‘One guy took a cutlass’: gay women at greater risk of violence in Ghana

Research shows Ghanaian women are likelier than men to be abused and cast out of homes and jobs because of their sexual preferences

LGBT women interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said they had been beaten, evicted from their homes and ostracised by their communities. Many struggled to find accommodation and employment.

Wendy Isaack, who researched and wrote an HRW report on the subject published this week, said family members rarely rounded on men in the same way.

“Often when people say they are documenting human rights abuses of LGBT people they primarily focus on gay men and they don’t tell women’s stories and the violence that women face in their homes, in a place they are supposed to feel safe and protected. This was our most troubling find,” she said.

“Because they are women, you have a number of factors at work: you have the patriarchy, you have the need to control women’s bodies and what decisions women make with their bodies and their minds. That, coming together with sexual orientation, puts women at higher risk of domestic violence.

“In fact, none of the gay men I interviewed reported violence from family members. Not a single one of them.”

Although Ghana has a comprehensive law on domestic violence, a fear of the 1960 Criminal Offences Act, which is interpreted as criminalising gay sex, serves as a barrier to seeking justice.

The law has created a climate in which discrimination against LGBT people is the norm, said the report.

A lesbian couple, Dorothy and Emily, said they were attacked by a mob in their village in the Ashanti region of southern Ghana, after Emily’s mother revealed their sexuality to the community.

“About 20 to 25 people came into the room,” said Dorothy. “[My partner] was naked, her mother told her to get dressed. One of the guys took a cutlass from the house, wanted to put it on my vagina. We struggled and he burnt my stomach with a piece of hot steel. They managed to cut [my partner] on the face. There was a major hole and she was bleeding. The crowd wanted to kill both of us.”

The women were forced to leave their home without reporting the incident to the police. A neighbour who initially offered them shelter and money to pay for hospital care later demanded sex, leaving the couple homeless. “We don’t have jobs now, so we are forced to do things we don’t want to do. We must have sex with men to survive – we have no family, no money, nothing.”

Unemployment caused by a person’s sexual orientation is a significant problem, the report found. Those interviewed often referenced sex work as their only option.

Teresa, 28, told HRW that LGBT people in Accra, where she lives, can’t get work. She said: “Nobody wants to give them jobs. Also, when the family finds out, they don’t pay your school fees, so you are uneducated. There is also no support to learn a trade. When both lesbian partners don’t work, the femme partner is expected to date and sleep with men to get money — sometimes they both must do sex work to survive.”

Other lesbian and bisexual women in Ghana have little choice but to marry men because of family pressures. Upon discovering their 25-year-old daughter was in a relationship with a woman, Hasina’s parents accepted 1,800 cedis from a 49-year old man who wanted to marry her.

Ghana is a liberal democracy that prizes fundamental human rights, yet it has repeatedly rejected calls by UN bodies to repeal the Criminal Offences Act against “unnatural carnal knowledge”, said HRW, who described the country as one of “profound contradictions”.

Unlike other African states, Ghana has not moved to increase penalties against gay people.

• This article was amended on 11 January 2018 to alter a reference to the Criminal Offences Act of 1960 as “colonial era”. Ghana gained independence in 1957.

by Verity Bowman
Source – The Guardian