Saturday 15. August 2020
#159 - April 2013


Are we born a woman or do we become so?


Now more than ever, taking a stance with regard to the famous assertion of Simone de Beauvoir may have a critical impact on political decision making.

« Violence that is directed against a person because of that person's gender, gender identity or gender expression or that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately, is understood as gender-based violence ».

« For the purposes of defining a particular social group, issues arising from an applicant’s gender, including gender identity and sexual orientation (…)  should be given due consideration in so far as they are related to the applicant’s well-founded fear of persecution. ».

These are only two recent examples of the use of the term ‘gender’ in legislative texts of the European Union: the first in a 2012 Directive establishing minimum standards regarding the rights, support and protection of victims of crime; and the second in a Directive of 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection (and) for a uniform status for refugees.


Nevertheless, the term does not appear either in the Treaty of Lisbon or in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which only refer to « sex », « equality between men and women », « discrimination based on sex » or « non discrimination on grounds of sex ». Moreover, the English term ‘gender’ is not translated uniformly in other official EU languages.  And, finally, in spite of the World Health Organization defining gender as « the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women » (a definition recently adopted by the Council of Europe Convention of 2011 on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, not yet in force), the gender theory in itself is rather controversial.  Pope Benedict XVI himself, in his address on the occasion of his Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia on 21 December 2012, denounced the “anthropological revolution” which arises from a theory that rejects the ontological distinction between men and women.


As a matter of fact, besides the use of the term ‘gender’ merely as a synonym for sex – for example, in the use of the expression “gender equality” as an alternative to the more legally consistent expression “equality between men and women” – an  ideological use of gender can be found in EU official documents normally in expressions such as “(non discrimination) based on gender identity”, and in parallel to the expression “non discrimination based on sexual orientation” which is itself also a disputed concept.
No wonder then that such ambiguities have been exploited to push forward a radical agenda on LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) rights (in this connection, see, for example, a late 80’s milestone: Kirk & Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the90's). In view of this, a commanding task is to investigate what is the scope and the correct interpretation of the principle of equality and to clarify what in this context is discriminatory and what is not. Thus, although the prohibition of the criminalization of homosexual acts or, in general, the prohibition of discrimination against transgender people in the work place, for example, are almost unanimously considered as just, the legitimacy of the claim for “same sex marriage”, on the contrary, is far from being consensual and is pretty much in the minority in EU national legislations. Definitely, freedom of thought and expression in this regard – or the moral assessment of homosexual acts itself – cannot be summarily labelled as “homophobia” or as “hate speech”!

LGBTI rights are being promoted around the world as a human rights issue, and the EU is doing its part in the context of both the EU’s internal and external actions (see, for example, the recent 2012 and 2011 European Parliament resolutions on, respectively, human rights in the world and the EU’s policy on the matter, and on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity).


Accordingly, COMECE’s Group of Bioethics experts started a reflection on this topic during its last meeting held in Brussels on 28 February last. Guest speakers Dr. Aurica Nutt, a theologian from the University of Munster, Germany, and Fr. Bruno Saintôt, a bioethicist from the Centre Sèvres, France, analysed the theme mostly from theological/anthropological and historical/sociological perspectives. At the next meeting of the Group the topic will be tackled chiefly from medical/psychological and legal approaches. An Opinion of the Group addressing the challenges posed by this issue namely in the light of Christian anthropology and Catholic social and moral teaching is expected by the end of the year.


José Ramos-Ascensão


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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.