Scotland and Malawi… with PRIDE! 

09 June 2022

As Malawi prepares for its second ever LGBT+ Pride parade, we are keen to show our support and solidarity.  We also wish to share some reflections on how we see the bilateral relationship engaging the issue of LGBT+ rights. 

As always, we are keen to take a respectful and values-driven approach, and we really welcome all feedback (please email our CEO

LGBT+ rights in Malawi 

Malawi's first Pride parade, 26th June 2021.
Malawi's first Pride parade, 26th June 2021.

First, it’s important to be clear, the legislation in Malawi which criminalises sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex is UK-written and from the colonial-era.  As the brilliant Malawian activist Undule Mwakasungula has powerfully written: “Malawi, like most of Southern Africa, experienced British colonialism, which fundamentally altered and even destroyed a lot of its positive values. Tolerance and respect for the otherness of the other, the hallmark of the ubuntu concept, was replaced by hatred and extreme fanaticism. There were no laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts before colonialism.” 

In November 2012 the Government of Malawi suspended all laws that criminalized homosexuality and in July 2014, the Justice Minister announced that Malawi would no longer arrest people for same-sex sexual activity and review its anti-gay laws.  This Moratorium on the prosecution of consensual same-sex conduct was confirmed in December 2015 by the Centre for the Development of the People (CEDEP) and Human Rights Watch but has often been contested since. 

In June 2021, Malawi held its first ever Pride parade in Lilongwe, organised by the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance, with over 50 attendees delivering a petition to the city's officials demanding equal human rights, such as freedom of association, access to education and health services, for LGBT+ persons”

Despite this hugely encouraging progress in the fight for human rights, the sad truth is that stigma, prejudice, violent attacks and fear of arrest remain common amongst the LGBT+ community in Malawi.  

This is not a situation that is unique to Malawi.  Currently, 72% of African nations and 65% of the Commonwealth criminalizes LGBT persons, imposing varying degrees of legislative restrictions on their human rights.   And in almost all the world, including in Scotland, there are instances of prejudice against members of the LGBT+ community.

The Scotland-Malawi context 

The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP)  is a large and incredibly diverse coalition of organisations and individuals with a broad spectrum of approaches, beliefs and practices. The SMP is not prescriptive in telling its members what to do, rather seeking to listen, to support, connect and represent all of those engaged in dignified people-to-people links between Scotland and Malawi, in which both nations benefit. Together, we are a community united in friendship with Malawi and a belief in dignified partnership. A decade ago, around 200 Malawian and 200 Scottish organisations co-designed our Partnership Principles which continue to underpin all our work, and to which we hold ourselves and our members accountable. “Respect, trust and mutual understanding” and “No one left behind” are two of these principles which guide our thinking in this area. 

In February 2022, with our sister network the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), we co-hosted an event on Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity in which the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance spoke of assaults on members of the LGBT+ community in Malawi. The SMP condemns all persecution of, or discrimination against, anyone in Scotland, Malawi or elsewhere, based on their sexual orientation or gender. 

The Scotland-Malawi friendship is built on mutual understanding and mutual respect.  We believe that key to any genuinely dignified partnership is the ability to respectfully disagree.  While there are a range of different views on this topic, in Malawi and Scotland, we recognise that the majority of Malawians hold socially conservative views on issues of sex and marriage.  For a great many Malawians this is a sensitive and deeply culturally embedded issue which they feel is interwoven with their faith. 

While recognising this context and these sensitivities, we feel it is important to always be clear that the SMP supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its assertion that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” 

We therefore actively look to find opportunities for respectful and constructive discussion on issues of human rights, unafraid to share our views and values, keen to listen to others’, and aware - in all humility and self-awareness - of Scotland’s own failings (historic and contemporary) in related areas.  We recognise that Scotland was the last part of the UK to legalise homosexuality, in 1980.  We are still on the journey to true equality here in Scotland and we recognise that stigma, prejudice, inequality and abuse are all too common here as they are in Malawi.

Power vs partnership 

On matters like this, we recognise that too often, richer countries have looked to use their power unfairly (including by cutting aid) to exert influence and enforce social change in poorer countries.  Indeed, Undule Mwakasungula notes: “we have seen how some donors, such as the British, have been threatening aid cuts if countries like Malawi do not decriminalise homosexuality. Unfortunately, such approaches are counterproductive as they evoke memories of imperial control. … There are complex issues underpinning African homophobia that ultimatums, sanctions and international condemnations will not address. Information and communication are, in my opinion, powerful tools in the fight against homophobia.” 

Like Mwakasungula, we do not believe it is either appropriate or effective for the global north to use its levers of power (a symptom of global inequality and injustice) to force change in Malawi. While being open and clear about the values we hold, we believe that social, cultural and legal change in Malawi must be driven by Malawi.  This is why we look to use the bonds of friendship and dignified partnership between our two nations to help amplify the voice of the passionate activists who are themselves campaigning for change in Malawi in this area. 

We listen to, are led by, and are proud to partner with, inspiring Malawian organisations like the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance and the Malawi Human Rights Commission in this area. 

We are hugely inspired by the brave and bold voices in Malawi arguing for cultural and legal change.  Following the discussions at our Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity event, we are proud to have actively brokered new connections between grassroots LGBT+ groups in Scotland and Malawi, resulting in immediate solidarity, support and funding for this, Malawi’s second ever Pride celebrations.

We have been delighted to connect the Equality Network, a leading charity working for LGBTI equality and human rights in Scotland, with the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance. Together, they look forward to building a mutually supportive partnership. Having listened to the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance and their current priorities at a meeting alongside other LGBT+ allies based in Scotland, the Equality Network have donated funds to support Malawi's second Pride, supporting banner production and crucially, transport fees of those who wish to attend Malawi's Pride in Lilongwe this year.

Scott Cuthbertson of the Equality Network said: “Scotland and Malawi have longstanding ties, so we were delighted to be connected with the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance who are doing some life changing work in Malawi. With 25 years’ experience supporting LGBTQ+ communities here in Scotland we understand the importance of Pride as a way to bring LGBTQ+ communities together and be visible, so we’re delighted to be supporting the 2nd Malawi Pride. LGBTQ+ people in Scotland and Malawi can learn a great deal from each other, we’re glad to be part of building stronger links."

We are proud to stand with and support those in Malawi who are speaking up for human rights, equality and human dignity.  

We are proud to support Malawi PRIDE.

Our sister network in Malawi, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), are keen to share the below quotes to accompany this piece, which they feel resonate well with their views:

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.” Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner

“To realize a world of equality and dignity for all, we will have to change laws and policies; we will also have to change hearts and minds. Every sector and every person can play a role, speaking out to remind the world that it should not be illegal to live your life as you are and to live your life with whomever you love.” Rick Parnell , Chief Operating Officer of UN Foundations