Friday, 30 April 2010

Zimbabwe: gays and lesbians struggle for basic human rights

Source: SW Radio Africa Transcript

By Violet Gonda

Violet speaks to the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe [GALZ] Programmes Manager for Gender, Fadzai Muparutsa (Pictured). The discussion focuses on the recent reports of violence against the gay community and their struggle for basic human rights. Fadzai also talks about how gay victims of violence are often ridiculed by police officers after reporting an assault; and how even hospital staff mock them when seeking treatment. The discussion also looks at how minority issues are not taken seriously by both the ZANU PF and MDC leaderships.

VIOLET GONDA: An annual report by the US State Department on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe has revealed that homosexual men and women have been subjected to an ordeal known as, ‘corrective rape’. It has been documented in the report that gay men and lesbians are being raped by those who claim to be trying to convert their sexual orientation. The gay community have long been under siege in Zimbabwe and hate speech against this group is common. Robert Mugabe says homosexuality is ‘abhorrent’ and famously described homosexuals as “worse than dogs and pigs”. On the Hot Seat programme is the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe or GALZ, Programmes Manager for Gender, Fadzai Muparutsa. She joins us from Harare to discuss the reports of the new violence against the gay community and the history of their struggle for basic human rights in Zimbabwe . Welcome on the programme Fadzai.

FADZAI MUPARUTSA: Thank you very much Violet.

GONDA: Now let’s start with the issue of ‘corrective rape’ – what exactly is this?

MUPARUTSA: Well people have a certain belief that by, particularly men towards women and particularly women who present themselves as masculine, if they have sex with a man then they will appreciate male sex and want to be in heterosexual relationships. So the idea behind it is that you rape someone and you correct their sexual feelings towards people of the same sex. It’s said to be ‘corrective rape’ but what we have been talking about of late is that putting it in that way will mean that people will think it is something that is positive and that it is corrective but what it is in fact is something that is very negative because it is rape and putting a term like ‘corrective’ in front of it or ‘curative’ before the word rape is in some way desensitising the kind of violations, or the kind of violence that lesbians or gay men experience.

GONDA: And has GALZ, has your Association actually received such reports?

MUPARUTSA: Yes we have. We have received, there aren’t that many, we can’t say it is on the increase but what’s happened of late is that people are talking a lot more about it and so people will come to the office and report cases that they have experienced and particularly at the hands of either their families, because this kind of rape usually happens in private spaces, in the homes or in close knit societies that our members stay in.

GONDA: Now isn’t that taboo, to actually sleep with a member of the same family?

MUPARUTSA: Well it is, it’s a very, it’s a very disturbing act that happens so let’s say my family members feel that I need to be corrected – they will get somebody to force themselves onto me in the privacy of our home and that’s what happens a lot of the time. That’s what I’m saying; it’s something that happens in the private space.

GONDA: You know this report has raised a lot of scepticism, now does it really happen to both men and women of homosexual tendencies – are women really raping men in Zimbabwe?

MUPARUTSA: Yes we have heard that women are raping men; we’re not sure what the motive behind that is because there are a couple of articles that have come out in the press about this. So I can’t really go into detail about that particular situation but what I can talk about is the rape that happens towards women who have sex with women, commonly known as lesbian and bi-sexual women. If we look at patriarchy for example, we’re looking at the position of women and how their roles are so embedded or strictly regulated and institutionalised, so a woman is supposed to be a mother, she’s supposed to embody guardianship and all of that parenthood, child bearing, feminised - and what you have now, because this is how we look at homosexuality from the African context, or let me talk about it from the Zimbabwean context, the stereotyped lesbian who is a masculine, so-called butch woman who dresses in a male way, presents in a male way, who walks in a male way but is a woman. And so when this rape takes place men feel that these women are moving away from what their role should be by becoming a man or wanting to become a man and that they do not want to sleep with men - which is a problem because women are created for men, right? That’s how patriarchy is sort of explained, women are created for men, so when a woman is now not sleeping with a man how best can he then get her back into his life or into the role that she's supposed to be, is by forcing her into sex.

So that's the kind of thinking that’s behind ‘curative rape’ and the kind of thinking that’s behind correcting the situation that’s there. If it’s abnormal for people to be lesbian, or for men to be gay, how best can we control that because there’s the part where you can talk about prayer or you can talk about exorcism or you can talk about the traditional healing, and then there’s the part where people feel they can take it into their own hands and rape, go out and rape women to make them appreciate men. And quite frankly I don’t understand how that makes sense, because if you rape somebody, I’m not sure how you expect them to appreciate any kind of relationship with a man when the first relationship that they have encountered is a violent one.

GONDA: I understand that the report that was compiled or released by the US State Department through the US Embassy in Harare went further to say that lesbian women are raped by men to make them enjoy heterosexual acts while gay men are raped by women, sometimes under supervision of villagers and relatives to remove their sexual orientation tendencies. Have you been receiving reports like that?

MUPARUTSA: I’m sure that’s something that’s come out of the press and I’m sure that if we were to go into it we would probably come up with cases like that because they have been raped and they’re isolated, that’s the problem. When we talk about men getting raped, they’re very isolated. But what I think would be more precise would be that gay men who are feminised are raped by other men - gay men who present themselves in a very feminine way - so they are raped because that femininity is something that the men don’t expect a man to have because they should be masculine, strong and have the expectations of what a man should be so they rape them to try and strengthen them more, man them up and it’s almost in an insulting way, the rape is almost a form of spitting on somebody for example.

GONDA: I was actually going to ask you that can it be ‘controlled’ through this way; this so-called ‘corrective rape’ or it actually makes a person even more gay, it hardens them?

MUPARUTSA: No I’m not sure about making them more gay but what I can definitely think about is that if the thinking behind the rape is to cure somebody, the first thing you think about is what is rape in its nature. Rape is violent, rape is forceful and when we’re talking about converting somebody, you want to show a side that is more compassionate, that has more love in it and that’s why I was saying it doesn’t make sense for somebody to rape a woman and expect her to appreciate heterosexual relationships because that rape will only inform that person that heterosexuality means violence and means rape. So I don’t think that it’s a control measure in any way, that’s why I said it’s actually a problem to put corrective or curative before rape because there’s nothing curative about it, it is rape.

GONDA: And you said it’s not known how many people have been affected or how widespread this is. Why is that though? Is it because people are still scared to speak publicly about these attacks because of the stigma?

MUPARUTSA: Most definitely. It is not the most easiest thing to talk about. For example we can talk about the remarks that have been made by the Prime Minister or the remarks that have been made by President Mugabe and that means you are already creating an environment of intolerance, an environment of discrimination and so for someone to talk about the rape that they have experienced – firstly you are talking about being raped and rape in itself is something that has silenced quite a lot of women and a lot of men for that matter and then you get into the issue of heterosexuality and homosexuality where homosexuality is called abhorrent in Zimbabwe so talking about those two things, coming out about them or even reporting them is not the easiest of things to do in an environment that is not permitting.

GONDA: So why haven’t you as GALZ released a report about this?

MUPARUTSA: You see. what we do as an organisation is that we do document information that comes to us but what happens a lot of the time is that our information and our documentation goes through to the member organisations, the member human rights organisations that we work with, for example the Human Rights Forum and so that’s as far as our reports go. But we haven’t really gotten into how we can use the information that we get from the reports that are made by people who carry out for example advocacy strategies which are something that would be very important to do considering that these cases do take place and if we as an organisation are unable to take that information out then that means that a lot more people will be silent on what they experience.

GONDA: And of course you mentioned the principals in the inclusive government, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, and we all know how Mugabe feels about the issue of homosexuality but this was the first time that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai publicly condemned the practice of homosexuality. Why do you think the Prime Minister has chosen to agree with the President on this particular issue?

