Important resolution urges states to end discrimination against gender minorities
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) commends the resolution Discrimination against transgender people in Europe, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 22 April 2015. The resolution urges member states to abolish sterilization and other medical requirements such as a mental health diagnosis as a basis for gender recognition. They should adopt legislation that protects gender minorities in all parts of society.
“It is important that member states follow up on the PACE recommendations without delay”, says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland. “Transgender persons are among the most discriminated people in Europe today, being subject to violations committed by both authorities and transphobic groups and individuals”.
Physical and psychological violence, as well as discrimination in access to work, housing, education and health services, are only some of the challenges gender minorities experience on a daily basis. In many Council of Europe member states, including Norway, sterilization is required for changing gender in birth certificates and identity documents, and access to treatment requires a mental health diagnosis.
Admittance to psychiatric wards is part of the approval process in several countries, and legal gender recognition may result in forced divorce and losing of parental rights. In some countries, provisions or mechanisms for gender reassignment or gender recognition are not even in place.
Documents where the gender assigned at birth does not correspond to a person’s physical appearance often result in degrading situations. This may happen in places where a person has to prove his or her identity, such as airports, in post offices and banks, public offices and education institutions. In conflict areas, such as in Ukraine, transgender persons may have difficulties of fleeing war because of problems at border control or check points.
“Despite these well documented issues, we see that the situation for gender minorities is often left out when talking about human rights – also when the rights of sexual minorities is on the agenda”, says Mina Skouen, Advisor on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex issues at the NHC. “It is a paradox that practices such as compulsory sterilization can co-exist with increasingly stricter demands on Council of Europe member states to protect the human rights of all citizens”.
Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie, confirmed recently that he would revise practices related to gender reassignment procedures. He aims to propose legislation that will make it possible to change registered gender based on self-determination, which is one of the recommendations in the PACE resolution.
“Harmonization of Norwegian legislation with the PACE resolution would enable Norwegian authorities to become effective advocates for protection of gender minorities in Europe, including in countries like Russia and Ukraine where problems are dire”, says Engesland. “Now is time to demonstrate that neither problematic practices nor silence towards clear abuse against gender minorities can continue. Countries should reform their own legislation and practice and urge other countries to follow suit.”