n Staff Reporter
WINDHOEK – A recently launched heart-warming radio and digital project, “Unheard Voices,” gives insight on real-life stories of people in Southern Africa who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or sex workers, and how they have become accepted for who they are.
This acceptance by people in their lives came over time.
These never-heard-before human stories show us how for every act of intolerance, there is an act of compassion. These are the stories of mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, and healthcare workers, religious and traditional leaders.
An example of one of the many stories from Namibia includes a church leader with a transgender child: “I had instances where I would be ashamed because I thought of what negative things my community would say about my husband and I as my child is transgender and I was a church leader. I found out that my child was transgender when she was nine and I had to go deep into my heart as a mother and understand how my daughter is different.”
“I always regarded her as my daughter and it pained me to hear and see people in the community calling her derogatory names and inflicting hate upon her. She is transgender, and I love her unconditionally,” said the church leader who has accepted the choice taken by the child.
The campaign has worked with four regional networks that represent people of different sexual orientations, gender identities and expression as well as sex workers to unearth these stories.
This includes African Men for Sexual Health & Rights (AMSHeR), the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), the Southern African Trans Forum (SATF) and the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA).
The Communications and Media Advocacy Manager from AMSHeR in South Africa, Juliet Mphande said: “The positive stories shared show that many people are choosing to open their minds and hearts to live in harmony with people who may be different to them. We hope it will inspire others to do the same.”
The project is attracting champions across different spheres. Jennifer van den Heever, a Deacon of the Anglican Diocese in Namibia quotes: “Healing, forgiving and reconciling! Join us in our campaign to make the world an understanding and forgiving nation. Loving one another should be our commitment.”
The project is part of the KP REACH programme funded by the Global Fund, managed by the non-profit organisation Hivos, which seeks to reduce stigma and discrimination against people who are gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender or engage in sex work as it is a key barrier to people feeling safe and accessing vital health services.
The Global Fund partnership mobilises and invests nearly N$50 billion a year to support programmes run by local experts in countries and communities in need and so far, it has saved 22 million lives while 11 million people are receiving ARV therapy thanks to funding that it availed.
Kate Thomson, Head, Community Rights & Gender at the Global Fund said: “Unheard Voices is important because we know that fear of being stigmatised and discriminated against is a key barrier to accessing vital health services, including HIV prevention and treatment services, for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or engage in sex work.”
“We cannot end HIV as an epidemic unless we address stigma and discrimination,” stressed Thomson who works at a global fund whose efforts are in sync with the Namibian constitution that says no person should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The real-life stories shared were created into radio ads and digital content by creative agency, M&C Saatchi World Services. SAfAIDS, a partner on the KP REACH programme, has helped raise awareness of the Unheard Voices project, mobilising voices from across political, health, justice and community spheres to share their own stories of overcoming their prejudices against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex work. Many of these people are now advocates, speaking out in support of the project.