In the majority of countries in Southern Africa homosexuality is not only socially rejected but is actually illegal, by penal code or common law, although it is not always criminalised.
From its foundation ACTSA have recognised that marginalised and vulnerable groups are most likely to experience violations of civil, political, economic and cultural rights. The LGBT+ Community (the ‘plus’ is intended to be inclusive of other sexual and gender minorities, such as intersex, questioning and asexual persons) often face discrimination and exclusion across Southern Africa.
A Closer Look
In the majority of countries in Southern Africa homosexuality is not only socially rejected but is actually illegal, by penal code or common law, although it is not always criminalised. While there has been some progress, for example, in the last two years homosexuality has been decriminalised in both Mozambique and the Seychelles, challenges remain.
The legal situation for people from LGBT+ communities in Southern Africa varies greatly from country to country. Homosexuality is illegal in Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi. Male homosexuality only is illegal in Namibia. Interestingly all of the above permit the legal change of gender – although many require surgery as a prerequisite for legal gender change and stigma exists.
In Southern Africa gay marriage is only legal in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa is the only country in the region, and indeed the continent, to grant people sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights.
Even in the countries where LGBT+ people have legal rights these have not necessarily led to equal treatment, or prevented discrimination. There are a number of prominent vocal critics of LGBT+ rights in the region whose hateful rhetoric contributes towards the refusal to recognise LGBT+ people. This can encourage homophobic, transphobic and biphobic violence which often goes unreported and unpunished for fear of backlash. As a result many organisations are forced to operate underground for fear of discrimination and harassment.
More pressure on international governments is needed to push for better policy, legislation and positive cultural change is required. There needs to be action locally, regionally and internationally. International governments and organisations should support local groups and organisations, encourage change from the ground up and urge national government to end discrimination. ACTSA strongly supports South-South partnerships.
Where does ACTSA stand?
From our foundation we have recognised that the marginalised and vulnerable groups are most likely to experience violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. We stand in solidarity with LGBT+ communities across southern Africa.
We have undertaken an initial mapping of LGBT+ rights organisations in southern Africa which is available as a downloadable resource and seek to grow links with local organisations. We urge the UK government to introduce measures that will encourage better international policy and legislation with regards to LGBT+ rights.
There are a number of organisations across Southern Africa who do great work in securing rights, equality and a reality free from persecution for LGBT+ communities. They work in often hostile environments in many cases facing stigma, rejection and in some cases physical abuse for the work they carry out. Some organisations are unable to speak publicly about the services they offer. ACTSA has always supported working with local partners and we want do more to help these organisations get their message across.
The UK government has pledged to support LGBT+ rights but their lack of targets is a major weakness, which we want to highlight and change. ACTSA is an active member of the LGBT+ and International Development Round Table, a UK network of civil society groups that is coordinated by Stonewall. We have particularly focused on the Roundtable’s engagement with the Department of International Development (DIFID). In February 2016, DFID published its approach on LGB&T rights. While a welcome first step, the document makes no reference to the need for DFID to develop targets for including LGBT+ people in its international development and foreign policy activities. Without ambitious yet realistic targets that are clear and time-bound, it will be incredibly difficult for civil society to hold DFID to account.
We are also urging the UK government to support South-South cooperation amongst civil society organisations working on LGBT+ rights.