Gender, sexuality and social justice: What’s law got to do with it?

Sexual and gender justice may refer to the law but this is far from all it encompasses. The multiple pathways through which sexual and gender justice can be approached demands that we assess both the scope and the limitations of the legal processes and policy frameworks upon which we are often reliant. A new Edited Collection from IDS entitled Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: What’s Law Got to Do with It? sets out to do just this and calls for ‘other ways of thinking’ about ways to advance sexuality and gender justice. 

The Edited Collection is a multidisciplinary collaboration, bringing together critical theory, practical lessons and accounts of activists, academics and legal practitioners working to advance sexual and gender justice in over 20 countries that span almost every continent in the world. It stems from a 2015 UK Symposium where contributors met with colleagues and friends to share their views on, challenges to, and imaginaries of justice. The resulting publication is a testament to those dialogues and was launched at an IDS event on 1 March. 

Highlighting the limitations of international policy and legal frameworks

Although legally non-binding, international policy approaches like the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are important and offer some potential for in-country leverage of targets through the reports that countries are required to submit. However, the indicators used to report against the targets are often either gender and sexuality-blind or only concerned with a very narrow range of indicators.  

International legal frameworks operate with their own political complexity. While many countries have signed up to a strong body of international human rights agreements, national enforcement remains patchy, and there are still significant gaps in the implementation of legal protections from human rights abuses for those in vulnerable social, economic and political positions. This is often the situation in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, women and sex workers find themselves.  Similarly, the lack of incorporation of rights protections into national legal system remains at the core of transnational women’s rights agendas.

The Edited Collection highlights the contrasts between human rights legal frameworks (and an international networks of activists in dialogue around these frameworks) and the implementation of effective human rights protection through law, policy and political action. 

It demonstrates how existing national policies and laws can entrench poverty among women and sexual and gender minorities; and how certain kinds of policies and laws can and should be better implemented to address their structural poverty and marginalisation. Further it illustrates that when local evidence can be used by and for local advocacy groups in dialogue (or in direct confrontation) with the government, there is significant scope for meaningful policy and legal change; even more so than when international organisations and donors try and use international frameworks to push for change. 

Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: What’s Law Got to Do with It? is available to download for free via the IDS website.