Conference in Pretoria tackles LGBTI issues affecting human rights defenders

The Aids and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (Arasa) has organised a meeting for rights organizations to discuss human rights issues with a focus on LGBTI issues.

The meeting, in Pretoria, South Africa, began on Tuesday, January 16 and ends on Wednesday January 18. It brings together human rights defenders from Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa.

In her opening remarks Lynnette Mabote the Arasa advocacy team leader said Arasa felt the need to convene a special meeting of human rights defenders, especially those from civil society organizations working on human rights or HIV programmes.

She said that these people in particular were often unwilling or unable to address LGBTI rights violations. Mabote added that usually the response from grassroots organizations was very weak as LGBTI were rarely involved in programme design and delivery.

Many human rights defender in the room agreed with opening remarks saying there are many challenges faced by organizations dealing with LGBTI or sexual minorities and that these had been characterised by, “contextual struggles, which often hinge on misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the real issues as the legal environment [in most countries in the region] had often been a barrier for LGBTI led organizations or human rights organizations that support LGBTI rights work.”

One of the objectives of the meeting is to understand the national challenges faced by partners working on human rights issues concerning LGBTI communities and share knowledge and organizational materials that will aid in filling the gaps that hamper progress of work being done at in country level.

The meeting will end on Wednesday when the participants will try to see what is missing at the grassroots, national and regional levels to foster tolerance and acceptance in response to discrimination in institutions and amongst the general public.

It is hoped that this will create a more enabling environment to advocate for and claim rights including the rights to health for LGBTI.

The meeting will also look into how to deal with statements by some African heads of state which further enforce state sponsored homophobia.

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