Yogyakarta Principles: International Threat to Women’s Rights
July 27, 2018

This article mainly summarises the key points made in a speech by Sheila Jeffreys (entitled “Enforcing Men’s Sexual Rights in International Human Rights Law”) at Venice Allan’s We Need To Talk event, ‘Inconvenient Women’, held in London on June 13th 2018.  Read a full transcript here.

The Yogyakarta Principles were originally produced in a meeting in Indonesia and were published in 2007.

What are the Yogyakarta Principles?

The Yogyakarta Principles were first created at a meeting in Indonesia in 2007; in 2017, extra principles were added, known as the “Plus 10.”  Signatories include prominent human rights campaigners, lawyers and functionaries.

This document provides a vitally needed charter of rights for gay men and lesbians.

The Yogyakarta Principles as far as they concern lesbian and gay rights are much needed and it is very unfortunate that they are compromised and undermined by the creation of rights for mainly heterosexual men who crossdress and impersonate women.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

However, the positive components of the Yogyakarta Principles are hugely undermined by a section on ‘gender identity’.  The potential consequences of this ‘gender identity’ section have perhaps been overlooked by people who assume this section simply promotes the protection of so-called ‘transgender’ people from violence and discrimination.  This is not the case, however.  The ‘gender identity’ section poses a threat to the rights of all women.

The concept of ‘gender identity’ “endangers the very notion of women’s rights as human rights.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

This ‘gender identity’ section conspires to enshrine the idea of innate ‘gender’ (ie. sex roles / stereotypes) in law, to remove sex-based protections for women, and to label feminist criticism of ‘gender’ a form of discrimination.

‘Gender’ is the tool of the patriarchy by which women are oppressed.  It “comprises the behaviour of two groups of people in a hierarchy of oppression, the subordinates, women, and the dominants, men” (ibid.).  Within this system, ‘femininity’ is the prescribed behaviour of the subordinate class and ‘masculinity’ is the behaviour of the dominant class.

The Yogyarkarta Principles bizarrely assert that the protection of ‘gender’ is necessary for the realisation of women’s equality:

NOTING: respect for sexual rights, sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to the realisation of equality between men and women and that States must take measures to seek to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex or on stereotyped roles for men and women.” (p.9, The Yogyakarta Principles, 2007)

Using the phrase ‘stereotyped sex roles’ in place of ‘gender identity’ highlights the contradictory nature of this statement, which translates as:

Respect for stereotyped sex roles is integral to the realisation of women’s equality, and States must seek to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of stereotyped sex roles.”

The protection of ‘gender’ is in fact the protection of women’s oppression.

Origins of the ‘gender identity’ section of Yogyakarta Principles

The ‘gender identity’ section of the Yogyakarta Principles originated from the campaign work of male cross-dressers, who sought to protect their masochistic sexual fetish in law.  The thrill for these men is in the eroticisation of the subordination of women.  In the US, men’s sexual rights activists compiled a “wishlist as to how they would like their sexual fantasies to be accommodated and protected by the state” (Jeffreys, 2018).  This was entitled the International Bill of Transgender Rights 1995, which provided the template for the ‘gender identity’ section of the Yogyakarta Principles.

Demands that were once seen as outlandish are now being quietly accepted due to the unquestioned association made between lesbian and gay rights and ‘transgender’ rights.  Sheila Jeffreys explains that this problematic linkage may have origins in the historical belief of sexologists that male homosexuals had “the brains of women in the bodies of men” (ibid.).  Sexual orientation and ‘gender identity’ have become so conflated that the acronym ‘SOGI’ is now regularly used in human rights campaigning.

This is a hugely detrimental association that has made it difficult to support lesbian and gay rights without also pandering to the demands of male sexual fetishists.

To give but one example, lesbians in South Africa are relentlessly raped and murdered in a state that ignores any responsibility. Right now, we cannot campaign to support them without also promoting the rights of heterosexual crossdressers to take over women’s spaces and opportunities, and to pretend to be ‘lesbians’ and pressure lesbians to allow penile access.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

How would implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles affect women?

  • Abolition of Women-Only Spaces: ‘Gender’ Self Identification

The Yogyakarta Principles promote the practice of ‘gender’ self-identification. In the UK, arbitrary ‘medical’ criteria are currently required in order for a person to legally change ‘gender’ – the Yogyakarta Principles reject that any criteria should be required whatsoever.

This means that any man who crossdresses on the weekend, say, or makes no changes, to his appearance and retains both penis and beard, can be legally recognised as a woman if he demands this.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

A man’s word is all that would be required for him to legally enter a space previously reserved for women only.

‘Gender’ self identification would mean that single-sex spaces could no longer exist. A man could enter a formerly women-only area simply by claiming that he is now a woman. It would be ‘transphobic’ to have sex-segregated toilets, for example.

  • Blurring of the Terms: Sex and ‘Gender’

The Yogyakarta Principles do not define any difference between ‘gender’ (social construct) and sex (material reality) – this means that when someone changes ‘gender’, they would also attain the legal status of the other sex.

The document appears to deliberately encourage this fusion of terms, enabled by the colloquial use of the term ‘gender’ as a synonym for “sex”.  In places, the authors of the document reveal that they are indeed aware of the existence of sex as a concept that differs from ‘gender’ – for example, when they refer to the criminalisation of “same-sex” relationships.  Here, they recognise that only same-sex relationships are criminalised:

Repeal all laws that criminalise consensual sexual activity among persons of the same sex who are over the age of consent”. (p.14, Yogyakarta Principles, 2007)

However, elsewhere they intentionally define homosexuality as same-gender attraction rather that same-sex, in order to push forward their own agenda – to replace any recognition/documentation of sex with the recognition/documentation of (self-defined) ‘gender’.

The Yogyakarta Principles substitute gender, the male fetishistic understanding of what women are, for the term sex and thereby eliminate any protections for women as an oppressed class of persons based upon biological sex.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

The word ‘gender’ is often used as if it were a synonym for “sex”. This confusion obscures the aim of ‘trans rights’ campaigners to replace any legal recognition/documentation of biological sex with the legal recognition / documentation of self-declared ‘gender identity’. This change would effectively discard the notion of women’s rights, in favour of men’s ‘sexual rights’.

  • Lesbian Erasure

Sheila Jeffreys points out that it is mainly men who campaign for ‘gender’ rights (i.e. men’s sexual rights).  The women who ‘transition’ – primarily lesbians – “are collateral damage of what is overwhelmingly a men’s sexual rights movement” (ibid.).

The Yogyakarta Principles define homosexuality as attraction to the same ‘gender’ rather than the same sex, while also stating that a man’s word (Self ID) is all that is necessary for him to legally be considered a woman.  This means a man with a penis could declare himself a lesbian and pressure lesbians to allow him into their spaces and communities; this could give him ample opportunity to manipulate young and/or vulnerable lesbians into granting him sexual access to their bodies.

Women who confront this man and claim that he isn’t a lesbian would be considered ‘transphobic’ bigots, and guilty of ‘hate speech’, potentially suffering legal consequences.

  • Feminist Analysis of Woman’s Oppression Branded a Form of Prejudice

Questioning the ‘gender identity’ of an individual, as in the above example, is condemned by the Yogyakarta Principles as a form of prejudice.

Take all appropriate action, including programmes of education and training, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes or behaviours which are related to the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of any sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression.” (p.11, Yogyakarta Principles, 2007).

This statement mirrors the wording used earlier in the document, referring to the elimination of “the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex” – except that now, the term sex has been replaced with ‘gender’.

The text suggests that it is discriminatory to criticise ‘gender’ identity / ‘gender’ expression.  The behaviours of ‘gender’ are considered harmful by feminists and in need of abolition in order for women’s equality to be attained.  The Yogyakarta Principles effectively label feminism as “prejudicial” due to it’s criticism of sex roles (aka ‘gender’).  The aim to eradicate such ‘prejudice’ could even be used to justify the criminalisation of feminist thought/speech as ‘hate speech’ against a supposedly oppressed group (male sexual fetishists).

  • Protection of Men’s Sexual Rights

If there were any doubt that the primary aim of the ‘gender identity’ section of the Yogyakarta Principles is to protect and promote men’s sexual rights, the 2017 additions (the Plus 10) dispel such doubts.

The demands of the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 are even more extreme.

The Plus 10 advocate for: no minimum age for legal ‘sex change’; the right of ‘transgender’ people to anonymity on the internet; the right to “preserve and revive cultural diversity” (e.g. child marriage?) and the right to have a legal ‘sex change’ regardless of criminal convictions.  The document appears to be paving the way for development of ‘paedophile rights’.  Whether or not the authors intended this is unknown;  however, it would be naive to think that paedophiles would not notice how easily this document could be used to justify their fetish – in time, sexual attraction to children could be regarded a component of ‘gender expression’ or ‘sexual orientation’.

Extract from The Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10. (p.9, The Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10, 2017).

The Plus 10 also reference ‘surrogacy’ under “The Right To Found a Family”.  Surrogacy is one of OBJECT’S 5 Key Issues.

