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Entries in discrimination (14)

Wednesday
Dec162015

A New Low: Stealing Family Heirlooms in Exchange for Protection

@HuffPost

The refugee crisis in Europe has shown the very real limits to the social coherence and solidarity that seemed to form the basis for the European Union until now. But even within the climate of hostility against asylum seekers in Europe, Denmark stands apart as one of the worst aggressors.

First, the Danish government took out advertisements in Lebanese newspapers stating that it had cut social benefits to refugees by almost 50 percent, and that family reunification would be out of the question for now.

Then, the government announced it would go back on its (measly) promise to resettle 1,000 refugees, and declared plans to further cut funding for refugee integration, criminally charge asylum seekers for asserting their protection needs, and increase criminal charges for begging.

Included in these proposals--many of which have been adopted--is a provision allowing authorities to confiscate asylum seekers' jewelry (exempting engagement and wedding rings and watches) to offset the cost of providing them shelter. This proposal appears to still be under discussion. 

From the international legal perspective, these measures place Denmark in breach of its obligations to shelter and provide for those in need. The 1951 Refugee Convention gives anyone who manifestly fears for his or her safety at home the right to seek protection elsewhere. It also prohibits safe countries, such as Denmark, from returning refugees to a place where they might be tortured, targeted for killing, or put through something even worse. Physicians for Human Rights has an intimate understanding of the situations the majority of refugees in Europe are fleeing in SyriaAfghanistan, and elsewhere. Without belaboring the point, let's just say these countries are far less than safe. 

Denmark's new provisions also appear to violate the rights to integrity, dignity, and personal property, all enshrined in the Danish Constitution -- though in a country where political leaders have protested the obligation to provide shelter even for the stateless, the existence of legal imperatives may not be much of a deterrent to this kind of callous policy-making.

In fact, the public debate in Denmark is more focused on how the country is being invaded by undeserving "migrants" looking for an easy life than about the security crises that are causing people to flee in the first place. Despite the fact that news media report daily on the conflicts and collapse of the rule of law in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria -- just to mention a few -- the thousands who flee are somehow still seen as resource-poor individuals trying to move their families to a place with better social benefits.

This conflation of migration and refugee flows is common. Most mainstream media, in Europe and around the world, continue to refer to the people flooding into Europe as "migrants," despite ample evidence to the contrary. In an October New York Times article about a four-year-old boy who had been abducted from a refugee camp, and subsequently found dead, the problem was summarized as one related to "migrant children." Yet, a child abducted from a refugee camp might reasonably be assumed to be, well, a refugee. 

And then there is the puzzling notion, propagated in online commentary and punditry, that refugees in Europe already have money and should not be entitled to social assistance in Europe. It is certainly true that compared to the millions who can't afford to leave, the hundreds of thousands of people who make it to Europe probably were the wealthier ones in their country of origin. But rather than proving refugees in Europe to be mercenary, this information does just the opposite: when the need to leave is shared by everyone, not just the poor, you know a country is unsafe.

Of course, Denmark is not alone in its active discouragement of asylum seekers. This summer, Hungary constructed a razor wire fence on its border with Serbia to deter refugees from passing through the country. Slovenia threatened to do the same, but settled on daily quotas for entry instead. However, in early November, Slovenian television reported that the government had purchased a border fence. And in November, the European Union agreed to pay Turkey €3 billion for assistance in returning refugees to Syria at the Turkey-Syrian border. 

To be sure, some European governments -- notably Germany and Sweden - have declared a willingness to welcome a larger number of refugees. This is laudable and should serve as inspiration for better policies everywhere. Instead, however, the initiatives and openness of these governments are being undermined by the institutionalized inhumanity displayed by their neighbors. Indeed, the toxicity with which many European governments are treating asylum seekers challenges the very idea the European Union was set up to protect: that everyone is better off when inequalities are less pronounced. 

This latest Danish bill which would to strip asylum seekers of the last thing that reminds them of the home they would prefer not to have left in the first place -- their grandmother's necklace, a friendship ring reminding them of happier times -- is not only illegal, it is inhumane. I have never been more ashamed to be Danish.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the status of the proposed provision regarding confiscation of valuables.

Tuesday
Jun022015

New UN Report: Treat LGBTI Humans As Humans

@HuffPost

This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its second report on the state of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. 

Here's a hint: It's not pretty.

Intended originally to share good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination, this report in reality spells out the violence and discrimination that must be overcome. That's not a coincidence. Since OHCHR issued its first reporton this subject in 2011, many countries have certainly taken significant steps to advance the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. But many others remain reluctant to do so. As the High Commissioner's report this week notes: "The overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions."

There are many reasons why discrimination and abuse persist. The report addresses two of them head-on. 

First, it tackles the objection that LGBTI persons are not covered by international human rights protections. This may seem remarkably straightforward based on the premise that we are all human -- all of us -- therefore we all have rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. 

However, human rights generate obligations for states -- to promote, protect and fulfill these basic rights. States, everywhere, are reluctant to recognize the rights of those they deem "other" or somehow less valuable: Whether it is denying felons the right to vote, excluding undocumented immigrants from schooling or criminalizing freedom of speech for political opponents. For bodily autonomy and privacy for LGBTI persons, the mechanism is the same. And some states simply want to exclude those they don't "like" from the benefits and protection that human rights standards entitle them to. 

In seeking to overcome this objection, the High Commissioner's new report details many of the specific obligations states have to address discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons: Protection against torture and abuse; refraining from criminally or otherwise punishing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensuring everyone's right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Secondly, the report overcomes the general objection that there is just "nothing you can do" about stigma and prejudice. In its 20 recommendations to states, the report lays out the first crucial steps that should be taken to overcome violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. The recommendations cover discrimination in housing, education, employment, and refugee policies; urges revision of blatantly discriminatory laws, and suggests ongoing sensitivity training for public officials in healthcare, education and justice systems. Same-sex relationships should be afforded the same protections as opposite-sex relationships, the report notes; everyone should have access to legal identity document reflecting their preferred gender, upon demand, and no intersex child should be subjected to medically unnecessary procedures.

These recommendations should serve as a blueprint for priority action to overcome the violence and discrimination that is detailed in the report. 

They may look extensive. 

But if you read carefully you will see that all the report asks for is for LGBTI humans to be treated as humans.

Thursday
Oct302014

We Are All As Blind To Racism As Men Are To Street Harassment

@HuffPost

These past days, a video tracking an actress walking through selected New York City neighborhoods has gone semi-viral. The video depicts the many (many) times the actress is accosted, harassed and even stalked by men, and was commissioned and produced by the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback!

As advocacy, the approach has, rightly in my view, been celebrated for making street harassment visible to men. Some have tweeted about the irony that this kind of evidence even needs to be produced. Shouldn't it be enough that we, the women who experience street-harassment regularly, say that it exists? But since we all know that it is not enough, solid audio-visual evidence is never a bad thing.

However, the video left me with large question marks and quite a bit of discomfort about its unspoken racial bias. Though the editorializing comments note that the actress was harassed by men of all ethnic or racial backgrounds, most of the men shown on the final video are Black, some Latino, and no one -- as far as I can tell -- white.

This racial bias in the video does not necessarily reflect reality.

While research shows that women of color are more likely to be affected by street harassment than white women, there is precious little actual research on who the harasser tends to be. Testimonials from women indicate that men of all colors harass, that maybe blue-collar workers are more likely to harass, and that street harassment can happen pretty much anywhere. My personal experience is of mostly white male harassers when in western Europe or the United States, and mostly Latino men in Latin America. In other words: I have been harassed mostly by whomever happened to be around.

And maybe geography is the key to the Hollaback! video's racial bias. The video seems to show the actress wandering mostly around communities with predominantly Black or Latino populations. There is no footage from City Island, Greenpoint or Shepherd's Bush, all NYC neighborhoods with predominantly white populations, where street harassment -- I can assure you -- is frequent and loud.

Intentional or not, the racial bias strips the video not only of authenticity and therefore authority, but also of effectiveness. When we continue to convey to (white) women, through imagery, pop culture and literature, that Black men are the main perpetrators of crime, we feed into the undeniable racial injustices in the United States crime processing system.

And that is bad enough.

But we also indirectly teach women and girls to ignore the violence and harassment they might -- and often do -- face from the (white) men who according to the same cultural biases are supposed to be their protectors.

And this latter point is perhaps the biggest question mark for me. I obviously don't get why Hollaback! would want to portray almost exclusively Black men as creepy and predatory. But I really don't get why an organization that prides itself on effective street harassment prevention would want to encourage myopic attention to only a fraction of it, however indirectly.

And I certainly don't understand why this problematic aspect of the video has not been universally highlighted by commentators along with its many strengths. Is it that we, as a society, are as blind to racial injustices as men, generally, are to street harassment?

Sadly, I think we are.

Wednesday
Jun112014

UN Expected to Consider New Resolution on Discrimination Against LGBTI Persons

@RHRealityCheck

On June 10, the UN Human Rights Council started a three-week session, where—rumor has it—a new resolution addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity might be discussed.

Here’s how that development is simultaneously timely and late.

On June 5, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons.

That resolution is one of several recent international developments to codify the notion that all human beings have equal rights, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or any other qualifier. In late May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution, condemning violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also late May this year, seven United Nations agencies issued a joint statement in support of transgender and intersex people’s right not to be forced to be sterilized, a sentiment the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had discussed a couple of years earlier. Last year, the United Nations’ two regional economic commissions for Asia and the Pacific and for Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively, expressed the need to address the exclusion and rights of people of diverse sexualities in order to achieve development.

Of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all “men” equal in dignity and rights already in 1948. Setting the gendered aspect of this wording aside, it is clear also that, more than five decades later, not all human beings in practice enjoy equal rights. Exclusion is multilayered and complex, but it is fair to say that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and intersex status is rife most everywhere.

For starters, there are the more than 76 countries, often cited, that criminalize adult same-sex sexual conduct in some shape or form. While it usually is a specific sexual conduct that is criminalized on paper—such as, for example, sodomy or anal sex—the effect is to punish gender expression and perceived sexual orientation more broadly.

State-sponsored discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or intersex persons also takes other forms, many of them as punitive as if sexual orientation or gender identity had been criminalized directly. For example, Russia does not criminalize same-sex conduct itself, but a law outlawing “gay propaganda,” which was signed into effect in June 2013, has contributed to a situation where violence against those who are known or appear to be gay or lesbian is quite normalized.

And even broader than that, states’ failure to deal with higher drop-out rates for LGBTI youth, employment discrimination, and lack of access to housing, leads lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people predictably to be overrepresented among the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise marginalized. Recently, a ruling from Peru’s Constitutional Court condemned a trans woman to a life in perpetual fear, by noting that while she was free to enter her female first name on her official identification card, her papers would continue to identify her as “male.” Anyone reading statistics on violence against trans persons will know that constantly having to “out” oneself as trans, regardless of context, is not a good way to stay safe.

This is why all eyes should be on the UN Human Rights Council this week. The council adopted its first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity in July 2011, in which it commissioned a study on the effects of discrimination and promised to stay engaged on the issue. Now, three years later, information has been gathered, and several inter-governmental bodies, including most recently the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, have declared themselves in favor of equality and rights.

The rumored Human Rights Council resolution would join the growing mass of global documents that declare, unequivocally, what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights implied some 50-odd years ago. We are all equal; and when we are not treated as such, it is time to step up.

Friday
Mar282014

Enough With the Bathrooms: Stigma, Stereotypes and Barriers to Trans Equality

@HuffPostGay

Recently, attempts to effectively implement the right to non-discrimination for trans people in the United States has been met with fear-mongering about inappropriate use of public bathrooms.

In Maryland, a lawmaker reportedly expressed concerns that predators and pedophiles might enter women's bathrooms if that state passes a bill, currently under consideration, to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In Arizona, some parents were worried about trans children choosing the most appropriate bathroom for themselves, lest this "infringe" on other children's "privacy." And opponents of a non-discrimination law in California, already in effect, are gathering signatures to have the law repealed, because, they say, it violates the rights of those students who may be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a person who is trans.

In fact, integrated public bathroom use seems to be the top objection raised in the United States to advancing equal rights for trans people, especially children. There are 3 main reasons for this.

First, there is a general discomfort among many Americans with co-ed social interaction as anything other than (straight) "courting." Over the age of 5, co-ed sleepovers are seen as inappropriate by many, and school dances as early as 5th grade push the notion that you really should only show up with a "date" of the opposite gender. What children take away from these overly gendered (and hetero-centric) rules of interaction is anyone's guess, but it is clear that many parents view co-ed friendships with suspicion.

Secondly, there is a common conflation of nudity and sex in US media and public discourse. It is telling that the discomfort around trans people's public bathroom use is about potential sexual interactions rather than actually using the toilets.

As a logical proposition, the argument that bathroom use must be strictly divided on the basis of genitalia in order to prevent public sex has always confused me. For starters, experience shows that such interactions can and do happen without any connection to trans people. Most of us remember the 2007 bathroom stall incidentthat ultimately had Senator Larry Craig of Idaho resign, and news of cis straight couples having sex in public bathrooms surface with monotonous regularity. Moreover, it would be impossible to police genitalia-based bathroom use without engaging in precisely the kind of "peeping Tom" activity those opposed to non-discrimination protections for trans people claim inevitably would follow the adoption of such measures.

Third, and most importantly, the linkage between trans equality and public bathroom use surfaces the stereotyped notion of trans people as somehow over-sexed, "perverted" or perhaps just "making it up." I have previously written about the comment reportedly made by a lawyer who was arguing against a 6-year-old trans girl's right to use the girl's bathroom at her school, with reference to the notion that the girl might be lying about her gender identity and really just want to see other girls go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, such preconceived notions about trans people just making it up or being over-sexed are not isolated to this case.

To be clear: gender identity is not about sex, it is about who we are. The founder of the website "We Happy Trans," Jen Richards, recently wrote a great piece about the fact that the trans community is as diverse as any other. Shocking, I know (not). The truth of the matter is that everyone has a right to non-discrimination, and that trans people pretty much everywhere face unique barriers to exercising this right because of stigma, stereotypes and legal obstacles to changing gender markers.

It is ridiculous that one of those barriers consistently should be someone else's discomfort with sharing a bathroom with people whose genitalia may or may not look like their own. Especially because the main point of those opposed to non-discrimination measures is that no one should be looking at anyone else's genitalia in the first place.

I say, enough with the bathrooms. No one should not have to pay for someone else's prudish illogic.