A Regional Civil Society Coalition Calls On West African Heads of State to Put People First

A coalition of civil society in West Africa urges West African heads of state to put people first when formulating laws and policies, especially when they directly target the health, human rights, and well-being of minority groups like persons who identify as LGBTQI, sex workers, and people who use drugs. Most laws and regulations in the region create a hostile and inhospitable atmosphere for these minority groups to conduct their activities.
On February 28, 2024, Ghana’s parliament passed the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which is typically one of them. The law seeks harsh criminal punishments not just for people who identify with these communities but also for those who arrange or are aware of their actions but fail to report them to the appropriate authorities. Evidence shows that the criminalisation of minority groups does not only fail to address the problem they seek but rather exacerbates it.
As a result, the consortium calls on the Ghanaian parliament to reconsider amending portions of the law that are antagonistic to the activities of these minority groups and that the president refuses to assent to it in its current state. During the second edition of the coalition’s regional advocacy webinars, hosted by WADPN and its partners to promote the human rights and inclusion of these minority groups in West Africa, participants and panellists expressed concern about the increasing rate at which punitive laws targeting minority groups are enacted in the region, describing the trend as backward. A trend that obviously reinforces stigma, discrimination, and the exclusion of minority groups.
 A critical assessment and deliberation of existing laws and policies in the region that directly affect the lives and activities of people who identify as LGBTQI, sex workers, and people who use drugs highlighted lawmakers in West Africa, particularly Ghana, for not considering the health and well-being of the LGBTQI community in the formulation of the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which could potentially harm the current and future generations of that community.
 Despite existing evidence of overcrowded and deterrent prison conditions across the region that improve inmates’ living conditions rather than rehabilitating them, the Ghanaian parliament passed a bill that seeks to imprison LGBTQI people and those who support LGBTQI-related activities for three and five years, respectively. The relationship between drug users, sex workers, and LGBTQI people cannot be neglected. One of the panellists cites historical evidence of the presence of different sexualities and gender identities in African civilisations. She also stated that, while society did not regard these identities as norms, people with these identities enjoyed significant visibility and tolerance in some traditional African communities back then, as opposed to today, when most of them face prejudice and discrimination in almost every part of the continent.
 Now, the question is how does the prison help instead of using approaches such as counselling, awareness creation on comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights to understand these individual’s needs? As much as a country is guided by laws, a wider consultation on the bill was not meant, which serves as proof of not including vulnerable communities in decision-making.
 It is with no doubt that African morals and values do not condone certain practices, but aside from sexual intercourse, which is widely the notion when the issue of LGBTQI is mentioned, don’t people have the right to join any association or movement of their choice as stipulated in article 21(1)(d) of Ghana’s 1992 constitution (amended) and article 20 of UN international declaration also confirming it? So far as these laws and declarations do not specify any humans, tantamount to discrimination of persons, these rights must be respected accordingly.
 Partners Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest – ISDAO Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, IDNOWA Association Wende-Yam, AWEYA Nigeria Sex Workers Association, NSWA International Centre for Total Health and Right Advocacy Empowerment, ICTHARAE Colibri Sud