derechos sexuales y reproductivos

 

  • ‘In response to anti-right narratives, we need to support one another in all of our diversity’

    Sahar MoazamiAs part of our 2019thematic 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 to Sahar Moazami, OutRight Action International’s United Nations Program Officer. Sahar is trained as a lawyer specialising in international human rights law. Primarily based in the USA, OutRight has staff in six countries and works alongside LGBTQI people across four continents to defend and advance the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world. Founded in 1990 as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, it changed its name in 2015 to reflect its commitment to advancing the human rights of all LGBTQI people. It is the only LGBTQI civil society organisation with a permanent advocacy presence at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

    OutRight is unique in that it has a permanent presence at the United Nations (UN). Can you tell us what kind of work you do at the UN, and how this work helps advance the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world?

    OutRight is indeed uniquely placed. We are the only LGBTQI-focused and LGBTQI-led organisation with UN ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council accreditation) status focusing on the UN in New York. Prior to 2015, when we formalised the programme as it exists today, we would do UN work, but with a focus on human rights mechanisms in Geneva and a more ad-hoc participation in New York, such as making submissions on LGBTQI issues to human rights treaty bodies with civil society partners in specific countries or bringing speakers to sessions and interactive dialogues.

    In 2015 we reviewed our strategic plan and realised that we were uniquely placed: we are based in New York, we are the only LGBTQI organisation here with ECOSOC status, there are a number of UN bodies here in New York, and there is a bit of a gap in LGTBQI presence. So we decided to shift our focus, also taking into consideration that we work with a lot of great colleagues overseas, like ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), which is permanently based and has staff in Geneva, or COC Netherlands, which has easier access than us to Geneva mechanisms. So it made sense, given that we had great colleagues working in Geneva and we were the only ones based here, to try and make sure we were using our resources constructively and thus covering all spaces. As a result, we now focus specifically on the UN in New York, which is quite an interesting landscape.

    While there are 47 states at a time that are actively engaged with the Human Rights Council in Geneva, all states that are UN members have a permanent presence in New York, throughout the year. This creates an opportunity for continuous engagement. We are part of an informal working group, the UN LGBTI Core Group, which includes 28 UN member states, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch, alongside OutRight Action International. This group provides the space to do LGBTQI advocacy throughout the year and gives us direct access to the 28 member states involved. We work in the UN LGBTI Core Group to identity and take advantage of opportunities for promoting LGBTQI inclusivity and convene events to increase visibility. While we also engage with other states, the Core Group provides a specific space for the work that we do.

    In addition to year-round engagement with member states, there are a number of sessions that are of particular interest: the UN General Assembly, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March and the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Developments Goals in July. In all of these forums we provide technical guidance to UN member states on using inclusive language in resolutions and outcome documents and we host events with Core Group and non-Core Group member states relevant to topics and themes discussed in these forums, with the aim of increasing LGBTQI visibility and inclusion. Throughout the year we also work on the Security Council, as members of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

    Every December we hold our own flagship programme, in which we support between 30 and 40 activists from all around the world to come and undergo training on UN mechanisms in New York, and take part in numerous meetings with UN officials and bodies, and member states.

    The impact that our work has on people’s lives depends on our ability to leverage the status that we have to open doors. We use the access we have via our ECOSOC status to get our partners into spaces otherwise not available to them and to support them in their advocacy once they are there. So many things happen at the UN that have an impact on our lives, yet it is a system that is difficult to explain. It is easier to show activists the various UN mechanisms, how they work and how activists can use them to further their work.

    Being able to open spaces, bringing information and perspectives into the conversation and then getting the information that we are able to gather back to our partners on the ground so they can use it in their advocacy – that is what I am most proud of in terms of the real impact of our work on people’s lives.

    Over the past decade there have been sizeable advances in recognition of the human rights of LGBTQI people. Have you experienced backlash from anti-rights groups that oppose these gains?

    I think we are seeing significant progress. Over the past year, a number of countries passed or began to implement laws that recognise diverse gender identities and expand the rights of transgender people, remove bans against same-sex relations and recognise equal marriage rights to all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation. At the same time, and maybe in reaction to these gains, we are experiencing backlash. We are witnessing the rise of right-wing nationalism and anti-gender movements targeting gender equality and advocating for the exclusion of LGBTQI people and extreme restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This has led to a rise in queerphobic, and especially transphobic, rhetoric coming from political actors and, in some cases, attempts to roll back progress made to recognise the diversity of gender identities.

    The CSW is a good example of a space that has undergone regression, particularly regarding the rights of LGBTQI people. What we saw during its latest session, in March 2019, was a very vocal and targeted attack against trans individuals. The anti-gender narrative was present in side events that were hosted by states and civil society groups both at the UN and outside the UN.

    Do you think these groups are part of a new, more aggressive generation of anti-rights groups? Are they different in any way from the conservative groups of the past?

    I wouldn’t say they are so new, and they certainly did not come out of nowhere. Such narratives have been around in national discourse for quite a while. What seems new is the degree to which the right-wing groups promoting them have become emboldened. What has emboldened them the most is that powerful states are using their arguments. This anti-gender narrative has penetrated deeply and is reflected in negotiations and official statements. During the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, for example, representatives of the USA attempted to remove the word ‘gender’ from numerous draft resolutions, requesting to replace it with the term ‘woman’. And at the 63rd Session of the CSW, a number of delegations negotiating the official outcome document, including from Bahrain, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the USA, attempted to remove or limit references to gender throughout the document, proposing instead narrow terms reinforcing a gender binary, excluding LGBTQI – and especially trans persons – from the CSW's guidance to states on their gender equality efforts.

    So clearly the anti-rights discourse is not coming from fringe right-wing CSOs or individuals anymore, but from heads of state, government officials and national media platforms, which give it not just airtime, but also credibility. As a result, anti-rights groups feel increasingly free to be more upfront and upright. I don’t know if they are really increasing in popularity or if people who have always held these views are also emboldened by leaders of nations who are using the same rhetoric. Maybe these right-wing populist leaders just opened the door to something that was always there.

    But I think there is one change underway in terms of the kind of groups that promote anti-rights narratives. In the past it was clear that these were all religion-based organisations, but now we are seeing secular and non-secular groups coming together around the narrative of biology. Some of them even identify as feminists and as human rights defenders but are particularly hostile toward trans individuals. Of course, there are some groups that are clearly hijacking feminist concepts and language, attaching them to new interpretations that are clearly forced, but there are also groups that actually consider themselves to be feminists and believe that trans individuals should be expelled from feminist spaces.

    Either hypocritically or out of some sort of conviction, these groups are using feminist language to further their goals. And they are using the same rhetoric against abortion rights and the rights of LGBTQI people. They are well-funded. They have plenty of resources and supporters. Of course, plenty of people stand vocally in support of abortion rights, sexual health and education, and the human rights of LGBTQI people, but what I am trying to emphasise is that the anti-rights forces are mobilising people differently and are able to amplify their message in a way that makes them very dangerous.

    From our perspective, they are mobilising against the rights of certain people – but that is not the way they frame it. They are not explicit in using the human rights framework against certain categories of people. Rather they claim to be upholding principles around, say, the freedom of religion, the rights of children, or women’s rights. They depict the situation as though the rights of some groups would necessarily be sacrificed when the rights of other groups are realised; but this is a false dichotomy. Human rights are universal as well as indivisible.

    How can progressive rights-oriented civil society respond to help resist these advances?

    I think there are different tactics that we could use, and we are already using. There is an argument to be made against responding to things that are said by anti-gender and anti-rights groups. Faced with this challenge, different people would have different responses, and I can only speak from my personal background and for my organisation. I think that these are false narratives and we shouldn’t engage with them. We need to be more proactive. Rather than engaging, we should focus on ensuring that all the work we do is truly collaborative and intersectional, and that we acknowledge each other and support one another in all of our diversity.

    People who really uphold feminist values agree that the root of gender inequality is the social construction of gender roles and norms, and that these constructions produce personal and systemic experiences of stigma, discrimination and violence. Those of us who believe this need to continue mobilising our narratives to fight against structural barriers to equality. The fact that some anti-rights groups are using a bogus feminist rhetoric is no reason to abandon feminism, but rather the opposite – we need to embody the version of feminism that is most inclusive, the one that is truer to its principles. We cannot accept their claim that they speak for all of us. We need to reclaim feminism as our own space and reject the terms of the debate as they are presented to us.

    Get in touch with OutRight Action International through its website and Facebook page, or follow @OutRightIntl on Twitter.

     

  • ‘La sociedad civil progresista debe reclamar para sí la defensa de la vida’

    Maria Angelica Penas DefagoEn el marco de nuestroinforme temático 2019, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de sus experiencias y acciones ante el avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa con María Angélica Peñas Defago, especialista en temas de género, profesora e investigadora del Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones (CONICET) de Argentina, basada en la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, y coautora del recienteinforme del Global Philanthropy Project, ‘Conservadurismos religiosos en el escenario global: Amenazas y desafíos para los derechos LGBTI’.

    ¿Piensas que los grupos anti-derechos han aumentado su actividad en los últimos tiempos?

    En primer lugar, habría que definir qué son los últimos tiempos, cuánto para atrás nos remontamos, y en qué contexto nos situamos, porque en América Latina la situación varía de país en país. En el caso de Argentina hemos visto a lo largo del tiempo - y no solamente en el último año, durante el cual se discutió en el Congreso un proyecto de ley de interrupción voluntaria del embarazo –reacciones contra los progresos de la agenda de los derechos de las mujeres y las personas LGBTQI. Si bien es cierto que en los últimos años los grupos anti-derechos se han visibilizado y unido más entre ellos, en gran parte en respuesta a los avances en temas de derechos sexuales y reproductivos conseguidos, hace décadas que están presentes, coaccionando nuestras agendas. En Argentina hace más de 20 años promueven activamente acciones de litigio contra todo intento de política pública de salud sexual y reproductiva o vinculada con esos derechos. En la provincia de Córdoba, donde vivo, estos esfuerzos han sido muy exitosos en las primeras instancias judiciales, pero los fallos favorables a estos grupos acabaron siendo revertidos en instancias superiores de la administración de justicia.

    En lo que se refiere a acciones callejeras, ya ha habido en el pasado reacciones fuertes de estos grupos, incluyendo marchas en todo el país, por ejemplo contra el matrimonio igualitario, que se aprobó en 2010 en Argentina. Los mismos grupos volvieron a manifestarse en contra de la legalización del aborto en 2018. Al mismo tiempo ha habido una nueva embestida contra la educación sexual en las escuelas, una batalla de larga data. La educación sexual fue implementada mediante una ley de 2006 que aún sigue siendo resistida. Durante el debate sobre el aborto los grupos anti-derechos fingieron promover la educación sexual como alternativa al aborto, pero luego de que el proyecto de ley de interrupción voluntaria del embarazo fue rechazado en el Senado volvieron a la carga contra la educación sexual.

    Lo que hay en curso es una rearticulación conservadora y desde esa rearticulación creo que se han vuelto más visibles en el último tiempo. Si bien también han emergido nuevos actores dentro de la sociedad civil, el fenómeno central en el actual contexto sociopolítico es la rearticulación que se está produciendo en los campos político y económico. Esto se observa, por ejemplo, en las alianzas articuladas en Colombia en torno del referéndum de 2016 por el proceso de paz, así como en Brasil, con la elección de Jair Bolsonaro como presidente en 2018.

    En Colombia, durante la campaña conducente al plebiscito, las fuerzas contrarias a los acuerdos aseguraban que si ganaba el ‘sí’ se impondría la llamada ‘ideología de género’; en Brasil se multiplicaron durante la campaña electoral las noticias falsas que decían que el PT promovía la pedofilia e intentaba ‘convertir’ a los niños en homosexuales o transexuales.

    De diferentes maneras, el fenómeno se observa también en Argentina, donde se ha producido una convergencia entre los principales actores de oposición a la agenda progresista, y en particular a la agenda de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos.

    ¿Crees que se trata de grupos puramente reactivos, cuya razón de ser es frenar los avances de la agenda progresista?

    En mi experiencia, efectivamente así es. En mi trabajo he monitoreado algunos congresos de grupos autodenominados ‘pro-vida’ y analizado sus acciones en los espacios regionales y globales, y sobre todo en la Organización de Estados Americanos y las Naciones Unidas, y es evidente que están perdiendo la hegemonía en lo que se refiere a formatos familiares y roles sexuales, y ellos lo saben. Estos grupos están reaccionando frente a lo que perciben como un retroceso. Su reacción está siendo coordinada no solo a través de la agenda temática de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, sino también a través de una agenda política y económica nacionalista, neoliberal y en algunos casos fascista.

    El fenómeno Bolsonaro es un buen ejemplo de reacción ante una agenda pluralista en materia de moral sexual y derechos sexuales y reproductivos. El avance de esta agenda pluralista funcionó de agente aglutinante para una agenda política conservadora más amplia. En el marco de la reacción contra los progresos en materia de derechos sexuales y reproductivos, otros actores están aprovechando para imponer sus propias agendas conservadoras, por ejemplo en torno del tema migratorio. Hay algunos actores nuevos, sobre todo los que se suman desde otros campos - político, económico, religioso -, pero muchos de los que están adquiriendo mayor visibilidad son los mismos de siempre, que ahora están unificando agendas que solían discurrir en paralelo y de maneras menos coordinadas.

    ¿Cuáles son las tácticas que estos grupos han utilizado para hacer avanzar su agenda?

    El litigio contra los derechos sexuales y reproductivos ha sido una herramienta importante a lo largo de más de tres décadas. En Argentina, estos grupos han litigado, entre otras cosas, contra la administración de contracepción de emergencia y para frenar la aplicación de los protocolos para abortos no punibles. En Argentina el aborto es legal desde 1921 en los casos de violación, inviabilidad del feto, o peligro para la vida o la salud de la mujer; sin embargo, estos sectores han intentado impedir el acceso oportuno y seguro a este derecho.

    Para la parte de la sociedad civil que trabaja en el área de los derechos de las mujeres, estos grupos siempre han estado allí. Pero el litigio, en ocasiones, es bastante silencioso, y posiblemente escapara al conocimiento de la sociedad civil más amplia. Muchas veces todo quedaba en el terreno de la justicia y los servicios de salud. Lo cual no obstaba para que tuviera efectos muy fuertes, porque las decisiones judiciales en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva producen miedos, dudas y parálisis en los prestadores de salud, que son sujetos clave para el acceso a esos derechos.

    La presencia actual de grupos anti-derechos no es novedosa para los grupos feministas y LGBTQI, pero puede que sí lo sea para otros sectores de la sociedad civil, incluidas las organizaciones de derechos humanos, que en el último tiempo los ven actuando más intensamente a través de la ocupación del espacio callejero y la creación de alianzas políticas partidarias, arenas claves de disputa en las democracias contemporáneas. Estos grupos están tratando de resignificar lo público, intentando mostrarse como mayoría, y de este modo están ganando visibilidad pública. En este terreno, una de sus estrategias más exitosas pasa por el uso de mensajes y simbologías coordinados. La campaña ‘Con mis hijos no te metas’, por ejemplo, usa las mismas frases y eslóganes, e incluso los mismos símbolos y colores, no solamente en toda América Latina, sino incluso más allá. Lo hemos visto en Europa del Este, en Italia, en España. Hacen un intenso uso de redes sociales para que estas estrategias y simbologías viajen, sean compartidas y nos lleguen repetidamente desde distintas latitudes.

    Si las posiciones anti-derechos tienen mayor visibilidad es porque los actores que las impulsan, en su mayoría actores religiosos, han un adquirido un protagonismo en el espacio público que hace 20 años no tenían. Las iglesias evangélicas, al igual que las católicas, son plurales y heterogéneas en su conformación. Pero en gran parte de América Latina, diversas iglesias evangélicas de las ramas más conservadoras están liderando los procesos políticos de resistencia a los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, en algunos casos en alianza con las jerarquías católicas y en otros con discrepancias e incluso con rupturas.

    A diferencia del litigio, la estrategia de ocupar la calle requiere de apoyo en grandes números. ¿Piensas que estos grupos están ganando popularidad?

    El fenómeno sociopolítico que han generado estos grupos no es menor. No se trata simplemente de campañas y eslóganes, sino que tienen una inserción profunda en el territorio. Para entender lo que está pasando en el terreno religioso y de la resistencia contra los avances en materia de derechos sexuales y reproductivos es necesario tomar en cuenta el contexto socioeconómico y el modo en que operan estas iglesias a nivel territorial, en conexión con las poblaciones a las que movilizan.

    En Argentina, una sociedad muy movilizada políticamente, la movilización callejera ha sido largamente utilizada por estos grupos, no es una novedad. Lo novedoso es la masividad de la convocatoria. Hace 30 años, o más, estos grupos ya se movilizaban, pero no existían las redes sociales. Los modos de comunicación y convocatoria han cambiado al mismo tiempo que lo ha hecho el campo religioso frente a los avances de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos. Las iglesias evangélicas han crecido en toda la región, y dentro de ellas los que más han crecido han sido los sectores conservadores.

