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.
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