The Sustainable Development Goals for post-2015: Economic Development or a Guarantee of Rights?

27/03/2014

Carlos Cortez Ruizpicture of Carlos Cortez

Earlier this month, the Participate initiative co-hosted its ‘Work with Us’ exhibition at the headquarters of UN in New York in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations. The exhibition coincided with two important events in the post-2015 calendar; the ninth meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the President of United Nations General Assembly (PGA) debate on the Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post‐2015 Development Agenda. During the same week, Participate Co-Director Danny Burns and myself met with members of the Open Working Group, including some of the UN Permanent Representatives.

These meetings were a good opportunity to present Participate’s research results; to further understand the complex process underpinning the Post 2015 agenda; and to gain some insight into the different positions and opinions on what should be included. We also discussed the serious limitations to getting the voices and perspectives of the most excluded and poorest heard in the global debate.

Different perspectives on poverty
The positions and proposals on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), expressed in the discourse and in the concepts used by some of the OWG members, show different perspectives on poverty, their causes and on the way to face the situation in the future. While some consider economic development to be the answer to reducing poverty, there are a few who see that the struggle against poverty and exclusion requires the guarantee of rights and a more complex perspective that includes cultural and social issues.

There are also differences between those who maintain that that the road beyond 2015 must continue towards realising the MDGs, and those whose consider the debate on the SDGs as an opportunity to have a deeper reflection on the general agenda – one which includes an open, participatory process from the definition to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. Other differences appear to be between the pragmatic perspectives of those that want to define objectives and indicators and those who want to embed the rights of the poorest and more excluded social groups in new institutional and social approaches.

A lot more work to do
As members of Participate, we spoke of the impact of cultural and social norms on the existence of poverty and exclusion and the need for a different approach to deal with them. The differences between those who are more receptive and active around these issues and those that weren’t were clear.

For now it looks as though the proposal will be based on economic issues, with a group of targets similar to the MDGs. If the final document is to include the guarantee of rights, gender equality and the active participation of the poorest and accountability, we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Dr Carlos Cortez works for the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Xochimilco (UAM), Mexico. He is also a member of Participate’s Participatory Research Group (PRG).

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Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling

25/03/2014

Thea ShahrokhThea Shakrokh

“When people connect to political issues through personal stories, they see them in a different way. They don’t just see democracy in the abstract, they see ‘my democracy.’ The transformative potential of storytelling is written into the fabric of our lives.” Joanna Wheeler

Joanna Wheeler, until recently research fellow in the IDS Power, Participation and Social Change team, talked about Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling in a recent Open Democracy article. The following summary is edited from Joanna’s Open Democracy post.

Joanna explains how people can understand democracy differently when they connect to political issues through personal stories. They don’t just see democracy as an  abstract concept, they see how it is relevant to them on a daily basis. Although stories may not provide all the answers, she emphasises that what is gained through their telling is important for social justice and democracy. They connect us to issues and to one another through the power of a narrative and the experience of empathy.

In 2013, she and Tessa Lewin helped to lead a collaborative process with citizens’ groups and government employees IDS partners MDPi and OneWorldSEE. They designed and supported a process that used creativity and technology to help people tell their stories about their experience of local governance (pdf). They called it ‘creative citizen engagement through storytelling’ and the examples bring to life the transformational power of stories. Telling a story in a safe space can be cathartic, revelatory, healing and empowering. It can also be unsettling, uncomfortable, and painful.  A collective process of creating and sharing stories becomes a crucible that helps to resolve these conflicting emotions. Furthermore Joanna’s insights provide an interesting reflection on how connections are made between personal stories and collective issues which are political, in the sense that they address relations of power. Read more about Participatory Visual Methods  and the work in Bosnia Herzegovina on participatorymethods.org.

Wider conversations on storytelling at IDS
In a previous blog, Hamsini Ravi, at that time a MA student at IDS’ MA in Participation, Power and Social Change course, sums up the learning from one of the sessions on ‘Reflective Practice and Social Change’ and lists the ways in which stories can have unforeseen impact.

