Lesbian Visibility Day 2021: assessing the needs of LBQ womxn in Zimbabwe      

“There is nothing mixed up about a woman who loves women, who wants to have sex with them, or who identifies as a lesbian. It is society that is mixed up because it punishes people for not conforming to its gender stereotypes.”
E. Stein, Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy

Lack of protection affects the LGBTIQ community that includes the Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LBTQ) and Women that have sex with women (WSW). The LBTQ and WSW face a lot of inequalities in all spheres of human life and effort, that could be social, economic and political. Women in Zimbabwe are marked by differences and diversities which should be recognised in Zimbabwe to raise awareness on the needs and challenges of the LBTQ community. The LBQ/WSW community faces discrimination in law, politics, business, economy, society, culture and religion, communities, media, regional instruments, legislature and health. The Zimbabwean constitution recognises equal rights for all and should be held accountable when it comes to the violations of rights that is experienced by the LBTQ community. The LBTQ community barely enjoy their rights to education, health, right to work, social security property and inheritance on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity provide protection for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), but sadly these are few and far between. Further, inclusive non-discrimination laws signal a commitment to equality and fairness in the treatment of all individuals. However, state-wide non-discrimination laws in Zimbabwe do not include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This lack of protection creates risks for the unfair treatment of LGBT people in Zimbabwe.

 

GALZ as an association of the LGBTIQ+ community works with the community and partner organizations to promote equal treatment and participation of the LBTQ/WSW community in political, social and economic spaces. The LBTQ/WSW community affirms the national gender policy, that aims to build a society without discrimination, that promotes women and girls’ health, education, socio-economic and political wellbeing. In that light, being aware of the challenges that face the LBTQ/WSW community, GALZ gender, diversity and inclusion policy works to promote a culture of inclusiveness programmatically, promote gender equity, diversity and inclusion within GALZ and the community it serves. GALZ also works to foster recognition of rights that also protect the LBTQ community as citizens of Zimbabwe. GALZ is also actively creating partnerships with other organisations within the wider women’s movement.

GALZ conducted a mini-survey to glean the areas of need that lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer womxn view as focus areas for greater advocacy and engagement.

Some of these include:

  • Human rights violations such as outing, assault, rape under the guise of ‘corrective’ action by homophobic persons, eviction and disownment due to sexual orientation
  • Marriage and property rights, where laws are not well understood or shared with persons who are often forced into heteronormative marriages
  • Adoption rights which need to be amended to reflect a changing world
  • Intimate partner violence based on economic hardships, especially the wiping of income due to Covid-19
  • Protection from child marriages for those under the age of 18
  • Access to safe sexual and reproductive health services such as menstrual health materials, contraception and adequate knowledge on safe termination of pregnancy and bodily autonomy
  • Forced forms of expression including rigid limitations on dressing in conservative societies
  • Access to information, medical personnel and facilities that deal with fertility
  • Economic and education opportunities that allow women to safely provide for dependants without fear of sexual harassment and/or gender discrimination
  • Value-added programming that allows free expression of LBQ womxn in an exclusive safe space

As the Diversity Projects Officer, it has been essential to develop gender mainstreaming measures that equip GALZ staff, GALZ membership as well as the citizens of Zimbabwe, that promote social integration and participation of the LBTQ/WSW in spaces that are non-discriminative. Measures that include mental health provision, political participation and advocacy for laws that recognise Intimate partner violence that affects the LBTQ and WSW community as well as protection within the domestic violence act of Zimbabwe that protects the citizens of Zimbabwe against gender-based violence. GALZ is in the process of final approvals on a Gender Policy that sets out measures for more equitable distribution of resources and greater focus on needs of members, staff and partners in a dynamic and gender diverse world.

Michelle Ruhonde is the GALZ Diversity Officer  under the Capacity Building, Policy and Advocacy Unit. mainly focusing on Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer and Trans (LBTQ) persons’ programming. She is an activist whose love and passion is in amplifying queer womxn voices in the world that we live in. Born a Gweru girl, Michelle found her passion in LGBTIQ work when she moved to the capital city and got to know about GALZ. Michelle did her studies at Great Zimbabwe University where she completed an honours degree in Development Studies.

Email: michelle.ruhonde@galz.co