Workshop on Transgender Human Rights and Women’s Substantive Equality

16 July 2002
July 16, 2002

Workshop conducted by the NAWL Working Group on Transgender Issues at NAWL’s 14th Biennial Conference

Through a number of successful cases — specifically involving male-to-female transsexuals — provincial courts and human rights tribunals have acknowledged discrimination against transgendered persons, although specific protections have yet to be encoded in law. Developing appropriate analysis and strategies for advancing the rights and securing protections for transgendered persons remains a critical question engaging equality-seeking groups. The aim of this workshop was to engage women’s equality advocates on specific questions of relevance to group policy and law reform initiatives, pertaining to the relation between transgender human rights and the substantive equality rights of women.

To facilitate the workshop, a discussion paper was made available to participants at the beginning of the conference. The members of the NAWL Working Group collectively wrote the paper on Transgender Issues, and it reflects our different opinions and approaches to a selection of issues and debates. The paper posed a number of questions that have emerged from our investigation and discussions of transgender issues. The workshop was designed to enable conference participants to formulate additional questions that may guide a national consultation on areas such as: the relation between transgender rights and women’s rights; women-only spaces; (de)racialized notions of “woman”; negotiating the grounds for protection of transgender human rights (such as sex, sexual orientation, or disability); possible connections between racism and transphobia; the problems with medical intervention and invasive surgery; and, the paradox of transgender marriage.

Recent litigation favouring the extension of statutory human rights protections to transgendered persons has raised a number of issues pertaining to the substantive equality of women. Various members of women’s groups and support services have urged consideration that the extension of protections on the basis of ‘gender identity’, such as would require the acceptance and inclusion of male-to-female transgender women in ‘woman-only’ spaces, has a bearing on women’s ability to create and maintain ‘safe spaces’. Most women’s organizations acknowledge the oppression and discrimination faced by transgendered individuals, and they support the extension of human rights protections to them. There is little consensus, however, among the organizations on how to further the equality rights of both disadvantaged groups. Moreover, little work has been done to relate such questions to specific challenges for law reform, on such issues as gender-based violence, the racial politics of self-definition, the medical control of sexuality and sexual identity, and the judicial deference to, and reinforcement of, surgical intervention.

The brief presentations by each member of the working group offered an overview of the debates on the above topics. The participants, including representatives from rape crisis centres and from the transgender movement, focussed primarily on the politics of ‘woman-only’ spaces related specifically to the recent case of Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society, [2002] B.C.H.R.T.D. No.1. They identified areas of concern and interest emerging from this case, which they considered important to include in a national consultation.

Margaret Denike, Diana Majury, Sal Renshaw, Carolyn Rowe and Ros Salvador provided brief presentations.

about NAWL
The National Association of Women and the Law is a not-for-profit feminist organization that promotes the equality rights of women through legal education, research and law reform advocacy.
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