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Rituparna Borah on Linkages of Sexuality and Gender with Other Development Issues – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Rituparna Borah on Linkages of Sexuality and Gender with Other Development Issues - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Savleen Kaur

A five-day immersive online certificate training course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India was launched by IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute) in collaboration with the Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC) in honour of pride month. Session 4 of day four was led by Rituparna Borah, the co-founder and director of Nazariya: a queer feminist resource group on the linkages of sexuality and gender with other development issues: concepts of sexual norms and sexual hierarchy.


The session began with a questioning round which dealt with explaining the difference between gender and sexuality. This was followed by a second question,” Is gender equal to gender identity and sexuality equal to sexual orientation?” Rituparna Borah explained that the term ‘gender’ deals with gender norms and presumptions of how a particular gender should behave. This includes remarks such as ‘a girl shouldn’t eat that much’ or ‘boys don’t cry’. Similarly, sexuality too is associated with sexual norms and not just confined to the sexual desires and sexual orientation of an individual. Some sexual norms include remarks such as women must visit only a female gynaecologist.

Moving forward, she explained how gender is often linked to various socio-development issues such as poverty, health, lack of education, workplace environment etc. A brief discussion took place on how poverty is closely linked to gender biases. She talked through how people of different genders such as transgender men, transgender women, and cis-women often face discrimination and injustices in all spheres of life. This includes opportunities at the workplace, appropriate healthcare services, and chances at higher education which further perpetuates the cycle of poverty within certain communities.

Similarly, she shared her perspective on how the sexuality of an individual may affect the ability to attain various healthcare services and even refusal to provide healthcare on the basis of biases of healthcare workers. In addition, comprehensive sexuality education is still a missing part of education within the healthcare sector which worsens the existing issues and hurdles. Even in the case of workplace environment people often face discrimination or unjust behaviour with regard to their sexuality and sexual orientation.

Way Forward

Thereafter, a brief discussion took place about the misconceptions of gender roles in various economic strata. Rituparna Borah explained how people often have a misconstrued notion that gender rates a more rigid in the poorer sections of society and relatively flexible in the higher strata. However, more often than not women in poor families are bread earners and therefore have greater mobility and responsibility of their home both financially and psychologically; while in the upper strata of society families may be extremely rigid to give freedom to women due to factors such as their reputation and pride.

The session continued with a discussion about the sexual hierarchy through the charmed circle. The charmed circle through its two tiers explains the sexual hierarchy and the various socio-economic costs and benefits associated with it.  The inner circle which includes elements such as marriage, homosexuality, monogamous, in a relationship etc. has various benefits associated with them.

These benefits include both social and economic factors such as provisions of a home loan for a married couple or even praise for being the ideal married couple. On the other hand, people within the outer circle which includes terms such as polyamorous, casual sex, heterosexuality etc. may face various both monetary as well as social hurdles. This includes derogatory remarks towards women or missing out on workplace opportunities.

Thus, she elaborated on how stringent the charmed circle is and how even a single action from the outer limit of the circle pushes the individual outside the charmed circle. These sexual biases are faced by people on a regular basis and often the preconceived notions of people place them within the sexual hierarchy. This was followed by a small Q&A session about the hurdles and discrimination faced within the healthcare sector with regard to the sexual orientation of the patient and how this often leads to self-harm, depression, loneliness and isolation. 

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The session was concluded by professor Vibhuti Patel, visiting Professor at IMPRI and a former Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai who further questioned the methods of incarceration and how one may combat the discrimination both legally and morally faced within the healthcare sector. The consensus was achieved that a more equitable and fairer environment can only be achieved with greater sensitisation and acceptance amongst doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. A further discussion took place about the harassment and violence faced by people within their own families and how people might feel indebted to their families so much so that they don’t raise voices for their own rights.

With these enthralling discussions and prolific lessons, the session came to a fruitful end.

Read more session reports from Day 2 of Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India.

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