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ECOSOC: LGBT voices at the United Nations / Wages due Lesbians

in UNITED KINGDOM, 11/04/2007

Wages due Lesbians at the UN since 1998

Before ILGA-Europe and the Danish and German federations, LBL and LSVD were granted ECOSOC status last November 2006, only two other groups, two lesbian organisations, enjoyed the right to enter the United Nations forums. We’ve interviewed members of both the International Wages Due Lesbians (WDL) and the Coalition of Activist Lesbians (COAL) in Australia to learn more about the way they’ve used this right in the past and what has been their experience of UN work.

The International Wages Due Lesbians (WDL), which started in 1975, campaigns for the economic, legal and human rights of lesbian/bi women. They are women who live in cities, towns and villages, from different backgrounds, ages, single mothers, sex workers, agricultural workers, immigrant women, with disabilities, housewives, students... They are part of an international multi-racial network pressing for recognition and wages for all unwaged work, so that women everywhere will finally have the money and resources needed to make choices, including sexual choices.

Why did you decide to apply for UN Consultative Status a few years ago?

Together with other groups in the Wages for Housework Campaign (WFHC), we participated in the UN process from the beginning of the UN Decade for Women (1975-85). By the 1980 Mid-Decade conference in Copenhagen we were lobbying for official recognition of unwaged work, and in the final 1985 decade (Nairobi, Kenya) we helped win governments’ commitment to count unwaged work in every country’s gross national product. For the next ten years WDL was part of the growing International Women Count Network, lobbying governments to implement their Nairobi commitment. Finally, at the 1995 Conference in Beijing, we celebrated when governments finally agreed our proposal to measure and value unwaged work in economic statistics. Unfortunately our lobbying for recognition of the discrimination women face on the grounds of sexual orientation was not so successful.

On the basis of this work for over twenty years we applied for ECOSOC status in 1998. Some delegates considering our application accused us of influencing children to become lesbian or gay, or encouraging adults to have sexual relationships with children. We asked if they found acceptable the existing situation: young LGBT people were committing suicide in disproportionate numbers because there was a taboo on even discussing homosexuality. Their homophobic objections faded away!

When you received the UN Consultative Status was it as difficult as it has been for the three new LGBT organisations which received it in 2006?

Our application was considered much more quickly than ILGA’s; but the accusations of possible support for paedophilia were the same as those made against us.

Why was it only in December 2006 that most LGBT organizations got to know that you had received the ECOSOC status? Do we have to consider that is again linked to the invisibility and invisibilization of lesbian issues, even within the LGBT movements?

Yes, invisibility is a crucial part of the discrimination lesbians face. While more than 50% of families in the world are headed by women – no one knows how many are lesbian, or how many of the women living with men are lesbian. And even though it is women who, often with the support of other women, give birth to and care for children, families and communities everywhere, those of us in sexual relationships with other women have to hide them; so our contributions are more easily denied or ignored. The majority of lesbian women in the world can’t afford to live openly; so we're forced to live double lives or face violence, imprisonment, torture or death.

Lesbian/bi women without children often do work for the family or the organizations and movements we belong to, which other women are not in a position to do because they are caring for children and male partners. Yet grassroots women, gay or straight, are often invisible; and/or we face sexism, racism and other forms of censorship from those with more social power. For example, in the UK in the late 1980s the right-wing Thatcher government introduced legislation (Section 28) to repress any discussion of lesbian/gay/bi sexuality in schools, including by denying the validity of lesbian/gay-headed families, which it labelled “pretended” – it encouraged self-censorship. This legislation was brought in at the same time as monetarist policies which lowered wages, slashed social spending and made most people work harder for less… We made the connection between these apparently unconnected policies.

What are the present activities of IWDL?

Now in the UK we are campaigning for the right to asylum for those fleeing homophobic persecution and torture; and we are mobilizing support for women in our network from Cameroon, Eritrea and Uganda. Yet it has been very hard to get support for them from prominent gay individuals or groups. Many individuals who have become visible in government, business and media refuse to remember that they got there only after years of activism by grassroots LGBT people. We challenge them publicly to go beyond their lifestyle politics to fight for the same standard of “equality” for everyone, regardless of whether we have the right passport, skin colour, accent... We’ve also opposed the de-politicization and commercialization of major lesbian and gay events like Pride.

In Spain WDL has been pressing for welfare benefits for caregivers who look after their relatives, including those who are lesbian. San Francisco WDL has campaigned for justice for lesbian/bi women victims of police violence and for an end to the criminalization of sex workers, many of whom are lesbian and use the income from prostitution to be financially independent of men.

By 2000 when we took part in the Beijing +5 Conference in New York, the domination of the UN by the US government and multinationals was obvious and reflected in the corporatization of UN agencies. The subsequent refusal to take action against the US/UK invasion of Iraq was deadly proof of that, as are reports of UN “peace-keepers” raping children in exchange for food in the Congo, massacring people in Haiti and failing to bring any effective pressure to bear for the Palestinians who, because they are “stateless”, have status only as a “non-member entity”. We have, therefore, invested much less of our effort in UN activities.

How did the ECOSOC status make your work easy?

We have used our ECOSOC status to make a way for the voice of grassroots women to be heard in the halls of power and as a lever to press for change in our own countries, while of course remaining independent of UN structures and always accountable to grassroots LGBT people, beginning with those in the Global South. We hope other lesbian and gay organisations with status, including ILGA, will do the same.

It’s clear that, while repression and discrimination continue to rage, the LGBT movements have transformed the world we live in. In a growing number of countries, the visibility and power of our movements are making it possible for more people, especially young people, to have same-sex relationships and call themselves bisexual, or to refuse any label. Movements for social change which previously would have denied that there were lesbians, gays, sex workers or any other ‘undesirables’ in their midst are now stronger by making visible every sector. In revolutionary Venezuela, President Chavez has declared: “Homosexuals have their rights too!”; and the Lesbian and Gay Revolutionary Movement of Venezuela is organizing to turn this commitment into reality, an inspiration to all of us.

Interview by Patricia Curzi, ILGA

More information
allwomencount.net and refusingtokill

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