Angola: A journey to LGBTIQ+ economic inclusion and participation
Angola has experienced significant historical shifts when it comes to the acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people, their rights and freedom of expression. In the pre-colonial era, homosexuality and gender diversity are said to have been commonplace among those living in the region.
Portuguese colonisers, however, imposed the criminalisation of acts “against nature” alongside the introduction of Christianity. It was only in February 2021 that the 134-year-old colonial-era ban on homosexuality in Angola finally came to an end with the introduction of a revised Penal Code.
The implementation of the new Penal Code has allowed for the holding of safe spaces to host LGBTIQ+-focused events and public gatherings. But numerous non-inclusive policies remain a persistent challenge for LGBTIQ+ people in the work and business environments.
“The level of acceptance and freedom of expression of the sexuality and gender identity of the LGBTIQ+ community is higher in cities,” notes Roqiana Gunza, a member of Arquivo de Identidade Angolano (AIA), an Angolan women-focused LGBTIQ+ organisation based in the capital Luanda.
According to Gunza, the country is characterised by a high rate of unemployment. This has most deeply affected vulnerable groups due to stigma and some degree of discrimination in both the public and private sectors.
“Sexual orientation is still one of the main reasons for dismissals or refusal to employ or retain LGBTIQ+ employees in employment opportunities,” Gunza tells Mamba.
They add that “most employers, whether in the public sector or private sector, create exclusion criteria that do not allow LGBTIQ+ people to openly be themselves for fear of being fired or not accepted.”
Discrimination leads many trans women in Angola to resort to sex work
Gunza also points out that there is still no law at present that allows transgender people to change their gender marker on their identification documents or any other official documents.
This makes it particularly difficult for them to participate in the mainstream economy. “Transgender people are subjected to disrespectful treatment such as forced labour without fair remuneration and precarious working conditions, leading many trans women to resort to sex work,” Gunza says.
In an effort to start to address these challenges, AIA is working to establish itself as a catalyst for the economic empowerment of its community and is playing a growing role in the creation of LGBTIQ+ micro-businesses.
One of the organisation’s key goals is the upskilling of LGBTIQ+ youth to respond to extreme situations of poverty and unemployment.
“Our organisation has provided training, including professional and entrepreneurship training, to enable and boost young LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs for the creation of self-owned businesses and income generation,” says Gunza.
The devastating outcomes of the recent Covid-19 pandemic that affected LGBTIQ+ people, especially in remote areas, pushed the organisation to its limit and led to the establishment of several skills development projects.
AIA’s ‘I am LGBTIQ+ and I Undertake’ project was initiated during the economically challenging outbreak to assist LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs in vulnerable situations and members of the community with an interest in learning and establishing a new business or improving their employment opportunities.
The campaign was reinforced with calls for participation made on the organisation’s digital and social media platforms and some local radio stations.
“After a registration process, a group of individuals is selected for training, and are connected to our entrepreneurship programmes and networks,” explains Gunza. “We also achieved this through emergency funding which has helped us allocate resource materials and financing for the development of successful business ideas.”
Through the project, the group has provided skills development workshops in areas including soap making, arts and crafts, professional make-up, pastry making, financial management for small businesses, and IT, secretarial and digital marketing skills.
“We managed to fund around 50 young LGBTIQ+ people in one year, amongst which 15 developed their businesses which are still running today. And we have five other young LGBTIQ+ people who got jobs in other large companies,” says Gunza. “These have been our biggest examples of success in the field of economic empowerment.”
AIA has also begun to engage with government entities to implement policies promoting inclusion and diversity.
“Last year we undertook advocacy towards our government bodies so that they can review, create and implement public policies that will protect and promote LGBTIQ+ employment and facilitate access to micro credits for entrepreneurs,” says Gunza.
“We also want them to streamline the incorporation processes for micro and small companies which will be inclusive for LGBTIQ+ professionals and entrepreneurs. These policies should combat stigma and discrimination in workplaces and in the provision of goods and services.”
The lack of inclusion and diversity in companies and corporates operating in Angola is another cause for concern for AIA and it’s an area which it aims to address.
“We believe what will make a difference is a guarantee of opportunities for LGBTIQ+ professionals to stand in the workplace and explore their potential without fear or favour of suffering prejudice, stigma or discrimination based on their sexual orientation,” says Gunza.
AIA has its sights set on intensifying its activities in the area of LGBTIQ+ economic empowerment and development by continuing to provide business advice and facilitating access to funds and resources for business projects.
“Our bigger picture is for us to continue to provide those services to advance inclusion and to encourage the participation of LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs as part of Angola’s future and economic development,” asserts Gunza.
This article was made possible with the support of the Other Foundation and is part of a series addressing LGBTIQ+ Economic Empowerment in South Africa and the region. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Other Foundation. www.theotherfoundation.org.
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