Leading on LGBTQI Issues at the World Bank and in other International Financial Institutions

March 5, 2021 – As the World Bank’s annual Spring Meetings approach, it is important to reflect on President Biden’s recent far-reaching Presidential Memorandum committing that “[i]t shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI persons around the world.”  Extending this policy to include new U.S. funding and leadership at the World Bank and in other international financial institutions (IFIs) could have an extraordinary impact on the lives and opportunities of LGBTQI persons in some of the most challenging economic contexts around the world.

IFIs provide vast resources that can help lift vulnerable countries – and the most vulnerable individuals within those countries – out of poverty. Covid-19 will almost certainly delay the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, but the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that IFIs together approved $237.2 billion in Covid-19-support in 2020. The potential development resources from these institutions are unparalleled, but hardly any of that has trickled down to marginalized LGBTQI persons – only a few million dollars for limited LGBTQI pilot projects. That could change with leadership from the Biden Administration.

With encouragement and support from the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Executive Director’s Office at the World Bank during President Obama’s Administration, the World Bank took small but significant steps to address LGBTQI inclusion. During that time, the World Bank added a new position of Global Advisor on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI); it allocated very limited but important new LGBTQI-dedicated program funds; and it began adding SOGI indicators to its project review criteria. More recently, this culminated in new Bank guidance on risk minimization to support LGBTQI development. None of this would have happened without the initial leadership of the U.S. government, together with our closest Canadian, European, and Latin American allies at the Bank.

Renewed Treasury Department engagement with the World Bank and in other IFIs in response to President Biden’s new policy directive could leverage significant new funding and propel existing LGBTQI investments and policies to a new level of effectiveness. Pilot research supported by the World Bank, such as studies looking at the economic costs of LGBTQI exclusion in Serbia and North Macedonia, could be expanded quickly and broadened to include other LGBTQI communities. In addition, the World Bank’s leadership has played an increasingly important behind-the-scenes diplomatic role in mitigating LGBTQI-related human rights abuses in client countries, particularly in Africa. The U.S. director at the Bank should offer support for this quiet but effective brand of development diplomacy.

Regionally based international financial institutions, including the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have been less focused on LGBTQI inclusion, but they all have engaged at some level, and with renewed U.S. government leadership and support the potential for future investments is significant. The Biden Administration should prioritize a leadership appointment to the Asian Development Bank, the safeguard policy of which currently is being rewritten. Having an LGBTQI-competent person in that role could significantly impact the result of that review in ways that integrate LGBTQI populations more forcefully into ADB development priorities and safeguards, potentially even leading to the adoption of the first-ever SOGI-specific IFI safeguard policy.

The Inter-American Development Bank also stands poised to provide major funding and is cooperating with the World Bank to understand the economic impacts of LGBTQI-exclusion in Latin America. Fortunately, several countries in Latin America have indicated their interest in investing in LGBTQI development to address discrimination and leverage economic gains. That is more than justified by initial research from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank suggesting exponential economic growth potential from even limited investments to support LGBTQI workers in the formal labor sector.

As the Biden Administration frames its IFI policy priorities in the coming months, we encourage the following support from the Treasury Department.

  • The President should prioritize the nomination of new U.S. Executive Directors at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and quickly fill other senior U.S. positions within IFIs. These nominations are not often seen as a priority by a new presidential administration, but given the growing importance of LGBTQI issues within World Bank and other IFI-financed projects, the reforms under way at the Asian Development Bank, and the severe economic and development challenges posed by COVID-19, these appointments should be seen as a 100-day priority.
  • Nominees to lead U.S. efforts in any of the IFIs must understand the importance and effectiveness of an LGBTQI-inclusive development agenda. In other words, they must demonstrate LGBTQI competency.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to use their influence and voting to support the development needs of LGBTQI communities, especially in programs targeting marginalized or excluded individuals, public health, social protection, education, and economic empowerment. This should include a review of recently approved development projects as well as those still in the approval pipeline to analyze their attention to the needs of LGBTQI communities and the steps taken, if any, to ensure their inclusion, consultation, and protection. It also should include robust financial and technical support for new research to understand the full impact of LGBTQI inclusion on economic development and individual opportunity.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to ensure that mandated consultations with civil society are sensitive to and include representatives of local LGBTQI communities. The World Bank has piloted some of these consultations, but they are mostly driven by Washington, not by local country offices and staff who could provide a better local point of contact and reach groups in more remote parts of a country. This is crucial, as LGBTQI groups in rural areas often face different challenges and more severe obstacles in accessing project benefits. All other IFIs need to follow the World Bank’s lead on consultations. These civil society consultations must account for the safety and security of LGBTQI individuals and the local civil society organizations representing them. But in no circumstance should these consultations be scrapped altogether just because they require additional sensitivity and security. In particularly hostile or criminalized country contexts, global LGBTQI advocacy organizations should be consulted first and relied on as a resource to ensure safe and effective introductions and communications with local LGBTQI leaders and organizations.

The World Bank’s Spring Meetings in April provide an important opportunity for the Biden Administration to demonstrate leadership in support of this work and deliver on the President’s commitments to the rights, dignity and opportunities of LGBTQI persons globally.

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