CAL@CSW60 Updates: My Second Day at CSW60

By Biggie Ssenfuka

The day started with the women’s caucus meeting with information that the Women Human Rights Defenders [WHRD] statement had changed the language, and was more accomodating. They also alerted us to the news that the statement was ready for circulation. Members of the caucus present also shared updates on venues and times for different sessions of the day.This was followed by the youth and SOGIE caucus meetings  where similar issues where discussed.
After sitting in on these caucus meetings, I attended the Moremi side event on enhancing young women’s voices for women’s empowerment and sustainable development. The presentation featured 7 panelist who were beneficiaries of Moremi fellowships. It was an interesting panel but left me with a lot of  unanswered questions like:
1.Who are the young women ?
2.Will we ever acknowledge the diversity of people within the group of young women?
While I appreciated that some panelists raised issues affecting young women with disabilities, I found the panel to be a bit on the conservative side when considering SOGIE.

As we all know that some of our sisters have left their countries and became refugees, I picked interest in a session on refugees and Internally Displaced Populations [IDP] as victims of sexual violence and exploitation. Here a panelist from West Africa shared how women and young girls have been given as a gifts to who ever wanted to join the rebels in West African countries. Women are abused  in the camps by the rebels. Their families are then asked to pay money which they might not have in order for the abducted woman or family members to be released. Sexual violence has been institutionalized to an extent that women are used as compensation for the rebels. There was also a Syrian panelist that shared about abuses that she had endured as an abductee, and raised how other nations are silent about the suffering of women in politically unstable situations.

Having heard all these sad stories I decided to take taxi to go visit Maria of OutRight Action International.  Here, I received a donation for Ugandan refugees in the Kakuma camp in Kenya.

Later, I got lost in the streets of New York trying to work my way back to the hotel, but after two hours of walking, the limping me reached the hotel after two hours.


CAL@CSW60 Updates:My First Day at the CSW


Post receiving what felt like the pass to heaven yesterday, today has the potential to be a great day. Myself and the rest of the CAL Delegation had to queue yesterday for close to four hours, some of it outside in the freezing temperatures, to get our UN Accreditation Tags.

A new day, and ready for whatever, so in typical New Yorker style I head down to the lobby, grab one of those unusually sized coffees and head on down to the first session on 44 East Street at the Chapel of UN Church Center.

After having been to the correct venue twice without realizing, I shuffle about in search of the perfect seating. The role of Women Human Rights Defenders and Feminist Organizations in Realizing Goal 16 is the discussion and having Sheena Magenya of CAL on the table meant that, we as African Lesbian woman are certainly not going to be on the “menu”. This was a statement shared by a woman sex worker living in the United States who said ‘If you’re not at the table then you’re likely to be on the menu’.

The session lasts a good hour and a half and ranges from topics on politics, safety, intersectionality, policies and the true definition of development to name a few. With audience of civil society desperate to really see the purpose of coming to CSW year in year out, what begins to become clear is the fact that; maybe CSW is NOT where change is made, nor is it where world leaders are willing to sacrifice individual interests for the greater good of counties. It is however the place where we as civil society groups can learn, network and potentially snatch that quick meeting with country leaders that would never happen especially on a Tuesday morning. The session ends with Sheena having drawn quite the crowd with her views on development and intersectionality.

The next event on the agenda involves dashing to the 6th floor of Church Centre for the SOGI caucus meeting – which involves a discussion on the updates of the status of SOGI language within the agreed conclusions. This discussion sheds light on the communication strategy that involves a Tweetathon on Thursday and Friday this week to raise awareness on the need to incorporate and essentially KEEP SOGI language within the final document. The meeting update makes reference to the inclusion of the word “Family” within the document however clarity is still needed with regards to the context of the use of the word.

Having to leave early to make our briefing session with Cynthia and the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) the team and I rush only to be welcomed by long queues to get into the UN Building and if that is not enough, a few delegates have to remove their belts to get through the military security.

Finally in, with no time to “snap a pic” we head up to the fourth floor staff cafeteria where the we participate in a discussion centered around conversations on experience, expectations and overall realizations that may have developed at CSW60. The briefing includes members from Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Nepal, Afghanistan and Africa in its diversity. What is interesting within this session is the realization that the space is not as safe as we would like to believe which is ironic considering all the checks and balances needed just to receive accreditation to the CSW space. The conversations also looked more into ideological safety and solidarity. “Who can we actually trust” is a common thread coupled with the occasional look over the shoulder to ensure the opposition is not listening in on the discussion. The session ends with talks of exchanging contacts to ensure we continue the conversation.

17:30 and the team and I make our way to The Roosevelt Hotel on 45th street after grabbing some much needed lunch. The Roosevelt Hotel is where a panel discussion on criminalization, women and HIV: Redefining the decriminalization agenda is taking place. Surrounded by familiar faces both within the panel and audience, the panel is facilitated in a very interactive manner which includes thought provoking questions by the facilitator in an attempt to fully engage the room. Sex workers share their lives and realities which are not spoken of within the various policies and frameworks we strive for, what is common within this space is the need for intersectionality within women spaces – “these are our issues, because we are women” testimonies on Canadian women wanting to feel “whole” and practical solutions being piloted in South Africa are also shared.

