South Africa, Which Once Led On Promoting LGBT Rights Abroad, Could Become A Roadblock
Hundreds of pregnant women and girls are dying needlessly in South Africa. In part, this is because they fear their HIV status may be revealed as they access antenatal care services, according to a major report published by Amnesty International today.
Struggle for Maternal Health: Barriers to Antenatal Care in South Africa, details how fears over patient confidentiality and HIV testing, a lack of information and transport problems are contributing to hundreds of maternal deaths every year by acting as barriers to early antenatal care.
“It is unacceptable that pregnant women and girls are continuing to die in South Africa because they fear their HIV status will be revealed, and because of a lack of transport and basic health and sexuality education. This cannot continue,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“The South African government must ensure all departments work together to urgently address all the barriers that place the health of pregnant women and girls at risk.”
South Africa has an unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality. There were 1,560 recorded maternal deaths in 2011 and 1,426 in 2012. More than a third of these deaths were linked to HIV. Experts suggest that 60% of all the deaths were avoidable.
Antenatal care is free in South Africa’s public health system. However, Amnesty International’s research found that many women and girls do not attend clinics until the later stages of their pregnancy because they are given to believe that the HIV test is compulsory. They fear testing and the stigma of being known to be living with HIV. Nearly a quarter of avoidable deaths have been linked to late or no access to antenatal care.
Worryingly, these fears are not without foundation. Amnesty International’s report, based on field research conducted in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, contains testimonies from women and girls who say that health care workers inappropriately discuss HIV test results with others.
“The nurses are talking about people and their status”, a woman from KwaZulu-Natal explained.
Amnesty International also found that several clinics it visited use processes for pregnant women and girls living with HIV that disclose their status, including separate queues for antiretroviral medication, different coloured antenatal files and different days for appointments.
“[I]f I go for antiretroviral, my line is that side. All the people in this line they know these people are HIV. That’s why people are afraid to come to the clinic,” one woman in Mpumalanga told Amnesty International.
“During antenatal care, if women come out of the counsellor’s room with two files, then everyone knows they are HIV positive,” said another woman.
Women and girls said they feared discriminatory treatment even from partners and family members as a result of testing positive for HIV and that HIV-related stigma remained a problem in many communities.
“While HIV testing is an important public health intervention it must be done in a manner that respects the rights of women and girls and does not expose them to additional harm. It is deeply worrying that the privacy of pregnant woman and girls is not respected in health facilities. The South African government must take urgent steps to correct this,” said Salil Shetty.
“It is vital that health care workers in South Africa receive additional training on providing quality care that is both free of judgement and stigma and that women and girls accessing sexual and reproductive health services are able to trust that their confidentiality will be respected.”
Amnesty International’s report also identifies that a lack of information and knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights increases risks of unplanned pregnancies and HIV transmission, especially among adolescents. Likewise women and girls are often unaware of the importance of early antenatal checks.
The report also documents the lack of progress made in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to ensure that women and girls can physically access health services. Problems persist relating to shortages of public transport and poor road infrastructure. The roads in some areas visited by Amnesty International are of such poor quality that they become impassable when it rains. Even when it is dry, ambulances will not go beyond a certain point on some roads. Amnesty International had documented the same problems in both provinces in a 2008 report.
“The South African government must build better road networks in these rural provinces to guarantee access to healthcare facilities. The government must also ensure that ambulances are always available to transport those who are in need,” said Salil Shetty.
This report builds on Amnesty International’s 2008 report, ‘I am at the lowest end of all’: Rural women living with HIV face human rights abuses in South Africa, in which the organisation documented gender, economic and social inequalities as barriers to health care for women living with HIV.
9 October 2014
By Amnesty International
With each week that passes, the Ebola crisis in West Africa deepens. And amid the horror, the fear and a public health response described by Medicine Sans Frontières as “lethally inadequate”, public health systems face total collapse.
While the inadequate international response has loomed large, it is the region’s chronically weak and desperately resourced health infrastructure which is the critical factor. This was underlined by Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University Hospital in the US who led the successful treatment of two aid workers who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa.
According to Ribner: “They [West African Doctors] suffer from a terrible lack of infrastructure and the sort of testing that everyone in our society takes for granted, such as the ability to do a complete blood count – measuring your red blood cells, your white blood cells and your platelets – which is done as part of any standard checkup here. The facility in Liberia where our two patients were didn’t even have this simple thing, which everyone assumes is done as part of your annual physical.”
Health systems encompass hospitals, clinics, procurements structures, research programmes, community health workers and training provision, and are the first line of defence in the face of outbreaks such as Ebola. When that bulwark is breached so easily, as it was in Sierra Leone and throughout the region, it raises urgent and uncomfortable questions about the focus of our development priorities.
In fact, this crisis exposes the great fallacy of the West’s global development agenda. While the international health and development community obsesses about technocratic development goals, targets, and indicators; the basic building blocks of health provision in poor countries have been desperately neglected.
There is a contradiction here. Isn’t it recognised that global health has done well out of the last 15 years of development spending?
Three of the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) are health related, new philanthropic actors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have prioritised global health as an area of concern, and new financing mechanisms to support vaccinations and HIV/AIDS responses such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria were created.
The result: a swell of new money, big name endorsements, and targeted action in critical but singular areas.
This tide of resources, expertise and good will has led to a pre-occupation with “vertical interventions” – programmes that prioritise specific diseases such as malaria. This is of course, not a bad thing in itself. Malaria is a scourge on the health and lives of Africans, and programmes to mitigate its transmission and effects are both vital and badly needed. I’m not proposing that we cut off support for disease-specific programmes nor that development is a zero-sum game – but our limited resources can’t ignore the less glamorous but no less urgent areas of clinics, hospitals and systems.
The singular focus on specific diseases, to the detriment of health systems in general, is a major reason why we are where we are in West Africa. The failure of the healthcare infrastructure to cope with Ebola should not be a surprise; it is certainly not for those living and working in the region, many of whom have spent decades decrying the ramshackle state of hospitals, clinics and systems.
The WHO has stressed the importance of health systems, and the World Bank began to make them the focus of its regional efforts a few years ago. Yet, the idea that health systems should be a key feature of the new Millennium Development Goal process is gaining little traction in international development circles. In short, without a radical focus on health systems; the future is bleak.
The struggle to contain Ebola shows how strongly equipped and fully-functioning health systems are fundamental to the management of health emergencies as well as the everyday health and well-being of people in vulnerable, poorer regions.
The stubborn focus on goals and specific diseases over the last 15 years has led to a chronic and senseless neglect of health systems in developing countries. This focus has contributed to a catastrophic public health emergency. If we are to salvage anything from this human and regional tragedy, it should include a commitment to invest money and expertise in regional health infrastructure. That requires an urgent and radical shift in our accepted model of global health and development.
A man in the United States has become the first known international traveller to be infected in the West Africa Ebola epidemic and carry the virus abroad. He is thought to have been infected in Liberia and developed symptoms six or seven days after arriving in the United States to visit family. He’s being treated in isolation in Dallas, Texas.
Quarantine, in the form of isolation, is an important component of the response to Ebola infection. As people are infectious only once they develop symptoms, isolating them and having health-care workers use personal protective equipment significantly reduces the risk of onward transmission.
The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the man will continue to be treated in isolation. In a process known as contact tracing, everyone he has come in contact with since he became symptomatic on September 24 will be located and monitored for 21 days (the maximum incubation period of the virus). Anyone who shows symptoms will also be isolated and treated.
The Ebola virus is unlikely to spread further in the United States because these measures are known to be effective. Indeed, their absence has contributed significantly to the spread of the virus in resource-poor nations of West Africa.
Countries have been practising this measure against infectious diseases well before we understood what caused and transmitted infections. The earliest mention of isolating people in this way is in the books of the Old Testament, for leprosy and other skin diseases.
The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quaranta giorni” which simply means “40 days”. It refers to the 40-day isolation period imposed by the Great Council of the City of Ragusa (modern day Dubrovnik, Croatia) in 1377 on any visitors from areas where the Black Death was endemic. In its most basic form, quarantine is the isolation of people with a disease from unaffected people.
The measure has clear benefits; it was effective during the 2003 pandemic of SARS-coronavirus when the isolation of cases and their contacts for ten days was arguably one of the most significant interventions for containing the outbreak in only five months.
And it has frequently been used to control Ebola outbreaks. Since the virus' first and most severe outbreak in 2000, Uganda has used quarantine measures to good effect, isolating contacts of cases for up to the 21 days of the viral incubation period.
Surveillance, a more Ebola-educated populace and targeted quarantine measures have meant Uganda had only 149 cases with 37 deaths, one case and death, and 31 cases with 21 deaths in subsequent outbreaks in 2007, 2011 and 2012.
Nigeria has also demonstrated the efficacy of a contact tracing and isolation approach. Despite being one of the most populous countries in Africa and having cases introduced into Lagos, a city of 21 million people, its last case was seen on September 5.
Removing infected and potentially infectious people from the community clearly helps reduce the spread of disease, but it still requires a place for people to be isolated and treated. That’s what’s missing in countries still in the midst of the epidemic, and also what continues to drive it.
While quarantine is an important weapon in our arsenal against Ebola, indiscriminate isolation is counterproductive.
The World Health Organisation has warned that closing country borders and banning the movement of people is detrimental to the affected countries, pushing them closer to an impending humanitarian catastrophe. Stopping international flights to the affected countries, for instance, has led to a shortage of essential medical supplies.
Still, this didn’t stop Sierra Leone from imposing a stay-at-home curfew for all of its 6.2 million citizens for three days from September 19 to 21. Results from this unprecedented lockdown are unverified, with reports of between 130 and 350 new suspect cases being identified and 265 corpses found. But in a country where the majority of people live from hand to mouth with no reserves of food, the true hardship of the measure is difficult to quantify.
In addition to the three-day lockdown, two eastern districts have been in indefinite quarantine since the beginning of August. On September 26, Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, announced that the two northern districts of Port Loko and Bombali, together with the southern district of Moyamba, will also be sealed off. This means more than a third of the country’s population will be unable to move at will.
Sierra Leone’s excessive quarantine measures are having a significant impact on the movement of food and other resources around the country, as well as on mining operations in Port Loko that are critical for the economy.
The country had one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies before the outbreak, with the IMF predicting growth of 14%. The World Bank estimates the outbreak will cost 3.3% of its GDP this year, with an additional loss of 1.2% to 8.9% next year.
Rice and maize harvests are due to take place between October and December. There’s a significant risk that the ongoing quarantines will have a significant impact on food production.
Quarantine is an excellent measure for containing infectious disease outbreaks but its indiscriminate and widespread use will compound this epidemic with another humanitarian disaster.
At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone who have lost one or both parents to Ebola this year face being shunned, the UN has said.
Carers were urgently needed for these orphans, Unicef said. A basic human reaction like comforting a sick child has been turned “into a potential death sentence”, it added. The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 3,000 people have died of Ebola in West Africa – the world’s most deadly outbreak of the virus. The fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties” Manuel Fontaine Unicef.
The figure on the number of Ebola orphans follows a two-week assessment mission by the UN children’s agency to the three countries worst-affected by the outbreak. An earlier version of this story said that 4,900 children had lost parents but the correct figure is 3,700. It found that children as young as three or four years old were being orphaned by the disease.
Children were discovered alone in the hospitals where their parents had died, or back in their communities where, if they were lucky, they were being fed by neighbours – but all other contact with them was being avoided. “Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola,” Unicef’s Manuel Fontaine said in statement about his two-week visit to the region.
“These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned,” he said.
For Immediate Release
29 September 2014
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHeR], the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], and the Demand Accountability SA Campaign* recognise the adoption of a resolution, led by Chile, Uruguay, Columbia and Brazil – on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” Resolution L27 –at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. 25 States, including South Africa, voted in favour of the resolution, 14 States voted against it, and 7 States abstained from voting. One State was absent during the vote.
In 2011 South Africa, with co-sponsorship from Brazil and Norway, led a Resolution [17/19] on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity which was adopted at the Council in June 2011. Its adoption led to the first official United Nations report (A/HRC/19/41) titled Report of the HC – Study documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). This Resolution was voted for by 23 to 19 States, with three abstentions, indicating their recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a human rights issue and denouncing violence and discrimination on these grounds.
More than three years after Resolution 17/19, the oppression of people of non-conforming sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has worsened all over world. In Africa, intolerance against people who engage in same sex relations, those who are gender non-conforming, intersex people and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-diverse has manifested in the form of retrogressive legislation that seeks to limit the rights and freedoms of many African people. Such legislation has been introduced in Nigeria and Uganda and moves are underway in Gambia and Chad to do the same.
Phillipa Tucker of AIDS Accountability International asserted that states have an obligation to protect human rights for all and cannot allow violence and discrimination against anyone to be justified and excused. Other activists slated the use of religion and tradition to deny all people the right to peace and safety. “We will not accept states imposing their own religious beliefs on others. We insist on the rights of everyone to freedom of belief and religion and at the same time will not sit back and watch states impose the religious beliefs on those who hold opposing beliefs”, according to Ingrid Lynch from Triangle Project.
Kene Esom of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights stated that “The levels of violence and discrimination in Africa are of particular concern to our organisations and African states must fulfil their obligations to stop all forms of violence and this includes violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. In April this year, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights adopted the first ever Resolution focussed on sexual orientation and gender identity within the African human rights system calling on states to end the violence. This Resolution and the Resolution adopted today at the Human Rights Council all contribute to a shift in the culture of impunity when it comes to the human rights of people who are non-conforming in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity”.
The vote by African states included a yes vote from South Africa, four abstentions from Burkina Faso, Congo, Namibia and Sierra Leone; with Algeria, Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon and Kenya all voting against the Resolution. In a not unexpected backlash, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), represented by Pakistan, as well as Bahrain, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Malaysia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, proposed amendments to the Resolution, intended to weaken the provisions of the Resolution and to remove direct reference to sexual orientation and gender identity. Namibia withdrew their co-sponsorship of these troubling proposed amendments before they came to the vote. The amendments were all defeated. “Collectively, the defeat of the proposed amendments, the growing number of abstentions since June 2011 and the explanation of the vote by Botswana are all seen as small steps forward. These shifts are understood to come out of strengthening behind the scenes and more public dialogue emerging from, as an example, the Universal Periodic Review [UPR] of all state as well as strong and effective campaigning by civil society in these countries and in intergovernmental spaces” was the view of Sally Shackleton from Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce [SWEAT]. “We must collectively now invest more heavily and responsibly in national level organising and building civil society capability to step up and sustain the work at the national level, even as we intensify our work within the international human rights system” was the position of Shacketon.
Activists in Africa now look forward to the South African government, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation [DIRCO], hosting the long awaited seminar ‘Ending Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression in Africa’. This Regional Seminar is a critical step in creating space for dialogue on rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the African region. South Africa must fulfil its commitment in this regard.
*Members of the Demand Accountability Campaign:
1. AIDS Accountability International
2. Access Chapter 2
3. African Men for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
4. African Sex Workers Association
5. Coalition of African Lesbians
6. Durban Gay and Lesbian Centre
7. Forum for the Empowerment of Women
8. Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action
9. One in Nine Campaign
10. People Opposing Women Abuse
11. Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce
12. Sonke Gender Justice
13. South African National AIDS Council – Civil Society Forum
14. Triangle Project
For comments please contact:
• Dawn Cavanagh
Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL]
Tel: +27 71 104 1718
• Kene Esom
African Men for Sexual Health & Rights [AMSHeR]
Tel: +2711 242 6801 [Direct] or +2711 482 9201
The UN Human Rights Council ( UNHRC) voted on Friday to pass a resolution supporting LGBT rights around the world, condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. India abstained from voting on the resolution.
The Human Rights Council resolution—led by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay—followed a resolution in 2011 on the same topic led by South Africa and asks the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to gather and publish information on how best to overcome discrimination and violence.
Opponents of the resolution employed procedural tactics to defeat the text, by presenting a total of 7 amendments that would have eliminated all reference to sexual orientation and gender identity from the text, and made it applicable only to countries who proactively declare support for sexual diversity and rights. These amendments were defeated by vote.
The resolution passed by 25 votes in favor, 14 against, and 7 abstentions. India abstained from voting, and so did Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Sierra Leone. Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia and Saudi Arabia were the notable ones among 14 to oppose.
LGBT activists and allies from around the world have advocated strongly to bring about a resolution that would ensure regular attention at the Human Rights Council to violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
An earlier version of the resolution had reflected more of that vision, requiring the OHCHR to report biannually. The regular reporting requirement was stricken from the text during negotiations. On Friday, while some expressed disappointment with the limitations of the resolution, activists from across the world celebrated its symbolic value.
27 September 2014
Advocates fear South Africa might turn against an LGBT rights resolution at the UN that it sponsored three years ago.
South Africa was once the essential nation to advancing LGBTI rights in international diplomacy. Now it has become a potential roadblock.
Back in 2011, South Africa sponsored a resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) that, for the first time, recognized LGBTI rights as human rights. Other nations, especially from Latin America, had been working to advance LGBTI rights in less high-profile ways for several years before, but South Africa’s leadership was critical to taking the effort to the level of a formal resolution. Such a proposal had to have at least one prominent African backer, its supporters believed. Otherwise, it would play into the hands of LGBTI rights opponents in Africa and other parts of the world that had once been colonized who argue that homosexuality was a Western perversion brought by colonial powers.
An updated version of the resolution was tabled Thursday at a Human Rights Council meeting underway in Geneva. It was sponsored by Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay. A vote is expected next week.
Not only is South Africa’s name not on it, but some LGBTI rights supporters tell BuzzFeed News that South Africa’s diplomats are behaving so strangely in negotiations that they worry the country could even turn against the resolution. A South African defection might not only help torpedo the proposal, it would also be a stunning symbolic reversal for a country that set the standard for protecting LGBTI rights. When South Africa adopted its first post-apartheid constitution in 1993, it became the world’s first nation to protect LGBTI rights in its fundamental rights declaration. This came out of a commitment to fighting a broad range of oppression, and it commanded even greater moral authority because it was rooted in the experience of fighting white supremacy.
So some LGBTI rights supporters are looking at South Africa’s reluctance to clearly support the new resolution as a fundamental betrayal.
“We currently have leadership that fails to represent the ethos of what the constitution says and the equality principles they have to uphold,” said Mmapeseka Steve Letsike, a lesbian activist who chairs the South African National AIDS Council’s Civil Society Forum. “We have leadership going out of this country putting their personal beliefs before its own people. We have leaders that fail to protect their own.”
South Africa’s pullback on LGBTI rights internationally comes as homophobia has become an increasingly common political tool across Africa, framed as a form of standing up to the West. Nigeria and Uganda both passed sweeping bills criminalizing LGBTI rights advocacy this winter, the governments of The Gambia and Chad both have pending proposals to stiffen laws against homosexuality, and LGBTI people are being targeted by police from Zimbabwe to Egypt to Senegal.
“Silence in the context of the African Bloc suggests a kind of complicity with the homophobic rhetoric,” said Graeme Reid, a South African who directs Human Rights Watch’s LGBT program. “It speaks of a kind of misplaced solidarity … not aligning with the [LGBTI] people who are the victims of human rights abuse, but with the perpetrators under the rhetoric of supporting our ‘African brothers and sisters.’”
LGBTI rights supporters were also hopeful that some smaller African countries could be persuaded to abstain on the vote — a kind of soft yes — and one or two might even be convinced to back it. This could tip the balance if the vote is close. The 2011 resolution was a nail-biter, passing 23-19 with three abstentions. But that becomes very hard if South Africa can’t counterbalance conservative continental heavyweights that might be lobbying the smaller countries.
“As soon as [South Africa] pulls back, it gives countries like Nigeria and Egypt room to bully and push the smaller countries,” said an LGBTI rights advocate from another southern African country who asked to speak anonymously in order to avoid a backlash in negotiations. “We need South Africa to maintain the same position if not better” than in 2011.
It’s hard to see why this resolution is so important by reading the plain language — all it really does is order a bi-annual study of LGBTI rights by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. But there are only a few places where language referring to LGBTI rights exists in any international agreements. This small resolution is a way of giving U.N. staff authority to work on LGBTI issues and means that it will be a regular focus of discussion in Geneva. And it will be a precedent that can be used to broaden the inclusion of LGBTI rights in other human rights agreements.
Most LGBTI rights supporters came into the negotiations that began last week assuming that South Africa would be supportive even if it no longer wanted its name on the resolution. Regional coalitions are very important in the U.N., and other major powers within the Africa bloc, especially Nigeria and Egypt, have been at the forefront of pushing anti-LGBTI policies. South Africa had taken a lot of heat for the 2011 resolution, and many LGBTI supporters might have understood if officials chose not to take a public role in support this year.
But they’ve withheld their support even in private discussions, say sources familiar with the negotiations. The head of South Africa’s Geneva delegation, Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty, took the unusual step of coming personally to an informal meeting on Wednesday, something usually left to staff. But he said virtually nothing in the meeting, said a source in the room, which showed other nations that South Africa isn’t about to go to bat for the proposal.
This posture follows a move by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party to block a parliamentary motion to condemn anti-LGBTI legislation enacted by Uganda in February (which has since been struck down by the court). It also comes after a vote by South Africa during the June HRC session that stunned LGBTI rights supporters: South Africa joined with conservative nations on a procedural vote to exclude a sentence stating “various forms of the family exist” in an Egyptian-led resolution on the “Protection of the Family.” The resolution passed without this language, and LGBTI rights supporters were concerned that the language could be used as precedent for excluding families from protections under international law if they are not led by a heterosexual couple.
“In the room they’re being a little bit weird,” said a diplomat from a Western country working on the resolution, referring to South Africa’s behavior in the negotiations. But this isn’t entirely new. “They’ve been behaving weird for two or three years on this,” the diplomat said.
The diplomat attributed that more to a change in personnel than an intentional shift in policy: Jerry Matjila, who was South Africa’s ambassador to the Human Rights Council when work began on the 2011 resolution, has since returned to Pretoria to take a senior post in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation. His replacement, Ambassador Minty, lacks his personal commitment to the issue, say sources who have worked with the delegation.
South Africa’s Geneva mission and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation in Pretoria did not respond to requests for comment.
But some South African activists see this dilution of South Africa’s commitment to LGBTI rights internationally as part of a larger trend in the country’s leadership. The late Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the African National Congress embraced LGBTI rights as part of a commitment to fighting a broad range of oppression as they brought South Africa out of apartheid — Matjila is seen as part of that school. But that commitment is not as strong among the younger generation of leaders, most notably President Jacob Zuma, who called same-sex marriage “a disgrace to the nation and to God” around the time the unions won legal recognition in the country.
The shift doesn’t mean South Africa has done a 180 on LGBTI rights. Rather, it’s led to a kind of schizophrenia that is frustrating to LGBTI rights supporters. The lack of support for this resolution is all the more confusing because it comes at a time that there is a new commitment from the government to fighting anti-LGBTI hate crimes inside the country, spurred by a series of horrific rapes and murders of black lesbians.
“Domestically, there is a sense of a real commitment and energy and political will,” said Human Rights Watch’s Graeme Reid. But the international stance is incoherent — the Latin Americans only introduced the resolution at the last minute because South Africa wouldn’t let go of its ownership of the issue until just before the Human Rights Council session began earlier this month.
“There is an air of uncertainty about their position because they have been dragging their feet on this for the last three years, not moving on the resolution and not dropping it,” Reid said.
The resolution’s supporters are optimistic that they will have the votes to pass the resolution if it gets an up or down vote next week, and no one who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story said they thought it was possible that South Africa would vote against the resolution on the final vote. It could abstain on a final vote, a possibility that some of the resolution’s supporters fear is more likely as the negotiations wear on. Or it could vote for a procedural motion that would kill the resolution by denying an up or down vote — exactly what it did to keep the inclusive language out of the Protection of the Family resolution in June.
“It would be unacceptable, incomprehensible, and almost unconscionable for a relatively new democracy like South Africa to support shutting down debate at the UN’s human rights body [to affirm a principle] that’s in its own constitution,” said Marianne Møllman, program director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, in an interview from Geneva.
By J. Lester Feder
19 September 2014
Whether it’s the constant fretting over Miley Cyrus’ influence on school girls or the growing (and troubling) tradition of Purity Balls, it’s clear that society has a fascination with young women’s sexuality — especially when it comes to controlling it. But what are we actually teaching today’s girls about sex?
Fueled by outdated ideals of gender roles and the sense that female sexuality is somehow shameful, there seem to be certain pernicious myths about girls and sex that just won’t die. That sex education in America has gaping holes in its curriculum hasn’t helped much, either; in a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report just 6 out of 10 girls said that their schools’ sex ed program included information on how to say no to sex. This lack of personal agency was reflected in a forthcoming study by sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University as well, which found that many young girls think of sex simply as something that is “done to them.”
Knowledge is power, and we can promote a healthier relationship with sex by encouraging a more open dialogue, teaching girls to feel comfortable with their sexuality and, most importantly, emphasizing that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. But first, we’re going to need to stop perpetuating the following 17 myths about female sexuality.
Therese Shechter’s 2013 documentary How To Lose Your Virginity asks a seemingly simple question: What is a virgin? The answer is actually pretty complicated. The common idea of virginity is focused on a heteronormative, male-centric definition of intercourse — that is, penis-in-vagina penetration. But this definition ignores LGBTQ couples, oral and anal sex, instances where it “didn’t go all the way in,” rape and emotional intimacy.
The cultural obsession with virginity is more about keeping girls pure than anything else, and because the term begins to crumble upon close inspection, it doesn’t have to carry such weight. There’s no clear universal concept of virginity, and people should be able to define meaningful markers of intimacy for themselves.
Given that the entire notion of virginity is dubious at best, it’s not all that surprising that there is actually no medical way to tell if someone is a virgin or not. This includes a broken hymen. Hymens usually become worn down throughout adolescence, and can be torn by everything from jumping on a trampoline, to horseback riding, to simply playing sports. Some women aren’t born with one at all.
Despite the fact that more than half of women don’t bleed the first time they have penetrative sex, blood on the sheets has remained a signifier of losing one’s virginity throughout history. The persistence of this myth surrounding a basically irrelevant anatomical feature has even spawned a market for artificial hymens and reconstructive surgery to “restore” virginity. More disturbingly, girls around the world are often subject to degrading, invasive virginity “tests” to ensure their purity.
Some items on this list focus on the anatomy of those assigned female at birth in an effort to illuminate issues that many girls don’t get to talk about enough, but the purpose is never to be exclusionary. Gender identity is different from biological sex, and trans women are women, period.
Much of the pain young women are taught to expect during their first sexual experience actually comes from increased muscle tension due to nervousness. Blood usually comes from vaginal tissue tearing due to lack of lubrication and, ahem, inexperienced love making — not the hymen breaking. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really; maybe if we stop telling girls to be terrified of the excruciating pain of their first time, things would be a little more comfortable for everyone.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a drink or a diamond necklace: You never “owe” someone sex. Ever.
Nothing like the old “hot dog down a hallway” analogy to scare young women away from safe, consensual promiscuity. The truth is, women differ in size just like men do. The vagina is like a rubber band, and unless you’re regularly getting down with fire hose, you should be fine.
Similarly, having a baby will not “ruin” your vagina. Many women report feeling different down there after childbirth (the post-baby healing process depends on a variety of factors like age, the size of the baby and your commitment to Kegels), but we should really be teaching girls to accept their differences as normal and natural — not as new-found flaws.
Many sexologists have arrived at the same conclusion: Women want sex just as much as men. This isn’t some new trend, either; science is just learning to ask the right questions about female desire.
So why does this myth of the undersexed female persist? It certainly doesn’t help that women often are taught that thinking about sex is boyish or juvenile. Entertainment media also frequently likes to portray women as the more responsible party in a relationship (think: nagging wife, childish husband).
The flip side of this thinking is the idea that “real” men should always have a voracious sexual appetite. But the saying “men think about sex every seven seconds” is just not true. Society’s focus on young men’s libido has created a sort of caricature of male sexuality, one that treats an occasional lack of desire or displays of emotion as not being masculine enough. And that’s not fair to them, either.
Not only do women want sex, but as journalist Daniel Bergner points out in What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, their desire is “not, for the most part, sparked or sustained by emotional intimacy and safety.” This means that, contrary to popular belief, women can most definitely have sex without getting emotionally attached. Studies of sexual desire have actually shown that plenty of ladies want casual sex more than the average guy, and many guys want it less than the average lady.
Much of this desire appears to be socially conditioned, anyway: Gendered differences in desire have been shown to diminish over time with more progressive generations, in countries with more equitable distributions of power and when the perceived stigma of being slut-shamed is controlled for in female subjects.
Moral of the story? It’s a personal preference, and blanket generalizations aren’t helping anyone.
You don’t need to depend on anyone else for your protection. Girls can be prepared, too.
The myth of the frigid wife plays off outdated notions of women who are too uninterested in sex to keep their men satisfied. But instead of lazily blaming infidelity on gender stereotypes, let’s encourage a sense of personal responsibility. Besides, men deserve more than to be treated like animals who can’t control themselves.
