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In 2022, we adjusted our perspective for monitoring and analyzing sexual politics. In the previous two years, our editorial focus had been the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects. As the dramatic and brutally lethal epidemiological scenarios have abated, we have refocused on the national and transnational dynamics of sexual politics. In the first 2022 bulletin, the pandemic was a major topic. In subsequent issues, however, we have gradually expanded content on gender and sexual politics.
The events and dynamics in 2022 were significant and contradictory, numerous and striking. In the first newsletter of the year, we reported how the beginning of the end of the pandemic coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This first large-scale European conflict since the Second World War has been dragging on since February 2022 with no prospect of resolution.
In Brazil, the year began with former President Bolsonaro’s harsh attacks on the electoral system and the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and a worsening economic crisis. Despite numerous obstacles created by the incumbent government, the elections ended with the victory of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Celebrated by the democratic and progressive camp all over the world, this victory was consummated in an exciting inauguration ceremony on the Esplanade of Ministries in Brasilia on January 1. Immediately, the political transition showed very positive signs.
However, a week later, this scenario was disrupted by an unrestrained and well-trained mob of supporters of the defeated president, who stormed Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Planalto Palace in a frustrated attempt to instigate a military coup. Since then, vigorous police and judicial containment measures have been taken, including arresting those institutionally responsible for the security breaches and even accusing Bolsonaro of responsibility. A week later, Lula replaced the newly appointed army commander for failing to comply with his constitutional mandate. What is now called “infamous Sunday” and the sequence of events that unfolded from it indicates that containing and defeating neo-fascism will be a long and complex process.
In these unstable conditions, as this retrospective shows, in Brazil’s unstable and changeable global and national scenarios, the field of gender and sexuality politics has also seen crises and paradoxes. But we have also had good news.
SPW’s team (Sonia Corrêa, Nana Soares and Fábio Grotz)
Throughout the year, despite the tensions and instabilities of the Brazilian scenario and the complicated global scene that is our field of observation, our production was substantive and very diverse.
We released the results of the new stage of the project “Gender and Politics in Latin America”, a publication composed of eight studies updating the panorama of anti-gender politics since 2019 in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Uruguay, as well as in the OAS. This new research project examined the intersection between the anti-gender and anti-abortion offensives that developed in the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. The e-book “Anti-gender politics in Latin America in the pandemic context” is available for download in English and Spanish. The launches of both versions were attended by the authors of the chapters and guest commentators who gave their readings from their works, which are available on Youtube.
In March, Sonia Corrêa took part in the virtual panel “Movimiento antigénero en la educación superior”, promoted by the Universidad de Chile in the context of International Women’s Day, a debate that also featured the US philosopher and theorist Judith Butler (the video is available here).
Correa also participated in multiple events locally and internationally, exploring anti-gender politics in Brazil and Latin America. Among these events, “Anti-gender politics: religious fundamentalism and political neoconservatism” (Berlin, in March); the BRULAU seminar (Brussels, in June); the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, in July (in the panel “Attack on sex education by anti-gender, anti-rights, fundamentalist groups, far-right parties, and authoritarian states at local and global levels”); the Global LGBTI Conference of the Coalition for Equal Rights (Buenos Aires, in September); and the dialogue “Transnational ‘anti-gender’ movements and resistance: narratives & interventions”, in London in December (available on Youtube).
In 2022, the economic and epidemiological effects of the pandemic continued to resonate. Several nations dealt with outbreaks of the disease throughout the year, which should be understood in the framework of inequalities that were very markedly reflected in the distribution of vaccines around the planet – the New York Times made available an immunization tracking tool that described this perverse picture. In 2022, the world surpassed 6 million deaths from the disease. Besides the dark shadow of pain and mourning, there also remained long-standing epidemiological harms that are still poorly understood and severe socioeconomic effects that will not be resolved in the short term. Orphanhood is one of these terrible effects, and economic woes have been no less colossal: misery, hunger, impoverishment, and inflation have grown and persist in the post-pandemic world. Global production and supply chains in 2022 were still recovering from the disruptions caused by the virus. No less problematic was the growth in inequality, a phenomenon monitored and analyzed by Oxfam, whose latest report showed that, in the last two years, the richest 1% of the world’s population has gained two-thirds of all the wealth produced.
Meanwhile, the Swedish institute V-DEM reports that the trend of de-democratization seen in recent years has not only continued but is accelerating. As the report underlines, in this context, the war against Ukraine is of great significance. The factors preceding the conflict and its effects, as well as its significance for the global democratic order, were analyzed in our first 2022 newsletter. This new European war is in addition to already-existing conflicts that have not been resolved, such as the crisis in the Tigray (Ethiopia) and other localized conflicts in Africa, as well as the perennial Israel-Palestine tension.
However, the V-DEM report above all indicates the regression of democracy indicators to levels of the 1980s. There are many examples. In China, where Covid-19 emerged in 2020, outbreaks have continued since then and were, until recently, responded to with extreme measures to restrict fundamental freedoms. Once abandoned after protests broke out across the country, the health effects were dramatic.
Also in Asia, Sri Lanka faced a deep economic and political crisis that triggered massive protests, culminating in the escape of the president and harsh repression of opponents. In the Philippines, the election of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr, son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, rekindled memories of the dictatorship of the 70s and 80s, as well as making foreseeable the continuity of human rights violations and state repression that were characteristic of the previous administration (that of Rodrigo Duterte, whose daughter was elected vice president on Marcos’ ticket). The political situation in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, now almost forgotten, is also dramatic.
In Latin America, the Ortega-Murillo regime has further strengthened its authoritarian agenda, expelling OAS representatives from Nicaragua and persecuting feminist organizations. The deterioration of democracy there has been ongoing for more than a decade, and in recent years it has worsened with continuous and systematic persecution of opponents and critics of the regime. The apostolic nuncio was expelled from the country in March 2022, and then the bishop of Matagalpa and his team were arrested. At the end of the year, the Ortega regime won the municipal elections by a wide margin, an electoral outcome that confirms what critics and experts had been pointing out: the definitive consolidation of a one-party regime that stages an atrocious simulacrum of democracy. In neighboring El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele reiterated his well-known anti-democratic intentions: a few months after having decreed a state of emergency, he announced that he will seek reelection – prohibited by the constitution – with the justification of the ongoing fight against gangs. In this article, in Portuguese, Ignacio Arana analyses Bukele’s authoritarian turn.
In Europe, in April, Viktor Orbán was re-elected prime minister of Hungary for the fourth consecutive time. His party obtained an absolute parliamentary majority, which shows the consolidation of his autocratic project. Poland continues to be governed by the hyper-conservative SIP (Law and Justice Party), which, however, because of Orbán, has distanced itself from Hungary. There also has been a resurgence of autocratism in Serbia, whose President Aleksandar Vusic comes from the extremist nationalist tradition of Slobodan Milosevic. In Europe, however, the most worrying signs have come from Italy and Sweden, where ultra-right forces have come to power. In Sweden, the ultra-right will be part of a coalition with the traditional right, but this means a serious defeat for the country’s long social democratic tradition. In Italy, the victory of Giorgia Meloni’s party has given neo-fascism a worrying prominence in Western Europe. We highlight an analysis (in Portuguese) by Folha de São Paulo and the Argentinean newspaper Página 12 (in Spanish). The advance of the extreme right in Spain in the regional elections in Leon and Castile at the beginning of 2022 was also a cause for concern.
In this bleak context, the feminist revolution against the theocratic Iranian regime is decidedly remarkable. Sparkled by the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police for wearing the hijab “too loosely”, the women-led protests against the regime mobilized thousand of Iranians and continued for months despite vigorous State repression which cost the lives of other protesters. Teenagers and young women were in the front of this battlefield, actively uprising against power figures, from interrupting speeches in their schools to cutting their hair in the streets, which became the powerful symbol of this movement. Although the Ebrahim Raisi regime repeatedly tried to end the protests with repression, Iranian women are not backing down – and the government announced it was ending the “morality police”, which for the women is just the beginning of a needed regime change, but some analysts say it was a calculated governmental move to remain in power. Our compilation offers further explanation and some analyses of this violent and intricated dynamic.
Furthermore, the electoral victories of the center and left in Europe and Latin America should be also celebrated. Emmanuel Macron’s re-election in France prevented the far-right Marine Le Pen from coming to power and, above all, the election isolated the extremist Eric Zemmour. However, Le Pen gained a substantial vote total in a campaign haunted by the specter of the ultra-right. As Brazilian journalist Jamil Chade analyzed, Macron was re-elected, but the extreme right won.
Encouraging electoral outcomes came mainly from Colombia and Brazil. Gustavo Petro won the presidential election in June, becoming Colombia’s first left-wing head of government. In Brazil, leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated Jair Bolsonaro in a very close vote in October. The electoral result was widely celebrated in the streets because it opened up the possibility of resuming democratic principles, values, and processes that had been under systematic attack since 2019. The choice of ministers of the Lula administration was an important step in this direction. The transition period and the beginning of the government, however, drastically revealed the scale of the de-democratization in the last four years. With the government already inaugurated, the deplorable invasion of the headquarters of the three government branches on January 8 generated shocking images for the country, which can be examined in this compilation of analyses of the infamous Sunday.
