Monday 26 June 2023

Live and Let Live!

Photo by Joshua Abner on Pexels.

By Adetayo Adetokun

Across the vast and culturally diverse African landscape, deeply ingrained societal expectations and age-old customs often rigidly reinforce binary gender norms, leaving little room for those who transcend these restrictive boundaries. As a consequence, gender non-conforming individuals find themselves entangled in a web of discrimination, prejudice, and bias, all of which impede their access to quality education and obstruct their path toward career advancement. These challenges act as barriers to their personal growth, hindering their ability to thrive in a society that is often reluctant to accept and support their authentic selves. 

Within the realm of education, gender non-conforming individuals encounter a series of hurdles that dampen their educational journey. The lack of inclusive policies, curricula, and resources in educational institutions not only perpetuates ignorance surrounding gender diversity but also fails to provide the necessary support systems to foster a safe and nurturing learning environment. Consequently, many gender non-conforming students are subjected to bullying, harassment, and isolation, which detrimentally impacts their academic performance and overall well-being. Additionally, family and community pressures, rooted in deep-seated cultural beliefs, often lead to the denial of educational opportunities, further exacerbating the educational divide faced by gender non-conforming individuals in Africa.

Addressing the struggles faced by gender non-conforming individuals in Africa necessitates a multifaceted approach. Educational institutions must proactively adopt inclusive policies, curricula, and support systems that recognize and affirm the diverse experiences of gender non-conforming individuals. Comprehensive sex education programs that embrace diverse gender identities and orientations can help dispel ignorance and foster acceptance from an early age. Sensitization and training initiatives should be implemented to educate educators, administrators, and employers about the importance of inclusion and the unique needs of gender non-conforming individuals.

Additionally, governments and policymakers must enact and enforce legislation that safeguards the rights of gender non-conforming individuals, both within educational settings and the workplace. Legal protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression should be established and rigorously upheld.  Let us take a further look into some of these issues and how to effectively solve them.

Understanding Gender Identity and Expression 

To comprehensively discuss the struggles faced by gender non-conforming individuals in Africa, it is crucial to first understand the concepts of gender identity and expression. Let us start with sex, often confused with Gender.  

According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, “Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed.”

Gender, on the other hand, refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. 

Gender identity thus refers to an individual's deeply felt sense of being male, female, or something else entirely, and gender expression relates to how one presents themselves to the world, often through clothing, hairstyles, and mannerisms.

In African societies, gender roles and expectations have long been rooted in cultural and religious beliefs. Traditional gender norms typically enforce a binary system, where male and female identities are rigidly defined and closely associated with specific behaviours. Consequently, those who do not conform to these norms face challenges and stigmatization, as their identities challenge the established order.

Cultural Context and Social Challenges

Africa is a diverse continent comprising numerous cultures, each with its attitudes and beliefs regarding gender nonconformity. While some African societies historically recognized and respected individuals with diverse gender identities, others have struggled to accept non-binary or transgender individuals due to the influence of colonization and conservative ideologies.

Many gender non-conforming individuals in Africa face ostracism, discrimination, and violence. They often experience rejection from their families and communities, which can lead to social isolation, mental health issues, and limited access to education and employment opportunities. Additionally, healthcare services specifically catered to their unique needs are often scarce or non-existent.

Personal Stories of Resilience 

Behind the struggles and discrimination, the stories of resilience and triumph among gender non-conforming individuals in Africa are inspiring. These individuals courageously navigate societal expectations while remaining true to their authentic selves, challenging societal norms and paving the way for greater acceptance.

One such individual is Fola, a transgender woman from Nigeria. Fola faced rejection from her family and community when she came out, yet she persevered, seeking support from local LGBTQ+ organizations. With their assistance, she found a network of friends who accepted her for who she was: an acceptance which spurred her to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in her community.

Another remarkable story is that of Juma, a genderfluid person from Kenya. Juma faced significant adversity due to their fluid identity, experiencing discrimination and violence. Despite these challenges, Juma channelled their energy into activism, raising awareness about gender diversity and advocating for legal protections for gender non-conforming individuals.

The Path to Acceptance and Inclusivity

To foster a more inclusive society, it is crucial to challenge deeply ingrained biases and educate the public about gender diversity. Increasing awareness through educational initiatives, community dialogues, and media representation can help combat stereotypes and foster acceptance.

Governments and policymakers should prioritize enacting and enforcing legislation that protects the rights of gender non-conforming individuals, including anti-discrimination laws and legal recognition of diverse gender identities. Adequate healthcare services, mental health support, and social welfare programs should also be made available to address the unique challenges faced by this marginalized group.

Struggles with Education and Career


Education and career opportunities are vital aspects of a person's life, shaping their prospects and overall well-being. However, for gender non-conforming individuals in Africa, these areas often present unique challenges and hurdles. Discrimination, prejudice, and lack of understanding can severely impact their ability to access quality education and pursue fulfilling careers.

In many African societies, traditional gender roles and expectations continue to dominate. Society often expects individuals to conform to binary gender norms, reinforcing the notion that one must be either male or female. This binary mindset can manifest in educational institutions, where gender non-conforming students may face ridicule, exclusion, and even violence from their peers. Bullying and harassment can lead to poor academic performance, anxiety, and depression, making it difficult for them to excel in their studies.

Moreover, schools and universities often lack inclusive policies and support systems for gender non-conforming students. Many educational institutions have yet to recognize or accommodate the diverse gender identities that exist. The absence of gender-neutral restrooms, the requirement for gendered uniforms, and the use of gendered language can further marginalize and stigmatize these students. As a result, gender non-conforming individuals may feel forced to hide their authentic selves, leading to a compromised sense of identity and self-worth.

Accessing career opportunities can also be an uphill battle for gender non-conforming individuals in Africa. Discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity can limit their chances of finding suitable employment or advancing in their chosen fields. Job interviews may be fraught with biases and preconceptions, making it difficult for them to secure positions that align with their qualifications and aspirations.

In some cases, employers may openly express discomfort or prejudice towards gender non-conforming individuals, denying them equal opportunities for career growth. The limited availability of role models and mentors who identify as gender non-conforming can further exacerbate the challenges faced by these individuals, leaving them feeling isolated and unsupported.

Additionally, certain professions may have specific gender expectations, reinforcing the idea that only cisgender individuals can succeed in those fields. This not only restricts the career choices available to gender non-conforming individuals but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes about their capabilities and contributions.

To address these struggles, educational institutions and employers in Africa must adopt more inclusive policies and practices. Schools and universities should create safe spaces for gender non-conforming students, fostering a culture of respect, acceptance, and understanding. Implementing anti-bullying measures, providing access to mental health support, and promoting diversity education can help create a more inclusive environment for all students.

Similarly, workplaces must actively work towards eliminating discrimination based on gender identity. Employers should develop comprehensive non-discrimination policies, establish diverse hiring practices, and provide training to employees on gender diversity and inclusion. Encouraging the formation of employee resource groups and networks can offer support and mentorship to gender non-conforming individuals, helping them navigate their careers successfully.

Healthcare Disparities

In our exploration of the challenges faced by gender non-conforming individuals in Africa, it is crucial to shed light on the healthcare disparities they encounter. Gender non-conforming people often face unique medical and psychological needs, and their experiences within the healthcare system can range from ignorance and discrimination to outright denial of care. The consequences of these disparities can be severe, leading to delayed or inadequate treatment, compromised mental health, and increased vulnerability.

Access to competent healthcare services is a fundamental right for everyone, regardless of their gender identity or expression. Unfortunately, in many African countries, healthcare professionals and institutions lack awareness and understanding of the specific needs and experiences of gender non-conforming individuals. This ignorance can lead to misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatments, and an overall lack of holistic, culturally sensitive care.

One of the primary challenges faced by gender non-conforming people is finding healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about transgender health. In Africa, the scarcity of specialized gender clinics, experienced professionals, and culturally competent healthcare providers further exacerbates this issue. As a result, individuals seeking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or gender-affirming surgeries often find themselves without access to these vital services. Even basic healthcare, such as routine check-ups or access to mental health support, may be denied or made difficult due to the lack of understanding and support within the healthcare system.

Another significant concern is the stigmatization and discrimination that gender non-conforming individuals face when accessing healthcare. Transphobia and social prejudice can deter individuals from seeking care altogether, fearing judgment, mistreatment, or even violence. Healthcare settings should be safe spaces where all individuals can freely discuss their health concerns without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, the reality for many gender non-conforming people in Africa is vastly different.

Moreover, healthcare disparities also extend to mental health support for gender non-conforming individuals. Many face higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation due to societal rejection and isolation. Accessing mental health services that are sensitive to their unique struggles can be an additional challenge, as mental healthcare providers may also lack awareness and cultural competence in dealing with gender non-conforming issues.

Addressing these healthcare disparities requires multifaceted efforts. Education and training programs should be implemented to increase awareness among healthcare providers about gender diversity, transgender health, and the specific needs of gender non-conforming individuals. Specialized gender clinics should be established or expanded to provide comprehensive and culturally sensitive care. Support networks and advocacy groups should be strengthened to offer guidance, resources, and legal assistance to those in need.

Furthermore, governments and healthcare policymakers must prioritize the rights and well-being of gender non-conforming individuals. Legislation should be enacted to protect against discrimination and ensure equal access to healthcare services. Funding should be allocated to improve and expand healthcare infrastructure, including mental health support, specifically designed to cater to the needs of gender non-conforming individuals.


For many, addressing gender nonconformity in Africa seems like putting the cart before the horse. Are there even gender-nonconforming people in Africa? Or are we trying to import the problems of the ‘West’ into our communities? With legislation criminalizing gender expressions that are not binary, it is a herculean task getting nonbinary people secure enough to express themselves. Yet, the struggles faced by gender non-conforming individuals in Africa are significant and require urgent attention. We can create a more accepting and supportive environment by understanding their experiences, challenging societal norms, and advocating for inclusivity. Individuals, communities, and governments must work together to dismantle discrimination and promote equality for gender non-conforming people in Africa.

We can also raise awareness and challenge the misconceptions and prejudices surrounding gender identity and expression through education, dialogue, and the sharing of personal stories.  More importantly, we can humanize their struggles and demonstrate the resilience and strength within the gender non-conforming community by highlighting the diverse experiences of individuals like Amina and Juma.

Supporting local LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives is also essential. These organizations play a vital role in providing safe spaces, counselling, and resources to gender non-conforming individuals in Africa. WWe can contribute to their efforts and help create more inclusive communities by supporting their work financially, volunteering, or spreading the word.

Government involvement is crucial in creating systemic change. Policies and legislation that protect the rights of gender non-conforming individuals need to be implemented and enforced. This includes anti-discrimination laws that cover gender identity and expression, as well as legal recognition of diverse gender identities. By advocating for these changes and holding governments accountable, we can work towards a more inclusive society.

Furthermore, access to healthcare services tailored to the specific needs of gender non-conforming individuals is essential. Medical professionals should receive training on gender diversity to ensure competent and inclusive care. Mental health support is also crucial, as gender non-conforming individuals often face higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Investing in mental health services and providing approprcounselinglling counselling and therapy options can make a significant difference in the well-being of this community.

1 comment:

  1. Now more than ever, and in the medical sphere more than anywhere else, attention and care ought to be given to the utmost degree without bias to human social constructs - gender especially! An excellent and timely piece!