Are Human Rights Only Important After We Have Addressed Economic Hardships?

Africa Cultural imperialism cultural sensitivity cultural superiority Freedom of Speech gender equity Health Equity Healthy Sexual Attitude Judicial equity LGBT Rights religion Religion and sexuality Religious Freedom Secularism in Ghana societal change society and health

Over the past weekend I started a campaign to draw attention to Ghanaian gay rights activists arrested in Ghana. These activists were arrested at a conference organized to raise awareness in the community on frequent acts of aggression and harassment by the police and civil society against their community members. The campaign was embraced by many but I got some very useful feedback. In this post I will share just a few for us to consider. I will like to ask this question; “Are human rights only relevant in societies with few economic problems?”

Combining Lived Experience With The Published Word

In writing this petition I used my knowledge of the causes of these acts of violence and harassment. Many in the Ghanaian community believe LGBTQ issues are against the law of God. As a Christian I used to hold that view, but as my experience with God evolved I realized how ludicrous that viewpoint was. I have dropped that idea completely as I allowed myself to see God through my lived reality. Spiritual growth is similar to the evolution of my medical education. I learned a lot in the classroom but after 20 years I understand why many seek more experienced physicians. The value of lived experience will always be very important in many situations but one can never overemphasize that in spiritual issues.

I also remembered something an openly gay clergyman shared which resonated with me. He told a story about how he almost left ministry on account of struggles with his congregation over his sexuality. What kept him going was a story he heard from a woman who talked about how a plant she considered dead came back to life after she put more work into nourishing it. I know that story because I had a similar experience with a willow tree in my yard in Chicago. This dead, or dying, plant flourished after I almost gave up on it, when I took the time to pour my life into it.

Leadership And Human Rights; What Can President Akuffo-Addo Do?

I would now get back to address my original reasons for this post. The feedback I received that concerned me was that addressing gay rights was only relevant when all other problems have been addressed. When I read that message by a good friend I asked myself these questions:

Am I hungry?

Do I have to live on the streets?

Am I naked or only have the clothes on my back?

Fortunately, I can say no to all these questions.

I know many Ghanaians, both in Ghana and the diaspora, can say no as well. I am still asking myself why many believe talking about the rights of their fellow humans is not important. Once again I will say many need to give themselves permission to open their minds to such issues. The current President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo a human rights attorney in an interview on Al-Jazeera made a similar comment. Whilst the President did not condemn or dismiss gay rights, his answer suggested he did not consider that important enough. Yes, leadership matters! When a human rights lawyer says strong civil society support is needed to address human rights you know there is a problem! In most communities the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized will never have strong civil support.

Excerpt from President Akufo-Addo’s Al Jazeera Interview

Gay rights in Ghana, unfortunately, is not a politically palatable topic. Many societies struggle with these problems around sexuality. Even heterosexual sex in many societies including Ghana has been shrouded in a lot of mystery. Our societies maintain many arcane rules that leave some scarred for life so why should a variation of sex be any different? Unfortunately non-heterosexuals find themselves in societies where their concerns are either considered superfluous at best or downright evil at its worst. How does one respond when the entire essence of who you are is being questioned? What do you do when your sexuality is totally unacceptable by your community? Can the LGBTQ community in Ghana expect some redress from their President who, professionally, is a human rights attorney? I will leave these questions for Ghanaians to answer.

Are We Really Tired of That Fucking Village?

Before I end this post I would just quote verbatim what one person on WhatsApp wrote; “We taya with that fuckn village.. they can do whatever they want.. sorry bro”. I can understand that response because some of what this young Ghanaian in the diaspora is saying resonates with me. One can be frustrated and exhausted over issues and problems in Ghana. I have learned to exercise some patience and disengage when I need to. Ghana is just a society with a lot of good and also many ugly parts. When I find myself only focusing on the ugly parts, I disengage. There are many not tired of that fucking village! One said “We are all human and our basic human right should be upheld”. Another wrote “Ghana needs to uphold its constitution and respect the rights of all Ghanaians. Right of assembly is one of these rights”.

My relationship with Ghana at this time is a secondary relationship. Ghana is still in my heart because I still have close family and friends there. I also know some of them will not agree with my stance on LGBTQ issues but I need to engage to maintain my relationship with Ghana. If I don’t I will just have to respond like my colleague did on WhatsApp on all issues Ghanaian. As a country that has FREEDOM AND JUSTICE on its coat of arms, Ghana is a long way from that motto. Maybe one day this motto will have real meaning, I am waiting patiently for that day!!

By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland

The Petition

Link to my petition is below read and sign if you care. The activist have been released but the charges have not been dropped. RELEASE THE 21 GAY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND DROP ALL CHARGES


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan