Discrimination, violence and exclusion is experienced by people with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions, and Sex Characteristics (aka LGBTIQ+ people) before, during and after disasters and conflict.
The manifestations are often many and profound, undermining people’s potential to develop resilient and dignified lives, and to survive and recover from shocks. This discrimination, violence and exclusion is maintained by deeply rooted norms at the heart of societal laws, institutions and practices, shaping the lives of people with diverse SOGIESC well before they ever interact with the humanitarian system, or with disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiatives. However this report, as part of an emerging body of literature, also shows that the humanitarian and DRR systems often fail to acknowledge or address the discrimination, violence and exclusion experienced by people with diverse SOGIESC. At the very least this leaves people with diverse SOGIESC to find their own solutions; at worst, it reinforces violations of human rights.
In 2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council recognized that discrimination and violence on the basis of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) violates human rights. In doing so, it affirmed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights statement:“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” does include people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. While the 2011 resolution did not address sex characteristics, thirty-four countries supported a 2020 statement at the Human Rights Council, recognizing that people with “diverse sex characteristics face discrimination in all areas of life”, calling on the Council and national governments to address these violations and their root causes (Kingdom of the Netherlands, 2020).
What does this mean for the humanitarian and DRR sectors? When the principle of humanity states that “Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found” does that include suffering endured by people with diverse SOGIESC? When the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) urges an “all-of-society” approach, are people with diverse SOGIESC part of that society? When the world promises that “no-one will be left behind” (United Nations 2015) in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), does that mean everyone including people with diverse SOGIESC? The answers should, of course, be yes.
Humanitarian and DRR actors must work within the national and subnational contexts where their programs are implemented, contexts that are sometimes unsupportive or hostile toward people with diverse SOGIESC. Even in these circumstances, humanitarian and DRR actors can ask whether their programs support people with diverse SOGIESC, whether they ignore or avoid engaging with them, or whether they actively worsen the lives of people with diverse SOGIESC. They can also:
• Review their own frameworks and tools to ensure that they are fit for purpose for working with people with diverse SOGIESC.
• Ensure that staff and partners are appropriately trained and supported to undertake diverse SOGIESC inclusive engagement and programs.
• Choose to work in genuine partnerships with diverse SOGIESC CSOs.
• Find quiet entry points for starting diverse SOGIESC inclusive activities, if larger programs or mainstreaming is not yet possible.
• Advocate in appropriate sectoral, regional or global forums for diverse SOGIESC inclusion.
Do no harm is non-negotiable, and challenges in local contexts sometimes justify a more conservative approach. However, at other times, the lack of diverse SOGIESC tailored tools, the lack of training, and the lack of partnerships - among other issues - compound those local challenges, and lead organizations to step back from diverse SOGIESC inclusion when they could step up.
Why is this happening? Is it ignorance? Over-work?
Fear? Habit? Disinterest? Conservatism? Lack of guidance? Underfunding? Politics? Or a mix of all of these factors and more? This report takes a complex and adaptive systems approach to understanding why limitations on diverse SOGIESC inclusion seem to be ‘held in place’ and to offer options for ‘unsticking’ the problem. It explores four humanitarian settings and the thematic area of shelter and housing, leading to analytical and monitoring tools for humanitarian and development actors to establish baselines and to accelerate work on diverse SOGIESC inclusion.
The absence of diverse SOGIESC inclusion in humanitarian and DRR programs is pervasive, and in many cases organizations and sectors will be starting from or near zero. However there are examples of organizations and sectors taking positive steps.
Pride in the Humanitarian System Consultation More than one hundred representatives of diverse SOGIESC civil society organizations (CSOs) and humanitarian and DRR organizations took part in a ground-breaking meeting in Bangkok in 2018: the Pride in the Humanitarian System consultation.
Over four days CSO representatives learned how to engage with the humanitarian and DRR sectors, and with staff from those organizations. They shared stories about experiences of discrimination, violence and exclusion in pre-emergency, relief and recovery phases. They explored ‘choke points’ in sector ways of working that constrain inclusion of people with diverse SOGIESC, considered tactical opportunities in accountability to affected people (AAP) and localization initiatives, identified key thematic areas for inclusion, and developed plans for diverse SOGIESC CSOs and regional humanitarian and DRR actors to take forward.
