Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights

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Across the Commonwealth incremental gains are being made in the struggle for equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) citizens. In many countries governments and civil society have quietly expanded progress through areas of policy enacted by executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. While 40 of the 53 Commonwealth members still criminalise consensual same sex relations between adults and few countries have laws that recognise the gender identity of trans people or protect their rights, this toolkit presents the progress that has been made, as a pool of experience that can be learned from.

This progress includes:

  • Non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment law in countries as diverse as Botswana, Seychelles, Samoa and Saint Lucia
  • Repeal of colonial-era bans on consensual same sex relations between adults, most recently occurring in Mozambique
  • Supreme court judgments upholding the rights of ‘third gender’ groups such as Hijras and Kothis in India and Pakistan
  • The formation of a Consultative Council of LGBT organisations to advise the Government of Malta on areas of policy and legislation
  • Anti-homophobic bullying campaigns conducted by civil society and the Jamaican Ministry of Education
  • Specific constitutional protections against discrimination on the grounds of ‘sexual orientation’ in South Africa; with Fiji and Malta also including ‘gender identity’ as a protected characteristic in their constitutions.

With a reputation for being a network that supports respectful dialogue and the exchange of policy expertise, the Commonwealth is well placed to facilitate learning from this experience. Governments should be able to use the Commonwealth in a number of ways to support their attempts to build equality for all their citizens by:

1 Requesting from the Commonwealth Secretariat support for legislative drafting, technical assistance and strengthening institutions from women’s machineries to human rights institutions.

2 Accessing the professional expertise of Commonwealth accredited and associated organisations on areas as diverse as law, parliamentary procedure and health.

3 Engaging with civil society to help shape societal debates and turn to domestic LGBT groups in particular to understand their needs and gain support in policy design and implementation.

4 Building knowledge-exchange between fellow Commonwealth members to learn from their experience and use their expertise of policy making in this area.

This paper seeks to provide a toolkit of promising practice and exemplary policies undertaken by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of governments in member states to advance the rights of LGBT citizens.  It is important to note that the sheer scale of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in various forms across the Commonwealth is immense. It is important to acknowledge the real challenges that LGBT citizens in all countries continue to face, yet also find ways of highlighting and practically supporting progress where possible. Existing policy progress in all regions of the Commonwealth such as the legislative changes mentioned above can provide a range of examples which policy makers in any member-state can learn from, adapt and transfer to their own countries and contexts.

The need for the progress-orientated toolkit contained in this report is twofold. Firstly, it serves to highlight the progressive actions taken by governments across the Commonwealth and move beyond the idea of a polarised Commonwealth on this issue. Secondly, it provides a range of examples of promising practice drawn from a variety of countries and contexts and from every region of the Commonwealth, which can be learned from. This paper does not suggest a simple line of development to be followed but draws on existing policies to show how different countries have advanced the rights of their citizens in ways that reflect their own cultural and political situations.