Love was in the Air

21 February 2011

21 February 2011 

To mark Valentine's Day, the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme and UK Department of International Development (DFID) launched an exhibition that demonstrates that sexuality matters for development. The exhibition, which is currently being hosted at DFID in London, provides a powerful argument in support of why scholars, practitioners and policymakers should pay more attention to sexuality in their every day work.

Kate Hawkins, Convenor of the Sexuality and Development Programme said, 'The links between sexuality and development are under researched, and where they intersect politics and ideology often take the place of evidence.' A recent review into poverty and sexuality by ex-IDS staff member Susan Jolly for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency found very few resources to draw on. Much of the evidence that exists is grey literature, organisational reports, and occasional considerations of the connections in pieces of writing for which poverty sexuality links are not the main focus.

Development with a body

'The first big challenge is getting beyond the giggle factor. People don't take it seriously, they think it is frivolous or irrelevant. But there is a huge value added to this work. You need to get beyond the disbelief that sexuality is related to international development work,' said IDS's Director, Lawrence Haddad at the launch.

People don't generally associate international development with issues of love, pleasure and romance; but they should. These issues are fundamental to people's well being. Anyone with an interest human rights cannot fail to be moved and angered by the recent death of David Kato, the Ugandan gay rights activist, and the string of cases of violence against black lesbians in South African townships. The freedom to choose who you love is extremely limited in many settings. But despite the high visibility of sexuality in the media, the church and parliaments there is often a marked silence on this issue in development.

As Martin Greeley, IDS Fellow, has said, 'No one can logically dispute the relationship between sexual pleasure and happiness. Economists cannot deny, by their own definitions, the centrality of sexuality to human well-being. The problem is, because they can't measure it, they have chosen to ignore it.' at IDS workshop ‘Realising Sexual Rights' September 2005.

Changing daily practice

'We need to enable people to be as comfortable in talking about sexuality as they have become about gender.' Robert Chambers, IDS, at IDS workshop 'Realising Sexual Rights' September 2005.

At the launch Nemat Shafik (Minouche) reiterated DFID's position on sexuality. She explained how sex and sexuality matter to everyone's lives, 'Good relationships, are not forced and are not violent. They are a product of people's ability to choose how they wish to form relationships, with whom and when. They make a great deal of difference to our wellbeing. Poor people often face significant barriers to forming these relationships. Women are often married too soon and have children too young. Early pregnancies are a leading cause of adolescent death and neo natal mortality...But sexuality is also important to policy makers, particularly policy makers who wish to contribute to increasing health. When we fail to understand sexuality, health programmes - particularly those that focus on maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and family planning - are less effective.'

It's good to think about love once a year but perhaps if we thought about it more often in our day-to-day lives we might see that far from being a marginal or luxury issue sexuality is something that is fundamental to development.

Read at transcipt of Carla Sutherland's speech at the Sexuality and Development Launch