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HomeLocal NewsREPRISALS…. HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER IN SIERRA LEONE

REPRISALS…. HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER IN SIERRA LEONE

BY SALAMATU SOYEI

Every day, transgender and gender non-conforming people bear the brunt of social and economic marginalization due to discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. Advocates confront this reality regularly working with transgender people who have lost housing, been fired from

jobs, experienced mistreatment and violence, or been unable to access the health care they need.

Here in Western Africa and Sierra Leone precisely, policymakers, service providers, the media and society at large have dismissed the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Corresponding institutions like the Foundation for Democratic Initiative and Development and even the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association have to work in isolation for fear of being hampered by the authorities in Freetown.

 Few weeks ago, a male adolescent was nabbed by the Sierra Leone Police for dressing like a lady in make-up. The 22 years old (name withheld) was locked up at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for 9 days without being charged to court of not even knowing where he fell short of the laws of the land.

This brings into clear focus the pervasiveness and overwhelming collective weight of discrimination that transgender and gender non-conforming people endure in this part of Africa. After the 22 years victim of circumstance was released from the cell with a cautionary statement, he narrated his ordeal to this press in disenchantment and utter fear.

“I was a victim when I was forced into marrying an old man by my father’s families, which I was rap multiple times, when both of my parents die during Ebola. I went through a lot, when I reflect back, it’s a miracle that I survived.

I had so many close calls. I could have been murdered, committed suicide, contracted AIDS, or fatally overdosed”. I wept. This is as a result of the pervasive pattern of discrimination and prejudice against transgendered people within society. Both economic discrimination and experiencing violence could be the result of a larger social climate that severely sanctions people for not conforming to society’s norms concerning gender.

As such, both would be strongly associated with each other. It is no gainsaying that the cultural and traditional beliefs of our people forbids homosexuality and in fact considers the thoughts an abomination. This has become a social and legal convention in Sierra Leone to discriminate against, ridicule, and abuse transgender and gender non-conforming people within foundational institutions such as the family, schools, the workplace and health care settings, everyday.

Instead of recognizing that the moral failure lies in society’s unwillingness to embrace different gender identities and expressions, society blames transgender and gender non-conforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.

According to a research done by the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in collaboration with Health Way Sierra Leone, 90% of men who have sex with men also have sex with women, either their wives or girlfriends. Of that group 85% said that they do not use condoms.

Clearly the message of sexual education and transmission of HIV is not adequately delivered to these men in Sierra Leone. It is clear that many men get married not because that is what their inner being desires, but because that is what society demands.

They live in a society which forces them to fear for freedom of their lives because of their sexual orientation. The silence surrounding them, the refusal to acknowledge their existence or address their health care needs, endangers not only them but their wives and girlfriends too.

Despite all these difficulties we faced, there is faith that the acknowledgement by the commission of the inherent dignity and respect due to lesbian, gay people can lead to greater respect for our human rights. As evident in the liberation struggle in South Africa, where the constitution bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, respect for human rights can transform society. It can lead people to understand that in the end, we are all human beings and we are all entitled to respect and dignity. Silence creates vulnerability.

This is why it is important for members of the commission on Human Rights, to break the silence by acknowledging that lesbians and guys exists throughout Africa and on every continent and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day. You can help mitigate these violations and achieve full rights and freedoms in Sierra Leone and every society.

Therefore everyone else, from those who drive buses or teach our children to those who sit on the judicial bench or write prescriptions, must also take up the call for human rights on transgender and gender non-conforming people, and confront this pattern of abuse and injustice. We must accept nothing less than a complete elimination of this pervasive inhumanity, we must work continuously and

strenuously together for justice.

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