Can we achieve gender equality in a context of criminalization?

BY Various,

March 28, 2018

RESURJ recognizes that sexual rights and reproductive rights are not single issues, just as we do not live single-issue lives. Our justice approach to sexual and reproductive rights encompasses an understanding of the interlinkages between our bodies, our health, and human rights, and the ecological, economic and social crises of our times.

Our intersectional analysis of sexual and reproductive justice requires us to interrogate any intervention through its interaction with multiple power systems, including gender, class and race. In doing so, we must face the contradictions of resorting to the criminal justice system to protect rights whilst recognizing its historical use as an instrument of domination and marginalization. 

Having gained a deeper understanding of the limitations of criminalization as a solution to social injustices, we find it challenging to continue advocating for states to resort solely to this approach – that penal response and criminalization is the most effective, just, and necessary response to SRHR violations. We are not just seeking policy changes, but we would also like to see deeper research and analysis from international bodies like the United Nations yielding more comprehensive and adequate recommendations that reach beyond criminalization.

Below are highlights of the work, analysis, and advocacy that RESURJ has done in recent years around the shortcomings of criminalization of SRHR violations.  

Shortcomings of Penal Policies – A Cross-Regional Dialogue 

RESURJ began this work by hosting a cross-regional dialogue in April 2016 to assist us in understanding better what exactly are the shortcomings of utilizing a quick fix, solely focused on the criminal justice system approach to our issues. After gaining a better understanding of the problematic aspects of this approach, which we summarized in a meeting outcome statement (also available in Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese below), we felt the need to start a dialogue with allies and stakeholders around the alternatives and the way forward in advocating for more comprehensive policies to address SRR violations.

Webinar on the Shortcomings of Penal Policies in Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Rights Violations 

On October 27, 2016, RESURJ held a webinar entitled: the Shortcomings of Penal Policies in Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Rights Violations, inviting four outstanding speakers working on different aspects of criminalization, and through different forums to speak. Each of the speakers shared with us some of their findings from the work they do and encouraged the audience in different ways to engage in a discussion on the search to find alternatives that complement and add to the criminalization of SR violations, in a way that achieves restorative justice for survivors of these violations.

62nd Commission on the Status of Women 

In 2018, RESURJ member Jasmine Lovely-George from Hidden Pockets India, joined allies from Amnesty International, CREA, and Yale Law school, to discuss:  can we achieve gender equality in a context of criminalization? 

The panel explored how States often resort to criminal law and other punitive policies to police and punish sexuality and reproduction, how criminalization is also used as a response to violations of sexual and reproductive rights- and asked, but to what effect? The speakers examined the way punitive laws and policies often do not promote gender equality, but rather lead to further violations. 

Reflections on Our Countries – Criminalization 

Every month RESURJ members collectively share and reflect on some news highlights affecting sexual and reproductive, environmental and economic justice from the different regions and countries we work in. A number of members’ analysis in recent years have included interlinkages between the criminalization of bodies, sexualities and identities, as well as the shortcomings of addressing SRHR violations through solely penal and criminal response, and consider what a comprehensive approach to prevention and response to violations looks like. 

Recent Reflections on our Countries – criminalization

  • State-created disabilities and criminalization of children in immigration detention in Canada (2018) here
  • Profit Feeding Profit- From Children’s Homes to Prisons in the UK (2018) here
  • When will Sri Lankan women have full control over our bodies? (2018) here 
  • Reaching the Age of Joy in Abortion Stories (2018) here
  • Fighting through thick and thin to normalize abortion: My abortion advocacy story (2018) here 
  • Reproductive Justice for the Mothers of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka (2018) here
  • Decriminalization of Abortion- the My Abortion Story Campaign (2017) here
  • Why Sexual Violence Should Change the Public Discourse on Sexuality Education in Nigeria? (2017)here 
  • Feminist Bodies Demand Action to Make Abortion Safe for Women in Egypt (2016) here
  • Senegal: Reinstatement of the Death Penalty is not the Solution for GBV (2016) here 
  • Egypt: A mixed Month for Rights Protection in Egypt (2016) here 
  • Egypt: When the Medicalization of FGC Exacerbates the Situation (2016) here

Challenging Criminalization Globally 

RESURJ attended the Challenging Criminalization Globally meeting at Yale University in 2018, as well as the 2nd Challenging Criminalization pre-conference at the International AIDs Conference 2018. At these inter-disciplinary and intersectional dialogues on un-policing identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, RESURJ presented the analysis and thinking around the shortcomings of criminalization of SRHR violations and shared examples from India and the UK. 

Examining Feminist Fault Lines:  Criminalization (Blog)

In this blog, RESURJ members Mari-Claire Price and Jasmine Lovely-George consider fault lines in the feminist movement around penal response to SRHR violations – and how an overwhelming focus on criminalization imposes a limited, individualistic approach that does not take into account the root causes and multi-dimensional nature of the issue.

Building Evidence for Justice –

Beyond Criminalization: A Feminist Questioning of Criminal Justice Interventions to Address Sexual and Reproductive Rights Violations.

RESURJ has carried out a Desk Review focused on identifying the shortcomings of  criminalization in addressing sexual and reproductive rights violations as well as gaps in research and alternatives that go beyond the penal systems.