Julia Day, Deputy Director and Head of Communications at the STEPS Centre based at IDS, explores the power of simplicity in storytelling through ‘Photovoice’, a participatory approach by which people combine narrative storytelling with photography, which is being used by their project partner Shibaji Bose, for the STEPS Centre’s Uncertainty from Below project.

The Participate Initiative engaged a series of participatory visual processes using digital storytelling and film to portray development issues through the stories and perspectives of those affected by poverty and marginalisation. These processes use multiple forms of creative media (images, film, audio, design, drawing, drama) in conjunction with participatory research processes to articulate, distil and communicate powerful messages.  For more information see their homepage  and the Work with Us online exhibition.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS working on the role of visual methods in social change initiatives with Joanna Wheeler over the past 18 months..

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Who engages with whom? Who is accountable to whom? Can the development sector learn from the humanitarian sector?

20/03/2014

Robert ChambersRobert_Chambers200

Wow! The 29th Annual Meeting of ALNAP in Addis. This was memorable and eye-opening. But what is ALNAP? The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action. Rather less memorable in full than as an acronym. But a vital orientation and a remarkable organisation. This annual meeting brought together for two intense days 170 people engaged in the sector. From a great range of over 100 organisations, with NGOs more than any other category, and international agencies, governments, universities, and the private sector in smaller numbers. An astonishing range of experience to have all in one room, and the largest ALNAP annual meeting so far.

And why was it memorable? For me it was one of those Rip van Winkle re-entries which for some reason seem to come my way more often these days. My time in the sector was long ago in UNHCR as its first evaluation officer in the mid 70s, and then in 1986 in a team evaluating the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies drought relieve operations in Africa in 1984-6. How radically things have changed since those days of relative amateurism and ignorance. In the mid 70s UNHCR was faced with many millions of rural refugees in Africa and did not have a single health, nutrition, agricultural, sanitation, water, settlement or other specialist. Though lots of lawyers, good at law. There were some large refugee settlements, but it was convenient to believe that most African refugees were best off left to fend for themselves. African hospitality would take care of them. Often not, I concluded, the case. And as for 1986 we wrote in our evaluation report that people had ‘a basic human right to be protected from incompetence’.

What a different universe it is now!
People in this conference were far, far more professional and experienced. Their concerns for accountability and performance have spread, deepened and evolved almost beyond recognition. There are now many guides, protocols, critical reviews and even organisations preoccupied with accountability to those affected by crises, outstandingly ALNAP itself.

The theme for the meeting was great – Engagement of crisis-affected people in humanitarian action. The overview and background paper by Dayna Brown, A Donini and Paul Knox-Clarke is excellent. The subject is vital because of the misfit and tension between urgent action to save lives and minimise suffering on the one hand, and listening, sensitivity, responsiveness, and supporting not undermining what people are doing and can do for themselves. And the many contexts and types of emergency or crisis challenge standard solutions. All this is pretty well known, so let me jump to what hit me in the face.

Top-down measurement versus accountability to people.
Paradigms are in tension. Underlying current debates and practice in the sector is a tug of war between the (Newtonian) paradigm of things, which is top-down with control, measurement, standardisation and upward accountability, and the (complexity) paradigm of people in which we find discretion, judgment, diversity and downward accountability. And there are contrasting concepts, language, values, methods and processes, relationships, mindsets and personalities that go with these. Top-down is driven and sustained by the real or imagined imperatives of crisis.

Take language. Beneficiary belongs to top down. It patronises. It begs a basic question, implying people do benefit. It ‘others’ those affected by crisis. It misfits equality, respect, listening and learning from people. Other words and phrases have been tried – crisis-affected people, and citizen (but this does not work so well for UNHCR with refugees). But again and again beneficiary is the word that is used. It is deeply, deeply embedded. And I dare say many see nothing wrong with it. One organisation has even appointed a Beneficiary Accountability Officer. Can’t we do better than this?

