Advocating for a just and equal world for LGBTQ people in Zimbabwe An interview with Caroline Maposhere
How did you become involved in advocating for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) rights in Zimbabwe?
In Zimbabwe, like many Southern African countries, same sex relationships are criminalized. I was involved in HIV work and was trained on how to sensitize communities on issues with sexual minority groups to reduce stigma and barriers. I also trained church leaders. As a health worker I became a key population champion in the region.
How are you advocating for LGBTQ rights today?
I’m advocating through education, sensitizing people, and ensuring that those discussions are always on the agenda. When people don’t have information, they stereotype. When people understand, they are more tolerant.
How are these trainings received by the people in attendance?
They are described as eye opening. Trainings use a tool called ‘binaries in boxes.’ We discuss which issues are biological, which issues are social, the agenda between sex and gender, sexual practice and sexual orientation. Exercises are introspective allowing people to question themselves, asking ‘am I really just comfortable in my own skin?’ ‘What do I want? How do I view things?’. Through exploring and wanting to discover new ways, people cease to be too judgmental of others.
Are there any protections of the LGBTQ community in Zimbabwe?
Certain organizations work to protect LGBTQ people. When stigma or abuse are reported to a police station, the police officers could start quizzing you. But why are you doing it anyway? Why are you involved in same sex relations? Don’t you want children? Our society is not sensitized enough.
We still need to do a lot of work for all service providers. Because they’re part of a society that believes it’s wrong, that believes it’s biblically wrong, and culturally wrong, they do still carry these notions.
Is there a pathway to decriminalize same sex relationships in Zimbabwe?
We could only discuss it at national level through accepted programmes talking about HIV prevention. LGBTQ is a key population of this agenda. Another example is the prevention of gender-based violence. Otherwise, it is impossible to talk about because our previous leader, President Mugabe, was known for some of the most horrific homophobic statements. Anyone who wanted political mileage with him, would include a slogan to say we don’t want homosexuality in our community. And these are the people with power.
What would you say to somebody who doesn’t believe LGBTQ+ rights are human rights?
I’ll just start from creation. To say, look at every person is being with God spirit, respect everyone with dignity. Just because they are different from you, you know, they don’t necessarily have to be infringed. The fact that we are different is because God loves diversity. Let’s accept each other in that diversity, let’s look at more what we have in common.
What do you think the path forward is?
The path forward is sensitization and solicitation at all levels. When people are informed, they know what’s happening. They stereotype other people less and they are less judgmental. That’s like desensitization we used to do for HIV. With enough education and sensitization out there, people will change their attitude.
What would you want people to know the most about LGBTQ work and community?
I want people to know that LGBTQ people are people with feelings. They have parents with feelings. They have friends and family with feelings. People should not be posting the negative stereotypes, posting those labels on other human beings, anything that then subtracts their self-esteem.
In raising awareness and sensitivity, do you ever find yourself threatened by others?
I felt unsafe when I started this work in 2012. Political leaders we trained asked, ‘who taught you these things?’ People said that central intelligence people will be after you because I told them that you are the one who trained us in this village.
Before the new government came in, I used to feel that I’ll be arrested, but now it’s just the stigma from community.
What personally motivates you to keep doing this work?
My relatives and family who are involved in same sex relationships, whom I’ve seen being stigmatized. It’s really got me to say, why is this happening? Why should groups that understand issues of equality, especially in Zimbabwe, people that have fought other wars, why should they not understand that this war with issues of equality?
These issues of someone being born a certain way and being stigmatized really touched me. It’s something that I feel the whole world needs to understand and take on board.
How do you stay mentally strong through all of these challenges?
I pray and I have a good social support system where I go and you debrief to my friends. You come back from some of the sessions crying, because even after counselling some of the young people I sit there and I cry, but you bounce back after debriefing with a colleague.
Caroline Maposhere is a board member of WRA Zimbabwe. She is a registered nurse, a nurse midwife, and a public health nurse with Bachelor of Theology and Master of Science in Counselling studies. She has extensive experience working in reproductive health including counseling young people, parents, and religious leaders on sexual diversity and training health care providers on how to be sensitive to the needs of vulnerable groups like teen mothers and LGBTQ people.
About White Ribbon Alliance:
Founded in 1999, White Ribbon Alliance is a locally led, globally connected grassroots movement advocating for the health and rights of women, girls, and newborns. We actively work in partnership with women, men, their families and communities, professionals and practitioners from diverse fields and all sectors of government. We use many approaches, all of which put citizens at the center so that health policies, programs and practices are driven by lived experiences.
WHITE RIBBON ALLIANCE contact: Kimberly Whipkey, firstname.lastname@example.org