News articles

LGBTIQ organizations in Africa reporting human rights abuses linked to COVID-19

Stephen Lewis Foundation puts out urgent call for support for LGBTIQ partners working to ensure access to healthcare and HIV medications in the midst of increased violence and discrimination.

May 19, 2020

Stephen Lewis Foundation / Canada, Press release

LGBTIQ organizations in eastern and central Africa are reporting a surge in violence and discrimination linked to the COVID-19 pandemic which is threatening the safety and health of LGBTIQ individuals. OnInternational Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, and leading into Pride Month, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has launched its Partners in Pride campaign, urgently calling on Canadians to support its African LGBTIQ partners to continue their life-saving work, particularly at this critical moment.

World will survive COVID-19 only if 'swift action' taken to help Africa, UN humanitarian says

Virus could wreak the kind of havoc last seen during HIV/AIDS pandemic: Stephen Lewis

March 25, 2020

Matt Galloway and Idella Sturino, Toronto, Canada, CBC Radio: The Current

Diplomat and humanitarian Stephen Lewis says the COVID-19 pandemic could be as devastating to the African continent as HIV/AIDS was, unless more is done to stop the virus' spread.

The Slaight Family Foundation announces $15M Global Initiative for Women and Girls

The #SlaightWomenAndGirls Initiative will impact more than 1 million women and girls at risk

March 03, 2020

Toronto, Canada, Slaight Family Foundation

To mark International Women’s Day, The Slaight Family Foundation is donating $15 million to 15 international organizations working to improve human rights and opportunities for women and girls.
The recipient organizations – working mainly in impoverished, fragile or conflict-affected areas – each focus on different issues facing women and girls, including human rights abuses, child marriages, sex trafficking, legal support, HIV and AIDS and education. 
“The aim of this gift is to improve conditions for women and girls living in difficult circumstances, who represent some of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Gary Slaight of The Slaight Family Foundation. “The projects we are funding will leverage the expertise of these vital organizations to protect women and girls in the most fragile countries from direct harm, rebuild the lives of those who have been unjustly affected by conflict, deprivation and disease and give them the tools and support they need to survive and thrive.” 
“This investment in international NGOs is unprecedented and the projects being supported will directly assist more than one million women and girls in some of the world’s most fragile regions,” said Dr. Samantha Nutt, President of War Child Canada. “It’s such an important time to be highlighting this issue. For The Slaight Family Foundation to recognize the threats faced by women and girls, and acknowledge that their concerns matter with such an historic gift, is a profound message to send. On behalf of the entire group we extend our sincerest gratitude to The Slaight Family Foundation for their incredible support of our collective work.” 
Since 2013, The Slaight Family Foundation has funded several strategic initiatives to multiple organizations. These initiatives started with gifts to five Toronto hospitals to support priority healthcare issues, followed by programs to address global humanitarianism, healthy development of children and youth across Canada, support for Indigenous issues and, last year, a seniors’ initiative to help keep seniors in their homes and communities, including the Allan Slaight Seniors’ Fund at the United Way Greater Toronto. 
Project Information 
Stephen Lewis Foundation 
Sub-Saharan Africa 
Expand holistic programmes that address gender inequalities to improve access to HIV prevention services, and support treatment adherence for women and girls living with HIV. Expand the global grandmothers movement through Grandmother Gatherings. Empower grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS to claim their human rights and lead their communities, through peer support, healthcare, skills training, economic empowerment and advocacy. 
AIDS-Free World 
Sub-Saharan African countries with UN peacekeeping missions and high rates of HIV in women 
Develop and roll out a smartphone app to tap young women’s unique knowledge of and solutions to living under the threat of sexual violence. Women in remote areas who answer open-ended, recorded questions orally, in private, as easily as leaving a voicemail message, will be transformed from victims with lived experiences to experts helping to end sexual violence against women. 
Canadian Feed the Children 
Creation of a new ‘Livelihood & Gender Equality Fund’ championing the human rights of girls and women in Ethiopia. We will focus on reducing the forced migration of girls and women by helping them finish their education and improve future prospects including starting new, sustainable businesses through an agribusiness hub to develop female entrepreneurship. The initiative includes a sexual and reproductive health and rights campaign, strengthening community police, legal and healthcare systems, and a new research study on child migration. 
Canadian Red Cross 
South Sudan/Central Africa Republic 
The Canadian Red Cross is launching an innovative program that brings health solutions directly into crisis and conflict areas, reaching women and girls who are cut off from health facilities due to violence. Essential health care and supplies delivered by local Red Cross responders will increase safe pregnancies, improve nutrition, and provide access to clean water and lifesaving treatments for disease. 
CARE Canada 
Innovate and improve menstrual hygiene management for school-age girls with female genital mutilation –develop and test new solutions with established women and girls’ groups, train women to produce hygiene products locally, improve school sanitation facilities and increase community awareness. 
Crossroads International 
The program will increase access to gender-responsive health services and launch a youth-led awareness campaign for sexual and reproductive health rights among adolescent girls and boys at risk of child trafficking, forced prostitution, child labour and sexual violence in Kedougou, Senegal. 
Human Rights Watch 
Middle East/N Africa 
End discrimination of women and girls by documenting the abuses of male guardianship system in the Middle East and North Africa. Year 1 will focus on documenting male guardianship in Qatar; how lack of domestic violence legislation and discriminatory laws leaves women exposed to domestic violence in Kuwait; and the start of mapping how and where male guardianship exists in the region. 
Partners In Health Canada 
Malawi & Sierra Leone 
Improved access to sexual and reproductive health services especially for adolescents, strengthened care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and increased availability of high-quality obstetric care. Activities include health worker training, resourcing and delivery of clinical care, educational initiatives for young people, and community-based work to raise awareness about women's and girls' rights and promote health seeking behaviour. 
Right To Play 
Transform the lives of more than 50,000 girls across Mozambique through a gender-responsive education program that removes barriers to access, builds teacher capacity, and positively impacts national programs and policies. The result will be higher literacy rates, lower drop-out rates, and a generation of girls who are better supported to succeed. 
Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative 
Helping reduce child soldier recruitment and conflict-based sexual violence through capacity building of national military and police forces, with a focus on female force members; enhance the Dallaire Initiative’s cadre of female international trainers and global champions; raise awareness amongst the global community on the critical role of women in preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers. 
Save the Children 
Sierra Leone 
Improve knowledge and skills of adolescent girls and boys to be aware of and exercise their rights around sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, to be able to make their own informed decisions related to marriage and pregnancy. This action will transform harmful practices and attitudes that reinforce gender inequalities and gender-based violence and strengthen the institutional and policy environment to prevent child early and forced marriage. 
UNICEF Canada 
In Somalia, only 30 per cent of children attend primary school with girls accounting for less than half of the total enrollment. This project will focus on girls and children with disabilities to improve their access to early childhood education (ECE) services. Community based and alternative ECE programs will be established in rural areas and provide appropriate curriculum that caters to the children’s different needs. It will also include education for parents and communities so that they can better support their children’s education. 
War Child 
Empower women and girls to seek justice and tackle impunity within their communities by providing critical legal support for those affected by or at risk of gender-based violence; through targeted educational programming, ensure that girls can uphold their rights, have greater self-determination, and move out of poverty over the long-term. 
WE Charity 
Sierra Leone (Kono District) 
Focus on advancing the rights of vulnerable women and girls by empowering them with the tools, support and skills to bring an end to inter-generational cycles of poverty and injustice. The three-part program will implement training to address human rights abuses and threats affecting them. Part one will deliver community-wide training to create greater awareness about women’s rights and human rights abuses. Part two will provide vulnerable women and girls education on their rights, referral support and life skills to increase their opportunities. Part three will offer the highest-risk women and girls vocational training and accelerated learning opportunities. 
World Vision 
Implement the DREAM program - dedicated to Reducing Early Marriage in Mali - to address the root cause of child marriage; will include sexual and reproductive health services, education and economic livelihood training; upgrading schools with girls washrooms, training parents, teachers, and faith leaders on the consequences of child marriage; train mothers and girls in financial literacy, life skills and income generating activities to increase household income. 