These terrible scenes are symptomatic of what Sonia Corrêa and Juan Elman pointed out soon after the October elections. The legacies of democratic erosion and the installation of neo-fascist dynamics left by Bolsonaro’s regime will continue, and despite the positive effects of recent victories by leftist forces, regional conditions of social inequality and lack of confidence in political systems nurture ultra-right and autocratic tendencies. The rejection of the new Chilean constitution, the result of the demands of the protests in September, which is a symptom of this, understandably favors the prospects of the ultra-rightist José Antonio Kast. The event has been the subject of numerous analyses.
The anti-gender phantasmagoria has not abated. The Ukrainian war is very representative of how this specter is connected to events around the world. They should not, therefore, be read as a specific political and ideological phenomenon. Putin, in a speech in October, attacked LGBTQIA+ rights, reiterating binary narratives about gender and sexuality that echo conceptions of toxic masculinity, of which he is a figurehead. In his logic, non-binary behavior is a threat and one of a list of elements that support his war and geopolitical designs. The invasion of Ukraine, as expressed by the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, was seen by Putin as an effort to “contain the Western imposition of ‘homosexuality'”. In Ukraine itself, the status of trans women was also a cause for alarm, as many of them were unable to leave the country. Under martial law, crossing the border for a person of “biological male sex” whose gender identity does not match is prohibited because of mandatory conscription for men of military age.
At the end of the year, there was another anti-gender move by the Putin regime impossible to ignore: the tightening of anti-LGBT legislation.
In Brazil, international actions by officials of the Bolsonaro government were relevant in relation to agendas regarding gender repudiation, radical opposition to abortion, and the defense of the “natural family”. The most notorious faces of this movement were Angela Gandra, the former national secretary of the family, and Damares Alves, former minister of women, family, and human rights, as well as the new minister who took over the post in April when Damares ran for Senate. The international movement of this group was extensive, especially that of Gandra, who, since 2021, has acted as a second-line chancellor for the hyper-conservative agenda. The intensity of these tours can be seen in a report sent by a group of NGOs and researchers to the Lula government’s transition team that covers the period from 2019 to 2022.
Many of these actions were aimed at strengthening the adherence to the Geneva Consensus, a conservative platform opposing reproductive rights and abortion and promoting the “natural family” that was fostered by the Trump administration in 2020. Brazil was its coordinator from Trump’s defeat until November 2022, when the baton was passed to Hungary. On January 17, 2023, when this report was being finalized, Brazil left the Consensus, as had the Biden and Petro governments. The issue of family protection was also the subject of these actions, especially in Hungary and the United Arab Emirates.
In Brazil, the anti-gender machinery managed to approve, in the House of Representatives at the end of May, a bill that legalizes homeschooling. The bill is in the Senate, where it has already been the object of a public hearing, and it is expected that its passage will be delayed. This law is a direct result of the wars against “gender” and “ideology” in education underway since 2013 and, as Salomão Ximenes pointed out in this article, it would mean a break with the democratic educational policy of recent decades. In this context, it was important that an appeal (ADPF 942) was filed with the STF against the instrumentalization of the “100” telephone hotline, which was originally designed to receive reports of human rights violations However, under the Bolsonaro government, it was used to intimidate educational and health professionals who address, for example, issues such as vaccination, gender, and sexuality from an inclusive and civic perspective. Also in South America, in Argentina, there were other emblematic anti-gender attacks in education: the Buenos Aires government adopted a resolution prohibiting teachers from using inclusive language in the classroom because it would supposedly hinder learning. The ban has been intensely criticized.
In the US, especially, the anti-gender offensive targeting trans rights, especially of children and adolescents, has escalated exponentially. By March 2022, almost 240 discriminatory bills had already been introduced in state legislatures, targeting different aspects of everyday life such as the use of bathrooms, participation in sports, health care, and access to books. A bill presented in North Dakota at the beginning of 2023 illustrates the extreme obsession and discrimination of this offensive: employers receiving public funds and public employees would be obliged to identify transgender people on the basis of DNA. Not even Disney escaped the discriminatory fury and ended up losing tax benefits for taking a stand against a Florida state law that restricted the debate on sexuality in schools (the “Don’t Say Gay” bill).
Hungary was also a recurring subject in our newsletters. Orbán managed another electoral victory but was defeated in a referendum that would have ratified legislation banning the exposure of minors to what the government classifies as “LGBT ideology”. However, the absolute congressional majority obtained by Orbán indicates that he has the political strength to make similar moves in the coming years. Moreover, as a BBC report analyzed (in Portuguese), the education system as a whole is subject to blatant ideological policing.
