Since the election of Evo Morales in 2005, Bolivia has pledged to strive for social and economic reform. Despite aiming for a more inclusive society, poverty is still widespread and certain groups remain marginalized, including Bolivians with disabilities. Many continue to live in extreme poverty with little access to resources.

In the spring of 2016, a group Bolivians with disabilities marched more than 400 kilometers from Cochabamba to La Paz, protesting their lack of basic rights. The government previously stated that benefits would be awarded to those with extreme disabilities. To qualify, individuals need to receive special identification. The ID card can only be awarded following neurological exams that cost approximately 500 bolivianos ($70).

This cost is high for many in Bolivia with disabilities, as they often live in poverty and are unable to work due to their impairments. The purpose of the recent protests was to persuade the government to provide a monthly allowance of 500 bolivianos to those with severe disabilities, which would allow them to pay for physical therapy, healthcare and housing.

In February 2017, Morales submitted a proposal to Congress requesting that a monthly allowance of 250 bolivianos be provided to Bolivians with severe and serious disabilities. The Federation of Municipal Associations of Bolivia (FAM) also announced their support of the Morales’s bill. Mayors are responsible for making payments in each municipality. More than half of Bolivians with disabilities live in the large cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, and these municipalities state that they have the financial resources necessary to provide qualifying individuals with benefits.

The current proposal only provides half of the monetary amount protesters asked for, and its success remains to be determined. Benefits will not be distributed until 2018. However, Bolivians with disabilities are also gaining rights through accesses to other resources. Handicap International and the Bolivian Ministry of Health are working together to build rehabilitation centers in various municipalities that provide necessary therapies. There currently is a network of 30 centers in Bolivia.

Additionally, these protests and attention have not only led to the provision of monetary benefits, but have also raised awareness of the struggles of Bolivians with disabilities, particularly the high proportion of them that live in extreme poverty. Moving forward, increased awareness and respect will be crucial in ensuring that those with disabilities receive necessary services that will allow them to be more engaged members of the community and avoid living in extreme poverty.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

Uganda’s parliament has just passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts. Some of these punishments include life imprisonment.

The anti-homosexuality bill promises to make it a crime to not report gay people. U.S. President Barack Obama called the bill, which was drafted in 2009, as being “odious.” The bill itself has received global backlash, and could result in countries suspending aid to the country that is likely to have numerous detrimental effects on local economies.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi opposed the vote, and stated that not enough MPs were present for quorum. It is unclear whether President Yoweri Museveni will sign the bill into law — however, the outcome remains bleak.

Originally, the drafters of the bill proposed the death penalty for certain offenses such as those including HIV-positive citizens and minors. The MP behind the bill, David Bahati, released a statement saying, “This is victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil.”

The introduction of this bill has now led to Uganda being called the worst place to be gay. “I am officially illegal,” Ugandan gay activist, Frank Mugisha, said after the vote. While socially conservative as a country, many view the passage of this bill — coupled with others — to be draconian.

Thursday, an Anti-Pornography Bill was passed, which bans miniskirts and sexually suggestive material such as some music videos — now, gay activists find their lives in danger. In 2011, a gay activist was killed, although the police denied he was targeted because of his sexuality.

Uganda’s current anti-gay legislation has been rarely enforced. These criminalized sexual acts were classified as being “against the order of nature.” Bahati claimed that tough new legislations were needed because gay people from the west threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were “recruiting” Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.

The challenge regarding these laws in Uganda had been enforcement. Authorities are required to gather evidence of a person participating in what was considered a homosexual act. This is hard to prove but a reason this is concerning is that once this more recent bill is passed, it might give authorities extra motivation in addressing these “homosexual crimes.”

In contrast, the Ugandan gay community has disputed this, instead saying that Ugandan political and religious leaders have come under the influence of American evangelicals. They have since singled out Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical, who they sued in March 2012.

In 2012, gay people in Uganda had their first gay pride parade. They have also joined in numerous street marches in support of universal human rights. What seemed to be progress in the gay sector has been totally reversed by these new impositions.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Hivos, Human Rights Watch and Sexual Minorities Uganda have said that the bill’s passage is a significant step backward for Uganda’s commitments to respect human rights.

“President Museveni should avoid the trap of scapegoating a vulnerable minority in the interests of short-term political gain,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The new text also extends the punishment to sexual relations between women. The bill also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality, an attack of the right of freedom of expression. All LGBT groups could be shut down.

The repercussions of this bill would drive efforts to address HIV by pushing members of the LGBT community underground. It also could encourage, what has been called, “vigilante violence.” LGBT individuals would be reluctant to report crimes against them because they themselves could face arrest and life in prison.

Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch