Gillian Kane is a senior policy advisor for Ipas, an international women’s reproductive health and rights organisation.
– Cancun, Mexico, of white sand beaches and spring break-style nightlife, was, this past June, the unusual backdrop for a regional gathering on human rights and democracy.
Tour buses accustomed to ferrying sandal-shod tourists to Mayan ruins, instead, transported well-heeled activists and government representatives from their hotels to the Centro de Convenciones.
Parked a few kilometers away, one bus, neon orange and passenger-less, stood out. The so-called “Freedom Bus” was emblazoned with massive letters; “Leave our children alone!” #dontmesswithourchildren.
It was, according to its organizers, designed to get the attention of delegates attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). They wanted attendees to know they were putting themselves on the line to resist all attempts by permissive governments to indoctrinate their children in the immoral principles of “gender ideology.” They were, they insisted, defending their religious and freedom of speech rights.
Never mind that there is no “gender ideology,” much less governments that are forcing children to learn inappropriate material. This bus is just one of many recent direct-action attempts by right-wing organizations to pedal a falsehood that governments, aided by well-endowed liberal foundations, are out to get your children.
The bus provides the arresting visual, but it’s what takes place inside the conference center that should raise our hackles. The concern for the wellbeing of children is a cover; what these organizations want to do is disable efforts to advance protections and rights for girls, women and LGBTI people.
The movement, which defines itself as in opposition to “gender ideology,” is a response to progress made in the last decade advancing human rights for vulnerable populations.
Meanwhile, the decade has also seen an increase in the organizing power and political influence of conservative evangelical churches, especially in Central America, Mexico, and Brazil.
Latin America is the locus for much of the progress on LGBTI and abortion rights, both at the country and regional level. Same-sex marriages are legal in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.
And significant advances have been made to increase access to legal abortion in Argentina, Chile, Mexico City, Colombia, Bolivia and Uruguay. At the regional level, the OAS has been a champion for LGBTI rights as early as 2008, when it adopted its first resolution condemning violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
By 2011, the OAS had created a dedicated LGBTI Unit at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The progress did not go unchallenged.
Opponents of sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights in Latin America responded to victories directly, through both legislation and litigation. They also responded in more insidious ways.
Last year, in Brazil, ministries promoting equal rights for women and black communities were downgraded when they were folded into the Ministry of Justice, effectively neutralizing the ability of its leadership to negotiate or move forward any progressive policies.
The deliberate dismantling of government infrastructures that protect human rights is not endemic to Brazil. Indeed, it is a dedicated strategy of anti-rights organizations who are working to both coopt and fragment these spaces.