News / Africa

Report: Homophobia Rising in Sub-Saharan Africa

Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
x
Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
Bathini Dambuza, left, and Lindiwe Radebe at engagement ceremony, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, undated file photo.
Anita Powell
When Nthabiseng Mokoena announced she was getting married to another woman, her small South African community was scandalized.

“Pastors came together and started preaching to their own congregations that it’s the end of the world," recalls the advocacy coordinator for Pretoria-based Transgender and Intersex Africa. "'As you can see, one of our own is now going to marry a woman; it’s the end of the world!'"

According to Amnesty International, Mokoena's is but a milder version of a story told repeatedly by Sub-Saharan Africas who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

For Mokoena, who identifies as intersex — meaning she was born with ambiguous genitalia — it is a rare privilege to openly call upon the key politicians and religious figures who often fuel the homophobia, and demand that they speak out for equality.

Documenting gays and lesbians in Cameroon who were imprisoned for years without trial or charge, and Kenyans who said police threatened them over their sexuality, the new report finds that members of Mokoena's wide demographic are facing an increasingly bold threat of attacks and harassment across much of the continent.

A crime in many nations

On a continent where many religious figures preach that homosexuality is a sin, the attacks, Amnesty says, are also fueled by an increase in anti-gay laws and prominent politicians who promote them.

Largely a reflection of public attitudes, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 fully recognized sovereign African nations, where such laws appear set to remain on the books or get stronger. Uganda, for example, is set to again debate a law that in its original form mandated the death penalty for gays, while late last year government officials in Malawi backtracked on a plan to scrap anti-gay laws in response to pressure from religious groups.

According to Amnesty, in the last five years alone, South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia and Nigeria have made attempts to further criminalize homosexuality.

Jackson Otieno, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, says if governments pave the path toward acceptance, people will follow.
 
“I’d like to use this analogy: Picture a handicapped person on a wheelchair trying to get on a bus. ... You cannot make it the obligation of every passerby to put this person onto the bus if there’s no ramp," he says. "You cannot force them unless they want to do it. You’ll get people who want to do it and others will just ignore it because they have no time to do it. But it’s the obligation of the bus company to ensure the bus has a ramp to get this person on the bus."

For some activists, however, even new tolerance laws aren't enough. According to Mokoena’s organization, at least seven people were killed in what appeared to be attacks targeting sexual and gender orientation over a five-month period last year in South Africa — the continent's only nation to permit homosexuality and gay marriage.

Mokoena, who says more education is helping to change attitudes, chose to speak directly to the very pastors and congregants who condemned her sexuality and gender.

"How can it be the end of the world just because I’m getting married?" she recalls asking them. "Does my marriage have so much power that if I say ‘I do,’ apocalypse is going to come down on us?

"People will really start to really analyze that it’s all propaganda, and it’s all things they’ve been taught," she adds. "And so once we begin to be more visible, once we begin to voice our opinions ... somebody, somewhere, will listen. They always say reach out to ten thousand and touch one."

That’s the basic message activists say they now hope to spread across Africa. Being different, they say, is not the end of the world. Maybe it’s the start of a world fuller of love and acceptance for everyone.

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xenephon from: Australia
June 26, 2013 6:29 AM
When will the "west" cease in imposing its' libertarian values on the third world countries who still regard homosexuality, as do many in the U.S.A., as a mortal sin and an affront to the institution of marriage. There are many in Australia who regard the appointment of an openly homosexual male as ambassador, an open contepteous affront to the dignity of this country. Enforced lagalistic penalties will only go far in inciting an open backlash against that which it hopes to impose tolerance by penalties against those who still regard hetrosexuality as the normal and only valid course for the continuation of the human race.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs