Antidemocratic Impositions: ‘gender identity’ policies in the Dominican Republic

This is a transcript of the speech that Raquel Rosario Sánchez delivered during the international seminar ‘The Erasure of Women in Latin America’ on 21 July, 2020 for the feminist organization Against the Erasure of Women. Raquel is a writer, campaigner and researcher from the Dominican Republic. Her work specializes in eradicating male violence against girls and women. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research with the University of Bristol.

You can watch Raquel deliver this speech here and read this speech in Spanish here.

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Good evening to our colleagues in Spain! Good afternoon our the colleagues from Latin America and the Caribbean!

Many thanks to the Alliance Against the Erasure of Women, this wonderful project, because they have taken the initiative not only to organize this event, but also to address an existing problem. Postmodernist concepts have been infiltrating public policies in Spanish-speaking countries for more than a decade, without having a feminist response that questions, and most importantly, that demands that a democratic and transparent debate is opened in this regard.

Today we have more than 1200 people registered for this seminar. Many people are here watching us live, but others will see us on the YouTube videos and read our speeches, if we decide to publish them. And this should give us hope because it demonstrates that there is an immense interest in the conflict that ‘gender identity’ policies create over rights based on sex.

Particular thanks to Han, Ariel, Laura, and Rosana. For me it is an honour to be on this panel of such brave women because raising your voice, showing your face and facing this issue has a cost. But silence costs us even more.

My speech is entitled ‘Antidemocratic Impositions: the policies of ‘gender identity ’in the Dominican Republic.’ In the Dominican Republic, this issue is multifaceted and complex due to the political conditions (partisan, religious and social), of our country. Other than that, the legislative ruses, which I will detail below, represent only one branch. There are also public policies within some State institutions, in non-governmental organizations, in the private sector, among others. So, to be brief, I’ll just touch on one particular point: the legislative bit.

I hope I can publish this speech in a more detailed way so that you, as well as the people who have not been able to attend, can read it and even question it. As Laura has just explained, our goal is indeed to foster democratic and transparent public debate on about the issue of rights based on our sex, in the face of the conflict represented by ‘gender identity’ policies.

And this is the crux of the matter. The world is supposed to be going through a feminist upheaval, a feminist boom… feminism is even sold on t-shirts! But who is the subject of feminism? Question number one. And what is woman? Question number two. What does it mean that in 2020 this question is not some sort of crass joke, but a question of a legal nature that is found within too many national congresses?

What constitutes women’s rights? If ‘gender identity’ is a superfluous feeling, then are women themselves also an abstract? If the rights of women and girls are not based on our sex, then what are they based on?

Alright, let’s get started!

Article 17 of the Dominican Constitution of 1963, considered by many to be our most progressive Magna Carta, stated: “Equal pay corresponds to equal work, without discrimination of sex, age or status”. Article 12 of the 1994 Dominican Constitution stated: “All Dominicans of both sexes who have reached 18 years of age are citizens, and those who are or have been married, even if they have not reached that age.” Our Magna Carta of 2002 repeated this article word for word.

And then the Dominican Constitution forgets what sex is! From that point on, everything became gender. It is important to highlight that, within in this power structure, this a top down mandate: just as ‘gender’ is erased from the Constitution, so it is also made invisible from other public policies at the national and local level.

The 2010 Constitution arrives, and in its Article 39 it tells us about the right to equality. Article 39 of the current Dominican Constitution establishes:

“All people are born free and equal before the law, receive the same protection and treatment from institutions, authorities and other people, and enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities, without any discrimination on the grounds of gender, colour, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political or philosophical opinion, social or personal condition.”

In this seminar, and taking into account this constitutional context, I want to comment very briefly on the trajectory of two bills that are either within, or on the peripheries, of the National Congress of the Dominican Republic. One is the Draft Bill on Equality and Non-Discrimination. The second is the Bill that creates the Comprehensive System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women.

