Inter Press ServiceLGBTQ – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 How a Venezuelan Living with HIV Could Change the Way Mexico Deals with Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/how-a-venezuelan-living-with-hiv-could-change-the-way-mexico-deals-with-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-venezuelan-living-with-hiv-could-change-the-way-mexico-deals-with-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/how-a-venezuelan-living-with-hiv-could-change-the-way-mexico-deals-with-refugees/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:03:46 +0000 Josefina Salomon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153662 Josefina Salomon is Media Manager at Amnesty International

The post How a Venezuelan Living with HIV Could Change the Way Mexico Deals with Refugees appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Daniel (not his real name), is a Venezuelan living with HIV. Mexico gave him refugee status, based on a humanitarian cause. Credit: Sergio Ortiz/ Amnistía Internacional

Daniel (not his real name), is a Venezuelan living with HIV. Mexico gave him refugee status, based on a humanitarian cause. Credit: Sergio Ortiz/ Amnistía Internacional

By Josefina Salomon
MEXICO CITY, Dec 21 2017 (IPS)

As Daniel*, a 26-year-old architect, stood before a visibly exhausted doctor in the main public hospital of the once-idyllic beach resort town of Isla Margarita, northern Venezuela, a terrifying premonition took hold of him.

“We are not doing tests until further notice. The machine is not working and we don’t have any reagents,” the man in the white coat told him.

It was early June 2015. Venezuela was on the verge of a humanitarian crisis that was forcing people to queue for basic food and medical supplies. A couple of days before, Daniel had been diagnosed with HIV during a routine health check.

The tests being discussed were essential to establish the type of treatment he needed. But the main hospital in one of the richest states in Venezuela did not have the necessary supplies to carry them out.

Josefina Salomon. Credit: Amnistía Internacional

Josefina Salomon. Credit: Amnistía Internacional

In much of the world, advances in treatment has meant HIV is now a chronic, manageable condition similar to diabetes, but in Venezuela it can now mean serious illness and risk of death.

Daniel’s premonition was brutally simple: no test. No treatment. No future.

 

The lack of everything

“Eventually doctors told me I was going to have to wait at least three months to have the tests done and start the treatment. I could not wait that long,” Daniel recalls.

In response to this crushing setback, he chose an option that most Venezuelans could not afford. He got hold of all the money he could, and went to a private health center.

But in Venezuela, where people can barely keep up with the ever-growing exchange rate and you need a couple of stacks of bills to buy a pizza, this was trickier than he thought.

At the time, Daniel made 180,000 bolivares (the Venezuelan currency) a month, way higher than the minimum salary which was then at nearly 10,000 bolivares. The test cost 120,000.

Daniel needed one test every four months to ensure he was receiving the right treatment.

After the tests, his doctors prescribed an anti-retroviral – vital to keeping his immune system strong and preventing opportunistic illnesses from wreaking havoc on the body – and multivitamins to keep his immune system healthy. With a diagnosis and a prescription, Daniel went on a quest across the country.

He eventually got hold of 30 pills, enough to last a month, but finding over-the-counter multivitamins was nearly impossible.

By 2015, understocked pharmacies were used to seeing clients with prescriptions for one medicine and a long list of alternative medicines.

According to a report by a coalition of social and health organizations in Venezuela, in 2015 most public hospitals had an 80% shortage of medicines and a 70% shortage of medical supplies. Meanwhile, 60% of equipment simply did not work, and more than 50% of health professionals had fled the country.

The situation has deteriorated even further since then. By March 2016, there was an 85% shortage of basic medicines and medical supplies across the country.

 

Humanitarian crisis

In Venezuela, 90% of medicines and medical supplies are imported. These are paid for with foreign currency, which is administered and tightly controlled by the state.

In 2010, when the Venezuelan economy began spiraling out of control, the late President Hugo Chavez restricted the amount of foreign currency it allocated to the health and food sectors. Between 2014 and 2015, his successor Nicolas Maduro cut it by 65%. With none of these drugs being produced domestically, over time seven out of every 10 medicines simply disappeared.

The crisis was exacerbated when, due to Venezuela’s growing debts since 2010, most international drug suppliers stopped selling to the country.

The government stopped publishing any kind of health statistics, including causes of death, at least three years ago. The number of deaths caused by the collapse of the country’s health system is therefore impossible to know, but experts fear the number might be in the thousands.

When it comes to HIV, the picture is even more dire.

Feliciano Reyna, founder of Acción Solidaria, a local organization responding to HIV & AIDS in the country, says the health system is in a critical state.

“We are going through a humanitarian crisis. In 2014, the government accepted medicines from the Panamerican Health Organization but they were not enough and there are no signs that there will be medicines available next year. We estimate that approximately 77,000 people will not have medicines after February. We have gone back decades,” he said from his office in Caracas.

Feliciano’s organization receives donations of medicines from private individuals which he gives to the hundreds of desperate people that knock on his door every day.

“The damage this situation causes is incalculable. The uncertainty, the anxiety. People might receive their medicines today but they do not know what they will do next month.”

 

 

Daniel's hands. Credit: Sergio Ortiz/Amnistía Internacional

Daniel’s hands. Credit: Sergio Ortiz/Amnistía Internacional

 

A life-changing letter

Life for Daniel became increasingly unbearable.

As months went by and prices for the tests he needed increased sharply, he began struggling to afford them. Working long hours at a studio in Isla Margarita, he didn’t have time to line up in seemingly endless queues in the few state-owned shops that sold food at “controlled prices”.

He grew more and more stressed and his health deteriorated. His weight dropped from 78kg to 64kg.

“Every time I went to have a test done, it would be 100 or 200% more expensive. I knew the time would come when I was not going to be able to pay the medical tests and consultations. That’s when I knew that the only option was to leave, at any cost,” he says.

When I meet Daniel in Mexico he is sitting behind a desk at his minimalist design studio in a small, bright house on the outskirts of Merida, southern Mexico. He shares the place with his partner, also from Venezuela.

Daniel is happy. He should be.

A few days earlier, he received a letter that would change his life.

It is a 21-page document from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid COMAR for its Spanish acronym), and it demonstrates a new trend in how the Mexican government decides who it will accept as a refugee, and who it won’t.

The document details the current state of affairs in Venezuela and argues that the lack of essential, life-saving medicines are part of the “massive human rights violations” in the country which merits Mexico granting asylum in this case.

Daniel’s story is one of a very small handful. He is one of the first Venezuelans to be taken by Mexico as a refugee on the basis of not being able to find life-saving medical treatment in his homeland.

Mexico has, in recent years, turned away more asylum seekers than it allows in. Most arrive from Central America, fleeing horrendous rates of violent crime.

Traditionally, in order to be considered a refugee in Mexico, an individual has to show that his or her life would be in danger at home, due to war or generalized violence. Being ill would not help anyone qualify as a refugee.

Daniel’s lawyers used a piece of legislation little known outside of Latin America – the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees – to argue that the lack of medicines in Venezuela posed such a risk to his life that it qualified as a “grave human rights violation”.
But Daniel’s lawyers used a piece of legislation little known outside of Latin America – the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees – to argue that the lack of medicines in Venezuela posed such a risk to his life that it qualified as a “grave human rights violation”.

Experts believe this technicality could open the door for thousands of Venezuelan refugees.

Carolina Carreño from Sin Fronteras, the organization that helped secure Daniel’s asylum, does not go overboard in her praise of the Mexican authorities.

“We celebrate that the government has taken this case, but they are just doing what the law says. There are still many challenges when it comes to the way refugees are treated in this country. There are problems when it comes to identifying the people who are in great need of international protection, and the help they need once they are taken as refugees.”

 

Mass exodus

Daniel’s desperation to leave the country is not unusual. The number of Venezuelans fleeing the country has rocketed in recent years.

According to the latest available data from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 100,000 Venezuelans applied for asylum across the world between January 2014 and October 2017 – the numbers doubling in the first half of 2017. Many Venezuelans feel the only way to escape the crisis is to leave home all together.

Mexico is among the top seven countries where Venezuelans are fleeing to, according to the UNHCR. The others are Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Spain and the USA.

However, the number of refugees is likely to be far higher as many flee to neighbouring countries – for example Colombia – and never apply for asylum.

