Zambia’s first lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, speaking at a UNAIDS hosted reception last night said that “the silence around issues of Men who have Sex with Men should be stopped and no one should be discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation, rather, we should address reproductive health issues around this issue.” She further went on to assure people working in the sexual and reproductive health sector of her and the president’s support. Zambia has in recent months seen harassment and arrest of same sex practicing adults and couples.
The first lady herself is one of the most recognized Zambian specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology and has practiced as a physician at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka for more than 25 years, and lectured for the past 15 years at the University of Zambia School of Medicine. Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata was appointed WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador against Gender-based Violence from October 2012 to October 2014. She is also the current chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies against cervical and breast cancer.
Miracles Do Happen in Zambia
Richard Lee has commented on Dr Kaseba-Sata’s ‘earthshattering’ statement on the AllAfrica web site. He says it’s been a dreadful year for gay rights in Zambia with waves of homophobic hate speech interspersed with spurious arrests and public harassment of same sex couples.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of what the First Lady said – in a country where the vast majority of people are opposed to gay rights, where most people are totally opposed to even discussing the topic and where two men are on trial for “having carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Another man, Paul Kasonkomona, is on trial for talking on TV about the rights of LGBTI individuals (and indeed all individuals) in relation to the on-going battle against HIV.
The First Lady’s remarkable – and potentially game-changing – statement comes just a few days after another renowned doctor and HIV activist, Manase Phiri, championed gay rights at Evelyn Hone college. Dr Phiri has been assailed by religious bigots and homophobes, who bandy the words ‘bible’ and ‘evil’ around with gay abandon. But he is an easy target. It will be fascinating to see how they respond to the First Lady’s comments.