Welcome to CAL@10! With this publication we are celebrating 10 years of collective
strength and power, of courage, resilience and resistance as the Coalition of African
Lesbians – CAL.
Some of the stories collected here take us down memory lane, back to 2003 when two events brought lesbians together in Johannesburg from different parts of the continent: the Sex and Secrecy Conference and the meeting of the All Africa Rights Initiative. It was in these spaces that the idea of an African Lesbian Alliance or Network was born.
Leading the process of forming and shaping CAL were feminist lesbians active in the women’s movement who saw the need for a Pan African organisation through which we could develop and deepen a radical feminist analysis of the multiple and intersecting oppressions of women, including lesbian women, in our various countries across the continent. We saw the need to build visibility and voice in the face of patriarchal states and cultures that were denying the very existence of African lesbians in order to maintain the heteronormative and misogynist gender order. We recognised the importance of building solidarity and resilience for the struggle ahead for the dignity and rights of
lesbian women and others oppressed on the basis of gender and sexuality, a step towards our vision of a creating a world beyond gender.
And so CAL was created in Windhoek, Namibia in August 2004 as a radical, African, lesbian, feminist space – through which we have deepened our analysis and strengthened our personal and collective voice and power. Over the past ten years we have been able to stand firm against the predictable backlash through state sponsored vilification, violence and punitive legislation. We have also been able to build alliances to take our demands for sexual and reproductive rights and protection from discrimination and violence into spaces such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
A milestone in 2015 was the gaining of Observer Status at the ACHPR, but this is currently under threat by a recommendation from the African Union to withdraw CAL’s Observer Status again in order to protect ‘African values’. At the global level, resolutions on the ‘protection of the family’ push a similar fundamentalist agenda by states seeking to keep women and women’s bodies firmly under the control of the heteronormative gender order.
With rising militarism and warfare in Africa, growing extremisms and fundamentalisms, the rampant economic globalisation deepening both poverty and the environmental crisis, the world is steadily becoming a more dangerous place for women, including lesbian women, and other people excluded from rights and protections on the basis of their sexual and gender diversity. We are grappling with the task of creating safe and nurturing spaces within CAL and our movements for hurt and burnt out activists, in which we can build resilience and heal from the ongoing onslaughts on our dignity, personhood and rights.
Let us remember then the wise words of Audre Lorde about the power of the erotic in living meaningful, joyful and fulfilled lives:
‘The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our loving, our work, our lives … Recognising the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world.’ (Audre Lorde, 1984:55)
With this publication we are reminding ourselves of our roots, reflecting on how far we have come and on our current challenges, and digging deep into the wellspring of our erotic power as we move forward into the next decade of the Coalition of African Lesbians!
Coalition of African Lesbians