Human Rights Watch report talks of South Africa's LGBT people 'in constant fear'

Monday, December 5, 2011

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has today published a report based on 121 interviews which talks of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people "[living] in constant fear of harassment as well as physical and sexual violence" in South Africa.

South Africa's constitution upholds LGBT freedoms but the report comments "constitutional protections are greatly weakened by the state’s failure to adequately enforce them." Lead researcher Dipika Nath of HRW said authorities must act to enforce existing rules protecting LGBT people.

Lesbians in South Africa often face "corrective rape" and the perpetrators' promise "We'll Show You You're a Woman" gave the report its title. One woman reports being raped thrice: by a cousin, by a football coach, and by a pastor. She gave birth after one attack. Some attacks have proved fatal; recent times have seen several murders of lesbians in the nation.

Lesbians at a gay pride event in South Africa.
Image: Diricia De Wet.

Nath says lesbians and transgender men often left education and lost jobs. Many hide their orientation, and avoid public appearances and particularly men, according to the report. It says those who ignored socially accepted dress and behaviour standards were at a particular risk. Across Africa, both politicians and the Christian church express distaste for LGBT people.

South Africa's legal position, which recognises gay marriage, is one of Africa's most LGBT-friendly. Earlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Council passed its first resolution condemning anti-LGBT discrimination. The resolution faced African opposition but was proposed by South Africa.

The report says "activists in South Africa have recorded and analyzed dozens of incidents of sexual and physical violence against lesbians and transgender men, including rape and murder," and notes social attitudes are the root of the issue. The report claims the jobless and the working classes are at highest risk.

"A segment of the South African population lives in terror and feels like there is no one to turn to, including the police," according to HRW's Graeme Reid, who said the study is to help victims. "We are not asking for a lot."