Who We Are

Strategy – Open Up The Future

The daily reality forAfrican SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) communities, has not significantly changed for most in the past few years. HIV prevention and care remain key priorities for these key populations.

However, today the needs and priorities of our communities go far beyond HIV. There is a risk that an exclusive focus on HIV to the exclusion of other issues might reinforce public perceptions of these communities as vectors of disease.

A broader approach has become the norm across Africa, as “mainstream” human rights groups are increasingly likely to defend equal rights for people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, even in the face of strong and politicised homo/bi/transphobia. The adoption of Resolution 275 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in May 2014, condemning violence related to sexual orientation and gender identity was a particularly significant step forward.

There has been a significant shift in the over-arching development framework that shapes both domestic policy and development assistance in Africa. This shift is illustrated in the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as the endorsement of the AU’s Agenda 2063. Both the SDGs and Agenda 2063 emphasise universality, including the aspiration of leaving no one behind in development efforts.

This changing landscape informs AMSHeR’s policies, strategies and approach.

OPEN UP AFRICA AND THE WORLD

As a regional African coalition, AMSHeR works at three levels to contribute towards better lives for people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

At country level
AMSHeR continues to empower members and partners to directly influence change as well as to strengthen other national and local LGBT+ groups and other national and local social movements. This is achieved through facilitating access to specialist technical support, access to resources by sharing information about funding opportunities, and by producing and/or sharing evidence about what works to achieve relevant social change.
At regional level
AMSHeR advocates for attention to sexual and gender diversity in regional human rights, facilitates inter-country programming, and strengthens the regional evidence base and its use by supporting multi-country documentation, research and knowledge sharing. To this end AMSHeR cooperates with regional bodies of religious, cultural and media organisations to increase the positive representation of gender and sexual diversity.
At global level
AMSHeR focuses on increasing and improving attention to African gender and sexual diversity issues within health-related governance bodies and networks, emphasises African perspectives and priorities in international civil society organisations, and facilitates sharing of relevant evidence and lessons across regions.

OUR VISION
AMSHeR strives for a future when every country in Africa will
enable safe, healthy, productive and fulfilling lives for all its
people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or
gender expression.

OPEN UP: GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Driving and delivering its strategic plan and advancing its vision, AMSHeR challenges widespread homophobia and related discrimination. The LGBT+ movement in Africa is dynamic and growing but also fragile. In order to be successful, it is essential that AMSHeR’s leaders, the staff of AMSHeR’s member organisations and secretariat, and volunteers have a shared commitment to guiding principles that guide how we work.

Human rights-based approach
AMSHeR consistently advocates for human rights principles as the basis of health and development programming, emphasising equality and addressing marginalisation, exclusion and discrimination. The constant challenge is to identify and address the different forms of discrimination, power imbalances and structural factors that perpetuate marginalisation.
Inclusivity and intersectionality
AMSHeR recognises that contexts are complex and are made up of a range of factors that enhance or hinder the ability of peoples to access their rights. We recognise that each individual is complex – in addition to their sexuality and gender identity and expression, they are young or old; women, men, intersex or transitioning; ethnic majority or minority within their countries; citizens or migrants; living with disabilities or not. AMSHeR is committed to an inclusive and intersectional approach that considers these multiple realities.
Incremental approach
AMSHeR has a vision of an ideal society where stigma, discrimination and violence are eliminated, and where human rights are respected, protected and promoted. We also recognise that our strategies require incremental engagement and planning to achieve realistic outcomes.
Empowerment
AMSHeR is committed to promoting partnerships and strategies that reinforce autonomy and agency of African SOGI individuals and communities instead of charity models that perpetuate dependency.
Positive narrative
The people of AMSHeR are committed to positive language and messaging that celebrate the courage and success of African LGBT+ individuals and the rich diversity and humanity of the African people. The narratives of victimhood and homophobia that currently dominate discourse on sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa are not the full story of Africa or African LGBT+ individuals.
Professional, accountable and compassionate
AMSHeR is committed to the highest standards of professionalism and accountability in its approach and operations. AMSHeR’s secretariat and members are accountable to people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions in Africa as well as to donors that finance activities. All AMSHeR investments and actions must remain consistent with such accountability.

OUR MISSION
AMSHeR’s mission is to strengthen capacity, partnerships and collaborations amongst LGBT+
focused civil society organisations in Africa, and to deepen alliances with other social
movements that champion health, human rights, social justice and development.

OPEN UP STRENGTHS

AMSHeR has a number of significant key strengths, which we leverage to inform our strategy and achieve change.

