Why are the Yogyakarta Principles so influential?
Russian feminist Anna Zobnina’s excellent summary of the Yogyakarta Principles at a recent seminar.
The reasons for the rapid conquest by transgender activists of the media, universities, government departments and woke corporations are mysterious. Is it cultural? Psychological? Philosophical? Legal?
Without being a complete explanation, one reason is widespread acceptance of the Yogyakarta Principles. Amnesty USA describes them as “a universal guide to applying international human rights law” to LGBT issues. A leading German NGO, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, describes them as “a groundbreaking document, extensively used since by human rights mechanisms and advocates” and Human Rights Watch has praised them as “a milestone for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights”.
America’s leading LGBT think tank, the Williams Institute at UCLA, says that “the Yogyakarta Principles are the primary document defining the application of international human rights law with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.”
But despite scholarly journals often quoting these principles they are not recognised in international human rights law.
The Yogyakarta Principles, promulgated in 2006, addressed lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. In 2017, more principles to accommodate transgender rights were added. These are called the Yogyakarta Principles + 10.
You may have never heard of either document. But trans activists have turned them into powerful propaganda tools for transforming transgender rights into human rights. As an example, a recent submission by Amnesty Australia to a federal government inquiry into religious freedom quotes the Yogyakarta Principles over and over again.
The trouble is, they are not worth the paper they are written on.
The back story
The genesis of the Yogyakarta Principles is a horror story involving several key people, legal strategies and well-organised public relations events around the world, all designed to replace the term “sex” with “gender”.
The site of the first meeting in November 2006, Yogyakarta in Indonesia, was chosen because it was “south of the equator, in a Muslim majority country and in a jurisdiction ruled by a Sultan”. The co-chairs of the meeting were from Thailand and Brazil and representation was carefully selected from outside the West and Latin America, including individuals from Botswana, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey. The participants came from only 25 countries.
The original document became the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 in 2017. Its new principles included gender expression, sex characteristics, sexual orientation and “gender identity”.
The 2017 document was signed by only 33 people.
What is their legal status? They have none at all. They are just a Christmas shopping list for the transgender lobby.
The Principles have never been accepted by the United Nations. Attempts to make gender identity and sexual orientation new categories of non-discrimination have been repeatedly rejected by the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies. In fact, a majority of members of the General Assembly opposed any reference to the Yogyakarta Principles as they are seen as being contradictory to the position of the UN Human Rights Council.
Despite its reputation in Australia, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has acknowledged that the Yogyakarta Principles have no statutory power in Australia. They have no binding effect in international human rights law either.
Compare this to the legal support that the international community has given to women. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and has been ratified by 189 states (the US being one notable exception).
Australia became a signatory of CEDAW in 1980, but the convention was further empowered by our federal legislature when it was incorporated in its entirety into the Commonwealth legislation enacted to protect and further the rights of women, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.
Do feminists support the Yogyakarta Principles? No.
In fact, an international feminist group, the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), which includes many well-known academics and feminist activists, is fiercely opposed to them. In their view, the principles are misogynistic and attempt “to make sex a defunct legal category.” The Yogyakarta Principles document is designed to replace “sex”, which is a scientific, biological fact, with “gender identity”, which is a socially constructed fiction, based largely on postmodernist rhetoric and identity politics.
They claim that the popularity of the document is a sign that “we are moving towards a society where sex does not exist”, especially for women and girls. They fear that acceptance of the Yogyakarta Principles will destroy the enormous gains made in past decades by the feminist movement.
Nor has the Yogyakarta Principles project had much popular support. It is largely coordinated by Allied Rainbow Communities, or ARC International (ARC), an NGO based in Canada. In her analysis of the Yogyakarta Principles, feminist Anna Zobnina notes that ARC is basically a lobby group, not an internationally representative organisation.
The WHRC Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights has been signed, as at September 9, by 11,772 individuals and 256 organisations from 119 countries. All supporters of the WHRC are listed on its Declaration page. It is quite transparent.
The ARC website is not transparent. Its latest accounts date from 2016, when it received $407,000 from “membership and donations” in 2016. It also received $275,000 from “foundations” and $71,000 from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.
The WHRC Facebook page has about 4,000 likes; the ARC page has about 2,500. The WHRC has representatives across at least 25 countries and was established only 18 months ago. The ARC was established 17 years ago.
What’s wrong with the Yogyakarta Principles?
In the Yogyakarta Principles “gender identity” is defined as:
Understanding “gender identity” to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender. Including dress, speech and mannerisms.
As noted by American human rights lawyer Tina Minkowitz, “gender itself is not defined, but is situated in relation to “sex assigned at birth”, with which a person’s internal experience of gender may or may not correspond” and the reference to “sex” is only to indicate that it does not refer to personality traits. “Sex” is not defined either.
Alarmingly, for everyone, “YP implicitly accepts a concept of gender as equivalent to stereotypes. When beliefs about mannerisms, dress and speech appropriate to one sex or the other are abstracted and made to serve as a ground for personal identity, they are shielded from challenge.”
This unravels decades of progress for feminists. The notion that an innate feeling can lead to a change in an individual’s sex status at birth, with the corresponding legal entitlements and access to spaces and places reserved for girls and women (including their sports), is a violation of the protections established over decades for women, beginning with CEDAW.
As Minkowitz further notes, “It is not gender identity that is being protected, but the substitution of internal identity for recorded sex, upon the request of any person”. The legitimisation of this process is simply creating new forms of discrimination against girls and women and is in conflict with CEDAW.
This is not to say that transgender people should not be protected, but replacing “sex” with “gender identity” not only erases sex as a category and girls and women as a class distinct from that of boys and men, but also erases girls’ and women’s human rights.
A significant, currently relevant, example of the consequences of these changes is given by Minkowitz. She states that women have “little reason to expect their rights will be protected, in (a) law and policy environment that treats their discussion of sex and gender as tantamount to hate speech”.
On the matter of “sex” and “gender”, the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation 28 emphasizes that changing one’s gender does not change an individual’s social positioning. Gender identity advocates are naïve to think this is possible; the ideological nature of their claims renders them as fictional as the postmodernist thinking upon which they are based.
In conclusion, there are six fundamental criticisms of the Yogyakarta Principles and its “Plus 10” extensions:
- They were constructed by a few unelected, unrepresentative civil groups and individuals;
- They have never been adopted by the United Nations;
- They have no legal force either internationally or within Australia and were rejected by the Commonwealth legislature and the United Nations;
- The Yogyakarta Principles +10 principles were signed by just 33 people;
- They are often quoted misleadingly by members of parliament and trans lobby groups as though they had been adopted by UN resolution; and
- Their full implementation would effectively make “sex” a defunct legal category, replacing it by the ambiguous category of “gender”.
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Dr Geoff Holloway writes from Hobart. He is a sociologist, poet, author, and Fado fan. His current research interests include domestic violence in Portugal, ecocentrism, Green politics, transgender politics,… More by Geoff Holloway
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