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Legalising homophobia, setting the precedents in Africa

Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe has called gays ‘worse than dogs and pigs’, the Archbishop of the Anglican church in Nigeria has termed homosexuality a ‘satanic attack’ and the Namibian Minister of Home Affairs once ordered police to ‘arrest on sight homosexuals and eliminate them from the face of Namibia’, but Uganda has taken the war against gays and lesbians in Africa to extremes, with lawmakers proposing to imprison and counsel homosexuals to reverse their sexual orientation.

The legislation formerly imposed life imprisonment for a single homosexual act and imposed the death penalty in cases where the gay individual is a "serial offender", HIV positive, a "person of authority" over the partner or in cases where the "victim" is below 18. Legislators have altered the Bill, introducing imprisonment and counseling to offenders. The legislation proposes a seven year prison term for any person who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality;" a seven year term for landlords convicted of renting to gay individuals; and a three year term for anyone of "religious, political, economic or social authority" who does not report any knowledge of homosexual acts.

The Ugandan bill has sent a chilling shockwave among sexual rights activists who fear that other countries will introduce similar laws. Currently, a majority of African countries, including Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia have laws that criminalize homosexuality.

Fears of continent wide persecution of gays and lesbians have some basis. The Presidents of Namibia, Kenya, Zambia and the King of Swaziland have echoed President Mugabe’s vitriolic attacks against gays and lesbians, according to GALZ, a Zimbabwean based Human Rights organisation championing the cause of gays and lesbians.

In many African countries, any association with homosexuality sparks violent reaction or shameful denials. Families have been torn apart, jobs lost and individuals committing suicide because of homosexuality associations. The case of Jefta Dube, a Zimbabwean police officer who shot and killed a colleague after the deceased had called him ‘ngochani’, a derogatory term for a homosexual is a case in point.

To maintain a tight cap over any discussions about gays and lesbians in the public sphere, many African governments have banned the media from reporting issues related to homosexuality. In Zimbabwe, GALZ reports of the banning of the British lesbian magazine, the Diva and the Penguin Book of Lesbian short stories. The government also banned GALZ from advertising in the state controlled Herald newspaper on the pretext that the newspaper was a ‘family’ paper. The electronic media has also been banned from reporting anything by gay rights activists.

The blanket cover on gay issues in African countries has resulted in the lack of information by citizens about this phenomenon. This has fueled the spread of myths and misconceptions that perpetuate the stigmatisation of gays and lesbians. One misconception is that HIV started as a result of homosexuality.

According to a GALZ research, Africans believe that homosexuality was brought to the continent by whites during colonialism. The research reveals that homosexuality in the traditional African societies was abhorred because it was strongly linked to witchcraft and strong medicines. However this has been disputed by archeologist findings by Peter Garlake who found some Bushmen paintings of males engaging in sexual acts.

The introduction of Christianity to Africa did not help matters. Church officials have cited the Bible, particularly the book of Corinthians, to justify the persecution of Gays and Lesbians. The fiasco in the Anglican Church over the appointment of gay bishops has renewed resentment against gays and lesbians.

One of the countries in Africa that has laws that recognise gays and lesbians is South Africa. Section 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights recognises protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation among other things. However, the situation on the ground is different. The Lesbian Forum, a South African based Lesbian rights organisation reports about gangs, particularly the Jackrollers gang rape anyone they suspect to be a lesbian.

While homophobia in Africa is rampant, there is need for governments to come up with laws that protect homosexuals. Sexual orientation is a human right and homosexuals have a right to be protected by the state. Governments in Africa should create an environment that upholds the rights of homosexuals. This will reduce stigma and discrimination, increase understanding and awareness and ensure that the rights of every individual are respected and the responsibilities of every individual are understood. The fact that Uganda’s argument is steeped in the colonialism argument may tempt other African leaders that have problems with the west to use the issue to get back to the former colonisers

The precedent set by Uganda will leave an indelible mark on the cultural and religious attitudes towards gays and lesbians by Africans. The piece of legislation takes sexual rights activists a long way back in efforts to achieve the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services; seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality; sexuality education; respect for bodily integrity; choose their partner; decide to be sexually active or not; consensual sexual relations; consensual marriage; decide whether or not, and when, to have children; and pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

Reference:
1. Rachel Rosenbloom (Ed), Unspoken Rules. Sexual Orientation and Women’s Human Rights, Cassell, 1996.
2. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, Unspoken facts. A history of homosexuality in Africa, Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe, 2008

Comments

jadefrank's picture

unbelievable

Hi Gertrude,

Thank you for telling this urgent story of the persecution of homosexuals in Africa, most significantly in Uganda. It is difficult to imagine the reason for such hate and discrimination against our own brothers and sisters - condemning someone because they are different and blaming them for an epidemic.

You're right - the laws must be made first to protect the rights of homosexuals and hopefully, eventually, the public attitude will follow and allow them to enjoy those rights. Pressure the governments? What else can we do?

I continue to look to you Gertrude for leadership in the fight and awareness of these issues. Thank you.

In gratitude and friendship,
Jade

cad_communication's picture

Dear Jade, Thank you for your

Dear Jade,

Thank you for your comment and contribution. I totally agree with what you are saying.

Besides pressuring the governements for change in policies and legislation i think it is vital to provide accurate information to people on sexuality issues. It is important for people to learn about sexuality issues which include sex education and issues to do with one's sexual orientation. By providing our communities with accurate information we will have greater undersing on sexuality issues. More poeple will then be able to challenge believes, attitutes, perseptions and myths that perpetuate the violation of people's rights based on their sexual orientation.

Gertrude

JaniceW's picture

Thank you for your leadership

Gertrude,
Thank you for being such a strong advocate and spokesperson for LBGTI. It is heartbreaking to read about these racist or xenophobic views which feed sensational headlines yet avoid the discussions that we should be engaging in i.e. the obstacles preventing the advancement of gay rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Knowing that homosexuality is seen as having been imported to the continent by whites during colonialism means that gay rights must be fought at the local level engaging Africans of all races, ethnicities and genders. As long as it is associated with the West, the continent will remain apathetic to the fight for gay rights.

It was heartbreaking to read of gangs raping young lesbians in order to “cure” them and that being homosexual remains a crime in most countries. As a starting point for providing rights to LGBTI, we need to urge governments to support and pass the UN declaration decriminalizing homosexuality around the world. It was inspiring to see President Obama, a man of African descent, sign the declaration that was ignored by previous administrations. It's one step towards advancing the rights of gays around the world and until all countries decriminalize homosexuality, we look to activists such as yourself to keep us educated, informed and aware of the continuing discrimination against gays.

Thank you for this powerful and compelling article. I look forward to reading more from you. Best wishes,
Janice

cad_communication's picture

How do others feel??

Janice,

Thank you for your kind words.

Is there a way we can encourage other women to talk about this issue and hear what they have to say? I would like to hear their views, their beliefs and perceptions on sexual minorities. It helps me to have a greater understanding on why sexual minorities are denied their human rights. It also makes it easier to address the problem and develop messages that answer some of their hidden fears, harmful traditional practices and negative attitutes towards sexual minorities.

Gertrude

JaniceW's picture

Yes, absolutely

I recommend you connect with Jade, our PulseWire Community Manager, as she has some great ideas for how to engage members around certain issues. I am copying this message to her and she will be in touch with you. Best wishes,
Janice

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