newsletter issue 12

 

Human rights and justice for ex-miners poses a death sentence for the South African Mining Industry.

 

In 2008, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) issued a report on how tuberculosis (TB) affects the mining industry and migrant workers from across the region. Numerous studies have shown that, for more than one hundred years, legions of miners in the Southern African region have suffered from and died of infectious lung diseases such as tuberculosis and silicosis.  Further, the incidence rate of TB in South African gold mines is among the highest in the world, and up to ten times the national incidence rate. According to research, as many as 280 000 former gold miners have contracted silicosis. Silicosis is a progressive and incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica (quartz) dust as a result of working underground. That translates to approximately 20 to 30 percent of former and in-service gold miåners have contracted silicosis in consequence of their exposure to harmful quantities of dust in the mines.

During the 2010 SA TB Conference, the South African Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi stated that: “If TB and HIV are a snake in Southern Africa, the head of the snake is here in South Africa.

The ARASA report raised concerns about the failure of the South African government and mining companies to adequately address the health crisis among migrant workers in the South African mining sector.

ARASA's TB and Mines campaign– which focused specifically on TB treatment, cross-border referral and lung disease compensation issues was launched in 2009. The campaign has gained momentum and political support over the past few years. As a result, a national task team was formed in 2010, and the ARASA report was used as a background document to start addressing some of the concerns raised in the report.

This industry, which is fraught with weak regulations for TB control in mines, boasts a defunct compensation system for workers with occupational TB, compounded by a lack of referral systems to labour sending countries and until recently, a lack of political will by governments to address these challenges.

A growing number of court cases against mining companies have opened up a can of worms that even the South African government can no longer keep a lid on. The precedent setting Constitutional Court judgement of Thembekile Mankayi vs. Anglo Gold Ashanti raised hopes for thousands of other ex-miners that justice can be served. Mr. Mankayi sued Anglo, his previous employer, for damages under common law after he contracted a “compensatable” disease under the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act 78 of 1973. His victory allowed parliament to revisit section 35(1) of this compensation law, which had previously prohibited the suing of an employer for common law damages arising from diseases resulting in the employee’s death or disablement. Subsequently, a parliamentary committee has since been established to review the two laws that govern compensation and occupational health and safety in the mining industry.

In September of 2010, the attorneys from a UK Law firm Leigh Day and Co. along with Legal Aid South Africa filed another case in the London High Court. This litigation is against Anglo American South Africa Ltd, the former Anglo parent company, which is now a subsidiary of London-based Anglo American Corporation PLC. The claim against Anglo South Africa essentially alleges that this former parent company is liable because it negligently advised the mines in relation to dust protection of miners. The claim is premised on the fact that the miners contracted silicosis during years of employment under Anglo American. The litigation has two objectives: 1) to establish the legal principles on which the industry should compensate its silicosis victims; and 2) the establishment of an effective TB/silicosis medical monitoring scheme for former miners. While the case represents 18 claimants, the group of ex-mine workers has now increased to 450, which illustrates the ex-miners cry for justice. These cases will be heard in a closed arbitration in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Since the litigation commenced, ARASA's focus has been geared toward supporting the strategic litigation, with the aim of raising the urgency of addressing TB in the mines. In particular, ARASA has been creating links between the lawyers working on the two class action suits, ex-miners and civil society partners working in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. In particular, ARASA works with the Southern Africa ex-Mineworkers Association (SAMA) to ensure that their activities are profiled in order to mobilise public support for the court cases as well as compensation for ex-miners and widows in labour sending countries in the region.

 

Partner Exchange Internship Programme

“The internship programme is a very helpful capacity building initiative because it provides a practical mode of learning. Therefore I would like to urge ARASA to seek continued financial support for this initiative and also to recognise organisations like SWAPOL that are able to provide a conducive learning environment for interns,” stated Khumbo Jacqueline Gondwe following the conclusion of her 8 week internship at Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL).

Since 2008, ARASA has successfully facilitated a Partner Exchange Internship Programme with a view to promoting an exchange of expertise among partners in their different areas of work such as HIV, TB and human rights training, lobbying, advocacy, mobilisation and organisational development. Interns from ARASA partner organisations are placed with other partners for a period of between 4 and 8 weeks to enable the interns to share experiences and learn from the host organisation. Upon return, the interns should be well placed to integrate what they have learned into their work.

Last year, the AIDS Legal Network (ALN), based in Cape Town, South Africa, hosted Rindra Ranaivoson, from HIV/AIDS Support Organisation (HASO) in the Seychelles, from 21 October to 7 December 2012. During the internship, Rindra’s responsibilities included assisting with the preparation and implementation of advocacy activities, desktop research on HIV-related stigma, discrimination and other violations of rights as well as providing general support to the organisation.

Rindra actively participated in various debates focusing on HIV-related stigma and discrimination, as well as gender violence based on and in the context of HIV, which were hosted and facilitated by ALN. In addition, Rindra participated in a number of events hosted by other organisations during the 16 Days of Activism, such as a consultation on hate crimes against LGBTI people as well as a dialogue on stereotyping and prejudice hosted by the Western Cape Network on Violence against Women.

“Through involvement and participation in these activities and debates, Rindra was not only exposed to a number of different view points on issues affecting communities in South Africa, but was also exposed to some of the realities and challenges experienced in the context of HIV and human rights in the country, ” says ALN Director, Johanna Kehler. “We believe that through Rindra’s active engagement with organisational activities and debates during the internship, both internally and externally, the internship was most valuable and beneficial to both Rindra and the ALN.”

 

Khumbo Jacqueline Gondwe from Ladder for Rural Development in Malawi was hosted by Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL) for 8 weeks in August and September of 2012.   “I learnt with great interest how SWAPOL, operating in a similarly repressive political and social environment, has been successful  in driving community-based projects that have created a space for making their needs known to local and national authorities, and boosted the skills required for effective advocacy,” says Jacqueline.

Motivated by SWAPOL’s work, what  they have accomplished and the impact they have had in the pursuit of the alignment of human rights and HIV/AIDS, Ladder for Rural Development identified SWAPOL as the perfect hosts. “With an interest to enhance my knowledge and skills in planning and conducting comprehensive community interventions and  advocacy, it would help me organise a strong advocacy base of civil society organisations for improved service delivery of HIV/AIDS programs in our District, and also to empower the rural community with social and  advocacy skills so that they can start standing up for their welfare, and be able to advocate for improved service delivery in their communities to duty bearers both at local and national level,” explains Jacqueline.

In order to ensure that Jacqueline had an opportunity get a comprehensive overview of SWAPOL’s work, she was attached to all its programmes throughout the internship. “I had field visits to several different places within their Home Based Care, Capacity Building as well as Agriculture and Nutrition Programmes. I also had some office time and leisure time too. SWAPOLs arrangements for my internship created a very conducive learning process for me,” she added.

Throughout the internship, ARASA provided on-going technical support to the interns and the host organisation to ensure that the experience was beneficial to both parties. “I noted there was communication from ARASA throughout the process of my internship. This should continue and be provided to all the interns that may also benefit from this programme. Such communication helps ensure that an intern does not to feel lost and abandoned during the internship period,” Jacqueline added.

In February 2013, ARASA issued a call for applications to participate in the 2013 Partner Exchange Internship Programme.  The successful applicants were notified on 29 March and will be placed between the second and third quarters of the year. 

 

 

 

Botswana Public Health Bill update:

In the week of International Human Rights Day, marked on 10 December 2012, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), ARASA and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) called for the removal of draconian provisions in the Botswana Public Health Bill, which was being debated in the parliament and had been passed to the Committee stage. 

 

The regressive provisions include Clauses 104 (3) b and 105 (2) b, which provide for mandatory testing of anyone by medical practitioners as well as for testing of clients without their knowledge. Under Clause 109 (3), clients due for surgical or dental procedure can be required to undergo an HIV test before the procedure. In addition, doctors will be forced to report HIV cases to Director of Health Services (along with TB, smallpox, cholera and yellow fever).

 

Further provisions in the Bill, which are counter-productive, discriminatory, unconstitutional and regressive, include forcing people living with HIV to tell whomsoever they have sexual relations with of their HIV status, and empowering doctors to tell one’s sexual partner of their HIV status without their consent. Moreover, Clause 116 limits the right to freedom of movement for people living with HIV as they may be detained and isolated if there is evidence that they are likely to infect other persons. The Bill also takes away parental consent and guardianship and places them in the hands of doctors.

