Eudora Nwangwu, CYGEN Lead for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics Rights evaluates the health implications of Nigeria’s same-sex prohibition act, among young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons.
In Nigeria, social injustice and violations of the fundamental human rights of vulnerable groups, especially women, are common. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence; sexual and reproductive rights abuses, and limited access to information and basic health and legal services.
Like much of the rest of Africa, Nigeria is not an easy social or political environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons. Not only is same-sex sexual conduct criminalised under out-dated penal codes inherited from the British colonial laws and Islamic Shar’ia Law that applies in the north of the country, but reactionary new legislation – The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) 2014 – has gone much further to criminalise same-sex relationships, any public displays of same-sex affection, as well as community organising by LGBTI-focused civil-society organisations. In the current political and social climate, politicians, religious leaders, and even mainstream civil society frequently practice hate speech against LGBTIQ+ persons. Social stigma, discrimination, violence, extortion, blackmail and other human rights violations are routine and only very rarely do LGBTIQ+ persons feel comfortable to live ‘out of the closet.’
The last fifteen years have witnessed LGBTIQ+ rights becoming more politicised across the globe. As a result, a new network of civil society organisations working with LGBTIQ+ persons has emerged in Nigeria. However, the vast majority of these organisations have focused almost exclusively on gay men to the exclusion of lesbian women and other LGBTIQ+ persons. This is in part due to the linking of human rights activities to health-related services for men who have sex with men (MSM) but also reflects the male dominated culture that predominates across Nigeria.
Since the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) 2014 into law, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services has steadily declined among LGBTIQ+ persons in Nigeria. This is as a result of the criminalising laws, social stigma, discrimination, violence, extortion and blackmail, used as weapons by both state and non-state actors to victimise LGBTIQ+ people. This study’s aim is to evaluate the effects of the SSMPA on the access and use of SRHR services among young LGBTIQ+ persons in Nigeria.
Since the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014, there have been recurrent violations and injustice perpetrated towards persons who identify as LGBTIQ+. The law contributes significantly to a climate of impunity for crimes committed against LGBTIQ+ people.
LGBTIQ+ victims of crime said the law inhibited them from reporting to authorities due to fear of exposure and arrest. Interviewees, including representatives of mainstream human rights organisations, said the SSMPA has created opportunities for people to act out their homophobia with brutality and without fear of legal consequences. Under the auspices of the SSMPA, police have raided the offices of NGOs that provide legal and HIV services to LGBTIQ+ communities. For example, shortly after the SSMPA passed in January 2014, police raided an HIV awareness meeting in Abuja and arrested 12 participants on suspicion of “promoting homosexuality.” They were detained in police custody, without charge, for three weeks, before paying a bribe of 100,000 Naira (approximately $200) to secure their release.
In Ibadan and other places, interviewees told Human Rights Watch that the police had detained them multiple times since the passage of the SSMPA. Human Rights Watch interviewed eight of the 21 young men who were arrested, but not charged, at a birthday party in Ibadan.
Fifteen focus group discussions were funded by Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER) Initiative Nigeria, with a total of 120 LGBTIQ+ persons aged 18-35 who were living in Abuja, Anambra, Ebonyi, Portharcourt, Lagos and Ibadan, these focus group discussions were conducted between March and June 2020 in their states, within the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
This research was conducted to evaluate the impact of SSMPA on access to health for sexual minorities in Nigeria, it was conducted in six different states in Nigeria and was attended by 120 young LGBTIQ+ persons. The participants shared their personal stories on how they are affected by police brutality, unlawful arrest, extortion and possible detention for those who could not meet police demands. These abovementioned challenges restrict their chances to access to health due to the fear of the police and non-state actors.
The focus group discussions revealed that many LGBTIQ+ persons have experienced more than one form of human rights violation within the last three years. Their greatest challenge was accessing healthcare from a facility that is not key population friendly. Some admitted that they absconded from going to their medical appointments or drug refills to avoid being labelled and arrested. Some transgender and Intersex people in the meeting disclosed that they have a hard time staying on their hormonal therapies or getting binders and menstrual kits because they are avoiding harassment by the public.
The study captured the major issues LGBTIQ+ persons face in accessing proper SRHR services because of criminalising laws and human rights violations. It is recommended that non-governmental organisations engage in high profile advocacy meetings with the government, lawmakers and state actors, including lawmakers and law enforcement agencies, to make flexible laws that support the equality and dignity of LGBTIQ+ Nigerians. Also, the government should introduce comprehensive sexuality education to the school curriculum, and revisit policies that affect access to health for young LGBTIQ+ persons.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eudora is an Intersex person, and sexual and reproductive health and rights activist who is passionate about promoting the rights of sexual minorities. Eudora’s goal is to create visibility for intersex persons in Nigeria. They are committed to community service and social justice. Eudora’s major strategy is using their privilege as a young person to take up positions in decision-making places to speak up on the issues of intersex persons and other sexual minorities. Eudora is currently a member of the Global Fund Youth Council, CYGEN, Co-chair IAC Power of Pride Project, W4GF National Focal Point, Bisi Alimi Foundation RA Scholar 2021, and an OutRight International Action UN Fellow. Eudora is currently a student at the National Open University of Nigeria, pursuing a degree in Developmental Studies.
LinkedIn: Eudora Oge
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society.