It was a moment we could barely believe had come. For more than four years, my Ugandan colleagues and I watched and waited and debated and strategized as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged and disappeared from Uganda’s political agenda. Yesterday, Ugandan President Museveni signed the bill into law.
Ugandan lawmakers have threatened to pass a so-called “Kill the Gays” bill for years. In December, they finally succeeded—and the bill now awaits approval or rejection from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Calling for life imprisonment for homosexual acts, the bill is poised to create serious penalties for LGBT people and anyone who advocates for their rights. If the bill becomes law, simply discussing homosexuality in Uganda—without simultaneously condemning it—could lead to a prison term.
Contrary to many international media reports, a recent letter Museveni wrote about the bill does not amount to a legal rejection of it. In the letter, Museveni described LGBT people as “abnormal” and lesbians in particular as suffering from “sexual starvation,” but he also said they should not be jailed or killed for their “deviant” behavior.
“The letter was offensive no matter what side you are coming from,” Caroline,* AJWS’s Ugandan country consultant, explained. Museveni still has weeks to sign the bill or reject it.
Some LGBT activists in Uganda are reconsidering whether they feel safe mobilizing opposition to the bill. A few human rights organizations in Uganda have “backed off,” Caroline said. “If we’re all out there [advocating] now, it could come back to haunt us,” she explained. “[Human rights NGOs] already have so many challenges in dealing with the government.”
But many Ugandan LGBT activists —including several AJWS grantees in the country—continue to bear the potential risks of speaking out. On Monday, Feb. 10, Ugandan activists are launching a “Global Day of Action,” working with advocates inside the country and throughout the world to oppose the anti-homosexuality bill and the hatred it represents. AJWS is joining with our partners to take action at this critical time.
After years of brainstorming ways to halt the bill’s progress, Ugandan LGBT rights advocates are also coming up with legal strategies for challenging its constitutionality, should it become law. Caroline said the bill has not created the anti-LGBT movement in Uganda that its masterminds intended.
“It’s been positive in a strange way,” Caroline said. She cited the way human rights groups and activists from Uganda and across the globe have consistently worked together to fight the bill. “I think the discussions that have happened never would have happened otherwise.”
TAKE ACTION: Speak out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and join the Global Day of Action on Feb. 10.
*Last name excluded to protect Ugandan staff from any potential government retribution.
Elizabeth Daube is a communications officer for American Jewish World Service.
When we launched the Reverse Hunger campaign on World Food Day 2011, we set out to ensure that the U.S. Farm Bill reflected our Jewish values, ensuring that our international food aid programs feed more hungry people and support local farmers abroad. Never could we have imagined how incredible, sometimes dysfunctional, and downright comical this journey would be.
Today is the culmination of that journey. Later this afternoon, the President will sign the U.S. Farm Bill (officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014) into law. While AJWS does not have a position on the entire bill, a massive piece of legislation that shapes the majority of U.S. food and agricultural policies, we welcome the modest, yet critical improvements to international food aid programs.
The changes in this bill are aimed at increasing flexibility: making it easier to utilize alternative food aid approaches and to move away from inefficient practices that slow down delivery and sometimes undermine our goals of helping people for the long-haul. Read More
This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative tells the story of Mohammad Bazar Backward Class Development Society (MBBCDS) and their efforts to end child marriage and empower marginalized women and girls. MBBCDS is an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in West Bengal, India.
The Situation for Girls
West Bengal is one of the poorest states in India and its tribal villages are labeled “economically backward.” Female literacy is extremely low; more than half of adolescent girls are either pulled out or drop out of the education system by high school. Girls in tribal villages are extremely vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.
This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative shares the voices of girls from Fortress of Hope Africa, an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Situation for Girls
Growing up among rampant poverty, crime and few opportunities for employment, adolescents and young people make up a significant proportion of the populations in Nairobi’s slums. Girls are significantly more likely to be out of school than boys and are more at risk of violence.
The Organic Solution
In 2006, Fortress of Hope Africa was opened to provide a safe space within the slum to socially and economically empower disadvantaged girls, train them as leaders and support them in developing and implementing their own program ideas. The girls of Fortress are continuing to grow their own organic solutions that include a dance crew, street theater performances promoting gender equality and weekly workshops on self-esteem, health and hygiene and sexual and reproductive rights. Read More
On Wednesday, I had the privilege to join a group of 30 rabbis and Jewish leaders from 13 states for a day of meetings at the White House to learn about the Obama administration’s strategy to end violence against women, girls and LGBT people worldwide.
Our partners in Africa have been writing to us to share their reflections on Mandela’s legacy. Here are a few: Read More
This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series.
My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.
Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.
Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.
We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well. Read More