What value does the fight for LGBTI rights bring to women’s and feminist groups? Why should LGBTI rights supporters get behind gender equality? We address these questions here, in the form of different arguments for action, views from activists, and links to further resources. This page is destined to be updated on a regular basis, as part of an ongoing effort to encourage alliance-building around gender and sexual rights questions on IDAHOT, and all year round!
Arguments for Action
Resisting twin assaults on women’s rights and LGBTI rights
The right of LGBTI communities to express themselves, to associate freely, to form relationships freely, and to talk openly about sexuality and gender identity, are all connected with the most fundamental values of feminism. After all, what feminism is really about is (a) equality, and (b) creating a world where women (and men!) can enjoy equal relationships with the people they care about. The most basic rights of LGBTI communities are therefore a strategic battleground for women’s movements as well.
Meanwhile, LGBTI groups have a great deal to gain by joining feminists in challenging conservative ideals of masculinity and femininity as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ opposites. Many right-wing and religious groups would have us believe that there is a right way to have what it ‘takes’ to be a man or a woman, and that men ‘naturally’ ought to do certain things (politics, sports, maths, take an ‘active’ role in relationships?) and women ought to do others (social projects, homemaking, take on a ‘passive’ role in relationships?). Feminists have been battling to challenge these ideas for years, and that agenda fits squarely alongside LGBTI activists’ efforts to challenge ideas about ‘proper’ gender roles as well.
All too often, however, sexual and gender equality advocates fail to work in alliance around the fundamental interests which they share. For example, international outcry has greeted Russia’s recent assault on LGBTI communities’ freedoms of expression and assembly – cloaked in the language of ‘protecting’ children’s rights and ‘traditional values’. Yet LGBTI rights activists have often failed to note twin crackdowns on women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Such a shame, since this adds fuel to the arguments of LGBTI activists!
Specifically, despite obvious parallels to the ‘propaganda’ agenda, the passing of legislation restricting the advertising of abortions, in November 2013, went largely unremarked in international media. Even in very well known cases restricting feminist groups’ Freedoms of Expression and Assembly, such as feminist punk/art collective, Pussy Riot, the connections with LGBTI rights questions are frequently missed.
More recently the Ugandan government passed not just the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (which drastically toughens already draconian restrictions on LGBT expression) but – in the same 24 hours – the Anti-Pornography Bill which imposes a dress code for women; outlawing miniskirts and any clothing which exposes parts of the body deemed sexually explicit.
Meanwhile in Armenia, the current gender equality bill is under attack from right-wing interests, attempting to smear it as an entry-door for homosexuality, perversion and family breakdown, etc., often with explicit reference to ‘propaganda’. Attacks on freedoms of sexual and gender expression, here, are clearly (and coercively) intertwined.
And, although the contexts are very different, these projects are being championed by similar sets of actors – representatives of conservative and authoritarian regimes, who frame their assaults on basic human rights as a ‘defensive’ measure designed to guard against ‘Western’ incursions on ‘public morality’.
As the Armenian case demonstrates also, one of the effects here, at times, can be to effectively split LGBT and women’s/feminist energies, marginalize feminist voices and, therefore, to constrict space for the expression of alliances.
Challenging compound inequalities
At the same time compound inequalities, such as the multiple effects of transphobia and sexism in fueling violence against trans women and men – especially trans people of colour, and from the global South – are often missed in international initiatives focused on ‘gender’ or ‘sexuality’ as lenses for interpreting what violence and discrimination are.
Largely tailored to an academic audience, the recent publication of the international ‘Trans-inclusive Feminist Statement’ in September 2013 – signed by over 800 activists, artists, writers, educators, academics and organisations in 41 countries – revealed the depth (and breadth!) of feeling which currently exists to advance a more inclusive vision of what feminism is about, and to openly challenge transphobia within women’s and feminist movement spaces in particular.
New publics are waking up to the insights of intersectional feminist activism!
