The Sustainable Development Goals and the Inclusion of LGBT*QIA+ People
In 2015, UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through a total of 230 indicators, Agenda 2030 attempts to monitor seventeen interlinked global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recognising the historical, social and systematic omission of certain marginalised groups and vulnerable populations, the States acknowledged the need to ‘Leave No One Behind’ in Agenda 2030.
Due to lack of protection frameworks and policies, the LGBT*QIA+ community is often subjected to discrimination, harassment, and rapid violence based on our real or perceived SOGIESC. It is important to understand that marginal groups are not a homogenous category and there are manifold intersections of different identity groups based on SOGIESC, class, caste, religion, race, etc. While all the SDGs are relevant to the LGBT*QIA+ community, for the purpose of this study we have identified the following three goals to be crucial to the lives of LGBT*QIA+ in India:
(Goal 3) Health and Well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
(Goal 4) Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
(Goal 5) Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 3: Health and Wellbeing
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps in healthcare systems all over the world. It has added to the existing vulnerabilities of individuals as many lost their jobs and had to migrate due to the nationwide lockdown imposed as a safety measure by the Government of India. After the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in cases of domestic violence.
Many queer and trans individuals who had the access of their chosen safe space, like colleges/schools, a friend’s house, public places like parks, etc, were restricted to their homes with unsupportive natal families. This has led to a lot of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and distress. Staying with natal families has also led to multiple forms of domestic violence like increased surveillance of people at home, increased threats or abuse (verbal/physical). In some extreme cases there have been forced marriages (in heterosexual settings) or conversion therapy. Poor mental health has been linked with behaviour that is detrimental to their overall health including extended use of substance abuse, smoking, drinking, self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies (Ratnam, 2020).
Due to the lockdown, many lost their jobs but primarily working-class people suffered this loss. According to a study, more than 87% of trans* persons are dependent on traditional forms of livelihood like badhai (earning money by giving blessings), begging, and sex work. These are all activities that ceased during the lockdown, deepening the economic gap which is directly linked to (Goal No. 1) No Poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
Public healthcare system in India has always struggled to meet the needs of the population. But as per a study, the transgender community finds it more difficult than others to access healthcare services due to discrimination at healthcare facilities, lack of treatment protocols, and inadequate information on health (Pandey and Redcay, 2021). The study also notes barriers like lack of financial resources, exclusion from the social healthcare schemes, and lack of health insurance. Certain procedures like Gender Affirmation Surgery (GAS) and other gender-affirming treatments are crucial for trans* persons. Since these services are not accessed by the majority of cisgendered people, there is no comprehensive national policy in place regulating these treatments. Some states like Tamil Nadu have provided the services for free to the community but at large there is an ambiguity on the legal status of GAS/SRS. Due to this ambiguity, there have also been cases of doctors being criminalised for performing these surgeries in India. The amalgamation of all these has raised the cost of the surgery and increased incidents of clinical malpractice (Ghosh, 2020) and has resulted in grave consequences. This was highlighted in a recent suicide case of Annanya Kumari Alex, an activist and a radio jockey, in Kerala. She died by suicide after a bungled up sex affirmation surgey. This case should be a lesson in how hospitals need to be carefully controlled in providing such intricate services to an already marginalized community (Abraham, 2021).
It is important to acknowledge these gaps as systematic inequalities that make the LGBT*QIA+ community vulnerable to mental and physical health issues. To achieve SDG 3, we need:
Nationwide safe houses and queer affirming mental health helplines to support people threatened by natal families, and the subsequent loss of support networks.
Safety protocols and streamlined Gender Affirmative treatments to improve the quality of and access to the treatments.
Goal 4: Quality Education
Under the Indian Constitution, education is a fundamental right and every child should get free education till the age of 14. Education is one of the mediums for marginalized sections to lead a dignified life. The LGBT*QIA+ children who are visible because of their gender identity or sexual orientation face bullying and violence not just from their peers but many times from their teachers as well. This leads to either a suspended academic growth or quitting educational institutions. They are also targeted at university level where sexual and gender identity-based bullying lead to various mental health issues. Thus, it is important to include LGBT*QIA+ community as a focal point in anti-ragging, anti-bullying, and anti-discrimination policies at all educational levels.
A study done by UNESCO in Tamil Nadu on bullying in schools with LGBT*QIA+ children highlighted some grave issues requiring urgent attention. The participants were between the ages 18-22 years old LGBT*QIA+ persons recounting their experiences in schools. The study stated that harassment with visible queer persons start as early as at a primary school level. 60% of the participants reported being bullied for their effeminate behaviour in middle and high schools and 43% recounted it started at primary school. 70% who faced this bullying lost interest in studies, fell to depression, and developed anxiety as a result. 33% participants shared that they had to drop out of their school due to this bullying. Added to that, 53% participants reported they skipped classes due to bullying and harassment. Not so surprisingly, only 18% participants reported the incidents of bullying and harassment to the school authority (Menon, 2019). Oftentimes such bullying can have extreme results such as a 15 years old committed suicide after being heavily teased by his peers for their ‘feminine’ behaviours in Tiruchapalli, Tamilnadu (PTI, 2018). It is important and should be an utmost priority of the government to prevent such incidents in future.
One such way to bring the much-needed change is by increasing the awareness and sensitivity towards the LGBT*QIA+ community. Recently, the Madras High Court suggested changes in school and university syllabus to incorporate education on LGBT*QI+ for students. For example one of the suggestions by the Hon. Court was to include LGBT*QI+ affirming counsellors (India Today, 2021). Some of the key recommendations that Madras High Court suggested are:
Ensure availability of gender-neutral restrooms for the gender-nonconforming student.
Change of name and gender on academic records for transgender persons.
Inclusion of ‘transgender’ in addition to M and F gender columns in application forms for admission, competitive entrance exams, etc.
Appointment of counsellors who are LGBTQIA+ inclusive, for the staff and students to address grievances, if any, and to provide effective solutions for the same.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
India ranks at 123 in the Gender Inequality Index with men occupying 76.1% space in the labor force (UNDP, 2020). The LGBT*QIA+ community in India is still underrepresented with trans* community still fighting for much-needed reservation in employment. India also slipped to 81st rank in 2017 from 44th in 2003 in the gay acceptance index study by UCLA (Flores, 2019, 33). The intersection of SOGIESC leads to unequal access to services, employment and education, discrimination at social spaces, acceptance from the society, and many others.
Gender equality programmes and policies work with a narrow definition of gender which leaves the trans* persons out of the scope of these programmes. Gender needs to be understood in its multiple intersections with SOGIESC identities to understand the different levels of discrimination faced by the community. When protection policies fail to acknowledge the subject of their protection, people systematically fall prey to violence.
The key driver behind gender-based violence is also based on a system of punishments and privileges wherein people from the LGBT*QIA+ communities face severe consequences for not following the traditional gender and sexuality norms (OHCHR, 2011). LGBT*QIA+ persons especially transwomen, gender non-conforming persons, and non-binary persons face violence specifically because of their gender identity. This ranges from casual street harassment to violence by the state apparatuses such as the police. Thus, without keeping the ones who do not fit into the traditional gender roles the actualisation of gender equality is impossible.
The law places all kinds of violence including sexual, social, and structural into one category and gives punishment of minimum six months extendable till two years with fine or without it (Sec 18, TransAct, 2019) and sexual assault on a biological woman may result to 10 years in prison to even death penalty. By setting two different parameters for the same crime against cis-gendered and transgendered women, the State actively promotes discrimination based on their gender identity.
Goal 5 emphasising the importance of women and girls being involved in decision making. Queer and trans* people should also have the opportunity and environment for growth and agency.
To achieve Agenda 2030, and truly leave no one behind, the State needs to include LGBT*QIA+ individuals in decision-making capacities. Given an enabling environment that empowers queer and trans* individuals to make policies and systems inclusive for the community, will ensure true inclusion on all levels.
Without urgent measures to address violence and discrimination based on LGBTQIA+ communities real and perceived gender identity and sexual orientation, we will fail to comply with the motto of “Leave No One Behind”. We urge the Indian state to repeal discriminatory laws, adopt protective legislation, reform institutions and implement policies to combat discrimination and ensure the effective inclusion of LGBT*QIA+ people.
Abraham, B. (2021, July 21). Kerala Transgender RJ Dies By Suicide Over Suspected Botched Up Gender Reassignment Surgery.
Flores, A. R. (2019, October). Social Acceptance of LGBT People in 174 Countries:1981 to 2017 [This report analyzes survey data from 174 different countries to produce the Global Acceptance Index, a measure of the relative level of social acceptance of LGBT people and rights in each country.]. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Global-Acceptance-Index-LGBT-Oct-2019.pdf
Ghosh, S. (2020, February, 24th). Battle for right body: The reality of sex reassignment surgeries in India. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2020/feb/24/battle-for-right-body-the-reality-of-sex-reassignment-surgeries-in-india-2107686.html
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Menon, P. (2019, June 10). LGBT bullying in schools takes heavy toll, reveals Unesco report.
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PTI. (2018, February 9). 15-yr-old boy commits suicide after friends tease his behaviour as feminine. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/090218/15-yr-old-tamil-nadu-boy-suicide-classmates-tease-behaviour-feminine-c.html
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Sinha, D. (2021, February 1). Explained: Despite Govt Claims, India’s Health Budget Only Around 0.34% of GDP, 3. The Wire. https://science.thewire.in/health/union-health-budget-nirmala-sitharaman-covid-19-pmasby-allocation-gdp-expert-analysis/
Taskin, B (2021, February 9). Increased work, domestic abuse — how Covid lockdown was especially hard on women in India https://theprint.in/india/increased-work-domestic-abuse-how-covid-lockdown-was-especially-hard-on-women-in-india/601328/
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This blog is authored by Nazariya: A Queer Feminist Resource Group
Nazariya works towards sensitizing the work and culture of groups and individuals working on issues of gender-based violence, livelihoods, education, and health from a queer perspective through research & evaluations, capacity building, and advocacy.