Wednesday 21 March 2018
It was a privilege to address the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum on 28 February 2018 on behalf of The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), which is a network of 45 organisations representing 42 Commonwealth countries working to challenge inequality in the Commonwealth, based on sexual orientation or gender identity. TCEN was formally accredited to the Commonwealth in June 2017 and will be active in the Summit week advocating for equality.
Thirty seven Commonwealth countries criminalise same sex relations between consenting adults. Who you love makes you a criminal in these countries. Yet, all Commonwealth governments have committed to the SDGs to ensure that there is ‘no-one left behind’.
SDG1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Discrimination leads to exclusion from education and employment and thus to poverty. Those discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity are poor and are vulnerable to violence and threats of violence.
SDG 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Target 3.3 refers to ending AIDS. But how can HIV/AIDS be ended if men who have sex with men fear that if they go to a health clinic they will be arrested and prosecuted, or beaten up or blackmailed? There is plenty of evidence that the criminalisation of same sex relations between men holds back efforts to end AIDS.
SDG 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Target 4.1 states, ‘By 2030 ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.’ Does any parent or grandparent want their child or grandchild to be discriminated against, bullied, and too frightened to go to school all on account of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity?
SDG 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Target 5.2 says ‘Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.’ Research into the experiences of lesbians, especially in criminalising countries, found shocking evidence of violence against lesbian women: violence in the home to force a lesbian to marry; violence in the form of so-called ‘corrective rape’ and a married life of rape.
SDG 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries and SDG 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels are also relevant.
Implementing the SDGs clearly requires that same sex relations by consenting adults should no longer be criminalised. This would bring with it significant advantages.
If we create societies that remove discrimination against marginalised minorities which prevents them playing their full part in society, we reap economic benefits. The economic cost of stigma and exclusion of LGBT people in India equals around 0.1 to 1.7% loss to GDP.
So a society that treats all its citizens with dignity and respect will be a more prosperous one. It will also be fairer, and a fair society is a more secure and more sustainable one.
My call to parliamentarians is to remove stigmatising laws and replace them with laws that encourage everyone to give of their best to society.
 Human Dignity Trust, “Breaking the Silence: Criminalisation of Lesbians and Bisexual Women and its Impacts”, (May 2016) 9, http://www.humandignitytrust.org/uploaded/Library/Other_Material/Breaking_the_Silence-Criminalisation_of_LB_Women_and_its_Impacts-FINAL.pdf