The First Discussions About Intersex Issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council
Gita Keshava, Durham University
This week has marked a development in the protection of intersex people at the level of the United Nations. On Monday, March 10 2014, Holly Greenberry, an intersex activist with IntersexUK, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of intersex organisations around the world about current human rights issues. She spoke of the human rights violations faced by intersex children in all countries in the world and the consequences experienced during adulthood. She addressed the issues of discrimination at all levels of society, the influence of the media in the stigmatization of intersex people, and the violence that is perpetrated against them. On Tuesday, March 11 2014, activists from the United Kingdom, Argentina, Switzerland, and Australia discussed genital mutilation, psychological trauma, discrimination, and torture faced by intersex people and called for concrete action to be taken by the international community. It marks the first – and hopefully not the last – time that the United Nations has held an event targeting the specific human rights violations currently faced by intersex people.
New Report on Violence Against Women Across the EU
Ben Warwick, Durham University
A major report from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency on the extent of violence against women in the EU was released last week. The project highlighted that physical, sexual and psychological violence are an ‘extreme expression of inequality on the ground of sex’. It reported results from a survey of 42,000 women and drew some startling conclusions. Alongside the widely reported finding that ‘one in three women reported some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15’, there was evidence that large numbers of women feel restricted by the threat of violence. The survey revealed 37% of women avoided taking certain streets or going to certain areas, 31% of women avoided opening their door when at home alone, and 3% avoided being alone with a colleague or boss at work, for fear of violence. Another concerning finding noted that 19% of women are not aware of any support for victims of gender based violence. The findings provide a more comprehensive picture of the violence women experience across the EU, and the data should be used to develop EU level strategies to better address violence against women in member states.
James Wharton: We’ll Never be “Normal” while Gay Saunas Exist
James Wharton, author of Out In The Army: My Life As A Gay Soldier and recent recipient of the Freedom of the City of London for his work on LGBT bullying in schools, spoke out this week to demand that gay saunas be closed. Wharton states that “sex saunas need to be history” as they “mark our community as different for the wrong reasons” – namely, he argued that they reinforce stereotypes surrounding male homosexuality and promiscuity. Without decisive action to remove them, Wharton suggested that being gay would never be “normal”.
The comments resulted in a backlash from other activists. Peter Tatchell said he thought it would be “very wrong” if the gay community actively sought to proscribe itself without regard for diversity. He argued that while unsafe behaviour should be challenged, it should not be the place of society to penalise legal and consenting behaviour amongst adults. Taking a different line, sexual health campaigners commented that the closing of gay saunas would merely drive casual sex underground. Matthew Hodson, Chief Executive of GMFA, suggested that the closure of saunas would increase the proliferation of casual sex applications and websites, and could ultimately make it more difficult for charities to effectively supply condoms and STI testing. This comes at a time when the Health Protection Agency reports record levels of unprotected sex amongst men who have sex with men. Clearly then, the debates about the place of gay saunas are important and demand attention as they are embroiled in wider issues of sexual stereotypes, respecting diverse sexualities and sexual practices, and sexual health.