Inside the World Bank's 'strategic global research agenda' for LGBTI rights

The rainbow flag. The World Bank is hiring a new sexual orientation and gender identity adviser and working with UNDP, OHCHR and others to develop a global research agenda for LGBTI rights. Photo by: Jason Pier in DC / CC BY-NC

The World Bank Group is taking steps to bolster its capacity to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights through its development work by hiring a sexual orientation and gender identity advisor and working with the United Nations Development Program and others to develop a new “strategic global research agenda” for LGBTI rights.

With just over two months until the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, LGBTI rights activists, donors and development professionals around the world are assembling new approaches, lessons and best practices linked with the protection of LGBTI rights. For the World Bank, the creation of an historic new post and an emerging research agenda are two of the latest developments in an ongoing global effort to advance LGBTI equality.

The bank’s new SOGI adviser will be tasked with advising bank management and staff on “strategy, policy and operational issues related to [LGBTI]-inclusive development.” He or she will work closely with a team of World Bank staff known as the SOGI Task Force — established to promote LGBTI rights across the bank. The new SOGI adviser will be part of a social development team that includes an adviser for indigenous peoples and an adviser for disability and development.

“We do not see this advisor as… the lone custodian of the [SOGI] agenda. The idea is that this should be a broadly owned and shared agenda,” Maninder Gill, director for the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilient Global Practice at the World Bank told Devex.

Gill added that the adviser would work internally with different parts of the bank as well as make “engagement with external stakeholders more systematic.”

The creation of the new role is a “step in the right direction,” according to Christian Velasquez-Donaldson, safeguards campaign manager at Bank Information Center.

The success of the new role however, depends on the person who is hired, Velasquez-Donaldson stressed, adding that the role should be filled by an individual from the LGBTI community and that the bank should put in place some type of support group to help the new hire navigate internal bank bureaucracy and politics.

The position is advertised externally with a closing date of May 16. The bank will then create a short list of candidates with the aim to fill the role by the end of June, according to Gill.

In addition to hiring a SOGI adviser, the World Bank is working with the United Nations Development Program, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and others to develop a consolidated research agenda for LGBTI rights.

“We want to develop a strategic global research agenda, so that … even with such few analytical initiatives or research initiatives going on, we [don’t] end up duplicating what we are doing,” Gill said.

The World Bank, UNDP and OHCHR are co-authoring a report on this global research agenda to be published during the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in July.

“We’ve identified on our side, that one of the biggest gaps that we have to deal with is the gap in data when it comes to the lives of LGBT people in countries around the world,” Clifton Cortez, team leader for Gender, Key Populations and LGBTI at UNDP in New York, told Devex.

Gill stressed that he hopes other organizations will get on board and said that in the lead-up to the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in Montevideo, the bank and its partners will meet with Civil Society Organizations in Washington, D.C., to share their plans and ideas as well as to hear CSO perspectives.

This latest push for a global research agenda comes as the bank continues its own push to make the economic argument against discrimination of sexual minorities. While demonstrating a clear linkage between discriminatory legislation and gross domestic product remains the prized end goal, so far bank studies have shed light on what Gill called, “levels of exclusion” — attempted suicide, incidents of bullying, school drop-outs.

“All those are very real numbers and I think in that sense that is helping us move closer to establishing a link between LGBT-related exclusion … and economic development or [gross domestic product], but I don’t think we are so close that we will be able to demonstrate that very soon,” Gill said, emphasizing that such a conclusion needs to clearly show causality and “withstand scrutiny.”

Some like U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston feel arguments about “decency” and “dignity,” as opposed to those of economic gains and losses, offer a more “sophisticated” approach to ending discrimination.

That message seems to resonate within the bank as well. According to Gill, the institution is going beyond simply the economic argument against discrimination by working to “systematically advance” the “human angle” of the argument.

“Yes, economics is important, but … impact on GDP should not be the main driver as to why [discrimination] is unacceptable,” Gill said. “We cannot get so caught up in [the economic dimension] that we then get blindsided by all other … perspectives on development.”

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.