In 2020, in the case of ON and DP v. Russian Federation (1), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognised that “discrimination against women is inextricably linked to other factors that affect their lives, including being lesbian women. Accordingly, (…) the Committee acknowledges that gender-based violence may affect women to different degrees or in different ways, meaning that appropriate legal and policy responses are needed.” More recently, in a case brought by Sri Lankan activist, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, the CEDAW affirmed that “the rights enshrined in the Convention belong to all women, including lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women” (2). Despite these progress in international law, mainstreaming SOGIESC in national frameworks and mechanisms aimed at tackling gender-based violence remains a major challenge.
In Mauritius, the National Strategy and Action Plan on gender-based violence was launched in November 2020. The strategy aims at addressing the specific cultural and institutional context of Mauritius in tackling gender-based violence. The strategy has been built on consultation with various stakeholders, including civil society organisations. The strategy is accompanied by a four-year action plan spanning four focus areas: changing societal norms and beliefs that are against principles of gender equality; putting the needs of survivors first; improving legal remedies and services delivered by public institutions; and monitoring and evaluating progress made.
However, the National Strategy and Action Plan, as it is written, does not contain any express reference to SOGIESC. Even though the National Strategy and Action Plan includes an intersectional approach by including for example the gender-based violence faced by elderly women, women with disabilities and migrant workers, there is no reference made to the intersecting nature of violence and discrimination that LBTI women face. LGBTQIA+ organisations have not been part of the consultation phase. The National Strategy and Action Plan does not provide for any disaggregation of data on the basis of SOGIESC.
However, it is in the implementation of the National Strategy and Action Plan (3) that there appears much scope for progress. The National Strategy and Action plan provides for collaborative capacity building law enforcement officers, barristers and attorneys. Some of the authorities responsible for the implementation of parts of the Action Plan, such as the office of the DPP, have been proactive in recognising the need to include SOGIESC in their approach to gender-based violence, at least at the level of trainings and sensitisations. Thus, they have organised various training sessions aimed at sensitising these professionals on the gender-based violence faced by LBTI women and the gaps in responding to this type of violence. Moreover, collaborations are ongoing with a LGBTQIA-specific social work agency in regards to the support services provided to LGBTQIA+ gender-based violence survivors and to create a proper channel of communications with law enforcement officers.
These initiatives are obviously not sufficient to mainstream SOGIESC into mechanisms and frameworks centered on gender-based violence. However, they remain a commendable start. With a gender equality bill currently in preparation, it has become even more urgent to sensitise policy makers about the progressive inclusion of SOGIESC at the level of the CEDAW and advocate for a SOGIESC-inclusive approach to gender equality and gender-based violence. However, even though some public institutions are willing to further engage on this approach, the limited resources available to them and the lack of institutional support in some cases, continue to remain major obstacles.
- Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Communication No 19/2017, UN Doc CEDAW/C/75/D/119/2017 (27 March 2020), ON and DP v. Russian Federation
- Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Communication No 134/2018, UN Doc CEDAW/C/81/D/134/2018 (21 February 2022), Rosanna Flamer-Caldera v. Sri Lanka
Anjeelee K. Beegun is a human rights consultant, with a special focus on SOGIESC (Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics). She is Co-founder of RekonekT, a Mauritius-based organisation working towards the well-being of LGBTQIA+ persons.