  

The progressive provisions of the Bill, which would allow any person from the age of 16 to test for HIV and prohibit pre-employment HIV testing, are overshadowed by the problematic provisions. 

Recently, UNAIDS reported that Botswana is one of several low and middle income countries, which have reduced their HIV incidence rates among adults by more than 50% since 2001. Furthermore, the country decreased the rate of people living with HIV dying from causes related to the disease by more than 50% since 2005.

 

On 22 February 2013, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS, the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa,  the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the HIV and AIDS Programme of the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa submitted a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly of Botswana, the Minister of Health and National AIDS Coordinating Agency, detailing their concerns around the Public Health Bill currently before the Botswana Parliament.  The organisations requested that the Botswana parliament provide an opportunity for public participation on the contents of the Bill before it is passed by Parliament.

By the end of March the Botswana parliament passed the Public Health Bill without any amendments. Subsequently, BONELA submitted a letter to the Office of the President, requesting that he use his powers as granted by the Constitution to send the bill back to Parliament for further scrutiny and amendments.

ARASA, along with other human rights and social justice activists from Africa and around the world, as well as people living with HIV have since sent a support letter strongly urging President Khama to refer the Botswana Public Health Bill back to Parliament for re-consideration of problematic provisions which go against the Constitution of Botswana.

The support letter also notes that the enactment of the Public Health Bill could represent a step backwards for Botswana, casting a shadow over its momentous achievements in the areas of HIV and AIDS, provision of health services and protecting human rights. “ In particular, we are concerned that this development will further exacerbate the high levels of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, which continue to pose a significant barrier to an effective AIDS response in Botswana,” it read. 

The support document also highlighted that it does not believe that these infringements on the rights of ordinary Botswana people are intentional, but rather, that the wording of the Bill is too vague and provides ample space for the potential violation of human rights. “We believe that many of the shortcomings in the Bill can be corrected very easily by Parliament. We are aware that the Constitution allows the President to withhold assent to a Bill and to return the Bill to Parliament for further consideration. We therefore request that your Excellency reasserts Botswana’s leadership in the field of health, by referring the Bill back to Parliament for re-consideration of those provisions which patently violate the rights entrenched in the Constitution.”

 

The complete supporter letter is available on the ARASA website, www.aras.info

 

Tips on Monitoring and Evaluation

Tips on Monitoring and Evaluation

In the current climate of scare resources and a greater demand for impact by donors, having a robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan for programme activities is even more pertinent than before. Over the past few years, ARASA has continuously strived to strengthen its capacity to support the M&E functions of partner organisations who receive financial support through the Small Grants and Country Programmes. ARASA’s M&E Officer, Maggie Amweelo, shares some tips on developing robust M&E systems and capturing the impact of human rights advocacy interventions.

Monitoring and evaluation is the same for all projects and programmes and therefore it is not different for human rights advocacy. The concepts of a monitoring and evaluation plan are similar and the needs for information to aid decision making are also the same. Although difficult to monitor, human rights programming and advocacy is part of the national HIV and AIDS response. However, formulating human rights related indicators can be complex.  The activities to be monitored and evaluated need to be properly identified. The audience’s needs should be identified and the type of data needed to show impact of the interventions. The M&E Officer, or person responsible for M&E, will also need to establish why the data is needed, when it is needed and what format it should be presented in to enhance decision-making related to the interventions.

It is important for programme reports to have clear elements of results based reporting. This includes a clear context and strategy, meaningful results, valid and reliable performance information and the accomplishments should be reported against the expected results. The report must also demonstrate the organisations capacity to learn and adapt.

Please let us know if there are specific issues related to M&E you would like us to cover and look out for more M&E tips in the next newsletter.

 

Tips on working with the media

In the build up to World TB Day on 24 March, various partners were engaged in planning media outreach and mobilisation activities. As a result, we have received several requests for support in media outreach. In response to that, Sirka Amaambo, ARASA’s Communications Officer, shares some tips on working with the media.

When hosting an event or making an announcement related to your work, good media coverage contributes to the effective dissemination of information. Regular contact with various media houses is necessary in order to cultivate a good working relationship. As civil society organisations, we should get to know the media houses that are most likely to cover our events. It is important to have a contact person at the various media houses, who we can call at any time with a news story.

When journalists cover a story, they will usually look at novelty, timeliness, prominence and conflict. Novelty means that unique, out of the ordinary angle in the story. An example of that is when a dog bites a man, it is not news. However, when a man bites a dog that is news because we rarely have people biting dogs. Timeliness dictates when a certain story will be run.  That means, what is happening now will get priority over what happened last week. It is important to share your news as it happens instead of waiting. Yesterday’s news is not news today. Although at times not possible, having a prominent figure present at your event can act as a crowd puller. This can be a well known community activist, politician or local musician, list is endless.

Conflict is a good newsmaker. However, making trouble purposefully in order to appear in the papers, on TV and radio is highly cautioned. Human rights violations, stigma and discrimination can be highlighted in this manner. As civil society organisations, we should monitor the number of press releases we issue at a time and look at other ways to get our messages out. This can be through interviews with media contacts or preparing opinion pieces. Where the media fails, make use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to get your message out. Keep in mind that sometimes, your story might run later than planned and anticipated.

When drafting a press statement, make sure that the heading is straight to the point and succinct. Avoid using complex, long words or jargons in the headline. The lead paragraph should include who, what, where, when and how. The background information should follow after. Avoid using emotional words or references such as ‘I am disgusted, what a shame, etc. Try to write from the journalists’ perspective.

And finally, sometimes writing press releases and opinion pieces as an individual organisation is not enough to draw media attention. It might help to find out who else is working on the same topic and look at ways to work together to not only give the topic more volume and share contacts, but also to generate media interest. You can also liaise with ARASA so that we look at how we can support your media outreach.

And that is it for now. Until next time, let’s get that information out there and cultivate relationships all around!

 

2013 ARASA Regional Training of Trainers

2013 ARASA Regional Training of Trainers

In order to strengthen civil society capacity for effective human rights, HIV and TB advocacy in Southern Africa, ARASA implements various training and capacity strengthening activities at regional and national levels. The activities centre around initiatives aimed at enhancing the practical knowledge and capacity of civil society organisations and activists, in order to effectively advocate for a human rights-based response to HIV and TB in the SADC region, with a focus on improved access to HIV and TB prevention, treatment and care services.

ARASA’s Training and Capacity Strengthening Programme includes a regional Training of Trainers (ToT) Programme, comprising 4 face-to-face training workshops. The workshops include information on a range of topics such as an introduction to human rights, HIV and TB as a human rights issue, key human rights instruments, advocating for and enforcement of human rights, monitoring and evaluation and treatment literacy.

2013 marked the sixth year of the implementation of the TOT, which commenced in 2008. 30 participants from Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Madagascar, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Tanzania and Seychelles participated in the first training session for 2013 held in February in Pretoria, South Africa. This was also the first time that ARASA accommodated participants from Kenya and Uganda at the training in a bid to expand the capacity strengthening interventions to eastern Africa. The next training session is scheduled for May, which will be followed by two others in August and November.

Frances Rakewa, a participant from Kenya shares his experience of the workshop below.

 “My name is Francis Rakewa and I am an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. I am currently employed as a Programme Assistant at KELIN, a national network which was established to address and respond to legal, ethical and human rights issues relating to health and HIV and AIDS in Kenya. I thank KELIN very much for giving me the opportunity to represent them during the first workshop of this year’s annual ToT in Pretoria from 18 to 22 February, 2013.

 After attending the first workshop of the training, I have gained invaluable knowledge and experience in creating an enabling legal and policy environment by promoting a human rights-based approach to health.

 The workshop was relevant to my career as it deepened my understanding of how to conduct trainings, advocacy, litigation and offering legal services. I had the chance to share experiences on addressing prevailing challenges, which hinder the acceleration of progress towards zero HIV infection, AIDS-related deaths and discrimination in Africa, with delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Seychelles. These challenges include criminalisation of deliberate infection and the need for increased budgetary allocation to the health sector (up to 15%, as per the Abuja Declaration), amongst others.

