2016, a Year of Few Highs, Many Lows in the World of Gender and Sexuality

Across the world, victories for women’s and LGBT rights came with disappointments and numerous instances of violence.


The past year was a mixed bag when it came to recognising LGBT rights. Credit: Reuters

This past year was one of highs and lows. Not just for women and members of LGBT communities across the world, but also for me personally. My myth that the ‘liberal’ Western world is more accepting of queer people and of people of colour, and is far ahead in terms of gender equality, was shattered.

A former female colleague, a white American who is a fiercely intelligent and driven sports journalist, helped me understand just how deep-rooted gender bias is, even in the US.

The Stanford sexual assault case was an example of that. Brock Turner – a star athlete on the Stanford University swim team, who was convicted of three sexual offences and more specifically of assaulting an unconscious, intoxicated 23-year-old woman behind a dumpster – was sentenced to only six months in a county jail.

The US election and the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton just reaffirmed that deep-rooted gender bias.

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Credit: Reuters/Saul Loeb

During the vote count and while covering the results, after it became increasingly evident that Clinton would not be the first woman president of the US, I found myself messaging my friend, hoping to find some comfort, without realising just how much harder that day had been for her.

After voting in the morning, she had bought a bottle of cheap champagne and wrote on it the words, ‘Do not open until the United States elects a female president,’ and spent her afternoon watching a live stream of women placing their ‘I voted’ stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave. She told me how excited she was, until the reality that Trump – a man who has openly looked down upon and said offensive things about women – will now take over as Oval Officer set in. That figurative glass ceiling was fortified.

“He bragged about sexually assaulting women – one of the thousand things that should have been deal breakers. It’s a slap in the face, and I’m really scared,” she replied, echoing what millions across the country felt that day. Soon after the realisation of Trump’s victory set in, it set off panic in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities across the US – a country that had until recently made great strides on the front of LGBT rights.

The only good thing that came out of the 2016 US presidential election – and I’m really pushing for a silver lining here – is that it helped to start a conversation throughout the world about women, about female leaders, the figurative glass ceiling and the growing gender gap.

Within hours of the Washington Post publishing a 2005 recording of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, over one million women flooded social media with stories of their first sexual assault under the #notokay hashtag.

Women across France and Iceland took to the streets to protest the wage, sparking debates on gender equality while women in Argentina donned black clothes and protested the rape and killing of a 16-year-old girl in October.

The June attack on a Florida gay nightclub that left 49 dead was a major blow to the LGBT community in the US, which for years has been viewed as a safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world. It has since had the international LGBT community questioning the country’s reputation as a global leader in acceptance and safety. “What has surprised me is the bigotry and racism and hate that has been exposed because of the Orlando attack. As a gay Muslim man, I would be terrified to live in the US,” Qasim Iqbal, who belong to an LGBT social services organisation in Pakistan told the Los Angeles Times.

Dominique Hernandez holds up her fist painted in the colors of a rainbow, with a heart on her pulse, attends a vigil in memory of victims one day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Dominique Hernandez holds up her fist painted in the colours of a rainbow, with a heart on her pulse, attends a vigil in memory of victims one day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, in Los Angeles, California, US June 13, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Bangladesh is another country that has seen several lows on the LGBT front in the past year. In April, a rainbow pride rally that queer activists wanted to hold during the Bengali New Year celebrations was cancelled after authorities refused to let them organise it and just over a week later, the country lost two of its most prominent figures who fought for LGBT rights in Bangladesh.

Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first magazine for the LGBT community, and fellow activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, were killed by Islamist extremists at the former’s residence on the evening of April 25. Since then, the LGBT community in the country has remained in fear with a dozen people having fled from the South Asian country.

Even as Britain welcomed Theresa May, its second woman prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, the female politicians of the country are still far from achieving equality. Only 29% of its members of parliament are women and the country ranks 39th in the world for female representation in parliament, behind Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba, among others.

Marking a victory for the LGBT community, Geraldine Roman became the first transgender politician in the Philippines to win a congressional seat. Taiwan is another Asian country that made remarkable strides on the LGBT front, with its parliament passing the first draft of a controversial marriage equality Bill just days ago on December 26.

In a surprise ruling in April, Colombia’s highest court gave a green light to gay marriage in the mostly catholic country.

When it comes to transgender rights, 2016 was a mixed bag for India. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August. The Bill, which claims to “provide for protection of rights of transgender persons and their welfare and for matters connected there with and incidental thereto,” raised concerns about whether it actually intends to accomplish this objective.

Participants dance under a a rainbow flag as they attend the sixth Delhi Queer Pride parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi November 24, 2013. Hundreds of participants on Saturday took part in a parade demanding freedom and safety of their community, according to a media release. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

An LGBT pride parade in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal

The Bill eliminates the option of identification by transgender persons as either male or female and even reinforces injurious stereotypes about trans persons being part male and part female, because of which transgender activists demanded a revised draft of the Bill.

LGBT activists in India faced a setback in June when the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition that could challenge Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalises gay sex.

Marking a step towards the fight against discrimination faced by the community, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation introduced transgender as the third option besides male and female in ticket reservation and cancellation forms in November.

In terms of furthering the cause of gender equality in a country that is notorious for violence against women, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed an anti-rape and an anti-honour killing Bill in October.

The Bills were passed just months after actor-cum-model Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother in a case of honour killing on July 16.

The past year saw contrasts in how governments across the world addressed violence against women in legislation. China began implementing its December 2015 domestic violence law and Brazil set tougher penalties for femicide – gender-motivated killings of women and girls.

On the gender front in India, advocates of women’s rights had much to celebrate when the Rajya Sabha passing a Bill in August that provides for 26 weeks maternity leave to women and women gaining entry inside the inner sanctum of Haji Ali Dargah. Incidents of violence against women, however, unsurprisingly dominated much of the news on the gender front.

The past year no doubt was tough, but with Trump taking over the Oval Office in a few weeks, the road ahead might not be any easier.

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