59th Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (22th October-30th October) Banjul, the Gambia

By Marie MC

Between the 24th and 30th October, I had the opportunity to travel to the Gambia, in Banjul. Notwithstanding how beautiful the country and its people are, I was not there for tourism but to attend the 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) .

First question that probably comes up is what is the ACHPR?

The African Charter established the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission was inaugurated on 2 November 1987 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Commission’s Secretariat has subsequently been located in Banjul, The Gambia.

It is Article 45 of the Charter which sets out the mandate of the Commission:

  • Promotion of human and peoples’ rights

The Commission carries out sensitisation, public mobilisation and information dissemination through seminars, symposia, conferences and missions.

  • Protection of human and peoples’ rights

The Commission ensures protection of human and peoples’ rights through its communication procedure, friendly settlement of disputes, state reporting (including consideration of NGOs’ shadow reports), urgent appeals and other activities of special rapporteurs and working groups and missions.

  • Interpretation of the Charter

The Commission is mandated to interpret the provisions of the Charter upon a request by a state party, organs of the AU or individuals. No organ of the AU has referred any case of interpretation of the Charter to the Commission. However, a handful of NGOs have approached the Commission for interpretation of the various articles of the Charter. The Commission has also adopted many resolutions expounding upon the provisions of the Charter.

In other words the ACHPR is here to make sure that human rights are known, protected and applied in all the African States by setting guidelines, recommendations and opening discussions with States and all parties involved in the safeguarding of human rights.

As a Transgender feminist activist working mostly with youth, LGBTQI and marginalised groups, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how to fit in this brand new environment.

Despite these apprehensions, my time at this 59th Session was actually one of the best experiences I had so far.

The week long activities touch almost every issue that we can think is of relevance for the continent and the welfare of its inhabitants. From the Rights of indigenous people and communities in Africa, to the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities, o Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, to the Prevention of Torture in Africa; on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations to Death Penalty and Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary killings in Africa; on the Protection of the Rights of People Living With HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV to Women’s Rights and Human Rights Defenders… and the list goes on.

As feminists working in our countries we often forget to expand our areas of knowledge and to diversify our fights. We tend to forget that there is far too often a correlation between the work we are doing and the impact it has on other rights violations, and the impact it has on people’s lives.  Especially when talking about women, there is an intersectionality of work/cause/oppressions that come out so obviously when listening to working groups reports and the work Special Rapporteurs are doing. In my opinion this was the best part of it as it allows one to generate brand new ideas, questions, to spot new areas of research and of potential involvement.

All these new concepts, statistics or reports can seem too hard to handle, absorb and learn.  One can even feel overwhelmed but that is before realising that just like me, there are many activists representing NGOs or national human rights institutions who are specialised in each of these groups and can actually learn from you as much as you learn from them.

The ACHPR is a fantastic platform for networking with not only NGOs on your particular point of interest but mostly to really get involved by adding your touch to researches that seemed out of scope when actually it is linked to your fights.

Thus as an activist doing LGBTQI work, I was able to reach out to Under The Same Sun, a Kenyan NGO working towards the end of discrimination and the protection of albino rights. Has anybody thought of doing research on the impact of homophobia on already stigmatized and discriminated populations in Africa? When it comes to indigenous people and communities, can’t we work together to define, document and work on sexual and reproductive health? This is without mentioning the necessity to work with them in order to debunk the myth of the Western and imported “gay agenda”.

Access to education and the impact of gender-based violence also have various responses across the continent, therefore learning from others helps our work get recommendations, follow guidelines and consolidate the fight for Human Rights across-countries.

We sometimes tend to think that our work doesn’t have the impact it should have, through the ACHPR and its commissioners, research, points of concern and evolutions (evaluations?) can be submitted and observed at a higher level. It is important for us activists, who are sometimes independent and working on our own funds to be able to share and propagate our findings or possible alarm signals. The special Rapporteurs are experts who take time to travel to countries where violations are reported and need our reports in order to compare what one state says and match these reports with what the reality on the ground is. Various mechanisms are in place and are be used as they are a real opportunity to consolidate and make our work known and actually render it effective.

