Learning and Sharing: A collaborative effort between East and Southern Africa.

By Refilwe Moahi

National Programme Officer for the KP REACH Programme in Botswana.

Between 6-8 February 2017, the KP REACH Programme as part of the KP REACH Consortium hosted the first South-to-South Learning Exchange workshop in Nairobi, Kenya as part of the KP REACH Learning project. The workshop was entitled Think for Yourself: An Exchange between KP REACH Learning Project and Radical African Lesbian Feminists in East Africa. The aim of the workshop was for the KP REACH team to learn about organizing and movement building in hostile situations from the East Africa group, and for KP REACH to offer learnings on creating conscious learning cultures, the politics of knowledge, and case studies. Simultaneously, the meeting was premised on the realization of disconnect and understanding of the need to connect, strengthen relationships between CAL and her members and partners in the sub-region, and work together to find sustainable creative strategies of doing advocacy work in spaces that are rather hostile to human rights defenders.

The workshop was well attended by CAL members and allies from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The organizations represented included: Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), Voices of Women in Western Kenya (VOWWEK), Africans for Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA Kenya), African Eco-Feminist Collective (AEC), This Ability, Together for Women’s Rights, Rights for All (RIFA), Young Women Initiative Group, Fem Alliance Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), Minority Women in Action (MWA), and East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI-EASHRI).

Having all of these different voices in the room made for a very enriching three days of discussion and exchange. Participants appreciated being able to learn about each others’ issues and to realise that the root causes of the issues we face and tackle in our work are the same. An activity that stood out was when particpants drew trees of oppression highlighting the fruits or problems they face, the trunks or actors perpetuating them, and the underlying roots or causes. While those from Tanzania and Uganda face discrimination and stigma, abuse, rape, oppressive laws, limited resources, low capacity, arrest, de-registration of organizations, imposition of donor agendas, lack of barrier methods, and lack of a common goal, those from Burundi and Rwanda face homophobia, gender base discrimination, harrassment, opportunity inequality, stigmatization, and violence against LGBTI, and those from Kenya face corrective rape, homophobia, unemployment, ableism, elitism, hunger, lack of land rights, homelessness, mental illness, intimate partner violence, extortion, and cat calling. And underlying all of these problems are patriachy, heteronormativity, capitalism, colonization, religion, and culture. We all realized that we don’t tend to do the hard work of really introspecting to understand the root causes of the problems we work to address. For a lot of participants, this was their first time working with the tree of oppression. They felt that it is not possible for all of us to work on the roots, especially when some people are in desperate situations of homelessness or hunger; they are not interested in discussing patriarchy and heteronormativity. We concluded that some of us need to work on the fruits, while others work on the roots.

Another key discussion was that of the politics of knowledge, which ultimately led to the participants creating knowledge as African thinkers and presenting case studies of their successful work on access. We discussed knowledge as a tool of oppression, as well as a product that we package and use for legitimacy. There is the implicit idea that black people or Africans cannot do their own research and need researchers from the West to conduct research on their lives. We want to challenge this notion.

We also talked about the intimate connection between the politics of knowledge and the politics of money, resources, capitalism, and neoliberalism. Power dynamics play out in activist spaces when we use a lot of technical language or don’t use local languages that everyone in the room can understand. Similarly, when we have to find capital through other people, we become subservient to their agendas and may even become complicit in companies’ oppression of the communities they operate in, including ours. Some participants felt that cooperatives or communes could be a solution to funding and money issues; in rural areas, women have been organizing themselves in this way for a long time and perhaps we could use this model.

Additionally, some felt that when talking about women, it more about the politics of resources, rather than money. For example, women need childcare to attend meetings. Some of the case study presentations included: NGO registration campaigns in Botswana and Rwanda, the establishment of a community center for LGBT people in Burundi, the establishment of monthly consciousness raising conversations for LBQ women in Kenya, and an agriculture campaign against the World Bank in Kenya.

In conclusion, it was a great week of getting to know each other and learning about what we are doing in the two sub-regions and what challenges we are facing. However, it was also a week of breaking down barriers between CAL and its East African members, discussing our problems, and exploring how we can work together moving forward. It was a week of intellectual discussion and questioning our previous understanding.