The Draft Equality and Non-Discrimination Bill enters the National Congress and makes its first appearance in the Dominican National Congress almost a decade ago, through a senator from the province of San Juan. He is presented with what appears to be a benign bill that, as its name indicates, only seeks equality and non-discrimination of people in our country.

What happens? It turns out that the Draft Law on Equality and Non-Discrimination is a Draft Law on ‘Gender Identity’. Following the international pattern established by the promoters of ‘gender identity’ policies, and at a time when more and more people are becoming aware of the problems that arise from this new conceptualization of ‘gender’ as a personal identity (opposite to the feminist theory that gender is a hierarchy that exists to justify the subordination of women), instead of openly expressing these positions, it is preferable to infiltrate them inside of other bills which are more popular or generate greater acceptance within the population. Undoubtedly, many people within the Dominican Republic support greater protection for all people made vulnerable by discrimination, and sanctions against inequality, but the to question theories of ‘gender identity’, without democratic discussion and behind the population’s back, is entirely legitimate.

This is not because the Dominican population is in its totality ignorant, conservative, “anti-rights” or transphobic. It is because people notice when people in power want to introduce incoherent concepts and theories into our policies. That senator from the province of San Juan, who has just been re-elected by a large majority, eventually realized that the Draft Bill which was sold to him as entirely benign, is more complex than it appeared and stepped away from it. The Draft Bill is then worked on in more detail and other legislators, sympathetic to the interests of certain international organizations, promise to take over the project.

In this interval, some rather lonely figures begin to publicly question the content of the Draft Law. In response to the specific objections presented, the word ‘sex’ is included within the jurisdiction of the legislation. It is included only once and at the beginning, within a definition … it can be said that it was done this way so that no one complains that it is was not mentioned.

The Draft Bill establishes that ‘discrimination’ is:

“Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference, in any public or private sphere, that has the objective or effect of nullifying or limiting the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, under conditions of equality, of one or more human rights (HR) or fundamental freedoms enshrined in international human rights instruments, the Dominican Constitution and laws.

It can be based on reasons of skin color, lineage or national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, language, religion and/or spiritual beliefs, cultural identity, political opinions or of any other nature, social origin, socioeconomic position, level of education, migratory, refugee, returnee, stateless or internally displaced status, disability, people who have served a sentence, genetic characteristic, mental or physical health condition, including infectious, disabling psychic or any other person, deprived of liberty, among others.”

But analyzing the content of this legislative proposal extensively, we realize that this mention is practically irrelevant because any protection of rights based on ‘sex’ is invalidated by the conceptualization and implementation of this new concept of ‘gender identity’, prioritized transversely within the document.

How can the rights of women to sex-segregated sports, to shelters for women victims of sexist violence or to prisons differentiated by sex be protected, if these are understood according to people’s ‘gender identity or expression’?

Please keep in mind that our current constitution does not recognise sex: only gender.

Among the ‘vulnerable groups’ within the bill we find the following paragraph. Here we realize that the intention has never been to protect rights based on sex:

“Are those groups that, due to their age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical or mental health condition, or due to social, economic, origin, ancestry, nationality and / or cultural circumstances, find it particularly difficult to fully exercise the rights recognized by the legal system due to historical practices of discrimination and exclusion. These include, by way of enunciation and not limited to: women, children and adolescents, youth at risk, people with disabilities (physical or mental), older adults, people of various sexual orientations and gender identities, people living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, migrants, people who use drugs, people deprived of liberty and/or who have served time, among others.”

In other words, that mention of ‘sex’ was simply a formality, not a transversal axis. And it cannot be, because the purpose of this legislative proposal is to legislate in favour of its antithesis: ‘gender identity’.

The same Draft Law on Equality and Non-Discrimination defines ‘gender’ as:

“Socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a society considers appropriate for men and women.”

Why would I protect and advocate for gender when this same legislative proposal admits that gender is a set of roles regarding what is considered appropriate for men and women? In other words, why grant legal protection and advocate in favour of gender, when this same project admits that gender is a set of sexist stereotypes? How does it benefit Dominican society and protects the right of vulnerable people, to grant legal protection to a concept that the same Draft Law considers harmful and discriminatory?