    Por otro lado, creo que entender cómo opera el contexto neoliberal de precarización general de la vida es clave para entender este fenómeno. En el contexto sociopolítico del Estado neoliberal, con la retirada del Estado de sus funciones básicas, muchos actores religiosos han pasado a realizar tareas y a proveer servicios que corresponden al Estado. En algunos sitios, como en los Estados Unidos, la Iglesia Católica lleva décadas prestando servicios a ciertos grupos, por ejemplo a los migrantes, que el Estado no ofrece. En América Latina, es impresionante el rol de las iglesias evangélicas en el terreno de la asistencia y la contención relacionada, por ejemplo, con las adicciones. Los sectores evangélicos están creciendo exponencialmente porque están asistiendo a comunidades que están siendo relegadas por el Estado. Los pastores evangélicos desempeñan roles centrales en las comunidades, están activos en las políticas de asistencia, de adicciones, de salud, de educación, y son centrales a la hora de convocar a la movilización - en parte, además, porque muchos de ellos son miembros de esas comunidades. Viven en los mismos barrios y mantienen vínculos estrechos con las personas que integran sus iglesias.

    De modo que no estamos ante una mera batalla de narrativas. Los discursos que debemos enfrentar están enraizados en las prácticas de las comunidades de base, y muchas de las convocatorias se realizan desde las iglesias. El llamado desde el púlpito es importante, porque para muchas personas que están excluidas la iglesia es indispensable. En países con altísimas tasas de pobreza, para mucha gente la iglesia es el único lugar de pertenencia y amparo que queda cuando tanto el Estado como el mercado la han excluido, y no tienen acceso a trabajo, educación o salud. Más allá del hecho de que la religiosidad sigue siendo un aspecto central de la identidad de muchas personas, la pertenencia y la idea de comunidad no son una cuestión menor en el contexto de la precarización y la individualización extremas que suponen los modelos económicos, políticos, sociales y culturales del neoliberalismo.

    ¿Qué puede ofrecer frente a esto la sociedad civil progresista?

    La sociedad civil progresista tiene mucho para ofrecer, porque se centra en la disputa y la generación de modos de vida vivibles, ricos, plurales, basados en la solidaridad y el apoyo mutuo. No creo que haya una receta única, porque se trata de movimientos muy diversos. Hay movimientos feministas y LGBTQI que trabajan desde el pluralismo religioso, disputando la idea del monopolio de la fe, y son espacios muy ricos de lucha y de pertenencia. Las religiones, todas ellas, tienen espacios plurales, democráticos y horizontales, que muchas organizaciones aprovechan para dar una batalla por los sentidos. Otras organizaciones tienen experticia en la creación de mensajes, y desde allí contribuyen. Pero esta batalla no tiene lugar solamente, ni principalmente, en las redes sociales, ya que no todo el mundo tiene siquiera acceso a internet. La disputa por el sentido es fundamental tanto en las redes sociales como fuera de ellas, como se observa en torno del rótulo ‘pro-vida’ que se auto-imputan muchos grupos anti-derechos. Los grupos de mujeres y LGBTQI que trabajan a nivel de base lo referencian continuamente, con el interrogante: ¿cuánto vale mi vida si no tengo acceso a un trabajo, al reconocimiento de mi identidad, a la protección de mi salud, si la vida que se me ofrece no es una vida digna? La sociedad civil progresista debe reclamar para sí la defensa de la vida, entendida como vida digna, plenamente humana.

    Para ofrecer esta respuesta, la sociedad civil progresista necesita aliarse con otros actores que comparten los valores del pluralismo, la libertad y la igualdad. La agenda feminista plural, inclusiva, no esencialista y decolonial es una buena base sobre la cual articular alianzas con múltiples actores que antes no eran convocados por el feminismo, para poder disputar sentidos no solo en el terreno retórico, sino también en la realidad concreta. El feminismo popular representa un regreso a lo real, a lo que los principios implican para el día a día de la gente. Si hablamos del aborto, por ejemplo, debemos centrarnos en las consecuencias de la legalidad o la ilegalidad de esta práctica sobre la realidad cotidiana de las personas gestantes, de las familias y las comunidades. La religiosidad y la fe son una parte importante de la vida de las personas, y el movimiento feminista, o al menos una buena parte de él, está trabajando desde esa realidad.

    Contáctese con María Angélica través de su perfil deFacebook y encuentre sus trabajos enResearchGate.

     

  • ‘People cannot stay on the sidelines when their rights are being taken away’

    Uma Mishra Newbery1As 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 toUma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, a network of chapters and members mobilising to advance women’s rights around the world. Women’s March Global was formed to give continuity to the momentum of theJanuary 2017 mobilisations, when millions of women and allies in the USA and around the world poured out on to the streets to make themselves seen and heard. Its vision is one of a global community in which all women — including black women, indigenous women, poor women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, lesbian, queer and trans women, and women of every religious, non-religious and atheist background — are free and able to exercise their rights and realise their full potential.

    You recently witnessed anti-rights groups in action at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. Are we seeing a new generation of more aggressive anti-rights groups active at the global level?

    I don’t think this is new. These groups have always been around, always in the background. But there is a massive resurgence of anti-rights groups underway. Following changes in political leadership in some countries, including the USA, they have become more vocal and more deeply involved. And they have become much more strategic and better coordinated. If we look at the funding of these groups, it is coming from very well-established family foundations that are deliberately working to undermine women’s rights. But they are doing it under the disguise of gender equality.

    During the 63rd session of the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held in March 2019, the Holy See organised a side event under the title ‘Gender Equality and Gender Ideology: Protecting Women and Girls’. On the surface, this could appear as super progressive – they are trying to give the impression that they are promoting women’s rights. But you walk into the event and it’s extremely transphobic, as they outrightly reject the concept of gender identity and insist on biological sex, therefore refusing to consider trans women as women. They claim to know better what it means to be a woman and what all women feel and need, and this brings them to condone violence against trans people and reject sexual and reproductive rights.

    The way these groups have morphed and shifted, I think they have become more deliberate in the ways they show themselves in public. They have also become more sophisticated and are using information and communication technologies, as resistance movements always have, in order to organise and disseminate their views.

    Why do you think they are trying to appear to be progressive and who are they trying to fool?

    One would hope that they were trying to fool the UN, which should filter out hate groups, but truth be told, the UN still lets the National Rifle Association (NRA) keep its ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) status, and the NRA actively lobbies against any trade treaty regulating weapons – weapons that are killing people in the USA at an astonishing rate. The UN should understand that these groups exist to undermine democracy and human rights – but more than ever, the UN has become biased on this issue. At the same time there are grassroots organisations that are being denied accreditation in unprecedented numbers – and these are all organisations working on issues that powerful states don’t want to see brought to the forefront.

    So I don’t think they are trying to fool anybody – at this point, they don’t really need to.

    You mentioned the foundations that support these anti-rights groups. Why are all these foundations providing funding?What is there in it for them?

    We have to look at the web of interests that keep these groups active within these spaces, because there are a lot of political and monetary interests keeping them at the UN and within the CSW space.

    If we look at, say, the Heritage Foundation in a space such as CSW, speaking out against what they call gender ideology, what is their point there? Digging deeper, we find that the Heritage Foundation was funded by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. And Betsy DeVos is currently the Trump administration’s Secretary of Education. She and her family are very deeply embedded within the US government, and they have their own political interests back in Michigan, where they are from. What Betsy DeVos has done in Michigan, essentially destroying the public education framework, is deeply troubling. We need to go through all these layers to understand why these groups exist, how sophisticated they are and why they are so difficult to remove.

    How are these groups affecting progressive civil society, in general, and specifically at forums such as CSW? How do they create disruption?

    We are currently seeing the phenomenon of governments working together to deny women’s rights, as opposed to the situation a few decades back, when collaboration among various development players, including states and their aid agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs) and grassroots groups, led to a widening of these rights.

    These new regressive partnerships are very clear at the UN. While some states continue to challenge sexual violence in conflicts, for instance, you have other member states – including the US government – that have shifted and now threaten to reject anti-rape measures because the language in the documents includes terms and considerations related to sexual and reproductive health. These states are working together to strip women – and not only women – of their rights.

    In this context, progressive CSOs are singled out as the ones speaking up against regressive governments and depicted as if they were the ones trying to undermine democracy. These delegitimising attacks against CSOs open up the space for further attacks. They are a signal for anti-rights groups, which are increasingly emboldened as a result of what their governments are doing. When your government is literally saying ‘we don´t care about women´s sexual and reproductive rights, we don´t care about what women experience as a result of conflicts – conflicts that we finance’, anti-rights groups hearing this know they are being given free rein to exist and act openly in these spaces. It’s exactly the same with white supremacists, in the USA and in other countries around the world. These groups are emboldened by a public discourse that gives a green light for fascists, racists and white supremacists to step forward. And this is exactly what they are doing by entering civil society space.

    As well as being emboldened by governments that promote their ideas, do you think anti-rights groups are also emboldened because they are becoming more popular among the public? If so, why do you think their narratives are resonating with citizens?

    They are possibly becoming more popular too – what once seemed like fringe ideas, or too politically incorrect positions to state aloud, are now becoming mainstream.

    As for why this is happening, at the risk of sounding like a ridiculous cliché, I think it is because it is easier for people to hate than to love. When we talk about human rights what we are saying is that, at a very basic level, every single person on this planet should have the same human rights. This is a message that everyone should be able to step behind. But of course, many of those who have held power for hundreds of years and benefited from patriarchy and white supremacy are going to try to defend what they see as their right to continue exercising that power. This includes governments as well as anti-rights non-state groups.

    This was apparent at that panel organised by the Holy See at CSW. The Holy See is an active, very vocal state at the UN. We reported live on their event on Twitter, and you cannot imagine the way we were trolled online. Anti-rights groups accused us of promoting trans rights over women’s rights. But we are an intersectional organisation: we understand that forms of oppression are interconnected, and so by fighting for trans women’s rights we are fighting for all women’s rights, in the same way as by fighting for women’s rights we are fighting for the rights of all people. Because the fight for the most marginalised is a fight for us all. But how can you explain this to people who have had their rights so protected, who have lived in such privilege for so long?

    Is there something that progressive civil society could learn from the ways anti-right groups are pushing their narratives?

    We definitely need to be able to work together towards a common purpose the way they do, and use social media for progressive purposes as cleverly as they are using them to undermine human rights. In many countries, Facebook is undermining democracy. In Myanmar, the genocide of the Rohingya people was incited on Facebook, and how long did it take Facebook to ban Myanmar’s military? In New Zealand, the Christchurch shooter tried to spread footage of the shooting live on Facebook, and how long did it take for Facebook to take it down?

    As civil society, we know that if we don’t actively use the tools that are being used by other groups and governments to undermine human rights, then we are failing. We have to work in a coordinated way, in coalitions. In the past, CSOs have tended to compete for funding – we need to really get better at sharing resources, being collaborative and bringing our strengths to the table.

    We are trying to move in that direction. Recently, we worked in Cameroon with one of our strategic partners, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, on social media training for peace. In this case, we focused on enabling social media campaigns to promote voting for politicians who support women’s rights and human rights.

    For our Free Saudi Women Coalition we have partnerships with six other CSOs, CIVICUS included, and we work actively as a coalition. The wins that we have had have been the result of working together. For instance, in mid-2018 the government of Iceland obtained, for the first time ever, a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and went on to lead a joint initiative that publicly called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights situation. The joint statement that Iceland delivered on behalf of 36 states was a direct result of behind-the-scenes advocacy by a civil society coalition.

    What do you think progressive civil society needs to keep up the fight?

    I think that people need to understand that CSOs have always been on the ground, that they have always worked at the very grassroots level to hold governments accountable and to push forward human rights agendas. People need to know that 90 per cent of the time there is a high level of coordination that goes on behind the scenes and that CSOs are furiously working to push forward. But many people don’t see all the behind-the-scenes work. And in a lot of places, we cannot be very explicit and provide too many details about our advocacy work, because for security reasons we cannot reveal the names of activists or journalists.

    People need to understand that, in the fight for human rights, grassroots activists and organisations, as well as bigger CSOs, are doing really important and necessary work and more than ever need real support from them. We need people to get invested at the grassroots level. People cannot stay on the sidelines when their rights are being taken away. If your government is taking away your rights, you need to get involved before it’s too late. If you live in a free and stable democracy you have a duty to use your voice and speak up on the human rights abuses happening around the world. This work needs all of us at the table.

    Get in touch with Women’s March Global through itswebsite and Facebook page, or follow@WM_Global and@umajmishra on Twitter.

     

  • ‘People have power, even if they don’t usually feel like they do’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson of the Abortion Rights Campaign, in the aftermath of the historic vote that repealed the eighth amendment of Ireland’s Constitution. Passed in 1983, this constitutional amendment recognised equal rights to life to an ‘unborn’ and a pregnant woman, banning abortion under any circumstances.

    See also our interview with Ivana Bacik, Irish Senator and campaigner for abortion rights.

    1. The vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution exceeded 66 per cent. Did you see it coming?

    We had lots of surprises – we certainly never saw 66 per cent coming. We thought it would be hard win, slightly over 50, 55 per cent at the most. We also thought that the people who were not really engaged would just stay home and not make what they surely considered a tough choice. But with close to 70 per cent, turnout was the third highest ever for a referendum.

    Just so it is clear, it wasn’t our choice to go to a referendum, and I would never recommend it if it can be avoided. It is really tough, and while we won, it was a hard win, as people had to expose themselves and their stories. It was also expensive. But it was the only way to do this, as the amendment was in the Constitution.

    2. What was the state of public opinion when the process started?

    It is not easy to put a date to the beginning of the process. For my organisation, the Abortion Rights Campaign, it began in 2012. We started work in reaction to two major incidents around abortion rights that took place in Ireland in 2012. In the summer of that year, Youth Defence, a very militant anti-choice organisation, put up billboards all around Dublin, saying that abortion hurt women, stigmatising women who had had abortions, and saying lots of things that weren’t true. The protests that took place in reaction to this campaign were the biggest pro-choice demonstrations in a long time. This time, we were also organising online, on Facebook and Twitter, and this made it easier to get information out, so the protests were quite large. The first March for Choice, held in September 2012, gathered a couple of thousand people, which was no small feat at the time. It was the biggest in about a decade.

    A month later, Savita Halappanavar died. Savita was pregnant and died because she was refused an abortion. She had been told she was going to have a miscarriage and there was a risk of infection but, according to the law, doctors were not allowed to intervene until her life was at imminent risk. This was a real wake-up call and put us under the global spotlight. Soon afterwards, in January 2013, the Abortion Rights Campaign began its work.

    But none of this happened out of the blue; it was the result of decades of activism. And of course, the Abortion Rights Campaign was just one among many groups rallying for repeal. But Savita’s death was a turning point: many young people started their journey when it happened. From then on, the Marches for Choice got bigger and bigger every year and at some point, we figured out that we had to call a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and push for political change. We had been agitating for a while, marching in the streets and getting bigger and stronger, and in the meantime, other terrible things that happened strengthened the view that change was necessary, including a horrific court case involving a young brain-dead woman kept on life support against her family’s wishes because she was 16 weeks pregnant.

    3. How did you manage to shift public opinion towards repeal?

    In early 2016 Amnesty International commissioned a poll that showed overwhelming support for change, with a breakdown of where people stood regarding different causes for legal abortion, including incest, rape, risk to the woman’s health and foetal abnormality. A little under 40 per cent were in favour of allowing women to access abortion as they choose, while about 40 per cent were in favour of allowing it only under very restrictive circumstances. Going in, we estimated we were looking at a maximum of 45 per cent of support.

    So we started with a strong, solid base of 40-plus per cent, and we knew the other side had a solid 10 to 20 per cent. There were lots of people, another 40 per cent, who were in doubt, unsure of where they stood. These were the people who could tip the scale, so we had to go talk to them. The common thinking is that people who are unsure will stick to the status quo because that’s what they know. But we knew that when people get the facts, when they get to listen to the evidence, they tend to come to a more pro-choice position. We knew this because that is exactly what happened to each of us, personally: we heard about the issue, thought about it, said ‘well, actually that’s really unfair, let’s work on it’. That’s also what we saw happen at the Citizen’s Assembly and again at the Joint Parliamentary Committee. We saw this time and again and knew it was just a matter of letting people have these conversations. We knew there was a big swathe of people that needed to be persuaded one way or the other, so this was a big part of our strategy: to encourage conversation and bring the tools so they could take place.

    As activism grew and marches got bigger, we figured out a couple of things. One was that there was an increasing sentiment for change: no matter how you felt about abortion, there was a growing sense that the status quo was not helping women. Our abortion policies had drawn criticism from international human rights bodies. This just couldn’t go on – so at some point we needed to start talking to politicians to make sure they understood that they couldn’t brush the issue under the carpet anymore.

    So we decided to make abortion a red-line issue in the 2016 general elections – that is, a key issue that politicians would be asked about daily as they knocked on our doors to ask for our votes. And we gave people the language to talk to their politicians about the issue. We knew that if they encountered the issue once and again when they were canvassing, they would pay attention. We did this in a number of ways: we had civic engagement training sessions where we would give people information about how referendums work, how the law works, what it says about the issue, what we can do and what our position regarding free, safe and legal abortion is. And it worked! We succeeded in forcing the issue into the agenda.

    The other thing we realised is that, if and when this came to a referendum, it couldn’t just be a Dublin-based campaign – we had to go national. So we worked very hard to set up regional groups in every county around Ireland. By the time the referendum came, there was a pro-choice group in every county. And those groups went on to form canvassing groups that would hold their own events and talk to their politicians.

