UN Envoy for AIDS in Africa Must Go
The International Conference on Population and Development, Commission on the Status of Women and the Post 2015 Development Agenda review processes are all important opportunities for African civil society to influence the future development agenda.
In the Africa review process of the ICPD, SDGs and CSW (that resulted in several continental positions on the post 2015 development agenda) it became clear that is civil society requires better collective organization and strategizing to perform effective advocacy. This needs to happen both at country and regional level so as to ensure the greater inclusion of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the outcomes of these processes.
Countries will be committing to their new positions in New York (NYC) this year and the sole remaining opportunity available to civil society is to affect the position of each African country prior to their vote.
As a means to affect these country positions AAI will be leading the African CSO Post 2015 Coalition which is intended to ensure that African civil society works strategically for the best outcomes. We will thus be holding a meeting in Johannesburg in March/April (date to be confirmed) that will map out the position of countries in Africa with regard to their position on SRHR, and we will plan as a group how we can affect the outcomes in NYC.
We are looking for a particular set of people at this meeting, so if think you fit the criteria, or know someone who does, nominate them to firstname.lastname@example.org Read more about the meeting, and the criteria click here.
BAUCHI, Nigeria — The young man cried out as he was being whipped on the courtroom bench. The bailiff’s leather whip struck him 20 times, and when it was over, the man’s side and back were covered with bruises.
Still, the large crowd outside was disappointed, the judge recalled: The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.
“He is supposed to be killed,” the judge, Nuhu Idris Mohammed, said, praising his own leniency on judgment day last month at the Shariah court here. The bailiff demonstrated the technique he used: whip at shoulder level, then forcefully down.
The mood is unforgiving in this north Nigeria metropolis, where nine others accused of being gay by the Islamic police are behind the central prison’s high walls. Stones and bottles rained down on them outside the court two weeks ago, residents and officials said; some in the mob even wanted to set the courtroom ablaze, witnesses said.
Since Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.
Gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, but convictions were rare in the south and only occasional in the mostly Muslim north. The new law bans same-sex marriage and goes significantly further, prescribing 10 years in prison for those who “directly or indirectly” make a “public show” of same-sex relationships. It also punishes anyone who participates in gay clubs and organizations, or who simply supports them, leading to broad international criticism of the sweep of the law.
“This draconian new law makes an already-bad situation much worse,” the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement. “It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more,” she added. “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.
Rights advocates say they have recorded arrests in multiple Nigerian states, but the country’s north has experienced the toughest crackdown. Mr. Jonathan’s national ban has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere, according to officials and residents in Bauchi, where Shariah law prevails and green-uniformed Hisbah, or Islamic police officers, search for what is considered immoral under Islam.
“It’s reawakened interest in communities to ‘sanitize,’ more or less, to talk about ‘moral sanitization,’ ” Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, said of the law. “Where it was quiet before, it’s gotten people thinking, ‘Who is behaving in a manner that may be gay?’ It’s driven people into the closet.”
Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays. Local lawyers are reluctant to represent them. Bail was refused to the gay people already jailed because it was “in the best interests of the accused,” said the chief prosecutor, Dawood Mohammed. In the streets, furious citizens say they are ready to take the law into their own hands to combat homosexuality.
Officials are also inflamed. “It is detestable,” said Mohammed Tata, a senior official with the Shariah Commission here, which controls the Hisbah. He added: “This thing is an abomination.”
Complaining of the difficulty in distinguishing gay people from others, Mr. Tata said: “They don’t do it in the open. You get one or two, you see how they speak, you see how they dress, then you might have reasonable grounds to suspect.” Mr. Tata, speaking in the whitewashed two-story Shariah Commission headquarters here, said that happily, “we get information from sources interested in seeing the society cleansed.”
The prisoners’ only local support comes from two gay activists who slip into and out of the area, not daring to stay overnight. “They started crying when they saw us, begging us to take them out of this place,” said one of the activists, Tahir, 26, after returning from the prison, where he and his friend Bala, 29, had taken the men food. The two activists feared being prosecuted themselves, so they said they were relatives of the prisoners to try to avoid suspicion.
Most of the prisoners have been abandoned by their families, Tahir said, declining to give his last name for fear of reprisals. They are mostly young men, he said — tailors, students, “just working youths.” One is a married school principal with eight children, four of them adopted.
The young man who was whipped has gone into hiding. Inside the prison, the guards mock the gay men, comparing them to “pregnant women,” Bala said.