MUPARUTSA: I unfortunately cannot speculate on the reasons why. What I know as an organisation and what we are doing as an organisation is that we are seeking clarity from the PM as to that position and we’ve written a letter to the PM’s Office and we await a response from him to just clarify his position. But last week there was a report that was sent out, a newsletter that was sent out by MDC where his spokesperson, Mr Maridadi was saying that the statements made by the PM were his personal opinion and not the position of MDC . And what I would think about in a statement like that is, you would think about a lot of things – MDC is a movement that stands for democracy and human rights, and as the leader of the MDC inasmuch we believe that everyone has their right to opinion but as a leader of any political movement, if you take a position or if you say what your position is or what you feel about a certain topic it is likely to be construed to be part of your Party’s politics as well. And it influences how people think about a certain topic and what this statement has done, we hope it hasn’t, has unified ZANU PF and MDC on how they respond to human rights issues and how minority issues aren’t being taken very seriously in Zimbabwe .

GONDA: What about the fact that the President himself said that he would not allow any gay rights to find their way into the new constitution. What are your thoughts on this?

MUPARUTSA: Well those are individual positions, I think when it comes to the constitution as has been said about the constitution, it is a people-driven process, and we will wait to see what the people of Zimbabwe decide. If at that stage they decide that gay rights will not be included in the constitution then that means at GALZ we have a lot more work to do. But we still feel that there are things that we need to do and we will carry on with all our advocacy strategies.

GONDA: What sort of things do you think you need to do because this remains a sensitive issue, not only in Zimbabwe but in many parts of Africa ?

MUPARUTSA: Well definitely there is a lot of awareness raising that needs to be done because most people believe that homosexuality is a sin and I can’t really go into that because the religious debate is one that is very difficult for us, the religious debate, there’s the cultural and traditional debate and there’s the fact that people think that homosexuality is a western import. And as far as I know and as far as I have read, there is information that dates back into pre-colonial Africa where cases of homosexuality have been reported and it was not anything that was abhorrent at that time, it was something that then became illegal after colonialists settled into Africa . So it’s difficult for us to try and understand why it is then thought of as a western import when it quite honestly isn’t. It’s a human occurrence, it’s natural although it’s thought of as being unnatural.
And then there’s the debate that goes into homosexuality and paedophilia and bestiality and by allowing homosexuality it means that we can then allow murderers and whoever to be free in our State. That is something that is very different. I think people don’t understand that homosexual acts are acts that happen between two people, two consenting adults. It’s not between a minor and an older person where there are power dynamics that are at play. This is an agreement between two people who are old enough to agree, who are over the age of 18, who have consented to be in a relationship with each other, no abuse of power or authority or anything like that and that’s what people seem to think. And I guess it’s the whole uninformed or ill-informed position that people speak from. We do have a lot of work in terms of raising the awareness of people that we live in the societies that we live in.

GONDA: Have you had any problems as an association working in Zimbabwe because of the whole stigma that surrounds the issue of homosexuality?

MUPARUTSA: Well obviously it’s difficult working on such a basis because once you stand up and introduce yourself as someone who’s coming from Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe they will automatically, people will already start withdrawing from you. But in as far as our work around human rights in Zimbabwe has been we have had quite a positive response from our partner organisations and I think the only challenges that come into the work that we do is the statements that are made by people who are in positions of leadership. Those homophobic statements by State leaders are what I think will be a challenge to us.

GONDA: Right and some of the responses that we’ve been getting from people include this submission from one of our listeners saying that people are entitled to their own opinion about this issue but the fact that homosexuals are being abused and victimised makes these people, the people who are doing this, guilty. Now what role is the police playing here if at all?

