Many are the voices at the Human Rights Council (HRC) that call for respect for different cultural backgrounds and traditions, but at the same time use cultural diversity as a shell to prevent the human rights of some from being recognized. This argument is particularly often used in the context of LGBTI rights, accusing those rights to be coming from the West and denouncing a Westernisation of the world.
Yesterday, the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and Arc International destroyed that line of argument during its side-event at the HRC. In the amazing video they showed, which will be posted here soon, LGBTI human rights defenders from different regions in the world demanded that the original, traditional forms of gender diversity in their cultures be respected and precisely not be overshadowed by the hetero, judeo-christian cultures in the form of the colonizer.
Just some of these traditions include those of the Palopa in Papua Guinea, Muxe in Zapotec culture in Mexico, Berdache in North America, Mahu in Tahiti and Hawaii, Vaka sa lewa lewa in Fiji, Fa’afafine in Samoa, Akava’ine in the Cook Islands, Fakaleiti or Leiti in Tonga, Fiafifine in Niue and Trithiya Prakirthi in India.
These and many other examples show that gender diversity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual people coexist in different traditional non-western cultures and their diversity is respected within their society.
The panel went on to discuss the current state of lgbti rights in the world, with a panel of LGBTI rights defenders from India, Algeria, Botswana, Brazil, Australia and Kenya.
Using the ILGA map of Lesbian and Gay Rights in the World as a reference throughout the side-event, the panellists discussed the recent successes in Latin America, including the passing of a number of same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws.
They went on to note the grass is yet to become greener in the Caribbean, with 11 countries still criminalising homosexual behaviour, as well as in Africa, which is clearly still overwhelmingly red on the map.
The discussions concluded by noting that while incredible progress has been made in recent years, much is still to be done. Efforts on behalf of LGBTI rights should now focus on outreach and expanding to those that have yet to take a stand.
International advocacy efforts should continue to push for these rights in mechanisms WILPF uses every day, like the Human Rights Council, its Universal Periodic Review process and the scrutiny of international Human Rights Treaty Bodies.
In that way, civil society can ensure the protection of human rights becomes truly universal.