How the Benetech Human Rights Program Helps Advance LGBTI Rights in Southern Africa

By Benetech, posted on

The Benetech Human Rights team has recently returned from Johannesburg, where we convened multiple Southern African partner organizations in the LGBTI community whom we have been supporting in establishing human rights documentation initiatives. We were very excited to organize this event, as it is the culmination of a four-year, collective effort to build a culture of systematic, evidence-based documentation of human rights violations against LGBTI individuals in Southern Africa.

The purpose of the five-day convening was to help our Southern African partners build relationships, foster collaboration, and share expertise. To that end, we brought together partner groups from Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as well as representatives of a host of funders and other organizations that support knowledge exchanges and advocacy for LGBTI rights in Southern Africa including Hivos, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, the Other Foundation, USAID, European Union, the embassies of Norway and Sweden, and the government of Finland. Attendees participated in a variety of workshops focused on issues such as technology and human rights research, donor dialogue, evidence-based advocacy, and support on using Martus, Benetech’s free, open source, secure software for human rights information management. All agreed that the most important outcome was the mutual learning that occurred among partners.

Four people sit around a table talking.
Our Southern African partners at a workshop during the convening

Since 2011, the Benetech Human Rights Program has worked to establish effective and ongoing partnerships with human rights NGOs and coalitions in four countries in Eastern and Southern Africa to increase their capacity to monitor and document the full range of human rights violations targeting LGBTI individuals and communities. In particular, we have assisted our partners in building organizational capacity with secure documentation technologies and bolstering regional networks for improved collaboration and communication.

This work, made possible thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), is truly bearing fruit. With our support, our partners have documented hundreds of cases of violations of human rights against LGBTI individuals and utilized this evidence to produce high-quality publications or reports about these violations. The convening in Johannesburg provided the opportunity for our five Southern African partners to come together, reflect on their collective accomplishments to date, and chart the future of their documentation projects.

For example, our two partners in Malawi shared their success at building relationships with government ministers while our partner in Zimbabwe described how they built bridges with the Ministry of Health. “The Points of Entry into Government session really motivated me to continue pushing for higher level advocacy,” said one participant. “For instance, we would like to collaborate with the Human Rights Commission using documentation as a tool.” Attendees also came away with a better understanding of what it takes to plan and execute “documentation for change” projects in a session led by guest facilitator Jabu Pereira of Iranti-org. It was helpful for them to “tap into the human face of documentation practices,” as another participant commented.

We are proud to share that the convening delivered on its promise to create a model for collaboration to further build capacity on LGBTI human rights documentation, fact-finding, and advocacy in the Southern African region. Our team is looking forward to capitalizing on the momentum generated with our partners over the past four years, and continuing our work for another year supporting civil society organizations as they build their capacity to independently address the needs of individuals with HIV/AIDS and to protect the human rights of LGBTI persons.

The Benetech Human Rights Program is grateful to the Global Equality Fund, which is managed by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, for its support of the convening in Johannesburg. We also wish to thank Jabulani Pereira, Executive Director, and Ayanda Msiza, Media and Documentation Officer, both of Iranti-org, for their logistical and organizational efforts for this event.