This week Koliwe Majama released a report investigating how sexual minorities in Zimbabwe experience the internet. The good news is that the majority of the people who took part in the study consider the rights of gender and sexual minorities to be an important issue. They recognized the need for the law and policy in the country to promote and protect the rights of these marginalised groups in order for them to enjoy their rights the way other citizens do. Participants said they would openly and actively advocate for the rights of sexual minorities. The bad news, is that were a long way from that being the case. During the discussion groups, participants discussed their experience of discrimination on the internet. LGBTQ and sex worker participants said that the discrimination and harassment they face online reflects their vulnerability in daily interactions offline in the communities where they live. The focus groups surfaced a variety of different abuses experienced online by sexual minorities in Zimbabwe. The most frequently experienced violations were: Hate Speech; Stalking; Hacking; Bullying; and Censorship.
For the LGBTQ community especially, hate speech was a common feature in their daily online interaction on open pages and public platforms. The participants said homophobic hate speech was used directly against those who were open about their sexuality and interacted on more public platforms such as Twitter. They said it was not unusual for one to be called out on their sexuality with reference to the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah or cultural unacceptability. Terms ngochani and stabane were thrown around even in conversations not related to sexuality issues. Often the group was reminded that they should be cast out or burnt as their sexuality was not recognized constitutionally. The LGBTQ community also noted the fact that closet community members would often be some people in their community who would openly attack them on a public debate in order to protect themselves from being seen as supporting the community.
Participants in the research shared a number of recommendations to advance the rights of gender and sexual minority groups online and offline. One recommendation was the decriminalisation of same sexual conduct and sex work, for example legislation that protects the LGBTQ community from discrimination by health service providers, law enforcement agents and society more broadly. Another recommendation was for explicit guarantees of the rights of gender and sexual minorities, for example the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex work and sexual orientation, and the right to equitable access to information from the relevant public institutions working on sexual reproductive health issues.
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