- April 26, 2019
Mwamba Nyanda, one of two new HRC Global Fellows, is a young, transgender, African leader whose work strengthens the transgender movement in Tanzania. He is the founder and chief program officer of Tanzania Trans Initiative, which works to amplify the voices of transgender people in the country.
As a Global Fellow, Nyanda worked alongside HRC staff in Washington, D.C. in April and attended HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit. HRC sat down with him to discuss Tanzania, his goals and the fight for LGBTQ rights.
1. How did you become an LGBTQ advocate?
I faced challenges in Tanzania, growing up and living in an environment where it was not acceptable for me to live my life as a gender minority person. These experiences fed my passion for working on human rights issues, specifically supporting LGBTIQ people in Tanzania. In my work, I aim to create awareness of transgender identity, enable LGBTIQ people to live openly, address body dissatisfaction among transgender people and help build capacity for LGBTIQ movements.
2. What is it like for LGBTQ people in Tanzania?
Tanzanian society is largely homophobic and transphobic. Even though the government acknowledges the existence of the LGBTIQ community, there isn’t a good understanding of what it means to identify as an LGBTIQ person in such an unaccepting society. For many in Tanzania, LGBTIQ just means gay, and the focus on our community is primarily on men.
Because of this, trans people are often overlooked, and few people understand the experiences trans people face. This makes it difficult for trans people to live and thrive and fuels violations of the rights of trans and other LGBTIQ people in the country. Many are forced to run away or are chased from their homes when they share their gender identities with their families.
3. What does your organization Tanzania TRANS Initiative do?
In 2014, I founded T.T.I. to respond to the needs and challenges of those in the transgender community, such as expanding access to LGBTIQ-inclusive health services, educating services providers, providing peer counseling services and educating our community about those services. We provide a space for gender minorities and youth to share their experiences with others in the community and to participate directly in building the capacity of our organization. Through this work, we aim to contribute to building self-acceptance and self-esteem in our community.
4. How did you hear about HRC?
HRC is well known across the globe for the work that it does to promote human rights and change attitudes through political engagement, and its support for our efforts in Tanzania has been very valuable. This is the work that interests me most and guides me as I learn and equip myself with the skills to help me support the LGBTIQ movement in Tanzania.
5. What did you do as a Global Fellow?
I was able to gain skills to help me advocate more effectively for the LGBTIQ community. I had the chance to learn more about strategies for political advocacy, including online and through the media, and to think critically about how limits on freedom of assembly and expression in Tanzania affect our community.
Most rewardingly, I got to engage with the president and staff of the World Bank. We had fruitful conversations regarding inclusivity and protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in World Bank programming. We also discussed the value and necessity of LGBTQ data collection and the role it plays in bringing about positive change. We had opportunities to address the work of HRC and its partners to support our community in Tanzania including in the harsh crackdowns on the rights of LGBTIQ people in the country.
6. What do you plan to do when you return home?
I’m planning to implement and share the tools that I gained from my time at HRC and use the experiences I gained to support my fellow human rights activists and colleagues. I am looking forward to continuing to network with the global leaders at HRC and other international human rights institutions and share ideas about best practices and lessons learned.