As SPW readers know, for some years now Brazil has been undergoing regressions in gender and sexual politics and, since last year, a full conservative political restoration. In September 2017, these trends have decidedly escalated. Potential legislative retrogressions in relation to existing abortion rights have not relented at Congress level, where the constitutional amendment proposal, PEC 181/2015, is on the verge of being approved, banning legal abortion in totality. On the positive side, the Amnesty International campaign for pressuring parliamentarians against its approval mobilized over 8,500 supporters. The proposal also called attention of the mainstream media, what has not happened before with the same intensity when similar legislative proposals were being processed at Congress://anistia.org.br/entre-em-acao/email/acao-urgente-presente-de-grego/.
Then, there was September 28th, the International Safe Abortion Day when many events have taken place. The events to mark the day were also quite positive. The most relevant of them was the Feminist Protest Stream, promoted by the National Front for Decriminalization and Legalization of abortion that was also part of the global initiative #GritoGlobal #AbortoSeguro (#GlobalShoutOut and #SafeAbortion). The Stream comprised 27-hours of live talks about abortion on Facebook discussing the right to abortion in Brazil and worldwide. Women from France, Mozambique, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina have also participated (watch here).
It is also important to register that there a significant media coverage occurred this year. In 2016, SPW compiled just 14 registrations on the media about events related to this day, but this year 40 articles and informative news were published. Among them, it is interesting to highlight the repercussion the WHO article in The Lancet that provides data on how the prohibition of abortion does not reduce its numbers.
While street protests were not very large in the capital cities, they have spread nationwide and in the whole involved more people. Marches have happened, for example, in the Northern Region – Pará, Roraima and Amapá – as well as in cities located in the interior of the country Paragominas (Pará), Caxias do Sul (Rio Grande do Sul) and Ouricuri (Pernambuco). Information on protests, marches, public classes, open talks, vigils and seminars are compiled on the webpage of the National Front for Decriminalization and Legalization of Abortion that reached the staggering figure of 83,000 hits on the week of September 28th. Another significant feature of this year’s manifestations in favor of abortion rights was a strong presence of black feminists, as illustrated by the article written by Jurema Werneck (Amnesty International Brazil Director), published in O Globo newspaper.
One main subject addressed in the debates and public events was the petition presented to the Supreme Court in March that calls for the criminalization of abortion to be considered unconstitutional and demands legal access to the procedure until the 12th weeks of pregnancy (read further here). Related to this demand, a virtual platform for women’s lives was launched by Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) and Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender (ANIS) that are the petitioners of the claim. It is also important to remark that there now sixteen amici curi supporting the claim tabled by feminist organizations and other institutions favorable to the legalization of abortion. Another significant landmark was the “First Seminar of Research and Activism on Abortion”, held in Belo Horizonte, on September 28 and 29, that was organized by regional, national and local groups to discuss collaborative efforts and joint efforts amongst activists and researchers working in the areas of psychology, nursing, social service, anthropology, philosophy and communication.
However, the good news of September 28th must be situated in relation to the larger sexual politics landscape where flagrant regressions are also underway. For example, on September 15 a Federal District Judge from Brasilia, issued a decision on a case tabled by Evangelical psychologists, authorizing conversion therapy of homosexuality (“gay cure”). The decision triggered protests in various capital cities and was condemned by the UN. More troubling, however, was a wave of art censorship episodes mobilized by the supposedly hyper liberal movement MBL (Free Brazil Movement) in association with religious groups. This trail began the suspension of the Queermuseum exhibition in Porto Alegre that has mobilized many reactions, in particular, amongst artists and reached the international press (read Vik Muniz’s article on it). Then it came the suspension of a theater play on the life on a transgender women in an interior city of São Paulo and the prohibition of a painting titled Pedophilia exhibited in a show in Campo Grande, the capital city of Mato Grosso do Sul. Lastly, a performance held in the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo in which the artists was naked triggered a major controversy because it was attended by two young girls in the company of their mother, who was accused of pedophilia by pastors who are also politicians. The next chapter in this somber trail was that the mayor of Rio — who is an Evangelical bishop – prohibited Queermusem exhibition to be held in one of the city’s museums that in under the purview of the municipality.
It is also important to register that on September 27th, the Supreme Court, responding to a petition tabled a few years ago, decided by one vote that confessional religious education on public schools is constitutional. As noted by various analysts, the decision contrasts with previous ruling by the Court that emphasized the laicité principles of the Brazilian state. It will enlarge the space for dogmatic religious forces across the religious spectrum to continue propelling their attacks on what they name ‘gender ideology’ in the public education system. This frame, it should be noted, has been used in the above mentioned attacks on artistic expression. Against this disquieting backdrop it is really positive that so much political energy was propelled by September 28th and that pungent acts of cultural and political resistance, such as nude performances and public shaming on the Minister of Health, Ricardo Barros, were also registered at the 11th Congress on HIV Prevention in Curitiba.
And al this must also be placed in the wider cartography of the Brazilian political crisis. As noted by journalist Eliane Brum these are times when moral panics around the ‘innocence of children’ and the ‘immorality of LGBT people’ are being mobilized to distract the society from deleterious dynamics at work in the country that derives from the ongoing cases of corruption being disclosed and the police and judicial procedures there implied. It is not just the president is being accused of major corruption involvement by the Public Prosecutor Office for the second time since May. The institutional crisis also encompasses mounting tensions between the various powers of the republic and a general climate of denounces and lack of trust that is eroding the political sphere as whole. Not to mention the escalation of the urban violence crisis, particularly in Rio de Janeiro where the Armed Forces have been once again called to intervene, in a poorly planned manner, in the favela of Rocinha. In this uncertain and highly volatile context, it is quite disquieting to military authorities making public declarations about the political instability of the country, one of them daring to go as far as to suggest could be eventually called to intervene. If nothing else the Brazilian conjuncture of mid 2017 point towards a dangerous convergence of moral, social and political authoritarianism.
Report by Angela Freitas and Rajnia de Vito