Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ordinary Justice-A Fight for Global Equality

     "This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups (Tutu, D. 2004)." 
                                                                           -Archbishop Desmond Tutu
     The world faces complex and compounding challenges as it enters the second decade of the 21st century: famine, war, poverty, economic instability, gender inequality, and religious intolerance, amongst others. Often, the issues surrounding international gay and lesbian human rights violations takes the backseat. Injustice seeps from every corner of the globe towards gay men and women. Truly, even the United Nations is struggling to pass a non-binding declaration on LGBT equal rights (Macfarquhar, N., 2008). Stigma and discrimination vary from country to country and often people feel it is unsafe to live openly and even fear for their very lives, every moment of every day. This silence can be deadly however, as gay and lesbian individuals, on many occasions battle alone. In many countries gay men and women face state sponsored oppression, either directly through violence or indirectly by refusing to intervene when human rights are being violated. In Iraq, armed militias have been slaughtering suspected gay citizens. Beginning in 2009 in the capital of Baghdad, the violence has spread to many parts of the country (Human Rights Watch, 2009). In a statement made to Human Rights Watch, an Iraqi man describes the abduction of his boyfriend of close to a decade.
       “It was late one night, and they came to take my partner at his parents' home. Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. ... He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out (Human Rights Watch, 2009)." 
       According to BBC News, as of July 2009, 31 women in South Africa had been reported to the police to have been murdered and raped because of their sexual orientation. This form of hate crime, known as conversion or ‘corrective’ rape is intended and believed to create a heterosexual woman out of the crime. Many of the women are black and live in poverty in townships surrounding larger communities, such as Johannesburg.
     “I was raped because I was a butch child. I was 13 years old the first time it happened. My mother walked into the room soon afterwards and said to me ‘this is what happens to girls like you (Mufweba, Y.)” - South Africa
     Due to the marginalization of women, rape is a common occurrence in South Africa with 1 in 4 men admitting that they had engaged in forced sexual intercourse (Jecks, N.). Gay women, however, are targeted not only because of their gender but also because of their gender expression and their sexual identity. 
       “There are many issues that lesbians have to deal with besides being marginalized as women. There is intolerance at all levels- the media, health officials, education, the police, family (Mufweba, Y.).” 
       The growing apathy towards rape and especially rape of lesbians is evident in that within the 31 lesbians to come forward about their rape, only two cases were ever heard in court, and only one of those resulted in a conviction (Jecks, N.). 
         On July 19th, 2005 two young Iranian teenage boys, one age 18 and one slightly younger, were convicted and executed by hanging in a town in northern Iran for allegedly raping a 13-year-old boy, although this has been seen by many to be used as a cover for consensual sexual activity that these boys participated in. The Islamic Republic of Iran prescribes the death penalty for men who engage in homosexual or perceived homosexual behavior. Gay people in Iran are faced with state sponsored harassment, prison time, torture, and execution if their identity or perceived identity is made available to police or government leaders. Often, the government uses false allegations to heighten the charges against the individuals (Amnesty International, 2005). 
         Iran is not alone in is policies toward its LGBT citizens. According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (2010), 5 other nations prescribe the death penalty for alleged homosexual acts between consenting adults. These countries include; Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and 12 northern provinces in Nigeria which ascribe to Islamic Sharia Law and to a lesser extent some southern parts of Somalia. This list does not include the countries where same sex acts are illegal though the death penalty is not prescribed. This includes 38 countries in Africa, 23 countries in Asia, 11 in Latin American and the Caribbean, and 9 in Oceana. Punishments range from a fine to life imprisonment. Gay men and women in these countries must hide their identity and participate in behavior that defies their true feelings, such as heterosexual marriage, forced sexual relations with their spouse, gender-normative friends, participation in typical sex roles, and extreme religiosity. 
      Even in places such as South Africa, Brazil, the United States and Armenia where same sex relations have been decriminalized, gays and lesbians still face persecution as there are no laws to protect them or current laws are not enforced. Police, authorities, popular sentiment and some religious leaders use their power to instill fear and sometimes to encourage violence in their local jurisdictions towards sexual minorities (ILGA, 2010).
     While the social work profession has included sexual orientation as part of its anti-discrimination policies and does advocate for social change for not only the LGBT population, but for all people who are disenfranchised; current policy is missing several key components. A great way that the profession can frame policies are through the Yogyakarta Principles, in which a group of scholars took various UN human rights documents and show how LGBT human rights are not only included but are essential for our understanding of human rights. The principles were created because “…human rights violations targeted toward persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity constitute a global and entrenched pattern of serious concern. They include extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, sexual assault and rape, invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention, denial of employment and education opportunities, and serious discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of other human rights. These violations are often compounded by experiences of other forms of violence, hatred, discrimination and exclusion, such as those based on race, age, religion, disability, or economic, social or other status (S. Correa, et. al.).” 
       Social work policy on the gay community should take into account the global impact of hate and discrimination. Homosexuality is one of the few characteristics that crosses all genders, faiths, nationalities, socio-economic statuses and cultures, yet it is one of the least understood. Indeed, even in countries where gay people have gained much ground as far as marriage rights and anti-discrimination laws, hate and prejudice still lives on in the minds of individuals. Therefore, the profession must include action in its policy and position statements on the international gay community. Social workers must be constantly vigilant to educate and empower the general public to speak out against homophobia and violence towards gay people. This is true even if homosexuality conflicts with the personal values of the social worker. Equally important, social workers must hold each other accountable to the promotion of gay rights because of the varying degrees of intolerance and educational attainment on gay issues within the profession. 
       Lastly, we must remember that gay rights and the promotion of equality are meaningless if we forget that we are not uplifting issues, we are uplifting people. The state-sanctioned killing of the Iranian teenagers, the murder of Matthew Shepard in the US, the conversion rape of black lesbians in South Africa and the militant slaughter of gays in Iraq all show the extreme violence that gay people face daily in the world. 
      Gay men and lesbians throughout history have faced oppression, discrimination, and eliminationism. The gay rights movement did not become a global phenomenon until the 1990's and great progress has been made. This progress however has been uneven and fraught with setbacks. In much of the global south, gay men and women face state sponsored harassment, imprisonment, fines and death and the world is largely ignorant to it. Social workers and the social work profession must be active in working toward eliminating homophobia, to pressure societies and governments to change their ideological stances toward gay people and commit them to inclusiveness and justice. If we, the most noble of professions, do not act swiftly and purposely, then we miss out on a major opportunity to advocate for one of the last accepted injustices left to face.

No comments:

Post a Comment