Schools and governments throughout Asia-Pacific are moving beyond the idea that dealing with issues around sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (SOGI/E) is “too sensitive” or “too new”. A recent regional consultation on the basis of SOGI/E reflected the sentiment of one Ministry of Education official from the region who told UNESCO: “It will always be sensitive or new if we never do anything about it.”
Ministries and concerned stakeholders throughout the region are taking action and their successes as well as the challenges that lie ahead were discussed at the Asia-Pacific Consultation on School Bullying on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression held from 15-17 June 2015 in Bangkok.
A detailed, illustrated 49-page report on the results of the consultation with summaries of all sessions, key recommendations and suggested next steps by countries was published today: unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002338/233825E.pdf
During the consultation’s opening session, UNESCO Bangkok Director Gwang-Jo Kim spoke about the “immediate, long-term and intergenerational effects” of bullying and violence. “And for those that think that bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity only affects LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] people?
This is wrong. It affects the whole climate of the school and community,” he said. “Taking steps to make schools safe, respectful and inclusive benefits everyone.”
The regional consultation received overwhelming interest from around the region, with 100 participants joining from 13 countries – Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Tonga and Viet Nam. Country delegations included representatives from ministries/departments of education or child protection, as well as human rights institutions, NGOs, academic or research institutions, and UN agencies.
Caitlin Wiesen, Chief, Regional Policy and Programme Support for Asia and the Pacific for UNDP spoke of the consultation in the context of the UN’s wider mission to tackle the marginalization of LGBTI people in Asia-Pacific. “UNDP believes that for development to be effective, it must be inclusive. In order to be inclusive we must proactively ensure that all marginalized populations are actively encouraged and supported in achieving the full realization of their rights.”
The meeting aimed to improve understanding of bullying on the basis of SOGI/E and in particular how to prevent, and provide support to those who may have been affected by, this type of violence, as well as how to promote acceptance of gender and sexual diversity more broadly.
Data and other strategic information, teacher training, awareness-raising interventions in schools, counselling and peer support were among the areas reviewed and discussed. Countries came prepared with analyses of their country situation and response, reviewed good practice on these issues from the region and beyond, and identified next steps.
The report details the national plans put forward by participating countries working towards these goals. Many of them agreed on the need to engage a broader set of stakeholders in their countries to push the issue of bullying on the basis of SOGI/E forward. Data gathering and curriculum reviews were seen as important first steps to understand the situation in many settings.
UNESCO and UNDP are committed supporting further country action in Asia-Pacific, with the consultation seen as one first step. Next steps include the finalization of a regional analysis of the situation and response to bullying on the basis of SOGI/E in the region, drawing on data and programme experience shared at the consultation. National consultations are also planned for several countries in the region to advance action.
The consultation was part of UNESCO’s three-year global project: “Education and Respect for All: Preventing and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Educational Institutions” funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands. This project will culminate in the International Meeting of Ministers of Education: Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Violence in Paris in 2016.
It was also linked to UNESCO’s partnership with UNDP on the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ initiative and follows on from the Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific held on 25-27 February 2015 in Bangkok. This initiative is being supported by the Embassy of Sweden in Thailand and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
For more information on the issue, please also see one of the videos screened during the regional consultation: “Imagine That”. The video puts viewers in the position of victims of homophobic and transphobic bullying and asking, “What if we saw what they see?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQO6ScVLNoE&feature=youtu.be