 I was privileged to share the Kenyan experience in response to the legislative drawbacks faced in championing for the rights of minority groups such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

 A major issue that stood out to me during the discussions was that most countries (including Kenya) still have legislation providing for isolation of patients with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB). Moreover, the process of isolation is always done in gross violation of the patient’s rights. As a result, participants resolved to engage their respective governments to amend the punitive laws that provide for isolation of TB patients by, amongst others defining clearly the exact place of isolation, as opposed to prison. They also committed to taking an active part in public interest litigation to protect the rights of TB patients.

 My vision to contribute to the fight for the rights of people living with HIV was expanded during this training. As a result, I will continue giving those who can’t speak for themselves a voice and ensure the full enjoyment of their socioeconomic rights within the eastern African region.

 If you want more information on the work of KELIN, including the latest news, jobs, updates, videos, events and much more, you can follow us on Twitter:https://twitter.com/KELINKenya, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kelinkenya and YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/kelinkenya

Following the workshop, ARASA’s Communications Officer, Sirka Amaambo interviewed other participants to get their opinions and impressions of the training.  Here is what they had to say:

 “I found the training interesting, especially when hearing about the different experiences in the field. This was my first time attending a training with people from various countries across the region.  I heard about practises I don’t see in my country. I especially enjoyed the discussions around human rights, because people in my country do not know their rights. The human rights are there, but the public does not understand what they are exactly. I am going to share the information and knowledge I have gained. I want people to know they have rights.” Fanirinandrianina Ramiarambololona- Travailler Asrister Former Accompagror, Madagascar

“I think the workshop was excellent because human rights are important. Everything covered in the workshop was new to me except the HIV section. My favourite part of the workshop was the ‘teach backs’, where people had to present the discussions from the previous day. It helped to build our capacity and helped us express ourselves properly. In future, I would like to see a section on HIV and people living with disabilities. They also have rights, which are usually neglected. Overall, the workshop built my capacity which means I will be in a better place to give back by training others.” Reginald Hoareau- HIV and AIDS Support Organisation (HASO) Seychelles

“As organisations, we try to bring the human rights angle into our work, and this was a great opportunity to get the background. We are currently implementing a project on people living with HIV, called ‘Stand up for your rights’ and human rights is a topic we will be focusing on. People need to know their rights. I also learned new things, especially on the topic of LGBTI. This advocating on LGBTI rights has been bothering me because I did not understand sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Hearing experiences from other countries through sharing is also very useful because it helps us asses how far we are and what we are all doing. The facilitation section should be last in future, because people labelled each other as dominating or silent. As a result participants can suffer because they might worry about being a dominator for the remainder of the workshop.”  Clarence Mademutsa-Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV and AIDS +

“The workshop was wonderful and I was mostly interested in the topic of key populations at higher risk of HIV. I realised that my perceptions were wrong and now my questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity were cleared. It is important to revive the area of human rights in our work, because they are linked to everything. We fail in our programmes because we are not sure about what we want to achieve. This workshop was a form of renewal for me. I am definitely going to replicate it without fail.” Fadzai Mundoza- Young Women with Disabilities Network, YOWIDNet, Zimbabwe

“I found the workshop practical. The LGBTI section was informative and ARASA did well to invite LGBTI participants to contribute their side of the story. The environment was conducive because the venue was far from the shopping mall, which allowed people to concentrate better on the training. I also liked the feedback sessions because they made people keep up with what is discussed. I learned a lot and ARASA should keep up the good work.” Abdulrasheed Abdulmalik- Tirisano, University of South Africa

“The journey undertaken during the workshop was nice. The topics covered during the workshop were good and I got the link between HIV and human rights. I was slightly bothered by us not keeping to the time allocated because it affected the presentations that followed. There was also an assumption that we are all from LGBTI backgrounds, but at least this was clarified later. I liked the overall facilitation as well as when we had to work in groups because we got to interact with different people. Coming from east Africa, I didn’t feel like an outsider at all because the issues discussed during the workshop were familiar. I felt that the presentations were too general at times and they need to be put into more perspective with more examples. The movie on the health system in America was a very good example.”  Juliana Nantaba- Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development, Uganda

From left to right:
Juliana Nantaba - Fanirinandrianina Ramiarambololona - Fadzai Mundoza - Clarence Mademutsa - Abdulrasheed Abdulmalik 

Tackling stigma and discrimination against key populations in Malawi

 2d5529db-40eb-4f04-a949-c031cd6fb1f7.jpg

Zinenani on the left and Mercy on the rightIn 2012, ARASA supported the training of 20 Community Health Advocates (CHAs) during several national and district trainings as part of the two-year HIV, TB and Human Rights Training and Advocacy Country Programme, hosted jointly by the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).

