Inter Press ServiceLGBTQ – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 22 Sep 2017 16:36:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 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

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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 […]

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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.

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“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 […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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, […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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.

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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, […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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/#respond Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:30:52 +0000 Moyukh Mahtab http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145773 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 […]

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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/#respond Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 Despite their extreme vulnerability, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees often do not seek the assistance they need, since revealing their sexual or gender identities can put them in grave danger. “People are just absolutely completely terrified to come out, and rightly so, they will be dead, they will be dead if they come out,” Neil Grungras, Executive Director of […]

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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/#respond Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:18:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145669 Only a small percentage of the world’s most vulnerable refugees will be resettled in 2017, according to new figures released by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) this week. A group of 35 non-government organisations (NGOs) responded to the new figures by saying that a “dramatic increase” in resettlement numbers is “urgently needed”. The UNCHR […]

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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/#respond Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145610 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 […]

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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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