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Zimbabwe decriminalizes HIV transmission

UNAIDS applauded move in spite of NGO questions

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A Zimbabwe civil society organization has questioned lawmakers’ decision earlier this month to decriminalize the transmission of HIV.

Liam Takura Kanheng of Zimbabwe Human Rights Monitors Platform, which is based in the country’s capital of Harare, said parliamentarians were not supposed to repeal Section 79 of the Criminal Law Code, but rather amend it.

“Repealing the law that criminalizes the transmission of HIV stands to be problematic because it’s transmission through what? There is transmission through birth, there is deliberate transmission through sexual intercourse and sharing of sharp objects such as needles and syringes, but I feel deliberate transmission should be the one that should be criminalized and I think the law needed to be amended or revised instead of being repealed because there are many people that have done deliberate transmission of HIV because there are people who do not go for voluntary HIV counseling and testing or how partners in heterosexual or homosexual relationships don’t disclose their HIV statuses to their partners and have unprotected sex with those partners,” Kanheng told the Washington Blade. “So, I think it was a matter of reviews and amendments than repealing.”

“When it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community I just think it makes it hard for everyone and protects no one as well, so I think it should have been better off amended than repealed,” added Kanheng. “However, when it comes to the issue of transmission the LGBTQIA+ community is not really fingered as the main catalyst of HIV prevalence but heterosexuals, because being LGBTQIA+ is seen as socially immoral on cultural grounds because it’s seen as taboo and an abomination and therefore the status quo under such a law does not change for the LGBTQIA+ community. If we are really going to transform the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community when it comes to their rights to sexuality and self-determination there is more that needs to be done on a macro scale than this piece of legislation.”

UNAIDS, however, congratulated Zimbabwe’s Parliament for repealing Section 79 and also stated the southern African country had made great progress in the response to HIV over the past decade.

“Public health goals are not served by denying people their individual rights and I commend Zimbabwe for taking this hugely important step,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in a March 18 press release. “This decision strengthens the HIV response in Zimbabwe by reducing the stigma and discrimination that too often prevents vulnerable groups of people from receiving HIV prevention, care and treatment services.”

UNAIDS notes Zimbabwe in 2019 completed a legal environment assessment, which identified the criminalization of HIV transmission as a barrier to health care and a driver of stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV and other key populations. Since then, the U.N. Development Program has worked with key populations and other stakeholders, convening meetings with parliamentarians and other partners to advance the recommendations of the legal environment assessment.

Zimbabwe was the first African country to enact an HIV-specific criminal law, including it in the Sexual Offences Act of 2001.

The law, which women’s rights groups supported as a way to address violence against women, made criminalized anyone diagnosed with HIV who “intentionally does anything or permits the doing of anything” which they know “will infect another person with HIV.”

It is estimated that 1.2 million of the 1.3 million people living with HIV in Zimbabwe are now on life-saving medicines. AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 63 percent since 2010, with new HIV infections down by 66 percent over the same period.

More than 130 countries around the world still criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission through either specific or general legislation.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Africa

Ghanaian MPs approve anti-LGBTQ bill

Measure would criminalize advocacy, allyship

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Ghanaian flag (Public domain photo from Pixabay)

Ghanaian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ people and make advocacy on their behalf illegal.

Advocacy groups and their supporters had urged MPs to oppose the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that would, among other things, criminalize allyship.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Ghana. Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is also commonplace in the country as the Washington Blade has previously reported.

“The Human Sexual rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, a private member’s bill passed by parliament, has not yet become a law in Ghana,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in a press release. “If the bill does become a law, it will affect everyone.” 

Human Rights Campaign Vice President of Government Affairs David Stacy also criticized the bill’s passage.

“We are outraged to hear about the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of the so-called ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Act’ — a cruel bill that violates the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people and allies throughout Ghana,” he said. “Every single lawmaker who voted to pass this bill is wrongly using their power to strip away the basic humanity of the people they are supposed to represent.” 

