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Tracking the backlash: why we're investigating the 'anti-rights' opposition

Growing and globalising networks of conservative and fundamentalist groups are pushing back against our sexual and reproductive rights. Help us investigate.

Claire Provost
Lara Whyte Claire Provost
1 November 2017

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Women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQ individuals are under threat in countries around the world.

Growing and globalising networks of conservative and fundamentalist groups are pushing back against our sexual and reproductive rights. Who are they, and where does their money and power come from? What specific strategies are they using, and with what impact?

50.50 is a uniquely global, independent media platform for in-depth coverage of gender, sexuality and social justice, worldwide. Today, we need this space to be bolder than ever. We need truly fearless feminist media to investigate and expose threats to our rights – and how to resist them.

'We need truly fearless feminist media to investigate and expose threats to our rights – and how to resist them.'

This year, we’ve begun to investigate how conservative and fundamentalist actors, from different faiths, and from around the world, are joining international “anti-rights” alliances to try to block or roll back progress on sexual and reproductive rights.

This is complicated, delicate work. Many of these interconnected groups have seemingly deep pockets, long-term strategic plans and community organisers across the globe, often ‘weaponising’ the infrastructure of religious organisations and making agile, creative use of online communications.

In May we reported on the 11th World Congress of Families summit, where hundreds of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ activists and their political allies gathered in Budapest, Hungary for four days of talks and workshops “to unite and equip leaders to promote the natural family.”

Speakers at the Budapest summit were explicit: this means a married mother and father and their children. They name-checked fights against comprehensive sexuality education, abortion, same-sex marriage, “gender ideology,” and surrogacy. One emphasised: “this is a war.”

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We also zoomed in on the communications strategies of ultra-conservative groups at the summit and how they are increasingly using the language of human rights activists to organise under a “family friendly” banner – with seemingly worrying success.

We looked at how to fight anti-rights fundamentalism at the United Nations, publishing an extract from the first report of the Observatory on the Universality of Rights, a new initiative of women's rights organisations. It sounded the alarm on the growing influence of these groups at the highest levels of international decision-making.

In Italy, we saw how the widespread use of “conscientious objection” to abortion can restrict our rights and threaten our health even in countries where it has been legal for decades. Journalist Claudia Torrisi found that as many as seven out of ten Italian gynecologists refuse to perform abortions.

See all stories in the tracking the backlash series.

This is a trend that we will continue to follow: the use of ‘religious freedom’ arguments to push back against women’s reproductive rights. Some “anti-rights” groups run training camps on how to use strategies like these.

Helping us to develop this series is investigative journalist Lara Whyte, who has joined 50.50 as a commissioning editor focused on special projects and our tracking the backlash investigation.

This summer she wrote two stories about the tactics of ultra-conservative Spanish group CitizenGo, including how it used the tragedy of an infant’s terminal illness to launch a viral campaign for ‘parental rights.'

In September, Whyte reported on anti-abortion campaigners in Ireland and how they are successfully recruiting young, articulate millennial women into fighting potential changes to Irish laws that would open the doors to reproductive justice.

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Last month, US social worker and sex-positive feminist blogger Feminista Jones wrote about how anti-abortion extremists are exploiting #BlackLivesMatter to vilify African-American women. This shows how “fighting anti-choice campaigns requires more than a gendered approach – reproductive justice demands direct anti-racist work too,” she said.

Upcoming pieces include reports from Mexico and Romania and investigations into how the backlash against our rights is taking place online, as well as offline.

Anti-rights groups appear to be using the internet and social media to organise and radicalise supporters in innovative and cynical new ways, hijacking conversations and spreading misinformation and emotionally-manipulative narratives to specially-targeted audiences vulnerable to extremism.

As feminist investigative journalists, our goal is to track but ultimately disrupt this backlash against our rights. We aim to reveal how these groups work at local, regional and international levels, and the impact they are having; to puncture false narratives with facts, and to help gather the information women need to effectively mount resistances.

Join us, and watch this space.

Contact us with story tips and ideas for this series.

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Donate to 50.50: every £1 goes into more in-depth and critical journalism, commentary and analysis from women around the globe.

Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

US Christian ‘fundamentalists’, some linked to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, have poured at least $50m of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the past decade – boosting the far right.

That's just the tip of the iceberg: we've got many more leads to chase down. Find out more and support our work here.

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