A gay male perspective on the Commission on the Status of Women
Editor's Note: Andreas Schwarz is executive assistant for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each year, Women's History Month is celebrated in the United States. It is a month dedicated to recognizing the contributions and historical events by women that have shaped society as well as the ongoing challenges that women face. It seems appropriate that the Commission on the Status of Women - a hectic, dynamic, two weeks of high-end meetings, conferences, fora and panels at the United Nations - would fall in March this year, focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
While the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) engaged at the conference, I grasped at the opportunity to explore how women's rights, or the lack thereof, affected the gay male community. Beyond espousing inclusiveness for protection from violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, I was eager to understand how I, a gay male, warranted a presence at an event that ostensibly appeared exclusively for women and those fighting for women's rights. As the weeks progressed, my work took me closer to the preparation and planning for the conference: making arrangements for activists to travel from Asia - Japan, Philippines and Sri Lanka - to the U.S. and who would be speaking at IGLHRC-sponsored panels, organizing large group planning meetings at our office, tracking the events at which our staff would be speaking as well as the panels we were to attend and organizing the details of the staff and visiting human rights defenders' myriad conference-related activities.
As we moved toward the convening, and I absorbed the themes to be dealt with at the conference, my focus shifted from women to a broader examination of gender. It fueled memories of past events in my life that were supported by the panelists' discussions and ensuing challenges to the concept of gender binaries. Unquestionably we live in a deeply patriarchal society; but as a male, do I inadvertently enable this systemic foundation? Or do I suffer its effects as well?
My first recognition at the Commission on the Status of Women was the clear principle that to discuss women's rights, we need to dissect gender rights and inevitably, gender norms. While we can converse on how to advance the lives of women and deter all forms of violence, it's clear that economic disadvantages, religion and traditions are significant culprits in engendering violence and mistreatment of women. However, if we are able to grasp why through history and tradition women have been marginalized in the first place, we can create space to scrutinize and decipher these often times hypocritical - and sometimes lethal - ideas of gender.
When we investigate gender roles in society, we begin to see its impact on the gay community. For example, it's not uncommon for two male partners to emulate a husband and wife within their relationship. It seems to occur almost instinctively, and if unaware amongst the men in the relationship, it's certainly being discussed amongst peers and acquaintances. Gay men's speech, attitudes and manners are filled with these permissive gender-binary constructs that ultimately affect not only our relationships, but also our very being in society.