the migrant population. We do not want to be treated as helpless people in need of assistance; that is why we are an organisation of migrant persons, not an organisation that defends the rights of migrants. We do not want paternalistic aids; we want equal rights.

    Civic space in Chile is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the National Migrants’ Coordination through itswebsite, read Héctor Pujols’blog or follow@HectorPumo and@MigrantesChile on Twitter.


  • CHILI : « Ce moment historique est un accomplissement de la part des citoyens »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Marcela Guillibrand De la Jara, directrice exécutive du Réseau chilien de volontaires et coordinatrice générale de Ahora Nos Toca Participar. Le Réseau de volontaires est une plateforme nationale qui rassemble des organisations de la société civile (OSC) chilienne promouvant le volontariat. Ahora Nos Toca Participar est une initiative d’organisations sociales regroupées dans le Nouveau Pacte Social (NPS-Chili) qui cherche à contribuer au renforcement de la démocratie et de la cohésion sociale en promouvant la participation des citoyens au référendum sur la réforme constitutionnelle prévu pour octobre 2020 et au processus constituant qui devrait commencer avec lui. La campagne se concentre sur l’éducation des citoyens, la création d’espaces de dialogue et la génération de propositions pour alimenter le processus constituant.


  • COSTA RICA : « Les mobilisations ont révélé des problèmes structurels non résolus »

    CIVICUS parle des récentes manifestations au Costa Rica avec Carlos Berríos Solórzano, co-fondateur de l’Asociación Agentes de Cambio-Nicaragua et membre deRed Previos (Réseau de la jeunesse d’Amérique centrale). Avec d’autres activistes d’Amérique centrale, Carlos a récemment fondé le Centre pour une culture de la paix en Amérique centrale. Originaire du Nicaragua, Carlos est un jeune activiste et défenseur des droits humains. Il a participé à des recherches sur les migrations, la participation politique des jeunes, l’intégration régionale et les droits humains, et est actuellement étudiant en Master de Sciences Politiques à l’Université de Costa Rica.

    Carlos Berrios

    Quelles sont les causes qui ont déclenché la vague de manifestations de fin septembre 2020 ?

    Les principales causes des manifestations qui ont commencé le 30 septembre 2020 étaient liées à l’annonce du gouvernement du président Carlos Alvarado, rendue publique le 17 septembre, qu’il demanderait un financement au Fonds monétaire international (FMI) de 1,75 milliard de dollars pour faire face à la reprise économique post-COVID-19 et investir dans le secteur public. Le Costa Rica n’avait pas demandé de financement au FMI depuis près de 20 ans. La proposition impliquait une éventuelle augmentation des impôts dans un pays où le coût de la vie est déjà élevé. D’ailleurs, une législation récente portant sur les finances publiques avait déjà augmenté les impôts, qui étaient déjà élevés.

    En plus de l’augmentation des impôts sur le revenu et sur la propriété, l’accord avec le FMI proposé par le gouvernement comprenait de nouvelles taxes sur les transactions bancaires et le revenu mondial. Elle a également proposé de fusionner certaines institutions publiques et d’en vendre d’autres, comme la Banque internationale du Costa Rica et la Régie nationale des alcools.

    Le gouvernement a annoncé sa proposition unilatéralement, de manière totalement incohérente, alors qu’une négociation de telles dimensions et avec de telles implications dépasse largement le cadre économique et devrait faire l’objet de négociations politiques et de la participation des principales forces sociales. Les conséquences d’un accord ou d’un désaccord avec le FMI devraient faire l’objet d’un débat public qui, dans ce cas, n’a pas initialement eu lieu.

    Qui est venu protester, et qu’ont-ils demandé ?

    Ce sont surtout les syndicats, la classe ouvrière et les fonctionnaires, ainsi que les mouvements sociaux et étudiants qui sont venus protester. La principale demande était que le gouvernement suspende la proposition de demander un financement au FMI et abandonne l’idée de privatiser les entreprises publiques et d’augmenter la charge fiscale.

    Bien que les manifestations aient eu une composante citoyenne, tant dans la rue que dans l’agenda publique, leur composante sectorielle a été mise en avant. Les organisations syndicales ont été plus rapides que les autres à identifier l’impact des accords de financement du FMI sur leurs programmes et leurs luttes.

    La société civile a également dénoncé les intentions de l’exécutif, mis en garde contre les conséquences d’un potentiel accord, et s’est concentré sur l’éducation de la population et l’ouverture du débat, tout en soutenant la mobilisation.

    Comment le gouvernement a-t-il répondu aux mobilisations ?

    Le gouvernement a réagi dans une certaine mesure dans le cadre des normes internationales pour la dispersion des manifestations de masse ; en effet, de nombreux policiers ont été blessés à la suite d’agressions de manifestants qui avaient fermé des points importants de certaines rues, y compris les principaux postes-frontières avec le Panama. Au fil des jours, les tensions se sont intensifiées et il y a eu des brûlures de véhicules et des affrontements avec des bâtons et du gaz lacrymogène entre les manifestants et la police. Les forces de sécurité ont répondu de manière assez proportionnée aux manifestations violentes, il n’était donc pas question d’un usage disproportionné de la force par les autorités.

    Pour neutraliser la situation face aux manifestations incessantes, le gouvernement a d’abord annoncé le 4 octobre qu’il reviendrait sur sa proposition, mais a exigé que les manifestants cessent les blocages comme condition de dialogue avec eux. Les manifestants, pour leur part, ont fixé des conditions pour la levée des blocus - en particulier, que le gouvernement s’engage par écrit à ne pas s’adresser au FMI pour le reste de son mandat et qu’il exclue de vendre les actifs de l’État et d’augmenter les impôts. Les manifestations se sont poursuivies, et en réponse, le gouvernement a rendu publique sa stratégie de négociation avec le FMI et s’est ouvert aux commentaires de tous les milieux. Le 11 octobre, le gouvernement a annoncé un « dialogue social » national et territorial dans le cadre duquel vingt-cinq représentants de divers secteurs - entreprises, syndicats, femmes, églises, étudiants universitaires et agriculteurs, entre autres - présenteraient leurs propres propositions pour résoudre la crise économique aggravée par la pandémie de la COVID-19. La question posée était très précise : « comment parvenir à une amélioration permanente d’au moins 2,5 points de pourcentage du PIB du déficit primaire de l’administration centrale et à une diminution à court terme du montant de la dette publique (d’environ 8 points de pourcentage du PIB), grâce à une combinaison de mesures de gestion des recettes, des dépenses et de la dette publique, pour éviter que l’État ne fasse faillite ? »

    Les manifestants ont-ils obtenu que certaines de leurs demandes soient satisfaites ?

    Malgré l’intense processus de dialogue avec les différents secteurs et les précieuses contributions apportées dans ce processus, les demandes fondamentales n’ont pas été satisfaites, bien que, selon le gouvernement, elles soient examinées dans le cadre institutionnel afin de leur accorder l’attention qu’elles méritent.

    Les manifestations ont repris précisément parce que le processus de dialogue n’a donné aucun résultat et que les autorités ont fait preuve de peu de volonté politique en termes de respect des règles. Cela s’est traduit par l’annonce que le gouvernement allait poursuivre la demande de financement.

    En effet, après le processus de dialogue, l’exécutif est resté ferme dans sa proposition de demander un financement au FMI. Rétrospectivement, au vu de ces résultats, la société civile a estimé que l’appel au dialogue social n’avait été rien d’autre qu’une stratégie de démobilisation.

    Le Costa Rica est souvent présenté comme un cas modèle de stabilité, d’ordre, d’équité sociale et de culture démocratique. Est-ce seulement un mirage ?

    S’il est vrai que le Costa Rica bénéficie d’un cadre institutionnel solide par rapport à ses voisins d’Amérique centrale, qui a permis d’instaurer une stabilité économique et sociale, il n’en reste pas moins qu’il ne parvient toujours pas à remédier aux profondes inégalités sociales dans les zones les plus vulnérables du pays. Les problèmes sociaux sont négligés en raison d’un manque de volonté politique et de l’existence de niveaux de corruption qui, bien que non "scandaleux" selon les normes internationales, imprègnent les structures politiques et économiques du pays et permettent à la classe politique et à l’élite économique de s’entendre pour se diviser l’État.

    Les manifestations ont mis en évidence des problèmes structurels non résolus au Costa Rica. Elles ont rassemblé des demandes immédiates insatisfaites et des problèmes structurels liés à la distribution des richesses, à l’évasion fiscale du grand capital et au contrôle des élites économiques sur le système étatique, qui se matérialise par l’inégalité sociale des migrants, des indigènes, des personnes d’origine africaine et des ruraux.

    L’espace civique au Costa Rica est classé « rétréci » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Suivez@CBerrios26 sur Twitter. 


  • COVID-19 : « Nous avons besoin de politiques publiques qui réduisent et redistribuent le travail de soins non rémunéré »

    CIVICUS s’entretient des impacts de la pandémie de COVID-19 sur les inégalités de genre et des réponses formulées par la société civile avec Gala Díaz Langou, directrice du programme de protection sociale du Centre pour la mise en œuvre des politiques publiques d’équité et de croissance (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento, CIPPEC). CIPPEC est une organisation de la société civile argentine qui se consacre à la production de connaissances et de recommandations pour l’élaboration de politiques publiques visant le développement, l’équité, l’inclusion, l’égalité des chances, l’efficacité et la force des institutions.


  • El Salvador es uno de los pocos países que aún no han decidido que la vida de las mujeres importa


    CIVICUS conversa con Sara García Gross, Coordinadora Ejecutiva de la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico de El Salvador e integrante de la Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos. Fundada en 2009, Agrupación Ciudadana es una organización de la sociedad civil multidisciplinaria que busca generar conciencia para cambiar la legislación sobre la interrupción del embarazo en el país; defender legalmente a las mujeres que han sido acusadas o condenadas o por abortos o delitos relacionados; y promover la educación en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva.


  • GUATEMALA : « Les manifestations reflètent à la fois l’organisation sociale et l’autonomie des citoyens »

    Sandra MoraenCIVICUS parle des récentes manifestations au Guatemala avec l’activiste pour les droits des femmes et des personnes LGBTQI+ Sandra Morán Reyes. Avec une longue histoire d’expérience dans les mouvements sociaux, Sandra a été l’une des co-fondatrices du premier groupe de lesbiennes guatémaltèques et l’organisatrice de la première Marche des fiertés du Guatemala, qui s’est tenue en 1998 à Guatemala City. En 2015, elle a été élue députée nationale et est devenue la première députée et politicienne homosexuelle à être élue à une fonction d’élection populaire dans l'histoire de son pays, d’où elle a promu diverses initiatives en faveur des droits des femmes et des minorités sexuelles.

    Dans quel contexte les manifestations de novembre 2020 ont-elles eu lieu, et comment ont-elles commencé ?

    En janvier 2020, un nouveau gouvernement a été mis en place, et peu après, la pandémie nous a tous enfermés. Mais vers mai ou juin, certains de nos camarades ont recommencé à descendre dans la rue, en partie pour critiquer l’attitude du gouvernement face aux besoins de la population alors que les effets de la crise générée par la pandémie commençaient à se faire sentir. Soudain, des drapeaux blancs sont apparus, dans les rues, sur les portes des maisons, dans les mains des personnes et des familles qui marchaient dans les rues ou s’asseyaient sur les seuils des portes. Avec le drapeau blanc, les gens indiquaient qu’ils n’avaient pas assez à manger et des actions de solidarité se sont mises en place, comme les pots de solidarité, qui n’existaient pas auparavant ici au Guatemala. Il y a eu un grand mouvement de solidarité entre les gens. Alors que les organisations se consacraient à servir leurs membres, les citoyens ont fait des efforts importants pour apporter un soutien de personne à personne. Il est devenu courant pour les gens de sortir dans la rue pour donner un peu de ce qu’ils avaient à ceux qui en avaient le plus besoin. Cela a ensuite été répété à l’égard des personnes qui ont été touchées par les ouragans et qui ont tout perdu.

    Au niveau de l'État, de nombreuses ressources ont été approuvées pour atténuer les effets de la pandémie, mais ces ressources n’ont pas atteint la population dont les besoins sont restés insatisfaits, de sorte que la question qui a commencé à être posée était « où est l’argent ? »

    Depuis 2017, nous dénonçons ce que nous avons appelé le « pacte de corruption », qui liait des fonctionnaires, des hommes d’affaires et même des représentants de l’église, alliés pour la défense de leurs propres intérêts. En 2015, après six mois de manifestations de masse soutenues, le président et la vice-présidente se sont retrouvés en prison, mais les gouvernements qui leur ont succédé ont fini par réaffirmer le même système. Le gouvernement du président Jimmy Morales a unilatéralement mis fin à l’accord avec la Commission internationale contre l’impunité au Guatemala, et le gouvernement actuel du président Alejandro Giammattei, dans la foulée du précédent, a davantage développé son contrôle de la justice, du Congrès et de toutes les institutions de l’État afin de maintenir la corruption comme forme de gouvernement.

    Outre le manque d’attention portée aux conséquences de la pandémie et des ouragans Eta et Iota, qui ont frappé en octobre et novembre 2020, il y a eu des attaques contre des fonctionnaires du Bureau du procureur général qui continuent à lutter contre la corruption. Le mécontentement s’est accru jusqu’à ce qu’en novembre 2020, le Congrès a approuvé au petit matin le budget national pour 2021. Il s’agissait d’un budget très élevé - le plus élevé dans l’histoire du pays - avec des poches évidentes de corruption, notamment dans le domaine des contrats d’infrastructure, où se concentre l’essentiel de la corruption, mais sans aucune attention pour la santé et l'éducation dans le contexte de la pandémie. Le budget a même réduit le programme de nutrition, dans un pays qui connaît un énorme problème de malnutrition infantile. Ce fut la goutte d’eau qui a fait déborder le vase. Des personnes qui normalement n’ont pas tendance à protester - une chef professionnelle, un artiste, de nombreuses personnes connues dans différents domaines - ont commencé à écrire sur les réseaux sociaux et à s’exprimer contre cette décision. C’est ainsi qu’a été convoquée la première manifestation, et soudain, nous étions environ 25 000 personnes - en pleine pandémie.

    À cette époque, toutes les restrictions pour les déplacements et les réunions avaient été levées, mais la pandémie se poursuivait et le risque de contagion était toujours présent. Personne n’avait prévu une manifestation aussi massive, et pourtant elle a eu lieu. Les manifestations ont d’abord été pacifiques, mais déjà lors de la deuxième, il y a eu de la violence et de la répression. Un petit groupe a mis le feu au bâtiment du Congrès, un événement qui est toujours sous enquête. C’est sur cette base que la répression a été justifiée : gaz lacrymogènes, passages à tabac, arrestations et détentions, ce qui ne s’était pas produit depuis longtemps. Lors d’une autre manifestation, un bus a été brûlé. De notre point de vue, les actes de violence ont été instigués pour justifier la nécessité d’un contrôle policier accru des manifestations et d’une éventuelle répression.

    L’appel à la mobilisation a-t-il été lancé exclusivement par le biais des réseaux sociaux ? Qui s’est mobilisé ?

    Il y a eu une série d’appels à travers les réseaux sociaux qui s’adressaient avant tout aux classes moyennes, mais aussi aux mouvements sociaux et aux Autorités Indigènes. Ces derniers ont joué un rôle de plus en plus important ces dernières années et, dans le contexte de cette crise, ils ont publié une déclaration dans laquelle ils proposent un conseil de gouvernement des quatre peuples qui composent le Guatemala - Maya, Xinka, Garifuna et Mestizo - pour faire la transition vers une assemblée constituante. Ils ont visité des territoires et travaillé pour former des alliances, et c’est la première fois qu’ils se dirigent vers le gouvernement national, car ils n’ont d’autorité que sur leurs territoires. Le rôle qu'ils ont joué est important car l’oligarchie a toujours eu peur du soulèvement indigène ; cette peur les émeut. Tout comme ils ont été émus par le fait qu’en 2019, la candidate à la présidence du Mouvement populaire de libération, un parti fondé par le Comité pour le développement paysan (CODECA), est arrivée en quatrième position. Une femme maya, une paysanne, peu scolarisée, est arrivée en quatrième position, et cela les a secoués.

    Quatre acteurs ont été mobilisés : les peuples indigènes, les femmes, les jeunes et les communautés en résistance - des communautés locales, généralement dirigées par des femmes, qui résistent aux mégaprojets d’extraction sur leurs territoires. Lors des dernières manifestations, le résultat du processus d’unité du mouvement étudiant universitaire a été observé : à partir de 2015, les étudiants de l’Université San Carlos de Guatemala, l’université publique, ont défilé avec ceux des deux universités privées, Rafael Landívar, l’université de la classe moyenne, et l’Universidad del Valle, l’université de la classe plus riche. Le slogan avec lequel l’université publique défilait, « USAC, c’est le peuple » s’est donc transformé en « Le peuple, c’est nous » à partir de cette convergence. C’était un événement historique qui a représenté le retour de la jeunesse universitaire organisée aux luttes populaires.

    Le rôle de la jeunesse est également évident dans le mouvement féministe, car il y a beaucoup de mouvements des jeunes féministes. En particulier, le collectif Mujeres en Movimienta se distingue comme une expression très importante des féministes universitaires. La diversité sexuelle a également été présente, et a été très active dans la dénonciation des féminicides et des meurtres de personnes LGBTQI+.

    Ces groupes ont été rejoints par la classe moyenne appauvrie après le coup dur de la pandémie. Il y avait beaucoup de gens de classe moyenne dans les manifestations, beaucoup de professionnels. De nombreux citoyens qui n’appartenaient à aucune organisation ou collectif d’indigènes, d’étudiants ou de femmes sont sortis seuls, mus par le sentiment d’en avoir assez. Ainsi, les manifestations de novembre 2020 reflétaient à la fois l’organisation sociale et l’autonomie des citoyens.

    Que demandaient les citoyens mobilisés ?

    Malgré le fait que plusieurs secteurs se soient mobilisés et que de nombreuses demandes se soient accumulées, il y avait un ordre dans la pétition des protestations. Même si les différents secteurs avaient leurs propres exigences, tous ont accepté les grandes demandes. L’axe central était que le président oppose son veto au budget, car ce qui a déclenché la mobilisation, c’est l’impudence d’un Congrès qui a fait un budget qui n’était pas pour les citoyens du Guatemala mais pour eux-mêmes, pour alimenter la corruption. Les manifestations ont été un succès immédiat, puisque quelques jours après l’incendie du bâtiment du Congrès, celui-ci a fait marche arrière et a annulé le budget qu’il avait approuvé. Parallèlement au retrait du budget, la demande d’un budget répondant aux besoins de la population a été formulée, mais cette demande est toujours en suspens.

    Après la répression des protestations, une autre revendication centrale a été la démission du ministre de l’Intérieur, qui n’a pas eu lieu ; le fonctionnaire reste en fonction. Il y a eu également une demande de démission du président, qui n’a pas eu lieu non plus.

    Enfin, la demande d’une nouvelle constitution a été de nouveau soulevée, ce qui est à l’ordre du jour des mouvements sociaux depuis plusieurs années. En 2015, lors des grandes manifestations qui ont conduit à la démission du gouvernement entier, les mouvements sociaux ont évalué que la corruption n’était pas logée seulement dans des individus, mais que nous avions un système de corruption et que par conséquent un changement de système était nécessaire. Les organisations indigènes et paysannes ont élaboré une proposition de changement constitutionnel, basée sur leur demande de reconnaissance des peuples indigènes et de création d'un État plurinational qui leur donne l’autonomie et le pouvoir de décision.

    D’autres groupes ont des propositions plus embryonnaires. J’ai été membre du Congrès jusqu’en janvier 2020, et lorsque j’étais encore au Congrès, j’ai travaillé avec des organisations de femmes en pensant que cette situation pouvait se produire et que nous devions nous y préparer. Nous avons lancé le « Mouvement des femmes avec du pouvoir constituant » afin de formuler une proposition de constitution nouvelle dans une perspective des femmes dans toute leur diversité.

    Quels sont les principaux changements que vous proposez ?

    Nous avons une constitution qui a été rédigée en 1985 et qui a un contenu important en matière de droits humains ; elle inclut la figure de l’Ombudsman, qui était une innovation à l’époque. Mais les droits humains y sont abordés dans une perspective individuelle ; les droits collectifs et les droits des peuples sont absents, mais aussi les droits des femmes et de la diversité sexuelle, et bien sûr les droits les plus avancés en matière constitutionnelle qui sont ceux de la nature. Notre proposition est une proposition politique pour l’émancipation des peuples, des femmes et de la diversité. Elle repose sur l’idée d'une économie de la vie, qui place la communauté au centre, et sur une économie féministe qui réorganise le travail et les soins.

    Pensez-vous que les protestations vont continuer ?

    Oui, les protestations vont continuer. Avec les célébrations de fin d’année, il y a eu une démobilisation, mais ces jours-ci, on a su que le CODECA va de nouveau descendre dans la rue. Le CODECA est une organisation qui travaille normalement seule, elle ne se coordonne pas avec d’autres mouvements sociaux, mais elle a une grande capacité de mobilisation. S’ils retournent dans les rues, ils ouvriront une nouvelle étape de manifestations.

    En ce moment, le ministre des Finances prépare un nouveau budget qui, dans un mois, devra être à nouveau discuté au Congrès. Il reste à voir non seulement combien sera investi dans la santé, l’éducation et la réactivation économique, mais aussi ce qu’on considère comme la « réactivation économique ». Jusqu’à présent, l’accent a toujours été mis sur les investissements privés internationaux, ce qui ne fait que générer des espaces pour une plus grande exploitation et des mégaprojets. Il existe une loi visant à promouvoir l’agriculture familiale qu’il est impossible de faire adopter. La demande des populations rurales, paysannes et indigènes, va donc continuer à s’exprimer dans les rues.

    Pour l’instant, il s’agit d'un appel sectoriel, et pas d’un appel général aux citoyens. Mais il n’en faut pas beaucoup pour relancer la protestation citoyenne, car après les manifestations de novembre, le président a fait une série de promesses qu’il n’a pas tenues. Le 14 janvier 2021, une année de gouvernement a été achevée et les niveaux de soutien que le gouvernement reçoit sont très faibles. Le Congrès a également peu de légitimité, étant donné le nombre de députés qui composent le « pacte de corruption », suffisant pour former une majorité ordinaire pour adopter des lois.

    Cependant, les gens peuvent avoir peur de se mobiliser parce que nous avons un pic d’infections de COVID-19. Ainis, un autre obstacle à la continuité des mobilisations est l’absence d’un leadership unifié et le fait que la coordination soit limitée.

    L’espace civique au Guatemala est classé « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Suivez@sandramorangt sur Twitter.


  • NATIONS UNIES : « Le système existant des droits humains doit être critiqué, mais sans cesser de le défendre »

    CIVICUS s'entretient avec Brian Schapira, directeur des relations institutionnelles du Centre pour l'ouverture et le développement de l'Amérique latine (Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina, CADAL), une fondation basée en Argentine qui travaille à la défense et à la promotion des droits humains. En mettant l'accent sur le soutien à ceux qui souffrent de graves restrictions de leurs libertés civiles et politiques, CADAL promeut la solidarité démocratique internationale en collaboration avec des activistes et des organisations de la société civile (OSC) du monde entier.


  • PÉROU : « Le débat constitutionnel a pris une nouvelle importance depuis les manifestations »

    Rafael BarrioCIVICUS parle des récentes manifestations au Pérou avec Rafael Barrio de Mendoza, chercheur sur les processus de transformation territoriale du Grupo Propuesta Ciudadana, un consortium de dix organisations de la société civile présentes dans 16 régions du Pérou. Propuesta Ciudadana cherche à contribuer à la formulation de propositions politiques pour un État inclusif et la gestion adéquate des ressources publiques. L´organisation promeut une vision de la gouvernance territoriale qui commence par l'identification et le respect des diversités et se concentre sur le développement démocratique.

    Quel a été le déclencheur des protestations qui ont éclaté au Pérou en novembre 2020 ?

    La cause immédiate a été la décision d'une majorité parlementaire de destituer le président Martín Vizcarra, en utilisant un mécanisme rarement utilisé dans le passé et dont le contenu et le processus disposent d'une large marge d'appréciation. La publication des accusations contre Vizcarra s'est déroulée selon une séquence qui s’est révélée planifiée, et la sensation de son instrumentalisation par la soi-disant « coalition d'expulsion » a prédominé. Si la qualité des preuves des crimes qui auraient été commis contre Vizcarra pendant son mandat de gouverneur de la région de Moquegua il y a cinq ans suscite une certaine controverse, l'opinion publique s'accorde à dire que ces allégations auraient pu être poursuivies de manière crédible à la fin de son mandat présidentiel, d'autant plus que des élections générales étaient déjà prévues pour avril 2021.

    Mais d'un point de vue plus structurel, la crise politique a été l'expression de la maturation d'une crise de la représentation politique, avec peu de liens organiques entre l'offre politique et les sensibilités citoyennes et un système de représentation politique précaire et cartellisé, dans lequel maintes intérêts illégaux, informels et oligopolistiques ont résisté aux générations successives de réformes - éducatives, judiciaires, fiscales et politiques, entre autres - qui cherchent à les réguler. Les révélations d'affaires de corruption impliquant une grande partie de l'establishment politique, comme l'affaire Lava Jato/Odebrecht et l'affaire des Cols blancs, qui ont mis au jour un vaste réseau de corruption dans le système judiciaire, ont servi à installer le consensus d'une détérioration générale de la gestion du public. Au même temps, l'efficacité relative des mesures fiscales à l'encontre des dirigeants politiques impliqués a nourri la perspective d'un nettoyage de la classe politique et la possibilité de cultiver une transition vers un meilleur système de représentation. Dans une certaine mesure, le lien populiste établi par Vizcarra avec cette sensibilité - scellé avec la dissolution constitutionnelle du précédent Congrès, dans lequel le parti de l'ancien président Alberto Fujimori était majoritaire - a été le facteur qui a soutenu son gouvernement, manquant de soutien parlementaire, commercial, médiatique ou syndical. La vacance de Vizcarra a été vécue comme la restitution de la constellation d'intérêts qui jusqu'alors avait régressé avec le travail fiscal et les réformes éducatives, politiques et judiciaires.

    Comment décririez-vous le conflit institutionnel qui a conduit à la destitution et au remplacement du président ?

    Le conflit institutionnel est né de la précarité d'un système politique caractérisé par un nouveau Congrès avec de multiples bancs mais aucun officiel et un président populaire mais sans soutien institutionnel, dont la légitimité a été soutenue dans la gestion polyvalente du débat public par une combinaison de gestes politiques, le recrutement de techniciens compétents à des postes clés et un exercice calculé d'antagonisme avec le Congrès sur des questions clés telles que les réformes éducatives, politiques et judiciaires.

    La coalition majoritaire au Congrès a largement repris l'agenda des intérêts de la précédente majorité « Fujiapriste » - ainsi désignée par l'alliance tacite entre le parti Aprista et le courant politique fondé par l'ancien président Fujimori - à laquelle elle a ajouté de nouvelles revendications populistes qui mettent en péril la gestion budgétaire et macroéconomique autour de laquelle il y avait un consensus technocratique. Dans ce cadre, les acteurs qui ont survécu à la dissolution du précédent Congrès ont réussi à se réinstaller dans le nouveau et à mener, avec certains médias, une campagne qui visait à détériorer la popularité de Biscaye en lançant des accusations de corruption dans des affaires peu claires. Telles sont les dynamiques qui ont nourri le conflit institutionnel.

    Pour sa part, la société civile a eu une réponse unifiée à la vacance de poste et au nouveau régime qui a été mis en place. Leur réponse allait de l'expression d'inquiétudes et de l'exigence de responsabilité à la condamnation ouverte de la mise en place de la nouvelle administration. Les manifestations et la répression massives auxquelles ils ont été confrontés ont alimenté cette transition dans une grande partie de la société civile. De nombreuses organisations de la société civile ont joué un rôle actif dans l'encadrement du conflit, la production d'un récit destiné à un public international et la pression exercée sur les acteurs publics avec lesquels elles interagissent.

    Qui s'est mobilisé, et qu'ont-ils réclamé ?

    Au début, les manifestants contestaient la vacance du poste de président Vizcarra et la prise de fonction du président du Congrès, Manuel Merino, comme nouveau président. Un sondage ultérieur réalisé par Ipsos a montré qu'un peu plus des trois quarts de la population était d'accord avec la manifestation contre la destitution du président Vizcarra, et qu'au moins deux millions de personnes se sont mobilisées d'une manière ou d'une autre ou ont pris une part active aux manifestations.

    Les manifestations ont été principalement menées par des jeunes de 16 à 30 ans, qui ont constitué l'épine dorsale de l'organisation et ont généré les répertoires et les tactiques de manifestation. Le sentiment général de lassitude a été mobilisé par la génération dite « du bicentenaire », née après la fin du fujimorisme, originaire du numérique et, pour la plupart, mécontente de la politique conventionnelle. C'est aussi une génération mésocratique - tant dans les segments traditionnels de la classe moyenne que dans les secteurs populaires – qui participe à des communautés virtuelles médiatisées par des plateformes numériques. Cela explique en partie la rapidité avec laquelle apparaissent des architectures organisationnelles suffisamment efficaces pour produire des répertoires, coordonner des actions, documenter des manifestations et générer des mouvements d'opinion publique. La médiation des réseaux sociaux et l'utilisation des applications de microtransferts monétaires ont favorisé une organisation décentralisée de la contestation, avec de multiples manifestations dans différents lieux, des appels convergents différents, une diversité de répertoires et des canaux pour le transfert rapide de ressources.

    La mobilisation menée par les jeunes a été alimentée par une classe moyenne prête à assumer le coût de la manifestation. Autour de ce noyau, d'autres secteurs de la population, plus ou moins habitués aux stratégies de manifestation conventionnelles, ou simplement éloignés de toute expression publique, se sont articulés sociologiquement et territorialement.

    Les manifestations ont commencé le 9 novembre, se sont succédées de jour en jour et ont atteint leur apogée le 14 novembre, date de la deuxième marche nationale. La mobilisation massive de ce qu'on appelle le 14N a été alimentée par l'expression soudaine d'un sentiment de ras-le-bol qui a traversé la société et a été particulièrement intense chez les jeunes. D'où son caractère exceptionnel dû à son ampleur, sa portée et son organisation, ainsi qu'à la mise en place rapide d'une identité citoyenne non partisane, qui ne s'explique que partiellement par le soutien apporté à Vizcarra, puisqu'elle l'a dépassé.

    Le 14N a culminé avec la mort de deux jeunes manifestants sous une grenaille de plomb. Merino avait pris le pouvoir le 10 novembre et avait formé un gouvernement radicalement conservateur. Le vrai visage de son cabinet a été rapidement révélé dans l'autorisation de la répression sévère de la manifestation, surtout à Lima, la capitale. Après les premiers jours de violence policière, le président du Conseil des ministres a félicité les brigades de police impliquées et leur a garanti une protection. La mort du 14N a déclenché une cascade de désaffection chez les quelques partisans politiques qui ont soutenu le régime en réponse à la pression écrasante des citoyens, et à midi le 15 novembre, Merino avait démissionné.

    L'espace généré par la mobilisation a été peuplé d'un certain nombre de revendications hétérogènes, allant du rétablissement de Biscarrosse à la demande d'un changement constitutionnel qui cimenterait la sortie du néolibéralisme, en passant par des propositions plus clairement citoyennes axées sur la défense de la démocratie, la continuité des réformes, l'injustice de la répression et l'insensibilité de la classe politique à l'urgence sanitaire de la pandémie. Ces revendications demeurent ferventes, et il reste à voir comment elles finiront par prendre forme dans le scénario électoral de 2021.

