Tomorrow - 11 October 2012 - is International Coming Out Day. That is the reason why Rutgers WPF and dance4life are paying attention to a sexual diversity programme in Kenya and Indonesia.
“The most significant change was what happened within us. The dropping of our personal judgement and creation of personal spaces that allow and accept that sexual diversity is an important issue of human rights and health – one were we have a positive contribution to make. The role shift from critical and judgemental personal positions to willing change agents is a tremendous achievement.” According to a participant of the wrap-up meeting of the thematic PSO-programme about ‘mainstreaming of sexual diversity in HIV and SRHR programmes (sexual and reproductive health and rights) in Kenya in the summer of 2012.
One of the ambitions in the ‘Unite for Body Rights’ programme of the SRHR Alliance is openly discussing sexual orientation or gender identity and fighting against discrimination. After all, sexual rights are about everyone’s right to pleasant and wanted sex, irrespective of gender, cultural background, religion and sexual orientation. That’s what Rutgers WPF and our partners of the SRHR Alliance aim at. It also covers the right to protection, to be free of discrimination, to have access to (gay friendly) sexuality health care and the right to find the correct information about sexuality, including gay- and transsexuality.
Homophobia in Africa
Homophobia and discrimination of homosexuals is a big problem in Africa, and this also goes for Kenya. Even Kenyan partner organisations of dance4life and Rutgers WPF used to be homophobic and prejudiced, which the baseline study that was carried out in Kenya proved. This study showed that even staff members working in the field of SRHR regarded homosexuality as “not natural”, sinful and Un-African. Homosexuality is still illegal and punishable in Kenya and in the whole East-African area.
After a process of seven months members of staff and management of the partner organisations have drastically adjusted their attitude regarding sexual diversity. How did this come about?
They kept on discussing the matter with Kenyan gay organisations in sensitising sessions, coming up with scientific facts, by reflection and personal and emotional coming-out confessions of gays, lesbians and sometimes even members of staff or management. At the wrap-up meeting in Nairobi these facts and candid stories managed to convince the participants that had been invited by the Alliance partners from Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and Uganda.
A similar scheme was launched by our field office in Indonesia, in which 15 partner organisations were involved in the mainstreaming course. Though emphasis was on programme- and policy level, the move forward to integrating the needs and responding to the rights of LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders) was just as big. The gay stigma plays a less important role in Indonesia, since Indonesian culture is permeated with sexual diversity, for instance in traditional rites and dance. Religion is the main obstacle rather than culture to accepting and dealing with sexual diversity. In Kenya sexual diversity is also about health issues such as the AIDS epidemic, whereas in Indonesia it is mainly about human rights.
Recognition and acceptance
The PSO-thematic learning programme has achieved that the Kenyan and Indonesian partners have started discussing sexual diversity and have come to recognize and accept it. They are now (better) able to associate with LGBT-people and have learned how to overcome their prejudices. One partner in Kenya said: “I am now able to distinguish between my personal norms and values and my professional one”.
However, this is not enough. We need to come to agreements on this in the organisational policy and integrate sexual diversity as a self-evident part into the implementation plans of the 'Unite for Body Rights'-programme. The next step will be closer cooperation with LGBT-organisations in programmes in Kenya and Indonesia and we will have to make a cautious start at policy influencing of politicians and church leaders to effectuate an enabling environment.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs finances the five-year ‘Unite for Body Rights-programme of the SRHR-Alliance. Alliance partners dance4life and Rutgers WPF applied with PSO, a Dutch organisation for capacity building in developing countries, to get extra funding for the sexual diversity component of the programme. We needed to study the obstacles we encountered in these African and Indonesian partner organisations when integrating sexual diversity into the programme and to analyse these. With the help of PSO we have now been able to comprehend the ideas that Africans and Indonesians have about sexual diversity and to draw lessons from them. In order to implement the programme we are now able supported by local partners to establish strategies that do justice to the integration of sexual diversity in the work and policy of the local NGOs.
See also: PSO Metamorphoses (page 26)
* LGBT is an abbreviations of Lesbians, Gays (Homosexual), Bi-sexuals and Transgenders.