Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gay Rights – Malawi vs. Scotland

It was reported this morning on the Today Programme that in Malawi, two gay men, Steven Monjeza  and Tiwonge Chimbalanga  who were arrested in December 2009 for undertaking an engagement ceremony, will now face a full trial in April.  Maximum sentence for those facing the charge of gross indecency is fourteen years.

“So what?” one may ask.  Not a lot we can do about it.  Form a facebook protest perhaps?  It is terrible, but what can be done?

Actually, quite a lot can be done.  Approximately one third of Scotland’s foreign aid budget goes to Malawi.  That is £70 million every year.  I also notice that there is a cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Malawi, whose purpose is:

To develop and enhance links between Scotland and Malawi and to provide a forum for discussion on these matters. In particular, the group will focus on links between the two parliaments and between civil society in each country.  In order to achieve this, the group will work with parliamentarians from each legislature, with Malawians living in Scotland and with other organisations working in Malawi.

It has to be said, that the last entry of this group was for the AGM in October 2009.  During this meeting, several issues were raise on civil society within Malawi, including the rights of women and children.  The case of Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga should therefore be well within the remit of the cross-party grouping.  It is a straightforward issue of human rights.

Now I am aware of cultural differences that are between many African countries and Western nations, especially on this issue.  But gay rights are not just human rights.  It is, just as importantly, a health issue that has particular urgency for the continent of Africa.  If homosexuality is driven underground, the risk of spreading HIV is greatly increased.  I don’t expect many of the citizens of Malawi to approve of the relationship between the couple on trial, but it is very much in their own interests to tolerate gay relationships within their own society, thereby allowing for the education of best health practice for all citizens. Gay relationships will persist, regardless of any law cited by either state or society.

At our last Spring conference in Perth, the Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion on the right to gay marriage.  Meanwhile, two people in a country that has close links with Scotland, are facing prison for wanting exactly the same thing.  It would be bizarre if our MSPs, indeed our party, remained silent on this case.

1 comment:

Linda Mason said...

Excellent blog Martin. You should push this further. You know how!