    En quoi ces manifestations diffèrent-elles des autres qui ont eu lieu dans le passé ? Y a-t-il eu des changements liés au contexte de la pandémie ?

    Les mécanismes de coordination fournis par les réseaux sociaux avaient déjà été testés lors de précédentes mobilisations urbaines, mais ces manifestations avaient été menées par des acteurs conventionnels, tels que des mouvements sociaux, des partis politiques et des syndicats. À cette occasion, de nouveaux groupes d'activistes ont été formés, tels que les brigades de gaz lacrymogènes et de secours médical, à l'instar des techniques de mobilisation testées dans d'autres contextes, comme les manifestations de Hong Kong et les manifestations du Black Lives Matter aux États-Unis. Cela témoigne de l'émergence d'espaces d'apprentissage de la manifestation au niveau mondial.

    C'est en partie l'urgence sanitaire qui a conditionné la composition des manifestations, majoritairement composées de jeunes, tout en favorisant, chez les plus réticents à sortir à la rue, la diffusion de nouveaux répertoires, tels que les « cacerolazos » (casserolades), « bocinazos » (klaxons) et l'activisme numérique. En même temps, la nature massive des protestations peut s'expliquer par le fait que les indicateurs de santé de l'époque suggéraient l'arrêt de la première vague de COVID-19, et par le fait que les manifestations de Black Lives Matter n'avaient été liées à aucun cluster épidémique constatable, ce qui a encouragé un sentiment de sécurité pour les marches.

    Pourquoi les manifestants ont-ils fini par exiger une réforme constitutionnelle ? Quel type de réforme constitutionnelle demandent-ils ?

    Les propositions de modifications constitutionnelles faisaient partie des revendications de la mobilisation, mais elles n'ont pas fini par en être les principaux protagonistes. En tout état de cause, ils ont pris un nouvel élan dans le débat public. La généalogie de ces demandes peut être pensée de deux manières. Le changement constitutionnel par le biais d'une assemblée constituante est l'une des principales revendications de la gauche depuis la fin du fujimorisme. Immédiatement après la chute du régime de Fujimori (1990-2001), un Congrès a été convoqué avec un mandat constitutif incapable de produire un nouveau texte constitutionnel, et depuis lors, cette aspiration a fini par habiter le champ du progressisme, perdant du terrain parmi les autres acteurs centristes et de droite. La gauche revendique souvent la mythique Constitution de 1979 comme une alternative, propose un nouveau texte inspiré des processus bolivien et équatorien, et pointe le caractère illégitime de la Constitution actuelle, née après un coup d'État. La croissance économique soutenue des décennies post-Fujimori et les réformes spécifiques de certains mécanismes constitutionnels ont donné une légitimité à la Constitution, mais nombre des institutions et des principes qu'elle consacre ont été épuisés par les changements sociologiques et économiques qu'ils ont contribué à provoquer.

    Le deuxième aspect provient d'une demande plus organique suite à la prise de conscience des limites du modèle de marché, évidente surtout dans la persistance de l'absence de protection sociale, du travail précaire et informel et des abus des oligopoles dans la prestation de services, ainsi que dans la crise du système de représentation politique. Vizcarra a inauguré une étape réformiste dans les domaines judiciaire et politique, ainsi que dans les cadres juridiques régissant les secteurs extractifs et le système de retraite. Elle a également donné une continuité à la réforme de l'éducation. L'esprit réformiste - considéré par les secteurs modérés comme la voie d'une transition « responsable » - a été attaqué par la lutte politique alimentée par les secteurs concernés, créant un espace pour que les aspirations à la réforme commencent à être prêchées dans le langage du changement constitutionnel.

    Cependant, ce débat a pris une nouvelle importance depuis les protestations du 14 novembre, et les termes de la conversation, le contenu des changements les plus significatifs et, surtout, l'offre d'acteurs politiques mûrs capables de les interpréter et de les mettre en œuvre, ne sont toujours pas clairs. Le danger réside dans le fait que, dans un contexte de forte indétermination, le processus finit par être défini par des acteurs dont les motivations ne participent pas à l'esprit du changement.

    L'espace civique au Pérou est décrit comme « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contactez Propuesta Ciudadana via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@prop_ciudadana et@BarrioZevallos sur Twitter.


  • PERU: ‘The ultra-conservative tide is affecting democratic life and fundamental rights’

    Eliana CanoAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks toEliana Cano, founder of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Peru (Catholics for the Right to Decide – CDD-Peru), a Catholic and feminist movement committed to the pursuit of social justice and the change of cultural patterns that limit women's autonomy and their sexual and reproductive rights. CCD-Peru has recently been sued by the Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which wants to strip it of its legal status on the basis that, within the framework of an agreement between the Vatican State and Peru, it should not be using the term ‘Catholics’.

    CDD-Peru is being sued to have its legal personality withdrawn and prevented from calling itself 'Catholic'. Who is suing you, what do they have against you, and what are they trying to achieve?

    About a month and a half ago we were notified that the Santo Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which is a self-appointed representative of the Catholic Church, had brought a lawsuit against us. According to the lawyers who are advising us, this group began to look into the work done by our organisation about a year ago. They decided to sue us in the civil courts because they want to make this a long, tedious, tiring process, one of permanent appeal. The whole thing can take up to three or four years. Basically, their strategy is to drain us of energy in the process.

    They want us to cease to exist as a registered organisation, recognised by the National Superintendency of Public Registries. In other words, they want us to lose our legal status and not be able to continue operating in Peru. They argue that, by calling ourselves what we do, we are disrespecting the Catholic Church and its parishioners. They say that, in light of the existing agreement between the Vatican State and Peru – which recognises the role of the Catholic Church – we are using the term 'Catholic', which represents an institution and a historical identity, in bad faith. They do not accept the interpretation we make of biblical texts on the basis of feminist theology in order to question dogma, imposed conscience and control of people in the name of God. It is important to note that our organisation is not registered with the Catholic Church as a faith group, and therefore is not subject to the internal mandate of the Church.

    You have been around for a few years. Is this the first time you have faced such reaction?

    Indeed, the project of Catholics for the Right to Decide is quite old in Latin America. It began in Uruguay and then spread to the USA, and from there it passed on to Mexico and other countries of Latin America. In Peru the organisation has had a legal existence since 2009. We organised ourselves because we identify as feminists with a Catholic identity. We see ourselves as Catholic women of faith, but we have a critical view of dogma, of static and closed thought, especially where issues related to sexual and reproductive rights are concerned, as body and sexuality are a terrain where political battles are fought. In Peru there has always been a very homogenous public voice around the Gospels and the right to command over the bodies and lives of women, and we, by questioning this from the position of our Catholic identity, have received a rather aggressive response by the hierarchy of the local Catholic Church and groups linked to it.

    The first public attack happened on the occasion of the debate around the definition of a protocol for therapeutic abortion: abortion that is justified for medical reasons, when there are serious risks to the woman’s health or life. It was an attack tinged with the same resources these groups always use, based on defamation, vilification and lies. But in this case attacks basically took the form of verbal and written attacks on social media.

    Conservative groups know how to manage social media and constantly attack us publicly for everything we do that deviates from dogma or homogeneous discourse. However, this is the first time we have faced a lawsuit, and we were not expecting an attack so direct and of such magnitude. Maybe we should have foreseen it, since in Latin America, and in Peru specifically, ultra-conservative groups have penetrated deeply into the political structure of the country and are affecting democratic life.

    It would seem that these ultra-conservative groups are now larger and more emboldened than they used to be. Why is that?

    When looking back you realise that for several decades a global and regional response has developed to discourage and weaken the liberation theology discourse, which put the emphasis mostly on poverty. With a questioning discourse within the Church that extended to other areas of life, liberation theology made the most hardcore conservative elements of the Church very uncomfortable. The reaction against it has been sustained. It has made a lot of progress, to the point that today a highly organic network has become visible, which has bases in various Latin American countries and its own publications, conferences and considerable economic resources. Its presence began to make itself felt strongly in 2005, when the Center for Family Promotion and Regulation of Birth (Ceprofarena) organised the Second International Pro-Life Congress in the capital, Lima. This congress produced a document known as the Lima Declaration, an expression of the agreement reached by conservative groups.

    Ceprofarena has existed since the early eighties. It maintains close links to Human Life International, a powerful international conservative organisation, and among its members are renowned physicians and senior state officials, including former health ministers. The organisation acts within numerous medical and health organisations, both public and private. These actors put conservative ‘scientific’ discourse at the service of abuses such as the denial of emergency oral contraception, an issue on which they successfully took on the Ministry of Health. They sued the Ministry, bringing to court the right to information and choice of thousands of women, and succeeded in achieving the prohibition of the distribution of emergency contraception by all health services nationwide. Now they are campaigning to dismantle the therapeutic abortion protocol established during the 2011 to2016 period.

    The network of conservative organisations in Peru also includes the Office for Latin America of the Population Research Institute, based in Lima; the Peruvian headquarters of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, which promotes classic family formats and produces and disseminates school books; of course older organisations such as Opus Dei, which does local development and support work and is deeply embedded in educational spaces, as well as within the bureaucracy of the Church; and the Sodalicio de la Vida Cristiana, an organisation of lay people.

    These groups have a lot of money that comes from the conservative business sector and have appropriated effective strategies and discourses. This lawsuit is a practical strategy that denotes a change in their way of organising. They no longer speak the language of the divine and the clerical because they know that it attracts fewer and fewer people; instead they have appropriated the discourse of democracy and human rights.

    Are you thinking of new strategies to face this growing challenge?

    In the present scenario we view ourselves as in need of strengthening our communication strategies. We also need to strengthen our resourcing, since we do not have funds to face a lawsuit of this magnitude. International funders do not necessarily provide support that can be used to develop institutional defence plans. But at present, this is a profound need of human rights organisations. In our case, fortunately the Legal Defence Institute, which had already taken on similar cases affecting journalists, became interested and decided to sponsor the case as part of its institutional priorities. They consider that this is an "ideological fight" and that questioning our name is a "pretext" to make us disappear as influential actors. Theirs has been a gesture that we are infinitely thankful for.

    As far as discourse is concerned, however, we should not move from our positions, but rather show that the appropriation of the discourse of human rights and democracy by ultra-conservative groups is as superficial as disrespectful of democratic principles. As happened recently with the ‘Do not mess with my children’ campaign – against education about gender equality and respect for sexual identities – their discourse tends to become very aggressive every time they feel cornered. They seem to be desperate, because deep down they do nothing but react in the face of newly acquired rights.

    And the situation has indeed progressed, because this is not just us – new generations are mobilised and lots of people who are respectful of freedom and diversity and who uphold guarantees for rights are gaining ground. It is not just three or four old-time feminist organisations that are active in Lima; there are also the voices and faces of young people organised in universities, people in communities in various regions of Peru who think critically, do not accept dogmas, even react in a sarcastic tone to that type of discourse and perspective.

    Of course there is always a Catholic youth following that responds to the Pope and has decided to stay within the ultra-conservative field, but there is also youth social mobilisation around many issues, and with their help many aspects of the sexual and reproductive rights agenda are permeating the public debate. I think this is causing ultra-conservative groups to despair, and that is why they are reacting with such anger, frustration and, I would even dare say, hate. That is, they react with attitudes that are nowhere close to mercy, kindness, humility, understanding and non-judgement.

    Why does the fact that you define yourselves as both Catholics and feminists cause this type of reaction?

    We are women of faith and religion is part of our identity. We have been raised Catholic, and in that context the message that was instilled in us was one of obedience, prohibition and oppression. As we grew up, we rebelled against this and other aspects related to the control of our lives and their sexual dimension. We identify ourselves as Catholic on the basis of a renewed interpretation, but we do not renounce our faith. We are aware that Catholicism is not only a matter of faith, but it also operates within or materialises in an institution, and as such it includes both positive and negative practices that have an impact on the lives of many people, and specifically on its members.

    At the same time, we all come from organisations with a feminist identity. We are feminists and we question patriarchy as a system of asymmetric power relations, but we do not renounce our faith. We always ask ourselves these questions: why should our religion have to have one single voice, uniform and unquestionable? Why obey in silence and validate sacrifice and suffering in our own lives and bodies? We find a foothold in feminist theology, which offers a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Gospel. These conceptual and political tools strengthen our conviction and our public struggle for sexual and reproductive rights.

    High Church officials tell us: ‘you are not Catholic, who are you to speak in the name of Catholicism?’ We respond: ‘what makes you a Catholic, what allows you to trample rights in the name of God?’ We have claimed ownership of the language of the Gospel that focuses on the right of people to deliberate in conscience, to discern and to decide, and this bothers them. I am a Catholic, I was baptised and I am guided by feminist theology. You cannot question my faith, just as I cannot question yours. This is a very hard fight, because it is easy to fall in the face of a mass telling you that you are not one of them. From the beginning we knew that we would face disqualification, defamation and lies; we did not, however, think that the attacks would become as violent as those we are currently experiencing on social media, as well as in the form of a lawsuit.

    Given that the experience of faith cannot be taken away from us, what they are trying to do is take away our legal status, make us disappear. We represent a danger because we are not just a few. In fact, more and more people are increasingly getting to know us and identify with us. We represent the position of many people who do not necessarily have the opportunity to articulate this strand of thought publicly, but who feel it and live by it. There is a wide and diverse congregation that does not think the same way as the Church hierarchy and considers that the ultra-conservative response to public policy is more suitable to Inquisition times than today. According to polls, most Catholics disagree with the Church hierarchy on many important issues, such as homosexuality, which they do not consider to be an illness or a divine punishment, or same-sex marriage. Choosing an abortion in specific life circumstances is a highly ethical and responsible decision, and it does not make you a bad woman, a lesser Catholic, or a bad mother. Using contraceptives to regulate motherhood and fatherhood or enjoying a sexual relationship without procreating is not prohibited by the Gospels. The state of virginity is losing its divine quality and this is freeing women from feelings of guilt, even in societies such as Latin America’s, where governments and the Catholic Church have always worked in concert to regulate people’s lives. Still today they support one another every time one of them loses credibility.

    How else are you trying to encourage a distinction between private faith and public policy?

    Ours is also a struggle for a secular state, a state that is separated from all churches. This is very difficult to achieve in practice, since the Catholic Church and the Peruvian state maintain strong institutional ties. However, short of achieving constitutional and legal separation between Church and state, there is another fight to be had in the sphere of collective attitudes. Many people – politicians, public officials, civil servants – reach the public sphere without giving a thought to the importance of separating religious beliefs from public function. As a result, many lawmakers and public officials make decisions based on their religious beliefs. It is very common to find crucifixes, chapels and religious images in ministry buildings. In our everyday lives religion surrounds us and limits us; there are no clear boundaries between religious practice and public functions.

    Ultra-conservative groups set themselves on this ground and seek to further expand the dictates of a religion that presents itself as homogeneous, with the intention of forcing all citizens to live according to their own beliefs and mandates. The problem is not religion in itself; the difficulty lies with the political use of religion within the political-public sphere, where there is a duty to guarantee human rights.


    Civic space in Peru is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Perú through their webpage and Facebook


  • RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE : « Nous faisons partie d’un mouvement antiraciste global »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Elena Lorac, coordinatrice de, un réseau civique indépendant et pluraliste composé principalement de jeunes Dominicains d’origine haïtienne. défend les droits humains et promeut l’intégration réelle, pleine et effective des Dominicains d’origine haïtienne dans la société dominicaine. Présent sur tout le territoire de la République dominicaine, défend la vision d’un pays multiculturel où les personnes de toutes origines vivent ensemble avec dignité, sans stigmatisation ni discrimination, et où leurs droits fondamentaux sont respectés par la société et protégés par l’État.


  • WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ‘Anti-rights groups are trying to take away our acquired rights’

    Teresa Fernandez ParedesAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks toTeresa Fernández Paredes, a lawyer specialising in International Public Law and one of Women's Link’s Managing Attorneys. With offices in Colombia, Kenya and Spain, Women's Link defends and promotes women's rights and seeks to create structural change through strategic litigation.

    What does Women's Link do, and what are its main areas of work?

    Women's Link is an international organisation that uses the law - most of us are lawyers - to promote structural social changes that advance the rights of women and girls, and especially of those in the most vulnerable positions, such as migrant women or women who find the exercise of their rights restricted due to their ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status, among other factors.

    We work from our headquarters in Madrid, Spain and have offices in Bogotá, Colombia and Nairobi, Kenya. We apply a gender and an intersectional analysis to the law in order to expand and improve the rights of women and girls. We work in some areas, such as sexual and reproductive rights, where we collide head-on with anti-rights groups. We also focus on human trafficking, and especially on the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and the violations of their rights suffered by women in migration or transitional justice contexts. We also focus on discrimination, as a cross-cutting issue. We use several strategies: in addition to strategic litigation, we conduct judicial training and produce publications, among other things.

    What are currently your main areas of work in Latin America?

    One of our main lines of work in Latin America is access to sexual and reproductive rights, broadly understood. In the context of the ongoing Venezuelan migration crisis, we are working on the link between migration and lack of access to these rights. We examine issues such as the effects of irregular migration status on the enjoyment of these rights, and the situation of border areas as spaces that are not ruled by law.

    Working in Venezuela has been a great challenge, given the country’s current situation. What we do, here and in all cases, is apply international legal standards to the local context. But it is important to bear in mind that generally speaking, law - and not just domestic legislation, but also international human rights law - is very centred on men. Over the years, norms and regulations have been developed around the image of the white man as a universal subject.

    Our approach to the law is to stretch it to accommodate the experiences of women, because within the human rights framework, women's issues are often left aside. In the context of Venezuela, we work a lot with the inter-American human rights system. For example, we recently requested a precautionary measure for a maternity clinic where many mothers and children had died. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued the precautionary measure, but in the current context it would seem difficult to implement it. However, it serves the purpose of drawing attention to the specific situation of women and girls. And all this work also helps encourage understanding why women leave Venezuela: what drives them, as women, to migrate; and what needs they have when they are in transit and when they arrive at their destination.

    In addition to working in Venezuela, several of our projects focus on ensuring that women’s lived experiences and voices are heard in the context of the peace process in Colombia. We do this mainly from our office in Bogotá, and always jointly with community organisations, so as to try to make heard the voices of people at the margins who are not reached by decision-makers.

    Over the past years anti-rights groups have been on the rise, in Latin America and beyond. Have you faced backlash from these groups in the course of your work?

    The context in which we work is strongly marked by the rise of anti-rights groups that say they are mobilising against what they call ‘gender ideology’. But this is not a new phenomenon: anti-rights groups have been busy building connections and expanding since the 1990s. They have a lot of money and there is one thing they do better than groups on the left: they are very effective in creating connections and coalitions among themselves; even when they work on different issues they are able to find common ground. For instance, all of them have coordinated to place the gender ideology theme on the table and raise it everywhere, as a result of which something that was not even a concept ended up as a global issue. They have managed to position this on the agenda, which is more difficult to do for groups located on the left, where there is more discussion around the issues and it is more difficult to coordinate and speak with one voice. That is why we still do not have a unique and conclusive response to the attacks we face in the name of gender ideology.

    Anti-rights groups are trying to take away our acquired rights. And they are doing it by using the same discourse that has been successfully used by human rights groups. They talk about human rights and they position themselves as victims. They even depict feminists as diabolical agents, giving feminism more power than you would think it has. Due to the fact that Women's Link is based in three regions, we can clearly see that the same strategies are being used in different places. These groups are using coordinated strategies, they have lots of money and they enjoy global support. As they use the language of human rights, they have increasing legal representation, and they have begun to occupy spaces in strategic forums, where decisions are made, including the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

    How can progressive civil society act to curb these advances?

    Faced with these attacks it is important to act quickly through the law. We must continue working to strengthen the human rights framework and shield rights against these attacks. We must design not just defensive strategies, but also proactive strategies to expand the human rights framework, or at least to take away some of the spaces in which anti-rights groups move.

    There are still unresolved discussions we need to work on, such as the tension between the freedom of expression and hate speech. Paradoxically, in order to spread their message anti-rights groups are leaning on one of the left’s favourite themes, the freedom of expression.

    However, if we want to create lasting social change we cannot remain in the realm of the law and the courts. What we need are cases that cause people to mobilise, generate public debate and produce real social change. In that sense I see positive developments, like the #MeToo movement and the so-called Green Tide in Argentina. That is, we are seeing two opposing processes: on the one hand, anti-rights groups are growing; on the other, strong mobilisation around these issues is happening from the ground up and with a strong youth component. Such was the case with the Green Tide, which created unprecedented mobilisation while a proposal to legalise abortion was being discussed in the Argentine Congress. No doubt the two processes are very likely connected, and one is a consequence of the other.

    These social movements are good reason for hope. In the face of attempts to cut back on acquired rights, there is a very active movement that says, look, this is an acquired right, you cannot take it away anymore. There is no going back: looking forward, you can only expand the rights framework, but you cannot diminish it.

    In addition to attacks from anti-rights groups, what other challenges do civil society promoting women’s rights face?

    For grassroots organisations, lack of resources can be a great limitation. And in contexts of great urgency, such as those of massive movements of people, we are presented with the challenge of how to coordinate our work with that of grassroots organisations.

    Women's Link is dedicated to identifying structural situations where women's rights are violated and to designing legal strategies to generate structural, transformative change. Meanwhile, grassroots organisations - for example, those in border areas between Colombia and Venezuela - are increasingly taking on, in conditions of urgency, functions that should be performed by the state. In these contexts, most of the response is coming from civil society organisations.

    These grassroots organisations are responding to a very serious situation, and the needs of the women they work with are very urgent, and yet all we can do at Women's Link is support them through strategic litigation, which usually takes a long time.

    Difficulties of working with scarce resources aside, it is vital to build relationships, connect and coordinate, because the potential contribution that Women's Link has to offer would be useless if it weren’t for the work that is being done by grassroots organisations and for the voices and support of women themselves.


    Get in touch with Women’s Link through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@womenslink on Twitter.


  • WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ‘Progressive civil society must claim for itself the defence of life’

    Maria Angelica Penas DefagoAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to María Angélica Peñas Defago, gender specialist, professor and researcher of Argentina’s National Research Council (CONICET) based at the National University of Córdoba, and co-author of the recentGlobal Philanthropy Project report, ‘Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI Rights'.

    Do you think anti-rights groups have increased their activity in recent times?

    We should start by defining what we mean by ‘recent times’, how far back we need to go, and what specific context we are talking about, because for instance in Latin America the situation varies from country to country. In the case of Argentina, we have seen over time – and not only over the past year, when a bill allowing for the voluntary termination of pregnancies was being discussed in Congress – reactions against the progress achieved in claiming rights by women and LGBTQI people. While it is true that, in recent years, anti-rights groups have become more visible and coordinated, largely in response to advances achieved in the area of sexual and reproductive rights, they have been present for decades, always coercing our agendas. In Argentina, they have been actively litigating against any attempt to enact public policy on sexual and reproductive health or even remotely linked to these rights for at least 20 years. In the province of Córdoba, where I live, these efforts have been very successful in the lower courts, although rulings favourable to these groups were eventually overturned in the higher courts.

    With regard to street actions, strong reactions by these groups were already recorded in the past, including demonstrations throughout the country, for instance against equal marriage, which was approved in Argentina in 2010. The same groups marched once again against the legalisation of abortion in 2018. There has also been a renewed backlash against sex education in schools, a longstanding battle. Sex education was implemented through a 2006 law that is still being resisted. During the abortion debate, anti-rights groups pretended to promote sex education as an alternative to abortion, but after the bill on the voluntary termination of pregnancy was voted down by the Senate, they restarted their attacks against sex education.

