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Reference Guide for reporting on LGBTI issues launched in South Africa

Joe Brown



IN AGREEMENT: Country advocacy representatives from Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe sharing experieces on media reports related to LGBTIQ+ people

A reference guide for media practitioners and news outlets was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa this Tuesday, intended to assist journalists and editors create media content that accurately represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

This follows months of research and study into how mainstream media in five Southern African countries of Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia have been presenting stories on LGBTIQ+ issues.

The 24-page guide produced and published by Iranti, a South Africa-based LGBTIQ+ advocacy organisation, covers a range of topics that include the use of offensive and hateful language in reporting, tips for interviews as well as a glossary of LGBTQI+ specific terms that have on numerous occasions been seen to confuse journalists.

The LGBTIQ+ activists have over time decried the victimisation they suffer because of the language used by the media when reporting on their issues; and at the launch of the reference guide, they reiterated their misgivings on the perceptions formed by the twisted media reports, which eventually lead to how they end up being treated by the broader society.

Thus the Executive Director of Iranti Jabulani Pereira cautioned against the rampant sensationalist reporting that has the potential to increase marginalisation, violence and general discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community. Conversely, he said, inclusive media coverage coupled with reporting that is cautious, fair, accurate and respectful could inspire understanding and promote respect.

In finally coming up with the media reference guide, Iranti had partnered and worked with journalists and local advocacy organisations from the 5 countries – Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO); Lesbian, Intersex, Transgender, and Other Extensions (LITE) in Malawi; Wings to Transcend in Namibia; Intersex South Africa (ISSA), and Transgender Research, Education, Advocacy and Training (TREAT) in Zimbabwe – to create a tool intended to end the social stigmatization of individuals, the LGBTIQ+ community and the perpetuation of homophobia in these countries.

Also launched on the day – both these with the generous funding by Swedish Federation for LGBTIQ Rights (RFSL) – was the Safety, Dignity and Freedom (SDF) study report whose main aim is to challenge homophopic and anti-queer mindsets and to change harmful behaviour that targets LGBTIQ+ people, including violence, stigma and discrimination. RFSL’s Programmes Manager Katarina Stenkvist extolled the bravery and innovation of Iranti and further commended the media guide and SDF campaign project for mapping a new ground and setting the tone for new ways of telling the queer experiences.

The launch ceremony this Tuesday had brought together media representatives and advocacy personnel from the five countries who in concert agreed to the need to especially train editors on the appropriate ways of reporting on LGBTIQ+ communities. Editors and subeditors especially bore the brunt of the discontent from the queer community as reporters absolved themselves from what finally goes into the newspapers. “Most of the time we write stories in the proper language, only for editors to twist and sensationalise them for the sake of newspaper sales,” one of the attendant journalist told the launch panel discussion.

Local advocacy organisations were however partly fingered for the misrepresentation as their media training programmes had only been targeting junior reporters who do not have the final say on what goes into the paper. Thus each organisation was implored to come up with awareness and training campaigns that would this time target the editing personnel in order to help them appreciate what constitutes hate speech, offensive terminology and defamatory language.

“It is important for advocacy activists to engage with the publishing house, set up meetings with editors and sub editors and show them examples of bad and good pieces of stories on queer communities and why such stories can be harmful,” advised Carl Collison, an internationally-acclaimed journalist who has been hailed as a good template for how great LGBTIQ+ stories should be told. Collison was giving a keynote address at the launch and gave living examples of how inappropriate language has brought great harm to queer communities across Africa and beyond.

Such terms as ‘hermaphrodite’ were singled out as inappropriate, derogatory and promoting stigmatisation, with ‘intersex’ the more decent word to use for people classified as such.
Media personnel also learnt that it was actually offensive to use phrases such as “born female,” “born male,” “from man to woman,” “homosexual relationship” and headlines that sexualise everything about the LGBTIQ+ community.

Information on the appropriate terms and phrases to use is included in the media reference guide. LEGABIBO’s Media Advocacy and Communications Officer, Matlhogonolo Samsam acknowledged the need to step up their media campaign in Botswana to target editors as local newspapers have also been found wanting in the way they treat LGBTIQ+ stories, especially the headlines. “Sometimes the contents of the articles are fine, it is usually the headlines that are offensive as the aim is obviously to bait the reader,” she told The Midweek Sun on the sidelines of the media guide launch.

“It is my hope that the media houses in Botswana will engage with the media guide, and to also note that when they report on the LGBTIQ+ people and issues, they are talking about human beings and human rights in the first place. We are more than just lesbians, gays or bisexuals; we are people’s aunts, uncles, fathers and mothers. There so much to us than our sexuality and our gender identity. LEGABIBO is available at all times to help when the journalists need clarity on some issues,” Samsam added.

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Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments



Young people representing Botswana at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya last week have expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which governments are moving towards achieving ICPD25 ideals.

Trevor Oahile, a youth advocate and student at the University of Botswana participated at the Nairobi Summit to highlight on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of men and boys.
Oahile hosts a radio show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Don’t Get It Twisted on Yarona FM. The show deals with issues that affect boys and men. Oahile participated in a panel discussion at the Summit on the involvement of men and boys in accelerating the ICPD promise.

He is of the view that countries needs to work together to end violence that is perpetuated by harmful gender norms that are antagonistic to progress towards the ideals of the ICPD agenda. “Botswana government and private sector are still challenged to invest a lot of money into implementing their commitments,” Oahile said, adding that Comprehensive Sexual Education on the other hand has to be rolled out to every school in the country.

“We also acknowledge that it is important to avoid stereotypes that impact decisions that people make. Men and boys often avoid certain services because they are known to be for girls and women,” Oahile said. Millicent Sethaile was at the Summit as a youth ambassador from an organisation called Her Voice, which funds and offers grants to smaller organisations that advocate for SRHR in communities. In her view the summit was significant because it was an opportunity for countries including Botswana to make commitments to fulfill the unfinished business of the ICPD made 25 years ago.

“What struck me the most is that I realised that Botswana has a long way to go to achieve the commitments she set for herself.”Sethaile also observed that the four commitments including to strengthen access to family planning, the reduction of maternal deaths, reduction of Gender Based Violence, provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data are activities that were already in the pipeline and have been discussed before. “I believe we now have to come up with actionable items that we can work on so that we can effectively deal with current challenges.”
For 18 year old University student Michelle Simon, the Nairobi Summit was a reality check, an opportunity to reflect and map the way forward.

“I realised that there are so many challenges, especially in Africa concerning SRHR,” Simon said. She also realised that Botswana has a lot of catching up to do to implement the commitments of the ICPD. “I also realised that issues including youth in power were left out.” Botho Mahlunge on the other hand comes back from the Summit with a conclusion that there are a lot of predicaments that young people find themseles in across the African continent including GBV and teenage pregnancy.

Programmes need to be intensified to ensure implementation. Mahlunge is also of the view that there is minimum youth engagement on issues that affet them the most. “Young people are tired of always convening about the same issues. It’s time to see the outcomes of Summits and Conferences,” Mahlunge said. She advised the youth to also be willing to engage when the oppotunity avails itself and to take up programmes that have been set to help them. Mahlunge said that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”

She said the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs. “Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observed.

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Safe communities for our women and girls – Moalosi



Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been identified as one of the critical issues that impede women, girls and men from fully enjoying their human rights and unleashing their potential. Delivering his State of the National Address (SONA) on Monday, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi said government is concerned about the rising statistics of those affected.

The National Relationship Study of 2018 revealed that 37 percent of women and 21 percent of men have suffered some form of violence in their lifetime, which occurred within Intimate Partner Relationships.

To address this problem, President Masisi says government will intensify the implementation of the National Strategy Towards Ending GBV. The Strategy focuses on the comprehensive care and support of GBV survivors; the Prevention of new GBV incidences; Strengthening national capacity to address GBV; Improving efficiency and effectiveness of the coordination and management of the national GBV response; and Strategic information and knowledge management on GBV.

Just last week, Botswana Non-Governmental Organisations represented at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, committed to ensuring that all is done to end GBV.CEO of Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre, Lorato Moalosi who was presenting on behalf of Botswana NGOs said having reflected on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda since 1994 and on what has changed on Sexual GBV, they are equally disturbed by increasing levels of SGBV in Botswana communities.

Her desire is to empower communities to come up with their own solutions to end SGBV. Moalosi told participants at the Summit that NGOs in Botswana commit to contracting and ensuring robust community engagement, including starting indigenous and disability movements on SGBV to galvanise and mobilise communities to prevent and respond to SGBV. Their plan is to also develop sustained gender transformative programmes that mainstream HIV and GBV, as well as to expand reach and coverage of services and create community safe spaces for the hard to reach, as well as improve services in urban areas.

“We commit to utilising social contracting and ensure NGOs lead in the prevention of SGBV and in the response to ending SGBV at community level,” Moalosi said, adding that they also commit to mainstreaming gender equality conversations and break the silence on SGBV.

“We can no longer hold back. Our communities have to be safe for our women and girls,” she said. The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 that concluded hursday last week in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi represents a renewed, re-energised vision and community working together to act and deliver.

“Together, we will make the next ten years a decade of action and results for women and girls, keeping their rights and choices at the centre of everything we do,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.

Denmark’s Special Envoy for the ICPD25, Ambassador Ib Petersen said there will be no ICPD50 because women and girls around the world have waited long enough to have rights and choices.

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