The gap: where rights stop and lives are lived

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We all have a right to be safe. We all have a right to express ourselves. We all have the right to choose our identities, to control our bodies, to love ourselves and each other. We all have a right to … but wait, what is this ‘rights’ thing?

Yesterday the group had a brief conversation about wellbeing, safety and security. At first, it all seemed straightforward: be aware of your surroundings, think about the people you’re socialising with, guard your identity documents and so on. But is this sufficient? Can we talk about these issues in such broad terms?

As a comrade reminded us this morning, wellbeing is political. Although it is necessary to discuss our personal safety in practical terms, there is also a great need for us – as feminist activists – to integrate wellbeing more thoroughly into our conversations. Whenever people meet and organise, there are always practical constraints. Indeed, it is inevitable that time will run out or that a ‘more pressing’ issue will be raised. Broader discussions about our wellbeing – and when I say this I’m speaking of all the complexities of our individual selves and our lived experiences – are, sadly, often pushed to the side.

Most of us are brutally aware of the disconnect between the rights discourses of which we so often speak and the realities of our lives. We all carry baggage, we all experience – in one way or another – oppression and we all have the normal stresses of everyday life. How, then, are we going to integrate these aspects of our lives into our political organising? This question is more important than it may at first seem: by not including these conversations we are, in a way, overlooking significant sites of power.

In this morning’s session, there was a point raised about how rape and sexual violence highlight the gap between rights discourses and genuine protection. ‘I know I have a right not to be raped,’ one participant noted. ‘But when it’s happening, rights mean fuck all. How do we navigate these rights discourses but still acknowledge where rights stop? How can we have these discussions in ways that really protect us, that empower us to be protected?’

We must always be aware of how our external experiences shape us and our communities and, perhaps more importantly, acknowledge the real-life impacts of these. As our comrade reminded us, ‘wellbeing is not about pedicures: it is a deeply political thing that we need to pay more attention to’. Again, there is no clear way on how to integrate these conversations more effectively, but let’s not ignore this vital part of our lives.

Workshop coverage provided by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action in collaboration with the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).

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