What We Are Reading: January 2023

Illustration by Victoria Ford for the International Alert Breaking the Binary report

written by Beth Woroniuk, Vice President – Policy

We ring in 2023’s What We Are Reading with publications exploring how feminist agendas can ‘break the binary.’ An earlier WWR highlighted Global Philanthropy Project’s analysis of global funding for LGBTQI+ organizations and now we dig a little deeper into a range of related issues. These recent publications offer insights into the challenges and gains of LGBTQI+-inclusive feminist organizing, feminist foreign policy approaches, and the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

note: We acknowledge that there are many different terms in use. We use generally LGBTQI+ and recognize that other abbreviations may be preferred. One reason we use LGBTQI+ is the international recognition of this abbreviation. In Canada the preferred phrase is often 2SLGBTQQIA (2-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Plus).

Policy Brief: Furthering LGBTIQ+ Inclusion and Rights through Feminist Foreign Policy. Elise Stephenson (the Global Institute for Women’s Leaders, ANU), Jack Hayes (Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs) and Matcha Phom-In (Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project). Australian Feminist Foreign Policy Coalition, (August 2022)

This policy brief, one in an excellent series by the Australian Feminist Foreign Policy Coalition, begins with a striking quote:

The problem with international development is that some human rights defenders are sexist, some feminists are transphobic and homophobic, and some LGBTIQ+ advocates are racist.

The brief addresses a gap in some of the feminist foreign policy thinking: attention to LGBTQI+ dimensions and issues. It points out that severe persecution and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people is still common around the world and makes the case that this focus should be an integral part of all feminist foreign policies.

The brief outlines recommendations to strengthen analysis including updating definitions of gender to move beyond the male/female binary. Investing in research and the skills of foreign policy professionals are also suggested. 

Feminist foreign policies that incorporate queer perspectives could also include:

  • Support (resources and capacity building) for LGBTIQ+ organizations (including disaster response).
  • Meaningful engagement with LGBTIQ+ organizations and activists, on human rights issues but also national security, public diplomacy, and crisis response.
  • Engagement and advocacy on issues such as trans rights, banning conversion therapy, legal reforms (law banning same sex relationships, medical emancipation of intersex people, etc.).
  • Safeguarding the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of LGBTQI+ people.

Research Paper: Breaking the Binary: LGBT+ Inclusive Approach to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Nepal and Myanmar, Ndeye Sow, Charlotte Onslow, Swechchha Dahal, and Anthony Pemberton. International Alert, (September 2022)

This research paper is a first-rate companion to the policy brief mentioned above. It provides detail and background on Nepal and Myanmar, bringing visibility to the voices, priorities, and analysis of LGBTQI+ people. The brief outlines key issues faced by LGBTQI+ people in both countries: legal discrimination and unequal access to justice, lack of representation in national statistics, discrimination in education and healthcare systems, violence, economic challenges, social exclusion, and more. The exploration of specific contexts provides key insights and a concreteness that validates calls for action.

The paper is also an important contribution to efforts to ‘queer the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda” (following the path-breaking work of Jamie Hagan and others). It explores the overlapping discriminations experienced by cis-gender, heterosexual women, and LGBTQI+ people including discriminatory patriarchal norms. Lesbians and bisexual women face the same overall constraints as heterosexual women, although often exacerbated. Trans women experience additional violence and discrimination.

The paper builds on the analysis of key intersections and explores current and possible collaboration between women’s rights and LGBTQI+ networks. Despite shared interests and clear benefits, collaboration on WPS issues between these two groups in Myanmar and Nepal is currently limited. The paper notes that more work is needed and provides useful entry points for exploration. Context specific strategies are key.

The paper concludes with a series of recommendations including:

  • Support spaces for LGBTQI+ activists and women’s rights advocates to come together to learn from each other.
  • Invest in long-term support for both LGBTQI+ organizations and women’s rights organizations.
  • Support and develop programs around LGBTQI+ inclusion (in communities, schools, health care, etc.).
  • Ensure services and programs adopt an intersectional approach, bringing visibility to LGBTQI+ people and their priorities and concerns.
  • Close the data gap (in national censuses and local processes).
  • Better understand LGBTQI+ violence (including LGBTQI+ intimate partner violence).
  • Make space for advocacy and dialogue.
  • Include LGBTQI+ rights in WPS national action plans
  • Support efforts to repeal and reform discriminatory laws.
  • Develop LGBTQI+ media channels (including media training for LGBTQI+ activists) in order to build public support for LGBTQI+ issues.

Blog: Homophobia is a Feminist Issue, Rita Nketiah. Human Rights Watch, (March 2022)

2017 Human Rights Watch

Rita Nketiah argues that it’s time to end the invisibility of LBQ women in feminist movements, specifically in Ghana. Written for International Women’s Day, the author makes a strong case for inclusion of LBQ issues in mainstream feminist organizing: “LBQ women in Ghana deserve to feel safe, cared for, and counted within the Ghanaian feminist movement.”

There has been much attention on the attacks on LGBTQI+ people in Ghana, but little focus on the violence and discrimination facing LBQ persons. The blog notes research and analysis on how LBQ women and transgender people lack access to sustainable employment, housing, and suitable healthcare and are at high risk of depression and substance abuse. As well “much of the queerphobic violence reported in the media has focused on violence against gay men and transgender women. The harm experienced by lesbian, bisexual and queer women has received much less attention.”

The blog also identifies the challenge of resources. LBT organizations are often overlooked for funding, given the emphasis in LGBTQI+ spaces on HIV/AIDS prevention and men who have sex with men. They are also marginalized in traditional “women’s rights” funding initiatives. 

The blog explores the inherent links between sexism and homophobia, noting how the ‘anti-gender’ movement seeks to roll back the gains of both feminists and LGBTQI+ activists. With their promotion of rigid gender roles and the idealization of the ‘traditional’ family, many conservative ideologues attack and demonize all who defy the traditional gender binary: feminists and LGBTQI+ advocates alike. 

Homophobia is a feminist issue because it is rooted in a heteropatriarchal framework. Our fight for gender justice demands reframing our political imaginations and an end to laws and practices that criminalize and violate women based on their sexual orientation.

This is a well-written advocacy piece. Its focus on Ghana gives it concreteness but the argument and calls for action are relevant beyond this specific country.

note: The article uses the term LBQ to refer to sexual identity. This framing is inclusive of lesbian, bisexual and/or queer women (cisgender and transgender) and/or all non-binary people who identify as LBQ.

Bonus mention

This collection of stories of feminist change, activism, and mobilization includes a chapter on how young feminists in Nigeria are active on queer issues. It quotes one young feminist: “feminism in Nigeria is now waking up to the fact that misogyny, homophobia, queerphobia, and poverty are interconnected.” It provides an encouraging overview of campaigns, organizations, and events highlighting feminist activism on LGBTQI+ issues and rights.

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