Time for gender-neutral birth certificates (Winnipeg Free Press Op-Ed) by Corinne Mason

Please see original publication here: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/time-for-gender-neutral-birth-certificates-436887123.html

According to a poll for Angus Reid Institute, a majority of Canadians (58 per cent) "are uncomfortable with, or are opposed to, gender-neutral birth certificates." That makes me the minority.

And, being a minority, my voice matters more.

Now, hear me out.

In November 2016, I gave birth to my first child. Right before heading into an unplanned and somewhat urgent Caesarean section, my partner and I requested that nothing be said by anyone in the operating room about our child’s genitals as a way of announcing their entrance into the world.

What did we want to know if we didn’t want "it is a boy" or "it is a girl" to be exclaimed on the basis of their genitalia? We asked that our medical team, including a midwife, let us know that the baby was safe and healthy, and that our newborn be placed on my chest as soon as possible so we could begin our nursing bond.

It was not until much later in our hospital stay that my partner and I found out the sex designation of our child by medical personnel. It never occurred to us to ask, to check or to care. When our friends came to visit us in hospital, no one asked about sex of our baby. Everyone just snuggled our little one, and asked about my recovery and our sleep deprivation. My favourite among them brought lattes and food from Stella’s.

It was not until we had to fill out our Vital Statistics form that we thought about the sex and gender of our child.

For those confused about the difference, sex is the medical designation of male, female or intersex based on anatomy and/or chromosomes, and gender is a socially constructed concept of "man" and "woman," and the idea that masculinity and femininity should correspond to sex designation.

Yes, these two terms are often used interchangeably, but no, they are not the same thing.

We know our family is not the norm. I am a cisgender queer woman (cisgender being a gender identity that corresponds to sex designation) and my partner is a transgender non-binary person. We made a baby with the help of a friend’s sperm. Our child is surrounded by queer and trans aunties and uncles, but also one singular and very special pirate. Our birth family is (mostly) supportive, and our chosen family is solid.

My partner socially and medically transitioned from "female to male" in the late 2000s. If you ask them, and I have, "male" fits a bit better than "female," but more like a new cotton shirt that went through the dryer instead of a shirt size that is too small upon purchase. Neither actually fit properly, and neither make you feel great about yourself. Instead of being misrecognized as "female" (read: woman) because of the sex marker on their birth certificate, health card, driver’s licence and passport, they are now misrecognized as "male" (read: man).

Gender misrecognition is not just uncomfortable for non-binary trans people such as my partner; it can be life-threatening. While being transgender, or gender or sex non-conforming in general, does not necessarily mean you will have mental health issues, living in a world that does not recognize your gender identity is harmful, to say the least. According to research collected by Egale Canada, LGBTTQ* youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. In Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, 28 per cent of transgender and two-spirit people have attempted suicide at least once. At least once.

When I think about the possibility of gender-neutral birth certificates for our child, I think about what it means for my partner to be bound to an "F" or "M" marker on their documentation, what it means to keep a file with their birth name and prior sex designation in our home office just in case, and about their level of anxiety when we have to renew our passports, or in the case of having to adopt our child, obtain a criminal record and abuse registry check. I think about how much it has cost them financially and in terms of their mental health to have these documents changed, and what kind of toll is taken on them every time they are misgendered because neither "M" nor "F" makes sense to who they are.

When I think about the possibility of gender-neutral birth certificates for our child, I think about the suicide rates for LGBTTQ* youth. Our child may very well feel comfortable with "M" or "F" on their documentation. But, we won’t know until our little one tells us who they are, how they identify and what feels good for them. I would rather give our child an open window for gender exploration than find out that a "M" or "F" marker on their birth certificate made them feel like that door was closed.

So, when a general poll was taken in which cisgender respondents were asked about the importance of gender-neutral birth certificates, I got upset, and I think rightly so. What right do cisgender people have to claim that their comfort is more important than trans and intersex people’s lives? Why are we even asking them (me)?

Even if a minority of people are saying that gender-neutral birth certificates are necessary, why are we not listening? Their voices matter more.

The Cost of Violence by Corinne Mason

In March 2016, York University PhD student Mandi Grey presented $7 million in invoices to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demonstrate the cost of sexualized violence. She created a survey online and 158 respondents calculated the costs associated with their experiences of sexual violence-- from legal costs, lost tuition fees from students unable to attend college and university because of their experiences, and mental health support costs. 

According to Gray, “Until the state provides adequate funding for victims to access legal services, victims of sexual assault will continue to pay emotionally, physically, socially, and economically for actions they never consented to." 

In my forthcoming book Manufacturing Urgency, I argue that relying on the economic costs of violence to communicate the urgency of the issue is too narrow, and that economic responses are too technical to combat complex systems of power which perpetuate gender-based violence. In the book, I focus on the World Bank's costing of violence against women, which deems violence as a obstacle to development, progress, and economic growth. 

For Gray and the 158 other respondents, measuring of cost of violence on their lives illustrates the brutal affects of violence, including the economic affects of coming forward as a survivor. 

The World Bank, on the other hand, is concerned with the cost of violence to the economy. That is, unlike Grey and the 158 other survivors of violence, the World Bank is concerned with how gender-based violence takes a toll on the economy. Using a formula called "disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)," the Bank calculates the cost of violence on the economy by measuring the loss of women's productive potential when injured or disabled, or otherwise unable to work. When women cannot work, they are assumed to be drains on the economy, which is in direct conflict with neoliberal prescriptions that call for drastic cuts to social and health services. 

And while Grey might be concerned with her inability to work, especially as bills for tuition and legal services stack up, the claims these survivors are making is that they have fallen through the cracks of a neoliberalized economy which doesn't support them, and that the economic toll they are paying is non-consensual-- an additonal form of violence. This economic critique illuminates the systemic and structural impacts of sexualized violence, and this difference matters. 




On Becoming a Problem by Corinne Mason

According to Sara Ahmed, one becomes a problem when pointing out a problem. To perceive a problem is to pose a problem.

Using Ahmed's writing on sexual harassment, I recently spoke at Mount Royal University about my own experience doing sexual assault advocacy on campus. The symposium, entitled "Others Within: a symposium on radicalized, gendered, and queered bodies in academic spaces," was a perfect space to begin thinking about how feminist resistance in the academy intersects with ones identity and experiences with systemic and institutional inequities. This event has pushed me to think carefully about faculty responses to sexualized violence on Canadian university campuses, and has pulled me into thinking more about the possibility of researching faculty experiences doing this work across Canada. There is solidarity to be found with feminist scholar-activists working to hold their institutions accountable for sexualized violence and failed responses. If we are problems, we should at be problematic together! 

It was a pleasure to speak at this event alongside incredible scholar-activists, including Melinda Smith, Alex Wilson, Sarah Hunt, and others. 



Creating a Task Force, or Manufacturing Urgency by Corinne Mason

My first book Manufacturing Urgency: Violence Against Women and the Development Industry will be released in March 2017. Ultimately, it argues that in the development industry, some issue are ‘now’ issues, while others are left until ‘later.’ Cynthia Enloe calls this ‘later’ a patriarchal timezone. Violence against women is sometimes considered an urgent issue, but only when it fits into the existing agendas of organizations or connects to other objectives, such as security. Everything else is left for ‘later.’

I am at the copy edit stage, and otherwise ensuring that the book is ready for print. In 2013, I conducted an interview with the feminist watchdog group Gender Action and a few weeks ago, I emailed them to ensure I had their explicit permission to publish it. In our conversation, Gender Action alerted me to a new World Bank violence against women scandal.

In 2016, news media began to report on the cancellation of a World Bank road construction project worth $265 million in western Uganda amid allegations of sexual violence against school-aged girls and harassment of female workers. In a statement on the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project (TSDP), President Jim Young Kim declared “an early review of the World Bank-financed project found inadequacies in Bank supervision and lack of follow-through after serious issues were identified.”

The lack of safeguarding of women’s rights is not new to Gender Action. This organization has worked diligently to pressure the World Bank to take violence against women seriously, and to act with urgency on the issue. Their own research demonstrates that development projects, including pipelines financed by the World Bank, have often made women’s lives worse, not better. The World Bank currently has no gender safeguard policy, which means that women are left unprotected while the Bank continues to finance mega-infrastructure projects.

What is new at the World Bank is a task force on gender-based violence. In the midst of a very public ‘scandal,’ the World Bank responded urgently. According to Elana Berger from another Bank watchdog group, the Bank Information Center,  “everyone at all levels at the bank denied that there was a problem [with the Uganda project].” She told the Wall Street Journal that “it was only after months of her group’s pestering bank staff in Uganda and the head office in Washington the bank’s project officials to start taking the allegations seriously.”

Like many institutions and organizations—from the Canadian government dealing with the publicity of systemic violence against Indigenous women to universities responding to sexual assault ‘scandals’ on their campuses— reactionary measures and emergency politics arise when issues that have been left for ‘later’ become publicly known, and subsequently, need to be taken up ‘now.’

This is what I call the manufacturing of urgency—it is not that an issue hasn’t always been urgent, but urgency is a designation that intersects in complex ways with existing power relations.

Cripping the World Bank by Corinne Mason

Corrine L. Mason, masonc@brandonu.ca

Originally appeared on the International Feminist Journal of Politics blog http://ifjp.tumblr.com/post/151097690500/cripping-the-world-bank

Violence against women is expensive. Homophobia is bad for business. Working with women is smart economics. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals are untapped resources.