Despite ads that try to convince women life can only be fully enjoyed stubble-free, you do not have an obligation to do anything to your body that you don’t want to do. After all, hair removal is still an industry, designed like every other to exploit people’s insecurities to make the most money possible.
It’s working, too: Hair removal is a $2.1 billion industry in the U.S., and over the course of a lifetime the average woman will spend an estimated $10,000 on shaving products. You should do what works for you, whether or not that means buying in.
If it grosses you out, no pressure. (Seriously though, is period blood really that much grosser than regular sexy-time fluids?) But such an act is both physically possible and safe. In fact, sex during your period can improve menstrual cramps, and some women even report having a shorter period overall when they get busy during that time of the month. Be warned, however: It is still possible to get pregnant or spread an STI while on your period, so don’t forgo the condom.
Sex is not supposed to hurt, but for many women, it does. If your muscles aren’t ready, things can get painful. It can take 20 minutes of foreplay for a woman’s vaginal muscles to relax enough to be truly ready for penetrative sex.
For some women, however, foreplay isn’t the issue at all. Conditions like vaginismus and vulvodynia are very real, albeit unfortunately not very well known. The result is that many women suffering from these conditions don’t realize that there is help available. If sex hurts, it’s worth finding a specialist who can talk you through your options.
You can change your mind at any time during sex, and your partner must respect that. It doesn’t matter if blue balls are real or not. Know that your voice must be heard.
The hatred many women feel towards porn is understandable, given that so much of it promotes unrealistic or downright unhealthy attitudes about female sexuality. The problem is, as the Kinsey Institute’s Debby Herbenick points out, “Most mainstream porn is made by men with other men in mind.”
This doesn’t mean that many women don’t enjoy porn, nor that there’s not a market for more female-friendly fare. Researchers have shown that men and women respond comparably to sexually explicit material, and that the increase in women’s brainwave activity when looking at erotic images is just as strong as the increase in men’s.
A disturbing new study concluded that many young women consider sexual harassment and violence to be part of everyday life. Girls shouldn’t have to think of this treatment as expected. Sexual violations of any kind are unacceptable, and the dismissive “boys being boys” defense is both ridiculous and damaging to all genders. Sorry, personal bodily autonomy is not up for debate.
The average American loses his or her virginity, for lack of a better term, at age 17. Plenty of people don’t start having sex until later (or earlier) in life, and that’s okay, too. Some people don’t have much of an interest in sex at all. Being sex positive isn’t about encouraging everyone to have tons of sex all the time; it’s about understanding that sex should be safe, shame-free and above all, based on informed, personal choices.
By Julianne Ross
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia–08 September 2014: The African Union and partners met Monday on the side lines of the emergency meeting of the African Union Executive Council to announce pledges by the African Union Partners Group (AUPG) to the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak (Operation ASEOWA).
The United States Government announced USD10 million and the European Union 5 million euros to be made available immediately to support the African Union Operation to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Republic of China last week announced USD 2 million to ASEOWA.
The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Erastus Mwencha, expressed gratitude to partners for the generous response to support the African Union operation ASEOWA and for all the concerted efforts to respond rapidly to the outbreak.
“The focus should be on containing the epidemic to make sure that it does not spread further, improve the capacity of health facilities, which have been overstretched and monitor contacts and manage the confirmed cases”, the AUC Deputy Chairperson said.
The African Union this week received the assessment report from the mission that it sent to the affected countries which will inform its path breaking response.
“The United States is absolutely committed to working with the international community to increase response efforts in West Africa and help bring this outbreak under control”, said Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety, adding “We commend the AU for sending an assessment team and welcome its findings and we urge the AU to ensure that its mission is working through its operations on the ground and in accord with WHO Ebola response roadmap”.
The ASEOWA operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with the African Humanitarian Action in mobilising medical and public health volunteers across the continent and will compliment ongoing efforts by various humanitarian actors who are already on the ground.
The African Union made a historic decision end of August by declaring Ebola a threat to peace and security in Africa invoking article 6 (f) relating to its mandate with regard to humanitarian action and disaster management at its 450th meeting. The meeting authorised the immediate deployment of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission to tackle the emergency situation caused by the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about USD600 million is needed to put the epidemic under control.
Click here to read: ASEOWA Pledge