SRI Conversations Summary: The Political Economy of Sexual Rights 2023

Sexual rights are profoundly impacted by the interrelated global crises brought on by capitalism through rampant neoliberalism, unchecked extractivism and climate degradation, violent populism and nationalism, soaring inequality within and between states, and entrenched patriarchal, racist, classist and ableist systems of oppression.  Despite the core and often repeated tenet that human rights are indivisible and interdependent, rights are mostly understood and articulated in individualistic and decontextualised ways that align with neoliberal conceptions of the market, the individual, the state and global governance. Civil and political rights are privileged over economic, social, and cultural rights in multilateral spaces, which remain dominated by Northern and wealthy states. Thus, it is not uncommon for these states, on the one hand, to advocate for sexual and reproductive rights to be recognised through global agreements while, on the other, they impose aid conditionalities and economic sanctions (or other harmful coercive measures) on states despite the adverse impact these measures have on the realisation of those very rights.

In other instances, the right to development or other economic rights is articulated in ways that exclude sexual rights. The capture and deployment of anti-capitalist, decolonial discourse in human rights spaces by populist and conservative states and actors erodes the power of these revolutionary ideologies. In an ever-increasingly polarised world, sexual rights remain a convenient proxy for geopolitical tensions.

Although there has been a lot of research and advocacy addressing the ways in which neoliberal economic policies and practices affect health, such as through sanctions, aid conditionality, illicit financial flows, neoliberal fiscal and monetary policy, privatisation, austerity measures, and debt, there is not enough research or advocacy on how these policies specifically impact sexual rights.

As part of the development of a new ten-year strategy, SRI sought to deepen its analysis of the political economy of sexual rights. Using a participatory approach, SRI convened a series of three conversations that teased out different dimensions of the overarching theme. Each conversation drew in various actors working nationally, regionally, and globally.

This document contains a summary of the interventions of our 3 conversations of 2023 on the political economy of sexual rights.