Global Resources

Whose Sexualities Count: Poverty, Participation and Sexual Rights

Author: H. Armas
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Nov 2007
This paper asks: what do sexuality, sexual rights and sexual pleasure have to do with citizenship, participation and rights? It makes the case that, far from being secondary to the important matters of housing, education, employment, political participation and so on, sexual rights are an important battlefield in our fight against poverty and are fundamentally interdependent with rights to health, housing, food and employment. Sexual rights are also a precondition for gender equality. Social and gender norms around sexuality have a huge impact on poverty and inequality - 'feminine' boys and pregnant girls are more likely to drop out of school due to bullying, social pressure and lack of support, and employers and colleagues discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at work. Moreover, if poverty is understood to be not just material, but to also be about exclusion, ill-being, and restrictions on capacities and freedom, then the lack of sexual rights in itself constitutes poverty. The paper calls for development agencies to pay greater attention to sexuality. Drawing on the experience of the non-governmental organisation GRUPAL in Peru, it shows how participatory approaches can be a useful strategy for pushing sexual rights onto mainstream development agendas. GRUPAL doesn't do sexuality training, but they do democracy and participation workshops which include reflection on sexuality: Are you democratic with your sexual partner? Do you listen to your own desire? Are you respected when you say 'no'? Do you dialogue about pleasure? This can be a good entry point for getting people to think about democracy. Taking sexuality into account calls for a commitment to a 'democracy of sexuality', one that can make real the promise of participation, citizenship and rights for all.