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Levis Nderitu
Levis Nderitu

Why global corporations should support LGBTIQ+ inclusion in Africa

By Levis Nderitu of Workplace Pride, also the Africa Strategy Advisor of Hivos’ Free to be Me Project

Human rights are universal and not restricted by geography. Africa, a huge and diverse continent, recognizes this in its Charter on Human and People’s Rights. But social stigma, discrimination, and legislative prohibitions are still throwing huge obstacles in the way of LGBTIQ+ rights. According to ILGA World, 32 countries in Africa criminalize same-sex conduct, which is about 60% of the continent.

The rise of anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation in Africa

Recently, Uganda enacted one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTIQ+ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” This is not the only case of such draconian laws in Africa. Ghana’s Parliament has just passed an equally extreme bill, and in Kenya a similar bill to that of Uganda has been proposed.

In response, coalitions of global companies such as Workplace Pride and Open for Business, and INGOs such as Hivos, have called for companies to take a stand, governments to halt these draconian laws, and civil society organizations to fight relentlessly for inclusive societies where LGBTIQ+ persons can fully contribute to and enjoy the economic growth and development of their countries.

About Workplace Pride

Workplace Pride is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to improving the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ+) people in workplaces worldwide. We strive for a world of inclusive workplaces where LGBTIQ+ people can truly be themselves, are valued, and through their contributions help to lead the way for others.

Workplace Pride is a technical partner of Hivos in the Free to be Me partnership.

What global corporations can do

Global corporations wield considerable power and influence in shaping opinions and policies. They are also often in a better position to work with governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders for economic and social progress than individuals and groups. They can even engage in quiet diplomacy that positively influences governments behind the scenes. Thus, by taking a stand on LGBTIQ+ inclusion, corporations can play a major role in influencing legislative reforms, challenging discriminatory practices, and creating societies where LGBTIQ+ inclusion is valued.

Global corporations that promote human rights by speaking up for LGBTIQ+ inclusion become beacons of progress in places where LGBTIQ+ people are excluded from economic participation by discriminatory hiring practices. They can lead the way with external activism, but also internally, with safe spaces for LGBTIQ+ employees and awareness raising and training programs for the workforce and management.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion is good for business

Corporate support for LGBTIQ+ inclusion is also beneficial from a business perspective. Multinational corporations that clearly live out values of diversity, equity and inclusion are better able to attract and retain the best talent, expand their markets, and demonstrate leadership.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are equally critical for any business that wants to be creative and successful. Global corporations that cultivate an inclusive workplace culture attract top individuals from diverse backgrounds and directly benefit from their varied perspectives, talents, and experiences. And by embracing LGBTIQ+ inclusion, organizations communicate to employees, stakeholders, and job seekers that what they really appreciate is talent in all its forms.

What is the cost of exclusion?

Analysis by Open For Business has estimated the cost of LGBTIQ+ discrimination in a number of countries. For example, in Kenya it costs the economy up to USD 1.3 billion; in the English-speaking Caribbean, the cost is up to USD 4.2 billion. A 2015 World Bank study found that LGBTIQ+ discrimination costs the Indian economy 1.7% of its GDP. India has since decriminalized same-sex activity, citing the economic case against discrimination as one of many reasons.

True leadership calls for courage

While I do understand that advocating for LGBTIQ+ inclusion may be complex and difficult for global corporations that operate in countries with prohibitive or even punitive anti-LGBTIQ+ laws, it is my belief that true leadership calls for courage. Courage to stand up for those who are excluded, to speak up for those who are silenced, and to join hands with civil society organizations in finding the best pathways toward economic and social inclusion for the LGBTIQ+ community in Africa.

Interested in queer rights and the world of work?

Join Hivos and Workplace Pride this Saturday, July 22, for the Pride Walk in Amsterdam. Also take a look at Workplace Pride’s event on August 4 with the Nederlandsche Bank during Amsterdam Pride. Hivos and the Diverse Agency are co-organizing Queer at Work: Empowering Queer Voices in Corporate Culture on August 4.