News blog

Insight, debate and development news from ActionAid's media team

Is homophobia endemic in Africa?

Jane Moyo's picture Posted by Jane MoyoHead of Media Relations
Tshidi and Pumeza, South African gay rights acivists
South African hate crime survivor Tsidi (right) with her partner Pumeza
Photo: Jodie Bieber/ActionAid

An extreme new anti-gay law has just been passed in Uganda that includes life sentences for gay sex – for both men and women - and up to seven years in jail for any person or even director of an organisation deemed to be actively supporting gay rights.

At ActionAid we recognise the innate worth and equity of all people irrespective of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, HIV status, colour, class, ethnicity, disability, location and religion and we also recognise the value of diversity. These are core values that run through our organisation at all levels.

So what does anti-gay legislation mean for our work across Africa, where a gay rights debate is increasingly being played out?

We know that some, but not all countries in Africa have very weak constitutions that inadequately address discrimination. This is reflected in the absence of legally enforceable rights in many countries, which allows space for discrimination and the intimidation of minorities and which in turn perpetuates social exclusion and acts as a barrier to full participation in society.

Effectively, the denial of rights plus exclusion mutually reinforce each other and perpetuate poverty, stigma and discrimination.

Calls to withdraw from African countries

Over the years, there have been calls for ActionAid to pull out of a number of African countries because of human rights violations. Yet with the majority of our work taking place in Africa, this is a challenge for us.

As an organisation that places human rights at the centre of our work, we believe it is vitally important to raise our voice against gross violations of fundamental human rights, including gay rights, whenever we can.

This is one of the reasons why we work at the local, national and international level – including at the African Union – to open space for more progressive voices at different levels. And those progressive voices do exist.

It is also why we feel it would be unacceptable for us not to continue working in countries that have poor human rights records. We also know that this position is supported by many gay rights activists across Africa who recognise that the actions of a government should not stop non-governmental organisations and charities from providing what is often life-saving support, particularly when linked to a human rights based approach.

Supporting rights in Uganda and gay rights in South Africa

In Uganda we support the basic needs of very poor people who often have no say in the decisions that affect their lives; we aim to help the most excluded gain access to those government services to which they have a right, such as education, health and food, and in doing so put pressure on government to use their resources more effectively.

So we work at a practical level to improve people’s access to services whilst as part of the ‘Black Monday’ anti-corruption movement we lobby government and other decision-makers for changes to the policies and practices that affect their lives.

And in South Africa, with funding from a major organisation, we are working directly with young gay men and women to become activists capable of engaging with the struggles of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed) people in their own communities and of working collectively to bring their voice to broader national attention in order to increase their safety and protection and bring about improvements in their lives. Work that is much needed, as our 2009 report on the hate crime of ‘Corrective Rape’ shows.

ActionAid India, one of three finalists for the 2014 Ockenden International Prize

ActionAid’s Louise Sowden meets HRH The Princess Royal and broadcaster Michael Buerk
ActionAid’s Louise Sowden meets HRH The Princess Royal and broadcaster Michael Buerk

ActionAid staff from India and the UK joined HRH The Princess Royal and broadcaster Michael Buerk in Oxford for the announcement of the second Ockenden International Prize for refugees and internally displaced persons.

We’re thrilled that last night colleagues from ActionAid India and the UK were presented to HRH The Princess Royal as runners up in the Ockenden International Prize 2014

The Ockenden Prize of $75,000 (£44,872) is awarded to a project that benefits refugees or internally displaced people. From a record 97 entries from 47 countries, ActionAid India made it to the final three, alongside The Adventist Development and Relief Agency; and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Organisations making a huge difference

ActionAid India took an incredibly worthy runners up prize of $15,000 with Norwegian Refugee Council scooping the main prize – we think all of the organisations deserve huge congratulations for making it to the final three but more so for making a massive difference to the lives of the people they worked with.

