South Africa: Strategic Pathways to Inclusion and Rights for LGBTI People in Sub-Saharan Africa

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The agenda includes a “pledge that no one will be left behind” and commitments to prioritize the poorest and most marginalized. While there is no explicit attention to sexual and gender nonconforming people in the official SDG declaration by the UN, almost all of the UN’s development and human rights agencies and programs recognize that in most contexts around the world, LGBTI people are among the most marginalized and therefore in need of specific policy and programmatic attention if the SDGs are going to be achieved.

Given this context, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) convened a workshop in April 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a broad cross-section of relevant stakeholders. The workshop was designed to discuss and develop a strategic framework for advancing social inclusion and human rights for sexual and gender minorities in sub-Saharan Africa as part of the effort to achieve the SDGs. Most importantly, a vision emerged from the workshop that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa will enable equal, inclusive, just, affirming, safe, productive, and fulfilling lives for all their people by 2030, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

Such a vision can be driven by African values of dignity, fairness, acceptance of diversity, and respect for privacy, underpinned by the concept of Ubuntu—the universal bond of a shared humanity. This article summarizes the strategic pathways developed at the workshop, with the intention of advancing progress towards the vision of truly inclusive SDGs in the region.

There is nothing new about diversity in sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics—in Africa or elsewhere. Many African languages have a variety of words and expressions for such diversity. Scholars have highlighted a wide range of long-standing cultural norms and practices that accommodate or celebrate sexual and gender diversity in numerous African societies. Such inclusion is typically reinforced by cultural traditions, including protection of community members and respect for the dignity of all persons. Read more via Global Observatory