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On Gender Equality for Transgender Citizens

Kimmage graduate Jennifer Wilson presented on her MA thesis at a recent Alumni event.  In 2012, as part of her research, she visited a group of activists working in Bangalore for gender and sexuality rights who highlighted the challenges of funding restrictions and socio-cultural stigma. In light of recent roll backs on rights for gay people in India and the current legal status of transgender citizens in Ireland, we reproduce an opinion piece by Jennifer.

On Gender Equality for Transgender Citizens

by Jennifer Wilson

Ireland is undergoing the next stage of a quiet revolution this winter.  Since 2007 we, as a state, have remained in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights making Ireland the last country in the E.U. not to provide gender recognition legislation (GRL), and therefore equal rights, for its transgender (trans*) citizens. Now as the joint Oireachtas committee on Education and Social Protection mulls over the Draft Heads of the State’s GRL bill, and Amnesty begins compiling data for its special report on the human rights situation for trans* people in Ireland there is no sign of outcry or media storms; instead there is a slow steady inevitability about the proceedings. The task now for human rights activists, such as TENI, is to ensure this long overdue legislation, which currently includes clauses such as forced divorce, does not compel individuals, who have waited so long, to choose recognition at the cost of their dignity and families. The situation is clearly shameful but what does all of it mean in the context of development?

Development as a sector pursues the mainstreaming of gender into all best practice reforms and projects. The discourse surrounding gender responsive service delivery, gender budgeting and combatting gender based violence refers mainly to women’s rights and the consideration of women with regards to social hierarchy and the layers of oppression embedded within. The definition of women, however, remains limited while our visualisation of gender equality is restricted to the binary categories of men and women.  As states begin to redefine gender and shape legislation to project gender equality in the broadest sense of complex identity, must this not be mainstreamed into overseas development projects and funding streams?

In 2012, as part of my research for my MA at Kimmage Development Studies Centre, I visited a group of activists working in Bangalore for gender and sexuality rights. They highlighted the challenges of funding restrictions and socio-cultural stigma which came, not only from local society, but from larger funders in Europe and North America. The intersectional nature of their work was not presented as an idealised harmony of grassroots organisations but a necessary bolstering of vulnerable groups. Dalit collectives, slum dweller groups, women’s rights organisations and LGBTQ activists recognised the oppression of the other as equal to their own. Activist culture in Bangalore was able to create a network of radicals across lines of caste, gender identity and, at times, across barriers of personal animosity or worse. Within this network a medical service was not deemed to be gender responsive which created access only for women, born with female bodies, living in socially and culturally sanctioned homes. The goal was much more revolutionary than that. Recognition and safety for sex workers, gender non-conforming individuals or families along with sexual health and pleasure rights for all individuals were considered to be the core of project planning and management.

The Irish state is currently being asked, yet again, to re-examine and redefine its conceptualisation of gender and gender equality. Clauses in the new legislation which break apart family units and require mental health evaluations before granting access to full human rights provided for under European law only serve to highlight the cultural and institutional violence enacted towards those whose identity cannot be contained by pre-approved notions of sex and gender in this country. Transgender people face numerous forms of discrimination and marginalisation across the globe and legal recognition is vital to those who are endlessly endangered and discredited in job interviews, airports, social welfare offices, hospitals or schools because their gender representation does not match their official documents. The Bangalore example illustrated to me how much deeper Irish development organisations must delve into the gender policing which occurs within our own society and legal structures, in order to better understand the roots of gender inequality in a global context.

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