The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a central pledge to “leave no one behind” and to prioritize the poorest and most marginalized. Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) people continue to experience exclusion, violence, discrimination and violations of human rights.
On 29-30 July 2023, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “#WeBelongAfrica: Inclusive Governance Initiative” and the Hivos “Free to be me” project jointly organized the “Vision 2030: LGBTI+ Inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa” consultation in Mauritius.
The consultation sought to review and analyse progress being made on LGBTI+ inclusion and human rights in the region, and to identify priorities and strategic approaches to achieve concrete change.
The consultation was a follow-up to a regional multi-stakeholder workshop organized by UNDP in 2019 that resulted in the development of a foundational strategic framework and set out the following vision for progress:
“By 2030, the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa will enable inclusive, just, affirming, safe,
productive and fulfilling lives for all their people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. This vision will be driven by African values of dignity, fairness, acceptance of diversity and respect for privacy, underpinned by the ethic of Ubuntu – the universal bond of a shared humanity.”
The consultation was attended by over 60 diverse stakeholders, including from civil society, development partners, as well as allies from parliament, regional economic communities, and national and regional human rights institutions.
In her opening address, Lisa Singh, the UN Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles, stated: “Around the world and in far too many countries in Africa, LGBTI+ persons continue to face social, political and economic exclusion and human rights violations based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.”
“We need to advocate continuously for the rights of the LGBTI+ community to be respected and ensure they are protected from any form violence, persecution, discrimination, harassment and stigma,” she emphasized.
The consultation provided an opportunity for exchange and analysis of common challenges that are being confronted in countries.
“This regional multi-stakeholder consultation offers a real opportunity to measure how far we have come in advancing LGBTI+ rights and inclusion, while also acknowledging the substantial work that remains ahead,” said George Biock, Programme Analyst, HIV and Health Group at UNDP Democratic Republic of Congo. “Transforming our goals into reality is within our grasp – to achieve it, we must actively collaborate, share our knowledge and put people in all their diversity at the centre of our efforts.”
While there have been a number of notable legal and social advances on LGBTI+ protections in recent decades, including the decriminalization of adult consensual same-sex behaviour in Gabon, Seychelles, Botswana, Angola, Lesotho and Mozambique, marginalization and human rights violations remain widespread, and in some countries draconian new anti-LGBTI+ laws and policies are being introduced.
“In the midst of the challenges we’re confronting that can feel overwhelming and dispiriting, it is important to celebrate and learn from the fact that the fight back from queer organizations and activists has been courageous and impressive,” remarked Anne Jellema, Hivos Chief Executive Director.
“In Nigeria, the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2019 has been a major setback to the protection of rights, not just of the LGBTI+ community but of the larger Nigerian population,” explained Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission. “We have realized that the National Human Rights Commission cannot act alone. We need allies within the LGBTI+ communities; first responders who can act quickly in reporting violations; and partners that can mobilize psycho-social support for victims.”
“In May 2023, the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law in Uganda,” said Richard Lusimbo, Director of the Ugandan KP Consortium. “Despite the immense challenges posed by this regressive law, an inspiring coalition of Ugandan LGBTI+ activists and their allies are not giving up the fight for human rights and equality. Instead, we are taking necessary steps to enhance resilience and continue advocacy efforts by challenging the unconstitutionality of the new law; providing critical emergency legal aid to those on the frontlines; and continuing to engage with our international partners to ensure the message is clear on what the community in Uganda calls for,” he said.
Participants at the consultation also learned from gains that have been made across different change pathways at community, country and regional levels. Discussions on gaps and opportunities looked at ways of strengthening strategies, programmes, partnerships and coordination.
Looking ahead, the consultation identified several key areas for action that stakeholders should place at the forefront of their priorities. These include focusing on efforts to shape social norms; build the LGBTI+ movement and alliances with other movements; promote inclusive laws, policies and governance; enhance public sector services; improve coordination among projects and initiatives; and harness the African human rights system and the UN system within the realms of the SDGs, rights and development, to address LGBTI+ issues. Participants reinforced the urgency to strengthen and expand multistakeholder collaboration and synergy across locations, institutions and initiatives.