In a landmark ruling from the Equality Court of South Africa on 23 September 2019, a transgender woman has been granted free expression of gender and protection from discrimination while under incarceration at a men’s correctional facility.
In a landmark ruling on 23 September 2019, the Equality Court of South Africa has granted a transgender woman protection from discrimination and freedom to express her gender while under incarceration at a men’s correctional facility.
Prison staff prohibited Jade September from expressing her gender identity while serving a sentence at Helderstroom Correctional Centre in Caledon, South Africa. During this time, Jade experienced harassment and discrimination from prison staff. The staff at Helderstroom misgendered her, forced her to cut her hair, and did not allow her to wear women’s underwear and make-up. Furthermore, Jade was unlawfully detained in solitary confinement for almost one month due to her gender expression.
The court ruled in favour of Jade, finding that the actions by the prison constituted unfair discrimination. The court also ruled that this mistreatment was a violation of her fundamental constitutional rights to equality and human dignity. Previously, other correctional facilities allowed Jade to express her gender identity. However, she experienced this discrimination after being transferred to Helderstroom. Although she has since transferred to another facility, she expressed that this ruling would help protect transgender people who may be incarcerated by this prison in the future. Indeed, this case sets a precedent for the protection of transgender human rights in the South African prison system as a whole.
Bridging the Gaps partners Gender DynamiX and Triangle Project supported Jade’s battle for rights. Gender DynamiX is a non-profit organisation which focuses on human rights for transgender and gender diverse people in Africa. Similarly, Triangle Project is a non-profit LGBTI organisation which focuses on health and support, community engagement and empowerment, and research and advocacy for LGBTI persons, their partners, and families.
Following the court decision, Gender DynamiX and Triangle project released a joint press-release with the Legal Resources Centre, Lawyers for Human Rights, and Iranti. In this press release, they expressed their satisfaction with the ruling: “We welcome this ground-breaking judgement as it is an important development of the South African jurisprudence on the rights to gender identity and gender expression, and a significant step towards greater protection and realisation of the human rights of transgender and gender diverse people in South Africa.” The press release urged other governments to take note of this victory and to update their laws and policies to protect human rights and protections for transgender and gender diverse persons worldwide.