Beijing +10 review: another missed opportunity for lesbians?
From February 28th to March 11th 2005, the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York conducted the ten-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing + 10) on discriminatory legislation against women. Neither the Beijing Declaration nnor the Platform for Action contain provisions that explicitly recognize lesbians as having the same rights as other women.
The question of equal rights for lesbians has never gone beyond the level of discussion at UN governmental conferences on the situation of women. During the preparations for Beijing in 1995 several NGOs defended a proposal to include prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Beijing Platform for Action. But as only a few governments supported the proposal it was not incorporated into the final text. The rights of lesbians were once again diluted in a more general demand on women's sexual autonomy.Dorothy Aken'ova is a feminist, a sexual-rights activist, the founder and present director of INCRESE (International Centre for reproductive health and Sexual rights), the leading Nigerian NGO working for a favorable environment and expanding access to sexual health and rights information and services.
The lesbian issues and how they were treated during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) did not begin and end in New York at the UN.
It was a long journey from country level reporting through regional reports, the NGO forum and the regional review process before getting to the UN in February.
Nigeria, like many other countries, did not include sexual orientation in their reporting that was sent to the UN via the UN Commission for Africa (ECA) meeting in Addis Abeba. None of the NGO’s or lesbian and bisexual women’s associations were contacted to add input into the country report, neither were these groups invited to any stakeholders’ meetings to endorse the report that was sent to the UN from Nigeria.
What is stunning is that the women’s movement also organised an appraisal system at the regional level that culminated into the regional NGO forum. These presentations of the regional reports as collected and collated by "feminists" had no mention of lesbian and bisexual women, not even in passing. This did not correspond with current on-going changes on the continent. It is a continent whose feminists in the past three years have been forging ahead on issues of sexual rights and health, a continent where a country recognizes the rights of lesbians to marry. It is a continent where queer women have begun mobilising and organising semi-openly
When the gap in the reporting from all the sub-regions was challenged for not being representative of all women in Africa, sexual minorities in particular, the reporters said that it wasn’t provided for in the tool that was used, some said that no group came to them with any information. Where an open invitation was given and no lesbians or bisexual women came up reflects the state of homophobia in that setting and how far in the closet these women are. But isn’t this experience in itself worth adding to the reports?
When I raised the absence of queer women in the NGO Forum, there was a lot of debate. Many thought that it was not an issue. Some trivialised it as a non-life threatening issue. At the time, my friend and colleague Fanny Ann Eddy had just been murdered. The good news is that there were a handful of feminists who understood the principles of diversity, integrity, autonomy and choice, and they were influential and pushed the issues through
using this very language to the outcome document which was presented to Ministers at the end of the Regional Review. These didn’t get into the Government political declaration though.
Now, the CSW was wrought with its own challenges. There was confirmed fear of some strong governments who were making effort to undermine consensus on the political declaration that was put forward by the bureau. Activists and feminists went to work, tirelessly re-strategising to promote and protect consensus around the political declaration. Lesbians, bisexual, trans women were part of this coalition of feminists that worked tirelessly at the CSW, facilitating consensus building on the political declaration
. The result was positive, the conservative motion was defeated.
That notwithstanding, there were visible gains in the work that sexual rights activists have done throughout the decade.
I took great interest in the negotiations and was impressed by the statements made by a good number of member states. Some of them share experience regarding constitutional and legal reforms they had effected to guarantee and protect the rights of "lesbians". Some of them used the language "bodily integrity", "autonomy", "diversity" and choice in their statements while affirming the sexual rights of women. All this to demonstrate how much work they had done to implement the Beijing Platform For Action. It was obvious to me that these governments had understood that the PFA was meant to improve the quality of life and guarantee sexual reproductive rights to ALL women
. How else could we explain the final statement by the Nigerian delegation in which choice, autonomy and rights to bodily integrity of women was affirmed?
Of course there were low sides to the CSW. For instance, the conservatives kept us struggling for consensus on the political declaration, for the survival of the PFA, we were therefore unable to introduce new language that would finally add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the outcome document. Sexual rights activists will continue to advocate at the UN level until this is achieved.
Secondly, LBT women formed a diverse sexuality caucus, which prepared a statement to be presented during the plenary, but were not called upon to do so. We can only speculate based on past experiences why since we did not receive any explanation from the bureau.I don’t think it is right for us to think that queer women lost yet another chance.
I found in the CSW an opportunity to see the long distance through which we have taken our governments, a distance where they are now comfortable to openly recognise and promote the rights to choice, bodily integrity. It was an opportunity to hear governments openly admit the need to make the PFA a reality for all women irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identities and expression.