This marks the end of Tuesday the 15th at CSW… I wonder if security will be just as tight tomorrow…

Till then.

CAL@CSW60: Updates


The sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14 to 24 March 2016.

This year, the priority theme is Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development and the review theme is The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls (agreed conclusions from the fifty-seventh session)

A delegation of feminists and activists, as well as members of the Coalition of African Lesbians are attending this year’s Commission on the Status of Women [CSW], which is the 60th such coming together of state and civil society actors coming together to speak to and report back on the state of women and girls in the world.

The CAL delegation to CSW60 is comprised of:

  • Biggie Ssenfuka:  Freedom and Roam Uganda [FARUG], Uganda
  • Ntlotleng Mabena: Open House Initiative, South Africa
  • Tanya Daringo: Her Liberty, Namibia
  • Carrie Shelver: CAL Secretariat
  • Sheena Magenya: CAL Secretariat

For the next few days, we will bring you updates from members of the CAL delegation about their experiences at this space, the challenges and important lessons learned from speaking with other feminists and activists in the space.

For more information about CSW60 please see:

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


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!


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

Image courtesy of

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, who is also copied in on this email.

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


Coalition of African Lesbians

Social Change Initiative: call for Applications

Social Change Fellowships


The Social Change Initiative

The Social Change Initiative is a new organisation committed to improving the effectiveness of activism for social change particularly in divided societies.

SCI Fellowship Programme

The Fellowship Programme aims to nurture human talent to challenge inequality and to promote democracy, social change, reconciliation and human rights.

The Fellowships will:

  • Strengthen professional networks and the development of learning communities
  • Improve ways of working, including sharpening skills for individuals and organisations
  • Improve ability to effect social change
  • Increase the effectiveness of campaigning and advocacy
  • Build networks among activists and across disciplines and geographies
  • Improve policy and practice
  • Improve (or strengthen) leadership capacity and ability to effect change
  • Improve leaders’ resilience and capacity to tackle challenges.

SCI wants to find effective activists and advocates and offer support for their development and to share learning from their experiences. The Fellowships are designed to give opportunities of up to 2 years to reflect on and document practice and to share and exchange ideas, skills and strategies with other campaigners. A SCI Fellowship is a chance for activists to broaden their skills and effectiveness through a period of study, reflection or exchange with other organisations.

SCI is always looking out for good Fellowship candidates whether they are seasoned campaigners who could reflect and document their work or new, emerging activists who could benefit from exposure to the work of others or develop through exchange visits or study.

If you know of someone who you think would benefit from a Fellowship and who could contribute to a movement for growing and developing social change activism please contact Paul Murray for an informal conversation (  SCI is particularly keen to support people from traditionally under-represented groups.

Fellowships will range from 3 months to two years, with most being about 12 months long. The amount of the fellowship award will depend on its length, location and the work proposed but will be sufficient to meet agreed costs including a stipend, travel and accommodation, fees for study and associated costs and publication costs of reports/materials.

Each Fellow will agree with SCI a set of outputs and outcomes to be achieved. It is expected that products or materials that can be published and shared with an external audience will be produced.

All Fellows will become part of the SCI Fellows Network, which will convene to cross-fertilise knowledge and relationships across geographies, disciplines and experience levels.  After their Fellowship all Fellows will join the SCI Fellows Alumni group which will convene from time to time.  Members may be called upon by SCI to undertake dissemination and learning activities.

Fellowship guidance notes final

Why we MUST stand with the #WitsFeesMustFall movement


We know, like we have always known, that we are not the sum total of our oppression. No matter what we have been told, or how we have managed to survive, like Lorde said, despite of and in spite of having all the odds stacked against us on all fronts, we know we are more than anyone said was possible. The #WitsFeesMustFall movement found me in a place of seeking that affirmation, that sign that we are indeed the sum total of our strengths, and that young people have not lost their voices, and we will not be silenced or locked away in the ivory tower of academia and made to believe that this is as good as it gets.

The #WitsFeesMustFall movement is about fees, but it is also about so many other things, that we, black and brown bodies existing in white imperialist structures that continue to push us further out. This movement is about the uncertainty of a future that we were guaranteed would be brighter. Work hard at school, we were told. Your sacrifices will be rewarded our parents were told. Education is the greatest equalizer, they said. It emerges that instead, money, more than anything else, is the greatest equaliser, but only for them who have it, or can beg, borrow or steal it.

The #WitsFeesMustFall movement is about us too. We are not full time lesbians, or gay, bisexual or trans people. We are students and the sisters and brothers of students. We are mothers to our children and our children’s children. We are teachers and domestic workers who save every cent to ensure that our siblings, our neighbours and our families live better lives. We are affected directly by the 10% increase of fees at Wits. We do not exists in bubbles that separate our struggles and oppression from the struggles and oppression of others. For this cause, because often we demand solidarity for our own fights against injustice, we too must show solidarity.

With all our colours and numbers, we should show that an injustice to one is an injustice to all, cliched as it sounds. We should stand side by side with the hundreds of students showing immense courage and resolve to right this gross wrong. We must have stories to tell our futures, of how we showed solidarity, and intersectionality of struggles.

The #WitsFeesMustFall movement is about more than just fees-it’s about all our futures, and what story we wish to tell when we are asked to account: where were we when we showed our strength?