LGBT rights in Malawi

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LGBT rights in Malawi
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Male illegal,
female legal[1]
Up to 14 years imprisonment, corporal punishment[1]
Gender identity/expression -

Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi. Section 153 prohibits "unnatural offences". Section 156 concerning "public decency" is used to punish homosexual acts.[2] Tourists who commit acts of homosexuality with locals can be prosecuted under article 156 and expelled as "undesirable aliens".[2]

In late December 2009, a transgendered woman and a man, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested for holding a traditional 'engagement' party. They were imprisoned in Blantyre, were denied bail and stood trial. On May 18, they were found guilty, although there has been an international outcry from LGBT solidarity groups [3][4][5] On May 29, 2010, President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned both individuals.[6]

Malawian Constitution

Non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is not explicitly referred to in the Malawian constitution (Article 20); although human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande has recently argued that it may be covered under the 'other status' category. However, there has no been no official legal ruling to this effect[7].

Malawian society

Homosexual acts are proscribed under the Malawi Penal Code of 1930, drafted when Malawi was under British colonial rule and retained after independence. No specific laws against homosexuality were in place before British rule.

Homosexuality remains largely a taboo subject in the generally conservative country. In 2007 the Anglican Church sent a pro-gay rights Bishop, Nick Henderson, to head a diocese in rural Malawia. However, the congregation did not accept him and protests led to the death of a church member[8].

In 2009 Mary Shawa, secretary for nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the president's office, argued that Malawi must recognise the rights of its gay population to be able to step up its fight against AIDS. This was the first public government comment on homosexuality in the broady conservative country. Shawa said that Malawi would not be able to fight the virus without giving gays access to HIV and AIDS services. The Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), an organisation working with homosexuals, has said the HIV prevalence rate was at 25 percent among the country's gay population[9].

In January 2010, Peter Sawali was arrested for hanging a sign that read "gay rights are human rights."[10]

In April 2010, President Bingu wa Mutharika condemned acts of homosexuality seeing it is a strange act in Malawi, describing it as a foreign culture and tradition (mwambo) which Malawians did not know before. He claimed the country was being haunted by several ills, among them domestic violence, child abuse, and the cutting and selling of private parts[11]

Chimbalanga and Monjeza

On May 18, 2010, a Malawian couple, a transwoman and a man, were convicted by the Malawian courts for having committed "unnatural offenses" and "indecent practices between males" under sections 153 and 156 of Malawi's criminal code, following arrest at their home in Blantyre. Local newspapers had reported that Tiwonge Chimbalanga (b. c. 1984) and Steven Monjeza (b. c. 1990) had participated in a public same-sex chinkhoswe, or engagement ceremony. The couple was sentenced on May 20 to the maximum 14 years in prison with hard labor, with the judge, magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa telling the couple: "I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example," and "Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons."

The trial and sentences were condemned by regional human rights organizations including AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (Arasa) the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR). In addition, international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and IGLHRC reacted with condemnation, as did donor entities and governments such as the UK government, Germany, the African Development Bank (AfDB), Norway, the European Union and the World Bank, who operate under the Common Approach to Budget Support (CABS).[12]

Following pressure from civil rights groups, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa also condemned the imprisonment and discrimination against gay men and women.[13] The singers Madonna and Elton John have also been vocal in their condemnation.

However, the Malawi Council of Churches (a grouping of Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical and Presbyterian churches) advised the Malawi government to retain current laws against homosexuality in the criminal code and to disregard the pressure from donor countries, advising the countries to "respect Malawi’s cultural and religious values and refrain from using aid as a means of forcing the country to legalise sinful acts like homosexuality in the name of human rights." To date the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Blantyre, Tarcisius Gervazio Ziyaye, the most senior cleric in the predominantly Catholic state, has not made any public statements either in favour of the sentence or in condemnation of the treatment.

The International Women's Health Coalition,[14] OSISA, and Gender Dynamix,[15] identified the imprisonment of Tiwonge, in particular, as an issue of transphobia due to the fact that Tiwonge identifies as a woman and dresses in women's clothing; the groups criticized international media reporting of the trial and sentencing due to the fact that most outlets did not observe Tiwonge's gender identity in their direction of attention to the issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The sentencing has led to debate in the media about whether it was fair, or whether legislation is out of date.[16]

On May 29, 2010, President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned both individuals, during a visit by Ban Ki-Moon the UN Secretary General.[17] Government ministers have indicated the men could be re-arrested if they continued their relationship[18].

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ottosson, Daniel (May 2008). State-sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults Pages 22–23. International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). Retrieved on 2009-05-05.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Spartacus International Gay Guide, page 1217. Bruno Gmunder Verlag, 2007.
  3. "Malawi Gay Couple face trial: BBC News 29.12.09:
  4. Jessica Geen: "Malawi gay couple found guilty of 'unnatural acts' and 'gross indecency'Pinknews: 18.05.2010:
  5. "Malawi court convicts gay couple" BBC News: 17.05.2010:
  6. Malawi pardons jailed gay couple
  7. [1] Malawi law which criminalizes homosexuality is invalid –rights lawyer - Interview with human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande, Nyasatimes, Jan. 5th 2010
  8. Reuters, 15 September 2009,
  9. Reuters, 15 September 2009,
  10. "Malawi man arrested for posting gay rights posters -", CNN. Retrieved on 2010-05-07. 
  11. Nyasa Times, 25 April 2010,
  12. Malawi Gay Couple Found Guilty of Love
  14. In The Interest of “Equality,” Malawian Woman’s Identity Is Erased
  15. Malawian couple sentenced to 14 years hard labour – Transgender activists speak out.
  17. Malawi pardons jailed gay couple
  18. BBC News, 30 May 2010,

External links


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