59th Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (22th October-30th October) Banjul, the Gambia

By Marie MC

Between the 24th and 30th October, I had the opportunity to travel to the Gambia, in Banjul. Notwithstanding how beautiful the country and its people are, I was not there for tourism but to attend the 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) .

First question that probably comes up is what is the ACHPR?

The African Charter established the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission was inaugurated on 2 November 1987 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Commission’s Secretariat has subsequently been located in Banjul, The Gambia.

It is Article 45 of the Charter which sets out the mandate of the Commission:

  • Promotion of human and peoples’ rights

The Commission carries out sensitisation, public mobilisation and information dissemination through seminars, symposia, conferences and missions.

  • Protection of human and peoples’ rights

The Commission ensures protection of human and peoples’ rights through its communication procedure, friendly settlement of disputes, state reporting (including consideration of NGOs’ shadow reports), urgent appeals and other activities of special rapporteurs and working groups and missions.

  • Interpretation of the Charter

The Commission is mandated to interpret the provisions of the Charter upon a request by a state party, organs of the AU or individuals. No organ of the AU has referred any case of interpretation of the Charter to the Commission. However, a handful of NGOs have approached the Commission for interpretation of the various articles of the Charter. The Commission has also adopted many resolutions expounding upon the provisions of the Charter.

In other words the ACHPR is here to make sure that human rights are known, protected and applied in all the African States by setting guidelines, recommendations and opening discussions with States and all parties involved in the safeguarding of human rights.

As a Transgender feminist activist working mostly with youth, LGBTQI and marginalised groups, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how to fit in this brand new environment.

Despite these apprehensions, my time at this 59th Session was actually one of the best experiences I had so far.

The week long activities touch almost every issue that we can think is of relevance for the continent and the welfare of its inhabitants. From the Rights of indigenous people and communities in Africa, to the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities, o Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, to the Prevention of Torture in Africa; on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations to Death Penalty and Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary killings in Africa; on the Protection of the Rights of People Living With HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV to Women’s Rights and Human Rights Defenders… and the list goes on.

As feminists working in our countries we often forget to expand our areas of knowledge and to diversify our fights. We tend to forget that there is far too often a correlation between the work we are doing and the impact it has on other rights violations, and the impact it has on people’s lives.  Especially when talking about women, there is an intersectionality of work/cause/oppressions that come out so obviously when listening to working groups reports and the work Special Rapporteurs are doing. In my opinion this was the best part of it as it allows one to generate brand new ideas, questions, to spot new areas of research and of potential involvement.

All these new concepts, statistics or reports can seem too hard to handle, absorb and learn.  One can even feel overwhelmed but that is before realising that just like me, there are many activists representing NGOs or national human rights institutions who are specialised in each of these groups and can actually learn from you as much as you learn from them.

The ACHPR is a fantastic platform for networking with not only NGOs on your particular point of interest but mostly to really get involved by adding your touch to researches that seemed out of scope when actually it is linked to your fights.

Thus as an activist doing LGBTQI work, I was able to reach out to Under The Same Sun, a Kenyan NGO working towards the end of discrimination and the protection of albino rights. Has anybody thought of doing research on the impact of homophobia on already stigmatized and discriminated populations in Africa? When it comes to indigenous people and communities, can’t we work together to define, document and work on sexual and reproductive health? This is without mentioning the necessity to work with them in order to debunk the myth of the Western and imported “gay agenda”.

Access to education and the impact of gender-based violence also have various responses across the continent, therefore learning from others helps our work get recommendations, follow guidelines and consolidate the fight for Human Rights across-countries.

We sometimes tend to think that our work doesn’t have the impact it should have, through the ACHPR and its commissioners, research, points of concern and evolutions (evaluations?) can be submitted and observed at a higher level. It is important for us activists, who are sometimes independent and working on our own funds to be able to share and propagate our findings or possible alarm signals. The special Rapporteurs are experts who take time to travel to countries where violations are reported and need our reports in order to compare what one state says and match these reports with what the reality on the ground is. Various mechanisms are in place and are be used as they are a real opportunity to consolidate and make our work known and actually render it effective.

