Unpicking gender roles: shared ground in the fight for equality
Today, 17 May is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, nicknamed “IDAHO”. The date is a significant one – chosen because it was on that day in 1990 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders.
The fight for women’s rights and LGBTQI* rights are closely intertwined. In South Africa, for example, where a woman is raped every 26 seconds, reports of “corrective rape” (in which men rape lesbians to “correct” their sexual orientation) show that there is shared ground between violence against women and homophobia.
The damage done by gender stereotypes
In most societies norms and values dictate specific roles for women and men, for example the gendered division of labour which ties women to the home, or a sexual double standard which awards status to men for promiscuity but stigma to women.
These ideas have deep roots, and often exert their power subtly. But they are powerful: they reinforce and are reinforced by the unequal distribution of power and resources which often excludes women and other marginalised groups.
Members of a society with strong traditions around gender roles often face harsh punishment for flouting social rules about what is and isn’t appropriate. So it’s no surprise that in many areas of the world where gender inequality is most acute, there is also widespread persecution of anyone who appears to deviate from the norms of gendered behaviour – whether a single mother, a woman having sex with her boyfriend outside of marriage, non-macho men, women in same-sex relationships or transgender people. All these people may face violence, discrimination or even death because of their failure to conform to gender stereotypes of the ‘proper man’ and the ‘proper woman’.
Take action to protect LGBTQI rights in South Africa
Our partners in South Africa work to increase access to care, treatment and justice for survivors of rape, and improve legislation and policies affecting women who have experienced violence. Their awareness-raising work – such as Rape Crisis Cape Town’s annual Stop the Bus campaign – also challenges gendered ideas about sexual entitlement, desire, consent and autonomy.
Another of our South African partners – the Women’s Legal Centre – alerted us to a worrying attack on the sexual orientation rights which are enshrined in the South African constitution. Please sign this Avaaz petition to protect them.
Women’s rights is what we do. Through our partners we empower women to claim their rights to live free from violence, to have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives and to transform the gender norms and power structures that constrain their opportunities and choices. But we’re proud to be part of the global struggle for human rights, and today we add our voice to those working to end homophobia and transphobia everywhere.
Some further reading
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex Association (ILGA) plus have a look at ILGA’s 2012 world map of Lesbian and Gay Rights (PDF)
- Challenging Gender Binaries in the Motherland: Could Transgender and Intersex Activism Unite Africa’s Movements?
- Gender Across Borders – Queer Issues
*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex