Today the World Bank Group hosted a roundtable of civil society organizations (CSO) with the Bank’s executive directors (ED).
I was representing the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH). We were amongst 18 CSOs from all around the globe.
Many issues and concerns were raised: A decline in fishermen’s yield in Gujarat, India due to a coal plant, a power plant installation failure in Albania, a “disastrous” investment of the World Bank in Chad among others. The most interesting addition to this year’s CSO involvement is the loud buzz about human rights protection inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The gender and SOGIE (Sexual orientation and gender identity/Expression) coalition were able to get three questions through to the ED panel. Two questions about SOGIE were asked by Altin Hazizaj from Pink Embassy in Albania and Jonas Bagas from TLF Share Collective in the Philippines. One question about gender was asked by Andrea Quesada from WEDO in Costa Rica.
Merza Hasan, Kuwaiti national and ED of most of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region including Lebanon, had the first response: “It is not an easy discussion” he shrugged the question with a laugh as he deferred it to Germany’s ED.
I tried to paraphrase the responses of different EDs to those questions.
Ingrid G. Hoven, ED representing Germany, responded as follows:
We are at beginning of a learning process. We have to invest in getting the right expertise in place. We have to be more knowledgeable about the situation on the ground. I am comparing the current situation to that we faced 15 years ago when we addressed HIV. If we look back at how we initially handled the issue, we would be embarrassed. We need to hear their voices to gain better insight about their needs. We, at the Bank, are embarking on this learning process on LGBT rights and we are discussing internally to deal with this issue more appropriately. We need to discuss social inclusion when we address development.
By the time we meet again at the annual meeting we would be ready with a better answer.
Victoria Tauli Corpuz
Satu-Leena Santala, Finnish national and ED representing mostly Nordic countries, said:
The World Bank came a long way in promoting women’s right, but it is not enough, I feel we need to do more to achieve a better/different reality.
On Gender safeguards she added:
Safeguards are there to make sure we do no harm, but that is not enough, we should be promoting well being of women and that is why I am against having gender safeguards. I am also careful not to overload our safeguards and to find more practical ways to address this issue.
Sara Margalit Aviel, alternate ED for USA, said:
Social inclusion and rights are key to development and the Bank should learn to start addressing them. We need to assess who is marginalized, social assessment should be upfront before project implementation not only throughout the process. We need to predict and identify affected communities in order to mitigate harm.
Linking the Bank’s current motto: “End Poverty” to the marginalized groups, she concluded:
Poverty is about exclusion.
Rogério Studart, Brazilian national and the alternate ED for Brazil, the Philippines et al., called for a “revolution” within the Bank. Even when he was answering a question about the environmental footprint of the World Bank, he strayed to include sexual orientation and gender identity in his call for inclusion of all human rights.
Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Director of Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education in the Philippines, also spoke about social inclusion and mentioned LGBT individuals as part of marginalized groups.
We will not get very far without including marginalized groups and focusing on sustainability.
Merza Hasan concluded by mentioning three focus points of the executive board: “selectivity, transformation and impact.” and provided a generic advice to all CSOs: “Honestly, when I go back home to my country and sit with CSOs, I want to hear a unified voice.”
“Unify your voices” he says! Was he throwing the Bank’s responsibility back at the civil society? Did he ask for a single voice as it would be easier to bureaucratically handle instead of a roar of multiple voices? Was he asking for the impossible? How is the fisherman in Gujarat, India, expected to reach out to the civil society in Chad or Albania? Did he ask us to unify our voices about the plethora of environmental, social, gender and sexual issues impacted by Bank’s policies to present it in a simplified single-issue voice?
I am pleased that Mr. Hasan agreed to meet with me tomorrow. I am looking forward to carrying a constructive discussion on how we can best serve the marginalized in our societies in Lebanon and the MENA region, as we serve the mission statement of the Bank to “End Poverty” by abolishing all kinds of discrimination inclusive of gender and SOGIE.
Categories: Human Rights