ASWA STRONGLY condemns Ghana Anti-LGBTI draft bill for it undermines the rights and health of LGBTI+ sex workers in Ghana

Sex workers in Africa are diverse and also operate in different contexts. Diversity in sex work brings many benefits to the movement as a whole. Diversity brings in new ideas and experiences, new ways of thinking and we can learn from each other. Bringing in different ideas and perspectives leads to better problem-solving and resilience.  Sex work in diversity opens dialogue and promotes inclusivity, genuineness and creativity. The value of diversity is true for the sex workers movement.  

ASWA recognizes the value of diversity and therefore has included the LGBTIQ+ sex workers in its membership. We value every lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer sex worker. ASWA is mandated to amplify their voices, promote and protect their rights and health. 

ASWA has LGBTIQ+ sex workers in Ghana where there is no law that says selling sex is illegal, but there is a law against anyone living on the earnings of ‘prostitution’, which effectively criminalises all sex work. Also, there are laws against soliciting in a public place. Organising or managing sex work is criminalised; brothel-keeping and living on the earnings are illegal. 

The LGBTIQ+ sex workers in Ghana are already criminalised due to the nature of their work-sex work. On top of being criminalised due to sex work, they will also be criminalised because of who they are; their sexuality and gender. 

We are saddened by the draft bill targeting and criminalising their sexuality and gender. 

This proposal to criminalise LGBTQI+ sex workers in Ghana will establish a system of State-sponsored discrimination and violence against the LGBTI+ sex workers. Ghana Anti-LGBTI draft bill is a recipe for violence, a gross violation of human rights and could reverse decade of progress of rights and health of LGBTIQ+ sex workers in Ghana. 

The bill is sponsored by eight lawmakers from the opposition and ruling parties who came together following the opening of the country’s first LGBT+ community centre in January. 

The opening of the center sparked uproar from church organisations, politicians and anti-gay groups and authorities shut it down three weeks later. “We did not expect such an uproar,” said Alex Kofi Donkor, director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, which hosted the centerโ€™s launch on Jan. 31 attended by European and Australian diplomats. 

The launch has led to a crackdown by authorities – including the arrest of 21 LGBT+ activists in May – and an increase in homophobic abuse from the public in recent months, community members say. 

The lawmakers, who are led by Samuel Nartey George from the National Democratic Congress party, say homosexuality is a perversion and LGBTQI+ activities threaten Ghanaian family values, and society in general. 

Opposition lawmakers introduced the first reading of the bill on 2 August 2021 in Ghana Parliament, and its consideration is expected to resume in October 2021-the bill will be referred to a committee for review before it is presented before parliament for a second reading and debate where it may be subject to amendments. 

It then goes for a third reading before it can be passed into law. It will also require assent from President Nana Akufo-Addo. 

What are the main provisions in the bill? 

The draft law makes it a crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, pansexual and non-binary – someone who does not identify as male or female. 

Advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, sympathising or offering any assistance such as financial or medical support to LGBT+ people or organisations would also be an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail. 

Media companies, online platforms and accounts that publish information deemed to support LGBT+ activities or encourage children to explore any gender or sex outside of the binary categories of male and female could also be prosecuted. 

On the other hand, the draft law promotes so-called conversion therapy by allowing flexible sentencing for an LGBT+ person if they request “treatment”. 

Other articles include outlawing “intentional cross-dressing” and “amorous relations” between people of the same sex in public, and making it a citizen’s duty to report any LGBTQI+ persons or activities to authorities. 

It also proposes amending Ghana’s existing extradition law to allow for the deportation of LGBTQI+ Ghanaians living overseas. 

For example attempts to prevent human rights defenders from organising themselves to defend LGBTI sex workers, and the absolute prohibition of public debate on sexual orientation and gender identity raises serious concerns about rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and of association.  

The consideration of this legislation is deeply worrying in a country that has been regarded as a champion of democracy in Africa, with an impressive record of achieving certain Millennium Development Goals by 2015 e.g on health, education, employment, housing and gender justice.  

The draft legislation appears to be the result of a deep hatred toward LGBTI+ sex workers. It will not only criminalise LGBTI sex workers, but anyone who supports their human rights, shows sympathy to them or is even remotely associated with them. 

Knowing how popular it would be, “the opposition party is using this as a major political tactic to get the current government to take a position one way or the other for political reasons,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Wendy Isaack. 

If this legislation is adopted the way it is by the parliament and passed into law by Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, it will definitely give members of the public the authority, the tools, to perpetrate violations and it will create a recipe for stigma, discrimination and violence for our community members.

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