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Is Homosexuality a Western Concept?

6 June 2013

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.

The Mahu of Hawaii and Tahiti are just one of the diverse traditional cultures embracing gender diversity.
The Mahu of Hawaii and Tahiti are just one of the diverse traditional cultures embracing gender diversity.

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.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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