Making the links between sexuality and poverty


Kate Hawkins

The IDS Sexuality and Development Programme has had a longstanding focus on the links between sexuality and poverty. A new report from the Programme, sponsored by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and written by Susie Jolly, reviews the evidence between poverty and the denial of sexual rights.

Key messages from the report include:

  • Denial of sexual rights can contribute to poverty. People with non-conforming sexualities and those who don’t fit gender
    stereotypes (for example, LGBT people, divorcees and single women) may be excluded from social and economic participation, or included on adverse terms. People with conforming sexualities may also pay a price in material terms.
  • Poverty can make people more vulnerable to abuse of sexual rights. For example, Under Sharia law in Northern Nigeria, poor people are more likely to be charged with and convicted of sodomy and illicit sex, as well as other crimes, than more middle class people.
  • Some richer people are more constrained in terms of expressing their sexuality for fear of jeopardizing their inheritance or reputation. And some people who break rules around sexuality may gain in material terms.
  • Either way, sexuality and economy are interconnected.
  • Most economic systems are heteronormative – i.e. structured around a particular model of heterosexual relationships. Heteronormativity is the institutionalisation of the idea that only heterosexuality is normal, and only particular kinds of heterosexual relations are normal, for example within a gender unequal marriage between people of the same class and ethnic group.
  • International development programming can reinforce these
    heteronormative structures. 

You can download the full report from our website.

Susie was recently featured on The Wire a daily current affairs programme broadcast on Community and Indigenous radio stations
around Australia. The Wire takes an independent approach to current issues and offers critical coverage to challenge all points of view. Listen to her here.

Kate Hawkins is the Convenor of the Sexuality and Development Programme, based within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.