Call for South Asian research participants!

Hey! I’m a Masters student studying international human rights law. Are you:

  • South Asian (Bangladeshi/Pakistani/Indian)?
  • Working on gender identity/sexual orientation rights?
  • In the UK?
  • Able to Skype for up to 1 hour?

Then you might be able to help!

Information Sheet and Consent Form (download Word doc.)

Google Form sign up sheet

The question at hand:

“How do honour and shame affect the public advocacy strategies used by South Asian human rights defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity rights in the UK?”

How would it work?

If this sounds like something you could reflect on, then I really need your help.  We’d go through the consent process, make sure you’re happy with a pseudonym or your real name, and clarify any other details. Then, I would email you a very short list of topics we will discuss (related to the question), so that you have time to prepare. When ready, we’d proceed with the interview (any time before 31st October 2017) and hopefully, have a great time talking to one another.

In terms of ethics approval, all research has been approved by the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York (contact them here if you have concerns I cannot answer).

What do I get out of it?

Unfortunately, I can’t offer payment, and I’m looking for up to 10 interviewees. Contacts at Amnesty International, and other organisations, will be reading the full dissertation or a policy version of it. All participants will have the chance to have their name credited against their accounts, as well as recommendations (if offered), unless they choose to use a pseudonym.

No one has approached this subject from this angle before in the UK. There is a possibility it may be published as a journal article, or in another form. It may also be the subject of a PhD thesis, depending on outcome.

I am welcome to suggestions on how to make this worth your while.

Contact:

If you or anyone else you know is interested, please fill out this form, or email me at mm1162@york.ac.uk.

 

Featured image link under CC0 copyright

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Beyond the Binary: Why are non-binary people important?

Image of trans* pride flag (blue, pink, white) – Flickr: TorbakhopperCreative Commons

You might have heard of me. I’m Maria Munir, and I told President Obama that I’m non-binary on live TV.

Many people do not understand why my body is unrelated to my gender.  I should add that normally my blogposts are a little less erratic, and presented better. But I need to be simple and clear with you so here is everything in my own words, where I have no word limits or time constraints.

If you’re interested in definitions, here’s a link to some guidelines on definitions of biological sex, gender, gender identity and expression.

I was born with a female body, with XX chromosomes, and I’ve never had any gender reassignment surgery and nor have I been diagnosed with anything like gender dysphoria. I’m telling you this because the world seems obsessed with my body.

There are people who believe non-binary is a sexuality (no, it’s a gender identity, sexuality doesn’t matter and I haven’t discussed it publicly). There are people who believe this means I am lying about my identity as a non-binary person, or that this is a conspiracy theory led by the BBC (that one made me laugh so hard) in order to brainwash society. Please re-read that out loud. People seriously believe that.

Gender is not an illness, nor can it be medically defined. Granted, there are those who suffer from gender identity disorder (or dysphoria), but this is not a prerequisite for being non-binary, and nor should there be shame if someone is ill. Furthermore, those who are non-binary are just like everyone else in that they too can suffer from mental health issues, but once again, this is not to say that to be non-binary is always to be mentally ill.

Your biological sex is determined by doctors and scientists (and society). Mine has been determined as female, since you all seem so voyeuristic and keen to know. Your gender is also a social construct, but science does not have any impact in its identification.

Non-binary people reject the traditional norms of man and woman. For me, this manifests itself in not believing my body has any impact on my gender, my characteristics, or my day to day life as a human being.

To be non-binary is to be outside the traditional gender norms of the binary concept of man and woman. Politically speaking, gender is a barrier one must overcome. Gender is discriminated against, especially when it is transgender people we’re talking about. Don’t get me wrong; we must not erase gender. We must not seek to homogenise everyone and class them as the same gender, as that takes away from their dignity and autonomy. Instead, we should respect difference and variety, and work to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities to access what they need, and to have their equal rights respected.

