It’s hard to think about a different future through the tunnel vision we adapt to when we think of solutions. In our collective reflections in RESURJ and with our allies, we reassess the legal and punitive fixes that were brought about to end sexual and reproductive rights violations. Legislative bills and toughened punishments almost seem like a recipe to register political positions to and by the State. Yet, we ask how effective these legal apparatuses are in countering sexual and reproductive violations? We, also ask as feminists, what we need to reconsider in imagining sustainable and safe communities?
The discussion started with the insights of feminist speakers; based on their community work, along with the attendees’ at AWID #FeministFestival who reflected on how they question the restraints of criminalization. Our workshop titled resisting criminalization: feminist organizing for sexual and reproductive justice and bodily integrity that took place on September 3, 2021, brought together feminist speakers from Hidden Pockets Collective and the Injusta Justicia campaign.
More work, less reflections
In the beginning, we called for collective and personal reflections to understand how our anger and vigilance, as feminists, get sometimes channelled through political asks that don’t necessarily address the roots of sexual and reproductive violations. What we endure and don’t survive sometimes rarely gets addressed by laws, in particular criminal laws. Penal measures that are not centered around the needs of victims/survivors, instead focus on how to punish the accused; are a big part of the problem. When the penal system turns a cold shoulder on the needs of victims/survivors; it weighs down on survivors/victims with stigma and shame, resulting in people losing trust in the criminal justice system.
In the first session, we asked participants to ponder over the dualities that some of us live through. When do we feel we’re seen by-laws as ‘vulnerable groups’? And when do we fear the criminal justice system because the lives we lead are frowned upon and criminalized for any given reason? Some penal laws are used to incriminate our doing and living, along with our identities and communities. In unfathomable ways, we are also perceived as individuals in need of protection based on our health status, ability, age, sex, gender identity, or profession. We started the discussion reflecting on this precarious duality. Such a protectionist approach strips us of our autonomy and agency to live to the fullest, to experience life as we wish. Protectionism embodies the political positions of those in power; our needs and desires get suppressed in the name of it. Protectionism rationalizes passed down fears from those deviating away from what is socially, politically, and culturally accepted at a given moment.
To elaborate we relayed some of the cases platformed by the Injusta Justicia campaign:
Cristina who lives in Ecuador in a foster home and has an intellectual disability, became pregnant as a result of rape and did not want to continue with the pregnancy. Even when, in Ecuador, abortion is legal in the case of rape, the court made her continue with the pregnancy and give birth. Since she didn’t want to parent and had an absent family, she tried to put the newborn up for adoption, but the judge ruled that the baby had to stay with her justifying this ruling by; having given birth made her the most suitable person to take care of the baby, even against her will.
How did the law protect Cristina from potential sexual assault in the future? It did not. Instead, Cristina’s wish not to continue with pregnancy was overlooked by the court that assigned itself to orchestrate Cristina’s future.
The voice of the victim is often represented and never heard.Reflection by a participant.
The criminal justice system puts the burden on the survivor!Reflection by a participant.
The ordeals of how the justice system failed Lucía, Cristina, Andrea, and Gabriela from the Injusta Justicia campaign were presented, to contextualize what alternative justice routes could look like for the four adolescents. Two questions were set to provoke our feminist imaginations:
1) What are the different layers which the penal system is unable to see in the presented cases?
1. It overlooks injustice by emphasizing certain forms of power imbalance while sustaining others.
2. The criminal justice system isn’t designed to bring about “justice” except in the narrowest sense of preventing and punishing what is understood as “harm”.
3. The laws are not inclusive. The victims are not heard but simply pushed around.
4. Creo que la prohibición empuja a la clandestinidad y la clandestinidad siempre genera vulneraciones. [I believe that prohibition pushes to clandestinity and clandestinity always generates violations]Reflections by participants.
2) Focusing on the four adolescent girls and their communities, what is needed to give them the tools they need for bodily autonomy, self determination, freedom, and independence?
1. Reconsider what legal age means.
2. Educación integral de la sexualidad! [Comprehensive sexuality education]
3. Campañas de EIS para no adolescentes. Les adultes información y bombardeo de mensajes contra culturales para romper con prácticas nocivas. [CSE campaigns for non-adolescents. Unadulterated information and bombardment of counterculture messages to break away from the harmful practices]
4. Capacitación especializada a funcionarias/os/es públicos y de salud. [Specialized training for public and health officials]
5. Opción legal (segura y gratuita) de interrupción del embarazo. [Legal option (safe and free) to interrupt the pregnancy]Reflections by participants.
Laws are limiting, their rigidity can be unreflective of the realities and needs of the people they aim to protect. One of the major takeaways from field work run by Hidden Pockets Collective with adolescents in India, is how protection is embodied in a list of Don’ts; not allowing adolescents to be in relationships altogether. Instead of understanding their needs and providing them with information and services that match their evolving capacities, stripping them from their agency, and indoctrinating their sexuality would only make them more vulnerable and more prone to risks.
Such conversations deepen our understanding of what infrastructure isn’t in place, and how lacking are the social and health services for adolescents and young people. They help us think more broadly, and more comprehensively about what protection really means.
RESURJ thanks all participants for sharing the space and imagining with us! A big thank you to AWID for this rejuvenating festival! We, also, thank Andrea Paola Hernandez, Inas Miloud, Jasmine Lovely George, Marisa Viana, Nana Abuelsoud, Oriana López Uribe, Sibusiso Malunga, and Suman Saurav for holding the space.