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The World Bank’s Historic Shift to Include LGBTIQ People






Andrew Park
Published Date

For decades, the World Bank ignored the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people. For the first couple decades of its existence, it also largely ignored women. As Bank policy has evolved, so has its attention to women and gender.  This year, the Bank is proposing a new gender strategy that could make a huge difference in the lives of LGBTIQ people. In its comments to the Bank about the new strategy, Outright International and other groups made recommendations to accelerate this evolution toward broader inclusion of LGBTIQ people. 

From the 1970s to the 1990s, the Bank began looking at issues of women in development out of a concern that women were not benefitting equally from growth and that development policy was not accounting for the role of women in the economy. In the 1990s, the focus on women broadened to include greater attention to the social structures that marginalized women, policies that sought to mainstream gender issues into other thematic priorities, and a stream of economic research regarding the impact of gender inequality on economic growth.

In the recently released draft gender strategy, meant to guide the Bank's work through 2030, the Bank noted a shift toward a more inclusive focus on all people negatively impacted by gender norms and stigma, including women, girls, men, boys, and LGBTIQ people of all genders.   In early December, Outright submitted detailed written comments and recommendations to the Bank about its gender strategy jointly with several US-based groups (Bank Information Center, Foundation Earth, ORAM - Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, and the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights) along with with several LGBTIQ groups in countries represented on the Bank’s executive board (FRI - the Norwegian Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Kaleidoscope Trust (UK), LGBT+ Denmark, and LSVD - The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany.

Outright’s first concern is that the strategy document should, as persuasively as possible, make a strong case to borrowers and development agencies that a shift to a broader understanding of harmful gender norms has a firm basis in the Bank’s development priorities. Outright recommended that the new strategy include a thorough review of the many reasons why LGBTIQ inclusion is necessary to achieve development goals.  

Outright also recommended that the Bank make other changes to the strategy. First, the strategy should adopt a revised definition of gender. The current draft defines gender as a characteristic associated with biological sex. Outright proposed the following definition of gender:

Gender refers to a socially constructed set of rules, responsibilities, entitlements, and behaviors associated with being a woman, a man, or a non-binary individual. These social definitions are multifaceted, and their consequences differ among and within cultures, change over time, and intersect with other factors (e.g., age, class, disability, ethnicity, race, religion, citizenship, and sexual orientation). The term gender can also refer to a personal characteristic of an individual, though it is not interchangeable with the term sex or the term women. As a personal characteristic, gender includes one’s gender identity (how someone understands their own gender) and gender expression (how someone expresses their gender through clothing, mannerisms, names, and functions in life that have social meaning related to gender).

Second, the strategy should place more emphasis on programs to reduce stigma and change collective mindset. Outright’s comments suggested that the strategy could either list stigma reduction as an independent outcome or it could specify how stigma reduction activities could contribute to each of the existing outcomes.

Third, the strategy should specify what types of interventions the Bank will finance in order to protect and build the human capital of LGBTIQ people. Very few LGBTIQ-specific strategies are included in the draft, leaving the possible impression that the Bank is only willing to finance a limited set of interventions. Including a more extensive list of interventions to improve the health, education, and workplace skills of LGBTIQ people will send a signal to Bank staff and borrowing governments that the Bank will broadly support programs to benefit LGBTIQ populations. 

In the past, the Bank’s gender strategy has helped shape global development policy. Once issued, the new strategy will provide another tool for advocates to seek the inclusion of LGBTIQ people in programs financed by the Bank.

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