Inter Press Service » LGBTQ http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 01 Jul 2016 10:57:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 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/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0 Collective Indifference or Silent Acceptance?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:30:52 +0000 Moyukh Mahtab http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145773 By Moyukh Mahtab
Jun 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When blogger Rajib Haider was killed in 2013, the outcry was tremendous. But, over the next three years, at least 38 more were added to the list of those murdered, which includes writers, publisher, foreigners, religious minorities and LGBT rights activists. There have been reports about alleged IS involvement, and last week, the security forces launched a drive that resulted in the arrest of 194 ‘militants’. But the collective outrage over people being murdered seems to have mellowed.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

It’s almost as if there is a general indifference towards those being killed now – there has even been ‘doubts’ about whether the slain deserved their fate. Of course, most Muslims in this country are not radical in their belief. But certain attitudes towards minorities have made the situation worse. As long as there is an impression that many people find nothing wrong with the murder of those who might have differing beliefs, whoever is behind these killings, be it Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, JMB or even IS, are being ‘legitimised’ in their acts.

A recent article by The New York Times tries to explain the situation. The report quotes the Chief of the Police Counterterrorism Unit, Monirul Islam: “They have tried to pick their targets with care, with the aim of gaining support from the public. . . Their goal was to convert Bangladesh’s mixed secular and religious culture to an Islamist one.” The report does not inspire hope. Further comments from Monirul Islam and the reporter run along the same lines: “To a surprising extent, the militants have succeeded in their aim of discrediting secularism”; “In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill”. (“Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers”, NYT, June 8, 2016)

The killers seem to have achieved what they wanted. They targeted the deep-rooted cultural biases and attitudes of the largely Sunni Muslim population of the country. The moment bloggers of the Shahbagh movement became branded as ‘atheists’, the public outrage over fanaticism shifted. A pervasive fear has taken hold that Islam is somehow under threat, and eliminating elements that supposedly run counter to the religion need to be discarded. In the week of the police crackdown on militancy, a Hindu college teacher was stabbed in Madaripur, and staff of Ramakrishna Mission received death threats. And yet, the majority of the people remain unconcerned.

And here we must confront some uncomfortable issues. Despite our loud proclamations of being a secularist country, are we truly, by any definition secular? Our Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and safeguards against persecution due to religious belief. Secularism entails official neutrality of the state in matters of religion: that is religion is a personal issue, not a state one.

Yet, our minorities have been marginalised over the past four decades and the country’s Hindu population is on a decline (from about 30 percent before ’71 to less than 10 percent today). Since independence, secularism as a basic principle of the Constitution was removed, a state religion was ordained, and now we have the conflicting state of both being there at the same time.

Institutions like the Awami Olama League can today demand removal of Hindu ministers and judges with impunity and still operate under the AL banner. Age-old traditions of celebrating Pahela Baishakh are challenged as being un-Islamic. There has been increasing pressure from sections of society trying to impose parochial values and codes on women in the name of religious decency. Just this week a post that sparked a lot of debate on social media exemplified the manifestation of our belief when a woman was abused verbally on the road for driving a car instead of being at home, preparing iftari. The abuse was met with support of the general onlookers, as they berated the woman for not being at home, where she belonged.

Clearly, the state of affairs did not develop overnight; ghosts of unresolved communal issues, stretching from 1971 to as far as at least 1947, and the post-independence coups and countercoups have resulted in a fragile and fragmented society with serious identity issues. We seem to be grappling with the question of who we are. Instead of our identity being based on our roots in this country, with the corresponding effect of apathy and hostility towards not just other religions, but also towards other Islamic schools of thought like those of Shias and Ahmeddiyas. The root of the problem is that increasing number of people, including students, from universities and madrasas, are becoming radicalised.

On top of that, the educated liberal elites’ defensive stance on the issue has created further confusion. The Islamophobia in the West, and the repercussion of US foreign policy, has meant that Muslims here have been active in refuting the terrorist association with Islam. But, what they seem to miss is that the Islamophobia of Trump in a country where Muslims are a minority, and the case of a country like Bangladesh with a Muslim majority are not the same. Islam does not promote terrorism and killings in any form. That does not mean that certain schools of thought have not misinterpreted the religion in justifying vile acts. The flagging of all Muslims as terrorists is reprehensible, as is refusing to deal with the fact that in the name of the religion, actions are being carried out that go against its core values.

The previously mentioned New York Times article quotes authorities in Bangladesh as saying: “Only when the leaders are caught will the attacks be stopped, and at that, only for a while if the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is not blunted.” Collectively, we are indifferent towards those being hunted down and butchered. We refuse to acknowledge the issues that plague our society. Religion is not at fault here. The problem is with how religion is being interpreted by some people; the killers are being used as pawns, while the general people stand aloof. As long as we do not confront our exclusionary beliefs and accept that people with different beliefs than ours live in this country, no amount of anti-militancy drives or constitutional amendments can stop the killings.

