Tuesday, March 10, 2015

See or be seen?

If there was a theme to the first day of the CSW, it could be visibility, or all that was not meant to make it to the CSW itself. With a weak Political Declaration that has left us in bewilderment to what has happened with all that was carefully formulated and agreed in Beijing 20 years ago. And as these things go, the elephant in the room will not go away, but manifests itself more forcefully than before. If some governments do not want to see us, we have to make ourselves seen.

It is for this reason that the LBTI (lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex) women’s caucus decided to respond with its own statement today: “We are here to remind you that, twenty years ago in Beijing, sexual orientation was discussed openly and extensively. (…) We refuse to be rendered invisible, or to have development policies touted as progress even as they ignore, marginalize or create further risk for us.”

Also the official NGO-delegate speaking at the opening session, Lydia Alpizar-Duran, Executive Director of AWID, opened firmly and courageously: “I want to celebrate all women, lesbians, black, indigenous, urban and rural poor women, trans and intersex people, disabled women, workers, young and elders, women in all their diversity. (…) We women in all our diversity deserve much better than this.”

All the more reason to be excited about the steps forward that do happen, such as the second government side-event at the CSW on the role of governments in ending violence and discrimination that took place today. Having such an event on the premises of the UN is not a given, as the competition for space is fierce during the CSW. Having governments claim a room for an event on LBTI women’s issues – a topic that is highly contested by opposition forces – is hugely significant and shows the commitment of governments to these issues. Even better, it created the much needed visibility in an environment that is often hostile to LBTI issues and the people advocating for them. The room was heaving with people, to the extent that security had to close the door to prevent more people from coming in, including the speaker of the Council of Europe who had to convince the security guard that she really was on the panel and needed to get in.

The event coordinated by the Dutch government and co-sponsored by a Core Group of countries working on LGBTI issues within the UN hosted a panel with representatives from Argentina, Aruba, The Philippines, The Netherlands (Minister Bussemaker), OHCHR and the Council of Europe. The governments shared some of their best practices in terms of legislation, such as the Argentinian gender reassignment legislation inspiring the Netherlands and other European countries to follow suit, all gender bathrooms in public spaces in The Philippines and the binding Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence by the Council of Europe. The need for addressing violence, stigma and discrimination, changing mind-sets along with legislative change, intensified regional and international cooperation, and extending anti-discrimination to all areas including employment, health, education and services, were brought up by the speakers.

Probably the most remarkable statement came from the Maltese Minister Helena Dalli, of which the room did not seem to quite grasp the revolutionary impact just yet. She addressed how the main source of discrimination of LGBTI and gender queer people is gender-based and has its source in the gender binary. Malta has recently made big steps forward, but the one that can be described as historical already is the inclusion of ‘sex characteristics’ as a ground of discrimination and the criminalisation of non-consensual surgeries on genitals. This will put an end to the ‘normalisation’ surgeries that have been done without medical necessity on intersex babies and children without their consent and is a gross violation of the integrity of the body. Malta will be the first country in the world to actively protect intersex people this way.

It is governments such as the Dutch that we need to keep LBTI issues visibly on the agenda in intergovernmental fora  such as the CSW and post-2015, also in the face of adversary. But it is inspiring examples such as Malta that show how bold political leadership can make change happen in law and in society, that has real impact on the everyday life of LBTI women.

= Joyce Hamilton, COC Netherlands, international advocacy officer=

COC is one of the partners of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform