BRAZIL: ‘The Law Should Protect Women and Girls, Not Criminalise Them’

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Jul 18 2024 (IPS) –  
CIVICUS discusses abortion rights in Brazil with Guacira Oliveira, director of the Feminist Centre for Studies and Advice (CFEMEA). CFEMEA is an anti-racist feminist organisation that defends women’s rights, collective care and self-care and monitors developments in Brazil’s National Congress.


In June, thousands of women took to the streets of São Paulo and other cities to protest against a bill that would classify abortion after 22 weeks as homicide, punishable by six to 20 years in prison. Protests began when the lower house of Congress fast-tracked the bill, limiting debate. Abortion is currently legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, foetal malformation or danger to the life of a pregnant person. The proposed bill, promoted by evangelical representatives, would criminalise people who have abortions more severely than rapists. Public reaction has slowed down the bill’s progress and its future is now uncertain.

How would this new anti-abortion law, if passed, affect women?

Currently, abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, danger to a pregnant person’s life and severe foetal malformation. However, current legislation doesn’t set a maximum gestational age for access to legal abortion. The proposed bill would equate abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy with homicide, punishing the person seeking the abortion and the health professionals who perform it.

This would particularly affect girls, as over 60 per cent of rape victims are children under the age of 13. In more than 64 per cent of these cases, the rapist is someone close to the girl’s family, making it difficult to identify the rape and the resulting pregnancy.

Another perverse aspect of the problem is racial inequality. Forty per cent of rape victims are Black children and adolescents, and of those under 13, more than 56 per cent are Black girls. Of 20,000 girls under the age of 14 who give birth each year, 74 per cent are Black. In addition, Black women are 46 per cent more likely to have an abortion than white women. The passage of this bill would make Black women and girls even more vulnerable than they already are. The law should protect these women and girls, not criminalise them.

How has civil society mobilised against the bill?

CFEMEA has been monitoring threats to legal abortion for decades and is part of the National Front Against the Criminalisation of Women and for the Legalisation of Abortion. Threats increased with the rise of the far right to the presidency in 2018, and feminist movements mobilised over cases of girls who were victims of sexual violence and faced institutional barriers to accessing legal abortion.

In 2023, in response to regressive legislation, they launched the ‘A child is not a mother‘ platform, recently reactivated as the new anti-abortion bill was submitted as a matter of urgency. More than 345,000 people signed up to the campaign and sent messages to parliamentarians. They also applied pressure on social media through posts and hashtags such as #criançanémãe (#ChildNotMother), #PLdagravidezinfantil (#CongressForChildPregnancy) and #PLdoestupro (#CongressForRape).

We also campaigned through face-to-face actions and other collectively defined strategies, led mainly by state-level alliances against the criminalisation of women and for the legalisation of abortion. In May, we laid a symbolic wreath in front of the Federal Council of Medicine, which in April had published a resolution banning foetal asystole, a procedure recommended by the World Health Organization for legal abortions after 22 weeks. By doing so we symbolised our grief for all the women and girls whose lives are cut short due to lack of access to a legal abortion. We reenacted this outside the official residence of the President of the Chamber of Deputies, just before the fast-track request for the anti-abortion bill was approved, on the evening of 12 June.

The following day, the first public protests took place in several Brazilian state capitals. These continued over subsequent days, culminating in a nationwide action on 27 June. The issue is still on the agenda in July and demonstrations are still going strong.

Why is Brazil moving against the regional trend towards legalisation?

Brazil has seen advances by the religious fundamentalist far right since 2016, when President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office through a legal-parliamentary manoeuvre that amounted to a political coup. The violent ethnocentric, LGBTQI+-phobic, neopatriarchal and racist reaction intensified in 2018 with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in an election marred by disinformation.

Conservatives view the rights to diverse and plural ways of life as a threat to their existence. In this sense, their regressive proposals are a direct response to women’s struggles against patriarchy and all forms of women’s oppression.

Even after its defeat in the 2022 presidential election, the far right has become stronger in the National Congress, where extremists have obtained majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This has led to the revival of a bill known as the ‘Statute of the Unborn Child’, aimed at granting ‘personhood’ to the foetus in order to criminalise abortion.

Many factors explain the conservative reaction in Brazil and around the world. For fascists in power and in society, violence is justified against groups considered to be ‘enemies of the people’, which can include any dissenting voices – those of women, Black people, Indigenous peoples and LGBTQI+ people. In the case of women, they are trying to re-domesticate us, to send us back home, subservient to the command and judgement of patriarchs. Control over reproduction and our bodies is a crucial part of this strategy.

What are the forces for and against sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil?

The main force against sexual and reproductive rights is religious fundamentalism, which positions itself as a harbinger of control over women’s bodies and gender dissidents and is strongly represented in the National Congress. The defence of these rights lies in the progressive camp, represented by the political left and the feminist, women’s and LGBTQI+ movements.

But it’s worth noting that even with a Congress besieged by anti-rights groups, most people have a less punitive and more empathetic understanding of feminist struggles and women’s rights. A survey we carried out in 2023, in collaboration with the Observatory of Sex and Politics and the Centre for Studies and Public Opinion of the State University of Campinas, showed that 59 per cent were against the criminalisation and possible imprisonment of women who have abortions.

What are the main demands of the Brazilian feminist movement?

The feminist movement is plural and diverse, but what it has in common is the fight to end all forms of violence against women. CFEMEA seeks to transform the world through anti-racist feminism and by taking a stand against all gender inequalities and oppression. This is our position when we enter dialogue with society and make demands of governments. We demand public policies that reduce inequalities between men, women and people with other gender identities, considered in their intersectional dimensions of age, creed, ethnicity, nationality, physical abilities and race, among others.

A fundamental issue is the sexual and racial division of labour, a powerful structure that maintains and exacerbates the inequalities experienced by women. After all, the care work they do, despite being rendered invisible and devalued by patriarchal capitalism, is an indispensable condition for human life and the construction of collective good living. The manifesto of the Anti-Racist Feminist Forum for a National Care Policy, signed by dozens of movements and organisations, affirms the need for social reproduction activities to be recognised and shared by the state. This means that care work, which is currently unpaid and done at the family and community levels almost exclusively by women, must be effectively taken over by the state, because care is a human need.

We demand that governments allocate public investment to combat gender inequalities in areas as diverse as care, culture, education, the environment, health, justice, labour, leisure and wellbeing. It is the state, not the market, that can and must combat such inequalities.

Civic space in Brazil is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with CFEMEA via its website or its Facebook or Instagram page, and follow @cfemea on Twitter.

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Overwhelmed Healthcare Systems in Gaza Struggle Through Evacuation Orders

Aid, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Migration & Refugees, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Humanitarian Emergencies

Displaced families in Gaza are on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began. Photo: UNRWA

Displaced families in Gaza are on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began. Photo: UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2024 (IPS) – For nine months, over 2 million people in the Gaza Strip have been forcibly displaced in the wake of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The ongoing fighting and displacement have put significant strain on humanitarian organizations on the ground to address even basic health needs.

The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have stressed that the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed or has suffered undue pressure as a result of the fighting. Out of 36 hospitals in the area, 13 remain open, operating with partial functionality.


This includes Nasser Hospital, which now stands as the last hospital providing comprehensive healthcare services. It has been overwhelmed with patients in the wake of evacuation orders issued on July 1 by Israeli authorities for the east and south of Khan Younis. Patients and medical personnel working in the Gaza European Hospital, located in Khan Younis, evacuated ahead of time.

Although an official from the Israeli defense force stated that patients and medical personnel were exempt from the evacuation order, this was not conveyed to the humanitarian groups on the ground. 

Andrea de Domenico, UN-OCHA’s Head of Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told reporters in a virtual press briefing on July 3 that OCHA was not informed. He stated that it was likely that those who evacuated acted based on past experiences where hospitals were specifically targeted for raids or military bombardment, and so they took preemptive measures to evacuate before the Israeli military moved in on Khan Younis.

Evacuation orders have devastating implications for the fragile health infrastructure by disrupting the functionality of health facilities within and adjacent to evacuation zones, as one spokesperson from the World Health Organization (WHO) told IPS. They impede access for both healthcare providers and patients, and they compromise the efficacy and security of humanitarian operations. In addition, this only increases the burden on other hospitals that are now charged with receiving patients from evacuated areas.

As one of the remaining hospitals providing comprehensive care, Nasser Hospital has been operating beyond capacity with limited supplies, amidst destruction in the surrounding area, which WHO staff on the ground have said is ‘indescribable’. The area surrounding the hospital is laden with heavy layers of debris, destroyed buildings, and no stretch of an intact road. Its pediatric ward has now hosted more than 120 patients since July 5, despite its 56-bed capacity.

