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BHUTAN parliament decriminalizes homosexuality, to delight of activists

The Himalayan kingdom is the latest Asian nation to ease restrictions on same-sex relationships.

 

By Gopal Sharma

 

Reuters (10.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3gUe37o – A joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan’s parliament approved a bill on Thursday to legalize gay sex, making the tiny Himalayan kingdom the latest Asian nation to take steps towards easing restrictions on same-sex relationships.

 

Sections 213 and 214 of the penal code had criminalized “unnatural sex”, widely interpreted as homosexuality.

 

Lawmaker Ugyen Wangdi, the vice chairperson of a joint panel considering the changes, said 63 of the total 69 members of both houses of parliament had voted in favour of amending the code to scrap the provision. Six members were absent.

 

“Homosexuality will not be considered as unnatural sex now,” Wangdi told Reuters by phone from the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, without giving details.

 

The changes still need to be approved by the King of Bhutan to become a law.

 

Rights activist Tashi Tsheten said he was “thrilled and really happy” over the parliamentary move, calling it a “victory” for the LGBT+ community.

 

“I think the bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan,” Tsheten, the director of LGBT+ group, Rainbow Bhutan, told Reuters.

 

“I believe everyone who has stood up for the LGBT+ community in Bhutan is going to celebrate today as this is our victory”.

 

The move by the majority-Buddhist nation of 800,000 people comes after other Asian countries relaxed restrictions on the rights of the LGBT+ people.

 

Neighbouring India removed a centuries-old colonial prohibition on gay sex in 2018, triggering celebration across the country.

 

In Nepal, authorities will count LGBT+ people for the first time in the national census next year to help sexual minorities gain better access to education and health schemes.

 

Bhutan is famous for its “gross national happiness” index as an alternative to gross domestic product to indicate real economic progress or development.





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INDONESIA: A gay ex-policeman takes his battle to court, a landmark case

Tri Teguh Pujianto, a 31-year-old former police brigadier was fired in 2018 after 10 years on the job, after police apprehended him and his partner.

 

By Stanley Widianto

 

Reuters (09.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/2WjIASL – The first gay Indonesian policeman to sue the conservative country’s police force for wrongful dismissal due to sexual orientation was back in courts this week, determined to be reinstated.

 

Tri Teguh Pujianto, a 31-year-old former police brigadier was fired in 2018 after 10 years on the job, after police in a different town apprehended him and his partner on Valentine’s Day when they were saying goodbyes at his partner’s workplace.

 

The landmark case in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation was initially thrown out last year after a judge told Teguh he had to wait until the police internal appeals process was completed. That is now over and Teguh refiled his suit in August in what rights groups say is the first case of its kind.

 

“This is my fight, my last-ditch effort,” Teguh told Reuters.

 

“Why won’t they judge my service for all those years? Why exaggerate my mistakes, which I don’t think were mistakes anyway?”

 

With the exception of sharia-ruled Aceh province where same-sex relations are banned, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia although it is generally considered a taboo subject.

 

The Southeast Asian country is, however, becoming less tolerant of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as some Indonesian politicians become more vocal about having Islam play a larger role in the state.

 

A survey by the Pew Research Center this year also showed that 80% of Indonesians believe homosexuality “should not be accepted by society”.

 

Discrimination and violent attacks against LGBT people have increased in recent years and police have prosecuted members of the community using anti-pornography and other laws. Lawmakers from four political parties this year have also been trying to garner support, so far unsuccessfully, to pass a bill requiring LGBT people to seek treatment at rehabilitation centres.

 

The Central Java police have accused Teguh of violating “ethical codes of the national police… by the deviant act of having same-sex intercourse,” a court document shows.

 

Teguh’s legal team said they are challenging what they call the “elastic” nature of the police code of conduct given there is no mention of sexual orientation in police regulations.

 

Representatives for the Central Java Police, National Police and the National Police Commission did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

 

Dede Oetomo, a gay scholar who runs the advoacy group GAYa NUSANTARA, said Teguh had made history, whether he wins his case or not.

 

“He’s broken the mould because he’s brave,” he said. “My hope is that more activists will emerge from cases like his.”

 

Teguh now runs a barber shop, a side business that he started in 2013. He said he’s always had the support of family and his friends in the force for his efforts to regain what has been his dream job since high school.

 

Asked why he is persevering, Teguh said he was fighting not only for himself.

 

“I want to fight for basic human rights, so there will no longer be arbitrary actions taken against minorities,” he said.





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LATIN AMERICA: The fight against the criminalisation of abortion goes on

By Daina Beth Solomon & Cassandra Garrison

 

Reuters (01.12.2020) – https://reut.rs/3orDvUe – Several weeks pregnant and about to start a job away from home, Lupita Ruiz had no doubts about wanting to end her pregnancy, despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion under a law in her state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

 

She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours from her town who agreed to do it in secret.

 

Five years later, lawmakers in Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

 

Several out of more than 20 Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.

 

Just Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.

 

In Mexico, a patchwork of state restrictions apply, but the debate is shifting, Ruiz said.

 

“When someone talked about abortion, they were shushed,” said the 27-year-old activist, who helped draft the Chiapas initiative. “Now I can sit down to eat a tamale and have a coffee and talk with my mom and my grandma about abortion, without anyone telling me to be quiet.”

 

Change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. A new Argentine president proposed legalization last month, Chilean activists are aiming to write broader reproductive rights into a new constitution, and female lawmakers in Mexico are resisting abortion bans.

 

The push can be traced to Argentina’s pro-abortion protests in 2018 by as many as one million women to back a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass – in Pope Francis’s home country.

 

Catalina Martinez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, said Argentina’s example inspired protests across Latin America.

 

“It was an awakening,” she said.

 

Outrage at worsening gender violence in Latin America, where the number of femicides has doubled in five years, has also spread awareness of the abortion rights movement and fueled demands for recognition of women’s rights in a conservative, male-dominated society.

 

“Women are finally understanding that they are not separate issues,” said Catalina Calderon, director for campaigns and advocacy programs at the Women’s Equality Center. “It’s the fact that you agree that we women are in control of our bodies, our decisions, our lives.”

 

The rise of social media has afforded women opportunities to bypass establishment-controlled media and bring attention to their stories, Calderon said.

 

“Now they’re out there for the public to discuss and for the women to react, and say: ‘This does not work. We need to do something’,” Calderon said.

 

As in the United States, where conservatives have made gains in restricting a woman’s right to an abortion, there is pushback in Latin America against the calls for greater liberalization.

 

Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is making it even harder for women to abort.

 

The Argentine Episcopal Conference has said it does not want to debate abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and alluded to comments by the Pope urging respect for those who are “not yet useful,” including fetuses.

 

Yet trust in the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at conception, is fading, with many Latin Americans questioning its moral legitimacy because of sexual abuse by priests.

 

Spreading ‘green wave’

 

Argentina could be first up for sweeping change, with a bill submitted to Congress by center-left President Alberto Fernandez seeking to legalize elective abortions.

 

Approval for legalization has risen eight percentage points since 2014, according to an August Ipsos poll, with support split nearly evenly between those who favor elective abortion and those who are for it only in certain circumstances.

 

“The dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system,” Fernandez said.

 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based reproductive health research organization, an estimated 29% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2015 to 2019 ended in abortion, encompassing 5.4 million women. The abortions are often clandestine, so figures are hard to determine.

 

The mass demonstrations in Argentina two years ago, known as the “green wave” protests, have reverberated.

 

Since mid-2018, lawmakers in Mexico have filed more than 40 proposals to end punishment for abortion, according to Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE.

 

In Chiapas, the de-criminalization effort is the first of its kind since a brief period in the 1990s when abortion was legalized during the left-wing Zapatista rebellion.

 

Although Chiapas does not on paper punish abortion with prison, it can jail women for the “killing” of their infants.

