In September 2015, countries gathered to agree on certain goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. All countries therefore, are supposed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/) by 2030. There are 17 SDGs to stimulate action over the next 14 years based on the principle ‘Leave No One Behind’.169 targets were established to monitor the success or failure of the 17 SDGs.
This is not the first time that a set of goals have been set in motion to eradicate the ills of inequality and alleviate the hardships faced by millions daily. The precursor to the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were focused mainly on the ‘developing world’ and had only eight goals with 26 indicators for monitoring and evaluation. Analysis on the success and failures of the MDGs have specifically mentioned the lack of promoting all aspects of human rights has a direct link in not equally ensuring the social and economic rights of all.
In fact, the success of the MDGs is what prompted the creation of the SDGs. For instance, there was a marked progress in poverty reduction, disease control and access to reduction in the poorest of nations as a result of the global goals galvanising global effort. Even in Sri Lanka, according to the ‘MDG Country Report 2014 – Sri Lanka’, jointly complied by the Institute of Policy Studies, the United Nations, and the Government of Sri Lanka, the country made considerable progress on the MDGs where out of a total of 26 indicators, which had clear targets, only two indicators were not on track to be achieved by 2015.
The following goals are the actions each government must take to make sure that no citizen in any country is left behind.
1. No Poverty 2. Zero Hunger 3. Good Health and Well-being 4. Quality Education 5. Gender Equality 6. Clean Water and Sanitation 7. Affordable and Clean Energy 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 10. Reduced Inequalities 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action 14. Life Below Water 15. Life on Land 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 17. Partnerships for the Goals
The SDGs therefore, were established to comprehensively include every major and minor linkage to human rights in the development process, as agreed to by the 193 world leaders in September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
SDGs were created to address the root causes for poverty, hunger and many other human needs while protecting the environment and its sustainable use - specifically leaving no one behind. It is to the benefit of every human being from every corner of this planet. Not just a select few. While some governments have effectively addressed the shortcomings of their countries and have successfully set in place policies to meet the SDGs there are more countries than these, who lag woefully behind in this area. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the LGBTIQ community is left behind; with no services, no policies in place to include them in the SDGs. One issue one might say, is that the SDGs have not explicitly acknowledged the relationship between sexual orientation and gender identity and development, giving governments a ready excuse to exclude or neglect the LGBTIQ community from deriving any benefits from development programs and projects. Is it fair that society continues to ignore and discriminate a segment of the population based on their sexual orientation and gender identity? SDGs, services, and policies shouldn’t have to spell out who is included and who is not. Very simply put ‘Leave no one behind’ means just that - no one should be excluded implicitly or explicitly.
According to comments by many development analysts and experts, SDGs were established to strongly reflect the human rights principles and standards in the development processes.We have all acknowledged and share an understanding then, that the human rights perspective is a core component in any given development strategy.
Throughout history, people have been discriminated and excluded from enjoying the benefits of development policies and programmes based on their SOGI. However, there is little or no record of this marginalization due to the reluctance to acknowledge the existence of an LGBTIQ community in the population. Even though the SDGs theme strongly states, ‘Leave no one behind’, it lacks goals and targets that directly address the elimination of discrimination of those who don’t fit into the stereotypical ‘norms’ set by governments and societies.
The LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka and around the globe face many issues such as lack of healthcare facilities, hurdles in access to justice, fewer opportunities to access education and unemployment to name a few. Due to the severity of these issues, they need to be specifically addressed to ensure equality, peace and sustainability by 2030.
Exclusion and discrimination holds back LGBTIQ persons from earning a decent income, pursuing their dreams and living safely. The poorer the person, the higher the discrimination levels are. If the world wants to end poverty in all its forms, then LGBTIQ persons need to be empowered thus giving them the strength to challenge the existing discrimination.
Let’s take some examples, going down the SDG list, of the level of exclusion and discrimination faced by the LGBTIQ community in this country.
Goal 03 for example applies to strategies to be implemented to ensure healthy living and promote well-being for all.
How can this be addressed when LBGTIQ persons restrain themselves from approaching proper medical and psycho social services due to social stigma and discrimination?
Goal 04 is to ensure equal quality education for all and promote lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. When stigma and discrimination prevents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons from pursuing their education dreams, when they are bullied and ostracised and forced to leave school, how can this goal be achieved? A high level of homophobic and transphobic bullying exists at all levels of education and is a huge hurdle.
The lack of proper policies to prevent this injustice makes it worse. It requires a commitment by our Government to end this marginalisation.
Goal 05 specifically speaks about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
But it has clearly left behind LGBTIQ persons when mentioning strategies to end gender based discrimination and violence. Shouldn’t this include ending Homophobia and Transphobia and allowing Lesbian, Bisexual and Transwomen to be treated equally and to be empowered?
Goal 11 targets making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. How could this target benefit everyone living anywhere without ending the killings, torture and harassment of LGBTIQ people? How could a society be inclusive, safe, and resilient if LGBTIQ people have to hide behind closed doors? The list can continue.
The United Nations have technically established the guidelines for the countries to follow to implement the Sustainable Development strategies but the responsibility of making a development program that includes every social segment falls to each Government.
The Sri Lankan strategy to stimulate action for the SDGs is still in bits and pieces. Despite its gap to address SOGI and development, SDGs seem to be, the best platform to end discrimination and the segregation of the LGBTIQ persons in this country. Every person must be accepted in the process without exception.
The silence of the policy makers is deafening. How can we be sure of a LGBTIQ inclusive development process when the Government is not yet convinced it should repeal the archaic British law that criminalises the LGBTIQ community?
SDGs are currently recognised because of the apparently highly consultative and inclusive process of the United Nations.Yet,if international and national civil society organisations and activists fighting for LGBTIQ rights had been properly consulted, there would have been a high possibility that the glaring gaps in the SDGs - such as the exclusion of SOGI - would not have happened.
Would Sri Lanka be sensitive enough to correct this mistake, fill the gaps and be defenders of SDGs?
The SDGs are a means to an end but will fall mournfully short of meeting its targets if the LGBTIQ community continues to be left out of the process.
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” —Harvey Milk