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Statement on item 8 General Debate: Women and Sports

Thank you, President. 

Action Canada makes this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative.

Through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States explicitly agreed to prioritize the realization of all women’s human rights, yet we see that States evade their obligations when it comes to dealing with the intersections between race and gender. 

In March 2019, the UN Human Rights Council in a welcome move adopted a resolution on, Elimination of discrimination against women and girls in sport. The resolution calls on States to ensuresporting associations repeal rules, policies and practices that negate women’s their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy. Crucially, the resolution acknowledged and highlighted the specific discrimination perpetuated by sporting associations based on race and gender.   Yet, in April 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed a challenge filed by South African athlete Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the IAAF.[1] The CAS press release on the rationale for this dismissal is evidence of sporting associations placing themselves above human rights norms,  While the IAAF is ostensibly international, these regulations and their continued revival in various reveals their interpretation of ‘international – white and global north. The IAAF regulations, and those modelled on them, prescribe particular cultural constructions of womanhood, where white, feminine presenting, heterosexual womanhood serves as the standard and any deviation from this standard is seen as abnormal, deviant, wrong and requiring of “fixing”. 

Regulations such as this tells the world that women’s bodies must be monitored, scrutinised, judged by everyone without her consent and with impunity. And this is more true if a woman is not ‘international’ presenting. The autonomy of the sporting associations is prioritised over the autonomy of women even if it is a violation of human rights. The UNHRC resolution highlights the discrimination based on race and gender, because it is not one or the other, it is both. It is important for this council not to fragment people’s bodies into distinct pieces, it is not an addition of identities that we are just not composite of all the parts. And it is also time for States to not de-prioritise gender while talking about race and de-prioritise race while talking about gender.

Thank you.  

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