CAL: A Problem Analysis

The six factors have impacts on our daily lived realities as women.

There is a lack of freedom and autonomy, dignity and equality in society insofar as our bodies and lives is concerned. Our bodies are owned and controlled by the state, by religious institutions through the elevation of the status, authority and decision making power of heteronormatively gendered people and masculine-conforming bodies. The ability to make decisions for oneself and one’s own wellbeing and health is constrained, controlled and contained with strong sanctions are imposed against those who defy, resist and ignore these boundaries. The meanings of bodies and the purposes for which they are intended, who can access and ‘use’ them, for what purposes, who can authorize such use and the ways that desire and bodies can be deployed are both prescribed, regulated and standardized. Non-compliance is vigorously rejected.

There is an almost complete domination of at least verbal commitment to work on and with freedom from [disease, violence, exploitation, “trafficking” and so on]. There is risk of and actual corporatization of interventions for addressing disease and violence. There is an apparent increasing focus on this violence without actually addressing and eradicating it in all its forms. There is particular focus on sexual violence linked with the systemic and patriarchal ownership of sexual decision making [exercised by and through heteronormative men]. There are fewer resources, including money, time, effort and political space for opening up conversation about and opportunities to make real the sexual and gender related rights which are based on the idea of “freedom to”[choose, exercise autonomy]; The alliance between states and religious fundamentalist groups is in pursuit of an agenda of economic and political power sharing and in collusion to establish and sustain power blocs. Our control over our own bodies is under attack from the most well-resourced and powerful institutions, opening us up to vulnerabilities and risks and lack of protection from the very institutions from which we would think to seek protection, respect and fulfillment of our rights.

Economic and political interests in ensuring the support of religious elites for political elites together with these institutional protectionist agendas and approaches mean that women who may seek to exchange sex for favors, resources and goods are unable to make these decisions. The state intervenes to protect us from ourselves and our decision making. The problem is also expressed in multiple efforts to criminalise transmission of HIV, refusal to allow entry to people living with HIV into certain countries, the lack of attention to early and forced marriage as well as the criminalisation of the act of seeking and supplying abortion services. These are challenges faced by individuals, groups and communities in both the global north and global south. Multi-lateral human rights institutions and intergovernmental spaces become spaces for trade agreements, continuing economic exploitation [and resistance to this] and for tussles between those who are committed to advancing the right to health and development and closing disparities and gaps in this regard.

The focus on these outcomes of the challenges and crises in autonomy of adults over their own bodies means that at least some states can be seen to be doing something to address the crises. However, these violations will be sustained and the political space to address other sexuality and gender related violations and protection gaps will be constrained. It also provides cover for states which are violating other rights or discriminating against individuals, groups and communities requiring protection, including on basis related to sexuality and gender, such as sex workers.
The ways that this process unfolds with the hardening of identity categories by both civil society and states is often reinforcing of deeply conservative state agendas or the search for red herrings and distractions. This agenda is reinforced in part by reference to and insistence on making references to “gay rights” and “LGBTI rights”, which may work in some contexts but for the large part in many of our contexts contributes to states claiming these are “new norms” and “new rights”.

From a feminist perspective and based on our own learning and reflections here, the challenges faced by persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity are clearly shared by many in the face of deepening misogyny, patriarchy, heteronormativity and a crisis in democracy and fueled by growing conflicts all in a context of violence, often state sanctioned, and growing conflict and militarization. The impacts of these on autonomy is experienced by many, including sex workers, by women and people living with HIV and by those who seek and offer abortion services. They all require addressing by movements and communities and in all geographies and decision makers.   Autonomy and freedom and bodily integrity is the core issue and it is this that must be addressed, whether its denial is on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity or any other grounds. The question of autonomy and freedom is the basis of our organizing and the connections between individuals, groups and communities whose autonomy is constrained by legal, policy, institutional and practice interventions must be recognised, strengthened and developed further. This work is social justice work and must be seen as such. It is work needed by all as human sexuality is a reality for all of us.