OCHA and the World Health at Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza earlier this year. UN and other humanitarian agencies have been struggling to ensure health care continues. Credit: OCHA

OCHA and the World Health at Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza earlier this year. UN and other humanitarian agencies have been struggling to ensure health care continues. Credit: OCHA

It is also operating with dwindling medical supplies and holds responsibility for sterilizing equipment for the surrounding field hospitals, according to Doctors Without Borders (DWB). Despite the critical need for supplies, DWB trucks and convoys carrying these supplies have been unable to enter Gaza since April. As recently as July 3, trucks were denied entry due to ongoing fighting in the South.

“Overall, it’s a comprehensive issue—from shortages of beds and supplies to the lack of surgeons. With yet another hospital closed, patients’ lives are even more at risk,” said medical team leader Javid Abdelmoneim, working in Nasser Hospital.

The issue of life-saving aid being restricted from entering Gaza has continued to persist and impact operations for humanitarian organizations on the ground, including the UN. As the WHO spokesperson told IPS, their trucks were unable to pass through last week as the Karem Shalom crossing remains closed.

Fuel has been identified as critical to the functionality of health facilities and aid operations, and yet shortages are rampant. A WHO spokesperson stated that hospitals have been forced to work with limited supplies of fuel, electricity and solar systems, and this has only hindered groups from properly functioning.

Power blackouts in newborn/ICU and kidney dialysis units place their patients at critical risk. The lack of fuel also impacts the water and sanitation sectors, which require at least seventy-thousand liters of fuel a day, and yet in the last few weeks, they have only received less than ten percent of what is needed.

Only 500,000 liters of fuel have been brought in during the first week of July, and 2 million liters were brought in in the month of June, which humanitarian organizations note is a fraction of the fuel needed to sustain humanitarian, medical, and WASH operations—at least 400,000 liters per day.

Trash and sewage buildup and a lack of clean water, among other factors, have all led to the spread of water-borne diseases and upper respiratory infections. According to the WHO, since mid-October 2023, they have reported cases of diarrhea, lice and scabies, skin rashes, impetigo and chicken pox.

“While a healthy body can more easily fight off diseases, a wasted and weakened body will struggle and become more susceptible,” one WHO spokesperson told IPS.

Meanwhile, acute food insecurity has ravaged Gaza. Since the start of the war, food insecurity has been a major concern for humanitarian actors in the region and globally.

The Integrated Phase Classification (IPC)’s special brief acute food insecurity projected that 96 percent of Gaza’s population, or 2.15 million people, would be experiencing extreme levels of food insecurity between June 16 and September 30, which includes over 495,000 people who face catastrophic food insecurity. More than half of the households reported that often, they did not have any food in the household, and more than 20 percent go full days and nights without eating. The violence and repeated displacement have challenged people’s ability to cope or to access humanitarian assistance.

This is further exacerbated when humanitarian workers are also forced to relocate for their own safety and move their operations. Domenico stated that the constant movement also means that warehouses containing fuel and supplies are abandoned as a result. In the case of UN agencies such as OCHA and its partners, humanitarian operations may be considered a parameter of activity that is (or should be) protected from military activity. Their presence is likely to signal to people that it may be safe to be there or that their basic needs will be met.

So far, 34 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration, according to the Ministry of Health. Of those deaths, WHO notes that 28 of them are children. A group of independent experts has warned that famine has spread throughout the Gaza Strip, noting recent cases of children who have died due to hunger and malnutrition, one of whom was as young as six months old.

“With the death of these children from starvation despite medical treatment in central Gaza, there is no doubt that famine has spread from northern Gaza into central and southern Gaza,” the experts said in a shared statement.

The IPC special brief notes that only a cessation of the armed conflict and sustained, uninterrupted humanitarian intervention could reduce the risk of famine. Humanitarian organizations have struggled to maintain their operations while hostilities have persisted in the Gaza Strip, endangering and displacing more than a million civilians multiple times over, along with humanitarian workers who have risked their lives to continue providing what little life-saving aid can cross the border. Military violence has continued despite international condemnation and repeated demands for a ceasefire.

Organizations such as WHO and Doctors Without Borders have coordinated with health partners and agencies on the ground, namely UNRWA, to provide primary care, support vaccination campaigns, and deploy emergency medical teams. As the WHO notes, however, these efforts can only support the health system; they cannot replace it.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Note: This feature was published with the support of the Riana Group.

