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Ending violence against sexual and gender minority women -- a critical development challenge

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A version of this blog post appeared on ICRW's Gender Lens blog on October 1, 2015, and the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations' Equality Blog on October 5, 2015. 

“Around the world, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities are targets of brutal physical and psychological violence. We are subject to harassment, assault and other violence; often under the guise of so-called 'honor,' 'tradition,' 'nations' and 'families.’ ”

This statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) Caucus of the Commission on the Status of Women reveals the violent reality for millions of LBT women around the globe -- violence they experience simply for not conforming to traditional norms around gender and sexuality. As has been echoed in various writings, "hegemonic masculinity," i.e. the dominant social position of heterosexual men, fuels strict gender norms and expectations surrounding women’s sexuality. For LBT women, this creates a specific vulnerability to violence driven by sexism as well as homophobia and transphobia.
Billboard in Jamaica
Photo: Jake Fagan, World Bank Group

Over the course of their lives, LBT women are at high risk for multiple forms of interpersonal violence committed against them by family members, classmates, intimate partners, neighbors, and strangers. From an early age, children who portray non-normative sexualities or expressions of gender are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse by a family member compared to their heterosexual siblings. For school-aged children, violence against LBT girls can run rampant due to abuse from teachers and peers, including homophobic verbal harassment, sexual and physical violence at school, and cyber-bullying. For adolescent and adult women, so-called "corrective rape" is a particularly repugnant practice that seeks to "cure" a lesbian or bisexual woman of her attraction to women by forcing her to have sex with a man or many men.  
In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that LGBT people are denied equal access to essential resources, services, and opportunities. These include: health care; education; housing; employment; and legal redress. Beyond being a violation of their fundamental rights, this deprivation has significant impacts on development outcomes at the individual, community, and national levels. In many countries, this exclusion stems from discriminatory laws, social stigma, or a combination of both. The denial of such access can perpetuate a cycle by which LBT women stay poor, marginalized, and vulnerable to further violence.
Despite this evidence, the bulk of discourse and action surrounding gender equality and women’s empowerment in the development community has assumed a normative notion of "woman" as heterosexual and cisgender. This means that LBT women are generally excluded from the critical dialogue that informs development programs and investments and the benefits that are derived from them, including actions aimed at reducing violence against women and girls. A gender equality agenda within the larger global goals of advancing economic development, eliminating extreme poverty, and boosting shared prosperity must address the root causes of inequalities as well as their consequences for women of all gender and sexual identities. Just last week, an unprecedented joint statement released by 12 UN agencies underscored that continued failure to protect LGBTI people from violence and discriminatory laws and practices will be a serious barrier to achievement of the newly announced Sustainable Development Goals.  This statement was a call to action for governments to do more to tackle homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination.
In recognition of the significant gap in attention paid to the needs of LBT women in development policy and practice, we wrote a brief for the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide, which provides guidance to help development professionals initiate, integrate and innovate effective solutions to prevent and respond to VAWG across all sectors. Our brief, launched last week, specifically examines violence against LBT women as an impediment to development with serious consequences for individual women, as well as their families, communities, and societies. It underscores that integrating prevention of and response to violence against LBT women into development projects requires an understanding of the legal, social, and epidemiological context of this violence as it relates to development programming.

Violence is a multi-faceted, core development issue, which requires a multi-faceted and multi-sectoral approach. Development projects across a wide range of sectors need to take into account the increased risks of violence and the limited access to resources and programming that many LBT women face. This reality has implications for decisions and actions that must be taken at the policy, institutional, and community levels.
Based on successful practices around the world, the brief provides recommendations for appropriate action at various level of society by presenting promising practices and entry points at the institutional, community, and policy levels. As development institutions and non-governmental organizations become more inclusive of LGBT people and offer more nuanced and targeted programs for oft excluded groups, we encourage you to use this brief as a resource to guide efforts to combat violence against women and girls and to promote more inclusive development programming.

Download the brief on violence against LBT women. For the entire series on Violence Against Women and Girls, visit the VAWG Resource Guide. This series is a joint venture between the World Bank Group, the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Research on Women. Follow us on Twitter @PhilofDelphi and @jmcsills. Follow the Resource Guide at #VAWGuide.


Jennifer McCleary-Sills

Director, Gender Violence and Rights, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

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