MUPARUTSA: When we talk about rights for gay people I think this is one of the things that we try and talk about as often as we possibly can – the issue of law enforcement agents and why it is that gay people are asking for rights anyway and what rights is it that gay people asking for? We are not asking for anything that’s special because we are born with our rights as human beings but what happens is that, when you come out as being gay then you lose a lot of those rights by virtue of your sexual orientation.And one of the things that happens is that if you experience any kind of violence, violations or any kind of abuse, particularly relating to a sexual orientation, if you go and report that matter to the police, they either don’t take any action, they ridicule you, you are paraded in front of anyone or everyone who is at that police station. You are bribed often times or you are arrested – so what kind of justice am I getting as a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual person in Zimbabwe after I have experienced violence? And those are the things that we are talking about – the police sometimes will act, not that often. I’m told out of a hundred cases, we can maybe highlight two that have been acted upon, other than that they really don’t serve the citizen as a full category, there are selective citizens who will be assisted and other citizens won’t be assisted and gay, lesbian people are amongst those people who aren’t assisted by law enforcement agents in any kind of way.

GONDA: And you talked about the sort of rights that you would want to see as a Zimbabwean but for the benefit of those people who are still, for lack of a better word, ignorant about the issues of minority rights, what are you asking for exactly in terms of rights?

MUPARUTSA: OK – so if you look at any minority group that is stigmatised or discriminated against in any society, they are unable to access a lot of things, or if they do access those things they experience stigma or some kind of discrimination in how those services are delivered to them. So for example we look at, let’s say, the right to health. The right to health is something that is very big in its definition – as human beings we all have the right to the highest attainable health. The highest attainable health to me means that I can go to my clinic and say I would like to get treatment for an STI that I have and my partner who is a female would also like to get treatment for that same STI , but that doesn’t happen in Zimbabwe . I can’t go into a clinic and do that there because like I said, exactly the same situation like the law enforcement agents – you will get ridiculed and that means that I am unable now to go to a practitioner and ask for assistance. So what does that mean about my right? I cannot access it, that is one thing.

If you look at the right to housing for example, if someone finds out that I’m gay and I’m lodging at their house, the chances of me getting kicked out without the due procedures being taken into consideration are very high. I can’t go and challenge those because in any kind of court or any kind of civil court, people will actually look at my sexual orientation before they look at the case that’s before them and then it gets mishandled.

The right to education – my parents will kick me out, will stop paying my school fees only because I’m gay or lesbian or my sexual orientation is different from their one, of someone who is heterosexual so my education becomes a problem. I don’t have an education. I could go one, the list is long, I could highlight all of them in exactly that way and that’s why we’re saying that we want gay and lesbian rights to be considered and it’s actually not, we’re not calling for gay rights – what it is that we’re calling for at GALZ is non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I do not want to be discriminated against by law enforcement agents, by health practitioners, by educational institutions, by the judiciary system based on my sexual orientation.

GONDA: Right and of course homosexuality is not unlawful in Zimbabwe but sodomy is, so how are they policing this and indeed sodomy between heterosexuals?

MUPARUTSA: Exactly – you see now how that becomes a challenge. You cannot police what happens in someone’s bedroom, in the privacy of their home or the privacy of whatever space they’re in because it’s not always the bedroom - so how can you? How can you enforce something like that? It then becomes a challenge when you have an organisation like GALZ that is actively advocating for sexual orientations to be included in the constitution and an organisation like GALZ that specifically looks at gay and lesbian issues in relation to socio, economical and political climates in situations that we live in.

GONDA: Have you had members arrested under the sodomy laws?

MUPARUTSA: Yes there have been a couple of arrests but again you have to prove that there have been those cases, that there has been sex per anus and how do you do that? Like what kind of test do you do to prove that someone has anal sex? You can’t even conduct something like that because, if you look at WHO, the World Health Organisation’s protocols around health and maybe inhuman and inhuman treatment, that’s inhuman treatment so it’s very difficult for someone to then do an anal exam on you without your consent only for them to prove that you have had sex per anus. So it’s quite difficult to go into something like that, it’s legislation that is there but it’s not the easiest of legislation to enforce.

