International Women's Day 2010: Including the LBT Agenda

Marking the March 8 International Women's Day and participating in the ongoing Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations over the last week has given us at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission an opportunity to reflect on our work in the context of the global women's movement.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. It is also intended to be a day of observance of work for women’s empowerment and gender equality. However, if that work does not include work for the advancement of the rights of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people (LBT) then it remains incomplete. We join the international community in celebrating the achievements of women while noting the particular challenges facing and achievements of LBT people around the world.

2010 CSW NGO Beijing
CSW NGO Global Women's Forum: Beijing +15.

The global United Nation theme chosen for this year's International Women's Day is, "2010: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all." This theme encompasses many of the urgent issues facing LBT people across the globe in 2010, including discrimination, violence and invisibility. IGLHRC calls on civil society, States, and the broader international community to advance the civil and political, as well as economic and social rights of LBT people as part of the larger effort to advance the rights of women. This is essential to ensuring equal opportunities and progress for all and requires work in diverse areas – from discrimination in employment and education to work on issues of violence and impunity and on ensuring visibility and recognition.

Discrimination in Employment and Education
In the workplace, discrimination against LBT people because of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression remains a barrier to social and economic advancement. For example, lesbian women in China are often denied employment or job promotions if they appear too masculine. Male coworkers sexually harass LBT people who often cannot lodge complaints because of the risk of retaliation by employers. Transgender and gender variant people in particular face blackmail, harassment and sexual violence.

In Canada, where the Charter on Rights and Freedoms protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, LGBT children and children of parents of the same sex still face high levels of bullying in schools, with girls facing the highest levels of abuse from other students.

Violence and Impunity
While violence is a significant threat to all women, rising rates of attacks against LBT people in many regions of the world point to the need for stronger anti-discrimination laws and LBT-focused police protection. Human rights defenders who defend the rights of LBT people also frequently experience threats to their safety, with police participating in or doing nothing to stop these violations.

In Latin America, documented cases of violence against trans people indicate a crisis of epidemic proportions. Preliminary results from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project of Transgender Europe (TGEU), which monitors incidents of trans related violence across the globe, have shown that the highest rates of murder reports come from Latin America. In total 91 murders of trans people, mostly travesti or transgender women, were reported in 11 Latin American countries in 2008, and 73 murders of trans people were reported in just the first six months of 2009.

In Turkey, targeted killings of transgender women are part of a broader pattern of violence against LGBT people in the country. Since November 2008, at least eight transgender people have been murdered in Istanbul and Ankara.

In South Africa, where LGBT people are explicitly protected by the Constitution, homophobia and transphobia within the courtroom can lead to a sense of impunity for the perpetrators of grave violence against LBT people, such as in the partial conviction that resulted from the trial for the murder of South African lesbian Eudy Simelane.

Visibility and Legal Recognition
In addition to the threat of violence and discrimination, LBT people are rendered invisible by states and societies and oftentimes by other rights and social justice movements. In many countries, the existence of women who have sex with other women and transgender or gender variant people is not acknowledged and LBT movements must struggle to gain recognition and legitimacy. In some countries, such as Nepal, explicit acknowledgement by the government of the existence of LBT people has led to concrete protections and rights, such as passports and national identification cards that can include a ”third gender” classification and the right to marry a person of the same sex.

Transnational LBT Movement
Since 1975, LBT people from all over the world have made great strides in advancing their issues on the international stage within institutions such as the United Nations, most recently in 2010, at the 15th Anniversary of the Beijing Process and the Platform for Action and the 54th Commission on the Status of Women, where for the first time, a State, the Netherlands, sponsored a side-event focused entirely on the issues of LBT people, entitled “Human Dignity for LBT Women”.

Activists Grace Poore (IGLHRC), Geeta Misra (CREA) and Jessica Stern (IGLHRC) at "Human Dignity for LBT Women." Geeta Misra co-moderated the panel.

Still, groups representing the interests and views of LBT people have a long fight for recognition in these venues.

Read A Short History of Lesbians at the United Nations, by the ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Mexico 1975
The First UN World Conference on Women fuels the lesbian movement. The lesbian caucus raises the question of the exclusion of lesbian issues from the agenda of the conference. The press publishes information on the "Lesbian Workshop," an event held in parallel to the World Conference.

Copenhagen 1980
Second UN World Conference on Women. The organizing Committee of the Forum for the World Decade for Women approves five proposals for workshops on lesbian issues.

Nairobi 1985
Third UN World Conference on Women. The International Lesbian Information Service organizes seven workshops. The lesbian caucus formulates specific demands. To protect them from the local authorities, the head of the Forum has the lesbian workshop tent taken down, an act that puts lesbian issues in the spotlight, During the conference, the official delegate of the Netherlands talks openly for the first time about lesbian issues.

Vienna 1993
World Conference on Human Rights organised by the UN. Two Latin American lesbians testify publically in the Court of Human Rights, telling the main obstacles encountered by lesbians in their lives.

Cairo 1994
For the first time, the expression "sexual rights" is referenced in an official intergovernmental document for the Conference on Population and Development. The debate on sexuality was vigorous, but the term was withdrawn.

Beijing 1995
Fourth UN World Conference on Women, An international campaign succeeds in having lesbian issues included in the official agenda, and a lesbian "tent" is set up throughout the conference. The official Conference Committee discusses the expression "sexual orientation" for more than a week; the discussion and arguments attract the attention of the press. A South African lesbian testifies at the UN plenary in the name of the lesbian caucus.

Canada 1998
Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. 150 NGOs come together in the Global Forum for Human Rights and produce a document specifically dealing with sexual orientation and including in its final report recommendations from LGBT groups.

New York 2000 - Beijing + 5
Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the follow up to the Beijing Platform for Action. At the Millennium Summit of the UN, the eight Millennium Development Goals are established. Harsh debates were carried out for the inclusion of discrimination based on sexual orientation on the final texts. Though it was removed, some countries supported the inclusion of sexual orientation on the list of obstacles that women face, and so it was set down in the records.

New York 2005 - Beijing +10
UN Commission on the Status of Women conducts the ten-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action, Lobbying by right-wing and conservative movements resulted in a political climate that was hostile to sexual and reproductive rights issues. Nonetheless, paragraph 96 of the Beijing Platform for Action could be reaffirmed, protecting women's autonomy in decision-making about sexuality

To ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for all LBT women, the international community must continue to pressure governments to uphold their national and international human rights obligations and to respect, protect, and promote the lives and dignity of LBT people everywhere.

International Women’s Day Web Round-Up:

International Women’s Day Official Website


IWD lesbian and bi event “SUGAR AND SPICE”

The Advocate’s IWD LBT workshop

UN Women Watch


Gender Across Borders

RH Reality Check

The Hathor Legacy

What does IWD mean to you? Share below in the comments!