Human rights defender
Mary is a human rights defender from Zimbabwe who works on issues surrounding LGBTQI rights. She is co-founder and Director of ’Rise Above Women’s Association’ (RAWO). The organisation, which has 54 members, emerged in 2016 from Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) to address the special concerns of queer women and trans men within the wider LGBTQI movement. Its tasks include gathering information at sexual health themed events, organising ’wellness circles’ which engage the LGBTQI community and networking with other organisations in and outside of Zimbabwe.
Human rights situation in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has been ranked as one of the least accepting countries in the world for LGBTI people. A 2006 revision of the criminal code of Zimbabwe states that acts which “would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act” are considered an illegal act of sodomy. This could include hugging or kissing between two LGBTQI persons. Zimbabwean HRDs navigate in a homophobic country and are constantly under attack. They endure blacklisting, violence, segregation or arbitrary arrest. In January 2018, Zimbabwe’s new President stated that it is not his duty to press for change on LGBTI issues in the country.
Threats and harrasment
In her two decades of human rights work Mary has experienced various types of harassment including insults, physical attacks, heckling, being pushed out of spaces, being followed by strangers and having her home under surveillance.