Deep Currents of Prejudice Against Sexual Minorities in “The Economist”

Fabrice HoudartGuest blog by Fabrice Houdart, The World Bank.

In my opinion, The Economist article Right cause, wrong battle: Why the World Bank’s focus on gay rights is misguided” is guilty of what it is accusing the Bank of: its focus is arbitrary, capricious and misguided. It seems to be motivated by the prejudice that sexual minorities in the developing world are less deserving of development efforts than other minorities.

  • First, it is sensationalist to refer to the “World Bank’s focus on gay rights” to reinforce the claim that the Bank is pushing “Western values. Frankly, it is is quite a journalistic leap when President Kim actually stood up against all discriminations (see Feb. 27th, Washington Post oped).  Additionally, the Economist knows not to use “Gay” when referring to the multitude of sexual identities in the developing world;
  • Secondly, the author should have spoken with the representatives President Kim met last Friday before assuming that the topic was “how best to […] overhaul the bank’s lending policies” when its purpose was to listen for the first time in Bank’s history to sexual minority (see Washington Blade April 15 article on the event). Again this misrepresentation of a long overdue meeting is only intended to strengthen the allegation of a “western gay lobby” effort;
  • The second and third paragraphs omit to mention the crucial links between the Bank’s mission of “tackling extreme poverty” and inclusion. This poverty trap is best described in the 1990 Turk Report: “one might wish to describe impoverishment – i.e., the road from relative poverty to extreme poverty […]- as a succession of passive discriminations, or discriminatory omissions in respect of recognized fundamental rights, and the impossibility of securing justice”. In short, for the World Bank to reach its goal to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, it needs to start raising systematically the difficult topic of discrimination with its clients;
  • The arguments that the focus on Uganda is “capricious” and the focus on “gay rights” is arbitrary are weak. The Economist is not able to point out to any other loan that the World Bank could legitimately have postponed in Nigeria or Ethiopia as it suggests. But more importantly, what seems arbitrary, capricious and misguided is for The Economist to focus on a single sexual minority inclusion effort when the Bank routinely makes similar efforts. In August 2013 as an example, it required Uganda to carry-out a social assessment on the impact on Batwas people (“pygmies”) of a proposed Education project (see IPP656 v3, August 2013). The Economist failed to denounced this “misguided” effort to protect this minority;
  • The argument that “anti-gay laws are [not] the most harmful to the poor” is strange. First of all, the lack of attention to sexual minorities by development organizations has led to such penury of data that nobody can assess the impact of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Secondly, the World Bank has devoted substantial staff and financial resources to address Roma issues, as an example, in the context of its work on poverty and economic development in Eastern Europe. Under The Economist worse discrimination” test, was it also a misuse of resources?
  • As for the “perverse results” of the postponement of the Uganda loan, The Economist did not do its homework. The World Bank has not cancelled but postponed the approval of this additional financing pending an assessment of barriers to quality health services for marginalized populations, interventions and corrective actions needed to overcome those barriers, and due diligence to determination of whether and how the project can achieve its development objectives in the wake of passage of the new legislation. This is far from the drastic cut in its support for the Health Sector in Uganda, The Economist tries to make it appear;
  • Finally, the argument that the World Bank should avoid mentioning the links between inclusion and development in order to remain competitive with Beijing’s conditions free aid is ludicrous. If the Bank was to follow this proposed strategy, it should also eliminate its environmental and social safeguards as well as its procurement rules. Obviously such a “race to the bottom” would be disastrous. But more importantly, the Bank’s strategy is to carve itself out a role in poverty eradication which would make it relevant to developing countries even though their governments might not need its money any more.

In summary, The Economist article reflects nothing more than deep currents of prejudice against sexual minorities even among socially liberal journalists. It also shows how uneducated and ignorant of the global sexual minority plight, Western publications are. It should be read as an encouragement for the Bank to continue its efforts to raise awareness on the disastrous consequences of discrimination against sexual minorities on their development outcomes.

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