Equality, not exclusion
Tact, sensitivity and trust are vital – programme manager Hans Bretschneider reports on working for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in Rwanda.
Although legislation prohibits discrimination of any kind, in Rwanda lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intergender and queer individuals as well as people with other gender identities (LGBTQI+) experience discrimination in everyday life. In this interview, programme manager Hans Bretschneider explains how the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supports civil society organisations in their efforts to strengthen these groups.
Mr Bretschneider, you are in charge of a project that strives to strengthen the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals. How do you approach this task?
We support Rwandan civil society organisations and stakeholders that represent the different groups within the LGBTQI+ community. We currently know of about forty of them. Our partner organisations provide training on how to access sound services, including health and legal advisory services for those in need. The organisations and stakeholders are exposed to new ideas on how to attract more funding for their work through fundraising. We also encourage and support their efforts to publicly advocate for their own interests, for example at discussion events and via radio broadcasts.
To what extent is this work necessary? Under Rwanda’s constitution, discrimination of any kind is prohibited.
That is true – the statute books are not discriminatory. Rwanda has also signed various human rights conventions that underpin equality before the law. But things look different for many LGBTQI+ individuals in their daily lives. A recent study indicates that they frequently experience discrimination and rejection. They risk losing their job and their home if information about their private life becomes public. Some are cast out by their families and lose everything. With our work we aim to support the country in giving members of the LGBTQI+ community more effective access to their rights.
How can you step up tolerance?
Nobody knows that better than the individuals themselves. It is our job to support them. For one group this might mean developing online legal advisory services, while for another it might entail offering more points of contact on the ground or raising visibility in the media. We always try to operate with great tact and sensitivity. To give you one example, we have learned that it can be more effective to talk to people directly rather than running social media campaigns. Our partner organisations are engaged in a trust-based dialogue with a number of Rwandan ministries. On this basis they can offer training, for instance, to make security staff more aware of human rights and the LGBTQI+ community.
What are the prospects for LGBTQI+ individuals in Rwanda?
Modern legislation and the support of numerous international donors has improved the situation over the years. Nevertheless, there are still strongly conservative movements in some Christian churches and elsewhere in Rwandan society. So the prospects are mixed.
Hans Bretschneider has a background in clinical psychology and academic research. For more than ten years he has been working in the field of peacebuilding and addressing the consequences of conflicts in different regions of Africa. He is currently managing a GIZ programme in Rwanda, which is promoting a human rights-based approach in civil society organisations on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ).