Sexuality Inequality In South Africa Essay Example
Sexuality Inequality In South Africa Essay Example

Sexuality Inequality In South Africa Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2740 words)
  • Published: April 13, 2022
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Since the commencement of democracy, South Africa is known precisely as “the rainbow nation” predominantly due to the coexistence between different ethnic and linguistic groups in the same territory within a relative social space. However, there are other areas of diversity that the country has such as sexuality diversity. People of different sexual orientation coexist together in the country. In recent times, there have been concerns about gender inequality and discrimination of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual and Intersexual) groups. In the years following the arrival of democracy, the LGBT community managed to win important battles such as the repeal of the sodomy law, more rights in adoption, medical care, immigration issues regarding the change of sex, inheritance, and recognition of marriage among others. However, this does not mean that in South Africa there is no dis


crimination against the LGTBI community.

Unlike many countries in Africa, where being a member of LGBTI community is considered a crime that could be punished even with death, South Africa has passed laws accommodating same-sex marriages. In addition, it became the fifth country in the world (and logically the first in Africa) to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the issue of inequality did not stop the discrimination and abuse that exists between different sexual orientations in the country (Elliott, 2010). “To live as an openly lesbian woman is to expose yourself to corrective violations, a common practice in the country,” says Caster Semenya, a member of the South African LGBTI community and internationally renowned athlete.

Sexuality inequality

Compared to other African countries or even with other countries in the world, the South African Constitution of 1996 can be presumed to be one o

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the most progressive in aspects essential for the reconstitution of a country hit for centuries and decades, including provisions of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (Elliott, 2010). South African researchers argue that discrimination and violence have characterized the experiences of this community despite the efforts of organizations, groups, and NGOs to eradicate them. According to these researchers, the ANC government has been effective in legislating and creating commissions that work for gender equality and non-discrimination, but until today, a specific program to end discrimination based on sexual orientation has not been created. Homophobia, gender violence, and xenophobia are consequences of social inequality and cannot be tackled only from a legal point of view, without significant changes in the lives of the poorest populations, as well as other discriminated groups.

In addition to this, the issue cannot be tackled in isolation without taking into account cross-cutting factors such as gender, social class, and ethnicity. According to Human Rights Watch South Africa, black lesbians (especially those with a more masculine aesthetic, called Butch) and transgendered men living in South African slums and rural areas are the most vulnerable members of the LGTBI community by breaking the established gender norms and live in a social environment with difficult access to education (Elliott, 2010). Violence against these specific groups is clearly evident in a patriarchal context of gender violence, which is deeply rooted in South African society, where femicide and rape occur regularly. In line with HRW, approximately one in three women will be raped throughout their lives, including at schooling stage (Elliott, 2010). This places South Africa as the country with the highest rate of rape and

sexual assault in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.

Corrective violations (rape of lesbian to “correct” their sexual orientation) are the most visible and serious face of this violence toward black South African lesbians. Other violations include verbal abuse, ridicule, threat and intimidation suffered by the community in general (Currier, 2012). This message succeeds in covering a large part of the population, especially in those with less access to an education that may be basic in the struggle against prejudice.

In South Africa, legal discrimination is common. For example, in most cases, the compensation and punishment imposed on murder, in the case of a woman, is less than that of a man. In many societies, women are denied the right to initiate marital divorce proceedings. Public activity is reserved for men (Currier, 2012). Moral norms have a tendency to be more stringent for women than for men. Witchcraft, one of the most serious crimes in traditional societies, has been an accusation for many more women than men. This only demonstrates the inequality that exists between both genders in South Africa.

There are few areas where women have greater recognition than men. For instance, motherhood is often more valued than parenthood. In some traditional religions, women predominate over men, in the exercise of the priesthood, intermediaries between the living and the dead, or as a diviner. At times, its power has been very great that as in the case of the Zulu people they have come to name and remove kings, or as in the case of Nehanda to lead the liberation war in neighboring Zimbabwe (Currier, 2012). In many countries, the minority trade is mostly exercised and controlled by


Lesbians and black transgender men in South Africa’s municipalities and rural areas face an overwhelming climate of discrimination and violence despite the protection they were promised in the country's constitution, Human Rights Watch said in a published report. Human Rights Watch discovered that members of the LGBTI community face daily discrimination and widespread violence, both by individuals and government officials.

