Proud Namibia

By Bianca Braganza

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time with the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) has been the civic outreach and education we have conducted. The Chairperson, as part of the mandate of the Commission, provides legal education to the public and community organizations on various subjects upon request. This summer has been filled with presentations crafted specifically for the legal rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in Windhoek, with a strong vision for the future of a Proud Namibia.

Wings to Transcend Namibia

Pictured with the board of Wings to Transcend Namibia: Left is Jholerina, the founder of the NGO, myself, Princess, Programs Officer, and right, the Chairperson of the LRDC, Ms. Dausab. Not pictured is Teddy, who is the Advocacy and Communications Officer.

In late May, the Board from the NGO Wings to Transcend Namibia, came to visit the Commission to request civic education on the status of the legal rights of transgender persons in the country. Here, Princess tells her story of coming out to her family and the journey to acceptance she has struggled to achieve within her family, community and country at large. What I have appreciated the most about our civic education and legal engagements is the way in which the Chairperson pushes for narratives, and for engaging our personal stories with the legal activism and endeavours we pursue. Ms. Dausab began the meeting not with agenda-setting and running through legal provisions and the report we prepared, but rather by inviting the Board to tell us about themselves, their journey, and the current experiences on the ground of persons who identify as transgender in Namibia.

Community Civic Education: Trans Rights

This led to the presentation we conducted earlier this month to the community at large on the legal rights of persons who identify as transgender in the country. Upon request from the community themselves, we addressed human and constitutional rights of transgender persons with regards to: interactions with the police (and the levels of brutality and discrimination this community faces), health care workers and discrimination in employment. We also presented legal steps that could be taken to change one’s name and pictures on official legal documents. This necessitated a thorough analysis of various birth, immigration and identification acts and informing the community of strong cases that could be made to advance legal recognition of their gender.

As we presented on the Pan African landscape for transgender rights, we were thrilled to discuss the exciting news from two weeks earlier that Botswana has decriminalized sodomy. This has had incredible repercussions for the perception, acceptance and legitimization of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community at large. Botswana has also led the way for the rights of transgender persons, where in September of 2017, the High Court ruled for the right of a person to change their gender marker on their identity documents as refusing to do so was unreasonable, and violated their right to: dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment.

The LRDC routinely conducts civic education on the history and application of Human Rights in the country. Ms. Dausab’s personal style uses interactive tools such as group discussions and activities to elicit key themes and takeaways from her presentation. For this presentation, she broke the approximately 30 community members into 3 groups, and had them complete an activity about the aftermath of a shipwreck, where we all were tasked with assigning roles (to the male and females in the fact pattern) for fetching wood, cooking, hunting, building, and engineering with the aim of outlining how cultural norms (and even domestically, how different tribes) conceptualize the traditional gender binary and male and female roles in society.

Completing the reflection activity.

One of the most pivotal parts of our presentation to the community included emphasizing not making the same mistakes as our neighbor South Africa, in the quest for equality. Here, legal progress preceded social progress. In the landmark case of Minister of Home Affairs vs Fourie, South Africa legalized same sex marriage in 2006, after a lesbian couple claimed their right to marry in a post-apartheid country. Although making South Africa a leader in the African context for marriage equality and legal protection against discrimination (the country has added protection provisions for discrimination based on sexual orientation in legislation), the case did not cause a nationwide consensus or shift in the social perception of LGBTQIA+ people. In effect, legal protection preceded public acceptance. There is currently more violence and brutality against the community in South Africa, despite the legal framework in place, than in Namibia, which does not have any legal provisions based on sexual orientation (or gender identification for that matter). It was therefore fundamental to provide a holistic account of social change during our presentation, and reinforce that the law is not always the sole answer. There needs to be incremental social change within the country based on: active citizenship (representation in government and the workforce of the community); education; media (using the arts as a powerful way to shift public perception and to foster empathy and compassion towards the community, as well as eradicate stigma related to HIV/AIDS and sex work); business indicators; and advocacy and action.*

#BeFree

The #BeFree Day that the Chairperson was invited to speak at was a very special and moving experience for me. It fused together the worlds I am passionate about of law, health, social justice, the arts and youth empowerment. The movement itself of #BeFree seeks to engage high school students with current topics that are culturally seen to be “taboo” and covers the topics specifically of LGBTQIA+, sex work and HIV/AIDS with the aim of educating youth and eradicating stigma and false information. The messages were beautifully presented, and incorporated a range of ways in which to explore these themes, including dance, comedy, theatre, the high school students themselves presenting a debate (the topic of religion versus culture), a panel discussion (with experts in legal, medical, and community activism), and of course, the open dialogue with the Chairperson, and the First Lady of Namibia (pictured to the right).

High School students from local Windhoek schools, awaiting the start of the programming.

At the #BeFree Day, alongside the Chairperson after her successful open dialogue on same sex marriage, disability rights and access to education with the First Lady of Namibia.

