OUT condemns Malawi lesbian ban
15 February, 2011
PRETORIA — OUT, the Gauteng-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) well-being NGO, has condemned the effective banning of lesbianism in Malawi.
Malawi's President Bingu Wa Mutharika last week signed an amendment to the penal code that criminalises lesbianism in the country.
The new Section 137A, titled "Indecent practices between females", reads:
"Any female person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another female person, or procures another female person to commit any act of gross indecency with her, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any female person with herself or with another female person, whether in public or private, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to imprisonment for five years."
The repressive legislation was passed by Malawi's parliament in December. While consenting sex between men is already illegal in the country, with penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment, sex between women was previously not addressed by the law.
"It's appalling that instead of decriminalising male homosexuality as is required by both its Constitution and its international commitments, Malawi has seen it fit to instead further reduce the rights of its LGBT citizens and in particular its women," commented OUT's Director Dawie Nel.
Malawi's Constitution prohibits discrimination of its citizens and guarantees every person's right to dignity, freedom of association, freedom of expression and personal privacy, facts which seem to have little influence on the passing of legislation in the country.
"Coming so soon after the international outrage that followed the arrest and trial of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga last year, this move is an outrageous slap in the face to everyone who believes in personal liberty and human rights," Nel said.
"It adds further momentum to the wave of official homophobia that is spreading across Africa with little reaction from South Africa. President Zuma and his government remain silent despite their obligations under the Constitution, thereby appearing to support the continued oppression of LGBT Africans."
Nel noted that the climate of fear that has spread through Africa's LGBT communities also adds barriers in the fight against HIV, something which Malawi – with one of the highest adult HIV prevalence rates in the world – can ill afford.
Malawi was thrown into the international spotlight in December 2009 due to the arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga on charges of homosexuality following their public engagement ceremony. They were jailed for 14 years but were later pardoned and released by President Mutharika thanks to personal intervention by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
OUT, now in its 16th year of operation, provides numerous health and well-being services to the LGBT community, including counselling, support groups, HIV testing and general medical services as well as the provision of ARVs and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). OUT'S online resources - www.men2men.co.za and www.womyn2womyn.co.za - provide easy access to information on sexuality, sexual health and general well-being. For more information visit www.out.org.za.