Country Representative, Edukans Foundation, Lilongwe, Malawi
The article by Rima Abboud from Palestine on “Inclusion, diversity and exclusion: Thoughts from within Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women” is worth commenting in that it tackles a subject which is not openly discussed in most African countries, including Malawi where I come from. One of the reasons why the subject is not openly discussed has to do with the presence of anti-gay or lesbian laws, which criminalise same-sex relationships. According to Nsosa (2017) recent studies conducted on the subject show that in Africa at least 34 states (62% of the African Union member states) have such laws, compared to 74 countries (39%) globally. Nsosa (2017) further observes that in Malawi, same sex acts are criminalised under sections 137A, 153, 156 of the penal code on unnatural offences, indecent practices between males, and indecent practices between women respectively. In addition, the Marriages, Divorce and Family Relations Act makes it illegal to claim a gender identity other than that assigned at birth. ( https://hrcessex.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/why-malawi-is-not-currently-repealing-anti-gay-laws/).
In Malawi, where there is a lot of influence from traditional culture and religion, homosexual relations are considered a “sin” or “alien to Malawi culture” and those involved are connected with being “rapists” or “paedophiles”. Although in recent years there is growing debate and advocacy by few human rights organisations (such as the Centre for the Development of the People (CEDEP) and Human Rights Watch) to decriminalise gay or lesbian relations, there is a great deal of lack of “voice” on the subject as the case of the Aswat in Palestine. In fact one means of limiting this voice is use of derogatory local term for people involved in homosexual relations as “mathanyula” (i.e. anal sex between males).
In 2009 two Malawian males performed a traditional wedding ceremony , which resulted into their imprisonment and were only released after the visit by then then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. Although in 2012 Malawi government started a process of reviewing the anti-gay laws and government agreed not to arrest people involved in same-sex relationships, a judge recently (in 2016) revived the long arm of the anti-gay law by quashing calls for moratorium on gay related convictions (https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/02/12/malawis-anti-gay-law-is-back-in-force-again/ ).
Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising therefore, that within the formal and non-formal education systems in the curriculum hardly bears anything around gays and lesbians. Inclusive education strategies or policies in Malawi do not tackle issues around gays and lesbians although the country’s laws and policies commit towards the fight against discrimination of any kind. Although Malawi has a comprehensive sexuality curriculum topics on sexuality do not refer to sexual relationships between males only or between females only. Consequently, inclusive education is only limited to cover issues of gender (men and women) and people with disabilities. Among officials there is also strong resistance against introducing topics on gay and lesbian. Early this year, meeting a high ranking official in Ministry of Education to introduce Edukans Foundation Programmes (which include programmes on Sexual Reproductive health and Rights), the lady official warned categorically (“don’t bring foreign cultures in our schools”!). There is, therefore, need for much public sensitisation and advocacy around giving a voice to minority groups such as those in Aswat as acknowledged by Ministry of justice officials in Malawi (https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/21/malawi-moratorium-anti-gay-arrests-reaffirmed).
The case of Aswat provides examples of good strategies that can be used to push for a more inclusive agenda within our formal and non-formal education systems and society in general. But there is a long way to go before certain groups such as the lesbian, gay and trans-gender communities would be fully accepted and integrated into society in many countries including Malawi.
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