The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Fearing Violence, LGBT Refugees Rarely Seek Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/feed/ 0 Majority of Vulnerable Refugees Will Not Be Resettled in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:18:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145669 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/feed/ 0 AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145610 A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

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Youth Leaders Push for More Progressive Action to End HIV AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 23:26:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145592 Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet their concerns about sexual education, and discrimination of key populations were ignored at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS.

Although the overall number of AIDS-related deaths is down 35 percent since 2005, estimates suggest that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents are actually rising.

In fact, AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.

Young people’s vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by a lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services and by exclusion from decision making processes.

At the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS this week, Member States adopted a new political declatarion focusing on the Fast-Track approach to fighting HIV and ending AIDS by 2030. Fast-Track is driven by the 90–90–90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation."

But youth delegates say that issues of stigma, discrimination, and sexual education were not given the importance they should have in the declaration since youth were not included in the negotiations.

“The concept of 90-90-90 is amazing, but in practice without access to sexual education or participation of key populations and young people, the goals are unrealistic,” said Peter Mladenov, one youth representative from Youth Peer Educational Network.

At the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, there were 20 young people representing different organisations.

“Unfortunately, all youth representatives were excluded from the negotiations on the high level meeting on Aids political declaration,” said Mladenov.

“Our wishes were not heard and the rights were not promoted since in the final document we did not see any sexuality education, or mentioning of key populations.”

Mladenov is an expert on youth policies and has been a youth advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Rights  and Comprehensive Sexual Education for the past 10 years. At the age of 14, he was invited to join a class on sexual education in school which he says changed his life and began his journey with sexual health and reproductive rights advocacy.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV / AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation.”

“Sex ed is not only about the sex, it is about the informed choice of each young person, understanding the changes in your body, a young girl having the right to say no to marriage at age 15, an instrument to prevent child abuse or female genital mutilation.”

Mladenov says sexual education can help end stigma and discrimination.

“It is nice that we are progressing, same-sex marriage is approved in different countries and shows that the world is changing for the better. But there is still a long way to go, people with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. When someone discriminates against a person it is usually because they are afraid of something, which is why sexual education is so important.”

Another youth leader attending the meeting was Annah Sango from the HIV Young Leaders Fund Board:

“Sexual rights really are human rights, because when it comes to talking about my body and my health and well being, it is not an issue of a statistic, but what I live each and every day,” said Sango.

“It is every young person’s need and right to be in your own country, and be able to know you have access to health and to know that the justice system is working for you, not against you.”

Sango grew up seeing how disadvantaged young people are, and how sometimes culture, society and tradition play a very crucial role in the lives of young people as much as the economic aspects. When asked what she would have wanted in the declaration, she said it was important to ensure that countries aren’t allowed to hide behind culture and religion, and rather have an open mind to the issues in their countries. She also said that member states should have given clear-cut strategies to address some of the pertinent issues facing young people.

Sango is also Advocacy Officer for the African Network of Young People living with HIV (AY+) which heavily advocates for Comprehensive Sexual Education and supports young people to dispel disinformation which drive stigma and discrimination.

“We cannot talk about AIDS whilst excluding young people and key populations. At country level, the agreement needs to reflect the face of HIV: young people that face violence, the millions of young people that have died because of their sexuality, the reality of teenage pregnancies, and of adolescents who are dying because they cannot be identified.”

Sango also said the negotiations for the declaration were very exclusive of youth voices, however she is optimistic that in the future youth will be included at the national level.

“I am confident that whatever goals, whatever agendas we are working towards, we will be able to achieve them if we include the right people to lead and champion the agenda,” said Sango.

Mladenov was also optimistic that about young people’s participation.

“Many people say that young people are the future, but that is not correct – we are the present, and we should be the ones who drive the sustainable development agenda to its accomplishment.” Mladenov told IPS.

“Although we don’t have what we want in the political declaration, we have the will, the power, and motivation to do it. The youth working on the local and national level should not be afraid to take up the floor, to go to their ministries, to demand that they involve youth as equal partners in implementing the declaration.”

“We should not forget that these people were elected by us, they are accountable to us, not vice-versa. If we have more governments really involving young people, we can achieve sustainable development.”

“Young people should be the agents of change, they should be the ones who push their governments to do something for them because they already agreed to with this declaration.”

“I dream for a day when I will not hear about a person coming from an LGBT community who is harassed, or a young woman or girl who is somehow violated, or a young person is excluded.”

IPS also spoke to Sharonann Lynch, HIV/Tuberculosis (TB) policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign.

“In many countries where MSF works, young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, are most at risk of contracting HIV,” said Lynch. “For example, in Lesotho, the prevalence of HIV will multiply by 5 in the next 7 years among adolescent girls from the age of 15 to 22. So the question for the region is what can we put in place as soon as possible to provide life-saving treatment as well as prevention.” Lynch told IPS.

“Youth are critical to combat stigma by creating more visibility. Young people can combat stigma by being out about their HIV status, demanding not only a voice but also acceptance in their communities. But governments need to make sure they take steps to reduce stigma and discrimination as well.”

 

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A Triple Threat in the Fight Against AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:28:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145554 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/feed/ 1 Transgender in Pakistan: A “Forgotten People”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 13:04:08 +0000 Alec Forss and Humaira Israr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145423 Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

By Alec Forss and Humaira Israr
ISLAMABAD, Jun 3 2016 (IPS)

At an open market in the district of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, Miss Bindiya Rana, 35, starts another day at work selling clothes. Living in one of the poorer parts of the city, like many others here she faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. Yet, of strong build with dyed hair and wearing heavy make-up, she and others like her face a bigger challenge than most.

Part of the transgender or hijra community, social stigma and discrimination make them outcasts in Pakistan’s highly conservative society. While there are no official precise figures on the number of transgender or third-gender people living in the country, estimates range from 80,000 to 350,000-500,000, with perhaps 60-70,000 in Karachi alone.

From a lower middle-class family, Rana first became aware of her identity as a child. In public she dressed like a boy, but alone in her room she would wear girl’s clothes, lipstick and practise dancing. After running away from home for two months, her parents gradually came to accept her identity. Most are not so lucky. Shunned by their families, many have no option but to join close-knit hijra communities led by older gurus who take on the role of ersatz guardians, offering them protection.  

With few completing formal education, employment opportunities are limited. Many have to endure ridicule by dancing openly in the streets or at weddings to scrape by a living, or resort simply to begging. Others are involved in sex work with little education about safe sex and the dangers of HIV.

Vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse, they also have to bear the humiliating attitude of police officers, doctors at hospitals, and public officials, complains Rana. Reports of beatings and other forms of violence directed against them are commonplace.

On May 25, a transgender individual by the name of Alisha died in a hospital in Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after succumbing to gunshot wounds, with some blaming delayed medical care for her death after other patients allegedly complained and doctors debated whether she belonged in the male or female ward. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, it is the fifth reported case of violence in the province against transgenders this year.

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Times wrote that, “In the light of apathetic attitude and its justification by hospital authorities, it would not be farfetched to conclude that an abhorrent form of apartheid mentality prevails in Pakistan in which transgenders elicit such contempt that their lives are not given even an iota of value.”

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Pakistan’s hijras have faced a long battle to be accepted as full citizens with equal rights according to the country’s constitution. In 2012, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court decreed that they be issued with computerized national identity cards, thus for the first time officially listing their existence as a legal third gender.

“We were in seventh heaven,” said Rana of the decision conferring many of the same rights, such as voting, property, and inheritance, as other citizens.

However, the National Database and Registration Authority, charged with issuing the cards under the Ministry of Interior, initially dragged its feet, requesting that they undergo humiliating medical examinations first.

“We came out onto the streets protesting and managed to overturn the decision,” said Rana.

Nevertheless, more than four years on, many still do not have cards. One of the main obstacles is that cards can only be issued to those with biological parents or those officially adopted with proper documentation. For those who have been ostracized by or run away from their families (or simply did not know them as they joined hijra communities when very young), this proves an impossibility. Furthermore, the gurus are not considered to be parents by the registration authorities.

But to tackle the issue, no interim arrangement has been devised by the establishment. The continued non-provision of cards means that many continue to be deprived of full civil rights as well as enrolment in the Benazir Income Support Program (social security program) and free National Health Program.

Other attempts to improve the status of hijras through affirmative employment policies and increasing opportunities have also proven insufficient, poorly paid, or even derogatory. The regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to employing hijras for debt collection by instructing them to dance outside debtors’ doors and so shame them into paying up. “It was very humiliating for us,” explains Rana.

Despite the progress made, Rana remains frustrated at the lack of support and hostile attitudes. One of five transgender candidates in Pakistan’s general elections in May 2013 (the first time in the country’s history that hijras could run), she ran and lost as an independent candidate to Sindh Provincial Assembly.

“Instead of supporting me, people mocked me in every way possible,” she says.

Determined to improve the plight of Karachi’s hirja, she established her own NGO in 2009 called Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan, which seeks to provide shelter, employment, basic skills training, and even a telephone helpline. “We are the forgotten people,” she says, but “I will fight for our equal rights until the end.”

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LGBT Communities Silenced in HIV Reduction Effortshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:54:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145413 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/feed/ 0 Musicians Champion LGBT Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:24:20 +0000 Lydia Matata http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/feed/ 0 HIV Time Bomb Ticks Onhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/hiv-time-bomb-ticks-on/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiv-time-bomb-ticks-on http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/hiv-time-bomb-ticks-on/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 06:48:39 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144746 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/hiv-time-bomb-ticks-on/feed/ 0 After 25-Year Ban, Gays & Lesbians March in St Patrick’s Day Paradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/after-25-year-ban-gays-lesbians-march-in-st-patricks-day-parade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-25-year-ban-gays-lesbians-march-in-st-patricks-day-parade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/after-25-year-ban-gays-lesbians-march-in-st-patricks-day-parade/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 20:41:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144502 By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Mar 18 2016 (IPS)

This year’s annual St Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue was a historic event marking the end of a 25-year ban on gays and lesbians.

The participants in the parade, described as one of the world’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage, included hundreds of gay Irish activists led by the Lavender and Green Alliance (LGA). “We too are Irish. We are your sons. We are your brothers, your sisters,” said LGA co-founder Brendan Fay—even as onlookers cheered the banner-wielding activists.

He told reporters: “When we began this struggle, I never imagined that one day I would be stepping up Fifth Avenue with my married spouse.”

The banners hailing gay pride was in marked contrast to last year’s parade where one prominent sign read: “Embraced in Ireland. Banned in New York City.” Last year, Ireland legalized same sex marriage in a nation-wide referendum.

The participation of gays and lesbians was preceded by two years of negotiations between parade organizers and local politicians. A strong push for the participation of the gay community came not only from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio but also the Consul General for Ireland Barbara Jones.

The Mayor, who had skipped the parade in previous years in solidarity with gays and lesbians, marched alongside several City officials. “For the last two decades, there’s been a blemish on this city,” he said, adding “Who are we a New Yorkers?. It is our nature to embrace and support all peoples.”

Among the participants in the parade was Christine Quinn, the first openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council. Over the years, she was arrested multiple times for protesting the ban.

The only strong opposition to the gay and lesbian march came from the Catholic League, whose president, Bill Donohue, called the parade “a disgrace”. “This crap about being inclusive… I think is sickening. I’ll never march again,” he said.

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African Nations & Russia Protest UN Stamps on Gay, Lesbian Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/african-nations-russia-protest-un-stamps-on-gay-lesbian-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-nations-russia-protest-un-stamps-on-gay-lesbian-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/african-nations-russia-protest-un-stamps-on-gay-lesbian-rights/#comments Tue, 15 Mar 2016 21:22:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144196 UN Free and Equal postage stamps – promoting LGBT equality worldwide. Source: UNPA

UN Free and Equal postage stamps – promoting LGBT equality worldwide. Source: UNPA

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

When the UN Postal Administration recently unveiled a set of six new commemorative stamps — as part of a global campaign promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities — it did not expect a furious backlash as it did, mostly from the 54 members of the African Group and from Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council.

Speaking on behalf of the African Group at the UN, Justin Kisoka a Minister Counselor at the Tanzanian Mission to the United Nations, expressed his “very serious” concern at the Secretary-General’s “alarming” introduction, printing and circulation of stamps under the “Free and Equal” campaign.

The release of the new stamps, he said, “contravened the United Nations’ principles, as well as the culture, norms and beliefs of many Member States, casting a shadow on the adherence to rules and regulations governing use of the United Nations logo and resources.”

Addressing the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (also known as the Fifth Committee) last week, he went one step further “demanding the campaign’s immediate cessation” and also requested implementation of accountability measures, including recovery of the funds used to finance the stamp campaign.

He also demanded that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provide details on the funds used for the campaign, as well as on the related rules and regulations.

Asked for his comments, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “You’re aware of the Secretary-General’s strong and consistent support for the Free and Equal campaign and his belief that the human rights of all people must be upheld.”

Beyond that, he said, “I’d have no further comment on the stamps issue.”

Backing the African Group, Sergey Khalizov of the Russian Federation said the Secretary-General’s activities “had caused serious issues for a range of delegations.”

He said consideration of the use of resources from the UN’s regular budget was a Fifth Committee prerogative.

He questioned the justification of mandates of leading UN bodies and said he was ready to engage in a discussion in the Committee on several issues raised by the African Group.

The campaign for LGBT rights is being led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director, LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the stamps were published within the framework of the Free and Equal Campaign of the United Nations.

“They reflect that fundamental rights like the freedom of expression, the right to privacy and non-discrimination, belong to each individual, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is.”

He pointed out that the stamps reflect the spirit of two UN resolutions adopted in 2011 and 2015 by the UN Human Rights Council denouncing discrimination and violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Instead of attacking the UN for publishing a series of stamps, the African group and Russia should focus on eliminating discrimination and violence against LGBT people in their countries,” declared Dittrich.

Currently, there is a list of some 79 countries with anti-gay laws, 34 of them in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Botswana, and Tanzania.

In an interview, the artist who designed the stamps was quoted as saying he was heavily influenced by art from the first quarter of the 20th Century.

Sergio Baradat, who is of Cuban background, said his style stems from his appreciation for French Art Deco and growing up in Miami, Florida.

“One of the stamps represents someone who is transgender,” Baradat told UN Radio, referring to the stamp that depicts a person with butterfly wings, an image he says represents a person “becoming who they really are, blossoming.”

