The danger of the unique story. Transversalising the focus of gender and sexual diversity.
Rapporteur: Beatriz Plaza Escrivà
Social researcher specialising in Internationalism – Feminism, and activist on the platform Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak/Welcome to migrants and refugees.
“The unique story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are fake but that they are incomplete. They create one single story, the only story. When we reject the unique story, when we realise that there is never any place that has one single story, then we recuperate a kind of paradise” Chimamanda Adichie
On the recognition of diversity.
Although gender and sexual diversity has been the focus throughout the audience document, we thought it pertinent to devote several paragraphs to highlighting the stories that are not taken into account, and which we consider to be the central focus of the work that develops in the PPT; those that will shape the life processes of migrant and refugee people and show us how gender and diversity shape new realities.
The danger of generalisations when we speak of Human Rights (henceforth HR) lies, to a greater extent, in the fact that diversities are not taken into account and similar measures are applied for people with different needs. In the case of migrant and refugee women, girls and LGTBIQ+ people this is a reality that is maintained both in their transit and in their arrival in the country of destination. And that carries higher levels of violence and vexations against their bodies and lives, either due to their condition or due to their orientation and/or identity.
The absence of figures, either because they have not been able to be registered or have not been systematised, highlight the crisis situation in which the EU finds itself in reference to the application of international instruments for the defence of HR, as it relates to the migrant and refugee population, both in care and in transit, at borders, and in the country of destination. The inefficiency of the resettlement and relocation programmes coupled with the militarisation of borders and the abandonment of refugee camps have once again made evident the inability of the EU to welcome, which has added to the setback of HR that was developing in the field of migration policies. All this demonstrates the success of the neoliberal capitalist model, in which people are objectivised according to their functionality to the market, and that places economic benefit before the guarantee of HR and individual and collective well-being. It is a regression of the Welfare State in all its senses, whose consequences affect us in general society but that is intensified in the most vulnerable populations.
Situation of women and girls.
Both in the countries of origin and transit, as well as at arrival in the country of destination, the situation faced by women and girls differs greatly from the process experienced by other migrants. In the countries of origin, the migratory process of women and girls usually has common characteristics ranging from escape from some kind of violence or mistreatment, to the need for them to migrate in order to send back economic benefits for their wider families. In the case of trafficking for sexual exploitation, there is also the peculiarity that, in the same countries of origin, they are identified and captured by the networks operating in the enclaves, and are given, which some authors have named the ‘identity of the prostitute’. In the case where they are stigmatised through sexual abuse in their childhood or adolescence and isolated from their environments, the only option for improvement of life is provided by the captors who propose transit, the purpose of which is forced prostitution.
Another of the purposes of trafficking is labour exploitation, in which women normally embark on a migration process through ‘smugglers or con men’ with whom they become indebted so that when they arrive in the country of destination they will work as interns, as workers in the home or caring for dependants. In all cases the women end up with large debts, the payment which takes up the entire salary in the case of getting a job. However, in most cases they do not get to do these jobs since the promises made by the ‘smugglers or con men’ are false.
In transit, whether by sea or by land, women and girls suffer doubly the violence that accompanies these journeys, since rape and sexual abuse can be added in almost all cases. In addition, these rapes and sexual abuse often result in unwanted pregnancies, so that abortion or any medical complication that develops in the gestation process usually means death for many of them. And in the case that the pregnancy continues its process and there is a delivery, not being provided with adequate conditions can mean their own death and that of the baby.
Notwithstanding, in the case of adequate delivery and in the country of arrival, the emotional bond between mother and new-born is usually weak and postpartum depressions or other similar situations can develop. The lack of resources for single mother migrant women in the countries of arrival is a reality that we must make visible. Since they are forced to assume high responsibilities of care and attention for the new-born, which leaves them no time to work, since the resources they can access by themselves are difficult, and, in the case of social intervention, since they do not comply with the legal minimums, which is mostly about having the documentation in order, they are not entitled to any type of economic compensation. The only aid to which they can access are those of social emergency, which provides them with basic necessities, but which does not meet all the needs of the baby or the mother, is not sustainable over time, and much less guarantees a decent life.
Another issue that characterises the migratory process of women and girls is the fact that often they do not cross borders in the same way as other migrants. For example, in the case of the southern border of Europe, specifically in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, women and girls pass hidden in cars or trucks in spaces that are designed as double bottoms, in which they can barely breathe and which require the intervention of technical personnel to open them, since they are usually screwed; thus, in case of an emergency, the person would be trapped inside without any possibility of leaving on their own.
Reports of specialist organisations have been gathering a series of trends that characterise the migration process of women and girls, which are schematically outlined below:
- In 2014, it is estimated that only 11% of women out of a total of 170,000 people who tried to cross the sea could reach the shores of the Mediterranean.
- In transit, women and girls are more likely to be prostituted or trafficked. According to UNICEF, 12% of the women arriving in Macedonia are pregnant.
- In most Internment Centre for Foreigners (CIE) women are completely invisible, and the conditions in which they are found vary according to gender. As is the case of the CIE of Valencia in which the interned women are the ones who are responsible for cleaning their cells, whereas the men do not assume this work. As we see, in this case the sexual division of labour also occurs in the case of deprivation of liberty.
Situation of LGTBIQ+ people.
Membership of the LGTBIQ+ group has, historically and even today, been an enormous source of inequality in relation to the compliance with HR. The imposed heteronormativity, reinforced by the binary approach, raises sexual relations to political relations, used to dominate women and LGTBIQ+ people. The persecution and discrimination they suffer is developed through control over their sexuality and/or identity, by which they are prevented from freely expressing themselves. Therefore, this system entails the systematic violation of the HR of LGTBIQ+ silently and with great impunity.
In most cases, LGTBIQ+ people are denied their request for international protection under the argument that, in their country of origin, they can avoid any kind of persecution by hiding their sexual preference or gender identity. This pretext refers to the “requirement of discretion” or also known as the “internal flight alternative”, and is an expression frequently used by many international agencies as a recommendation, despite going against the UNHCR’s guidelines on international protection and fundamental rights.
The “requirement of discretion” is compounded by the determination of credibility, which further complicates asylum-seeking processes on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In addition, this means a vexatious and humiliating treatment for people who decide to formalise their request for political refuge. Therefore, in most cases, and since there is no effective international protection, LGTBIQ+ people decide to start migratory processes when what they are really doing is fleeing violence to live fully in dignity and sexual freedom.
Something as simple as the right of all people to be able to responsibly manifest pleasure and sexual appetites has proved somewhat complicated to defend. For example, in the official international texts on HR there was no reference to sexuality beyond biological sex until 1993; this year marks a turning point with the Vienna Human Rights Conference where, thanks to the lobbying effort of a Women’s group, “sexual rights” was included. In Vienna, recognition of sexual violence as a violation of human rights was achieved for the first time and the term “sexual” was included for the first time within the context of human rights.
The importance of the recognition of “sexual rights” within the framework of HR is significant since, on the one hand, it includes sexual rights within what has traditionally been understood as the rights of citizenship (DESCA) and, on the other hand, echoes the growing social relevance of the diversity of ways in which people live their sexuality and the right to the free expression of these same. There are eleven sexual rights:
- Right to sexual freedom.
- Right to sexual autonomy, integrity and security of the body.
- Right to sexual privacy.
- Right to sexual equality.
- Right to sexual pleasure.
- Right to emotional sexual expression.
- Right to free sexual association.
- Right to make reproductive, free and responsible decisions.
- Right to information based on scientific knowledge.
- Right to integral sexual education.
- Right to sexual health care
At present, despite the fact that we internationally recognise these rights, as regards migration processes, LGTBIQ+ people are at particular risk of suffering selective violence in the hands of private agents or actors, both in their countries of origin, in transit or in the country of arrival. The exercise of violence can be physical or psychological and is only motivated by the desire to punish whoever has a gender or identity different from the standard. The minimal expression of their identity or desire may thus imply the denouement of a process of violence and/or vexations. In the case of lesbian women this type of violence intensifies when we speak of “corrective rapes” as these also involve sexual violence, since they seek the humiliation of the victim and the renunciation of their own identity and desire based on the application of a corrective punishment.
Some of the manifestations that could be considered persecution based on gender, including causal sexual orientation, according to the International Human Rights Law, would be:
- Rape, forms of sexual violence, forced prostitution or forced pregnancy.
- Belonging to the LGBTIQ+ group, being exposed to attacks and/or harassment.
- Persecutory laws in themselves emanating from social norms and practices contrary to human rights, for example, female genital mutilation.
- Punishments, penalties or sanctions that amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment when a woman violates a law or policy.
- Laws or policies or practices whose goals may be justifiable, but where the methods for implementing them have severely damaging consequences, for example, forced sterilisations.
- Persecutory practices that, although prohibited, are tolerated by the State and where the State is not diligent in preventing and eliminating them.
- Situations arising from the transgression of social norms that severely restrict the freedom or physical and psychological integrity of women, for example, forced marriages.
- Sexist violence in the couple.
- Trafficking in persons for exploitation purposes.
Gender-based persecution occurs when “human rights violations are related to the role of a person due to his or her gender identity (woman, man, trans, or others) or due to their sexual preferences”. This persecution is exercised even more so when it is part of a situation of inequality, and seeks in its finality the subordination or domination of one person or another, a group, ideology or religion.
For all the above, we consider that:
- The lack of information on how to report various forms of violence, the absence of effective mechanisms to identify cases, and the insufficient capacity of humanitarian personnel on issues of gender violence, among others, make it difficult to know the reality of the multiple forms of discrimination and violence that are currently being experienced by women, girls and LGTBIQ+ people.
- The borders have become imageries of war where the violation of rights and impunity are systematically practised. And in which women’s bodies are at once weapons of war used to defeat and humiliate the enemy, to destroy the social base and used as a currency of exchange.
- Sexual violence suffered by women, boys and girls, in transits by all the men they encounter along the way, whether by travelling companions, policemen, mafias, must be strongly denounced, making the situation more visible and demanding action.
- Refugee and migrant women must be political subjects. In many cases they must fight against stereotypes in the places of destination and against the control of the community of origin. And aggravated by the weight of having to guard the identity of the community of origin, which patriarchy usually imposes on women. Immigrant women are not passive subjects who receive help; they are protagonists of their own migratory processes.
- The spaces of violence against women are also non-spaces, spaces without rights. Feminism has always denounced, and continues to do so, the breach of human rights; there exists a de facto alliance.
- The lack of safe routes for migrants and refugees implies that during the transit there are serious situations of direct and indirect violence. This problem is intensified with greater seriousness in the case of certain social groups, among which we want to emphasise that of girls, women and people of diverse identities and genders. Since, on many occasions, these people suffer sexual rapes, humiliations, [etc.] or other problems that must be addressed from their specificity.
- The fact that, according to the ILGA report of 2016, 39% of the member countries of the United Nations consider relationships between persons of the same sex to be illegal. And in 75 countries the lives of transgenders, gays and lesbians are restricted by a series of laws.
- On numerous occasions, persecution based on gender and/or sexual orientation is in part exercised by non-state actors such as churches, the family, or within communities. It should therefore be recognised as a violence and the concept of persecutor should be broadened.
And we add to the demands made throughout the audience:
- The formal recognition of a large part of the HR for LGTBIQ+ people so that they can exercise them in the greater part of humanity. It should be recalled that at present there are many countries that continue to maintain in their legislation homophobic laws that incite hatred, even though the UN General Assembly has promulgated the ‘Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’, which promulgates the repeal of any law that criminalises or punishes LGTBIQ+ people for the simple fact of being so.
- The signatory countries of the United Nations Charter be required to equate the rights of LGTBIQ+ people with those of the rest of society.
- Political and social actors trained on gender and/or sexual orientation so that they provide direct, adequate and comprehensive care to requesters.
- The situation of vulnerability of women, girls and LGTBIQ+ people in the migratory processes be made visible.
- Appropriate measures applied to the particularity of situations and an immediate response to the emergency adapted for both migrants and refugees.
- Appropriate safe routes applied for the most violated populations, such as women, girls and boys, and people of the LGTBIQ+ group.