Board of Directors of the Stephen Lewis Foundation Announces Appointment of New Executive Director

February 22, 2020

Board of Directors of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Canada

Toronto, Ontario, Canada – (February 22, 2020) – The Board of Directors of the Stephen Lewis Foundation is delighted and proud to formally announce the appointment of Meg French as the new executive director of the Foundation. Meg assumed the role on February 10th.
Executive Director, Meg French
Meg emerged as the chosen candidate after a lengthy search process, during which time 107 applicants were winnowed down to one. Her credentials are stunningly impressive. 
For the last two years, Meg has been based in Geneva as the global lead for UNICEF’s Every Child ALIVE Campaign, focussing on newborn and maternal health and survival. It involved the coordination of advocacy, fundraising and public engagement supported by partnerships with governments, civil society, NGOs, the private sector, and philanthropic foundations. 
For 15 years before that, Meg played a variety of leadership roles at UNICEF Canada, always focussed on international development issues. Throughout that period, Meg raised millions of dollars, dealt with governments, handled communications, led strategy, and visited endless community-based projects at the grassroots of countless countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Meg has been an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, including for families affected by HIV and AIDS. She even participated in the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006, when the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was launched. In other words, Meg is familiar with all aspects of the Foundation’s work and is impeccably suited to provide leadership for the next phase of the Foundation’s expanding future.
Meg comes to the executive directorship with a Bachelor of Arts from Trent University in Development Studies and Women’s Studies, and Bachelor and Master of Education degrees from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, specializing in International and Development Education. 
Meg inherits the Foundation in excellent shape. Over the 17 years of the Foundation’s lifespan, some $160 million has been raised to fight HIV and AIDS in 15 African countries, supporting hundreds of grassroots partners. The Grandmothers Campaign has become a movement, and the Foundation has begun to win more and more international acclaim. The Foundation was given vision and strength by Ilana Landsberg-Lewis from its inception in 2003 until 2018, and throughout the past year the Interim Executive Director, Zahra Mohamed, with an inspired staff, has maintained the same extraordinary standards.
There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of the Board of Directors that Meg French will take us to even greater heights. The HIV pandemic is far from over: the Stephen Lewis Foundation continues to have an indispensable role to play. 
– 30 –
For more information, please contact:
416-533-9292 Ext. 0
1-888-203-999 Ext. 0

