The legalisation of same-sex marriages in South Africa in 2006 was expected to speed up the liberation of gays and lesbians in neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia, where homosexuality is still illegal, but international and local experts believe the battle for recognition in Africa is far from over.
Researchers, community leaders and activists who were part of a recent international delegation to a three-day conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and HIV/AIDS, in Pretoria, South Africa, voiced their concerns about the risks posed by one-sided health programmes and HIV prevention campaigns in Africa.
This is what they told IRIN/PlusNews:
“Discriminatory rule in countries like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya is an ongoing … and LGBT people who live under laws that criminalise same-sex activity are often excluded from national healthcare programmes and HIV prevention campaigns. Some donor organisations also condone this blatant human rights violation of LGBT communities through unclear policies on how their funds should be spent.
“Take PEPFAR [the multibillion dollar United States President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief] in Ghana, for instance, and how it covers the purchase of condoms but not the purchase of water-based lubrication necessary for condoms not to break during anal intercourse,” said Carey Alan Johnson, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission senior specialist on Africa.
“Access to healthcare for LGBT communities, people with disabilities and other sexual minority groups, like commercial sex workers in Namibia, remains a major issue. The attitude of the Namibian government was certainly demonstrated recently when, after many months of working on the third medium-term plan [part of the national strategy for addressing HIV and AIDS], The Rainbow Project managed, for the first time, to get in a clause on the health needs of sexual minorities in national programming, but this clause was thrown out during the review of the document in parliament.
“It’s very sad, because there is growing evidence to support earlier fears that national health interventions run the risk of failure if … [they] continue to exclude people based on sexual identity,” commented Ian Schwartz, the director of Namibia’s gay rights group, The Rainbow Project.
“Homosexuals as well as heterosexuals are left more vulnerable to HIV infection as a result of the attitudes of governments to LGBT people on the [African] continent. Persecution of gays and lesbians is also rife in Africa, and just because it does not hit the press … [people think] it is not happening, but one experience is one too many, and often illustrates how far LGBT people will go to blend in or even operate on the ‘down-low’, where people who desire same-sex intimacy are forced to commit to false heterosexual marriages to conceal their sexual identities, often with dire consequences.
“Issues of same-sex sexuality and HIV/AIDS are absent from national debate and, if not explored, threaten to reverse the gains of national and even global health programming,” noted Prof Vasu Reddy, chief research specialist at the Gender and Development Unit of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council.
Among other things, Johnson, Schwartz and Reddy have called for the urgent repeal of conservative donor conditions as well as laws that criminalise same-sex sexuality.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]