As a non-binary person, the freedom is yours to self-define. I have friends who are non-binary men, non-binary women, non-binary genderfluid, non-binary gender neutral, non-binary agender, and so on and so forth. There is no need to hold everyone to the same standards and expect everyone to be some kind of hybrid as though it’s a negative thing. Intersex people exist too, so do people who have surgery, and there is much pluralism in gender identity which we as society should be mindful of.

Nearly a quarter of a million people in the UK are non-binary, according to an estimate from the Non-binary Inclusion Project. Under Equality Act 2010 in the UK, non-binary people have no recognition. Therefore, there are probably even more people in the country who are non-binary, and you may even be one of them. In fact, there was a recent Parliamentary inquiry into this.

Someone else’s gender need not have an impact on your life. But we should be respectful of each other.

Just as you wish to be referred to as a man or woman, or you want people to use he or she, others like myself want to be referred to differently. I want you to refer to me as non-binary, even though I have a female body, and I want you to use they/their/them when referring to me. If this angers you, then please don’t expect me to engage with and educate you when you don’t want to listen to me respectfully. It’s not my duty to spend my entire life educating one person. I believe it is my duty to help those who are being discriminated against, by getting them recognition and appropriate help.

Education is something which you should also try yourself, because it is unfair to put the burden on a minority to educate you if you do not even allow them the same platforms or recognition as you. How are they then supposed to educate you convincingly?

I put myself in the public eye because I know that people all over the world are suffering. Suicide hotline calls are up in North Carolina because of the Bathroom Bill. My own friends are faced with isolation and homelessness for expressing their gender. This is unacceptable.

To those who believe I should make an effort to make myself look different so that you can “tell me apart”, please re-evaluate your choices in life. If I want to wear certain clothes or jewellery, that has no impact on my gender and does not entitle you to assume you know better than me. Furthermore, just because I have a female body does not mean I am inviting you to make judgments. On the one hand, you argue that we should homogenise and only be men and women. On the other hand, you’re annoyed that I don’t “look non-binary”. I wear what makes me comfortable, and would you believe it, the reason is because my body is separate to my gender.

If you are judging the way you should treat me on my body, then that is sexist. You believe that I should behave a certain way because of my body, and that is wrong. Please stop projecting your lack of understanding onto me in the form of harassment. If you believe that non-binary people do not exist, pinch yourself, because I’m real, and I’m really very serious about making sure we combat discrimination in a progressive way which recognises the rights of people with different genders from across the world.

I understand that this may come across as preaching, but actually, I’m just an ordinary person and I just want to help others. I am not on an agenda to force you to de-gender yourself or to make you change the way you lawfully live. All I am asking is, do not harass others (as it is against the law), and please allow people to campaign for their human rights.

That is all.

 

Why Iain Duncan Smith’s Resignation Is Perfect

BBC News reported that Iain Duncan Smith has quit his job as Work and Pensions Secretary over the recent budget changes to disability benefit plans. His main objection? Irreconcilable differences with the Conservative Party plans to cut over £4bn for Personal Independence Payments (PIP). This could not have come at a better time for all those involved.

Despite having been a Thatcher-approved Conservative Party leader from 2001 to 2003, at a time when the political party was gaining momentum as the Government’s Opposition, Duncan Smith has faced considerable problems. His lack of charisma led to a no-confidence vote in 2003, leading the way for Michael Howard to step up to the role. This should have been a warning sign when Prime Minister David Cameron appointed him to the Department of Work and Pensions, in a pivotal role which has often compounded the Conservative Party’s brutal austerity image.

Impossible to sympathise with, Duncan Smith has been known for his many media gaffes, which have done nothing for his image but show his true colours. In a letter to Cameron, citing his resignation, Duncan Smith states:

“Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.”

In essence, it’s the usual spiel of compromise having its limits. However, a simple glance at his history when it comes to benefit cuts, the Brexit plan, and his problematic image shows that Duncan Smith is simply not as clever as some analysts are making him out to be. He’s willing to be controversial, and his resistance in the face of Personal Independence Payment issues (which George Osborne already dropped from his checklist) is futile. The attempt to demonstrate principles or a backbone is long overdue, given that the  UK is to be investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights abuses against disabled people, as IDS’ “reforms” have potentially caused 800,000 deaths. In fact, it’s not his abysmally damaging political strategy which should have us worried, but what the future holds as a result, both for the political landscape and the public.

Duncan Smith is known popularly as IDS. I’ll leave the irony of the resemblance to a particular debilitating disability to you. The disease of which IDS is merely a symptom is one of opportunistic scapegoating. If anything, his swift resignation gives us a deeper insight into Tory party politics, and David Cameron’s plan to keep a Conservative Government alive in his eventual absence when he finishes his second term as Prime Minister. So who stands to gain from IDS’ resignation, and who stands to lose?

IN THE RED CORNER – Jeremy Corbyn and a lacklustre Labour Party

Wins: 

  • Minor – Corbyn (and just about everyone else on the planet) is able to take the moral high ground (as per usual) and lambast IDS for lacking conscience in the last 6 years

Losses:

  • The Conservative Party is leading the way in defining social justice as a Government. Moral outrage does not make up for the fact that Corbyn’s image as a buffoon (in the media) has been equally as bad as IDS. All political conversations centre around what the Tories are doing… Labour is but a helpless spectator
  • Why was Labour unable to prevent such reforms in the first place? Given that they have failed to create an actual Opposition in Government, it is no wonder that such changes have taken place unchallenged. For a party which is not calling out the Government’s invasive measures, such as the Investigative Powers Bill, Labour cannot claim to be acting in the interest of the individual

IN THE BLUE CORNER – David Cameron and a smug successor

Wins:

  • IDS out, yes-man in
  • Cameron is ‘puzzled’ and ‘disappointed’ – therefore IDS obviously didn’t know the facts that the PIP plan wasn’t going ahead anyway, and thus Pilate Cameron can wash his hands of responsbility and his sacrificial lamb can die for his sins (and the sins of those before him)
  • Osborne can talk about austerity, necessary cuts, and negotiation whilst laughing with his pal DC about how IDS’ focus on the Brexit campaign is damaging, rather than principled
  • Theresa May is secretly smiling that the reputation of the Tories is being tarnished by Osborne, a hapless Cameron, and thank-God-he’s-gone IDS. She gets to be the principled, level-headed, I’m-going-to-focus-on-security one (albeit with a tinge of evil heavy-handedness)

Losses:

  • Perfect opportunity to disown IDS and ridiculous measures gone, as his resignation means the buck is now with Osborne, meaning he is going to be even more unpopular (chancellors always are, aren’t they?)
  • No one is going to forgive IDS’ successor,
  • The assault on poverty has turned into an assault on poor people, and now disabled people, and that never plays well. Jeremy Hunt needs to be wary in case the Principal of Principles comes knocking
  • Infighting is at an all-time high, and this is the perfect opportunity for a strong Opposition to take a principled stand (never going to happen though)

Draw:

  • Osborne is not going to be the new Tory leader, according to British media – neither a win nor a loss for a confused party whose only direction seems to be right

THE REFEREES

Silence from irrelevant Nigel Farage (UKIP) on Twitter. Tut tut, wake up Nige.

BUT WHY IS THIS THE PERFECT PLAN?

The EU campaign is in threat (or IDS wants it to be, anyway). Poor, elderly, and disabled people are angry. Labour is terrible Opposition, Osborne is the new IDS/Hunt, and the equally unfortunately named Stephen Crabb (IDS’ successor) is linked to gay cure therapy groups. I mean, give an analyst a break. This goldmine means that no matter what IDS did, it no longer matters, as the ball is now in the Tory factions’ respective parks. Except, none of them know which thicket to find the ball in.

