International: Where are diverse gender identities in the Sixteen day campaign?

International: Where are diverse gender identities in the Sixteen day campaign?

Date: December 1, 2015
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Johannesburg, 27 November: In a world of global citizenship, social media makes individuals previously isolated more accessible. Despite the rampant homophobia that still pervades attitudes and mind sets, diverse gender identities are on the agenda.

Recent media clamour has focused on celebrity transgender identities like American Olympian Bruce Jenner who has transitioned to become Caitlyn Jenner. This opened room for discussion and debate within social media platforms in Africa and globally over a topic once deemed taboo.

It is easy to roll one’s eyes during the Sixteen days, campaign from 25 November, International Day of No Violence Against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, as everyone is suddenly a gender champion, opposed to patriarchy, and supports women’s rights. Does this, however, include promoting and protecting those persecuted and abused due to their diverse gender identities?

Gender identity is described as a person’s inner sense as either being male or female. A person’s gender identity develops in early childhood. Some young children may not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. The misunderstandings due to diverse gender identities have seen several victimised by perpetrators whom unknowingly behaved out of fear.

In October renowned feminist Germaine Greer threw the cat among the pidgeons when she declared that “transgender women are not women”. In a BBC interview Greer commented that in her view it is a form of misogyny, “that a man who goes to lengths to become a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman.”

The concern is that while several voiceless survivors of gender based violence still try to get justice and equal treatment, the world begins to focus on the quandary of men whom feel trapped and boxed due to a forced social gender identity. Is this not a privileged dilemma, a case of men once more taking attention away from the thousands of women who continue to go unrecognised and abused?

While for purely biological reasons it is understandable that some people are born intersexed and hence deserve support in coming to terms with their gender, Greer argues that a man who medically transitions to become a woman, actually inflicts an extraordinary act of violence on himself. Transgender persons have, on the other hand, testified that change of name, hairstyle, clothing, pubertal suppression, cross-sex hormone treatment, and surgical treatment has brought about a better sense of self in the world.

In response the Caitlyn Jenner story, Denis Nzioka, a renowned sexual and gender minority activist, researcher and journalist from Kenya, said that Jenner “had undergone quite a transformation. The fact that she transitioned to be who she is in the full glare of the media, really brought to the forefront some of the unique challenges that trans persons face… The uniqueness of the story has been inspirational, to see a transgender accepted and supported by family and the majority of the public.”

Leaving aside the celebrity cases, the reality on the ground is that crimes against gender diverse persons continue to be committed across the globe.

In August and October 2015 the media reported an upsurge in violence targeting LGBTI people in Uganda. During the time five people were attacked in a space of six days and beaten badly, all of them known activists, reported Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). Stigmatisation and discrimination fuel these attacks.

But there are some positive strides. In October 2014 Kenya’s high court has ordered the country’s education authorities to amend the name on a school certificate of a woman born male, from Andrew Mbugua to Audrey Mbugua. The ruling “stunned” Audrey and Kenya, a country with conservative views towards sexuality. In July 2014, the high court ordered the authorities to register her lobby group, Transgender Education and Advocacy, saying their refusal to do so had no legal basis and was an abuse of power.

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where the constitution, outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The inclusion of this clause means that the human rights of persons who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) can, on paper in South Africa at least, be deemed protected. But the struggles of trans gender persons continue.

A huge challenge lies within the South African Police Service (SAPS), says Busiswe Deyi, research co-ordinator at Gender Dynamix. Police are legally obliged to classify trans persons according to the sex listed on their ID document.

Currently there is no mechanism in place which allows one to change their name and gender assignment at the same time. So you have a situation where your name reflects your gender but your gender description is wrong. This is followed by periods of suspicion within changing ones gender or name on identity documentation. The inconsistency during that period has led to fraud investigations by police in several cases.

The New Zealand government is changing the way it records gender – allowing people to identify as “gender diverse”. According to July 2015 reports, the new classification records the identity of all people, including those who see themselves as different from male or female. This is to form an integral part of the Statistical Standard for Gender Identity in the country.

The key message emerging as we build towards Human Rights Day on 10 December is that the rights on women, men and trans gender persons are human rights. No one has the right to persecute another because of who they are and how they identify, or what they believe. That is the essence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we will be celebrating.

(Shamiso Chigorimbo is a researcher at Gender Links. This article is written in her personal capacity as part of a special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism being produced by the Gender Links New Service).




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