The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities worldwide, disproportionately impacting marginalized groups and exacerbating current disparities based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and disability. LGBTQI communities have raised concerns about the pandemic response aggravating pre-existing inequalities, historic barriers, and health disparities with long-term negative effects. LGBTQI individuals experience higher rates of chronic conditions and are less likely to access quality health services, social protection, and education programs. The lockdowns and higher rates of violence and discrimination have further restricted LGBTQI individuals’ access to basic health services and life-saving medical treatments, raising concerns about how the multilateral development banks are protecting marginalized groups in health projects.
The World Bank’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Project in El Salvador aims to respond to and mitigate the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen the national system for public health preparedness. Unless the Bank works with the government of El Salvador to effectively implement the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) which enables LGBTQI individuals to access project benefits, LGBTQI individuals could face higher levels of violence, discrimination, and marginalization.
The Bank plays a fundamental role in designing and overseeing inclusive emergency health response and vaccination projects that protect the rights and health of LGBTQI individuals. BIC has been working with AMATE and COMCAVIS TRANS to monitor the COVID-19 emergency response project in El Salvador. We identified several initial concerns in the project, especially around the lack of inclusive consultations, which impacts project design.
To prevent further marginalization of LGBTQI communities in COVID-19 response and vaccine distributions projects, the Bank should:
- Facilitate culturally sensitive project consultations with LGBTQI groups. The Bank should sensitize staff involved in consultations with LGBTQI groups by conducting regular trainings. By increasing staff capacity to organize and oversee safe environments for LGBTQI consultations, Bank staff can be more responsive to concerns from sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and sexual minorities groups. The Bank should train and provide guidance to the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) on carrying out safe, sensitive consultations for LGBTQI groups. This could result in higher levels of engagement and collaboration between Bank staff and LGBTQI groups by facilitating safe and open channels of communication for information disclosure. The Bank should also conduct and moderate discussions in accessible and appropriate formats that can reach LGBTQI communities safely and effectively.
- Enable the participation of LGBTQI groups from throughout the country in meaningful project consultations: The barriers to project benefits experienced by LGBTQI communities varies from location to location. Therefore, the Bank needs to include LGBTQI and sexual minorities-related civil society organizations from throughout the country. While some of these organizations are located in remote areas with limited internet access, the Bank must seek creative ways to include them in consultations and prevent further harm during project implementation. LGBTQI groups in rural areas often face different challenges and more severe obstacles to access project benefits, so it is crucial that these voices are amplified to establish quality SOGI consultations around project design and implementation.
- Explicitly mention LGBTQI communities as a “disadvantaged or vulnerable group” in project documents. The Bank’s ESF prohibits discrimination against “disadvantaged or vulnerable groups,” including LGBTQI individuals. Lessons from the project monitoring in El Salvador show that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic did not take into account the needs of SOGI communities because they have not been referenced as a “disadvantaged or vulnerable group” in project documents, so their specific needs have most likely been overlooked. Following the “Bank Directive Addressing Risks and Impacts on Disadvantaged or Vulnerable Individuals or Groups” and explicitly mentioning LGBTQI groups as a “disadvantaged or vulnerable group” in project documents provides the opportunity for LGBTQI individuals to benefit equally from projects and to mitigate harm. It could also enable the Project Implementation Unit to identify potential risks and impacts on LGBTQI groups, create sensitive mitigation measures in advance, and prepare proper accommodations to engage them accordingly in safe consultations.
The World Bank must take this opportunity to address the needs of LGBTQI communities in COVID-19 emergency response projects, including forthcoming vaccine distribution projects.
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