THE ECONOMIST ran a misleading editorial recently arguing that “the World Bank’s focus on gay rights is misguided” (“Right cause, wrong battle“, April 12th).
Today, The Economist posted the letter that gender & SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity & Expression) activists/leaders, sent in response:
On behalf of the (gender & SOGIE) activists that were at the World Bank spring meeting and who had the opportunity to engage with the president of the bank, Jim Kim, we would like to respond to your leader arguing that Mr Kim’s attempts to address discrimination against gays in Uganda and elsewhere will hurt the bank’s objectives regarding development. You argued against the World Bank’s involvement in “gay rights”, and perpetuated several misconceptions, inaccurately describing the courageous activists that met Mr Kim, and oversimplified their campaign for more effective safeguard policies.
Addressing Discrimination is Intrinsic to the Bank’s Mandate
You criticized the bank’s postponement of a loan to Uganda in response to the government’s passage of its Anti-Homosexuality Act, and asserted that the bank was prioritizing “gay rights” over poverty alleviation. Although you attempted to downplay the importance of addressing discrimination in Uganda by citing the pervasive discrimination found against women and others around the world, it is precisely this prevalence of discrimination that makes this problem too big to ignore.
In fact, the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGIE) activists you referred to have asked the bank to address both gender and SOGIE together in its efforts on discrimination. These communities face similar structural discrimination and marginalization that lead to the inability to escape the poverty cycle. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that discrimination can lead to extreme poverty. In India, estimated costs of homophobia could be near 2% of GDP. The bank simply cannot afford to ignore discrimination if it hopes to achieve its goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
You also quoted the bank’s Articles of Agreement, which outline its purpose as an institution focused solely on “economic considerations” and “not a place for political advocacy.” Limiting the bank’s mission to what is written in the Articles, however, would mean that it should still be focused on rebuilding Europe after the second world war. Neither “poverty” nor “shared prosperity”—both goals the bank has adopted over the past two decades—appear in the Articles. The institution has evolved since they were first drafted. The past 70 years have provided a wealth of research and lessons learned that demonstrate the links between poverty and discrimination.
Safeguards to prevent harm, not conditionality
The World Bank has already adopted several social and environmental safeguard polices that “condition” its funds on certain procedures that both it and borrowers must follow. They require due diligence and action plans when a country anticipates having to resettle people for a project, or when indigenous peoples might be affected. These policies have been replicated at nearly all development institutions, and although not perfect, are essential in preventing harm and providing opportunities for affected communities to engage in the development process and share in its benefits.
You think that the safeguards should be eliminated in order to be a more attractive lender. Such a race to the bottom would, however, be counterproductive, and would ultimately undermine the World Bank’s efforts at poverty reduction. Instead it must work in countries to ensure safeguards are effective and responsive to the needs of marginalized communities.
The Opportunity for Change
For the first time, the bank is undertaking a comprehensive review of all of its social and environmental safeguard policies. Despite its efforts in recent years to “mainstream gender” in its work, the World Bank has never adopted a mandatory policy on how to ensure its projects and programmes are gender inclusive and avoid exacerbating inequalities that lead to poverty. Furthermore, it has entirely overlooked the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities in its broader agenda.
The Uganda loan demonstrates that the bank currently has no way to ensure its projects avoid inequalities on the ground or contribute to possible human-rights violations on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather than being cancelled, the loan has been put on hold to allow the bank time to research the effects that the loan would have on SOGIE communities. To make this research systematic prior to this stage in loan disbursement, the World Bank must adopt a safeguard policy on gender and SOGIE that would prevent exclusion and recognize these individuals as important stakeholders in its work.
Despite your implication, the activists who visited Washington are not asking the bank to divest from countries like Uganda. Rather they are asking it to go into complex, discriminatory societies with their eyes open and to anticipate the risks before further marginalizing vulnerable communities.
We continue to believe that the World Bank should do everything in its power to ensure that its investments are not creating or exacerbating existing inequalities, that it uses its power and influence to encourage its clients to ensure equitable distribution of economic growth benefits, and that the institution itself respects the rights of individuals, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
- Andrea Quesada – Costa Rica – Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
- Bisi Alimi – Nigeria – Researcher, public speaker, policy analyst, campaigner and community worker
- Hasan Abdessamad – Lebanon – President of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH)
- Mirosława Makuchowska – Poland – Vice President of the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH)
- Xiaogang Wei – China – Executive Director of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute (BGHEI)
Categories: Human Rights