LILONGWE—Malawians should embrace tolerance and reject discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, human rights groups said Thursday on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) which falls on 17th May.
“As CHRR and Cedep mark this important day in the international human rights calendar, we wish to draw public attention to the reality of homophobia and trans-phobia that sexual minorities in Malawi face every day,” a statement by the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Center for the Development of People (Cedep).
Malawi’s constitution adopted in 1995, a year after the party democracy was introduced, guarantees the rights of all but country’s colonial-era penal code punishes those who dare to have "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" as was the case in 2010 of Malawi’s first openly gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza who were sentenced to 14 years in jail before they were pardoned by the late president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Religious groups however lead the campaign against legalizing homosexuality, saying it’s not Malawian.
CHRR and CEDEP on Thursday said “Christianity or any other religion should not be used to alienate diversity.
“People in Malawi have different beliefs and it is unfair to impose beliefs or regulate society using beliefs from one group or sect.”
The groups appealed to the new government of Pres Joyce Banda to “pursue a policy of inclusiveness rather than exclusion, noting that the Malawi government cannot continue to condone homophobia when governments across the world are propounding values of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance.
“We once again say decriminalisation will not only help people from the misery of having to live a life underground, but will also help to stem the continuing HIV epidemic,” the groups said.
They went on to argue that their 2011 survey showed that "while 99.5 percent of respondents expressed knowledge of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals in Malawi, a majority expressed strong intolerance and disapproval of the existence of this group.
“Indeed, many chose negative words to describe their feelings towards sexual minorities."
What did they conclude?
Homophobia cuts across all social classes, gender and social groups. Despite the strong negative perceptions and attitudes towards homosexuality, however, the survey offered some hope of tolerance, revealing that about 30 percent of the respondents agreed that LGBTI persons deserve protection from discrimination.
“Homophobia is a clear breach of human dignity, and is incompatible with the principles of equality and non-discrimination on which our constitution is founded. The principle of non-discrimination requires that human rights a
pply equally to every human being regardless of a person’s status. One does not cease to be human because of different sexual orientation. Therefore, their rights need to be protected,” the rights groups said.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia aims to coordinate international events to call for respect for sexual minorities worldwide. May 17 was chosen to commemorate the decision taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 17, 1990 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, marking an end medical homophobia.
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