Activistbrief1

ACTIVISTS BRIEF: Coalition of African Lesbians says NO to a Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

In June 2011, the South African government, with support from Brazil and Norway, led in the adoption of a historic resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). This was followed by a second resolution on the same issue in September 2014, led by four Latin American states. These two resolutions placed the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity formally on the UN agenda in a prominent and unavoidable way for the first time and demanded recognition, from all states, of the seriousness of the violence and rights violations faced by people everywhere on these grounds. Activists from Africa and all over the world were closely involved in the success of these resolutions. We will keep lobbying for these resolutions on SOGI, which should be tabled every two years, to include progressive language that will help the international community to eventually actually address root causes of these violations.

Now, in September [but possibly as soon as June 2016], a further resolution will be tabled and voted on at the 32nd Session of the HRC in Geneva. Some activists have been lobbying for this resolution to call for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, who will, among other things, be responsible for documenting, reporting on and making recommendations to address the violations faced by people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. There is some support by some states to have such a mechanism in place. The Coalition of African Lesbians does not support the creation of a Special Rapporteur (or any other “special mechanism”) that addresses issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in isolation from broader issues related to gender and sexuality rights.

Together with our partners, we want to use the opportunity provided by the new resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity to call on states to seek from the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights to produce a report on and make recommendations about the following issues:

  1. The root causes of discrimination, violation and oppression faced by people who do not conform to norms and social expectations of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. How these abuses link with other ways in which people are oppressed, such as on the grounds of race, class, disability and geography –
  3. Every person’s right to autonomy, or freedom to make decisions, over their own bodies and lives. Also, the links between ensuring such autonomy for all people and protecting the rights of those who are non-conforming in their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, including people who identity as queer and intersex, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transdiverse/transgender.

The Coalition of African Lesbians and our partners do NOT support a Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Here’s why:

1.We do NOT support the call for a UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual orientation and Gender Identity because we believe and have done in-depth analysis and work that indicates that what is needed is a UN Special Rapporteur [or Working Group] on Sexuality and Gender or similar. This will offer protection for the rights of LGBT people as well as many others who are marginalised, oppressed, excluded and even criminalised based on their sexuality and gender. This will include, amongst others, sex workers, women seeking abortion services and those offering these services, people living with HIV, intersex people, young people and others.

A critical root cause of the violations against all these groups is patriarchy and heteronormativity, which regulates, controls and constrains our freedom to exercise our rights to make decisions over our own bodies and lives. We need one Special Rapporteur [or a Working Group] to provide additional protections for all of these groups and to assert the reality of human sexuality and gender freedoms and the idea of bodily integrity and autonomy. 

2. It is clear to us that if the UN establishes a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, this will block or badly delay and even make it impossible to establish a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Sexuality and Gender. States will not want another sexuality- or gender-related protection mechanism. They will have done their bit for human sexuality and gender. States will not want a set of Special Rapporteurs on a range of different rights related to sexuality and gender. We do not want to do harm to the work and organising of others and we do not want to block or delay the attainment of protections that cover rights related to sexuality and gender. This work has been strengthening since the Cairo Conference in 1994 and we want to continue to be a part of the broader movements push for rights related to sexuality and gender also referred to as sexual and reproductive rights. This work makes real the call to leave no one behind.

As such, we believe that we need one Special Rapporteur [or Working Group] to offer additional protections for all rights related to bodily integrity and autonomy under the umbrella theme of sexual and reproductive rights or sexuality and gender. A Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity will block such a possibility and do harm to work by many of us to push for broader protections based on sexuality and gender and so address human sexuality and gender related rights of all people. 

3. In creating a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, we believe that states would be supporting and/or feeding into the deeply problematic idea that there is a hierarchy of sexuality and gender related rights. In other words – LGBT peoples’ needs and rights require more urgent attention and protection than the sexuality- and gender-related needs and rights of others. That somehow the rights of LGBT people matter more than the rights of sex workers, people living with HIV and others. 

We do not want special rights. We are not asking for and demanding special rights and do not want to be associated with LGBT exceptionalism – which is the idea that the violations we face are unique, extraordinary and therefore require greater and more attention. We want the same rights that all people should have to make decisions about their own bodies and lives – to choose whether or not to have children; to decide whether to become pregnant or not, if so when and under what conditions and the spacing of these; and to have a say in whether or not to have sex and if so, with whom, under what conditions and for what purposes. These are sexual and reproductive rights and we share these with all human beings. They are based on the idea of autonomy and freedom of all people to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. In this way, we will leave no-one behind.

We need protection for all of these rights and for all people and within this, we need some focus and prioritisation of all those who are more deeply marginalised, excluded and oppressed related to gender and sexuality.  The rights of women seeking abortion and those offering abortion services, intersex people, sex workers, people living with HIV as well as the rights of LGBT people are all based on the reality that we are all deprived of our right to bodily autonomy and integrity. We all need protection linked with such autonomy in relation to gender and sexuality.

A single Special Rapporteur on Sexuality and Gender addressing sexual and reproductive rights is what is needed and we can get this if we all work together across movements in the next four years. We can do it.

Sexuality and gender are much more than sexual orientation and gender identity.

A Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity will NOT achieve the goal of advancing autonomy and intersectionality related to sexuality and gender. It will cause harm to work that seeks to advance rights related to sexual and reproductive rights.

This Brief is a publication of the Autonomy Project, a project of the Coalition of African Lesbians

For more information contact: 

Carrie Shelver-Advocacy Manager: carrie@cal.org.za


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