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ILGA Panel at the 61st UNCHR

in WORLD, 12/05/2005

Women and lesbians: discrimination on multiple grounds, an ILGA panel at the UNCHR

The discrimination that lesbian and bisexual women face is not only connected to their gender and their sexual identity. They also suffer from discrimination based on their social class, religion, “race,” minority background, age, disability, etc.

This was illustrated with various examples by all the panellists.

Claudine Ouellet, a human rights lawyer, described how including discrimination in the national constitution, in international conventions or elsewhere in the Bill of Rights can help protect the most vulnerable group of people. She gave the example of the Canadian and the South African constitutions as being the most advanced in the protection against all forms of discrimination. Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been included in Canadian law since 1977!

“This is a dream in many countries were homosexuality is still illegal like Sri Lanka”, pointed out Rosanna Flamer Caldera, moderator of the panel and Co-secretary general of ILGA. She reported on how multi-facets of discrimination have become interwoven in Sri Lankan culture. Often, for a lesbian woman, being part of a minority group means being poor and suffering violence including within your own family, by having to accept forced marriage.

Susana Fried, of IGLHRC, gave examples of lesbians and bi-sexual women suffering discrimination on various grounds, even in areas where they would expect protection: within their family, the police, health service providers, and social groups. She also stressed the difficulty of defining a lesbian or a bisexual woman, as in many instances these terms do not correspond to how they define themselves. The hetero-normativity that only accepts male and female makes these definitions even more difficult. And if you are not part of the norm you simply do not exist.

Dorothy Aken’ova pointed out that in many African countries women have no rights, only obligations and it is not even possible to speak of a woman choosing another way of life or being different from the norm. It is an exclusively patriarchal, male-dominated system. In order simply to survive you need to have a man in your life.

Anna Leah Sarabia described the relation between sexual orientation and gender identity. A woman is particularly affected by these strict standards: a woman must be heterosexual, feminine and virgin until she gets married. Though society accepts only two sexes and two gender identities, the male masculine hetero and the female feminine hetero, social sciences describe up to at least 48 types of gender identities.
She also underlined the double discrimination suffered by lesbian and bisexual women because of their gender and because of their sexual orientation. The task of a lesbian feminist is “to make people aware of these other 48 gender identities”, she said “so that every person who does not fall into the hetero-normative standard is given the same respect and dignity.”
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