Leaving no queer woman behind on International Women’s Day

by Jessica Stern | OutRight Action International
Thursday, 7 March 2019 17:31 GMT

A lesbian couple kisses after attending a symbolic wedding event on Valentine's Day in Mexico City, Mexico, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero

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International Women’s Day should include all women – whether lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer

Jessica Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International

Wherever you are in the world, news headlines and social media feeds are likely to tell you that today is International Women’s Day. But what that means will vary greatly. For some, it is an opportunity to draw attention to the still prevalent challenges to achieving gender equality. For others, it is a day to hail traditional gender roles. Yet for some, it is a day like any other day; one that doesn’t interest them.

And for me? For me it’s about inclusivity and diversity – the exact concept that this day embodies. Or rather should embody. International Women’s Day should be about inclusivity of the diversity of women – whether lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer (LBT+); women of colour; women from a diverse social and economic backgrounds, religions and families; women with a range of physical abilities; and gender non-conforming people.

In other words, today is about all of us.

It is no coincidence that sessions of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the foremost intergovernmental body dedicated to gender equality, begin around International Women’s Day.

This year, it starts on March 11. But with growing populism around the world, the CSW has become a fierce battleground between those who seek to take ever more steps towards gender equality and those who oppose progress.

Inclusivity and diversity are at the centre of this battleground.

In recent years, in no small part due to the relentless advocacy of women's rights organisations, and increasingly LGBT+ groups as well, many countries have stepped up their efforts to ensure the CSW becomes more inclusive.

For LBT+ women, those efforts are more visible this year than ever before. A few years ago, the only specific events for LBT+ people organised under auspices of the CSW were arranged by civil society.

That is no longer the case.

This year, there are at least four events prominently featuring LBT-specific themes (two of them state-sponsored), and for the first time, the European Union, Argentina and Malta will jointly host a trans-specific event.

Yet one central issue remains. The current commission draft references “the family” between a man and a woman as the foundation of society, instead of all forms of families from households led by widows to grandparents raising grandchildren, and it mentions the specificity of motherhood or fatherhood, instead of all-encompassing parenthood.

This language suggests there is only one form of legitimate family. It specifically excludes LBT+ people, and women who don’t want to or can’t found families or become parents. It also stands in stark opposition to gender equality as a whole, echoing instead the traditional gender roles which have for centuries kept women back from reaching their full potential.

Not only are there events designed to increase inclusivity of LBT+ people, there are also many events designed to exclude us, to challenge our right to equality, to protection and to being who we are.

We see events from right-wing organisations attacking so-called gender ideology where they talk about “real women” and the need to protect “femininity”, as well as scaremongering rhetoric about “the transgender agenda” hijacking gender equality.

Surely the rejection of the notion that gender is the sum of our body parts has been at the core of the gender equality movement.

Gender is an intensely personal experience. It is determined by complex societal, economic and cultural dynamics, and therefore only an individual can speak to their own reality.

The claim that “the transgender agenda” is hijacking gender equality is simply not true. Trans people have been, and continue to be, among the most invisible groups targeted for violence and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression around the world.

What we need is for the gender equality agenda to centre the experiences of trans people and those most marginalised on the basis of gender and other forms of oppression.

Every day, gay and trans people’s human rights and dignity are abused around the world in ways that shock the conscience.

With expertise, connections and experience gained over three decades, we all must – on this International Women’s Day – fight to protect and advance LGBT+ peoples’ dignity and human rights.