 

With Mexico’s first leftist government in a century in power, national lawmakers are considering two initiatives to open up restrictions and strip away criminal punishments from places like Sonora state, where abortion can be punished by up to six years in prison.

 

Only two federal entities, Mexico City and Oaxaca, allow elective abortions.

 

Wendy Briceno, a Sonoran lawmaker who has backed a nationwide legalization bill, said the initiatives have a good chance to pass if the debate centers on women’s health, especially given rising outrage over femicides.

 

In Chile, activists are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.

 

Colombia, where the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, could set an example, said Anita Pena, director of Chilean reproductive rights group Corporacion Miles.

 

Activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.

 

To Briceno, Brazil’s shift to the right under Bolsonaro, who has vowed to veto any pro-abortion bills, was a reminder to push even harder for abortion rights.

 

“No fight is ever finished,” she said.

Photo: Pro-abortion activist Lupita Ruiz poses for a photo during an interview with Reuters, in Mexico City, Mexico. November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan.





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WORLD: Caster Semenya to take fight to European Court of Human Rights

Caster Semenya plans to fight rules forcing intersex athletes to reduce their naturally high levels of testosterone with drugs or surgery to compete.

 

Reuters (17.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Hr0QFJ – South African double Olympic 800-metre champion Caster Semenya is to take her fight with World Athletics to the European Court of Human Rights, her lawyers confirmed on Tuesday.

 

Semenya is one of a number of female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) competing in races ranging from 400 metres to a mile, who World Athletics insist must reduce their naturally high levels of testosterone in order to run.

 

This can be done either through the use of drugs or surgical interventions.

 

Semenya has vowed to fight the regulations, but has already lost an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and another subsequent plea to the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) asking for the CAS ruling to be set aside.

 

“We will be taking World Athletics to the European Court of Human Rights,” Semenya’s lawyer Greg Nott said in a media release on Tuesday, without placing a time-frame on their appeal.

 

“We remain hopeful that World Athletics will see the error it has made and reverse the prohibitive rules which restrict Ms Semenya from competing.”

 

World Athletics have consistently said the regulations are aimed at creating a level playing field for all athletes.

 

“World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate, and that they represent a fair, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms,” the governing body said in a statement after the SFT case.

 

Athletics South Africa insist Semenya is still part of their team for the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, though over what distance remains to be seen.

 

She has also been competing in the 200-metre sprint, which falls outside of the World Athletics regulations.





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In conservative Kandahar, new gym creates safe space for Afghan women

Reuters (24.09.2020) – https://reut.rs/3kS9afG – In Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, rights activist Maryam Durani has found a fresh outlet for her decades of advocacy – a new fitness centre for women.

 

Durani, 36, is a fierce campaigner for women’s rights in the conservative stronghold where the Islamist Taliban militant group have major sway and take a conservative stance on the position of women, who mostly wear the burqa in public.

 

She runs a radio station for women, has served on the provincial council and was presented with the International Women of Courage Award by Michelle Obama for in 2012. Last year, Durani switched tack to open a female-only gym, which draws about 50 women attend each day.

 

“The reaction of the ladies was very positive because they needed it,” she said, shortly after working out with a group of clients. “What bothered me was the reaction of the men…who reacted negatively to our club and even insulted me because they thought our club was in opposition to Sharia.”

 

With a troop withdrawal signed between the United States and the Taliban, who have fought a bloody war for 19 years, many women in Afghanistan worry the militant group may exert its influence through formal political channels.

 

When the Taliban ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, they banned education for females and barred women from leaving the house without a male relative.

 

The group says it has changed but many women remain sceptical.

 

“My only concern is about their view of women’s rights and what freedoms and restrictions they will impose on me,” said Durani.

 

For now, her focus is on serving the dozens of women who attend the club, whom she describes as a cross-section of society including housewives and women who work outside the home.

 

“My only wish is to be seen as a human in this society,” she said.


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