Statement on Zero Discrimination Day, 01 March 2022
A call on African governments to protect the rights of key populations
On the 1st of March, commemorated across the globe as Zero Discrimination Day, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) calls upon African governments to End Inequalities and to ensure availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality sexual and reproductive health services for all, particularly key populations, without discrimination.
The last two years have been a stark reminder that inequalities are at the centre of our ability to tackle public health crises. It is therefore now, more than ever, essential that we pay attention to those who are the most vulnerable. In the context of HIV, women and key populations (KP’s), namely men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers and trans people are at highest risk of HIV. They are unfortunately also the groups that face systematic sexual and reproductive rights violations, fuelled by barriers embedded in laws, policies, the economy, and in social norms and values.
A recent Regional Scan of the level of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and HIV services for Transgender people in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe done by ARASA, found that Trans people experience hostility, stigmatisation and violence for being ‘different’ while simultaneously being invisible (in legal frameworks, in healthcare approaches, through NGO and other programming) and hypervisible (when in public, to law enforcement, when at work or accessing healthcare). This results in a unique set of vulnerabilities and forms of discrimination which continue to pervade the law, political rhetoric and interactions with service providers, family members and broader communities.
Furthermore, a recent report released by Ritshidze SA says that most KPs relied on public health facilities to access HIV/AIDS treatment, hormone treatment, contraceptives and methadone. According to the report a significant number of KPs are refused help because of their identities as KPs. Many are expected to explain themselves in public in order to get the treatment they deserve and as much as 20% of the 6000 respondents say that they are too ashamed to return to these facilities and would much rather just go without healthcare altogether.
Discrimination against KPs is a long-standing issue and progress in Africa is slow. Across the world, 80 nations have discriminatory laws against same sex couples. In Africa, only 4 countries give same-sex couples some form of rights. Most African leaders have committed themselves to ending AIDS in their countries by 2030, but they fail to connect the dots. They fail to realize that if we do not protect KPs and give them adequate sexual and reproductive rights and healthcare, the end of the AIDS pandemic will remain a distant dream.
ARASA would like to reiterate its call to national African governments: We will never reach Zero Discrimination if we do not address structural barriers such as laws and policies and criminalise key populations. We cannot eliminate HIV/AIDS on the continent if we do not listen and respond to the needs of the groups most vulnerable to the disease and make a concerted effort to train healthcare workers about the importance of respect and dignity toward KPs. We cannot ensure the bodily autonomy and integrity of KPs and we will cannot eliminate HIV/AIDS unless we ensure sufficient budgets are allocated to protecting their sexual and reproductive health rights.
ARASA together with its partners across the continent have made significant inroads in addressing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. By investing in building the capacity of our civil society organisations and activists, ARASA has built a network of support for key population groups across Africa. Unfortunately, the alliance cannot offer them the much-needed healthcare they deserve.
We call upon the leaders of this continent, in the spirit of Ubuntu and in light of their constitutional obligations, to End Inequality by creating and maintaining an inclusive, caring environment for KPs.
To read our most recent report, a Regional Scan of the level of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and HIV services for Transgender people in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, click here.