Working on inclusion in five African cities

April 23, 2019

Hivos leads new LGBT+ consortium in Africa

In more than 32 countries in Africa, same sex conduct is punishable by law, and in some countries such as Nigeria, family members and friends can sometimes face criminal charges if they are found guilty of “aiding or abetting” same-sex relationships. These laws foster a culture of discrimination and violations of fundamental human rights. As a result, African LGBT+ persons continue to suffer societal intolerance, discrimination, and in some cases, violence. State sponsored intolerance in the form of criminal sanctions fuels the already existing societal intolerance and discrimination.

In an effort to change this, Hivos is the leading partner in a consortium, which brings together African LGBT+ networks, research institutes, and international NGOs to promote LGBT+ equality and inclusion on the continent. With funding from UK Aid Connect, the program is called Strong in Diversity – Bold on Inclusion (SiDBoI). It will be implemented in five major cities: Maputo, Lagos, Nairobi, Lusaka and Dakar, which have been selected to represent the diverse cultures, ethnicities, and socio-political complexities of Africa. Lawyer and LGBT+ advocate, Monica Tabengwa is the program manager. She shares her vision for the program and why it means so much to her.

Much progress has been made in different parts of Africa. Yet many members of the LGBT+ community continue to be excluded and their rights violated because of societal perception about who they are and who they love.

Growing up in Botswana, Monica saw how the dreams of many young people were crushed because of stigmatization and discrimination within their communities based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. “I watched the lives of many young people being destroyed and their dreams being shattered because of a lack of access to basic health services, or not being able to finish their education because of bullying. This prevented them from realizing their full potential, excluded them from being part of the community, from having a career or even building a family of their own choice.” This social exclusion and its negative consequences motivated Monica to strive for a better quality of life for LGBT+ persons by helping them to get equal access to basic citizens’ rights.

Legal recognition in Botswana

For many years Monica worked with the Botswana organization, LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana), as their mentor and legal representative. Her dream was to one day see the decriminalization of same-sex conduct, and eventually see LGBT+ being recognized and included equally in all aspects of life. With much effort and support, LEGABIBO won the right to legally register as an association in 2015, a first step towards her dream of strengthening the LGBT+ society in her homeland. She is proud that now LEGABIBO is leading the landmark case to decriminalize same-sex conduct in Botswana. The case has already been heard and a decision will be announced in June. “Working towards finding a solution that takes away this law that criminalizes sexual conduct for people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression – that is my dream for Botswana!”


Strong in Diversity
Monica Tabengwa, Hivos program manager Strong in Diversity – Bold on Inclusion

Monica’s work has extended to advocating for LGBT+ equality and inclusion at regional and international levels too. So it was a logical choice for her to partner with Hivos to try to use the SiDBoI program to achieve similar success for LGBT+ communities in other African countries. Although she admits that the success in Botswana will not be easy to replicate, she is convinced that the solution lies in giving the issues a human face and making societies aware of the deep and long-lasting impact their intolerance has on LGBT+ people. Through SiDBoI, Hivos will work with local communities, religious leaders, the media, and others to try to dismantle harmful stereotypes by documenting positive narratives and initiating dialogue. “People are often ignorant of how their intolerance impacts the lives of the people they stigmatize. In addition to being the victims of intolerance and stigmatization, LGBT+ persons become vulnerable to  disease, addictions, violence, and mental health issues.”

Five cities – multiple challenges

The SiDBoI program will be implemented in five cities that have been selected to represent the diversity and complex challenges of the African continent. “In the west, you have French speaking Dakar and English-speaking Lagos, Nairobi in the central and eastern region, Lusaka in the southern region, and Portuguese-speaking Maputo representing the countries in the south east.” The biggest challenge, says Monica will be working with the variety of cultures, ethnicities, and socio-political contexts of each city.

Just because you don’t know a gay person does not mean they don’t exist. These people live among us. They go to work, they have families, they pay their taxes and face challenges like everyone else. You don’t need to add to their burden. Live and let live.

She is also aware that the degree of stigmatization and discrimination differs for each city. Factors such as religious and cultural conservatism, oppressive legal and political frameworks often combine to make the environment much more difficult and pervasive for LGBT+ persons. Despite the diverse challenges, Monica is convinced that the program has the potential to change the status quo. She speaks of the need to open up the dialogue, and encourage communities to recognize the negative and long-term consequences of stigmatization and intolerance. “People need to realize that if someone drops out of school because of bullying, they cannot get a good job and will remain in poverty. This may lead to mental and health issues, which in the long-run, have a negative impact on the entire community.” The cost of denial and exclusion is therefore staggering, and is carried by those who are forced to live in the margins of society, including LGBT+ persons.

We must stand up and say, “Bullying is not allowed”

“We need to open up these spaces. We need to ensure that when we say equality, we are talking about people being able to access health support; young people being able to stay in school because they are protected by laws that make it clear that discrimination is not allowed. That bullying is not allowed, and people are able to get jobs and stay in those jobs, and not denied opportunities because of the way they identify or express themselves.”

Together with its consortium partners, Hivos will use SiDBoI to strengthen local networks and leverage existing capacity and knowledge to create more sustainable programs. The funding received from UK Aid Connect will also provide access to much needed technical expertise and improve the skills necessary for local organizations to do their work well and effectively. “With experience, expertise and money – you can build something that is targeted and focused.”

SiDBoI partners

The consortium brings together African networks with international networks to ensure that the issues are tackled from all perspectives, with the full inclusion of the LGBT+ community. It will also build on some of the successes already achieved in the region. In this regard, Monica refers to the KP REACH advocacy program, which worked to reduce the impact of HIV among key populations through improved access to prevention, testing and treatment services. She attributes the success of this program to the fact that communities were given adequate resources and control that allowed them to collect their own data, create knowledge, and build their own networks. This enabled them to sustain the program and produce the desired results. “Being in charge of telling your own story and using it to help others to tell theirs,” she says, “is very empowering.”

The SiDBoI program was launched in January 2019 and is in the co-creation phase. Initial results will be posted at the end of the year. Read the press release to find out more about the program and its partners.