UCL Institute of the Americas


Sexing the Blue Tide: The Backlash against sexual and gender justice in Latin America

16 July 2020, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm

Sexing the blue tide

The regulation of gender and sexuality is at the center of mainstream Latin American politics and its competing political projects. We are seeing increasing references to the alleged dangers of ‘gender ideology’ in government speeches, statements from political institutions and policy measures, whilst coalitions of feminists, LGBTQ+ and pro-democracy advocates are taking to the streets in massive protests seeking more just and equitable societies.

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UCL Institute of the Americas

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The recent rise of center-right and neoliberal governments has seen cuts in social spending, while also serving as a fertile ground for the dissemination of a vibrant, increasingly coordinated and effective, anti-gender activism. By promoting moral campaigns such as “don’t mess with my kids (con mis hijos no te metas),” their preferred policy focus has been on overturning comprehensive sexuality education, and  sexual, reproductive and LGBTQ rights. As we have seen in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, public attacks directed at feminist and LGBTQ activists portray their demands as the “new cultural face of Marxism,” or “as an agenda linked to Communism”. Building on the emerging body of Latin American scholarship and selected national case studies, this presentation will provide a set of key insights to understand the current dynamics of backlash against gender and sexual justice in Latin America and how best to prevent it.

The presentation will be structured in two parts. The first will look at recent history to assess whether the term ‘backlash’ is the best concept to describe anti-gender movements. It will argue that the uneven legacy of past progressive administrations under the Pink Tide for feminists and LGBTQ activists is an important explanatory factor in understanding today’s distinctive patterns of opposition to gender and sexual justice in the region. The second part will then review the current impact of conservative counter-movements on specific policies. It will argue that ‘anti-gender’ movements are widening their reach to new policy areas that have not historically been the focus of conservative or religious opposition. To illustrate this trend, I will highlight how the ‘gender ideology’ framing of demands and protest repertoires has been shared, recycled and utilized to effectively erode broad popular support for the peace agreements in Colombia and to dismantle political support for a gender parity bill in Paraguay. Therefore, in the current context, the transnational cross- fertilization and circulation of ideas and toolkits among these counter-movement activists means that novel spheres of feminist politics are increasingly within their reach.

About the Speaker

Constanza Tabbush gained her Doctorate at the University of London, and is currently working as a Research Specialist at UN Women, while on leave from her position at the National Research Council and University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Since 2018, she also serves as Associate Editor at the International Feminist Journal of Politics. Her most recent work is part of the edited collection Seeking Rights from The Left: Gender Sexuality and the Latin American Left (Duke University Press), and in UN Women’s Flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World. She is also the author of numerous articles on gender, social policy and poverty; prisons and human rights; and feminist and LGBT+ movements. Her work has been published by Feminist Studies, SIGNS, Oxford Development Studies, Journal of International Development, Global Social Policy, among others.