The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted, without vote, a resolution in response to the ongoing discrimination against women and girls in sports, including athletes born with a “variation of sex characteristics.”

The resolution calls for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls in sports…

“Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recalling the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and all other relevant international human rights instruments.” 

It recognizes the gender disparity inherit in racism of men compared to women and that women can be impacted by racism differently than men. In addition, the resolution recognizes the role of sports as a vehicle and “universal language” to educate people on “respect, dignity, diversity, equality, tolerance and fairness and as a means to combat all forms of discrimination and to promote social inclusion for all.”

Going into further detail, the resolution specifically expresses concern regarding the discriminatory policies that affect intersex athletes and athletes with hyperandrogenism such as Caster Semenya. It calls out the International Association of Athletics Federations specifically in their policies targeted at Semenya. The statement reads…

“That the eligibility regulations for the female classification published by the International Association of Athletics Federations that came into effect on 1 November 2018 may not be compatible with international human rights norms and standards, including the rights of women with differences of sex development, and also concerned that there may have been a lack of legitimate and justifiable evidence for the regulations to the extent that they may not be reasonable and objective, and lack proportionality between the aim of the regulations and the proposed measures.”

The statement recognizes the different variables that can affect sports performance are not solely limited to gender identity but including a range of physical and biological traits, as well as social and economic factors.”

The resolution outlines the issue succinctly…

  1. Expresses concern that regulations, rules and practices that require women and girl athletes with differences of sex development, androgen sensitivity and levels of testosterone to medically reduce their blood testosterone levels may contravene international human rights norms and standards, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to sexual and reproductive health, the right to work and to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work, the right to privacy, the right to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and full respect for the dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of the person; 
  1. Recognizes that sports regulations and practices which discriminate against women and girls on the basis of race, gender or any other ground of discrimination can lead to the exclusion of women and girls from competing as such on the basis of their physical and biological traits, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, racism, sexism and stigma, and infringe upon the dignity, privacy, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of women and girls;
  1. Calls upon States to ensure that sporting associations and bodies implement policies and practices in accordance with international human rights norms and standards, and refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures in order to participate in women’s events in competitive sports, and to repeal rules, policies and practices that negate their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy;
  1. Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the intersection of race and gender discrimination in sports, including in policies, regulations and practices of sporting bodies, and elaborating on relevant international human rights norms and standards, and to present the report to the Human Rights Council at its fortyfourth session;
  1. Decides to continue its consideration of this matter under the same agenda item in accordance with its programme of work.

The resolution was brought forward by South Africa and requests that the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to prepare a report examining the relationship between race and gender discrimination in sports. It follows up other similar statements, including the ACLU calling out against discrimination against transgender and intersex women in sports. As well as the International Olympic Committee is investing in research projects on the topic of transgender and intersex athletes in sports.

By Dirk Smith