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!



The countdown has began! The General Assembly and Feminist Leadership Institute of the Coalition of African Lesbians is 6 days away!

Vinyl Sticker-I Am Ralf

From the 24th to the 28th of August 2015, activists, community mobilizers, thought leaders, feminists, feminist allies, women, people non-conforming in their gender identities and sexual orientations will gather to reflect, to envision, to dream and to celebrate ten years of radical, African, lesbian feminist activism.

For these five days, a collective of radical African women will share, exchange, teach, listen and engage with each other, looking back at the last ten years of CAL work, and reflecting on the gains and lessons learned from the last CAL General Assembly held in Maputo in 2008.

It will be a space of gentleness, of growth, of sisterhood and of radical feminist births and re-births.

The theme for this year’s General Assembly is : Radical. African. Lesbian Feminist.  [R]evolutionary! and the theme for the Feminist Leadership Institute is : Reigniting the Feminist Flame!

Look out here and on out social media spaces: Facebook: and Twitter: for regular updates on the sharing and the learning taking place.

Tweet to us using the hashtag #CALGA2015.

The use of music and the Internet as a tool of resistance in influencing popular culture away from hetero-conforming power structures in Kenya: Presented at the panel on Same Sex Sexualities and Intimacies in Contemporary Africa: Resistance and Change

European Conference on African Studies: University of Sorbonne, Paris France, 8-10 July 2015: The use of music and the Internet as a tool of resistance in influencing popular culture away from hetero-conforming power structures in Kenya: Presented at the panel on Same Sex Sexualities and Intimacies in Contemporary Africa: Resistance and Change

Sheena Gimase

The arts, in the form of music, dance, drama and theatre, have been and continue to be a safe site for queerness and gender non-conformity in East Africa generally and in Kenya more specifically. Music and the performing arts especially have been spaces where women and men can safely take on other gender roles, without the threat of being labelled as homosexual or gay. Sports, to a lesser extent, have also served as a safe social space, especially for women non-conforming to gender, whether or not they ascribe to a non-heteronormative sexual orientation or gender identity. Usually, outside the cross-gender performance in the arts, the actors are rarely required to explain their sexual orientation to the public. Often, when men publicly play the roles of women in various spaces, they display a caricature of femininity or being woman in the society. This is done deliberately by overstuffing a bra or panties to show disproportionate buttocks and breasts. Basically, society will allow these men to ‘pretend’ to be women because they are not fooling anyone. Popular thought leader and columnist Oyunga Pala shares:

Shaniqua, the alter ego of the talented Kevin Mwangi is not the first man to earn a living as a performer dressed in female clothing. Cross dressing for the purposes of entertainment has been alive and well in school theatre stage for decades. In mainstream Kenya, the pioneering duo of Nyengese who performed in public in downtown Nairobi to huge crowds, in late 90s wore skirts, make up, wigs and stuffed parts. The hilarious Redykyulass crew dressed as women on several occasions. Tony Njuguna pulled off a convincing Oprah Winfrey skit and John Kiare (KJ) did a mean Mama Lucy Kibaki impression. While drag is mostly associated with gay men and the gay culture, in Kenya cross dressing for entertainment is tolerated, which paints the country as more liberal than most dare admit. A man can walk around in a tight skirt and heels as long as he makes people laugh. After all, the point of comedy is to push our levels of comfort, take us to places we fear and laugh at our ironies and absurdities. In Shaniqua’s rise to prominence is another social revelation. Some women in the city have become so made up and addicted to enhanced parts that it is really easy for a man with patience to doll up and pass as a woman.” Oyunga Pala, Of Men Who Wear Dresses, March 2nd 2015

These conversations however have never spilled over to a space where men [mostly], who drag [perform gender] can talk honestly about whether they actually hold or have some kind of same-sex desire or non-heteronomative leanings and whether this performance in all its hyperbole offers a temporary reprieve from the constraints of gender performance.

Over the years, in East Africa, music has grown, actually exploded, with a multitude of new artistes emerging almost on a weekly basis. There are constant collaborations between Kenyan and Ugandan artists, who sing about a range of issues, from the economy, health issues, of course love as well as sex, sex, and more sex. The emergence of social media and other platforms such as YouTube and the Internet as a whole as game changers for the music industry have made it easier for young people, in fact more people to self-produce and publicise their own music and music videos. Along with YouTube are a host of easily accessible Opensource software, as well as affordable internet access and infrastructure in these two countries.

