Akoro Joseph Sewedo
First lesbian organization emerges in Nigeria amidst the repression faced by people of sexual orientation and gender identity that do not conform to the “societal norm”.
A group of women concerned about the marginalization of Lesbians in sexual and reproductive health and rights programming, founded an organization called Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER)- Initiative, which will be based in the Abuja- the capital of Nigeria.
“The initiative was driving by a private study of the lesbian community” WHER-Initiative principal founder told BTM.
“It was found that the problems facing many lesbians, bisexual women and other Women who have sex with Women (WSW) includes but not limited to low level of literacy, high school drop-out and lack of sustainable employment”, she said.
She further mentioned, “the community needs empowerment that will address the effect of stigma and discrimination as well as self esteem issue. This will be our focus before human rights advocacy. “
“For us, empowerment is a important approach to effective human rights advocacy” She concluded.
The establishment of WHER- Initiative will enable a holistic and more representative approach to LGBT rights activism in the country. Already, there are more than five organizations in the country that work on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in the country, most of which are driven by HIV prevention programs for Men who have sex with Men (MSM). What makes WHER-Initiative different is its focus on Lesbians, bisexual women and other women who have sex with women (WSW).
Last weekend, the principal founder and two co-founds of the new organization organized a picnic in Abuja, to sensitize the Lesbian community about this development. “This is a welcome development. It feels great to know that we are now getting organised as a people. Very refreshing!” a bisexual woman told BTM.
Only a few program targeting Lesbians, Bisexuals and other WSW in Nigeria. Although there is no law criminalising Lesbianism as it is for male homosexuality, the reality of stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is present in the Nigerian Lesbian community. This reality invariably subjects them to vulnerabilities that will not exist in an ideal situation.
Prior to the establishment of WHER- Initiative, organisations such as the International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE) and The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) based in Niger state and Lagos state respectively, implement programs that provides counseling and human rights protection services to Lesbians and Bisexual women.
“Currently, TIERs is conducting a study approved by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to assess the sexual and reproductive health needs of this community in Lagos state. The study findings will facilitate program development for Lesbians, bisexual and other WSW in the country. WHER- Initiative could also leverage on the findings to develop programs for its target population” said Joseph Sewedo Akoro- Executive Director, TIERs.