Then there are donors’ demands and ‘the system’. There was a view that to be ‘evidence-based’ the case for engagement and participation had to be supported by measurement. Others, myself included, felt the case was already overwhelming. When someone asked how many had read evaluation reports which blamed ‘the system’, a forest of hands went up. And participants lamented their experiences of how data demands forced them into gathering data for upward accountability at the cost of action, learning, adapting and accountability to affected people. Yes, a tragic trade-off, just as in the development sector.

Highlights and reflections

  • To bypass recurrent rush. In sudden onset emergencies, many agencies carry out similar rushed and biased assessments (close to airport, only meet the leaders, men etc.). After typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines a non-operational team did a slower more interactive and representative assessment, hearing other voices, and found unrecognised needs: who would have guessed that old women needed underwear? Could UNOCHA (UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs) try this dedicated team approach to test whether it should be standard practice?
  • Participatory statistics. Dawit Abebe and Berhanu Admassu presented their participatory impact assessment work with pastoralists which generated participatory statistics. Dawit and Andy Catley have a chapter in Jeremy Holland’s Who Counts? The power of participatory statistics. Great stuff and huge potential. But who will pick it up? I recommend the guide which has just been updated. It is an eye-opener.
  • Definition of terms? We did not spend much time on definitions. This was sensible. There was more interest in action. But engagement is a good word. And engagement of crisis-affected people was a move in a good direction.
  • Personality and recruitment. The background paper considered skills (the word so often used), but then went further with behaviour and attitudes. I wonder, though, does personality go even further, and somewhere we need to go? Some saw recruitment procedures with interviewing face-to-face as critical. If the sector needs people who are good at listening, empathetic, participatory, they must be sought out, and trained. Also, institutional cultures, personality and relationships interact, so that for good engagement with affected people, with sensitive listening and respect, these must be part of good engagement in organisations at all levels.
  • Learning what affected people are doing already came over as important. What are their existing organisations? What are they already doing? These were priority questions, as they have been for decades.
  • The Who? Whose? questions. These were as relevant as ever. Who participates in whose project? was asked in the background paper. Who engages in whose action? Do they engage in ours or do we engage in theirs? Several times in the meeting someone asked ‘How do we want to engage with them?’. But further steps are ‘How  do we find out how they would like us to engage with them?’ This was raised but I did not hear it much discussed. A future agenda? To ask them? As standard good practice?
  • Listening and learning. We often say and hear that we must ‘go and talk to [sic] people’. Talk to at least involves meeting, but when will we habitually say listen to or learn from? Or listen to and dialogue with? The training the day before the meeting was on evaluation. Next year, a training on listening? But would anyone sign up? Or be able to persuade their organisation to give the extra day to be trained to do something we all know how to do (when we talk to people)?
  • Time with people. In a panel session on Building Accountability to Affected Populations into Humanitarian Evaluation, it was proposed that those engaged in the evaluations 9 months or so after an emergency should have to spend 50 per cent of their time with the affected people. Yes. Good idea.
  • Accountability to whom? At that moment, a penny dropped with me. I wondered and still wonder, is the humanitarian sector ahead of ‘development’ in accountability to people? If so, or if it appears so, is this because the need is greater? In any case, what can the development sector learn? I suspect, quite a lot. But if so, where should we go from here?
  • Gems for reflection from Luz Gomez Saavedra (Oxfam Intermon, formerly with MSF in Niger):
    • ‘Nothing can replace presence and proximity’
    • ‘The most amazing tool, sitting down under a tree with people’
    • An old woman who said: ‘If you want to know who is poor and who not, don’t count goats – ask who is receiving remittances from a relative in Calgary’
    • When she asked people how she could do her work better the reply was unanimous: ‘Don’t change but keep smiling’

Will this meeting transform the sector?
That would be asking too much. But intensifying the shift in the agenda to examining ourselves more (and this is in line with the World Development Report 2015 on Mind and Culture), yes, one can hope for that. And it may countervail against the magnetism of upward accountability which afflicts both humanitarian action and development, and reinforce actions and policies for accountability downwards to crisis-affected people, and learning more about and appreciating their realities, and what they want and need. And what they already do and can do, perhaps often much more than outsiders suppose.