The deliberations recounted in the Pride in the Humanitarian System Consultation Report were accompanied by a community-led call-for-action No Longer Left Behind. This articulated community expectations of the work humanitarian and DRR actors need do to address major inclusion gaps, and how they should do that work. Much of this involves established humanitarian and development organizations taking a good hard look at themselves, and reforming their own policy and practice. Additionally, drawing upon feminist and participatory models of social change and consistent with sector commitments to localization and accountability to affected people, No Longer Left Behind proposed measures placing people with diverse SOGIESC at the center of assessment, design, implementation and evaluation activities.
While Pride in the Humanitarian System generated energy and hope amongst its participants, what of the rest of the humanitarian and DRR systems? On return to their countries and organizations were Pride in the Humanitarian System participants able to engage a broader constituency? Are other organizations and their staff listening and acting?
A survey and interviews with participants revealed that while participants gained some traction within their organizations and maintained some relationships from Pride in the Humanitarian System, change beyond that was elusive.
It would be naïve to think that a single conference would change the world. So are the experiences of Pride in the Humanitarian System participants just the inevitable inertia of a train pulling out of the station? Are their experiences any different to the circumstances faced by advocates and allies in other inclusion domains: of people with disabilities, or older or younger people, or (cisgender and heterosexual) women and girls?
The inclusion timeline within the CHS Alliance How Change Happens in the Humanitarian Sector:
Humanitarian Accountability Report Edition 2018, provides some clues. In the timeline (see page 30) the journey toward inclusion tends to start with reports that draw attention to marginalization and calls for human rights recognition in each domain. This is followed by the establishment of sectoral and institutional mechanisms – such as ‘Task Forces’ – that focus attention on the issue, that generate foundational documents that set expectations and standards, and that lead to the development of policy guidance, training and other resources. However, it appears that this process has stalled for diversity of SOGIESC. A decade has passed since the Human Rights Council resolved that sexual orientation and gender identity are characteristics of rights holders, however there is little sign of sectoral and institutional mechanisms dedicated to diverse SOGIESC inclusion in the humanitarian or DRR sectors. Several staff of humanitarian organizations interviewed for this report also foresaw greater challenges for diverse SOGIESC inclusion than other domains, due to clear directions from governments that diverse SOGIESC inclusion is off-the-table, or the influence of conservative religious institutions, or entrenched societal stigma. Another noted that: “Many people are not aware of a normative, legal or institutional framework for promoting [diverse SOGIESC inclusion]. I’m not aware of action plans or resolutions coming from the UN”.
While there is often a large gap between highlevel global mechanisms and the practical work of humanitarian and DRR staff in responses, there is a message that still needs to be sent and received.
The Only Way Is Up
Encouraging and monitoring inclusion requires a working definition of inclusion. Chapter One explores what inclusion means according to key frameworks and tools in the humanitarian and DRR systems such as the Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability, the InterAgency Standing Committee Gender with Age Marker and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Comparing the provisions of these frameworks and tools with the demands of the Pride in the Humanitarian System No Longer Left Behind call-for-action reveals much consistency, but also some key differences. While the frameworks and tools focus on steps that humanitarian and development organizations can take to amend their policy and practice, the No Longer Left Behind call-for-action has a clearer emphasis on reforming power imbalances: who is sitting at the table, what are their roles, how they are funded? Chapter One also provides a more detailed comparison between diversity of SOGIESC and other inclusion domains, concluding that the range of reinforcing factors militating against diverse SOGIESC inclusion points toward complexity theory as a analytical approach.
Chapter Three extends the emerging body of literature on people with diverse SOGIESC in disasters, conflict and complex emergencies by examining four humanitarian settings in South Asia (Bangladesh), Southeast Asia (the Philippines) and the Pacific (Vanuatu). In doing so it seeks to go beyond pointing out gaps, to begin generating a clearer understanding of how and why those gaps exist and what steps might begin closing the gaps.
