Ripples of hope: Ugandan gay activist honored and gang rape conviction in Bangladesh

Gay activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera won the Martin Ennals prize.

I’ll be the first to say that I often deal with heavy issues in this space.

As regular readers know, topics like the Holocaust, slavery, genocide, and femicide are just some of the areas we discuss together.

Many times, I try to bring attention to something that has not been going right in the world.

Today, I’ve got some positive news from Uganda and Bangaldesh.

The BBC reported on how Ugandan gay activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera has received the prestigious Martin Ennals rights award.

The article went on to say:

The Geneva-based award jury said Ms Nabagesera had appeared on national television and issued press statements on behalf of Uganda’s gay community.

However, because of threats and harassment she now shifted “from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place”, their statement said.

“[She is] an exceptional woman of a rare courage, fighting under death threat for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalised people in Africa,” jury chairman Hans Thoolen said.

In October 2009, an MP introduced a bill that proposed increasing the penalties in Uganda for homosexual acts from 14 years in prison to life.

It also proposed the death penalty for a new offence of “aggravated homosexuality” – defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a “serial offender”.

Uganda is by no means the only country dealing with homophobia, and the legal injunctions in that nation give sanction to those who would physically harm and, as the proposed legislation states, kill lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered.

Here is a clip from her address about Uganda’s “Nuremberg Laws” at last year’s Freedom Forum.  As you’ll hear, she talks about the sexual and physical abuse to which lesbians are subjected-she explains that some people there practice “curative rape” as a way to stop people from being who they are-and the way she and others have fought against this oppression.

This is the latest in the series of honors for Nabagesera, founder and executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, or FARUG.  who appears undaunted in her dangerous fight for equality and justice.

Speaking of justice, while much of the talk this week has centered on the death of Osama Bin Laden, earlier today a judge in Bangladesh sentenced 11 people to life imprisonment for gang raping a female school student during post-election violence in 2001.

Six of the people convicted were in the court to hear their sentences, while five others are still on the run.

In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write about the many types of oppression, including sexual violence, to which women around the globe are subjected.

This decision, even though it comes a decade after the original incident, strikes a blow in the other direction.

In 1966, Robert Kennedy spoke at the Day of Affirmation in Cape Town, South Africa.

He opened the address with a memorable paragraph: I came here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.

Then he moved onto quote Archimedes and to assert the following:

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Nabagesera’s honor and the verdict by themselves will not sweep down the walls of homophobia and gang rape, but they are ripples of hope that can advance that cause.  I wish her and the judge who handed down the sentence strength and success as they continue in their worthy causes.


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