Gender policy row brewing at UWI

A major row is developing at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) over a proposed new gender policy which will require everyone connected to the regional institution to be referred to by the gender with which they identify.

The new policy focuses 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.

It is said to be designed to foster a secure environment in which all students and staff members, across the spectrum of gender and sexual identities, on all campuses feel protected and safe from any form of gender-related violence and create living, working and learning environments across the university which provide for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

But Jamaica Observer sources say a group of Christian lecturers are objecting to the proposed policy and are planning protest actions while not ruling out taking the matter to court.

“In terms of a national priority, this is way beyond the science and the research. While it is part of the discourse of gender advocates, there is no consensus that the United Nations has a clear position where it recognises gender identity as a fundamental human right.

“There are many curves that people have to go through to get to that point, and beyond that there is still a lot of science against arguments supporting that notion,” said one UWI source opposed to the policy.

“Within the context of a Jamaican society our constitution reigns supreme, and our constitution speaks to discrimination based on the male or female gender, and so I don’t think there is anywhere in the constitution where a person believes that he is a he or she, or whatever it might be,” added the source.

Another source said: “I think I understand, however, where the policymakers in the university may want to go, but in the larger scheme of things it is probably jumping the gun. There are many other things to be resolved in the society more than this.”

The sources pointed the Observer to what is dubbed 2022 revision of The UWI Gender Policy: Promoting Gender Justice for All.

In his introduction in the document, UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles said the institution has historically concerned itself with issues of gender equality and equity.

“Over the almost 75 years since its establishment The UWI has made commendable strides toward ensuring gender equality and equity within its operations and procedures,” said Sir Hilary as a foreword to the wide-ranging document.

The UWI Gender Policy is described as “A framework to guide the creation of a supportive environment for all persons, inclusive of gender identities and sexual orientations, in all aspects of university life.” The policy was approved in June 2017 by The UWI Finance and General Purposes Committee.

It adds that: “For the purposes of this policy, gender refers to the systems, structures, institutions and ideas through which societies define, enact, and enforce differences in expectations, roles and opportunities for people based on their perceived biological sex.”

The UWI says the policy is to ensure “gender justice”, which is a society in which there are no gender-related asymmetries of access to, or allocation of, status, power and material resources, or in the control over and capacity to benefit from these resources.

The policy is also designed to create “gender mainstreaming”, which is described as a process of incorporating a gender perspective into organisational policies, strategies, and administrative functions, as well as into the institutional culture of an organisation.

“Gender mainstreaming is a strategy for achieving gender justice; it is not a destination,” the document says.

The document also outlines the university’s position on “gender stereotypes”, which it describes as “generalised homogenising views or preconceptions about attributes or characteristics that are — or thought to be — possessed by groups of people based on the binary system of gender (categorised into women and men).

“These gender stereotypes also affect people who are gender non-conforming or non-binary because of gendered norms and expectations. A gender stereotype often limits a person’s capacity to develop their individual abilities, pursue their professional careers, and make choices about their lives and life plans,” reads the document.

But the opposing lecturers say they will not bow to The UWI’s demands to refer to a biological male as a she or any other such designation.