Oral Intervention to the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Presented by Dorothy Aken’Ova on behalf of the DIVERSE SEXUALITIES CAUCUS
10 March 2005

Thank you Chair.  I speak to you today as a representative of the Diverse Sexualities Caucus.  My name is Dorothy Aken’Ova and I am the Executive Director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE), in Nigeria.

Sexual rights belong to all of us, not just the marginalized.  Rights related to sexuality are part of the spectrum of international human rights and fundamental freedoms, despite thinly veiled efforts to cast them as ”new rights”.  The human rights paradigm is an evolving discourse which rests on interpretations that are fueled by global social movements and ever-changing political landscapes. We all know that human rights are indivisible and they are to be enjoyed by all people. Sexuality and gender identities and expressions are not separate from other aspects of our identity such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, etc.

Sexual rights, while inclusive of sexual orientation, also encompass bodily integrity, autonomy, privacy and choice. They are also about freedom from discrimination, coercion and violence, as noted in Paragraph 96 of the Beijing Platform. Yet, every day, people are tortured, imprisoned, and even executed when governments fail to protect these rights. States are accountable to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all people, regardless of whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or heterosexual.

We note with dismay that some states retain colonial laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activity and non-normative sex and gender expression.  In fact, some of these laws have been extended in the name of religion. We reject this political use of religion that enforces colonial and patriarchal values, and promotes fundamentalisms and extremism of all kinds.

Diverse forms of sexuality have existed for centuries, and social movements defending and promoting the rights of people whose sexual and gender expression do not conform to heteronormative models, exist across all regions and cultures.  These social justice movements have worked within and helped to strengthen the struggle for human rights. We note the history of the UDHR and other human rights instruments, and invoke the vision of brave and thoughtful women such as Hansa Mehta, an Indian feminist who promoted the notion that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights.

We face a troubling contradiction: on the one hand, rich and diverse global advocacy on sexual and gender diversity; and on the other, a climate of hatred and violence targeted toward marginalized groups.  Still, human rights related to sexuality remain a point of controversy in many UN discussions.  The 49th session of the CSW is no exception.  Many countries are committed to advancing sexual rights, as they have stated publicly and privately. However, unequal power relations and coercive tactics have forced this support underground, and last week jeopardized a strong consensus statement on human rights of women.

Human rights, equality, the implementation of the BPFA and the achievement of the MDGs cannot move forward whilst particular groups are stigmatized, marginalized, and subjected to discrimination and violence. In opposing coercive tactics, including the promulgation of myths and fear-mongering, we must acknowledge, embrace and celebrate the diversity of human kind.  To do less is an insult to the foundation of the UN system.