“We live in a world where even though [developed] nations have embraced marriage equality [and] LBGT equality, we still have a far, far, far way to go, but we are making some strides,” he added.

“There are some countries in the world right now where not only are we not celebrated or respected, but we are beaten and killed. And I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity using art, to use postage stamps as a vehicle – using art to change hearts and minds.”

He also stressed that LGBT rights are human rights and that all individuals deserve to be treated equally and fairly under the law.

The series is co-sponsored by the permanent missions of Argentina, Australia, Chile, El Salvador, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, the UK, the United States, and Uruguay, the delegation of the European Union, in addition to OHCHR and the UN Postal Administration.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Repressive NGO Acthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/repressive-ngo-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=repressive-ngo-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/repressive-ngo-act/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 06:46:56 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144129 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/repressive-ngo-act/feed/ 0 The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143683

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women

(End)

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Gay Cruising Spots a Challenge for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-cruising-spots-a-challenge-for-hivaids-prevention-in-cuba/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2015 22:21:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142997 At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 13 2015 (IPS)

When night falls, young men can be seen sitting on a dismantled bus stop on a remote hill far from the centre of the Cuban capital. Later they climb uphill to have sex with other men in the thick forest.

“On my way home from work, I go by that place, and I always see people gathered at the old bus stop,” 36-year-old biologist Daniel Hernández told IPS. The spot he was talking about is near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood.

“People have lost their inhibitions. I can see they’re more out in the open in that area, where everyone knows why people go there. They’re not so afraid anymore,” said Hernández, who is himself gay and says he has occasionally gone there and to similar gay cruising spots in Havana.

Remote, isolated spots in Cuba’s cities, like forests, coastal areas or abandoned buildings, are colonised at night by men seeking quick anonymous sex with other men.

These cruising spots, known here as “potajeras”, represent a challenge for the work of prevention of HIV/AIDS, say activists, researchers and men who have sex with men (MSM) who spoke to IPS.

“I have witnessed unprotected group sex. All kinds of people go there, and not everyone has an awareness about the epidemic,” said Hernández, who described the potajeras as “key to the spread” of HIV/AIDS.

In his view, gay meeting places are necessary, but “not the remote spots that exist, where people are extremely unprotected due to the risk of infection and violence.”

The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is low – just 0.1 percent, or 19,500 people – in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, up from 16,479 in late 2013.

MSM make up 70 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. But women represent a growing proportion: 21 percent today, up from 18.5 percent in 2013, according to official figures.

Curbing the slow steady growth of new cases is a challenge that requires a greater prevention effort in this socialist island nation where healthcare is free and universal, including antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that on Jun. 30, Cuba became the first country across the globe to receive World Health Organisation (WHO) validation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“In health promotion interventions we emphasise the risks of having sex in a place without minimum conditions,” said Avelino Matos, coordinator of community work with the MSM-Cuba Project, a network of 1,800 volunteer health promoters who have been working for 15 years to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable segment of society.

In these remote areas, “there’s no light and people are nervous, so it’s impossible to negotiate the use of a condom,” Matos told IPS.

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The project, which falls under the umbrella of Cuba’s National Center for the Prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS and is active in all 15 provinces, monitors MSM cruising and gathering spots, with an emphasis on the 49 municipalities that have top priority because they have the highest HIV/AIDS rates.

Matos described gay hangouts or socialising places – by contrast with cruising spots – as public spaces where MSM gather to meet each other, chat, and arrange dates.

He said the project’s health promoters are present around the country, although the ones in the capital are the best-known.

According to Matos, the project’s prevention work does get results, and today is using new strategies, targeting gay meeting spots in parks and on city street corners and in the growing number of gay bars, cafes and private parties.

But he lamented that they barely reach the potajeras, although in some provinces ingenious interventions have been carried out.

In the daytime, activists hang bags of condoms on tree branches, for example, in cruising spots in the central province of Villa Clara and the eastern provinces of Holguín and Granma.

And in a shantytown in the western province of Mayabeque, the project provided training in health promotion to two-seater bicycle taxi drivers, the form of transportation used to reach the cruising spots. The drivers were also given condoms, to hand out to their passengers.

Matos said it is difficult to reach bisexual men with HIV/AIDS prevention messages, because they face more prejudice than homosexuals. “That’s why they are less likely to admit to their sexual orientation; many hide their meetings with men and maintain relationships with women,” he said.

Homophobia is a major factor contributing to the spread of HIV and others STDs in the cruising sites.

“These are places in the here and now. But with this I don’t mean that everyone who engages in cruising has unprotected sex,” said Jorge Carrasco, a young journalist who in 2013 reported on the main cruising spots in Havana, such as the Playa del Chivo beach and areas around the Calixto García Hospital.

