Finding Practical Solutions to Ending Violence and Discrimination Based on SOGI

 Historic Meeting of Gender and Sexual Rights Activists from Across Africa

Human rights defenders from nearly twenty countries across Africa have gathered in Johannesburg ahead of this week’s Africa Regional Seminar on “Finding Practical Solutions to Address Violence and Discrimination against Persons Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression”.

This unique meeting is one of the largest gatherings of African activists working on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). It aims to generate learning among civil society organisations on the lived realities of sexual and gender minorities in different parts of the continent, and to use this knowledge to identify key advocacy priorities in ending violence and discrimination based on SOGIE in Africa.

“As human rights defenders working on gender and sexuality, it’s very important that we work together,” noted Fadzai Muparutsa of the Coalition of African Lesbians. “Before we engage with governments and other state actors, we need to have time and space to consider our diverse lived experiences. We need to understand better how different forms of oppression interact and intersect, particularly in women’s lives,” she added.

Sexual and gender minorities continue to be targets of violence, discrimination and abuse. This violence is often state-sanctioned, in many cases being carried out by police and other state agencies. Discriminatory beliefs are often endorsed by religious and traditional leaders, and given further currency through sensationalist media coverage. Such practices further stigmatise vulnerable communities, and result in people being denied access to medical, legal and other essential services because of their real or presumed sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The meeting is a rare opportunity for activists to share information and analysis of the ways in which sexuality and gender expression are policed in different parts of the continent. “We are committed to holding governments to account and to working collectively to achieve freedom, justice and bodily autonomy for all people,” said Muparutsa.

Among the key advocacy strategies discussed at the meeting was Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in 2014. “This meeting is the start of a much-needed conversation among civil society on how to take forward Resolution 275. We need to develop concrete proposals that can assist in the implementation of this resolution, particularly in relation to violence and access to services,” explained Stefano Fabeni of Heartland Alliance.

“Civil society is so often denied access to spaces where important conversations are taking place. This meeting is significant in that it brings together representatives from the continent’s different regions, thus allowing us to learn from our different experiences,” he added.

The gathering is the culmination of ten years of advocacy by the Collective of African Sexuality-Related Rights Advocates (CASRA), which has been instrumental in lobbying for the adoption of SOGIE protections at the ACHPR.

“LGBTIQ people in Burkina Faso face many challenges. The needs of lesbian women, in particular, are often sidelined – this is why we established the Queer African Youth Networking Centre (QAYN),” says Micheline Kaboré. “We have some experience using ACPHR Resolution 275 in Burkina Faso and it is useful for us to share our experiences with others. It is important that we work in solidarity with groups from other parts of Africa and identify common strategies and priorities, as this is the only way we can improve conditions in our home countries.”

Another participant at the preconference, Katlego Sepotokele from Gender DynamiX, spoke of the need to name and address violence directed at transgender and gender diverse people. Sepotokele said, “Transgender and gender diverse minorities in Africa continue to be highly affected by sodomy and anti-homosexuality laws. Moreover, discourses on the promotion of gender equality consistently exclude transgender and gender minorities. These communities right across the region have been excluded and perhaps the resolution will foreground a conversation and an imagination of how we speak about gender and gendered experiences.”

A number of key themes have emerged during the meeting, highlighting a range of factors that influence people’s experiences of rights violations and their ability to organise.