Each of these countries endure a high incidence of disaster threats, and two of the four settings are the responses to Tropical Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu and the response to earthquakes in the province of Davao del Sur on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao. The two remaining settings involve conflict displacement: the camps around Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh that house more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and the ongoing resettlement process from the 2017 siege of the city of Marawi, also on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Interviews with people with diverse SOGIESC in these settings reveal the impact of discrimination, violence and exclusion prior to the disaster or conflict. For example, Rohingya who lived with rape, violence, and harassment perpetrated by family members or other community members, who were forced out of school, who struggled to find jobs, and had nowhere to turn to for assistance; all of that before leaving Myanmar and on top of being Rohingya people in Rakhine State .
Regarding relief and recovery phases, people with diverse SOGIESC recounted stories of limited access to safe shelter, mobility restrictions within camps and a lack of safe spaces away from harassment and violence. They spoke of health facilities in camps that turn them away or that people with diverse SOGIESC do not trust, of being blamed for causing disasters and conflict as divine punishment for their sins, of trouble accessing other relief and recovery support such as diverse as toilets, schooling, or housing materials. And they reported disappointment that international organizations are not interested in them, and that they have no where to report the problems they face. People with diverse SOGIESC are not a monolithic group; some people had better or worse experiences than others and their experiences varied with national and subnational political and cultural context.
A review of needs assessments and humanitarian plans was undertaken for each of the four settings.
In the Philippines documents pertaining to the Marawi conflict and the Davao del Sur earthquakes made virtually no mention of people with diverse SOGIESC. In Vanuatu, just one assessment of out of all documents reviewed included diversity of SOGIESC. Of the four settings studied, the most promising examples were from Cox’s Bazar. While overall there was still very little reference to diversity of SOGIESC, a small number of agencies that focus on protection and gender issues are taking genuine steps forward.
While many documents in each setting included regular statements about ‘other marginalized or vulnerable groups’, there is usually no indication that this is intended to mean diversity of SOGIESC, nor that it would lead to any substantive inclusion of people with diverse SOGIESC. Where specific mentions of SOGIESC did appear, they were almost always in the context of Protection, and almost never in the context of other clusters and thematic areas such as Shelter or WASH. The analysis in this report focuses on settings-level documentation; globally the inclusion of people with diverse SOGIESC in assessments and guidance documents is also very patchy. There are individual documents such as the IASC Gender Based Violence in Emergencies guidance that addresses aspects of diverse SOGIESC inclusion and organizations including the IFRC have begun to revise their guidance and operational documents, for example the Minimum standards for protection, gender and inclusion in emergencies. However these examples are few and far between.
This analysis focuses on humanitarian response within these settings, as it involves a structured and time-bound set of activities against which to assess inclusion. However the analysis is just as relevant for DRR, whether understood more narrowly as disaster-focused activity within the disaster cycle, or more broadly understood as an element of resilient and risk-aware development.
Firstly, there is a fluid nexus between DRR and humanitarian activity: countries such as the Philippines and Vanuatu face disaster threats on a regular basis, creating ongoing interplay between longer-term DRR activity and shorter-term humanitarian activity. Secondly governments, donors and many organizations are engaged in both DRR and humanitarian preparednessrelief-recovery activities in the same settings.
Indeed DRR is critical for addressing broader societal discrimination, violence and exclusion faced by people with diverse SOGIESC, that shape experiences before, during and after crises.
To what extent does DRR achieve this for people with diverse SOGIESC? Do DRR plans in Vanuatu and the Philippines – where the settings studied involve disasters – include people with diverse SOGIESC? National DRR laws and plans in neither country explicitly address diversity of SOGIESC, and the disaster system in the Philippines tends to define family units in ways that exclude many people with diverse SOGIESC. In some parts of the Philippines people with diverse SOGIESC have started working within the DRR system at the local level - in dedicated diverse SOGIESC DRR groups or within community-based and municipal mechanisms - though this was not the case for people with diverse SOGIESC interviewed in Digos or displaced from Marawi. While areas outside of Digos and Marawi were not part of the research, further research into what makes diverse SOGIESC inclusion possible in some part of the Philippines would be valuable. As noted in the UN Women report Review of Gender-Responsiveness and Disability-Inclusion in Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia and the Pacific:
“Cultural beliefs and social practices are often the cause of discriminations and marginalization of certain social groups including women, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and indigenous people, among others. which also excludes them from DRR planning and activities” (UN Women 2020: 57).
This is the case in Marawi, which as a result of the reconciliation process is governed semiautonomously and partly according to sharia law, and in Vanuatu especially outside of the larger urban areas of Port Vila and Luganville.
A deeper-dive into the thematic area of shelter and housing is also revealing. This thematic area is relevant for each of the four settings researched for this report, is consistently part of reporting from other settings and is equally relevant for DRR and humanitarian programs. For DRR practitioners, issues may include family homes being unsafe places for some people with diverse SOGIESC, which may lead those people with diverse SOGIESC to live together in chosen families or households that may not be recognized by as families or households by DRR actors. Humanitarian practitioners need to be aware that community shelters and refugee camps may not be safe places, leading people with diverse SOGIESC to choose other options. As the Global Protection Cluster Strategy 2018-2022 explains, shelter in these contexts is much more than a physical covering: it is a base from which to access services and maintain a sense of identity. The interviews with shelter specialists – shelter cluster coordinators and staff of shelter-focused organizations – confirm that people with diverse SOGIESC are out of sight and out of mind. These interviews also highlight that diverse SOGIESC inclusion is sometimes seen solely as a Protection issue, but when engaged, shelter specialists have many ideas. This should offer confidence that progress can be made in various thematic areas.
However for now, that progress is not being made, and Chapter Four seeks to understand why.
Reports such as the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) 2018 State of the Humanitarian System report, propose that the humanitarian and development systems are complex and adaptive systems, comprised of a many actors that interact in various ways, and that have their agency and reasons for taking action.
Systems theorists often talk of problems being ‘held in place’ by the collective weight of these factors or by feedback loops that keep a system in its current state despite efforts to create change.
Participants from Pride in the Humanitarian
System suggested a range of barriers that inhibited their efforts to implement plans, including lack of financial resources, insufficient staff capacity, competing priorities, do no harm concerns and blocking from governments and other institutions.
These include dynamics within the humanitarian and DRR systems and influences from outside the system, such as governments, religious organizations and associated social attitudes.
For example, in interviews staff of international organizations often expressed a lack confidence addressing diverse SOGIESC issues and a fear that engagement may do more harm than good. The resulting reluctance to engage can be become a pervasive state of mind that holds staff back from engaging, even when the conditions are sufficiently conducive. The diagram (page 14) is a simplified section of the mapping in Chapter Four, showing factors that sit underneath this state of mind, including:
• Lack of training in how to undertake diverse SOGIESC community engagement.
• Lack of organizational ways of working that normalize and encourage such engagement.
• Lack of technical guidance on undertaking diverse SOGIESC community engagement while doing no harm.
• Limited involvement of diverse SOGIESC CSOs that could otherwise help clarify what kind of community engagement is advisable or not.
• Avoidance of the humanitarian system by people with diverse SOGIESC which adds to the sense of invisibility or of being hard to reach.
• Community stigma that raises protection concerns if people with diverse SOGIESC are made visible.
• Discrimination by governments and other institutions that fuels or legitimizes stigma.
The mapping in Chapter Five suggests five junctions that have centrality within the map, in the sense that they are subject to many influences from other factors, and in turn they also influence many other factors in turn. This was also informed by interviews with Pride in the Humanitarian System participants, who identified barriers that could be turned into enablers, including better research, greater staff awareness, and more involvement of diverse SOGIESC CSOs. Work at the five junctions or on the factors leading to those junction factors may help shift the system to a more inclusive state, and for that reason they may act as leverage points. However, it is not always clear which factors are the most important, and sometimes action at one place in a system will have out-sized impact. For this reason ongoing monitoring of systems is important, as it allows rapid iteration. Systems thinking does not offer magical solutions, but it encourages flexible and contextual solutions, rather than over-reliance on stock solutions. It also anticipates that persistence will be required, and that key change agents will need to maintain engagement over time.