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Mauritius is a vibrant nation that prides itself on its diverse cultural, religious and ethnic communities. Despite celebrating its cultural and religious diversity, some communities in Mauritius still experience legal marginalisation and discrimination, including those with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Under Mauritian law, same-sex consensual relationships between male adults are illegal and carry a prison sentence of up to five years. And it goes beyond that. The law, reflecting the prevalence of patriarchal and ultra-conservative barriers in the country, doesn’t provide any protection against marital rape and other gender-based violence and discrimination, making the country a profoundly hostile environment for women, girls and LGBT+ people.

For decades, local civil society organisations have advocated for a change in laws and policies towards a sustainable future that ensures a life free of violence, discrimination for women, children, and LGBT+ persons. In 2018, under the Equality & Justice Alliance (EJA) programme, Kaleidoscope Trust contributed to forming a coalition of five local civil society organisations called the Kolektif Drwa Imin (KDI), to work as one and apply the theory of intersectionality to address the existing legal and policy gaps in recognising and protecting women, children and LGBT+ people in Mauritius.

In 2020-2021, Collectif Arc En Ciel (CAEC), Kolektif Drwa Zanfan Morisien (KDZM) and Gender Links – three of the member organisations of the KDI – continued their collaboration  through the Commonwealth Equality Project (CEP), focussing on three areas: (1) advocacy to push for the adoption of the Children’s Bill, (2) community sensitisation on the rights of women and children and (3) developing intersectional advocacy strategies and campaigns.

Succeeding in these strategies has been critical in raising public awareness and building stronger relationships between civil society and national stakeholders, such as media, parliamentarians, government officials and faith leaders. Τhese exact alliances made it possible to shape the public discourse in the direction of upholding human rights.

What is changing?

To get things done, CEP partners developed and thoroughly maintained close working relations with the respective Ministers and other decision-makers. Through these recommendations, demands like the abolition of child marriage, the increase of the age of criminal responsibility, and better protection of children from violence and other forms of discrimination were adopted and successfully cut through the conservative trajectory in Mauritius.

The adoption of the Children’s Bill has been a milestone of civil society’s capacity to advocate for change and defend the human rights of women, girls and LGBT+ people in the country. Moreover, the advocacy efforts were driven by a diverse and multifaceted campaign that, for the first time, managed to appeal to thousands of people through social media and raised public awareness and discussions in an effort to shape the public narrative around equality, discrimination and gender violence.

Through continuous exploration and recognition of the opportunities and challenges of intersectional strategies and ways of working together, Mauritius civil society organisations continue to advance in steering public support and political will for progressive social, legal, and policy change.