Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Working for LGBT rights in Zimbabwe

Source: zimbaradio

By Ricardo Sousa  

Interview with Chesterfield Samba, director of the Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz).

Q. The way I understood your profile is that your father is from Zambia and your mother is from Malawi. Why do you view yourself as a Shona man taking in consideration that your parents are not Shona people?

A: That profile fails to highlight that my parents are of Zambian and Malawian descent. I was born in Zimbabwe and grew up here so naturally I am shona.

Q. Now that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has joined President Robert Mugabe in dismissing calls to enshrine gay rights in the new constitution do you have anything in place to counter the calls or a way forward?

A: The two principals have spoken against same sex marriage and we have made it clear that we are advocating for non discrimination in the bill of rights and that sexual orientation should be explicitly mentioned. It is also important to note that we all have a sexual orientation; we are supporting a Constitution that protects Zimbabweans against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, just as it prevents discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. Our submission to COPAC centres on this principle.

Q. I understand that laws passed in 2006 in Zimbabwe make any actions perceived as homosexual a criminal offence. May I know how your organisation has managed to operate in defiance of those laws and what kind of problems are you experiencing?

A: We are not operating in defiance of any laws, GALZ educates its community about the Law and how it affects them. It is not illegal to be gay in Zimbabwe but certain sexual acts are, such as sodomy. Zimbabwean Law is both very confused and extremely unfair and sexist when it comes to Homosexuality. Sodomy does not apply to anal sex between men and women, only to two men and until January 2006, there was no distinction under the law between consensual sodomy and male rape.

With Consensual sodomy, both parties are considered to have committed a crime. In a sexist society such as that prevailing in Zimbabwe, claiming that you have been "used as a woman" also acts as a defence, as it did in the case of The State vs. Dube, where the death penalty for Dube was commuted to ten years imprisonment because Dube claimed in Court that he murdered his victim because the latter had accused him of being Canaan Banana's wife. Another sexist inconsistency is in Heterosexual rape, the issue of consent is an essential element of the offence and this must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In sodomy, all that needs to be proved is penetration of the anus, as consent is no defence. It is then often assumed that it was non consensual (as it was during the Banana trial) without the issue of consent being examined in any detail. One is then effectively found guilty of homosexual rape (even though the offence in not named as such in Zimbabwean law).

Blackmail/extortion is a particular problem for homosexuals in Zimbabwe where govt leaders have whipped up a hysterical climate of homophobia and have even encouraged people to make citizen arrests of gays should they see them in the streets

Q. You recently told the BBC News website that you were seeking clarification of PM Tsvangirai's comments. Have you managed to do that yet?

A: We have written to the PM seeking clarification of his statements at the Women's Day celebrations and as yet we have had no response from his office. We are planning to engage with the PM's office and his party so that they can get an understanding of who the LGBT people are?

Q. In your community have you had any problems of people claiming to be what they are not? Such as pretending to be gay or lesbian .If so how do you handle such incidences and do you have a way of making sure that someone is gay or lesbian?

A: We do not discriminate on who should be a member of GALZ; our policy membership is open to all persons over the age of 18 years regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. There is no way you can tell whether one is gay or lesbian unless the individual discloses their sexual orientation. I wouldn't think that people can pretend to be gay in Zimbabwe when the level of intolerance/homophobia is so high.

Q. Basing on the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe how much freedom do your members enjoy in the sense of association with the other citizens?

A: Freedom of association is a fundamental right of every citizen. As gays/ lesbians we believe that this right is still to be enjoyed by everyone. We are still battling with restrictive laws such as POSA and AIPPA. Amendments to POSA alone are inadequate in reforming the country's legislative environment given that other repressive legal instruments such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act contain provisions that would still impinge on Zimbabweans' basic freedoms These laws make it difficult for everyone to enjoy this right including gays and lesbians. individual rights to freedom of assembly and association as enshrined in the constitution as well as other regional and International instruments that Zimbabwe is party to such as the African Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights whilst provides that states such as Zimbabwe should ensure that no restrictions are placed on the exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly and association unless prescribed by law. Minorities such as Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Intersex people as well as other sexual minorities have had this fundamental right of freedom of Assembly and Association trampled on the basis of their sexual orientation alone. The Police need to observe and uphold these constitutional provisions on the basis of non-discrimination.

Q. According to 2007 media reports GALZ had a membership of about 500 and over 200 of them are on ARV support therapy provided free of charge by the association. Is this correct? If so what could be the reasons to such a high prevalence of infection?

A: These Media Reports were inaccurate and sensationalist, whilst our membership each year is around 500, Our Positive Image programme has just over twenty people. These are members that would have disclosed their HIV status to GALZ and request for our support; we are unable to confirm HIV prevalence on all gay and lesbian people in Zimbabwe as well as men who have sex with men (MSM's). GALZ is awaiting approval of a prevalence study that is supposed to be undertaken, we hope at the end of this study we will be able to get an idea of how many gay and lesbian or MSM/WSW people are infected. Our scheme came about as a result of stigma and discrimination practised in some of the health institutions that our members visit. Health providers such as nurses and doctors disregard ethics when dealing with gay and lesbian patients as a result most of our members avoid using public institutions to access treatment. The Zimbabwe National Aids Strategic Planning document states, "While homosexuality remains illegal in Zimbabwe, there can be no doubt that there are men who have sex with other men. They are at risk of HIV infection and passing on the virus to their partners, including female partners. Furthermore, international experience has shown that ignoring this group or adopting punitive approaches will only serve to drive MSM underground and reduce opportunities to dialogue with this group. An assessment of MSM patterns, meeting points and behaviours will therefore be carried out, and adequate public health interventions developed based on the findings" despite this recommendation, the Government is still to come up with a plan to address MSM health needs.

Q. I understand one of GALZ'S objectives is to promote an awareness of issues which affect gay and lesbian communities. How are you dealing with cases of HIV/AIDS?

A: GALZ works on a number of prevention programmes for its membership such as providing information about safe sex practices, workshops and access to treatment. GALZ is one of the very first organisations to respond to HIV in the late eighties (1990) that is one of the reasons it was formed, to provide this information to its members. GALZ has counsellors that provide pre and post test counselling on HIV, sexuality and other STI's. GALZ also works with other organisations in providing them with information on LGBT issues, we are aware that some of our members might be married or in relations with both men and women hence the need for information to adequately address these challenges. We also have a list of Gay friendly doctors that we maintain for use by our membership and we are constantly engaging with health practitioners to help them understand gay and lesbian issues.

Q. Are there any human rights organizations national and international that are in solidarity with your cause and how are they helping you to further your cause?

A: GALZ is a member of a number of Human rights organisations in Zimbabwe including the Human Rights NGO Forum as well as International Human rights organisations too. We work together in areas around sexuality and Human rights in general. We also provide support to other LGBT organisation in the region.

Q. How are you working towards the adoption of a Charter of Gay and Lesbian Rights in the constitution?

A: We have prepared a submission to COPAC that is advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the bill of rights and this also has the support of a number of organisations as highlighted above e.g., the Women's charter, a product of the Women's Coalition, now includes sexual orientation as a basis for non discrimination

Q. As an organization what strategies and resolutions do you have in place for reproduction and family planning issues?

A: GALZ gathers information and supports members that might be seeking information on reproductive Health.

Q. As it is what measures do you have in place to maintain existence of the organization?

A: GALZ continues to monitor its operational environment and reviews its strategic plan when the need arises

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