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.



Black Women Are Powerful and Dangerous.

Black Women Are Powerful and Dangerous.

Another lesbian was raped and murdered in Ventersdorp, South Africa. But we cannot talk about that alone. We cannot speak about the unspeakable kinds of violence carried out on black women’s bodies without speaking about poverty. We cannot shine a light on violence when violence occurs, but remain silent about the multitude of other violations, that we experience, daily, everywhere, which culminate in the brutal, hateful actions that are carried out on black women’s bodies. Our bodies continue to be silent battlefields where misogyny, patriarchy and cultural imperialism rage their never ending wars. Our families, communities, religions and governments police black women’s bodies; making decisions about how we can appear and how we present or adorn our bodies daily-often without our consultation and certainly without our consent. Our governments control our reproduction. Our families partisan to social and religious structures that enforce the idea that there is only one way to be a woman-and strive to keep us in line, a homogenous picture of the black African woman.

Gift Makau’s body joins the bodies of hundreds more black African women, living and killed, who broke the rules and refused to conform to the oppressive heteronormative regime. Bodies which refused to accept that we cannot and we will not be told by a tunnel-visioned patriarchal majority who to be or how to be ourselves. Our resistance, our courage, our steadfast affirmation of our diverse selves is met with violence. People, individuals and communities, think that, like hot iron on an anvil, we can be beaten back into a more socially acceptable shape. We become targets of social and physical abuse. We become anomalies, glitches in the heterosexist system which people try to fix with oppressive legislature. Gender non-conforming women (and men), proudly and openly living and owning their bodily autonomy tell the truth. They unmask the lie that there is only one way to look, one way to love and one way to live. They present an honest alternative to the homogenous narrative around sexuality and gender. These brave black women declare that we do have choices. And we can own our bodies.

We cannot continue to only speak of violence when a black lesbian woman is murdered. This cannot be the only kind of violence we see-in its extreme and most brutal form. We exist around this violence, in taxi ranks and school hallways. We live in perpetual fear of being harmed. We are always careful how we exist and where we allow our true selves to be present. No matter how polite, and gentle we are, no matter how much we try to shrink away from social spaces, our different black bodies are statements of resistance, a performance of resilience, and sadly, an invitation from conservative society for enforced conformity. The multifaceted issues that allow this violence to flourish need to be shouted from the rooftops. The poverty and socio-economic inequality that robs abused black lesbians of justice and recourse needs to always be present in our days and nights. The homophobic and transphobic discourses that pervade our social spaces and popular culture-our movies, music, art and craft need to be called out and no tolerance for their intolerant tones allowed. We need to recognise violence in its most mundane and subtle manifestations. And challenge people, communities, leaders and structures that seek to normalise violence in all its forms and expressions over black women’s bodies.

Our language has to evolve. We need to stop giving abuse degrees of severity. Brutally murdered. Correctively raped. Viciously assaulted. Heartlessly beaten. This plants the idea that there are permissible kinds of violence that we can ‘live’ with, and others which we can’t. Domestic abuse. Gender-based violence. Language like this creates distance, and to a degree cushions a perpetrator’s actions and crafts a justifiable hierarchy of abuse, with mild to extreme indicators. Any kind of abuse is abuse. It’s the creation of these degrees of harm and abuse that set a bar for media and social involvement and outrage. How many black lesbian women have been raped by their community members and live with the silent shame? We won’t read about them in the papers, and we will not march in solidarity with them because we don’t know their stories. Even lesbians that wish to speak out about the unimaginable suffering they endure daily in public spaces are asked to pick a spot on the spectrum of abuse, and if it doesn’t make for a fetching headline-then it’s not newsworthy. We must change our language.

Before another black lesbian woman is murdered in South Africa-what are we going to do? What conversations are we going to have? Much as I’d like to call for the leadership to act swiftly, and work harder in guaranteeing safety for black women, all over South Africa, I know, and we know that at best what we will get is kilos of lip service. Empty words of empathy that seek to soothe the symptom and not the cause. All we have left is ourselves, and our black bodies to use as statements of resistance and courage. We need to march-not only when we are raped and murdered, but march when we know there is silence behind hidden screams. We need to write-during the spaces between when we don’t know the name of a black lesbian woman who was murdered, or abused, or heckled at the taxi rank. We need to recognise that all violence is violence. All abuse is abuse. There are no degrees. There is no violence or abuse that we can tolerate. There isn’t violence that we can allow-there is no permissible degree of violence. And we cannot wait until another black lesbian woman is murdered for us to find our voices, to see our anger and to demand justice. We quite simply can’t.

Sheena Magenya

UGANDA: Love, Resistance and Power of the Political Moment


Tuesday 11 March 2014

3.00pm, Kampala, Uganda

Today was a day of stunning resistance with great dignity and strength at the Constitutional Court of Uganda in Kampala. This day came as a great relief after the past few weeks since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was signed into law by President Museveni of Uganda.

At 2.30pm, the petition, Constitutional Petition No. 008 of 2014 was filed against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 at the Ugandan Constitutional Court. It was a simple procedure, quickly over, taking place in a small registry within the court building. The moment was a well-timed example of the power of movements. This is how change happens.  Using the law to confront the injustice of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and its consequences and implications for justice for ordinary people in Uganda.

A number of activists and human rights defenders turned up at the Court and stood waiting alongside the media for the arrival of the petitioners.

After a false start when the media clamoured to capture the arrival of two white women supporting the action, the petitioners arrived. As they stepped out of the elevator, there was a push by the media to capture the hystoric moment. Professor Morris Ogenga-Latigo, the Honourable Fox Odoi-Oywelowo and lawyer and Executive Director of Ugandan Non-Governmental Organisation, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum – Uganda, Adrian Jjuuko carried three huge blue spiral bound documents – the petition. About half of the ten petitioners were not available at the Court.

At the press conference shortly after the filing, there was a short summary of the basis of the petition and the floor opened to the press. The petition was lodged both in terms of questions of procedural justice [the Bill was passed without a quorum in the Ugandan Parliament], as well as on substantive grounds, [where the provisions of the Act are being challenged on a number of grounds.]

Here are our top five highlights of Resistance, Love and Power of the political moment:

Ø  “This law is imposing criminal measures against consenting adults engaging in same sex relations”. [Odoi-Oywelowo]

Ø  “The claim that homosexuality is unAfrican is a lie.” [Ogenga-Latigo]

Ø  “It is odd to hear Africans defending Christianity, which was brought here from somewhere else” [O-L]

Ø  “When we consider the propaganda around the process of passing this Law, we have no option but to conclude that the motives are sinister.” [O-L]

Ø  “I am not just surviving, I am strong!” [Julian Pepe Onziema]

The Petition can be accessed here.

Attached the press statement issued.

Coalition of African Lesbians Correspondent.