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Sexuality in Malawi: If Only We had a Feminist Government

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

“The discrimination and criminalization of same sex relations, regardless of whatever colonized cultural and religious reasons we may conjure to justify this debauchery, is reflective of the failure of our claimed democracy which prioritizes the protection of the minority over the greed of the majority.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Although feminism seems to have picked up steam in our neoliberal world, and more in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the behavioral notion dates back to Marx and Engels, if not before. Despite its much broader scope, feminism inspires action towards egalitarianism especially among the sexes, being that at its core are human rights, which can be dissected into women’s rights and equality which for the patriarchy confuses for the notion of misandry. Feminism is strongly anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDR, 1948), which was designed to guide our development in a post-war world that had learned from the harms of inequality – both among individuals and among nations – to create a new world order. Malawi’s legal and policy frameworks from independence, have been driven by the UDR’s principles and tenets ever since.

This means, ever since, Malawi’s governance approach has been one that intrinsically promotes feminism even without mentioning the term.

As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Malawi has signed up to upholding and protecting every one of the 30 rights that the Declaration identifies. With a development world where the appetite for further scrutiny on specificity is never-ending, our dear country is embracing more commitments to new definitions and stipulations of rights. This is not necessarily a terrible thing.

Beyond the signatures, however, there is limited – if any – follow up on recommendations the respective international treaty bodies promulgate, which has made accountability nearly hard to obtain for the country. This renders our government feminist in theory, and unfortunately, patriarchal in practice.

In this article, I am confounded to draw my lens towards one issue at the center of feminist debate in today’s Malawi, the marginalization of minority groups, specifically the LGBTIQ community. At present, Malawi’s moratorium on all laws on the criminalization of same sex relations still stands from nearly 8 years ago when the government had to respond to the international backlash after the arrest of the one of the first openly gay couples in Malawi came out.

The delay in the decriminalization of same sex relations not only upholds the archaic manner of many of our psyches but a misplaced priority for a routinely poor country. Alongside the varying degrees of underemployment, gender inequality, inability to secure protection for marginalized communities, low medicine supplies, inadequate and discriminatory health services, incredibly inconveniencing electricity and water supply, femicide…the list is endless…the country dedicates too much effort on a rather minute proportion of its problems. Yet on our lips are justice, equality, Godliness and ‘The Warm Heart of Africa,’ in spite of our failure to accommodate and accept every Malawian despite what shape or form they conceive themselves to be. But as a fundamental freedom that our country has signed up to, it is necessary that doing away with our negative, abhorrent and discriminatory nature while embracing the “beacon of equality” our nation proclaims to be is going to be a great way to walk the talk and tip the hypocritical scale.

Persons in the LGBTIQ community face multiple forms of violence, discrimination and stigma in their everyday lives, including in the personal, professional, social and public spheres. Police, peers and random citizens often inflict physically assault, verbal abuse, sexual harassment and cyber assaults that social media has helped amplify. These abuses are usually delivered while often disregarding the multiple provisions in the penal code and constitution, which, by the way, require long-winded justification for interpretation to cut it on grounds of “unnatural offences” or “acts of gross indecency.” All the while, the moratorium in place means the criminalization laws are still pending review.

The homophobic sentiment by Malawians, continuing to breed hostility against the LGBTIQ community, makes for greater complications. The societal judgment will even question my credibility for writing this. However, I maintain that Malawi needs a deletion of primitive, barbaric and archaic laws. To quote Judge Michael Elburu, one of the judges who presided over the globally famous decriminalization case in Botswana, “it is time to set aside the provisions of a Victorian era and move on.” Thus, we can’t afford to be a nation that only pushes for change when the international community threatens to pull donor aid. Plus, Malawi can’t survive any further decay at the hands of ignorance and impunity of subjective views and perceptions, because that’s not what and who Malawi is and should be.

The role of a good government comes in handy. What truly feminist governance could bring to this country is the exactment of humanity, which, by the way, the Malawian government already claims to uphold however not so publicly. Such a philosophy commits leaders to put aside all of their personal beliefs, opinions and perceptions to serve the people they promised to serve without bias. This must apply across the Government system where inclusion is practiced with absolutely zero discrimination whether it be in agriculture, gender, health, population, justice, security, education, food and economic sectors. Gender, in addition to having its own Ministry, should cut across literally every Ministry’s work.

The feminist governance approach would have to be strategic and focused, transformative and evidence-based and accountable. Its success would depend on addressing intersectionality and inclusion, meaning a proactive approach to developmental gaps and discrimination, particularly in demonstrating how the marginalized are a foregone workforce, consumers as well as innovators. This would definitely be a breath of fresh non-corrupt air in determining and implementing our development.

We’ve had so many conversations around just how Malawi is fairing in regard to human rights. We’ve dissected how and why we are failing. The threat of violence and insecurity on the LGBTIQ is evidently unwithered on the minds of the public and the institutions that govern them. Yet we continue to sign multiple agreements to avert the very human rights violations we claim to want to eliminate.

What can be said is that, for a country that has never been at war, our measure of violations against human rights appears to only uphold the perfect global citizen stature.


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