Members and partners
At the beginning of the Strategic Plan period, AMSHeR has 18 members in 15 countries as well as 9 other formal partnerships with affiliates that work at country or sub-national levels, expanding AMSHeR’s reach to 20 African countries in total. These members and affiliates are intimately familiar with the priorities and needs of people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions in their countries, understand local political and cultural dynamics and opportunities related to sexual and gender diversity, and collectively possess a wide range of relevant skills:

  • AMSHeR members and partners find areas of common interest with other members and foster collaboration across the membership.
  • Join in common advocacy alliances to develop joined-up advocacy strategies and to pursue common advocacy goals.
  • Support multi-actor fundraising in partnerships or consortia with other members and/or the secretariat.
  • Provide visibility for AMSHeR at country and sub-regional level.
  • Cultivate good governance in their own organisations.
  • Share information, results and tools from their own activities and programmes with others, via the AMSHeR secretariat.
Strong regional and global networks
AMSHeR has played a significant role in building a better coordinated and formidable pan-African LGBT+ voice, which is respected regionally and globally, including:

  • The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), Pan Africa ILGA (PAI), and others.
  • At global level, networks and institutions including the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, the Programme Coordinating Board of UNAIDS and the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
  • Influencing global policy, programmes and discourse that in turn can influence responses in Africa.
  • Developing important skills in how to leverage HIV and health networks and movements that it will increasingly apply to networks and movements addressing other relevant issues.
Expertise in working with key state bodies and multilateral organisations
AMSHeR has successfully developed relationships with national and regional political institutions, state agencies, broader social justice movements and development agencies and elevated the discourse on human rights, social justice and state accountability. The AMSHeR approach is based on:

  • Building civil society solidarity
  • Eschewing LGBT exceptionalism
  • Focusing on the intersectionality of struggles
  • Using evidence as the basis of policy engagement and advocacy
  • It’s influence on working in networks
An increasingly professional secretariat and technical depth in key areas
At the beginning of the Strategic Plan period, AMSHeR’s secretariat includes an office in Johannesburg with 12 staff as well as an additional five national officers, one each in Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and Mozambique. Staff have expertise in technical areas including human rights and law, HIV prevention and care among men who have sex with men; and organisational capacity assessment and planning. Different staff members are fluent in English, French and Portuguese. Capacity in communications and knowledge management is improving. Senior staff have extensive professional networks in public health, human rights and the NGO sector. The ever-expanding role of the secretariat is to:

  • Lead AMSHeR advocacy on LGBT+ rights and inclusion in Africa at regional and global levels.
  • Facilitate coordination of advocacy and other efforts among the members and between the members and other institutions (including regional and sub-regional institutions).
  • Reinforce the technical and organisational capacity of members, particularly by facilitating linking and learning programmes amongst the membership.
  • Serve as a centre of excellence in SOGI inclusion work in Africa.
  • Facilitate collective resource mobilisation.
A key foundation of the post 1945 human rights system is that rights are universal, that is,
applicable to all people. Such an approach is firmly enshrined in international law at global, as
well as regional, levels – including in Africa.

Open Up The Journey

The very first sentence of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 refers to the people of Africa and her diaspora, “united in diversity”. That reflects the political and popular recognition and validation of commonality among all Africans, with “desire for shared prosperity and wellbeing, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realised, and with freedom from fear, disease and want.”

Against this background, AMSHeR was founded in 2009 and rapidly grew into an influential coalition of role-players and advocates who championed the vision of prosperity, safety and wellbeing of the LGBT+ communities in their own countries.

Funding for the coalition’s start-up costs were secured from UNDP and the Global Centre of Learning for HIV and AIDS (GCoL) at Oxfam GB, and a consensus workshop to define and agree on the objectives of the new coalition was held in Cape Town in March 2009. After this meeting, which marked the formal beginning of AMSHeR, coalition structures, a constitution and workplan were developed, with the HIV Officer from IGLHRC hired as the Coalition Coordinator.

By the time of the International AIDS Conference in Vienna in July 2010, AMSHeR had functional structures in place. The Coalition Coordinator had now become the Executive Director, and AMSHeR had a secretariat of three staff (including the ED, an office manager and a communications intern).

AMSHeR’s coordination provided visible leadership on SOGI in Africa at regional and global levels, which had an immediate year-on-year impact. The AMSHeR international sign-on statement in 2011 shifted the debate linking SOGI and aid conditionality. AMSHeR coordinated the participation of and submissions from African LGBTI+ organisations to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law in 2012 and ensured a broader dialogue on the implications of the UN SOGI Resolution follow-up process for countries in the global South with the AMSHeR and CAL-led 10 May 2013 Statement.

