Sexual Diversity in Africa – Past & Present

Binyavanga Wainaina
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The recent passing of Binyavanga Wainaina (above), one of the first high-profile Kenyans to openly declare that he was gay, has once again brought the issue of diversity in Africa to the fore.  We are not homogeneous cultures and people, and should be embracing our differences. Commenting in this article about his life, Nanjala Nyabola commented about his much-publicised “coming out” in 2014,

“What he said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful,”

Botswana has recently de-criminalised gay and lesbian sex, and you can read Kago Komane’s excellent analysis of this process, where he also describes gay bashing as “a colonial import” here.  In an earlier article, Bernadine Evaristo discusses the impact of colonialism in the piece entitled “The Idea that African homosexuality was a colonial import is a myth.”

Several books have researched in depth the history of LGBTQI people in Africa:

  • Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa explores pre-colonial sexual diversity in the Southern African region.  Hungochani is the Shona word for “homosexuality”.  An overview of the different chapters can be found here.
  • Boy-wives and Female Husbands also explores a wide range of African sexualities throughout history and a short summary is given here.
  • An ever-growing range of African literature is also exploring themes around being gay and African, including Uzodinma Iweala’s second novel, Speak No Evil, which is reviewed here.

An Al-Jazeera piece by Tafi Mhaka from late 2018 asks the question, “are anti-gay witch hunts really protecting ‘African values‘”

Put simply, Bisi Alimi’s 2015 Guardian article states “if you say being gay is un-African, you don’t know your history.

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The Persistent Gender Pay Gap

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The ongoing Women’s World Cup has brought to the fore the issue of unequal pay between men and women, which affects virtually every country in the world.   Comprehensive reading about the issue can found in Wikipedia here.

In football, Norway and New Zealand are two of the few countries that have ensured (in the last two years) that their female and male players receive the same pay and the same rewards.  The reigning World Champions, USA, are currently taking legal action to state their case, whilst in the Netherlands an agreement has been reached to ensure that pay parity is reached by 2023.  Read more about these cases here

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported in 2018 that the global pay gap stands at around 18%.  Whilst several countries (notably Luxembourg, Italy and Belgium) have reduced this to 6% or less, there are many others with 30% or more, meaning that in those countries women are earning only 2/3 or less than men.  For a list of the “worst offenders”, please check this article from Business Insider.

Whilst there has been progress in recent years towards pay parity, there is still an enormous gap globally, highlighted by an interesting recent article from the UK Guardian focusing on Debunking the Myths.  Another article from the Guardian highlights the fact that 8 out of 10 firms pay men more than women in UK.

Changing Times……

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For this post, we focus on three initiatives that encourage us to think some social norms are changing… and changing fast and for the better.

Afro-Queer is a podcast about queer Africans living, loving, surviving and thriving on the African continent and in the diaspora.   You can read about and listen to any of the eight episodes in the first season here.   You can also read more about the background to Afro-Queer and the team behind it here.

Launched in 2012, the Inclusive Mosque Initiative is dedicated to creating places of worship for marginalised communities, spiritual practice and the promotion of inclusive Islamic principles.  Have a look at some of the great articles on their blog here.

Towards the end of 2018, Woni Spotts became the first Black woman to have reached every country and every continent in the world.  Read about her story here.   Another person laying claim to this is Jessica Nabongo who is likely to also complete all 195 countries in the coming months – her story is documented here.   Finally, still on the subject of travel, please have a look at some of the blogs featured under the post 11 Black Travel Bloggers you Should Know.

Tackling Sexual Harassment

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Sexual Harassment has been described as “a scourge”, “a plague”, “an emergency” and “a cultural problem”, among others.   Without a doubt, it is an enormous problem reflecting abuse of power usually by men towards women and children.  In this article, we use several examples, which highlight some of the challenges being faced and some of the efforts being made in both to tackle Sexual Harassment.

First, an article by The Conversation with the title ‘ Many Men are Sexually Harassed in the workplace – so why arent they speaking out?’. The article acknowledges the difficulties both men and women have in reporting abuse, the main one being stigma and also perceptual differences in defining the scope of sexual harassment.  Also,  sexist attitudes that justify and tolerate sexual harassment resulting into abuse and significant mental health impact.

