|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
The Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER) Initiative, established in 2010 to fight for the right of Nigeria’s lesbians and bisexual women, last week held a picnic to create awareness about their work.
Nigeria’s first lesbian/bisexual rights organisation, WHER, was set up to counter the repression faced by people whose sexual orientation and gender identity do not conform to the “societal norm.”
The organisation was formed by a group of women concerned about the marginalization of lesbians and bisexual women in sexual reproductive health and rights programming.
The WHER Initiative is based in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
“The initiative was driven by a private study of the lesbian community” the WHER-Initiative principal founder, Akudo, told BTM.
“It was found that the problems facing many lesbians, bisexual women and other women who have sex with women (WSW) includes, but is not limited to, a low level of literacy, the high school drop-out rate and the lack of sustainable employment,” she said.
She added, “The community needs empowerment to address the effect of stigma and discrimination as well as self esteem issues. This will be our focus before human rights advocacy. For us, empowerment is a important approach to effective human rights advocacy.”
The establishment of the WHER Initiative was meant to enable a holistic and more representative approach to LGBT rights activism in the country. Already, there are more than five organizations in the country that work on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in the country, most of which are driven by HIV prevention programs for Men who have sex with Men (MSM). What makes WHER-Initiative different is its focus on lesbians, bisexual women and other WSW.
Last week’s picnic in Abuja was thus held to sensitise lesbian and bisexual women about the group. “This is a welcome development. It feels great to know that we are now getting organised as a people. Very refreshing!” a bisexual woman participant told this reporter.
There are only a few programmes targeting lesbians, bisexuals and other WSW in Nigeria. Although there is no law criminalising lesbianism as there is for male homosexuality, the reality of stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is present in the Nigerian lesbian community. This reality invariably makes them more vulnerable.
Prior to the establishment of WHER- Initiative, organisations such as the International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE) and The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) based in Niger state and Lagos state respectively, implemented programs that provided counseling and human rights protection services to lesbians and bisexual women.
Currently, TIERs is conducting a study approved by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to assess the sexual and reproductive health needs of this community in Lagos state. The study findings will facilitate program development for Lesbians, bisexual and other WSW in the country. WHER- Initiative could also leverage on the findings to develop programs for its target population.