"How can dialogue be truly open when it continues to face an othering glare on a huge scale, while experiencing a reluctance to speak about the issues in its own backyard?"
"Othering is a process that identifies those that are thought to be different from oneself or the mainstream, and it can reinforce and reproduce positions of domination and subordination."
A Blog post by Sally Dalton
Last year esteemed writer and activist Ogaga Ifowodo published an article addressing a highly-controversial topic in his native Nigeria as well as various other regions of the African continent. He questioned “Are Homosexuals Human Beings?” in the article of the same headline, acutely demonstrating the lack of logic revolving around the anti-gay movement by asking his pointed question. “If the answer is yes,” he states, then “they must be accorded their human rights and dignity. Sexual relations among consenting adults are no more harmful to society in same sex relations than in opposite sex relationships. If there be any harm, it is the mad rush in the name of a strange and false notion of African values…” Ifowodo goes on to refresh his earlier observation, that much of these so-called “values” are derived from a Bible which the colonialists came and enforced upon what was then traditional values.
Ifowodo brings to the picture many important aspects regarding the personal lives of other human beings and how they factor into the greater fabric of “accepted” society. The LGBT cause is a very valid one, and with some of the most draconian and oppressive measures implemented by governments such as Uganda and the level of violence aimed at the LGBT community, Ifowodo, like many other activists, is right to condemn the anti-gay movement. But he also suggests that the personal lives of “consenting adults” should be left personal. This is a stance which many governments have adopted when addressing the concept of same-sex marriage, however, legislation in a forward-thinking direction is often needed in order to protect those rights and privacies.
Opening Up Discussion
The truth is that sex itself is not a topic which will ever be private. There are long legacies of seemingly immovable belief systems within every society and culture. It is evident in the way in which women are expected to behave in both Western and Eastern cultures, as well as men – and how unrealistic ideals are imposed on both genders which are counter-intuitive as well as problematic. There is also the question of education, and of changing these views. Here is where sex education comes under fire. Many parents, from all regions of the world, ask if an institution has a place to teach children such a sensitive topic. Yet given the alarming statistics regarding early pregnancies and STDs, once again in all regions across the globe, moderate intervention on a high level is clearly required.
This doesn't mean dictating particular values about sex, but about addressing some of the greater issues associated with it – the social spectrum of morality will ultimately shift and change the personal views. The past decade has really forced governments and other institutions in various countries within Africa to address the risk of communicable illnesses such as HIV and AIDS, whose statistics continue to rise while taking a dramatic toll on not only families and loved ones but entire economic structures, claiming as many as 1.2 million lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it is most prevalent. The very notion of HIV/AIDS is still virtually forbidden in remote areas and in even in larger metropolitan ones, where misinformation about its transmission and potential cure is only further perpetuated by the reluctance to speak openly and honestly about it, as well as gain accurate information. As one example, Phaswane Mpe’s powerful novel, Welcome to Our Hillbrow, takes an insightful look at the problems surrounding taboo, even stylistically glossing over the discussion of AIDS in the final moments of his work as if to suggest a disappearance into shadow.
Certainly, times are changing, but do people have the resources they truly need to cope with this still very prevalent and dangerous epidemic, despite recent advancements in treatment? There remains much discussion to be held, not only regarding AIDS but other STDs and sex in general. There are not sufficient resources which are readily available to share valuable information as well as help people needing testing and treatment. Without the funding and stable healthcare infrastructure from the government, the lack of resources will continue to fail individuals and their families who still need help.
Yet just as importantly, this discussion cannot take place while the West continues to stigmatise the African continent itself. Widespread ignorance was demonstrated with popular attitudes regarding the recent Ebola crisis, and while we can say that yes, lack of education was to blame for much of its spread, the panic exhibited by citizens, governments and spokespeople in the West did nothing but objectify Africa as a whole in a negative light once again. Even today, the misconceptions and misunderstandings about societies within the vast and diverse nations which comprise the continent are prevalent. How can dialogue be truly open when it continues to face an othering glare on a huge scale, while experiencing a reluctance to speak about the issues in its own backyard?
Thankfully, times slowly change. Well-thought endeavours and efforts are helping people to talk about sex, encouraging individuals to be more informed about their choices and empowered about their preferences. While each issue related to sex is complex, intricate, and requires its own exclusive attention, it can also be said that opening up discussion about one aspect can lead to the discussion of another, and perhaps, with time, patience, and courage, issues such as those faced by the LGBT community can also be met with humanity and openness.