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SBSTTA and SBI—Biodiversity Meetings Crucial for the Global South Begin

Africa, Biodiversity, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Sustainability, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Biodiversity

More than 1,400 delegates are present at two crucial meetings, where the topic of preserving the planet’s ongoing biodiversity for the benefit of humanity is under discussion. Under the spotlight are the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, synthetic biology, the detection and identification of living modified organisms, and, critically, biodiversity and health.

Over 1,400 delegates, including 600 representing parties or signatories from over 150 countries and a significant delegation of Indigenous Peoples and other observer organizations, including women’s groups are attending two crucial biodiversity meetings in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Over 1,400 delegates, including 600 representing parties or signatories from over 150 countries and a significant delegation of Indigenous Peoples and other observer organizations, including women’s groups are attending two crucial biodiversity meetings in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

NAIROBI, May 14 2024 (IPS) – The 26th meeting of the Subsidiary Body of Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advisors (SBSTTA) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) started in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday. Over 1,400 delegates, including 600 representing signatories or parties from over 150 countries, are present for the seven-day meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). A large number of members from Indigenous Peoples and other observer organizations, including women’s groups, are also attending the meetings.


SBSTTA will be followed by the meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), another subsidiary body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The SBI will take place from May 20–29 at the same venue.

Opening the meeting on Monday morning, David Cooper, the Acting Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, called on the delegates for a successful meeting.

“A key part of ensuring the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework is to monitor the progress and that’s why finalizing a monitoring framework includes authenticators for the parties to report on. I would like to give my sincere appreciation to all those working on putting together a comprehensive set of authenticators. I encourage you to make full use of what we have achieved so far and let’s make this meeting a success,” Cooper said.

IPS, which is exclusively covering the meetings, has insights into the meetings and presents here the brief history of both the meetings and their significance in larger global biodiversity protection, especially in the global south, including the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the legally binding international biodiversity treaty adopted by the nations in December 2022

SBSTTA: History, Mandate and Role in the COP

SBSTTA was established 30 years ago, in 1994, as a subsidiary body of the CBD during the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD in Nassau, Bahamas. Article 25 of the CBD, which mandated its creation, tasked it with giving the COP timely advice regarding the application of the Convention.

Since then, SBSTTA ‘s main role has been providing assessments of scientific, technical, and technological information relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It typically meets once or twice a year to review and assess relevant scientific information, including reports submitted by Parties, relevant organizations, and stakeholders. Its discussions cover a wide range of topics, including biodiversity loss, ecosystem services, invasive species, genetic resources, and biotechnology.

The main output of SBSTTA meetings is a set of recommendations to the COP, which are based on the scientific and technical assessments conducted during its sessions. These recommendations provide guidance to Parties and other stakeholders on key issues related to the implementation of the CBD.

For example, in 2007, SBSTTA recommended that the biodiversity COP consider the potential impacts of synthetic biology on biodiversity and ecosystems and encourage Parties to undertake further research, risk assessments, and regulatory measures to address any potential risks associated with the release of synthetic organisms into the environment.

This recommendation was later taken up by the CBD COP, leading to the adoption of decisions on synthetic biology, including Decision XIII/17, which encouraged Parties to continue their efforts to address the potential positive and negative impacts of synthetic biology on biodiversity, and take a  precautionary approach.

A more recent example is the SBSTTA’s recommendation from 2018 that the COP should encourage Parties to mainstream biodiversity considerations into sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, plans, and programs, including those pertaining to agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism, energy, and infrastructure.

The CBD COP later agreed with this suggestion, which led to the adoption of decisions and guidelines on mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors. One of these was Decision XIV/4, which asked Parties to do more to mainstream biodiversity into relevant sectors and to encourage synergies between the goals of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

SBSTTA and Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

SBSTTA-26 has a large number of issues on its agenda. Most prominent among them are: 1) creating a monitoring framework for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework; 2) synthetic biology; 3) detection and identification of living modified organisms; and 4) biodiversity and health.

It is expected that under the detection and identification of living modified organisms, genetically engineered mosquitoes for Malaria prevention will be discussed. Research on genetically engineered mosquitoes for malaria control has been an area of interest and investigation for several years, although little information is available on it in the public domain.

