The UK government is among major aid donors to have funded clinics in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania that offer so-called “conversion therapies”, which pressurise gay people to “quit” same-sex attraction, an investigation has found.
In a six-month undercover investigation of the centres, reporters from global news website openDemocracy were told being gay is “evil”, “for whites” and a mental health problem. Among them were facilities linked to some of the world’s biggest aid donors, including USAid and the British government’s fund, UK Aid, run by organisations such as UK-based MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes International) and Swiss-based Global Fund.
Yvee Oduor from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya called for aid donors to redirect their funding, adding that “we already have clinics and health centres run by LGBTQI+ people all over the country. Why not fund these community initiatives?”
Conversion therapy refers to physical treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been condemned by more than 60 associations of doctors, psychologists and counsellors worldwide.
The British government pledged to introduce a ban on conversion therapy in 2018, but in May announced that a public consultation will be held before any measures are taken. Amnesty International this week urged the government to urgently introduce a “blanket ban” on conversion therapy, fearing a consultation could lead to opt-outs for religious groups.
The openDemocracy reporters said they visited facilities that had been flagged in previous research with more than 50 LGBTQ+ people in east Africa. Conversion therapy activities were found in 12 out of the 15 clinics they visited. Counselling was the most common method of conversion therapy offered, and in Uganda a reporter posing as an older sister to a 17-year-old was told to get him sleeping pills to prevent him from masturbating.
“Although we followed up on medical related leads, many interviewees shared experiences of conversion therapy practices in family, religious and workplace settings,” said reporter Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it does not specifically fund the programme run by MSI Reproductive Choices referred to in the openDemocracy report, adding that it “conducts rigorous assessments before supporting any organisations” and that the UK government “strongly opposes the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy and is committed to introducing a UK ban”. MSI Reproductive Choices said it has launched an investigation into the allegations, and “strongly condemns this harmful, unethical practice, which goes against everything we stand for as an organisation”.
Javan Ariana, 23, a transgender sex worker, told of her experience of going to a government hospital in Uganda. “I registered my preferred names and one of them asked me if I’m a man or a woman. I explained that I was born male but that I feel female. They counselled me immediately, prayed for me and told me that what I was doing was bad,” said Ariana, who was told she was “evil” and was “going to die young”.
“One nurse said that I couldn’t get treatment in the hospital because the government says we cannot treat such people, yet I know the law says I have the right to health,” said Ariana, who was told to bring “other people like her” to the hospital so they could be “healed” too.
“After hearing such conversations I was traumatised and scared, thinking that they might even give me the wrong medication and maybe I would end up dying. I didn’t even get the medication I needed – I just went home and stayed with my sickness.”
Under laws from colonial times, gay sex is punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda. The Sexual Offences Bill 2019, which is awaiting presidential assent, reduces the sentence to 10 years – but has broadened the criminalisation of homosexuality to include the criminalisation of women who have sex with women.
In a statement in May, Human Rights Watch Africa director Mausi Segun called on President Museveni to reject the bill, which she argues “does not do enough for survivors, conflates consensual sexual acts with violence, and offers tools to persecute LGBT people and sex workers in Uganda”.
The investigation found an HIV clinic at a Kampala public hospital – specifically catering to marginalised groups, including LGBTQ+ people – was implicated. The clinic is run by Ugandan organisation Most At Risk Populations Initiative (Marpi), which won a $420,000 (£305,000) USAid grant in 2019, and gets funding from the Global Fund. USAid did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. The Global Fund said it had “zero tolerance for any action that limits access to health services or that may encourage or promote any form of discrimination or violence”.
Tevin, 21, was taken for therapy at another Kampala hospital by her father when she was 18. The psychiatrist asked Tevin how gay she felt on a scale of one to 10. “I told her 10, why would I feel any less? I’ve been gay all my life,” Tevin said. “She told my dad if he paid I could have surgery for my brain that would make me straight, but that I had to finish high school first.” She said she was willing to go through with it if it would make her straight – and make her parents happy. Tevin believes that the psychiatrist may just have been trying to extort money from her family, but the effect was that she felt “sick and damaged, like I needed to be treated”.
“If you’re a person that has self denial it will give you false hope that you can be what you’re not. It also takes away the chance of parents accepting us for who we are, because they think they can just pay money to make us straight.
“It just makes life a whole lot harder for us.”
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Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International
The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.
The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.
Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).
The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.
Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.
‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development
The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.
It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.
Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.
Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.
“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”
Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”
The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).
“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”
About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.
Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.
“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.
According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.
“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”
Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.
Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”
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