Every two years countries have to submit a report on the state of human rights, the improvement and the needs of their population’s well-being. The ACHPR offers the possibility for NGOs to submit a shadow report too and sadly there are not enough of them being submitted. It is easy for countries to boast about their progressive views and the government’s ongoing efforts to secure rights for everyone. However as we know, governments try somehow to make things get better but there is a real disconnection between the needs on the ground, the access to resources and the numbers they release. Mostly activists are aware of this gap and thus have an obligation to try and gather as much statistics, cases, testimonies and document them not only for the immediate stakeholders but as I know now, to support and improve our governments engagements when possible and to make sure they are accountable when reaching out to the ACHPR.

As I am writing this article, my head is still somehow in Banjul, between missing the place and dreaming of a revolution.  We tend to look to the West for their respect of Human Rights yet, the NO DAPL protesters are being attacked, the UN decided to pick Wonder Woman as an ambassador, Black Live Matters activists are being monitored. The continent has is Commission too and can show support as much as innovation and progress. It all rests on us activists to engage fully and challenge the status quo by using it to our advantage and really be the ears and voices of the people.

We must remember: We Are More Than.

Often, in many contexts, the granting of rights to us, people who are non-conforming in our sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is seen to come at the expense of other hard won rights and freedoms.

Sometimes this is structured as the ease of visa restrictions for LGBTIQA people where women in abusive relationships and encountering violence with no justice and recourse are not given the same consideration.

Sometimes it’s extra safety and security given to LGBTIQA persons in refugee camps where young women continue to have their genitalia mutilated without State or international intervention. Or our cries for their justice and dignity.

Sometimes it’s POTUS [President of the US] insisting that SOGIE or LGBTIQA issues are put on the table for discussion while the continued militarization of Africa goes unaddressed, and political as well as socio-economic unrest births all kinds of fundamentalisms that we gloss over.

To an extent, real or limited or extended, our oppression has privileged us and this moment is a powerful opportunity to show that we stand with all other movements, people, organisations and sacrifices that have led to the recognition of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression in local and international human rights and advocacy spaces. If we don’t recognise the sacrifice that has gone into ensuring that the struggles of queer and people non-conforming to heterosexuality are pushed to the fore, we are in danger of allowing our privilege to oppress others. 

The women’s rights organisations that agreed to be fiscal hosts of our donor money when our governments would not register us. The people, thousands and hundreds that attend our pride marches, allies, fierce social justice warriors who defend us. The many non-LGBTIQA people and organisations that put their own well being at risk because they saw that our oppression was unjust and believed that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. The non-lesbians and gays that love us and protect us. The non-trans humans that defend our trans-bodies and experiences and lives. The none-queer people that stand with and for us. They too are oppressed in similar ways as we are, we cannot and should not create a hierarchy of oppression that presents our struggles as superior to those of people outside our ‘thematic area’. 

We are asking to be seen as people, as a movement, as a collection of movements, that care about other movements, as people who are invested in the the well being of all people. Not a thematic area.  We recognize the links, the curves and bends of oppression and privilege and where they are located.We see the need for collective work to push for change. We also see and are critical of power and where it lies.

And we know that the only way to guarantee our own safety, our own freedom, our own right to life and dignity and justice, is to ensure that we ALL can live better, autonomous lives.

-Sheena Gimase Magenya

(The views above are shared on an individual capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or the position of the Coalition of African Lesbians)

On Africa Liberation Day, Asserting the Power of African Women


Asserting the Power of African Women

On this Africa Liberation Day, the Coalition of African Lesbians yet again asserts our determination to keep crossing lines drawn by the systems of patriarchy which seek to control, regulate, restrain and contain those of us born in female bodies and socialised as women.  We will not be constrained by the multiple systems of oppression. We will continue to resist the forces – from any geography or source – that seek to regulate us, our bodies and our lives. Our bodies are our own. Neither our fathers, brothers, husbands and male partners nor the state, religious and traditional institutions and leaders own us.

We remind you, and ourselves, all that owning another human being is slavery. Slavery has been abolished, at least formally. We expect to be freed from the remnants of slavery, mostly reserved for women in all contexts all over the world. Enough.  We refuse to be anyone’s property.