ActionAid India’s project reached 20,000 people from tribal communities

Our project in Andhra Pradesh made a great contribution to the lives of 20,000 vulnerable people from displaced tribal communities – a group that is already marginalised in Indian society. ActionAid provided immediate relief to meet the desperate needs of the most vulnerable people, such as food to children suffering from malnutrition. At the same time we have been working with the community to establish their long-term needs.

Note: The International Committee for the Red Cross defines refugees as people who have crossed an international frontier and are at risk or have been victims of persecution in their country of origin. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have not crossed an international frontier, but have, for whatever reason, fled their homes.

Well done to everyone involved.

Join One Billion Rising and dance to do good this Friday in Trafalgar Square

Leslie Sinoway's picture Posted by Leslie SinowaySenior PR Officer, ActionAid UK
A flash mob dancing for One Billion Rising in Dehli, in 2013
Photo: ActionAid

This Friday 14th February I’ll be one of the people in over 200 countries who’ll join together to dance for ‘One Billion Rising’ to highlight the global call for justice to end violence against women and girls.

When I signed up for One Billion Rising I thought I’d be heading to Trafalgar Square to just listen to some inspiring speakers. I didn’t realise that we’d also be dancing to raise awareness.

I have to admit dancing is not my speciality. I am not a woman who usually, to paraphrase, dances as if no-one is watching, rather I wish no-one was watching!

Join us in London for One Billion Rising

But, this Friday I am going to put my inhibitions to one side, overcome my embarrassment and do the Break the Chain dance because it’s not just about keeping in time or busting a few moves. It’s symbolic because by joining in this dance I am making my disgust, horror and indignation about violence against women and girls seen. If you’re coming to London come and join us. We’ll be the ones in the red ActionAid T-shirts.

One in three women, worldwide, will be beaten or sexually assaulted in their lifetime

In its second year, One Billion Rising was created by Eve Ensler, of Vagina Monologues fame. She devised it because, according to the UN, one in three women on the planet will in their lifetime be beaten or sexually assaulted. That works out at one billion women, so Ensler has called for a billion worldwide to gather on 14 February outside buildings that represent justice – police stations, courthouses, government offices – and dance. Simple.

ActionAid support around the world

ActionAid supporters all around the world getting involved with One Billion Rising. They will be dancing in Italy and Zimbabwe.

In Bangladesh, amongst other things, young supporters will perform a flash mob in front of their Supreme Court to create mass awareness of unfair judgements.

In India campaigners will be highlighting the necessity for accessible public transport by wearing their ‘Mobility for all’ T-shirts.

Want to come and dance for One Billion Rising? 

Can't make it to an event but want to get involved? Let your fingers to the dancing: follow the hashtag #OBR14 on Twitter.

Four reasons why we want an end to female genital mutilation

Vaila McClure's picture Posted by Vaila McClureEducation Project Officer: Content
Portrait of one Atuko's daugthers. Atuko is a father of five girls who advocates against FGM, Kenya.
Portrait of one Atuko's daugthers. Atuko is a father of five girls who advocates against FGM, Kenya.
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

Female genital mutilation is recognised as a violation of human rights, banned by the UN and illegal in 30 countries, including the UK. Globally, 140 million women and girls are living with the consequences of being cut and a further 3 million girls are at risk of being cut each year.

Despite these appalling statistics, female genital mutilation is a topic that many still haven't heard of, let alone talked about. We at ActionAid want to change that. We want to raise awareness about what female genital mutilation is and we want the practice to end. Here are four reasons why.

1. Ending female genital mutilation is about human rights

We are all born with the same human rights, no matter who we are or where we are from. Cutting away a girl’s genitals for no medical reason is a clear violation of her human rights and causes long-term physical and psychological harm.

2. The arguements for female genital mutilation are unjustifiable

Many people believe female genital mutilation is referred to in religious teachings while young girls are told it will keep them clean and pure before marriage. In actual fact, female genital mutilation is used as a way of controlling a girl's sexuality by making sex extremely painful. It can also cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and death. Nothing can justify putting a child through such an experience.

