A condensed version of this letter to the editor appeared in the April 26 print edition of The Economist.
“Right cause, wrong battle” (April 12) contends that World Bank President Jim Kim’s recent moves to tackle discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation will make it harder for the bank to achieve its goals. But in practice eliminating discrimination is crucial for effective, sustainable development. And in principle World Bank activities, and sustainable development efforts more broadly, should be based upon universal access and non-discrimination.
The World Bank has delayed a $90m loan to Uganda’s health sector to review how the government’s recently passed draconian anti-gay law might affect the project. This is responsible management since the law criminalizes “promotion of homosexuality,” directly threatening public health efforts. The April 3 police raid on the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a health clinic and medical research facility, illustrates just how real this threat is. According to the US, which funds the clinic, the raid led to the arrest of an employee, allegedly for conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.”
Kim has emphasized that discrimination is bad for economies as well as for people and societies. The World Bank has found that homophobia negatively impacts labor output and exacerbates health disparities. Further, discrimination limits people’s ability to participate in the development of poverty reduction strategies or government policies and limits access to justice, compounding the problem. Infectious diseases do not respect boundaries: ignoring certain populations jeopardizes the success of national programs and undermines the investment of funds.
The World Bank is trying to determine how it can best deliver health care for everyone in Uganda; it has not cut aid. Systemic discrimination on any grounds (sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as gender, ethnicity, religion, language, disability, and political or other opinion among others) is antithetical to development and the World Bank should undertake due diligence to ensure it does not contribute to it anywhere.
Senior Researcher/Advocate on International Financial Institutions
Human Rights Watch