“Because of the anonymity, a lot of sick people feel better there, because they can have quick sex without the need to talk about their lives with the other person,” said the 25-year-old reporter, who defends these places as “cultural spaces” that are legal under Cuba’s current laws.

Carrasco warned of other dangers in these places, where assaults and even murders are reported, as well as police abuses. “The police, instead of only arresting the thieves, also arrest the homosexuals,” said the reporter, who recommended more training for the national police.

Amaya Álvarez, a legal adviser at the governmental National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), told IPS that “the largest number of legal complaints by the homosexual and transgender population in the meeting places are in response to the interaction with law enforcement bodies like the police.”

For that reason, she said, CENESEX organises awareness-raising workshops for police officers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Anti-gay Sentiment Arises During the U.N. General Assemblyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/anti-gay-sentiment-arises-during-the-u-n-general-assembly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-gay-sentiment-arises-during-the-u-n-general-assembly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/anti-gay-sentiment-arises-during-the-u-n-general-assembly/#comments Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:28:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142545 President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights during a High-Level Core Group event on Sep. 29, noting his experiences in working with governments to eliminate LGBTI-discriminatory policies.

“Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not but I will continue to fight until all LGBT people can live freely without suffering any intimidation or discrimination,” Ban said.

The politically-sensitive issue also came up during the high-level segment of the General Assembly, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe highlighted the need to respect and uphold human rights while rejecting LGBTI rights.

Speaking during the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he pointedly said: “We…reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

“We are not gays,” Mugabe continued.

The statement was met with some laughter and little applause during the General Assembly session whose theme is the “United Nations at 70: The road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”

Mugabe’s rejection of rights for the LGBTI community remains in line with the country’s policies.

In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of performing any homosexual acts can be imprisoned or fined. For instance, in 2006, the government made it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss.

President Mugabe has been vocal about the country’s anti-LGBT stance, describing LGBTI individuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” during a rally on July 23, 2013.

The government of Saudi Arabia also rejected any references to homosexuality during the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Sep. 25 to 27.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told world leaders that “mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”

Similar reservations regarding LGBTI rights were expressed by several member States during the creation of the SDGs.

For instance, in the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, Cameroon rejected any policies or reporting for SDG 5.6, which “will include or tend to include, explicitly or implicitly, the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex couples.”

Target 5.6 states the need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and to ensure reproductive rights.

As a result, Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed publicly declared last year that gay rights were “off the table” in the SDG agenda.

The SDGs currently make no mention of sexual orientation or LGBT rights.

However, a joint statement released on Sep. 29 by 12 U.N. entities including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on States to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” the statement says.

U.N. agencies specifically urge governments to repeal discriminatory laws, strengthen efforts to prevent, monitor and report violence against LGBTI individuals, and ensure the inclusion of LGBTI individuals in development.

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them…constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society…and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals,” declared the U.N. agencies.

In Zimbabwe, anti-gay legislation had already hindered LGBTI-related efforts including the eradication of HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV rates in the world, with an estimated 15 percent of residents living with HIV.
(END)

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Security Council, in Historic First, Discusses Gay, Lesbian Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 21:27:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142122 Advocates hope a historic U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights could bring greater equality. Credit: Bigstock

Advocates hope a historic U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights could bring greater equality. Credit: Bigstock

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), whose primary mandate is the maintenance of international peace and security, has occasionally digressed to discuss global issues such as climate change and HIV/AIDS.

But in a historic first, and at a closed-door meeting co-hosted by the United States and Chile, the UNSC took up the issue of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights – providing a platform for an Iraqi and a Syrian, both of whom escaped persecution by the radical Islamic State (IS) purely for their sexual orientation.

“In a world where there's homophobia and transphobia, the U.N. should lead by example." -- Hyung Hak Nam, President of UN-GLOBE, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) staff fighting for equality and non-discrimination in the U.N. system
The meeting took place Monday, under what is called the “Arria-formula”, named after Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela who initiated the practice back in 1992.

Described as “informal and confidential gatherings”, they enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views – but with no official commitments.

Critical of this restricted political dialogue, Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS that Monday’s meeting was clearly “not an official U.N. Security Council meeting.”

Security Council members are not obliged to attend or participate in these meetings, he pointed out. “Having said that, I think it is interesting” this debate was held, Dittrich added.

He said testimony given by people who experienced the IS attacks on human rights will draw attention to the atrocities perpetrated by IS against gay men – or men who are perceived to be gay.

“The debate will not end in the adoption of a UNSC resolution. For LGBT people in Iraq and Syria the importance of the debate lies in changes on the ground,” he argued.

“Will the debate lead to less human rights abuses against LGBT people? Or will heightened attention at the U.N. level lead to more targeted killings by IS?” he asked.

“I don’t have the answer, but I will be interested to hear what the panelists have to say about that,” said Dittrich.

He said the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should take care that its staff members on the ground in Turkey and other countries, where LGBT asylum seekers flee to, will be sensitized to address the issue of homosexuality in a speedy and serious manner.