Following the training, Mercy Kumwenda, one of the CHAs trained during this process, disclosed publicly that she is a lesbian.  Zinenani Majawa, another CHA, also disclosed in the media that she is a sex worker. Notably, this is the first time women in Malawi have disclosed publicly that they were a sex worker or a lesbian. Both women have credited the training they received for their boldness and confidence to speak out on issues affecting lesbians and sex workers.

Sirka Amaambo spoke to Zinenani and Mercy and reports as follows:

“Since the newspaper articles appeared, my life has changed,” says an emotional Zinenani. Then she explains that even though she is a Community Health Advocate, the treatment she receives from her community has changed for the worse because people are now openly discriminating against her.  “The police come to my house asking me political questions. Asking who I am. They say I am promoting sex work and homosexuality,” she continues.

Zinenani adds that community members do not want to associate with her anymore and that the only two women who still speak to her were also sex workers before they married. “When I go to church, the pastor would have a topic for the day but when I enter the church, it changes to sex work and how wrong it is. At that point, I just leave,” she explains.

“To tell you the truth, I fear for my safety and I can’t even go to the police because they call me names and refuse to assist me. I am a sex worker but I have a name,” Zinenani fumes.  She elaborates that communities need to stop looking at sex work as if it is a new phenomenon and realise that it has been around for a long time.

To cope with this difficult situation, Zinenani stays in touch with CEDEP for advice and psycho-social support. She attributes her new found strength and knowledge of human rights to CEDEP, who she says have been assisting and empowering her with information and advocacy skills since 2009. “It is a bit difficult to protect Zinenani because she lives in Mwanza, which is far from Lilongwe, where the CEDEP head office is. But we are in constant contact with her and we give her regular security briefs [to ensure she remains safe and protected from harm],” explained CEDEP’s Advocacy and Resource Mobilisation Coordinator, Patson Gondwe. The briefs advise her about staying away from public spaces for now, and discourage her from publicly discussing her profession as a sex worker  with people she does not trust, and to not pick up anonymous calls. She is also advised to stay away from argumentative situations and ensure that she is always in the company of people she can trust.

“I am now empowered by CEDEP,” she adds. “This means that I can go to the police station to enquire about a certain charge and seek assistance. CEDEP and CHRR tell me that I have every right to find out.”

“Zinenani has become very assertive and empowered. She has overcome stigma and is living positively. The noble cause [of promoting and protecting human rights] is evident in the people themselves,” says Patson.

Zinenani, together with other sex workers established a support group called Phyanjano. “We go out at night together, we go to the police station together and we also go to the hospital for our regular HIV tests,” she says. However, even with a vast membership, the group has been unable to register as an NGO because they have been prevented from doing so by the Social Welfare and AIDS Coordinator.

Similar to Zinenani, Mercy Kumwenda recently came out publicly as a lesbian and has not been spared the stigma and discrimination attached to this group. “I had reached a point where I said enough is enough,” she explains about her decision to disclose her sexuality. “I wanted my family and friends to know the truth”.

This has however resulted in people insulting her and her father disowning her. “I stay indoors because I receive a lot of calls from people saying they are going to kill me. One man called to say that he will rape me,” she states. “People out there think we practise witchcraft and that we don’t have hearts,” says Mercy. When asked why she does not report this to the police, she says they are some of the people who will hurt her. “CEDEP tells me that I don’t have to run away because it is not necessary, but if someone wants to hurt me they will,” she says.

The safety and security of the women remain a key concern. “Mercy was thrown out of her house and disowned by her father. Therefore, we continue to give her security briefs,” Patson explains. Mercy’s father has since been called for a disciplinary hearing by the church in connection with his daughters sexual orientation, and unidentified men have been visiting her mother asking for her whereabouts so that they can have sex with her in a move to ‘correct her’.

