The Commonwealth Equality Network has welcomed the decision by the Commonwealth to approve the Network for accreditation as a Commonwealth organisation. As a result of this landmark decision, the Network is now the first and only LGBTI-focused organisation to be officially accredited by the Commonwealth.
Accreditation means that The Commonwealth Equality Network members will benefit from increased access to, participation in and information about Commonwealth matters. It also sends a strong signal that the voices and needs of LGBTI+ people are legitimate and LGBTI+ activists have a vital role in civil society.
Established in 2013, The Commonwealth Equality Network is a diverse network of 38 civil society organisations in 39 countries working to challenge inequality and end discrimination against LGBTI people in the Commonwealth. The majority of the Network’s members originate in low- and middle-income countries in the Global South. The Government of Canada has welcomed the Network’s accreditation, noting that The Commonwealth Equality Network “has challenged discrimination and countered homophobia and transphobia around the world—and today it represents a diversity of civil society organizations within the 52 member nations of the Commonwealth. This step will ensure that LGBTQ2 rights are an ever more important priority for the Commonwealth.”
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Chair of The Commonwealth Equality Network and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND – SRI LANKA, said: “Considering the process it takes, it is a small wonder and a great victory for The Commonwealth Equality Network to have been given accreditation as a Commonwealth organisation. I am certain the Network can make great inroads into gaining LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth. I look forward to the day when all countries within the Commonwealth adhere to the principles of human rights and equality enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, safeguarding LGBTI rights and upholding freedom and equality for all.”
Caleb Orozco, Executive Director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and the winner of the 2017 David Kato Vision and Voice Award, whose successful lawsuit ended in Belize’s anti-homosexuality being law struck down in 2016, said: “Finally, Commonwealth governments have acknowledged that their LGBTI citizens’ dignity and rights are a part of democratic principles that should be at the policy table. As a citizen of the Commonwealth, it gives me hope that states will not leave totally the defence of rights to be the burden, alone, of individuals.”
Paul Dillane, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a London-based Network member and host of the The Commonwealth Equality Network Secretariat, said: “Let us be clear about the scale of the challenge: 36 countries in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise consensual same-sex acts and in many others LGBTI people experience discrimination and violence.
The Commonwealth Equality Network provides an important platform for activists around the world to organise and collaborate in the struggle for equality and freedom. This decision provides the Network with a vital opportunity to put the human rights of LGBTI people on the agenda.”
In 2015, a group of Network members participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, where a Barbadian activist became the first person to address Commonwealth foreign ministers on the lived reality of its LGBTI citizens. Such activism is resulting in the emergence of progressive policy; research on LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth shows how Commonwealth governments have made progress on LGBTI rights and presents best practice that other governments can learn from.
The Commonwealth Equality Network will harness the momentum accreditation gives to continue the struggle for the dignity, equality and basic freedoms of all LGBTI people throughout the Commonwealth, particularly during next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit hosted by the UK in April 2018.