Sexuality and the Law: Case Studies from Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal and South Africa

IDS Evidence Report
Authors: 
Waldman, Linda; Overs, Cheryl
Publisher: 
Institute of Development Studies
Publication date: 
Wednesday, 29 January, 2014

This paper provides a synthesis of five case studies on the relationship between sexuality and law. It concludes that engaging with the law and seeking policy reform is potentially a dangerous activity especially in countries which do uphold the rule of law or where laws are in rapid flux and have little correspondence to lived social realities. When done on limited resources, with low levels of education and with little capacity, this is additionally challenging and difficult.

The report highlights the significance of sexuality in relation to law and development: In all the case studies, people with marginal sexualities are under pressure to conform to expectations of how men and women should behave and to idealised forms of citizenship. It also demonstrates the need to explore sexuality as a broad concept and not to be confined by specific forms of categorisation of sexualities. But, the report also points out that identities and constructs can also provide entry points and modalities for legal recognition, funding for essential services and other advantages. Thus the terms are both useful and problematic simultaneously and the power – for donors – lies both in providing opportunities to draw on international LGBT discourse, but also recognising times when this language is appropriate for voicing in-country claims and activism. The report argues for the importance of the inclusion of sexuality within broader development initiatives, warning that while well-intentioned development initiatives, such as HIV-specific funding, can open up space for activism and change, they can also have the unintended effect of closing down grassroots initiatives by tying opportunities for advocacy to service delivery and limiting the policy space available for local organisations. Dependency on foreign donors can lead to the professionalisation of advocacy and other development work and can crowd out issues of sexuality. Finally the report highlights that even when the rule of law is strong, this does not ensure that the law and legal processes are appropriate or accessible. In addition, legal activism requires skills, capacity and resources that are not always forthcoming to poor  and vulnerable communities.

  • Engaging with the law and seeking policy reform is potentially a dangerous activity especially in countries which do uphold the rule of law or where laws are in rapid flux and have little correspondence to lived social realities.
  • Sexuality is significant in relation to law and development
  • Sexuality should be explored as a broad concept and not to be confined by specific forms of categorisation of sexualities but identities and constructs can also provide entry points and modalities for legal recognition, funding for essential services and other advantages.
  • Even when the rule of law is strong, this does not ensure that the law and legal processes are appropriate or accessible.
Opendocs reference: 
oai:opendocs.ids.ac.uk:123456789/3408