Whilst we stand up and assert our insistence on these matters, we recognise that for millions of women all over the world, such resistance is not possible or not in the ways that we are able to exercise. We stand in solidarity with all women and we salute and affirm women who have slowly chipped away at or created and delivered massive pushes forward against patriarchy and militarism, conflict, capitalism and crises of democracy and all forms of extremism. It is because of these women that many of us, though recognising that it is gender that has to go, claim political standpoint as women. We cannot afford to ignore the deep oppression with little chance of escape faced by us as women. We therefore assert women as a critical political category. We will not be moved.

The African continent continues to be plagued by the greed of men within the system of patriarchy which feeds their domination and violent interventions from the home and household, through the community and to institutions at all levels from the traditional and religious  through to all socio-cultural, political and economic systems. These men are from the global economic north and from African countries themselves. The imperialism and colonialism that sticks on our every effort to lead ourselves out of the brutal contexts must end. Whether global north greed and patriarchy or global south greed and patriarchy, women will confront, expose and intervene to work for and bring peace and development to our land and continent.

We will continue to resist and refuse and renounce and revolt and rebel against all of the interventions and actors – state and non-state – that push African people/women into an unnecessary poverty and wars equipped by United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, U.K, Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel, which then take the moral high ground to intervene to fix the violence and conflict in the world.

On Africa Liberation Day 2016, we call you to order.

African women won’t wait.

African women will keep exercising our right and responsibility to advance social justice for everyone on the continent and elsewhere!

Defending Our Dream: Fikile Vilakazi


When the Coalition of African Lesbians was formed, the dream was to create a public
political space for lesbian feminist voices to emerge, be visible and influence the ongoing
private and public debate about our sexual and gendered lives as lesbian women in Africa.
We were angered and exhausted by the dominance of masculinist voices in the sexuality and gender debates globally. We fiercely claimed and created our space against the political tide of what I now call ‘queer masculinities’ – that is masculinist power disguised as freedom from heterosexualisation and genderedness. This form of male privilege and power is different from heteropower but similar in the form of expression, influence, domination and control.

Our vision was clear: we wanted justice, freedom and transformation. Africa needs to be transformed into a place where lesbian women, in all our diverse sexualities and genders, are treated with dignity and respect as full and equal citizens of our countries and continent. We are embedded in, while critical of, our various African cultures and heritage.
We were determined to ensure that this transformation is felt both in the private and public spheres of our lives: our homes, our schools, our shopping centres, our streets, our neighbourhoods, our faith-based centres, our jobs, our clinics, our hospitals, our police, our judges, our courts and our governments, among others.

We wanted this impact to be felt not just in Africa but in the rest of world. In our view, everyone needed to know that African lesbian women exist. We are here, we breathe the same air, we have a pulse, we are human. And we are African: born, raised and at home in Africa. Firstly, we committed to telling everyone that we exist, including our friends, families, communities, leaders and decision makers nationally, regionally and internationally. Most of our governments have continuously tried to convince the world that there is no such thing as ‘lesbian women’ in Africa. Secondly, we committed to writing about our experiences, so that everyone can read about us and our experiences as lesbian women in Africa. Of course it is not easy to write about our intimate lives.

Where does one begin to place the camera, pen and paper: under the pillow, next to the bed, on top of the table or on the roof top? We needed to learn where and how the equipment (camera, pen and paper) should be positioned. This sounds so sexy, I love it!
Thirdly, we committed to building a lesbian women feminist movement. We knew that in order to achieve our dream, we had to be an organised force. This meant that we must identify, support and work with lesbian women organisations and individuals in Africa and the diaspora to build a network of committed and willing voices to take up the struggle and spread our revolution. We knew that our power lies in being a collective, a movement. So, this is the dream that formed the Coalition of African Lesbians.

We are now celebrating the tenth anniversary of our dream. We have succeeded in setting up an agenda for our sexual and reproductive rights revolution, centering on the rights of lesbian women to bodily integrity, autonomy and choice. We have and continue to assert ourselves in the different spaces regionally and internationally, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women.

We have also entered and engaged progressive international civil society spaces such as the World Social Forum, the Sexual Rights Initiative, the Feminist Dialogues, the Reproductive Health and Rights Advocacy Network for Africa and the African Feminist Forum, amongst others.

We were able to support some of our member organisations, particularly in eastern and southern Africa, in times of serious human rights violations through violence and the tabling of punitive legislation against people in same-sex relationships. We were there to support Victor Mukasa’s court case and legal victory in Uganda, stood by the activists there during the trauma of David Kato’s murder, and collaboratively strategised on how to fend off the political backlash that came through the punitive Bahati Bill. In Rwanda we were able to support the civil society alliance that successfully engaged with the revision of the penal code. We need to strengthen this area of CAL’s work through more such strategic interventions.

Ideologically, the dream has been driven by an African radical feminist philosophy, based on the idea that women and men must be free to confront and resist patriarchal constructs of gender and sexuality and redefine their own constructions of gender and sexuality outside of the ‘traditional’ and postcolonial patriarchal norms. We have adopted an intersectional analysis of sexuality, gender, class, race and other markers of our multiple identities in our politics and activism over the years.

The point of reference has been to confront the power of patriarchy and the way that it plays itself out through sexuality, gender, class, race, ethnicity and culture. We are aware that even though the power of patriarchy is expressed through human beings, particularly hetero men and women, transmen and queer men, the problem is systemic. So, our fight and struggle is not primarily against individual people but the system. At the same time, because individual people position themselves as custodians of the system, we often find ourselves at loggerheads with various people as well as institutions in the fight against patriarchy embedded in class, race, gender and sexuality.

The past ten years have been about ‘building lesbian feminist voices for the 21st century’. This was the theme of our Third Feminist Leadership Institute in Maputo, Mozambique in 2008, and it continues to be part of our vision to build lesbian feminist voices on the continent and in the diaspora for the years to come.

Can and should the dream be defended?
It may be surprising to suggest that we have only touched the surface of the struggle for justice in the last ten years. At least the world knows about us, our voices are heard in national, regional and international spaces, but there is still more to be done to deepen our fierceness in the struggle for lesbian women justice in Africa.

We need to be smarter and more decisive about which battles to fight and how. We cannot fight them all, neither will we win them all. So, we must calculate clearly and be more focused and strategic in our approach. This is very important because this dream that we have all created depends on us to make it happen. It needs us as people, our strength, our capabilities, our passions, our commitment and courage, our energies and anger, our fears and sacrifices.

At the same time, we need to take care of one another and be mindful of our well-being. Our solidarity must be built on the culture of ‘active critical care’, ‘active critical respect’, ‘active critical trust’ and ‘active critical reciprocity’ as a fundamental aspect of our feminist movement building.

Secondly, we have not written as much as we thought we would have by now about our own lives in Africa. This must still happen. I am reminded of the words of a South African feminist poet when she said ‘tell your story; let it nourish you … some demons walk with you to bind you, but some demons walk with you to free you.’

(Lebo Mashile, In a Ribbon of Rhythm).

We must write and develop knowledge about ourselves. Our knowledge is our power.
Thirdly, patriarchal violence and homophobia have not stopped yet. Lesbian women continue to be killed, raped, assaulted, hunted, stigmatised, humiliated and treated as non-citizens in Africa. Our dream is about sexual and gender freedom and justice. We dream of a world where all people are free to determine their own sexualities and genders inside and outside of traditional binaries of women and men, female and male, vagina and penis, positive and negative. Our struggle recognises and asserts that sexuality and gender are fluid social constructs. They change and evolve with time in specific historical and cultural contexts. Sexuality and gender thus cannot and should not be determined by society because these are individual and personal issues that can only be determined by individuals for themselves. So, people must be free to choose who and what they want to be sexually and genderly without any constraints and impositions from society. This is
the freedom we talk about, dream about and claim.

We have learnt through our own experiences that there are multiplicities of sexualities and genders. The past ten years has been dedicated to actively engaging with the intricacies and delicacies of these issues and we must continue until all human beings are free sexually and with their gender, and accept that freedom is relative, it can ultimately only be defined and determined by an individual who experiences it.

Power in the dream The essence of the dream has been to make power visible in its various forms and assert that power is everywhere in our lives. It must be surfaced, confronted, challenged, claimed, shared and used for the benefit of everyone and not just a few individuals and groups. This is the fundamental aspect of feminist thinking in the dream of CAL activism. We must challenge, question and confront power, particularly the power of patriarchy, hetero-normativity, homophobia, sexism and injustice. This process must happen everywhere, in our own personal and political lives.

