To mark the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May, In Touch gives the floor to one of GRET’s partners in bolstering associations striving to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Toussaint Musangwa, who follows key populations for Health Development Initiative (HDI), reviews the situation for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex) populations in Rwanda and how this affects development.
What is the state of LBGTI rights in Rwanda?
Homosexuality is not a criminal offense in Rwanda. However, these people continue to come up against difficulties when exercising their rights. In the collective psyche, homosexuality is a western import and therefore cannot exist in Africa. That affects their living conditions, since they are ignored by society at large. It is hard for them to accept themselves as they are, to work out a project for their lives and win their independence. They are thus shut out of development. In addition to the well-known issue of HIV-AIDS, the most visible discriminations are to be found in the healthcare process and access to healthcare structures.
How does civil society see this issue?
Civil society has reacted weakly to the problem. Some organisations are working to promote rights in particular to access healthcare, but not specifically for the LGBTI population. In reality, these organisations have limited room for manoeuvre. Not a single LGBTI organisation has any official recognition in Rwanda, so everything is informal. Not only does this sap their strength and weaken their structuring (no legal existence = no international funding, members’ often low degree of visibility affects living conditions) but also prevents them from being fully active in pushing for access to rights (meaning that their action is too discreet, does not “have any teeth”). In this context it is impossible to do without support from international civil society such as that provided by GRET in its projects.
Have there been any successes in spurring civil society in Rwanda into action?
One such example has been the Coalition de la société civile sur les droits et à la santé, set up in 2009 to prevent a draft law making homosexuality a criminal offense from being passed. Victory went to the Coalition. Keeping homosexuality free from the threat of prosecution is crucial for civil society to act – even discreetly – and continue to advocate respect of LGBTI rights, also to form alliances with organisations promoting healthcare rights.
For further information on the project supporting those associations defending populations suffering discrimination in Africa’s Great Lakes region (PAFPD-GL)
For further information on HDI
Coming out in the Altermondes magazine on 25 June: a special focus report on LGBTI rights. GRET is a partner of this publication. To subscribe: www.altermondes.org