Statement from the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia [IDAHOT] 2014


ARISE AFRICA: Gender non-conforming, trans-identifying and non-heteronormative Africans unite to Bring Africa Back.

This year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) finds us at a perilous time on our continent. This year in its infancy has seen the passing of two restrictive, intolerant and oppressive legislations that target the rights and freedoms of African women and men that don’t conform to heterosexist constructions of sexuality, gender and expression. The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (2014) signed into law on January 7 in Nigeria, and the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act (2014) signed into law on 24 February have set a precedent for increased bigotry towards people with different sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. In these two countries alone, trans-identifying and queer individuals, as well as human rights defenders that advocate for the rights of all people, have borne the brunt of merciless attacks on their personhood, their safety and their property. States tasked with protecting and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable citizens have stood by and watched while women and men live in fear and have offered no recourse for lesbian, bisexual, trans, gay and intersex people who face danger daily.

State oppressions continue to spread, with many African countries threatening, and taking steps to introduce and stiffen not only homophobic and transphobic legislation, but also other rights and freedoms that state constitutions and international agreements guarantee. Civil society spaces for activism and expression are shrinking, with our governments limiting our freedoms to assemble, to protest, to run and operate Non-Governmental Organisations and censoring the media. Nine political bloggers who are part of the Zone 9 collective were arrested in Ethiopia in late April. The bloggers are accused of ‘working with foreign human rights activists’ and ‘using social media to destabilize the country’. If prosecuted under Ethiopia’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, they could face the death penalty. This is cause for alarm on the continent, where the media plays a big role in exposing government misdoings and gives citizens a voice to challenge the status quo.

There is a crisis of safety and security in the Central African Republic (CAR) which is embroiled in a civil war that has been raging on since December 2012. South Sudan also finds itself in an ethnic war that has seen over 1000 South Sudanese people, both military and civilian, killed since December 2013. For months now, women, children and men in these countries have known no peace or safety, as their governments and military uprisings fight for power and access to limited resources, amidst rising frustrations over poor governance, ethnic tensions, and failing economic structures that leave majority Africans poor and perpetually disadvantaged. Kenya has also seen a rise in militant acts of terrorism, with several bombs and grenades in crowded places being detonated around the country, and the rampant shooting of Kenyans gathered at public social spaces. This has led to a general state of unease, has increased xenophobia in the country and has encouraged the government to use extreme police force and increase police presence in the country. The Kenyan government, in its attempt to crack down on ‘terrorists’ is tightening people’s abilities to move and encouraging that all Kenyans ‘spy on’ and report each other of any suspected ‘terrorist acts’ in what they call the Nyumba Kumi (Ten House) initiative. In March 2014 Aden Duale, a member of parliament in Kenya likened homosexuality to an ill as bad as terrorism.

More recently is the abduction of almost 300 school girls from a school in Chiboke, Nigeria by Boko Haram militants. This gross human rights violation, while horrendous is nothing new to the continent. The political unrest and failed state security structures have led to an increase of human trafficking across the continent-with the highest figures coming from West Africa, and Nigeria in particular. Most of the people trafficked out of the continent and sold into sexual slavery are women and children. The impunity with which the Boko Haram militants declared their actions, the suspicious way in which the Nigerian government has handled the crisis, and America’s offer for military intervention, are indications that there are bigger, far more sinister issues underlying this mass abduction of girls. This violation also speaks directly to the issue of bodily autonomy and agency of citizens, which includes children. Inhabiting female bodies makes girl children vulnerable in patriarchal structures of governance that devalue female bodies, and use women and girls’ lives as weapons of war and political bargaining chips. The issue of bodily autonomy is one that the Coalition of African Lesbians has been advocating for and is shifting conversations in various spaces. The Coalition of African Lesbians is critically aware that this issue manifests in multiple ways and across all national, cultural, religious, sexuality and economic structures in Africa-and needs to be made a presently urgent issue for discussion with our governments.

We cannot honour this day without considering the various human rights issues that we face, as individual people or States-but also our collective struggles as a continent. We are a continent at war with ourselves, and the time to act, to raise our voices and to initiate change is now. Now more than ever, we need to give cognisance to the state of affairs in Africa, whether they directly speak to issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or not. These struggles are all our struggles, because we know that an injustice to one, is an injustice to all. While the global theme for this day is ‘Freedom of Expression’, we recognise that we cannot freely express ourselves as Africans, let alone as queer Africans. Deep change needs to happen on political, socio-cultural, religious and spiritual levels to allow us demand the right to express ourselves freely, in countries and communities that will honour this right and that will allow us to do this safely.

