Working Paper

Whose Sexualities Count: Poverty Participation and Sexual Rights

Published on 12 December 2007

Sexuality and sexual rights have generally been treated as secondary to ‘more important matters’ such as poverty. The first part of this paper explores the linkages between sexuality and other areas which are considered to be priorities in development, such as health, education, work, migration and political participation. It shows that sexuality is about so much more than sex.

Social norms around sexuality have a huge impact on other areas, for example feminine boys and pregnant girls are more likely to drop out of school due to bullying, social pressure and lack of support, and employers and colleagues discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at work.

Rights based approaches must maintain the principle of the integrality and indivisibility of human rights, and recognise the interdependence of sexual rights with rights to health, housing, food and employment. And if poverty is understood to be not just material, but to also be about exclusion, illbeing, and restrictions on capacities and freedom, then the lack of sexual rights in itself constitutes poverty. A call is made for greater attention to sexuality from development agencies.

The second part of the paper shows how participatory approaches can be a valid strategy to include sexual rights and wellbeing in the development agenda. It is important to acknowledge that not every participation experience is transformative, and to address the limitations of participation. Yet participation in some cases does bring about both personal and social transformation, including in relation to sexuality. Sexuality is an issue that enables people to work with politics at a very personal level; the very intimacy of working with issues of citizenship and rights through the lens of sexuality makes space for a transformative process of selfreflection that can lead to social action.

Publication details

published by
Armas, H.
IDS Working Paper, issue 294
1 85864 6693


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