Realising Rights Programme

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Accelerating change towards LGBT+ equality across East Africa.

This East Africa regional programme (implemented in collaboration with LGBT-Denmark), supported by the Obel Foundation as well as Danida, started in 2014 in Tanzania and was expanded to Uganda in 2016. In the next programme phase the work will be expanded into Rwanda and Kenya. The long-term goal of the initiative is that the societies in East Africa are transformed and are accepting of sexual and gender diversity, and ensure equal rights for LGBT.

The four programme objectives are:

  1. increased levels of self-efficacy, identity and self-acceptance among LGBT unleashing their potential to act in their own interests and those of others to address stigma and discrimination;
  2. strengthening LGBT civil society organisations and allied organisations to promote human rights;
  3. improving data, knowledge and evidence leading to positive narratives and attitudes about LGBT; and
  4. improved implementation of an efficient, effective and sustainable regional programme.

We envision transformed societies across East Africa that are accepting of sexual and gender diversity, and ensure equal rights for LGBT+ people.

Objectives

  • Increased levels of self-efficacy, identity and self-acceptance among LGBT+ unleashing their potential to act in their own interests and those of others to address stigma and discrimination;
  • Strengthening LGBT+ civil society organisations and allied organisations to promote human rights;
  • Improving data, knowledge and evidence leading to positive narratives and attitudes about LGBT+; and
    Improved implementation of an efficient, effective and sustainable regional programme.

Context

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) people in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya are stigmatised, marginalised, and suffer persecution and discrimination. Widely held homophobic and transphobic views within society are reinforced by religious institutions, politicians and the media. This fundamental vulnerability and discrimination against LGBT+ in the wider society, in legislation and policies as well as the failure of the respective governments to advance the rights of LGBT+ informs the overall goal of this programme – that the societies in East Africa are transformed and are accepting of sexual and gender diversity, and ensure equal rights for LGBT+.

LGBT+ people live in societies where alternative sexual orientations or gender identity and expression are actively opposed. And given the prevalent prejudice and hostility, and sometimes violent responses when LGBT+ issues arise, most are hesitant and afraid to acknowledge their sexuality. This hostile environment has a negative impact on LGBT+ individuals and limits advocacy for the promotion of tolerance and rights and tends to perpetuate harmful practices and discrimination. At the societal level, there is a generally held notion that LGBT+ people are not normal, but are sick and should be cured. Allied to lack of tolerance is the public condemnation that translates into the daily lives of LGBT+ people of discrimination and hate crimes. The result is that LGBT+ people live on the margins of society, and are discriminated against.

Due to this, levels of ‘minority stress’ are high. Minority stress has become an important organising concept in the research literature of recent years. It refers to the additional stressors experienced by groups facing stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. These create a hostile and stressful social environment which in turn, contributes to mental health problems in LGBT+ populations (on which much of the research has focused).

The minority stress model suggests that ostracism and stigmatisation do not produce ‘ordinary’ stress, but instead create a chronic, deeply felt state of anxiety. A study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) underscores that ‘the higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, and substance use found among LGB as compared with heterosexual populations (is attributed) to the additive stress resulting from non-conformity with prevailing sexual orientation and gender norms’. In other words, rejection, alienation, absence of social support, bullying and violence create a hostile and stressful social environment that perniciously affects the self-image, educational attainment, economic integration and sense of belonging for the LGBT+ people and communities. This causes a myriad of mental health problems, including depression. In fact, discrimination only has to be perceived in order to have negative impact on the psychological well-being.

The high levels of stigmatisation result in self-stigma and LGBT+ largely have a lack of awareness about their rights (albeit that they are limited). This position of LGBT+ informs the first specific objective of the programme which is increased levels of self-efficacy, identity and self-acceptance among LGBT+ unleashing their potential to act in their own interests and those of others to address stigma and discrimination;

LGBT+ organisations have been slow to form, face challenges in relation to registration and formal functioning while also having capacity deficits. Despite this an LGBT+ movement has begun to emerge and the last decade has seen a representation of LGBT+ issues by CSOs and other groups in all of the three countries.

Potential allies and supporters and particularly CSOs undertaking human rights work generally ignore or provide limited assistance to LGBT+ rights and causes. There is a general silence on the inclusion of sexual rights for LGBT+ is the broader discourse of human and sexual rights. This scenario informs the second specific objective which is to strengthen LGBT+ civil society organisations and allied organisations to promote human rights.

Homophobia and transphobia are deeply entrenched in the general population, with the perception that expression of different sexuality is un-natural and against culture and religion. This goes hand in hand with widespread discrimination in families, communities, and in services, particularly health, justice and education. Religious institutions are vocal in their condemnation of homosexuality and play a significant role in perpetuation of discrimination and persecution. A key factor in gradually shifting perceptions is the visibility and stronger voice of LGBT+. This forward looking strategy informs the third specific objective which is to improve data, knowledge and evidence leading to positive narratives and attitudes about LGBT+.

