Break Another Silence: Understanding sexual minorities and taking action for sexual rights in Africa | Minority Group

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This booklet is about marginalised sexualities and human rights. It’s written for people working in civil society and government organisations, with a focus on Africa, particularly the Horn, East, and Central Africa. The idea for this booklet came from an HIV and AIDS forum, held in the Horn, East, and Central Africa region, for Civil Society Organisation (CSO) staff working on HIV. The forum focussed on learning about linkages between gender, HIV and AIDS, and sexual rights. Two East African, activists from a sexual minorities network spoke about how badly sexual minorities are treated, the violence and discrimination they experience, and the difficulties they face in accessing HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care services. Their testimonials stirred the participants’ interest. Some felt that they needed to know more. Many were surprised
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  UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL MINORITIES AND TAKING ACTION FOR SEXUAL RIGHTS IN AFRICA Break Another Silence  23 Introduction This booklet is about marginalised sexualities and human rights. It’s written for people working in civil society and government organisations, with a focus on Africa, particularly the Horn, East, and Central Africa. The idea for this booklet came from an HIV and AIDS forum, held in the Horn, East & Central  Africa region, for Civil Society Organisation (CSO) staff working on HIV. The forum focussed on learning about linkages between gender, HIV & AIDS, and sexual rights. Two East African activists from a sexual minorities network spoke about how badly sexual minorities are treated, the violence and discrimination they experience, and the difculties they face in accessing HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment & care services. Their testimonials stirred the participants’ interest. Some felt that they needed to know more. Many were surprised; they were working on HIV, and yet had not given much thought to sexual minorities. Some, perhaps, felt negative towards the two activists, a common reaction in African cultural settings. Others wondered how they and their organisations might support sexual minorities to claim their rights. This booklet is to encourage staff in civil society and government organisations to: understand sexual rights as human rights; to become aware of the ongoing abuses of sexual minorities’ human rights including lack of access to essential services; and to take action to protect rights for all, including minority groups. Chapter 1 focuses on basic information and key debates. Chapter 2 looks at reactions to sexual minorities and their sexual rights. The linkage between sexual minorities, human rights and HIV programming is explored in Chapter 3, while Chapter 4 deals with why most NGOs have been silent on the issue. The concluding chapter suggests ways to break that silence. Contents  Introduction 3 1.  Basics Information about Sex, Gender & Sexuality 4  Human rights and sexual rights 6 Do people choose their sexual orientation? 7 Some common beliefs 8 2.  Reactions to Sexual Minorities 10  In the past 10 The situation now 11 3.  Sexual minorities and HIV programming 15 4.  Why are Civil Society Organisations working in Africa silent on sexual minorities and human rights? 18  Conclusion: A Call to Break Another Silence 20 Notes 22  In this booklet we also use the terms women-who-have-sex-with-women  ( WSW  for short) and men-who-have-sex-with-men  ( MSM ). They refer to people who occasionally or regularly have sex with members of the same sex. WSW and MSM include: ã People who see themselves as homosexual or bisexual;ã People who see themselves as heterosexual but have same-sex sex. For example, - people who are married and so see themselves in their expected gender role, but who also have a same-sex relationship; - people who have same-sex sex at certain points in their lives, such as some prisoners, soldiers, homeless youths, migrant workers, and students at single sex boarding schools;  - people (mainly males) who see themselves as heterosexual but use rape to dominate or punish others of their own sex. The umbrella terms of WSW and MSM are useful, but also problematic, because they cover a diverse group of people. Even more specic terms such as ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ refer to a wide range of women and men with different levels of education and wealth, and a variety of lifestyles. 1. Basics Information about Sex, Gender & Sexuality We all know about ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, don’t we? Read on… in reality, things are a bit different from the simple story we often tell ourselves. 45 The simple view  All babies are born as one sex: either male or female. The simple view Males feel themselves to be male, females feel themselves to be female. The simple view Males are only sexually attracted to females, and females are only attracted to males. The reality ã Most babies are born male or female. ã A minority are born intersex   – it is not clear which sex they are. Parents raise them as male or female, or doctors do genetic & other tests to determine the biological sex and then do surgical operations to ‘make’ them male or female. Sometimes the person does not feel they t the sex label they have been given. The reality ã Most males feel they are male, and most females feel they are female. ã Some males feel themselves to be female, and some females feel themselves to be male ( transgender  ). ã Some people mostly feel themselves to be male but sometimes female, or mostly female but sometimes male. ã Some feel neither male nor female. The reality ã The majority of males are only or mainly sexually attracted to females, and the majority of