Queer Lives in Africa during Covid-19
In many countries across Africa, even in “normal” everyday life, the queer community lives in fear and is subjected to violence and discrimination on basis of their sexuality. NGO groups that do work that support LGBTQI+ lives are underfunded in comparison to the work that they need to do for the community. Often times queer people are kicked out of their homes when their families find out, or homes that they grew up in become unsafe spaces for the because of homophobia and violence from their families. As such, they are a vulnerable community which translates to them feeling the pinch of crises such as covid-19 even harder than others.
Even in countries where homosexuality is legal such as South Africa they still face violence from the community in the form of corrective rape, physical and sexual assault, as well as law enforcement not taking their cases against these acts with the seriousness they deserve. As such even when the law recognises their existence their relationship with police officers does not allow them to use the law as often as needed. In the covid-19 era, this is even more dangerous because police officers and soldiers are the ones who are enforcing lock-down restrictions all over the continent. What this means for the LGBTQI+ community is that even when they face violence in their homes they cannot leave the house because countries are under lock-down. Additionally it means that they cannot freely use police services to report this abuse as their cases will not be prioritised and they will still be stuck in the homes that they are in with even increased aggression because they dared to report.
The Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, shared that law enforcers should be reminded by the government that just because we are in an era of public emergency does not change the fact that police violence is against the law (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Despite similar statements from civil society organisations across Africa, it is very unlikely that these concerns will be taken seriously and that violent police officers will be held accountable. In Kenya where unlike South Africa the law does not recognise LGBTQI+ rights, a dusk to dawn curfew was put in place to contain covid-19 infections on the twenty-seventh of March 2020, in the 10 days that followed the Kenyan police had killed at least 6 people. (Aljazeera, 2020)
This goes to show that if the police are killing people who the law recognises under the guise of covid-19 regulation enforcement, then the queer are at an increased danger as they could be killed or abused and the excuse given be that they were violating regulations. This is a very vital issue because NGOs that usually protect their communities have their hands tied during this situation as they cannot move as freely and as such it would take time for them to offer assistance. NGOs that protect the queer are even more overwhelmed than usual.
NGOs throughout the continent have been seeking for donations from individuals and organisations alike in the form of housing, food, toiletry etc. for queer people who have been kicked out of their houses or can no longer afford their houses as a result of lost income. This has revealed the gaps in the social assistance packages that African countries have in place for covid-19. Some queer people cannot participate in these social assistance packages because their lives are criminalised and they are in hiding. It comes down to opening the door to receive food from police officers who could abuse you because of your sexuality, to being hungry and that is not a choice anybody should have to make. In Nigeria, on the first of April, families that are registered in the government’s National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Households started receiving $52/month as covid-19 relief. It is sad that there is a high probability that queer people who qualify to be on that list might not be on it because it would risk their existence. (Human Rights Watch, 2020)
Another issue that is affecting the queer during these unprecedented times is mental health issues. In Botswana, the Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana NGO commonly known as LEGABIBO, has been under a lot of strain. Within the first week of the regulations, a member and queer activist of the community in Botswana committed suicide and this affected the community really hard. Immediately LEGABIBO organised and made clear that they understand that many queer people are stuck in homes that are violent to them, and may have their mental health compromised as a result and started offering virtual mental support in the form of therapists for queers (LEGABIBO, 2020). It is much harder to get donations for mental health in many of our countries because most African cultures deny the realities of depression, personality disorders and anxiety among other mental issues.
ACCESS TO HEALTH SERVICES
LEGABIBO has also pointed out in their weekly newspaper column in March, that vulnerable communities such as the queer are more at risk especially with unwelcoming health facilities throughout the country that many people do not feel safe to go to because of homophobia. They also mentioned that people who are HIV positive and immuno-compromised are at higher risk of covid-19 and that while they are not asking for special treatment, they expect healthcare professionals to be aware of this and to make services welcoming enough to the queer during these times. (LEGABIBO, 2020)
Furthermore, transgender persons across the continet who are transitioning have had their hormone treatments interrupted because the treatments in some cases have runout in their countries, and other times because they cannot get to their clinics because public transport has been banned in some countries. (Lynch & Teagle, 2020)
I hope this article has shown you that even though we are all going through hard times currently, there are vulnerable groups that are going through worse because they cannot get access to the services we take for granted as a result of their sexuality. This pandemic has exposed how exclusive and discriminatory our social assistance programmes, healthcare systems and even our law enforcement services are. However civil society is working overtime to help the LGBTQI+ community to get through this period safely and even with limited resources it is doing amazing work.
With this knowledge what you as the ordinary citizen can do is to search and find out about the queer communities in your society and find out what resources they need and assist as much as you can. Share this article with your networks and hopefully it will remind us to be kind and empathetic to those who are different from us, which sometimes is all that can make a difference.
- Aljazeera. (2020). Six killed by Kenyan police enforcing coronavirus curfew: HRW. Aljazeera.com. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/killed-kenyan-police-enforcing-coronavirus-curfew-hrw-200422144016333.html.
- Human Rights Watch. (2020). Nigeria: Protect Most Vulnerable in COVID-19 Response. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/14/nigeria-protect-most-vulnerable-covid-19-response.
- Human Rights Watch. (2020). South Africa: Set Rights-Centered COVID-19 Measures. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/07/south-africa-set-rights-centered-covid-19-measures.
- LEGABIBO. (2020). LEGABIBO. Web.facebook.com. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://web.facebook.com/legabibo/posts/10159737974809251?_rdc=1&_rdr.
- LEGABIBO. (2020). LEGABIBO. Web.facebook.com. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://web.facebook.com/legabibo/posts/10159699739534251?_rdc=1&_rdr.
- Smith, L. (2015). Corrective rape: The homophobic fallout of post-apartheid South Africa. Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 8 May 2020, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11608361/Corrective-rape-The-homophobic-fallout-of-post-apartheid-South-Africa.html.