The right to traffic in babies and use women in reproductive prostitution has gained more and more acceptance as a result of gay men’s taking up and promoting this commercial baby market. The embracing of ‘surrogacy’ makes it clear that the Principles are about men’s rights and against women’s rights.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

What influence are the Yogyakarta Principles having in international law?

The Yogyakarta Principles currently have no force in law – though they are influential nonetheless – Sheila Jeffreys warns that this status could change swiftly and without public consultation.

The document is regarded as ‘best practice’ in relation to the human rights of lesbians, gay men and ‘transgender’ people.  It is increasingly being cited as justification for the promotion of ‘gender’ self identification and phrases such as ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ are creeping into usage in international law.

  • UK

The UK government has recently opened a public consultation on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (2004).  They claim that the right of ‘transgender’ people to change their ‘legal sex’ is apparently not up for debate – the consultation is merely on whether or not to make it easier/quicker for men to gain access to women-only spaces.  It is vital that we continue to campaign against this change in order to stop the national implementation of ‘gender’ self-identification.

A document by the Scottish Government cites The Yogyakarta Principles and Resolution 2048 (see below) as evidence that ‘gender’ recognition certificates should be updated to allow ‘gender’ self-ID. (Scottish Government, 2017; cited by Jeffreys, 2018)

  • Europe

In March 2018, the EU Parliament adopted a report on the Fundamental Rights in the EU, which endorses ‘gender’ self ID; it denounces the necessity of eligibility criteria (such as medical evidence) to justify ‘gender reassignment’ surgery, but states that such surgery should be easily accessible.  (European Parliament, 2018; cited by Jeffreys, 2018)

Resolution 2048: Adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2015.  This document also supports ‘gender’ self identification. Sheila Jeffreys mentions that PACE resolutions don’t have force of law, but are often adopted by the EU in time.  (Parliamentary Assembly, 2015; cited by Jeffreys, 2018)

  • International

A 2016 UN resolution of the Human Rights Council refers to discrimination based on ‘gender identity’, but does not define the term. (United Nations, 2016; cited in Jeffreys, 2018).

Many well-funded NGOs are campaigning internationally to promote the agenda of men’s sexual rights activists (under the guise of ‘LGBT’ rights’).  ARC International are an NGO which campaigns in support of ‘LGBT’ rights – they were instrumental in the development of the Yogyakarta Principles.  They are trying to build global support for the principles and have been working to influence the UN into adopting the language of ‘gender identity’ politics.

Sheila Jeffreys highlights that ‘trans rights’ activists are currently attending CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and promoting their ideology.  The power of the convention would be lost if the recognition of women as a sex class became unmentionable- the definition of “woman” would simply mean anybody who ‘identifies’ as a woman.

If sex cannot be mentioned, then woman as a category is disappeared and feminism and the idea of women’s rights cannot exist.” (Jeffreys, 2018).

What can be done to resist this threat to women’s human rights?

Locally and nationally, it is important for feminist / women’s rights groups to continue to raise awareness of the harms of ‘transgender’ ideology and the potential ramifications of proposed changes to national law (e.g. The GRA, 2004).

However, Sheila Jeffreys stresses the importance of also campaigning internationally.  The well-funded ‘trans rights’ organisations are having their voices heard at the international level, without dispute.

Sheila’s proposed suggestions are to ensure that those of us who oppose this men’s sexual rights movement are represented at CEDAW; also, to work at a continental level within Europe, such as by lobbying MEPs.

The trans rights organisations are attending CEDAW presently to fight for their language and interests. One thing women must do is be there.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

In Europe, I suggest, we need to be lobbying MEPs, and the women’s group in the European Parliament and the European Women’s Lobby.” (Jeffreys, 2018)

OBJECT will begin strategising to cooperate in the fulfillment of these OBJECTives.


Jeffreys, Sheila. (2018) Enforcing Men’s Sexual Rights in International Human Rights Law. Presented as speech at Venice Allan’s “We Need To Talk” event (“Inconvenient Women”) at Camden Town Hall, London, on 13/06/2018. Transcript available at http://drradfem.org/enforcing-mens-sexual-rights-in-international-human-rights-law/ Retrieved 24/07/2018.

The Yogyakarta Principles (2007) Retrieved 24/07/2018 from http://yogyakartaprinciples.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/principles_en.pdf

The Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 (2017) Retrieved 24/07/2016 from http://yogyakartaprinciples.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/A5_yogyakartaWEB-2.pdf

Further Reading

Brunskell-Evans, Heather. & Moore, Michele. Eds. (2018) Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body.

Jeffreys, Sheila. (2014) Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism.

Hannah Harrison