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Conference on Transgressing Gender: Two is not enough for gender (e)quality is the first of its kind in the Central and South East Europe since it aims at combining concepts of feminist, transgender, and gender perspectives in search for more efficient mechanisms for furthering gender rights and freedoms.

Through this conference, we aim to put forward intersectional approach to work on gender rights. To facilitate this, we will attempt to build cross-sectoral networks and movements that work together to develop analysis of gender rights and to develop complimentary and co-operative strategies for advancing these rights.

Furthermore, we seek to initiate discourse on the interconnectedness of the issues of feminism, gender, and transgender in order to develop mechanisms to counter discrimination based on gender stereotypes more efficiently. This conference seeks to open a discussion and/or to redefine and clarify existing definitions of gender. This conference strongly seeks to empower trans people, women, LGB population, feminist, gender and human rights activists; bridge gaps between them and create strategic alliances between diverse groups concerned with gender issues and freedoms.

Freedom of gender expression is limited by gender norms that exist in every society and limit all of us. Variation of gender expression is severely punished on different levels. Examples of the discrimination people suffer range from women losing jobs when told to wear make-up and they refuse; boys taunted when not into sports; and men who are being perceived as feminine suffering discrimination in employment. Perception based on gender identity and expression can include severe abuses: arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions, murders, rapes, torture, and disappearances.

Violence directed at people transgressing gender barriers or challenging predominant conceptions of gender roles has been addressed by the Special Rapporteur on Torture[1], who has shown these persons are subjected to violence of a sexual nature such as rape or sexual assault as a means of punishment.

Official prejudice against people who break gender roles means that crimes against them go unpunished.[2]

Present state of affairs in regards to gender issues in Croatia and the region is limited to advancing legal frameworks for gender equality, putting mechanisms for protection from gender discrimination in place, as well as attempting to introduce gender perspective into educational system. During the past few years, gender perspective became an important base both in political and theoretical endeavors, and the concept of gender equality is being introduced into public discourse. In the past few years we have witnessed some changes in the legislative systems, both in Croatia and the Central and South East Europe in regards to equality of sexes, gender mainstreaming, protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and other human rights directives. However, the concept of gender equality being discussed in the public sphere stems mostly from international directives and standards and is neither produced from within nor is it based on the latest political/activist developments and accomplishments and theoretical frameworks. Moreover, discourse on gender equality in Central and South East Europe has so far failed to introduce and develop effective mechanisms for advancing gender equality that would go beyond merely solving the consequences of certain aspects of overt discrimination based on gender stereotypes.

Xenophobia, patriarchal orders, nationalism, homophobia, strong influence of churches, and heterosexism, are some of the dominant oppressions that are common for societies of Central and South East Europe and which assist reinforcement of traditional gender roles. In all of our countries, people who do not conform to the set gender roles are being discriminated on an everyday basis and subjected to violence. In this situation, there is no adequate response to discrimination that transgender population, women, bisexuals, lesbians, gays, and other non-conforming people face.

One of the problems is that gender rights and gender issues as such have not been discussed in-depth nor has the analysis on the meaning and implications of advancement of gender equality been undertaken. The other issue is the resentment of different groups to work together on gender rights and issues in a holistic manner due to prejudice and lack of the all-encompassing vision of these issues. So far, there has been a tendency for NGO movements to work only on certain issues, for example LGBT groups have been working primarily with LGBT groups, women’s organizations with women’s organizations etc. Important cross- fertilization has not happened. For example, although women's movements have made significant regional and international contributions to advocacy related to sexual orientation, these contributions have not always been acknowledged within LGBT organizations. In addition, many LBGT organizations have focused exclusively on sexual orientation issues and have failed to take up gender rights more broadly. One of the drawbacks of gender discourse often being articulated by feminists and women's studies advocates refers to minimizing oppression and discrimination women face through perceived weakening of the issues of sexism and patriarchal oppression by moving problems into the realm of gender equality. Furthermore, this discourse is constrained and addressed from within the binary concept of gender/sex, which is insufficient and limits broadening of gender discourse and freedoms and human rights.

Feminist discourse and movement for women’s rights have greatly contributed to understanding of the patriarchal oppression and discrimination women face worldwide. More recent gender discourse is thought to have diluted the so far achieved women’s rights by advocating for gender equality and removing the subject of women from the focus of discussion thus downplaying the effects and means of sexism and heterosexism. In order to bring women’s rights movements’ agenda back to the forefront of the equality movement, we need to search for innovative approaches to advancing women’s rights. This search is tightly connected to the developing concept of gender which is, at the moment, narrowly defined through two fixed categories of “male=masculine=man” and “female =feminine=woman”. This definition generates discourse in a limited arena of fixed sex/gender identities and does not serve as a generator for furthering gender or women’s rights. Since the issue of gender freedoms is not tackled in this framework, discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and/or expression (e.g. there are different rules for these two fixed identities both in their private and public life pertaining to behaviours, emotions and appearance which are reinforced by the ideology of binarism) remains unchallenged. Perspectives of transgender politics as well as transfeminism and gender and queer theories provide important insights into discriminatory practices pertaining to transphobia, genderphobia and gender stereotyping. These perspectives also introduces the concept of human rights, primarily and most importantlythe right to gender ambiguity and gender fluidity.

In response to the evident need for examining gender and gender issues from perspectives that can act as a generator of inclusive concepts while at the same time challenging present state of affairs, we have conceptualized this conference that is a combination of international and regional political and practice exchanges, theoretical challenges , and explorations.

 

1 A/56/156 ( 3 July 2001 ); E/CN.4/2002/76 ( 27 December 2001 ).

2 Statement made by Jelena Postic at the 61st session of UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva in 2004 under Item 11e – Civil and Political Rights – freedom of expression