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 Wednesday 16 June 2010
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Gift Trapence, "People are targeted because of who they are, not what they are doing"
April 2010 (PlusNews)

Photo: Richard Etienne/IRIN
"People have been denying that there are MSM in Africa, in Malawi - that gay people exist."
LILONGWE, Gift Trapence is the executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), a human rights organization in Malawi - one of the few working with vulnerable groups like men who have sex with men (MSM), prisoners and sex workers.

CEDEP raised money to pay for the legal defence of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a same-sex couple arrested and charged with sodomy and indecency after their public engagement in late December 2009.

Trapence spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about the vulnerable people in Malawi, and what it is like to be an activist for an unpopular cause.

"We talk about sex workers, prisoners and MSM ... their issues are similar, their activities are criminalized in our laws. Our society wants to talk about sex work, but not about the issues.

"From the point of the [sex workers'] experiences as human beings, we have a proposed bill where these women are supposed to go for mandatory testing. These are real human rights issues, and no one has talked about them.

"Prison authorities do not acknowledge that homosexual acts are going on in prison. Apart from that, we have a lot of issues of rape, but still these issues do not come out because [officials] try to suppress them. There is no comprehensive HIV prevention programme in prisons - we cannot distribute condoms.

"I think that maybe in the history of Malawi, no one has come out like [Monjeza and Chimbalanga] - I think government was caught unawares. People have been denying that there are MSM in Africa, in Malawi - that gay people exist. I think that this is proof of the existence of such communities in our country and society.

"It's a challenge to work under such kind of environment - you don't have a lot of voices coming to support the issues, but these are real issues. People attack you, call you all sorts of names ... but I'm a human rights activist, so that's part of my job.

As a country, I don't think we're going forwards, we're going backwards. People are targeted because of their identities [who they are], not because of what they are doing." 



[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

IRIN welcomes editorial and photographic submissions for inclusion on this page, reserving the right to select and edit as appropriate.
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.