LGBTI people in Swaziland / eSwatini suffer mental health issues and many have attempted suicide because of the way they are discriminated against in the kingdom.
This has prompted the authors of the first study of its kind to call for same-sex activity to be decriminalised in Swaziland. They also call for legal reform to abolish laws which contribute to stigma, prejudice and discrimination against sexual and gender minority people living in the kingdom, including men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women.
The report written by two academics and the Southern and East African Research Collective on Health was based on interviews with 104 LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in Swaziland. The Rock of Hope, a community based organization that supports the needs and advocates for the rights of LGBTI people in Swaziland, helped in compiling the report.
Swaziland is a deeply conservative kingdom ruled by the absolute monarch King Mswati III. The King has in the past described homosexuality as ‘satanic’ In May 2016 four organisations jointly reported to the United Nations about LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland. Part of their report stated, ‘LGBT[I]s are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBT[I]s as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.’
The new study found evidence of serious human rights violations against Swazi people who are LGBTI. The report concluded they suffer ‘social exclusion, marginalisation and stigma’ because they are seen as being different from the rest of the population.
This ‘has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex’.
The report stated its findings ‘demonstrate the urgent need for mental health services that are affirming of sexual and gender diversity and are provided without sexual orientation and gender identity-related stigma, prejudice and discrimination. It is clear that affirming and non-judgmental mental healthcare services for sexual and gender minority people are at least as important as HIV-related health services. This is not just to improve mental health and wellbeing, but also to support efforts to decrease the vulnerability to HIV.’
Researchers looked separately at the experience of lesbians, gay men and bi-sexuals in Swaziland.
Lesbian participants in the study had some of the poorest health outcomes. More than half the sample were classified as depressed (63 percent), and one in four (24 percent) showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety. Lesbian participants had high use of drugs (27 percent) and alcohol (67 percent), much higher than available data on women in the general Swazi population. Four out of five (83 percent) said that they had been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and over half had experienced physical violence and sexual violence (51 percent each). More than one in four had experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner (29 percent and 29 percent respectively).
With gay men in the sample, more than half were classified as depressed (51 percent), and one in eight showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (13 percent). Two in five (39 percent) had attempted suicide in their lifetime, and one in eight (12 percent) in the past year. Half used alcohol in a harmful way (50 percent), and 13 percent used other drugs in a harmful way. Four out of five (84 percent) said that they had been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, over half (64 percent) had experienced physical violence, and almost half (49 percent) had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Almost half had experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, and one in four had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime (46 percent and 26 percent, respectively).
Overall, bisexual participants in the study tended to have better health outcomes than lesbian and gay participants. One in seven bisexual participants had signs of depression (14 percent), and 5 percent showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety. One in five (19 percent) had attempted suicide in their lifetime. More than half (59 percent) used alcohol at a level that might be harmful to their health, and one in seven (14 percent) used other drugs in a harmful way. One third (32 percent) used tobacco. Two in three (64 percent) said that they had been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, more than half (55 percent) had experienced physical violence, and half (50 percent) had experienced sexual violence. One in four had experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner (24 percent and 24 percent respectively).
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