females are only or mainly attracted to males ( heterosexuals , also said to be straight  ). ã Some males are only or mainly attracted to males, some females are only or mainly attracted to females ( homosexuals , also known as gays  and lesbians  respectively). ã Some males and females are attracted to both males and females ( bisexuals ). ã Transgendered males and females may be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. SexGender Identity The simple view Males only have sex with females, and females only have sex with males. The reality ã Most sex is between males and females. ã There is also sex between all possible combinations of males, females, intersexuals and transsexuals. ã Some male heterosexuals also have sex with men, and some female heterosexuals also have sex with females. ã Some male homosexuals also have sex with females, and some female homosexuals also have sex with males. Sexual PracticesSexual Orientation “For me, being bisexual means to love a person for themselves, regardless of their gender.”  Paula, South African 1    67 Do people choose their sexual orientation? Do we choose whether we are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both sexes? Or is it something we are born with? There is a good argument that these questions are irrelevant; it doesn’t matter whether people choose their sexual orientation or not, what matters is society’s response to them. As we have seen in the previous section, sexual rights include the right to pursue a satisfying sexual life – whatever that means to each individual - so long as those involved are consenting adults. However, the question of whether sexual orientation is chosen does come up a lot. And for some people the answer does affect their feelings. People who are against homosexuality often believe that homosexuals do choose to be different, so it is therefore OK for society to demand that they should conform to the social norm of being heterosexual. Furthermore, as they see it as a matter of choice, society can use punishments to penalise those who refuse to change, and to discourage those who might want to try same-sex behaviours. So, what’s the answer? Is sexual orientation chosen or not? It’s not 100% clear, but we know the following: ã There’s a lot of evidence that genetic developments and hormonal exposure in the womb affect whether we are likely to be attracted to the opposite or same sex 6 ; ã Most people from sexual minorities feel they are different from a very young age; ã Concerted efforts to eliminate sexual minorities do not succeed; despite persecution and in some cases mass murder, sexual minorities persist; ã Many individuals try to suppress their marginalised sexualities, by behaving as society wants them to; some succeed in changing their behaviour, but few feel that they have managed to change their actual orientation; ã If it were a matter of free choice, surely there would be no sexual minorities; to choose to be different is to choose rejection, violence and discrimination; ã Same-sex, non-reproductive behaviour has been scientically documented in over 450 animal species worldwide. (Interestingly, negative responses to same-sex behaviours have only been documented in humans) 7 . Human rights and sexual rights Human rights  Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”   Article 2 begins “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…”  . Human rights belong to us all, regardless of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual rights Sexual rights are generally understood 2  to include the right of everyone - without force, discrimination or violence - to:ã Enjoy the highest standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health services; ã Seek, receive and give information about sexuality; ã Have their body respected;ã Choose their sexual partner;ã Decide to be sexually active or not; ã Have consensual sexual relations (where both people agree);ã Get married;ã Decide whether or not, and when, to have children; ã Pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life. It’s important to be clear that sexual rights concern consensual sex between adults.  In other words, none of the people involved are below the legal age for having sex, and all of them agree to what they are doing. Forced sex (rape) and sex with children both violate the sexual rights of the victim, whether the perpetrator is of the same or opposite sex as the victim. The best starting place for learning about rights with regard to sexual minorities is the Yogyakarta Principles 4 . They were developed in response to widespread discrimination and abuse of rights due to sexual orientation and gender identity. The 29 principles apply international human rights laws to the issue of marginalised sexualities, and set out legal standards, which states should follow. “It’s normal, something they are born with, like being left-handed.” Zambian university student talking about homosexual students “I was around 19 or 20, in boarding school, when I rst had a relationship with a girl…. I tried to change, and that didn’t work. When I was 27 or 28, my family kicked me out of the house … I had a job as a teaching assistant at a Catholic school, but the nuns started to suspect me… and eventually red me….I can’t change my life. They’ll have to put me in prison like the others.”  Burundian woman 5   “Both the Constitution and the Penal Code criminalises sexual minorities and sexual acts by them. The same Constitution guarantees freedom of association, and  privacy. So if two gay men want to associate in private, what law are they breaking?”  CEDEP staff member, Malawi 3   “When I was 18 a girl fell in love with me. We had an experience, we kissed, but it didn’t go farther. I realized that maybe I was gay. I took three months to pray... I prayed that I would change, but it didn’t succeed.” Male Burundian student 8
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