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Sexual Rights for Sexual Minorities

It is one of his most crude and infamous trademarks, but it is a statement that has dealt a body blow to Zimbabwe’s attempts at achieving Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Irked by growing dissent from all sectors of the population, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the
29-year leader of Zimbabwe vented his anger towards a Gay Rights group that had made calls on constitutional reforms. President Mugabes response was to call for the arrest of anyone "caught practicing homosexuality".

“Lesbians and gays are “sexual perverts” who are “lower than dogs and pigs,” said Mr. Mugabe.

The gullible state-controlled media joined the fray, castigating homosexuals. Scores of innocent citizens fled the country after being exposed as gays or lesbians. Those in government employment hastily resigned, including the Chief Executive Officer of the country’s sole broadcaster, Mr. Alam Mpofu who was caught in a compromising position with a male partner.

The consequences of President Mugabe’s statements are there for everyone to see. Homophobia has resulted in the exclusion of sexual minorities in Zimbabwe from developmental programmes. One such programme is the Maputo Plan of Action (MPoA) for Universal Access to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Services.

One of President Mugabe’s right hand man and former health minister, Dr. David Parirenyatwa represented Zimbabwe in Maputo and endorsed the document with other health ministers in Africa. However, fearing President Mugabe’s hatred of homosexuals, Dr. Parirenyatwa deliberately ignored sexual minorities in the Zimbabwe National Maternal and Neonatal Health Road Map (2007-2015). The road map was adopted by Zimbabwe to achieve some selected goals set in the MPoA, however it fails to acknowledge the existence of homosexuals and sex workers and it does not address their Sexual and Reproductive Health challenges.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police, a partisan force, has also taken a cue from President Mugabe’s statements against gays. Arbitrary arrests and detention using some draconian legislation have been used to harass gays. For instance, it is an offense for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss under Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9.23], Act 23/2004. The Miscellaneous Offences Act is used to arrest sex workers for “loitering for the purpose of solicitation for prostitution”.

Homophobia is rampant in the health sector. During a public discussion meeting for medical doctors, one doctor said that he felt uncomfortable to provide medical services to sex workers and gays.

Comments by medical doctors are just the tip of the ice berg and provide a general insight into the Zimbabwean society. Gays, lesbians and sex workers have limited access to sexual and reproductive health services and care because they live in constant fear of violence, stigma and discrimination.

The Anglican Church which is facing problems in the United Kingdom over the installation of a gay Bishop ignited violent demonstrations and squabbles in Zimbabwe. Reverend Nolbert Kunonga who is related to President Mugabe, after being charged of violating the church’s constitution turned tables against his accusers, alleging that they were gays who were seeking to oust him because he was straight. What was a simple case of impropriation turned into a political fiasco as President Mugabe brought in anti-riot police officers to back up Reverend Kunonga.

Scores of followers were beaten up, arrested and detained. Those who were backing Kunonga attended church services under heavy security guard. For some time, Anglican churches in Zimbabwe became temporary garrisons.

President Mugabe’s statements on gays will continue to hound many sectors of Zimbabwean life. No one in government can stand up to challenge his statements. Zimbabwe needs to develop a clear Plan of Action to achieve goals set in the MPoA without taking into consideration the president’s ill-advised statements.

Zimbabweans need to stand up to President Mugabe and call for the decriminalization of sex work and the recognition of the rights of gays and lesbians to enable them to receive the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services. This can be achieved through rectifying laws that undermine the rights of minority groups. The Ministry of Health and the civic society need to provide training to medical staff on providing health services to minority groups.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

Comments

michellee's picture

informative

Thank you for sharing this important issue with us. Your article is very informative -- how can sexual minorities be left out of a 'road map' for national health when they often face higher incidences of HIV/AIDS and lack access to health resources? I hope that Zimbabweans continue to work for change so that sexual minorities can access health care and other resources in the future. I look forward to reading more about how this issue evolves in Zimbabwe.

Michelle
World Pulse Technology Associate

cad_communication's picture

The journey is still too long

Thank you for your comment.

Zimbabwe is a conservative country. Homosexuality and sex work are viewed as immoral. My work with minority groups have showed me that sexual minorities (lesbians, gays, sex workers and women with mental health problems) have limited access to information and resources on Sexual and Reproductive Health care and services. There is there need to build a sexual rights culture in Zimbabwe by challenging myths, beliefs and perceptions that perpetuate the violation of sexual rights of minority groups.

Love
Gertrude

michellee's picture

progress

I think most people & places around the world are conservative on this issue. I just hope time is on our side.

Michelle

Michelle
World Pulse Technology Associate

jadefrank's picture

Equal rights for sexual minorities

Hi Gertrude,

This is well researched and written piece on the state of health care for the LGBT community of Zimbabwe. It is difficult for people like us who are open minded and compassionate, to understand how someone (especially a leader who should have the best interests of the entire population at heart) could discriminate so blatantly against fellow human beings who have caused no harm to society. For Mugabe to call gays and lesbians “sexual perverts” who are “lower than dogs and pigs,” is appalling.

You are courageous for writing this piece and for standing up to your president. You are courageous for calling upon the people of Zimbabwe and the people of the international community to join you in standing up to President Mugabe in telling him that it is unacceptable to place discriminating bars on health care for homosexuals and sex workers. I support you Gertrude!

Hugs,
Jade

cad_communication's picture

Sexuality

Zimbabwe is currently drafting a new constitution. The majority of people in the country are already raising eyebrows on the possibilities of reconising one's sexual orientation. Some want the Constitution to clearly recognise the LGBT community while others are saying no.