At a downtown restaurant in Bauchi, under suspicious glances from other patrons, Bala said, “Let us leave this place.” Hurriedly concluding the interview, the two left for a town farther south and not under Shariah law. “We are not safe here,” Bala said.
His words were borne out by the mood on the street. “God has not allowed this thing; we are not animals,” said Umar Inuwa Obi, 32, a student who said he was in the mob that hurled stones and bottles at the court and the prison van transporting the gay suspects two weeks ago.
“In Shariah court you are supposed to kill the man,” Mr. Obi said, adding that he favored this judgment. “But the government has refused. That’s why they started throwing stones and bottles.”
Frightened, the judge retreated to his chambers, the van forced its way through the crowd and gunshots were fired to disperse it.
“People are out to kill,” said Abdullahi Yalwa, a sociologist who teaches at a Bauchi college.
“The stones increased,” said Musa Kandi, a lawyer who briefly represented one of the men on his bail application. “They wanted to have those people, so they could kill them.”
Civil authorities here, handed the case by the Hisbah, say the suspects have been charged with a very serious crime. “They had been meeting among themselves, which is quite prohibited — religiously prohibited, socially unacceptable and morally wrong,” said Mr. Mohammed, the chief prosecutor.
In the prison, the men are separated from other prisoners, not for their protection, but “so that they should not indoctrinate the other inmates,” said Mr. Mohammed’s deputy, Dayyabu Ayuba, who is handling the case.
Officials and activists here agree that the new law signed by President Jonathan has given added impetus to the country’s anti-gay sentiment, encouraging prosecutors and citizens alike to take action. The law “completely prohibited anything that is gay,” Mr. Mohammed said.
The Nigerian news media have been largely supportive of the law — “Are Gay People Similar to Animals?” was the headline on a recent op-ed article in a leading newspaper, The Guardian — and government officials have reacted angrily to criticism from the United States and Britain.
The acting foreign affairs minister, Viola Onwuliri, recently praised the law as “democracy in action,” and suggested that Western critics were hypocrites to promote democracy and then complain about a law that the populace supports. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last March, 98 percent of Nigerians said they do not believe society should accept homosexuality.
“Every culture has what they regard as sacrosanct or important to them, and I don’t believe what our president and lawmakers have done in that respect is contrary to our culture,” former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Thursday in an interview. In 2004, while he was president, he told African bishops that “homosexual practice” was “clearly unbiblical, unnatural and definitely un-African.”
For gay Nigerians, the risks of coming out could not be higher. “In the north, you will be killed,” Tahir said. “You will bring total shame to your family.”
The Ford Foundation’s president, board of trustees and senior leadership will visit South Africa next week to pay tribute to visionary leaders and organisations that have helped South Africa advance the cause of social justice at home and abroad. The visit marks the 60th year since the foundation’s first grant in Southern Africa and the 20th anniversary of its office in Johannesburg.
From 9-15 February, the foundation will bring together leading thinkers, artists, government officials, activists and others in a series of events and dialogues to explore the theme of achieving “the full promise of democracy.” The events will highlight efforts by South African social justice organisations and their allies to deepen democracy, build greater inclusion, and expand opportunity in South Africa and the region—and help to chart a course for the future. The visit is also a chance for the Ford Foundation to publicly reaffirm its long-term commitment to South Africa and the region.
“This country’s people, institutions and social movements have been a source of inspiration throughout the world”, says Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “As South Africa gains even more prominence on the global stage, the work of its social change leaders can inspire many others. The world is watching to see what happens here.”
Achmat Dangor, the regional representative for the Ford Foundation adds: “Two decades after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is home to one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, economic growth and abundant natural resources. Its peaceful transition to democracy stands as a model for the rest of the world.Yet even in the face of this astonishing progress, poverty and inequality are still increasing. Vast disparities in access to education, land and economic opportunity, coupled with the world’s highest prevalence of HIV, limit our region’s continued progress. There is still much to be done.”
The foundation, Dangor says, “will continue to take risks and create spaces for experimentation, allowing social justice organisations to test and strengthen promising initiatives that can be adopted by others to reach many more people, both here and around the world. We are incredibly excited about the next generation of this work”.
