Gender policy backlash

THE University of the West Indies (UWI) has seemingly decided to slow its rush towards a new gender policy which would require everyone connected to the regional institution to be referred to by the gender with which they identify.

The Jamaica Observer understands that a meeting which was called to discuss the way to implement the proposed policy was postponed on Wednesday as the leadership of the university faced increased resistance.

According to Observer sources, people who do business with the university and students have joined lecturers opposed to the proposed policy.

The sources noted that the proposed policy, dubbed the 2022 revision of ‘The UWI Gender Policy: Promoting Gender Justice for All’, requires principals, deans/directors, heads of departments, institutes, sites, and units, among others, to assume responsibility for operationalising of the gender policy in tandem with a Gender Mainstreaming Committee and the respective campus gender task forces which are to be established.

“This will involve developing mechanisms to sensitise members of staff as well as students to the content of The UWI Gender Policy through training, ensuring that all members of staff and students are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the policy, and taking necessary and suitable action where staff or students discriminate on the grounds of gender,” the document said.

“On each campus, the campus registrar will appoint the gender task force, develop its terms of reference in collaboration with the Gender Mainstreaming Committee, and facilitate its work towards the implementation and operationalisation of The UWI Gender Policy,” the proposed policy document said.

But it is the proposal to widen the reach of the document to people who have only a passing contact with the university which has led to a strengthening of the coalition opposed to the proposal.

“All external stakeholders, including persons under its independent service arrangements, as well as other persons who provide academic services to the university, based on contractual independent service agreements and arrangements, will be requested to comply with its core principles.

“All service providers will have a clause inserted into their contracts, whereby they are required to abide by the tenets of The UWI Gender Policy,” said the document.

Observer sources on Wednesday claimed that this could impact people who sell food on the campuses or even those who supply items to the university.

“So now we are having a coalition against the proposed policy, as anyone who enters the campuses could find themselves in trouble if they do not refer to someone by the gender by which they identify,” noted one source.

“So we could soon have a case like the one in Canada where a 16-year-old student was suspended from a Catholic high school for declaring that there are only two genders, male and female,” added the source, who pointed to the February incident in Ontario, where the teenager was suspended and later arrested after he attempted to return to school.

The source argued that the policy has some good proposals, including paternity leave and more efforts to tackle gender-based violence, but said the focus on a person’s gender identity — cisgender, transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, among others, rather than their sexual orientation — heterosexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, same-sex loving, same-gender loving, women-loving women, men-loving men — among others, is a sticking point.

“And, worse, we believe this is being done to attract international donors,” charged the source, who pointed to the section of the document which said its aim is to “align to and be compliant with international, regional, and national protocols, including those established to promote gender justice, which Caricom countries have ratified”.