Sexual rights advocacy in Muslim contexts: shifting notions of culture and tradition.

Author:Helie, Anissa

The ongoing debates around sexual rights in Muslim contexts should be contextualized with reference to recent challenges. More specifically, I would like to address two issues: the global nature of human rights violations, and the challenges posed by the interconnection between cultures, traditions, and violence.

Over the last two decades, various institutions--ranging from medical authorities (1) to human rights organizations (2) and the United Nations--have responded to pleas by LGBTI advocates and have begun to tackle human rights violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Ten years ago, in 2001, six independent UN experts and special rapporteurs issued a joint statement urging activists in LGBTI circles to assist with documenting violations. Most recently, in November 201 l, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) released an unprecedented report focusing on "Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity." (3) This report reminds states of their duty to protect the human rights "of all persons." For people whose sexualities, bodies, or behaviors are stigmatized, this reaffirms their right to live free of violence and coercion.

However, the UNHCHR report also highlights the fact that, throughout the world, those whose sexual orientation and gender identity are--or are perceived to be--non-normative face a broad "pattern of human rights violations ... that demands a response." (4)

Despite significant affirmations of LGBTI people's right to equality by world leaders, (5) violence and discrimination continue to occur even in countries that claim to champion sexual rights. A few selected examples highlight the fact that legal discrimination, violence, and prejudice remain widespread: almost two dozen European countries still require sterilization in order for transgender people to obtain legal gender change on their identification documents; (6) in Holland in 2011, an anti-bullying website received more than 200 reports of homophobic abuses in less than a month of its launching; (7) in various European countries and the United States, alarming suicide rates among LGBTI youth, and hate crimes (including murders, often targeting transgender people) raise concerns. A 2010 Human Rights First report on refugees in Europe points at the specific discrimination faced by LGBTI refugees, including "persecution in the countries to which they flee, in addition to in the countries from which they fled." (8) Furthermore, this report notes that asylum is...

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