LGBT rights in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia (Africa orthographic projection).svg
PenaltyUp to 15 years in prison.
Gender identity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. (LGBT+) persons in Ethiopia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the country. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent[2] of Ethiopia residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept. This was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.[3]

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Under Article 629 of the Criminal Code, both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Ethiopia. "Whoever performs with another person of the same sex a homosexual act, or any other indecent act, is punishable...." According to Article 630, the punishment is simple imprisonment for not less than one year, or, in certain grave or other cases, rigorous imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years.[1] In Ethiopian law, the wording of the penal code treats a homosexual act as an act of an aggressor against a victim. Consequently, the offense of the aggressor is considered aggravated, when it results in the suicide of the victim for reasons of "shame, distress or despair".[4]

Traditional attitudes around sex and sexuality are prevalent in Ethiopia, with many Ethiopians holding that homosexuality is a choice and not innate. Arguments are made[by whom?] of it being an import from the West and that Ethiopian society should not accept it as a legitimate orientation. A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project found 97% of Ethiopian residents said that homosexuality should be rejected by society. This was the second-highest percentage among the countries surveyed, exceeded only by Mali.

Dr Seyoum Antoniyos, President of United for Life and influential activist organised a national conference in 2013 attended by politicians and religious leaders. He argues that homosexuality is the result of a “deep psychological problem”, often caused by abuse or some form of "social crisis”.

In December 2008, nearly a dozen Ethiopian religious figures (including the leader of Ethiopian Muslims and the heads of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches) adopted a resolution against homosexuality, urging Ethiopian lawmakers to endorse a ban on homosexual activity in the constitution.[5] This included Ethiopian Catholic Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel.

They also held homosexuality responsible for the rise in sexual attacks on children and young men. Abune Paulos, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, said, "This is something very strange in Ethiopia, the land of the Bible that condemns this very strongly. For people to act in this manner they have to be dumb, stupid like animals. We strongly condemn this behaviour. They (homosexuals) have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson."[6]

Summary conditions[edit]

The U.S. Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report found that,

There were some reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; however, reporting was limited due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. Persons did not identify themselves as LGBT persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. In early December[,] Christian and Muslim religious leaders attempted to derail a seminar on sexual health that was targeted at men who have sex with men. The government intervened, and the seminar went ahead, although at a different location. The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported that the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, the majority of whom were male, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.[7] The same report found that stigma and discrimination toward persons living with HIV/AIDS impacted residents' ability to receive an education, find employment and integrate into the community. There is anecdotal, but not statistical evidence to demonstrate the scale of the problem.[8]

History of homosexuality in Ethiopia[edit]

In 1914, Magnus Hirschfeld wrote that although "royal code" made same-sex sexual intercourse punishable with capital punishment, there was no customary law criminalizing same-sex sexual intercourse.[8]

Travelling Ethiopia in the 1920s Bieber encountered "Uranism" found among the Semitic Harari people, and noted that "sodomy is not foreign to the Harari. Albeit not as commonly, it also occurs among the Oromo and Somali." He also noted mutual masturbation by both sexes and all ages for all three peoples, and specified that among the Harari, "Uranism" was practiced as often between adult men as between men and boys.[9] More recently, Gamst reported homosexual relations among shepherd boys of the Cushitic-speaking Qemant (Kemant) of central Ethiopia.[10]

Among the Maale people of southern Ethiopia, Donald Donham documented "a small minority [of men] crossed over to feminine roles. Called ashtime, these (biological) males dressed like women, performed female tasks, cared for their own houses, and apparently had sexual relations with men".[11]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to 15 years imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[12]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b State Sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws criminalising same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults, The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, edited by Lucas Paoli Itaborahy, May 2012, page 28 Archived 17 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ The number of adults (all were 18 to 64 years of age) surveyed in Ethiopia was 710, yielding a margin of error of 4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.
  3. ^ "Pew Global Attitudes Project", (pages 35, 81, and 117)
  4. ^ Criminal Code of Ethiopia (2005) § 630.2.c.
  5. ^ 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, Section 5, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
  6. ^ "Ethiopian clerics seek constitutional ban on homosexuality", AFP, 22 December 2008
  7. ^ 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, pages 33-34
  8. ^ a b "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  9. ^ Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, 1962
  10. ^ Gamst, Frederic C. (1969) The Qemant. A Pagan-Hebraic Peasantry of Ethiopia. New York: Holt, Rinehart And Winston.
  11. ^ Donald Donham, Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia, 1994

External links[edit]