Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Defending the rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women at the CSW58

This year, the Commission on the Status of Women focuses on development. When we are genuinely thinking about development, women’s human rights, and equality for all, it’s very important to ask ourselves who benefit from development, and who are being left out.

Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are among the last groups that benefit from development. Access to employment, health care, education and housing are often not guaranteed for women who do not conform to existing ideas of gender and sexuality roles. Discrimination on the work floor can lead to women being fired, not hired for jobs that they are qualified for, or being harassed by co-workers or superiors. Women and girls are bullied in schools, or even kicked out, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and threats against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women have a severe impact on their health and wellbeing. And making sure you have a roof over your head is pretty hard when you don’t have a decent job, or when you’re being discriminated against by the people that should provide the housing.

It is clear that any discussion about development and human rights should include considerations about discrimination against women, on any grounds, but definitely also on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, for some states even talking about the rights of lesbians, bisexual women and transgender is a non-starter. They argue that these concepts are ‘new concepts’, that these rights are ‘new rights’. As Eugenia Lopez, one of the panelists in COC’s parallel event last Friday remarked: “They say there is no agreed language. Well, I want to ask them: have you read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It says that all human beings are born free and equal. It says that everyone is entitled to the same rights, without distinction of any kind.”

During this CSW, something amazing happened: countries that never spoke out about these issues before, are now being vocal. El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines and other states have defended the inclusion of the particular situation of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in the Agreed Conclusions. The fact that it’s countries from Latin America and Asia who are championing this cause here proves that it is not – as states like Russia and Uganda would like us to believe – a “Western idea”.

But of course, the CSW is not just about development. It is also, and maybe even more so, about geopolitics, strategic battles, and attempts to limit the rights of women in general, and especially those rights that are linked to sexuality. Amidst the overwhelming conservative forces, it is tempting to regard sexual orientation and gender identity – or the acronym that is often used within the UN: “SOGI” – as a topic of lower priority.

But this is not about an acronym. This is not about strategy. This is about women’s lives, about their human rights, about them being able to go to school or to go to the doctor. For them to have a house and a job. For them to live without fear and threat. It is about my transgender friends in Honduras. It is about my lesbian colleagues in Botswana.

It is about the commitment to securing human rights for everyone, without distinction of any kind. I invite the individuals who take place in those negotiation seats in the last two days of the CSW, and all of those who will be working on the post-2015 development agenda, to keep that reality in mind. These women fight for change every day of their lives. You can give them a hand. 

Nori Spauwen, International Advocacy Officer, COC Netherlands