Chances of having it clearly spelt out in the new constitution are slim. The President, the church are against homosexuality and sex work. However, i am hoping that the Constitution will include the phrase "sexuality" which is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompases sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, erotism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.

I will keep you updated on our progress to recognising the rights of sexual minorities in our new constitution.

With much appreciation,
Gertrude

jap21's picture

Hi Gertrude

First of all let me congratulate you on a great writing job. I think your issue and thematic are very well portrayed and your voice is being heard.

Then I would like to let you know that I am a believer in human rights for everyone, especially for minority groups. There are two aspects that I would like to point out, though. One, lesbians, gays and other sexual minorities have all my respect and I think a president should never use these kind of violent approach as he is the president for all zimbabweans, not just a part of them.

Second, health care, as you state should not discriminate people in any way, and the government must be clear on that. I salute the way you render this as unacceptable. I completely agree.

But there is one aspect I do not agree on: 'Zimbabweans... call for decriminalization of sex work'. I know we all agree that families are the basic structure of society that we must preserve from decadence. Families of single parents, gay parents, whichever the kind of family, if sex work is to be free and without restriction, then there is no line to cross for people who live in families. We need to know the limits. One limit is: sex work allows for decandence of the families, as it puts them in danger of AIDS and STDs, and on the other hand, sex workers are putting their lives in danger to make money they do not get to enjoy, as they are sleeping or getting high all day.

So the problem here is not about which kind of sex do you like to have or do you prefer, the problem here is that your choice should not become a burden to society, as poverty comes easily when you destroy the basic structure of families.

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

cad_communication's picture

Rights with Responsibility

Thank you for your comment.

When i talked about the decriminalisation of sex work i am not saying they should be irresponsible. My arguement is that sex workers should engage in their work and be responsile citizens. They should be protected by the law and they should have equal access to sexual and reproductive health care and services.

We conducted a baseline survey which revealed that minor pieces of legislation increase the power of the police and this leads to many rights violations that go unreported and undocumented. The negative and judgemental attitude of society towards sex workers means that this group is highly marginalised. The stigma and discrimination faced by sex workers permits police, clients and other members of society to commit inhuman acts against sex workers, denies sex workers essential and crucial access to health information and facilities and puts sex workers at greater risk.

Therefore, my arguement on the decriminalisation of sex work is based on the need to provide protection, recognise their human rights including the right to attain the highest standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services.

With much appreciation,
Gertrude

jap21's picture

Thanks for explaining

Dear Gertrude:

Many times we assume that decriminalization only means 'legalization', but you are right, it can also mean giving sex workers the opportunity to be treated humanely and without violence.

I think this approach actually works because it gives sex workers a self esteem leverage. We need to see, though, that they need to understand that they should give their clients and the rest of society the same opportunity, without the issue of violent intervention. If this is clear to them, they will use this self esteem leverage for the best interest of their community, and not to impose a style of life that would harm them and the rest of the society.

Great job.

Love,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Well done!

Gertrude,

This a great article.. I admire your elegant style and the way you debate and handle an issue..Well done!

Love,

Halima

cad_communication's picture

Thank you

Dear Halima,
Thank you for your comment.

Love
Gertrude

malayapinas's picture

Enlightening

Dear Gertrude,

Very enlightening article! Congrats for such a great job. I'm just reminded also of our gays and lesbian here in the Philippines who are being ostracized despite their contibution in the community.

Thank you for standing in behalf of them.

best regards,
malaya

cad_communication's picture

Rights without discriminating

Malaya,

Thank you very much for your comment.

I strongly believe in rights without discriminating. Human rights activists can better appreciate challenges faced by minority groups if they take their time to hear their stories and the challenges they face everyday.

With love
Gertrude

Nusrat Ara's picture

Well done to take up an issue

Well done to take up an issue which is considered a taboo in most parts of the world even today.

Love

Nusrat

cad_communication's picture

Thank you

Hi Nusrat,
I enjoyed reading your op-ed and congradulations.

Gertrude

Nusrat Ara's picture

Thanks dear. Love

Thanks dear.

Love

Nusrat

Greta's picture

Well Done Gertrude

Dearest Gerturde,

I have revisited you op-ed piece today, and am impressed by it on so many levels. You have done a great job with difficult subject matter. We all know that so many countries have a long way to go, in the area of acceptance and rights for all. I for one, feel a sense of hope when I see the kind of exchange that is happening here with your posting. I see how it has the power to influence, to educate, to add to understanding, and that is a step in the right direction. I applaud your willingness to shine a light on these topics. I am learning a great deal through this experience with the VOF correspondents. It is obvious that your posting has achieved the goal, of widening the conversation.

Proud of you,

Gretchen

cad_communication's picture

Appreciation

Dearest Gratchen,
I could not have done it without you help.

Thank you very much for your support and for playing a key role in building my capacity to lead, express myself, share ideas and knowledge with other women.

With much appreciation,

Gertrude

Dando's picture

Congratulation

Your Oped is very amazing.

Keep it up and best of luck.

with Love

Dando.

cad_communication's picture

Thank PulseWire

Dondo,
My journey with World Pulse has been an empowering one. I can now confiedently bring to light taboo issues and challenge the status quo that contibutes to the violate human rights and other fundamental freedoms.

Gertrude

hhhhamada's picture

Fine job with this assignment

Hello Gertrude,

You did a great job showing the depth and horror of the problem not only for healthcare but for life itself for homosexuals in Zimbabwe. Thank you for your honest and straightforward coverage of a very disturbing issue. You show care, insight and compassion. I agree with Gretchen, you have widened the conversation.

Love,
Helen

cad_communication's picture

Thank you

Helen,

Thank you for your comment.

Gertrude

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