Union rejects adolescent sex call – but not group that backs it

A trade union representing 45,000 NI workers says it had no role in drawing up a manifesto calling for adolescent sex to be fully decriminalised.

By Adam Kula
Friday, 23rd April 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 10:50 am
UNISON is one of the biggest trade unions in the UK, with tens of thousands of members in NI alone; it largely represents public sector workers
UNISON is one of the biggest trade unions in the UK, with tens of thousands of members in NI alone; it largely represents public sector workers

But at the same time Unison also declined to distance itself from an international body which has endorsed this call, and of which it is a member.

Titled “Feminist Declaration”, the manifesto is basically a 16-page list of demands – among which is a call to end “the criminalisation of adolescents’ sexuality”.

Taken literally, this would indicate a lowering of the age of consent.

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One of the organisations backing and promoting the manifesto is a group called ILGA World (The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association).

And among ILGA’s members is Unison NI.

Though the term “adolescence” is open to debate, the World Health Organisation defines it as “the phase of life between childhood and adulthood from ages 10 to 19”.

In the UK, the age of consent is 16.

The precise wording of the manifesto calls for governments to “eliminate all laws and policies that punish or criminalize same-sex intimacy, gender affirmation, abortion, HIV transmission non-disclosure and exposure, or that limit the exercise of bodily autonomy, including laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, people with disabilities or other groups to provide consent to sex or sexual and reproductive health services”.

[News Letter’s emphasis]

It also calls on governments to halt “the criminalization and stigmatisation of adolescents’ sexuality, and ensure and promote a positive approach to young people’s and adolescents’ sexuality that enables, recognises, and respects their agency to make informed and independent decisions on matters concerning their bodily autonomy, pleasure and fundamental freedoms”.

[News Letter’s emphasis again]

Whilst several different trade unions are involved with ILGA, The News Letter has focused on Unison because it is the only one whose Northern Irish branch specifically appears on ILGA’s membership list.

The News Letter asked Unison’s NI branch if it supports the manifesto’s demands on adolescent sex, and if it was consulted while the manifesto was being prepared.

Its regional secretary Patricia McKeown told the News Letter “our Northern Ireland region was not involved in the production of the feminist manifesto,” and also that “Unison as a whole was not involved in its drafting” either.

She sent a statement setting out Unison’s position, which read: “The document is a translation. As with many such international, translated documents, the language can be obscure.

“However its intention is that it be applied, with relevant guidance, to the differing circumstances in each of the 192 member states [of the UN].

“For example, the issue of age of consent varies widely around the world.

“It varies from under 13 years to 19 years, and in some countries marriage is the legal requirement

“Consequently, there are a range of campaigns across member states, some seek to raise it in their particular jurisdictions, others to lower it...

“Unison supports the UK’s legislation on age of consent.

“Unison is affiliated to some of the international bodies which endorsed the feminist manifesto.  For example. we are affiliated to ILGA and encourage all of our regions and regional LGBT+ groups to affiliate.

“In 2020 ILGA was one of more than 200 global organisations to endorse the manifesto. We agree with that position.”


The manifesto actually dates back to 2020, but has only recently come to wider attention thanks to a number of feminist-related accounts on Twitter sharing it and voicing concerns about it.

Whilst ILGA is one of the groups supporting the manifesto, it was actually written by a group called the Women’s Rights Caucus.

ILGA describes this as “a global coalition of more than 200 feminist organizations, networks, and collectives that advocates for gender equality at the UN”.

Further adding to the confusion about who the direct authors of the manifesto are, it is published via the website of The International Women’s Health Coalition.

E-mails to both ILGA and The International Women’s Health Coalition seeking to find out who the 200-plus members of the “Women’s Rights Caucus” are met with no response.

The total list of demands contained in the “feminist declaration” are wide-ranging, covering everything from abortion to climate change.

It also voices “grave concern at the rise of authoritarianism [and] fascism” and by condemning “other forms of oppression, including patriarchy, heteronormativity, cisgenderism”.


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