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  • Despite some legal and social advances in the past two decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people continue to face widespread discrimination and violence in many countries. This discrimination and violence lead to exclusion, and this exclusion has adverse impacts on both the lives of LGBTI people as well as on the communities and economies in which they live.

    Increasing evidence indicates that LGBTI people suffer lower education outcomes due to discrimination, bullying and violence; higher unemployment rates; and a lack of access to adequate housing and health services and financial services. As a result, LGBTI people are likely overrepresented in the bottom 40% of the population. In Serbia, for example, a World Bank study finds that LGBTI people experience lower socioeconomic outcomes due to discrimination, with the at-risk-of-poverty rate increasing from 16% to 20% for those who experience discrimination.

    In many countries, it is especially difficult to tackle LGBTI exclusion, discrimination, and violence. First and foremost, there is a deeply entrenched stigma against LGBTI people. Lack of an enabling legal framework, which often is a result of such stigma, is another important reason. To date, 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality.

    A major barrier to addressing this stigma and SOGI-based exclusion is the lack of data on the lives of LGBTI people. Robust, quantitative data on differential development experiences and outcomes of LGBTI people—especially those in developing countries—is extremely thin. This data gap poses a challenge to the World Bank and other development institutions. Most importantly, this data gap puts in jeopardy the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and countries’ commitment to the principle of “leaving no one behind” in the effort to end poverty and inequality.

    The unparalleled disruption of public life due to COVID-19 in countries around the world is having devastating impacts on the delivery of services and the ability of already marginalized LGBTI people to access necessary services. The challenges this presents are both immediate and longer term, as the impacts on the economy as well as on service delivery are likely to be felt long after the virus is brought under control. At this early stage, there is very limited information on the specific risks and impacts LGBTI people face due to COVID-19 and so the World Bank can play an important role in generating relevant data and analysis.

    These challenges include:

    1.     Access to health services: We know from the available data that LGBTI people often face significant barriers in accessing health services.  In the context of COVID-19, these barriers are likely greatly exasperated and preventing LGBTI people from getting the healthcare services they need.

    2.     Impacts of Social Distancing and Isolation Policies: e.g. Many LGBTI people rely on community organizations to receive essential services (i.e. psycho-social support, HIV testing, etc.), access to which might be significantly impacted during the COVID-19 response. Especially older LGBTI people often lack family networks and rely heavily on these community services, putting them at greater risk while these services are suspended during the pandemic.

    3.     Potential increase of existing disparities: There is risk that existing inequalities in education, employment, and health for LGBTI people will deepen as a result of the COVID-19 response.

    4.     Government negatively targeting LGBTI people: Some governments are using the response to COVID-19 to roll back rights of vulnerable populations, including specifically targeting LGBTI people.

  • The World Bank approaches SOGI inclusion through our commitments on gender equality and social inclusion. The links between gender equality and development were well established in the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, while the importance of social inclusion in development was articulated in the 2013 report Inclusion Matters.

    In addition, the World Bank published studies examining the unique way in which sexual orientation, gender identity, and development are intertwined, such as The economic cost of stigma and the exclusion of LGBT people: a case study of India, Economic Inclusion of LGBTI Groups in Thailand, Life on the Margins: Survey Results of the Experiences of LGBTI People in Southeastern Europe, and Comparative Analysis of the Socioeconomic Dimensions of LGBTI Exclusion in Serbia.

    Building on its work in HIV/AIDS since the 1990s, the World Bank has taken a more comprehensive approach to SOGI inclusion throughout the organization’s management and operations.

    SOGI issues have now been included in a number of strategic documents such as Systematic Country Diagnostics and Country Partnership Frameworks. There are increasing opportunities to promote SOGI inclusion through access to justice, access to education, access to a whole range of health services, access to the labor and financial markets, and through violence prevention (both bullying in schools and other forms of violence).

    In January 2015, the Bank established a SOGI Task Force to place a stronger emphasis on the SOGI inclusion agenda as well as to spearhead a coherent effort for SOGI inclusion. The multi-sectorial task force has members from different parts of the World Bank, which opens opportunities for influencing existing and forthcoming operational and analytical work.