Realizing the Dream: The Promise of South Africa (Lead Event)
Tuesday, 11 February 2014
09:30 to 16:30
The Forum Turbine Hall, 65 Ntemi Piliso Street, Newtown, Johannesburg 2001
In a series of provocative conversations around critical social justice issues, punctuated by artistic performances by the Mzansi Youth Choir, Lebo Mashile and Lira, this symposium will bring together leading figures from civil society, government and the private sector as well as artists, writers and academics. The list of speakers for the day includes:
“Soft Vengeance” Film Premier
Monday, 10 February 2014
18:00 to 21:00
The Market Theatre, Cnr. Bree and Miriam Makeba, Johannesburg 2001
“Soft Vengeance,” directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker, Abby Ginzberg, documents the life and struggles of human rights activist and retired Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs—from his early resistance and exile to his involvement in shaping the new South African Constitution. A reception will be held at The Market Theatre.
Exhibition Launch: “Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life”
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
18:30 to 20:30
Museum Africa, 121 Bree Street, Newtown, Johannesburg 2001
After acclaimed runs in Munich, Milan and New York, “Rise and Fall of Apartheid” opens in Johannesburg at Museum Africa. Organized by the International Center of Photography, the exhibition offers an encyclopaedic view of apartheid and photographic practice and represents the culmination of more than a decade of research supported by the International Center of Photography in New York. Rise and Fall of Apartheid features the work of more than 70 South African photographers and artists, including more than 800 images, 27 films and a book. Follow “Rise and Fall of Apartheid” on Twitter at @RnF_apartheid.
Note: The anniversary symposium, Realizing the Dream: The Promise of South Africa, and the premier of “Soft Vengeance” will be open to media.
For more information, contact Arcay Burson-Marsteller:
Tel: +27 11 480 8525
Cell: +27 71 444 3121
Tel: +27 11 480 8619
Cell: +27 82 7333 098
3 February 2014
The Ford Foundation
by Kate Macintyre
A mere $28billion later and the Global Fund’s dedication to country ownership as a guiding principle is still intact, bolstered, reinforced, reinvented or reemphasized at almost every opportunity.
It’s a sound foundation, predicated on the notion that countries themselves know how to solve their own problems and can tailor their responses to AIDS, TB and malaria to their own political, cultural and epidemiological context.
And that’s right, and good, and as it should be, and the Global Fund is not alone in promoting this as the basis of its development investment: people living in the midst of the epidemics are considered most knowledgeable about what they need, when they need it and even how the interventions should be developed.
Ownership also, the argument goes, breeds responsibility for management, implementation and oversight. So by stating ownership by a country of the programmes that its cheque-book supports, the Global Fund is saying that the country should be accountable for the success or failure of those programmes.
Underlying this commitment to country ownership is also a motivation from many donors: that if a country owns a programme, it is more likely to sustain it after donors’ funds have finished. So, in basic terms, “country ownership” from the donors’ perspective is an exit strategy. Moreover, it is seen as an exit strategy with a lower risk of failure in the long term.
The cracks in this foundation of ‘good’ notions of country ownership only appear when what a national government wants jars with the vision of what a donor or other voices in the country desire.
Many definitions of country ownership ascribe a degree of fairness to democratic processes that are simply not evident. Nascent democracies in many parts of the world do not have systems set up to hear and deal with the multiple voices that the principle of “country ownership” assumes they do. The systems also, importantly, don’t have protective policies in place to ensure there are safe spaces for vulnerable individuals or groups to speak their mind.
Even in a mature democracy like America, where freedom of speech and civil society has a protected space, it took a seriously angry movement of gay men (ACT UP), with a sustained and brilliant campaign of about five years in the 1980’s, to draw serious government and societal attention to the problem of access to treatment for AIDS.
This disconnect between the assumptions of the principle of country ownership and the realities of the political spaces in many countries heavily affected by the epidemics, is at the root of many of the tensions that can compromise the Global Fund model, and can seriously interfere in the process of grants applications and approvals. An airing of the differences this disconnect produces is needed.
In its eagerness not to be too prescriptive, and to promote country participation, the Global Fund at its genesis allowed too much latitude in defining ownership. This meant problems from the word ‘Go’: who owned what? Does owned mean government-led, or does it allow for a diversity of voices to guide a country’s priority-setting? In the early days, gentle suggestions about the importance of including civil society voices were met with silence.
The reality was, and in many cases continues to be, that the loudest voices are the well-established ones: government, its agencies, its technical partners. Representation on the country coordination mechanisms (CCMs) remains a challenge for women, for young people, for all people living with the diseases. Too many groups ‘represented’ in CCMs are merely tokens, window-dressing to meet the quotas and criteria for eligibility demanded by the Fund.
One friend of mine put it simply: “No one listens to any voices outside the formal government channels. I only sit here in the hope that the funds that come in will trickle down to some groups that fight the epidemic that is mowing down my friends.”
We, my friend and I, very much hope that the new country dialogue model envisioned under the new funding model will counteract that bias, and provide spaces to some of the CCM members who until now have sat in silence.
What we have also seen is the Global Fund itself increasing asserting its role as “technical corrector” via more recommendations from the TRP and the Grant Approvals Committee (see article). These recommendations range from concept notes being asked to incorporate more targeted programmes for human rights, a greater emphasis on harm reduction, wider attention to gender issues and key populations to demands that principal recipients be changed or entire programmes being excised from proposals.
There is a risk that some of these recommendations – most, if not all, of which have a very sound basis in public health – cross the fine line between technical support and the core principle of country ownership: and the risk is calibrated depending on where you sit.
As to be expected, with the roll-out of the NFM, as in so many donor-recipient models, there has been unease expressed as grumblings about more control coming from Geneva. And for some in implementing countries, those grumbles have translated into concerns about just how prescriptive the Fund has the potential to become in comparison to the Rounds system.
Today, the Fund asks that countries demonstrate their knowledge of their epidemics, their contexts, and the supporting data-based evidence for both their strategies and planned interventions in order to qualify for grants. Much of the quality of the exchange within the country dialogue should come from the quality of those national strategic plans. So better plans should equal more country ownership. But how far will the national plans be willing to implement decent strategies that reach key populations? And how far will the Global Fund be prepared to go to ensure that those strategies, and those targets, are in place?
It comes down to the kind of working relationship countries are prepared to have – both with the Global Fund and with the civil society voices no longer prepared to stand in silence, but instead to stand with the full weight of Global Fund support behind them. This will be the critical challenge in making sure that country ownership is evenly distributed among all those who want to ensure the best possible impact of strategies to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.
Sadly, many governments remain nervous about power- and resource-sharing when it comes to civil society.
Proof of that nervousness, that fear, has come this month from Nigeria, where President Goodluck Jonathan signed into a law the latest anti-gay legislation to terrorize the affected communities in sub-Saharan Africa (see article). This is a classic, and not rare, clash between the Fund’s strategy for key populations and the national right to self-determination by a country’s elected officials. What the Fund chooses to do next will have enormous repercussions both for Nigeria and all future discussions about its guiding principle of country ownership.
Kate Macintyre is the executive director of Aidspan. Opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
21 January 2014
We are pleased to share attached the High-Level Task Force for ICPD Policy Briefs and Recommendations on the following themes to be debated at the 8th Session in February of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals: 1) “Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment; and 2) “Conflict prevention, post-conflict, peacebuilding and promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance”.
Below are links to the briefs. The briefs offer key messages and identify key foundations and recommendations for Member State consideration in preparing their positions and interventions focused on advancing the human rights of women and girls and gender equality, the rights and participation of adolescents and youth, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
To read the: SDGs Brief Session 8 Peace Building.
To read the: SDGs Gender Brief February 2014.
LAGOS, Nigeria – Police, working off a list of 168 suspects purportedly obtained through torture, are arresting dozens of gay men in Nigeria’s northern Bauchi state, human rights activists said January 14.
A new law in Nigeria, dubbed the “Jail the Gays” bill, is encouraging the persecution of gays and will endanger programs fighting HIV-AIDS in the gay community, said Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights.
On Jan 13, President Goodluck Jonathan’s office confirmed that the Nigerian leader signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them.
In Bauchi state, police entrapped four gay men and tortured them into naming others, Aken’Ova said. She said the police have drawn up a list of 168 wanted gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested in recent weeks.
She said the arrests began during the Christmas holidays and blamed “all the noise that was going on surrounding the (same sex marriage prohibition) bill.”
The chairman of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, Mustapha Baba Ilela, told the AP that 11 men have been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization. He denied anyone had been tortured and said all 11—10 Muslims and a non-Muslim—signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization but that some of them retracted the statements when they were charged by a judge.
Shariah is Islamic law, which is implemented to different degrees in nine of 36 states.
An AIDS counselor told The Associated Press he helped get bail for the men and also said a total of 38 were arrested. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear he would be arrested. Aken’Ova’s organization is providing legal services for them.
The AIDS counselor said the arrests were sparked by a rumor that the United States paid $20 million to gay activists to promote same-sex marriage in this highly religious and conservative nation.
The United States, Britain and Canada condemned the new law in Africa’s most populous nation, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying that it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians.
Jonathan’s spokesman said the president signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on Jan. 7, providing penalties of up to 14 years in jail for a gay marriage and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for membership or encouragement of gay club, societies and organizations.
The U.N. agency to fight AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed “deep concern that access to HIV services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will be severely affected by a new law in Nigeria—further criminalizing LGBT people, organizations and activities, as well as people who support them.”
The law also criminalizes people and groups who support “the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria.” Those convicted could be jailed for 10 years.
UNAIDS said the law could harm Jonathan’s own presidential initiative to fight AIDS, started a year ago.
It said Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic globally with an estimated 3.4 million people living with HIV. The disease affects many more gay men than heterosexuals, with 2010 statistics estimating national HIV prevalence at 4 percent compared to 17 percent among gay men, according to UNAIDS.
Pres. Jonathan has not publicly expressed his views on homosexuality.
His spokesman, Reuben Abati, told The Associated Press, “This is a law that is in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. … Nigerians are pleased with it.”
(Associated Press writer Shehu Saulawa contributed to this report from Bauchi, Nigeria.)
By Michelle Faul
26 January 2014
Global Fund efforts to target key affected populations including sexual minorities in the fight against HIV may continue to face an uphill battle in sub-Saharan Africa, new studies have shown, because of prevailing stigma and marginalization even within existing programming.
In releasing the series of studies about the HIV burden among men who have sex with men in sub-Saharan Africa, theJournal of the International AIDS Society sought to expose the worrisome trend towards an AIDS epidemic among MSM across the continent, while challenging “the attitudes of complacency and irrelevancy among donors and country governments that are uncomfortable in addressing key populations,” according to an editorial introducing the series.
Current estimates from UNAIDS place HIV prevalence among MSM in sub-Saharan Africa at 17.9%.
Studies conducted in Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya and Malawi suggested that the silent epidemic is largely unacknowledged by health policymakers despite exhortations from external funders, including the Global Fund, that targeting this key population is one of the best ways to bring the spread of HIV under control.
A lack of data has been identified as one of the largest barriers to intervention, the studies suggest, with few countries collecting or analyzing the size of the MSM population within their borders.
South Africa, which has one of the largest HIV burdens on the continent, has also generated the largest body of data, beginning with a 1983 study of 250 MSM that revealed a high prevalence of HIV, syphilis and Hepatitis B virus. Another study of rural South African men found that approximately 3.6% of men studied reported a history of having sex with other men. Among these men, HIV prevalence was 3.6 times higher than among men not reporting male partners.
A study that was conducted in 2008 with a sample of 378 MSM to establish HIV prevalence and associated risk factors among MSM in Soweto found a prevalence rate of 13.2%. Another study conducted in Cape Town in 2010 involving 542 MSM found a prevalence rate of 10.4%. These studies suggest the existence of an epidemic among MSM in the country.
HIV prevalence among MSM has also been quantified in Senegal and Nigeria, while a sero-prevalence study has been conducted among male sex workers in Côte d’Ivoire, where HIV prevalence was measured at 50% among a sample of 96 men in the economic capital, Abidjan.
Another critical barrier identified by the studies – which were also conducted in Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi and Swaziland – was the criminalization of homosexuality in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa: an estimated 38 countries on the continent have made it illegal for any sexual relations to occur between two men or two women.
“Due to the criminalized nature of male-to-male sex in all countries where studies from this issue took place… MSM are often afraid to visit healthcare services; and when they do go, they are reluctant to disclose their sexual histories to healthcare providers for fear of rejection, derision or other negative reactions,” the editorial said.
Even South Africa, which has legalized same sex unions and is considered among the more progressive countries in Africa in relation to respect for sexual minorities, a prevailing stigma has prevented outreach, prevention and treatment programmes from being optimally effective. One study identified a correlation between a higher risk of an MSM contracting HIV and his limited knowledge of prevention measures.
Stigmatizing or marginalizing behaviour by healthcare workers was also examined in the compendium of studies published by the Journal. Healthcare workers displayed negative attitudes towards their MSM patients; in one Kenyan study, healthcare workers told the researchers that they were afraid of being perceived by their communities to be MSM themselves when treating MSM patients.
