In this blog, Research & Communications Assistant Scarlett Moore sat down with Reylynne Dela Paz, Regional Advocacy and Civic Engagement Advisor at Plan International, Asia Pacific, to examine how the humanitarian sector keeps its LGBTQIA+ staff safe, and the challenges that arise when promoting inclusivity in security.
To mark this year’s pride month, GISF aimed to examine the specific risks faced by LGBTQIA+ colleagues in the humanitarian sector and how to make humanitarian security more inclusive. To explore this issue, we spoke with Reylynne Dela Paz, Regional Advocacy and Civic Engagement Advisor with Plan International Asia Pacific. Rey works providing technical support to country offices in the region, focusing on influencing, advocacy, civic engagement and participation. Rey also leads the region’s initiative in relation to LGBTQIA+ inclusion and is a convenor of Plan International’s global LGBTQIA+ Champions’ network. We discussed how important inclusive humanitarian security is for LGBTQIA+ colleagues, and how to create a culture of respect, so we can keep all aid workers safe.
SM: What are the specific risks that LGBTQIA+ staff face when working in the humanitarian sector?
Rey: We have mapped out several countries where LGBTQIA+ relationships or sexual expressions are not legal or are criminalised. This means that even if we encourage our country offices to strengthen their work on LGBTQIA+ inclusion, it may not be possible in some countries because of the political and legal environment they are working in. But even if it is not criminalised in some countries, it still may not be recognised or popular. This means there’s also a risk that this can affect an organisation’s ability to receive funding. It can also affect the work we’re trying to do. Pushing for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in one community where it’s not accepted, may mean you may not be welcome in the community anymore. So, it can also depend on the legal, cultural or even the religious context in which we are operating.
SM: How do you balance the need to be inclusive with security practices and meeting Duty of Care, with the cultural differences you experience in some of the contexts you work in?
Rey: To be honest, this is something that we still need to improve. Every time we plan new programmes, especially those that can be more sensitive, the first thing required is a careful, systematic situation analysis, and a risk analysis to identify the issues that can arise, and how to mitigate them. In countries where LGBTQIA+ expressions are illegal, inclusivity can be promoted in other ways, by integrating it into policies or programmes on education or protection from violence, etc… Partnerships with communities are also helpful. For an international organisation especially, local civil society are much more aware of the context and dynamics. So really engaging and working closely with them can provide us with proper guidance on how to deliver our key messages and who we should talk to. If possible, working with local or national governments can also provide some security and safety and mitigate some risks.
SM: Why is it so important to include staff with LGBTQIA+ profiles in the security planning process?
Rey: There’s a principle among the disability sector: ‘nothing about us, without us’. We can apply that to almost everything we do. For all INGOs and specifically those engaged in rights-based humanitarian work, our main principle is to ‘do no harm’. We must therefore try and identify the best approach to everything we do and assess the challenges and relevance of our work. To give an example, recently one of the units in the organisation drafted a policy that was well-intended but we thought it could create risks for our queer colleagues. So, the Champions network invited them to have a dialogue, and explained how it would impact LGBTQIA+ staff, identifying an angle they had not seen before. And the good thing was that they became more aware after our discussion. They wouldn’t have otherwise seen that angle, as they did not understand the personal and professional struggles we go through, how it would make it challenging to do our work and the effect it would have on our mental health. Even if you are not a part of the community, or are not an ally, it is still important to understand the community to keep all staff safe, so we put a premium on awareness raising and dialogues.
SM: Once you’ve identified the risks faced by LGBTQIA+ staff, what are some best practices you can share for mitigating these risks?
Rey: The first thing to do is to provide more education to increase the awareness of our staff regarding LGBTQIA+ rights, and the existence of this community, because I think some people don’t acknowledge that sexuality and gender identity and expression can be so diverse, even in organisations that are supposedly celebrating diversity. We are, however, open that in some country offices, this is probably not the case. There’s still a lack of understanding in many organisations about queer rights, who we are, our existence, and the possibility of diversity. However, it’s important to emphasise that understanding why something is the case is not necessarily a prerequisite for respect. We recognise that individuals have a diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds, that we also accept, just as we accept diversity in sexual orientation, gender, and identity expression (SOGIE). So, if your religion or culture for instance does not think that LGBTQIA+ identity is right or possible, it’s not an excuse to discriminate against that community, just because you don’t understand it.
SM: If you could choose one thing that all humanitarian staff can do to help keep their LGBTQIA+ colleagues safe, what would you suggest?
Rey: If we truly believe in and promote respect for the rights of all people, there isn’t room for any form of discrimination against anyone. This applies to the queer community, but also all other aspects of identity and backgrounds. By aiming for a culture of respect, we can protect each other from any form of discrimination. I think improving policies to protect your colleagues is also important, and then consistently adhering or fairly implementing those policies. Conversations are also important that could lead to understanding and appreciation of our differences and stories.
This Pride month, consider how you can create a culture of respect in your organisation. By recognising, respecting, and celebrating diversity within our organisations, and focusing on examining and mitigating the specific risks faced by LGBTQIA+ staff, we can help to keep all aid workers safe. Check out our paper Managing the Security of Aid Workers with Diverse Profiles to learn more and take action today.
Managing the Security of Aid Workers with Diverse Profiles
This GISF research paper aims to better understand what challenges aid organisations face in relation to managing the security of aid workers while being mindful of their diversity.
Digital Security of LGBTQI Aid Workers: Awareness and Response
This article discusses the digital risks that LGBTQI aid workers may face while working in areas that are hostile to people who identify or are perceived as LGBTQI, and ways in which aid workers and non-governmental organisations can prepare and respond to these risks.