    4. What role did the media play in the process? How did you work with both traditional and social media?

    From my perspective, a key takeaway from the process is that it is vital to use social media to create a space so people can have a nuanced discussion about these issues.

    With traditional media, our hands were tied, because when it comes to controversial issues, they are required to provide ‘balanced coverage’. According to a 1995 Supreme Court ruling, it is unconstitutional for the government to spend taxpayers’ money to provide arguments for only one side in a referendum. As a result, any broadcaster that receives state funding must allocate equal airtime to both sides. So, if you talk on TV about how you had an abortion, or you say you are pro-choice, the opposite view has to be given space as well. Even if someone was telling their actual story of needing an abortion and having to travel to the UK, saying exactly what had happened to them, rather than preaching about right or wrong, there would be someone who would be called in to ‘balance’ that. And the rule was interpreted very broadly, so it applied not just during the referendum campaign but also for years before that. It was very stifling.

    In other words, traditional media were a massive block to people’s education. You normally look to the media to educate yourself on an issue, but it is not educational to constantly pitch ideas against each other, especially on an issue as complex and nuanced as abortion can be. So we had to bypass the mainstream media to get to the people. Fortunately, we exist in the time of social media, and we put a lot of effort into it and gave people the language and the nuance to talk about these things. We were used to hearing discussions about the morality of abortion where it was either right or wrong: there was no middle ground for people who were not that comfortable with it but thought the status quo was bad, and there was no room to talk about it.

    We advocate for free, safe and legal abortion for anyone who wants or needs one, no questions asked, because we know it’s the gold standard and believe that women having choice and control over their own lives is a good thing. But we didn’t want to impose this on people. Rather we wanted to give people the language to talk about it, allowing them to ask more questions, to find out what they were ready to accept and how far they were ready to go. This really worked. There has been so much discussion about the dark web, bots, trolls and possible interference with the campaign – but there were hundreds of pro-choice Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles set by hundreds of pro-choice individuals, and we had tools to protect the space we had created where these discussions were taking place. For instance, a group of volunteers created Repeal Shield, which was basically a public list of bots and troll accounts. When a user flagged an account by messaging @repeal_shield, a volunteer would investigate, and if the account met the criteria of being a bot or troll, it would be added to the list. As a result, people could keep having a conversation without interference.

    One big takeaway from this is that people have power. They usually don’t feel like they do, but what they do matters. Someone clicking ‘like’ on your page because they really like it means so much more than paid advertising. People don’t realise that, but when it comes to something that needs to be shared by many people or otherwise won’t be visible at all, this gives everyone a bit of power. Of course, there’s a lot more to activism than clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook post, but every little thing adds up.

    We are always told that there we are an echo chamber, that we only talk with people who already think alike, but it turned out that we weren’t doing this at all. We got 66 per cent of the vote. That was not an echo chamber. That was reality.

    Traditional media and politicians were slower to catch up to this, so we carved our own way. I am not saying this is the way to go for every activist group around the world. For one, Ireland has very good internet coverage, most people have access to it, and we have high user rates of Twitter and Instagram. This is not the case everywhere. But we used the tools we had, and it worked for us.

    5. What other tactics did you use?

    We gave people the language and an understanding of the political process, and that didn’t happen on social media; it happened on the ground. We would talk to people and they would bring the issue to their doorsteps. The Abortion Rights Campaign is a grassroots organisation, and what we did best was give people those tools so that they could then use them themselves. For years we had stalls every second week so people would come, have a chat, get information, take a leaflet. We had monthly meetings so people would learn about the organisation and how they could join, and sometimes we had somebody bring in a different perspective, such as a migrant or somebody from Direct Provision, a terrible institution for asylum seekers. We also developed training activities for marginalised groups about abortion in a wider reproductive context.

    Other groups would lobby politicians. We are now probably going to do so, but at the time the grassroots campaign was our main concern. We also did advocacy at both the national and international levels, including submissions to various United Nations bodies. And we maintained links with Irish groups in other countries, because the Irish diaspora is very focused on this issue. We also had connections with other organisations that didn’t have a direct pro-choice mandate but might support a repeal stance, such as migrants’ rights groups, disability groups and others.

    Beyond women’s rights organisations, we got the support of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, which meant a lot because everyone knows who they are, as well as some migrants’ rights organisations. An awful lot of the charity organisations in Ireland would have a nun or a priest on their board, so they would not take a stand on this issue. But a lot did, and we got a lot of support. More than a hundred organisations eventually signed up.

    And of course, we sold t-shirts, repeal jumpers, so we gave people visibility. People became visibly pro-choice. You knew somebody was on your side when you saw them. You felt supported on a decision that maybe once you took and never told anybody about. Now you knew there was a visible crowd of people who supported you.

    6. What was the tone of the debate?

    A lot of it was about the moralities of abortion. Many people would say ‘I believe that life begins at conception; I believe you are taking a human life’ – and that’s okay, it’s people’s beliefs. But there were also lots of arguments that were brought in that were disprovable, greatly exaggerated, or not responding to the reality of what people were going through. Abortion is a contentious issue and there are indeed conversations to be had around disabilities and the like. But people were saying things like: ‘99 per cent of the people who get a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome will abort’. And may be true in certain contexts, but not necessarily here. And in any case, that says more about our attitudes towards people with disabilities than it does about abortion.

    While some of it was about people’s deeply held beliefs, there were also lies, exaggerations and a deliberate misuse of stats. Some really nasty stuff happened: a huge amount of graphic images were used and are still out there. I absolutely do not think that every ‘no’ voter is a terrible person - people have their beliefs and their struggles - but I do think the anti-choice campaign made it quite nasty. It never got as bad as we had expected, but it was still hard.

    7. For things to happen, changing the Constitution seems to be just a first - big - step. What work remains to be done, and what will be the role of the Abortion Rights Campaign?

    When the eighth amendment was repealed, legislation about abortion had already been put on the table. It wasn’t fully spelled out, but it provided broad strokes of legislation coming from the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Parliamentary Committee. As a result, people knew going in what they were voting for: 12-week access with no restrictions as to reason, and longer if a woman’s life or health is in danger or in case of severe foetal abnormalities. There are discussions about mandatory wait periods and this kind of thing, and we are not that happy about those, but part of our work is to have discussions about that.

    The legislation will be debated in the autumn and we expect it to be brought forward at the beginning of 2019. In the meantime, our job is to keep the pressure on to make sure that the legislation includes the right language and that people who continue to travel or take pills are taken care of. The Abortion Rights Campaign has a broader mandate. We have a mandate to seek the establishment of free, safe and legal abortion, but we also have a longer-term mandate aimed at de-stigmatising abortion. We’ve taken huge steps towards that because we’ve had this national conversation and it’s not possible to avoid the issue any more, but we still have a long way to go.

    It’s been more than a month since the referendum, and we are already strategising about what we want and how we see our role moving forward, in forcing legislation through and making sure people don’t fall through the cracks. Are people still having to travel to the UK? What improvements can be made? We need to make sure our legislation is good enough, that it allows people to get access. All along, part of the ban on abortion was also a ban on information about abortion, and most of all about how to get one. You were basically left to your own devices to go sort yourself out in the UK, and there were rogue pregnancy agencies giving terrible advice and purposefully delaying women seeking abortions. So a big part of what will come in the future will be making sure that doctors can actually take care of their patients. We take it that conscientious objection is going to come into play and need to make sure that it does not undo any of the good that we have achieved.

    Civic space in Ireland is rated as ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Abortion Rights Campaign through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@freesafelegal on Twitter.

     

  • ‘The government is in fact listening to civil society, just not to the progressive side of it’

    CIVICUS speaks to Horace Levy, the director of Jamaicans for Justice, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-violent citizens’ rights action organisation that advocates for good governance and improvements in state accountability and transparency.

    1. What led to the formation of Jamaicans for Justice, and what does the organisation do?

    In April 1999, the government announced new taxes, including a special fuel tax and a 30% hike in the cost of licensing vehicles. This prompted widespread protests, both peaceful and violent, including roadblocks and barricades, which lasted for several days. There was one group, in the St. Andrew’s section of Kingston, that included some lower class people, but was mostly middle class, and had gathered to block a road in protest. The poorer people were on one side of the road and the middle class people were on the other, but after a couple of days they came together. Some people from that middle-class group met afterwards to discuss the causes of the protests – the general state of injustice, the oppression of poor people. Out of a series of meetings, held along with a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor Richard Albert, who offered his church as a venue, was born Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). By July the group had formed, in August it registered as a limited liability company, and on 15 October 1999, six months after the riots, it officially became a registered NGO.

    The very first case JFJ took on involved the ill treatment of inner city poor youth by the police. The police had detained 52 poor youths, put them behind bars — then they released some but they kept others. From the beginning, then, ill treatment by police became a major issue for JFJ. As a result of several presentations we made before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the government eventually set up a Special Coroners’ Court, because the Coroner’s Court was totally inadequate to deal with this. The Special Coroners’ Court deals specifically with police abuse, and killings in particular.

    Another broad area of our work involves children in the care of the state. JFJ monitors the situation of wards of the state in children’s homes, places of safety, police lock-ups, remand and correctional facilities. We gather data, provide reports and lobby for the protection of this particularly vulnerable group.

    We are also involved in a wide range of other things: we deliver human rights education in schools, we provide human rights training to police recruits, we bring legal advice to inner-city communities through legal advice sessions and workshops, we give testimony in front of parliamentary committees, we promote citizen awareness of the right to access public information, and we develop media campaigns, among other things. Right now some of us are working very hard on an identification process the government is putting in place, which involves elements of respect for privacy and other rights. But we keep focusing on one of our core issues: the conditions of detention.

    One achievement we contributed to was the establishment by the government of an independent Commission of Enquiry to clarify the events that took place during the State of Emergency declared in May 2010, which left almost 70 civilians dead. A lot of progress was done in prosecuting the police for extra-judicial killings, which helped reduce the number of killings. In order to prevent this from happening again, we keep pushing for radical change in the way the security forces operate.

    2. Organisations defending basic civil rights against actions by the security forces are often accused of “protecting criminals”. How do you get public opinion to take your side on divisive issues such as police brutality?

    I don’t think we have entirely escaped that accusation. But we try in various ways: for instance, when a police officer is killed in the line of duty we issue a press release offering our sympathy to his family and condemning the act. Most of the times the papers don’t print that, but we issue it anyway. Secondly, we work on other issues as well, such as the welfare of children, which shows we are not fixated on police abuses. There was a period when we also did a lot of work on socio-economic rights: education, housing, employment and the development of rural communities. And of course, we also try to explain that the reason why we are concerned with police brutality is that the police are supposed to be protecting human rights. So a criminal killing somebody and a police officer killing somebody are two completely different things. But people seem to overlook that. Criminals are what they are, and they are not going to be moved by our condemning them. But by addressing actions by the state that should not happen, we have a chance to change them.

    3. How would you describe the environment for civil society in Jamaica? Are civic freedoms enjoyed by all Jamaicans equally, or are there restrictions that affect specific groups disproportionately?

    Civic space is quite good in Jamaica. The freedom of the press is perhaps the most unrestricted in the hemisphere. The freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are respected and protected. The state does not attack these freedoms; to the contrary, for instance, the state has facilitated the freedom of expression by passing laws governing the establishment of fresh media outlets.

    About four years ago, we were stigmatised in public comments by the previous government’s Minister of Youth, who accused us of grooming children in state-run homes to be homosexuals, while we were in fact delivering a sexual education programme in about seven children’s homes. But this was an exception rather than a rule, and it was just an individual reaction from a public official that we had criticised. We had only had another situation like that in the past, when we had just started as an organisation and were perceived as hostile to the party that was in power at the time. But as time passed, and both parties spent some time in power, it became apparent that we criticised them both, that we were not partisan in any way, and that we were constructive rather than over-critical, so our position became accepted.

    Along with a quite healthy civic space, we have had free elections since 1945, and elections have been overall free and fair ever since. We never had a party in power that was not legally and legitimately elected. At the same time, slightly more than half the population is currently not voting, which means that each party has the support of about 23% or 24% of the electorate. Although democracy is firmly rooted not just in the political sphere but also among business, civil society and religious groups, recent polls have witnessed an increase in the number of citizens that would favour a military takeover (which is highly unlikely to happen) in reaction to the perceived corruption of politics.

    There are also lot of structural but subtle ways in which democracy is hurt. As a legacy of slavery and colonialism, our country has a hierarchical social structure that has stayed in place even after independence. It is a pyramid on top of which are white people, followed by brown people in the middle, and black people (who account for 85% of the population) at the bottom. Of course it’s not clear-cut: we have black politicians and top public officials, for example. But there is a sharp distinction between the brown and the black. The middle class is largely brown, although there are blacks among them as well. This distinction reflects in education: we have a two-tier education system, with the brown and upper class in private, proprietary and secondary schools, and the large mass of the mostly black population receiving and inferior education. Fortunately, this is changing, and formerly weak schools are now beginning to compete with privileged schools thanks to state funding. As for police abuses, they are directed against the black majority in poor communities: you don’t see upper class and white people being beaten by the police.

    In other words, democracy is in many ways corrupted by overlapping race and class injustices. The system is not corrupt in the sense that officials massively take bribes, but it is indeed damaged by this racial and class hierarchy that, according to public opinion polls, is unfortunately accepted by the vast majority of the people. Interestingly, this is not reflected in the way Jamaicans individually behave: we don’t see ourselves as less than anybody else, and when overseas we are often regarded as aggressive. We have a strong sense of our rights, but at the same time there is a broad segment of black people bleaching their skin in an attempt to climb up the social ladder.

    4. Do you think representative democracy in Jamaica is participatory enough? Do regular citizens and organised civil society have a say in how public affairs are run?

    Our democracy is not participatory enough, which is part of our struggle. Recent events have enhanced the prospects for civil society participation, however. In the latest election, in early 2016, the government won by a very tight majority, which made it more open to civil society. So as to gather as much support as they could, they gave continuity to an institution called Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica (PPJ, formerly known as Partnership for Jamaica).

    The PPJ includes representatives of the state (both from the government and the opposition), the private sector, trade unions and civil society organisations. It was in fact as a result of civil society efforts that we got representation for five distinct civil society groups: a faith-based group, a rights advocacy group, a youth group, a women’s group and an environmental CSO. The Prime Minister, who chairs the Partnership, agreed to our proposal to have three sub-committees: on women and children; on violence and the rule of law; and on the environment. The chairpersons of all three sub-committees are civil society people.

    The chairwoman of the environment sub-committee, in particular, is a civil society representative who is highly respected by both major political parties and who had resigned to her position in the previous Partnership because she was disgusted by the fact that there was all talk and no real action. She just led a petition to the Prime Minister to protect Jamaica’s Cockpit Country against bauxite mining. According to a recently established mechanism, if you gather 15 000 signatures in 40 days, the government will review the petition, and if it complies with certain standards the Office of the Prime Minister will issue an official response. This petition surpassed the target by far, so we are now waiting to see whether we won this battle or not.

    So, there is an element of participation, but making it count is a permanent struggle. Additionally, there is a section of civil society that is mobilised around conservative or even reactionary causes, which means that not all forms of participation are helping advance a progressive agenda. For instance, an area in which we are struggling very strongly is LGBTQ rights. We have long been pushing for the revocation of buggery or sodomy laws, old pieces of legislation that criminalise male same-sex sexual activity. Under these statutes, loosely defined “unnatural offences” and “outrages on decency” can be punished with up to ten years of imprisonment and hard labour. But there is a wide section of society, led by conservative churches such as evangelists and Seventh-Day Adventists, which strongly oppose the repeal of these laws. The majority of the population belong to these churches, while more liberal churches are a small minority.

    Politicians are afraid of conservative religious people, so the government has proposed to submit the issue to a referendum. So the government is in fact listening to civil society, just not to the progressive side of it. Now, why would the majority go against itself, its own social norms and its own privilege? We just had an international conference with leading Anglicans and human rights activists, including Anthony Gifford, explaining why this is not the kind of issue to be decided by a popular vote. It doesn't make any sense to ask the majority whether they would like to respect the rights of a minority they are oppressing. Sodomy laws were repealed in Britain 50 years ago, but in Jamaica we are not likely to have them revoked anytime soon. On this issue, a section of civil society is fighting another section of civil society.

    5. What support, including from international actors, does progressive Jamaican civil society need to play a full role in building a fairer society and a more participatory democracy?

    We get international support, for example in the form of the conference I just mentioned, with highly-respected figures putting forward a cogent argument that will hopefully help shape public debate. UNDP has also collaborated in a similar way.

    Financial support, on the other hand, is not that good. That’s where organisations like JFJ are struggling. We get some funding locally, but it is very little. For instance, we have one donor who gives us nearly 2.5 million Jamaicans, but that’s just a few hundred US dollars. We have an annual fundraising art auction, which is quite unusual for an organisation like ours, but that’s because we have some middle- to upper-class donors, and this brings in a couple million Jamaican dollars a year. And it takes months of efforts.

    So most of our funding comes from international sources. We had funding from the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), but it expired last December. We just got UNICEF funding for our work with children, which is set to last for at least two years. We also have some funding from the European Union, but it ends in about five months, and we are finding it hard to replace it. We have been trying to get funding from the Open Society Foundations but have not yet succeeded. We are approaching the Inter-American Development Bank, and we might get something from them.

    In short, we are struggling with funding. Until 2013 we had a Legal Department but we had to close it. We still employ one of the lawyers from our former Legal Department, but we need more lawyers because a lot of our work with pre-trial detainees is of a legal nature. For instance, we have a case now going to the Privy Council and we are struggling to get the money to send people there. Even though we have some pro bono lawyers in England, it still costs us money: we need to send them 3 000 pounds that we can ill afford.

    When we get our Legal Department going, we will be able to use it to earn some money. In the past, we stupidly thought that, as a charity, we shouldn’t. But in fact, even as a charity we can earn some money by imposing retainer fees to those who can pay them, while working for free for those who cannot afford them. We are set to do that, but we have made that decision quite recently, so we won’t be earning any money from it for a few months yet.

    • Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) was founded in 1999 and primarily works with victims whose rights have been breached by members of the security forces. In the upcoming period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) in Montevideo, Uruguay, JFJ will take part in a hearing on extrajudicial executions and the excessive use of preventive detention against Afro-descendants in Jamaica.
    • Civic space in Jamaica is rated as “narrowed” by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with Jamaicans for Justice through theirwebsite or Facebook page, or follow@JAForJustice on Twitter.

     

  • ‘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

    Spanish

    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: ‘They don’t think human rights are universal, or they don’t view all people as equally human’

    gordan bosanac

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks about the rise of far-right extremism and religious fundamentalism in Eastern Europe with Gordan Bosanac, co-author of a case study on Eastern Europe for the Global Philanthropy Project’sreport ‘Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI rights.’

      

    You have worked on a variety of issues, from racism and xenophobia to religious conservatism and LGBTQI rights. Do you think the rise of nationalism and attacks against migrants’ rights and sexual and reproductive rights are all part of the same trend?

    These are all definitely part of the same phenomenon. The vast majority of the organisations that mobilise against women’s rights also reject LGBTQI people and migrants and refugees. They are all part of the same global movement that rejects liberal-democratic ideas, and they all mobilise against minorities or vulnerable groups.

    They are a very heterogeneous set of groups and organisations. Their common denominator is what they fight against: liberal democracy. Neo-Nazi, anti-women, anti-LGBTQI and anti-migrant rights groups have different targets, but they share an agenda and collaborate towards that agenda. Many of these groups come together at the World Congress of Families, where you will find lots of hate speech against the LGBTQI community, against women and against migrants. They share the same philosophy.

    To me, these groups are the exact reverse of the human rights movement, where some organisations focus on women’s rights, others on LGBTQI rights, still others on migrants or indigenous peoples, or social, cultural, or environmental rights, but we all have a philosophy founded on a positive view of human rights. We are all part of the human rights movement. It is the exact opposite for them: they all share a negative view of human rights, they don’t think they are universal, or they don’t view all people as equally human. Either way, they mobilise against human rights.

    When and why did Christian fundamentalist groups emerge in Eastern Europe?

    A colleague of mine says that these groups have been around for a long time. She’s currently investigating the third generation of such groups and says they originated in the 1970s, when they first mobilised around neo-Nazi ideas and against women’s rights. The most recent turning point in Eastern Europe happened in the early 2010s. In many cases it has been a reaction against national policy debates on LGBTQI and reproductive rights. Croatia, where I come from, was one of the exceptions in the sense that these groups did not mobilise in reaction to policy gains by women’s and LGBTQI rights groups, but rather in anticipation and as a preventive measure against processes that were advancing internationally, specifically against same-sex marriage.

    The Croatian experience has played out in three phases. Beginning in the 1990s, an anti-abortion movement developed, led by charismatic Catholic priests. Following the fall of Communism, abortion was presented as being against religious faith, family values and national identity. The Catholic Church set up so-called ‘family centres’ that provided support services to families. Since the early 2000s, independent civil society organisations (CSOs) formed by ‘concerned’ religious citizens emerged. What triggered them was the introduction of sexuality education in the public-school curriculum. A third phase started around 2010, with the rise in nationally and internationally-connected fundamentalist CSOs, independent from the Church structure. For instance, the new groups had links with ultraconservative Polish movements – Tradition, Family, Property and Ordo Iuris. The Catholic Church remained in the background and the role of anti-rights spokespersons was relegated to ‘concerned’ religious citizens.

    Fundamentalists in Croatia made good use of citizen-initiated national referenda. In 2013, they voted down marriage equality, in large part thanks to voting laws that do not require a minimum voter turnout in national referendums, as a result of which a low turnout of roughly 38 per cent sufficed to enable constitutional change. In contrast, similar referendums in Romania and Slovakia failed thanks to the requirement of a minimum 50 per cent turnout.

    Anti-rights groups seem to have made a lot of progress in Eastern Europe since the early 2010s. Why is that?

    We started closely monitoring these groups in Croatia around the time of the referendum, and what we saw is that their rise was linked to the redefinition of their strategies. They used to be old fashioned, not very attractive to their potential audiences and not very savvy in the use of the instruments of direct democracy. From 2010 onwards they changed their strategies. The anti-rights movement underwent a rapid renewal, and its new leaders were very young, eloquent and aware of the potential of democratic instruments. In their public appearances, they started downplaying religion, moving from religious symbolism to contemporary, colourful and joyous visuals. They started organising mass mobilisations such as the anti-abortion Walk for Life marches, as well as small-scale street actions, such as praying against abortion outside hospitals or staging performances. Ironically, they learned by watching closely what progressive human rights CSOs had been doing: whatever they were doing successfully, they would just copy. They also revived and upgraded traditional petition methods, going online with platforms such as CitizenGo.

    Internationally, anti-rights groups started taking shape in the mid-1990s in reaction to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 1995 in Beijing. It was then that a consensus formed around women’s rights as human rights, and when gender first came on the agenda. Religious groups felt defeated in Beijing. Many academics who studied this process concluded that it was then that the Catholic Church got angry because they lost a big battle. They underwent several defeats in the years that followed, which enraged them further. In 2004, the candidacy of Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian nominee for the European Commission, was withdrawn under pressure from the European Parliament because of his anti-gender and homophobic positions. Christian fundamentalists were also enraged when heated discussions took place regarding the possibility of Europe’s ‘Christian roots’ being mentioned in the European Constitution. All of this made the Vatican very angry. There were quite a few symbolic moments that made them angry and pushed them to fight more strongly against liberal ideas.

    In reaction against this, they modernised, and it helped them to have increasingly tight connections to US-based fundamentalist evangelical groups, which had a long experience in shaping policies both within and outside the USA.

    Do you think this is mostly a top-down process, or have these groups reached deeply at the grassroots level?

    In Eastern Europe it is mostly a top-down process, possibly related to the fact that for the most part these groups are Christian Catholic, not evangelical. These ideas come from very high up. They have been produced and disseminated by the Vatican for decades. They are not spontaneous and are very well organised. Their strategies have not spread by imitation but rather because they are all dictated from the top.

    This does not mean that they have not been able to appeal to citizens; on the contrary, they have done so very successfully, even more so than human rights groups. That is because they use very simple language and play on people’s fears and insecurities. They build their popularity upon prejudice and fears of others who are different. Fear seems to be an easy way to mobilise people, but people on the left don’t want to use it because they feel that it is not fair to manipulate people. Anti-rights groups, on the other hand, don’t have any problem with scaring people. When they first appeared in Croatia, these groups gained huge support because they stirred fear and then presented themselves as the protectors and saviours of people against the fictional monster that they had created.

    What are the main strategies that these groups have used in order to grow?

    First, they share a unified discourse that is built around the rejection of what they call ‘gender ideology’, which is nothing but an empty signifier to designate whatever threat they perceive in any particular context. They declare themselves the protectors of the family and the natural order and use defamation strategies and a pseudo-scientific discourse against women’s and LGBTQI people’s rights. A nationalistic rhetoric is also omnipresent in Eastern European countries.

    Second, they have co-opted human rights discourse and adopted the practices of civic organising of the human rights movement. They not only profit from direct access to church-going citizens, but they also mobilise the grassroots through lectures, training, youth camps and social networks. They also benefit from sufficient funding to bus people to central rallies such as the Walk for Life marches, pay the expenses of numerous volunteers and cover the cost of expensive advertising.

    Third, they have successfully used citizen-initiated referendum mechanisms. In Croatia and Slovenia, they collected the required number of signatures to initiate national referenda against same-sex marriage, which they won. In Romania and Slovakia, in turn, they succeeded in collecting the signatures but failed to meet the minimum participation requirement. Voter turnout in all these referenda ranged from 20 per cent in Romania to 38 per cent in Croatia, which shows that fundamentalists do not enjoy majority support anywhere, but they are still cleverly using democratic mechanisms to advance their agenda.

    Fourth, they use litigation both to influence and change legislation and to stop human rights activists and journalists who are critical of their work. In order to silence them, they sue them for libel and ‘hate speech against Christians’. Although these cases are generally dismissed, they help them position themselves as victims due to their religious beliefs.

    Fifth, they not only get good coverage of their events on mainstream media but they also have their own media, mostly online news portals, in which they publish fake news that defames their opponents, which they then disseminate on social media. They also host and cover conservative events that feature ‘international experts’ who are presented as the highest authorities on issues such as sexuality and children’s rights.

    Sixth, they rely on transnational collaboration across Europe and with US-based groups.

    Seventh, they target the school system, for instance with after-school programmes intended to influence children between the ages of four and 14, when they are most susceptible and easily converted.

    Last but not least, they work not only through CSOs but also political parties. In this way, they are also present in elections, and in some cases, they gain significant power. Such is the case of the far-right Polish Law and Justice Party, which fully integrated these groups into its activities. In other cases, they establish their own political parties. This happened in Croatia, where the main fundamentalist CSO, In the Name of the Family, established a political party called Project Homeland. The case of Romania is most concerning in this regard, as it shows how Christian fundamentalist positions on LGBTQI rights can be mainstreamed across the political and religious spectrum.

    In other words, these groups are present in various spaces, not just within civil society. And they are targeting mainstream conservative parties, and notably those that are members of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament’s centre-right grouping. They are trying to move centre-right and conservative parties towards the far right. This is their crucial fight because it can take them to power. It’s the responsibility of conservative parties around the world to resist these attacks, and it is in the interest of progressive groups to protect them as well because if they lose, we all lose.

    Do you think there is anything that progressive civil society can do to stop anti-rights groups?

    I’m not very optimistic because we have been fighting them for several years and it’s really difficult, especially because the global tide is also changing: there is a general rightwards trend that seems very difficult to counter.

    However, there are several things that can still be done. The first thing would be to expose these groups, to tell people who they really are. We need to expose them for what they are – religious fundamentalists, neo-Nazis and so on – because they are hiding their true faces. Depending on the local context, sometimes they are not even proud to admit that they are connected to the Church. Once these connections are exposed, many people become suspicious towards them. We would also have to hope for some common sense and disclose all the dirty tracks of the money and hope that people will react, which sometimes happens, sometimes doesn’t.

    The main role should be played by believers who refuse to accept the misuse of religion for extremist purposes. Believers are the most authentic spokespeople against fundamentalism and their voices can be much stronger than the voices of mobilised secular people or political opposition. However, the lack of such groups at the local level, due to pressure from local religious authorities, can be a problem. Pope Francis has seriously weakened fundamentalist groups and he is a great example of how religious leaders can combat religious extremism and fundamentalism.

    It is also productive to use humour against them. They don’t really know how to joke; sarcastic, humorous situations make them feel at a loss. This has the potential to raise suspicions among many people. But we need to be careful not to make victims out of them because they are experts in self-victimisation and would know how to use this against us.

    Finally, let me say this again because it’s key. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s very important to empower conservative parties across the globe so they stand their ground and resist far-right hijacking attempts. Progressives need to protect conservative parties from extremist attacks, or they will become vehicles for the far-right to get to power, and then it will be too late.

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

    Follow @GordanBosanac on Twitter.inter

     

  • ARGENTINA: ‘El cambio es inevitable, es solo una cuestión de tiempo’

     

    Twitter: Edurne Cárdenas

    En 2018, tras años de esfuerzos de la sociedad civil, el Congreso argentino por primera vez debatió un proyecto de legalización del aborto. Aunque la prohibición, excepto en algunas circunstancias específicas, sigue en pie, los actores pro-legalización consideran que el debate ha progresado.CIVICUSconversa sobre la campaña con Edurne Cárdenas, abogada del equipo internacional del Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS),una organización de derechos humanos de Argentina. El CELS fue fundado en 1979, durante la dictadura militar, para promover los derechos humanos, la justicia y la inclusión social. En sus primeros años, el CELS luchó por la verdad y la justicia ante los crímenes del terrorismo de estado, para luego ampliar su agenda para incluir las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas bajo la democracia, sus causas estructurales y su relación con la desigualdad social. CELS promueve su agenda a través de investigaciones, campañas, alianzas con otros actores de la sociedad civil, incidencia y políticas públicas y litigio estratégico en foros nacionales e internacionales.

    ¿Cuándo comenzó el CELS, una organización clásica de derechos humanos, a trabajar sobre derechos sexuales y reproductivos, y por qué?

    El CELS ha tenido una gran capacidad para trabajar en la época que le ha tocado y, en consecuencia, para enriquecer su agenda, siempre actúa en alianza con movimientos sociales y otras organizaciones. En la Conferencia de Viena sobre Derechos Humanos, en 1993, se articuló explícitamente la idea los derechos de las mujeres como derechos humanos. A mediados de los ’90, creo que más precisamente en 1996, el informe anual del CELS incluyó contribuciones de activistas del movimiento de mujeres acerca de los derechos reproductivos. En los años siguientes, muchas veces en alianza con otras organizaciones, el CELS participó en presentaciones ante órganos internacionales de protección: por ejemplo, en 2004 contribuyó a un informe sombra ante el Comité de las Naciones Unidas para la eliminación de la discriminación contra la mujer (CEDAW). La Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito se formó en 2005 y el CELS pasó a integrarla en 2012. Poco después de esos primeros artículos en el informe anual, se incorporó de forma paulatina a nuestras preocupaciones sobre las violaciones de derechos humanos el acceso a los abortos no punibles, como los denomina el Código Penal, es decir, abortos que son legales si peligra la vida o la salud de la mujer o si el embarazo es producto de una violación. La temática también se instaló a partir del gran trabajo militante de activistas feministas al interior de la organización.

    En suma, si el CELS trabaja sobre este tema es porque entiende que la penalización del aborto impacta de forma negativa en el goce de las mujeres de sus derechos humanos. El aporte central del CELS fue inscribir el debate del aborto dentro del paradigma de los derechos humanos y poner en circulación argumentos de derechos humanos para alimentar el cuerpo argumental de la cuestión. El CELS no se especializa en salud, pero trabaja en alianza con otras que examinan el problema desde ese ángulo. Desde nuestro punto de vista, se trata de un tema en el que está en juego la libertad y la igualdad, cruzado por otras cuestiones que históricamente han sido centrales en nuestro trabajo: la violencia institucional.

     

    El debate por la legalización del aborto avanzó más que nunca en Argentina durante 2018, pero no alcanzó para que la ley se aprobara. ¿Qué lecciones extraes de esta experiencia?

    En 2018 por primera vez se trató en el Congreso una iniciativa para legalizar el aborto. Fue la séptima vez que se presentó una iniciativa de estas características y se trató de un proyecto promovido y redactado por la Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito, que nuclea a más de 500 organizaciones del movimiento de mujeres, articulada, horizontal y con 13 años en esta lucha. Antes de 2018, los proyectos no habían avanzado ni siquiera en las comisiones que deben dar dictamen para que se trate en el recinto. La Argentina tiene ya una tradición de feminismo muy movilizado y, desde 2015, con mucha presencia en las calles y una demanda clara de aborto legal. Este año empezó con una novedad: en su discurso de apertura de las sesiones legislativas, el presidente de la Nación hizo mención al tema, con lo cual, gracias a la presión de la agenda feminista, habilitó el debate parlamentario. Fue algo absolutamente inédito. Lamentablemente, luego de recibir media sanción en Diputados en junio de 2018, la iniciativa fue rechazada por el Senado en agosto.

    El proceso estuvo liderado por el movimiento de mujeres. Todos los otros movimientos y organizaciones nos integramos detrás de ese liderazgo. En Diputados la estrategia fue exitosa porque fue multipartidaria y diversa, la participación de los movimientos fue fuerte y la influencia de la calle se hizo sentir. En el Senado, la cámara más conservadora, hizo falta más trabajo. Allí nos fallaron las alianzas, que no lograron replicar la transversalidad que hubo en Diputados. Una pregunta que quedó planteada, entonces, fue cómo llegar a la cámara más conservadora con un reclamo que necesariamente debe pasar por allí.

    Además, lo que la derrota en el Senado dejó en evidencia fue que tenemos que trabajar más para entender y contrarrestar el discurso de posverdad nuestros adversarios. Estamos viendo una avanzada conservadora que pone en riesgo la calidad institucional y, en última instancia, la institucionalidad democrática. Lo que fue interesante es que toda la ciudadanía pudo enterarse y tomar nota de qué piensan y cómo votan sus representantes.

    Podría decirse que los resultados de esta batalla han sido agridulces. ¿Cuánto hubo en ellos de derrota y cuánto de victoria, y por qué?