‘Gender identity’ is defined as:

“A consciousness and feeling, which becomes the conviction of being a woman or a man, feminine or masculine.”

While ‘gender roles’ are understood as:

“Everything that the person does or says to indicate to others and/or themselves, the degree to which they are a man or a woman (or even ambivalent). It is the public expression of the identity assumed through the performance of various roles in sexual life.”

It is at this point that we realise the impossibility of legislative bills which include ‘sex’ as a category of vulnerability while also trying to protect so-called ‘gender identity’, and when it is emphasized that the latter has the power to overrule the first. That is, when it is emphasized that a person’s conviction (internal? emotional? mental?) is sufficient to abrogate women’s rights based on sex.

The Draft Bill defines ‘transsexual’ people as:

“A person who feels a sex-gender mismatch.”

Apart from that, ‘transgender’ people are defined as those:

“Those who transcend the culturally established categories in relation to gender.”

Now, don’t all of us women who are participating in this conference feel a mismatch between our sex and the sexist stereotypes that are imposed on us based on it? Sisters, that’s all of us.

Every woman who goes out to work, who likes math, who doesn’t wear makeup, who hates pink … Every independent, strong woman who lives her life in rebellion against the sexist stereotypes imposed on us constitutes “people who transcend categories culturally established in relation to gender.”

Transcending the imposition of gender does not make us trans people, it makes us feminists!

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Let us now turn to the Bill that creates the Comprehensive System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women. Which, by a rare coincidence in life, happens to be promoted by that same legislator from the province of San Juan that we mentioned at the beginning.

This is a Bill on Violence Against Women. That is its purpose and it why it was crafted. What’s going on with it? Well, seeing the door closed to that Draft Equality and Non-Discrimination Bill, those same sectors of civil society and international organizations started attempting to use the Violence Against Women Bill as a protective shield to infiltrate ‘gender identity’ policies without the population noticing.

What is the purpose of this law? It establishes:

“This law aims to create the Comprehensive System for the Prevention, Detection, Comprehensive Care, Sanction, Eradication and Monitoring of all forms of violence against women, based on unequal power relations between men and women, by regulating public policies aimed at the recognition, respect and guarantee of the right of women to a life free of violence.”

It defines ‘gender’ as follows:

“It is the set of social, cultural, political, psychological, legal and economic characteristics assigned to people in a differentiated way according to sex. It refers to differences and inequalities between men and women for social and cultural reasons. These differences are manifested by the roles (reproductive and productive) that each one plays in society, the responsibilities, needs and priorities related to access, management, use and control of resources.”

It defines ‘woman’ as:

“A person of the female sex at any stage of her life.”

And ‘sex’ as:

“The physical, biological, anatomical and physiological characteristics of human beings, which define them as male and female. Being recognized biologically; sex is a natural construction, with which one is born.”

If enacted, it would include in Dominican law that ‘misogyny’:

“Are hateful behaviours, implicit or explicit, such as rejection, aversion and contempt against women.”

It defines ‘violence against women’, as:

“Any action or omission, as well as any conduct, public or private, that, based on unequal power relations between men and women, affects or denies the right of women to a life free of violence, by denigrating, marginalizing, excluding, discriminate, injuring, harming or causing their death. The physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic or patrimonial suffering of women, as well as their dignity and personal safety. Those perpetrated by the State or by its agents are included.”

These are only the definitions, but the bill creates a whole national system that coordinates all the State entities to action cohesive responses to the sexist violence that plagues the Dominican Republic. The Dominican population demands a Law on Violence against Women. This Bill, authored by that legislator from San Juan, is transversal and includes mechanisms of urgent need such as an Observatory on Violence and Discrimination Against Women, and discrimination against women is conceptualized as a structural injustice based on their sex.