The research concluded that there is not enough specific training provided to healthcare workers in sub-Saharan Africa to respond to the particular needs of MSM and other key populations, which limits their effectiveness in recommending changes to behaviour that can mitigate the risk of HIV transmission. Equally, training is limited in terms of how to encourage appropriate care and treatment among MSM and other sexual minorities. Healthcare worker training was identified as a priority intervention to support the provision of essential services for MSM.
Existing strategies in sub-Saharan Africa have until now focused on heterosexual transmission – a decision that the research authors suggest is the wrong approach to ensure successful interventions to thwart the spread of HIV.
The higher biological risks of HIV acquisition and transmission associated with unprotected anal intercourse compared to other forms of sexual intercourse require a more nuanced approach; one study, from Malawi, identified high-risk behaviours within its small sample of MSM including inconsistent condom use (32.5%), transactional sex (23.7%), low exposure to HIV messaging (17.5%) and a low history of HIV testing (58.8% ever tested).
Imprisonment was also identified as a specific high risk factor for transmission of HIV among MSM, in studies originating in Malawi and Swaziland. This was attributed both to the confined setting and the risk of transactional or coercive sex as well as the low availability of condoms and lubricants – commodities that, when used properly together, can help reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
One of the more interesting and intuitive conclusions from the studies related to the complicated nature of identity and self-identification of homosexuality among men in sub-Saharan Africa. Diversity in sexual orientation and practice among men on the continent make self-identification complicated which, in turn, complicates outreach and intervention efforts.
A study from Swaziland elaborated on this concept, with a majority of the sample of participants choosing to identify as homosexual or bisexual, but among them one-quarter of the participants also identifying as female. One third of those included in the study reported having had both male and female sexual partners in the previous 12 months.
The studies also took pains to highlight small victories being made across the continent to address and overcome the marginalization of sexual minorities. Community-based approaches in South Africa have had modest success in reaching marginalized populations with HIV outreach and prevention services, using peer education and the facilitation of safe social spaces to provide HIV education, address stigma and behavioural risks and link individuals into HIV testing or care. Similar strategies have been used to reach MSM with HIV research, HIV-prevention information, and HIV counseling and testing.
Without addressing this underserved, stigmatized population of MSM in sub-Saharan Africa, the editors concluded, it will be difficult to slow or halt the transmission of HIV. The researchers uniformly argued for better and more complete data about the demographics of the populations of sexual minorities to ensure better targeting of the continuum of care for HIV, beginning with prevention and moving into treatment.
“We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis — we need to unleash the full potential of everyone,” Joaquim Chissano wrote in an open letter to African leaders.
With Nigeria just having enacted a sweeping anti-LGBT law and similar legislation pending in Uganda, Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, has called on African leaders to protect sexual and reproductive rights in an “Open Letter to African Leaders” published Tuesday by The Africa Report.
Chissano led the southern African nation from 1986–2005 and now co-chairs the high-level task force of the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Population and Development. His letter calls on a group of African leaders forming future development goals, chaired by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleif, to make clear that sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights in a document outlining development goals for the continent:
Sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular, are a prerequisite for empowering women and the generations of young people on whom our future depends.
This simply means granting every one the freedom — and the means — to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life — one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children — without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.
This also implies convenient, affordable access to quality information and services and to comprehensive sexuality education.
We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.
He closed his letter by quoting late South African President Nelson Mandela in anticipation of opposition to his position from those on the continent who consider homosexuality “unAfrican”:
As an African who has been around a long time, I understand the resistance to these ideas.
But I can also step back and see that the larger course of human history, especially of the past century or so, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms.
African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment.
The international agenda that we will help forge is not just for us here and now, but for the next generations and for the world.
As I think about these issues, I am reminded of the words of our recently departed leader, who gained so much wisdom over the course of his long walk to freedom.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,” Nelson Mandela reminded us, “but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Let us live up to his immortal words.
The letter comes amid reports of sweeping arrests in Nigeria, as the country adopted a strict law banning same-sex relationships and LGBT rights advocacy, punishable by 10 to 14 years in prison. A similarly harsh law was recently passed by Uganda’s parliament, but it remains unclear if the president will sign it into law. “Homosexual activity” is already illegal in Uganda, but the new law introduces harsher penalties, criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality, and makes it illegal to not report homosexual activities to the police.
By J. Lester Feder
15 January 2014