“Rethinking gender is a tool for world revolution”

Increasingly, original ideas coming up from the Global South are getting into the world civil society agenda. The field of LGBT rights is a good example. Español

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Tamara Adrián H. Francesc Badia i Dalmases
24 May 2016

Tamara Adrián. Some rights reserved.

Francesc Badia: First of all, thank you for having us. My first question is: how do you view the international projection of ideas and initiatives coming from the Global South? What is their influence in shaping the global civil society agenda?

Tamara Adrián H.: I think this is a very relevant and important question in many ways, because there is a general feeling – which sometimes is quite right - that the agenda of the Global North dominates that of the Global South a far as the organizational demands of civil society are concerned. Sometimes it is right because capacity building, on the one hand, and the agenda itself on the other hand, are aligned with what the organizations from the Global North consider worthy to be financed, and what is not. But what has been happening in the last ten years is that, more often than you may think, very enlightening, original ideas have come up from the Global South. Let us take, as an example - because I work in that field -, what is going on with LGBT rights. Legal recognition of transgender people without the requirement of any previous surgery, or treatment as pathology, or any other medical requirement, was an idea that came from the Global South – from countries like Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay. This is now becoming an international standard. Inter-sex organization has had a very low profile in the Global North. It is becoming increasingly important in the Global South, as transgender people are demanding recognition for their struggle and are fighting to prevent states from carrying out mutilations on inter-sex children. These have been ideas that came from the Global South, not from the North.

Coming back to your question, I think that this should be the path: first, you need to have a clear idea or proposition; second, you should count on strong theoretical support for your agenda, or idea, as well as for its practical implications; and third, you must have access to the proper channels to convey this idea to the highest levels.

If you follow this path, your idea may reach the Global North. I think this is what actually happens in some cases.

FB: Right, this links to my second question: tell me about the process where a small idea is embraced by a significant number of people in order to engage many more people and push for critical measures to achieve policy change.

TAH:  First, organized civil society must be proficient in the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, in order to connect with people around the world. Today, civil society is organized in a way that was just unconceivable a few decades ago. Communities of people with the same interests exist, independently of where they are located in the world. This is why it is much easier for new ideas to spread, and create critical mass.

Second, it is important to build alliances. Without alliances with different groups – from governmental and non-governmental organizations to politicians and international organizations – it is impossible to convince people.

In order to convince people, you need brief, sharp and noticeable ideas that are clearly distinguishable from other ideas. I learned this the first time I addressed a meeting at the former Human Rights Council in Geneva. It was back in 2006, and the meeting was about LGBT rights. I remember that one of the representatives attending the meeting – I think he was the ambassador of Norway or Finland – said to me: “I understand now why you are talking about human rights regarding the LGBT struggle. But the organization will be talking about this issue for the next 30 years before any resolution is approved.”

It only took one year. And I want to stress a couple of things. First, it was a simple and well-rooted idea, regarding the practical implications of exercising LGTB rights. Then, after becoming aware of this, people started to think that it was not so difficult to implement.

FB:  Here comes my third question. There is an increasing awareness and acceptance of the fact that people have multiple identities. How do you see the relation (if any) between a mobile/changing gender identity and a broader/multiple type of identity? In other words, what do you think the role of gender is in the formation of multiple identities?

TAH:  Altering and rethinking gender is a tool for world revolution. Changing the way women are conceived and perceived, and how men are viewed, and their roles, is a prerequisite for achieving equality in the world. It can help break the existing barriers preventing women from being treated like men. Rethinking gender requires the rethinking of masculinity and femininity. This does not mean that men will no longer be men or that women will no longer be women. It means that men and women will be able to engage in professions, ideals and tasks that are not necessarily linked to gender stereotypes. If we can do this, we will have a world where men will not only provide maintenance but also take care of children, and where women will not only take care of their kids but also get involved in politics, public life, and so on.

When we talk about fluidity – or about a more fluid world – this implies a much less strict view of what gender is. For instance, fluidity allows men to be more sensitive, and allows women to be stronger, than their respective gender stereotypes.

FB: Let us now turn to the LGBT agenda in Latin America. We are seeing a change in the political cycle there, from a decade characterized by more progressive policies - a leftist “revolution”, if you like -, to the return of center-right governments. Is the LGBT agenda strong enough to cope with this, or do you foresee some setbacks in the near future?

TAH:  This is a very, very important question because there is this stereotype going around that is simply untrue. It has been regularly said that equality is strictly a left-wing thing. This is not true. I had this meeting at Amherst College two weeks ago, where Professor Andrew Reynolds, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was talking about LGBT political representation throughout the world. He has done research on how politicians around the globe – from “left-wing” (whatever that means) to “right wing” – respond to LGBT issues. In any case, it is hard to say what is left wing and what is right wing – but, for sure, Venezuela’s government today is not left-wing.

Anyway, according to Reynold’s findings, there are politicians who are more open to LGBT issues on the Right than on the Left. 60% of LGBT politicians are in center to right-of-centre parties, and 40% in left-wing parties. That came as a surprise to me.  It made me think about my own prejudices, because I thought that the LGBT struggle was being fought more by the Left than by the Right. The same happens in Spain, for instance, with the People’s Party, the Socialists and Podemos – basically, the fight for equality transcends political parties. The fight for equality is assumed by every single party at the centre of the political spectrum. That is why we have achieved equality in so many countries.

FB:  But what about the conservative movements that are gaining momentum here in Latin America, like the Evangelical Church?

TAH:  I always say that religious fundamentalist groups are a minority. They are very few in numbers. It is the same on the side of the Catholic Church and on the Evangelical side. In a fully Catholic country, only 2-3% of the population is fundamentalist. The rest are not. The same happens with the Evangelical Church. The thing is that they are very loud – much like the Islamic State (ISIS). Only a very small percentage of all Muslims in the world are fundamentalist. It also happens with the Jews. It is the norm in all religions.

FB:  My last question is obviously about Venezuela, the country where you come from. Do you see the current political polarization as a threat to civil rights, to the broader agenda that is being defended by civil society?

TAH:  We currently have about 3.500 people on trial because of the protests – many of them are being sent to jail for months on end without any formal charge. Venezuela is a country where human rights are not being respected. There is no right to education. There are people queuing for hours to buy, I don’t know, chicken, perhaps? There is no access to medical drugs. Basic rights are just being denied or forgotten.

In the case of LGBT rights, the situation is more or less the same in all Latin America, with the exception of Venezuela. The reason being the presence of fundamentalist Evangelists within Chavismo – they were about 33% in the former National Assembly. Also, Venezuela’s is a military regime. About 60% of the ministers come from the army. Then you also have a small group of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinists who think that being a homosexual is a capitalist perversion. And, finally, there are some who trample on human rights simply to protect the revolution. They claim that they respect human rights, but of course they interpret human rights in the way that suits them best.

DemocraciaAbierta attended the International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogotá (24-28 April), thanks to a Media Fellowship from CIVICUS. This piece belongs to a series of interviews to prominent civil society leaders who participated in the event.

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