Browse Category: LGBT Africa

The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women: Progress and Pitfalls for LGBT Rights

Given the recent news about Liberia’s president fence-sitting on the issue of current anti-gay Liberia law, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address gender bias within an African context.

(I maintain that “traditional” gender roles haven’t been adequately explored as the root cause of many intersecting societal problems, e.g. sexism and homophobia,  and that Africans — straight or gay — should work together towards their elimination if we stand for true progress. Here’s my explanation.)

My search for information on successful models for promoting gender equity in Africa led me to an article about The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women, the first comprehensive legal framework for women’s rights in Africa, and an international governing tool that seeks to “improve on the status of African women by bringing about gender equality and eliminating discrimination.”

From the UN Women West Africa’s blog:

The Protocol is the first human rights instrument to call on state parties to legislate against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices and also provides for the right to health and reproductive rights. The Protocol is also the first human rights instrument to explicitly provide for the right to a medical abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. It also provides for the right to property and inheritance, equal rights in marriage and divorce, and the rights of elderly and disabled women.

In the above summary, I noted almost instantly that there weren’t any explicit protections / provisions made to advocate for sexual minorities (i.e. LGBTQI Africans), which is unfortunate if true (Note: still waiting for comment from UN Women, and will update once I hear back) because the protocol seems to be working; to date, 32 out of 54 African states have taken steps in accordance with the provisions and have implemented strategies to combat the mistreatment of women.

For example, per the protocol, several countries including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, have legally prohibited the practice of Female Genital Cutting, and  Zambia’s newly established Division of Gender in Development now reviews existing laws that discriminate against women.

In fact, the pace at which many African countries have embraced the opportunity to improve the conditions of women in their countries has been encouraging enough that UN Women and Equality Now (on behalf of pan-African organization SOAWR, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition) have launched a new initiative to train lawyers across Africa on the protocol’s application using this manual.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if African lawyers were also trained in legal advocacy for non-heteronormative women who are mistreated or denied basic rights for not conforming to dogmatic gender roles? I think there is a case for this, as well as using this framework to hold governments in Africa accountable should they choose to promote or sanction the criminalization of LGBT African people.

For one, a clear stance against using culture as an excuse for the mistreatment of women is already included in this protocol. In fact, President Sirleaf of Liberia arguably earned her presidency on a platform that challenged tradition; her work advocating for the rights of women has even earned her a Nobel Peace prize. (Ironic, that this same position is what is keeping her from walking the talk when it comes to providing protections for LGBT Liberians.)

But, more importantly, as a media activist primarily concerned with movement building among African women, I believe that a push to include protections for sexual minorities within the protocol would provide a way for African women’s organizations (including those which are focused on LGBTQI issues) to work together, rather than in separate caucuses.

I foresee some resistance to this of course. In my experience, many African women (even those doing human rights work), much like Liberia President Sirleaf, still view discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as separate from women’s issues, often paralleling them when they should be discussing them as intrinsically connected. But the same “traditional” gender roles that keep women trapped in abusive relationships (even at the expense of their lives) are the same ones that cause men to view corrective rape of lesbians as a justifiable lesson in womanhood.

So, before we — as African women – can begin making demands of our leaders, perhaps we need to have more conversations among ourselves. Luckily, we don’t need a charter to do this.

“My sisters, my daughters, my friends – find your voice.” — President Sirleaf

Racism and LGBT Rights: Where are the African Films in the South African LGBT Film Festival?

Originally posted at Gender Across Borders.

Today marks the 19th Out in Africa film festival, a South-African Gay and Lesbian film festival launched to celebrate the inclusion of the clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the South African constitution.

Headlining the festival is triple Oscar nominee Albert Nobbs, a film about a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Additionally, A Marine Story, an award-winning drama about the US military’s invidious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy told through the eyes of a white American female soldier, and Kyss Mig (Kiss Me), a lekker lesbofliek which was named Best Breakthrough Film by the American Film Institute last year, will make their African film festival debuts.

There is, obviously, no shortage of films about women in the festival — an achievement worthy of note given how often the LGBT community is depicted as male. Yet, within the context of Africa, the LGBT community is also frequently perceived (and depicted) as white and western. So, the question is: where are all the black South African films in this African LGBT festival?

Out in Africa — which runs from March 23rd to April 1st, 2012 — states that its mission is to address the lack of visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex individuals (LGBTIs) in South African social and cultural life in order to counter negative images of LGBTIs that prevail in traditional and religious communities after decades of apartheid repression i.e. segregation by skin color. Given the historical context of their mission statement, it’s hard not to wonder about the lack of racial diversity in the feature films.

Out of 9 feature films, just one of them is based on a black South African narrative: The Secret, a film about a married man in denial about his sexuality. This feature film is being paired with Paving Forward, a 16-minute short about the evolution of gay rights through the eyes of a lesbian love story. The pickings are slim for black South Africans eager to see their experiences reflected on film, but to be fair, these selections are part of just the first installment of the festival’s three-part format.

Last year,  rather than showcase new films in one long weekend (as is typical for many film festivals), Out in Africa implemented a new format of hosting three mini-festivals spread out over the course of the year in different parts of the country in order to optimize their outreach efforts (perhaps also to include more racial and class diversity?).  The 2012 second edition is planned from 27 July-5 August, with the third edition scheduled for 17-28 October 2012. So there’s still a chance that future installments will showcase narratives from South Africa’s black community, which faces marginalization not just along the lines of sexual orientation and gender identity, but race and class as well.

The task of depicting LGBTI Africans in a manner that presents multiple and intersecting facets of their experiences is far from easy. But Out in Africa was the only LGBTI film festival shouldering this burden until Kenya made its debut with its OUT Film Festival in Nairobi last year. Originally meant to cater to just 60 people, the Kenyan festival ended up having to turn people away after over 200 people showed up, proving that there is a thirst for Africans (straight and LGBT alike) to see the lives of LGBT Africans reflected on screen.

However, film festivals can’t meet this need alone; the world needs more filmmakers to brave the relatively uncharted territory of producing films for and about LGBT Africa, a sure challenge given that many African countries have outlawed homosexuality, not just reinforcing the subject as taboo but threatening the lives of those who dare to even broach the subject with imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Hence, documentary films like Call Me Kuchu (about David Kato, the prominent Ugandan LGBT activist who was murdered last year), along with other South African films such as The Sisterhood (which follows transgender women farmers competing in a beauty pageant) and Waiting For (which explores the controversial issue of white lesbian couples adopting black children) are rare gems, which we should never take for granted; the filmmakers have taken huge risks in order to give LGBT Africans — whose identities are too often silenced and erased  — a chance to feel seen, a chance to feel hope.

From across the ocean in the US, a country with a deep-rooted history with racism and thus similar in context to South Africa, an African-American actress comments on the importance of seeing one’s identity reflected on screen:

The way I watch movies, I’m really searching for myself, because I don’t get to see enough of myself, and I don’t get to like myself enough…. But if I get to see myself on screen, then I know that I exist.

To follow, Africans — perhaps even the ones who claim that “homosexuality is unAfrican” — will know that LGBT Africans exist if they see their lives represented more frequently on screen. Thus, beyond empowerment for the individual, the potential for cultural shifts brought about by nuanced LGBT films makes pushing for greater inclusion of African and Diaspora LGBT films in film festivals absolutely critical, especially if they’re taking place in Africa.

For its constitutional protections based on sexual orientation, South Africa is often hailed as the leader of gay rights in Africa. But it’s deep-rooted issues with racism and segregation, including the continued marginalization of black South Africans (LGBT or not), warrants that LGBT activists and filmmakers go the extra mile to ensure black South Africans are included in this post-apartheid’s picture of freedom.

Check out the Synopsis of The Secret and Paving Forward (the two black South African films featured): 

The Secret (Imfhilo): The closet was never fashionable, but living the DL is super trendy. Down Low means living under the radar as a straight man having gay sex, or having two separate lives. In Fanney Tsimong’s soap opera-like story of a gay man’s affair with a closeted married man, it gets neatly transported across the Atlantic from the US into aspirant township life. Generations actor Sipho “C-ga” Masebe’s plays Mandla, openly gay, good looking and searching for love. He bumps into old college buddy Thoriso at a birthday party. Thoriso is married to the controlling Thuli, bent on nothing so much as getting ahead in the upwardly mobile world of the BEE nouveau riche. As Mandla chases Thoriso, worlds and assumptions are overturned and lives altered forever. The climax of the film is a credit to the writer – there’s no preachy quick-fix, rather a reality check of what’s really going on out there. Intriguing contemporary South African cinema. (Dir: Fanney Tsimong SA / 2011 / 45min)

Paving ForwardMosiuoa Lekota is hardly the man you’d expect to be headlining Lembethe’s snapshot of where black gay rights are today. But, keeping it real is Nosipho Mahola with a tale of lesbian love that has torn her family apart. (Dir: Mthokozisi Lembethe SA / 2011 / 16min)

For more information about the Out in Africa film festival, visit www.oia.co.za

Ugandan LGBT Activists Sue American Evangelist for Inspiring “Kill the Gays” Bill

On March 14th, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit against Abiding Truth Ministries President, Scott Lively, on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a non-profit umbrella organization for LGBT advocacy groups in Uganda.

The suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in the formulation of anti-gay legislation and policies aimed at revoking fundamental right from LGBT persons constitutes persecution.

Uganda’s parliament has a pending bill, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” that initially demanded the death penalty for “homosexuality,” prison for failing to turn in someone suspected of being “homosexual,” and criminalizes advocacy around LGBT rights. The bill has since been revamped to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment as a maximum sentence.

According to the Guardian:

Lively [] is one of three American pastors who visited Uganda in 2009 and whom gay activists accuse of helping draft the original version of its anti-homosexuality bill.

The official complaint claims Lively issued a call in Uganda to fight against a “genocidal” and “paedophilic” gay movement, which he “likened to the Nazis and Rwandan murderers”. It seeks a judgment that Lively’s actions violate international law and human rights.

In a YouTube video from 2009, you can see Lively speaking against homosexuality to a group of Ugandans. However, he denies his direct involvement with the bill, and has described the legal action being taken against him as “absurd and frivolous.” He said in an email to AP that he has never advocated violence against gay people. He said he has preached against homosexuality but advised therapy, not punishment.  But, Ugandan LGBT activists aren’t buying it.

Said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, “U.S evangelical leaders like Scott Lively have actively and intensively worked to eradicate any trace of LGBT advocacy and identity. Particularly damaging has been his claim that children are at risk because of our existence. His influence has been incredibly harmful and destructive for LGBT Ugandans fighting for their rights. We have to stop people like Scott Lively from helping to codify and give legal cover to hatred.”

In March 2009, Lively, along with two other U.S. Evangelical leaders, headlined a three-day conference intended to expose the “gay movement” as an “evil institution” and a danger to children. Lively likened the effects of his advocacy to a “nuclear bomb” in Uganda and stated that he hopes it is replicated elsewhere. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged one month later with provisions that reflected Lively’s input

Lively has spoken on the topic of homosexuality in almost 40 countries, and worked with religious and political leaders to that end. In this “Letter to the Russians,” Lively advises that “the easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal.” An anti-gay bill that prevents speech and advocacy around LGBT rights was passed and signed into law last week in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows for foreign victims of human rights abuses to seek civil remedies in U.S. courts. The lawsuit was filed in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Lively currently lives and continues his work. Upon the filing, a coalition of rights groups from Springfield marched from the federal courthouse to Lively’s coffee house, Holy Grounds, where they protested his anti-gay advocacy locally and around the world.

For more information visit CCR’s case page and read the official complaint.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is a non-profit non-governmental organization that works toward achieving full legal and social equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

3-10 Women Arrested for Being Lesbian in Cameroon: Gender Bias in Anti-Gay Prosecution

Recently, BBC news reported that three women — allegedly involved in a love triangle — in Cameroon have been arrested on suspicions of practicing homosexuality. Other sources state that ten women are being detained before trial, but it’s difficult to ascertain the exact number of women charged due to the remoteness of the area.

According to the Washington Post, homosexuality is considered criminal in Cameroon and punishable by a jail sentence of six months to five years, plus a fine of 200,000 francs. But this case may be a first for Cameroon; until now, men have been the primary target for anti-gay arrests.

In September 2011, Alice Nkom, a gay rights defense attorney and founder of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, led an AllOut.org campaign to draw attention to the country’s aggressive anti-gay crackdown during which ten men were apparently snatched from their homes and public places and thrown in jail:

One of them, Jean-Claude, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison merely for sending a text message to another man. I’ve heard countless recent stories of homophobic violence throughout the country. I’m 66, and in ten years of defending lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people in Cameroon, it has never been this bad.

Despite receiving over 70,000 signatures, including a strong backing from the international human rights community, three men were sentenced to five years  imprisonment — the maximum sentence — for alleged “homosexual acts” a few months later. At the onset of the trial, Nkom insisted to BBC that the men were targeted for dressing feminine and that their only crime had been to wear women’s clothing.

Worth noting is that there haven’t been any (reported) incidents of similar raids or arrests involving women. Still, rigid perceptions of gender roles have long been theorized as the root cause of homophobia; men are more frequently met with public shaming and arrests, but this does not necessarily mean that human rights violations against women based on their gender presentation and/or perceived sexual orientation aren’t happening.

Women are vulnerable to attack by neighbors and acquaintances who suspect them of same-sex interest. All parties know that if the attack is reported, the victim could be arrested under Article 347 bis of the Cameroonian penal code. 

According to a a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, Criminalizing Identities: Rights Abuses in Cameroon based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity:

Women are more likely to be controlled and punished for same-sex relationships in the family sphere than in the public sphere. In one manifestation of this control, Cameroonian women have little freedom of movement and their access to public space is highly restricted, which only means they are less likely to be arrested during a police raid on a gay bar. However, women are also more prone to abuses in the private sphere than men are.

The report asserts that this “control” of women in Cameroon is further reinforced via strict gender roles:

… the men of a family control the intimate lives of the women of the family… Researchers found that the community also singles out men and women who are not fulfilling the desired roles of masculinity or femininity.

As with this newly reported case, the women were arrested after the husband of one of the alleged lesbians reported the matter to the police.

This case, originally reported on February 20th,  has been adjourned until 8 March 2012, with the women being detained till then. In an interview with the Advocate, Nkom describes the treatment of LGBT people in prison as inhuman, horrid, violent. By the time the case is revisited, the women may have been in prison for over two weeks, prompting concern for the women’s safety.

No other information has currently been made available, but updates will be posted once more details have been confirmed.

Africa, Make Up Your Mind: Kenya Expels Girls for “Lesbianism,” Permits Same Gender Marriage Between Older Women

Kenya’s views on same-gender relationships involving women present quite the dichotomy. 

Just last week, I stumbled across this video report from NTV Kenya about the suspension of twelve secondary school students due to allegations of “lesbianism.” The girls were sent home by the principal upon receiving information of their “abnormal” behavior from the rest of the student body.

According to a statement made by the principal, Dorcas Kavuku, “these particular girls were not behaving according to the school rules. They practiced lavish touching and kissed each other which is not normal for people of the same gender,” and so she’d sent them home pending further investigation. A similar story was reported last year involving over fifty girls being questioned for “lesbianism and devil worship.”

Is expulsion on the grounds of homophobia “lesbianism” becoming a more popular trend? One would certainly hope not. Given the number of societal challenges that already bar young girls from receiving basic education in Kenya (e.g. early marriage, pregnancy, harassment by male teachers, etc.),  a country in which girls drop out at a higher rate than boys, denying young girls the right to remain in school hardly makes any sense, even with Kenya’s views on homosexuality.

Incidentally, as convinced as the principal is that same gender relationships between girls are wrong, Kenya’s constitution doesn’t necessarily reflect this sentiment. Sections 162 to 165 of the Kenyan Penal Code criminalize homosexual behaviour and attempted homosexual behaviour between men, not women, a loophole Kenya’s Prime Minister Odinga disregarded in 2010 when he called for lesbians to be arrested along with men to protect the “cleanliness” of the country. Still, lesbian relations are not currently prohibited in the law, which makes sense given Kenya’s long-standing tradition of permitting women to get married in the absence of a male partner.

According to a BBC news report published yesterday:

Homosexual acts may be outlawed in Kenya but there is a long tradition among some communities of women marrying each other.

This is hard to fathom in a country where religious leaders condemn gay unions as “un-African” – and those who dare to declare their partnerships openly often receive a hostile public reaction.

But these cases involving women are not regarded in the same light.

If a woman has never had any children, she takes on what is regarded as the male role in a marriage, providing a home for the younger woman, who is then encouraged to take a male sexual partner from her partner’s clan to become pregnant.

Her offspring will be regarded as the fruit of the marriage.

“I married according to our age-old tradition, where if a woman was not lucky enough to have her own children, she got another woman to honour her with children,” says 67-year-old Juliana Soi.

This customary same-gender marriage arrangement – practised among Kenya’s Kalenjin (encompassing the Nandi, Kipsigis, and Keiyo), Kuria and Akamba communities – has come under the legal spotlight recently because of an inheritance case currently before the courts; some relatives are fighting to inherit a large house which would, by law, pass to the spouse of the late wife.

As the report gleans, if the court rules in favor of the same-gender spouse, it would challenge the patriarchal approach to family relationships, and give woman-to-woman marriages a stronger footing in the modern world. And modern is the key word, since traditional same-sex marriages have been a historical part of Africa’s culture — in over 30 different populations, including the Yoruba, Ibo, Nuer, Lovedu, Zulu, and Sotho — long before colonialism imported homophobia.

In this light, the dichotomy of Kenya’s views towards same-gender relationships involving women isn’t so confusing; it represents Africa’s struggle to find a balance between preserving the old and embracing the new.


Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins