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.