Effective programming and the implementation of activities to advance a strong platform for advocacy and lobby have faced challenges, however many lessons have also been learned. This ongoing process and the slow but inevitable progress toward equal rights inform the fourth objective which is the improved implementation of an efficient, effective and sustainable regional programme. This objective is cross cutting and underlies all of the objectives of the programme.

Collectively these four objectives contribute toward lasting improvement for the marginalised and vulnerable in the region and strengthen organisational expressions in civil society that promote compliance with globally accepted human rights frameworks and SDGs. They also foster improved access to resources and participation for LGBT+ people.

Countries

Tanzania: There is an ongoing and sustained attack on LGBT+ individuals and organisations in Tanzania and Zanzibar. Widespread violence and blackmail against LGBT+ is a common feature in the society. At the present time, there is a lot of uncertainty in Tanzania on the implications of the ‘crack down’ on LGBT+ organisations and the significant anti-LGBT+ rhetoric by the government (and indeed in the society as a whole). The climate of hostility has been enhanced most recently by statements made by the President which reinforce ideas and thinking that homosexuality is brought in by Westerners and has no place in Tanzanian society. There is also a threat to ‘close down’ or deregister organisations who ‘promote’ homosexuality and those that offer services to LGBT+, particularly HIV services. These threats have led to arrests  and significant harassment of LGBT+ involved in HIV programmes.

Uganda: Within Uganda, LGBT+ people face extreme hostility, increasing persecution and significant numbers of LGBT+ have sought refuge in Kenya and other countries (estimated 1800 in 2015 and 2016 by Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund). State repression creates an insecure situation for LGBT+. Most recently plans for an annual Pride event had to be cancelled due to the severe repression by the army and police who blockaded venues and physically threatened LGBT+ leaders and organisers. Public ‘outing’ of LGBT+ individuals in the media has been a feature within the country and at least one murder associated with this form of exposure.

Rwanda: The political situation in Rwanda is slightly different to other countries in the region as same sex relationships are not criminalised and the government currently does not play an active role in repressing LGBT+. Although it should be noted that some parliamentarians have attempted to introduce legislation to criminalise same sex activities. Social norms are strongly anti-LGBT+ and many people fear rejection by the family, community and by religious institutions. LGBT+ organisations are nascent, small and inexperienced and none get funding. Individuals, organisations and the movement in general are isolated with limited interaction to LGBT+ organisations and activities in the other countries of East Africa.

Kenya: The overall situation for LGBT+ in Kenya is better than in other East African countries, however there are widespread negative attitudes toward LGBT+. Traditional, religious and cultural values play a substantial role in this prejudice and discrimination. Leaders within the three dominate religions in Kenya, Catholic, Anglican and Islamic, condemn homosexuality and transgenderism as signs of decadence, disease, and immorality. Despite this various organisations are working to improve and protect LGBT+ rights and historically there has been more contact and support by the international LGBT+ community to organisations and individuals in Kenya.

Target Groups

In the context of East Africa, the target groups are highly relevant. In each of Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya LGBT+ people live in a society where alternative sexual orientations or genders are actively opposed. And given the prevalent prejudice and hostility, and sometimes violent responses when LGBT+ issues arise, most are hesitant and afraid to acknowledge their sexuality. This hostile environment has a negative impact on LGBT+ individuals and limits advocacy for the promotion of tolerance and rights and tends to perpetuate harmful practices and discrimination. By working at the individual level, the programme aims to address self-stigmatization and create a basis for advocacy by LGBT+ individuals to address discrimination.

The external environment and repression by the government has limited the development of LGBT+ organisations and movement building. The programme will enhance the work with CSOs, building capacity to advocate for rights of LGBT+. Hence the focus will be on capacity development of existing organisations, emerging organisations and allied organisations.

Prejudice exists in all spheres and is perpetuated within the family, faith-based organisations and the wider community.  Addressing and combating homophobia at the social level, within the community and the family is also relevant and creates the basis for fundamental human rights to be addressed.

Violence, in many forms, against LGBT+ people is widespread. Little research and documentation has been undertaken on the scale of violence against LGBT+ diminishing the prospects for adequate responses and rights protections. Improving documentation, data and evidence collection is key for developing strategies and approaches to address violence against LGBT+ and as the basis for advocacy work.

The programme is explicitly an LGBT+ initiative. However, the experience through implementation of the previous projects has demonstrated that different issues affect each of the groups of gay men, lesbian women, bisexual men and women and trans men and trans women. In the implementation, design and development of the regional programme, LGBT Denmark has been mindful of these differences and while work with all groups is taken forward, in some instances specific activities are geared toward a particular group.

In the process of the development of this proposal, key leaders of partner organisations were interviewed to ensure buy-in and support for the initiative. This consultation was part of a broader working together and collaborative mid-term review (of the Tanzania project) which highlighted a number of positive aspects, one of which was the continued and productive working relationships. It is safe to say that the project is valued by local partners, with strong engagement in all aspects – planning, implementation and monitoring.


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