According to figures from COMAR, just one Venezuelan applied for asylum in Mexico in 2013. In the first half of 2017, that number rose to 2676 – second only to the number of people applying for asylum from violence-ridden Honduras.

As the “Venezuelan exodus” has grown, countries in the Americas have tried to rise to the challenge and developed strategies to deal with the new influx of refugees.

Colombia, for example, created a special stay permit for Venezuelans who entered the country legally before July 2017 and had a stamped passport. This measure is supposed to benefit 210,000 people, however has only benefited about 65.000 people.

Brazil created a two-year temporary residence permit on humanitarian grounds, giving thousands of people the right to work.

In February 2017, Peru created a temporary residence permit which benefited 11,000 people.

But Mexico’s decision to give refugee status to Daniel, based on a humanitarian cause, left even his lawyers surprised.

 

A long way from home

Yet the journey from Venezuela to Mexico was far from smooth.

When Daniel arrived in Cancun in March 2017, his dreams of safety were cut short when immigration authorities detained him at the airport and rejected his claim for asylum – despite the fact that he had a thick folder full of documents proving that he needed protection.

Daniel was put on a plane back to Maracaibo, Venezuela.

But he didn’t give up. He couldn’t afford to.

Daniel and his partner, who was already living in Mexico, consulted with lawyers from a Mexican organization helping refugees. They spent three months developing a water-tight case.

Meanwhile, the situation in Venezuela had deteriorated even further.

Daniel’s neighborhood had become increasingly dangerous, and he had to walk 16km to the travel agency to buy a plane ticket to Mexico as there was no other form of transport available, nor gas for the cars.

“I realized we were reaching rock bottom. I was wondering what I was going to do if I had to stay there, to get hold of my medicines. There were many shops that were not even open because they were scared of being robbed and because people had no way of getting there. It was a bit apocalyptic.”

Daniel knew this attempt at asylum would be his last. He was not going to be able to gather the money to travel again.

Arriving at Mexico City airport in May 2017, he handed over a letter requesting asylum. He was let in. The next day, he went to COMAR to make a formal request for asylum.

Following three months of relentless interviews, where he repeatedly had to recall his predicament in Venezuela, Daniel finally received the asylum letter he had so desperately fought for.

He is now where he wanted to be. With his partner, working in a studio in Merida, and with good chance of living healthily with HIV. He has a future, and he hopes others will not be denied theirs.

“I never thought I was going to need to apply for asylum in another country. But today, I feel very lucky. I just ask governments to help other people like me – we only need a chance.”

 

*Not his real name

The post How a Venezuelan Living with HIV Could Change the Way Mexico Deals with Refugees appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/how-a-venezuelan-living-with-hiv-could-change-the-way-mexico-deals-with-refugees/feed/ 0
“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

The post “Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Society appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

The post “Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Society appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/feed/ 0
Despite Progress, Gay & Abortion Rights Face Threats in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 23:20:33 +0000 Gillian Kane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153396 Gillian Kane is a senior policy advisor for Ipas, an international women's reproductive health and rights organisation.

The post Despite Progress, Gay & Abortion Rights Face Threats in Latin America appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) pride march. Credit: OHCHR/Joseph Smida

By Gillian Kane
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Cancun, Mexico, of white sand beaches and spring break-style nightlife, was, this past June, the unusual backdrop for a regional gathering on human rights and democracy.

Tour buses accustomed to ferrying sandal-shod tourists to Mayan ruins, instead, transported well-heeled activists and government representatives from their hotels to the Centro de Convenciones.

Parked a few kilometers away, one bus, neon orange and passenger-less, stood out. The so-called “Freedom Bus” was emblazoned with massive letters; “Leave our children alone!” #dontmesswithourchildren.

It was, according to its organizers, designed to get the attention of delegates attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). They wanted attendees to know they were putting themselves on the line to resist all attempts by permissive governments to indoctrinate their children in the immoral principles of “gender ideology.” They were, they insisted, defending their religious and freedom of speech rights.

Never mind that there is no “gender ideology,” much less governments that are forcing children to learn inappropriate material. This bus is just one of many recent direct-action attempts by right-wing organizations to pedal a falsehood that governments, aided by well-endowed liberal foundations, are out to get your children.

The bus provides the arresting visual, but it’s what takes place inside the conference center that should raise our hackles. The concern for the wellbeing of children is a cover; what these organizations want to do is disable efforts to advance protections and rights for girls, women and LGBTI people.

The movement, which defines itself as in opposition to “gender ideology,” is a response to progress made in the last decade advancing human rights for vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, the decade has also seen an increase in the organizing power and political influence of conservative evangelical churches, especially in Central America, Mexico, and Brazil.

Latin America is the locus for much of the progress on LGBTI and abortion rights, both at the country and regional level. Same-sex marriages are legal in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.

And significant advances have been made to increase access to legal abortion in Argentina, Chile, Mexico City, Colombia, Bolivia and Uruguay. At the regional level, the OAS has been a champion for LGBTI rights as early as 2008, when it adopted its first resolution condemning violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

By 2011, the OAS had created a dedicated LGBTI Unit at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The progress did not go unchallenged.

Opponents of sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights in Latin America responded to victories directly, through both legislation and litigation. They also responded in more insidious ways.

Last year, in Brazil, ministries promoting equal rights for women and black communities were downgraded when they were folded into the Ministry of Justice, effectively neutralizing the ability of its leadership to negotiate or move forward any progressive policies.

The deliberate dismantling of government infrastructures that protect human rights is not endemic to Brazil. Indeed, it is a dedicated strategy of anti-rights organizations who are working to both coopt and fragment these spaces.

The OAS experienced this most fiercely at its 2013 General Assembly in Guatemala. For the first time this forum, which is historically a leader in advancing human rights, witnessed a coordinated movement forcefully agitating against reproductive and LGBTI rights.

Not coincidentally, it was also the year the OAS approved a convention against all forms of intolerance, racism and racial discrimination, which included protections for LGBTI people.

The following year, at the 2014 General Assembly in Paraguay, these same groups weren’t just oppositional to proposed human rights resolutions. They attempted to create new policies they claimed were rights-based, but were in fact camouflage to take away rights.

A proposed “family policy” included protection of life from conception, a well-used strategy to prevent access to abortion. Each subsequent assembly has been marked not just by the higher profile and activism of anti-rights groups, but also by a decrease in civility.

By the time of the 2016 General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, their ire was directed at transwomen. They felt sufficiently empowered to harass and intimidate transwomen who attended the Assembly as they entered women’s restrooms. Still, it’s clearly not sufficient to menace people inside the halls of diplomacy, but one must take the show on the road.

Cancun was not the first stop for the “Freedom Bus,” which had already made the rounds in Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The organized opposition to human rights plays out differently in each country context, but shared patterns of work are evident.

After identifying an opportunity to dismantle human rights mechanisms they see as favorable to women and LGBTI communities (women’s ministries, the OAS, etc.) they abandon facts and misrepresent the truth to advance an agenda that creates moral panic, and ultimately, that will motivate civil society and policy makers to support their regressive agenda.

These strong-arm tactics are shrinking the shared space for public discourse, and this is cause for alarm. They may have succeeded in raising their profile at the OAS, and enlisting conservative governments to support their agenda.

But they have not yet succeeded in shutting down the voices of progressives committed to human rights. The OAS continues to provide human rights activists and progressive governments the infrastructure to advance, and this must be preserved at all costs.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

The post Despite Progress, Gay & Abortion Rights Face Threats in Latin America appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america/feed/ 0
Global Interfaith LGBTIQ Leaders Convene at UN for Expert-level Dialoguehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 21:43:14 +0000 Patricia Ackerman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152638 Rev. Patricia Ackerman is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York, and the New York UN Representative for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The post Global Interfaith LGBTIQ Leaders Convene at UN for Expert-level Dialogue appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Rev. Patricia Ackerman is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York, and the New York UN Representative for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

By Rev. Patricia Ackerman
NEW YORK, Oct 20 2017 (IPS)

On September 29, 2017, Yvette Abrahams, an indigenous religious leader from Cape Town, South Africa who served as the country’s Commissioner For Gender Equality for five years, gasped when she learned that South Africa had just voted in favor of United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts. She could not believe that the United States had not.

Rev. Patricia Ackerman

Just the month before, waves of concern arose in her as she read the text of the Nashville Statement, an anti-LGBTIQ document authored by the conservative Christian Right in the US, with the aim of equipping pastors with a consolidated justification for excluding LGBTIQ people in both spiritual and civic life.

Abrahams herself has lived through the effects of US based anti-LGBTIQ efforts that are are exported to Africa, leading to deaths, rapes, and beatings. Working against anti-LGBTIQ violence in South Africa and across the continent has been her life’s work, so Abrahams immediately noted that many of the Nashville Statement signers had also funded anti-gay legislation across Africa.

This is why she plans to travel to the UN Headquarters in New York on October 26th for the Ethics of Reciprocity dialogue, to begin a meaningful and healing conversation with her religious opponents.

Abrahams is joined by LGBTIQ faith leaders around the world – including supporters of the Nashville Statement – for the first expert-level international discussion by interfaith LGBTIQ religious leaders at the UN about how to work together to end abuses, violence, beatings, and murders of LGBTIQ people, often because of religiously sanctioned beliefs.

Yvette Abrahams knows that this dialogue can save lives. She was a key player during End Hate Campaign in the South African West Cape, working to highlight hate violence against LBGTIQ people.

“As late as 2008 there were no monitoring mechanisms or reporting systems for such crimes, and political leaders did not even recognize this as a problem”. She recalls a conversation she had with a Ugandan activist:

“We realized we were both dealing with criminalization, and then police abuse, which made reporting almost impossible. In Uganda, the arrests of LBT/Kuchu people weren’t always recorded because the police were using sexuality to extort money instead of pressing charges – making it difficult to track police abuse.

She explained to me how if you’re arrested in Uganda, the police lock you up and intimidate you, and because they steal your money, they won’t report the arrest. This violence has been made invisible.

Abrahams is joined by an LGBTIQ Baptist minister from Uganda named Brian Byamukama, a Baptist minister from Uganda, who has seen first-hand how the efforts of the Christian Right at the UN have rippled out to his community. In Uganda, same-sex acts are punishable by death.

Abrahams and Byamukama recount the story of a Ugandan lesbian woman who was raped: “So many people – church people and members of my own family – told me that this was God’s way of punishing me for being a lesbian. Because I was unwilling to ‘change’, they said, God was using this method to teach me a very hard lesson…I was hurt in two ways; firstly I was dealing with the pain and humiliation of the rape, and secondly I suffered because of my people’s judgement.”

Both leaders say that rape as an ‘instrument of God’ is common in South Africa and Uganda. A number of conservative, moderate, and progressive religious organizations such as C-Fam, The Salvation Army, The Lutheran Church, numerous Catholic religious orders in consultation with the UN including Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Big Ocean Women, many other are attending.

Noticeably absent from the consultation will be the Office of the Holy See at the UN, the Vatican. Father Roger Landry, Attaché, has stated he “doubts they will attend.” About their participation in the UN event, Byamukama said: “This is where we stand together or fall apart. We cannot afford to waste energy fighting each other. The UN is the closest thing we have to a world government. It is where conversations about love and justice should happen on a planetary scale.”

Religious leaders participating at the Ethics of Reciprocity dialogue hail from Uganda, Malawi, Tajikistan, Hong Kong, Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil. This is the first time LGBTIQ faith leaders will be formally addressing communities at the UN, where international leaders will hear these stories from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Indigenous, and Buddhist faith traditions.

There was also the US’s recent affirmative vote in the UN resolution on a ban on the death penalty for homosexuality as a renewed call for religious leaders to commit to end to criminalization and violence of LGBTIQ people. “The death penalty for consensual same-sex acts currently exists in 13 countries, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear that all of us are born free and equal. It’s time for faith leaders to come together where we agree, which is to treat others the way we would like to be treated – free from violence. The golden rule of do unto others is something we can all agree on.”

The post Global Interfaith LGBTIQ Leaders Convene at UN for Expert-level Dialogue appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue/feed/ 0
President Trump at the UN: a Reactionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/president-trump-un-reaction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=president-trump-un-reaction http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/president-trump-un-reaction/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 05:40:37 +0000 Jessica Stern http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152147 Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International

The post President Trump at the UN: a Reaction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International

By Jessica Stern
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

On September 18 and 19, US President Donald Trump addressed world leaders at the opening of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly in New York.

Jessica Stern

Time and time again, President Trump has threatened to curtail the United States’ obligations to the international human rights system and to the United Nations itself. In his remarks, the word he said most often – “sovereignty” – underscored that his political agenda promotes political isolationism and undermines the global cooperation that protects vulnerable people from natural disasters, corrupt governments, and civil war.

As an organization that serves as a watchdog on the UN, we know that sovereignty is a term loaded with negative meaning. Sovereignty is often an excuse for States to ignore their obligation to protect the human rights of individuals, especially those that are most marginalized and vulnerable.

Reform in President Trump’s words is code for stripping the human rights system of much-needed resources. We believe the only reform that is truly needed puts LGBTIQ people and all vulnerable groups at the center of UN governance, human rights, and programs. The reform and resources we need would elevate the rights of the world’s most marginalized, open space for meaningful civil society participation, and invest in climate justice.

OutRight addressed the kinds of reform that would advance human rights and strengthen the UN today.

Reallocation of resources

The world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people shoulder the burden of poverty and discrimination, yet the UN currently fails to adequately address the needs of these populations. For example, UN Women, the lead agency addressing gender-based violence and gender justice, has one of the smallest budgets of all UN agencies. The UNDP proposed LGBTI Inclusion Index would aggregate global data about LGBTI people aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, but it remains woefully underfunded.

Increased investment in UN programs that work with marginalized and vulnerable populations is essential if the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, girls and LGBTI people are to be protected. Adequate funding is required to protect and promote the human rights of all women and girls, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics, indigenous, migrant, rural, and elderly people, as well as people with disabilities, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Access for civil society

Civil society access across the UN system is shrinking. In the last year alone, arbitrary and onerous restrictions on human rights defenders and organizations trying to utilize the UN have increased exponentially. Under these circumstances, civil society is unable to raise vital issues and act as a watchdog on States and UN officials, and the result is that transparency and accountability have been undermined. The very voices and people the United National claims to protect and serve are increasingly excluded from participating.

The reform needed would enable civil society to participate meaningfully in decision-making and for human rights defenders working at the international level to be protected from reprisals.

Greater investment in human rights and climate justice

Investment in security alone is not sufficient to protect human lives. Peace and security are achieved through the protection and promotion of human rights and climate justice. Every day, people’s fundamental rights are egregiously and persistently violated in ways that shock the conscience. Often the only recourse and access to justice for individuals’ whose rights are being undermined and disregarded at the country level are international rights structures. Global migration and food scarcity will only be exacerbated if the world does not put issues of climate change front and center in policymaking.

We call on UN Member States to increase commitment to the Office of Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, treaty bodies and special mechanisms. We call on Member States to fully ratify the Paris Agreement, uphold the “Call to Action” of the Oceans Conference, and support the Kyoto Protocols.

The post President Trump at the UN: a Reaction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/president-trump-un-reaction/feed/ 0
For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/#comments Tue, 11 Jul 2017 12:21:01 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151240 In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom. Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women […]

The post For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dream appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
India is a part of the FP2020 – a partnership to achieve SDG 3 & 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030

Sex workers in India’s Chennai city demonstrate their skills in slipping condoms on a phallus. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHENNAI/LONDON, Jul 11 2017 (IPS)

In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom.

Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women opens a box, takes out a handful of condoms and a wooden phallus. Sound of laughter fills the air as each woman takes her trurn to slip a condom over the phallus. It’s a rare, happy hour for these women who live a hard life as sex workers – a fact they carefully guard from their families.“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging. How can they ever afford any of these treatments?" --Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man

Baby, who only goes by the first name, is in her forties and the most experienced of all when it comes to demostrating condom skills. A peer educator, Baby has been teaching fellow sex workers all over the city of Chennai how to practice safe sex and protect themselves from both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Thanks to constant training and a generation of awareness, condoms are now part and parcel of almost all of the city’s 6,300 sex workers’ lives, she says. But their sexual health and protection from diseases still completely depend on their clients’ willingness to use a condom.