Every two years countries have to submit a report on the state of human rights, the improvement and the needs of their population’s well-being. The ACHPR offers the possibility for NGOs to submit a shadow report too and sadly there are not enough of them being submitted. It is easy for countries to boast about their progressive views and the government’s ongoing efforts to secure rights for everyone. However as we know, governments try somehow to make things get better but there is a real disconnection between the needs on the ground, the access to resources and the numbers they release. Mostly activists are aware of this gap and thus have an obligation to try and gather as much statistics, cases, testimonies and document them not only for the immediate stakeholders but as I know now, to support and improve our governments engagements when possible and to make sure they are accountable when reaching out to the ACHPR.

As I am writing this article, my head is still somehow in Banjul, between missing the place and dreaming of a revolution.  We tend to look to the West for their respect of Human Rights yet, the NO DAPL protesters are being attacked, the UN decided to pick Wonder Woman as an ambassador, Black Live Matters activists are being monitored. The continent has is Commission too and can show support as much as innovation and progress. It all rests on us activists to engage fully and challenge the status quo by using it to our advantage and really be the ears and voices of the people.


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: http://www.facebook.com/CoalitionCAL and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CALAdvocacy for regular updates on the sharing and the learning taking place.

Tweet to us using the hashtag #CALGA2015.

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.


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 MISSING GIRLS IN NIGERIA: There is a need for critical analysis and sustained action on this


When news of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria broke over four weeks ago, we, as the CAL Secretariat were deeply concerned. We were, and we still are concerned because this gross violation of human and children’s rights is proof of the degree that hegemonic patriarchal power manifests itself and especially on female bodies. We are concerned because as feminists and human rights defenders, this act, and the slow nature in which the Nigerian government has chosen to respond to this crisis is indicative of just how little women and girls’ lives matter, to majority male governments and oppressive male militia and military bodies. We are concerned because this issue is a microcosm of a bigger problem-commodification of female bodies and devaluation of female/feminine importance. We have asked, on Social Media-What Are Women’s Lives Worth?

Another reality worth considering is that girls and women go missing everywhere, and all the time. There are thousands of unaccounted for incidences where girl children have gone missing and these incidences go unreported. Sometimes for years and many time unresolved. In our daily newspapers we see a majority of girls and women reported missing, with little to nothing done by authorities to investigate these issues. Many patriarchal cultural constructions accord more importance to boy children than they do to girl children. This means that some families are least likely to report missing girl children than they are to report missing boy children. The same is said for women, as compared to men. Girls and women, today, still lie at the bottom of the social totem, and this recent turn of events in Nigeria shows that there is a deeper and urgent need for our governments, our communities and society as a whole to give female bodies the same importance that male bodies are often given.

Some statistics out of America (unfortunately these are the only extensive statistics that could be found) show as follows:
• An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children
• The federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. This means that in 2001, over 790, 000 children were reported missing.
• Two-thirds of the nearly 800 000 victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are [white] females, according to a Justice Department study. This means that 80% of the abducted children were girls.
• Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

Source: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/americas_missing/2.html

This is important because, America is putting pressure and offering military help to find the nearly 250 missing school girls in Nigeria, while they too have a crisis going on as far as missing girl children go. With the current state of affairs between Nigeria and America, especially with regard to the rights of gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative African women and men, this offer, and indeed pressure from the American government, might do more harm than good. And this situation furthermore creates military and military related tensions on a continent rife with militarism and militant oppression-from both State and rebel actors.

In a recently published article in The Guardian, Jumoke Balogun writes: ‘Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria. It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. Here’s the thing though, when you pressure western powers, particularly the American government, to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good. You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. Africom (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.’ This is a worthwhile article-do read it when you get the time to.

As a feminist collective, it is important that we speak to this issue, but more importantly, it is essential that we shift conversations, and shape dialogues around bigger and wider issues, to prevent, or at best attempt to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. We have to hold our governments, tasked with our protection, accountable for our safety and the safety of our children whether they inhabit female or male bodies.