The one thing that I would recommend CAL to focus on in the next couple of years is writing. We have a wealth of knowledge that we must make public to claim our space about our existence, our sexualities, our genders, our livelihoods and our being. Let us do research. Let us write and publish. Let us have our own journal and recognise lesbian feminist writers in Africa. Happy 10 years CAL. I am really proud of what you have become, a true African feminist lesbian women voice in the world. The world has seen you, felt you and touched you. You are real. You have fought a good fight. You have weathered the storms and you are standing tall. Go on, rise and prevail!

No retreat!



CAL@CSW60 Updates: When a woman human rights defender is murdered

by Sheena Magenya

The CSW space is always overwhelming. Overwhelming in many ways. The number of human rights defenders that descend on Manhattan in March is eye opening, as are the number of issues that we deal with in our countries and contexts. Every year, we find new, young, energetic women and men dashing from side event to side event, and passionately participating in meetings where they ask questions that many other human rights activists have been asking for years. 60 sessions later, the CSW is still a space for asking questions, and reflecting on the work that we do, the work that exposes us to danger and fatigue, and in many cases, work that gets us killed. We also see old women, activists who have been doing this work since before I was born, uncomplainingly standing in long queues to get their UN tags, and chanting along with other human rights defenders at rallies, in the rain and cold of a New York spring.

This was what I saw when I stood outside in the cold on a Thursday afternoon chanting along with nearly 300 other women, children and men outside the Honduran Mission to the United Nations in New York. Moving around slowly but deliberately, older feminist activists made up a large percentage of the crowd, chanting, singing and handing out literature to people gathered. Meters ahead, far from where I could see, Bertha Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, was there, firm and brave, speaking passionately through a translator about her mother’s work, and how now, more than ever, this work needs to continue. As I listened to different speakers shout our demands to the Honduran Government for justice, I was overwhelmed once more, but this time thinking, if I was murdered because of my indefatigable search for justice for all women, how would I be mourned? Who would know? Would there be justice?

Berta Cáceres was a Honduran woman human rights defender and environmental champion, who co-founded and directed the organisation Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras [COPINH], which was resisting the construction of DESA’s AguaZarca hydroelectric dam. on March 3, while asleep with her family, Berta was gunned down, assassinated in her own home. Twelve days later, another member of COPINH, Nelson García was similarly murdered in his home. The impunity persists.

As I stood there in the cold and waved my fist in solidarity with our call for justice, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first one was a thought that was shared by a fellow panel member, Patricia Galvez from Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy  said that, if the Honduran state had the arrogance to kill a women’s rights activist and defender as known and popular as Berta, then all activists lives in Honduras were in danger. She also said that, in this brutal attempt to stop neo-liberal capitalist state machinery dead in it’s tracks by killing a loud voice of dissent has instead led to the multiplication of Berta’s work, her voice, her passion, her vision. She said that they are not afraid anymore, that while all their lives are in danger, they might as well stand taller and shout louder and ensure that Berta’s vision is realised, and her dream made real.

My second thought was, where the sisterhood and solidarity has gone. The CSW attracts thousands of women and men from all over the world, all of us ultimately working towards justice, freedom and the realisation of universal rights for all people. Outside our donor-driven funding silos, all our work intersects. We all wish for a better world to live in, and CAL time and again reiterates our intersectional and Radical African Lesbian Feminist Politic which critiques and analyzes what ‘Sustainable Development’, in the face of a mostly white hetero-patriarchal capitalism that influences many of the policies and politics that are present in various advocacy spaces.

If indeed we knew, or know, that we are ultimately working towards the same goal, it is heartbreaking, that so few people, for once present in one place, and with the opportunity to show global and intersectional solidarity for Berta, didn’t show up. I was again surrounded by older women, the second wave, bra burning feminists who, like Berta, are determined to die at the front lines of resistance, whether this resistance is a rally in New York, or protecting forests in Nairobi.

This moment re-affirmed a thought that I am still to scared to say out loud, that the CSW is not a feminist space, or a space welcoming of feminists. But we will keep coming to this space, because feminists fought for the The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW], which is why today, women like myself can travel to this space, and stand in rallies, and sit in panels with other women and continue to make demands and to continue to ask questions.

