Mauritius: A quagmire between increased acceptance of LGBTQ people and homophobia
Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan research network published its No. 225 bulletin on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in its 3rd publication for Mauritius. The two previous ones were in 2012 and 2014.
Since its independence in 1968, Mauritius has taken pride in promoting its development based on democracy, good governance, human rights and freedoms, and the rule of law. The country’s Constitution affirms that all Mauritians should benefit from the right to equal protection and assistance of the law against any form of discrimination. The country is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious one, populated during the colonial centuries with people from Europe, Africa and Asia. Roughly, the country consists of Hindus (50%), Muslims (18%), Chinese (2%), Franco-Mauritians (1%) and General Population (29% mainly of African descent and Christian faith).
Key findings of this report highlights:
- Most Mauritians report not to suffer from discrimination or harassment. Yet, substantial proportions of the population report suffering from discrimination or harassment based on their ethnicity (9%), gender (16%) and religion (17%).
- Afro-Mauritians (31%) and Muslims (22%) are more likely than average to say they experienced discrimination or harassment based on their ethnicity during the previous 12 months.
- Similarly, while two-thirds (66%) of Mauritians say their ethnic group is “never” treated unfairly by the government, more than four in 10 Afro-Mauritians (47%) and Muslims (42%) say this happens “sometimes,” “often,” or “always.”
- Women are more likely than men to suffer gender discrimination or harassment (11% vs. 7%), and religious discrimination or harassment is more likely to affect Christians and Muslims than Hindus.
- More than nine out of 10 Mauritians express tolerant attitudes toward people of a different ethnicity (94%) or religion (94%), and smaller majorities do the same with regard to immigrants/foreign workers (67%) and people in same-sex relationships (56%). Tolerance for homosexuals increased by 7 percentage points since the 2014 survey, placing Mauritius at the top among 21 African countries surveyed in 2016/2017.
- Most Mauritians say both genders have equal opportunities to get an education (98%), to inherit and own land (93%), and to get a paying job (92%), although they are evenly split as to whether men should be given preference when jobs are scarce.
- Eight out of 10 Mauritians (82%) say women should have the same chance as men to be elected to public office.
Increased tolerance for LGBTQ people
One of the salient finding of the report is around the experiences and perceptions of Mauritians as to how they are treated and their attitudes toward people who are different from themselves.
From 2014 to 2017, there has been a steady positive shift from tolerance of the population towards homosexuals. Respondents were asked: For each of the following types of people, please tell me whether you would like having people from this group as neighbors, dislike it, or not care: People from other ethnic groups? People of a different religion? Immigrants or foreign workers? Homosexuals?
It was found that 56% of Mauritians expressed their tolerance for people in same-sex relationships, an increase from 49% in 2014. 5% say they would like and 51% say they would not mind having homosexuals as neighbours. This places Mauritius at the top among 21 African countries for which Round 7 data are available.
Behind the progress, organised homophobia
Despite the observations made by Afrobarometer, the realities of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people in Mauritius are far from being all sunny on the tropical paradisiac Island. Legislative progress has been made in terms of Employment Rights Act (2008), Employment Relations Act (2008) and the Equal Opportunities Act (2008) as well as it is no longer an issue for homosexual and bisexual people to donate blood since 2014. However, consensual same-sex sexual relationships are still criminalised under Article 250 of the Criminal Code, marriage equality or a form of civil partnership is not recognised, Transgender people are still not recognised under law and hate crimes based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics are not punishable under law.
In 2016, the local media reported that while performing her HIV outreach work at night, a Transgender person by the name of Giovani was reportedly arrested, undressed and humiliated in a police station. Family rejection, conversion therapies and witchcraft have been frequently reported by young Lesbian and Gay people. Despite employment laws and the Equal Opportunities Act (2008), LGBTQ people report discrimination and harassment at workplace as well as in accessing mental and sexual health services. Death threats towards local activists are common issues and local law enforcement authorities have not acted on same and culprits are not held accountable.
Since the beginning of the Pride in Mauritius some 13 years back, the local Churches and Mosques marched against it. Again, in 2018, the annual Rainbow Pride was cancelled due to fierce and organised counter protest of nearly 500 people. The counter protest was followed again by a series of death threats to prominent activists in the country and the perpetrators of these threats have not yet been arrested. The Government has also made it clear that during its mandate, it will not decriminalise consensual sodomy between adults.
Local registered organisations such as the Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and the Young Queer Alliance are advocating for LGBTQ people and providing in as much safe spaces and support as they can in terms of health services, legal support, emergency shelter, activism, community support, mental health support among others.
Despite organised homophobia, the future is hopeful for LGBTQ people in Mauritius. Steady progress in the mindset of the population is felt and regional and international support in forwarding organisational efforts are present. Let us hope that one day, Mauritius will be inclusive of its LGBTQ people.
- Afrobarometer Dispatch no. 225: Mauritius strong – but far from perfect – on gender equality and social tolerance: http://afrobarometer.org/sites/default/files/publications/Dispatches/ab_r7_dispatchno225_tolerance_and_equality_in_mauritius.pdf
About the Author
Fokeerbux Najeeb Ahmad is a youth activist from Mauritius, founder of the Young Queer Alliance, steering committee member of MPact (formerly MSMGF), Gay and Bisexual men representative on the Country Coordinating Mechanism against HIV and the Chairperson of the African Queer Youth Initiative.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of the African Queer Youth Initiative.