CAL would like to plan some action(s) that bring attention to these multiple, overlapping issues: issues of bodily autonomy, militarism, safety and security; issues of femicide, and the girl child and education; issues of accountability and governance. They all intersect and they all need a voice. This cannot be seen as a once-off, occurrence-there is a bigger picture here, and this conversation has to go on.

We welcome your thoughts on this-and any suggestions on future continued action around this are welcome.

Please send suggested actions to sheena@cal.org.za

The struggle continues. We still hope and wish for the safe return of the stolen school girls back to their homes and families. We demand that justice prevails for these girls and all the other thousands of abducted and stolen girls and women on the continent.


Making our Personal Political


Power manifests itself in so many ways. We know this. We know this in our work and in our lives. Even as human rights activists, we sit with power that we either do not acknowledge, or, in some instances, we exploit. Our passion for our work and the rights that we advocate for do not exonerate us from having deeply human moments, where we act within the same oppressive power structures that we challenge and fight against. We have grown up within these manipulative and oppressive power systems and much as we have learned to unlearn these ways of being in the world, we do still find ourselves confronted with our own power struggles. If nothing else, this is often a reflection of our own lives, and our own personal issues that we do not either have the time, opportunity or privilege to introspect on and confront.

Day two of the CAL Feminist Leadership Institute and Media Advocacy Workshop for the ‘[I am] More Than Campaign’ surfaced these issues for many of the participants there.

We are tasked with dealing with other people’s oppressions and struggles, and sometimes the struggles of entire communities and groups of people. Our work sometimes requires us to carry deep seated oppressions and abuse, but somehow rise above the very same abuse and oppression that we have experienced, or we might still be experiencing. Many activists look at the ‘bigger picture’ of collective experiences of the women and men that they serve. We realize that our struggles are not unique to us and that collective action is necessary to advance change for the communities and groups of people that suffer similar oppressions. Taking this decision to work on social justice issues often requires a great deal of sacrifice from the activists. Often, we work in hostile environments where our lives and safety are under threat-so are the lives and safety of our families and loved ones. We do not exist outside of society, much as we experience a lot of exclusion and ostracism. We still come from socio-cultural structures that mean our work influences our immediate environments.

For an activist living and working in spaces where there is imminent danger, this fear of ‘attack’ affects our way of being in the world, in our work, in our relationships and of course in our selves. Several disconnections happen-we begin feeling disconnected to our environments because they alternate between being the source of our suffering and salvation. The same community that accepts a gender non-conforming person as one of them can easily become the same community that persecutes the person. This is a real and present fear for us, especially as people working on ways to reform our gender and sexuality dialogues and structures. We push uncomfortable boundaries and a backlash is often expected. We also feel disconnected in our work-where the work that we do, which is important work when advocating for change, is the same work that puts us in danger. Because of this we can feel disconnected from our jobs because, while we understand the importance of this work we also realize that this same work puts us in vulnerable positions. This can create a disconnect between your work-the importance of advocating for change but at the same time the natural need to belong to and find acceptance in the communities we are born into.

The fear, anxiety and disconnectedness in our lives as activists affect us, and sometimes we have a conscious awareness of these issues, but many times we don’t. Our work lives are often very hectic and leave little time for introspection into how the different power, privilege and patriarchy oppressions are playing themselves out in our private lives. We bring these fears and anxieties into many spaces-even perceived safe spaces with other activists who share the same struggles as we do. Sometimes in these ‘safe spaces’ of and with activists-there is an expectation that our fellow activists will understand our sometimes fragile state of being-and that spaces with other activists will be gentle, nurturing spaces where our collective work creates an unspoken understanding of the work we do and the state we are in. But, unfortunately, sometimes, this expectation is not met in these spaces. As activists, and as human beings, we do have confrontations with fellow activists, when we find that we are confronted or we confront each other with the same power, patriarchy and privilege oppressions that we fight against.

If nothing else-these moments of disruption, these uncomfortable moments when we perpetrate against each other within the social justice movements that we serve-are indications of how our own personal oppressions, traumas and pain remain unaddressed and unsurfaced. We sit with different kinds of discomfort in our bodies and our spirits that we never really have the time or the space to address. Activist spaces often feel ‘safe’ enough for us to confront each other, and in a cathartic way-ourselves on the issues and oppressions that we deal with or have experienced in our lives that we have not yet processed or unpacked. Often, when we have these confrontations as conduits for healing ourselves-and in these confrontations with other activists-whom we expect to have compassionate understanding of our problems-we find a face and a body to direct our anger and frustrations towards. This of course creates tensions in our working relationships as activists, and in some cases makes us very uncomfortable.

It’s important to know that our work, even our lived conscious awareness of sisterhood, solidarity, feminism, collective action and movement building, does not absolve us from having very human moments of anger, judgement, and attack. These moments require us to confront deep seated personal issues that manifest themselves in political spaces. The personal is political. Undoubtedly.
These moments call for gentleness, compassion and graciousness. For ourselves and with ourselves. And for fellow activists to sit with and hold each other through what can be transformative moments of healing and reflection.

The Sexuality and Gender Institute currently taking place created this space on its third day. The space allowed time for processes of conversation and exchange to take place. This helped surface a conversation, that activists present could take back to their work places and help create these spaces of possible healing, spaces of graciousness, spaces of gentleness. This is important for the holistic growth of both an organisations and the people within these organisations.

The Problem of Power


‘Oppressive power is shit!’
The words reverberated around the room. As they did, some members nodded their heads, others clapped and still more cheered in agreement. Four simple words put together in frustration and defiance, in resistance and outrage. The statement was more than a flippant observation – it is a compelling reminder of our daily realities, of the power exerted over our bodies and minds.

It is day one of CAL’s Sexuality and Gender Institute and the conversation is already cutting deep. Over forty members from across the Southern Africa region have come together to share, learn, reflect and collaborate. For the next six days, we will draw on our collective knowledge, on our experiences and struggles, as a way of deepening our understanding of sexuality, gender, patriarchy and oppression. The meeting is part of an ongoing process, one that began last August, through which the coalition will develop and implement the ‘More Than …’ campaign.

As feminists, we know that this campaign – as with all our activism – is ultimately a response to power. Whether speaking of oppressive social structures, violent assaults or the names we are called, all forms of discrimination are grounded in unequal distributions of power. And while we must always consider our practical and immediate needs, we must also seek to disrupt those broader systems that bestow and deny privilege on certain sections of society.

Today we are talking power. Not just physical forms of control, but also the more insidious manifestations of power, the multiple, invisible and sanctioned ways that it is exerted over us. We know that the personal is political and have thus dedicated time and space to thinking critically about our own lives. Creating this space is crucial: when one lives, works and loves within a hostile context, one’s time and energy is often taken up with fighting political and legal structures. But reflecting on our personal experiences is vital to understanding how and why power plays out. As one comrade noted today:

Our experiences have shaped who we are. Our experiences are written all over our faces, our hearts, our brains and our bodies. And our experiences speak to what a lot of young people are still experiencing.

Conversations about our personal experiences of oppression are not easy; power leaves in its wake hurt, anger and fear. Even in safe spaces, such discussions conjure painful memories of injustice, open up emotional and physical wounds. But as activists and feminists, we can support each other in healing and learning and fighting for change.

Today we’re using our bodies to explore the ways that power is exerted over us. In small groups, members are re-enacting personal experiences of oppression as a way of unpacking the workings of power, to reflect critically on the environments, processes and systems that allow such incidents to occur. These performances and discussions help to deepen our understanding of power and are thus crucial for planning and implementing future interventions.

Right now our members are ‘sculpting power’ – that is, they are physically expressing and then deconstructing moments from their own lives. This activity is a way for us to reflect on our ‘personal’, on our lived realities and on our own experiences of oppression.

As the process continues, we will share some of the rich conversations that emerge. These critical discussions will inform the politics of the ‘More Than …’ campaign and help us all to grow together as comrades in arms.

Workshop coverage provided by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action in collaboration with the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).