Some in the sector are already onto all this. Could many, many others join them in putting into practice two PRA slogans which fit here as signposts and reminders:

ASK THEM              THEY CAN DO IT

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

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Tackling Homophobia in Brazilian schools: What more needs to be done?

18/03/2014

Ilana Mountian

In order to tackle homophobia in Brazil, we need to understand it as a structural matter, part of a complex system. The interactions between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others need to be strengthened.

These are the main finding from my recent policy audit that we undertook as part of the DfID-funded Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme to analyse public policies against homophobia and transphobia in the educational system in Brazil. In order to tackle economic and social inequality, it is paramount to understand that the reproduction of inequalities historically impacts on specific groups. In this audit, the focus is on the impacts of homophobia (and transphobia) on poverty; considering the intersections between gender, sexuality, race, class and age.

We have analysed key aspects of public policies in education and sexuality in Brazil, which have been designed as part of the wider programme Brazil Without Homophobia (BWH – Programa Brasil sem Homofobia), launched in 2004. The analysis was based on a number of policy material, previous research on the theme, interviews with educators and professionals working directly with the programmes for education without homophobia, interviews with transsexual women and travestis and participation in meetings with transsexual people, educators and policy makers.

While the BWH was an important initiative towards tackling homophobia in Brazil, the analysis shows that there was a range of obstacles that hindered the implementation and access to policies against prejudice and violence. Multi-sector policies operating in an integrated manner were lacking in this context.

To put this into context we highlighted the broad social background and educational issues facing students in Brazil, the high levels of homophobic violence in Brazilian society, how religious discourses operate in politics and everyday struggles for equality, as well as the need for better coordination and implementation of educational initiatives.

What more needs to be done?

In our audit report we have highlighted the following recommendations for ensuring that policies to tackle homophobia have the maximum impact:

  • Homophobia (as well as sexism, racism, classism, discrimination against those with disabilities and others) should be considered as a structural matter.
  • A clearly supported strategy is needed against homophobia and sexism in educational policies and the national curriculum.
  • There is a need to articulate and strengthen the intersectionality between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others.
  • Long-term policies against homophobia should be developed.
  • There is a need to acknowledge and develop strategies to tackle local resistance -e.g. from religious fundamentalist people to policy implementation.
  • Resources are required to support staff promoting equality (information, workshops, protection from abuse, permanent forums).

Initiatives against homophobia and sexism in schools need to be further developed and be part of a wider agenda to tackle homophobic violence and discrimination. Building upon our research, it is fundamental that policies that consider sexuality and gender in Brazil, beyond stereotypical understandings, are developed – and that they also consider the intersections with race, class, age, disability and other factors. These policies have to work as an integrated and coordinated multi-sectoral strategy in order to overcome exclusion, social inequality and poverty. Further investigation is needed into the ability of LGBT individuals and families who live in extreme poverty to access social welfare provisions, like the Bolsa Familia.

Only when homophobia – and other forms of discrimination – are seen as a structural issue of inequality will we see real improvements for tackling homophobia in Brazil.

Ilana Mountian is a post-doctoral researcher at the Universidade de São Paolo.

Read other recent blogs by the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme:


Working with creativity to empower women and children

07/03/2014

Vivienne Bensonprofile picture Vivienne Benson

Every year on 8 March, thousands of events are held around the world to inspire, celebrate and empower women to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). This year on 6-7 March, it is directly preceded by the President of the General Assembly to the United Nations (PGA) High Level discussion on The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At the centre of the PGA discussion are the challenges that continue to impede groups from participating fully in society and from having the scope to ensure the accountability of decision-makers through their actions and voices.

Empowering marginalised women, men and young people to speak for themselves on issues of equity and rights should be a primary objective of the UN and other global decision makers. Key to that objective is developing the skills and capacity of women, men, young people and civil society to use different tools for creative expression in order to support people to speak through the medium that is most relevant to them.

Telling their own stories
The Participate Initiative’s partners have worked with participatory methods to facilitate processes where people living in poverty and marginalisation can tell their own stories about how and why change happens in their lives. The Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy (MEND) works to promote active non-violence and open media in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. They have worked with marginalised women from these areas to share their reality through film.

Palestinian women filming

Palestinian women share their stories with the world through participatory film-making. Credit MEND 2013

MEND worked with a group of women in the village of Al Jib. The group learnt how to make their own films, from behind and in front of the camera. Reflecting on this process the women involved explained that they were ‘happy because we have a voice and we can send our message out’. In making their film, they are able to talk about what is most important to them: ‘there isn’t a single word in the world or in the dictionary that can express my anger and sadness [about the Wall that encircles village] and the tragedy because it really has no limits’. The clarity and poignancy of this message is expressed in their short film – Unhappy Birthday.

The participatory video process enabled the women to build relationships and learn from other women in their community. It has supported them to build the confidence and belief that they can and have the right to express their aspirations for change, ‘what I gained from the project the most was that I have more self-confidence, I am more strong and more sociable now’.

The Participate Initiative has 18 partners within 29 countries, all of whom have worked with the poorest and most marginalised communities to communicate the issues that are important in their lives, on their own terms. The Seed Institute, Kenya, Nairobi worked with children in Mwiki to conduct their own research on the experience of children living with disabilities. In their findings they explained that these children were forgotten and ignored. Using participatory video, they voice their concerns and identify practical solutions to improve the lives of children living with disabilities, and their families.

International Women’s Day and the PGA discussions should stand as a reminder that women and children should be heard in their own voice. The use of video and other creative mediums are effective ways to empower communities to find their own voice and speak their unfiltered message locally and globally.

Vivienne Benson works as Research Administrator at IDS and is the Events Coordinator for the Participate Initiative.

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Watch the short videos:


On International Women’s Day: Inspiring teaching for a new generation of policy makers

06/03/2014

Natalie Jeffers and Jenny EdwardsJenny_Edwards200

The theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is ‘inspiring change for greater awareness of women’s equality’ and what better way to inspire change than to start in the classroom? Over five years of research, the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment’s programme has uncovered a multitude of stories around the journeys of women’s empowerment. This exciting new learning platform transforms these stories into resources which can be used for teaching from secondary school to university levels as well as in workshop and training situations. The aim is to inspire and influence the next generation of policy makers, activists and academics around issues of gender equality.

Teaching modules
The Pathways Learning Platform launching on 8 March in celebration of IWD 2014 is a new educational website that promises to reinvigorate teaching and learning on a range of subjects connected to gender, women’s empowerment and development. The platform, which is a free open-access site, contains four modules, which connect to Pathways’ four research themes.Pathways image for blog jpg

  • Empowerment and Women’s Work explores what it is about work that makes it empowering for women. It presents the experiences of women who have navigated routes of empowerment through work, often in difficult and restricting societies and political systems.
  • Politics, Equality and Voice explores the ways greater fairness for women participating in politics can be achieved and presents factors which enable or constrain women from fully participating in politics.
  • Women, Representation and Sexuality takes the body as its entry point to understanding ways sexuality and pleasure can be a positive force in development policy and practice and challenges the negative language used and approach taken by institutions working with women on sexuality and female representation.
  • Understanding and Evolving Empowerment explores fresh ways to measure empowerment and evaluates the power of quantitative vs qualitative. It presents a broad range of projects, which have used alternative techniques to collect data and have helped to expand our conceptual understanding of the meanings and practices of empowerment in different regions and for different women.

Resources for you
The platform is aimed at a wide range of users and has filters to access content by academic level. It provides resources for students and teachers as well as others. Whether you are part of a community group, work for a women’s organisations, are facilitating workshops or are studying gender related undergraduate programmes, you can access resources under the ‘other groups’ category.