Too often, he said, HRW hears stories of asylum seekers who flee persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, that their issues are ignored.

“This is something the U.N. could actually do. It would be a great outcome of the debate,” he noted.

Asked about the UNSC digression into non-security issues, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative, told IPS: “Well, I believe, maintenance of international peace and security depends on many interrelated things and issues.”

It is therefore “absolutely unrealistic, impractical and irresponsible” to categorize any issue as having no implications for maintenance of peace and security, he said.

“I recall in the past, the Security Council has considered HIV/AIDS, climate change and serious violations of human rights.

“I also remember the Council issuing an agreed statement on the floods in Mozambique because the torrential flood water washed away many landmines from their original positions which were mapped by U.N. for demining,” said Chowdhury, who presided over Security Council meetings when he was the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations.

“Even when the core concept which ultimately became UNSC resolution 1325 was introduced to recognize women’s equality of participation at all decision-making levels during my Presidency of the Security Council in March 2000, I was criticized for overloading the Council agenda by introducing a ‘soft issue’ in the area of international peace and security and was pressurized not to push for a resolution on the issue, particularly by its permanent members,” Chowdhury said.

Of the 15 members in the UNSC, five are permanent (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) and 10 are non-permanent members elected for two-year terms on the basis of geographical rotation.

For the last 70 years, said Chowdhury, the Council has narrowly focused on state security and military strategies – not on human security, as the complexity of today’s global situation requires.

“This perspective has to change if the Council wants to be meaningfully effective in its decisions and actions,” he added.

Hyung Hak Nam, President of UN-GLOBE, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) staff fighting for equality and non-discrimination in the U.N. system and its peacekeeping operations, told IPS, “When I read reports of the horrible violence perpetrated by the Islamic State against LGBTI individuals, I think of the victims.”

“[But] I also think of the U.N. offices or missions in these countries, and whether or not they are prepared to handle such cases. And I think of LGBTI staff working in these countries and whether they feel safe and feel their U.N. offices would be able to protect them,” he said.

There’s a long way to go before the U.N. mainstreams LGBTI issues into the way it operates, including in its employment policies, he added.

“I do hope the U.N. will move towards becoming a showcase for others of what full equality and inclusion for all, including LGBTI staff, looks like.”

“In a world where there’s homophobia and transphobia, the U.N. should lead by example,” he declared.

Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer at the Human Rights Foundation, told IPS his Foundation applauds UNSC member states Chile and the United States for their initiative to hold an ‘Arria-formula meeting’ highlighting the plight of LGBT people in territories currently controlled by IS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS).

ISIS, a terrorist organization currently committing numerous crimes against humanity and perpetrating a genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq and Syria, has already been condemned by the council repeatedly, he pointed out.

So, Chile and the U.S. are now taking the opportunity to highlight ISIS’s barbaric crimes against a particular minority that is deliberately ignored or discriminated against by several authoritarian governments that sit on the U.N. Security Council, El-Hage said.

Many U.N. Security Council permanent and non-permanent member states are themselves notorious for either repressing LGBT people domestically or blocking LGBT rights advocacy internationally, he noted.

Putin’s Russia, for example, bans the discussion of LGBT rights in the public sphere as “gay propaganda,” while China usually teams up with dictatorships at the U.N. to exclude from the text of U.N. resolutions language that recognizes LGBT people as a minority especially vulnerable to, for example, extrajudicial executions.

Similarly discriminatory of LGBT people in their countries are non-permanent members Chad, Angola, Nigeria, and Malaysia, he added.

“Thanks to the symbolic move by the U.S. and Chile, today they are all being forced to sit through a meeting to address an issue that they would rather avoid,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda Adopted Amidst Closed-Door Dealshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-post-2015-development-agenda-adopted-amidst-closed-door-deals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-post-2015-development-agenda-adopted-amidst-closed-door-deals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-post-2015-development-agenda-adopted-amidst-closed-door-deals/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:41:13 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141904 Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

At about a quarter to seven on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 2, the member states of the United Nations adopted the post-2015 development agenda outcome document, titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda.”

As governments endorsed the 29-page product resulting from almost two years of transparent and relatively democratic negotiations, the final 48 hours had witnessed a very different story, that of a sharp turn towards closed-door consultations and last-minute bargaining chips.What transpired requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

The 2030 Agenda is arguably the most ambitious and expansive development agenda that has ever been set in motion. It will be in effect for 15 years (2015-2030) and is to be implemented on all levels ranging from the global and multilateral level (such as the World Bank), regional (such as regional commissions and funds) and national (both government level and development agencies).

The main meat of the 2030 agenda is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets covering economic, social and environmental issues ranging from inequality, poverty, climate change, infrastructure, energy, industrialisation, consumption and production, health, education, ecosystem, biodiversity and oceans.

