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New Report Reveals 6 Biggest Obstacles To LGBTQ Rights Worldwide

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The year is 2017, and same-sex activity between consenting adults is legal in 124 countries. Last April, Colombia became the 23rd country to legalise same-sex marriage. And here in India, Pride marches are sprouting up in places away from large metropolitans, like Guwahati, Lucknow. But when we look at the state of human rights for LGBTQ people globally, some of the enthusiasm dies away.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) – a worldwide federation of over 1,200 member organisations – just released a report titled “State Sponsored Homophobia“. Based on its global survey, the report has been an annual undertaking by ILGA since 2006, and is currently in its 12th edition. Organised into three sections (“Criminalisation”, “Protection”, and “Recognition”), the ILGA report offers a country-wise study. For example, as per the report, the top tier nations (spread over North America, most of South America, Western and Central Europe and South Africa) have laws that protect and recognise LGBTQ people. Australia lags behind in the report, possibly due to its immigration and refugee policies. But really it’s Russia, Africa and Asia where protection and/or recognition laws are missing, and human rights violations are rampant.

ILGA’s 196-page report reveals further striking things about LGBTQ rights (or lack thereof) around the world, and these are some of them:

1: Homosexuality Is Still Illegal In 72 States

India is, of course, counted among these 72 states, where the law specifies offences such as same-sex sexual acts, sodomy, buggery, acts “against nature”. And in 19 States even “LGB expression” is criminalised under morality laws.

ILGA’s report found that as of 2016, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commissionprohibits all broadcasting companies from representing sexual and gender diversity in men. The State also used 2012 Broadcasting Program Standards to limit LGBT expression on TV, with the logic of protecting children.” And let’s not forget that Russia criminalised the dissemination of ‘gay propaganda’ in 2013.

While the majority of these 72 States criminalise same-sex activity for both men and women, there are 27 States where anti-homosexuality laws specifically target men.

2: Barriers To LGBTQ NGOs in 45 States

As a corollary to criminalising same-sex activity, many States “actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and trans realities”. What this means is that even organisations working on sexuality, or with members of the LGBTQ community, face shutdowns or intimidation. As the report notes: “In the United States of America several states have enacted local laws – informally referred to as ‘No Promo Homo Laws’ – which in some way restrict or condition the discussion of same-sex sexual activity and relations.” Often, in very oppressive environments, groups are thwarted at the formation and registration stage.

3: Age Of Consent Reveals Bias Against LGBTQ People

Even in countries where same-sex activity is legal, there is a big disparity in the rules that apply for heterosexual partners, and for homosexual ones. In Bahrain, which decriminalised homosexuality way back in 1976, the ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual partners are only a year apart – 20 and 21, respectively. But under Article 331 of the Criminal Code of Benin, the age of consent is 13 for different-sex sexual activity, and 21 for same-sex sexual activity. These disparities exist in the law in Greece and Canada too.

4: Only 3 States Have Banned Conversion Therapy

Brazil, Ecuador, and Malta. These are the only States in the whole world that have instituted country-wide bans on conversion therapy – a procedure which LGBTQ people are often forced to undergo to “correct” their sexual orientation or gender identity.

So far, even first-tier nations like the UK have failed. In fact, it was in March this year that the Theresa May led government dismissed a petition to criminalise conversion therapy.

5: Less Than 25% States Protect And/Or Recognise LGBTQ People

The Global North does far better than the South when it comes to having non-discrimination policies. The oldest of these belongs to France, where “[v]arious sections of French law contains equal treatment legislation on the ground of sexual orientation.”

For representation only.

In third- or fourth-tier nations, legislations in the last decade show some improvement. Between 2006 and 2010, African nations Seychelles, Mozambique, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana created or amended existing employment laws to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation of sexual life. States like Bolivia, Nepal, and Mongolia too have some protection laws. However not officially granting LGBTQ people access to marriage equality, adoption, healthcare or inheritance or even self-determination is a huge obstacle to human rights.

Further still, ILGA’s report shows how few of these States actually have active and accessible National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) that affected LGBTQ people can approach or help.

6: Homosexuality Still Punishable By Death In 13 States

By our reckoning […] there are eight States where the death penalty is activated,” the report says. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar, Mauritiana and Sudan, the death penalty can be applied across the State. It is partially applied in Somalia and Nigeria. The report also accounts for five more States “where interpretation of Sharia, or where black letter law, permits the death penalty technically.

UNSOGI Dr. Vitit Muntharbhon at the ILGA World Conference in Thailand (2016). Source: ILGA/Twitter.

Taking The Fight Forward

Last year, the UN creating the post of an Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (currently held by Thailand’s Vitit Muntarbhorn), proving the need for international cooperation and action on LGBTQ rights.

Released ahead of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17), the report has been described by ILGA as “a fundamental resource in the hands of human rights defenders, researchers, civil society organisations, governmental and UN agencies, allies and media striving for a more just and inclusive society.

The report has identified the legal issues that make LGBTQ people a vulnerable group today. Now it’s up to all of us in the international community to work towards a future where people are not bullied, discriminated against, attacked or killed because of their gender or sexuality.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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