Sexual Rights for Sexual Minorities
When Norra’s parents (name changed) found out that she was a lesbian, they decided to look for a husband for her. They wanted to ‘cure’ her from a ‘disease’ called lesbianism.
I looked at Norra as she tried to hide tears in her eyes. She closed them and allowed tears to from rivulets on her cheeks.
Pain choked her words when she said, “My girlfriend and I are always on the run because my parents are against what I am.”
The Shona culture instils marriage in the minds of young girls as the focal point of a woman’s life. Lesbians live in a climate of fear because they are seen as a threat to society. Many remain ‘closeted’. They fear being physically assaulted by their families and members of their society. This has resulted in psychological health problems.
Although women have rights, lesbians’ rights are violated in Zimbabwe. In some cases, lesbians have been raped and beaten. Norra told me how her parents decided to look for a husband on her behalf. With a voice that was barely audible, Norra narrated how she was raped.
“They locked in a room and brought him everyday to rape me so that I would fall pregnant and be forced to marry him,” she said. Her left hand clutched her T-shirt and the right hand rested on her lap. She wanted to say more but she could not. She looked like a house full of secrets.
Section 23 of the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees freedom from all forms of discrimination. However, homosexuals acts in Zimbabwe are considered to be illegal under the Penal Code which prohibit ‘unnatural offences’.
After being raped repeated, Norra fell pregnant. He parents denied her shelter so that she would be forced to live with the man who had raped her.
She ran away and had an unsafe abortion. “It was really painful,” she said. Norra had to stay in the hospital for a month in order to recover. She looked at me searching for something. Her lips were curled and dry as she talked. “The police looked for me and took me home where I was locked up and beaten until I could not even lift my arm or get up,” she said, demonstrating how her left arm was left useless after the beating.
When I asked her what happened after she recovered, Norra said that the horrible man was brought again to rape her and she fell pregnant again. She was afraid to have an abortion for the second time but she had a miscarriage at seven months and the baby died.
Dr. L. Dhlamini, a female medical practitioner and woman activist, said that stigmatisation of lesbians has caused them to have low self esteem. Some feel lonely, isolated, confused and ashamed of themselves. This has caused some lesbians to accept marriage while others take drugs and alcohol as they try to escape their tragedy. “Many lesbians suffer from depression, stress and other diseases related to the two,” she said as she tried to explain how difficult it is to seek good mental heath care and counselling when homosexuality is shunned by members of the society.
When I asked a human rights activist, Brenda Chingoto to comment on Norra’s case, she said that Norra’s sexual rights and other fundamental freedoms have been violated. She was forced to marry, she was physically harassed. She added that Norra had been forced into hiding and her freedom of expression had been violated.
“The government needs to make and enforce laws that seek to uphold the rights of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation,” Ms Chingoto said.
She said the media has to play a positive role in the way it portrays homosexuals in society. This will encourage other members of society to respect the rights of sexual minorities.
By Gertrude Pswarayi