War on 'gender ideology' hits Brazilian foreign policy, posing a threat to the human rights of women and the LGBTIQ community

September 4, 2019

4 Sep, 2019

BY Daniela Bicalho Godoy

War on ‘gender ideology’ hits Brazilian foreign policy, posing a threat to the human rights of women and the LGBTIQ community

Daniela Bicalho Godoy


Photo credit: Daniela Bicalho Godoy

A new foreign policy guideline issued by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered Brazilian diplomats to reiterate Bolsonaro’s administration new interpretation of the term ‘gender’ in their official statements. According to the new protocol, the word ‘gender’ would be simply equivalent to an individual’s biological sex, being it male or female. The ban on the use of the term ‘gender’ beyond the sense of biological sex inaugurated a dangerous new frontline of the so-called ‘war on gender ideology’, a resource which Bolsonaro learned how to exploit well as the locomotive for the mobilization and support of masses during Brazil’s troubled presidential elections last year. 

In addition to positioning Brazil alongside the world’s most conservative countries in terms of the recognition of women and LGBTIQ human rights such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Russia, the new anti-gender protocol also denies several gender-inclusive guidelines adopted by the United Nations since the 1990’s as well as the most advanced scientific evidence that recognizes gender as a social construct based on the inequalities inherent to the different roles imposed to women and men by society.

The new national position defended by Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo, reached critical levels during the 41st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this June: more than 14 references to the term gender were vetoed by Brazil, causing embarrassment to negotiations and generating manifestations of repudiation and dismay from countless countries of more progressive positions. Brazil has also issued worrying vetoes regarding the terms ‘gender inequality’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ which represent a serious setback for the already curtailed women’s human rights in the country. The same stance was observed at the closure of the 63rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63) in March this year, when the government drew up a number of reservations to the final document of the agreed conclusions and opposed statements related to the expansion of global access to sexual and reproductive health services on the grounds that their approval would open the door to ‘promoting abortion’’. Bolsonaro’s anti-gender offensive has a disastrous impact on Brazil’s international credibility and puts historical achievements in the field of international human rights law at stake, primarily affecting women and members of the LGBTIQ community as well as directly confronting imperative principles and norms of international law such as the non-regression principle and the jus cogens norm of non-discrimination against women.

Bolsonaro’s war on ‘gender ideology’ now converted into a foreign policy guideline is extremely harmful, once it dismantles and promotes setbacks in pre-established and historical human rights language consensus, makes no room for advancements in major international negotiations for the progress of human rights and blocks diplomatic agreements that could lead to a greater protection of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and LGBTIQ rights. This unfortunate international scenario is especially worrying, given that Brazil is the country with the highest numbers of killings of cross-dressers and transgender people in the world, as well as the 5th most violent country for women, where unsafe abortion is the 5th leading cause of morbidity and mortality of people who are able to get pregnant. The government’s biased strategy of conducting a discursive dispute through a conceptual review of the term ‘gender’ also promotes a forced silence of the voices of the most vulnerable segments of the brazilian population, which are subjected to systems of oppression that are structural to the Brazilian society, based on inequalities of gender, race and class.

 Daniela is a feminist human rights lawyer from Brazil.