Homosexuality is still taboo in several West African countries, notably Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal, and its very existence may be denied. Public opinion considers homosexuality to be a voluntary choice reflecting sexual perversion motivated by economic calculations. Homophobia is increasing and widely shared, causing many instances of violence against LGBTI people – such as arbitrary arrest, exclusion from education, denial of health care, expulsion from homes and unfair dismissal. National institutions and civil society organisations for the defence, promotion and protection of human rights are silent in the face of these abuses, thus legitimising the excesses suffered by the LGBTI community.
In Cote d’Ivoire’s Penal Code the punishment of homosexuality is implicit, but in Cameroon and Senegal homosexuality is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. In Cameroon, 35 people were arrested for homosexuality in 2017. In 2016, a 24-year-old man was threatened with a five-year jail term for exchanging messages with another young man on his mobile phone. In Senegal, 15 people were tried and convicted for homosexuality. In 2015 alone, 27 people were victims of physical or verbal violence, and 14 others were refused care in centres for people living with HIV. In Cote d’Ivoire, where the climate seemed more benign, the first conviction for homosexuality came in November 2016, when the lower court of Sassandra pronounced sentence on two young people.
The media amplify this rising tide of homophobia. Instead of explaining or clarifying the subject, they present it in emotional terms. Journalists use words and expressions that reflect the condemnations, exclusion, even the calls to violence and social eradication, that fan popular sentiment. It is a kind of trial of LGBTI people, in which neither they nor those who defend them can speak. They do not have the communication skills or tools needed to create and disseminate relevant and good quality multimedia outputs, to effectively respond to the abuses transmitted by the media.
This is why PIWA has collaborated with various local partners engaged in defending LGBTI rights, to develop a project to counter the discourse of hate and the prejudices which nurture homophobia. The aim is to foster tolerance of homosexuals and respect for their rights as human beings.
The project Voices and means to fight homophobia is funded by the European Union for three years, 2015-17. It is carried out in Senegal, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire, in partnership with local human rights defence organisations such as the Network of media, arts and sports professionals fighting against AIDS and other pandemics, Côte d’Ivoire (REPMASCI); the Association for the defence of homosexuals’ rights, Cameroon (ADEFHO); Africa Consultants International (ACI-Boabab); Cote d’Ivoire Alternatives and Cameroon Alternatives. The aim is to strengthen the relevance, effectiveness and influence of communication by defenders of homosexuals’ rights, to promote these rights and fight prejudices against them.