Religious Conservatives Denounce International GLBT Group’s Efforts
Religious conservatives have targeted a new document from a respected international GLBT rights organization intended to empower equality advocates seeking justice for women, gays, and the transgendered.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), founded in 1990, initially sought to address social and legal issues faced by sexual minorities and women in Russia.
Since then, however, the group has taken on a more global focus. The group has also attempted to make the tools for advocacy available to a wider swath of individuals worldwide.
In a new document titled "Equal and Indivisible: Crafting Inclusive Shadow Reports for CEDAW [the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women]," the international rights group seeks to empower social justice and GLBT equality leaders with "A handbook for writing shadow/alternative reports for CEDAW incorporating issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression."
The handbook addresses sexuality and gender identity in terms not strictly associated with cultural understandings of gender, pointing out that in some societies, women are characterized according to preconceived notions of femininity such as "passivity, weakness, docility, and domesticity," social concepts of gender that "constricted the options available to women in all aspects of life."
The handbook noted that, "Scholars acknowledged that gender should be understood as constructing a system of unequal power relations between men and women.
"By positing that sex and gender were conceptually distinct, scholars were able to argue that not only that gender was malleable, but that also that inequalities associated with gender roles and gender stereotyping could legitimately be challenged."
The handbook also points out that gender is not always a cut and dried matter of strictly binary male-female identity; indeed, the handbook noted, physical and psychological factors such as external genitalia, chromosomes, and gender identity could challenge any such concrete ideas of gender.
For all of those reasons, the authors of the handbook wrote that, "effective advocacy requires identifying the most viable ways to reach common ground and build a foundation for creating meaningful social chance.
"In the case of CEDAW, we believe that we will be most likely to reach such a common ground and help precipitate change that benefits all women [emphasis is that of the original authors] by recommending that the Committee distinguishes between sex and gender."
The authors also caution that, "Readers should... consider this handbook to be the product of a particular historical moment--one that demands a particular strategic approach to working with CEDAW on discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity."
The handbook sketched out a history of beneficial effects that CEDAW has had for women the world over, including "migrant women, trafficked women, indigenous women, and women with disabilities" that "have... articulated their claims form for equality and for protection under international human rights law," along with "lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups" that have also been able to stand up for their needs and rights.
However, the handbook acknowledges that difficulties have stood in the way and that they still persist.
"One of the greatest challenges in the human rights arena in recent times has been the demands for visibility and recognition by groups advocating for sexual orientation and gender identity as bases for discrimination and violence, specifically when sexual or gender identity or expression are outside cultural or religious norms.
"Some extremely negative responses to the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into mainstream human rights discourse are rationalized by archaic customs and traditional practices that perpetuate discrimination and violence against women," the handbook continues.
The handbook identifies "heteronormativity" as a prime reason for such resistance, given that "heternormativity" seeks to enshrine narrow and specific gender roles and sexualities as the only correct or acceptable ones, often in connection with efforts centered on "consolidating male power."
The handbook observes, "Within the heteronormaitive order, non-conforming social and sexual behaviors are labeled deviant and threatening to morality, public health, and public order." In other words, any departure from strict heterosexuality and assigned gender roles is automatically seen and portrayed as dangerous to society, if not to civilization itself.
However, such rigidity seems to be a modern imposition, or perhaps invention: the handbook notes that a certain "fluidity" of understanding with regards to gender and gender roles is present in many indigenous cultures, with some traditional cultures honoring "third genders" to accommodate individuals who simply do not fit easily into either a strictly defined make or female role.