The exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons in the discussion and planning to address sexual violence, was brought into focus by United and Strong as the organization added its voice to a regional workshop staged in Saint Lucia by the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA).
The Caribbean Regional Gender Workshop on Sexual Violence in the Caribbean, Status and Needs Including in Humanitarian Situations, saw thirty-four government and NGO representatives from twelve countries attending. The three-day workshop reviewed a strategy, initiated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to reduce gender-based sexual violence and provide a framework for action and guidance in regional and in-country gender-related activities.
The three-day workshop heard country and NGO reports that detailed actions by national institutions and civil society organizations to address and prevent gender-based violence. Among the presentations however only Belize, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago included LGBT persons in national plans to combat sexual violence.
“I believe it is important to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in programs dealing with gender-based and sexual violence” states Edma Pierre, who represented U&S along with Media Consultant Maria Fontenelle. She adds, “The fact that they are also victims is often ignored and they are treated with a lack of sensitivity within the system.”
United and Strong representatives took the opportunity to highlight the risks inherent in not considering LGBT when designing responses to sexual violence, particularly in disaster and humanitarian situations. They stressed that LGBT should be given consideration across the board from the design of training; selection of staff; services provided for at risk persons; how these services are advertised; the structure of facilities, including toilets; the policies that govern safe spaces for victims of abuse and the legal challenges that can affect all of these.
The legal barrier of the Buggery law was stated as one of the chief reasons that reports from Saint Lucia did not mention LGBT in plans to reduce gender-based sexual violence and in-country gender-related activities. The meeting included representatives from PROSAF, the Massade Boys Training Centre, Voluntary Women, Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association, Women’s Shelter, Saint Lucia Crisis Centre, Saint Lucia CARIMAN, Gender Relations, CAFRA Saint Lucia, Family Court and Human Services.
Representatives of PROSAF, the Women’s Shelter, Gender Relations, Family Court and Human Services took the opportunity to stress that their doors were open to every victim of sexual violence. However it was recognised that reluctance to openly identify as LGBT due to fears of stigma, and the reluctance on the part of men generally, and gay men in particular, to admit to being sexually violated was a deterrent in acquiring data that would support the need for inclusion of LGBT in national planning.
Funding was also touted as a constraint. “What is being done sometimes is limited by our resources both at the international level and at the national level”, notes UNFPA gender specialist Jewell Quallo Rosberg. She states however that there is determination to tackle the wide-ranging issue of gender-based violence, “by uniting and using all our resources, not just financial but community resources, and focussing on prevention rather than trying to address the problem after it happens.”
By the conclusion of the conference, at least one country rep, Elaine Henry-McQueen of Grenada, undertook to push for the consideration of the needs of LGBT in national policy planning. Saint Lucia based government and civil society representatives also committed to continue to work in partnership going forward. There was general-consensus among regional partners to advocate for greater collaboration between the community and government to address sexual and gender-based violence as highlighted during the workshop.
U&S’ Edma Pierre (seated – first left) and Maria Fontenelle (standing – far right), with participants at Caribbean Regional Gender Workshop on Sexual Violence in the Caribbean