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

Debunking the SDGs at the entry point with Language, Logic and Framework

Social Justice Activist Blessol Gathoni at the 59th Comission on the Status of Women [CSW]

Social Justice Activist Blessol Gathoni at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women [CSW] on the right, with fellow activist, Cai Yiping.

By Queer Social Justice Activist,Gathoni Blessol

Representatives from the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], attending the Commission on the Status of Women’s 59th Session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, attended a number of sessions and side events that speak to the situation of women’s rights in the world.

Below is a presentation that Gathoni Blessol, a Social Justice activist working with Bunge La Wamama Mashinani [Grassroots Women’s Parliament],a grassroots women’s movement based in Nairobi, Kenya.

She presented the below paper on a panel looking at grassroots organising by women. We felt that a lot of her thoughts intersected with our work, and that we should share this article with you.

Enjoy and engage!

Debunking the SDGs at the entry point Language, Logic and Framework 

Personal experience: modalities of exclusion at UN The engagements with the UN-­at multiple levels-that our movement Bunge La WaMamaMashinani has had, have been sporadic and mostly as physical statistic rather than participatory process. From the point of entry the ideologies, behaviours and structures in he UN have segregate you to not be able to change the direction of a/particular discourse(s) or the basis of it. If you fit your self in the dominant ideology(s) you can at best affect cosmetics of the agenda. This is at personal, institutional and inter-­‐governmental level. It was a point I raised, at a separate event-­as this-­at the Open Working Group with one of the Major Groups in the 5th SDG session that took place here in NYC in 2013.
It focused on -­ and not limited to -Sustained and inclusive economic growth, infrastructure development and industrialization.But, directed and with focus on
Women. The logic of the SDGs: keeping it pro-­profit. This language, has been very similar to the gospel of the Africa Rising
narrative that our current elitist authoritarian regimes-­chant.
Our Kenyan government and civil society are more than ever now proxys of neo-­liberal rules, regulations and policies. While harnessing societal yearning for self-­emancipation and end to imperialist control, they have managed to draw it as a Pan African struggle. They have picked up the MDGs, paraphrased SDGs and fit them into their own economic interests and control –the same way Western, Latin, Asian governments are doing and the same way companies or their representatives, trade
agreements and partnerships within governments, and, or financial institutions are doing. The priority behind this thinking
as been to accelerate profit above all – and this here, has meant profit for a few.  Thus, national regulations are beginning
to mirror the prime interest in profits over livelihoods and dignity of the people or the planet. The packaging is being pushed
instrumentally, and in ‘progressive’ language, or targets as the MDGs. And in the Kenyan context, of a very tired people-­deprived of liberty to proper information on how and where their lives are being directed from – are subjected to this. So the hear the president’s chant of sustainable economic growth, smart agriculture and infrastructure development as a means
to an end. After all the general idea behind pro-­‐profit sensationalism is also that this poverty is an individual responsibility –
it’s a fault of our own, that renders our societies criminal for existing in it. This has eradicated the possibilities of the root
cause of poverty being the penetration of the market and pro-­‐profit logic globally, in governments, monitoring, evaluation
and accountability institutions and the entire development machinery. At decision-­making levels the market has largely penetrated, because globally we have allowed them to set the rules. This we have done quite tangibly through anti-­‐human taxation structures, but also by carrying their ideology, chanting economic growth and reckless consumption without demanding proper production mechanisms.
-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐

People attentively listening to Gathoni Blessol presenting her paper at the 59th CSW

People attentively listening to Gathoni Blessol presenting her paper at the 59th CSW

The MDGs failed to address the structural causes of poverty, it failed to hold the powerful institutions, companies or individuals accountable who not
only maintained the status quo but in fact penetrated more and more into society, politics, market and culture to increase
profits and control. The MDGs have made progress, indeed-­‐one could argue-­‐ in curing some of the symptoms, in meeting their cosmetic targets, they have however not been able to tackle the unequal structures of race, class, sexism,
patriarchy, land-­‐grab, forced evictions, privatization  of natural resources, extractives, and homophobia. The outcome of
neo-liberal (MDG/SDGs) logic on-­‐ground: looking at Kenya now, to shift the conversation closer home-­I will focus on my
country, with hope that the interconnectedness of poverty, economic inequality and all forms of oppression –be it of women, people living with disabilities, small-­‐scale farmers, LGBTI-­‐Queers, indigenous people or children -­‐resonates with people from other geographic locations. Kenya, has been a darling of the West and development partnerships. Just recently, it shifted into  a middle-­‐income country, however it was measured-­‐ we were not consulted. The economic sector is booming, Kenya recently found oil and the national and global elite is excitedly
displacing people to secure it. There are major giant infrastructure projects underway – that is buying people off cheaply
or forcefully evicting them. In promotion of agribusiness, Kenya is  on track being in bed with the usual culprits of GMO
and fertilizer control. And, in terms of creating tax havens our country has been inventive with so called Export Processing
Zones. Its determination to attract FDI and investors who are tax holidaying in Mauritius has prompted them to join the
‘terrorism’ economy, which allows Kenya to increase its military power (‘capacity’)within and out, of the country. We are dominating regionally, especially in war-­‐torn areas  like Somalia and South Sudan or ‘economically challenged’ countries like
Tanzania. Kenya has looked ‘East’ for infrastructural development and technologies with China, but also doesn’t mind
‘West’ with its dysfunctional/ failed systems-­‐or really anyone with economic benefits for the ruling class. In that mix-­as the
rest of Africa, they have committed to supporting the MDGs while maintaining old school patriarchal systems. These ‘developments’
have come at a great price for the people. One is the massive displacements and evictions of people all over the country.
These are directly or indirectly linked to the neo-liberal framework and regimes. The lowest and most degrading being
in Jan 2015 our government tear-gassed children who were protesting over the illegal land grab of their playground. The
price of land has by far exceeded the value of people. So many people loose their livelihoods and are plunged into dependency because the land they settled on can make billions for others. This has happened in urban centers because of infrastructural developments or high end and luxury real estate developments, especially in the capital city and the coast. Evictions
are also connected to mineral exploration, where different methods of  displacing people are utilized, there is old-­‐fashioned
eviction, there is instigation of inter-­‐clan wars (through resource and  deprivation as well as supply of weapons) and there
is utilization of chiefs or elders or national authorities to buy the land at throw away prices. This, with inclusion to population being disowned by large agribusiness plans, whose purpose is not to produce food for the people, but for export and to instill corporate control over food production. It  has translated to dependency on fertilizers and sneaking in of GMO crops both
of which benefit the foreign owned monopoly on the same. Spearheaded and greatly funded by the same corporations that
give funds to the UN women group. These developments are not about food security, they prompt the dis-­ ownership and
evaluation of farmers and with it they doom especially rural women into poverty.

The same goes for ‘environmental protection’ -which will not work as long as it is rested in pro-­profit logic. Because under
this Kenya has allowed corporations  to displace people that have lived for centuries in harmony with environment in order
to control the land and possible privatize its resources like water. Coca Cola for  example has promised to do so in Tana
River. This is not to forget-­the UN itself having a project the UN REDD+ that allows companies to do business as usual,
to continue to pollute while gaining cheap and legitimate access to land in developing countries. One such project has
displaced the Embobout community in the North of Kenya to grow monocultures. Toppled up with China’s rise, it seems
the next idea is to have sweatshops in Africa. The best example of the pro-­‐profit logic over pro-­people is that we allow children to sew clothes for 12 hours, a day. The clothes are then bought and worn in the west and land
back in Kenya as donations that have to be bought by vendors while  undermining the domestic textile industry. And,
the country is being asked to patriotically take pride in these developments. These are just but a few of the endless list
of examples, they are in fisheries, health and ownership of women’s self determination processes.’ The corporate control
over our policies informing the neo-­‐liberal logic has kept people in dependency and oppressive relations. On one hand,
they privatize health care, water electricity, and the other resources are used to develop industry and not people. And our
government(s)  are controlling these ‘developments’ by the following. Use of propaganda machinery, increased militarism,
but also onslaught  of activists and the control of the media and civil society. Narrative versus implementation (reality):
On-­‐ground struggles.These ‘developments’ for lack of a better word, has raised a smoke of doubt and grave concern
within the organizing communities who are working within very harsh socio-­economic, political and economic REALITIES.
Who share the word grassroots in ideology and experience. There is a perspective that sees the SDGs as
a narrative that should take over its predecessor the MDGs, only with suggested changes. They are not questioning the
very structures that have sustained inequality in the MDGs. There are however collective perspectives that see it differently.

