LGBT employment discrimination costs South Africa more than $300 million per year

New study estimates the economic impact of LGBT stigma and discrimination in South Africa

Wage discrimination and underemployment related to sexual orientation and gender expression costs South Africa US$ 316.8 million each year, according to new research conducted by South African and other collaborators in partnership with the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Researchers also found that health disparities disproportionately experienced by LGBT adults cost the country between US$ 3.2 billion and US$ 19.5 billion, and sexual assault disproportionately experienced by LGBT adults costs South Africa as much as US$ 64.8 million every year.

The study conducted original empirical analyses of large representative datasets to characterize and estimate the costs of LGBT stigma and discrimination on South Africa’s economy. In addition, researchers reviewed existing studies to develop a comprehensive look at the history, legal landscape, and current social climate concerning LGBT people and rights in South Africa.

“South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, but stigma and discrimination against LGBT and other gender nonconforming people still costs the country billions of dollars every year,” said Jabu Pereira, Executive Director of Iranti, a media advocacy organization dedicated to the rights of lesbian, intersex and transgender persons in Africa. “This study underscores how beneficial it would be to the entire South African population to integrate an LGBTI lens and LGBTI representatives into South Africa’s comprehensive human rights and development infrastructure in order to protect LGBTI people from violence, improve access to competent health care, and foster inclusive workplaces.”

Key Findings

  • Just 14.9% of gender nonconforming LGB individuals in South Africa are in the paid labor force. However, gender nonconforming heterosexual people were also less likely to be employed (33.8%) than gender-conforming heterosexual individuals (46.4%).
  • The monthly earnings of gender-nonconforming heterosexuals and gay and bisexual men are 30% lower than that of gender-conforming heterosexual men.
  • In 2017, the likelihood of HIV infection among men who have sex with men was estimated at 26.8%, compared to 18.9% for the general population.
  • Sexual violence against LGBT people is common in South Africa. Nearly a third (31%) of lesbian and bisexual women from southern Africa in one study reported lifetime experiences of sexual violence.
  • Gender nonconforming adults, including those who are heterosexually identified and those who are LGB-identified, were more likely to feel personally unsafe most days compared to gender-conforming adults (25.4% vs. 20.7% and 35.5% vs. 17.5, respectively).
  • In a 2015/2016 survey, majorities of gender-nonconforming heterosexuals (73%) and LGB adults (77%) reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their access to health care.

“South Africa is making strides toward creating an LGBT-inclusive society,” said study co-author S.N. Nyeck, Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam. “But more work needs to be done. One area that is ripe for development is to investigate strategies to cultivate and promote LGBTI-owned small businesses to reduce economic inequities and social stigma associated with being LGBTI.”

“Sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression measures need to be added to all large, publicly-funded surveys, as well as administrative systems, in order to assess the impact of efforts to improve conditions for LGBTI and gender-nonconforming heterosexuals,” emphasized study co-author Debra Shepherd, Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Stellenbosch.

Read the report

December 9, 2019

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