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LIVE from the 4th African Conference: Day 2

Sexuality Conference

Today was a bit of a rocky second day of the conference. It is understandable to open your conference with political statements about the importance of integration, health systems strengthening, and [insert other buzzword here]. But when you carry on this trend for the entire morning of the second day of the conference, it makes me want to take a vow of conference abstinence. (That is, abstaining from conferences, as opposed to abstaining while at conferences, though both are probably good ideas.) There was one very interesting session, on choice and vulnerabilities, but, woefully, it was supposed to last for 2 hours and was compressed to 45 minutes because we were way behind schedule.  (Admittedly, I missed the parallel sessions because I was waiting in line for lunch… so maybe they were fantastic, but I was not able to attend!)

Okay, there were some highlights. Bience Gawanas, the Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission, said some provoking things, including emphasizing that we should not always talk about the “harmful cultural practices” of “Africa”, but also about the positive practices. She admitted that sharing the good things wasn’t very lucrative when you’re going to donors begging for money, but “we also need to build a positive image of Africa.” Of course, she’s also one of those rebels who don’t think that the problem is all about a lack of money.

Today there was also finally a man (Joel Gustave Nana) speaking about homosexuality on the choice and vulnerabilities panel, questioning how we can talk about choice in a context where the majority of African countries still have laws in place criminalizing homosexuality. (And, he said, “All I am seeing in this program is heterosexuality… if the only choice we have is heterosexuality, that is no choice at all.”) This seemed to have a mixed response from the audience.

Gill Greer added something a bit edgy about the continuum of sexuality (i.e. we’re not all always gay or straight or bi, but sexuality can change) and the nice quote: “Humans don’t fit into boxes, and labels belong on boxes, not on people.”

ChiChi Undie also gave a brilliant presentation, which raised the provocative question: “How much choice do we have if we can only be ourselves in a clandestine fashion?” . As you can see, this panel was clearly my favorite.

Tomorrow I’m doing a workshop together with SUPPORT, so expect to see a bit more pleasure in the agenda… and hopefully the debates will pick up as we move from plenaries to parallel sessions.