“In South Africa we are free. But in the communities that we are living in, we are not free”, Valisa Jara claims, referring to the targeted violence against lesbians, bisexual and women who have sex with women (WSW) in South Africa. Since 1998, at least thirty-one lesbians have been killed in attacks, many of which began with “corrective rape”- an assault in which a man rapes a lesbian, bisexual or WSW in an attempt to “cure” her sexual orientation.
According to research done by the Johannesburg based Forum for the Empowerment of Women, black lesbians who live in isolated townships, are particularly vulnerable. In addition, alarming rates of rape and sexual violence have resulted in high rates of HIV among lesbians and bisexual women in South Africa.
Despite the stigma and discrimination lesbian and other WSW experience in South Africa, they are still fighting for their human rights to be acknowledged and protected. So, with these challenges on the ground, what can we do to combat this violence and advocate for Lesbian and other WSW in South Africa?
1. Recognize South Africa’s homophobia is a colonial export. Same- sex relationships were historically prohibited in South Africa because of the sodomy laws inherited from the Dutch colonists. These laws impacted same-sex relations among various South African groups. We need to recognize the colonial underpinnings of homophobia and have honest discussions on human sexuality in the African context before, during and after the colonial period.
2. Be an Advocate and Act. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said, “The LGBTI community in South Africa, as much we all have rights, is a community that still needs to be properly supported, properly positioned”. We can be engaged and empowered in the fight against WSW /lesbian stigma by joining advocacy and victim empowerment organizations like OUT, Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), and others.
3. Educate children on sexual diversity through online platforms. According to a report by The Other Foundation, there is modest support for more education about the human rights and social inclusion of lesbian people in South Africa, both for learners in school as well as community based education. Mila, a website and app, which hosts a large series of videos that feature South Africans, tackling South African-centric issues, can be used to teach children about sexual diversity.
4. Support Reform Initiatives. In recent years, gruesome stories of murder and rape have grabbed South African headlines, but little has been done to improve the mechanisms to monitor hate crimes incidents. We can support multi-sectoral coalitions like the Hate Crimes Working Group which can act to prevent and to combat hate crimes by improving the policing of, and judicial responses to hate crimes; and assist in the development of effective mechanisms to monitor hate crimes incidents.
5. Be an Ally. Many Lesbian and other WSW feel confined by the complexity of intersecting injustices: lack of education, joblessness, powerlessness in family or community, and poverty. Donating to non-profit organization like Micro Rainbow International can help Lesbians and other WSW boost their income and economic opportunities through crowd-sourcing platforms.
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