From the local to the continental, the Fahamu Pan-African Fellowship programme aims to nurture and support grassroots African activism - generating contemporary, energetic, visionary and innovative thought and activism.

Sensitive and Controversial subjects

Health Development Initiative (HDI) VISIT

I visited Health Development Initiative (HDI) with Kaitlin Dearham, the East Africa Program Manager for the launching of None on Record project in Kenya. We met with Dr. Kagaba, the director of HDI. Enlightened about some of the controversial programs the HDI team addresses, we were keen to hear the challenges faced in advocating for sensitive and controversial issues, with Rwandan society still clinging to cultural practices.

Some of the issues addressed and discussed were the criminalization of abortion; sexual minority rights; discrimination against sex workers; and condoms and sex education for the youths in schools. We learned that a bill on sex workers was tabled in the Rwandan parliament. It was decided if you’re arrested for the first time doing sex work you will be pardoned, but the second time you will be detained and charged.

We cannot all be in a white collar jobs or work in governments offices. No restriction or rules should be placed on anyone’s body. It will encourage the self-placed judges to impose their virtues, morals and living standards on others. The December 17th the official day for sex workers is celebrated worldwide; in Nairobi, we held a parade for the occasion. The theme of day was” my body my choice”, or “mwili wangu chaguo langu” in Swahili. More of these parades should be encouraged and held worldwide to ease the injustice faced by the sex workers. The HDI team and the activists supporting the motion of legalizing commercial sex are still emphasizing on scraping off the whole act of arresting sex workers.

Decriminalizing abortion completely is also an important part of the program. Dr. Kagaba said that every day, two women in the world lose their lives to unsafe abortion. The program on the decriminalization of abortion happens in partnership with condoms and sex education for the youth in schools. Even with the society still believing in practices such as “sex after marriage”, the youth still practice unsafe sex, especially in boarding schools. The introduction of these sensitive programs to schools is not to encourage the youths to engage in sexual acts, but to guide them to practice safe sex when their curiosity gets the best of them.

The program is to educate the youth on protecting themselves from becoming young mothers or fathers, or damaging their health in their ignorance. It is also to discourage unsafe abortion, where we lose our young girls to shady unlicensed healers and fake doctors, in the process of eliminating the fetus.

The other controversial program is the advocacy for sexual minorities’ rights. For Dr. Kagaba, a problem is that not all the sexual minorities co-exit peacefully. Divisions within the movement lead to hierarchy. This is not only seen in Rwanda, but around the African continent. I have personally witnessed these divisions in East Africa countries.

The division between sexual minorities has made the grassroots queer communities feel the elephant’s foot when push comes to shove. The middle class have means to protect their lives, but grassroots queer people are tortured, raped and brutally murdered. The rule of the jungle applies, and it boils down to hunt or be hunted.

In Rwanda, government policy is clear: no discrimination regardless of your sexual preference. But the community is struggling to be tolerant to the gay and lesbian community in Rwanda. Despite the government’s rules and their constitution, the society does not tolerate the men who have sex with men (MSM). Most women who have sex with women (WSW) are not visible or out.

To the HDI team, congratulations for advocating and showing leadership on the most crucial unspoken topics, and addressing injustice practiced by humans.

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