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.

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Defending Our Dream: Fikile Vilakazi

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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!

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Violence Against Women [VAW] Online: How do we want the Internet to change for us?

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On December 3 2015, women living in South Africa came together to talk about their experiences of violence online. The day was conceptualized as part of confronting and unpacking 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women, which is commemorated annually between 25 November ad 10 December. The space was hosted by the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] and the Association for Progressive Communications [APC].

The day was spent looking at how violence against women manifests online for women living in South Africa, and how women respond to this violence. Some conclusions that came up were that many women are trolled and bullied out of online spaces, and there’s an assumption that violence experienced online can be deleted or shut down. After some discussion, the group gathered agreed that online spaces replicate offline space, including the violence experienced by women in both spaces.

There were also conversations looking into the legal context in South Africa, with regard to protection that women can claim while seeking recourse for violence experienced online. South Africa has a cyber crimes bill, but this bill doesn’t single out violence experienced by women out, nor does it have specific provisions for this. Jan Moolman from APC did however point out that people experiencing violence online can get restraining orders from the police that require the offending parties to keep their distance from the person reporting the abuse. But this doesn’t translate easily for people, if there isn’t sufficient awareness of this step towards recourse, or if the law enforcement aren’t aware of the reverberating effects that online violence has.

The meeting came up with suggestions for how we can strengthen and build conversations on violence against women online:

  • Develop a strategy that speaks to the challenges that are being experienced by women experiencing violence online
  • Education and deconstruction of conversations around violence online and how to get women involved in the discourse
  • Understand the ‘monster’ that violence against women online is
  • Start drafting and pushing for policies to be drafted that address bullying and violence online
  • Talk about the content that the education around protection of women and children online should look like
  • Be clear about what we are saying and what we are pushing for in the space
  • Have concise and clear descriptions around what our lobbying and advocacy work is
  • Multi-pronged approaches to address the violations and abuses experienced by women and children online
  • Citizen education and activism around the law
  • We need to be developing technology that works for women
  • We need better peer communication
  • We need to recognise the power that we have as women in technology to influence the change that we wish to happen
  • We need to create spaces for such conversations to build awareness
  • Build a community of responses
  • Challenge injustices and question structures within and around the internet directly: write letters
  • Men need to interrogate the privilege that they garner from patriarchy and not create competition for women when trying to access resources that are needed for spaces and initiatives that wold shift the discourse around violence against women
  • We need to flood the internet with feminist content
  • We need to make feminist porn.
  • Feminist beehive [support for women who are being trolled and abused online]
  • Radical feminist support online-consistent, and not only during attacks

It was a amazing space providing an alternative conversation about violence against women, looking at online spaces, but also coming up with suggestions on how women in South Africa can tackle this issue.

Big thanks to the Association for Progressive Communications, HOLAAfrica and Underground Citizens for making this space possible.

And…on this day, #EndCyberVAW was a trending topic in South Africa!

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Invitation to a conversation on Violence Against Women online: Presence, Problems and Solutions

Image courtesy of takebackthetech.net

As part of unpacking the annually commemorated 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], in partnership with the Association for Progressive Communications [APC] would like to host a day-long conversation and awareness raising platform. The engagement will be looking into violence against women online and investigating the occurrence of this violence, the recognition of cyber violence as violence by society and what the legal environment provides, in terms of protection and recourse, for women who experience violence online.

Information about violence that women experience online is not popular or public. But yet so many women are harassed, trolled and intimidated in various online spaces in South Africa. Various media outlets have resolved to altogether do away with the comment sections of their websites because many aggressions and violent expressions are carried out in online spaces.

The same misogyny that is experienced offline plays out online, and women are targeted in deliberate attacks as people who honestly and fearlessly express themselves, for various reasons and across varied online platforms. The many experiences of women’s online violence goes largely ignored, with many people, even within social justice structures working to end violence experienced by women not recognizing this as ‘real’ violence.

This day’s conversation will attempt to cover the following:

  • Awareness: we hope to invite various stakeholders to assess the extent of our knowledge on online violence experienced by women. Through this process, we hope to gauge whether there is enough awareness about online violence, what it looks like, and also to investigate how violence online presents itself.
  • Sharing or experiences and examples: we hope to create a safe space for women to speak about our experiences of violence online, and how/if we responded to this violence.
  • Legal environment: we hope to look at the legal environment in South Africa with regards to cyber-crime, and whether violence against women online is recognised by law enforcement and what provisions exist for women seeking recourse.
  • Initiatives and examples that work: we hope to look into countries inside and outside Africa that have taken steps to protect or prevent violence against women online, as well as have provided avenues for recourse for women who report online violence.
  • Recommendations: we hope to draft a document that has recommendations for action for the various stakeholders present. These recommendations will be shared wide with the various stakeholders that affect and are affected by the occurrence of online violence.

To make this conversation as rich, informative and inclusive as we intend to make it, we would very much appreciate your participation.

Please indicate if you are available to take part in this which is taking place on Thursday, 3 December 2015.

Once you confirm we will be sure to share logistical information for this event.

If you cannot participate physically, you can Skype in for the conversation, or follow @CALAdvocacy on twitter for daily updates of the event, but please RSVP so that we know who will be there!

Please send your RSVP to lihle@cal.org.za, who is also copied in on this email.

Looking forward to a yes and starting an important and exciting conversation!

 

Coalition of African Lesbians

INVITATION TO FEMINIST DIALOGUE WITH WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER KHOLOUD BIDAK IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

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Dear all,

The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], in collaboration with the 1in9 Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action [GALA], will be hosting a feminist conversation in Johannesburg on Thursday 5 February at 19h30.

We would like to invite all our members in Johannesburg on this date to attend this interesting and important conversation on the work that Women Human Rights Defenders [WHRD]’s do in Egypt in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of women and girls in Egypt. Please share this invitation widely and come show solidarity!

Please see the flyer for more details and directions. Or you can contact CAL Logistics officer Maureen at maureen@cal.org.za or call the CAL office at 011 403 0004/7.

With best wishes,

CAL Secretariat.