Gender equality = LGBTI equality?

The correlation between gender equality and sexual minority rights

Lab debate
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
09:00 to 10:15

Strong linkages exist between the ongoing discrimination and marginalisation of women and girls and the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Both result from the idea that there are only two sexes, biologically determined at birth, and that every person must behave according to that sex. This restricts people’s control over their lives and their bodies, in living their lives and fulfilling their potential. This hinders development and progress not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole. Development agendas such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the EU Gender Action Plan can have a much larger impact if sexual minorities are included in the discussion on gender justice, gender equality and equal opportunities.

Key points

  • Discrimination against women and girls often affects LGBTI persons disproportionately, yet the gender and LGTBI communities do not always see their activities as part of the same fight.

  • Donors and external policymakers need to understand the systemic linkages between gender equality and the rights of sexual minorities.

  • Gender activists are perhaps afraid of associating with LGTBI groups.

  • LGTBI associations are constantly thwarted.


Gender equality has been the focus of development cooperation for decades and has by now been mainstreamed into all policy areas in which development actors operate. But many stakeholders – including donors, gender activists, and political and community leaders – fail to understand that very often the exclusive focus on gender equality is reductive and operates on a binary model that only includes men and women, rather than all gender identities. Too often feminists and gender activists fail to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, or even to acknowledge them, even though both groups are fighting for social justice. In practical terms, this exclusion may be based on fears by gender activists of losing influence with their governments or societies, or of jeopardising the achievements of the past by associating with the LGBTI struggle. In some countries, LGBTI people are systematically excluded from social and political space and silenced. Their associations are not allowed to register or cannot receive funding unless they redefine their purpose by erasing their true character, for example, by focusing on “population programmes” or “minorities”. Against this background, it is important to understand that the struggle for the rights of sexual minorities is of one piece with the struggle for gender equality. Both are fighting against marginalisation and exclusion, and for justice for all. Discussing gender equality without including sexual minorities is exclusionary and fails to deliver on the emancipatory promise of the feminist movement. Many of the forms of discrimination and exclusion experienced by women and girls affect LGBTI persons disproportionately, including sexual harassment and gender-based violence. In many developing countries, LGBTI persons and their associations are fighting against very practical exclusion, including legal bans on their activities, systemic harassment by the police, and discriminatory attitudes by religious and community leaders. They are branded as anti-government simply because there are no legal ways for them to organise. The attempt to silence them and erase them from public space is a form of institutionalised violence. Donors can support the fight for sexual justice by consistently pushing back against attempts to silence LGBTI persons by development stakeholders including governments, community leaders and activists. Giving LGBTI activists a platform at the EDD has allowed them to embark on a dialogue – however difficult – with their own government representatives who would have continued ignoring them had it not been for the endorsement of LGBTI causes by the EDD.


Policymaking needs to take account of evident linkages between gender-based forms of discrimination and violence, and those directed at LGBTI persons.

Organised by


Angela Langenkamp
GIZ Gender Commissioner
GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit)
Joyce Hamilton
COC Nederland
Adrian Jjuuko
Executive Director
Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, Uganda
Gloria Mutyaba
Freedom and Roam, Uganda
Micah Grzywnowicz
Co-Chair of the Executive Board
ILGA-Europe (European LGBTI Association)
Diana Rutabingwa
Technical Advisor
GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit)