Law and Policies on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Southern Africa Need Urgent Revision

Posted by Michaela on June 30, 2016

Law and Policies on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Southern Africa Need Urgent Revision

Windhoek, Namibia, 30 June 2016: The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) is proud to launch the “Identifying Injustice: Laws and Policy on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and HIV in Southern Africa” report, which outlines how laws and policies in ten countries in Southern Africa impact the lives, heath and rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

“Southern Africa continues to be intolerant of diversity on grounds that are plainly irrational, resulting in some countries enacting retrogressive criminal sanctions against homosexuality. These punitive measures have had the effect of undermining HIV education and prevention programmes designed for men who have sex with men or persons of diverse sexual orientations or gender identities,” said Hon. Justice Professor OBK Dingake, Judge of the High Court of Botswana and the Residual Special Court of Sierra Leone and Co-chair of Southern and East African Think Tank on HIV, Health and Social Justice in the Foreword of the report. “We must never forget that LGBTI rights are human rights; consequently calling for respect of the rights of this community should not be considered controversial or radical in anyway.”

The protection of human rights is essential to ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, especially in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. In Southern Africa, legal and policy environments differ widely. While South Africa offers constitutional protection, and Mozambique has recently decriminalised same-sex practices, a majority of countries still have criminalising and discriminatory laws and policies in place. Such laws and policies have a severe effect upon the lives and health of LGBTI people.

It is also clear that even in those countries that offer legal protection to the LGBTI community, the reality faced by the individuals who live there is often far from reflective of this protection. Ongoing violence against lesbian women who have sex with other women in South Africa and recent backlashes against the LGBTI community in Malawi, prove that there is still a long way to go. What is clear in the ever-changing human rights landscape in Southern Africa is that advocacy needs to be evidence-based, it needs to be rooted in the communities that are most affected by the laws and policies that require change, and it needs to move towards ensuring accountability of states in their commitments to uphold human rights.

“Through this report, activists, policy makers, service providers, and the communities can gain a clear understanding of the legal environment they work in. It provides clear recommendations and entry points for advocacy towards a committed, clear, and enabling legal and policy environment for the LGBTI community,” said Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA.

Among its wide-ranging recommendations, the report calls upon states in Southern Africa to conceive and implement at country level, human rights strategies to address legal and policy discrimination against LGBTI persons, with a focus on barriers in accessing health facilities and services and HIV related care and services. The report also calls upon countries to facilitate legal recognition of transgender and gender non-conforming persons, including by facilitating re-issuing of identity documents reflecting their preferred gender and name, without infringements of their human rights. Specifically, countries should facilitate this process, without the requirements of surgery, or specific medical interventions, diagnosis or sterilisation and without adverse implications on marriage or parental rights. 

Note to editors:

Identifying Injustice: Laws and Policy on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and HIV in Southern Africa will be relaunched at the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) in Durban on the 19th of July 2016 at 16h30 in the Human Rights Networking Zone in the Global Village, after a panel discussion about LGBTI rights. 

The AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa has been one of the implementing partners of the Dignity, Diversity, and Rights (DiDiRi) programme, which has supported health advocacy interventions in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe. As part of this programme, we sought to create tools that could support advocacy efforts, and in particular provide evidence to support efforts on a national, regional, and international level.


For more information, request for photographs contained in the report and to arrange interviews, contact:

1. Lesley Odendal, Communications Lead or +27 72 960 8991 or

2. Felicita Hikuam, Deputy Director or +27 76 869 1051


The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) is a partnership of 106 civil society organisations working together to promote a human rights based response to HIV and TB in southern and east Africa.

For more information on ARASA’s work and its partners, please visit: 

Lesley Odendal
Communications Lead
AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA)

The relevant documents can be downloaded below.