As India’s economy continues to grow, CSR funds support a variety of activities for the social and economic upliftment of its citizens, and are often seen as a vital source of revenue for important social causes. Why then do we not see CSR funds supporting causes for sexual and gender minorities in the country? Nivedita Krishna examines and analyses the various issues that may lie behind this query.
India has consistently performed poorly on the Global Gender Gap Index; yet, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds towards gender-based causes remains very low. From 2014–2021, only 1.5% of CSR funds were allocated towards gender equality and women empowerment (Figure 1). On the other hand, sectors like education get a disproportionately large portion of CSR funds. This is true despite India’s relatively strong score in education as per the Sustainable Development Index (Sustainable Development Report, 2021). This disproportionate allocation in CSR funds raises a moot question: what determines the flow of CSR funding towards a particular sector, and overlooks others?
Figure 1: CSR Fund Allocation in India, 2014–2021 © Author.
The following analysis contains some factors that guide CSR decisions towards a specific sector and suggests strategies to direct funds towards a diversity of sectors. Though the study on which this post is based was carried out to identify explanations for relatively lower CSR funds to the cause of sexual and gender minorities (SGM) in India, findings can be extrapolated for other under-funded sectors as well.
Factors that Feature in the CSR Calculus
Risk and returns associated with a project play an important role in the calculus of whether or not to fund a project. Some factors that influence the quantum of CSR funds in specific sectors include:
A simple mapping of sector-specific policies with CSR spends shows that there might be a correlation between government policies, initiatives and programs in a specific sector with the flow of CSR funds towards such sectors (though this was not statistically tested). For instance, while several initiatives exist for the education sector, including the Right to Education Act and policies and schemes pursuant to it, a significant portion of CSR funds is also directed towards the sector. Thus, explicit policy recognition through ‘development commitments’ or ‘need-based support’ is likely to lead CSR funds towards that area. The availability of pre-made metrics, impact and outcome measurement frameworks in sectors that have significant policy attention are factors that further the trend of higher CSR in sectors which are in the eye of government policy.
It therefore seems that explicit public or civil society policies and programs accompanied with measurable targets to track the progress in inclusion of sexual and gender community/individuals would likely promote greater CSR fund allocation.
Another key force which influences a company’s CSR policy is the risk perception associated with adopting a particular social impact area. Philanthropic activities tend to have several risks associated with them — including conflict with political ideologies, financial risk of outcome failure, risk of harm to brand value, and social risk of unintended negative consequences. Where education, sanitation or public health appear ‘safe’ for altruism, sectors such as gender and sexuality are politically and culturally sensitive, and may appear as risky philanthropic endeavors (India Philanthropy Initiative, 2020). The risk-return calculus might not justify investment in such initiatives.
Regressive values, including religious dogmatism, results in constricted flow of funds to sexual and gender minorities’ causes. Sexual and gender orientation has been a site of stringent control by religions in several societies (Defago et al., 2018). Conservative values often view non-binary individuals, including homosexual or transgender individuals, as abnormal. In the past, non-binary individuals have also been subject to ‘conversion therapies/cures’, including through physical, psychological and psychiatric methods. Over the last decade, civil society experts have noted a significant growth in conservative and/or regressive forces (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). Conservative ideologies thus dissuade CSR investment in sexual and gender minorities.
Recommendations to Enhance CSR Contribution towards Sexual and Gender Minorities
A combination of social and legal changes is needed to positively impact allocation of CSR funds towards initiatives in the domain of sexual and gender minorities, including:
- Directly incentivising organisations to engage in SGM welfare or indirectly driving organisations that work in sectors such as health or education to include SGM beneficiaries. Casual linguistic usage in projects can promote welfare measures for SGM, according to Rituparna Borah, Co-Founder and Co-Director of ‘Nazariya‘. For instance, menstrual hygiene programs can rephrase their language from ‘initiatives for women’ to ‘initiatives for menstruating persons’ to cover non-binary genders.
- Implementing tools and frameworks to measure and quantify the impact of inclusion of the SGM community in development outcomes such as education, public health and financial empowerment will allow data insights into their progress. Organisations working for the welfare of SGM require training and capacity-building to develop appealing CSR proposals with tangible results and strong reporting mechanisms, as suggested by Rekha Srinivasan of ‘United Way of Forward‘. Strong CSR proposals with definite impact indications will allow corporates to direct CSR funds towards welfare activities.
- Supporting research and empirical studies to identify and quantify social disparities faced by marginalised SGM will help to outline the challenges in the sector.
Role of Courts and Law in Advancing Welfare of SGM
In India, the courts have been a positive force behind supporting SGM in the past few years. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India held that discrimination against transgender individuals is against the Indian Constitution (National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India). The Court also recognised the rights of transgender individuals to self-determine their gender identity.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down Section 377, thus decriminalising same-sex consensual sexual relationships. Pursuant to this, the Government of India passed the ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019’. The Act is notable for formally recognising equality and non-discrimination for transgender individuals in educational institutions, employment and occupational opportunities. It also recognised the additional medical needs of transgender individuals, including the need for accessible sex-reassignment surgery, hormonal therapy and insurance schemes to help finance medical expenses associated with them. However, to widespread dismay, the Act affronted the right to self-determine one’s gender identity — a step back from the ruling of the Supreme Court.
From the Kerala high court allowing lesbian couples to stay together to a Madras high court judge talking to a psychologist to tackle his ignorance and prejudice about same-sex relationships thereby banning the practice of conversion therapy in India, India’s legislative and judicial actions are reflective of changing approaches. In 2022, a Private Member’s Bill was introduced in Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage under the Special Marriages Act, 1954.
CSR funding accounts for 23 per cent of private philanthropic funding in India (Arpan Sheth et al., 2022); however, sectors such as gender and sports continue to be poorly funded. An intentional shift in approach is necessary to ensure diversity of sectors benefitting from CSR funding. The active approach of the courts, affirmative action by the government and research in under-funded sectors of philanthropy will help to catalyse more funding towards the LGBTQIA+ sector. But this must also be supported by a gradual shift towards a more gender-inclusive mindset.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not that of the ‘South Asia @ LSE’ blog, the LSE South Asia Centre or the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Banner image © Alexander Grey, ‘Pronouns matter. Pronouns are important. Everyone is valid. She/Her, He/Him, They/Them, Ze/Zim, and many more. Don’t be afraid to ask which pronouns someone may prefer.’, 19 November 2020, Unsplash.
The ‘India @ 75’ logo is copyrighted by the LSE South Asia Centre, and may not be used by anyone for any purpose. It shows the national flower of India, the Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera [Gaertn.]), framed in a graphic design of waves, and spindles depicting depth of water. The logo has been designed by Oroon Das.