Invitation to a Debate: Queer Politics and Aid Conditionalities

Breaking from usual practice, I am cross-posting a piece from Akshay Khanna writing as part of the Participation, Power and Social Change blog over at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Akshay is writing in response to this statement by UK Prime Minister David Cameron where, in a nutshell, he threatens cutting off aid to countries that still ban or make homosexuality illegal.

The controversy has begun – a BBC report has already cited an angry response from the Government of Uganda and more are surely to come. Aid conditionalities have a long history – the era of structural adjustment and austerity conditions is still with us, particularly in Africa, where the brunt of Cameron’s threat is clearly directed. So the question arises: how is this similiar or different to the conditionalities of other imperatives to “reform”? Parallels to the Bush administration refusing to fund organisations that also provided abortions, for example, or supported sex workers rights, even in countries where both of these were legal, echo strongly here as well.

I also want to raise, in addition to Akshay’s comments here, a broader contemplation about gay rights (not sexuality rights) and the legitimacy that they seem to have attained as an acceptable global human right that’s non-negotiable and circulates globally in a particular, recognisable form. This is, of course, a good thing in many ways except that this near universal legitimacy seems to come only when the idea of “gay rights” are absolutely divorced from movements, identities, gender, questions of economic and social class, and other contestations. Akshay is right to argue that queer politics in India has sought to reconnect and hold onto these interconnections but, increasingly post the 2009 judgment in India as well, it has, by all accounts, become harder and harder to do so as it becomes easier to claim rights and benefits as and for gay people, privileging sexual orientation over our other identities.

Here’s Akshay’s opening salvo then, which will hopefully start off debate and responses.

I’m quoting the first paragraph and then linking to the rest of the piece on its original blog.

Aid Conditionality and the Limits of a Politics of Sexuality

For activists and advocates of sexual rights, the very recognition of sexuality as a valid aspect of ‘development’ or of rights itself, has been a slow and thankless battle. As such, yesterday’s statement by David Cameron confirming that the British government will withhold aid from countries with homophobic policies might ostensibly be seen as a ‘victory’ of sorts. And yet there is something more fundamental at stake here – the idea of ‘sexuality’ as political object and the perpetration of a racialised discourse of difference that highlights the colonial continuities in ‘Development’.

Read the whole article here.

3 thoughts on “Invitation to a Debate: Queer Politics and Aid Conditionalities”

  1. Fantastic article by Akshay Khanna! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I truly hope that the issues raised in the article continues to get more focus and is widely debated.

    The only argument that I am not completely in agreement with, is the oft-stated ‘queerness is not a western import, homophobia is’. I wonder if that can sometimes gloss over the very real, localized forms that homophobia takes. It is too broad a brushstroke and feel that perhaps the queer movement in the global south would be better served to look into what forms homophobia takes on in different contexts and what it means. That would probably add more meaningfully to the discussion around homophobia rather than purely dismissing it as a ‘western import’.

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  2. Judith Butler’s ‘Sexual Politics, Torture, and Secular Time’ is a must-read in this discussion. She writes –

    “Those who are in favour of the new policy claim that acceptance of homosexuality is the same as embracing modernity. We can see in such an instance how modernity is being defined as sexual freedom, and the particular sexual freedom of gay people is understood to exemplify a culturally advanced position as opposed to one that would be deemed pre-modern. It would seem that the Dutch government has made special arrangements for a class of people who are considered presumptively modern. The presumptively modern includes the following groups who are exempted from having to take the test: European Union nationals, asylum-seekers and skilled workers who earn more than €45,000 per year. Also exempt are citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland, where presumably homophobia is not to be found or where, rather, importing impressive income levels clearly preempts concerns over importing homophobia.”

    Link to the article – http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/sexual-politics-torture-and-secular-time/

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  3. Thanks for hooking us up with this pertinent article!

    In and out community activists have long realized the paradox of trying to liaise with the liberal first world for its resources which drive the intervention programmes here , and at the same time not to be appropriated by their self congratulatory ,monolithic GLBT discourse. Like all post colonial movements they stand the risk of being claimed by both the right leaning “ progressive ”evangelists of the west ( The like of Cameroons and the “welfare” oriented charities like the Gates and Ford foundation) and the right wing nationalist in their home country as Akshay has pointed out. Moreover, as is the case in India, the Government’s lukewarm acquiescence to the process of decriminalization of same sex sexual activity underlies its need to bring such desiring bodies under the public health surveillance of the state, and not an overwhelming desire to grant human rights, though it does not mind the few international brownie points it gathers in the process. Queer politics thus needs to negotiate in this extremely tricky terrain of vulnerable desires, opportunistic governmental interference and the Self righteous ,neo racist Western funding agencies.

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