Celebrating diversity: LBTQ+ rights within women’s movements

“The very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…’ All human beings – not some, not most, but all.” –Ban Ki Moon, former UN Secretary-General

It may be enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is not yet reality. 

Around the world, LGBTQI+ people suffer discrimination, persecution and violence because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. They often experience bullying, harassment at work and medical neglect. Many are subjected to violent attacks, some are killed, simply because of who they are. 

While in most places LGBTQI+ people enjoy more rights than in previous decades, there’s still a long way to go. For example, in 71 countries same-sex sexual activity is illegal, including four of Womankind’s focus countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe). In 11 countries, LGBTQI+ people risk the death penalty. And as Amnesty International points out, “even when these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their very existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTI people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence.” 

In short, when patriarchal laws and systems fail to fully protect LGBTQI+ people, and when homophobic and transphobic attitudes go unchecked, LGBTQI+ people are not only put at risk of violence, but they are also denied the full enjoyment of their human rights – and the dignity that they deserve. 

​​What is Womankind doing to support LBTQ+ women and their rights?

Womankind works in solidarity with our partners to challenge systems of oppression that discriminate against all women and girls. As an intersectional feminist organisation, we recognise that several layers of oppression exist; that not all women have an equal experience of discrimination. Some face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination due to different identities – and this includes lesbian, bisexual, trans women and queer people. We believe that centering the most marginalised voices is not only essential to a true feminist agenda, but strengthens the women’s movement as a whole. 

From challenging harmful stereotypes and negative social norms to supporting advocacy work and promoting LBTQ+ visibility, our partner organisations listed below are dedicated to ensuring LBTQ+ people live a life free from violence, discrimination and oppression, so they can be who they truly are. 

FARUG – Uganda

As the oldest organisation serving LBQ women in Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda QQ(FARUG) unites the LBQ women’s movement by creating women autonomous spaces, challenging heteronormativity, and forging sisterhood solidarity. Their goal is to promote a healthy and vibrant LBQ community that is respected, well informed, and committed to individual and community development.

Last year, FARUG established an annual conference, Uganda Lesbian Forum (UGALEF) that provides a safe space for LBQ women from across the movement to come together and collectively heal and care for each other. For LBQ women fleeing violence, FARUG provides counselling and support at their drop-in centre and mini-health clinic. They also hold a legal aid clinic where women can access free legal representation. 

“I had been unfairly dismissed from my workplace and violently thrown out of my family house. I felt lost and erased. It was like I did not exist. When I found out about FARUG, I was overwhelmed by the love and acceptance I received.” – Gloriah 

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FARUG staff team at the Uganda Lesbian Forum (UGALEF) 2021

LOOM – Nepal

With a strong focus on movement building, our partner LOOM in Nepal works towards harnessing the collective power of women, so that activists across all ages and experiences connect, and transform structures that obstruct equality. LOOM’s main themes range from young women’s leadership, sexuality and bodily integrity (including sexual-related digital content and safety – see their research paper here), to LBT rights and feminist advocacy on local and national levels. They believe in a future where women enjoy equal political participation and the freedom to make decisions for themselves and their communities. 

LOOM’s safe space in Kathmandu works as a hub for workshops and exchanges to generate momentum that fuels the women’s movement in Nepal.

“The [LOOM] workshop gave me the insights and a safe space to share my feelings. Before I felt I was the only person who was facing all the troubles and challenges, but after listening to many friends, every individual has their own experiences, and story.” – Salina, transgender rights activist

Mitini – Nepal

Nepal’s first established LBTQ+ organisation, Mitini Nepal advocates for the equal rights of LBTQI+ people so that they can live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma. They do this through interaction with policymakers and government stakeholders, media and other members of civil society. Mitini also organises discussions, seminars, workshops, development programs, psychosocial and legal counselling and research on LBTQI+ women’s issues. 

The main focus of Womankind’s partnership with Mitini is contributing to the shared aim of strengthening the women’s movement, including amplifying the voices and visibility of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women (see recent documentation project: ‘Enhancing the capacity to build advocacy groups for LBT persons).

Pakasipiti – Zimbabwe

Pakasipiti work to promote societal acceptance of sexual diversity in Zimbabwe by challenging patriarchal norms and harmful gender stereotypes. They aim to increase representation of lesbian, bisexual and transgender people so that they can enjoy their full human rights. 

Recently, Womankind and Pakasipiti worked on a national charter to improve LBTQI+ women’s access to their human rights in Zimbabwe. This charter is used to influence decision-makers and duty bearers, and the process helped develop a support base and network of influencers and champions both for the organisation and the LBTQI+ community.

The project included supporting LBTQI+ women to understand, articulate and advocate on their own needs and rights; it also facilitated increased engagement between the LBTQI+ community and those working on women’s rights. 

Minority Women in Action (MWA) – Kenya

Minority Women in Action (MWA) was founded to address the needs and rights of (LBTQI) women in Kenya. Guided by a feminist principle, MWA envisions a country free of oppressive and discriminative laws against LBTQI women and a society free of lesbophobia, biphobia, transphobia and homophobia.

MWA is dedicated to training in feminist leadership and engaging in research programmes and initiatives where LBTQI women’s issues are made visible through debate and discussion. They also create safe spaces where LBTQI women can engage with each other through training and mentorship opportunities.

Further reading: our publication ‘Making Visible: The Lived Realities of LBTQI+ across Nepal, Uganda and Zimbabwe’ captures and collates knowledge, learning and evidence around partner projects focusing on LGBTQI rights and realities, and documents how supporting more marginalised voices within national women’s movements can contribute to strengthening and sustaining women’s movements. 

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