The menace of violence which dominates the experiences of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men, especially in disadvantaged and non-urban areas is unimaginable. South Africa, at the forefront of the struggle for legal equality on LGBT issues internationally, is desperately failing internally lesbian and transgender people in their daily lives (Currier, 2012). The report reveals widespread ignorance about gay and transgender men and deep-rooted prejudices against sexual and gender discontent. Almost everyone interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed to live with the fear of sexual assault.

Almost everyone interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were reluctant to go to the police to seek protection or report such crimes. Out of the existing cases of physical or sexual violence against lesbians who have been prosecuted, the importance of counseling was recognized in one. In many cases, respondents said police did not respond adequately when interviewees sought justice and even aggravated the pain of the initial abuse (Currier, 2012). Virtually all respondents who attempted to report physical or sexual violence to the police faced mockery, harassment and secondary victimization by police personnel.

Human Rights Watch discovered the existence of discriminatory issues coupled with physical and sexual violence and lack of redress. Those interviewed said they had been discriminated against in the area of education and employment and services denied.

Lesbians and transsexuals who do not follow conventional patterns of dress and appearance and who suffer from lack of family support are particularly vulnerable to abuse and discrimination (Currier, 2012). Present legislations and policies in relation to sexual orientation have therefore failed to protect or provide reparations to individuals. Police, prosecutors, and the courts need to prioritize more effectively the implementation of those laws and policies, Human Rights Watch said.

The South African Constitutional Court has however passed laws to allow same-sex unions and has given the government time to adapt its marriage legislation to the decision and grant the same constitutional rights to gays and lesbians. A spokesman for the South African Interior Ministry confirmed that the government would accept the decision and take the necessary legal action (Cock, 2003). South Africa became the first African nation to equate heterosexual and homosexual relationships legally. The country’s first court ruled that the South African Constitution, explicitly prohibiting discrimination against sexual and other minorities, prescribes equal treatment for same-sex and heterosexual couples. To this end, it was ruled that national marriage legislation should be changed to avoid further discrimination.

In rural areas, it is common for most of the work to be done by women, while men spend time together, drinking and treating community affairs. Sporadically, they go to the market to try to sell products that report an aid in cash. Female schooling is much lower than male schooling. In many cases, the choice of marriage partner is subject to the approval of the family, who looks more familiar interests than those of the future wife (Cock, 2003). Once married, she does not have a voice or

vote in family matters, and she is not even counted if the husband is going to take a new wife. In urban centers, due to their lack of job training and lack of job offer, many women resort to prostitution as a means of economic independence outside the family.

Until independence, traditionally, boys were responsible for the care of livestock, so much more girls than children who regularly attended school. After independence, the country met with many more women than men to assume the work of the Administration and private enterprise. This situation brought with it other consequences (Cock, 2003). Given the inferiority of women within the family, where it was not uncommon for mistreatment, many economically independent women have chosen not to marry. Therefore, the situation of a vast number of single mothers, common in many African countries, in South Africa is also usual, but with a difference: here it is by women’s free choice.

South Africa and the United States: sexual inequality

Discrimination against LGBT people still exists in many parts of the world, and according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), no country in Europe is in a position to claim that it applies a treatment of full legal equality for this group (Meyer, 2003). Gay, bisexual, lesbian, intersex and transgender people have historically been subjected to discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and bodily diversity. They continue to be subjected to discrimination, violence, persecution, and other abuses; in clear violation of their human rights protected in international and inter-American instruments.

South Africa and the United States have many similarities. Apart from the ethnic diversity of these two

nations, they also make headlines in their respective continents about sexuality inequality. This violence, as evidenced by the many testimonies contained in various governmental reports, has high levels of cruelty (Meyer, 2003). Also, there is an invisibility of the daily violence that affects these people that are not denounced or reported in the media. The report focuses on violence against LGBTI people as a social phenomenon, complex and multifaceted, and not just as an isolated fact or individual act. For example, violence against intersex people is based on bias toward bodily diversity and, specifically, against people whose bodies differ from the male and female body standards. The violence suffered by intersex people differs from that usually suffered by LGBT people.

In the United States, many of the acts of violence against LGBT people, commonly known as hate crimes, are best understood under the concept of prejudice violence motivated by sexualities and non-normative identities. South Africa has diverse sexual orientations and identities which challenge fundamental notions about heteronormative sex, sexuality, and gender. As a result, violence and sexual violence against LGBT people are used to punish and denigrate people who fall outside these concepts because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (Meyer, 2003). Also, this violence has a symbolic impact, as it sends a message of terror to the entire community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For their part, transgender women are the group most affected by police violence, especially in the context of sex work. Most of them are embedded in a cycle of violence, discrimination, and criminalization that usually starts at an early age, due to the exclusion and violence suffered in

their homes, schools, and communities, reinforced by the lack of legal recognition of their gender identity in most countries of the region.

Meanwhile, the violence faced by intersex people is quite different in both South Africa and the United States. Intersex children and infants are often undergoing operations and surgical interventions, most of which are not medically necessary, with the sole aim of modifying their genitals to resemble those of a child (Hunter, 2007). These irreversible surgeries are usually done without their consent to newborn babies or very young children and can cause enormous harm to intersex people such as chronic pain, lack of genital sensitivity, sterilization, reduced or no ability to feel sexual pleasure, and trauma.

The report also analyzes the situation of violence faced by people, given the intersection with other factors, such as ethnicity, race, gender, gender, immigration status, human rights defender, and poverty. These groups may suffer a continuous cycle of violence and discrimination caused by impunity and lack of access to justice. For instance, there is a clear link between poverty, exclusion, and violence (Hunter, 2007). In South Africa, LGBT people living in poverty are more vulnerable to profiling and police harassment, and consequently to higher rates of criminalization and imprisonment. Likewise, young LGBT people have limited access to housing, which increases their risk of being victims of violence.

The vast majority of murders and acts of violence against LGBTI people go unpunished. There are some obstacles to access to justice for LGBTI persons and their families, including fear of reporting, underreporting of the problem, inadequate approach by state agents, failure to investigate, and so on. The ineffectiveness of States to apply due

diligence to prevent, investigate, punish, and repair murders and other violent crimes against LGBTI persons are closely related to the prejudices and stereotypes that state agents have over victims (Hunter, 2007). When States do not conduct exhaustive and impartial investigations into violence against LGBTI persons, as is the case in most cases, impunity is generated in the face of these crimes. This, therefore, sends a strong social message that violence is condoned and tolerated, which creates even more violence and leads the victims to distrust the justice system.

There is an inherent link between discrimination and violence against LGBTI people in America. In this context, there is also a link between discriminatory legislation and violence (Meyer, 2003). Examples of this are laws that criminalize sexual relations and other expressions of consensual intimacy between persons of the same sex, as well as non-normative gender expressions. Sodomy laws, serious indecency and gross indecency, protection of public morality and good manners, among others, continue to be a serious problem in most of the states.
Although these laws are often not applied, their existence is used to harass, persecute, harass and threaten people with sexual orientation or identities or expressions of gender, real or perceived. This type of legislation contributes to creating a context that condones discrimination, stigmatization, and violence against LGBT people, reinforcing existing social prejudices (Hunter, 2007). States should also take preventive and educational measures to respond to, and combat hate speech against LGBTI persons and to repeal laws criminalizing sexual relations and other expressions of consensual intimacy between persons of the same sex in private and non-normative gender expressions.


Even with the prevalent rates of sexual inequality in South

Africa, various ways can be used to fight against this reality. Sex education can make young adults delay their first sexual intercourse. Learning about reproductive health is part of the broader process of development through which children become adults. Sex education programs in South Africa have worked in some settings, including community centers, schools, youth groups and the workplace. One program characteristic that seems crucial to success is an interactive and experiential learning environment where young people feel comfortable and confident in exploring issues and concerns and developing skills to engage in the risk-free sexual behavior. Both in traditional African societies and in urban societies predominate, as on the other four continents, societies in which the social situation of women is inferior to that of men in many aspects of their family, cultural and political life.


  1. Elliott, S. (2010). Parents' constructions of teen sexuality: Sex panics, contradictory discourses, and social inequality. Symbolic Interaction, 33(2), 191-212.
  2. Hunter, M. (2007). The changing political economy of sex in South Africa: The significance of unemployment and inequalities to the scale of the AIDS pandemic. Social science & medicine, 64(3), 689-700.
  3. Currier, A. (2012). Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa. University of Minnesota Press.
  4. Cock, J. (2003). Engendering gay and lesbian rights: The equality clause in the South African Constitution. In Women's Studies International Forum (Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 35-45). Pergamon.
  5. Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological bulletin, 129(5), 674.
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