Anyone paying attention to gender and sexuality work at the World Bank will recognize these all-to-common phrases. Feminist scholars, in particular, heavily critique World Bank rhetoric for building a technocratic, growth-focused, and business case for women’s rights. In my IFJP article, I demonstrate how economic language is used to promote responses to violence against women, such as economic empowerment programs, that do little more than reproduce status-quo gender work at the World Bank.

What is original in my critique of the World Bank’s gender work is my focus on disability. The World Bank uses a measurement called “disability-life adjusted years” or DALYs to measure the cost of violence against women on the economy. I argue that DALYs are not only ableist, but reveal how the World Bank imagines women as “good investments” in market-based schemes with little consideration of their overall well-being.

The Cost of Violence Against Women

In the 2009 World Bank report, The Cost of Violence, the organization argues that violence against women is costly to the economy because abused women find themselves in need of social services and health care. Women are also less productive at work because of the violence they experience. In 2013, Caroline Anstey, then a managing director at the World Bank, claimed “all of us – taxpayers, businesses and governments – pay a price with every punch, kick and rape.” The World Bank maintains that violence is inefficient.

In 1993, the World Bank estimated that nine million disability-life adjusted years (DALYs) were lost globally as a result of sexual and domestic violence. The number of DALYs lost from domestic violence is larger than DALYs lost due to all forms of cancer, and twice that lost by women as a result of automobile accidents.

What are DALYs?

DALYs were designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to measure the gap between one’s current health status and an ideal situation where everyone lives into old age, free of disease and disability.

Using Robert McRuer’s (2006) Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, my analysis “crips” the World Bank’s use of DALYs to measure the cost of violence against women. “Crip” is a word that is used among disability theorists and in queer studies to disrupt the concepts of “normal” (read able-bodied) and “abnormal” (read disabled). “Cripping” the World Bank is really about working to uncover the ways in which ableism, or assuming the able-body is “normal” and ideal, informs the DALYs measurement. By claiming that able-bodiedness is ideal and the highest quality of life, while simultaneously relating inefficiencies to disability, the World Bank’s DALYs discriminates against those with disabilities.

DALYs also instrumentalized the issue of disability by only using the concept of disability (rather than the experience) to communicate the importance of ending violence against women. Pairing cost analyses with well-know World Bank rhetoric about getting women back to work and living up to their productive potential, DALYs provide the World Bank with a economic justification to position women in precarious employment— such as export processing zones, micro-credit, and entrepreneurship where they are most often employed—as sites of empowerment.

The World Bank claims that labor sites are spaces provide an opportunity for women to fulfill their capacities, yet they are also places where women experience both gendered violence and disabling working conditions. What is more, the World Bank employs the DALYs measurement without explicitly addressing violence against women with disabilities, who are at greater risk of violence than those without disabilities.

Isn’t this focus on women a good thing?

Isn’t it great that the World Bank, a growth obsessed organization, is paying attention to violence at all? And, how do you get an institution that, according to their 1944 Articles of Agreement, is prohibited from “being political” to pay attention to human rights?

According to an interview I conducted a former social development specialist at the World Bank, those who are interested in gender inequality issues have to be “opportunistic” and they “have to go where [they] are invited to go.” Often, gender advocates working inside the organization have to speak the language of economists to make lead-way on any issue that might be deemed outside the mandate of the bank.

 “Cripping” the World Bank shows us that if DALYs are required to obtain the attention of the World Bank, the response to violence against women made possible by this economic focus may be more costly to the lives of women that the organization can comprehend.

More recently, the insiders at the World Bank has used DALYs to gain traction on sexuality, gender identity and expression or SOGIE. Given the salience of sexuality issues in the development industry more generally, it is predictable that questions of homophobia and transphobia are now also enveloped by market logic at the World Bank. DALYs are being used by researchers to convince the organization to pay attention to the cost of homophobia and transphobia. According to Fabrice Houdart (an openly gay former senior country officer who has been recently demoted and is now embroiled in a scandal after publicly criticizing the organization) argues that advocates within the World Bank must use DALYs and other cost analyses to “trigger any interest from bank economics.”  

Given the public ousting of the strongest proponent of LGBT rights at the organization, one might imagine that this research focus will halt. I question the continued use of DALYs, which are inherently ableist, by advocates within the institution to give traction to gender and sexuality issues.

The development industry as a whole is moving toward more inclusive programming for LGBT people. ‘Pink aid’—or LGBT-inclusive or focused foreign aid and development which borrows from the imagery of the pink triangle —might be the most efficient step forward for the World Bank. What impact it will have on LGBT people globally remains unknown.