In France, there have been some recent legal efforts to tackle Sexual Harassment have been made, including a new law giving instant fines for street harassment, which can be read about here.  However, a survey in early 2018 found that one in eight women in France have been raped at least once in their lifetime and over half of all women have been victims of sexual harassment and violence.  Read an article about the findings here and access the findings in detail here (in French).

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Please also read this article from Human Rights Watch (HRW) concerning the very high levels of sexual harassment in the garment industries of South and South East Asia.  HRW is advocating for  new international standard that will help prevent and respond to harassment and violence at work.

Everyday Sexism is a project started in 2012 to document cases of “everyday sexism” and has documented examples from more than 20 countries, including amongst Refugees.

For detailed information on Sexual Harassment, please check the Wikipedia page here and the UK Guardian’s Sexual Harassment 101 here

How can you prevent sexual harassment? By understanding and supporting advocacy against sexual harassment (changing norms) and by developing and enforcing anti harassment policies at all institutions and public spaces. More on this TED talk by Gretchen Carlson –

Finally, we present an important and powerful film made by SIHA (Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa) which focuses on the role of Men as Allies in the fight against Gender-Based Violence. Please have a look at the film of the project in Sudan below:

Leading Ladies

Leading Ladies is the name of a podcast being launched by the Museum of Women’s History in Lusaka, Zambia.  The first Podcast is now available and is called “The General”, telling the story of Changwe Mwape II who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Hear, see and learn about her remarkable story here.

You can also read more about the museum here or, alternatively, you listen to an introduction about the Museum by two of its founders, Mulenga Kapwepwe and Samba Yonga here.

Leading Ladies Africa is also the name of an organisation founded in 2011 with the aim of “driving leadership for African women, promoting women’s rights in Africa, developing, and equipping African women with the skills required to take on leadership roles across Business, Governance and Corporate sectors.”  Please take a look at their blog and some fascinating articles here.

Finally, we go back to Zambia to meet Besa Mumba  (below) who, in 2016, became Zambia’s youngest pilot at the age of 19.  Read about her here and watch a short film where she tells her inspiring story here.

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Gender Equality Organisations

In this post, we wish to highlight several interesting organisations taking radical and progressive approaches in the field of Gender Equality.

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The Society of Gender Professionals (SGP) is an international association of gender practitioners, academics, and activists dedicated to promoting feminist action and applied research, and raising the profile of gender expertise around the world.  Amongst their activities are the development of Communities of Practise, Running Gender Cafes and sharing of information and resources.  Membership is free and open to anyone engaged in Gender work – the membership form can be accessed here.

Women Deliver is another international organisation promoting Gender Equality, which hosts regular global conferences.  The 2019 Women Deliver Conference is taking place from 3-6 June in Vancouver, Canada with a wide range of speakers.  Information on past conferences is also accessible from here.

Promundo is a global organisation focused on promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls with an excellent Resources page.

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The Inter-Agency Gender Working Group (IGWG) promotes gender equity in order to improve global health and foster sustainable development, and also has a range of very useful resources (toolkits, research reports, factsheets etc.) which can be accessed here.

The Global Women’s Institute is an organisation focused on “research, education and action for change.”  Amongst their recent research is a policy brief and report on Violence against Adolescent Girls in South Sudan.

Finally, it is important to mention the work of KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) in Netherlands which conducts research, training programmes in the field of Social Justice and Gender Equality.  For more about their Gender work, please click here.

Inter-Sectionality – What is it?

“There is no such thing as a single issue struggle as we do not live single issue lives” – Audre Lorde, African-American writer, feminist and civil rights activist.

We are dedicating this post to discussion and debate on Inter-Sectionality, a term that has been in use since 1989 but one that is not well understood beyond a few circles…

Social Inclusion, the inspiration for this blog, is deeply about Inter-Sectionality – it aims to understand the importance of not seeing the wide range of issues of Exclusion and Oppression in isolation from each other and, critically, not in competition with each other.  As was famously said many times, “oppression is oppression is oppression.”

In brief, many factors impact an individual’s experience, some of the key ones are detailed in the diagram below:

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The term Inter-Sectionality was first coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 with particular reference to the inter-section between Race and Gender experienced by Black women.

More recently, a powerful book about British racism written by Reni Eddo-Lodge called “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about Race” refers in depth to the importance of inter-sectionality when discussing structural racism and feminism.  An extract from the book published by the Guardian in late 2017 can be read here and her blog can be accessed here.

Finally, please take some time to watch Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED Talk entitled “The Urgency of Inter-Sectionality” below: