African participants at the ILGA's 23rd World Conference
African LGBT strongly represented at the ILGA World Conference
More than 15 African representatives participated in the 23rd ILGA World Conference in Geneva. African people made their communities highly visible and called for greater internal but also external advocacy towards the empowerment of the LGBT/gender movement on the African continent.
Imam Mushin Hendricks from the ‘Inner Circle’ gave a moving account of ‘Islam and Sexuality and Gender’ in South Africa, as well as the challenges with regards to faith, community and society faced by LGBT’s. The audience’s attention was further captivated by the presentations on the current issues affecting lesbians and bisexual women in southern Africa. Linda Baumann, from the ‘Rainbow Project’ in Namibia, highlighted lesbian health issues and in particularly topics around HIV/AIDS. Rose Masuku, from ‘FEW’ in Johannesburg, spoke about the ignorance of service providers in dealing with lesbian issues and the widely spread homophobia in South Africa, while Bernadette Muthien, from ‘Engender’ in Cape Town, gave an impassioned input on gender-based violence and patriarchy.
On the second last day of the Conference, Francophone and Anglophone African representatives took the floor in the Africa plenary discussion. Among the representatives were speakers from the 'All African Rights Initiative' (AARI), from 'And Ligeey' in Senegal, from 'Changing Attitude' in Nigeria, from 'ADEFHO' in Cameroon and from 'Sexual Minorities' in Uganda.
This session provided a platform for African representatives to stress the urgency for more visibility of, and the promotion of cooperation between LGBT activists in Africa, in fighting patriarchy and advocating for the rights of LGBT on the African continent.
Representatives from Cameroon and Nigeria provided shocking updates on extent of homophobia in their countries. This included accounts of the recent expulsion of a group of female students in Cameroon who had been accused of being lesbian. In addition to this, gay men are being arrested for practicing homosexuality; presently there are 11 men awaiting trial in Cameroonian prisons. Equally alarming is the Nigerian government’s Bill banning same-sex marriages and homosexuality. These examples of homophobia clearly reflect the urgency for not only LGBT activists but also human rights activist to take action and campaign for LGBT rights.
During the Conference an African Caucus was formed. Meeting regularly, it provided a platform for LGBT activists to discuss ways in which to increase the visibility of the LGBT community and to work towards unity and improved networking amongst African LGBT organisations in the fight for LGBT rights.
A direct outcome of the African Caucus is the formation of a group of African LGBT activists who will provide support to the campaign for the release of the imprisoned Cameroonians. In addition to this, AARI, who has been working on unification among Anglophone activists to increase the efficacy of community and government targeted advocacy, indicated that they are planning to extend their work to include Francophone Africa. It is hoped that the next AARI conference in Senegal, will approve this plan.
At the close of the Conference, several African voices commended ILGA for their efforts to bring as many African LGBT activists as possible to the Conference, but despite these efforts it was also noted that there is room to increase African representation within ILGA. It was also highlighted that greater efforts, both within Africa and internationally, need to be made to give more visibility to African LGBT issues on global platforms. Overall, the Conference proved to be a productive, informative and educative forum and reinforced the need for more action and stronger networking among LGBT organisations globally.