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Sexuality and poverty

Economic empowerment

Traditionally, the entry points to examining discrimination against those with non-normative sexual or gender identities has been through HIV prevention work and human rights activism. However, recent research has begun to examine the impact of social, economic and political barriers and how they shape these marginalised groups experiences of a double-bind of prejudice and exclusion; such as struggles in accessing education, healthcare, employment discrimination, housing and the greater role migration plays in their lives, particularly amongst sex workers and trans people. Alongside this, international efforts to reduce poverty often amongst development actors have normative conceptions of sexuality coded into poverty alleviation policies, in ways that further compound and exclude those individuals marginalised as a consequence of their sexuality or gender identity.

We can also see that in those countries with discriminatory laws, policies, institutions and public opinion against sexual and gender minorities, it is even harder to make the case for interventions.  The lack of an evidence base to illustrate the effects of this marginalisation also ensures that the case for economic benefit, often found as an important outcome of tackling this discrimination is harder to make in national and international contexts. Although recent qualitative studies produced by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the World Bank have examined the ‘cost of homophobia’ in India, which are having an impact on global debates. Anecdotal evidence indicates that extreme poverty amongst these communities is even starker in rural contexts, hence the levels of migration to urban centres where surveillance from family and peers is reduced, but to date there hasn’t been a critical mass of research in this area.

Long-standing economic inequalities between men and women are built into the livelihoods available to sexual and gender minorities. However, these inequalities are further compounded with the intersecting discriminations that these groups experience including struggles in accessing education, healthcare, employment, housing and the greater role migration plays in their lives, particularly amongst sex workers and transgender (trans) people.

Individuals not conforming to traditional modes of appearance and dress can find themselves locked out of particular employment positions, also the care burden continues to fall heavily on those who identify as female. Research conducted amongst trans people in Vietnam highlights that trans men report greater freedom and economic spending power than trans women, who struggle in the market and in many times identify sex work as the most viable method by which to earn, with the corresponding increases in vulnerability to disease, violence and police harassment.

Women's economic empowerment programmes still tend to exclude non-heterosexual or trans women as the marginal funding that is set aside from donor countries and foundations does not translate into activities that will benefit lesbians, bisexual women and trans women in the vast majority of cases.

Some useful resources on this issues include: