This year for the first time, ActionAid Hellas will take part in Athens Pride, the big celebration taking place under the auspices of the City of Athens for gay people’s rights. Our motto will be “Lovers in Action!”
Looking at the data I compiled from ActionAid’s work in developing countries on this issue, the overall picture revealed seems to be rather harsh. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders are often led deeper into poverty, as they are marginalized by their society. As a result of the discrimination they suffer, they stop going to school at an early age, they can’t find a job or a place to stay, and even deal with prejudiced medical staff.
In Africa, things are really difficult. In 38 countries, homosexuality is prohibited by law and in another 13 countries it is either legal or there are is no laws pertaining to it. In Mauritania, Sudan, Somaliland and North Nigeria, homosexuality is punishable by death. In other countries, it equals imprisonment for a number of years or for life, or subjection to hard labour…
There is one sole exception: South Africa, which is the first country worldwide to have adopted a Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is also the only country in Africa that allows same-sex marriages. Still, many homosexuals are discriminated against, especially in rural areas.
In South Africa, all women are in danger. It is estimated that 500,000 rapes, hundreds of murders and countless beatings occur every year. This means that about half of the country’s women will be raped at some point in their lives. For every 25 men finally tried for rape, 24 will be acquitted.
Part of this violence and oppression includes “corrective” rapes suffered by lesbians to make them “normal”. Quite often, these rapes are not even reported. As a woman characteristically says:
“When a lesbian woman is raped, her family and people in the street say she deserved it and her rapist showed her how to be a woman. It’s easier to keep quiet.”
In Uganda, after the bill introduced in 2009 and calling for death penalty for repeated acts of homosexuality, newspapers started outing gays, putting their lives in danger.
In May 2010, a judge in Malawi sentenced a gay couple to 14 years of hard labour because they got engaged.
It was during the same month that the President of Zimbabwe, who has characterized gay people as “worse than dogs or pigs”, rejected any possible amendment of the law that would result in prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Even in countries with friendlier legislation, such as India, transsexuals for instance face problems in everyday life as they are often forced to leave their family at a very young age and they can only work as prostitutes or beggars. They won’t be admitted to school, many employers refuse to hire them, while they even have trouble getting a ticket for public transport.
A typical example is that of Noori, who lost her mother and brother when she was little. Her father got married again and when Noori turned 13, she realized that she felt more like a woman. Her stepmother didn’t like her behaviour, so she started treating her badly. As a result, Noori ran away from home at 13.
At the Chennai train station, she met an old transgender and realized that she was the only person who could help her. So Noori started dressing in women’s clothes and got a job as a maid at a house where they accepted her.
At 17, some of her relatives came looking for her and forced her to put on some men’s clothes again and go see her dying father. At her parents’ place, her stepmother and siblings forced her to get engaged to a girl they had chosen so they could get the dowry money.
On the morning of her wedding, Noori left for Mumbai and started working as a prostitute; that’s how she got infected with HIV. She managed to get the money she needed for an operation. After the sex change surgery, she married an army man, with whom she later adopted many children. In 2001, she established a local organization, called SIP Memorial Trust, which helps transgenders and HIV positive people. In 2003, she set up an orphanage that hosts today 41 kids.
ActionAid does not discriminate when working with people living in poverty in developing countries. In South Africa, it strives to reduce violence against women and has launched a campaign to make the South African government apply the law, protecting gays and deliver justice. In India, it works with trans activists to defend their rights and has set up the first helpline for lesbians in the country.