Amérique latine

  • PERU: ‘The ultra-conservative tide is affecting democratic life and fundamental rights’

    Eliana CanoAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks toEliana Cano, founder of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Peru (Catholics for the Right to Decide – CDD-Peru), a Catholic and feminist movement committed to the pursuit of social justice and the change of cultural patterns that limit women's autonomy and their sexual and reproductive rights. CCD-Peru has recently been sued by the Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which wants to strip it of its legal status on the basis that, within the framework of an agreement between the Vatican State and Peru, it should not be using the term ‘Catholics’.

    CDD-Peru is being sued to have its legal personality withdrawn and prevented from calling itself 'Catholic'. Who is suing you, what do they have against you, and what are they trying to achieve?

    About a month and a half ago we were notified that the Santo Tomás Moro Legal Centre, which is a self-appointed representative of the Catholic Church, had brought a lawsuit against us. According to the lawyers who are advising us, this group began to look into the work done by our organisation about a year ago. They decided to sue us in the civil courts because they want to make this a long, tedious, tiring process, one of permanent appeal. The whole thing can take up to three or four years. Basically, their strategy is to drain us of energy in the process.

    They want us to cease to exist as a registered organisation, recognised by the National Superintendency of Public Registries. In other words, they want us to lose our legal status and not be able to continue operating in Peru. They argue that, by calling ourselves what we do, we are disrespecting the Catholic Church and its parishioners. They say that, in light of the existing agreement between the Vatican State and Peru – which recognises the role of the Catholic Church – we are using the term 'Catholic', which represents an institution and a historical identity, in bad faith. They do not accept the interpretation we make of biblical texts on the basis of feminist theology in order to question dogma, imposed conscience and control of people in the name of God. It is important to note that our organisation is not registered with the Catholic Church as a faith group, and therefore is not subject to the internal mandate of the Church.

    You have been around for a few years. Is this the first time you have faced such reaction?

    Indeed, the project of Catholics for the Right to Decide is quite old in Latin America. It began in Uruguay and then spread to the USA, and from there it passed on to Mexico and other countries of Latin America. In Peru the organisation has had a legal existence since 2009. We organised ourselves because we identify as feminists with a Catholic identity. We see ourselves as Catholic women of faith, but we have a critical view of dogma, of static and closed thought, especially where issues related to sexual and reproductive rights are concerned, as body and sexuality are a terrain where political battles are fought. In Peru there has always been a very homogenous public voice around the Gospels and the right to command over the bodies and lives of women, and we, by questioning this from the position of our Catholic identity, have received a rather aggressive response by the hierarchy of the local Catholic Church and groups linked to it.

    The first public attack happened on the occasion of the debate around the definition of a protocol for therapeutic abortion: abortion that is justified for medical reasons, when there are serious risks to the woman’s health or life. It was an attack tinged with the same resources these groups always use, based on defamation, vilification and lies. But in this case attacks basically took the form of verbal and written attacks on social media.

    Conservative groups know how to manage social media and constantly attack us publicly for everything we do that deviates from dogma or homogeneous discourse. However, this is the first time we have faced a lawsuit, and we were not expecting an attack so direct and of such magnitude. Maybe we should have foreseen it, since in Latin America, and in Peru specifically, ultra-conservative groups have penetrated deeply into the political structure of the country and are affecting democratic life.

    It would seem that these ultra-conservative groups are now larger and more emboldened than they used to be. Why is that?

    When looking back you realise that for several decades a global and regional response has developed to discourage and weaken the liberation theology discourse, which put the emphasis mostly on poverty. With a questioning discourse within the Church that extended to other areas of life, liberation theology made the most hardcore conservative elements of the Church very uncomfortable. The reaction against it has been sustained. It has made a lot of progress, to the point that today a highly organic network has become visible, which has bases in various Latin American countries and its own publications, conferences and considerable economic resources. Its presence began to make itself felt strongly in 2005, when the Center for Family Promotion and Regulation of Birth (Ceprofarena) organised the Second International Pro-Life Congress in the capital, Lima. This congress produced a document known as the Lima Declaration, an expression of the agreement reached by conservative groups.

    Ceprofarena has existed since the early eighties. It maintains close links to Human Life International, a powerful international conservative organisation, and among its members are renowned physicians and senior state officials, including former health ministers. The organisation acts within numerous medical and health organisations, both public and private. These actors put conservative ‘scientific’ discourse at the service of abuses such as the denial of emergency oral contraception, an issue on which they successfully took on the Ministry of Health. They sued the Ministry, bringing to court the right to information and choice of thousands of women, and succeeded in achieving the prohibition of the distribution of emergency contraception by all health services nationwide. Now they are campaigning to dismantle the therapeutic abortion protocol established during the 2011 to2016 period.

    The network of conservative organisations in Peru also includes the Office for Latin America of the Population Research Institute, based in Lima; the Peruvian headquarters of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, which promotes classic family formats and produces and disseminates school books; of course older organisations such as Opus Dei, which does local development and support work and is deeply embedded in educational spaces, as well as within the bureaucracy of the Church; and the Sodalicio de la Vida Cristiana, an organisation of lay people.

    These groups have a lot of money that comes from the conservative business sector and have appropriated effective strategies and discourses. This lawsuit is a practical strategy that denotes a change in their way of organising. They no longer speak the language of the divine and the clerical because they know that it attracts fewer and fewer people; instead they have appropriated the discourse of democracy and human rights.

    Are you thinking of new strategies to face this growing challenge?

    In the present scenario we view ourselves as in need of strengthening our communication strategies. We also need to strengthen our resourcing, since we do not have funds to face a lawsuit of this magnitude. International funders do not necessarily provide support that can be used to develop institutional defence plans. But at present, this is a profound need of human rights organisations. In our case, fortunately the Legal Defence Institute, which had already taken on similar cases affecting journalists, became interested and decided to sponsor the case as part of its institutional priorities. They consider that this is an "ideological fight" and that questioning our name is a "pretext" to make us disappear as influential actors. Theirs has been a gesture that we are infinitely thankful for.

    As far as discourse is concerned, however, we should not move from our positions, but rather show that the appropriation of the discourse of human rights and democracy by ultra-conservative groups is as superficial as disrespectful of democratic principles. As happened recently with the ‘Do not mess with my children’ campaign – against education about gender equality and respect for sexual identities – their discourse tends to become very aggressive every time they feel cornered. They seem to be desperate, because deep down they do nothing but react in the face of newly acquired rights.

    And the situation has indeed progressed, because this is not just us – new generations are mobilised and lots of people who are respectful of freedom and diversity and who uphold guarantees for rights are gaining ground. It is not just three or four old-time feminist organisations that are active in Lima; there are also the voices and faces of young people organised in universities, people in communities in various regions of Peru who think critically, do not accept dogmas, even react in a sarcastic tone to that type of discourse and perspective.

    Of course there is always a Catholic youth following that responds to the Pope and has decided to stay within the ultra-conservative field, but there is also youth social mobilisation around many issues, and with their help many aspects of the sexual and reproductive rights agenda are permeating the public debate. I think this is causing ultra-conservative groups to despair, and that is why they are reacting with such anger, frustration and, I would even dare say, hate. That is, they react with attitudes that are nowhere close to mercy, kindness, humility, understanding and non-judgement.

    Why does the fact that you define yourselves as both Catholics and feminists cause this type of reaction?

    We are women of faith and religion is part of our identity. We have been raised Catholic, and in that context the message that was instilled in us was one of obedience, prohibition and oppression. As we grew up, we rebelled against this and other aspects related to the control of our lives and their sexual dimension. We identify ourselves as Catholic on the basis of a renewed interpretation, but we do not renounce our faith. We are aware that Catholicism is not only a matter of faith, but it also operates within or materialises in an institution, and as such it includes both positive and negative practices that have an impact on the lives of many people, and specifically on its members.

    At the same time, we all come from organisations with a feminist identity. We are feminists and we question patriarchy as a system of asymmetric power relations, but we do not renounce our faith. We always ask ourselves these questions: why should our religion have to have one single voice, uniform and unquestionable? Why obey in silence and validate sacrifice and suffering in our own lives and bodies? We find a foothold in feminist theology, which offers a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Gospel. These conceptual and political tools strengthen our conviction and our public struggle for sexual and reproductive rights.

    High Church officials tell us: ‘you are not Catholic, who are you to speak in the name of Catholicism?’ We respond: ‘what makes you a Catholic, what allows you to trample rights in the name of God?’ We have claimed ownership of the language of the Gospel that focuses on the right of people to deliberate in conscience, to discern and to decide, and this bothers them. I am a Catholic, I was baptised and I am guided by feminist theology. You cannot question my faith, just as I cannot question yours. This is a very hard fight, because it is easy to fall in the face of a mass telling you that you are not one of them. From the beginning we knew that we would face disqualification, defamation and lies; we did not, however, think that the attacks would become as violent as those we are currently experiencing on social media, as well as in the form of a lawsuit.

    Given that the experience of faith cannot be taken away from us, what they are trying to do is take away our legal status, make us disappear. We represent a danger because we are not just a few. In fact, more and more people are increasingly getting to know us and identify with us. We represent the position of many people who do not necessarily have the opportunity to articulate this strand of thought publicly, but who feel it and live by it. There is a wide and diverse congregation that does not think the same way as the Church hierarchy and considers that the ultra-conservative response to public policy is more suitable to Inquisition times than today. According to polls, most Catholics disagree with the Church hierarchy on many important issues, such as homosexuality, which they do not consider to be an illness or a divine punishment, or same-sex marriage. Choosing an abortion in specific life circumstances is a highly ethical and responsible decision, and it does not make you a bad woman, a lesser Catholic, or a bad mother. Using contraceptives to regulate motherhood and fatherhood or enjoying a sexual relationship without procreating is not prohibited by the Gospels. The state of virginity is losing its divine quality and this is freeing women from feelings of guilt, even in societies such as Latin America’s, where governments and the Catholic Church have always worked in concert to regulate people’s lives. Still today they support one another every time one of them loses credibility.

    How else are you trying to encourage a distinction between private faith and public policy?

    Ours is also a struggle for a secular state, a state that is separated from all churches. This is very difficult to achieve in practice, since the Catholic Church and the Peruvian state maintain strong institutional ties. However, short of achieving constitutional and legal separation between Church and state, there is another fight to be had in the sphere of collective attitudes. Many people – politicians, public officials, civil servants – reach the public sphere without giving a thought to the importance of separating religious beliefs from public function. As a result, many lawmakers and public officials make decisions based on their religious beliefs. It is very common to find crucifixes, chapels and religious images in ministry buildings. In our everyday lives religion surrounds us and limits us; there are no clear boundaries between religious practice and public functions.

    Ultra-conservative groups set themselves on this ground and seek to further expand the dictates of a religion that presents itself as homogeneous, with the intention of forcing all citizens to live according to their own beliefs and mandates. The problem is not religion in itself; the difficulty lies with the political use of religion within the political-public sphere, where there is a duty to guarantee human rights.


    Civic space in Peru is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Perú through their webpage and Facebook

  • RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE : « Nous avons peut-être une période de changement positif devant nous »

    DominicanRepublic FlagCIVICUS discute des élections qui ont eu lieu récemment en République dominicaine, dans le contexte de la pandémie de COVID-19, avec Hamilk Chahin, coordinateur du Manifeste citoyen pour la transparence électorale, et Addys Then Marte, directrice exécutive d’Alianza ONG. Le Manifeste citoyen, une initiative multipartite menée par la société civile, a été lancé en décembre 2019 pour suivre les élections municipales, législatives et présidentielles de 2020 et pousser à la consolidation des institutions démocratiques. Alianza ONG est un réseau comprenant 40 organisations de la société civile (OSC) de la République dominicaine. Fondé en 1995, il se consacre à la promotion du développement durable par des initiatives visant à renforcer la société civile, le dialogue intersectoriel, la formation et le partage d’informations, le plaidoyer politique et la promotion de la solidarité et du volontariat.

    Avant même l’apparition de la pandémie de COVID-19, le paysage électoral était déjà compliqué. Quelle était la situation vers mars 2020 ?

    Ces dernières années, le parti au pouvoir, le Parti de la libération dominicaine (PLD), a accumulé beaucoup de pouvoir dans toutes les institutions de l’État, affectant la qualité de la démocratie. Le même parti a été réélu pour plusieurs mandats et les élites politiques se sont bien établies dans leurs positions et ont pris l’habitude d’exercer le pouvoir pour leur propre bénéfice et au détriment des intérêts de la collectivité. Petit à petit et sans s’en rendre compte, la société a également commencé à accepter cette situation. La gestion exceptionnellement efficace des mécanismes de communication par les gouvernements successifs y a beaucoup contribué. Avec les bonnes alliances internationales et la bonne fortune dans la gestion économique, les structures de publicité et de propagande ont facilité la perpétuation du gouvernement.

    Heureusement, il existe dans chaque société une graine pratiquement impossible à déraciner : la société civile. Elle peut parfois être en état de sommeil ou en hibernation, mais à un moment donné, quelque chose se produit qui la met en mouvement. Dans notre cas, c’est l’extrême confiance de nos gouvernants dans l’assurance de leur pouvoir qui les a conduits à des pratiques de plus en plus effrontées, au point que les citoyens, qui pour la plupart les avaient longtemps tolérés, ont un jour dit que ça suffisait et sont entrés en effervescence. La première grande manifestation de cette lassitude a été le mouvement de la Marche verte, lancé en janvier 2017.

    Née de l’indignation populaire suscitée par le scandale Odebrecht, qui impliquait des hauts fonctionnaires de trois gouvernements dominicains successifs, la Marche Verte a rassemblé un large éventail d’OSC et s’est concentrée sur la mobilisation de rue. Tout a commencé par une modeste marche de protestation que nous avons organisée par l’intermédiaire d’une OSC appelée Foro Ciudadano, qui a déclenché un grand phénomène de mobilisation dont la principale réussite a été de briser l’indifférence des citoyens, de faire sortir la classe moyenne de cette zone de confort où elle critiquait sans agir. Les partis d’opposition ont commencé à profiter de cette dynamique, mais le gouvernement, certain de disposer de tous les leviers du pouvoir, lui a d’abord accordé peu d’importance. Cependant, le phénomène est allé bien au-delà des marches : des signatures ont été recueillies, des réunions communautaires ont été organisées et de nombreuses formes de mobilisation ont été encouragées. C’était un état d’éveil motivé par la dignité. Les citoyens ont perdu leur peur de s’exprimer et cela a déconcerté le gouvernement.

    Comment le processus électoral 2020 a-t-il commencé, et comment le Manifeste citoyen a-t-il été formé ?

    Le début du processus électoral a également marqué le début de la fin du gouvernement actuel. En octobre 2019, les primaires des partis politiques ont eu lieu ; il s’agissait des premières primaires à être organisées dans le cadre de la nouvelle législation sur les élections et les partis politiques, et elles ont été gérées par le Conseil électoral central (JCE). Alors que le PLD a opté pour des primaires ouvertes, permettant la participation de tous les électeurs éligibles, le principal parti d’opposition, le Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), a organisé des primaires fermées, permettant la participation de ses seuls affiliés. Les primaires du PRM ont clairement fait ressortir la candidature de Luis Abinader, qui sera finalement élu président. En revanche, à l’issu des primaires du PLD, Gonzalo Castillo n'est devenu le candidat officiel que de justesse par rapport au président triomphant à trois reprises Leonel Fernández.

    Les élections primaires du parti au pouvoir étaient bien plus qu’un processus de sélection de candidats : ce qui était réellement en jeu dans ces élections était le pouvoir du président, Danilo Medina. Au pouvoir depuis 2012, Medina avait été réélu en 2016, et avait tenté en vain de réformer la Constitution pour se faire réélire. En tant que président du parti, Leonel Fernandez s’était opposé à ces manœuvres, si bien que Medina ne l'a pas soutenu lorsqu'il a décidé de se présenter aux primaires. Il est devenu évident que le gouvernement recourait aux ressources de l'État pour soutenir l'héritier désigné de Medina ; en conséquence, le PLD s’est divisé et Fernandez a rejoint le bloc d’opposition. Ces élections ont été très contestées, et ont donné lieu à de nombreuses manipulations. Elles ont laissé un goût amer parmi les citoyens : étant donné la possibilité que la fraude ait été utilisée dans une élection primaire, beaucoup se sont demandés ce qu’il adviendrait de l’élection nationale.

    À ce moment-là, de nombreuses OSC ont commencé à réfléchir à ce qu’il fallait faire : nous avons établi des liens entre nous et avec les acteurs politiques, nous avons partagé des informations et nos évaluations de la situation. Nous avons décidé d’exprimer notre préoccupation et d’exiger des mesures correctives de la part des institutions et entités responsables de l’organisation des élections, à commencer par la JCE et en nous tournant vers le Tribunal Supérieur Electoral et le Bureau du Procureur Général de la République, qui sont chargés de poursuivre les crimes et les irrégularités. C’est ainsi qu’est née l’initiative du Manifeste Citoyen (Manifiesto Ciudadano), qui regroupe des acteurs du monde de l’entreprise, de la religion, du travail, des syndicats et du monde paysan. Nous avons fait campagne pour attirer l’attention de la société sur la nécessité de défendre et de surveiller le processus d’institutionnalisation démocratique à l’approche des élections. Et surtout, nous avons fait du plaidoyer auprès des acteurs politiques. Nous avons organisé des réunions avec les représentants des partis, afin que le manifeste bénéficie du soutien de tous les secteurs. Cela a également fait de nous un interlocuteur direct de la JCE.

    Quand les élections étaient-elles prévues ?

    Le cycle électoral comprenait une série d’élections : les élections municipales, prévues en février, et les élections nationales, tant présidentielles que législatives, initialement prévues en mai. Les élections municipales ont inauguré un nouveau système de vote double, entièrement électronique pour les zones urbaines à forte densité de population et manuel pour les zones rurales. Suite aux demandes du Manifiesto Ciudadano d’apporter certaines garanties et certitudes au processus, le système de vote électronique comportait également une composante manuelle dans la phase de dépouillement des bulletins déposés ; nous avons également réussi à faire enregistrer les décomptes et avons ajouté un système de capture des empreintes digitales et des codes QR.

    Bien que les mesures de sécurité aient été renforcées, la mise en œuvre du nouveau logiciel a posé de sérieux problèmes. Le 16 février, plusieurs heures après le début du vote, la JCE a découvert qu’il y avait un problème avec environ 60% des machines à voter électroniques, et a décidé de suspendre les élections municipales dans tout le pays.

    Cela a provoqué une crise de confiance et des milliers de personnes sont descendues dans la rue pour protester presque quotidiennement. Le 17 février, une manifestation devant le siège de la JCE a exigé la démission de tous ses membres. Le mécontentement a également touché le gouvernement, car de nombreux manifestants ont estimé qu’il avait tenté de tirer profit du mauvais fonctionnement des machines. Le 27 février, jour de l’indépendance, une manifestation massive a eu lieu pour demander une enquête sur ce qui s’était passé et une plus grande transparence dans le processus électoral. La diaspora dominicaine dans différents pays du monde a organisé des manifestations de solidarité pour soutenir la démocratie dans leur pays. 

    Les élections municipales ont été reprogrammées pour le 16 mars et se sont déroulées sans vote électronique. A cette époque, la pandémie de COVID-19 avait déjà commencé, mais suspendre les élections une seconde fois aurait été un coup dur. C’est pourquoi la République dominicaine a déclaré tardivement l’état d’urgence : le gouvernement a attendu que les élections aient lieu pour décréter trois jours plus tard l’état d’urgence et le couvre-feu.

    En avril, face à cette situation prolongée, le corps électoral a décidé de reporter les élections nationales au 5 juillet, après consultation des partis et de la société civile. Il n’y avait pas beaucoup de marge car il fallait prévoir l’éventualité d’un second tour des élections qui devrait avoir lieu avant le 16 août, date à laquelle le changement de gouvernement devait avoir lieu. Bien sûr, il a même été question de la possibilité d’un amendement constitutionnel pour reporter le jour de l’investiture ; la société civile a dû jouer un rôle important pour désamorcer ces alternatives et organiser un calendrier électoral comprenant toutes les mesures sanitaires nécessaires. Heureusement, les médias ont fourni les espaces nécessaires aux OSC ; nous disposions d’une bonne tribune de communication.

    Étant donné que les élections ont eu lieu pendant la pandémie, des mesures ont-elles été prises pour limiter le risque de contagion ?

    Du côté de la société civile, nous avons essayé de faire en sorte que des mesures sanitaires adéquates soient imposées. Nous avons exhorté la JCE à suivre les recommandations de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé et de l’Organisation des États américains afin d’avoir la certitude que les mesures nécessaires seraient prises pour que les élections puissent avoir lieu. Ce fut un effort titanesque, car en République dominicaine, nous n’avions pas encore de politique efficace de prévention et de dépistage rapide, mais nous avons pu imposer des protocoles sanitaires comprenant la désinfection et l’assainissement, la distribution de matériel de protection et des mesures de distanciation physique.

    La vérité est que l’importante épidémie de COVID-19 que nous connaissons aujourd’hui n’est pas exclusivement due au jour des élections, mais surtout aux deux mois et demi de campagne désorganisée et irresponsable menée principalement par le parti au pouvoir. Le gouvernement a tenté de tirer profit de la pandémie et des limites imposées par l’état d’urgence. Cependant, cela a pu jouer en sa défaveur. Il y a eu un tel gaspillage de ressources en faveur de la candidature du parti au pouvoir que les gens l’ont mal supporté. C’était grotesque : par exemple, tout comme en Chine, on a adopté la mesure consistant à asperger les rues de désinfectant ; mais alors qu’en Chine un robot ou un véhicule parcourait les rues la nuit et passait dans tous les quartiers, ici nous avons eu droit à un défilé d’une caravane de véhicules officiels à 20 heures, avec sirènes, drapeaux, musique, tout un spectacle de campagne. Les gens n’ont pas apprécié, car cela a été interprété comme un gaspillage de ressources à des fins de propagande qui auraient pu être utilisées pour contrôler efficacement la pandémie.

    Quelles possibilités l’opposition avait-elle de faire campagne dans le contexte de l’urgence sanitaire ?

    Les conditions de la campagne étaient très inégales, car les fonctionnaires jouissaient d’une liberté de mouvement au-delà des heures fixées de couvre-feu, et les partis d’opposition se sont plaints que le parti au pouvoir pouvait poursuivre sa campagne sans restriction alors qu’ils étaient limités aux heures autorisées. L’accès aux médias était également inégal : la propagande en faveur du candidat au pouvoir était omniprésente, car elle était confondue avec la propagande du gouvernement. Dans ce sens, il y a eu une publicité qui a généré beaucoup de malaise, qui disait quelque chose comme « restez chez vous, nous nous occupons de l’aide sociale », et comportait les images des candidats officiels à la présidence et à la vice-présidence.

    La pandémie a été utilisée politiquement de nombreuses manières. À un moment donné, la peur de la contagion a été utilisée pour promouvoir l’abstention : il y a même eu une campagne qui présentait le dessin d’une tête de mort avec le slogan « sortir tue ». Alors que nous menions une campagne avec le message « protégez-vous et allez voter », le gouvernement pariait sur l’instillation de la peur dans la classe moyenne indépendante, tout en prévoyant de faire voter ses partisans en masse. La réaction négative a été si forte qu’ils ont été contraints de retirer cette publicité après quelques jours.

    De plus, l'État a été absent de la plupart des politiques mises en œuvre contre la pandémie, et a laissé la fourniture de l’aide sociale et la prévention entre les mains du candidat du parti au pouvoir. Ainsi, ce n’était souvent pas le gouvernement qui se chargeait de la fumigation, mais les entreprises du candidat. Ce sont les jets de la compagnie d’aviation du candidat, et non les avions d’État ou militaires, qui ont ramené les Dominicains bloqués à l’étranger. Les premiers kits de test ont été apportés de Chine par le candidat lui-même, bien sûr avec de grandes opérations de propagande.

    Avec tous les atouts en sa faveur, comment expliquer que le gouvernement ait perdu les élections ?

    En effet, le candidat du PRM, Luis Abinader, l’a emporté dès le premier tour, avec plus de 52% des voix, tandis que le candidat du gouvernement arrivait en deuxième position avec 37% et l’ancien président Fernandez n’a atteint que 9%. La division du parti au pouvoir à la suite des allégations de fraude lors des primaires a eu un effet, car si le parti avait été uni et non affecté par ce scandale, les résultats auraient pu être différents.

    Face au fait qu’un seul parti a gouverné pendant 20 des 25 dernières années, les citoyens en ont eu assez et ont cherché des alternatives. Les citoyens se sont exprimés non seulement par la mobilisation et la protestation, mais aussi par un processus de sensibilisation qui durait depuis plusieurs années. Des plateformes d’expression très intéressantes ont vu le jour, comme le média numérique Somos Pueblo (Nous sommes le peuple), qui a joué un rôle très important avec sa chaîne YouTube. Le gouvernement faisant campagne dans les rues et les citoyens étant isolés par la pandémie, des stratégies créatives ont également été mobilisées pour contourner les limitations et protester sans sortir de chez soi, comme les « cacerolazos ».

    Le désir de participer afin d’obtenir un changement s’est reflété dans le taux de participation aux élections, qui a dépassé 55%. Si ce chiffre est bien inférieur à la moyenne de 70% enregistrée lors des élections de la dernière décennie, il est remarquable dans le contexte de la pandémie. Face à la mauvaise gestion de la pandémie par le gouvernement actuel, les espoirs placés dans le nouveau gouvernement sont très élevés. Si nous parvenons à surmonter ce défi, nous aurons peut-être devant nous une ère de changements positifs en termes de renforcement des institutions et de consolidation de la démocratie.

    L’espace civique en République dominicaine est classé « rétréci » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Manifiesto Ciudadano via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@ManifiestoCiuRD sur Twitter. Contactez Alianza ONG via sonsite web ou son profilFacebook, et suivez@AlianzaONG et@AddysThen sur Twitter. 

  • RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE : « Nous faisons partie d’un mouvement antiraciste global »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Elena Lorac, coordinatrice de, un réseau civique indépendant et pluraliste composé principalement de jeunes Dominicains d’origine haïtienne. défend les droits humains et promeut l’intégration réelle, pleine et effective des Dominicains d’origine haïtienne dans la société dominicaine. Présent sur tout le territoire de la République dominicaine, défend la vision d’un pays multiculturel où les personnes de toutes origines vivent ensemble avec dignité, sans stigmatisation ni discrimination, et où leurs droits fondamentaux sont respectés par la société et protégés par l’État.

  • WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ‘Anti-rights groups are trying to take away our acquired rights’

    Teresa Fernandez ParedesAs part of our 2019 thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks toTeresa Fernández Paredes, a lawyer specialising in International Public Law and one of Women's Link’s Managing Attorneys. With offices in Colombia, Kenya and Spain, Women's Link defends and promotes women's rights and seeks to create structural change through strategic litigation.

    What does Women's Link do, and what are its main areas of work?

    Women's Link is an international organisation that uses the law - most of us are lawyers - to promote structural social changes that advance the rights of women and girls, and especially of those in the most vulnerable positions, such as migrant women or women who find the exercise of their rights restricted due to their ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status, among other factors.

    We work from our headquarters in Madrid, Spain and have offices in Bogotá, Colombia and Nairobi, Kenya. We apply a gender and an intersectional analysis to the law in order to expand and improve the rights of women and girls. We work in some areas, such as sexual and reproductive rights, where we collide head-on with anti-rights groups. We also focus on human trafficking, and especially on the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude and the violations of their rights suffered by women in migration or transitional justice contexts. We also focus on discrimination, as a cross-cutting issue. We use several strategies: in addition to strategic litigation, we conduct judicial training and produce publications, among other things.

    What are currently your main areas of work in Latin America?

    One of our main lines of work in Latin America is access to sexual and reproductive rights, broadly understood. In the context of the ongoing Venezuelan migration crisis, we are working on the link between migration and lack of access to these rights. We examine issues such as the effects of irregular migration status on the enjoyment of these rights, and the situation of border areas as spaces that are not ruled by law.

    Working in Venezuela has been a great challenge, given the country’s current situation. What we do, here and in all cases, is apply international legal standards to the local context. But it is important to bear in mind that generally speaking, law - and not just domestic legislation, but also international human rights law - is very centred on men. Over the years, norms and regulations have been developed around the image of the white man as a universal subject.

    Our approach to the law is to stretch it to accommodate the experiences of women, because within the human rights framework, women's issues are often left aside. In the context of Venezuela, we work a lot with the inter-American human rights system. For example, we recently requested a precautionary measure for a maternity clinic where many mothers and children had died. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued the precautionary measure, but in the current context it would seem difficult to implement it. However, it serves the purpose of drawing attention to the specific situation of women and girls. And all this work also helps encourage understanding why women leave Venezuela: what drives them, as women, to migrate; and what needs they have when they are in transit and when they arrive at their destination.

    In addition to working in Venezuela, several of our projects focus on ensuring that women’s lived experiences and voices are heard in the context of the peace process in Colombia. We do this mainly from our office in Bogotá, and always jointly with community organisations, so as to try to make heard the voices of people at the margins who are not reached by decision-makers.

    Over the past years anti-rights groups have been on the rise, in Latin America and beyond. Have you faced backlash from these groups in the course of your work?

    The context in which we work is strongly marked by the rise of anti-rights groups that say they are mobilising against what they call ‘gender ideology’. But this is not a new phenomenon: anti-rights groups have been busy building connections and expanding since the 1990s. They have a lot of money and there is one thing they do better than groups on the left: they are very effective in creating connections and coalitions among themselves; even when they work on different issues they are able to find common ground. For instance, all of them have coordinated to place the gender ideology theme on the table and raise it everywhere, as a result of which something that was not even a concept ended up as a global issue. They have managed to position this on the agenda, which is more difficult to do for groups located on the left, where there is more discussion around the issues and it is more difficult to coordinate and speak with one voice. That is why we still do not have a unique and conclusive response to the attacks we face in the name of gender ideology.

    Anti-rights groups are trying to take away our acquired rights. And they are doing it by using the same discourse that has been successfully used by human rights groups. They talk about human rights and they position themselves as victims. They even depict feminists as diabolical agents, giving feminism more power than you would think it has. Due to the fact that Women's Link is based in three regions, we can clearly see that the same strategies are being used in different places. These groups are using coordinated strategies, they have lots of money and they enjoy global support. As they use the language of human rights, they have increasing legal representation, and they have begun to occupy spaces in strategic forums, where decisions are made, including the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

    How can progressive civil society act to curb these advances?

    Faced with these attacks it is important to act quickly through the law. We must continue working to strengthen the human rights framework and shield rights against these attacks. We must design not just defensive strategies, but also proactive strategies to expand the human rights framework, or at least to take away some of the spaces in which anti-rights groups move.

    There are still unresolved discussions we need to work on, such as the tension between the freedom of expression and hate speech. Paradoxically, in order to spread their message anti-rights groups are leaning on one of the left’s favourite themes, the freedom of expression.

    However, if we want to create lasting social change we cannot remain in the realm of the law and the courts. What we need are cases that cause people to mobilise, generate public debate and produce real social change. In that sense I see positive developments, like the #MeToo movement and the so-called Green Tide in Argentina. That is, we are seeing two opposing processes: on the one hand, anti-rights groups are growing; on the other, strong mobilisation around these issues is happening from the ground up and with a strong youth component. Such was the case with the Green Tide, which created unprecedented mobilisation while a proposal to legalise abortion was being discussed in the Argentine Congress. No doubt the two processes are very likely connected, and one is a consequence of the other.

    These social movements are good reason for hope. In the face of attempts to cut back on acquired rights, there is a very active movement that says, look, this is an acquired right, you cannot take it away anymore. There is no going back: looking forward, you can only expand the rights framework, but you cannot diminish it.

    In addition to attacks from anti-rights groups, what other challenges do civil society promoting women’s rights face?

    For grassroots organisations, lack of resources can be a great limitation. And in contexts of great urgency, such as those of massive movements of people, we are presented with the challenge of how to coordinate our work with that of grassroots organisations.

    Women's Link is dedicated to identifying structural situations where women's rights are violated and to designing legal strategies to generate structural, transformative change. Meanwhile, grassroots organisations - for example, those in border areas between Colombia and Venezuela - are increasingly taking on, in conditions of urgency, functions that should be performed by the state. In these contexts, most of the response is coming from civil society organisations.

    These grassroots organisations are responding to a very serious situation, and the needs of the women they work with are very urgent, and yet all we can do at Women's Link is support them through strategic litigation, which usually takes a long time.

    Difficulties of working with scarce resources aside, it is vital to build relationships, connect and coordinate, because the potential contribution that Women's Link has to offer would be useless if it weren’t for the work that is being done by grassroots organisations and for the voices and support of women themselves.


    Get in touch with Women’s Link through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@womenslink on Twitter.

  • WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ‘Progressive civil society must claim for itself the defence of life’

    Maria Angelica Penas DefagoAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks to María Angélica Peñas Defago, gender specialist, professor and researcher of Argentina’s National Research Council (CONICET) based at the National University of Córdoba, and co-author of the recentGlobal Philanthropy Project report, ‘Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI Rights'.

    Do you think anti-rights groups have increased their activity in recent times?

    We should start by defining what we mean by ‘recent times’, how far back we need to go, and what specific context we are talking about, because for instance in Latin America the situation varies from country to country. In the case of Argentina, we have seen over time – and not only over the past year, when a bill allowing for the voluntary termination of pregnancies was being discussed in Congress – reactions against the progress achieved in claiming rights by women and LGBTQI people. While it is true that, in recent years, anti-rights groups have become more visible and coordinated, largely in response to advances achieved in the area of sexual and reproductive rights, they have been present for decades, always coercing our agendas. In Argentina, they have been actively litigating against any attempt to enact public policy on sexual and reproductive health or even remotely linked to these rights for at least 20 years. In the province of Córdoba, where I live, these efforts have been very successful in the lower courts, although rulings favourable to these groups were eventually overturned in the higher courts.

    With regard to street actions, strong reactions by these groups were already recorded in the past, including demonstrations throughout the country, for instance against equal marriage, which was approved in Argentina in 2010. The same groups marched once again against the legalisation of abortion in 2018. There has also been a renewed backlash against sex education in schools, a longstanding battle. Sex education was implemented through a 2006 law that is still being resisted. During the abortion debate, anti-rights groups pretended to promote sex education as an alternative to abortion, but after the bill on the voluntary termination of pregnancy was voted down by the Senate, they restarted their attacks against sex education.

    A reorganisation of the conservative camp is currently underway, and I think it is as a result of this that these groups have recently gained more visibility. Although new actors have indeed emerged within civil society, the central phenomenon in the current socio-political context is the reassertion that is taking place in the political and the economic spheres. This can be seen, for example, in the alliances reached in Colombia around the 2016 referendum on the peace process, as well as in Brazil, embodied in the 2018 election of President Jair Bolsonaro.

    During the campaign leading to the referendum in Colombia, the forces that rejected the agreement claimed that if ‘yes’ won, so-called 'gender ideology' would be imposed. In Brazil, fake news claiming that the Workers’ Party promoted paedophilia and would try to ‘convert’ children into homosexuals or transsexuals mushroomed during the election campaign.

    In other ways, the phenomenon is also seen in Argentina, where all the main actors opposed to the progressive agenda, and specifically to the sexual and reproductive rights agenda, have tended to converge.

    Do you think that these are purely reactive groups, whose raison d'être is to curb the progress of the progressive agenda?

    As far as I can tell, that is indeed the case. I have monitored congresses of so-called ‘pro-life’ groups and analysed the actions they have undertaken in regional and global spaces, and particularly in the Organization of American States and the United Nations, and it is readily apparent that they are losing ground regarding family formats and the assignment of sexual roles, and they are aware of it. These groups are reacting to what they perceive as a setback. Their reaction is being coordinated not only around the thematic agenda of sexual and reproductive rights, but also around a wider nationalist, neoliberal – and, in some cases, fascist – political and economic agenda.

    The Bolsonaro phenomenon is a good example of a reaction to a pluralistic agenda around sexual morality and sexual and reproductive rights. The advances of this pluralist agenda acted as a binding agent for a broader conservative political agenda. Within the framework of the reaction against progress achieved in sexual and reproductive rights, other actors are taking advantage to impose their own conservative agendas, for example around migration issues. There are some new actors at play, especially those joining from other fields – political, economic, religious – but many of the actors that are gaining greater visibility are the same as always, the difference being that they are now unifying agendas that used to run in parallel and in less coordinated ways.

    What tactics have these groups used to advance their agenda?

    Litigation against sexual and reproductive rights has been an important tool for more than three decades. In Argentina, these groups have litigated, among other things, against the administration of emergency contraception and to stop the implementation of protocols for non-punishable abortions. In Argentina, abortion has been legal since 1921 for cases of rape, unviability of the foetus, or danger to the woman’s life or health; however, these groups have tried to prevent timely and secure access to this right.

    For the part of civil society that works in the area of women's rights, these groups have always been there. But litigation is sometimes a quite silent affair and has possibly remained unnoticed by the wider civil society. Often, it all remained within the realm of the administration of justice and health services. This however did not prevent this strategy from having very strong effects, because judicial decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health tend to produce fears, doubts and paralysis among health providers, which are key agents for guaranteeing actual access to these rights.