Starting in 2014, the AMSHeR Secretariat began a period of transition, culminating in the launch of a new identity for AMSHeR. the Board engaged Ingrid Obery as the Managing Administrator to oversee the transition process. Her contribution to the renewal of AMSHeR was immense and included strengthening the organisation’s governance processes, re-building AMSHeR’s financial management systems, strengthening human resource policies and practices, and building and maintaining relationships with key donors.

2015 is the year AMSHeR begun its journey into a new strategic plan that moved it from being a purely health-centric organisation advocating access to health care, into more of a champion in the LGBT+ law and human rights space.

Empowered by its refreshed identity and strategy, AMSHeR carried out a series of meetings, workshops and other forms of engagement throughout 2016, culminating in their active involvement at the 60th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Significantly, this engagement resulted in the graduation of AMSHeR from an MSM (Men who have sex with men) and LGBT+ organisation to more broadly promoting non-discrimination of individuals based on their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGI). This continued through 2017 when AMSHeR began to focus more on intersectionality and the space and identity of individuals within the multiple identities that they occupy at different spaces in time. More development language now emerged, tied to the SDGs and the concepts of ‘leaving no one behind’, social inclusion, reducing inequalities and getting to zero infections.

In March 2016 the Regional Seminar on Practical Solutions on Ending Violence and Discrimination Against Persons based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression was held in Ekurhuleni, South Africa. The Seminar brought together government officials, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations from 24 African countries. The outcome document of the Seminar, The Ekuruhleni Declaration, made a number of practical recommendations for State actors including law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system in addressing violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa.

In November 2016, AMSHeR convened a meeting of the Regional Key Populations Networks (ASWA, CAL, SATF) to discuss key issues affecting Key Populations and to frame common themes for joint advocacy. These processes yielded a joint advocacy plan, titled: Meaningful Representation, Dialogue and Advocacy [MRDA] plan. As a result, a second round of the meetings was convened at the end of May 2017 to address the gaps identified and cost the plan accordingly, with inputs and support from Southern African Trans Forum (SATF) and Gender Dynamics (GDX). Discussions were further enriched by inputs from the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), M&C Saatchi, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Aids Accountability International (AAI), Hivos and Southern African HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS). The MRDA plan was finalised and disseminated amongst the networks for implementation.

The plan remains a first in Southern Africa because it is a marker of diverse key population groups with differing ideology and positioning coming together to identify a common advocacy theme that is at the centre of their struggle in African society.

A further significant event was seeded in November 2016, when a consultation process started with Law Enforcement Officials to assess their role and responsibilities in reducing SOGI‐based violence. In June 2017, a self-organised event was held in Naivasha, on the occasion of the 6th Changing Faces, Changing Spaces Conference for further discussion and inputs from potential donors and regional partners. In July, the Mechanism was presented in a sub-regional consultation meeting to organisations and activists from West and Central Africa.

Along its journey, AMSHeR continued to remain focused on the aims to enrol its membership into a comprehensive capacity strengthening approach that would significantly establish AMSHeR as a coalition of strong member organisations. The OCAT (Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool) was rolled out in July 2017 in Harare, Zimbabwe following the successful implementation of a community dialogue with Young Key Populations (YKPs) that enabled the selection of Trans and Intersex Rising Zimbabwe (TIRZ), a youth trans-led organisation to be assessed using OCAT.

As a result of the OCAT assessment, a capacity strengthening plan that included support provided by the YKP project national officer in Harare was developed and implemented in the country.

Further to its Strategic Objectives to improve policy framework guaranteeing access to quality health services for LGBT+ individuals in Africa, 2018 saw a number of highlights:

  • AMSHeR and ASWA jointly organised and convened a Regional Linking and Learning workshop in Nairobi Kenya.
  • AMSHeR provided capacity assessment support to 2 KP network partners GALZ and Outright in Zimbabwe and Namibia respectively.
  • A Strengthening Plan development meeting with Friends of Rainka in Lusaka, Zambia and MoU signing were implemented.
  • The Police Manual Customisation process was rolled out.
  • AMSHeR coordinated and supported the IAC conference for KP REACH in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

In terms of their Strategic Objective to improved response to stigma, discrimination and violations based on sexuality and gender in Africa, AMSHeR through their Linking Policy and Programming, UNDP focused on strengthening legal/policy environments for young key populations 10–24 years, and to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for young key populations in SADC countries, implementing a host of capacity strengthening activities.

Looking forward to the next leg of their journey, the people of AMSHeR are committed to continue portraying a positive narrative that celebrates the courage and success of African SOGI individuals and the rich diversity and humanity of the African people.

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