Illuminating LBTQ Women this International Women’s Day

For more than a century, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated on March 8 as a day to reflect on the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day is also a collective call to action for accelerating gender equality in all areas of life.

Women with diverse gender identities and or diverse sexualities (LBTQ*) – like many women across the world worry about employment, accessing appropriate healthcare for example reproductive rights, looking after children and accessing affordable childcare, looking after families including extended families. But queer women across the world, face added challenges and worries not just because of their gender, but also because of who they are and whom they love. LBTQ women of colour / indigenous women, transgender women, lesbian and bisexual women, and LBTQ women who are parents face particular challenges. For example, many countries still prohibit same sex sexual relationships, lack anti-discrimination laws against SOGIE related freedom of expression, anti-discrimination laws protecting against discrimination basis on SOGIESC in employment, and laws prohibiting incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination basis of SOGIESC. In practice this means that many women across the world with diverse gender histories and sexualities are still fighting to ensure fair treatment at work, education and healthcare, and recognising diverse families. Many women experience sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), further often as a form of ‘conversation therapy’. Further, increasing religious exemptions threaten LBTQ women’s access to healthcare, social services, and recognition of their families.

A new report by Human Rights Watch “This Is Why We Became Activists” Violence Against Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women and Non-Binary People, highlight how the denial of LBQ+ people’s rights in the ten areas below impacts our lives and harms our ability to exercise and enjoy the advancement of more traditionally recognized LGBT rights and women’s rights:

  • the right to free and full consent to marriage.
  • land, housing, and property rights.
  • freedom from violence based on gender expression.
  • freedom from violence and discrimination at work.
  • freedom of movement and the right to appear in public without fear of violence.
  • parental rights and the right to create a family.
  • the right to asylum.
  • the right to health, including services for sexual, reproductive, and mental health;
  • protection and recognition as human rights defenders; and
  • access to justice.

The report also notes that: 

“Policies and research focused on “women’s rights” often address the ten issues above, but rarely explicitly name LBQ+ women as rights-holders or analyse how their unique experiences of violence warrant more specific laws, policies, and protocols to protect them. Specifically, women’s rights research and policies related to forced marriage and property rights implicitly assume heterosexuality and a binary construction of gender, and rarely address abuses experienced by queer women. LGBT rights research and policies are significantly more likely than women’s rights research to explicitly name LBQ+ women as rights-holders and victims. However, they are significantly less likely to address the broader societal and legal restrictions on people assigned female at birth which prevent their enjoyment of “LGBT rights” advancements.” 

This international women’s day, it is important to remember the diversity of women, and illuminate those who are most under-represented. Especially in humanitarian and development contexts.