 

Namibia’s Diverse Women Association – UN SDGs and SOGIESC

Namibia’s Diverse Women’s Association (NDWA) requested a presentation from the LRDC to educate leaders in the community on the status of the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the country, with the aim of building a national linkage and intersectional human rights equality and inclusivity agenda. This was to be done by drawing upon UN systems and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to strategize on how exactly to advance the rights based on Sexual Orientation Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in Namibia.

With the framework of the SDGs, we aimed to create a holistic presentation that highlighted the intersectionality of various sectors in the advancement of this community’s rights in Namibia (health protections, the police force, economic advancement, housing and education). We also presented on the language and provisions of the Constitution while drawing upon successful cases made in South Africa and Botswana. There are currently two cases currently going to the Supreme Court of Namibia for same sex marriage (we find ourselves in extremely exciting times!).

We concluded that potential law reform moving forward can take the shape of (foremost) the repeal of the criminalization of sodomy (Criminal Procedure Act of 1977), the amendment of the Combatting of Immoral Practices Act of 1980 (including the repeal of outdated and unconstitutional provisions) and the insertion of protection of the rights of persons from discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identification into various acts- from Labour, to Immigration, to Health Services Acts. It can also include the amendment of the Identification Act to allow gender marker changes and pictures for identification to be accepted without proof of gender reassignment surgery (which, in addition to hormone therapy, is currently not covered by insurance nor provided in the country).

Pictured with leaders from various LGBTQIA+ community grassroots organizations in Windhoek.

* “South Africa still hasn’t won LGBTQ+ equality. Here are 5 reasons why”. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/south-africa-road-to-lgbtq-equality/

Women & Human Rights: Part II

2015 Stevens YuanBy Yuan Stevens

This is the second of two blog posts about the work of women in human rights. You can find my first post featuring Salini Sharma’s work with Safecity in Delhi, India right here.

 

mali logo

 

I want to tell you about the fascinating work of Ibtissame (Betty) Lachgar in Morocco. She is a clinical psychologist with expertise in victimology and criminology. 

In 2009, Betty (her preferred name) founded MALI (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles, or in Arabic, مالي؟ الحركة البديلة من أجل الحريات الفردية). They’re a radical civil disobedience organization and Betty claims that they are the only movement of this kind in the country.

MALI fights for civil liberties such as freedom of conscience, religion and expression, abortion rights and LGBTQI rights.

They fight for change in what has been criticized as an authoritarian and Islamic state where, for example, both pre-marital sex and homosexuality are illegal (see this Wikipedia page for details on the latter).

 

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Betty, left, in one of MALI’s Facebook photos. Used with permission.

 

How does an organization like this do their work? 

Those in the MALI community initiate premeditated and strategic actions that fight for specific rights and in specific places.

MALI’s first action was in 2009.

In order to fight for freedom of conscience and from religion, Betty organized a picnic in the middle of the day during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday where those who partake don’t eat or drink except before dawn and after sunset.

The act was also a part of MALI’s struggle to repeal article 222 of the Moroccan penal code whereby anyone who is “commonly known to be Muslim” can be placed in prison for up to 6 months if they violate the fast.

The active was symbolic, Betty told a group of us during the IHRTP. She said the purpose of the action was not to provoke nor shock people, but to symbolically fight against the state religion which seeks to control citizens’ freedom of conscience. The MALI movement wanted to “create a buzz”; to get people thinking. Find out more about the picnic here.

 

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Part of an exhibit that MALI showed to the Moroccan embassy in the Netherlands in 2012. Taken from MALI’s Facebook page with permission.

 

Another key action of MALI was in 2013.

Betty organized a “kiss-in” in front of the Moroccan parliament building to protest the arrest of two teens who posted on Facebook a photo of themselves kissing in public. The teenaged friend who took the photo was also arrested — all of them for public indecency. Betty told us that this event caused her to fear for her life due to the death threats that ensued.

Finally, the last MALI action I want to highlight happened just this year in 2015.

MALI members decided to take a huge risk and stood in front of Moroccan parliament with gay pride flags.

This occurred in the atmosphere of two French Femen activists who were expelled from Morocco after they stripped to the waist with “In gay we trust” written on their chests and kissed in front of a 12th century unfinished mosque tower. The women did this in reaction to the court’s prosecution of three homosexual men.

Betty says this particular action was very hard — it was tense, dangerous. An army of police was there. The secret service were there. They waited for her, she said — but she said it was, in a way, nonetheless fun for her; it’s part of the game she needs to play to fight for people’s rights.

 

betty 4

Betty at Hamburg’s 2014 Pride Parade. Used with permission.

 

There is no doubt that MALI is a radical organization that is sure to make people feel uncomfortable — that’s part and parcel of the work they do.

Regardless of our stance on MALI’s initiatives, Betty is a role model for all of us in her courage and choices — as a human rights activist and in her context — to rally people together to fight for their civil liberties and sexual rights. 

You can find MALI’s Twitter feed here and Betty’s personal Twitter account here.

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