Some of members of the LGBTI community covered their faces not only with protective masks to hide their identity during the parade Saturday. (Courtesy of Nyasa Rainbow Alliance)
Some of members of the LGBTI community covered their faces not only with protective masks to hide their identity during the parade Saturday. (Courtesy of Nyasa Rainbow Alliance)

BLANTYRE, MALAWI - In Malawi, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and inter-sex (LGBTI) community Saturday held their first ever pride parade in the capital, Lilongwe, pushing for recognition by the government, legalization of same-sex marriage and equal access to health care.

During the parade, marchers carried placards with messages like; “We Are Also Human Beings,” “Diversity Creates Community” and, “We Are Also an Image of God.”

Many of them covered their faces not only with coronavirus protective masks to hide their identity.

Eric Sambisa, director of Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, which organized the parade, told reporters that sexual minorities are in danger in Malawi.

“People are not safe here because they are targeted for violence all the time. There are so many forms of violence targeted to LGBTI people, so I don’t blame them if they cover their [faces]. It’s for their own safety,” Sambisa said.

The marchers petitioned Malawi’s government to cancel an online survey on citizens’ views on homosexuality announced last November during a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country’s human rights record.
 
A U.N. report stemming from the review noted that “Malawi had refused to accept the recommendations” related to the LGBTI community “and the hate crimes, physical violence, and mental health issues that its members faced.”

Malawi held out the survey as a reason for delaying the government’s response to pressure from the international community to better protect sexual minorities.   

George Kachimanga, program manager for Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, said progress on human rights should not depend on the results of a poll.

“So, we said we cannot expose issues of the minority to the majority because you actually know the outcome. So, we are saying ‘no’ to that because Malawi is sitting [on the] Human Rights Council now and it should lead by example. It shouldn’t be selective on the rights that it can actually implement or fulfill. So that [is our] our argument,” he said.

Kachimanga also said the alliance wants Malawi authorities to review its laws on homosexuality, which is currently illegal and punishable by a 14-year maximum prison sentence.

Two LGBTI community members carry a banner calling for equal rights during the parade. (Courtesy of Nyasa Rainbow Alliance)

In 2010, Malawi sentenced two gay couples, who received the maximum sentence on charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

They were, however, pardoned a week later following an international condemnation of the convictions.

In 2015, the country issued a moratorium on punishing homosexuality until a decision was made on possibly repealing applicable laws.

Some commentators argue the moratorium serves as de facto recognition by the government of sexual minorities – and that further agitation by the LGTBI community is therefore unnecessary. 

But Kachimanga said the absence of legal reform subjects LGBTI people to human rights violations, discrimination, stigma and unequal access to health care.  

“Despite the moratorium, cases are still ongoing. Mind you it’s not all the cases that have to come in the national media, there are other cases that happen underground, so you need to take care of those cases as well. So, we need something concrete that will determine the right direction in terms of these issues,” Kachimanga said.

VOA was unable to reach government officials for comment.

Nyasa Rainbow Alliance is appealing to the Malawi Law Society as well as the country’s parliament and human rights commission for change.

Habiba Osman, executive director for the human rights commission, said the group’s petition is in line with provisions in the Malawi Constitution.  

“The Constitution is very clear. It says no one shall be discriminated [against] based on race, tribe, and sex. It’s very clear; Section 20 says that. And again, if you notice the treaty mechanisms that Malawi has ratified among other binding treaty obligations, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 says all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” Osman said.

The principal administrative officer for the Lilongwe City Council, Hudson Kuphanga, has received the petition and says he will deliver it to the appropriate authorities on Monday.