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CSW65: The diverse and powerful voices of transgender women at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

This piece is part of our CSW65 Delegation Blog Series.

Interviewee: Morgane Oger

Written by: Holly Janzen

Morgane Oger is the founder of the Morgane Oger Foundation, which works across Canada to narrow the gap between our country’s law and the experience of people impacted by systemic discrimination, specifically in relation to gender equality and the rights of transgender persons. Morgane also ran for public office in provincial and municipal elections and served as vice-president of a provincial political party that was in government at the time.

Morgane Oger speaks at HEU Summer School on inclusion and equality in 2019. Photo from Hospital Employees Union flyer.

Throughout her professional career Morgane has continuously pushed for gender equality and has been a constant advocate for the LGBTQ2+ community. As a transgender woman who came out in her mid 40s, she has the unique experience of benefiting from society favouring people who they perceive as men and boys and then later experiencing the harsh oppression that trans women are regularly faced with. In fact, up until recently police in Canada kept no record of violent acts against trans and nonbinary people [1]. With no record on acts of violence and hate, it makes sense that these instances often occur without consequence. Despite the lack of police data, there has been research into the struggles faced by trans Canadians. In 2011, Egale surveyed 3,700 LGBTQ2+ students across Canada and found that 74 per cent of trans students in Canada faced verbal harassment and 37 per cent have faced physical harassment. While this data is slightly outdated [2], it is still representative of the kind of discrimination trans people in Canada still face today. While Morgane’s engagement in activism started in her 20’s, her involvement in trans rights organizations and her advocacy for changes in human rights laws in Canada accelerated in 2013 after she transitioned and was quick to experience targeted aggression. Morgane saw a need for improvements in Canadian law and she worked hard to advocate and explain why gender identity or expression should be included in the explicit protections of human rights. Since then, Morgane has had many impressive accomplishments, including successfully helping to advocate for the inclusion of gender identity or expression in Canada’s human rights protection laws, specifically through Bill C-16, which added gender identity or expression to the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code , in 2017 [3]. 

Morgane Oger poses with fellow trans rights trailblazers Chase Willier and Kimberly Nixon in 2018. Photo provided by Morgane Oger.

In considering this year’s CSW theme of “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”, Morgane makes the important point that “historically, in addressing inequality and exclusion from participation in full life, and in decisions that affect us all” there are people who have been pushed out. For Trans women, their ability to contribute their voice to the diverse chorus of women talking about all the experiences of women has been limited. This is why the theme of ‘full and effective participation’ at this year’s conference is so important; it’s the difference between always inviting the same women and girls versus inviting diverse groups of women and girls in our society. 

As Morgane reflects on this she goes on to consider the importance of using an intersectional gender lens when examining the issues of gender inequality. Using an intersectional gender lens is “the idea of asking, who’s not in the room that should be here?” And “how do we make sure that the voices that most need to be heard get to be heard?” Using an intersectional gender lens acknowledges that there are numerous dimensions to oppression, and Morgane explains this by referring to patriarchy and how it has a different impact on women and girls “depending on whether they are part of the dominant culture in society, or a marginalized culture.” Their experiences are influenced by issues such as race, sexuality, disability, Indigenous status, or whether it’s on the basis of being documented or undocumented immigrants: “There are power imbalances in relationships between people who are in one demographic and in another and that can create additional marginalization and oppression.”

As we discuss the second theme for CSW this year namely, “the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” Morgane acknowledges that “we can do much more at the local scale than we can do at the international scale.” It is important that when addressing sexual violence, interventions need to be developed without disempowering the survivors of sexual violence and without ignoring the harm it causes to people’s mental and physical health. She goes on to state that “stigma is used against everybody when it comes to sexual violence.” We must teach the young people in our communities about sexual violence and the stigma around it so that all people can feel safe in our society and safe in coming forward when they have been abused. People need to know that sexual violence in any capacity is never okay and will not be tolerated by society or by law.

Morgane Oger poses with then Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould. Photo provided by Morgane Oger.

In attending CSW, Morgane hopes that there is discussion around the different modes of oppression of women that keeps them from achieving their fullest potential. Morgane acknowledges the diversity and broad range of countries that the United Nations represents and she is mindful that there is a long way to go before international organizations like the UN CSW will meet all of her hopes to really affect concrete change. Morgane’s real hope is that “coming out of this we will have a joint statement that will have some reflection of the diversity of women, including trans women. And that we will have meaningful statements about how sexual violence against all kinds of women and girls needs to be addressed, and that sexual violence includes many, many things, not just a physical act of rape, or sexual assault. That’s what I hope to see from participating in this.” 

Morgane ends our conversation with a powerful reflection: “Violence is a tool of oppression, and I think about how tools of oppression are leveraged, when they’re the only tool that keeps the oppression going. I think that all together, we can work to find more ways to stop our oppressors from keeping us down through violence, by listening to all of the diverse ways that violence is justified and excused, and then identifying ways to address them at a societal level, at a judicial level, and at a legislative level. I hope that I can make a contribution at CSW, and that I can help organizations such as BCCIC take us to a place where violence is a tool that can no longer be used to keep women and girls down regardless of who they are and regardless of what community they are from.”

References

  1. Curlew, Abigail. ‘Transgender hate crimes are on the rise even in Canada.’ (2019). https://theconversation.com/transgender-hate-crimes-are-on-the-rise-even-in-canada-121541.
  2. Curlew, Abigail. ‘Transgender hate crimes are on the rise even in Canada.’ (2019). https://theconversation.com/transgender-hate-crimes-are-on-the-rise-even-in-canada-121541.
  3. Bill C-16: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. (2017). https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/pl/identity-identite/statement-enonce.html.

About The Author

Morgane Oger

Founder of Morgane Oger Foundation

Morgane Oger is the founder of the Morgane Oger Foundation, which works across Canada to narrow the gap between our country’s laws and the experience of people impacted by systemic discrimination. Morgane’s work as a community organizer and changemaker is recognized for its success reaching the hearts and minds of others by working with everyone towards the common good and more-just outcomes.

Morgane successfully helped organize the push to add gender identity or expression to Canada’s human rights protections which was enacted federally in 2017.  Morgane ran for public office in provincial and municipal elections and served as vice-president of a provincial political party that was in government at the time. 

Morgane won a key precedent-setting human rights case in 2019. It affirmed that in Canada the protection from discrimination on explicitly-prohibited grounds includes transgender women and that one person’s right to live free from discrimination is equal to another person’s right to free expression or religious belief. Morgane lives in Vancouver with her two secondary-school aged children. In 2020, Morgane contributed to the book We Resist – Defending the Common Good in Hostile Times, published by McGill – Queens University Press. Morgane was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada for “bringing honour to Canada” with her LGBTQ2+ advocacy.