Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All

10 December 2011

Today marks the tenth annual observation of International Human Rights Day, when the global community celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. 

Among the human rights codified in this document is the right of universal access to education of high quality. This right is further articulated in subsequent international conventions, including the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All, and the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, the Yogyakarta Principles specifically make clear that this right must not be curtailed by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A number of governments around the world have already mobilized in support of the principle of Education for All. However, widespread violence and systemic discrimination and stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people undercut these efforts and limit their impact for many learners.  Every day, students around the world are routinely denied the basic, universal human right to education because of discrimination and violence they experience in school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.  Research from many nations and regions consistently documents the high levels of verbal, physical and sexual harassment, abuse, and violence experienced by young people in schools. Homophobia and gender-based bias also limit learners’ access to accurate information regarding health and sexuality, and diminishes the visibility of LGBTI people in other areas of the curriculum.

Studies repeatedly confirm links between homophobic bullying and bias – including lack of access to accurate information regarding health, sexuality and other aspects of the curriculum – and negative social, educational and health outcomes, including increased vulnerability to HIV, mental health consequences and suicide. These studies also indicate concrete steps which schools, education authorities, young people, communities, policy-makers and governments can take to prevent the negative effects of homophobic bullying and ensure the full enjoyment of the universal right to education.

We, the participants gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first-ever United Nations consultation on homophobic bullying in educational institutions, organized by UNESCO, are here to review the scope and impact of this urgent problem and discuss best practices in programming and policy to address it. We come from countries on all seven continents and represent non-governmental organizations, education ministries, UN agencies, academia and other development partners. Among us are current learners including young people, teachers, and parents.

We call upon all governments to live up to their responsibility to provide universal access to a high quality education by eliminating the barriers created by homophobia and transphobia, including the unacceptable and devastating prevalence of anti-LGBTI bias and violence in elementary, secondary and tertiary levels and settings of education around the world. Education for All must be realized through measures to ensure:

  • Safe school climates free of anti-LGBTI bias and violence;
  • Access to accurate health and sexuality information relevant to the needs of all learners, including LGBTI people;
  • Teachers and school staff prepared and willing to maintain learning environments truly accessible and productive for all; and
  • Mechanisms of periodic review by which educational institutions, systems and governments consult with development partners and all education sector stakeholders in order to hold themselves accountable to these principles.

Full participant list available here.

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