11th Annual Soweto Pride: What will you march for?

SowetoPride

This Saturday, 26th September, the 11th Annual Soweto Pride March takes place. As the date approaches, we are busy with many things. What will I wear? Why hasn’t FNB sent me that SMS telling me I have money in the bank? Who hasn’t paid their share of the stokvel money, wasn’t it due on Monday? Queer Christmas, some people call it. Our one day out of a whole 365 to be seen, heard, and to politically claim spaces where being a lesbian or anyone that’s gender non-conforming in their appearance is dangerous. The truth is that this ‘space’ we claim is literally everywhere, and we claim these spaces daily, as we recognise that our very existence is resistance. Progressive constitution or not, South Africa is still a site of polarised expressions of tolerance and difference. Sometimes these differences are manifested in our gender expression or perceived sexual orientation, but also so are our languages, races and classes. It’s not so easy to belong in South Africa, and when this belonging isn’t created, we are forced to claim it.

As I too wait for that SMS from FNB, I can’t help but wonder what I will march for this Saturday. For maybe the third time today, the #SaveTriangle call flashes on my Twitter newsfeed. The Triangle Project, an organisation that serves many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and inter-sex women and men living in the Western Cape, is on the verge of being shut down. I visited the Triangle Project a year ago, and borrowed a book from their library. An old book, written by and for lesbian women, looking and linking history and myths around what it meant to be a woman in the world and how that has now changed. I’ve forgotten what the book is called, but some learnings in the book remain. This is my small, almost invisible link to the Triangle Project. So when posts show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed reminding me how and why we need such organisations, I imagine that we know this.

We know the work that civil society and community based organisations such as the Triangle Project and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women do in our communities. We know. We benefit, in so many ways, big and small, from having places and people that we can go to, that we can trust with our truths, and that we can feel safe, feel seen, feel heard.

Across the sea, Blue Stockings, one of very few feminist bookstores and libraries in the United States of America, is also facing the possibility of being shut down. They too, are forced to make people remember why such places exist and why they should not be shut down.

There are organisations that we have seen come and go, leaving vacuums of belonging and safety. Safe spaces are shrinking and they are shrinking fast. When we speak about community, we also know that the work that such organisations do extends beyond us, beyond our social exclusion and queerness. By serving any underserved group or people, these initiatives by default serve the larger and greater good of a whole people.

But, with knowing all this, we still have organisations like the Tringle Project, teetering on the edge of non-existence, and we have to ask how? And why? The #SaveTriangle initiative is a call to action and consciousness for all organisations and people doing work and benefitting from such initiatives to advance gender and sexuality work, and not just in South Africa, but on the continent. Stories told in these places hold up mirrors for other African countries, and Africans living in the diaspora, where we get to see ourselves, our realities and our experiences reflected in conversations and images that the West almost never gets right. We see the layers and the complexities that make up our existence in contexts of varying hostilities.

Conference conversations always throw the ‘what if’ question around our organising and the real possibility of the absence of donor funds. What if one day, we woke up and the global North decided that we are doing well and that we and our governments should take responsibility for the gaping holes in social services and security that necessitate the existence of civil society. We all know that we are a long way away from convincing our governments that we should have safe and harassment-free access to contraceptives and information around safe sex for gender non-conforming people. We are an even longer way away from convincing our leaders that those Victorian era colonial laws against same-sex desire serve no purpose, religious, moral, ethical or otherwise-least of all in ensuring safety and security of citizens. There is much work to be done, to help shift perceptions, myths and beliefs around sexuality and gender, and what it means to own the bodies we are in. Sometimes it feels like this work, these conversations have just began, but we know there are people who blazed the trail and left behind space, publications, organisations, documentation that speaks to their experiences, which we are meant to build on and make stronger.

When we march, we march to remember and we march to never forget. The many gender non-conforming women and men gone too soon, murdered and subjected to the ultimate exclusion-death. We march for the many other African sisters and brothers who cannot and will not come out to claim their rights and freedoms for fear of governments and communities that only serve selfish agendas and tunnel visioned views of who we are and who we can be in the world.

But can we also march for the living? Can we march for the lesbian women who continue to claim and take up spaces that many women are excluded from? Can we consider, the organisations and individuals that give their time and talents to push back walls of intolerance and injustice? Can we be conscious of the financial insecurity that many organisations and organisers live with, and that the time and effort to arrange a Pride march cannot happen without people committed to this work. Can we march for the future? Can we march to strengthen our resolve to transform and transgress archaic ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman or a man, and an African? Can we march to show unity in strength and purpose, to assure each other that we have each other’s backs when tides turn and we have to look to each other for support?

When I march tomorrow, I will march for the future, and for the movements that are re-born with every generation of gender non-conforming women and men, who take up the work of advancing gains over time, and guarding safe spaces for diversity and difference. I will march to honour the rebels and the radicals, that refuse to be silenced and put into neat little boxes, and told ‘to stay in your place’. I will march for the organisations that are hanging in there, in one way or another, and remember that we whom these spaces serve, can be the people that sustain them. If not us, then who?

What will you march for?

-Sheena Magenya

**Views and opinions in this article are entirely of the author and do not reflect on the positions and politics of the Coalition of African Lesbians

Advertisements

Transformation, logic, and invasion of neo-liberalism in advocacy spaces: Interview with MP Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, Fearless Feminist and Women Human Rights Defender

Interview with Malawi MP Jessie Kabwila at the 59th CSW meeting.

Interview with Malawi MP Jessie Kabwila at the 59th CSW meeting.

CAL: Are you a feminist?

JKK: Oh yes I am.  My name is Jessie Kabwila. I am the Publicity Secretary for the Malawi Congress Party, the main opposition in Malawi, I am also chair for the women’s caucus, I am a Member of Parliament for Salima North West, I’m a feminist, proudly feminist and I have been one since I knew who I was.

CAL: What influences your radical position on sexual reproductive health and rights in Malawi?

JKK: I would say it’s lived experience, what I have been through in my life and more importantly what research has shown. As an academic I usually take a position based on what research is saying. I have never understood why anybody would want to lie that being gay, transgendered or intersex is something that is not African, it’s just not true. I’ve done that kind of research myself, where I went into Malawi, to remote areas, places where people haven’t travelled. People there have never been to the US, never been to the UK, they’re just being Malawian, and I have met people who have been living; a-man and a man, sixty-four years old, and they have never been out of the country. And what struck me is they love each other. The main problem with the LGBTI discourse is that it is being discussed predominantly as a sex thing. It should rather be about people and how they love each other. It’s not as if it’s just a bunch of people who sleep with each other every day, no. So maybe the question should be, do people love differently in Africa? And I think love has no passport. Love is love. Some people love other people. Other people don’t love someone else. Just like sex, there are people who don’t have sex, are we going to arrest everybody, to say, look, you have private parts, what are you doing with them? No. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s much ado about nothing. I think there’s this obsession to control people and what they are doing. Foucault talked about it very well in The History of Sexuality. To me Malawi is the same as someone being in chains and we lock the door and we say ‘why are you not coming out?’. Maybe it’s because you locked the door? I feel so passionate about this because I see how it is linked to HIV prevention. I think if people are hiding who cannot say that they are going to get condoms and they are going to get medication, we should understand how stigma is more of a killer than taking a knife and killing someone, because we are stopping them from being who they are. And that is impacting access to service delivery.

CAL: Why is the CSW not a transformative space for sexual reproductive health and rights 20 years after the Beijing Platform?

JKK: Because, like many institutions it has been invaded by neo-liberalism. This thing of wanting to make everybody happy. How was a statement that was not debated or consulted passed? It doesn’t make any sense and to tell the truth it’s making all this a farce. We can’t talk about transformation when there is so much silence of logic. Until and when the CSW embraces difference and we are not  afraid to differ, we will not realise that it is in-between difference that actually the truth lies. We have black, white, blue and whatever colour, it is therein that we find out that we have diversity. I have never seen so many countries in the world agree in minutes. We spent much more time watching a game of football than we do ratifying a political statement-it doesn’t make any sense.

CAL: How can we push for change in language at the CSW spaces?

JKK: To be honest with you, I don’t think the issue of language is going to be won in such spaces. I believe progressive, radical people, these are not spaces for us. Those who want to ‘kick some ass’, the place is not here.

Sometimes the neo-liberal framework of discussion, leaves someone with no choice but to be very radical, in order to be heard. The real question is, can we do business-unusual, when we are behaving business-as-usual?

I don’t think this is going to bring back our girls in Nigeria, I don’t think that Boko Haram is going to be a friend of women because of this [CSW process]. If say for example, we all descended on Nigeria and demanded actions to bring the girls back, they would know that something has gone seriously wrong. I think these meetings confirm the way institutions have been invaded by capitalism and neo-liberalism, all these ‘isms’ that make us say we are fine in the morning when we are not.

*Edited for tense and shortened. E&OE.

Civil Society Conversation on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) work before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

Image

The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) are together hosting a conversation with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from all over Africa on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) work before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Present for the meeting are passionate activists from Burundi, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uganda. This meeting is taking place on the 31st of October and the 1st of November somewhere in Africa.

This is important work that CAL, AMSHeR and the LRC have been engaging on in various advocacy spaces such as the African Commission (ACHPR) and the UNHRC. The LRC has previously been engaging on issues of education and extractive industries. CAL and AMSHeR have been engaging in these spaces on SOGI issues as well as work around Women Human Rights Defenders. In addition to various other ways that CAL has done its advocacy work-this too is a very important space, where various organisations working on SOGI issues in Africa commune to share local experiences and ways of working, and to strategize collective action.

This meeting was deliberately called a conversation, and the core intention of this meeting is to get the different organisations present to talk about what their knowledge of the various UNHRC processes, resolutions and other working documents are. There are various expectations by the different organisations present at this meeting. Many people present hope to learn from the two day meeting, and know more about what the SOGI work and process is, where it came from and how it links in with work back home. The activists present hope for a plan for the way forward-because very often many such meetings do not culminate in a plan being born, or a plan being put together that strategically plots the way forward in these varied movements. One participant said that we should not be like the governments that we represent-who pay a lot of lip service and do not carry out any actual work on the ground. The participants hope that this meeting turns that tide-and that actual WORK is developed around SOGI issues on the continent. It was said that a collective standpoint on SOGI work on the continent should be developed, and when presented to the UNHRC, we can clearly articulate what work we do, how we do this work and why this work is important. One participant hopes that such a unified standpoint is developed and agreed upon during this meeting. It’s expected that whatever strategy is developed is easy to follow and can actually be implemented by different organisations on the ground. It’s important that an African movement develops an African voice and standpoint on sexual orientation and gender diversity issues, and not forgetting issues around trans-diversity as well. Networking opportunities are also open in this space, as there are many organisations that work on the same issues that can see trans-national or trans-organisational avenues for collaborative work and action.

This will be a big learning process for all activists present. There different organisations present are all at different stages of activism and development in their different countries. A country like Tanzania has only been engaging on advocacy work around sexual diversity and gender identity work for about three years now, which is in all essence in its infancy. This is an exciting space for exchange and sharing and learning for these different organisations, and perhaps learning of best practices from different organisations and how Tanzania can perhaps go about their work differently.

As is the life of activists, everyone is tired, and some exhausted. But hopeful that this meeting will help them plan a way forward for work on the ground at their organisations back home.

Let the learning begin!