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Solidarity and partnership emphasised at development aid event

In partnership with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Kaleidoscope Trust hosted a half-day event yesterday asking the question 'Can aid donors help support LGBT rights in developing countries?' Recent legislation has raised concerns over LGBT rights in developing countries. Our event set out to ask how development aid donors should react to this, and what role and approach they should take to promote and protect LGBT rights.

To answer these questions, the event brought together a diverse range of experts and representatives of aid donors, including Elizabeth Ohene (Ghanaian journalist and former Minister of Information), Sunil Pant (Head of Blue Diamond Society, a leading gay rights group in Nepal), Jessica Horn (Women's rights consultant), Elizabeth Mills (Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies),Bjørg Sandkjær (Senior advisor NORAD Department for Global Health, Education and Research), Fabrice Houdart (World Bank Senior country officer in Maghreb), Ajit Joshi (Senior LGBT Advisor for USAID) and Marta Foresti (Director Politics and Governance programme at ODI).


The event consisted of two panels, chaired by member of the Kaleidoscope Trust board Simon Fanshawe, the first focusing on constraints and opportunities in strengthening LGBT rights from the viewpoint of development experts and rights activists, and the second on the perspectives of aid donors.



LGBT rights part of human rights


As background to the topic, anti-LGBT developments were seen as part of wider restrictions on rights or as a political tool to obscure other issues. In this context, the need to frame LGBT rights as part of all human rights was highlighted by several speakers. Elizabeth Ohene warned over linking LGBT to aid, stressing that the emergence of LGBT rights stems from an improved quality of life, economically and socially, and criminalising countries need to evolve at their own pace. Others also pointed out that we need to use economic arguments and fund research into, for example, the effects of inclusion.


To the question on whether aid donors can support LGBT rights Sunil Pant, member of the Kaleidoscope Board, replied "yes, they can and they do". Sunil raised the issue of grassroots organisations facing a barrier in accessing large funds. He added that there is also a gap between donor expectations and what can be realistically achieved in the short term, and stressed that funding needs to support long-term planning.


Partnerships and locally led efforts key

The importance of working in partnership and solidarity with local organisations was echoed by many of the panellists, both from the side of rights activists and experts and aid donors. Efforts to promote and protect LGBT rights should be locally led, and aid donors should have respect for local activism and support local efforts and language around the issue. From the side of aid donors, the World Bank's Fabrice Houdard emphasised that change comes from within, rather than as triggered by donors, and international donors can have a role in supporting grassroots organisations. Ajit Joshi from USAID agreed, stressing again the importance of building the capacity of local organisations and basing strategies on local contexts. The need to amplify progressive local voices was also identified to underline that the struggle for equality is not essentially "Western".

No to conditionality

The consensus among the speakers was that aid shouldn't be based on conditionality, in other words LGBT rights related conditions shouln't be attached to aid. The ODI's Marta Foresti pointed out that conditionality doesn't work well in terms of human rights outcomes and is often motivated by political pressure at home. Elizabeth Mills added that the ability of donors to have an influence through conditionality is overestimated, and solidarity and funding progressive interventions can have a stronger impact.


A video recording of the entire discussion is available here