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Gender: Do they really know?

Gender by World Health Organisation’s definition refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men.

Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex. In this context, gender was demonstrated as a standard of how one is defined by the society, based on a number of factors including the assigned sex, roles bound to play in the society, behaviours acknowledged by the society, cultures, geographical locations, political and religious influences, sexual orientation and etc. 

Being it said, gender may be differentiated from one society to another on the basis of one or more of the aforementioned factors. Gender, in most cases, is corroborated with one’s assigned sex at birth, giving a binary value (two-optioned) to the term, thereby designating human beings as men and women, or boys and girls. 

These binary norms also stencil many aspects of a human being’s identity, in which case how one should behave, express, dress, walk, talk, etc. are limited to a perceived and conditioned standard. 

E.g. Boys ought to play with a bat and a ball, girls ought to play with barbies, boys don’t cry, girls wear pink etc.

Many of these binary values are being contoured through patriarchal standards in the society, by which power is designated to the man, or to being masculine, whilst women, or those feminine, belittled.

Gender Identity and Gender Expression 

Gender Identity can be easily explained as how one identifies themselves in a state of mind regardless of how the society designates them. Gender Identity may or may not be limited to binary standards of gender, in which case people may identify themselves as the opposite of what is designated by the society or assigned at birth, and sometimes outside the norm of being a man or a woman. 

E.g.: A human who was assigned male at birth
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Boy — recognises themselves as a Boy
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Boy — recognises themselves as a Girl
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Girl — recognises themselves as a Girl
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Girl — recognises themselves as a Boy 
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Boy — recognises themselves as neither a Boy nor a Girl
Assigned Male at birth — designated a Girl — recognises themselves as neither a Boy nor a Girl
(Source: YOH Sri Lanka)

Laverne Cox, actor and activist, demonstrates her transition in hit TV show Orange Is The New Black. Her pre-transitioned state is portrayed by her twin brother M Lamar, Cox said.

People who identify themselves corresponding to the assigned or perceived sex at birth in general are defined as ‘Cis-gender’ people. Those who identify themselves in manner that does not correspond to the assigned or perceived sex at birth are called ‘Transgender’ people. Cis-gender people in most cases stay with the binary norm of being a man or a woman. Transgender people on the other hand may or may not stay with the binary norm of being a man or a woman.  

Gender Expression stands for how one should express, or communicate, how they identify themselves with the outside world and / or themselves. Therefore, Gender Identity does not necessarily justify that one should express, or communicate how they feel inside with the outside world. 

ALOK (they/them) is a gender non-conforming writer, performance artist and activist.

The Spectrum of Gender

The Spectrum of Gender is arguably a scale between being masculine and feminine. In between these two binary ends, there can be endless possibilities to how one should express their gender. It is believed that every human being has spent at least once in their lifetime in either of the stages in the Spectrum of Gender regardless of their sex.

Gender Equality 

Gender Equality suggests that human rights should be enjoyed equally among all genders, without being subject to discrimination by any distinct measure at any platform. Gender Equality is universally valued by many parts of the world, and is a key element in the Human Rights Movement.

Gender Discrimination

Discrimination occurs as a person is unable to enjoy their human rights and fundamental rights on an equal basis due to an unjustified distinction made by state, law, policy or treatment. In terms of Gender, many eastern civilisations, including that of Sri Lanka, embrace gender discrimination, based on their patriarchal social framework. That being said, men, or masculinity, are considered a superior degree by which all others are subject to navigate. In most cases, women are subject to discrimination and harassment based on their gender in domestic environments, workplace, public places, accessing services etc. This may also work the other way round in matriarchal societies in some parts of the world. People in Sri Lanka, as well as in many parts of the world, face Gender Based Violence, especially targeting women, or those of feminine behaviour.
(Points discussed in Queer Talks, a YOH Sri Lanka initiative)

Present situation

While people with diverse gender identities are continuously subject to discrimination and harassment, religious groups stand up to the concept suggesting that its nature is of foreign influence, or mentally disabled. However, historic evidence suggests otherwise, that the existence of communities of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations was part of the island’s heritage. Theravada Buddhism, to which the vast majority of Sri Lanka is submitted, does not provide any marginalisation over LGBTIQ populations, whilst modern day religion is being malpracticed for political benefits by various groups citing diverse sexualities as ‘immoral’, an early LNW report disclosed. 

In 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) presented a circular to the Health Ministry in regard to enabling Transgender communities to change Sex in their personal documents, such as the Birth Certificate and the National Identity Card. The HRCSL continued discussions with the Ministry, the Department of Registrar General and Civil Society, in regard to the Gender Certificate formulated by the HRCSL to be issued by the hand of a licensed Consultant Psychiatrist in enabling Transgender communities to legally change their Gender. Following, the circular No. 01-34/2016, dated 16.06.2016, was issued by the Ministry of Health, at the hand of the former Director General of Health Services. The Registrar-General issued circular No. 06/2016, dated 28.07.2016, and set onto operation on November 2016, instructing all registrars islandwide to change the Sex and Name in the Birth Certificate, based on the Gender Certificate.

In 2018, Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists (SLCP) confirmed that homosexuality, or any sexual orientation that does not respond to the standard of being heterosexual, and Transgender, or any gender identity that does not correspond to the norm of being a man or a woman, are not mental disorders, and yet reports are lodged with activists indicating cases in which medical officers (or psychotherapists) claim to ‘cure’ them in different parts of the country. As community-based organisations contribute to the empowerment of LGBTIQ rights, media is taking a turn through which Sri Lankan LGBTIQ persons’ visibility is often addressed in the present context.

In the evolution of dialogue on people who are marginalised due to their Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and / or Expression, a significant development is evident in the context of equality and equity, a leading Gender activist told LNW. At the verge of this distinction, National People’s Power led by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a prominent leftist political party in Sri Lanka, has come out with a manifesto promise that they will work for the rights of the LGBTIQ people. 

For the first time since 1977, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna the Ruling Party managed to secure a tremendous victory at the 2020 General Election by claiming a two-thirds majority in Parliament, whilst continuing to capitalise their policies on national values, interests, traditions and culture. Having the magic wand at hand, the Ruling Party is of the capacity to accomplish endless possibilities, built on their nationalistic values. Being it said, their policies may or may not bring silence to the social entities that work for the rights of marginalised groups due to their identity, the Gender activist emphasised. Some of the most outspoken anti-LGBT voices who happen to be powerful figures in the political arena represent the Ruling Party at the moment, she revealed.

Meanwhile, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya assured during a case study by “MediaCorps Watch” in July, 2020 that Transgender people have equal voting rights and will not be discriminated on polling booths based on their Gender Identity.


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