Justus Eisfeld, Executive Director of Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE) talks about the need to address gender identity in the framework of the UN, as trans people face human right violations on a daily basis.
At the ILGA Panel at the UN Human Rights Council, 7 June 2011, “The Growing Consensus of governments towards the end of criminalization based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”, Eisfeld identified strategies on how to address discrimination on the basis of SOGI [sexual orientation and gender identity] at the UN level.
Welcome to everybody.
Thank you to the Belgian Mission and ILGA to give me this opportunity to address you all, and to speak to you about issues related to gender identity specifically. There is a need for that in the framework of the UN, as trans people face human right violations on a daily basis.
Let me take a moment to talk about terminology first. At GATE we use the term trans* with an asterix to indicate that we talk about people transgressing western binary gender norms. We come in many different shades and colors and are known by many names in different cultures, such as Hijra, meti, katoey, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, travesti, muxe, two spirit, genderqueer, transgender, transsexual, just to name a few.
Some of these names are proud names, while others carry stigma, even disgust, in their cultural load. We share our experience of identifying as a gender different from most people with our kinds of birth bodies. Many of us share experiences of rejections and violence as a result.
As different as we and the societies in which we live are, many of us share problems in the same areas.
For one being recognized by society and our governments as whole people, especially when we try to access ID documents with the names that we use in our daily lives and in the gender that we wish to express.
Many of us face violence and discrimination on a daily basis, and in fact in the last two years alone Transgender Europe has documented over 500 murders of trans people worldwide. Mind you, these are only the cases that were accessible through the internet with a few search terms.
Access to healthcare is an issue for most of us, as many doctors outright refuse to treat us, even for gunshot wounds. At the same time, trans women and men who have sex with men are the group most affected by HIV globally, yet it is also the group most overlooked in efforts to fight the spread of the disease.
Last but not least employment and education are denied to many of us, especially when our trans identities become known.
All these issues are currently unaddressed or grossly inadequately addressed within the framework of the UN. This is further complicated by the fact that while issues around sexual orientation and gender identity overlap, they are far from identical. Some countries that are leaders on sexual orientation issues are also perpetrators of serious human rights abuses against trans people.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not necessarily the same, some countries who are leaders on sexual orientation issues lag behind on Gender identity, sometimes with governments not even knowing.
So what can and needs to be done at the UN level?
At the country level, governments should invest in first educating themselves, by listening to trans groups and organizations about their needs, and make or commission reports on the legal and social situation of trans people in their country - this should include both legal residents and undocumented immigrants, especially in richer countries.
- raise awareness though side events outlining the specific issues: I would like to propose to governments to work with us on preparing a side event specifically on gender identity issues, so that we can gain a better understanding of what issues there are, and where and how they can be addressed at the UN level.
- take up gender identity issues in reports by Special Rapporteurs. Some have already done so, such as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
- include gender identity in resolutions, statements and declarations. A positive example is the joint statement of last December, and the inclusion of gender identity in the most recent version of the South African draft resolution under consideration now. A negative example is the resolution on Extrajudicial Executions of last December, which despite earlier positive signals did not contain a reference to gender identity, even though trans people are most often affected by these murders.
- explore human rights violations against trans people within the framework of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' office. The Commissioner could for example commission research into human rights violations in connection with the issuing of ID documents. The Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe will publish a report containing this information for the Council of Europe member states in two week’s time. It would be extremely valuable if the High Commissioner would follow his example.
- raise gender identity issues in UPR [Universal Periodic Review] process. As in the past, we will continue to provide states with issues that affect trans people specifically. We would like to see these issues raised, and would be very happy to assist governments in formulating their questions.
- raise gender-based violence against trans people in bodies that address violence against women, and gender-based violence more in general. CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women] and the CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] are excellent opportunities to explore the gender-based violence that trans people face for transgressing the gendered norms that do not fit us.
- other UN bodies who can and should be working on gender identity issues:
- the WHO [World Health Organisation] should work to remove gender identity disorder from the list of personality disorders in its international classification of diseases.
- UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and UNAIDS have already started to work with some trans communities in the framework of HIV/AIDS prevention. This needs to be intensified, and more input from diverse trans communities needs to be sought in the process.
- the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] should intensify its existing work for trans refugees, and make asylum procedures better accessible to trans people in imminent danger.
- last but not least, UNICEF [The United Nations Children's Fund] and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] should work on the rights of trans and gender non-conforming children, and their access to education, healthcare and safe housing.
The key issues mentioned earlier should be looked into specifically, as well as other issues that local trans communities identify. Based on this knowledge (or parallel to gathering knowledge) countries should systematically engage to address the obstacles that trans people face in their daily lives. In other words, producing a report should not keep you from working on the obvious.
I hope that these suggestions give you some ideas on how to proceed in the future – please do not hesitate to contact me or GATE’s co-director Mauro Cabral if you have any questions, or if we can assist you in any way.
Thank you for your time, and I am looking forward to a lively discussion.
Justus Eisfeld is a founding co-director of GATE - Global Action for Trans* Equality and was the first co-chairperson of TransGender Europe and founding chairperson of Transgender Netwerk Nederland. He is the author of a recent report on Transphobia for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and is a board member of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, as well as an advisor to the Human Rights Watch LGBT Program. He holds an M.A. in political science/gender studies from the Universiteit van Amsterdam. In a previous life as a lesbian activist since 1994 he was chairperson of IGLYO (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation). Justus Eisfeld currently lives in New York.