Tag Archives: trans

Foreign Aid and the LGBT agenda


Watching on the ODI’s live video feed last week for the panel debate “Can aid donors help support LGBT rights in developing countries?” was an interesting experience. Cat by my side and cup of tea in hand, I got my twitter feed open and my notepad to hand ready for all those key points.

For me, Elisabeth Mills (Research Fellow from the Institute of Development Studies) was the standout speaker on the panel in the first half. Like most development-centred debates, the issues other speakers were bringing up were starting to fixate purely on problems: less than 0.1% of foreign aid going to LGBT causes for example; or the overestimation of results from donors towards short-term projects dealing with systemic issues.

That’s not to say that the global backlash we are currently witnessing, in retaliation to gains made by activists across the world, should be ignored. Focusing on solutions though is what will enable us to overcome what increasingly appears to be a global movement strategised by the conservative right to use LGBT communities as scapegoats to hide other problems.

Ms Mills however presented a practical three-pronged approach which emphasised using strategic and alternative entry points, such as HIV healthcare, to circumnavigate restrictions on working with LGBT communities. In some countries particularly, promoting values is a crime…. She saw economic entry points as key to realising the everyday problems faced by LGBT individuals, whose basic needs continue to be ignored by legislation.

Elisabeth’s second point was to generate more data and monitor evidence on these types of entry points in order to encourage future funding on proven successes. Lastly, she advocated for more solidarity and partnerships – a refrain heard the world over, but unfortunately still a goal to be attained.

Part of this gap in collaboration and global unity was emphasised by Women’s rights activist, Jessica Horn when she highlighted the lack of attention given to outspoken African activists on the global stage. Part of our efforts to support the wider movement should be amplifying the voices of those speaking from experience and passion.

The other standout speaker for me, from the second half of the discussion, was Fabrice Houdart from the World Bank. Speaking from the World Bank’s position in Washington, he not only emphasised the miniscule volume of funding given to researching LGBT issues (from the World Bank, only $200,000), and hence the absence of evidence, but also the comparitive lack of non-LGBT actors involved in the LGBT movement.

Alike to the need for mainstreaming women’s rights through the inclusion of men into programmes (see my other blog post), we should be bringing people of all sexualities, genders, gender identities etc into the debate – there’s no point preaching to the converted.

Overall an informative debate, but I’d like to see how DfID’s policy documents progress in relation to this issue, particularly in regards to the post-2015 agenda. As mentioned during the discussion, sympathies previously expressed by DfID have not translated into written commitments, and so the stance UK government will take is yet to be seen.

Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: The Fringe


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I’ve been a die-hard feminist at the global summit fringe over the past week – there every day from morning until late evening, running around trying to fit everything in all at once. Though the fringe was smaller than I expected, with less integration of events in the real summit into the fringe than I would have liked, it was a terrific event. There literally was too much to do, and to attend every discussion panel and workshop, theatre and musical performance, film screening and Q & A would have meant splitting myself into five different people.

Stand-out points for me were the screenings of Girl Rising and Banaz: A Love Story – both films dealing with the deeper patriarchal roots of discrimination and violence against women. Whilst the summit has only focused on conflict, there was an atmosphere throughout events at the fringe of catalysing a more holistic change both in peacetime and conflict – which is exactly what’s needed in the long-term. More on this in a second.

From the performance stage, Musicians Without Borders, an NGO using musical expression to help refugees deal with the traumas of conflict, gave a fantastic performance mixing elements from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East – with an Iranian guy on percussion I could have listened to forever.

Plan UK also ran several small talks and workshops; Dr Chris Dolan’s session on male victims of sexual violence in conflict was  shocking and enlightening all at once. He drew attention to the fact that male survivors are comparatively sidelined to women and girls in terms of visibility, funding, training for humanitarian workers and programmes of support and rehabilitation. From the Refugee Law Project’s work in Uganda, screening of refugees revealed that 1 in 3 victims of sexual violence were MEN. Think on that statistic.

2014-06-12 14.33.02The talk on men returning from conflict and their subsequent violence continued this male focus, but was slightly overshadowed by the appearance of Angelina Jolie halfway through. And I was excited just to hear Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project) talk. Naila Kabeer gave an incredibly engaging argument for a sustainable post-2015 framework in a separate panel with Justine Greening MP.
On Thursday, the failure of Theresa May MP to turn up to her own talk on modern slavery and trafficking was met with unplanned protests against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s policies of detention and refusal to grant asylum for survivors of sexual violence. 2014-06-12 17.29.10Further protests also manifested outside the fringe later that afternoon, against the absence of Bangladeshi rape survivors’ voices at the summit (see below).

I think the rising atmosphere of discontent on the final day of the fringe reflected my own dissatisfaction at some aspects of how the event was organised, and indeed the summit.

