How to pave the way for greater economic inclusion of LGBTQI people in Southeast Asia

By November 26, 2020 Learning, Newsroom

Ramil Andag, APCOM

A scoping research conducted by APCOM titled ‘Economic Inclusion of LGBTQI People in Southeast Asia: A Background Research in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines’, various recommendations for stakeholders including government, the private sector, organizations working on LGBTQI rights, and the Asian Development Bank were identified.

Conducted in 2018 and based on a review of existing available data on related to LGBTQI situation in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines, the report looks into the experiences of LGBTQI communities in the areas of work, health, and education.

The report is part of Finance Inc., a three- year multi-country initiative (2018-2020) which aims to contribute to the goal of ‘leaving no one behind’ engages the private sector and financial institution towards being more inclusive of LGBTQI people’s needs, concerns and potential.

As financial institutions and the private sector are moving to integrate LGBTQI issues into their standards and operations, APCOM would like to contribute to ensuring meaningful participation of diverse SOGIESC communities in these efforts, so that LGBTQI voices are part of these conversations.

The report contains recommendations to governments, the private sector, the Asian Development Bank and non-government organizations working on equality and non-discrimination. The recommendations range from more inclusive legislative and policies, including workplace policies; awareness raising; advocacy with the private sector; and research and evidence building.

The scoping research has specific recommendations for the Asian Development Bank as it is of the stakeholders which APCOM aimed to and is presently engaging for LGBTQI inclusion.

These recommendations were very helpful for APCOM and our country partner organizations in the course of implementing Finance Inc.

The Asian Development Bank

The ADB has a great potential to strengthen LGBTQI inclusion in its processes and operations. Its new long-term “Strategy 2030” has a lot of references to inclusion, which can be entry points for LGBTQI inclusion. ‘Strategy 2030’  aims to respond to the changes brought about by a “rapidly evolving Asia and the Pacific and is calling, inter alia¸ to sustain economic growth with quality and creating job opportunities for the people by promoting inclusiveness to ensure that economic gains “are widely shared (…) especially for vulnerable populations.” 

The Asian Development Bank’s “Strategy 2030” provides a significant number of entry points  for APCOM and other LGBTQI advocates in the region for LGBTQI inclusion.

The report identifies a number of possible entry points where LGBTQI inclusion can be further strengthened and integrated and where the bank may be more LGBTQI inclusive in its operations. The report outlines the potential of the ADB to deepen its commitment and aspirations and assume leadership, for example by anchoring LGBTQI inclusion in its “Strategy 2030”. Inclusion can find spaces in their policies, operations, data and evidence building, and fostering and further strengthening partnerships with organizations working on LGBTQI issues.

The Private sector

In recent years, businesses have made greater efforts to create more diverse, inclusive workplaces, and have participated in human rights-related causes, including increasing women’s participation in the workplace and achieving equal pay for women, supporting marriage equality, transgender inclusion, and LGBTQI rights and empowering local leaders.

Studies have shown that companies that embrace diversity and inclusion do not  only just see an increase in employee engagement or morale, but better overall business and economic performance.


There is a need to significantly increase LGBTQI inclusion initiatives by governments. While some governments have taken steps towards opening up space for human rights and human rights defenders, others are closing in on that space, or being indifferent towards LGBTQI issues. In those countries where there is a strong anti-LGBTQI sentiment the government should step up, show leadership and put measures in place to prevent discrimination and exclusion based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and sex characteristics.

The report offers a number of recommendations to governments, both at local and national level, and calls for governments to design and implement measures which aim to protect LGBTQI people from discrimination, and inclusive and non-discriminatory policies and practices in the domains of employment, education, and in the health sector.

The report also calls for all four countries to show adherence and commitment to international human rights standard, by fulfilling their human rights obligations, and acting on recommendations from their respective Universal Periodic Reviews.

Research and evidence building

One common challenge for all stakeholders is the lack of quantitative and in many cases, qualitative data which will contribute to understanding the challenges being experienced by the LGBTQII populations. Lack of data poses a challenge to assert LGBTQII-focused policies with a sustained baseline to promote effective policies, practices and programmes to significantly improve economic inclusion for LGBTQI people in the four countries.

Foster partnerships between the private and public sectors, academic institutions, and organisations working on LGBTQI rights for more rigorous research to improve and expand available data and information on LGBTQI inclusion. This will inform programs aimed to address and improve the situation of LGBTQI populations in the region;

The research capacity of LGBTQI organisations should be built and strengthened so that they are able to meaningfully design, implement, evaluate and participate in qualitative and quantitative research projects on LGBTQI-related issues;

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