A Case For Trans And Non-Binary Bodies' Inclusion In Gender-Based Violence Reporting. 7/10/2017
Published by THEHUFFPOST
Trans-exclusion in feminist work and research is as vile as transphobia.
On 28 September this year, Stats SA released The Victims of Crime Survey 2016/2017 for which 30,000 households in nine provinces were interviewed on their perception of crime in South Africa.
The report revealed that sexual offences increased by 117 percent in the last year alone. In the very same vein, due to experience, it is plausible to assume that this statistic refers mostly to womxn* and young children. On 30 August this year, the Centre for Studies in Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) also launched a report titled "Violence Against Women in South Africa: A Country in Crisis" -- the report was aimed at interrogating the persistence of gender-based violence in South Africa.
Interestingly, both reports come a few months after South Africa's Universal Periodic Review -- a mechanism the UN Human Rights Council adopted for evaluation of member states' compliance with international human-rights standards. South Africa received a bulk of 243 recommendations, with a majority of the recommendations calling on the country to address its human rights situation, more so with regards to violence and atrocities against women and girls.
Of course, over the years, reports on gender-based violence in South Africa have been produced. However, owing to these reports, the assumption of homogeneous experiences of violence, among others, has largely been inapplicable and mostly archival. Thus, for purposes of effective policies, there has been a growing need for reports that speak to experiences of diverse and marginalised groups. Perhaps a distinct feature about the CSVR report is the adoption of a feminist analytical methodology in collating this research.
The benefits of this approach, as CSVR gender specialist Nonhlanhla Sibanda highlighted, allow for the centring of women's voices and experiences. It took full cognisance of the effects of patriarchy and the problematics of existing VAW/GBV research in perpetuating single stories of womxnhood without considering the diversity of women's experiences, life histories, and institutional, systematic and structural oppression as pivotal factors in understanding VAW.
As part of the feminist analytical methodology, cisgender (people who identify with the sex they were born as) heterosexual and lesbian women were chosen as respondents. For purposes of holistic inclusion, the respondents were chosen from various communities, classes and backgrounds.
The erasure of trans and non-binary bodies in the definition of womxnhood is largely due to the conservatism and essentialist assumptions about biology.
Thus pertinent thematic issues and trends can be obtained from this report that makes it revolutionary for the South African understanding of VAW and GBV in general. A multiplicity of stories and perspectives are evident in the final research, which is critical for analysis of commonalities and divergence in the respondents' experiences.
Without any doubt, the CSVR report is an important contribution to the South African research and feminist catalogue. However, the limited understanding of gender as seen through the exclusion of trans and non-binary women in the scope of defining womxnhood in this VAW report and similar others in South Africa is a growing concern for the future of intersectional politics.
More so in light of the decades of killings and atrocities committed upon non-binary and trans bodies. The erasure of trans and non-binary bodies in the definition of womxnhood is largely due to the conservatism and essentialist assumptions about biology. This can be seen as easily giving effect to the problematic statements similar to the one uttered by feminist scholar and novelist Dr Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, that "trans-women are not women".
In an Interview with Live Magazine, trans-feminist scholar Sandile Ndelu states "that first of all, you have to be cognisant of the difference between sex and gender. In our everyday thinking, sex and gender are directly linked, but there are cases where our sex and gender don't match. For the transgender body, sex, in terms of your anatomy, does not correlate with your gender identity." The point Sandile raises is evident in most domestic, regional and international policy documents.
I think it is important that activists, civil society organisations and policymakers constantly make space for difficult conversations, especially around LGBTIQ+ inclusion. Inclusion should not be just a rhetoric, but be practical. We need to ensure that trans and non-binary bodies enjoy the same rights as everyone else, but with a limited conception of gender, this ideal can never be realised.
On the question of feminism and trans exclusion, a feminist scholar and fallist Litsoanelo Zwane stated: "I personally believe that all of us feminists who are cisgendered, by virtue of being cisgendered are automatically trans-exclusionary in some way or the other. Especially since we actively reinforce systems which benefit us, intentionally and maybe even unintentionally."
I think it is imperative that in as much as I may merely be regarded as an ally in the feminist movement, I continue being intersectional in my lens.
Zwane goes on to say: "The bottom line is that we're definitely guilty. Transwomxn have been doing the work for decades and because of our position, we ride the wave of their intellectual labour (and fail to recognise their struggles)."
In summing up, I am a cisgender black queer mxn; thus -- as often pointed out by my feminist friends -- my place or position in the feminist movement/dialogue is one that continues to be highly contested as it is not necessarily about who I identify as, but also who/what my body represents.
Therefore, even in writing this opinion piece, I was fully aware of how problematic my position may be and that perhaps this is not even my piece to write, not even as an LGBTQI+ rights activist and human rights defender that has done work and continues to work in hostile environments with communities in the margins.
But I feel compelled to contribute this as part of making room for visibility of the consistently silenced screams. I think it is imperative that, in as much as I may merely be regarded as an ally in the feminist movement, I continue being intersectional in my lens. Trans-exclusion in feminist work and research is as vile as transphobia.
Mawethu Nkosana Nkolomba is a queer black thinker and currently works as research and communications officer at the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA). Young South African 2017 Top 200, Mail and Guardian. A founder of The Black Love Association, and an ASRI future leader's fellow 2016.
*Womxn/mxn are terms used to indicate that gender is a spectrum; its fluid and therefore, this term includes and speaks to the entire LGBTQI+ community that sits outside of the heteronormative patriarchal binary conception of "man and woman".