Joyce Banda, who became Malawi’s first female president last month, is hitting the ground running. In her first state of the nation address, she announced that as “a matter of urgency” she’ll seek to repeal the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Banda seems to have enough support in parliament to get the laws overturned, but Malawi is still a conservative country, so it’s a gutsy move. Banda’s predecessor pardoned two men who were imprisoned for the crime of wanting to get married but maintained that they “committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws.”
Gay rights activists in the region hope that a change like this in Malawi, which is hosting the African Union summit this summer, will send a message to the entire continent. Thirty-seven African countries outlaw homosexuality and recent anti-gay bills in Nigeria, Uganda and Liberia aren’t exactly offering hope that they’re moving in the right direction. An activist in South Africa, the only African country where same-sex marriages are legal, says, “Symbolically, I think it is very important for Africa.”