Purposefully politicizing our sexual and reproductive health rights! State actors perpetuate violence against transgender women. Health is a human right….now more than ever!

S.H.E speaks from a feminist platform in articulating this strategic message to the South African, and other regional state actors, communities and other stakeholders in observing the 15th International Trans Day of Remembrance on 20 November 2013.

S.H.E, as a collective wants to highlight and address the violent actions (and sometimes the lack of appropriate actions) by our governments. The sad reality is that these actions go undocumented and they are unspoken of because the media would rather report on the sensationalist events accompanied by graphical pictures of scars, blood and murder. This plays off against the background of high prevalence of HIV because of an inappropriate government response. Trans* women globally, are plagued by high HIV prevalence, but more so on the African continent, and this is simply because we are not fully recognised by our leaders. A recent research report indicated a 19% HIV infection rate among transgender women globally. Needless to say, there was no data from the African continent.

“In South Africa and other parts of the African continent, our sisters die in large numbers as a result of the HIV burden. This will not change until we are recognised first, epidemiological counts of HIV among trans women are conducted, and effective evidence-based programming developed, that takes into account our unique needs as trans women, and far removed from the MSM (men having sex with men) response. The conflation of trans women with MSM statistics is fundamentally flawed and poses a threat to the health and well-being needs of transgender women”, says Leigh Ann van der Merwe – coordinator of S.H.E.

Transgender people are listed as a key population for the HIV intervention in the current National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB (2012-2016), yet there is no program(s) addressing the HIV burden in this population. There remains a large disparity between the political commitment on the provision of (health) services, and the lived realities of people on the ground. Outside of the health focus, safety and security remain a threat for African transgender women. Transgender women’s psychological and physical well-being comes under great threat when they are locked up in male cells in prison. They become vulnerable to rape and other forms of physical and/or psychological abuse, which in turn, has serious implications where HIV/Aids are concerned.

The focus, should however, not just be on government to deliver health and other services. The traditional leadership of especially the Eastern Cape Province have a very big role to play in advocating for the human rights of trans women. The issue of cultural circumcision is a contentious issue with the cultural obligation of all those born male-bodied to undergo cultural circumcision. This is a very controversial issue in light of government’s encouragement of circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. Sadly, this intervention is based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Says Zaza Kwinana: “the obligation to undergo cultural circumcision in my culture goes beyond the snipping of the foreskin, it is the passage into manhood, the very notion that I reject as a self-identified trans* woman. As a sex worker, who does not have access to hormones and gender reassignment surgery, there are serious implications in the context of HIV/Aids”.

There are simply not enough accountability mechanisms on government concerning the sexual and reproductive health rights of minority groups. For this reason, we have to purposefully and strategically politicize our sexual and reproductive health rights context. On this transgender day of remembrance and into the lead up to the sixteen days of activism for no violence against women and children, we are appealing to the South African government, as well as other leaders on the African continent to initiate meaningful dialogues on sexual and reproductive rights for minority groups. There needs to be strategic efforts at understanding the ways that HIV affect particular groups and programming must be informed by such efforts. We fully share the ICASA conference’ sentiment on getting down to zero, now more than ever!

For more information on this statement, please contact:

Leigh Ann van der Merwe, S.H.E coordinator, Tel: +27(0)43 7220750, Mobile +27(0)73 8110789, Email:

Anele Klasmani, S.H.E Programs Officer, Tel: +27(0)43 7220750, Email:


Solidarity Statement for Pride Events coming up in South Africa from the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL]


When attending Pride, whether for social, political or both reasons, we cannot forget the simple fact that being able to hold and participate in a Pride event is in itself an indication of how far we have come as  movements and people concerned about women’ rights and about social justice based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The freedom to express our sexuality and our gender  in a continent and a country where the persecution of people that challenge gendered structures of being, loving and existing, should never be forgotten. Diversity should be celebrated. Differences should be celebrated. We should be celebrated. We celebrate today  for those who cannot live and love openly. We celebrate to remind ourselves that the struggle for our freedom and safety is far from over.

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. We are passionate feminists, activists, human rights defenders, lovers, sisters, mothers, brothers, aunts, uncles.

Whilst we believe that there are complex discussions waiting to be had about the language of “pride” and the implications of such namings, the purpose and history of Pride events should never be forgotten. Like many other calls for justice, the need for a Pride march came from a space of deep oppression and neglect. The world around us did not include us and in fact openly rejected us. Little acknowledged, represented or reflected the diversity that we lived and felt in private and behind closed doors. To the wider world there was no room for ‘otherness’ and difference of this kind. Our expressions, feelings, fears and anxieties were kept behind closed doors, where the silence soon became unbearable, and we decided not to just speak out, but scream out our presence.  Pride marches in Gauteng were born from a deep sense of inequality. The same inequalities that creates a ‘them’ and an ‘us. When we march for Pride we march for all these issues and structures of inequality. Race, class, age and [dis]ablity are the basis of exclusion. We are committed to Pride marches that break barriers and push boundaries, provoke deep and lasting change for our society as a whole. Pride events should reflect this.

We look forward to Pride as a space for inclusion, difference and a recognition of intersectionalities, a space for engagement and celebration. Pride events should be a place where ‘us’ and ‘them’ come together and find a ‘we’ with a commonality of purpose, of being and of co-existing whilst confronting the basis of the inequalities, oppressions, violations and discrimination we face as people. Pride events that diminish feminist values belittle and distort the true meaning of why we march, why we act and why we work to advance social justice.

With the arrival of Pride season in the Gauteng area of South Africa, we at the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] are working with the organisers of the following Pride events in September and October 2013:

EPOC Pride: The Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee was formed in June 2009 by a small group of LGBTIs who had the desire to make a positive change from severe Hate-Crimes affecting LGBTIs within Ekurhuleni. EPOC then undertook the gruelling and challenging task of organising the Ekurhuleni Pride March in a period of 3 months. And what a success it was, we were able to march the streets of Kwa-Thema and celebrate our uniqueness and self-pride. EPOC comprises of 13 hard-working volunteers who have worked hand in hand towards the fight of liberty, equality and non-discrimination against LGBTIs. This will be EPOC’s 5th year of organizing this Pride event. EPOC Pride will take place on the 21st of October, 2013.

SOWETO Pride: SOWETO Pride is a political project initiated by FEW in 2004 with the aim of creating and making political and social space for black lesbian women to celebrate our sexuality and our humanity. Pride has grown in numbers over the years. The Project, as a political act, brings together our community and our ideas and messages and articulate these both amongst activists from various movements, to surrounding communities in SOWETO, and to the broader public through the media. It is an act of courage and resistance, an act of open public display and a key moment in the year for increasing the visibility of all the identities of this community. SOWETO Pride is also, importantly, a social space where black lesbian women and the broader LGBTI community and women’s rights movement come together, [re]connect and have fun in a safe space. This will be SOWETO  Pride’s 10th year of organizing activism and building LGBTI awareness. SOWETO Pride will take place on the 28th of October, 2013.

•Johannesburg People’s Pride: The first Pride of its name, the Johannesburg People’s Pride aims to produce an event that is based on anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-sexism, anti-ableism and the positioning of LGBTIAQ struggles within broader socio-political and economic contexts and struggles in South Africa and globally. The Johannesburg People’s Pride will take place on the 5th of October, 2013.

CAL encourages all our members, friends, affiliates and partners to support these Pride events and to show solidarity in the struggle for social justice for all people.

We wish everyone a safe, engaging and thought provoking Pride experience!

[CAL] Secretariat

19th September, 2013


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?