Is there a right to sex?’

Beginning in 2010, the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research (CHRR) has held a series of Critical Conversations seminars, each of which examines a contemporary human rights issue. This year’s focus: sexual and reproductive rights.

The series will usually, unless otherwise stated, be held every Monday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in 206 Robson Hall on the U of M’s Fort Garry campus.
Faculty of law professor and CHRR academic director Karen Busby is organizing the critical conversation series along with women’s and gender studies professor Shawna Ferris.

“The idea of the series is to focus on work being done by the centre or work being done by a faculty here at the University of Manitoba, and some other researchers in those areas,” said Busby.

In an interview with the Manitoban, Busby stated that several factors informed the decision to focus on sexual and reproductive rights. First, many individuals at the university deal with the topic, and this is an opportunity to connect like-minded academics. Also, according to Busby, it was seen as an opportunity to address a research gap no other research centre had focused on.

Busby stated that some of the most pressing issues within the realm of sexual and reproductive rights include gendered violence, men’s control over women and girls, finances (or lack thereof) when having children, and assisted human reproduction.

Gendered violence is seen as a pressing issue, both locally and internationally. As such, the goal of the conversations is to promote social change.
“I think most researchers at the U of M have a pragmatic streak, so what they want to do with their research is influence public policy, and so they are interested in getting their research out in the world and having it make a difference,” said Busby.

Neil McArthur, an associate professor of philosophy at the U of M, will be hosting a seminar on Jan. 13 titled, “Is there a right to sex?” His seminar will address the topic of laws pertaining to sexual consent.

McArthur spoke with the Manitoban about how there has been a perceived development in and focus on rape culture, which is a reflection of how popular culture deals with sexual harassment.

“People who care about equality and reproductive rights said, ‘Okay, let’s focus on the courts and make sure the laws protect women and protect gay people. We’re going to allow gay marriage,’ and it was a long, hard battle, but they won,” stated McArthur.

McArthur said that people have started to question society and the cultural battle involved in sexual rights.

“Now that we’ve won a lot of the legal battles, people are sitting back and saying, ‘Okay now, what about the cultural battle? You can’t just change the laws and expect everyone to treat everyone else equally. You have to look at more subtle factors of the media and culture. There is a lot of debate surrounding slut-shaming,” stated McArthur.

Many U of M students agree that it is important to have discussions on sexual and reproductive rights, but also say that more needs to be done.
Alysha Taylor, an economics student, told the Manitoban, “I think it’s important. But they should have more than a conversation. They should impose stiffer penalties.”

Kyle McComas, a third-year business student, also spoke to the Manitoban about this year’s Critical Conversations topic: “While I do think a critical examination and conversation surrounding sexual and reproductive rights would be productive, I can’t say whether I would or would not join in, as it all depends on the questions posed and whether I’m able to formulate an opinion on them.”