Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) launches the second publication of its most recent cycle of transnational analyses on sexual politics that started in 2015.
The first Working Paper titled Sex at dusk and the mourning after: sexuality policy in the United States in the years of Obama, authored by Susana T. Fried and Cynthia Rothschild was published in May, 2018. Now, with great pleasure we present SexPolitics: Trends & Tensions in the 21st Century: Critical Issues, a first edited volume comprising four articles that examine the intersections of sexuality, gender and rights through a variety of angles such as policy discourses, legal developments and research trends: “Desert, Rainforest or Jungle: Navigating the Global Sexual Rights Landscape”, authored by Sofia Gruskin, Alice Miller, Jane Cottingham and Eszter Kismodi; “Legal Developments in the Domain of Sexual Rights” , authored by Laura Saldívia and Ryan Thoreson; “ Legal and safe abortion: A global view from a Latin American perspective”, authored by Maria José Barajas and Sonia Corrêa ; and “Mapping Trends: Power Imbalances and the Circulation of Information on Sex Work”, authored by Laura Murray, Elsa Oliveira and Debolina Dutta.
The wealth of this new collection is especially illustrative of the intellectual and epistemological plurality of gender and sexuality research and thinking in the global South. Just as importantly, it compellingly reflects the commitment of all researchers and activists engaged in the SPW exercise to alter the state we are immersed in, characterized as it is by entrenched patterns of inequalities and injustices that are unequivocally traversed by genders and sexualities. We especially want to thank the partners and collaborators who have generously made possible this excellent outcome.
Sonia Corrêa and Richard Parker
One main theme running through this first edited is the evolving conceptualization and application of sexual rights as derived from the definition adopted at the IV World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995): the right to a safe and full sex life, as well as the right to take free, informed, voluntary and responsible decisions on their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, without coercion, discrimination or violence. While the concept is not directly addressed in all four papers, as SPW has expressed for many years, abortion and sex work could and should be placed under the sexual rights umbrella.
Beneath this overarching affinity, a number of transversal themes, dimensions and political concerns are glaringly palpable across the articles. The first three articles explore the normative dimensions and interpretation of rights in relation to sexuality and abortion in law, but also other institutional normative parameters as well as discourses. These three papers also offer historical reconstructions of how norms are created and evolve. Although the focus of the fourth paper is research production on prostitution and sex work, it remains haunted by the specter of criminalization of commercial sex between adults, which amongst other effects has led to vast streams of knowledge production to be centered on HIV and AIDS in detriment of other key dimensions of policy making that also deserve to be researched.
When read together, these reflections chart the scattered pieces of the complicated puzzle that emerged from the circulation, interpretation, application, but also contestation of the articulation of rights and sexuality that we have witnessed in recent decades. They also openly address the political obstacles and regressions at play in the environments in which sexual rights discourses and legal developments are evolving. These are not triumphalist analyses. None of the articles refrain from naming and exploring thorny aspects and fault lines, such as the limits of the law and the implications of engaging with states. These insights are more than welcome after so many years during which the outcomes of sexual politics research and activism have been predominantly measured in terms of legal achievements and no serious interrogations have been made with respect to “dating the state”. Furthermore, albeit in distinctive ways, all four exercises critically examine the geopolitical imbalances, complexities and traps of sexual politics today.
“Sex is always political”, and its politicization involves the continual attempt to draw boundaries between “good” and “bad” sex, based on “hierarchies of sexual value” in religion, medicine, public policies and popular culture. These hierarchies “function in much the same ways as do ideological systems of racism, ethnocentrism, and religious chauvinism. They rationalize the well-being of the sexually privileged and the adversity of the sexual rabble.” But in some historical periods, negotiations over sexual “goodness” and “badness” become “more sharply contested and more overtly politicized” (Gayle Rubin, 1984). (1)
We are living in one of those periods. The ethical and political conflicts that Rubin warned us about, far from being resolved, are more prevalent today than ever—on a global scale. In the current context—with the revival of religious extremisms of all kinds, backlashes against women’s and LGBT movements, the “war on terror” and its rationalization of unrelenting militarism and torture (including sexual torture), US economic and military hegemony (especially with a Christian fundamentalist at the helm), and an atmosphere of unbridled power—the victims are peacefulness, human rights, and environments where people can live full and pleasurable lives.
Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) is a global forum composed of researchers and activists from a wide range of countries and regions of the world. Launched in 2002 as the International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy (IWGSSP), in 2006 the forum changed its name to Sexuality Policy Watch.
Since its establishment, SPW has undertaken a series of strategic analysis devoted to the critical mapping of conditions prevailing in sexual politics landscapes globally and locally. It has also consolidated itself as a credible source of up-dated information on facts, research findings and public debates around a wide gamut of sexual rights areas, such as: abortion, gender-based sexual violence, sex work, LGBTI rights, HIV and AIDS. In 2013, SPW began a cycle of capacity-building programs on the linkages between sexuality research and political change.
SPW Secretariat is based at the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA).
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