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Why now is the time to save lesbians and trans women from rape

Why now is the time to save lesbians and trans women from rape

Right now the world’s political leaders, celebrities and other stakeholders are gathering to find ways to stop sexual violence in armed conflicts. It is a huge opportunity to unite the world to end this inhuman act.

Hosted by actress Angelina Jolie and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is the largest ever gathering of its kind with more than 140 countries taking part.

Sexual violence and rape should be condemned no matter where, when, why and how they happen and who is involved as attacker and victim. Millions of women and men have been raped in various conflicts not of their making.

Warzones aren’t the only problem. We must look at this in the widest way possible. The current summit centers on armed conflicts. But if broadly looked at, it can also mean cultural and religious conflicts, where the perpetrators use rape and assault as their ammunition against their victims. This includes people who are raped because of their homosexuality.

We receive countless reports of lesbians and transgender women in particular being raped all over the world. It is particularly common and reported on in South Africa where it is considered ‘corrective rape’ to cure them of their sexuality which is wrongly treated as an illness. In its wake come increased rates of HIV, physical and psychological trauma, mutilation, unwanted pregnancy and suicide.

Those also happens in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Jamaica, Nigeria and Cameroon, among others. This is a cultural war, fuelled and aided by the fact homosexuality is illegal and the authorities already persecute LGBTI people. As a result the attackers act with impunity.

In Uganda the Minister of Ethics and integrity Simon Lokodo, while arguing against homosexuality, voluntarily said raping a young girl is better than homosexuality. Religious leaders and other opinion leaders did not condemn his statement because it matters more to them that he opposes LGBTIs.

I have listened to a lot of stories from women who have experienced sexual violence and rape because they are homosexuals. The attackers have been strangers, friends or even family members. Many have been forced to marry by their families to turn them straight or to make them ‘respectable’ and then suffer ongoing sexual violence in their relationship.

The summit should look at how to bring an end to sexual violence to lesbians and transgenders. The politicians should remember you do not have to use a gun to commit a crime. And the entire global LGBTI community should help shape the solutions – to prevent these attacks, to support the victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

It is important that political leaders involved in this also engage countries where this is a problem to find ways of stopping sexual violence to LGBTI people.

And forcing LGBTI people into marriage should also be seen and categorized internationally for what it is – sexual violence.

Finally those who glorify sexual violence should be treated like those inciting hate crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is the week for the world to condemn sexual violence – all of it.

Edwin Sesange is director of the Africa LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group.