New LGBTI groups join the struggle in Cameroon

CAMFAIDS meeting, June 2012 (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

CAMFAIDS meeting, June 2012 (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

Their goals are the same:

  • Roll back HIV / AIDS within the LGBTI community.
  • Promote the human rights of LGBTI people, along with their rights to sexual and reproductive health,
  • Fight stigma and discrimination; and finally
  • Denounce the many abuses, violations and scams suffered by sexual minorities in everyday life.

Those are the goals of four relatively new organizations in Cameroon that are working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people: Cameroon Humanity First, Action for Development and Fulfillment of Vulnerable People (ADEPEV), the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and Affirmative Action.

Alice Nkom, co-founder of the Association to Defend Homosexuals (ADEFHO) in Cameroon (Photo courtesy of ChangingAttitude.org.uk)

Alice Nkom, co-founder of the Association to Defend Homosexuals (ADEFHO) in Cameroon (Photo courtesy of ChangingAttitude.org.uk)

Each was created because gay men and lesbians said their efforts were needed in the battle  alongside two long-respected gay rights organizations, Alternatives Cameroon and the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals (ADEFHO) that already were active in the city.

They also battle alongside the group Lady’s Cooperation, which seeks to improve the lives of female football (soccer) players, lesbians and women in general.

Here are brief descriptions of these energetic new Yaoundé -based groups, each with its own particular focus:

Cameroon Humanity First: gays leading the fight

Gays who wanted to lead their own fight against HIV / AIDS launched Cameroon Humanity First in January 2010, says Jules Eloundou, the group’s president.

“The gay community was very poorly informed about HIV,” he said. “Many gay men didn’t even know that HIV can be contracted during sexual relations between two men.”

Disease prevention through behavior change is the goal of  the group’s monthly educational talks, which have been supplemented with  two major programs targeting  HIV / AIDS and STDs.  As of July 2012, notwithstanding some difficulties in obtaining supplies of prevention materials (condoms and lubes), these programs of Cameroon Humanity First have reached about 2,700 men who have sex with men in Yaoundé. The group also helps 20 people living with HIV, providing them with nutrition supplements, medical advice and psycho-social support.

A few months ago, the association also opened its “Humanity Center,” which has become a meeting place for the entire gay community.

ADEPEV: fighting AIDS, seeking decriminalization of homosexuality

Early 2010 was a time when many gay men died of AIDS, including some very close friends, recalls Marc Lambert Lamba, who is currently the coordinator of the sexual health and prevention section of ADEPEV (Action for Development and Fulfillment of Vulnerable People).  “Instead of just gathering each time to collect money for friends’ funerals, we decided to set up a group aimed at eradicating the scourge of AIDs.”

That group was ADEPEV, which was needed because in Cameroon all AIDS prevention efforts are concentrated on heterosexuals.

ADEPEV is  now 100 members strong.  In addition to its work against AIDS, the association has established a legal section, which deals primarily with conflicts within the gay community, and has launched lobbying efforts at the national level.

In the future, “our objective is to go to the Ministry of Public Health to lobby for LGBTI to be included in national health planning and to go to the Department of Justice to seek  decriminalization of homosexual activities,” said Mark Lambert Lamba.

CAMFAIDS:  increasing awareness, opposing discrimination

The Cameroonian Foundation For AIDS (CAMFAIDS) works to increase awareness of how to avoid HIV infection among LGBTI people in Yaoundé and its environs, particularly on college campuses. It was founded in May 2010 by young LGBTI students and other gay-friendly people to combat the increasing rate of HIV / AIDS among sexual minorities despite numerous programs fighting against the disease. In addition to using interpersonal communication, educational talks and visits to gay gathering places to raise awareness of HIV / AIDS, the association has also turned to “communicating specific information on the Internet and other media aimed at ending all forms of discrimination as well as arrests that are arbitrary and unsupported by law,” said Dominique Menoga, president of CAMFAIDS.

Affirmative Action: The builders

Rostand Vondab Tentchimou, president of Cameroon’s Affirmative Action Association (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

Rostand Vondab Tentchimou, president of Cameroon’s Affirmative Action Association (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

With its headquarters in a popular area of the political capital of Cameroon, Affirmative Action was founded in 2008 by young peer educators who were working on a leading NGO’s project dealing with men having sex with men (MSM).
“We observed that marginalized people (sex workers, truckers, albinos and LGBTI) were often discriminated against in hospitals by health professionals who would preach to them about morality and normality.  We joined together with a desire to give these marginalized groups self-esteem and knowledge of their fundamental rights,” explained Serge Yotta D., secretary general of Affirmative Action.

After it won official recognition in 2010, Affirmative Action decided to focus more on LGBTIs. In addition to the goal of reducing HIV among homosexuals, the organization promotes excellence among MSM who succeed in the workforce or become opinion leaders because of their talent or their mental ability.  This is Affirmative Action’s “builders” initiative, a think tank on homosexual issues with the long-term goal of creating a lobbying group equipped with enough knowledge to serve as effective advocates before national and international bodies for the interests and rights of vulnerable populations.  The organization also supports small  LGBT entrepreneurs’ income-generating activities, including manufacturing soap, dyeing cloth, and making yogurt.

Lady’s Cooperation: Opposing discrimination against lesbians and other women

To confront the marginalization of women in general and female football (soccer) players in particular, Berthe Awoh Ngoume and some friends formed Lady’s Cooperation in 2006.  Since then, the organization has won legal recognition but has faced many obstacles to its growth, especially because of hostility from society in general. Berthe Awoh Ngoume, who serves as the group’s president, says one of the group’s aims is to tackle the problem of victimization of female athletes.

“The daily lives of female footballers in particular and female athletes in general are marred by  intrigue, blackmail and sexual harassment — sometimes from managers, with whom they are forced to have sex to survive,” Berthe Awoh Ngoume said. “Some girls that I know have been forced into prostitution to escape poverty or to keep alive their hopes of a pseudo career in sport. In spite of themselves, others must abandon their ambitions because of unwanted pregnancies or abortions.”

She also decried the mistreatment of lesbians in Cameroon, which leaves them isolated.

“Lesbians in Cameroon are still discriminated against and in a very precarious situation. Female athletes, for example, typically abandon their studies early — usually in high school. That leaves them with little chance of finding a job or learned how to start a small business,” she said.

In Cameroon, most lesbian women are in hiding. The hostile environment leads some lesbians to deny their sexual identity or to disparage themselves, even within the gay community.

“They do not admit their sexuality and are forced to lead a bisexual life for social or financial reasons.  Other girls, unloved or rejected by their families because of their homosexuality, feel isolated and cannot be contacted,” Bertha Awoh Ngoume said.

Some lesbians are victims of arbitrary arrests. Many women are accused of homosexuality, tried, convicted and sentenced without any evidence against them.

In hopes of solving these problems, Lady’s Cooperation is planning to reorganize, in addition to cooperating with other partner organizations in Yaoundé in presenting educational talks about  HIV / AIDS and human rights.  It also strives to rehabilitate incarcerated women and to create better lives for lesbians in Cameroon, though those are very difficult tasks for Lady’s Cooperation to achieve, since it lacks an office and has neither technical nor financial partners to help implement its programs.  But it remains committed to the cause.

– Eric O. LEMBEMBE

About Eric O. Lembembe

Eric O. Lembembe, a journalist in Cameroon, is a leader of the Cameroonian Foundation For AIDS (CAMFAIDS), an association that seeks to promote and protect all human rights.
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