Changing the Zimbabwean Constitution
Where are the minority voices in the Constitution?
As the Constitution-making gets started, it is time for us, as Zimbabweans, to be asking some tough questions and making some serious demands of our government. As the Sexual Rights Centre we want to ask civil society, the government and all Zimbabweans – where are the minority voices in the Constitution?
The word minority is a popular one these days. It can have derogatory implications or it can be used positively for lobbying or advocacy. The oppression of a minority can be excused by the belief in the greater good of the majority. The needs of minorities in Zimbabwe have been ignored for many reasons. The way a government and majority population treat a minority group in a country is a testimony to the human rights standard in a country. If a minority group or groups are oppressed or suppressed it signifies a lack of commitment to human rights, a lack of humanity, a culture of violence and phobia, a lack of equality and equity and a lack of transparency and accountability. It is the duty and responsibilities of states to ensure the human rights’ of their citizens are observed.
It is not possible, therefore, to build a Constitution or a government on human rights if some groups are specifically isolated and excluded. One of the key human rights principles is participation and inclusion. This principle is linked to that of equality and non-discrimination. During our period of transition these human rights principles are crucial in guiding the political process and ensuring that all Zimbabweans have an opportunity to express themselves freely and without fear of retribution. The principle of participation demands that governments create new channels and mechanisms for the participation of marginalised groups.
The most obvious marginalised group in Zimbabwe is women. However, this period of transition and potential change creates opportunities for us to explore the dynamics of Zimbabwean culture deeper to identify more minority groups amongst women and men. Sexual minorities are one such group.
Various UN statements prohibit discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. Indeed closer to home, South Africa has one of the most progressive and liberal Constitutions in the world, recognising and upholding the rights of sexual minorities. This issue of sexual minorities has created much debate on the Continent and generated appalling homophobia and discrimination. But, our treatment of sexual minorities as a country is a human rights issue. As long as sexual minorities are denied rights in Zimbabwe, we cannot claim that a human rights culture exists. This is not a Western issues, this is a Zimbabwean issue. By acknowledging the rights of sexual minorities, we are not weakening our culture; we are not submitting to a Western world view; instead we are demonstrating that Zimbabweans are humanitarians.
The starting point is the inclusion of sexual minorities in the Constitution. This is not a debate about whether homosexuality is right or wrong. This is a debate about whether we uphold human rights in our Constitution. What is wrong is to discriminate against a person on the basis of their sexual orientation. What is wrong is to deny people the right to control their bodies and choose their own sexual identity. What is wrong is for perpetrators of homophobic violence to receive impunity. What is wrong is for the state to endorse and permit homophobia and discrimination against sexual minorities.
The exclusion of sexual minorities from the Constitution and the criminalisation of sex between men impacts severely on sexual minorities in Zimbabwe. These criminal prohibitions expose sexual minorities to bribery, extortion and blackmail. They are often denied access to facilities and opportunities. There is also limited information and resources available to sexual minorities about HIV/AIDS. In the past the Zimbabwean leadership have allowed personal prejudices and beliefs to dominate the issue of sexual minorities. However, we must accept that a person’s sexual orientation is an integral part of their character and cannot be denied them. As a country we must demonstrate tolerance, understanding and respect of all citizens and not allow stigma and discrimination to overshadow Zimbabwe’s potential to be an example of a human rights culture.
You may not agree with homosexuality, but you should defend a person’s right to choose their sexual orientation, as a fundamental human right. You should also defend the right of sexual minorities to be represented and included in all political processes.
This article was written by Sian Maseko and the article was previously published in The Weekly Agenda. Sian Maseko is the Director of the Sexual Rights Centre.