Outright International Senior Director of Law, Policy and Research Neela Ghoshal said the bill “tramples human rights, undermines family values of acceptance and unity, and risks derailing economic development and eroding democratic gains.”

“Banning the very existence of queer people and their allies is unprecedented,” she said. “The hostility this bill displays toward LGBTQ Ghanaians will put lives and livelihoods at risk.”

The bill now goes to President Nana Akufo-Addo for his signature.

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Kenyan advocacy groups join fight against femicide

30 women have been murdered in the country this year

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Some LGBTQ rights groups in Kenya have devised new security strategies to protect female community members from the risk of femicide that has been on the rise in the country in recent years. 

The strategies employed include hiring trained security response teams, emergency toll-free numbers for swift intervention and training queer women on safety as they go about their daily lives in homophobic societies.  

The LGBTQ rights organizations’ move to come up with their safety measures is driven by laxity by security agencies that they accuse of “personal bias, discrimination and victimization” of the complainants based on their sexual orientation whenever they seek help.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in Kenya under Sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code and the queer rights groups the Washington Blade interviewed said the authorities exploit this criminalization. 

“We have contracted two security response focal persons in our organization to respond to violations of LBQ womxn in Kenya,” noted Elly Doe, the executive director of KISLEB, a Kisumu-based organization that champions the rights of lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Doe, whose organization also advocates against femicide, said KISLEB is part of a special security situation room formed to explore ways of tackling rising cases of insecurity among the LGBTQ community in the country. 

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination, an LGBTQ rights organization also contacted by the Blade, stated it has been conducting advocacy programs that include creating safer spaces forums to address femicide and violence against women both physical and online.   

One of the forums convened last September in Mombasa, for instance, explored how communities and institutions can work together to prevent violence against marginalized women, effective support for survivors, mentorship and awareness campaigns. The participants included lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender women, women in politics, sports, media, women living with disabilities and sex workers.    

INEND Communications Officer Melody Njuki, who expressed her organization’s concern over growing cases of femicide, oppression and violence against women, including those who identify as queer that go unchecked is caused by several social factors that include economic exclusion. 

“The intersectional issues faced by marginalized communities and structurally silenced women particularly sex workers and LBQT+ individuals adds complexity to the challenges experienced by victims of femicide due to discrimination, stigma and systemic inequalities exacerbating the vulnerability of women to violence,” Njuki said. 

Both INEND and KISLEB last month joined other LGBTQ rights groups, feminists and dozens of human rights organizations in Kenya in a nationwide street protest against rising cases of femicide and violence against women. 

The Jan. 27 protests were in response to the brutal killing of 16 women across the country since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of women, including those who identify as queer, during a Valentine’s Day vigil donned black outfits and held lit candles and red roses in honor of this year’s femicide victims, whose number had risen to more than 30.

“KISLEB as an organization that champions the rights of the LBQ womxn could not sit back and watch as women are being intentionally violated and killed yet in recent years the number has been rising rapidly and so many culprits go unpunished,” Doe said over her organization’s participation in the protest. “Participating in the protest was our way of expressing our solidarity with other women’s rights organizations in condemning femicide.”

Doe raised a concern over a rise in the number of homophobic threats against queer women, particularly on social media and residential areas, and called for police officers to be sensitized on LGBTQ issues to deal with this menace without discrimination. 

“We have also seen the cases of the murders of the LGBTQ community rising such as a trans woman activist Erica Chandra in August in Nairobi and a nonbinary lesbian woman Sheila Lumumba in April 2022,” she said. 

INEND, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Galck+ which participated in Lumumba’s murder case last December, were disappointed with the court after sentencing the suspect Billington Mwathi to 30 years in jail. The three LGBTQ rights groups described the sentence as “lenient” and said it didn’t meet the justice Lumumba deserved — the suspect raped her before killing her.

The organizations said they wanted Mwathi to receive a life sentence because Lumumba’s killing was not just an act of violence on an individual, but an attack on the dignity and safety of the LGBTQ community.  