Without the need for airplay on public broadcasting and mainstream spaces to make their musical mark, more young, and not-so young people are using free, online, social platforms to create and publicise the kind of music that they want to make. This of course has seen the rise in the production of music videos and songs, as well as the emergence of music groups that bend gender, and often deliberately. Like in many other places, images, role plays and performances that depict same sex desire are used.

In almost all cases where same sex desire is depicted, it is shown as female-same sex desire, with two women dancing, kissing or touching each other. Same sex desire is never shown between two men in music videos. The permissiveness of the exhibition of same sex desire between women in music presents and problem, and a solution.

The Problem: is of course the objectification and commodification of same-sex desire between women, which is not seen as a legitimate desire by many people in Kenya. In a conversation with a young, butch identifying lesbian woman living in Nairobi, she said:

“It’s actually a safe space to be a young butch dyke here. Really it is. Because, everyone thinks this is a phase, ati let her try this lesbian thing for a while, and after a few months she’s going to get tired of the pretending and decide to go back to men. So, I just be me. But I worry when ten years later I don’t change back into a straight girl and people realise that this isn’t a phase.”-Rose

The women in the video that will show desire for each other, also show desire for the men in the music video. Whether this is done deliberately to show that the desires are balanced between the sexes or whether it was the script isn’t known. This allows women in the videos some leeway or safety in negotiating their performance in the world. But it also seeks to illustrate the ‘phase’ nature of same-sex desire among young women in Kenya that Rose spoke about. This further cements in the psyche of the audience that women who desire women, can and should also desire men.

The [sort-of-solution]: Another issue that emerges in popular music are lyrics and politely homophobic content. I use the term ‘Politely Homophobic’ because the content in music that others the same-sex desire is presented in an almost harmless way by the musicians. An example is a very popular song by Ugandan artiste Keko, featuring Kenyan rapper Madtraxx.   Make You Dance is a party and club anthem that was wildly popular in Uganda in 2012 and 2013. Keko, who is rumoured to be lesbian [because in the context of Uganda and Kenya they can only always be rumours]-is allowed the space to make and publicise her music, even though she allows a homophobic rhyme in her song where Madtraxx says ‘No Obama’ as a reference to the general and public rhetoric denouncing America’s stance on same-sex relationships and more recently, same sex marriage. As a woman that is not completely conforming in her gender identity and who has not tried to defend her presentation as lesbian in tabloid media, being a musician and an artist offers her the opportunity to participate in public life and even to work with musicians that have homophobic tendencies and undertones. Music, in this instance helps bridge perceptions, if we assume that the collaboration between Madtraxx and Keko can be perceived as tolerance on Madtraxx’s part of Keko’s non-conformity. Also reflecting this tolerance, is the popularity of the song across two countries that have rampant public intolerance for gender non-conformity and sexual diversity.

Apart from popular mainstream artists, 2014 saw the emergence of Kenya’s first lesbian music group, I AM. They identify themselves in all spaces as out lesbians who are passionate about music. Their music has received airplay in Kenya, as well as on Pride Radio in the UK. They made it to the top 5 on the Reverbnation charts as well. While their performances in Kenya are largely limited to LGBTI spaces, they still garner enough support and interest in their music to overshadow the fact that they are an all lesbian band.

An interview with a poet that writes for the group:

SgM: When was your proudest moment after I AM released How We Feel?

MM: I was walking down the street [in Nairobi], and I heard someone humming the tune to our song. I was so proud.

The arts, with the help of the Internet, and other forms of telecommunications have an invaluable contribution to encouraging and allowing queer expression in spaces where this kind of non-conformity is not welcome or allowed.


The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] is Moving!


Dear members, partners and feminist friends,

This is to inform you that the offices of the Coalition of African Lesbians is moving to a new location, still in Johannesburg, which will be sent to you once we have settled in. We will no longer be located at Forum II, Old Historical Building at the Braampark Office Park on 33 Hoofd Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Because of this movement, our internet connection and our phone-lines are unavailable at the moment, and we plead your understanding during this moment of transition. We are working towards ensuring that we are up and running as usual by next week Monday 10 August.
Also, as a result, our server is down, and therefore we cannot receive any mail via the domain. Please see below for a number to call to access alternative email addresses that you can use to contact CAL staff during this time.
We are excited for the move and the growth and are thankful for your understanding during this time.
For any inquiries regarding the upcoming CAL General Assembly, please contact Donna Smith at
In case of an urgent need to contact CAL, please call : +27 76 918 3515
See you at our new place!
CAL Secretariat.

Imagining an African Internet: Dialogue with civil society at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights


Plenary session at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, The Gambia


On the last day and the last session of the NGO Forum of the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights [AcMHPR], CAL, with support from the Association for Progressive Communications [APC], hosted a side event.

