Challenging Criminalisation Globally: Un-Policing Identity, Morality, Sexuality and Bodily Autonomy
Across the globe and perhaps more disproportionately in the Global South, courts, parliaments and law enforcement agencies have become avid proponents of using the coercive power of the law to police, control and punish a variety of behaviours which they considered as contributing to ‘moral decay’. The activities that come under this rubric include consensual sexual relations between persons of the opposite sex, sodomy, abortion, sex work, adultery, possession or publication of materials considered obscene, pornography, drug use, among others. Beyond the criminalisation of behaviours, increasing the law is being used to penalise certain communities and subject them to systematic profiling and police harassment based on race, choice of work, other status especially with a desire to impose an idea of collective morality. In these countries, vague, ambiguous, deliberately open-ended criminal provisions have been deployed to achieve these goals. Such penal provisions on vagrancy, loitering, public indecency, public nuisance, HIV transmission continue to be applied subjectively and with extremely wide discretion to police and impose subjective notions of identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy.
The State’s penchant for imposing a homogeneity of behaviour defies the very logic of humanity – the diversity of human experience. This increasing securitisation of the private and the legislating of issues which could more appropriately be addressed by shifting the collective conscious, must be challenged. They must be challenged in order to ensure accountability to the most vulnerable and those most-at-risk of intersectional discriminations.
Two global commitments compel a closer discourse on the overarching use of criminal laws to curtails personal liberties and diverse expressions of identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, and these are –
- the global commitment to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2030; and
- the achievement of the sustainable development goals [SDGs], particularly Goals 3 [good health and wellbeing], 5 [gender equality], 16 [peace, justice and strong institutions]
Countries in the global South bear the greater burden of the HIV pandemic and challenges with sustainable development from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring universal education and health care, a cleaner global environment, gender empowerment and the elimination of economic inequalities. A major implication of States’ preoccupation with policing of identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy is the undermining of the fundamental rights of people to live lives of dignity and achieve self-actualisation. It is therefore important to hold States accountable to these two global commitments by highlighting the impact these criminal provisions and their application will have on the successful attainment of these global ideals by 2030.
It is acknowledged that neither of these issues, ending AIDS or sustainable development, are conceptually value-neutral or silver bullets, however they present a frame for potentially mobilising civil society across the globe to explore deeper issues of inequality and pervasive social injustices using nomenclature that is familiar and perhaps attractive to the primary duty bearer, the State. Like the public health lens, the development narrative by itself is laden with criticism that potentially undermine the fundamental idea of the universality of rights, or at the very least distort the necessity for this to drive State action towards achieving public health or development imperatives. However, AAI seeks to use the opportunities provided by the global solidarity among States to end AIDS as an epidemic and to achieve the sustainable development goals, to draw attention to the impact of criminal laws that impinge on identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, especially in the Global South, to raise awareness among civil society groups and mobilize action to challenge criminalisation in these areas.
Project Objectives and Expected Outcomes
The project has three main objectives –
Objective 1: Mobilise a critical mass of stakeholders to advance a global discourse on the impact of penal provisions on the achievement of the end of the AIDS epidemic and the achievement of the SDGs.
Objective 2: Support communities and activists in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean taking actions to challenge criminal provisions on identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy.
Objective 3: Provide platforms for evidence-based engagement and dialogue between government representatives, policymakers and civil society organisations using regional inter-governmental mechanisms
AAI has defined the following benchmarks of success: Short-term outcomes
1. By the end of the grant, AAI would have supported the mobilisation of a critical movement of stakeholders from the global South engaged in trans-regional discourse on the impact of criminal laws policing identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, and challenging criminalisation through innovative means.
2. By the end of the grant, AAI would have identified communities and activists in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean taking actions to challenge criminal provisions on identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy.
3. By the end of the grant, AAI would have provided at least three platforms for evidence-based engagement and dialogue between government representatives, policymakers and civil society organisations using regional inter-governmental mechanisms.
1. Greater accountability and progressive, positive action by States on commitments to end AIDS as an epidemic and to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030 through reform of criminal laws impacting on identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy.
2. Improved health, human rights and social justice outcomes for communities in the Global South as result of reform of criminal laws impacting on identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, and/or the applications thereof.
Kene Esom: email@example.com
Bob Mwiinga Munyati: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phillipa Tucker: email@example.com