CEDEP has also been instrumental in assisting Mercy to find alternative accommodation by providing financial assistance.

Although there have been serious repercussions as a result of her disclosure, there have also been positive results including an increase in lesbians calling Mercy for assistance. Mercy and other lesbians have also started their own support group. “Even though we do not have funding, I am very happy that I came out because this has helped others come out. We are in the same boat and want to be assisted financially and seen that we too have hearts.”

Mercy and Zinenani were invited to speak at a Women and Girls National Consultation during the Post 2015 Development Agenda Conference in Lilongwe, as representatives of CEDEP and CHRR. They used this opportunity to advocate for the protection of sex workers and adults in consensual same sex relationships in Malawi to the Principal Secretary for Gender, Dr Mary Shawa. 

What is the DiDiRi Collective?

 

The DiDiRi Collective is a collaboration between the 4 implementing partners: ARASA, Positive Vibes Trust, COC and Hivos, established in 2012 to implement a three-year regional programme on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people in southern Africa with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pretoria.

“The DiDiRi Collective was formed out of the recognition that LGBTI people are disproportionally affected by HIV and AIDS and are often stigmatised, socially excluded, and have severely diminished access to health care,” explains Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA. “Therefore, the programme aims to ensure improved recognition, protection and enforcement of the human rights of LGBTI people in Southern Africa and thus the improvement of their sexual and reproductive health.”

The programme is being implemented in collaboration with strong civil society organisations that hold their own governments accountable in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Between 1 September 2012 and 31 August 2015, a set of activities will be implemented by the 4 implementing partners in collaboration with in-country partners, consisting of LGBTI groups and other ARASA partners with the aim of improving respect for and the protection of the human rights of LGBTI and increase access to improved health services and interventions. These interventions will centre on 1) strengthening and building the operational and managerial capacity of the implementing partners to manage the grant; facilitate learning, knowledge management and sharing between in-country partners across the region; 2) providing information and promoting mainstreaming of LGBTI-related health and human rights issues within governments and CSOs; 3) supporting and developing the capacity of in-country partners through organisational development and capacity development for improved advocacy for the right to health for LGBTI in the region; and 4) building the capacity of in-country partners to implement health services at selected sites; guide, support and monitor the implementation of LGBTI health services at selected sites in the region.

From 5 to 6 March, ARASA hosted a regional advocacy consultation with LGBTI groups and other ARASA partners to build on the outcomes of a regional dialogue convened by ARASA in January 2012. The consultation aimed to further examine avenues for creating and strengthening partnerships amongst LGBTI-led and ‘mainstream’ human rights organisations within the SADC region with the aim of pursuing sustainable joint advocacy efforts for LGBTI rights.

“The participants of this consultation identified advocacy-related capacity gaps including media advocacy skills, skills to build movements and form coalitions, skills to lobby and engage policymakers and skills to conduct research on issues affecting LGBTI people and document human rights violations for evidence informed advocacy,” explains Lynette Mabote, ARASAs Advocacy Team Leader. “Over the course of the programme, ARASA will tailor its human rights advocacy training and capacity strengthening interventions to address those gaps”.

In addition, advocacy issues including violence against LGBTI, fuelled by homo and trans-phobia, hate speech from political leaders and religious fundamentalism were identified. Additionally challenges related to the registration of LGBTI organisations, which results in the violation of their freedom of association and expression as well as the lack of enabling legal and policy environments in most countries are key advocacy issues. “Further, participants suggested that advocacy interventions be heightened on various internationally recognised days such as the International Day against Homophobia, World AIDS Day, 16 Days of Activism, Human Rights Day and platforms including the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights and various United Nations Human Rights forums,” adds Lynette. Through dialogue with LGBTI organisations represented at the meeting and other ARASA partner organisations, ARASA will support joined advocacy on the issues identified.

A website (www.didiri.org.na) has already been developed to disseminate information on the programme and other activities that promote and protect the rights of LGBTI people. The website will also serve as a repository for resource materials such as research reports and other publications on the status of LGBTI rights and access to SRHR services in the region.

ARASA is currently recruiting a Programme Manager, who will be tasked with the overall coordination of the programme.  The individual will be based at the head office in Windhoek.