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‘Say No To Homosexuality’: The New African Chant?

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By Manisha Chachra:

Zambia: United Nations General Secretary Ban ki Moon recently visited Zambia, addressed the key politicians and met the president Kenneth Kaunda. Besides all this, something that generated piquancy among people was his speech on preservation of gay rights and his urge for a dignified livelihood to homosexuals. As he remarked “people with different cultural backgrounds need dignity and respect”. He insists “bisexuals and homosexuals are people whose rights need to be dignified and respected by mankind.” He also, in his speech, advocated for a stronger constitution which grants reverence to everyone irrespective of their caste, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

The Zambians responded to the poignant speech by posting their comments about it on various social networking sites. Citing “Zambia is a sovereign country”, a Zambian writes that it must be given liberty to make its own decisions on issues such as homosexuality. A citizen’s juxtaposition of criminals and homosexuals becomes quite evident when he wrote that dignity for such people is like endowing respect to criminals, liars and prostitutes. The citizen commented on Moon’s speech by saying that he shouldn’t expect Zambia to not to criminalize homosexuality as it is the only sensible measure against such people.

Opposing his notion of criminalizing homosexuality another citizen writes that Moon’s speech is in favor of bestowing basic rights to homosexuals. The most fundamental right is to grant them access to water, food, and shelter, their liberty to move to church and other places without any inferiority complex shadowing them so that they can live their lives liberally. Supporting the speech, he also praised the General Secretary in his endeavors to recognize the rights of the homosexuals.

Taking a glance over the reaction among people one can easily make out that majority of Zambians condemn homosexuality as a peccadillo committed by someone. But one encounters a completely different picture when we read the following comment posted on twitter “homosexuality makes me a savage then I would rather be a savage and die as one than otherwise”. Certainly this exposes the buoyancy among homosexuals. Referring to Moon’s speech, a citizen argues that the cultural background of Zambia forbids homosexuality and the traditions in Zambia disallow such non-civilized class.

Well! It’s not only in Zambia that efforts to venerate the rights of homosexuals go in vain, a close look suggests that entire Africa suffers from ailment of drawing binaries between homosexuals ands heterosexuals. Currently, Africa has 53 nations out of which 38 have proscribed homosexuality and in 13 nations either it is illegal or no laws have been made pertaining to it.

Quoting an example of Uganda wouldn’t be wrong over here. The anti-gay bill which was re-introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati after 2009, reads that a person practicing homosexuality can get death penalty. The bill happens to be placed at the same time when Adrian Jjuuko, human right activist and a part of Envisioning Global LGBT Human rights project in Canada, was in the town to address the issue of overt human rights violations. He vehemently opposed the bill labeling it as a draconian law and dreadful impinges on human rights. He recommended the law societies and organizations of Canada to talk to the speaker of Uganda about the horrendous law which might receive massive support from both the houses if passed. The dire ramifications of the bill need not to be illuminated over here. Unfortunately, sometimes the preservation of cultural norms becomes more important than lives of certain people. A good example of this would be of nations like Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria where homosexuality can be punished by death.

One can go into giving aplenty of instances that how the rights of homosexuals are suppressed and encroached upon. Nevertheless the situation isn’t completely hopeless. This becomes quite unambiguous when one looks at the efforts of United Nations which recently passed a resolution in recognizing LGBT rights and also put forward a report on LGBT people and hate crime against them.

The attempts of United Nations become quite evident when one looks at the incident of Cameroon. This was where the Amnesty international of human rights pulled up their socks for protecting the rights of LGBT people. The director of Amnesty international Erwin van der Borght said “It is time to end the arrest, detention, prosecution and discrimination against perceived or known to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.” Since March 2011, 13 people in Cameroon have been arrested on the grounds of practicing homosexuality. Under section 347A of Cameroon penal code states “whoever has sexual relations with a person of same sex, shall be punished from six months to five years and with fine ranging from 20,000 Francs CFA to 200,000 Francs CFA.

In the light of the arrest of so many unflawed people, the efforts of Amnesty international are laudable. There are many other nations whose hard work and a will to work for social acceptance of homosexuals is praiseworthy which include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Gambia.

The fundamental right of people is to walk freely without any halt of shame, a right to be a free spirited bird than to be a bound spirit. The rights of homosexuals are not limited to a particular national boundary. Their rights are ubiquitous and therefore they deserve a universal consensus. It will be a fallacy to consider homosexuals as abnormal beings because in accordance to psychology and its principles ‘there is no particular normal model’ whose footsteps one can trace.

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  1. Jean Pierre Katz

    Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has described homophobia as a “crime against humanity” and “every bit as unjust” as apartheid:”We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. … We treat them [gays and lesbians] as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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