Ugandan LGBT activist says threats and violence won't stop the fight for civil rights

October 04, 2019

Brent Bambury, Toronto, CBC Radio

In 2014, Pepe Julian Onziema helped shut down Uganda's harsh anti-gay law
Pepe Julian Onziema came out in the 1990s and living in Uganda meant there was a constant threat of violence.
"I did not know that I was going to be safe," he said on Day 6. 
But that hasn't stopped him.
Since then, Onziema, a front line activist for LGBT rights in Uganda, has defied the government and the evangelicals, and organized gay pride celebrations that were violently disrupted by police.
In 2014, he also led a successful challenge of Uganda's infamous law that made homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
His activism has put him squarely in the line of fire.
"There was always that threat. It was always there. And I knew there was that threat, but I never saw myself like, behind bars," Onziema said. 
Ugandan authorities saw things differently.
Onziema has been arrested or detained seven times and as a trans man in detention, he is extra vulnerable.
"I was stripped by police in 2008 in police detention where the officers wanted to ascertain my gender through my genitalia," he said. 
A policewoman plunged her hands into his pants, he says. "I was devastated." He'd never imagined he'd be detained and humiliated. 
"And when it happened I think that is when the reality hit all of us in the movement that, you know, this is actually life and death for us."
Punishable by death
Uganda is one of the worst places in the world to be LGBT. In 2014, the country's government passed an anti-homosexuality law that made gay sex punishable by death.
"The bill was introduced in 2009 with the help of American evangelicals," Onziema said. "So we stood up. We spoke out."
"We reached to the hearts of parents, reached the hearts of teachers, healthcare givers. There were about 55 civil society organizations that came together to form a coalition to fight the law."
Six months after the bill was passed, Onziema's coalition scored a court victory, striking the law down on a technicality.
Now, Uganda's Minister of Ethics Simon Lokodo wants to bring it back. 
Onziema is not fazed. He thinks it's a political move by a government facing re-election.
"Obviously it's threatening us," Onziema said. "We're going to elections in 2021, so next year is just going to be politicking all over the place."
A stand-off with police
After the anti-gay law was struck down, persecution of LGBT Ugandans continued or intensified.
When Onziema was arrested in 2016, police threw him in a cell and invited the other detainees to assault him. The violence swiftly became sexual.
"I was stripped, beaten to the point of losing hearing in my left ear," he says. 
He'd been detained for being at a gay pride celebration, and was released without charges.
The fact that there's a community that still needs me, that lend me their voices, that also gives me courage.
 Pepe Julian Onziema, Ugandan LGBT activist
This year though, there are indications the LGBT community will not be intimidated by Ugandan police. In May, as the community marked the International Day Against Homophobia, police assembled and surrounded the venue.
"Any guest who was coming — apart from those who were already inside, who came earlier — were not allowed to go in," Onziema said. 
"They sat outside. They did not move," Onziema says.
Onziema says the authorities were unsettled by the defiance and disagreed on how to handle it. 
"There was a section of the police that was saying, 'Do not touch them.' Then there was another section that was saying, 'Round them up, take them to prison,'" he said. "I think they were a bit confused."
"But something amazing happened that day. When the police were there with their guns ... LGBTQ persons who were coming for the event, did not flee."
Source of strength
The community Onziema has helped empower is one of his main inspirations. 
"You can't be a leader without people that you're leading. So the fact that there's a community that still needs me, that lend me their voices, that also gives me courage," he said.
The other source of strength for him is his family. While many Ugandan LGBT people are rejected by their parents and relatives, Onziema's mother remained supportive. 
"Even when I'm released from police custody I have somewhere to go," he said.
Despite the official violence Uganda has directed at LGBT people, Onziema is proud of his country. 
"I love this country to bits. And my work is to make it the kind of place that it really is. It's beautiful. It has beautiful people. And I'm just doing my ounce of something to preserve it for people who will come after me."


LGBTIQ organizations in Africa reporting human rights abuses linked to COVID-19 May 19, 2020

Stephen Lewis Foundation / Canada, Press release

World will survive COVID-19 only if 'swift action' taken to help Africa, UN humanitarian says March 25, 2020

Matt Galloway and Idella Sturino, Toronto, Canada, CBC Radio: The Current

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