groupes anti-droits

 

  • TUNISIE : « La réponse officielle n'a pas pris en compte les aspects de genre de la pandémie »

     À la veille du 25ème anniversaire duProgramme d’Action de Beijing, qui aura lieu en septembre 2020, CIVICUS s’entretient avec des personnes activistes, dirigeantes et expertes de la société civile pour évaluer les progrès accomplis et les défis qu’il faut encore surmonter. Adopté en 1995 lors de laQuatrième Conférence Mondiale sur les Femmes des Nations Unies, le Programme d'Action de Beijing poursuit les objectifs d'éliminer la violence à l'égard des femmes, de garantir l'accès à la planification familiale et à la santé reproductive, d'éliminer les obstacles de la participation des femmes à la prise de décisions, et à la création d'emplois décents et d'un salaire égal pour le même travail. Vingt-cinq ans plus tard, des progrès importants mais inégaux ont été réalisés, en grande partie grâce aux efforts inlassables de la société civile, mais aucun pays n'a encore atteint l'égalité des sexes.

    CIVICUS et le Réseau des ONG Arabes pour le Développement (ANND) s'entretiennent avec Ramy Khouili, directeur de l'Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD). Fondée en 1989 par le mouvement féministe autonome en réponse au féminisme d'État, ATFD promeut l'égalité des sexes dans tous les domaines, de la sphère politique aux droits socio-économiques, y compris les droits sexuels, corporels et reproductifs des femmes, et lutte contre toutes les formes de discrimination et de violence à l'égard des femmes.

    Tunisia Interview

    Quelle est la situation des droits des femmes en Tunisie ? Quels ont été les progrès jusqu'à présent ?

    Environ un mois après l'indépendance, en 1956, le Code du Statut Personnel a été promulgué. À ce jour, ce code est toujours considéré comme le plus progressiste et révolutionnaire de la région, car il a aboli la polygamie, institué le mariage civil et aboli la répudiation et de nombreuses autres formes de dégradation des femmes. Depuis lors, nous avons eu une situation très particulière, puisque le féminisme d'État a prévalu dans la sphère publique. Bien que nous ayons vécu sous une dictature pendant près de 50 ans, la Tunisie a toujours été saluée comme un bon exemple pour la région en matière de droits des femmes. Cet éloge a pris les femmes en otage, leur refusant le droit à une véritable égalité. En réponse à cela, un mouvement féministe autonome a été fondé qui s'est donné pour mission de dénoncer le fait que la situation n'était pas aussi bonne que le régime la présentait, ce qui lui a provoqué de nombreux problèmes.

    Après la révolution de 2011, il y a eu une résurgence des groupes islamistes et conservateurs, de sorte que les droits des femmes ont été menacés. Entre 2011 et 2014, lors du processus d'élaboration d'une nouvelle constitution, la majorité islamiste a tenté d'imposer le concept de « complémentarité » entre hommes et femmes, remplaçant celui d'égalité. Les organisations de la société civile (OSC) ont dû faire de nombreux efforts et de nombreuses mobilisations de rue ont dû être organisées pour l'éviter. Par conséquent, l'article 21 de la Constitution tunisienne établit désormais clairement que les femmes et les hommes sont égaux devant la loi et interdit toutes les formes de discrimination.

    C'est grâce à ce mouvement social qu'une constitution a été obtenue qui est considérée comme la plus progressiste de la région. Son article 46, un ajout de dernière minute, reconnaît le rôle de l'État dans la lutte contre la violence à l'égard des femmes. Il établit que l'État a la responsabilité de promouvoir et de protéger les droits des femmes et interdit tout retour en arrière dans la reconnaissance de ces droits.

    Depuis lors, nous avons obtenu d'autres modifications juridiques. En 2016, une loi contre la traite a été approuvée, et en 2017, une loi contre la violence a été approuvée. Celle-ci était la première de ce type dans la région et a été rédigée principalement par des activistes de la société civile et des organisations féministes. En termes de représentation politique, la loi sur les partis politiques adoptée en 2011 a établi que toutes les listes électorales doivent avoir une parité hommes-femmes.

    Quels défis persistent ?

