Webinar: ‘Who is afraid of gender (diversity)?’

Looking back at the webinar on 12 April 2022

Pride demonstratie met regenboogvlaggen en een transvlag

On 12 April 2022 and as part of the Proud and Safe project, coordinated by Dr. Lorena Sosa, four experts came together from different geographical and institutional contexts to take part in a discussion on the rise of anti-gender movements and their impact on the protection of women. Ivana Radačić provided academic and practical insights on the oppositions taking place in the United Nations arena. Conny Roggeband and Andrea Krizsan focused on the opposition to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention and its consequences for the politics of violence against women. Francesca Sanders incorporated the perspective of civil society to these discussions, examining how anti-gender discourses reflect on EU frameworks and policies, and the implications for trans persons. Carlos Zelada brought the attention to the Americas and the tensions between the big strides on gender-diversity and emerging oppositions.

The Istanbul Convention 

The webinar started with a discussion of the opposition to gender-based policies taking place in Europe. Conny Roggeband (associate professor in public policy and governance at the University of Amsterdam) and Andrea Krizsan (Senior Research Fellow at the Democracy Institute and Professor at the School of Public Policy and the Gender Studies Department, CEU) opened the discussion with their expertise on the Istanbul Convention. They argued that The violence against women (VAW) movement is the most successful within the feminist movement, due to the implementation of normative changes. A sign of such success is shown by the fact that the Istanbul Convention’s driving force is the recognition of violence against women as gender-based violence, and the move toward gender equality. However, the Istanbul Convention has triggered a polarizing gender debate in many countries. This is seen primarily in Eastern Europe where political parties, (religious) civil society, churches, governments, think tanks and legal experts push the narrative that VAW is not a gendered phenomenon, rather it is western-influenced movement threatening national values and customs.

EU law framework 

Francesca Sanders (Policy Officer at Transgender Europe) started off her presentation by calling attention to the alarming rate at which trans people experience gender-based violence in the region. Sanders referred to EU law as conservative and outdated as it only includes sex as a base for discrimination, without the explicit inclusion of gender identity. By the same token, she is hopeful that EU secondary legislation is increasingly mainstreaming ‘gender’ and ‘gender identity’. However, the EU’s overall approach continues to be conservative due to a highly vocal and a well-funded anti-gender movement who have collected wins in Bulgaria, Spain, Hungary, and Poland. Sanders closed her intervention by encouraging the audience to challenge misinformation and anti-trans arguments, advocate for the inclusion of gender in legislation, and to support the rights of trans people.

The Inter-American System 

Shifting the attention to the Americas, Carlos Zelada (Associate Dean of the School of Law at the Universidad del Pacífico in Peru) zoomed into the Inter-American system and highlighted the progressive approach of the Court. The Inter-American Court acknowledges sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as categories protected under the American Convention. In fact, the Inter-American Commission has recognised ‘sex’ as a social construct rather than a biological fact. In the Vicky Hernández case, concerning the murder of a transgender woman, the Court recognized gender-based violence as to include violence against trans women, and declared the applicability of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women to cases of violence against trans women. However, this move set off the contrasting opinion of Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito, who expressed that ‘sex’ is an irrefutable concept, and vehemently opposed the movement to equate the protection of gender identity to the protection of gender. Challenging her view, the Concurring Opinion of Judge Patricio Pazmiño elucidated the sentiment of the majority, that “trans women are protected by the Convention of Belém do Pará because they are women”.

United Nations  

Closing the webinar, Ivana Radačić (member of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls) took a close look at the United Nation’s perspective on the notion of ‘gender,’ introduced in the 1990s. She explained that the ‘gender-ideology’ discourse, central to anti-gender mobilizations, emerged as a reaction against the adoption of such social conceptualization of gender in international frameworks. ‘Gender ideology’ campaigns oppose the growing recognition of the rights of sexually and gender diverse people which, they argue, will result in family and community destruction. Dr. Radačić emphasized how these campaigns have had a regressive impact on legislation on same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, violence against women and sexual education.

More information about the speakers

Andrea Krizsan  is Senior Research Fellow at the Democracy Institute and Professor at the School of Public Policy and the Gender Studies Department, Central European University (CEU). She works on different equality policy fields including gender equality policy, policies on gender-based violence, policies addressing ethnic inequalities and intersectionality. Her current research aims to analyze the politics of policy backsliding in times of crisis and illiberal democracy and forms of resistance to such reversal.

Conny Roggeband (UvA) is associate professor in public policy and governance at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). She has written extensively on the politicization of gender-based violence, gender mainstreaming and equality policies, social movements and transnational feminist networking based on research conducted in the Netherlands, Spain and Latin America.           

Ivana Radačić is a member of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. She assumed her functions on 1 November 2017. She is a senior researcher at Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences in Zagreb and a part-time lecturer at the University of Zagreb. She has published extensively on women’s rights; gender equality; human rights; and gender, sexuality and the law, including ‘The evolving understanding of gender in international law and ‘gender ideology’ pushback 25 years since the Beijing conference on women’, with Marija Antic.

Francesca Sanders (pronouns: she/they) is Policy Officer at Transgender Europe (TGEU). She advocates for the rights and wellbeing of trans people at European institutions, especially within the EU. Their work includes efforts to protect and advance legal protections on grounds of gender identity and gender expression in relation to violence and victims’ rights, gender equality, and non-discrimination. Their work cuts across a variety of topics including combating anti-trans violence and the protection of trans people in the labour market. 

Carlos Zelada is Associate Dean of the School of Law at the Universidad del Pacífico in Peru. He is a human rights expert working at the intersection of dissident sexualities and the law. In recent years, his research has focused on the legal discourses used in cases alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sexual characteristics.