All resources can be downloaded and used without Internet connection and every resource and activity is also included in specially designed workbooks. These features allow users complete flexibility in how they choose to teach and engage with the learning materials within this platform. A lesson planning document and ‘How to Use’ instructional film is also included to enhance understanding and provide further support to educators and learners.

Inspiring change through women’s stories
As a group of researchers, activists and communicators with hubs based in Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and West Africa, Pathways members have tried to trace the hidden as well as the well-worn journeys of women’s empowerment. Well-worn journeys such as the importance of education, political voice and economic empowerment, and those more hidden such as the significance of pleasure and leisure and religion. One of the main guides of our work has been to give space for women’s own voices – to show how women are experiencing empowerment and disempowerment in their own lives. We have developed this platform with the aim of showing these stories to a wide audience through engaging visual resources.

The platform combines the use of case studies from nine countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Sierra Leone – with a wide selection of resources designed to engage and incite debate:

With these resources we aim to influence a new generation of policy makers, activists and academics around issues of gender equality.

Our hope for the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment learning platform is that by offering flexible learning materials it will inspire a radical shift in policy and practice. Inspiring change on International Women’s Day and beyond.

Natalie Jeffers is an IDS/School of Global Studies Climate Change and Development Msc Alumni, principal developer of the Pathways Learning Platform and director of Matters of the Earth, a company which specialises in the re-purposing of research for new audiences.

Jenny Edwards is the Programme Officer for the Pathways to Women’s Empowerment Programme, based at IDS. 

Pathways of Women’s Empowerment is a research and communication programme which seeks to discover where women are achieving real gains despite or because of policy and practice. It looks at how this has happened, and aims to make these pathways visible so that we can build on these revealed successes. By involving policy actors and practitioners directly in what we are learning, through action research and through innovative communications methods, we hope that our work can in itself become a catalyst of change.


The Development Prison: escaping gender, LGBT and sexuality silos

04/03/2014

Stephen_Wood200Stephen Wood

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a live Guardian Development panel discussion on sexuality and development issues. It was a fascinating experience, bringing a rich set of mainly Southern voices to bear on a wide-ranging set of topics.

What became apparent throughout the discussions were that two issues are beginning to gain traction amongst those operating within this field: the risk that many facets of sexuality advocacy may be drowned out due to a focus upon LGBT rights and the retreat into a silo mentality by those working on gender and sexuality.

In these past few weeks, the frenetic pace of sexual rights activism has cranked up a notch – the obvious homophobic developments in Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, but also continual attacks on abortion, sex workers rights and women’s bodily autonomy. For those active in these movements, the sheer intensity of keeping up with and showing solidarity is a strain in itself, making it incredibly difficult to look outside of our backyards into the concerns of others outside our narrow area of expertise.

Considering the current climate, it isn’t surprising that minds currently race immediately to global LGBT rights when we talk about sexuality and development. The Ugandan Anti-Pornography Bill passed in December 2013, which risks criminalising women wearing mini-skirts or dressing in an ‘immoral’ way, received much less coverage or international condemnation than the reviled Anti-Gay Bill passed last month.

As a gay man, working to amplify the voices of LGBTI colleagues working in the Global South is an essential part of what gets me up to work in the morning, but sexuality is much broader than that. That is why the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme works hard to build intersections and alliances between very different groups, convening conversations that broaden people’s conception of sexuality and it’s relevance over many seemingly unconnected areas of the development world.

Limitations of LGBT identity politics

LGBT is a particularly Western term that whilst makes sense for a lot of people globally, can also fail to speak to the realities of people’s lives in many contexts. We need to problematise it, whilst hanging on to it for where it is politically useful or speaks to peoples experiences. Where development interventions use this framing as a mechanism by which citizens access rights or services, we run the risk of imposing an identity politics upon cultures that could be incredibly unhelpful to some.

The other note of caution is that LGBT rights are a particularly trendy topic at the moment with media attention and (in some cases) development funding available right now to engage with it. The wheel will turn, Governments will change and priorities shift – and unless LGBT movements for progressive change build common cause across these debates to identify allies – the funding and energy will eventually shift in other directions, potentially to less aligned beneficiaries.

Placing LGBT at the centre of sexuality issues also poses political problems for others within the field. There is a sense that it is creating discord amongst development professionals who work upon it by shutting down wider debate on issues around sex education, reproductive and sex work by association, where the assumption is given that sexuality is code for LGBT equality.

Consequently, conservative voices are using this a defensive position to argue against efforts to reform other crucial areas of sexual rights, such as education, access to services or spousal consent laws. More nuanced strategising between social movements is needed to avoid these attempts to divide and conquer.

Breaking the glass walls dividing gender and sexuality

Rightly, with equality for women and girls so far away from being a reality in many (if not all) parts of the world, there can be an understandable concern that bringing sexuality, including LGBTI people, into conversations around gender equality will mean hard choices around resources and that women will be the losers in that debate.

The cold reality is that these divisions may be due to NGOs being dependent on bilateral or international funding, so the silo mentalities we are witnessing could be a scramble to differentiate oneself for limited resources. As I’ve written recently, even within the fledgling LGBTI aid industry, there are unhealthy hierarchies of priority between groups that mitigate against collaboration.

Yet within gender research and advocacy, an essentialist, binary view of gender can still hold sway, ignoring the reality that oppression of sexual minorities very often stems from a visceral dislike of those who trouble their world-view of immutable gender roles. Within the development world, it often remains unspoken amongst donor agencies and practitioners that aid should be focussed on the ‘deserving poor’, those whose lives and choices do not challenge dominant moral codes. For all the focus upon conservative voices blocking progressive change in aid recipient countries, the mirror is rarely held up to confront the instances of judgemental and heteronormative behaviour from development professionals.

Consequently, gender work often focuses upon the empowerment of particular groups of heterosexual women, rendering invisible those who don’t subscribe to specific gender scripts, ignores the transformative possibilities of working with men, let alone transgender and gender-variant people. We need to re-open dialogue amongst those working on gender about the possibilities for deepened alliances and challenge some of these unspoken undercurrents and exclusions.

What can be done?

Voices need to be heard from NGOs on the ground to engage in and influence the evolving strategies of funding organisations, governments and philanthropic donors. Collectively, we need to ensure that mechanisms for support are developed in a way that discourages silo thinking, encourages self-reflexivity around gender identity and sexuality and places intersectionality front and centre. I’ve spoken to senior staff within funding agencies who bemoan the lack of lobbying coming from the grassroots – it doesn’t hurt to remember that we are not just recipients, we are key stakeholders they need and want to listen to.

IDS strives to ensure that our Sexuality and Development Programme avoids some of these problems by placing intersectionality at the heart of what we do:  building projects, alliances and campaigns that make those connections central to the process as well as the outcome. In much the same way as gender mainstreaming has sought to assess the impact of public policy upon women and men and catalyse fresh collaborations, we also seek to identify fresh entry points for sexuality engagement in issues such as housing, social insurance, education and poverty.

To point to specifics, our current DFID-funded programme on the links between sexuality and poverty has produced a synthesis report written by Kate Hawkins, myself and our partners, published this week, which gives an excellent snapshot of how consideration of gender and sexuality within the production of poverty-reduction policies are intimately connected.

Colleagues across IDS recently held a major meeting called “Undressing Patriarchy” which brought together development practitioners, activists, policymakers and researchers working across gender justice, feminist movements, men’s movements, LGBTI and sex worker groups to take time to re-interrogate what patriarchy means for our movements and activisms and to identify bridging activities we can take forward to tackle it.

At a time when resources are scarce, where gender and sexual rights movements are struggling to respond to fast moving and at times dangerous political contexts, it is a lot to ask for an investment in engagement with what many view as tangential issues. Yet at their core, gender, sexuality and LGBTI activists are part of a wider movement to safeguard pluralism and human rights and it is only through making common cause can we ensure that these issues remain firmly at the centre of mainstream social and policy agendas.

Stephen Wood is a Research Officer on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

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