GONDA: What personal experiences can you share in terms of how you’ve had to deal with who you are in a country and in a society that views homosexuality as abhorrent?

MUPARUTSA: Well, that’s a difficult one, you know having to go through personal challenges is what we experience on a daily basis. Our coming out as gay people is not something that happens on one day where you will tell somebody that you are gay - it’s almost on a daily basis where you are saying well this is my situation, this is my sexual orientation, I am gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. And once you say that, the chance of losing family and friends is very high and I guess that’s the experience that everyone has to go through once they have said what their sexual orientation is and so that has been my experience as well.

I understand how people feel about homosexuality and I’ll say I understand because it’s difficult to think about something that you’re not used to, something that is out of the norm for you but I think as a nation and as a people, a race of humans, we need to talk about issues of tolerance, issues of dignity and issues of human rights because if you violate my rights, this is me and this is me today, tomorrow someone else will violate your rights and it’s a circle that continues to manifest itself in our societies where we take from a group of people without realising that we’re taking from ourselves and from each other. And if you continue taking the way that we are taking, taking away people’s liberties, people’s freedoms and people’s rights, we will wake up tomorrow and find all of us with nothing and I think it’s something that we need to think about.

It’s not that we want people to accept who and what we are but to try and think about tolerance and what tolerance means and what dignity means and what human value means because people throw around things like morality and values and things like that without really starting to think about what it really, really, really means. And particularly people who talk about it from an African context. I am from Africa , I know an African context and our African context speaks about loving each other as a nation of people, respecting each other and yet we throw around homosexuality as being immoral, like people who are gay not deserving of rights. I don’t understand where that kind of talk comes from but it’s the kind of language that we seem to have acquired over the years, the language of hate and we need to find a way of dealing with that kind of hate that we have because it will manifest itself in our societies.

GONDA: And before we go Fadzai, if we go back to the issue of ‘corrective rape’, is this a new thing, have you heard anything about this happening in other countries, especially in Africa ?

MUPARUTSA: Oh yes, South Africa being like one of the worst countries. There was a report, a documentary that was done by Third Degree and it was released on the satellite channel here in Zimbabwe, I think about a month or two months ago and it was very touching, very humbling, very frightening to see the attitudes that are there within our societies regarding ‘corrective rape’ and how people think that it’s something that is normal and should be done. So yes, there are cases of ‘corrective rape’ that have happened in other countries outside of Zimbabwe . I’m sure in every country there are cases of ‘corrective rape’ but like Zimbabwe , very few are not documented properly.

GONDA: Right, and a final word Fadzai.

MUPARUTSA: Well I know a lot of people use religion as their argument for why homosexuality should not be there and it’s quite difficult to talk about religion and homosexuality in that way and just isolate it like that because we are all created in the image of the Maker, we are all created in God’s image. And who are we as individuals, as human beings to judge who is created in God’s image and who isn’t? It’s not for us, it’s not our place to do that. You will find in some cases people who don’t understand the Muslim culture because Zimbabwe is predominately Christian so are we going to go out and say we don’t want Muslims in Zimbabwe because we are a Christian state, now everyone should conform to Christianity? That’s exactly what it is that we are calling for and for goodness sake – to use the Bible – the Bible was used during the slave trade – the Bible was used during apartheid – the Bible was used during the Nazi time – the Bible was used during the Crusades and really that was all slaughter of people. So what is it we are talking about? From what I know the Bible talks about love. We are all created by one Maker, in the image of that Maker and who are you to say that I am not created in my Maker’s image? Have you now taken over God’s position?

GONDA: OK, thank you very much Fadzai Muparutsa for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.

MUPARUTSA: You are most welcome Violet, thank you.

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