Whilst the array of events on offer have been great in raising public awareness – I’ve absolutely gained some new knowledge on this issue – I wish that the summit itself had been more open. I want to know who exactly was involved in discussions, who decided who should be involved, and what weighting was given to each of those voices?

Particularly as I spent more time at the fringe, the absence of certain voices became more obvious. Where were the trans and LGB representatives? Why were there no groups speaking up for non-normative genders, sexes and sexualities? Largely the focus was on heterosexual violence against women by men, with a smaller emphasis on male victims sexually assaulted by male perpetrators.

So where are the queer voices? Perhaps it’s down to a lack academic interest in collecting differentiated statistics from refugee populations or those living in conflict – but that doesn’t seem like a valid excuse to me. If a new approach to ending sexual violence in conflict is about to be enshrined in international legislation, and ratified by nations across the world, the gender binary which exists in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and all it’s clauses defining what constitutes sexual violence, needs to be deconstructed – as this is what informs domestic legislature.

For the purpose of this Statute, it is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different from the above. (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, paragraph 3)

Put simply, if we only legally recognise two sexes (male and female) we risk making non-conforming individuals and communities, who have suffered sexual violence in conflict, invisible. Take for example, female to male transitioning individuals; rape can be used as a tool to degrade and deny that person’s transitioning identity as male, by reminding them in the most intimate way possible that they still have a vagina. Male to female transitioning individuals might alternatively be raped with the intention of degrading them as a ‘woman’, because they express a female gender identity and thus ‘deserve’ to be subordinated; or those with male genitalia might be assaulted on the premise that ‘male rape’ is impossible, and cannot therefore have been a victim.

These are just some of the circumstances narrated to me during my time in Bangalore, working with various sexual minority charities, and occurred during peacetime. Given that sexual violence increases during conflicts, it seems reasonable to estimate an increase in the number of victims not conforming to ‘male’ and ‘female’ sex categories, which begs the question, “Why are they being ignored?”

We must recognise the prevalence of sexual violence against men and boys in order to prioritise their needs alongside women and girls, but if this summit is to represent a landmark global change in attitudes and humanitarian response to sexual
2014-06-12 11.47.14violence in conflict, why are we ignoring certain victims? ‘One is enough’ as a motto for action should equally apply to the whole rainbow spectrum of LGBTQIA+ individuals as it does to women. Why would the international community choose to ignore certain groups for the next 10-15 years by failing to protect them in the legal framework? Legal provision can lead to implementation, which leads to programmes being delivered and survivors having their needs met. I don’t understand what would stop the world from wanting all people to be safe and supported, and I just hope that these voices have a say in what emerges in the post-2015 framework.

Invite: Breaking the Binary: Release, Sharing and Discussion of the report


Yesterday, I attended this meeting with LABIA – a queer feminist women’s group, who were releasing their new report on Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth (PAGFB), and their lived experiences across Indian cities.

An extremely interesting study, a copy of which I of course purchased, presented yesterday through a series of case studies and quotations. I enjoyed listening to their explanations for the empirical methods chosen – for example taking their sample from first wanting to cover individuals not conforming to gender-normative expression, to individuals assigned gender female at birth, thus ensuring that persons self-identifying as ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘other’ were included from a wider angle.

My notes from yesterday’s Bangalore release and discussion of the report can be read here: Breaking the Binary.


LABIA’s summary:

Breaking The Binary (2013) is a study by LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective. Based on a research initiative that began in 2009, its findings question and challenge many of our fairly basic assumptions about gender, sexuality and sex. That sounds alarming – but only until we realise that this questioning of rigid norms leads to more and more ease that allows people to live and breathe in their own skins rather than suffocate inside somebody else’s impossible boxes.

The sub-title of the study is Understanding concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth across a spectrum of lived gender identities and yes, that’s a mouthful. A mind-tingling thought-provoking mouthful of words, which the authors are at some pains to explain and elaborate in their report – and at its release in 6 cities between 27 April and 11 May 2013. For now, suffice it to nrmsay that for this study we spoke to 50 people across the country, and it is their voices and stories that we bring to you, accompanied by our own understanding and analysis.

Through this study, we explore the circumstances of queer PAGFB who are made to, or expected to, fit into society’s norms around gender and sexuality. We look at their experiences with natal families and in school; we chart their journeys through intimate relationships and jobs; we attempt to understand what happens to them in public spaces, and how they are treated by various state agencies; we discover where they seek and find support, community, and a refuge from the violence and discrimination that mark far too many lives.

Most significantly, this research has given us new insights into gender itself, which we feel are crucial additions to the current discourse in both queer and feminist spaces. Finally, the study flags areas of particular concern, and highlights some necessary interventions.

We ourselves are amazed at the richness and complexity of our findings and are impelled by the need to share these as widely as possible with all queer and feminist groups and individuals, activists and academics, all people working specifically with LBT persons as well as broadly in the areas of gender and sexuality — and of course all of us who are interested in knowing more about our selves.