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The ACHPR’s refusal to award observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians is further evidence of its desire to silence the voice of African women, writes Rose Wanjiku. It's time to speak out.

Recently, I attended a conference session where those gathered were discussing Kenya’s penal code that criminalises homosexuality.

Sadly, the issue was narrowed to gays versus lesbians and it degenerated to an ugly debate when one of the participants snapped: ‘You lesbians have it so easy, nobody bothers about two women living together and displaying affection in public. You people should not even bother about the law because it is silent on lesbians. Do not stir trouble by insisting to be part of the bid to push for decriminalisation.’ A few people clapped, but after that there was deafening silence. The session ended prematurely and most women present left without a word as though agreeing that they were better of in silence.

This tale reminded me of the women of my grandmother, my mother’s and those of my generation who were/are condemned to silence. These women have been forced to be silent even when it is vital to speak.

The same tale of ‘women should be silent’ was replayed recently when the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights denied the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) observer status because apparently CAL does not promote and protect human rights.

With a rude three sentence letter declining the application, CAL was expected to sit pretty because ‘after [all] it is a bunch of women’ out to cause trouble in the rather ‘progressive’ but conservative African Commission. Ironically, the commission held celebrations to mark 30 years since the launch of the African Charter on Human Rights. The trumpet blowing about the achievements and progress made was deafening. The women of Congo, Darfur, Somalia, Chad, Guinea and other war-torn areas were forgotten. It is these women that the commission wants CAL to be silent about when they declined the application for observer status. It is the voice of millions of women in Africa they want silenced.

Repeating the ‘homosexuality is un-African’ statement is like trying to inflate a punctured tyre – it just doesn’t work.

The commission has let African women down, it has looked the other way when they are killed, maimed, raped or forced into labour and other forms exploitation. Now the same commission cannot deny women a voice on moral, cultural, religious or whatever basis. The reason the African Charter on Human Rights was drafted was because rights are not given through whims. They are guaranteed for every African, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

African governments are averse to respect of human and peoples rights; the commission should not be an avenue to coalesce oppression.


* Rose Wanjiku is director of Artists For Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA-Kenya).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.