“We try our best to help the client understand that it is very important to wear a condom because that will keep us both safe from HIV and other infections like gonorrhea. But it needs some convincing. Most of them wear it only grudgingly,“ says Baby.

Female condoms – a mirage

India is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of condoms in the world. The government-owned Hindustan Latest Limited (HLL) produces over a billion condoms annually, including Nirodh. Of these, 650 million Nirodh condoms are given away annually free of cost for the safe sex campaign. But when it comes to female condoms, there is no free lunch and one must buy the condoms from a store.

AJ Hariharan is the founder and CEO of the Chennai-based Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), one of the largest NGOs in the country working for the welfare of sex workers. Hariharan says that female condoms could be of immense help for the sex workers, but are extremely hard to access because of steep pricing.

A pack of male condom costs around 25 rupees, while a female condom is priced at 59 and above. This is far beyond the reach of most sex workers whose daily earnings are 200-500 rupees, which goes to support their families.

“At the current price, a female condom is an out of reach luxury for poor women. They will never be able to able to use this which is a shame because the average sex workers really need female condoms,” Hariharan adds..

The reason behind the “great need” is both self-empowerment and money, he explains: it takes some time to explain to a client why he must wear a condom and then help him put it on. But this requires time and often, the couple may have to wait before the man has an erection again. With a female condom, business can be done faster as she can save both her time and energy and serve him quick. For those women who rent a place for work, this can be very helpful as she can be with multiple clients in few hours and spend less on rent.

Organizations like ICWO have asked the government for a free supply of female condoms, says Hariharan, but have not received any so far. “This is one of the biggest unmet needs and it must be looked seriously into,” he says.

Despite their inability to afford female condoms, the sex worker community is luckier than other marginalized people of the city as they regularly access sexual and reproductive health services.

“There are eight hospitals in the city where we can go for a regular health check-up that includes having an HIV and STI test and take condoms,” says Vasanthi, a sex worker.

Healthcare for the Transgender

But for another sexual minority – the 450,000 strong transgender community – even a regular health check-up remains a struggle.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding a doctor who can and is willing to understand our problems,” reveals Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man.

“The moment you walk into a hospital or a private clinic, the doctor will start judging your character and rebuke you for your sexual choice, instead of advising you what to do. It always starts with ‘why do you choose to be this way?’ After this, obviously you will never feel like opening up about your health issues,” Axom says.

Besides the moral policing, transgender community members also face uphill battles to afford healthcare including feminizing and masculinizing hormonal treatment.

Axom has been undergoing hormonal treatment. He hopes to have sex reassignment surgery – a multilayered medical treatment that will give him a prosthetic penis – and is spending over 10,000 dollars on the treatment. Thanks to his job in one of the world‘s biggest e-commerce firms, he can afford it, but for most others, such procedures remain a distant dream.

“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging,” Axom says. “How can they ever afford any of these treatments?“

FP2020, Commitments and Gaps

In 2012, India became a part of the FP2020 – a global partnership to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030. India had committed among other things to invest two billion dollars over eight years to reduce the unmet need and address “equity so that the poorest and most vulnerable population have more access to quality services and supplies.“

On July 11, representatives from the FP2020 partner countries are participating in a summit in London again to inform and analyse the current status of delivering those commitments made four years ago.

For India, this is a good chance to tell the world what it has really done and recommit to achieve the goals that it had set, says Lester Coutinho, Deputy Director of Family Planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Governments, including India, are now responding to the gaps in the commitments that they made. Adolescents and youths are one area, supply chain is another, money for purchasing commodities is the third. Giving counseling and information to women and young people is another. There are tangible solutions in these areas that the government can adopt,” says Coutinho.

Meanwhile, in Chennai, transsexual men and woman like Axom hope that one day the government will subsidize the SRS and hormonal treatment for transgenders.

“The Supreme Court of India recognized the transpeople as a third gender in 2014, so we are now entitled to equal rights and facilities as other citizens do. If the government can offer free surgeries for life-threatening diseases, why can’t we expect it to offer us subsidies on treatments that can remove threats to our identities and the restoration of a normality in our life?” asks Axom.

The post For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dream appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/feed/ 1
Will the UN “Leave No One Behind” and Improve LGBTI Health and Well-Being?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-the-un-leave-no-one-behind-and-improve-lgbti-health-and-well-being/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-un-leave-no-one-behind-and-improve-lgbti-health-and-well-being http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-the-un-leave-no-one-behind-and-improve-lgbti-health-and-well-being/#respond Mon, 10 Jul 2017 13:18:10 +0000 FelicityDaly http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151227 Dr Felicity Daly is the Global Research Coordinator for OutRight Action International

The post Will the UN “Leave No One Behind” and Improve LGBTI Health and Well-Being? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Will the UN “leave no one behind” and improve LGBTI health and well-being?

Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Dr Felicity Daly
NEW YORK, Jul 10 2017 (IPS)

While there has been progress in researching the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people and responding to certain emerging health threats in high-income countries – elsewhere in the world such research is inadequate and incomplete.

A new report published by OutRight Action International, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV highlights that wherever research has been conducted, LGBTI people’s health is shown to be consistently poorer than the general population.

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being, has been written in advance of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which convenes from 10-19 July 2017 at the United Nations in New York. At this meeting UN Member States will review progress on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – a plan of action for “people, planet and prosperity”.

The aspiration of the SDGs to “leave no one behind” can be utilized to improve the health and well-being of LGBTI. UN officials, former Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn, have made it clear that the SDGs are inclusive of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.

A new report published by OutRight Action International, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV highlights that wherever research has been conducted, LGBTI people’s health is shown to be consistently poorer than the general population.

A new report published by OutRight Action International, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV highlights that wherever research has been conducted, LGBTI people’s health is shown to be consistently poorer than the general population.

LGBTI people have the right to health – the same as all other people, and thus LGBTI health concerns should be included in the implementation of the health goal – SDG 3.

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being reviews data from low- and middle-income countries, which shows that compared with the general population gay, bisexual men and other men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to be living with HIV and transgender women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV.

The report notes that the health concerns of lesbian and bisexual women, trans and intersex people have all too often been overlooked and presents data which demonstrates that LGBTI people also experience: poor mental health, higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and inadequate funding for inclusive and effective health interventions.

The common drivers behind these health disparities are violence, criminalization, social exclusion and discrimination, including widespread discrimination LGBTI people experience in health care settings.

Ironically, this means that very often LGBTI people are rendered invisible in efforts to collect health data, which do not include questions about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics.

The lack of data poses problems in effectively targeting health services to help those in most need. While some high-income countries have effectively used research to inform HIV prevention and care for gay and bisexual men, and other affected populations this has not been the case in most countries.

Missing health data makes it harder for LGBTI people to advocate for resources they need and becomes an excuse for governments hostile to LGBTI populations to ignore the health needs of LGBTI people.

A systematic review of general population studies conducted in Australia, Europe, and North America found that compared with heterosexual people, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are at higher risk for mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation and deliberate self-harm
Moreover, data about LGBTI health overwhelmingly represents research conducted in high income countries where there has been social and legal progress for some sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a systematic review of general population studies conducted in Australia, Europe, and North America found that compared with heterosexual people, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are at higher risk for mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation and deliberate self-harm.

Data gaps are starkest in countries where discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and sex characteristics is entrenched in law.

There are no specific indicators in the SDG framework that measure the health specifically for LGBTI people. Nevertheless, states can voluntarily report on progress and we urge them to do so in order to live up to the commitment to “leave no one behind.”

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being details the type of data UN Member States should collect to effectively monitor implementation of the targets of SDG 3 in a way that improves the health and well-being of LGBTI people.

We want to ensure Member States ask the right questions in order to understand and monitor health and well-being among LGBTI people. We urge that they also focus on ending stigma and discrimination, which has a major detrimental impact on health and well-being, and also poses barriers to accessing health care services that LGBTI people need.

We stress that all Member States must repeal the laws, policies, and practices that criminalise same sex behaviour and limit the ability of people to express, and have legally recognised, their gender identity.

States must also prohibit non-consensual medical procedures, including intersex genital mutilation, forced sterilizations as requirements for gender recognition, and forced anal examinations.

LGBTI people are well aware of the health disparities taking hold and stealing lives in their communities, but insufficient evidence makes it harder to make a convincing case for health services to respond to these needs.

We hope more countries will accelerate a research revolution for LGBTI inclusion, which improves the health and well-being of these communities.

The post Will the UN “Leave No One Behind” and Improve LGBTI Health and Well-Being? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-the-un-leave-no-one-behind-and-improve-lgbti-health-and-well-being/feed/ 0
“Hate Group” Inclusion Shows UN Members Still Divided on LGBT Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 17:14:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149488 A group designated as a hate group for its “often violent rhetoric” against LGBTI rights was an invited member of the United States Official Delegation to the annual women’s meeting say rights groups. C-FAM – one of the invited members of the United States official delegation to the meeting – has been designated as an Anti-LGBT hate group by […]

The post “Hate Group” Inclusion Shows UN Members Still Divided on LGBT Rights appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

A group designated as a hate group for its “often violent rhetoric” against LGBTI rights was an invited member of the United States Official Delegation to the annual women’s meeting say rights groups.

C-FAM – one of the invited members of the United States official delegation to the meeting – has been designated as an Anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center “for its often violent rhetoric on LGBTQI rights” according to the International Women’s Health Coalition, who opposed the appointment.

Including C-Fam on the US delegation reflects ongoing disagreement between UN member states – and even within UN member states domestically – about the importance of including LGBTI rights within the UN’s work.

For the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) community, there were many reasons to come to this year’s annual women’s meeting with “battle scars,” and “eyes open” says Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

In a statement issued in response to C-Fam’s appointment to the US delegation, Stern said described C-Fam as an organisation with a “violent mentality” and said that “it is essential that the US uphold American values and prevent all forms of discrimination at the CSW” and that “the US government must ensure protection for the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Globally LGBTI people are among those most vulnerable to discrimination, violence and poverty.  Yet explicit references to LGBTI rights continue to be left out of major UN documents, including the annual outcome document of the CSW, Stern told IPS.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people," -- Pepe Julien Onzema

“The agreed conclusions of the CSW have never in all of its history ever made explicit reference to sexual orientation, gender identy or intersex status so that’s decades of systematic exclusion,” she told IPS.

“What we’re asking is that our allies in government and our allies in different civil society movements understand that we need them to stand up for and with us in demanding inclusive references to our needs.”

However Stern said that she was also “very happy to say” that there is ”extraordinarily strong representation of LBTI rights” in side events at the year’s meeting, which each year brings thousands of government and non-government representatives to New York.

LBTI representatives at this year’s meeting included Pepe Julien Onzema, a trans male Ugandan activist who was a presenter at a non-government side event on Wednesday.

Onzema told IPS that although he has seen some open-mindedness in including trans people in the feminist movement internationally that there are still some challenges.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people,” but Onzema added that thinks that there is still “a lot of work to do.”

“Even we as activists we are still looking at each others’ anatomy to qualify people for these spaces.”

However Onzema who was attending the CSW for the first time said that he had felt welcomed at the meeting:

“I’m receiving warmth from people who know I am trans, who know I am from Uganda,” he said.

The Ugandan government’s persecution of the Ugandan LGBTI community has received worldwide attention in recent years. International organisations both for and against LGBTI rights have also actively tried to influence the domestic situation in the East African nation.

The US Mission to the United Nations could not immediately be reached for comment on the inclusion of C-Fam in the US delegation.

The post “Hate Group” Inclusion Shows UN Members Still Divided on LGBT Rights appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights/feed/ 0
“The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/#respond Thu, 16 Mar 2017 20:07:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149456 UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13. At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and […]

The post “The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Women appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13.

At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and development.

“Without peace, no development is possible. And without development, no peace is achievable. But without women, neither peace nor development is possible,” said Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury.

Despite this, panelists noted that societies have long ignored women’s contributions.

According to an Oxfam report, women carry out up to 10 times more unpaid care work than men. This work is worth approximately $10 trillion per year, which is more than the gross domestic products (GDPs) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.

Research has also shown that almost 60 million unpaid workers are filling in the gaps caused by inadequate health services, majority of whom are women who have had to give up employment or education to carry out this role.

Chowdhury added that there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world if women had the same access to resources as men.

Panelists were particularly concerned with the lack of formal recognition of the human right to peace and the inclusion of women in this goal.

Canadian activist Douglas Roche explained the ‘human right to peace’ arose to address new “interconnected” challenges that the current human rights framework, which is based on a relationship between the State and the individual, is unable to do, including increased militarism by both State and non-State entities.

During the panel discussion, UN Independent Expert in the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas stated that the human right to peace also allows for the realization of the right to self-determination which is a “crucial conflict prevention strategy.”

After decades of struggling to gain consensus, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace in December. Though it was a significant accomplishment achieved largely due to a civil society initiative, many have expressed their disappointment in the document.

“The new declaration is falling far short of the expectation of civil society, many governments,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Among concerns about the declaration is its lack of reference to women which is only mentioned once in the 6 page document.

President of Hague Appeal for Peace and long time peace activist Cora Weiss criicised the document’s language, which calls for women’s “maximum participation.”

“It’s a slippery word,” she told participants, stressing the importance of “equal” inclusion of women to achieve peace.

Weiss was a national leader of the Women Strike for Peace, which organised the largest national women’s protest of the 20th century and contributed to the end of nuclear testing in the 1960s. She was also helped lead the anti-Vietnam war movement, including organising one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in 1969.

“There is no limit to the relationship between women and peace,” Weiss said.

Chowdhury, who led the initiative on Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Women at the peace table is a very important element at the UN and at the Security Council to take into account. Unless they value the 50 percent of humanity positively contributing to securing peace and security, it will move nowhere.”

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325, little has been done to enforce and implement it. No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

Panelists also criticised the absence of language around disarmament in the Declaration.

“How are you going to make peace in a world that is awash with weapons?” Weiss asked.

According the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and are owned by just nine countries. The Arms Control Association (ACA) estimates a higher inventory of 15,500, 90 percent of which belong to Russia and the United States. Almost 2000 of these warheads are on high alert and are ready to launch within minutes, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.

More general military spending also continues to dwarf resources provided to development activities including education.

In 2014, global military spending was approximately 1.8 trillion dollars while 26 billion dollars was provided to achieve education for all by the end of 2015.

Zayas highlighted the need to redirect resources used for war to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address other pressing socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

Chowdhury also told participants that a resolution on peace cannot and should not be adopted by vote.

“Peace is the ultimate goal of the UN,” he said.

The Declaration was approved with 131 vote for, 34 against, and with 19 abstentions, reflecting a lack of consensus on the subject.

Though he expressed fear that progress towards gender equality may be rolled back due to a reversal in trends, Chowdhury said the struggle will continue until the human right to peace is recognized and implemented.

CSW is the largest inter-governmental forum on women’s rights, bringing together civil society, academia, and governments. This year’s theme is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

The post “The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Women appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/feed/ 0
Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:27:56 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149442 Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups. The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday. Although the Executive Order […]

The post Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groups appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

A view of the General Assembly Hall during the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Stats of Women (CSW). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups.

The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday.

Although the Executive Order has not been re-enacted, women’s rights groups perceive that organising internationally is becoming more difficult. They report that some potential delegates were surprised that they were unable to obtain U.S. visas for the UN meeting; others were worried about increasingly strict treatment at U.S. airports; while others were prevented from travelling by their home countries.

The annual Commission on the Status of Women is usually one of the most vibrant and diverse meetings at UN headquarters in New York with hundreds of government ministers and thousands of delegates attending from around the world.

Sanam Amin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) told IPS that two members of the group’s delegation from from Bangladesh and Nepal, countries that “are not listed in the first or second version of (Trump’s travel) ban,” were unable to obtain visas.

“Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials,” said Amin.

Amin also said that she had “been in contact with UN Women in Bangladesh, in Bangkok (ESCAP) and in New York over the visa refusal issue,” for weeks before the meeting, trying to find a solution.

“Those who were refused were expected by us to speak or participate in our side events and meetings with partner organisations and official delegations.” The APWLD, is an NGO which has accreditation with the UN Economic and Social Chamber.

Others unable to attend the event include a youth activist from El Salvador who on Wednesday participated in a side-event she had been meant to speak at, via video. Meanwhile women’s rights activists Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman from Egypt were unable to attend because the Egyptian government has prevented them from leaving the country

"Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials," -- Sanam Amin.

Representatives from civil society having difficulties obtaining visas to travel to attend UN meetings in the United States pre-dates the current Trump-Republican Administration. The U.S. Department of State advised IPS that it could not comment on individual visa cases. However while there are many potential reasons why visas may be refused, several groups perceive travel becoming more difficult in 2017.

“It’s incredibly ominous to have women’s rights activists feel like the revised executive order and overall hate rhetoric from the Trump administration makes them feel unsafe coming to this CSW and that is what we have heard,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International told IPS.

“We’ve heard women’s rights activists say that they worried about how they would be treated at U.S. borders and airports. We heard LGBTI activists who were coming to this meeting also worry about their own safety.”

Both Stern and Amin expressed concern about the implications and meanings of the travel ban, even though the courts have continued to keep it on hold, because even the revised ban, specifically restricts travel for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“The ban text even cites violence against women – in section one – in the six countries as reason to ‘not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred’,” said Amin.

“In fact, it (would restrict) civil society from those very countries from participating in events such as CSW. Instead, their governments are emboldened to take more regressive positions on women’s human rights, and the U.S., with its Global Gag Rule among other anti-women policies, is taking its place side-by-side with the very countries it has targeted with the ban,” she said.

Stern added that the theme of this year’s CSW – the economic empowerment of women – should not be a politicised issue.

“(It) should be a non-partisan issue that every government in the world can get behind because every government has a vested interest in the eradication of poverty and national economic development and we know that women are the majority of the world’s poor and so if you empower women economically than you empower families communities and nations,” said Stern.

She emphasised the importance of the meeting as a global forum for people who are actively working for gender justice around the world to speak with governments.

At the CSW “thousands of activists for women’s rights and gender justice (speak) with every government of the world to say what struggles they have from their own governments and the kind of accountability that they expect from the international system,” says Stern.

The rights organisations sponsoring the No Borders on Gender Justice campaign include: MADRE, Just Associates (JASS), Center for Women’s Global Leadership, AWID, Urgent Action Fund, Women in Migration Network and OutRight Action International.

The post Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groups appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/feed/ 1
The United Nations and the Religious Right​http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%25e2%2580%258b http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:30:46 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149156 Religious advocacy groups have a long history of working with the United Nations, pushing back against progressive interpretations of the terms ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ as enshrined  in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That effort was seemingly rewarded in 2016 as more people voted across the globe for political parties promising conservative interpretations of both, […]

The post The United Nations and the Religious Right​ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Tolerance. Credit: Rebecca/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2017 (IPS)

Religious advocacy groups have a long history of working with the United Nations, pushing back against progressive interpretations of the terms ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ as enshrined  in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That effort was seemingly rewarded in 2016 as more people voted across the globe for political parties promising conservative interpretations of both, in stark contrast to moves by some countries in recent years to legalise same sex marriage and enhance protections for LGBTQI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex] people.

In 2017, the battle to define these terms both as they appear in the declaration and in law is growing increasingly fierce.

Like most advocacy directed at UN or Washington policy makers, lobbying by religious groups typically takes place behind the scenes, with success often measured in terms of whether or not progressive social policies get adopted.

Two of the most active and successful players are the World Congress of Families (WCF) – with its longstanding ties to African, Russian and Eastern European governments, as well as conservative US  politicians –  and the legal advocacy group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has  had many successes in international courts defending Judeo-Christian rights. Both organisations cite their consultative status at the UN as a key to their reputations.

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs says that, given the current political climate, WCF and its supporters have cause for optimism.

“There’s been a fundamental denial over the last 50 years that the family is needed,” he told IPS, referring to the diversification of family structure away from the ‘traditional’ or nuclear model favoured by conservatives towards a more open interpretation. “Much of it is a result of the agenda of sexual revolution lobbyists,” he added, a view also shared by many involved in religious social policy.

“I think one of our greatest successes is protecting Article 16.3 [The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State]. Other groups are trying to redefine existing mandates in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the idea that family is ‘natural’ is one of our biggest successes.”

Pope Francis echoed these sentiments during his address to the United Nations, describing the family as “the primary cell of any social development”. While Pope Francis has preached acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality, he has never shown support for the non-nuclear family or gender fluidity.

The WCF coordinates conservative groups and has been linked to major international policy shifts, such as Russia’s law prohibiting the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’, and Hungary’s ‘family-friendly’ policies. These moves have been linked to a rise in persecution of and violence against LGBTQI citizens. Members and associates of the group have been linked to the passage of laws outlawing homosexuality throughout Africa, and the failure of the Estrela Resolution to pass the European Parliament, a proposal to treat abortion as a human right and standardise sexual health education.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” -- Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May.

In the opposite corner to these groups, but likewise  drawing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  as the foundation for its  work, is  LGBTQI advocacy group Outright Action International. Outright argues that denying the expansion of ‘family’ beyond a nuclear structure and ‘marriage’ beyond a heterosexual union violates human rights.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” says Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May. “We felt very grateful for the support of [ex- UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon. He became a strong advocate for universality.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom joined the World Congress of Families in UN consultative status in 2014, with its declared aims to “help craft language that affirms religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. Chief counsel Benjamin Bull wrote: “ADF can now have a say when UN treaties and conventions are drafted that directly impact religious liberty and important matters related to the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.”

“No person – anywhere – should be punished simply for holding to Christian beliefs,” says Bull. Bull opposed Former UN Secretary-General Ban’s support for Ban’s LGBTQI rights arguing that it privileged “the demands of sexually confused individuals over the rights of other individuals.”

Cases for which ADF have advocated in the United States, Europe and in the Global South, most notably in Central and South America, have drawn accusations of human rights violations.

One key act during Ban’s tenure was the creation of a Special Rapporteur for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Inaugural appointee Vitit Muntarbhorn has been charged with identifying instances where human rights are violated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Muntarbhorn only narrowly kept his role after the legitimacy of the office was challenged twice by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting deep divisions within the UN’s membership on this issue.

“Vitit has a very focused brief so we’re excited to be working with him and other mandate holders,” says Outright’s May. “We’ll be looking to provide him and other experts with the best information available.”

WCF’s Larry Jacobs is keen to point out that, despite being designated a ‘hate group’ and ‘virulently anti-gay’ by both mainstream news media and human rights advocacy groups, he does not condone violence.

“We are not anti-gay. Homosexuals are the people that need a natural family the most. We are the ones that want to help the victims of the sexual revolution, the victims of divorce, the victims of people who have lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I think the question about homosexuality is ‘how do we deal with brokenness?’ ”

But May contests this. “We know throughout history that family units are not about one man, one women and two children. That’s quite a western construct. There are many examples of same-sex couple families with children that provide love. Human rights are applicable to the individual, and family units are very important, but they should never trump the right of the individual.”

“What we know about gender-based violence and LGBTQI rights are that they’re needed to protect an individual that might be at risk from their family. They have rights and obligations within human rights law and those rights should never be used to privilege heterosexuality.”

Despite their marked differences, both Jacobs and May are cautiously optimistic about the UN’s approach under new Secretary-General António Guterres, a man who forged his political and diplomatic career balancing socialist beliefs with his Catholic faith.

“We’d expect the incoming Secretary General would have the same interpretation of human rights law and traditional cultural values as Ban Ki Moon,” says May. “We feel very encouraged about his statements.”

“It’s a very exciting time,” concurs Jacobs. “Even when his party went against him on abortion, Guterres stayed true to his faith and his values. He wasn’t afraid to talk about the sanctity of human life from conception to death, so this is an exciting time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt Vitit Muntarbhorn’s name.

The post The United Nations and the Religious Right​ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/feed/ 2
New Mandate for LGBTI Rights at the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 18:05:34 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148892 The first-ever independent UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Thai lawyer Vivit Muntarbhorn, has already begun the process of open and transparent consultations with individuals, social organizations and States, although some of them still object to the mandate. Muntarbhorn, an international law Professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, has the mission of helping protect […]

The post New Mandate for LGBTI Rights at the UN appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

The first-ever independent UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Thai lawyer Vivit Muntarbhorn, has already begun the process of open and transparent consultations with individuals, social organizations and States, although some of them still object to the mandate.

Muntarbhorn, an international law Professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, has the mission of helping protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), who are victims of violence, hatred and discrimination in many countries.The new U.N. expert hopes to "invite a broader understanding of human diversity."

The Thai jurist, a graduate from English University of Oxford and a collaborator of several UN agencies since 1990, is now part of the special procedures system of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which safeguards the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and is made up of 57 experts, 43 thematic and 17 mandated by country.

Muntarbhorn began his work at the end of January, following a contentious vote in June 2016 at the UN Human Rights Council to set the mandate that world forum agencies and social organisations have been demanding for decades. Of the 47 States that make up the Council, 21 voted in favour, 18 against and six abstained.

The approved text “was watered down by a series of amendments led by regressive countries like Russia and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation such as Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Pooja Patel, researcher at the Geneva-based International Human Rights Service.

At the end of 2016, the independent expert’s mandate overcame other obstacles posed by African countries before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

On the other hand, Muntarbhorn received a strong support from social organisations as well as States, mainly from Latin America and Western Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

The European Union’s representative, Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan, emphasised the attitude of the seven Latin American countries -Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay– which presented the original resolution to create the mandate and defended it throughout harsh debates.

Following these discussions in the Council and in the General Assembly “the numbers and support for this mandate around the world has only grown,” said André du Plessis, an Advocacy Manager of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

Muntarbhorn acknowledged that the dissent among countries is important, but said he intends to establish consultations with all. “We are trying to strengthen and reinforce implementation of existing standards effectively,” he said in an interview with IPS.

The expert pointed out that the term “sexual orientation” is about “how we feel towards others and it’s an external dimension of what we are, while gender identity is the internal dimension of what we are, which may be different in terms of identity from the gender or sex assigned at birth. And this is very much to do with transgender persons.”

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

All people have sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), he reminded, “But SOGI are part of everyone. And the sad fact is that everybody has SOGI, but those who have a different SOGI are persecuted for being different from the perceived rather strict heterosexual male/female binary norm,” Muntarbhorn noted.

“And that’s inviting a broader understanding of human diversity, which has to come from a young age. And this is one way of preventing misunderstandings and misconceptions which ultimately may lead to violence and discrimination,” he added.

The expert’s immediate agenda includes a presentation to the Human Rights Council during its next session, from Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, as well as his first evaluation visit to a country, Argentina, from Mar. 1 to 10.

In his work plan, Muntarbhorn will emphasise “five areas interrelated and mutually reinforcing that are instrumental in the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“These linchpins are: decriminalisation, destigmatization, legal recognition of gender Identity, cultural inclusion with gender and sexual diversity and empathization.”

On decriminalisation, the expert said, “I think that there are 70 countries now that still criminalize and five to seven that still give the death penalty. This is a major concern. We need to dialogue well with these countries. ”

A 2015 ILGA report shows “Same-sex sexual acts – death penalty (13 States [or parts of]), six per cent of United Nation States.”

“Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia (Islamic law) and implemented countrywide (4): Africa: Sudan. Asia: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and implemented provincially (2): 12 northern states in Nigeria and the southern parts of Somalia,” the report details.

The death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia but not known to be implemented for same-sex behaviour specifically (5): Africa: Mauritania. Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE.

Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia implemented by local courts/vigilantes/non-State actors (2): Asia: Iraq and Daesh (ISIS / ISIL)-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Muntarbhorn noted that “there are also cases of countries where there may be a law criminalizing same sex relationships, affecting particularly gays. The very same countries are also very open about transgender people. And this is the reality at local level.”

“It’s very important not to generalize too much, but to look at the specifics and to try to improve across the board with fully human rights guarantees comply with international standards,” he said.

Since the 1980s nearly 15 countries have decriminalized, “so it’s really possible. And even 10 years ago or two years ago I wouldn’t have thought that an independent expert on SOGI would be here,” Muntarbhorn said.

Regarding the destigmatization, the expert recalled that “until 1990s, even at the international level gays were classified as mentally ill, when in reality they are only part of the human biodiversity.” That year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.

“But we still have this classification particularly as regards transgender persons and intersex persons. We want to find a way of moving forward respectful of people’s identity without stigmatizing them, without medicalizing the issue, without pathologizing the situation and classifying someone as mentally ill,” he said.

The legal recognition and gender identity is very much linked with trans persons as well as intersex persons to some extent, because trans persons want to have their identity recognized legally even though it may be a different identity from their sex at birth.

“So this also is very much linked to the compulsory surgery which is imposed on them if they wish to change their identity in several countries. But in other countries even the possibility of gender identity change is none at all,” Muntarbhorn said.

“Trans are being classified as males when they feel that they are female, they dress as female and encounter a lot of problems, including bullying, including stereotyping, including problems in bathrooms, problems going to immigration, and ultimately torture,” he said.

“A lot of transgender persons are killed even in countries that recognize transgender identity change,” he noted.

On cultural inclusion, “in the specific case of LGBTI, we have positive elements such as in some communities, transgender people are protected and valued, almost as gods and goddesses, in history,” the Thai jurist said. “But in other situations we have the negative traditional practices that kill, that harm, that persecute people who are different in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Muntarbhor found “that happens in many communities, including some application of certain interpretation of religious laws, as well as the remnants of colonial laws that used to criminalize these relationships.”

About the term of the “empathization,” the expert explained that he uses it “meaning nurturing empathy, a certain understanding, self-understanding, for other people so that we are humans.”

“And this means attitude, it means knowledge, it means mindset, and it’s to do with education, but more than education. It’s to do with socialization, it’s to do with linking up with families, communities, from a young age, so that we feel empathy, a certain understanding of those who are different from us in terms of gender and sexual diversity,” Muntarbhor concluded.

The post New Mandate for LGBTI Rights at the UN appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/feed/ 1
Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 Erika Guevara Rosas is Americas Director at Amnesty International.

The post Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rights appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rights appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/feed/ 1
A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality. Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing […]

The post A Women’s March on the World appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

The post A Women’s March on the World appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/feed/ 0
Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 Populist leaders pose a dangerous threat to human rights, fuelling and justifying intolerance and abuse across the world, said advocacy group Human Rights Watch during the launch of their annual global report. Among the many challenges the world faces today, Human Rights Watch particularly highlighted the rise of populist leaders and its accompanying rhetoric that […]

The post Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisation appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisation appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0
Nations Lose Bid to Block UN LGBTI Experthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/#respond Tue, 22 Nov 2016 21:29:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147892 Following a contentious and close vote, a UN General Assembly (UNGA) committee reaffirmed the right of a newly appointed UN expert addressing violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to continue his work. In June, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council authorized the first-ever independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity […]

The post Nations Lose Bid to Block UN LGBTI Expert appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post Nations Lose Bid to Block UN LGBTI Expert appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/feed/ 0
Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/#respond Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147144 Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit. A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very […]

The post Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

The post Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/feed/ 0
Displaced Youth: Selling Souls to Sex and Drugshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs/#respond Fri, 15 Jul 2016 14:44:37 +0000 Rose Delaney http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146072 Omar’s striking blue eyes and well-built physique are accentuated by his fashionable, tight-fitting apparel. At first glance, one would regard him as a carefree young man, blessed with the gifts of intellect and beauty. However, appearances can be deceptive. The traumas of war, displacement and isolation hang over Omar like an ominous shadow. In 2013, […]

The post Displaced Youth: Selling Souls to Sex and Drugs appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

From violence in refugee camps to the rise of Islamophobia, the gay Syrian community faces a multitude of challenges. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Jul 15 2016 (IPS)

Omar’s striking blue eyes and well-built physique are accentuated by his fashionable, tight-fitting apparel. At first glance, one would regard him as a carefree young man, blessed with the gifts of intellect and beauty. However, appearances can be deceptive. The traumas of war, displacement and isolation hang over Omar like an ominous shadow.

In 2013, triggered by the death of his best friend in the midst of bloody conflict, Omar fled Syria eventually landing in Germany. Desperately in search of a safe haven, he paid over 15 000 euro for a false Nordic passport which was later seized at the Hannover airport in Germany on his arrival. As one of the thousands of refugees, predominantly from Syria and Iraq, to flood into Germany in the past few years, Omar’s journey as a displaced youth has been far from easy.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugees as young as Omar are “Persons of Concern” and for the most part, their strife remains undocumented and underrepresented. In this case, the plight of a young displaced person was especially challenging for Omar who identifies himself as part of the gay community.

Although Omar arrived in Germany over three years ago, he claims every day of his life is spent reliving the bloodshed and warfare he bore witness to in Syria. “Every time I see a plane pass by, a jolt of pure fear passes through my body”. A lot of his anxiety is also rooted in his time spent at a refugee camp when he first arrived.

He described his feelings of social exclusion and frustration. “In the camp, I felt as if I had been captured and caged like a defeated lion. I remember trying to jump over the wall to get out…they locked up all the doors at 9 pm every night”.

The need to put on a “straight mask” to conceal his sexual orientation also acted as a form of incarceration for him. “I was less than a person, denied the right to express my true identity among my own people”. Men who openly identified themselves as gay in the camp or who were considered to be “feminine” by the other refugees were subjected to violence, torment, and humiliation.

Omar expressed happiness over the fact that in recent months many camps have been established solely concentrated on providing refuge to those who identify themselves as LGBT. He does not wish the grief gay refugees experienced in his camp on anyone.

The transition from his camp to government-funded accommodation in Berlin forced Omar to overcome many hurdles. The reality of his situation turned out to be a far cry from the “European dream” he had fantasized about in Syria. Then free to lead his own life, he quickly gave into vices and fell into the precarious world of drugs.

“During my first year, in order to send money home to my family, I began to sell drugs. I was one of many Syrians pushed into this underground business. Feelings of depression and desperation make young men like me fall into this trap”.

Omar explained that the “white” market could never give him enough to lead a sustainable life whilst funding his sister’s university education and maintaining the upkeep of his parents. Once well-to-do and affluent, his family had lost their prosperous business during the war in Syria.

“No one could ever understand how hard life is here for Syrians like me, my main priority is getting my sisters through education. At this point, I can only think of them, my family has been left with nothing.”

According to a study issued by the UNHCR on displaced youth, the majority of young refugees are obliged to take on the role of breadwinner for their families. They are seen as “the backbone of the community” left at home. This, in turn, has pushed displaced men like Omar to become involved in illegal trade and crime to provide for the bare necessities of their loved ones.

Unable to cope with the risks he exposed himself to, Omar abandoned the drug trade and went on to work in the local sex industry as a male escort. Although his family would have never accepted this choice, he emphasised the fact that “in times like these, you cannot think about love or respect.”

Ashamed about what he considered a “seedy” occupation, he began to tell friends and family that he was taking on modelling work to get by. Omar stated that within the gay community, the majority of Syrian refugees opt for the easy money that comes with the sex trade.

“One can typically earn between 100-150 euro per hour for this work. Finding an affluent man to be your “sugar daddy”, escorting and even porn” have all become ways for many of Omar’s displaced friends to support themselves and those depending on them back home.

Omar explained that even finding love can be difficult due to the recent rise of Islamophobia across Germany. On Grindr, a popular dating app used by the gay community, Omar and many of his friends have experienced discrimination and verbal abuse from other men using the service.

Omar receives messages such as “Go back home, we don’t want ISIS in our country” and “You’re a Muslim terrorist” on a daily basis. Whereas he once felt the need to hide his sexuality, he now feels it is more important to conceal his religion and nationality.

“When I first arrived, the German people were accommodating and kind-hearted, now they are taking to the streets in protest. They want us out, they believe we are all extremists.”

Now, Omar has left the dark underworld of sex and drugs that he feels in many ways dehumanized him. He’s hopeful for the future as he is now fluent in German and is working towards his goal of becoming a personal trainer.

When asked if he thought the conflict in Syria would end anytime soon he replied “A peaceful Syria is not possible in the near future. It’s in the same situation as Iraq. Religious intolerance leads to conflict, even though it’s a secular state. No one forgives and forgets, it’s a vicious circle.”

In spite of this, Omar still dreams about the day he can return to his homeland. “If the war stopped, I would go back to Syria in a heartbeat. However, speaking for the majority of the gay Syrian community, they are in no hurry to go back to a society that never accepted them in the first place”.

In this sense, although Europe has presented young gay refugees like Omar with a multitude of challenges, it has also provided them with refuge, stability and the first chance to be themselves and embrace their sexuality.

The post Displaced Youth: Selling Souls to Sex and Drugs appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs/feed/ 0
First Independent Expert To Tackle LGBTI Discrimination: “Historic Victory”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2016 19:48:48 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145910 Human rights groups have described the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) decision on Thursday to appoint an independent expert to target the ongoing discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people all over the world as a “historic victory.” “For LGBTI people everywhere who have fought so hard for this victory, take strength from […]

The post First Independent Expert To Tackle LGBTI Discrimination: “Historic Victory” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2016 (IPS)

Human rights groups have described the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) decision on Thursday to appoint an independent expert to target the ongoing discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people all over the world as a “historic victory.”

“For LGBTI people everywhere who have fought so hard for this victory, take strength from this recognition, and let today represent the dawn of a new day,” OutRight International’s executive director Jessica Stern said. OutRight International was one of 28 non-governmental groups which welcomed the resolution with a joint statement.

More than 600 nongovernmental organizations helped ensure that the HRC in Geneva adopted the resolution to “protect people against violence & discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

The establishment of an expert-position for these problems is a significant step since not all of the UN’s 193 members see eye to eye on LGBTI issues. “A UN Independent Expert sends a clear message that violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are a concern for the international community and need to be addressed by Member States,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told IPS.

With regard to compliance, Fisher said: “Of course, some States will decline to cooperate, which only underlines the need for the outreach work that an Independent Expert will conduct. Members of the Human Rights Council are required by a GA (General Assembly) resolution to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the biggest defenders of LGBT rights in the United States, expressed its approval, too. Jamil Dakwar, ACLU’s International Human Rights Director, told IPS the HRC resolution “is yet another affirmation that the promise of universal human rights leaves no one behind.”

"Transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity." -- John Fisher

He also emphasized that “even in a country like the United States, where some LGBT rights are legally recognized, recent events, including the tragic mass shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando and the post-marriage equality legislative backlash against transgender people, confirm that the human rights of LGBT communities are in dire need of attention and protection.”

Indeed, although many states are making progress, LGBTI people still face discrimination and violence. According to studies, between half and two thirds of LGBTI students in the US, UK and Thailand are bullied at school and thirty percent of them skip school to avoid the trouble.

Fisher said to IPS that “discrimination is faced in access to health, housing, education and employment, transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity.”

In the past years, violence, particularly against transgender people was shockingly common. For example, the 2014 report of the Anti-Violence Project showed that police violence was 7 times more likely to affect transgender people than non-transgenders. The 2015 report, released this June, revealed that 67 percent of victims of hate violence related killings of LGBTQ people were transgender.

A study released this week shows that there are 1.4 million transgender persons living in the United States: Twice as many as previously estimated. Although the US is slowly addressing some issues related to LGBT rights, such as removing barriers for transgender persons in the military some states have begun banning transgender people from using the bathroom according to the gender they identify with.

Human Rights Watch and others are happy to witness progress in states like the US and many Latin American countries. There was a clear pattern in the voting behavior of Thursday’s HRC meeting, too. No African and few Asian countries (only South Korea and Vietnam) voted in favor of the resolution. The 18 votes against the new resolution came among others from Russia, China and various Arab States.

The non-governmental actors who supported the resolution, however, also came from developing countries. “It is important to note that around 70 percent of the organizations are from the global south,” Yahia Zaidi of the MantiQitna Network said.

The resolution builds on previous HRC decisions in 2011 and 2014. In the newest draft, the independent expert is the most important innovation. Still, other parts of it were debated, too:

“Some amendments were adopted suggesting that cultural and religious values should be respected; these amendments could be interpreted as detracting from the universality of human rights. The resolution does, however, also include a provision from the outcome document of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, affirming the primacy of human rights,” Fisher reported from the council in Geneva.

The post First Independent Expert To Tackle LGBTI Discrimination: “Historic Victory” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/feed/ 1
Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#respond Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 Despite their contribution to social justice, civil society organisations came under “serious attack” in 109 countries in 2015, according to a new report published by CIVICUS Monday. “Civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly have been under serious attack in 109 countries around the world in 2015 alone,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of […]

The post Civil Society Under Serious Attack appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post Civil Society Under Serious Attack appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0