Human rights are universal and not restricted by geography. Although Africa, a huge and diverse continent, recognizes this in its Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the LGBTIQ+ community still confronts considerable obstacles as a result of social stigma, discrimination, and legislative prohibitions. In Africa, 32 countries criminalize same-sex conduct; this is about 60% of the continent, according to ILGA World.
Recently, Uganda enacted one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTIQ+ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. This is not the first case of such punitive laws in Africa. Ghana and Kenya have proposed an equally punitive bill similar to that of Uganda.
Coalitions of global companies such as Workplace Pride, Open for Business and INGOs working with civil societies such as HIVOS have called out for companies to take a stand; governments to halt punitive laws and civil society organizations to remain relentless in the fight for an inclusive society where LGBTIQ+ persons fully contribute to the economic growth and development of their countries.
Global corporations wield considerable power and leverage in shaping public opinions and policies. As opposed to an individual or groups of individuals, corporations are in a more influential position to work with governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders for economic and social progress. Thus, by taking a stand on LGBTIQ+ inclusion, they can play a major role in influencing legislative reforms, challenging discriminatory practices, and creating societies where LGBTIQ+ inclusion is valued.
The support for LGBTIQ+ inclusion is beneficial from a business perspective for countries’ economies and people. Multinational corporations can attract and retain the best talent, expand their markets and demonstrate leadership by living out their values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical for any organization that wants to be creative and innovative. Embracing LGBTIQ+ inclusion communicates to employees, stakeholders, and future talent that the organization appreciates diversity and promotes an inclusive work environment. Global organizations can attract top individuals from diverse backgrounds and benefit from the varied perspectives, talents, and experiences they offer by cultivating an inclusive workplace culture.
Global corporations can promote inclusion for all and human rights by speaking out for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, serving as beacons of progress in places where LGBTIQ+ people are excluded from economic participation through bias in representation, hiring and even access to employment. These multinational corporations should lead the way by creating safe spaces for their LGBTIQ+ employees internally, awareness and training programs for their leaders, external activism, and even ‘quiet or silent’ diplomacy, where they work to positively influence governments behind the scenes.
While I do understand that advocating for LGBTIQ+ inclusion may be complex and difficult for global corporations that operate in countries where the legislation may be prohibitive or even punitive, I believe that true leadership calls for courage to stand up for those who are excluded; speak up for those whose voices are muted and collaborate with civil society organizations to explore the best approaches to engage in economic and social change, especially for the LGBTIQ+ community in Africa.
Written by Levis Nderitu, Africa Strategy Advisor, Free to be Me Project, Workplace Pride based in Nairobi, Kenya.