IDS has come out of this well, and he did the right thing to drop out now. It allows the smoke to clear, and the charred remains of a stung Osborne left behind to pick up the pieces. Osborne has a huge job on his hands. A resignation from a prominent member after a Budget is not helpful to his potential bid for leader. Cameron doesn’t really need to care, and that makes him dangerous. He will go wherever the wind blows and chimes with the most coins. Labour, on the other hand, are at serious risk of driving themselves further into the ground. This important year, with London Mayoral Elections, an EU Referendum, and many Local Government elections is a pivotal assessment point as to how close the gap between Labour and the Conservatives is. I doubt Corbyn has done much to close the gap, and without the voting support of Labour in the House, the Lib Dems are unable to offer the moderation of Tories run amok, unlike when in Coalition from 2010-2015.

Seriously, this was the perfect plan. A bumbling fool, who everyone thought was evil, is now out of the picture. Now we can focus on the real crimes of political and strategic inadequacy. History repeats itself.

Rome is falling; don’t you want to watch?

 

My Education: A Right, Not A Privilege

Flickr: GAC | AMC, Creative Commons

My education is a right, not a privilege. This does not mean I am not privileged to be sat in my university bedroom, typing away into the blogosphere on my laptop. But my inherent right to an education cannot be rescinded; it’s indivisible, and it’s mine.

I have viewed myself to be lucky to have had such a brilliant chance at education in comparison to many others. The postcode lottery of being born in Britain, next to an outstanding school (Ofsted’s words), did me good. I got to go to school to do ‘important things’ like become a prefect, or try for university, and now I am on the cusp of graduating with my BA in Politics with International Relations. Don’t get me wrong. My situation could have been a lot worse. I only have to turn around and look at my cousins in rural Pakistan to know that I’m lucky to be here. I understand the value of education, and a good one at that, but every day, society reminds us that we do not ‘deserve’ to study or make something of ourselves.

Let’s break this down.

  1. We have the right to go to university. This means that we do not have to gain the permission of my parents to go to university. The inherent right to go to university or pursue any type of education has been, and always will be, ours.
  2. Just because society controls us, doesn’t mean they own us. A human being is not a commodity to be warped to personal benefits. We are in no way a luxury good to be paraded in front of ‘lesser beings’, or to be promoted for being ‘above’ everyone else. Society may coerce us into agreeing with them and making promises for the sake of surviving until the next day, but that does not mean that society inherently owns us. We are our own. No amount of emotional blackmail or guilt-tripping from society can take that away from us.
  3. Society degrades all women to being playthings. It is not for society to decide our future. It is not for society to deem what is suitable for us in terms of career or prospects. It is not for society to remind us, again and again, that they can click their fingers and a bewitched ring shall appear on a woman’s finger. It is not for society to exercise that power in order to coerce women into doing your bidding. It is not for society to dangle the carrot stick of education in our faces, and use it to make us conform. How dare society cite marriage in any scenario, except for one where we consent to it happily and freely? How dare society dangle marriage as a punishment for those women who do not submit; as something to steal women’s independence? How dare society tell us that marriage makes women submissive, and that it is to be used against women in every situation? I do not stand for such a crass attitude to people, where marital status is decided at society’s whim. Women must never, ever submit to these demands, no matter how much society threatens us. Regardless of the body parts women have, women are first, and foremost, human beings with human rights. Women are not society’s in any sense of the word, and neither is anyone else.
  4. Don’t congratulate yourself on not forcing women to get married. Yet. It’s rich for society to be able to imply that they are for equal rights between men and women. It’s preposterous that, through the three words of “But I didn’t” society can insinuate that it should be applauded for not physically stopping women from going to university.
  5. A woman’s life is not a trophy for society to show off. Society repeatedly tells us not to work, to not get a job, and to not bother doing anything extra.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I am determined, moreso than ever, to achieve everything for myself and everyone else.

Education is my right. It is your right. It is not a privilege. Every time someone decides education is theirs to administer or judge, stand up against them. When they say those things, they negate everyone’s ability to be educated to the standards they wish to be educated. Every time someone decides it’s a privilege, we dilute the right of billions of people worldwide, and tell them that we do not care about their fight for education. I am lucky that my parents are so positive and so encouraging of my educational pursuits.

Education is a right. Don’t let anyone tell you, or anyone else, otherwise.