Scientists in many countries, including in the United States and Brazil, have been exploring various genetic modification techniques to create mosquitoes that are resistant to the malaria parasite or are unable to transmit the disease. One approach involves genetically modifying mosquitoes to produce antibodies that neutralize the malaria parasite when it enters their bodies.

The other approach is to use “Gene Drive Technology,” which involves modifying mosquitoes in a way that ensures the modified genes are passed on to a high proportion of their offspring. Already, many field trials of genetically engineered mosquitoes have been conducted or are underway in different parts of the world, most notably those conducted by the company Oxitec in Brazil and the Cayman Islands.

At the SBSTTA, scientific and technical advisors will look closely at the important environmental and ethical considerations related to GE mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization’s 2023 World Malaria Report, there has been an increase in malaria infections all over the world as a result of climate change. However, several countries and organizations have serious reservations against the release of GM mosquitoes, which they believe may have an irreversible and devastating impact on local biodiversity. One of the most vocal organizations against GE/GM mosquitoes has been Friends of the Earth, a US-based environmental advocacy group. Dana Perls, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth, said, “Significant scientific research on genetically engineered mosquitoes is still needed to understand the potential public health and environmental threats associated with the release of this novel genetically engineered insect.”

The SBSTTA is expected to witness passionate discussions, especially from environmental NGOs and faith-based organizations, including the need to ensure that communities are properly informed and engaged in decision-making processes, especially in the global south.

The agenda for the meetings includes creating a monitoring framework for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, synthetic biology, detection and identification of living modified organisms, and biodiversity and health. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The agenda for the meetings includes creating a monitoring framework for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, synthetic biology, detection and identification of living modified organisms, and biodiversity and health. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

SBI: Most Crucial Agenda Items

The SBI was established under the CBD during the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD in 1996. The SBI’s mandate includes providing guidance and recommendations to the COP on matters related to the implementation of the CBD as well as identifying obstacles and challenges that may hinder effective implementation.

Like SBSTTA, SBI also typically meets once or twice a year to conduct its work. Its discussions cover a wide range of topics related to the implementation of the CBD, including national biodiversity strategies and action plans, financial resources and mechanisms, capacity-building, and technology transfer.

Chaired by Chirra Achalender Reddy of India, the SBI in Nairobi has placed several items on its agenda. However, the most crucial ones among them are: 1) resource mobilization and financial mechanisms; 2) a review of the progress in national target setting; and 3) the updating of national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

As IPS recently reported, only a handful of countries have so far been able to submit their updated biodiversity action plans, while the rest are said to be facing multiple challenges in doing so, including a lack of capacity. In fact, Kenya, the host country of these meetings, has not been able to submit their updated action plan yet.

On Monday, in her inaugural address during the opening ceremony of SBSTTA, Ingrid Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP, acknowledged that a lack of capacity to revise and update their action plans has been reported by several member states. “Capacity building is a serious issue and at the SBSTTA and SBI, this will be seriously discussed,” Andersen said.

David Ainsworth, the Communications Director of UNCBD, said that the capacity is lacking in several areas, including communications (where countries do not know how to communicate to different ministries the need for working together to develop their biodiversity action plans), finance (lack of funding, budgetary constraints), and knowledge.

“Perhaps the most crucial of these is finance and this will be seriously discussed at the SBI,” Ainsworth said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

Civil Society Scores LGBTQI+ Rights Victory in Dominica

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, LGBTQ, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 6 2024 (IPS) – On 22 April, Dominica’s High Court struck down two sections of the country’s Sexual Offences Act that criminalised consensual same-sex relations, finding them unconstitutional. This made Dominica the sixth country in the Commonwealth Caribbean – and the fourth in the Eastern Caribbean – to decriminalise same-sex relations through the courts, and the first in 2024.


Similar decisions were made in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis and Barbados in 2022 – but progress then threatened to stall. Change in Dominica revives the hopes of LGBTQI+ activists in the five remaining English-speaking Caribbean states – Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines – that still criminalise same-sex relations. Sooner than later, one of will be next. A small island has made a big difference.

Winds of change

The criminalisation of consensual gay sex in the Anglophone Caribbean dates back to the British colonial era. All former British colonies in the region inherited identical criminal laws against homosexuality targeting either LGBTQI+ people in general or gay men in particular. They typically retained them after independence and through subsequent criminal law reforms.

That’s what happened in Dominica, which became independent in 1978. Its 1998 Sexual Offences Act retained criminal provisions dating back to the 1860s. Section 16 of that law made sex between adult men, described as ‘buggery’, punishable with up to 10 years’ imprisonment and possible compulsory psychiatric confinement.

The offence listed in section 14, ‘gross indecency’, was initially punishable by up to five years in jail if committed by two same-sex adults. A 2016 amendment increased the penalty to 12 years.

As in other Caribbean countries with similar provisions, prosecutions for these crimes have been rare in recent decades, and have never resulted in a conviction. But they’ve been effective in stigmatising LGBTQI+ people, legitimising social prejudice and hate speech, enabling violence, including by police, obstructing access to essential social services, particularly healthcare, and denying people the full protection of the law.

Change has begun only in the past decade, but it’s been rapid. Bans on same-sex relations were overturned by the courts in Belize in 2016 and Trinidad and Tobago in 2018. More soon followed.

The legal case

In July 2019, an unnamed gay man identified as ‘BG’ filed a legal case challenging sections 14 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act. The defendants named in the complaint were the Attorney General, the Bishop of Dominica’s capital Roseau, the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church. The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches was also listed as an interested party.

The lawsuit was supported by Minority Rights Dominica (MiRiDom), the country’s main LGBTQI+ advocacy group, and three international allies: the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program and Lawyers Without Borders. The law was challenged as discriminatory and an enabler of violence against LGBTQI+ people.

The High Court heard the case in September 2022, and on 22 April 2024, Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence issued a ruling setting out the reasons why sections 14 and 16 violated the applicant’s constitutional rights to liberty, freedom of expression and privacy, and were therefore null and void.

The backlash

LGBTQI+ advocates around the world welcomed the court ruling, as did UNAIDS – the United Nations agency leading the global effort to end HIV/AIDS. But resistance wasn’t long in coming.

Religious institutions, which hold a lot of influence in Dominica, were quick to decry gains in LGBTQI+ rights as losses in moral values. The day after the ruling was announced, Dominica’s Catholic Church published a statement reaffirming its position that sex should only take place within a heterosexual marriage and, while expressing compassion towards LGBTQI+ people, reiterated its belief in the centrality of traditional marriage and family. The Seventh-day Adventists expressed alarm about the potential of the court ruling to lead to same-sex unions and marriages. Some faith leaders voiced outright bigoty, with one prominent figure calling sexual acts between persons of the same sex an ‘abomination’.

The road ahead

Having decriminalised same-sex relations, Dominica is now ranked 116th out of 198 countries on Equaldex’s Equality Index, which rates countries according to their LGBTQI+ friendliness. There’s clearly much work to be done. Outstanding issues include protection against discrimination in employment and housing, marriage equality and adoption rights. LGBTQI+ activists will also continue to push for the recognition of non-binary genders, the legalisation of gender change and the prohibition of conversion therapy.

The Equality Index makes clear that, as in all the Caribbean countries that have recently decriminalised same-sex relations, changes to laws remain far ahead of social attitudes, with considerable public homophobia. As the instant conservative reactions to the court ruling suggest, changing laws and policies isn’t nearly enough. Shifting social attitudes must now be a top priority.

Dominican LGBTQI+ activists know this, which is why they’ve been working to challenge prejudice and foster understanding since long before launching their legal challenge – and why they see the court victory as not the end of a journey but a stepping stone to further change.

The challenge for Dominica’s LGBTQI+ civil society is to replace the vicious circle of legal prohibition, which has reinforced social stigma, with a virtuous one in which legal progress normalises the presence and social acceptance of LGBTQI+ people, which in turn enables effective access to legally enshrined rights.

But they’ll take heart from being part of a broader regional and global trend. While working to ensure rights are realised domestically, they’ll also offer a powerful example that change can result to the circa 64 countries around the world that still criminalise gay sex, including the five holdouts in the Commonwealth Caribbean. More progress will come.

Inés M. Pousadela CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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Transgender Health Rights Boosted by Hospitals’ ‘Separate Room’ Policy

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Gender Identity, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, LGBTQ, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Health

The community frequently targets transgender people. Now they are able to welcome new measures that mean they will be able to safely access health care. Credit: Yusufzai Ashfaq/IPS

The community frequently targets transgender people. Now they are able to welcome new measures that mean they will be able to safely access health care. Credit: Yusufzai Ashfaq/IPS

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 30 2024 (IPS) – Transgender people and civil society organizations have welcomed the decision of the chief minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, to allocate separate rooms in hospitals for the transgender community so they can avail themselves of uninterrupted healthcare.


“We demand that all provinces follow suit and announce facilities for more than 500,000 transgender people in the country,” Farzana Shah, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Transgender Association, told IPS.

On April 6, KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur announced separate rooms for transgender persons in public hospitals after complaints that they aren’t getting admissions because they face violence in the facilities.

“In the last year, about 47 transgender people have died because of violence, and 90 have been injured. Many injured transgender people die due to delayed treatment. In most cases, we can’t get healthcare at hospitals,” Shah, 40, said.

The Chief Minister’s directives to reserve rooms have received a positive response.

Members of a delegation of transgender people who recently met him quoted Gandapur as saying, “Provision of better health facilities to transgender persons in the province is our priority. We will help the underprivileged community.”

Arzoo Khan, a social activist, is overwhelmed.

“In all 38 district-level hospitals, we now have a separate room. Previously, the hospitals denied admission to our colleagues,” Khan said.

“The problem we face is that most transgender people have been deserted by their families because of social repercussions. People look down on transgender people.”

“We don’t have anyone to help us; therefore, the government’s support is a highly welcome step,” Khan said.

In addition to the allocation of space, the government also provided land for a separate graveyard for transgender people.

Civil society activist Jamal Khan said that there are several instances when the local communities have denied the burial of eunuchs because they don’t consider them Muslims.

“They earn their livelihoods through dancing at marriage parties and on other festive occasions where they have social acceptability,” he said. “The allocation of separate hospitals’ rooms and land for graveyards are really commendable measures that will lead to the protection and respect of transpeople.”

Transgender people are often deprived of last rituals, like giving them baths and performing their funerals after deaths.

Sobia Khan, another leader, said they are deeply vulnerable and subject to abuse and violent attacks, despite being a cheap source of entertainment.

“Some transgender people also have HIV/AIDS and other potentially fatal diseases for which they need continuous medication,” Sobia said.

The attitude of the police towards the group was also bad, she added

“More often than not, police beat up our members; they pull them by their collars and drag them into the streets.”

Khan claimed that her parents have been excluding her for the past ten years.

“Peshawar, the capital of KP, is home to 9,000 transgender persons; most of them have lost connections with their families and they were regarded as sinners and hence ditched by near and dear ones,” Sobia said.

Where the group was targeted by violence, the perpetrators were seldom brought to justice, which emboldens others to mistreat transgender people.

“Sexual harassment of trans people is a common sight. Everyone thinks that we are sex workers, which is untrue because we only dance. Many are raped,” she said.

Police officer Rahim Shah told IPS that many transgender people were invited to marriage parties where they danced for money.

Shah claimed that upon their return from the performance at night, robbers targeted them and killed or injured those who attempted to resist.

“In cases of murder or transgender injuries, their family members don’t come to receive dead bodies for burial or look after the wounded in hospitals,” he said. Their problems are complex, as they neither enjoyed respect in the community nor in their families.

Sumaira Shah, 29, narrates her ordeal after running away from home.

“My family was staunchly opposed to dancing and my father and brothers used to beat me every day, forcing me to quit dancing as it was a source of dishonoring the family but it was my fashion,” she said.

“Sick of daily taunts and beatings, I ran away from my native Swat district to Peshawar when I was just 14,” she said. Since then, I haven’t seen any of my relatives. Shah said she welcomed the hospital room policy.

“A month ago, a hospital in Peshawar sent me back home with some medicines despite having a high fever,” she said.

She said, “People frequently threaten me when I decline their offer for sex relations, and I’m afraid because many of our seniors have died at the hands of gangsters when they didn’t comply with their demand for illicit relations.”

Social rights activist Pervez Ahmed appreciates the government’s new initiatives.

He claimed that this was the first time the government had made an effort to safeguard the health of those who had lost their parents’ support and faced harsh rejection from the community.

Ahmed said that the government has already included transgender people in a free health insurance program, under which they can avail themselves of USD 12,000 per year.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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IPCI 2024: Technology as a Tool to Advance and Threaten Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Sustainability, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

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The benefits and challenges of technology in SRHR were a key topics at the International Parliamentarians' Conference on Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action 2024, in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Petter Berntsen / NTB Kommunikasjon

The benefits and challenges of technology in SRHR were a key topics at the International Parliamentarians’ Conference on Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action 2024, in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Petter Berntsen / NTB Kommunikasjon

OSLO, Apr 12 2024 (IPS) – Technology emerged as a core theme of IPCI Oslo for its relevance in advancing the objectives of the Cairo Programme of Action.

