Standing together in solidarity with Malawi LGBT+ community - David Hope-Jones

Malawi recently held its second ever LGBT+ Pride march. In a country where homosexuality is still illegal, it’s a brave, and hugely important, thing to speak out on. New grassroots Scotland-Malawi collaborations in this area are sharing experiences and standing together in solidarity.

It’s easy to sit here, 5000 miles away, and see a country like Malawi as living in the “dark ages”, with repressive laws which criminalise the LGBT+ community. So it’s important to remember that Malawi is not alone: 72 per cent of African nations and 65 per cent of the Commonwealth have such laws. It’s important to recognise that prejudice, stigma, inequality and hate attacks all exist here, as well as Malawi, and that Scotland was the last part of the UK to legalise homosexuality, in 1980.

Perhaps most importantly, we must remember that the legislation in Malawi which criminalises sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex is UK-written and from the colonial-era.  As the brilliant Malawian activist Undule Mwakasungula has powerfully written: “Malawi, like most of Southern Africa, experienced British colonialism, which fundamentally altered and even destroyed a lot of its positive values. Tolerance and respect for the otherness of the other, the hallmark of the ubuntu concept, was replaced by hatred and extreme fanaticism. There were no laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts before colonialism.” 

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While there are a range of different views on this topic, in Malawi and Scotland, it is undoubtedly true that the majority of Malawians hold socially conservative views on issues of sex and marriage.  For a great many Malawians this is a sensitive and deeply culturally embedded issue which they see as interwoven with their faith. 

The Malawi Pride march.

Despite this social, cultural and legal context, increasing numbers of Malawians are choosing to speak out on this subject, calling for improved rights and better protections.

In June 2021, Malawi held its first ever Pride parade in Lilongwe, organised by the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, with over 50 attendees delivering a petition to the city's officials demanding equal human rights, such as freedom of association and access to education and health services, for LGBT+ persons.

Back in December, alongside our sister network in Malawi, we welcomed the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance to speak at a co-hosted Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity event. They shared a detailed, impactful presentation, outlining their current focus, aims and challenges in Malawi. Since then, we have worked to help broker new links between LGBT+ groups in Scotland and Malawi.

The Equality Network was quick to step up to this challenge and eager to support those fighting for LGBT+ rights in Malawi. Listening to the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance’s priorities, the Equality Network donated funds to support Malawi's second Pride, funding banner production and, crucially, assistance with transport for those who wished to attend Malawi's second Pride, in Lilongwe on June 10.

Scott Cuthbertson of the Equality Network said: “Scotland and Malawi have longstanding ties, so we were delighted to be connected with the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance who are doing life changing work in Malawi. With 25 years’ experience supporting LGBTQ+ communities here in Scotland we understand the importance of Pride as a way to bring LGBTQ+ communities together and be visible, so we’re delighted to be supporting the second Malawi Pride. LGBTQ+ people in Scotland and Malawi can learn a great deal from each other, we’re glad to be part of building stronger links."

The Scotland-Malawi friendship is built on mutual understanding and mutual respect. Key to any genuinely dignified partnership is the ability to share one’s views and values and to actively listen to others’.

It’s important not to shy away from the more sensitive areas of a partnership, as this is often where there can be the most fruitful sharing. We are proud to have helped connect inspiring groups in our two nations and to stand in support and solidarity with those who are speaking up for human rights, equality and human dignity.  

David Hope-Jones OBE, Chief Executive, Scotland Malawi Partnership

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