Strategies to curb violence against women too often exclude the experiences of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is marking this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women by highlighting the disproportionate violence and discrimination that many lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face, and calls on the World Bank to develop policies that consider the unique needs of these women.
The laws are changing but the violence remains
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have made great strides in the fight for full equality. As of today, 34 countries permit marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, and many other countries have passed vital non-discrimination protections. For example, in the United States, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 expanded non-discrimination protections for LGBT people to prohibit shelters and other domestic violence services from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sadly, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face disproportionate levels of violence at the hands of both strangers and intimate partners. A recent U.N. human rights report noted that LGBT people are at a disturbingly elevated risk of homicidal violence, highlighting the increased risk that lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face because of gender-based discrimination. Another study by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition estimates that transgender women in the United States face 4.3 times the risk of becoming homicide victims than the general population of women. Factors such as poverty or belonging to a racial minority exacerbated the incidence and rates of violence experienced. Transgender people are also more likely to experience violence from law enforcement, in homeless shelters, and in healthcare settings. The recent Transgender Day of Remembrance served as a stark reminder that transgender people around the world face disproportionate levels of violence: in the United States alone, at least 21 transgender people have been killed in 2015.
In Brazil, transgender women make up a disproportionately large percentage of the victims of hate-motivated violence and the country has the highest reported rate of fatal violence against transgender people. The average life expectancy for a transgender woman in Brazil is reportedly just 36 years. Transgender Brazilian women are often forced into survival sex work in the country or trafficked to Europe, where they face high risk of violence from clients. Transgender women are frequently subjected to appalling and often exceptionally cruel acts of violence. For instance, a large number of them were killed by methods such as stoning, suffocation and in hit-and-run attacks.
Beyond physical attacks: the many consequences of stigma and discrimination
The impact of violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women goes beyond the immediate effects of physical attacks. Lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face discrimination and criminalization in a variety of settings such as laws, healthcare, education and housing. 75 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relationships and up to ten countries have the death penalty for “homosexual conduct.” In every country, discrimination and stigma are a daily fact of life for most LGBT people.
2013 study revealed that 7.6% of lesbian couples in the United States live in poverty compared to 5.7% of married different-sex couples. Similarly, one-third of lesbian couples without a high school diploma were in poverty compared to 18.8% of different-sex couples. Because of social marginalization, transgender women become susceptible to violence, are likely to end up in poverty, may lack access to healthcare and many estimates suggest they are at 49 times higher risk of being HIV positive than the general population.
While the data are daunting, the World Bank can play an important role in improving the lives of LGBT people, including lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. For example, the Bank should consider bringing in staff that are specialized on LGBT issues, as it has for other marginalized groups. The Bank should also conduct more research on poverty faced by the LGBT community, with a view to informing how future projects address LGBT and poverty issues.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared, “All people, without exception, should be free to live a life of dignity no matter who they are or whom they love.” HRC will continue to work to ensure that lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women are protected from violence, discrimination, and stigma.