It was a daring time to choose to host this conversation, but posters were put up and people were invited to take part in a conversation that had never take part at the AcMHPR, Internet Governance in Africa and how we imagine and African Internet. Titled, ‘Imagining an African Internet: what do we know about Internet governance in Africa?’.

The side event, which takes place outside ongoing plenary reporting sessions at the NGO Forum, aimed to collect diverse voices from women and men working on or interested in Internet governance issues, as well as to gauge where activists are in our knowledge and interactions with the Internet directly, and it’s governance indirectly.

To our surprise, the room slowly filled up as nearly 20 mostly women and some men showed up to participate and contribute to this conversation. Present were activists and human rights defenders from Senegal, Cameroun, South Africa, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Algeria and Mauritania. This was great because despite the seemingly small number of attendees, it was representative of the geographical diversity of Africa, with North, West, East, South and Central Africa represented in this space.

Despite the challenge that language offers in spaces with such geographical representation, some of the people attending offered to translate between French and English for the Francophone speakers in the room. The discussion started on a general note-with the CAL facilitator finding out from the participants what and how we use the internet. it emerged that the internet is a central part in all our work, and is a space for connection of people across socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and contexts.

It emerged that for many human rights defenders and activists the internet was considered a relatively safe space for engaging with each other, but also for accessing information that isn’t always readily accessible. At the same time, the internet is a space that many other people use to act out violence against women, as well as queer and gender non-conforming people. Participants from all the countries had stories as first hand experiences or encounters they had come across to share about this kind of violence.

This conversation then led us to unpacking briefly, the Feminist Principles of the Internet, a working document produced by APC and allies, which aims to give feminists and non-feminists a reference document for identifying, confronting and addressing violence against women online. The participants felt that it was a document that they could work with and looked forward to engaging more with it in the future.

We also managed to engage with the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. By unpacking and discussing the African Declaration, the participants managed to confront censorship, access and interference of State when it came to their interactions ad experiences with the Internet. Access came up as an issue, and regulation of access by states, whether by pricing the Internet out for rich for a majority rural and/or working class Africans. There were also a few conversations happening that spoke to ‘spy bills’ and ‘surveillance bills’ being passed in countries like Kenya, without the involvement of civil society, and which impacted the accessibility of certain content online.

All in all, it was nearly two and a half hours of surveying the context and space with regard to the Internet, and where we ourselves as activists who work not only with, but for the freeing of the Internet. The atmosphere was one of hope, and activists said that they felt the time was ripe for activism around and involving the use, representation, access and governance of the Internet to also be more present at the AcHMPR.

Sheena Magenya


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 or call the CAL office at 011 403 0004/7.

With best wishes,

CAL Secretariat.




The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] is a formation of more than 30 organisations in 19 countries in Africa committed to advancing justice for lesbian and bisexual women and transdiverse people.

CAL is a feminist activist organization committed to working within a framework of movement building and seeks feminists with a good analysis of geopolitics and Africa’s place in the world for the following 4 exciting new positions based at the head office in Johannesburg:


The primary responsibility of this key post Is to ensure organizational effectiveness by providing leadership for CAL’s financial, human resources and policy development and implementation functions as well as technical/administrative oversight.

Candidates for this exciting and challenging position must have a degree in Finance Management, Commerce or Accounting and a solid financial background with at least 3 years experience in Financial Management. Experience in organizational effectiveness, operations management and best practice implementation is essential.


The key responsibility of this post is to coordinate efforts of CAL so that active and systematic work can deepen and strengthen the political analysis of members, supporters and partners.

Candidates must have a Bachelors or Honours Degree in an appropriate field and at least 5 years programme management experience in development and / or sexuality and gender and women’s rights, Human Rights and / advocacy work in the African region.


The primary responsibility of this role is to ensure strengthening of the advocacy and lobbying work of CAL and its members at the local, national, regional and global level, as well as it’s coherence, coordination and integration across geographies and issues.

Candidates must have a degree in an appropriate field and at least 5 years experience in the field of sexuality and gender and women’s rights , Human Rights advocacy, campaign development , lobbying and civil society movement building work in the African region.


The key responsibility of this post is to ensure efficiency in the areas of technical resources within the Secretariat of the Coalition of African Lesbians with a focus on office systems, logistics, administrative support to the Board and leading the team on wellbeing of staff and Executive Committee members.

Candidates must be computer literate with at least a matric and preferably a diploma in a related field, at least 2 years of admin/reception experience and a good command of English.

View the full job descriptions and application instructions on the Vacancies page at  and email your application by Friday 9th February 2015 to