    La postal de desilusión del 9 de agosto, cuando el Senado votó en contra, es una imagen muy parcial del proceso. En nuestro balance, la lista de lo que ganamos es mucho más larga que la lista de lo que perdimos. Entre lo perdido está por supuesto esta oportunidad -pero solo esta, la de 2018, porque realmente creo que el cambio es inevitable y es solo una cuestión de tiempo. No sé si el año en 2019, pero en algún momento va a ocurrir. Y lo que sí creo que tiene que pasar en 2019 es que, tratándose de un año electoral, todos los temas que se pusieron sobre la mesa durante este proceso deben ser parte de la agenda de la campaña presidencial.

    Lo que ganamos, sin duda, fue masividad y presencia en el espacio público –tanto en la calle como en la opinión. Este año se discutió sobre el aborto como nunca antes, se quebraron silencios y tabúes. Pero el proceso tuvo un subproducto negativo: al poner en la agenda un tema divisivo, al volverse la movilización tan masiva y adquirir tal centralidad en la escena política, generó una fuerte reacción de los sectores más conservadores. Estos sectores se organizaron y también ganaron una visibilidad que antes no tenían.

    Con la emergencia de estos actores, el debate por el derecho al aborto puso en discusión algunas cosas que creíamos que eran consensos básicos intocables. Pero algunos sectores comenzaron a decir en voz alta cosas que hace pocos años no estaban bien vistas. Así, por ejemplo, la campaña “Con mis hijos no te metas”, contra la ley de educación sexual integral, puso en cuestión el rol del Estado en la educación.

    ¿Qué rol desempeñó el CELS en la campaña por la legalización del aborto?

    El liderazgo indiscutido en todo el proceso fue del movimiento de mujeres, y específicamente de la Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito. El CELS es parte de la Campaña, pero junto a otras organizaciones de derechos humanos hicimos específicamente un aporte importante de organización, articulación y argumentación.

    Por su trayectoria, el CELS es una organización con mucha legitimidad. Que el CELS hable de aborto puede marcar la diferencia a la hora de llegar a audiencias más amplias. Ya desde 2014, cuando pareció que el proyecto de legalización podía tratarse en comisión, el CELS comenzó a elaborar insumos para el debate legislativo, con una revisión de la jurisprudencia y los estándares vigentes y, en suma, la justificación de por qué el debate sobre el aborto tenía que darse en clave de derechos humanos.

    Al mismo tiempo, el CELS ha participado en distintas causas judiciales en calidad de amigo del tribunal. Aunque consideramos que el objetivo último, y el único compatible con el reconocimiento de la autonomía de las mujeres como sujetos plenos de derecho, es la legalización del aborto, hemos considerado necesario entretanto asegurar que puedan realizarse los abortos que ya son legales, según las causales para abortos no punibles. En 2012, en su fallo en el caso F.A.L., la Corte Suprema clarificó sin lugar a dudas las causas permitidas para acceder a un aborto de forma legal y las obligaciones del Estado en consecuencia. Este hecho reflejó el gran trabajo realizado por los movimientos de mujeres y de derechos humanos en las calles, en los hospitales, en la academia, en los tribunales. Pero el acceso es muy desigual, y aún en provincias “de avanzada” sigue habiendo barreras para el acceso a abortos legales. En gran medida eso refleja la limitación estructural del sistema de causales, que fracasa porque depende de que alguien certifique esas causales. Además de que el sistema de causales descarta de entre las posibles causales a la más importante: la voluntad de la persona embarazada. Esto es lo que puso en primer plano el proyecto de ley que aprobó la Cámara de Diputados.

    Durante el debate de 2018, el CELS hizo varias presentaciones en las audiencias públicas en ambas cámaras del Congreso, en apoyo del proyecto. El director ejecutivo y yo expusimos en Diputados – significativamente, tanto en la apertura como en el cierre del debate – y nuestro director de litigio expuso en el Senado. Editamos al momento del comienzo del debate una publicación que suscribió gran parte del arco del movimiento de mujeres, feminista y organizaciones con argumentos, legislación y jurisprudencia, para acercar información clara a los y las representantes de ambas cámaras.

    También estuvimos presentes en las calles, no solamente en las vigilias durante las sesiones de votación, sino también en la organización, dando apoyo y coordinando con el movimiento de mujeres, las otras organizaciones de la Campaña por el Aborto Legal, las estudiantes secundarias, profesionales de la salud y otros actores movilizados. Esta articulación y la presencia sostenida del movimiento en las calles fueron lo que marcó la diferencia durante 2018. Finalmente, nos manifestamos enérgicamente por la libertad de expresión y el derecho de manifestación, ya que a lo largo de este proceso se produjeron diversos actos de violencia contra activistas por la legalización por parte de grupos movilizados en contra.

     

    Has mencionado varias veces la oposición de los grupos anti-derechos ¿Crees que estos grupos están en ascenso? De ser así, ¿qué debería hacer la sociedad civil progresista para proteger los derechos ganados y seguir avanzando?

    Los grupos anti-derechos efectivamente han crecido y se organizan bajo un paraguas en común contra lo que llaman “ideología de género”. Este debate fue para ellos una oportunidad para organizarse como nunca antes. Ahora son más: antes eran solamente grupos vinculados con la Iglesia católica, y ahora hay también numerosos grupos de iglesias evangélicas, bien organizados y bien financiados, así como otros grupos no necesariamente religiosos. Su presencia nos demanda atención porque sus objetivos van contra los derechos de buena parte de la población, ya que buscan limitar el acceso a derechos de la infancia, de mujeres, lesbianas, gays, travestis, personas trans. Están aterrizando en toda América Latina y su presencia nos plantea interrogantes sobre sus alianzas y fines. ¿Cómo y cuándo llegaron a la Argentina? ¿Cuáles son sus demandas, hasta dónde están dispuestos a llegar? Hemos visto que detrás del “no al aborto” traen una agenda más amplia, relacionada con el rechazo de lo que llaman “ideología de género”, de la educación sexual en las escuelas, hasta de las vacunas, y quién sabe de qué más.

    El movimiento progresista necesita pensar una estrategia para enfrentarlos. La fortaleza del movimiento de derechos humanos es el uso de la creatividad y de la estrategia de la razón. En cambio, lo que hacen los movimientos anti-derechos es copiar en espejo las estrategias del movimiento de derechos humanos. Ahora bien, aunque corremos con la ventaja de la creatividad y la innovación, el movimiento anti-derechos nos está haciendo perder el tiempo discutiendo cosas que creíamos que estaban saldadas. Para colmo no es ni siquiera una discusión honesta, ya que las afirmaciones que hacen e incluso los datos que utilizan no resisten el menor chequeo. Lo que resulta de esto no es un debate, es decir, un auténtico intercambio de argumentos y razones. Pero así y todo no tenemos otra alternativa que responder. De modo que cuando “debatimos”, en realidad no debatimos con ellos ni para tratar de convencerlos a ellos, sino que lo hacemos ante una audiencia, para convencer a esa audiencia. Usamos ese simulacro de debate para levantar nuestros principios ante la opinión pública. En esto, las redes sociales han sido clave, aunque también han sido un arma de doble filo. De hecho, fue en este debate donde pudimos ver de primera mano el funcionamiento de las “fake news” (noticias falsas), sobre todo cuando las recogen actores de peso fuera de las redes y las llevan a otros terrenos. Pasó, por ejemplo, que datos totalmente falsos tomados de las redes fueron citados por legisladores en el debate parlamentario. En ese terreno tenemos mucho por hacer.

    Un desafío para nuestros movimientos es liderar la agenda de los debates. Esto nos plantea la necesidad de estar un paso adelante en la discusión. Nosotros no debemos “debatir” con los grupos anti-derechos, sino hablar para las grandes audiencias y debatir con los representantes elegidos por el pueblo, que son quienes tienen la obligación de sancionar leyes en nuestro beneficio y de cumplir con la obligación del Estado de garantizar al goce de los derechos humanos. El debate por la legalización del aborto fue una punta de lanza para pensar otras cuestiones. El sistema de causales para el aborto legal, similar al que se acaba de aprobar en Chile, existe en Argentina desde 1921. El paso de un sistema de causales a un sistema de plazos requiere de una simple decisión legislativa de modificación del Código Penal. ¿Por qué tanto revuelo entonces? Porque este debate pone en primer plano otras discusiones: cuál creemos que deba ser el rol de las mujeres y las personas gestantes, cuál debe ser el rol del Estado, hasta dónde y en qué cosas se mete… y ahí es donde saltan las contradicciones de los sectores conservadores, que quieren que el Estado se meta hasta en tu cama para penalizar, pero que a la hora de educar o de vacunar mejor no se meta.

    No podemos quedarnos a la defensiva, tenemos que ir a la ofensiva e instalar la cuestión de la laicidad y plantear el rol del Estado. Y debemos hacerlo en un contexto subregional regresivo. Brasil, nuestro gran vecino y principal socio, acaba de elegir un presidente que está alineado con la agenda de su poderosa bancada evangélica y que acaba de designar como Ministra de Derechos Humanos a una pastora evangélica que dice que la mujer nace para ser madre.

    El espacio cívico en Argentina es clasificado como ‘estrecho’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contáctese con CELS a través de supágina web o su perfil deFacebook, o siga a@CELS_Argentina y a@EdurneC en Twitter.

     

  • BOTSWANA: ‘Anti-rights groups are emerging in reaction to progressive gains’

    Dumiso GatshaAs part of our 2019thematic 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 to Dumiso Gatsha, a young LGBT rights activist and founder of Success Capital Organisation, a youth-led civil society organisation (CSO) that supports civic action and promotes the rights of LGBTQI people.

    How significant was the June 2019court decision that decriminalised homosexuality in Botswana?

    The High Court ruled that colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex relations are unconstitutional. The judges said penalising people for who they are is disrespectful, and the law should not regulate private acts between consenting adults. One of the contested sections of the penal code, Section 164, is about ‘unnatural offences’, defined as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which essentially applied to gay sex, although it was up to the courts to define what unnatural acts meant, and it could theoretically also apply to heterosexual activities seen as ‘unnatural’.

    This ruling is very significant on two fronts. The first is that this decision eliminates the risk of persecution altogether. Although the prohibition was not necessarily implemented by law enforcement agencies, it could have been, as it added elements of uncertainty and arbitrary treatment. The second is that it essentially provides an avenue for building protections and safeguards in health, employment, business, governance, service delivery and, more importantly, eliminating systemic stigma and discrimination.

    Was civil society in Botswana instrumental in bringing about this decision?

    Yes. Civil society, and LGBT civil society more specifically, has been very active since the 1990s. But when I started out there were still few activists that were well known. I came to Botswana in 2012 and there were only one or two notable activists, while now, only seven years later, there are five new LGBT-led organisations. A lot of them work on HIV/AIDS response, because a lot of funding goes to this kind of work.

    Litigation for decriminalisation was led by civil society, on behalf of a young gay man. Procedurally, only an individual can bring such a challenge to the courts, not an organisation. The most progressive of recent court cases, in terms of gender marker changes, were led by people. Civil society partnerships helped ensure financial and technical assistance.

    However, it is very difficult to bring the rest of the community along with these advances: yes, you achieve decriminalisation, but decriminalisation does not mean protection or mean it will be any easier for people to navigate difficult conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity with family members or educators, or in the workplace.

    Has the court decision prompted any backlash against LGBT rights?

    I think society is divided, and attitudes may take longer than laws to change. In this context, a new opposition populist party has used this issue as a populist tool. The ruling political party initially said that it would abide by the court decision and it backed non-discrimination. The current president had previously released a statement commemorating 16 days against gender-based violence and spoke about discrimination experienced by people in same-sex relationships. This was the first time a sitting head of state publicly recognised and acknowledged the gay community affirmatively in an African country that criminalised same-sex intercourse. Previous administrations had maintained a position of not persecuting people. In that sense, the state was always perceived as being a bit more progressive than the social majority or the rest of Africa. I think the state has long resorted to silent diplomacy on issues considered ‘progressive’.

    What changed after the High Court ruling, and lead to the state deciding to appeal, was that the new opposition party saw an opportunity to use the ruling to seek votes. They blamed the current president for singlehandedly decriminalising same-sex intercourse. Given the intolerance in public opinion, it was an opportunity to appeal to the majority. This turned into a political issue rather than one of rights, particularly because this new political party is backed by a former president. This was the first time ever in Botswana’s living history that LGBT issues were used within an intentionally populist narrative.

    This did not happen in isolation. Since the court ruling, religious institutions, mostly evangelical groups, became more vocal in their intolerance of LGBT people. It was surprising to us. We didn’t quite expect this. Public statements were released, including some stating that they would be appealing against the court ruling. They perceived this court ruling as an avenue for same-sex marriage and adoption of children by LGBT people.

    Why did this take you by surprise? Weren’t anti-rights groups present in the public sphere before?

    Regarding the court case, which took almost two years, evangelical groups and other religious actors remained silent for the most part. They wouldn’t really talk about it. It didn’t seem to be an issue for them at all. They didn’t bother building a whole narrative around or against it. That is why it was surprising that when the court decision was made public, all this opposition materialised. Some churches that had never released public statements on anything are now doing so. It isn’t just evangelical churches, although they have been probably the ones taking the lead. Catholic and Methodist churches have become quite intolerant, and vocally intolerant, as well.

    While some civil society actors, including human rights groups, that we thought would be supportive, remained quite passive, anti-human rights groups have been increasingly active, using LGBT rights as a populist tool, by taking advantage of the dynamics regarding ‘immorality’ that prevail among the public – in other words, of the fact that many people are simply anti-LGBT by default, with no critical thinking.

    I think that populist anti-rights groups are emerging in reaction to progressive gains. This is the Trump era, with its atmosphere of nationalism and regressive thinking. Regarding women’s sexual and reproductive rights and LGBT rights, US right-wing organisations are exporting their ideas to other parts of the world, including Africa. Fortunately, however, Botswana has historically been a peaceful society where it has not been easy for populist discourse to grow, and we are not seeing the growth of the same political populist narrative that has gained ground in other African countries or, for instance, in Eastern Europe. Botswana’s political landscape does not include extremist parties, either on the left or right. Major parties are all in support of LGBT rights and their leaders are quite progressive. There was an assumption that the negative political use of LGBT issues would work, but it is not clear that it has. However, society itself isn’t very accepting, and religious institutions are indeed perpetuating homophobia and intolerance.

    What’s next for LGBT civil society in Botswana, after achieving decriminalisation?

    Even if the High Court ruling survives the appeals and any other further legal challenges, a gap will remain. There have been some fragments of civic action aimed at educating people on LGBT issues. There is an urgent need to work on changing the hearts and minds of people. More importantly, there is a lot of work needed in moving LGBT people from surviving to thriving, especially in issues of efficacy, agency and having an influence within their communities. We focus on the individual and their access to rights, because rights are not really effective if they cannot be exercised at key touch points of service delivery, such as in a police station or a clinic. The community needs healing, at individual and collective levels. There has been a lot of pain and harm, even within activism.

    What challenges do LGBT civil society face in doing this work, and what kind of support does it need?

    A lot of advocacy strategies and narratives are pre-determined and attached to funding. There is a lot of gatekeeping in terms of the narratives that are considered relevant and valid, and therefore granted access to funding and to policy-makers. The main narrative currently appears to be around public health, and it is very difficult for new organisations to establish new narratives and still gain access to funding. If you are not operating under the umbrella of a much larger body, it is difficult to scale up advocacy work. This structure of opportunities has a strong impact on how creative and collaborative civil society can be while remaining sustainable.

    I think this has to stop. We need to move towards a community-led narrative. This is how we will get the best results in terms of transforming people’s hearts and minds. In that regard, there is a need to strengthen the intellectual body of knowledge of LGBT communities and decolonise our institutions, because a lot of our conversations are in fact based on Western narratives. We also need to rethink the narratives used for campaigning. The narratives that have been used so far are based on the assumption that the human rights-based approach works, without any reflection on the need to adapt the language in a way that resonates with people and makes issues easier for people to digest.

    In sum, I would say it is very important to diversify both the forms of advocacy that are undertaken and the ways that they are being supported.

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

    Get in touch with Success Capital Organisation through theirwebpage andFacebook profile.

     

  • DERECHOS DE LAS MUJERES: ‘Los grupos anti-derechos buscan arrebatarnos derechos adquiridos’

    Teresa Fernandez ParedesEn el marco de nuestro informe temático 2019, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de su experiencia frente al avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa conTeresa Fernández Paredes, abogada especializada en Derecho Público Internacional e integrante de la Dirección Legal de Women’s Link. Con oficinas en Colombia, España y Kenia, Women’s Link defiende y promueve los derechos de las mujeres y aspira a generar cambios estructurales a través del litigio estratégico.

    ¿A qué se dedica Women’s Link y cuáles son sus áreas de trabajo?

    Women’s Link es una organización internacional que utiliza el derecho – en su mayoría somos abogadas – para promover cambios sociales estructurales que avancen los derechos de las mujeres y niñas, y sobre todo de las que se encuentran en mayor estado de vulnerabilidad, tales como mujeres migrantes o mujeres que ven limitado el ejercicio de sus derechos en razón de su etnia, edad o condición socioeconómica, entre otros factores.

    Trabajamos desde Madrid, en España; Bogotá, en Colombia y Nairobi, en Kenia. Aplicamos al derecho un análisis de género y un análisis interseccional para ampliar y mejorar los derechos de las mujeres y las niñas. Trabajamos en algunas áreas específicas, como los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, donde combatimos a los grupos anti-derechos. También nos enfocamos en la trata de seres humanos, y sobre todo en la trata de mujeres con funciones de explotación sexual o servidumbre doméstica y en las vulneraciones de derechos que sufren las mujeres en contextos de migración o de justicia transicional. Y finalmente nos concentramos en la discriminación, como un tema transversal a todos los demás. Usamos varias estrategias: además de litigios estratégicos, hacemos capacitaciones judiciales y publicaciones, entre otras cosas.

    ¿Cuáles son actualmente sus principales ejes de trabajo en América Latina?

    Una de nuestras principales líneas de trabajo en América Latina es el acceso a los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en sentido amplio. En este momento, en el contexto de la ola migratoria venezolana, estamos trabajando en el vínculo entre migración y falta de acceso a estos derechos. Concretamente, examinamos cuestiones tales como los efectos que tiene sobre el goce de estos derechos el estatus migratorio irregular, o la situación de las fronteras como espacios de no-derecho.

    El trabajo en Venezuela ha sido un gran desafío, dada la situación que atraviesa el país. Lo que hacemos, en este y en todos los casos, es aplicar los estándares del derecho internacional al contexto local. Pero es importante tener en cuenta que generalmente el derecho – y no solamente el derecho interno de los países, sino también el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos - es muy androcéntrico. La normativa se ha ido desarrollando a lo largo de los años alrededor de la imagen del hombre blanco como sujeto universal.

    Nuestra aproximación al derecho es estirarlo para que dé cabida a las experiencias de las mujeres, porque en el marco de los derechos humanos los temas de las mujeres suelen quedar de lado. En el contexto de Venezuela, trabajamos mucho con el sistema interamericano de derechos humanos. Por ejemplo, recientemente pedimos una medida cautelar para una maternidad en la que morían muchas madres y niños. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos emitió la cautelar, pero en el contexto actual parece es difícil que se cumpla. Sin embargo, sirve para llamar la atención sobre la situación específica que viven mujeres y niñas. Y todo este trabajo sirve también para entender porqué las mujeres se van de Venezuela - qué las impulsa a ellas, en tanto que mujeres, a iniciar los tránsitos migratorios; y qué necesidades tienen cuando llegan a países de tránsito y de destino.

    Además de trabajar en Venezuela, varios de nuestros proyectos se centran en garantizar que las experiencias concretas de las mujeres y sus voces se escuchen en el proceso de paz en Colombia. Lo hacemos sobre todo desde nuestra oficina en Bogotá, y siempre en conjunto con organizaciones comunitarias, para intentar que las voces de las personas que están en las fronteras lleguen a los tomadores de decisiones.

    En los últimos años se ha observado avances de los grupos anti-derechos, en América Latina y más allá. ¿Han enfrentado reacciones o ataques de estos grupos en el curso de su trabajo?

    El contexto en que trabajamos está fuertemente marcado por el auge de grupos anti-derechos que se dicen movilizados contra lo que ellos llaman “ideología de género”. Pero no es un fenómeno nuevo: los grupos anti-derechos se han venido articulando con gran efectividad desde los años ’90. Tienen mucho dinero y una cosa que hacen mejor que los grupos de izquierda es articularse de manera muy efectiva entre ellos; aunque aborden distintos temas encuentran el punto en común. Por ejemplo, se han articulado muy bien para poner sobre la mesa el tema de la ideología de género, presentándolo en todos los espacios y consiguiendo que, algo que ni siquiera era un concepto, se convirtiera en un tema global. Han conseguido posicionarlo en la agenda, cosas que es más difícil de hacer desde la izquierda, donde hay más discusión en torno de los temas y cuesta más articularse y hablar con una sola voz. De ahí que todavía no tengamos una respuesta única y contundente para los embates en nombre de la “ideología de género”.

    Los grupos anti-derechos buscan arrebatarnos derechos adquiridos. Y lo hacen utilizando el mismo discurso que han empleado con éxito los grupos de derechos humanos. Hablan de derechos humanos y se presentan como víctimas. Incluso presentan a las feministas como agentes diabólicos, dándole al feminismo más poder del que se podría creer que tiene en determinados espacios. Por nuestra ubicación en tres regiones, desde Women’s Link vemos claramente que las mismas estrategias se repiten en distintos lugares. Están utilizando estrategias coordinadas, alimentadas con muchísimo dinero y con apoyo global. Como utilizan el lenguaje de los derechos humanos, cada vez tienen más representación legal, y han comenzado a ocupar sitios en lugares estratégicos, donde están los tomadores de decisión, como en las Naciones Unidas y en la Organización de Estados Americanos.

    ¿Cómo puede actuar la sociedad civil progresista para poner freno a estos avances?

    Frente a estos ataques es importante actuar rápido a través del derecho. Hay que seguir trabajando para fortalecer el marco de derechos, blindándolo frente a estos ataques. Debemos pensar no solo estrategias de defensa, sino también estrategias proactivas para ampliar el marco de derechos, o cuanto menos para quitarles a los grupos anti-derechos espacio para moverse.

    Hay discusiones aún no saldadas sobre las que hay mucho que trabajar, como el tema de la libertad de expresión versus los discursos de odio. Paradójicamente, para difundir su mensaje los grupos anti-derechos se están apoyando en uno de los temas-estandarte de la izquierda, la libertad de expresión.

    Con todo, para que se generen cambios sociales duraderos, no podemos quedarnos en el derecho y los tribunales. Lo que necesitamos son casos que movilicen, generen debate público e instalen un verdadero cambio en la sociedad. En ese sentido hay movimientos esperanzadores, como el #MeToo y la Marea Verde en Argentina. Es decir, estamos viendo dos procesos contrapuestos: por un lado, crecen los grupos anti-derechos; por el otro, se genera una fuerte movilización desde las bases y desde la juventud en torno de estos temas. Tal fue el caso de la Marea Verde, que generó una movilización sin precedentes mientras se tramitaba en el congreso argentino un proyecto de legalización del aborto. Sin duda, es muy posible que los procesos estén interconectados y uno sea consecuencia del otro.

    Estos movimientos sociales generan un panorama esperanzador. Ante el intento de retroceder en derechos adquiridos, hay una masa muy activa que dice “mira, esto ya es un derecho adquirido, ya no lo puedes quitar”. Ya no se puede ir para atrás: en adelante puedes ampliar el marco, pero no lo puedes reducir.

    Además de los ataques de los grupos anti-derechos, ¿qué otros desafíos enfrenta la sociedad civil que promueve derechos de las mujeres?

    Para las organizaciones de base, la falta de recursos puede ser una gran limitación. Y a nosotras se nos presenta el desafío de cómo articularnos con estas organizaciones, sobre todo en contextos de gran urgencia como puede ser el de los movimientos masivos de movilidad humana.

    Women’s Link se dedica a identificar situaciones estructurales donde se vulneran derechos de las mujeres y a diseñar estrategias jurídicas para generar un cambio estructural transformador. Mientras tanto, las organizaciones de base – por ejemplo, en la frontera entre Colombia y Venezuela – están asumiendo cada vez más, y en condiciones de urgencia, funciones que deberían ser desempeñadas por el Estado. En estos contextos, la mayor parte de la respuesta a los problemas está proviniendo de organizaciones de la sociedad civil.

    Estas organizaciones de base están respondiendo a una situación muy urgente y las necesidades que tienen las mujeres con que ellas trabajan son muy inmediatas, y sin embargo lo que podemos hacer desde Women’s Link es apoyarlas desde el litigio estratégico, que suele llevar mucho tiempo.

    Pero más allá de las dificultades de trabajar con recursos escasos, es vital articular esas relaciones, porque el aporte que Women’s Link tiene para hacer no serviría de nada sin el trabajo que hacen las organizaciones de base y sin, por supuesto, la voz y el apoyo de las mujeres.

    Contáctese con Women’s Link a través de supágina web y su perfil deFacebook, o siga a@womenslink en Twitter.

     

     

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

    English

    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.

     

  • LATVIA: ‘Faced with hatred, we focus on delivering a human rights message’

    Kaspars ZalitisAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Kaspars Zālītis about the challenges faced by LGBTI people in Latvia, and the actions undertaken by civil society to broaden civic space for sexual minorities and therefore to make democracy truly inclusive. Kaspars is the director ofMozaika - Association of LGBT and their friends, currently the only LGBTI rights civil society organisation (CSO) in Latvia. Established in 2006, Mozaika promotes gender equality and anti-discrimination; raises awareness of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions of identity;promotes an understanding of diverse family models and their legal recognition; and advocates for the harmonisation ofLatvian laws with international standards.

    1. What is the current situation of LGBTI rights in Latvia?

    On the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map, which measures each country’s respect for LGBTI rights, Latvia ranks 40th within Europe, and last of all European Union (EU) member countries. In turn, the CIVICUS Monitor has reported several restrictions of civic space in Latvia. CSOs working on controversial topics are being targeted, and civil society has found it increasingly difficult to gain access to policy-makers. Mozaika has tried to lobby politicians and policy-makers for years, but they often prefer to meet in private rather than attract any attention that can lead to attacks from right-wing activists and politicians.

    The political climate is hostile for sexual diversity and for diversity as a whole. ‘Moral upbringing’ amendments introduced into the Education Law in 2015 - which mandate schools to promote ‘family values’ and marriage as part of education - have been implemented through the publication of guidelines that have caused fear among teachers of negative reactions if they touch on any LGBTI issues, and sexual and reproductive rights issues more generally. In 2016, a schoolteacher whose students had requested her to start a Gay-Straight Alliance was asked to refrain from doing so, and another teacher faced calls that he should close all his social media accounts so that students wouldn’t see his ‘LGBT-friendly’ attitudes - in other words, he was asked to hide his sexual orientation. Legislators bashed him on social media and insinuated that he was ‘recruiting’ children.

    In March 2018, parliament was quick to dismiss a Cohabitation Bill that would have granted basic rights to non-married couples, including same-sex ones. It did so on the grounds that couples could access these rights by getting married, even though the Latvian Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage. The initiative had started three years earlier through an online petition that gathered 10,000 signatures, which was why parliament had to consider it.

    2. What is the role of religious groups in this?

    Indeed. The Catholic Church has a lot of influence, and it is taking the lead in fighting the LGBTI community and pushing back against women’s rights. For instance, there has been a lot of disagreement over the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, and parliamentary debate on the issue has been postponed until after parliamentary elections are held in October 2018.

    Church leaders and many public officials oppose ratification of the Istanbul Convention because one of its non-discrimination clauses concerns sexual orientation and gender identity. The Catholic Archbishop is rallying against it and has gathered considerable support among political parties and parliamentarians. He has managed to convince them that ratification is part of the secret agenda of so-called ‘genderists’ – an expression that originated in Russia, a country with a very strong cultural influence in Latvia. Church officials, right-wing activists and politicians and anti-LGBTI and anti-abortion groups depict the Convention as contrary to Latvian traditional values and as being aimed at over-sexualising and ‘converting’ children. These arguments are gaining ground among the public.

    This rhetoric is not the exclusive preserve of the Catholic church: the Lutheran church, which is the largest Protestant church in Latvia, is also taking a lead in fighting us and the Istanbul Convention. This is quite strange, because Lutherans, prevalent in Nordic countries, tend to be more liberal. But in Latvia they even voted against having female priests, following the lead of the Catholic church. Additionally, new religious organisations with direct links with US evangelical groups are emerging. Some of their leaders have been trained in the USA and are quite good at influencing people.

    Although religious leaders and organisations don’t have a direct and institutionalised role in policy-making, given that the Latvian Constitution establishes a separation between church and state, in practice they have a lot of influence. Church-state separation notwithstanding, the state has a religious advisory council, as does the City Council. It is not uncommon for the Catholic Archbishop to meet with the ruling coalition’s leading party, and for the party’s leader to then say that he has ‘consulted’ with the Catholic church and has decided to vote in one way or another. You can see a direct link because all this happens in public.

    We, on the contrary, don’t have access to leading politicians because they are not willing to risk their reputations by meeting us in public. At the most, we can expect to have a private meeting here and there. This has a lot of impact on us, especially as we see the religious right rise all over Europe. Religious organisations and right-wing parties are increasingly organised and coordinated to fight against gender equality and LGBTI rights at the European level, and they are getting a major influx of resources from the USA. They have way more resources than we do, and their message also resonates better with the latent homophobia in Latvian society, which is becoming increasingly vocal. And after the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are emboldened. The latest developments in Hungary and Poland are also proof to them that they may be closer to winning.

    3. Has this discourse penetrated the media?

    Most definitely. Our media landscape is quite pluralistic, and the state channel and public broadcaster at least try to provide balanced coverage. But some media outlets are outright hostile towards LGBTI groups, and one of them, a Russian outlet with a major agenda against the rights of women, migrants, refugees and LGBTI people, is clearly leading a crusade against us.

    Vilification of women’s and LGBTI rights groups is also increasingly taking place online. We are now constantly harassed on Facebook. At some point we realised these were not the usual people who used to attack us and we did some research to find out where the attacks were coming from, and found links to evangelical churches.

    Since January 2018, Mozaika has reported over 200 posts that are openly homophobic to social media administrators, and most of them have been taken down and their authors temporarily or permanently blocked. This caused all Mozaika activists to be blocked from accessing certain groups and pages, and we have evidence that a number of secret Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups have been created to follow our activities.

    4. Can you tell us more about the significance of Pride in Latvia and the Baltic Pride that was recently held in the capital, Riga?

    Pride in Latvia is the most visible LGBTI event in the country. It draws widespread social and media attention to our cause, but it also attracts a large number of expressions of hatred and brings to the surface negative attitudes towards the LGBTI community. Pride in Latvia grew from 70 participants who faced 3,000 protesters in 2005, to 5,000 participants at EuroPride 2015, which was held in Riga, and 8,000 in the recent Baltic Pride. In between, it was banned by Riga City Council three times.

    Mozaika applied for permission to hold Baltic Pride in February 2018. Latvian laws state that applications must be submitted no earlier than four months prior to the event and that if there is more than one application for an event to be held at the same time, priority will be given to the first applicant. Mozaika’s representative arrived at Riga City Council an hour before opening to make sure that Baltic Pride was the first applicant, and just seconds after he entered the building Antiglobalists, an anti-rights organisation, arrived to submit another request for an event that would take place at the exact same time and venue, but under the name “Promotion of paedophilia, zoophilia, necrophilia and other perversions.” They wanted to make the statement that if ‘homosexuals’ can promote their ‘perversions’, then they should also be allowed to promote any other perversion they could think of.

    Since it became known in late 2017 that Riga would host Baltic Pride, both Mozaika and Baltic Pride became targets. The leader of the Latvian Green Party-Riga Unit started a //medium.com/@juriskaza/latvian-science-fund-head-asks-to-ban-riga-pride-event-87173b6e2cbe">personal campaign against so-called ‘genderists’. He insisted that Baltic Pride should be banned and set up a Facebook page to ‘inspire’ activists for ‘traditional values’. Starting in January, Baltic Pride organisers received over a hundred personal attacks, warnings or threats. We were insulted, called sick and branded perverts on our Facebook pages on a daily basis. Hate campaigns were launched to convey the idea that Pride is a ‘sex festival’. Countless posts were made showing rainbows and guns, to create fear among potential participants and the LGBTI community and dissuade them from attending. Antiglobalists, Tautas tiesību kustība (National Rights Movement) and activists inspired by right-wing politicians also constantly posted statements to encourage others to stand against Baltic Pride. Sometimes they provided details about our activities, forcing us to restrict them to registered participants to ensure safety. We also had to take unprecedented security measures for Pride events.

    Fortunately, we could find common ground and work closely with the police. Counter-protesters attack and humiliate the police, but we treat them with respect. No public official or security officer supporting us would ever say so publicly, but we have been able to work together behind closed doors. In the end, Baltic Pride was a great success. We would have considered it a success if 2,000 people had attended, but over 8,000 did. There were no major incidents, although at some point eggs and smoke bombs were thrown at participants.

    5. How do you counter the anti-rights message?

    We focus on delivering a human rights message. We never blame the church or call anyone by name - we don’t talk about them. We counter argument with argument, and fiction with facts. If they say that perverts will march, we state the fact that 70 per cent of those ‘perverts’ are straight people with children. Against arguments that ‘naked people’ will march, we simply say we don’t know what Pride they are referring to because we have never had people marching naked in Latvia. When we are called perverts, we thank them for their opinion but insist that we want to have a conversation within a human rights framework. That is, we don’t want to limit anyone’s rights and we want to be able to exercise ours. Compromising and always staying within the confines of a positive message may be personally difficult for many activists, but that is what we are going for, no matter what we hear. We might explode afterwards, but while we meet we listen and stay calm.

    I always meet the Catholic Archbishop at state visits or embassy receptions and we have polite exchanges. I’ve told him I’m non-believer but I know that the message of Jesus is all about love and respect and I don’t see that coming from him – that’s when he leaves the conversation. Within Mozaika there are also religious people, and we have invited churches to have an open and public dialogue, but so far, they have always refused.