INEND, nonetheless, attributes the rise in femicide to victim blaming on the part of the public and some leaders, which leads to a disconnect on the protection of the victims’ rights and its subsequent erosion as witnessed in the LGBTQ community.  

“The road to genocide starts with the dehumanization of the most marginalized, then continues to devour its way up the hierarchy of patriarchal systems,” Njuki said.  

She disclosed INEND was organizing a collective movement dubbed “#EndFemicideKe” to enlighten policymakers on the dire need to enforce strict measures on the killing of women. Njuki, however, commended jurists who are members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association for their partnership with INEND and willingness to show a deeper understanding of human rights particularly the protection of LGBTQ rights.

She cited last year’s launch of a judicial guidebook to help judges better protect queer people’s rights and the High Court’s ruling that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization in promoting freedom of association.

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Zimbabwean vice president reiterates strong opposition to LGBTQ rights

Constantino Chiwenga condemned advocacy group’s scholarship

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Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga (Screen capture via SABC News YouTube)

Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has expressed concerns over what he has described as foreign recruitment of LGBTQ people in the country.

Chiwenga on Feb. 15 described Zimbabwe as a Christian country and therefore does not have room to accommodate those who identify as LGBTQ. His comments were in response to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and the advocacy group’s annual scholarship program that provides funds to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“The government of Zimbabwe strongly and firmly rejects and denounces as unlawful, un-Christian, anti-Zimbabwean and un-African, insidious attempts by foreign interests to entice, lure and recruit Zimbabwe’s less privileged, but able students into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities and malpractices through offers of educational scholarships,” he said.

“Zimbabwe has legislated against all such deviances, making any offers predicated on the same aberrations both unlawful and criminal, and a grave and gross affront on our national values and ethos as a Christian nation,” he added.

Chiwenga said such scholarships are a national threat and highlighted that anyone who identifies as LGBTQ shall not be enrolled at any educational institution.

“To that end, government sees such scholarship offers as a direct challenge on its authority, and thus will not hesitate to take appropriate measures to enforce national laws, and to protect and defend national values,” he said.

“Our schools and institutions of higher learning will not entertain applicants, let alone enroll persons associated with such alien, anti-life, un-African and un-Christian values which are being promoted and cultivated by, as well as practiced in decadent societies with whom we share no moral or cultural affinities,” added Chiwenga.

The vice president also said Zimbabwe shall not be influenced by any country to change its stance with regards to the LGBTQ community.

“Zimbabwe is a sovereign, African state with definite laws and values which typify it, cutting it apart from other mores,” said Chiwenga. “Young Zimbabweans who qualify for enrolment into tertiary institutions here and elsewhere, should approach government departments tasked to give grants and scholarship support to deserving cases. They should never be tempted to trade or sell their souls for such abominable and devilish offers.”

Activists and commentators have sharply criticized Chiwenga’s comments, saying people’s sexual lives should not be of public concern.

“This scholarship has been going on for years and many graduates have been supported and gainfully employed,” noted GALZ Programs Manager Samuel Matsikure. “In the 90s it showed LGBT (people) who were bullied, outed and faced harassment would drop out of school, hence, it was important to provide them with basic education so they can support themselves in life.”

Stacey Chihera, a social commentator, said what consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors should never be up for public discussion. 

“I wish this entitlement about individual sexuality was applied to corruption, service delivery and infrastructure development,” said Chihera. “What consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors with their private parts should never be up for discussion! Not even by the government.”

Namatai Kwekweza a lawyer and an activist, said the vice president was scapegoating the real issues on the ground that are affecting the country on a daily basis.

“The facts being a scapegoat is necessary for an underperforming and evil government that will overzealously and hypothetically talk about morality and Christian values except when it comes to corruption, looting, genocide, abductions, torture, elections fraud, abuse of office, sexual abuse,” said Kwekweza. “These leaders must be seen more, major more and heard loudest in matters of public accountability and returning stolen loot, than in matters of moral grandstanding of which they have no moral authority in the first place.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Zimbabwe with up to 14 years in prison.

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