01 Lug SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH RIGHTS
SRHR are quite new rights as they emerged in the 90s and developed thanks to much lobbying by women’s and sexual minorities movements. Before 1993 the words “sexuality” or “sexual” had never been included in international treaties or Conventions (excluding the CRC – protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse).
While we consider them jointly as a combination of rights to health and freedom of choice, SRHR are separate but interconnected: sexual rights remain highly contested in intergovernmental discussions, whereas generally reproductive rights have enjoyed more universal acceptance. To understand the importance of these rights we have to consider biopolitics and biopower (theorised mainly by Michel Foucault), a dimension where human biology and politics intersect to administrate life by manipulating human bodies. Foucault analyses the role of sexuality in society and power relations and places the body at the center “as the site of power, that is, as the locus of domination through which docility is accomplished and subjectivity constituted”.
Fertility policies (anti-natalist or pro-natalist) are seen in this perspective as a tool to exert control over bodies and populations. Foucault also theorised the construct of the “hysterisation or sexualisation of the woman”, which defines women’s role in society as a consequence of their (hetero) sexual and reproductive features, instead of individuals.
His analysis of the “sexual perverts” moreover helped open the debate around sexual orientation and the form of the family.
Foucault’s work, despite it being gender-neutral, constituted the adamant basis for the recognition of SRHR, first by the feminist community and then by the LGBT community.
Reflecting on the evolution of SRHR bears more nuances – incorporating different feminist positions or topics like sexual violence. SRHR have classically been “women’s” rights, but nowadays they encompass the rights of homosexual families or the notion of gender identity. However, the topic is still problematic for many: influential conservative bodies – e.g. religious institutions – make the SRHR harder to be recognised and applied universally.
Poland, October 2020.
A ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal establishes that interrupting the pregnancy on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” is unconstitutional, leading to the virtual impossibility of aborting in a country that already had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. But this was the last step of a lengthy process, started years back since the rise to power of the conservative party Law and Justice (PiS) and particularly when in spring 2016 the then prime minister, Beata Szydło, announced her support for a civic initiative connected to the Catholic church to tighten the already restrictive laws on abortion. On an unprecedented scale in Polish history, these attempts were stopped back in day thanks to Polish women taking to the streets in defence of their rights, demonstrating against the proposal for a radical ban on abortion.
Black protests – known as such because protestors uniformally wore black clothing to symbolise mourning over the loss of reproductive rights – sparked out over the country. And artistic expression played a central role in them. Iwona Demko’s art is exemplary of this. In her work “408,223 skirt lifts, or My dream of the Black Monday Protests” she depicts a crowd of women in front of Krakow’s Cloth Hall performing anasyrma – the centuries-old gesture of lifting one’s skirt to display female genitalia and ward off evil. Inspired by Catherine Blackledge’s history of the vagina, these protests were a strategy “to stop being ashamed. To recall the lost meaning of women and femininity. To restore the value of power resulting from the ability to give birth to a new life. To emphasise our importance… It was a perfect act to give us courage.”
The reappropriation of women’s bodies, including their visual representation and the language referring to female body parts has been a meaningful aspect of the struggle for sexual and reproductive rights. But while the fight against conservative powers goes on, the law imposed by PiS is in force as of Jan 27, 2021 w/ many Polish women being forced to continue pregnancies or to go abroad to interrupt them.
To learn more:
Read “Poland’s rebel women” an article by Agata Araszkiewicz and Agata Czarnacka available on @lookateurozine in EN and FR
Raising the Skirt: the Unsung Power of the Vagina by @Catherine.Blackledge
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Cinema and media at large usually reflect the current and evolving cultural values and morals, shaping narratives on topical issues. With LGBTQ+ movements thriving, the need to represent Trans-stories in movies and raise the awareness of the public (often made of heteronormative and Cisgender individuals) around transgender identity is stronger than ever. While mainstream cinema has responded slowly to need of inclusiveness and diversity expression in film industry, examples of “Transgender Cinema” portraying the nuances of Transgender life can be mostly found in indie films. By bringing the trans and LGBTQ+ experience on screen, filmmakers can contribute to promoting transgender equality, thus challenging the public’s understanding for the better.
Here’s a couple of movies we’ve liked:
“Laurence Anyways” (2012) is a drama movie written and directed by Canadian film director, Xavier Dolan. Set in the 90s, it tells the story of Laurence Alia’s – a 35yo noted novelist – gender transition. On his girlfriend’s bday, Laurence confesses to her (Fred) that he has always felt he was born in the wrong body. Laurence’s process of “becoming” a woman is told by the other’s glances and judgments who do not accept her true self.Fred strikes back day-to-day prejudices and goes through this delicate process with her. Those who knew her before her transition, know pretty well that she remains Laurence, anyways.
In “A Perfectly Normal Family” (2020), Danish director Malou Reymann uses the perspective of a pre-adolescent girl to tell the partially autobiographical story of her father’s gender transition. We appreciated the choice to sensitively and genuinely explore the intimate, behind-the-scenes and difficult learning process of those closest to the transitioning person towards understanding and accepting their choice. The audience is easily brought to feel the sense of abandonment and betrayal felt initially by a dazzled soccer-playing young girl whose loving father suddenly hates football and likes pink. But, hand in hand with her, we are accompanied through the steps of love and acceptance that will defy stereotypes and ultimately always define her relationship with her parent.