Lesbian, queer and transgender women across Africa are still forced into heterosexual marriages, and many of them have to keep their sexual orientation and/or gender identity a secret because they are afraid of being victimized or even killed.

Guadalupe Dansokho, a lesbian woman from Senegal, was forced to marry a man. The couple divorced in 2019 after they were married for three years.

“I was forced to marry Magatte at the age of 23, someone who ignored me as much as I ignored him at first. It didn’t last and after two months we separated in March 2016. He quickly understood that I was not interested in men and he soon complained about it to my parents, so that they would cure me,” said Dansokho after the Washington Blade was able to make contact with her. “The rest was only moral violence and psychological pressure from my relatives, following the failure of this marriage in 2019, we formally divorced. The worst part of my story is that this project of marriage with Magatte was already in the cards since my early childhood, because often the arrangements between families take place several years in advance.”

“The issue of forced marriages is not uncommon,” said Dansokho. “In general, it happens when parents discover the homosexuality of their daughters as they are married in the hope of changing their sexual orientation and to guarantee a certain social respectability of the family.” 

“Boys also experience and live forced marriages, especially when they are gay. Nevertheless, social pressure seems to be stronger towards lesbian girls,” she added. “Young girls who are not ready to take on this life do not always feel well, but the social pressure is there. Recently, a lesbian acquaintance of mine took her own life to escape this life.”

Vanilla Hussein, the director of Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy-Health, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in Kenya, said traditional beliefs and a lack of government acknowledgement of LGBTQ and intersex issues are among the reasons why forced marriages of queer, lesbian and trans women are still rampant across Africa.

“Marriage is a legal institution both at local and national level and therefore, requires parties involved to have consensus when fulfilling this contractual obligation or agreement for both the male and female, male and male-male as well as female-female, respectively,” said Hussein. “Forced marriages still exist in urban and rural areas and communities because of social and economic factors. The economic factors such as unemployment, poverty rates and poor welfare has forced queer, trans women and lesbians to get married to those with better jobs, lifestyle and money.” 

“However, forced marriages within the queer, trans women and lesbian communities can be stopped by creating education and sensitization within various African communities, sharing of educational resource materials and the creation of a fund to support poor queer, trans women and lesbian communities as well as supporting organizations through their advocacy work campaigns,” added Hussein. “Moreso, governments and organizations should carry out campaigns against forced marriages, creating empowerment programs to improve the welfare and economic conditions of young men and women, offering free educational programs to improve on the capacities, knowledge as well as creating research and data collection on queer, trans women and lesbian forced marriages across Africa as this data will be used to create awareness that will help in raising voices and helping victims of forced marriages.”

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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