Allow women and girls to speak on sex, gender and gender identity without intimidation or fear: UN expert
22 May 2023
GENEVA (22 May 2023) – Threats and intimidation against women expressing their opinions on sex and sexual orientation is deeply concerning, said Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls in a statement today. In the context of disagreements between some women’s rights activists and transgender activists in a number of countries in the Global North. Alsalem warned that violence against women and intimidation against people for expressing differing views.
“Discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation is prohibited in international and regional human rights law.
I am concerned by the shrinking space in several countries in the Global Northfor women and feminist organisations and their allies to gather and/or express themselves peacefully in demanding respect for their needs based on their sex and/or sexual orientation.
Law enforcement has a crucial role in protecting lawful gatherings of women and ensuring women’s safety and rights to freedom of assembly and speech without intimidation, coercion, or being effectively silenced. It is clear that where law enforcement has failed to provide the necessary safeguards, we have witnessed incidents of verbal and physical abuse, harassment, and intimidation, with the purpose of sabotaging and derailing such events as well as silencing the women who wish to speak at them.
I am disturbed by the frequent tactic of smear campaigns against women, girls and their allies on the basis of their beliefs on non-discrimination based on sex and same-sex relations. Branding them as “Nazis,” “genocidaires” or “extremists” is a means of attack and intimidation with the purpose of deterring women from speaking and expressing their views. Such actions are deeply troubling, as they are intended to instill fear in themshame them into silence, and incite violence and hatred against them. Such acts severely affect the dignified participation of women and girls in society.
I am also concerned by the way in which provisions that criminalise hate speech based on a number of grounds, including gender expression or gender identity, have been interpreted in some countries. Women and girls have a right to discuss any subject free of intimidation and threats of violence. This includes issues that are important to them, particularly if they relate to parts of their innate identity, and on which discrimination is prohibited. Holding and expressing views about the scope of rights in society based on sex and gender identity should not be delegitimised, trivialised, or dismissed.
According to international human rights law, any restriction on freedom of expression should be carried out strictly in accordance with the human rights standards of legality, necessity, proportionality and to serve a legitimate aim. Those disagreeing with the views of women and girls expressing concerns related to gender identity and sex also have a right to express their opinion. However, in doing so they must not threaten the safety and integrity of those they are protesting against and disagreeing with.Sweeping restrictions on the ability of women and men to raise concerns regarding the scope of rights based on gender identity and sex are in violation of the fundamentals of freedom of thought and freedom of belief and expression and amounts to unjustified or blanket censorship.
Of particular concern are the various forms of reprisals against women, including censorship, legal harassment, employment loss, loss of income, removal from social media platforms, speaking engagements, and the refusal to publish research conclusions and articles. In some cases, women politicians are sanctioned by their political parties, including through the threat of dismissal or actual dismissal.”
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.