Sex as a protected characteristic in the Dominican Republic

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer and researcher. She specialises in ending male violence against women and girls and is currently pursuing a PhD with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol.

The year 2019 will be a crucial year when it comes to talking about sex in public policy. And you might say: “But you spent the whole of 2018 talking about that. Aren’t you tired of it yet?” Evidently not. New Zealand, England, Spain, Brazil, the United States, and yes, even the Dominican Republic, are just some of the countries where laws are being proposed which threaten to dismantle a material reality which concerns all of us: our sex.

On Wednesday 21st November 2018, the Senate of the Dominican Republic approved the second reading of a Bill, put forward by senator Félix Bautista, called the ‘Ley que crea el Sistema de Apoyo Integral para la Prevención, Sanción y Erradicación de la Violencia contra las Mujeres’ (a violence against women bill). The Bill sets out a definition of sex as: “the physical, biological, anatomical, and physiological characteristics of human beings which define them as men and women. Sex is recognized based on genital features; sex is a natural construction with which one is born.”

Defining sex is important. Especially when we observe, with a certain sadness, that in the year 2019 women and girls in our country are walking through the streets legally undefined. Our constitution alleges that we are a “gender”. But this has now been thrown into chaos as no less than 94 genders have appeared to date and no doubt more will appear. Which begs the question: what are we?

Women are human beings who also have the temerity to form our own political subject which has historically been oppressed. I’ve always known that a woman is not a conglomerate of people, nor a rib, nor some abstraction originating from phallocentric minds. But in order for our laws to recognise our sex class, we are still missing a tiny word on that law project: “passed.”

To recognise sex as the axis of oppression distorted to subjugate women and girls, is only the first step. Later on, we will need to amend the constitution of the Dominican Republic and we also need to protect sex. Protect sex? Yes, protect it. Eventually, we will need to shield the definition of sex if we want to protect the status of women from whatever future legal conflict that may seek to penetrate it.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the relevance of sex in public policy. Over the last year, I’ve interviewed many feminist comrades with more experience than me in this area in order to find out more. Among them, we must recognise the efforts of British women, who fought for decades to be recognised as a political class, in their own right, and not just for their sex to be acknowledged, but for their sex class to be protected. Quite rightly, the UK Equality Act (2010) is considered to be one of the most advanced equality laws in the world. It lists a set of nine “protected characteristics” which must be protected from discrimination, with sex being one among them.

My interviewees include the academic Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, the barrister Julian Norman, a specialist in human rights and migration law, and teacher Kiri Tunks, a socialist trade unionist and founder of Woman’s Place UK, a campaign that exists to protect and strengthen the rights of women in the UK. According to this political campaign: “Women face both endemic structural and personal inequality. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.” In the spirit of transparency, I should disclose that we are all part of the same campaign, but we first met in person on October 10th, 2018. Woman’s Place UK was invited to the UK Parliament to explain our objectives and Kathleen, Julian and I were chosen to present our case.

I won’t write another series of articles on sex and gender because it turns out that a lot of people get upset when we talk about this. Instead, what I’ll do is a number of articles written in sequential order, presenting different perspectives in relation to the concept of sex as a protected characteristic: one from a legal perspective; one from an academic perspective; and one from an activist’s perspective. And then I’ll keep on writing about this because it is urgent that we all shed light on this issue and when it comes to public policy, this topic ought to be democratised.

The fact that we are inches away from enshrining in law that women are a political class in their own right represents a triumph for the Dominican Republic. Usually, these are exhausting battles that drag on for decades. However, once we’ve won this victory, we will need to cement it in law, expand on it and protect it, because when faced with challenges like this we must always push further and go for more.

This article was originally published for the Dominican newspaper El Caribe on February 1st, 2019.  You can read the original here.

Read all the interviews in the El Caribe series on sex and gender identity here