Celebrating trans inclusion and gender diversity
What is also particularly interesting to see, within emerging transfeminist movements in Europe, North America, Latin America and South Asia, for example, is a clear embrace and extension of many key feminist values: the right to self-determine one’s own identity and expression; the right to bodily autonomy; a commitment to unpacking, challenging and transcending gender norms and hierarchies; an ethics which recognises different dimensions of inequality and human rights as multiple, material and interlocking.
With its long-established focus on mobilising civil society constituencies more broadly, the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia can offer a specific entry point for women’s and feminist groups to celebrate trans inclusion and gender diversity within the feminist movement, and/or to create space for dialogue around possibilities for new alliances more broadly.
Promoting lesbian & bisexual women’s rights
In many cultural contexts, lesbian and bisexual women’s groups are also frequently faced with twin difficulties: attempting to raise the profile of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within mainstream women’s and feminist movements, whilst also trying to promote recognition of gender inequalities and (women’s sexual rights and freedoms) within mainstream LGBT movements.
Consciously or not, many LGBT movements around the world are structured in a heteronormative (and cisnormative) manner. ‘Higher-level’, ‘productive’ and ‘political’ positions and – on the other hand – ‘grass roots’, ‘reproductive’ and ‘social’ tasks remain routinely gendered at the group, movement and international level.
Understanding how sexuality plays a role in violence against women
When organized religions and laws failed in fully locking up women’s sexualities, it is was no coincidence that medicine took over the role. Women who were engaged in relations outside marriages, or dared to get pregnant while doing so, were sent to mental institutions only a few decades ago. They had to be ‘crazy’ to take such actions!
And, efforts to lock up, limit and to ‘correct’ women’s (and everyone’s) free expressions of themselves and their sexualities are still in action today; often interlocking with horrific forms of sexual violence practiced everyday, all around the world.
Defining the right to sexual pleasure and love as a human right
When the world looks like a battle field, it seems almost impossible to imagine women enjoying themselves.
The agenda of the global women’s movement is occupied with advocating for lives that are being lost everyday in hate fueled murders, protesting against rape and sexual assaults that impact brutally on the social and mental health of numerous women, and challenging lack of access to justice, employment, economic and political equality.
But in all that, it is important to remember that pleasure and desire are also a part of how we get beyond victimhood and painful stories. By challenging the forms of sexuality that promote violent masculinities, it may be possible to imagine sexual rights that are based on sexual equality.
We have to remember that our bodies are not only to be protected but also cherished, and they come with joy and desires, which ought to flourish!
All around the world, people everyday rise to show this and to challenge the inequalities that bind us all – women, men and gender non-conforming people, LGBTI, queer, questioning or straight, people of all different nationalities, cultures, ethnicities and class backgrounds – and women’s and feminist groups are so often at the heart of driving forward this agenda!
With it’s clear focus on sexuality and sexual rights, but also on the mobilisation of allies from all walks of life, the IDAHOT can offer a useful opportunity for extending cross-cutting actions which open a platform for a wealth of debates among concerned groups.
As part our coverage on International Women’s Day 2014, we asked feminist activists in different countries to express their opinions, experiences and outlooks, in honour of March 8.
Snapshots from Egypt, Switzerland, Japan & Armenia
Filmmaker Mariel Maciá, on Queer/Feminist Film
Brazil’s Sonia Corrêa on Sexual/Gender Rights
Activist, HeJin Kim, on Culture & Cisgender Privilege
- Institute of Development Studies: Toolkit on Sexuality and Social Justice – a Resource hub dealing with gender, sexuality and social justice issues.
- Sexuality Policy Watch: Website – Sexuality Policy Watch is a global coalition of researchers and advocates working on gender, sexuality and human rights.
- Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSHRH): Resources and updates on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issues
- Association for Women in Development (AWID): Website - An international, feminist, membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights.
- UN Women: Website – UN Women is the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.