    6. What is civil society in Latvia doing to overcome these challenges?

    Civil society uses all the available mechanisms to highlight rights violations in the international arena, including at the EU level, and to try and influence decision-makers and politicians. However, our Minister of Justice, who is openly homophobic and transphobic, ‘does not see’ any restrictions. While we were organising our Pride event, the government was putting a lot of effort into organising celebrations for the centennial of the Latvian state, and often blamed critical CSOs for shaming the country abroad as such an important date approached.

    In this context, Mozaika planned several actions, including a social media campaign (‘I support freedom’) in which public personalities publicly expressed their support for LGBTI rights, and human rights more generally, and demanded that our government ensure that Baltic Pride could take place safely. We aimed to bring in people who are not typically seen as supporters of human rights and LGBTI rights, and then amplify their voices as allies of the LGBTI community. Ultimately, what we wanted to show is that the LGBTI community and its supporters were a lot more numerous and diverse than the handful of activists and the few hundred people who normally show up to our events. We also undertook efforts targeted at international organisations and foreign governments and activists. We asked them to encourage people to participate in Baltic Pride and demand that the authorities guarantee their safety.

    Of course, we continue to monitor, document and report online and offline abuses against LGBTI people, activists and organisations. We take down hate comments and instruct the community to report any attacks that they experience on social media to us so we can work to take down the posts. If prominent hate expressions get out there, we try to respond to them with a counter-message. But we have limited resources, so sometimes we leave them for liberal commentators to deal with, and we focus on using social media to counter the most blatant expressions of hatred, particularly if someone is attacked physically.

    Finally, we are trying to place LGBTI issues and broader diversity issues on the agenda of the campaign for the upcoming October 2018 parliamentary election. We are promoting public debate on these issues, presenting political parties with examples of the rights restrictions that LGBTI people face on a daily basis and asking them to provide policy solutions to create a safe environment for LGBTI people and other minorities. We will consider it a success if three or four political parties include LGBTI issues or other diversity issues on their agenda.

    7. What are your needs and what can donors do to help?

    The one thing we have wanted to do for a long time is a long-term communications campaign – not the kind that individual CSOs put together on their own, but a broader one coordinated by various CSO leaders and activists who provide the substance and set the tone, and that is executed and managed by a professional communications team. The problem is that all CSOs live from project to project and are barely sustainable. Mozaika is able to function thanks to the work of volunteers. So what we need most is resources to ensure sustainability. This includes building capacity, but this has to be done on the basis of the expertise that we already have. We have attended countless training events and seminars, and are tired of going to international meetings just to be told ‘this is the right way to do it’. We need customised approaches to find practical solutions to our specific problems. There is a lot for us to learn from France, Germany, or the USA, but lessons must be customised and they should come alongside the resources to ensure sustainability.

    Civic space in Latvia is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Mozaika through their Facebook page or follow @lgbt_mozaika and @KasparZ on Twitter and Instagram.

     

  • LGBTQI RIGHTS: ‘There is an ongoing desire among many to more closely regulate morality’

    T King OeyAs 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 T King Oey, an Indonesian capacity development expert and a founder and board member ofArus Pelangi, the Indonesian Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual and Intersex Communities.

    How does your network work, and what are the challenges you are addressing?

    Our organisation, Arus Pelangi, which means the Flow of the Rainbow, was established in 2006. This was during the Reformasi era that followed the ousting of President Suharto in 1998 after three decades in power. After this there was much more freedom and many repressive laws were revised. At this time LGBTQI people felt we should come together to stand for our rights. Before then the only context in which people talked about LGBTQI people was in relation to the mitigation of HIV/AIDS. So we decided to form an organisation purely to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI people.

    Arus Pelangi is a coalition of national and local groups of LGBTQI people. We network a lot with other human rights organisations, including those working on other aspects of diversity and legal reform. We have also been instrumental in the formation of a network across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries – the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus. It is based in the Philippines and Arus Pelangi is an important member. At the same time we are reaching out to local communities around the huge country of Indonesia. There are still capacity challenges in enabling far-distant communities to make their voices heard.

    What challenges have you faced in recent years?

    The space for democracy in Indonesia is becoming more restricted, and it is harder for us to be visible. When we started in 2006 we saw it as strategic to raise our visibility as much as possible, so people could see and understand LGBTQI people and know who we are. So we took part in demonstrations, held flash mobs, held public discussions, made media appearances – anything to make us visible as a group.

    From the very beginning there were all kinds of groups attacking us. But things got much worse in 2016, when all of a sudden there was this massive wave of attacks. Persecutions also began from 2016 onwards. The trigger was a pronouncement by the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, that LGBTQI people should be banned from university campuses. Suddenly everyone joined in, saying that LGBTQI people should be banned from everywhere, that we should be criminalised.

    These attacks came especially from hardline religious groups. These groups had always advocated for criminalisation, but suddenly they had momentum because of what the minister had said.

    From then on it was no longer possible to be visible as an organisation, and to some degree even as individuals.

    How have extremist groups been able to organise, and how have they mobilised support?

    The Reformasi era created all kinds of freedoms for people to organise themselves, but the fundamentalists had the same freedoms, and they did very well in organising themselves. They have received lots of funding from Saudi Arabia.

    There has been a two-track development in Indonesia. Indonesia has become more part of a global society, more integrated in terms of technology, but at the same time people’s minds have become more conservative, due to the influence of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have had more chances to preach, and to organise in all kinds of groups and organisations. One of the most well-known is Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), which has been very vocal in attacking us, and they have been able to stop some of our activities.

    The attitude of the police has been ambivalent. They haven’t stopped the FPI from attacking us. Rather they have said that for our safety it would be better if we disband. They always use this argument of safety. Since 2016 the police have also been proactive in outing and arresting people. People are arrested, paraded in front of the media and then released without charge.

    This has had a huge effect on the whole community. People have become afraid. Since 2016 we have held hardly any public events. We have to keep things secret and do everything underground. We have also had to learn to take security measures. Many of our people became depressed and closed themselves away, stopped going out. It’s just like being back in the Suharto era. We aren’t free any more.

    Fundamentalists reached the level of power that in 2017 they were able to put Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of our capital city, Jakarta, into jail for blasphemy. This was when the network of fundamentalist groups reached the height of their power. They were able to work together to do this. Indonesia has a blasphemy law, and once someone has been indicted, it is certain they will be convicted. I haven’t heard of any case when someone charged with blasphemy has walked free.

    How has the government responded?

    What is interesting is that this level of fundamentalism got to the point where it was threatening the position of President Jokowi. Only then did we see a concerted effort from the government to push back, and this process is still going on. The government has banned one of the fundamentalist groups, an international Muslim network that calls for the establishment of the caliphate, on the grounds that it does not adhere to the national ideology, known as Pancasila.

    A law the government recently passed on civil society organisations enabled it to do this. Human rights organisations criticised this law for being too loose and flexible. It could potentially enable the government to ban any group. This is the first time it has been used. The same law could be used against any group. It’s a double-edged sword.

    The government is considering banning the FPI. The government is also saying that it is coming to realise how many campuses have been infiltrated by fundamentalist groups, but it’s hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

    Has the April 2019 presidential election brought any changes?

    President Jokowi won re-election in April, but it seems he felt he couldn’t do it without the support of the moderate Muslims, as he took an Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate. Ma’ruf is a fairly conservative cleric who has made all kinds of negative pronouncements against LGBTQI people. It’s a mystery for many people, even for supporters of President Jokowi, why he was chosen over all other candidates.

    For LGBTQI people, now President Jokowi has won re-election, it remains to be seen whether the coming five years will bring any improvement. We don’t believe President Jokowi is against LGBTQI people, and on some occasions, he has said that the rights of LGBTQI people should be protected. But this is the kind of thing he has said when he has been interviewed by the BBC. It is a message for the outside world, rather than for a domestic audience.

    What is also disappointing is that in his first term, President Jokowi prioritised a focus on the investment climate, emphasising massive infrastructure projects, such as ports, roads and power plants, and reforming the bureaucracy to remove obstacles against investment. Just recently he has announced that his second-term priorities are the same. He said nothing about human rights. Many were hoping that he would be less cautious in his second term. It remains to be seen how committed he will be to human rights.

    As well as LGBTQI groups, which other communities are subject to persecution?

    Other groups particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses are minority Muslim sects, which have been heavily persecuted over the years, and communists and those associated with them. This goes way back to the mass killings of 1965-1966. Survivors and second and third-generation family members are still suffering from discrimination and threats.

    The struggle for gender equality goes back many decades. Women are targeted by conservative groups. Shariah law applies in the province of Aceh, and they have introduced and are applying draconian punishments such as caning and stoning to death. Several LGBTQI people have been the victim of caning. There are attempts to criminalise non-normative sexuality elsewhere in Indonesia.

    There is an ongoing effort and desire among many to more closely regulate morality. It is a continuous battle to try to prevent more repressive measures. For example, parliament is currently debating a law on domestic violence, and conservative law-makers are asserting that many things we would consider as sexual violence, like marital rape, are not included. The dividing line is between following a hardline interpretation of the Quran or not. Despite its secular appearance, Indonesia has become a de facto religious state.

    How is civil society responding to these challenges, and what support could the international community and international civil society best offer to Indonesia’s LGBTQI community?

    Civil society has been trying to respond through networking, joint statements, lobbying parliament and campaigning, including through Change.org. But it can feel like fighting an impossible war, because the conservatives always seem to be more powerful, better organised and better resourced.

    We have to be careful when considering outside assistance, because one of the arguments that fundamentalists always use is about foreign influences and attempts to make Indonesia a liberal country. LGBTQI is characterised as a western concept that is incompatible with the culture. Of course if you look at the culture and history of Indonesia you see all kinds of expressions of non-binary gender, including in dances, songs, literature and rituals. This culture has been denied consistently by conservatives who say that the only culture is hardline Islam. The conservatives forget that Islam itself is an imported religion.

    In 2015, when the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, this created quite an uproar in Indonesia. Conservative groups always point to this and say that once they give in to one thing, this is what will happen. The global debate about same-sex marriage works both ways for us, because LGBTQI people in Indonesia have never suggested this – it seems too far away to even contemplate this, and we need to have our fundamental rights respected first – but at least it tells us we’re not alone.

    So you have to be careful, but solidarity helps. It helps LGBTQI people here to know they are not alone and have not been abandoned. If people have any chance to speak to government officials from Indonesia, they should use that opportunity to speak up for LGBTQI people and other vulnerable groups.

    At Indonesia’s United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session in 2017, many shadow reports pointed to the severe situation of LGBTQI people. There was quite a bit of criticism. The usual attitude of the Indonesian government is to cite social conservatism, but this time it was forced to acknowledge the need to take steps and it committed to hold a dialogue with the LGBTQI community. This was a concession that came because of international pressure. Of course, it remains to be seen what will happen on the ground. We have to keep the pressure on.

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

    Get in touch with T King Oey throughArus Pelangi‘s website.

     

  • MALAYSIA: ‘We need global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights’

    As part of our 2019thematic 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 to Thilaga Sulathireh of Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka about LGBTQI rights in Malaysia and the ways in which state and non-state forces are working together to deny rights.

    Can you tell us about your work and the status of LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    I work with Justice for Sisters and Seksualiti Merdeka. Justice for Sisters is a network that primarily works for the human rights of trans people in Malaysia, and we provide legal support, do human rights documentation, engage in national policy work and undertake advocacy with the United Nations (UN) to highlight human rights violations. At Seksualiti Merdeka, we recently launched a website, Queer Lapis. We do capacity strengthening and content production. The work we do is very much grounded in feminist, intersectional principles, and from a queer perspective.

    The human rights of LGBTQI people are definitely regressing in Malaysia. Malaysia historically inherited section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalises ‘unnatural’ sexual acts, from British colonial rule. Section 377 has been amended several times, and the last amendment in 2017 resulted in the imposition of mandatory whipping as a punishment for consensual carnal intercourse deemed unnatural. The law is gender-neutral but it is used in political ways. As a result, people see it as a law that applies to gay people. We also have shariah laws in three states of Malaysia, introduced between 1995 and 2013, that penalise same-sex relations and posing as a woman or man. Unlike Section 377, these laws directly criminalise sexual and gender identity. The implementation of these laws varies according to state, but amongst them, the law against posing as a woman is most actively used.

    Has the situation for LGBTQI people changed in recent years?

    In recent years, arrests and raids made under these laws have decreased, because of a legal challenge that took place between 2010 and 2015. An appeal went through the different stages of courts. We got a negative decision in the High Court and then won in the Court of Appeal, which upheld that the law was unconstitutional, but then the decision was overturned by the Federal Court. But because of the activism around this case, the number of arrests significantly reduced.

    At the same time we saw a shift in tactics by the government’s Islamic Department, which has adopted a softer evangelical approach towards LGBTQI people. They saw that heavy prosecutions were giving the department a bad image, so there was a shift towards a softer approach, around promoting the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people. There is a narrative that LGBTQI people need help in returning to the ‘right path’.

    We saw an increase in state-funded ‘rehabilitation’ activities in this decade, at the same time that Seksualiti Merdeka, which used to organise festivals, was banned in 2011. The government decided it needed to increase its response to this growing LGBTQI movement. This gave rise to more groups that promote and provide ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘conversion therapy’. We have seen more anti-LGBTQI campaigns in universities and on social media. We have seen more concerted efforts overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which sits under the Prime Minister’s office, and which launched a five-year action to plan to address the ‘social ills’ caused by LGBTQI behaviour. This brought together most ministries.

    As well as the use of various laws and increased state funding for anti-LGBTQI activities, we have seen a heavy-handed response to the freedoms of association and assembly of LGBTQI people. For example, when LGBTQI people have taken part in women’s marches, their organisations have been investigated.

    Did anything alter as a result of the May 2018 election, which saw the first change of government in Malaysia’s independent history?

    The 2018 election has historic in that it changed the administration, but the government has adopted and continued the same policies. Nothing has changed from the LGBTQI perspective. We still see the same amount of resources going into policies that treat LGBTQI people as a problem.

    There is also an ongoing struggle between the new government and the former ruling party that is now in opposition, and this is used to justify the lack of change for LGBTQI people. Right after the election a lesbian couple was arrested in the state of Terengganu, which is an opposition-controlled state. They were charged for sexual relations between women and caned openly in the public court. After this there were also two cases of caning of sex workers.

    So there is all this moral policing. Homophobia is real, but there is also a political tussle and mind games being played over who are the guardians of Islam and race. In this crossfire LGBTQI issues and people become politicised.

    Who are the main groups attacking LGBTQI rights in Malaysia?

    All the groups attacking LGBTQI rights use evangelical language, similar to the right wing in Europe or the USA. They reject the universality of human rights, are nationalistic, oppose pluralism and diversity in many ways, prioritise a particular race or religion and support ‘conversion therapy’. Some of the state-funded activities towards LGBTQI people are carried out by these groups.

    There are celebrity preachers who post social media videos encouraging people to troll LGBTQI people and those who post LGBTQI-related content. There are also individuals who make homophobic comments and conservative student groups who organise against LGBTQI people. But they are less physically aggressive than those in Europe and the USA. They are often careful not to insult LGBTQI people out of fear of giving Islam a bad name.

    There are also ethno-nationalist groups, with the purpose of protecting Muslims and ethnic Malays, that also engage in anti-LGBTQI activity. These don’t adopt an evangelical approach. They engage more in reporting LGBTQI people to the police, and sometimes physical intimidation and violence. At the last women’s march, we saw some of these groups physically intimidating participants. They also issue statements and have an active social media presence.

    Then there are groups that call themselves Islamic non-governmental organisations (NGOs), some of which come together under a coalition of Islamic NGOs that participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). These include groups that use more rights-oriented language, given that they engage in the UPR process, and particularly use the language of religious rights. They position what they call the ‘rehabilitation’ of LGBTQI people as consistent with these religious rights. They also cite examples such as the case of a bakery in the USA that was taken to court for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding to support their arguments for religious rights. Some of these are groups of doctors, lawyers and academics, and they make pseudo-scientific and legal arguments against LGBTQI rights. Some of these Islamic NGOs also provide services, and as such are involved in the government’s ‘rehabilitation’ programme.

    Within civil society, there is a tension between groups that support the universality of human rights and those that oppose it. Between those that promote pluralism and liberalism and those that oppose these. Between those that support LGBTQI rights and those that talk in terms of ‘rehabilitating’ LGBTQI people.

    How do these tensions play out around civil society’s engagement at the international level?

    Some of those Islamic NGOs engage in policy spaces. If LGBTQI CSOs attend a government consultation on the UPR, they share the space with these.

    The UPR process – and UN processes more generally – offer a key site of contestation between these two camps. The second UPR cycle in 2013 was seen by critics as an attempt by civil society to push for the recognition of LGBTQI rights and destabilise the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution. There was a lot of pushback. And then in the third UPR cycle in 2018, these groups participated in the process and claimed space. Some of the recommendations of this group were included in the report compiled by the UNHRC.

    When the Government of Malaysia tried to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, there was a lot of pushback from these groups and attempts to mobilise Muslim people against ratification. The government pulled out of ratifying on the grounds that it would affect the position of Islam and could offer an entry point to the recognition of LGBTQI rights.

    How do different groups that oppose LGBTQI rights connect and receive support?

