Criminalization of homosexuality is not effective in combating HIV. Gender segregation, difficulty in accessing female sex workers, and delayed marriage may increase homosexual activity in the MENA region.
Amsterdam – The UN adopted a resolution on June 30, 2016, for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The council adopted the resolution despite votes against from mainly MENA countries, such as Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar.
In most MENA and African countries, engaging in same-sex sexual acts is a crime. In countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Chad—but also Turkmenistan and Malaysia—men who have sex with men can face prison time from 8 years to a life sentence.
In other countries (Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, Yemen, the UAE, Pakistan, and Sudan), individuals engaging in same-sex sexual activities can face the death penalty.
Unlike Morocco and Mauritania, Egypt does not have formal norms that explicitly criminalize same-sex interactions, but they are criminalized under other legal provisions.
In Bahrain, the Parliament is debating a law to punish all people who publicly present themselves as transgender or pretend to be the other sex.
Saudi Arabia has no written laws on sexual orientation or gender identity. The judges use Sharia to prosecute homosexual acts. One transgender woman from Pakistan died in Saudi police custody. Though Saudi authorities described her death as the result of a heart attack, the body showed signs of torture.
Why is there so much homosexual activity in MENA?
There are no reliable figures on the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region. Male homosexual behavior is difficult to understand from the Western point of view on defining MSM; it is more of a spectrum than “ever engaging in anal sex.”
Gender segregation, difficulty in accessing female sex workers, and delayed marriage can contribute to increased casual anal same-sex contacts in the region.
In countries such as Pakistan, it is not uncommon for adolescent boys to engage in same-sex contacts with boys their age or with older men. It is also not uncommon for married men to have extramarital homosexual contacts. In one study 49.3% of surveyed Pakistani men reported to ever having sex with men.
For street children in Egypt, of male street children reported ever having sex with males and 37.1% reported being forced to do so.
In Iran, 29% of single sexually active men reported homosexual contacts.
It’s about health and harm reduction
MSM show risky sexual behavior: Having multiple sex partners and engaging in unsafe sex, while often reporting to be married or also having sex with women. This results in the transmission of HIV from key populations to the general population, such as the spouses.
An extensive report on characterizing HIV/AIDS in the MENA region found that there is a tendency to tackle HIV by law enforcement to prevent risky practices and same-sex acts.
However, the HIV transmission mode reflects the risks and vulnerability in societies.
Repressive measures will only complicate efforts to tackle HIV and increase hidden risky behavior and discourage people from seeking help.
Applying law enforcement would not change the behavior but lose control over the MSM population and therefore also on the HIV epidemic. This method will not be able to apply proper infection prevention measures.
One of the key messages of a bio-behavior study conducted in Marrakech and Agadir underlines the need for long-term and sustainable risk reduction through legal reforms and the protection of human rights. High criminalization and discrimination of MSM are therefore not beneficial.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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