LEGISLATORS have criticised the snail pace at which government was moving towards providing condoms to prisoners in order to deal with the spread of HIV unlike other countries in the Sadc region such as Lesotho, which have made strides in that respect.
by VENERANDA LANGA
The issue came out during a Sadc Parliamentary Forum (Sadc PF) sexual and reproductive health rights workshop in Harare attended by MPs and other delegates from the region and civic society, which discussed several issues, including access to condoms and contraceptives by marginalised communities such as prisoners.
Mutare Central MP-elect Innocent Gonese (MDC Alliance) said one of the major problems in Zimbabwe was discrimination, with former President Robert Mugabe describing homosexuals as worse than pigs and dogs, resulting in government’s failure to provide condoms in prisons.
“In Lesotho, they acknowledged that there was indeed a problem in prisons, where men, were having sex with other men thereby spreading sexually transmitted diseases. They said they did not condone it, but encouraged that prison toilets must have condoms,” Gonese said.
“I believe that at the end of the day, what is important is for Sadc countries to be open-minded about it and appreciate that these things happen in prisons and so inmates must not be exposed and must be provided with condoms because everyone is a candidate for prison.”
Former chairperson of the Health Portfolio Committee, Ruth Labode said while contraceptives, including condoms were supplied by donors, they were not reaching key populations like prisoners.
“The Health minister David Parirenyatwa is in support of it and he really wants condoms in prisons, but I do not know who is stalling it?” Labode said.
Former Mabvuku/Tafara legislator James Maridadi said dishing out condoms to prisoners was imperative, adding it does not cost anything for government to do so.
Maridadi said there was no need to continue treating issues of sexual reproductive health as taboo, adding that while the Zanu PF government under Mugabe treated issues of gay sex with disdain, some of the ministers in Mugabe’s government were homosexuals.
“While prisoners and all other key populations were not being provided with condoms, it was surprising that almost half of Mugabe’s Zanu PF government was gay. In fact, if a proper study were to be made people will be shocked that three out of 10 Zimbabwean men are homosexual. The problem is that as Zimbabweans we are in denial mode,” Maridadi claimed.
Right Here, Right Now national co-ordinator Tendaishe Changamire said incoming MPs must articulate and debate responsibly on sensitive sexual rights issues, adding that if MPs were to call each other gays in Parliament, it would send wrong signals and encourage stigmatisation.