    La situation réelle diffère de ce que dit la loi, car les inégalités sont encore très présentes. De nombreuses pratiques discriminatoires persistent de fait. Les statistiques sont alarmantes. La moitié des femmes ont été victimes d'au moins une forme de violence. Les crises socioéconomiques ont des effets plus graves sur les femmes que sur les hommes. Chez les femmes, le taux de chômage est presque le double de celui des hommes. L'accès des femmes à la terre est limité : seulement 4% des femmes possèdent des terres, bien qu'elles constituent près de 90% de la main d'œuvre agricole.

    Pendant longtemps, la Tunisie a été présentée comme un bon exemple en matière de planification familiale et de santé reproductive, car elle a mis en place des programmes de planification familiale et de santé reproductive dès les années 1950 et 1960 et a accordé aux femmes le droit à l'avortement au début des années 1970, avant même de nombreux pays européens. Cependant, depuis la révolution, nous avons remarqué que les autorités de l'État ont pris du recul dans le domaine des services sociaux, en particulier l'éducation, la santé et la santé sexuelle et reproductive. L'accès aux méthodes contraceptives et à l'avortement devient de plus en plus limité et les besoins non satisfaits en matière de droits sexuels et reproductifs augmentent, ce qui est alarmant.

    En 2019, avec d'autres OSC tunisiennes, nous avons présenté un rapport alternatif retraçant les progrès accomplis vers les objectifs de la Déclaration et du Programme d'Action de Beijing et soulignant les défis futurs. Notre rapport offrait une perspective différente de celle du gouvernement tunisien. L'une de nos plus grandes préoccupations est que la Tunisie est un pays à majorité musulmane et lorsque la Déclaration et le Programme d'Action de Pékin ont été adoptés, l'État tunisien a présenté, en commun avec d'autres pays à majorité musulmane, une déclaration avertissant qu'il ne s'engagerait dans aucune mesure qui pourrait contredire les valeurs de l'islam. L'article 1 de la nouvelle Constitution établit que la Tunisie est un pays musulman. La déclaration susmentionnée est toujours valable. Bien qu'il ait levé la plupart de ses réserves concernant la Convention sur l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l'égard des femmes, l'État tunisien n'a pas levé toutes ses réserves concernant la Déclaration et le Programme d'Action de Beijing. Il reste donc des défis à relever tant en droit qu'en pratique.

    Comment la pandémie du COVID-19 a-t-elle exacerbé ces défis et que fait la société civile pour y faire face ?

    Au début de la pandémie du COVID-19, l'ATFD a lancé un avertissement aux autorités tunisiennes dans lequel elle exprimait ses inquiétudes concernant la période de quarantaine, durant laquelle de nombreuses femmes ont dû rester chez elles avec leurs agresseurs. Nous avions raison, car le nombre de cas de violence sexiste a continué de croître pendant la quarantaine. Le Ministère des Affaires de la Femme a déclaré que le nombre d'appels reçus via le numéro de téléphone d'urgence créé par le gouvernement a été multiplié par cinq. Dans nos centres d'attention, nous avons également observé une recrudescence, car le nombre de femmes victimes de violence qui ont sollicité notre soutien a augmenté. La situation est devenue plus difficile lorsque les gens ont commencé à agir de manière plus agressive. Par ailleurs, il est devenu de plus en plus difficile de se rendre au poste de police ou de demander des services de santé, de sorte que l'accès aux services a diminué. Les femmes se sont senties isolées et ont été forcées de continuer à vivre avec leurs agresseurs pendant la quarantaine.

    La plupart des tribunaux ont fermé pendant la quarantaine et nous avons dû faire du lobby auprès du Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature et du Ministère de la Justice pour inclure les cas de violence à l'égard des femmes parmi les cas d'urgence qui seraient traités pendant la quarantaine. Heureusement, notre demande a été acceptée.

    L'accès aux services de santé sexuelle et reproductive a également été affecté car, par crainte du virus, les femmes n'ont pas pu sortir et chercher ces services. Nous avons dû collaborer avec le Ministère de la Santé Publique et le Ministère des Affaires de la Femme pour trouver des solutions à cette situation, et maintenant nous essayons de trouver un moyen d'assurer la continuité des services de santé reproductive.

    En outre, les droits socio-économiques des femmes ont été gravement affectés. En raison de la crise économique provoquée par la pandémie, de nombreuses femmes ont perdu leurs emplois ou ne perçoivent pas leurs salaires. De nombreuses femmes en Tunisie travaillent dans le secteur informel, elles n'ont donc pas pu continuer à travailler et se sont retrouvées sans aucun revenu. Cela affecte leur capacité à prendre soin d'elles-mêmes et de leurs familles. Avec un groupe de travailleurs domestiques, nous avons fait une étude sur la situation des travailleurs domestiques en Tunisie. La situation est vraiment alarmante car les travailleurs domestiques ne peuvent pas travailler pendant la quarantaine et n'ont pas d'autre source de revenus. Malgré le fait que le secteur informel représente une grande partie de l'économie, les mesures prises par le gouvernement pour accorder une aide d'urgence ne s'appliquent qu'au secteur formel. À son tour, le soutien du gouvernement a été destiné aux familles et, selon la loi tunisienne, les hommes sont les chefs de famille, donc l'argent a été reçu principalement par des hommes. En cas de conflit, violence ou séparation, les femmes n'ont pas accès à l'aide gouvernementale.

    Nous avons fait beaucoup de travail de plaidoyer auprès des autorités car la réponse officielle n'a pas pris en compte les aspects de genre de la pandémie. Nous avons travaillé avec la plupart des ministres. Nous avons eu rendez-vous avec la plupart des départements ministériels pour les sensibiliser. Nous avons envoyé des documents politiques et publié des lettres ouvertes. Nous continuons à fournir des services dans nos centres d'attention, qui continuent de fonctionner. Nous avons également adapté ces services afin qu'ils puissent être fournis par téléphone. Nous avons lancé une campagne contre la violence à l'égard des femmes pendant la pandémie, qui a été suivie par des milliers de personnes et a connu un grand succès. En conséquence, le département Facebook pour le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord nous a contactés et nous travaillons maintenant avec eux pour amplifier l'impact de nos futures campagnes. Nous établirons également des canaux de communication avec Facebook pour signaler les violences et les expressions de haine sur les réseaux sociaux.

    Quelles restrictions aux libertés d'association, d'expression et de manifestation avez-vous rencontrées pendant la pandémie, et comment tentez-vous de les surmonter ?

    Nous n'avons fait face à aucune restriction de la part du gouvernement, mais notre présence dans les espaces publics a été affectée par l'impossibilité d'organiser des manifestations. Nous sommes habitués à sortir lors de manifestations, car occuper l'espace public pour dire « nous sommes ici et revendiquons ceci ou cela » est une tactique qui fonctionne. Et maintenant, nous ne pouvons pas le faire. Mais nous sommes en train d'entrer dans une nouvelle phase de mise en quarantaine et ce sera peut-être bientôt un peu plus facile, donc nous pensons déjà à de nouvelles manières de protester tout en respectant les mesures de distanciation sociale. Nous réfléchissons à la manière d'adapter nos tactiques de mobilisation. Nous nous concentrons sur les réseaux sociaux, ainsi que les médias traditionnels, pour communiquer nos messages et parler des problèmes auxquels nous sommes confrontés, et toucher la plus grande quantité possible de personnes. Nous essayons également de diversifier nos médias pour atteindre différents publics.

    Nous établissons également une coalition avec le syndicat des journalistes, la Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l'Homme et d'autres organisations pour travailler sur l'impact de la réponse à la pandémie sur les droits humains.

    De nombreux donateurs et partenaires ont été très flexibles car il était évident que nous ne pouvions pas continuer à fonctionner comme si rien n'avait changé. Nous avons dû adapter bon nombre de nos activités, en reporter d'autres et utiliser plus du budget pour l'aide sociale. La plupart de nos homologues ont été compréhensifs et nous avons eu de bonnes discussions avec eux pour réajuster nos plans à la situation causée par la pandémie. Cependant, nous avons eu des problèmes avec des donateurs qui ont baissé les salaires pendant cette période.

    En plus de faire face aux problèmes les plus urgents, nous sommes également impliqués dans un processus de réflexion interne et avec nos partenaires. Nous voulons voir des changements positifs à la suite de la pandémie. Nous voulons une société plus juste et plus égalitaire où toutes les personnes se sentent incluses. La pandémie a révélé certains problèmes sous-jacents que le gouvernement a longtemps préféré ignorer, mais qui devront maintenant être résolus, tels que la défaillance du système de santé.

    De quel soutien la société civile tunisienne a-t-elle besoin de la part de la communauté internationale ?