These SDGs will be the first global development paradigm to be marked by universality, meaning that all countries are to take action toward sustainable development, including the rich and powerful. This distinguishes the SDGs from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-2015, which was based on an explicitly donor-recipient model of aid from the rich countries to the poor.

For all 193 governments of the U.N. to come to an agreement on this agenda was a breathtaking feat of conflict and compromise. However, over the first weekend of August, the otherwise open and recorded negotiations went into radio-silence in the back-rooms as the United States reportedly issued an ultimatum without which they refused to adopt the document.

The U.S. wanted to replace the word “ensure” with the word “promote” in two goals that talked about ensuring that the profits and patents reaped from the world’s natural biodiversity are shared fairly with the countries and communities from which they are extracted. The legal agreement on biodiversity clearly states the word “ensure.” By injecting the much weaker word “promote,” the U.S. tried to dilute hard-won legal language to something that is nebulous at best and unenforceable at worst.

This amendment essentially lets rich and powerful countries, whose corporations and research institutions extract the vast majority of biodiversity resources of the world, off the hook from their legal commitments to equitably share benefits and rewards that come from these resources. Developing countries were infuriated because most of this extraction happens in their countries, specifically, from the seeds, plants, forests and land on which most indigenous peoples across the world live in.

The negotiating group of 134 developing countries had repeatedly stated that the global goals were not to be re-opened for negotiation at the last minute, that they were sacrosanct. The fact that this firm position was flagrantly violated as a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it deal filled the air of the U.N. conference room with a palpable distrust and tension. People rushed in and out of conference rooms, furiously whispering in each other’s ears while working day and night to reach a consensus, no matter what.

Similarly, the progressive language on debt was also undermined, reportedly by the European Union this time. Up until the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, the document said: “We recognize the need to assist developing countries … through debt financing, debt relief, debt restructuring and sound debt management, as appropriate.” This language recognised the sound development economics arguments called for by numerous economists and developing countries, on the urgent need to address external debt if any development goals are to be achieved.

By late afternoon, this was inserted: “Maintaining sustainable debt levels is the responsibility of the borrowing countries…”  Plucked out of the outcome document of the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa last month, this sentence harmfully faults borrowing countries for their debt burdens without due attention on the complex role of lenders and creditors, a point that has been repeatedly emphasised in the Greek case.

It’s a stark regression from the notion of co-responsibility between lenders and borrowers in previous U.N. documents from Monterrey in 2002 and Doha in 2008.

The fear of such retrogression in language from the Addis Ababa document drove developing countries to keep insisting until the last hour that it not be annexed to the 2030 Agenda as developed countries called for. In the end, the Addis Ababa text was not annexed. But the compromise was this sort of selective importation of language. Other attempts were also proposed by developed countries in the final hours but were steadfastly fought back, such as removing reference to “policy space,” arguably the most vital demand of developing countries.

Although policy space is mentioned twice in the 2030 agenda and once in the SDGs, it is qualified with language from the Addis Ababa text in one of these three mentions. This language is: “…while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.” This negates the very point of policy space, which is to address the very “international rules and commitments” that constrain the ability of a state to formulate and carry out development-oriented policies and pathways.

On the other side of the North-South firewall, African and Arab countries called for the removal of a critical paragraph recognising human rights as a principal aim of sustainable development and a commitment to non-discrimination for all. While the paragraph was saved from this late Friday night intervention, the essential term “discrimination” was scrapped and the word “fulfill” was demoted to “promote.”

Issues such as ethnicity, migration status, culture, economic situation or age as a protected status were also scrapped although “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status” remain.

African and Arab diplomats argued against the recognition of LGBT rights and objected to the inclusion of “all social and economic groups,” while many Latin American countries, the European Union and the U.S. firmly opposed the offense against human and civil rights.

It is now more than two decades since the U.N. reaffirmed the interdependence of human rights and development at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and more than 20 years since the U.N. first recognised sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The 11th hour turn from openness to opacity reflects a crisis of multilateralism in the world’s primary locus of multilateralism, the U.N. After all, the U.N. is supposed to be the most democratic and universal institution that exists to date, one in which every nation has a vote, unlike the rich country-dominated IMF or World Bank.

The private bilateral consultations over the weekend of Aug. 1-2 were, according to many independent observers, a manufactured crisis that opened the door to text that endangers global development and law.

The problem is that backroom dealings and pressure campaigns have ominous implications for the legitimacy and fairness of international negotiations, not to mention the political will of governments to take the sustainable development goals seriously.

The new global development agenda has powerful potential to make an ambitious and universal dent of urgently needed progress in our economies, societies and environments.  At the same time, process is also important. What transpired this first weekend of August requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

(Note: As of Aug. 6, 3:00 p.m., the final outcome document of the post-2015 development agenda has not yet been officially published by the U.N. Secretariat. The last draft available is the Aug.1  draft without the changes noted above.  There is some speculation and concern as to why there is a delay of four days, which is only compounding the lack of transparency in the final hours of negotiation.)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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