    A reorganisation of the conservative camp is currently underway, and I think it is as a result of this that these groups have recently gained more visibility. Although new actors have indeed emerged within civil society, the central phenomenon in the current socio-political context is the reassertion that is taking place in the political and the economic spheres. This can be seen, for example, in the alliances reached in Colombia around the 2016 referendum on the peace process, as well as in Brazil, embodied in the 2018 election of President Jair Bolsonaro.

    During the campaign leading to the referendum in Colombia, the forces that rejected the agreement claimed that if ‘yes’ won, so-called 'gender ideology' would be imposed. In Brazil, fake news claiming that the Workers’ Party promoted paedophilia and would try to ‘convert’ children into homosexuals or transsexuals mushroomed during the election campaign.

    In other ways, the phenomenon is also seen in Argentina, where all the main actors opposed to the progressive agenda, and specifically to the sexual and reproductive rights agenda, have tended to converge.

    Do you think that these are purely reactive groups, whose raison d'être is to curb the progress of the progressive agenda?

    As far as I can tell, that is indeed the case. I have monitored congresses of so-called ‘pro-life’ groups and analysed the actions they have undertaken in regional and global spaces, and particularly in the Organization of American States and the United Nations, and it is readily apparent that they are losing ground regarding family formats and the assignment of sexual roles, and they are aware of it. These groups are reacting to what they perceive as a setback. Their reaction is being coordinated not only around the thematic agenda of sexual and reproductive rights, but also around a wider nationalist, neoliberal – and, in some cases, fascist – political and economic agenda.

    The Bolsonaro phenomenon is a good example of a reaction to a pluralistic agenda around sexual morality and sexual and reproductive rights. The advances of this pluralist agenda acted as a binding agent for a broader conservative political agenda. Within the framework of the reaction against progress achieved in sexual and reproductive rights, other actors are taking advantage to impose their own conservative agendas, for example around migration issues. There are some new actors at play, especially those joining from other fields – political, economic, religious – but many of the actors that are gaining greater visibility are the same as always, the difference being that they are now unifying agendas that used to run in parallel and in less coordinated ways.

    What tactics have these groups used to advance their agenda?

    Litigation against sexual and reproductive rights has been an important tool for more than three decades. In Argentina, these groups have litigated, among other things, against the administration of emergency contraception and to stop the implementation of protocols for non-punishable abortions. In Argentina, abortion has been legal since 1921 for cases of rape, unviability of the foetus, or danger to the woman’s life or health; however, these groups have tried to prevent timely and secure access to this right.

    For the part of civil society that works in the area of women's rights, these groups have always been there. But litigation is sometimes a quite silent affair and has possibly remained unnoticed by the wider civil society. Often, it all remained within the realm of the administration of justice and health services. This however did not prevent this strategy from having very strong effects, because judicial decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health tend to produce fears, doubts and paralysis among health providers, which are key agents for guaranteeing actual access to these rights.

    The presence of anti-rights groups is not news for feminist and LGBTQI groups, but it may very well be so for other sectors of civil society, including human rights organisations, which in recent times have seen them acting more intensely through the occupation of street space and the creation of partisan political alliances, the two key arenas for political struggle in contemporary democracies. These groups are trying to appropriate public space, showcasing themselves as the majority, and in this way they are gaining public visibility. In this area, one of their most successful strategies has involved the use of coordinated messages and symbols. The ‘Don’t mess with my children’ campaign, for example, has used the same phrases and slogans, and even the same symbols and colours, not only throughout Latin America, but also well beyond. We have seen it in Eastern Europe, in Italy, in Spain. These groups are intensively using social media so that their strategies and symbols travel, are shared and ultimately reach us repeatedly from various latitudes.

    If anti-rights positions have gained more visibility, it is because the actors that promote them, mostly faith-based, have gained a prominence in the public space that they did not have 20 years ago. Evangelical churches, like the Catholic Church, are plural and heterogeneous. But in much of Latin America, the political processes of resistance to sexual and reproductive rights have been led by very conservative evangelical churches, sometimes in alliance with the higher ranks of the Catholic Church, and in other cases dissenting or even opposing them.

    Unlike litigation, the strategy of occupying public space requires support in large numbers. Do you think these groups are gaining in popularity?

    The socio-political phenomenon fuelled by these groups is significant. It is not simply about campaigns and slogans; they are deeply embedded at the grassroots level. To understand what is happening in the religious arena and in terms of resistance against progress in sexual and reproductive rights, it is necessary to take into account the socio-economic context and the way that these churches are operating at the grassroots, in strong connection with the populations that they mobilise.

    In Argentina, a very politically mobilised society, street mobilisation has been widely used by these groups, so it is nothing new. What is new is the massive character of their mobilisations. These groups were already mobilising 30 years ago, or maybe even earlier, but there was no social media back then. The modes of communication and mobilisation have changed at the same time as the religious field has in the face of advances in sexual and reproductive rights. Evangelical churches have grown throughout the region, and within them, conservative sectors have grown the most.

    I think that to understand the phenomenon it is also key to understand the neoliberal context and its general effects that undermine living conditions. In the socio-political context of neoliberalism, as the state has withdrawn from its basic functions, many religious groups have gone on to perform tasks and provide services that should be provided by the state. In some places, such as in the USA, the Catholic Church has been long in charge of providing services to some groups, such as migrants, that are not tended to by the state. In Latin America, the role of evangelical churches, for instance in the area of aid and treatment for addictions, is really impressive. Evangelical sectors are growing exponentially because they are assisting communities that are being forgotten by the state. Evangelical pastors play central roles in communities, are active in providing social assistance, dealing with addictions and providing health and education services, and are also key in mobilising people – partly because many of them are also members of these communities. They live in the same neighbourhoods and maintain close ties with the members of their congregations.

    In sum, we are not facing a mere battle of narratives. The discourses that we need to stand up to are rooted in the practices of grassroots communities, and often mobilisations are summoned from the pulpit. Calls from the pulpit are important because to many excluded people the church has become indispensable. In countries that have very high poverty rates, for many people the church is the only place of belonging and protection that remains when both the state and the market have excluded them, and therefore do not have access to work, education, or health services. Beyond the fact that religion remains a central element of many people’s identities, these feelings of belonging and community are not minor issues in contexts of extreme precariousness and individualisation brought about by the economic, political, social and cultural neoliberal model.

    What does progressive civil society have to offer in the face of this?

    Progressive civil society has a lot to offer, because it focuses on the struggle for and the creation of liveable, rich, plural ways of life, based on solidarity and mutual support. I don't think there is a single recipe, because this work involves very different movements. There are feminist and LGBTQI movements that work from the standpoint of religious pluralism, disputing the idea of the monopoly of faith, and these are very rich spaces of struggle and belonging. Religions, all of them, comprise plural, democratic and horizontal spaces, which many organisations take advantage of in their struggle for meaning. Other organisations have expertise in crafting messages, and that is where they make their contribution. But this battle is not taking place only, or even mainly, on social media, since not everyone has even access to the internet. The dispute over meaning is fundamental both on social media and offline, as can be seen around the ‘pro-life’ label that many anti-rights groups have appropriated. Women’s and LGBTQI groups working at the grassroots level continually reference this label, by asking the question: how much is my life worth if I do not have access to a job, to the recognition of my identity, to the protection of my health – if the kind of life that is being offered to me is not a decent one? Progressive civil society must claim for itself the defence of life, understood as a dignified, fully human life.

    To offer this response, progressive civil society needs to ally with others who share its values of pluralism, freedom and equality. The pluralist, inclusive, non-essentialist and decolonial feminist agenda is a good basis on which to form alliances with multiple actors that were not attracted by feminism in the past, in order to take part in the struggle for meaning not only in the rhetorical field, but also in concrete reality. Popular feminism represents a return to the realm of the real, as it focuses on the implications of principles on people’s daily lives. If we talk about abortion, for instance, we must focus on the consequences of the legality or illegality of this practice for the daily reality of pregnant women, families and communities. Religion and faith are an important part of people's lives, and the feminist movement, or at least a good part of it, is now working within this reality.

    Get in touch with María Angélica through herFacebook page and check her work onResearchGate.