Seychellois delegates ready to share and learn in Equality & Justice Alliance forum | 13 February 2020
Over 45 delegates have convened at the Eden Bleu Hotel for the Commonwealth Equality and Justice Alliance forum, set to explore reforms to laws that discriminate against women, girls and the LGBTI+ community.
The forum is being hosted over the course of three days, February 12-14, by the Equality and Justice Alliance, a programme formed in 2018 committed to advancing equality and promoting equal protection of the law for all Commonwealth citizens no matter the sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
The Alliance is formed of four organisations – Human Dignity Trust, Kaleidoscope Trust, Sisters for Change and the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Since its inception, the Alliance has supported a number of initiatives including providing technical assistance to six Commonwealth countries to reform laws that discriminate.
The forum kicked off yesterday with plenaries focusing on the challenges and opportunities to ending discrimination in the Commonwealth, reforms of sexual offences laws as well as exploring faith-based backlash to equality laws.
Among the various delegates, hailing from as close by as Mauritius and as far as Belize, Bahamas and Vanuatu, were a number of participants representing the Seychelles.
Seychelles remains among the few African countries that have taken steps to repeal its law decriminalising consensual same-sex relationships, a vestige of the colonial era.
The country’s Constitution also secures the rights of each of its citizens and largely provides the same opportunities to men as it does to women both in education and employment.
Nonetheless there are improvements to be made on all fronts.
Seychelles NATION met three Seychellois delegates during the forum’s sessions yesterday to find out more about their involvement in law reforms for women, girls and LGBTI+ in Seychelles and what they hope to gain from the forum.
Marie-Josée Bonne, principal secretary for family affairs:
“This forum has not been organised by the Ministry of Family Affairs or Seychelles but we did provide the Royal Commonwealth Society with our support. We were interested of course and we requested that they also consider additional participation of Seychellois delegates aside from the civil society, which had already been invited. This is why you will see representatives from the National Assembly, the judiciary and the Human Rights Commission.”
PS Bonne noted that her presence in the forum is to assimilate, learn, connect and share practices that will later assist or provide a clearer perspective when developing policies and legislations for Seychelles.
“For the majority of us in Seychelles, it is the first time that we are hearing about the Equality and Justice Alliance project, and hence we can learn about it, what it is about, what it hopes to achieve so as to link up with some of these people to help Seychelles in law reforms. We know that laws do not remain static, we need to remember that society evolves and we have to make sure that our laws reflect these changes.”
“Already in Seychelles there are changes that have been done, that are occurring and that still needs to be achieved, and they will have to be done. This forum is a learning experience for us.”
“There is necessity for the Ministry of Family Affairs to better understand because the ministry has a great role to play in the development of different aspects of society. We are not just a ministry that provides services; it is one which also looks at what is going on within society, conducts researches and develop policies and strategies that will hopefully guide the development of legislations.”
Chantal Ghislain, member of the National Assembly (MNA) and chair of the Committee of Women Parliamentarian:
“I believe that when you are elected to go into the parliament, you are elected to speak on behalf of the populace. As a parliamentarian, you cannot choose which persons to defend. Even if there are decisions to be made that goes against your own personal beliefs, as a parliamentarian who has sworn to protect the rights of every individual your personal opinions no longer matter.”
“Everyone is equal and remember that although you have not experienced a situation, this does not mean that others in the society have not,” Hon. Ghislain added.
“I am also a woman who has children and I feel that it is only right to be here and learn. And if there are any laws that need changing, at least I would have gained certain insight into what other countries have done, so that I will have first-hand knowledge when similar laws come along in Seychelles.”
Fabianne Bonne, chairperson of LGBTISey, activist, Point of Light Award recipient:
“There are laws that have changed for the LGBTI community in Seychelles, such as in 2016 when the anti-sodomy law was repealed. On our end, LGBTISey, as an NGO, wants LGBTI persons to be included in every policy in Seychelles. There are instances in which we have been included, such as the Ministry of Health’s HIV/Aids policies were we are consulted and included, but there are also instances when we are consulted but the implementation of the policies do not take us into account, such as in the case of the National Youth Policy.”
“Additionally, we want the laws in Seychelles to be applied fairly and justly to everyone, including the LGBTI community. These laws need to protect the rights of the LGBTI community because, as it stands right now, there are no laws that discriminate against LGBTI persons but the way in which the laws are interpreted or the policies that derive from these laws do not protect these rights and discriminate against them.”
“For instance, if I was to enter into a same-sex marriage with a foreigner and we got married in that foreign country and then we were to move to Seychelles, there are no laws in Seychelles that recognises same-sex marriages. Therefore my partner will not be able to gain a dependent permit to stay in Seychelles.”
“Another example would be if two persons in a same-sex relationship chooses to have a child, through various methods available, but because one of the person is not the biological parent then the person will not feature on the birth certificate. This brings about a lot of issues relating to inheritance and my rights over the child.”
“This forum is an opportunity for us to learn the key areas of challenges in certain countries, and how they tackled it and find a way to translate these here in Seychelles and make these changes in Seychelles.”
A plenary session is expected to be held today, specifically based on Seychelles’ experiences in advancing equality and will feature the following panellists: Honourable Ghislain, Ms Bonne, judiciary researcher in the office of the Chief Justice Emily Gonthier, chairperson of GEM Plus Sharon Thelemaque and legal draftsperson at the department of legal affairs Stefan Knights.