A consultant hired by the National Aids Council (NAC) to review Zimbabwe’s response to the Aids pandemic has recommended a review of the Sexual Offences Act to deal with “homosexuality and prostitution in a pragmatic way.”
The law in its present form criminalises homosexuality and prostitution.
Zimbabwe, which is predominantly Christian, also considers both practices alien.
But the study carried out by the consultant who cannot be named for professional reasons encourages Zimbabweans to be open-minded about homosexuality and other sexual practices if the pandemic, killing thousands of people every week, is to be brought under control.
The same document calls for the review of the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council Act so that “contraceptives should be made available in schools,…stipulates placing condoms in hotels, night clubs and beer halls.”
The recommendation on condoms in schools, first reported in The Standard, has sparked a fierce debate but it is likely to be paled by the suggestion that the country must have a relook at its anti-sodomy laws.
Men having sex with other men (MSM) have been singled out along commercial sex workers as some of the most vulnerable groups in HIV transmission in Zimbabwe.
A recent study on the modes of HIV transmission in the country indicated that MSM accounted for 4% of new infections and 0,4% for female partners of MSM.
Commercial sex workers account for 1,4% of new infections.
The Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids Strategic Plan (ZNASP) also calls for “a review and update of the national regulatory framework to reflect the latest developments in the HIV situation and response to the epidemic.”
NAC said the consultant was hired to review all the Acts, declarations and protocols that deal with the fight against HIV and Aids.
The council says it is not actively advocating for the recommendations, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but would encourage debate around the issues.
Tapuwa Magure, the NAC CEO said the organisation was yet to consider the recommendations and come up of with a position, especially on the controversial issues such as placing condoms in schools and homosexuality.
“We hired a consultant who made those recommendations but we have not yet sat down to go through them as an organisation so we currently do not have a position regarding them,” he said.
“We however believe that all populations, be it the disabled or prisoners, should have access to interventions and as a country, we are doing well in this regard.
“It was a bit premature to present those recommendations to the media but we will be having a position in due course.”
The country’s HIV prevalence rate in adults currently stands at 13,1% and is considered to be among the highest in the world.
President Robert Mugabe once labelled homosexuals as worse than dogs and pigs.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai also angered civic groups last year when he strongly spoke against homosexuality.
Zimbabwe has also resisted calls to provide prisoners with condoms despite widespread reports that inmates engage in sexual activities. South Africa is the only African country that has decriminalised homosexuality.
‘Gays forced underground’
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) said the criminalisation of homosexuality and the prevailing homophobic climate was driving most gay people underground.
“Service providers such as doctors and nurses also tend to develop negative attitudes when dealing with LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gendered) people as a result of lack of information,” GALZ said.
“In terms of HIV prevention this is serious, particularly as GALZ is the only organisation in Zimbabwe providing services specifically to the lesbian and gay community; and very few other HIV/Aids organisations even consider MSM/ women having sex with women (WSW) in their intervention work.”
Zimbabwe has no data for sexual minorities, but studies done in Botswana and Malawi among other regional countries estimate that HIV prevalence among MSM is between 20% to 33%.
The studies also concluded that the risk of men acquiring HIV during unprotected receptive anal sex is 10 times higher than during insensitive anal sex or unprotected vaginal sex with a woman.
GALZ said while HIV/Aids issues were being “heterosexualised” in Zimbabwe, minority groups were even more at risk of contracting HIV through anal sex and some MSM had female partners thus, expanding the HIV network.
“The right to health should be accorded to everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender, sex or creed,” GALZ said in response to the recommendations by the NAC consultant.
“Decriminalising consensual same sex practise will reduce fear, stigma and discrimination as it has to be accompanied by education, trainings and sensitisation of all stakeholders including the police.
“Availability of information and proper protective barrier methods for MSM will go a long way in preventing further new infections among MSM who do contribute to the generalised epidemic in Zimbabwe (and) reduction of sexual networks or multiple concurrent relationships among these groups through education and empowerment without fear or persecution (can help).”