I recently had the pleasure (and challenge) of being part of a team of Research Assistants working for the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). My two colleagues and I were tasked with coding, analysing and summarising eighteen IDS Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme Evidence Reports under five thematic areas, one of which was ‘Economy, employment and livelihoods’. This blog post summarises a number of the findings and recommendations under this theme that came out of these reports.
The intersectionality of sexuality, inequality and poverty was a recurring subject. The reports traced the marginalisation that sexual and gender non-conforming persons experience in both education systems and labour markets. They argued that such discrimination is tantamount to structural violence as it denies LGBTQI persons and sex workers of livelihood opportunities and social protection services.
‘Exclusion can take the form of dismissal from work, expulsion from education and housing, and lack of access to services such as health and education and resources such as credit and humanitarian aid. It also means that there are no programmes or policies to protect same-sex attracted people from economic hardship, crime, disease or human rights violations’ (Overs 2015: 4).
The reports repeatedly cited cases of LGBTQI persons being forced to abandon their education as a result of homophobia, and how this has an adverse effect on their ability to enter the labour force (Mountian 2014: 15). In addition, they also highlighted the fact that even those who do manage to secure some form of employment often face discrimination in their work-places, as a result of the gender-biased nature of the labour force, which often favours male (or male perceived) employees. Consequently, LGBTQI persons find themselves often excluded from certain types of jobs and/or being forced to resign to escape the homophobia.
‘This negative impact translates into barriers to employment and therefore correlates with low socio-economic indicators that link poverty with poor levels of education. This research has shown that after suffering violence in schools, many LGBT people stop attending schools. Work for this group is then limited to the informal sector with its attendant precariousness’ (Mountian 2014: 15)
Therefore, sexual and gender non-conforming persons often resort to employment in either civil society organisations or the informal sector, at times doing work which is affirming of their desired orientation (GALANG Philippines 2013: 19; Overs
2013: 24; Coyle & Boyce 2015: 9). As a livelihood strategy many also join economic
subcultures and community-based income generating projects to supplement their
‘Additionally, the Santi Seva experience showed that sex work continued to be a primary or secondary occupation for some of the beneficiaries of the income-generation programme.35 This may be because sex work was a way of life for them, perhaps both a means of expressing a sexuality in social circumstances that offer limited opportunities to do this otherwise and/or a strategy of hedging ones’ economic risks borne out of distrust about the sustainability and transparency of civil society and government “development” programmes’ (Dhall & Boyce 2015: 25).
The reports also illustrated the extent to which laws criminalising sexual and gender non-conforming behaviours (and the resultant social stigma and discrimination) discourage professionals from working with LGBTQI persons and sex workers, out of fear of prosecution (Jjuuko & Tumwesige 2013: 10). This then further marginalises non-conforming persons from welfare services essential for their well-being (such as health and social protection services).
‘This imposition of liability flies in the face of the right to work, as professionals will have to watch their backs or prohibit the admission of persons who may identify as LGBTI or be forced to break the duties of confidentiality owed to clients’ (Jjuuko & Tumwesige 2013: 10).
In addition to being discriminated from accessing government services the reports also highlighted the commodification of sexual rights, which means only those who can purchase them can afford to enjoy them (Mountian 2014: 11). This speaks to the observation that sexual rights are now commonly associated with the expansion of the neo-liberal global economy, as they have come to largely be commodified (Coyle and Boyce 2015: 5). Consequently, sexual rights activism has also been commercialised to primarily serve upper class LGBTQI communities.
‘These kinds of socioeconomic changes have been associated with the emergence of queer social spaces and “LGBT identities” in Nepal particularly because such ways of experiencing the world in terms of sexual self-identity are often correlated to new forms of individualism that emerge through economic transitions and consumerism’ (Coyle & Boyce 2015: 6).
This not only sidelines lower-class gender and sexual non-conforming communities (often residing outside of cities), but it also impacts on the types of issues that are advocated for by LGBTQI non-governmental organisations.
‘The campaign for the legalisation of same-sex marriage brought many organisations together on LGBT rights. However, members of the LGBT community have different needs and priorities. Some members of transgender groups, for example, believe that their needs are largely ignored by LGBT organisations.
We are not interested in legalising same-sex marriage. As transgender people, we do not expect that we can have a long-term marriage. However, our primary concerns are jobs and sex changes. We cannot get good jobs because we dress and appear differently from the information on our identity card. Every day, some of us are dying because of sex change procedures. However, no one cares about these needs (Member of transgender group)’
This is an important reflection to make considering that the United States of America recently legalised same-sex marriages. Some of the recommendations proposed by the reports in addressing the above discussed are to:
- Lift laws which criminalise gender and sexual non-conforming persons (i.e. LGBTQI persons and sex workers) (Jjuuko & Tumwesige 2013; Overs 2015);
- Instead, implement gender and sexual diversity policies and laws that are not merely gender-neutral, but which specifically define and target the rights of the most marginalised non-conforming persons (GALANG Philippines 2015: 11-12);
- Recognise the intersectionality of sexuality, inequality and poverty when designing interventions (Dhall & Boyce 2015: 16);
- Dismantle heteronormativity in the education system, economy and social protection service delivery (Mountian 2014: 4);
- Develop a broad rights-based framework in addressing LGBTQI issues (Oosterhoff, Hoang et al. 2014: 35);
- Support ventures by LGBTQI micro-entrepreneurs, while helping them develop collaborative business models for sustainability (GALANG Philippines 2015: 19);
- Work with non-governmental organisations andunions in aiding informal sector workers access their labour and sexual rights (Overs 2013: 23);
- Form alliances with colleagues across the informal sector, in order to garner solidarity for sexual and gender rights advocacy.
Working on these reports has made me realise the extent to which social discrimination impacts on the livelihoods of gender and sexual non-conforming persons. It has also made it apparent that in designing any development intervention or policy to address this a holistic and yet context-specific approach is needed.
These findings represent just one particular strand of thinking that the IDS Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme has catalysed over the last four years and will form part of a number of policy briefs from this analysis published later this year that should prove useful to policy-makers, Governmental and activist audiences.
Ntokozo Yingwana is the Content Co-ordinator of the Open Knowledge and Digital Services Unit, a Research Assistant, and a Masters Gender and Development student at the IDS. She blogs about the ‘Nuances of Sex, Gender and Development’.