Umunthu- working with an African Philosophy to challenge discrimination against LGBTI people in Malawi

LGBTI rights are commonly viewed in African media and social discourse as ‘un-African’ and counter to African culture. Activists arguing for LGBTI rights are portrayed as pandering to Western donors and ideology. Little research exists on the topic; much of the existing research shows high levels of intolerance to LGBTI people on the basis of culture and religion, particularly compared to tolerance to other discriminated groups ( The Umunthu workshops project is turning this on its head by using Umunthu, a pan African philosophical concept of humanity,  combined with reflection on personal experiences of stigma and discrimination, to engage people in conversations about LGBTI people and our locally embedded ideologies that have governed Africans for generations. In this paper, we will present findings from the research we have been doing alongside our Umunthu workshops. So far, this research has indicated promising positive shifts in attitudes towards LGBTI people among workshop participants. African culture and philosophy is diverse, evolving and subject to interpretation. It is possible to use African belief systems- specifically those focusing on interdependence and tolerance- to invoke reflection and encourage greater tolerance of LGBTI people. Confrontational approaches can lead to a backlash which entrenches people more firmly in their beliefs. Creative participatory approaches that work with participants’ familiar values and ideologies, and facilitate exploration of underlying basis of discrimination, could be an effective way of impacting on popular thinking and achieve positive shift of attitude towards LGBTI people.


Rodger Phiri . Art and Global Health Center Africa .
Chiwoza Bandawe . Malawi College of Medicine .

This entry was posted in Paper and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.