    In November 2016 the World Bank appointed its first-ever SOGI Global Advisor. The Advisor provides intellectual leadership and technical guidance to World Bank teams, and enhances the Bank’s coordination with civil society organizations, UN Agencies, as well as other partners and stakeholders.

    The World Bank has identified three key areas for improving the inclusion of SOGI in its overall work:

    1. Training: Sensitize staff and clients about SOGI issues and build their capacity to apply a SOGI lens in their work.
    2. Data: Focus on quantitative and qualitative data generation emphasizing the development outcomes for LGBTI people.
    3. Operations: Pilot initiatives and projects to improve the access of LGBTI people to markets, services, and spaces; and supporting project design to minimize the possibility of SOGI-based discrimination in project implementation, in accordance with the Environmental and Social Framework  (ESF).

    With the robust funding commitments to help clients fight COVID-19, there are opportunities to address the needs of LGBTI people and limit the impacts described above. Some of them include:

    • Ensuring existing health needs of LGBTI people, including access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to hormonal treatments for transgender people, are met and not suspended during the response to the pandemic.
    • Providing health information and government guidance in accessible and appropriate formats and work together with LGBTI CSOs to reach the community effectively.
    • Ensuring privacy and patient confidentiality standards are maintained.
    • Allowing community organizations to resume their support programs in a safe and responsible manner and where necessary provide additional support (i.e. expand access to community support services through support telephone lines).
    • Where possible disaggregate monitoring and evaluating of prevention, preparedness, and community-based disease surveillance by SOGI to understand how sexual and gender minorities are impacted in pandemic situations. This should include data on differentiated rates of infection, economic impacts, and regarding the burden of care, barriers of access to care for LGBTI people.
  • The World Bank is continuously working to strengthen its approach to SOGI inclusion. Examples of the Bank’s analytical and operational work include:



    • Under the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), the World Bank is committed to identifying and minimizing the possibility of discrimination against LGBTI people through project design and implementation. To that end, the Bank is developing resources to help staff identify the potential for discrimination and minimize it in projects.
    • SOGI issues are included in several Systematic Country Diagnostics and Country Partnership Frameworks, including in Thailand, Cambodia, South Africa, Uruguay, and the Western Balkans countries.
    • The SOGI Global Advisor has organized consultations with SOGI civil society organizations in a number of countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
    • In Argentina, the “Youth Employment Program” supported the government of Argentina in strengthening the capacities of the Municipal Employment Offices and other agencies to implement “gender smart” approaches in the provision of employment services and other interventions to youth. A pilot component specifically looked at reducing barriers for transgender people in accessing these services.
    • Through the “Strengthening of State Universities in Chile” project, the government envisions the development of LGBTI capacity building plans in close coordination with centers of inclusion at state universities. The project plans to create a network amongst the Centers of Inclusion that will promote effectiveness and homogeneity in service delivery and equitable targeting among State Universities, possibly developing common standards that can be replicated nationwide. The project will also promote career counseling programs with a focus on vulnerable and under-represented segments of the population (for example, sexual minorities).
    • In the Philippines, a Country Gender Assessment was informed by LGBT focus group discussions. Lessons learned included the importance of understanding local gender identities and norms, as well as the need to conduct additional data collection and research on SOGI issues.
    • The Bahia Inclusion and Economic Development project supported the Brazilian state of Bahia in strengthening public sector management, governance, and the delivery of services in education, health and public security, with a particular attention to the social and economic inclusion of LGBT groups (among others). This included the development of preventative procedures, training, and coordination to address violence and victimization of LGBT people.
    • In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Metropolitan Urban and Housing Development project supported a medium and long-term agenda for fostering social development through programs that include diversity and rights of vulnerable groups based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
    • Through the PNPM Peduli Program, the government of Indonesia implemented pilot interventions to address discrimination faced by transgender groups at the community level. The project supported civil society organizations that work on the economic inclusion and rights of LGBT groups.


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Uwi Basaninyenzi