HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM: Spirituality as a Vehicle for Social Change

By Daniela Jauk*

Considering that I am a sociologist and feminist, you might be surprised when I say a human rights approach to women’s, gender and sexual rights is important because it adds a spiritual component to our global social justice work. We have theoretically and practically moved into an era in which what is means to be a man or a woman have become blurry. A vast body of research has deconstructed the social notion of the male/female dichotomy, demonstrating that there is not enough biological evidence to draw a clear line between the sexes. A variety of transgender and genderqueer experiences as well as fluid sexualities increasingly enrich our societies. Regardless of how we identify or who we are attracted to, we all benefit from expanding recognition of gender and sexual diversity.

Given the continuing prejudice—and outright hate—gender and sexual minorities face the world over, in addition to the interpersonal and structural violence happening against “gender offenders”(a term I borrow from the great Kate Bornstein), it is necessary to work on an inclusive vision of humanity found in the framework of human rights. Most spiritual and religious cosmologies promote a vision of shared humanity on our quest to be more just. I suggest that we use this vision of shared humanity to help us look past socially constructed differences such as gender, sex, race, class, etc. in our realization of human rights. Let’s be radically deconstructivist theoretically in our visions and dreams! Practically, let’s remain strategically essentialist when it comes to addressing the existing inequalities and discrimination of individuals who are in intersecting and oppressive social locations. We need to spark uncomfortable self-reflections and acknowledgements of our privileges as we collectively challenge structural impediments to the universal recognition of human rights for all, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, mental or physical ability. By tapping into our spiritual networks, we may create a stronger movement for protecting the human rights of gender and sexual minorities.

*Daniela Jauk is a Doctoral Candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Akron. She is also a Former Women’s Representative of the City Council Graz, Austria


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