Trans Exclusionary Discourse at CSW63

Michelle Emson
Mar 22 · 4 min read
Once again: A man defining what ‘woman’ means.

On Thursday March 19th, I was distressed to learn of a side-event co-hosted by Holy See and the Heritage Foundation at the 63rd Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations.

The premise of, and statements made at, this CSW63 side-event, entitled “Gender Equality and Gender Ideology: Protecting Women and Girls”, are not only extremely transphobic, they are misogynistic. These statements are not only against transgender people, they are against all women as people, as unique individuals, and as members of society.


Panel Description

This panel event will examine how gender ideology is impacting the gains of women and girls toward gender equality and examine whether various current approaches advance or unintentionally undermine the dignity of women and girls in general and whether they help or inadvertently harm individual women, girls and others in particular. Panelists will approach the subject from the perspective of endocrinology, psychology, philosophy, law, politics and culture.

“New interpretations of gender are impacting how people understand what it means to be a woman or girl. Experts will speak on how these new interpretations are impacting the identity, equality, privacy, and safety of girls and women, how schools and social protection systems are being affected, and what the bioethical, physical and psychological consequences of implementing these new interpretations are”.


Noted by the Holy See: “Women are half of the human race with 2 X chromosomes and the ability to become mothers” — is this definition, by a male member of Holy See, really about women? If so, then what about the women with chromosome disorders, women without the ability to become mothers — these people are all excluded and erased in this definition. Why actually should the ability to become a mother define a woman? Is being a woman only about our reproductive system? What about people who do not identify as women but have an ability to give birth to a child — should society force them to be “mothers”? Oh wait, the topic of the side event is exactly about this: to deny people the right to identify themselves, to define us only by biological sex, and to praise the difference between men and women.

Where are intersex people in this system? Back where they were in previous times: in the “disorder of sexual development” category.

“If the word woman can be redefined to mean everyone, then it will erase women from human rights law, economic empowerment, and access to social protection systems”

Well, we’ve heard this already. From men, who define who are women, and provide support and protection only for those who fit in this definition. All others — non conforming women, lesbian women, transgender women, elderly women, women who do not fit beauty and reproductive standards — all these women find themselves excluded.

That is how patriarchy has worked for thousand years, and that is where Holy See wants us to return to. Back to the archaic, oppressive, and patriarchal definition of women that has served to keep us in our place.

Dividing women onto “real” and “not real” provides a broad space for speculation. Today the Holy See proclaims trans women as not “real.” Who will be next? How would you need to live, to look like, to behave like, to be a “real” woman?

I wonder as well, why they see trans women as a threat in the world of #MeToo. Have you read the stories of #MeToo? Were there any trans woman involved as a predator, not a victim? No, because trans women are a part of #MeToo as well — everyday they survive harassment, assaults, and violence all over the world. We all, trans and cis women, we all are victims of a rape culture in which a rapist is rarely brought to justice and victim-blaming is the norm.

I wonder, why trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), and organisations like Holy See, always try to move the focal point out of cis men to trans women. Yes, there are cis men who rape, kill, and harass women. So why do they close their eyes and pretend this problem does not exist, and instead make unfounded, inflammatory, generalisations declaring that trans women are the threat? Events like this look like a poorly hidden attempt to maintain the power of the patriarchal system. Instead of fighting the level of violence that men perpetrate towards trans and cis women, they try to make trans women look like a threat.

Instead of widening the role of women in the world, they bring women back to the narrow cage of reproductivity and archaic gender roles, all designed purely to maintain power for patriarchy and oppression for women.

I believe this week we saw a brilliant example of how the patriarchy tries to keep its power over women by pretending it cares about women. The wolf came to us in sheep’s clothing. The wolf blamed us that we dare to stand up, advocate, and fight for our right to be women, diverse women — hetero, homo, conforming, and non-conforming, mothers and child free, young and old, intersex, able and disable, trans and cis. We don’t want to go back to the dark times where women were obliged to fit into the frame of strictly defined and imposed gender expression. These were times of oppression. We are fighting for our freedom to be ourselves, we are fighting for bodily autonomy and we will never give up. Women are much more than genitalia and the ability to be a mother. And women have a right for themselves to decide who they are.


Written by: Olena Semenova
Contributors: Michelle Emson and Uma Mishra-Newbery

Women's March Global

Women's March Global is dedicated to sharing the stories and voices from our global network of chapters and members around the world.

Michelle Emson

Written by

An openly-out transwoman, international human rights activist, author, keynote speaker, and documentary filmmaker. Digital Director at Women’s March Global.

Women's March Global

Women's March Global is dedicated to sharing the stories and voices from our global network of chapters and members around the world.