Even in her death, Berta Cáceres is s phenomenal and inspirational woman worth knowing. Read this wonderful obituary by Beverly Bell first published on Democracy Now.


CAL@CSW60 Updates: My fourth day at the CSW


By: Ntlotleng Mabena

The fourth day was really an interesting one, it invoked in me all sorts of varying emotions at high intensity. After an anxiety-filled night, the day started with a session on ‘Achieving women’s empowerment for women in their diversity.’ I represented CAL on the panel discussing this elusive issue regarding empowerment and women in their diversity. The issue regarding women empowerment has really bothered me all week, and I have been really grappling with what this word really really means.

The first meeting I attended when I arrived in New York was the Women’s Rights Caucus; a session that acted as an orientation session, and to discuss broadly about the issues that were going to be points of discussion at the official CSW in the 2 weeks. What really struck a cord, and instilled this discomfort about the word ‘empowerment’ was when it was announced that UN Women, due to their donor pressures in essence, are not entertaining the push of language that talks to sexuality this year, in the fear of ‘losing’ key funders. Yet, in the same breath, UN Women’s primary objective, as I understand, involves a push for women empowerment at various levels.

Now my question is; “How are we even talking the language of women empowerment when, from the word go, voices of women regarding their own sexuality is being gagged by the very structure that is supposed to be standing with us women?”

A lot of the things are just not making sense to me about this picture……Anyway, back to the panel now. The panelists continued to talk about what women empowerment means in the context of women in their diversity. The CAL position on naming the different powers that oppress women was raised as an important analysis in the empowerment discourse. Also, it needs to be clear whose perspective is used when talking about empowerment, because my personal view of empowerment will significantly differ from the view of the one who holds a specific kind of power. The motives of ‘empowerment’ will also significantly differ between the two, as will be the measure of empowerment at the end of the day. It was a really interesting discussion, and even though I lost plenty of sleep over it all, I am glad I was given the opportunity to raise my views.

Next up, was a surprising session that we, Tanya, Sheena and myself, found ourselves in. We ended up at a session on the ‘Economic and sexual violence against women as barriers to sustainability: Case studies in prostitution, sex trafficking and the sex trade.’ This was an interesting session, mostly because I personally do not have a solid view on the issue at hand myself. It turned out to be a session condemning ‘prostitution’ and naming ‘prostitution’ as outright exploitation of vulnerable women, and commercialized rape. At the beginning of the week, we were warned about intense activities against SOGIE rights, sex worker rights and abortion by right-wing organization. I did not particularly imagine how explosive it could really get! And boy did it get explosive in that session! Women who identified themselves as sex workers were deliberately verbally attacked when they tried to raise their voices and counter some of the arguments made by the panelists. There were even school girls who were bused in to cheer and clap when the anti-prostitution camp spoke. It was really crazy, and it really left me speechless. On several occasions I wanted to stand up and walk out, but I kept on reminding myself that I am here to absorb this experience, and denying myself the experience of feeling uncomfortable was not going to do me any good. After attending that session, I must say that I am looking forward to attending a session on Friday that will look at the issue of sex work from the other side, considering the rights of sex workers. There was also a lot of discussion regarding the use of language, with this particular session totally against the use of the language of sex work, saying that ‘prostitution’ can never be seen as work. The session also spoke a lot about the need to remove the stigma from women who are prostitutes, by calling for the criminalization of buying sex, and publicly naming men who buy sex as prostituters, because men ‘do not buy pleasure or arousal, they buy power and violence’.

To be completely honest, I find myself completely conflicted around this topic, and I have decided to engage this issue further by confronting the things that sit so uncomfortably inside me, and learn more on this subject to be able to gain a proper perspective.

The day ended with some of us attending a rally for justice organized to mark the life of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran human rights defender who was murdered in her house while sleeping. Even though it was raining, the solidarity rally was well supported. After the rally, we all then attended a reception party hosted by Astraea and FRIDA. This unwinding time was much needed, after such an emotionally charged day. The reception gave us the opportunity to connect with other queer women on a social level…..the wine and beers flowed very well, I must say.