In South Korea, the president elected in March conducted his campaign promising to relax labor rights and has pushed ahead with his plan to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality based on the argument that South Korean women do not suffer “discrimination”. Yoon Suk-yeol is a Catholic, and it is likely that his positions on the matter are influenced by the views of the ultra-Catholic camp where the anti-gender phantasmagoria gestated.
Finally, the world of sports was the scene of a deleterious setback: in June, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) adopted a technical and medical rule that restricted the participation of trans women in aquatic competitions. Nana Soares analyzed the intriguing decision made during the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
During the anti-gender attacks of 2022, in many countries, activist mobilizations by essentialist feminists opposed to gender were prominent. Once again this happened in Spain, where the debate on a proposed trans law was marked by the intensity of feminist voices opposed to the self-determination of trans people. In Argentina, the May census for the first time included questions on gender identity after an onslaught from an essentialist feminist group asking for the removal of this item.
In the UK, the anti-gender movement fundamentally revolves around the rights of trans people driven by these feminist currents that, since 2020, have been gaining increasing influence over the media and state power. This governmental alignment was manifested by several officials of the Johnson government, which resigned in July, and by the prime minister himself. Johnson, for example, declared himself opposed to trans women participating in female sports and his administration banned so-called “conversion therapies” but excluded trans people from the norm. This caused outrage, leading to the boycott of a global conference the government was organizing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the London Pride Parade.
The same line was taken by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who went even further. Scotland discussed throughout the year a new gender identity law that applies to people over 16 and, in line with other legislation such as Argentina’s (2012), suspends the requirement of a diagnosis. During the negotiating process, the law was the subject of virulent attacks by anti-gender feminism, whose main spokesperson is JK Rowling, and also, surprisingly, by the UN Rapporteur on Gender Violence, since the international human rights system has jurisprudence on the matter. Nonetheless, the law passed on December 22 and was celebrated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, among others. Sunak, however, announced that he would block the adoption of the law, which he in fact did in early 2023. This measure not only aroused the indignation of the trans community and its allies but also further intensified Scottish separatist sentiments that, since Brexit, have been in full bloom.
In Brazil, an article by feminist Djamila Ribeiro in which the author criticizes the growing use of the expression “people who menstruate” has generated wide repercussions. As our compilation (in Portuguese) shows, the article provoked many reactions and a wide debate. A preliminary assessment of the controversy in the press (not social media) suggests that views prevail that disagree with the author’s argument and which are in favor of gender identity rights and do not judge that they cause the exclusion of women.
Despite threats and tensions, last year saw good news in the field of LGBTQIA+ rights, even if in some cases the advances contain contradictions. In Mexico, same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in October when a group of states – Jalisco, Guerrero, Estado de Mexico, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas – approved bills to this effect.
In Cuba, a referendum approved a new family code that recognizes same-sex marriage. The news is positive even though the process was criticized by dissident voices. Also in the Caribbean, the island of St. Kitts and Nevis overturned colonial-era legislation that criminalized sex between men, now recognizing the conduct as protected by the right to privacy. In December, it was Barbados’ turn to decriminalize same-sex relationships after a Supreme Court ruling, which is very significant given Barbados’ political clout in the English-speaking Caribbean.
In Europe, Slovenia approved marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, becoming the first country in Eastern Europe to adopt such legislation. In December, in Spain, deputies approved legislation that allows people from the age of 16 to change their name and gender identity on official documents without bureaucratic obstacles. As mentioned above, this was also approved in Scotland, though the UK blocked its implementation; the issue will probably be settled in constitutional litigation.
In Asia, Singapore’s government announced in August its plan to decriminalize sex between men, abolishing a law inherited from British colonization. However, the announcement was accompanied by an attempt to make same-sex marriage impossible through a measure that “protects” the constitutional definition of marriage. In India, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of social benefits for same-sex couples.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Health announced that it would no longer consider homosexuality a disease and that so-called conversion therapies would be banned. New Zealand and Greece also banned conversion therapies.
In contrast, we regret to report the profusion of LGBT-phobic speech and measures in Qatar during the World Cup. This has possibly had and potentially will have very negative impacts on the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in the entire region. As a DW story notes, the impacts of the protests during the World Cup may also have added to these deleterious effects.
Finally, it is worth recalling that a disturbing and worrying trend in 2022 was numerous attacks on Pride parades, as we reported in the June newsletter.
The main event in the area of abortion rights was undoubtedly the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court. The leak in May of the draft that would seal the end of the right was the subject of analysis by SPW, which pointed to the culmination of decades of conservative reaction and organizing. The final decision of the court’s conservative majority, announced on June 24, was a seismic event for reproductive rights, both because of the geopolitical centrality of the US and the legal, social, and health significance and repercussions. We have produced analytical compilations, seeking to offer the most complete and in-depth overview possible of the setback. In particular, we suggest a series of short videos with commentary by SPW co-coordinator Sonia Corrêa. We also highlight the coverage by partner Françoise Girard, who shrewdly noticed and analyzed the progressive advances that the overturning of Roe v. Wade contributed to in the mid-term elections.
On the other hand, it should be mentioned that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in early January 2023 authorized pharmacies to sell abortion pills. The decision considerably increases the access of American women to the pills. Françoise Girard analysed the case.
The war in Ukraine has had negative effects on refugee women seeking abortion. In Brazil, the attacks on abortion rights were marked by the mendacious bulletin promoted by the Ministry of Health of the Bolsonaro administration. The document “Technical Attention for Prevention, Evaluation, and Conduct in Cases of Abortion” sought to misinform and hinder women’s access to the procedure. After criticism, the booklet was reissued but still contained distorted information. The year was also marked by the vile plot against an 11-year-old girl in the state of Santa Catarina (Brazil). Raped, the young girl was the victim of harassment and coercion during the process to terminate the pregnancy. After the procedure, the ultraconservative attacks continued, including on the doctors who cared for the girl. We produced a compilation on the case. Portal Catarinas also made an important analysis of the siege on legal abortion. In December, this same siege managed to put on the agenda, in the Women’s Rights Commission of the House, the notorious Statute of the Unborn, which equates the embryo with a child and makes the procedure illegal under any circumstances.
However, there was also good news regarding abortion. The Constitutional Court of Colombia decriminalized the procedure until the 24th week of gestation, a historic decision and very relevant in the Latin American scenario. The Causa Justa movement took stock of the six months following the decision. In Mexico, where in September 2021 the Supreme Court had judged the criminalization of the practice unconstitutional, the states of Sinaloa, Guerrero, and Baja California Sur decriminalized it.
At the end of the year, the French Assembly inscribed the right in the constitution. In May, Spain approved revised legislation authorizing 16- and 17-year-olds to terminate a pregnancy. In September, in India, a Supreme Court decision extended the right to abortion to unmarried women.
The year brought heartbreaking news, especially in terms of sexual violence and feminicide. The Brazilian Security Forum published a survey attesting to a rape every 10 minutes and a murder of a woman every seven hours in the country.
We also highlight the debate around political violence, which has gained visibility throughout the administration of former President Bolsonaro. The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, came to Brazil and spoke about gender and racial aspects of political violence.
Last but not least, we highlight the wide media and social repercussions of the trial involving actress Amber Heard and her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp. The event was accompanied by a flood of misogyny and anti-feminist attacks on social media, as, as some vehicles pointed out, the case was exploited by far-right forces. We have compiled observations on the episode and its repercussions. We highlight in particular the “Debatable” newsletter, from the New York Times, which observes the weakening of and debates the limits of the #metoo movement five years after its emergence.
In the area of sex work, we highlight the South African Justice Ministry’s bill to decriminalize prostitution. Human Rights Watch has analyzed it. Also important was the decriminalization of the activity in Belgium after a legal reform in March that recognized sex workers as having the same rights as other workers. In India, prostitution was recognized as a profession by the Supreme Court.
On the last day of the year, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died, a central figure in understanding the history, directions, and dynamics of sexual politics – most especially, anti-gender attacks – in recent decades. As it is impossible to discuss his influence on our field of action in this retrospective, we suggest reading the compilation we have put together on the thought and political relevance of Cardinal Ratzinger.
In May, we lost Adrienne Germain, who was the director of the International Women’s Health Coalition, a pioneer of reproductive rights, a tireless companion in the United Nations debates of the 1990s, and a historical partner in this struggle in Brazil. We recall the tributes made by Carmen Barroso and Fós Feminista.
News and articles
What’s the matter with men? – New Yorker
Forced mass abortions are a new and disturbing phenomenon in Nigeria – The Conversation
Conservatism No More? – Democracy Americana
The politics of gender: A genealogical commentary – by Sonia Corrêa (SPW)
The UK government’s response to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act – Claire Thurlow (Engenderings/LSE)
Trumpism Was Born in the ’90s – The Nation
On “Safe” Leadership – Tina Ngata
Resources and multimedia