In response to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem’s harmful position against legal gender recognition through self-identification, the Sexual Rights Initiative has decided to stop engaging with this mandate-holder, and encourages other feminist organizations and activists to do the same.
The Special Rapporteur’s position clearly undermines trans rights and contradicts established human rights standards and her own mandate - all in the name of feminism(1). We told the Special Rapporteur that we fundamentally reject her arguments seeking to pit ‘women’s rights’ - for instance, the right to access shelters for survivors of violence - against ‘trans rights’, and to treat them as separate or competing. SRI understands gender-based violence to go beyond interpersonal violence and to also include the whole gamut of economic, social, psychological and political structures and norms that maintain binary gender categories and roles. In our view, obstacles to legal gender recognition constitute institutional gender-based violence. By supporting such obstacles, the Special Rapporteur is going against her own mandate.
In this context, we believe that engaging with this mandate-holder sends the signal that her narrative is acceptable and therefore undermines solidarity with trans people and movements. Feminist and civil society engagement with this mandate-holder risks being instrumentalized and co-opted. We refuse any suggestion that there is feminist support for anti-trans positions and for attempts to fragment and divide human rights and social movements along narrow identity- or issue-based lines. SRI works to advance the right to bodily autonomy for all, including and especially for marginalized people, and resists such attempts to separate or isolate some groups or issues from that broader struggle for bodily autonomy.
A longer analysis of the problems with the Special Rapporteur’s position, and SRI’s position on gender-based violence, will follow.
(1) See for instance the Special Rapporteur’s claim to the Scottish Parliament that “many of the issues that I mentioned [in my letter] echo points made by feminist organisations and victims.” https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/equalities-human-rights-and-civil-justice-committee-december-19-2022
Note - this post was edited on 17 April 2023 to include a link to the joint letter sent to the Special Rapporteur on 30 November by AWID, SRI, CREA, Count Me In consortium, ILGA World and IWRAW Asia Pacific.