When channeled for good, it is an effective tool that can fill accessibility gaps in the health sector and spread awareness of sexual and reproductive health rights. Yet, the way in which digital technology has been weaponized against SRHR is of great concern for parliamentarians, especially for women.


In a plenary meeting on Thursday, April 11, 2024, parliamentarians shared their countries’ experiences of employing technology to enhance sexual and reproductive health practices (SRHR), while also cautioning its misuse as a tool to propagate misinformation and disinformation about SRHR and to enact online harassment, among other offenses. Information and communications technology was seen to be used often to raise awareness of reproductive and sexual health or to facilitate access to services.

Telemedicine is one example of the way that technology is used to enhance access to reproductive health services. Countries like Tanzania and Ireland saw an increased reliance on telemedicine and digital technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person appointments were not an option, along with an increased use of digital family planning apps that have allowed young women to make informed decisions.

It was acknowledged that uneven access to technology is a sign of and can result in inequalities in this sector, which can, as Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of parliament from Uganda, remarked, hinder progress in the ICPD. Within the healthcare sector, this is evident in the skills and training of healthcare workers in urban areas versus rural areas. Rural areas already face the issue of fewer options for sexual and reproductive health services and fewer opportunities to develop digital skills, so this digital divide is further indicative of inequality.

Parliamentarians may find it challenging to uphold SRHR in the first place when vocal opponents of these rights are driving online discourse. Women in politics who advocate for these rights are often targets of harassment. Annie Hoey of Ireland’s Seanad Eirann Party recounted her own experience of harassment. She noted in such cases that not only was the politician attacked on an individual level, but the social issue would be attacked as well, and any person involved by association would face harassment online.

The impact of this on SRHR is that women in politics are threatened or prevented from doing their job. Developments in SRHR policies are drafted by women parliamentarians, often based on lived experiences, and women in politics have a public platform through which they can raise awareness on the issues. But if they are driven away from public life out of fear for their safety, the issues may not get picked up again. At the parliamentarian level, there would be no one to advocate for these rights to be enshrined.

Neema Lugangira, MP, Tanzania, said that this form of technology-facilitated gender-based violence on women in politics can cause them to retreat from online spaces, a form of “self-censorship,” which can “shrink democracy.”

“To get more women in politics, we need to be online,” she said. “If we want to truly take advantage of the paths to technology, which will impact more young women and girls who are mostly marginalized, we have to make these online spaces safe. Because how are we going to access the information if the online space is not safe?”

This also ties back to the concept of bodily autonomy and the right to live safely in one’s body. “If there are threats of violence online that can then become in-person, that is, I think, an impact on our sexual and reproductive health because we can’t live as fully,” Hoey told IPS.

She explained that she knew of women politicians who got abortions and had to be private about this in fear of facing judgement and scrutiny from critics online.

“All of this online discourse of demonizing women, demonizing women in politics… means that other elements of our lives are under threat. People should be able to access abortions whether they want to or not, whether they are women parliamentarians or not. This online discourse creates a lack of safety for women to do that.”

This is just one example of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TF-GBV), where online harassment leads to a fear of safety for one’s life and even risks reducing women’s public presence.

UNFPA defines this as an act of violence committed using digital media and communications technologies against a person on the basis of their gender. Other examples also fall into the category of cybercrimes, such as cyberstalking, doxxing, and revenge porn.

What the discussions revealed was that there remained gaps at the legislative level to address violence against women in online spaces, especially for women in politics. Gender inequality in politics persisted within communities that perpetuated gender inequality on a societal level. When it came to how technology factored into this, it was identified that this would develop at a faster rate than legislation could keep up to address it. Nevertheless, it was important to revisit the legislation and ensure that it could protect all vulnerable communities.

“As parliamentarians, we are perfectly poised, perfectly placed, to ensure this legislation is in place,” Alando Terrelonge, MP, Jamaica, said as the session reached its conclusion. “We have a duty of care to ourselves, as well as a duty of care to women, children, and other vulnerable groups, to ensure that appropriate legislation is in place all over the world and is enacted.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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