In countries where it is illegal to be a lesbian, they face violence, forced marriages and so-called ‘corrective rape’.
In a groundbreaking new report in the lead-up to International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), this is the first time a report has given an in-depth analysis of how laws against homosexuality specifically impact lesbians and bisexual women.
Produced by the Human Dignity Trust, it found one in four countries it is illegal to be a gay or bisexual women. But most concerning, these numbers have been on the rise in the past 15 years.
At least 10 jurisdictions, including in places like Sri Lanka, have rewritten laws that once only targeted gay and bisexual men to also discriminate and persecute lesbians.
Lesbians are more likely to be at an economic disadvantage because of gender discrimination, meaning they are unable to resist family pressures, leave abusive situations or live independently of a male partner according to the report.
The overlap between the discrimination these women face because of sexual orientation, and the way their freedom is limited by their gender, means they facing two kinds of different human rights abuses.
The report, Breaking The Silence, found countries with greater gender equality was less likely to criminalize homosexuality in any form.
‘[The report] highlights why approaches to addressing LGBTI persecution need to cater for the specific needs and contexts of lesbians and bisexual women,’ it states. ‘And equally, why efforts to enhance the position of women worldwide will always be undermined by the criminalization of homosexuality. The aim of eradicating violence against women will never be realized while lesbians and bisexual women are made targets of violence by laws that criminalize them on the basis of their sexual orientation.’
Justice Edwin Cameron, Constitutional Court of South Africa, said: ‘The Human Dignity Trust’s report crucially reminds us that LGBTI people are not a homogeneous group. Lesbians and bisexual women, as a sub-group, experience distinct and additional human rights violations from those of gay men. For these women, the “intersectionality” between discrimination against women and homophobia creates a lethal combination.’
Téa Braun, Legal Director of the Human Dignity Trust, said: ‘Thus far, the global research and legal advocacy in respect of the criminalization of homosexuality has largely treated LGBT people as a monolith. However, lesbians and bisexual women are uniquely exposed to specific kinds of human rights abuses as a direct result of both their sexuality and gender. We hope this report will trigger greater discussion about how efforts towards gender equality and LGBT equality can mutually reinforce one another, and thereby help to address the serious and systemic human rights abuses experienced by some of the most silenced and vulnerable women across the globe.’