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BI Week Article 2021 – Paradise Island scarred by Colonialism

BI Week Article 2021 – Paradise Island scarred by Colonialism

by Fokeerbux Najeeb Ahmad

As a postcard vacation spot with its clear skies and tranquil seas, the white sandy beaches, the lush green sugarcane fields, the tall palm and coconut trees and the splendid forest reserves; Mauritius is a prized tourist destination for many. The island of roughly 1.3 million inhabitants to the west of the African continent comprise people of diverse ethnicities and religions which add up to the warmth of locals.

While it is truism that a number of hotels have a niche market for LGBTQ people, living in Mauritius as a queer person poses its share of challenges which is often common to many countries having a history of colonialism.

Over the past two decades, Mauritius has seen a slow progress in terms of legislative and policy changes for LGBTQ people in Mauritius. To name a few, the national HIV and AIDS programming include LGBTQ people; the Employment Relations Act 2008 and the Workers’ Rights Act 2019 prevent discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation; the Code of Ethics of Government employees prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the Equal Opportunities Act 2012 also sets the legal framework to prevent all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation among other statuses; since 2014, LGBTQ people are allowed to donate blood; since a few years now, trans people can avail of hormones free of charge in public hospitals and can undergo name change; and there has been an amendment to the law to allow registration of intersex infants at birth.

However, Section 250 of the Mauritius Criminal Code Act of 1838 criminalises same-sex sexual intimacy and marriage equality is still a challenge in Mauritius. Section 250 does not have its place in modern and democratic Mauritius in that LGBTQ people, like all other citizens, should have the fundamental rights to choice of sexual partner, privacy, dignity, protection of the law and equality.

Section 250 is contrary to the values of democracy and treats LBGT people as second-class citizens. Mauritians believe in an equal society free from discrimination, and the continued existence of Section 250 brings about discrimination, inequality, stigma, and persecution of LGBTQ people.

This legal situation exacerbates the plights of LGBTQ people living in Mauritius. Compared to heterosexual persons, LGBTQ people face a number of socio-economic inequalities. Studies have shown that:

  • While around 82.6% of LGBTQ people still live with their parents, only 29.0% of them are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression to their parents and relatives; thus, creating challenges in terms of rights to privacy, life in dignity and love; and this further adds to the mental and emotional challenges that LGBTQ people face
  • LGBTQ people are 5 times more at risk of not being employed than heterosexual persons; 
  • Working LGBTQ people earn 26.2% less than any other employee; and
  • Of the 63.2% LGBTQ people report being victim of at least one of discrimination, stigmatisation and/or violence, 91.1% face those due to their sexual orientation whereas 61.3% face those due to their gender identity and expression.

Local LGBTQ organisations and activists are paving the way for change. In September 2019, four young LGBTQ Mauritians commenced an action for constitutional redress seeking a declaration that Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act of 1838 which criminalises same-sex sexual relationships violates the fundamental rights and freedom of LGBTQ people and is unconstitutional.

The hearing is set in November this year. Should homosexuality be decriminalised, LGBTQ people in Mauritius may finally achieve another victory in being treated as equal citizens.

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