We express grave concerns over the series of harmful statements made and actions taken by the current UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem. To our dismay, the Special Rapporteur has persistently advocated for additional obstacles and conditions to legal gender recognition that undermine the rights protections of trans people, rather than calling for bodily autonomy for all. Instead of strengthening protections of marginalized groups and contributing to progressive legacies of previous Special Rapporteur and feminist movements that untiringly advocated for the creation of the office, we witness that the current Special Rapporteur is misusing her position and power to advocate for discriminatory policies against trans people and misapplying established human rights principles and frameworks.
We are alarmed that the Special Rapporteur has weaponized “protection of women’s rights” to advocate for positions that misrepresent and regress from international norms and standards. In advocating for “single sex spaces” and increased barriers to legal gender recognition, the Special Rapporteur has also called for the “return” to an understanding of violence against women that is “based on their female sex” and upholds “sex-based rights.” Not only does this deviate from a feminist and scientific understanding of “sex” as being socially constructed, rather than fixed, essentialist, binary, biological and based on physiological characteristics. It is also contrary to international human rights standards that have evolved considerably to address discrimination based on gender which has been defined as a social construct “....that justifies inequality and provides a means to categorize, order and symbolize power relations.” In opposing the use of gender based discrimination to justify harmful policies against trans people and protect women’s “sex based rights,” the Special Rapporteur perpetuates and mirrors arguments and strategies used by states in the UN who increasingly oppose the use of “gender” in intergovernmental negotiations and other UN policy spaces.