|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
Following the recent proposed criminalisation of same sex sexual practices amongst women in Malawi, some international donors have decided to withhold financial aid amounting close to 400 million dollars, a move which might see the country reaching an economic meltdown.
Donor aid accounts for 40 percent of the national budget in Malawi and the country could be forced to borrow money in order to make up for the shortfall. Malawi’s Finance Minister, Ken Kandodo recently told the media that any further funding suspensions by donors may affect the developmental strides the country has made.
“The criminalisation of sex practices amongst women has had a negative impact on aid in Malawi. Some countries and donor agencies have withheld their aid to the country and most have also threatened to pull out aid if the country continues its stand on not respecting human rights and abuse of activists”, said Dunker Kamba of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP).
On the new law, section 137A, titled “indecent practices between females”, any female person who, whether in public or private, commits “any act of gross indecency with another female”, shall be guilty of an offence and subjected to imprisonment of up to five years.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga the first openly gay couple in Malawi to get engaged were arrested, prosecuted and convicted of indecent practices in 2010 and sentenced to 14 years in prison but later received a presidential pardon, but activists suggest that this might have sparked the introduction of the new law.
“At first the penal code only criminalised sex practices amongst men but after the 2009/10 case involving Steve and Tiwonge, the issues were widely being discussed and I think this is what brought about the whole change and the women being included. Even after the pardoning of the two, the government has maintained its stand on the same sex relationships in Malawi and I feel that the new law is just coming in from the government to show its people that it is not succumbing to the international pressure”, said Kamba.
Minister George Chaponda has recently been quoted as saying “women are also committing indecent acts” and that the amendment was made because it was gender sensitive as it only mentioned men thus government wanted to include women to “ensure that homosexuality is criminalised without discrimination.”
Meanwhile Attorney General Dr. Jane Assah who recently appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for Malawi’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Switzerland defended Malawi’s stance on homosexuality.
Kamba further said, “On the gay community, this has driven the community further into hiding not aware of what will come next. This is even making it hard for MSM/WSW friendly organisations to work with the community. The gay friendly NGOs and individuals have a very daunting task in advocacy for the inclusiveness of the LGBT people in the national policies.”
Same sex sexual practices between males are already criminalised in Malawi under Section 153 which prohibits “unnatural offences”, Section 156 concerning “public decency” can also be used to punish homosexual acts.