Struggle for equality: Sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights in Africa

Published: November 19, 2010

Human rights apply to everyone … but only in theory. Certain population groups that are perceived as ‘different’ continue to be systematically excluded from the most basic principles of justice and equality.
Thus, homosexuality remains illegal in 38 of Africa’s 53 states and punishable in others. A number of African countries have made shocking headlines in the past months due to gross human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people.

Uganda, for example, where LGBTI people are criminalised, recently tabled an anti-homosexuality bill that will allow for the death penalty. And Malawi caused a worldwide public outcry when it arrested a gay couple who had celebrated their engagement.

At the same time, there is a marked trend in many other countries to institutionalise discrimination: in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda attempts to criminalise homosexuals are under way. Even in South Africa, where the Constitution protects LGBTI people, hate crimes have been on the rise, especially the “corrective rape” of black lesbians in townships.

“We need to build pan-African and international solidarity and build links between many different organisations in civil society to be as effective as possible [in fighting human rights violations against homosexuals],” says Dr. Antonie Nord, director of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) in Cape Town.

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