Simply put, this is a feminist bill. So, what happens? Well, it turns out that some of the sectors which should be more involved, do not want that bill. They allege that, unless all reference to ‘sex’ is eliminated, replacing it with ‘gender identity’, then they would rather not have an excellent law on violence against women in the Dominican Republic.

The version of the Violence against Women Bill, which some sectors  civil society organizations, the current Executive Power * and international organizations want and advocate for is similar… but inverse with regarding the rights of women.

During the first three days of 2020, men full of sexist violence cut short the lives of five women. The Dominican population, fed up with so much bloodthirsty patriarchy, wants to put an end to it. Instead of supporting the Bill on Violence Against Women, which has been worked on democratically for more than eight years, the president of the Gender Commission of the Chamber of Deputies *, supported by some sectors of civil society and international organizations, told the media that an alternative version of the Bill existed in the National Congress.

Deputy Magda Rodríguez stated: “We are studying both projects to achieve consensus on one and save what unites us, in order to end this problem that is cultural and that requires measures that go in different directions.”

For logical reasons, two current versions of the same Project cannot coexist within a National Congress. So, what happened there? The reality is that the Gender Commission of the Chamber of Deputies * introduced, in parallel to the current and legitimate version, a copy of the exact same bill, but modified and surreptitiously deposited, which eliminated all references to ‘sex’ and replaced them for ‘gender identity’. The Gender Commission * granted the right to this piece of legislation “for the benefit of all women and victims of violence, regardless of their gender identity”… but not their sex. In other words, according to the version of the Bill deposited by the Gender Commission *, a woman and any man who claims to “feel like a woman” are on equal terms as rights holders on the issue of sexist violence. This creates a variety of highly complex problems.

The version of the Draft Law on Violence against Women that is of interest to the current Executive Power *, sectors of civil society and international organizations, defines ‘gender identity’ as follows:

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“It alludes to the gender with which a person identifies, that is, whether a person perceive themselves to be a man or a woman. It the individual and internal experience of gender, according to how each person feels its, which could or could not correspond with the sex assigned at the moment of birth, including the lived personal experience of their bodies which could involved the modification of appearance or corporal function, through medical or surgical means, or through other forms (as long as these are freely chosen), such as other expressions of gender, including clothing, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity is also recognised by people in their community. For the purposes of this law, the femenine gender identity must be corroborated by professionals assigned to do so.”

It defines ‘misogyny’ as:

“The behaviours of hatred, implicit or explicit, against everything related to the feminine, such as rejection, aversion and contempt against women.”

It defines the ‘women’ who inhabit the Dominican Republic as:

“A female person at any stage of her life, and a person whose gender identity is recognized by themselves and their social environment as female.”

What is a woman if everyone can be recognized as such, according to their personal or social perception?

None of what I have just described has been explained to the Dominican population. And this is something that worries me because it goes beyond the scope of feminism itself. Contrary to what the promoters of ‘gender identity’ policies advocate, this is not an issue that concerns a very small percentage of people. This is an issue that concerns all people because, through postmodernist theories, these policies seek to separate human beings from our material reality.

On this issue, international heavyweight organizations such as Amnesty International and Save the Children, move from their locations in the Global North to pressure legislators from a country in the Global South (like the Dominican Republic), to approve concepts and theories that have never been explained to the population.

In other words, anti-democratic impositions. What are international organizations and some sectors of civil society doing by filling their mouths about our supposed lack of “democracy” and “respect for institutions” when attempts to impose ‘gender identity’ policies treat the Dominican population as if we were people too stupid to understand the laws they want to impose on us?

The population of the Dominican Republic, as well as that of other countries in the Global South, deserves respect: that respect includes debating, democratically and transparently, the concepts written inside legislation and public policies which seeks to govern us.

Thank you very much!

 

 

*In the Dominican Republic, there was a systemic governance change, including the Executive Power and the National Congress, this past Sunday, 16 August, 2020. Therefore, references to “the current Executive Power” and representatives of Congress do not apply anymore.

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