1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Where Do We Go From Here? Safeguarding Trans* People's Rights

Date: 19 Jun 2018

  • Time: 13.30 - 15.00
  • Location: Room XXIII, Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10
  • Counterpart(s): Ministry for European Affairs and Equality, Malta

Where Do We Go From Here? Safeguarding Trans* People's Rights


The objectives of this side event are to a) convene experts from governments, civil society and international organizations from Northern and Southern contexts and b) contextualize trans* rights within the context of the sustainable development agenda.


International human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) guarantee human rights for all. However, policy does not always meet practice, and human rights which are guaranteed on paper are not always enjoyed, and some groups are more likely to be excluded than others. Recent increased media and policy attention to issues faced by trans* and non-binary communities and individuals is putting the need to ensure universal human rights firmly on the agenda.

The issue is all the more relevant in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving the ambitious aim of leaving no one behind will require policy makers to embody a holistic approach to policy and practice to ensure that rights are not subject to hierarchies, but are viewed and enjoyed as inalienable and universal.

In order to achieve equitable, universal and sustainable social development—which UNRISD defines as “a process of change that leads to improvements in human well-being and social relations that are equitable and compatible with principles of democratic governance and justice”—governments and other stakeholders must ensure that policies: a) are inclusive and gender transformative, b) cover the entire life cycle, c) take into account the specificities of group and individual situations, and d) rectify horizontal and vertical inequalities. Thus, social policies and programmes should be designed and implemented not only from a universalist approach, but one that is also cognizant of the fact that achieving equity will require tailored approaches to ensure their universal enjoyment.

Although the specific issues faced by trans* people vary between different contexts, most face barriers to the enjoyment of their rights in some shape or form, whether it be the right to social protection, the highest attainable standard of health, to decent work, environmental justice, education, legal recognition without any abusive preconditions, pathologization of gender identities and criminalization. In some contexts, they even face threats to their rights to life and security and the ability to be recognized as part of a community. We live in polarized times: While some states such as Argentina, Ireland, Malta and South Africa have passed progressive legislation which protect these rights, others have begun introducing legislation that further restricts trans* people’s access to a life of dignity and autonomy.


The panellists at this side event, who are experts from international organizations, governments and civil society, will contribute to achieving these objectives via the following questions:

  • What good practices can be identified and lessons learned from efforts being made by national and local governments to ensure human rights for trans* people?
  • Which parts of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can be, or are being, mobilized to ensure that people of all gender identities are able to enjoy the full range of human rights? Are there gaps in the Agenda that need to be closed by progressive policy making?
  • What role can civil society play in ensuring that trans women, trans men, gender fluid and non-binary people are not left behind by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
  • How can social development research contribute to achieving trans* rights in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
  • What are some of the successes and challenges in ensuring universal access to social protection, given diverse needs within populations?

Opening Remarks

Silvan Agius, Director of the Human Rights and Integration Department at the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality, Republic of Malta


Paul Ladd, Director, UNRISD


  • Emily Dwyer, Managing Director, Edge Effect

  • Justus Eisfeld, Senior LGBTI Consultant, UNDP

  • Michael van Gelderen, Human Rights Officer, OHCHR

  • Blas Radi, Coordinator of the Office of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, Observatorio de Género en la Justicia de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Gender Justice Observatory of the City of Buenos Aires)

Project background

UNRISD is currently seeking partners for a pre-project in its Ideas Incubator called Safeguarding Trans* People’s Rights. The project will compare and analyse innovative policies being implemented to safeguard and advance trans* people’s economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, in national and local contexts. The findings will contribute to policy design, inform UN processes and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and be a useful tool for advocates, practitioners and national governments working to protect the rights of trans* people.

If you would like to partner with UNRISD on this exciting project, please get in touch with doreen.yomoah@un.org



Photo credit: "2017.07.26 Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington DC USA 7625" by Ted Eytan (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).