    La principale forme de soutien est de travailler ensemble. Nous devons travailler ensemble parce que nous avons de l'expérience sur le terrain, tandis que les organisations internationales ont des réseaux plus larges, sont capables de travailler dans une variété de contextes, ont accès aux mécanismes internationaux et ont la capacité d'influencer l'agenda international. Pour qu'une alliance soit efficace, elle doit travailler simultanément pour influencer à la fois aux niveaux national et international. La pandémie a montré que certains des plus grands problèmes ne peuvent pas être attaqués au niveau national, mais que nous devons travailler au niveau international et en collaboration avec des réseaux régionaux. Si nous mettons ces deux choses ensemble, je pense que nous pouvons avoir un impact plus important.

    L'espace civique en Tunisie est classé comme « obstrué » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contactez l'Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates via sa pageFacebook et suivez@atfd_tunisie sur Twitter etfemmes_democrates sur Instagram. 

     

  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘Anti-rights groups come in under the pretence of speaking about human rights’

    As part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and their allies about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks to two United Nations (UN) officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, about the increasing space that is being taken up by anti-rights groups at the UN Human Rights Council, and the strategies that need to be developed to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses.

     

  • VIETNAM: ‘The government is using non-state actors against minority religions’

    Thang NguyenCIVICUS speaks with Thang Nguyen of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), a civil society organisation based in the USA and Thailand, about the challenges for civil society and religious minorities in Vietnam, and about their work to enable civil society responses.

    Can you tell us about BPSOS and the work it does?

    I’m currently the CEO and President of BPSOS, having joined initially as a volunteer. BPSOS was founded in 1980. We have two major divisions. The first, our domestic programme, is about serving refugees and migrants in the USA, across six locations. Second, we have our international initiatives, run from our regional headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.

    In Bangkok, we provide a legal clinic to help refugees and asylum seekers with their asylum claims and with protection – not only those coming from Vietnam but also from other countries, including Cambodia, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We have a programme to help Vietnamese human rights defenders at risk, whether they be in prison or in hiding in Vietnam or seeking refuge in Thailand or elsewhere. A major component is to build capacity for civil society in Vietnam at the community level. Finally, we have a religious freedom project, working with local, regional and global partners, to build up a network for advocates for freedom of religion or belief in South East Asia. We hold an annual conference, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference (SEAFORB).

    What are the key current challenges experienced by civil society in Vietnam?

    The regime is still very oppressive. The government has heavy-handed policies against people coming together to form their own associations, which make it hard for organised civil society to develop. The government is now somewhat more tolerant with individuals speaking out, or perhaps it is that the government struggles to control expression on social media to the same extent.

    Another challenge comes with the people themselves. Living in a closed society, they don’t have many opportunities to develop the necessary skills or experience to come together and form associations.

    Further, there’s very little commitment or investment from the international community to develop civil society in Vietnam, compared for example to Cambodia or Myanmar. There are very few organisations from outside Vietnam that work hand in hand with groups in Vietnam to help them develop capacity to implement programmes.

    Because of this, there are very few truly functional independent civil society organisations in Vietnam and the number of these has decreased over the last five years because they cannot sustain themselves in the face of interference from the government. There are only individual human rights defenders, some of them well-known, but not organised civil society.

    In contrast, there are tens of thousands of government-owned ‘non-governmental’ organisations (GONGOs) that are controlled by the Communist Party. They present themselves as the civil society of Vietnam.

    What are the challenges minority groups face in Vietnam, particularly religious minorities?

    Many of the minority groups are indigenous peoples, but the government of Vietnam does not recognise them as such; it only classes them as ethnic minorities. They therefore face a fight for the right to be recognised as indigenous people. They are often separated from their ancestral land.

    For many groups, a religion that is a minority belief in Vietnam is part of their social and cultural makeup. For example, the Cham are Muslim and the Khmer Krom are Theravada Buddhists, which is very different from the Mahayana Buddhism practised by the majority of Vietnamese Buddhists. Then there are the Hmong and the Montagnards: Christianity has spread among the Montagnards for decades, and the government wants to control and stop this. Since the early 1980s, Christianity also started to develop in the Northwest Region among the Hmong population. The government of Vietnam viewed this as an undesirable influence from the west, and therefore it has taken drastic messages to stop its further spreading in the Northwest and Central Highlands regions.

    Most of these groups of people are located remotely and so don’t have access to the internet, and don’t know how to attract resources, even from within Vietnam. Other people in Vietnam aren’t aware of the situation, let alone the international community. Little information is available about these groups.

    The government authorities are directly suppressing independent house churches. In the Central Highlands, thousands of house churches have been closed, set on fire and destroyed. In 2004 the government issued an ordinance on belief and religion, meaning that house churches have to be registered. There are credible reports that the government trained a lot of its own people to become pastors, and they have set up new churches allowed by the government. These are run and controlled by the government.

    A major challenge is the forced renunciation of faith. Christians have been ordered to leave their parish churches and told not to follow any religion, or to join a government-controlled church. People who have resisted joining government-controlled churches have been harassed, persecuted and tortured. Several deaths in police custody have been documented. There are quite a lot of religious prisoners of conscience, many of them Montagnard Christians.

    The repression of the Hmong is even more drastic. In many parts of Northwest Region, Hmong Christians who have refused to renounce their faith have been evicted from their villages by the local authorities. Their villages have been declared as Christian-free zones. Tens of thousands of Hmong have been affected, something that continues to this day. They became itinerant, and it has taken them many years to coalesce into new communities, usually in previously uninhabited areas unknown to local government. Many moved to the Central Highlands. They are completely undocumented and so have become functionally stateless. They live outside society. Married people are not issued with marriage certificates, babies do not get birth certificates, children can’t formally receive education – although some slip into school unofficially – and people can’t get legal employment, set up a business, or open a bank account. They are restricted in their travel: pastors can’t travel into these communities, while they cannot travel to worship elsewhere.

    In many provinces Catholics, even when they are part of the major ethnic groups, have been persecuted by the government. And then there is the Cao Dai religion, a minority religion with about five million reported followers, although the government only recognises around 1.2 million Cao Daiists. Its church structures were disbanded in 1978. In 1997 the government created a new Cao Dai sect, and then 10 years later turned this into a new religion with a similar name and transferred all the property of the Cao Dai religion to it. To the world the government presents this sect as the representative of the Cao Dai religion.

    The government is also using non-state actors against minority religions. In Nghe An Province, the authorities use organised mobs known as Red Flag Associations, which are supported and encouraged by local authorities to attack churches and beat up parishioners. We have had several reports of this.

    What steps are needed to help civil society respond to these rights violations?

    Because of the restriction of organised civil society there’s very little response to the suppression of religious minorities. This lack of organised civil society also makes it difficult to foster partnerships between civil society groups in Vietnam and international human rights organisations. In response, we are trying to build community capacity to develop organisations in Vietnam to protect rights.

    We train a lot of people in Vietnam to know how to report human rights violations. So far we’ve trained about a thousand local rapporteurs and they have generated about 200 different reports that have been submitted to various United Nations (UN) special procedures and UN bodies, and shared with other governments and international human rights organisations to raise awareness of the situation in Vietnam.

    We are helping to form community-based CSOs in each minority community. So far there are about 20 of these, and we aim to have 100 by the end of 2020. We have incubated a number of CSOs specialising in different aspects of human rights, based on the international commitments Vietnam has made as a result of signing various conventions. For example, we have supported the creation and development of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, the Vietnam Coalition Against Torture and the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable. We have worked with Montagnard people to form a CSO specialising in Montagnard minorities. Now we are connecting these specialist CSOs with their peers outside Vietnam. For instance Vietnamese Women for Human Rights is now a member of FORUM-ASIA, a network of human rights organisations throughout Asia and the Pacific. We are cultivating these kinds of partnerships.

    What more support is needed?

    Once CSOs in Vietnam have developed some capacity, there is a need to connect them with civil society outside Vietnam. We are advocating for organisations to offer internship and fellowship schemes to enable staff to develop skills, experience, connections and exposure outside Vietnam.

    We hope to see more projects geared at further developing civil society in Vietnam, through training, coaching and technical assistance as well as advocacy. There has been an almost complete lack of this kind of investment from civil society worldwide. Organisations are issuing statements about Vietnam and that is appreciated, but this is the next step needed. Amnesty International now has a Vietnamese national working on Vietnam, who was with BPSOS before, so this is a positive step and a model to replicate.

    It would be much more effective if international human rights organisations working on Vietnam could coordinate among themselves, and with groups within Vietnam. For instance, a joint advocacy project on the functionally stateless Montagnard Christians, with pressure coming from multiple directions, would help.

    Civic space in Vietnam is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with BSPOS through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@BoatPeopleSOS on Twitter.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How can progressive civil society act to curb these advances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What tactics have these groups used to advance their agenda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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