But, these perspectives-­are chocked, never given space to mobilize, organize or breathe, without repercussions of being narrowed to “anti developmental” forces. And this on local, national or global standards. So we have the narrative versus implementation/
reality – and what it directly translates to on the ground-­ to assume, development versus transformative economies.
To debunk the neo-­‐liberal and development narrative has been the work of Bunge la Wamama Mashinani, and  comradeship on-­‐ground, Continental and globally who are working for transformation of society other than
development of it. Dignity of human life, rather than upgrade of economic portfolio, sovereignty of the people rather than sovereignty of the capital have been the core of demands on-­‐ground. What now? Individual responsibility to change
the logic This read is not to exclude the progressive and critical people in the UN hallways, who are there to see
what works, how it works, who have put efforts to build people and change the narrative, structures and behaviors only
from a ‘confined-privileged-­ satellite controlled space.’  But from an understanding that in this room, UN conferences
and working groups are people who have the privilege to think over and power to influence agendas and decision-­‐
making. It is ONLY in order to demand self-­‐ criticism of UN and every individual engaging with
it.

As civil society organizations and people who inform policies, it remains important to dig deeper than the surface. There
are people with all sorts of expertise and inside knowledge if only it were applied on the basis of structural change.
My obligation in this space is to give you the realities on the ground. An in-­depth understanding of the ills in my society,
demand a conscious self-­‐critical existence that touches on many comfort zones. From there on, it is individual
responsibility of everyone to know where to stand in  each and every space they engage in. Even though, its not in its entirety. The SDG framework is a hypocritical manuscript to hide the interests and economic controls of elites, governments, companies and powerful individuals all over the world to obscure the underlying ideology and structures that have maintained  poverty and deny people their dignity. Any solution or target then merely treats the symptoms of structures
that serve a few while undermining the dignity of the majority. It is a scam. Such as the political declaration by the heads of
state for the Commission on the Status of Women this year. I will end by saying. What a sister of ours has continually
stated. All oppression is connected. And only from the roots can we unbound our people. It is our responsibility to affect
change. All this from a woman, feminist, perspective, focus on women and minority groups-­farmers, indigenous peoples,
queers, women, girls and children need to be radical and addressing structural inequalities both instrumentally, and
practically.

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

Feminist Dialogue feb 5

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.

THE MAKING OF A MESSAGE

Sadly, when people look at people-people see what they wish to see. Some people see race, some people see class, some people see gender, and others see sexuality. At first glance we are all shoved into boxes that we either don’t want to belong to or we might not have known we belonged in. We too are guilty of putting people into these boxes-gender, class, race, sexuality, and anticipating the stereotypes that the boxes come with to be played out.

But lets imagine for one day that we looked beyond what we see. Let’s for one day imagine that people meet people, and see beyond the associated stereotypes that come with the boxes-and people are allowed to see and be MORE than everything that people see.

Imagine a world that sees MORE of what makes us the same, and less of what makes us different. A space that allows for MORE diversity and less intolerance. A political space that allows for MORE viewpoints, and opinions and less double-standards and politricks.

We are MORE than what we seem. MORE than what we think we are. MORE than we ever believed we could be.

What are YOU MORE than?

MORE THAN OUR…

SONY DSC