3. It doesn't just affect women

Atuko from West Pokot, Kenya is father to five daughters. He has seen the impact of female genital mutilation on his two eldest daughters and now refuses to let his other daughters be cut. Atuko says, "Female genital mutilation harms girls and is wrong. I am trying to tell other men in my community that they shouldn’t push their daughters into it. It is better to educate the girls so they can get jobs."

4. It's something that happens in the UK too

Female genital mutilation doesn't just happen abroad, it happens in the UK too. In fact, until the 1950s, female genital mutilation was used in England as a treatment for "female deviances". But despite being illegal here since 1985, there has not been a single prosecution in the last 28 years.

Speak out and get support
Although ActionAid's work on female genital mutilation is with communities across Africa, there are many organisations in the UK that support young people at risk of female genital mutilation:
Child Line – 0800 1111
NSPCC – 0800 028 3550
ForwardUK – 020 8960 4000
The Metropolitan Police Service has a dedicated service for girls at risk of female genital mutilation (Project Azure) – 020 7161 2888

If you think a child is in immediate danger of being cut or of being taken abroad for this to happen, you should call the police straight away on 999.

>> Find out more about our work in UK schools to raise awareness of female genital mutilation

Heroes of Haiyan - 3 months on: life for Typhoon survivors in the Philippines

Natalie Curtis's picture Posted by Natalie CurtisJournalist - Emergencies and Content

Three months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, ActionAid reports how aid workers and local people are rebuilding the country.

More than 14 million people in the Philippines had their lives torn apart by Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded when it made landfall in November 2013.

Three months later, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) member agencies and their partners have helped four million people, but there is much more to be done as we support survivors to begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.

Since the start of of our relief effort, ActionAid has helped 61,514 people. We've provided:

• food packages to over 54,000 people
• hygiene kits to over 28,000 people
• shelter kits to 4,050 families
• livelihood support to 460 families.

You can still donate to our Philippines Typhoon Appeal

Emma Thompson speaks out against female genital mutilation

Susan Alderson's picture Posted by Susan AldersonCelebrity Co-ordinator
Emma Thompson visiting ActionAid's work in Liberia
Emma Thompson and her adopted son Tindy, visited Liberia with ActionAid
Photo: ,Anastasia Taylor Lind/ActionAid

Long-time ActionAid supporter and women's rights activist Emma Thompson is helping to raise awareness of what is a totally unnecessary practice and is encouraging people to take a stand and help eradicate female genital mutilation.

I have worked closely with Emma over the years and greatly appreciate her commitment and passion, particularly as an advocate for women's rights. 

I have also been fortunate enough to join her on some of her travels to see ActionAid 'in action' in Africa; to see the difference ActionAid is making to women and communities living in crippling poverty.

One trip was to Liberia, where we were shocked by what we were told. 

We can no longer turn a blind eye

Emma said: “I have, most unfortunately, seen and heard at first-hand about the devastating effects of female genital mutilation. The initial trauma, the high chances of infection, the hell of sex and childbirth, the loss of all sexual pleasure, the sheer violation of every natural and humane instinct – the stories I have heard beggar belief. We can no longer turn a blind eye.

“ActionAid’s work is impactful. We work very closely with communities. We educate boys and girls about how damaging female genital mutilation is for both sexes, finally. If we want to make a dent in this habit of mutilation, we have to support those long-term programmes, they’re the only thing that produces lasting change.”

It is not just their struggle but ours too

Emma's trip to Liberia gave her hope. "The country is led by a woman and I met many other courageous women struggling to change laws and overthrow barbaric customs. They are risking their lives in a struggle that will define the first decades of the 21st century. It is not just their struggle, but ours too," she said.

ActionAid supports communities across Africa to talk about the damaging effects of female genital mutilation, through providing training for traditional birth attendants, setting up forums for religious and community leaders and running boys and girls clubs.