Women’s and LGBTQI+ rights

Equality Fund report calls for action on women’s and LGBTQI+ rights in the Caribbean.

Dominating traditional social views and legislation linked to religious beliefs have created significant barriers for the LGBTQI+ community in the Caribbean. For example, there are still ten countries which criminalise same sex relations and, even if these regulations are not consistently enforced, it contributes to the discrimination of the LGBTQI+ community.

But the winds of change are blowing from Saint John to Havana, as local governments progressively approve of more inclusive legislation with the support of social activists and the opposition of religious communities. Last August, Antigua’s High Court ruled the ban on same sex couples as unconstitutional and, this September, Cuba, approved same sex marriage through a ‘family law code’ which will allow same sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In this context, a report prepared by Women’s Voice and Leadership Caribbean (“WVL–Caribbean”), a programme launched by the Government of Canada, advocated for the creation of a Caribbean fund to support the growth and funding of women’s and LGBTQI+ communities in the region. Still in its early conceptual definition stages, WVL-Caribbean emphasised that the nature of the fund should be to bring together grassroots, local, and national organisations to put in place common strategies in a culturally and linguistically diverse region with multiple colonial legacies.

“The real question is, will additional funding make a difference, and I think the answer is no.”

International development expert, Puerto Rico

An international development expert wasn’t convinced that more funding was the long term answer to the region’s cultural barriers, “The real question is, will additional funding make a difference, and I think the answer is no. The region needs sustainable solutions with the capacity to make a difference and most organisations don’t have this capacity, even if they were able to hire a few more people. In my view, what is required is an enabling environment that prosecutes and provides recourse to victims. Any fundamental change in a society must be driven by law, not by passion.”

A recent common UNDP and USAID report concluded that intersex people continue to be left behind in the Caribbean as, despite continued decriminalisation measures, the governments continue to have a general knowledge of their needs and challenges. This situation results in a general absence of public policies and comprehensive legal framework to protect LGBTQI+ members.

The international development expert disagreed with these findings, once again, “Despite what these reports say, the Caribbean is moving forwards on these issues. For example, the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (“ECADE”) in St. Lucia has successfully lobbied for the rights and protection from discrimination of persons with different sexual orientation and gender identity. They successfully lobbied to have anti-sodomy laws replaced in St. Lucia, I think also in St. Kitts. That was the pressure I think they decided to bring legal action against all the OECS states which still had sodomy legislation. So, they’re successful because of the ability to leverage their strength. They know the rights. They know the legal frameworks in which they can act.”

“Despite what these reports say, the Caribbean is moving forwards on these issues […] any fundamental change in a society must be driven by law, not by passion.”

International development expert, Puerto Rico

Education is also an important part of the problem in the Caribbean, explained a Mexican sociologist, “There is more knowledge now, but people still have a difficulty understanding what gender rights are and what a feminist approach to development is. There are also conflicts with deeply embedded societal and religious ‘norms’ that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. There is an increasing level of awareness around these issues but we still have a long way to go.”

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