Queering the Sustainable Development Goals

Over the last few decades, sexual and gender minorities have had increased visibility through events such as Pride globally. There has also been a growing acknowledgement of sexuality and gender as a spectrum through bodies such as the American Psychiatric Society which depathologized homosexuality in 1973. Despite these changes, in most cases international development is still measured through a heteronormative and cis-normative lens. That means it has been centred around cisgender as well as heterosexual populations and in so doing assumed, that they are the ‘default or norm’. This is problematic because it means gender and sexual minorities are often left out and alienated. This is clear in research around international development. These projects are made exclusive firstly, by asking for binary genders or assuming families only exist in a heterosexual context in demographic sections of surveys. Such practice especially in international development portrays gender and sexual minorities as ‘others’ as opposed to the norm.

This is visible in contexts such as in parts Africa where queerness is viewed as unAfrican. Presidents such as Yoweri Museveni have described SOGI populations as ‘deviants’ which is harmful rhetoric. This othering has also translated into legislation such as the Anti Homosexuality Act (2014) which criminalizes homosexuality in Uganda. Not only do such laws infringe on the right to privacy, they are liable for misuse. In a study by ReportOut, found that 60.5% of respondents thought that false imprisonment was widespread.

On top of that, research findings often leave out SOGI individuals and their experiences in recommendations for future development. When research is done for example, on heterosexual populations on the prevention of HIV, prevention resources and education will mainly focus on heterosexual couples. Sex education and resources which exclude non-heterosexual relationships leave those in LGBTQ+ relationships make wrong assumptions about how HIV is spread which in turn adversely affects the already high rates of HIV among this population. Infection rates support this. It has been reported that in 2019, men who have sex with men (MSM) were twenty-six times more at-risk of contracting HIV than other populations.

So, what can be done?

Fundamentally, there needs to be more intentional inclusion of LGBQI+ in research when tackling global issues such as being done by ReportOut. The recommendations from this research should also be used in global frameworks for development set by bodies like the United Nations, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a framework created to create a harmonious and thriving world for all its inhabitants. In order to meet this, all population groups should be able to meet all their needs, the basic need being physiological needs. At the root of that is ending poverty, of which we know that SOGI populations largely live in poverty. That is because it is reportedly harder for SOGI populations to find work. About more that more half of countries do not have gender or sexual discrimination protection laws in the workplace.

The basis of these goals is the Human Rights Declaration and aims to improve human rights across the globe. The goals are especially important because they set a blueprint for international development, which should be inclusive to fully realise the goal of a thriving environment for all. Currently, SOGI populations face discrimination and human rights violations all around the world. Approximately, sixty-nine countries still criminalise consensual same sex relationships. At least eleven countries have imposed the death penalty for consensual same sex relationships. Even though some of these are laws passed a long time ago, anti SOGIESC laws are still being initiated in the modern era. For instance, in Brunei 2019 initiated the Syariah Penal Code which includes the death penalty for same sex relationships. As of 2021, there are still mass arrests and torture in prisons of SOGI populations. In Cameron there were arrests of 24 people who allegedly engaged in consensual same sex relationships. The torture involved medical examinations which are dehumanising and strip people of their dignity.

At the present time, the SDGs do not explicitly mention SOGI populations. The mandate of the goals is to leave no one behind yet this key population has been left out! Using queer theory, we can make these goals more inclusive of queer people.

So how can we queer that?

For instance, we know that homelessness is especially high amongst SOGI populations due to the likelihood of getting kicked out or running away from hostile homes, discrimination in the housing industry and lack of protection from governments. According to the Voices of Youth Count, LGBT youth are at a 120% risk of homelessness in the United States of America. The trend is similar across the globe. Within this domain, SOGI populations are furthest behind. SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Goal 11 focuses on making ‘cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. Specifically, target 11:3 aims for more inclusive housing. Governments can integrate SOGI populations by improving anti-discrimination laws to stop mortgage companies from favouring heterosexual couples and hindering SOGI couples from applying. It can also push for more inclusive social housing policies within nation-states that acknowledge the need of LGBTQI populations for housing as well removing heteronormative steps in the application process.

Another example is Goal 5 which focuses on women and girls only. The Goal aims to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. With the growing acknowledgement that gender is not binary, that is it exists beyond two genders, there needs to be more inclusive of other gender minorities such as intersex populations who may not fit within existing labels. Specifically, protections against medical abuse for gender minorities. Intersex people lack rights to body autonomy. Children are still forced to undergo operations such as vaginoplasties under the age of 5. Further, another sexual minority, Transgender populations also face forced surgeries.

For instance, the Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act in Japan still forces transgender people to accept a diagnosis of gender identity disorder if they want to be allowed to change gender. The law requires transgender populations to undergo surgical sterilisation, without which they cannot be legally recognised by their correct gender identity. This can fall under Article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which is the right to freedom from torture. It also falls under Principle Ten of the Yogyakarta Principles, which includes involuntary sterilisation as torture. This Act also forces transgender populations to forgo the option of having children or families in the future. Under SDG goal 5, Target 5.3 can involve the need to ban gender reassignment and cosmetic surgeries without the informed consent of the individual. Gender minorities also face discrimination within work and society as well as high rates of violence and infanticide. All these attributes require more legislative protections and can therefore be encapsulated within international frameworks.

Integration of SOGI people within application of SDGs is essential to fully realise the mandate to leave no one behind. We are calling for more inclusive world policies and a deliberate shift from making heteronormative as well as cisnormative assumptions in research an. As global views and legislations shift, international development should be ahead of this curve.

For more information about how to better include Gender and Sexual minorities in the application of the Sustainable Development Goals and in international development in general, contact ReportOut.

Article By Nellia Mazarura