    The presence of anti-rights groups is not news for feminist and LGBTQI groups, but it may very well be so for other sectors of civil society, including human rights organisations, which in recent times have seen them acting more intensely through the occupation of street space and the creation of partisan political alliances, the two key arenas for political struggle in contemporary democracies. These groups are trying to appropriate public space, showcasing themselves as the majority, and in this way they are gaining public visibility. In this area, one of their most successful strategies has involved the use of coordinated messages and symbols. The ‘Don’t mess with my children’ campaign, for example, has used the same phrases and slogans, and even the same symbols and colours, not only throughout Latin America, but also well beyond. We have seen it in Eastern Europe, in Italy, in Spain. These groups are intensively using social media so that their strategies and symbols travel, are shared and ultimately reach us repeatedly from various latitudes.

    If anti-rights positions have gained more visibility, it is because the actors that promote them, mostly faith-based, have gained a prominence in the public space that they did not have 20 years ago. Evangelical churches, like the Catholic Church, are plural and heterogeneous. But in much of Latin America, the political processes of resistance to sexual and reproductive rights have been led by very conservative evangelical churches, sometimes in alliance with the higher ranks of the Catholic Church, and in other cases dissenting or even opposing them.

    Unlike litigation, the strategy of occupying public space requires support in large numbers. Do you think these groups are gaining in popularity?

    The socio-political phenomenon fuelled by these groups is significant. It is not simply about campaigns and slogans; they are deeply embedded at the grassroots level. To understand what is happening in the religious arena and in terms of resistance against progress in sexual and reproductive rights, it is necessary to take into account the socio-economic context and the way that these churches are operating at the grassroots, in strong connection with the populations that they mobilise.

    In Argentina, a very politically mobilised society, street mobilisation has been widely used by these groups, so it is nothing new. What is new is the massive character of their mobilisations. These groups were already mobilising 30 years ago, or maybe even earlier, but there was no social media back then. The modes of communication and mobilisation have changed at the same time as the religious field has in the face of advances in sexual and reproductive rights. Evangelical churches have grown throughout the region, and within them, conservative sectors have grown the most.

    I think that to understand the phenomenon it is also key to understand the neoliberal context and its general effects that undermine living conditions. In the socio-political context of neoliberalism, as the state has withdrawn from its basic functions, many religious groups have gone on to perform tasks and provide services that should be provided by the state. In some places, such as in the USA, the Catholic Church has been long in charge of providing services to some groups, such as migrants, that are not tended to by the state. In Latin America, the role of evangelical churches, for instance in the area of aid and treatment for addictions, is really impressive. Evangelical sectors are growing exponentially because they are assisting communities that are being forgotten by the state. Evangelical pastors play central roles in communities, are active in providing social assistance, dealing with addictions and providing health and education services, and are also key in mobilising people – partly because many of them are also members of these communities. They live in the same neighbourhoods and maintain close ties with the members of their congregations.

    In sum, we are not facing a mere battle of narratives. The discourses that we need to stand up to are rooted in the practices of grassroots communities, and often mobilisations are summoned from the pulpit. Calls from the pulpit are important because to many excluded people the church has become indispensable. In countries that have very high poverty rates, for many people the church is the only place of belonging and protection that remains when both the state and the market have excluded them, and therefore do not have access to work, education, or health services. Beyond the fact that religion remains a central element of many people’s identities, these feelings of belonging and community are not minor issues in contexts of extreme precariousness and individualisation brought about by the economic, political, social and cultural neoliberal model.

    What does progressive civil society have to offer in the face of this?

    Progressive civil society has a lot to offer, because it focuses on the struggle for and the creation of liveable, rich, plural ways of life, based on solidarity and mutual support. I don't think there is a single recipe, because this work involves very different movements. There are feminist and LGBTQI movements that work from the standpoint of religious pluralism, disputing the idea of the monopoly of faith, and these are very rich spaces of struggle and belonging. Religions, all of them, comprise plural, democratic and horizontal spaces, which many organisations take advantage of in their struggle for meaning. Other organisations have expertise in crafting messages, and that is where they make their contribution. But this battle is not taking place only, or even mainly, on social media, since not everyone has even access to the internet. The dispute over meaning is fundamental both on social media and offline, as can be seen around the ‘pro-life’ label that many anti-rights groups have appropriated. Women’s and LGBTQI groups working at the grassroots level continually reference this label, by asking the question: how much is my life worth if I do not have access to a job, to the recognition of my identity, to the protection of my health – if the kind of life that is being offered to me is not a decent one? Progressive civil society must claim for itself the defence of life, understood as a dignified, fully human life.

    To offer this response, progressive civil society needs to ally with others who share its values of pluralism, freedom and equality. The pluralist, inclusive, non-essentialist and decolonial feminist agenda is a good basis on which to form alliances with multiple actors that were not attracted by feminism in the past, in order to take part in the struggle for meaning not only in the rhetorical field, but also in concrete reality. Popular feminism represents a return to the realm of the real, as it focuses on the implications of principles on people’s daily lives. If we talk about abortion, for instance, we must focus on the consequences of the legality or illegality of this practice for the daily reality of pregnant women, families and communities. Religion and faith are an important part of people's lives, and the feminist movement, or at least a good part of it, is now working within this reality.

    Get in touch with María Angélica through herFacebook page and check her work onResearchGate.

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