    After the corruption scandal that led to the ruling party losing the election, ethno-nationalist groups are no longer as closely linked to political parties as they used to be. I suspect now they are mostly self-funded. With Islamic NGOs, I suspect they receive some foreign funding. Some have a presence outside Malaysia as well. There is an umbrella group, ISMA (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity), which apparently has an office in Germany.

    We also believe some groups receive state funding for their participation in the government’s anti-LGBTQI programme. When a colleague raised the issue of state-sponsored violence against LGBTQI people at a UPR meeting, this created a lot of protest from Islamic NGOs, including those linked with ISMA, who demanded an apology and retraction. The small organisations that are providing ‘rehabilitation’ services also mobilised in their support, making quite clear the connections between groups receiving state funding to provide services and Islamic NGOs advocating against LGBTQI rights.

    How is progressive, rights-oriented civil society trying to respond?

    In the last few years LGBTQI groups are also pushing back and being more organised. The coalition of human rights organisations that participated in the UPR process has also tried to engage with Islamic NGOs and tried to increase engagement by pro-human rights Islamic organisations. They had some success in the UPR process in getting some groups to recognise the discrimination LGBTQI people face. Now there are more civil society groups that are countering arguments against universal human rights online, and more actions to communicate human rights messages in popular ways and in different languages. LGBTQI groups are working on communication strategies. We need this because we face overwhelming misinformation about LGBTQI people.

    LGBTQI groups recognise that these issues aren’t restricted to Malaysia alone. We see a lot of tension at the UN level and realise these issues are ongoing, with states pushing the adoption of problematic language. For example at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2019, language about sexual orientation and gender identity was dropped because of pushback from conservatives. This is a global issue. Civil society everywhere is dealing with these challenges. So how can we come together and strategise around this? How can we do global activism better?

    We need to make sure there is diverse representation in these international forums. We need to have global solidarity to push back on attacks on rights.

    Because there’s a religious dimension to this, and because Islamophobia is on the rise, we need also to be careful when talking about these issues not to encourage more Islamophobia. We need to have more conversations about how we address intersectional forms of oppression and also give spaces for Islamic groups to participate in processes that help address Islamophobia. This is something that as civil society we need to be sensitive to.

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

    Get in touch with Justice for Sisters through itswebsite andFacebook page, orfollow@justice_sisters on Twitter.

     

  • PERÚ: ‘La corriente ultraconservadora está afectando la vida democrática y los derechos fundamentales’

    Eliana CanoEn el marco de nuestro informe temático 2019, que será publicado en octubre, estamos entrevistando a activistas, líderes y expertos de la sociedad civil acerca de su experiencia frente al avance de los grupos anti-derechos y sus estrategias para fortalecer las narrativas progresistas y la capacidad de respuesta de la sociedad civil. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa conEliana Cano, fundadora de Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Perú (CDD-Perú), un movimiento de personas católicas y feministas, comprometidascon la búsqueda de justicia social y elcambio de los patrones culturales que limitan la autonomía de las mujeres y sus derechos sexuales y reproductivos. Recientemente, CDD-Perú fue demandada civilmente por el Centro Jurídico Tomás Moro, que busca quitarle la personería jurídica con el argumento de que, en el marco del concordato entre el Vaticano y Perú, no debería utilizar la designación de “católicas”.

    CDD-Perú ha sido demandada civilmente para que se le retire la personalidad jurídica y se le impida definirse como ‘católica’. ¿Quiénes las están demandando, por qué se han ensañado con ustedes, y qué pretenden lograr?

    Hace aproximadamente un mes y medio fuimos notificadas de que el Centro Jurídico Santo Tomás Moro, que se autodesigna representante de la Iglesia Católica, nos había iniciado una demanda. Según los abogados que nos están asesorando, este grupo empezó a explorar todo el quehacer de nuestra organización hace aproximadamente un año. Eligieron la vía civil para demandarnos porque quieren hacer de esto un proceso largo, tedioso, cansado, de apelación permanente. Es un proceso que podría llevar en promedio entre tres o cuatro años. La estrategia de fondo es agotarnos en el proceso.

    Quieren que nosotros, como organización, dejemos de existir en la Superintendencia Nacional de los Registros Públicos, es decir, que perdamos nuestra personería jurídica y no podamos seguir operando en el Perú. Para ello aducen que, por llamarnos como nos llamamos, estamos faltando el respeto a la Iglesia Católica y a la feligresía; dicen que, en el marco del concordato entre el Vaticano y el Estado peruano, que reconoce el rol de la Iglesia Católica, estaríamos usando de mala fe el término ‘católicas’, que representa a una institución y a una identidad histórica. No aceptan la interpretación que hacemos de los textos bíblicos desde la teología feminista para cuestionar el dogma, la conciencia impuesta, el control que buscan hacer de la gente en nombre de Dios. Es importante señalar que nuestra organización no está registrada en la Iglesia Católica como grupo de fieles, y por lo tanto no está sujeta al mandato interno de la Iglesia.

    Ustedes existen desde hace unos cuantos años. ¿Es la primera vez que enfrentan una reacción semejante?

    Efectivamente, el proyecto Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir es bastante antiguo en América Latina. Comenzó en Uruguay y luego se extendió a Estados Unidos, y de allí pasó a México y a otros países de América Latina. En Perú la organización tiene existencia jurídica desde el año 2009. Nos organizamos porque nos identificamos como feministas con identidad católica, nos sentimos mujeres católicas de fe, pero tenemos una mirada crítica frente al dogma, al pensamiento estático y cerrado, sobre todo cuando se debaten temas relacionados con los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, donde el cuerpo y la sexualidad son el terreno donde se libran luchas políticas. En Perú siempre ha habido una voz pública muy homogénea alrededor de los Evangelios y el derecho a mandar sobre los cuerpos y las vidas de las mujeres, y nosotras, al ponerla en duda desde nuestra identidad católica, recibimos una respuesta bastante agresiva de la jerarquía de la Iglesia Católica local y grupos vinculados a esta.

    El primer ataque público fue por el debate en torno al protocolo por el aborto terapéutico, es decir, justificado por razones médicas, cuando hay riesgos graves para la salud o la vida de la mujer. Fue un ataque teñido por los mismos recursos que ellos siempre utilizan, fundados en la difamación, el descrédito y la mentira. Pero se trató básicamente de ataques verbales y escritos a través de las redes sociales.

    Estos grupos conservadores se manejan bien en las redes sociales, permanentemente nos atacan públicamente por cada cosa que se sale del sitio del dogma, del discurso homogéneo. Sin embargo, es la primera vez que enfrentamos una demanda legal; no esperábamos un ataque tan directo y de semejante magnitud. Tal vez deberíamos haberlo previsto, ya que en América Latina, y en el Perú específicamente, la corriente ultraconservadora ha penetrado profundamente en la estructura política del país y está afectando la vida democrática.

    Daría la impresión de que estos grupos ultraconservadores son ahora más grandes y están más envalentonados que en el pasado. ¿A qué se debe?

    Considero que una mirada en el tiempo permite ver cómo desde hace varias décadas se decidió desarrollar una respuesta global y regional para desalentar y debilitar el discurso de la Teología de la Liberación, cuyo énfasis estuvo principalmente en la preocupación por la pobreza. Con su discurso cuestionador dentro de la Iglesia que se extendía a otros ámbitos de la vida, la Teología de la Liberación afectó o incomodó mucho a la parte más dura y conservadora de la Iglesia. La reacción contraria ha sido de largo aliento. Ha logrado avances, al punto que hoy se hace visible una red altamente orgánica, con sedes de encuentro en los diferentes países de América Latina, publicaciones, conferencias y recursos económicos considerables. Su presencia comenzó a hacerse sentir con fuerza en el año 2005, con el II Congreso Internacional Pro-Vida organizado por el Centro de Promoción Familiar y de Regulación de la Natalidad (Ceprofarena) en la capital del Perú. Este congreso produjo un documento conocido como la Declaración de Lima, expresión de la concertación entre los grupos conservadores.

    Ceprofarena existe desde comienzos de los años ochenta; está estrechamente vinculado con Human Life international, una poderosa organización internacional conservadora, y cuenta entre sus miembros a reconocidos médicos y altos funcionarios del Estado, incluidos ex ministros de Salud. La organización se mueve dentro de numerosas organizaciones médicas y de salud, públicas y privadas. Estos actores ponen el discurso “científico” conservador al servicio de atropellos tales como la denegación de la anticoncepción oral de emergencia, tema en el cual le ganaron la pulseada al Ministerio de Salud: le hicieron una demanda, llevaron ante los tribunales el derecho a informarse y decidir de miles de mujeres, y lograron la prohibición de su distribución en todos servicios de salud a nivel nacional. Ahora están en campaña para deshabilitar el protocolo de aborto terapéutico que se logró establecer en el quinquenio 2011-2016.

    El entramado de organizaciones conservadoras en Perú se completa con la Oficina para Latinoamérica del Population Research Institute , con sede en Lima; la sede peruana de la Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia, que promueve formatos familiares clásicos y produce y difunde libros escolares; y por supuesto organizaciones más antiguas como el Opus Dei, que hace labores de desarrollo y apoyo local y está muy inserto en espacios educativos, además de dentro de la burocracia de la Iglesia; y el Sodalicio de la Vida Cristiana, una organización de laicos.

    Estos grupos tienen mucho dinero del empresariado conservador y se han apropiado tanto de estrategias como de discursos efectivos. Esta demanda jurídica es una estrategia práctica que denota cambios en su forma de organizarse. Ya no hablan el lenguaje divino y clerical porque saben que cada vez atrae menos; en cambio se han apropiado del discurso de la democracia y los derechos humanos.

    ¿Están ustedes pensando nuevas estrategias para enfrentar este desafío?

    En este escenario nos vemos en la necesidad de fortalecer nuestras estrategias de comunicación. También tenemos que reforzar la parte económica ya que no contamos con financiación para enfrentar una demanda legal de esta magnitud. Los donantes internacionales no necesariamente contemplan en sus apoyos un rubro para planes de defensa institucional. Pero en los tiempos actuales se trata de un aspecto muy necesario para las organizaciones defensoras de los derechos humanos. En esta situación específica, felizmente, el Instituto de Defensa Legal, que ya había asumido casos parecidos en relación con periodistas, se interesó y decidió patrocinar el caso como parte de su apuesta institucional. Ellos consideran que esto es una “pelea ideológica” y que el cuestionamiento del nombre es un “pretexto” para desaparecernos como actores con influencia. El suyo es un gesto que agradecemos infinitamente.

    En lo que se refiere al discurso, sin embargo, no deberíamos movernos de nuestras posiciones, sino más bien poner en evidencia que la apropiación del discurso de los derechos humanos y la democracia por parte de los grupos ultraconservadores es tan superficial como poco respetuosa de los principios democráticos. Tal como acaba de suceder con la campaña “Con mis hijos no te metas”, centrada en la oposición a la educación sobre la igualdad de género y el respeto por las identidades sexuales, su discurso tiende a volverse muy agresivo cada vez que se sienten acorralados. Se les percibe como desesperados, porque en el fondo no hacen sino reaccionar frente a conquistas en materia de derechos.

    La situación de hecho ha progresado, porque no somos solamente nosotras, sino que se encuentran en movimiento nuevas generaciones y mucha gente respetuosa de la libertad, de la diversidad, de la garantía de derechos, que también está ganando espacios. No solamente son las tres o cuatro organizaciones feministas fundadoras que se mueven en la ciudad de Lima; se evidencian voces, rostros y jóvenes organizados desde las universidades, desde las comunidades, desde otras regiones del Perú que con un pensamiento crítico no aceptan los dogmas, incluso reaccionan con tono sarcástico ante ese tipo de discursos y posiciones.

    Desde ya que hay una juventud católica que es convocada por el Papa y ha decidido quedarse en ese perímetro ultraconservador, pero también hay una movilización social juvenil en torno de muchos temas, y con ellos muchas cuestiones de la agenda de derechos sexuales y reproductivos van permeando el debate público. Creo que esto está desesperando a los grupos ultraconservadores, y entonces reaccionan de manera feroz, con cólera, frustración, y hasta me atrevería a decir que odio. Es decir, reaccionan con actitudes que no se parecen nada a la misericordia, la bondad, la humildad, la comprensión y el no juzgamiento.

    ¿Por qué el hecho de que se definan como ‘católicas y feministas’ genera este tipo de rechazos?

    Nosotras somos mujeres de fe y la religión es parte de nuestra identidad. Hemos sido criadas como católicas, y en ese marco el mensaje que se nos inculcó fue de obediencia, prohibición y opresión. Conforme hemos crecido, nos rebelamos ante este y otros aspectos del control de la vida y la dimensión sexual-afectiva. Nos identificamos como católicas desde una interpretación renovada y no renunciamos a nuestra fe. Somos conscientes de que el catolicismo no es solamente una cuestión de fe, sino que también opera o se materializa en una institución, y como tal tiene prácticas tanto positivas como negativas que tienen impacto en la vida de la gente, y específicamente sobre su feligresía.

    Al mismo tiempo, todas nosotras venimos de trayectorias en organizaciones con identidad feminista. Somos feministas, cuestionamos el patriarcado como sistema de relaciones de poder asimétricas, pero no renunciamos a nuestra fe. Siempre nos hacemos estas preguntas: ¿por qué nuestra religión tendría que tener una sola voz, uniforme e incuestionable? ¿Por qué obedecer en silencio y validar el sacrificio y el sufrimiento en nuestras vidas y cuerpos? Encontramos un asidero en la teología feminista, que pasa por una deconstrucción y una reconstrucción del Evangelio. Estas herramientas conceptuales y políticas fortalecen nuestra convicción y nuestra lucha pública por los derechos sexuales y reproductivos.

    Desde la oficialidad se nos dice “ustedes no son católicas, quiénes son ustedes para hablar en nombre del catolicismo”, a lo que nosotras respondemos: “qué te hace a ti católico, qué te permite atropellar derechos en nombre de Dios”. Nosotras hemos hecho una reapropiación del lenguaje del evangelio que se centra en el derecho de las personas a deliberar en conciencia, a discernir y a decidir, y esto les incomoda. Yo soy católica, bautizada y apuesto por una teología feminista. No puedes cuestionar mi fe, así como yo tampoco puedo cuestionar la tuya. Es una lucha muy fuerte, porque puede ser fácil derrumbarse frente a una masa mayoritaria que te dice que tú no eres uno de ellos. Desde el principio supimos que enfrentaríamos la descalificación, la mentira y la difamación; sin embargo, no pensamos que los ataques llegarían a ser tan violentos como los que experimentamos actualmente en las redes sociales y a través de esta demanda.

    Como la experiencia de fe no nos la pueden arrancar, lo que intentan es arrancarnos la personería jurídica, hacernos desaparecer. Representamos un peligro porque no somos pocas, cada vez somos más quienes nos conocen y se sienten identificadas/os. Representamos la posición de muchas personas que no necesariamente tienen la oportunidad de articular públicamente este pensamiento, pero que lo sienten y lo viven. Hay una feligresía amplia y diversa que no piensa como la jerarquía y considera que la respuesta ultraconservadora en materia de políticas públicas es digna de la época de la Inquisición. Según las encuestas, la mayoría de los católicos disiente de la jerarquía en muchas cuestiones importantes, tales como la homosexualidad, que no consideran que sea una enfermedad o un castigo divino, o el matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo. Decidir un aborto en circunstancias específicas de vida es una decisión altamente ética y responsable, no te hace una mala mujer, ni menos católica ni mala madre. Utilizar anticonceptivos para regular la maternidad y la paternidad o disfrutar una relación sexual sin procrear no está prohibido en los evangelios. El mal llamado estado de “virginidad” va perdiendo credibilidad divina y libera a las mujeres de sentimientos de culpa incluso en sociedades como las de América Latina, donde los gobiernos de turno y la Iglesia Católica estuvieron siempre de la mano para regular la vida de la gente. Es más, actualmente siguen utilizándose mutuamente cuando uno de ellos pierde credibilidad.

    ¿De qué maneras están promoviendo la distinción entre la privada y política pública?

    La nuestra es también una lucha por un Estado laico, un Estado que se encuentre separado de las iglesias. Esto es muy difícil de conseguir en la práctica, ya que la Iglesia Católica y el Estado peruano mantienen fuertes vínculos institucionales. Sin embargo, más allá de conseguir legal y constitucionalmente la separación entre la Iglesia y el Estado, hay otra lucha que estamos dando en el terreno de los imaginarios colectivos y de las actitudes. Mucha gente (políticos, funcionarios, servidores públicos) llegan a la esfera pública sin una reflexión sobre la importancia de separar la creencia religiosa de la función pública. En consecuencia, muchos legisladores y funcionarios públicos toman decisiones sobre la base de sus creencias religiosas. Es usual encontrar en los edificios de los Ministerios crucifijos, capillas e imágenes de carácter religioso. En el día a día la religión nos rodea y nos limita, no existen fronteras claras entre la práctica religiosa y la función pública.

    Los grupos ultraconservadores se afirman sobre este terreno y buscan expandir aún más los dictados de una religión que se presenta como homogénea, con la intención de obligar a toda la ciudadanía a vivir según sus propias creencias y mandatos. El problema no es la religión; la dificultad radica en el uso político que se hace de ésta en la esfera político–pública, donde el deber es garantizar los derechos humanos.

    El espacio cívico en Perú es clasificado como ‘obstruido’ por elCIVICUS Monitor.

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