As we commemorate IDAHOT this year, we also need to celebrate the brave women and men that have stood in the face of injustice and not wavered. We salute the passion of human rights defenders, of communities, organisations and individuals that have shown solidarity with fellow Africans targeted for abuse and injury. We recognise the importance of considering the variety of issues that intersect and overlap with the targeted mistreatment of people of non-normative sexuality, gender identity and expression. We celebrate small victories, and pay homage to those that we have lost to the fight for justice and freedom for all African people. Although the continent is in a state of strife, we have seen tremendous acts of courage across the continent. From the activists in Uganda that filed a petition against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, to the protestors in Kenya that faced repeated police brutality while marching against State sanctioned economic reform that would leave the poor poorer and the rich richer. We continue to show resilience, resistance and courage in the face of increased oppression. This needs to be celebrated on this day.

On this day we also say, enough is enough, this is not the Africa we want, and we call for Africa to arise and unite and bring back Africa. The Coalition of African Lesbians stands behind the Mayibye iAfrica Statement, and calls for the return of Africa and a call for self-determination, an embracing of diversity and for justice. We encourage all our members, our allies, our friends and fellow civil society to sign onto the Mayibuye statement, and show unity of purpose and action in calling for change and the renaissance of Africa.

We wish all our members a day of peaceful remembrance and reflection, as well as a day of celebration and thanks-giving.
In strength and solidarity,

CAL Secretariat
17th May, 2014


Justice and Compassion for All


Justice and Compassion for All

By Bernedette Muthien

Cape Town, South Africa

 In 2005 the World Health Organisation and Amnesty International published results of their respective multi-country studies over several years. Each report clearly showed that a third of all women around the world are violated (by men). The United Nations estimates that one billion women are violated. This is the entire population of the subcontinent of India. One billion women violated in every village and city in the world.

A Buddhist teaching asks how one responds to a particularly vexing problem. It suggests that an appropriate response should focus less on justice, and more on compassion. After 20 years of Apartheid in South Africa, 300 years of colonialism, genocide and slavery, this emphasis of compassion over justice greatly troubled me, until I realised that even perpetrators violate from a deep space of feeling victimised, much like when we express road rage at other motorists. Indeed, many perpetrators of violence are themselves survivors of violence. This helps one understand indigenous methods of restorative justice over Eurocentric retributive justice.

The Buddhism in this teaching, an ancient religion founded 6th to 4th centuries CE, now practiced worldwide, profoundly connects with what is called pan-African humanism, or Ubuntu, popularised by two of South Africa’s Nobel Peace Laureates, President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ubuntu speaks less of the Descartian notion of “I think therefore I am”, and more of “I am because I belong, I am because I care”.

So the message is less about either/or and more about both-and, that is that compassion and justice are deeply interconnected and interdependent.

Both compassion and justice are at the heart of all cultures and faith traditions in the world, even in the 17th century John Donne’s metaphysical poem, Meditation XVII: “no man is an island unto himself…”. This concords with the teachings of great teachers like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mary Robertson and Wangari Maathai.

What does it mean when we speak of a billion women violated? It means one in every three girls and women, and the occasional boys and men, are survivors of rape. We are people, mothers, daughters, sisters, neighbours, friends. The perpetrators are sons, brothers, fathers, neighbours, friends. Women from lower castes and classes, the world over, marginalised women by race or geography or sexuality, suffer multiple forms of discrimination which exposes them to yet further sexual and gender based violence, in addition to social, political, cultural, economic and other violences.

How can one sleep at night when our fellow humans are so routinely violated? In one Cape Town township a young lesbian, walking home from the local pub, was followed by a gang of young men who beat and stoned her to death, within meters from the door of her father’s modest home. Her crime? Being lesbian. Everyone heard her dying cries, failed to recognise her voice, and were too afraid to intervene. Where is our compassion, our Ubuntu? Where is the justice for the billion women and lesbians brutalised, raped, killed, around the world?

We call for the decriminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity in all countries and regions of the world. Facing death sentences and prison terms for loving a woman or gender non-conforming person is, with respect, contrary to the teachings of all religious founders, from Gautama to Jesus. Even the current Dalai Lama, the international Buddhist leader, recently spoke out about the need to recognise and respect same-sex relations.

The United Nations, and its precursor, the League of Nations, were founded on the principle of creating a more humane, compassionate, just world. As we practice our Realpolitik, may we remember President Mandela’s wisdom on intersectionalities in 1993: my freedom is inextricably connected to your freedom, my oppression and rape is your oppression and rape. 1993 is also the year of the UN’s germinal Vienna conference which declared women’s rights as human rights.

As deep change is inexorably slow, we must maintain our vigilance, renew our unbiased faith and hope, and continue to strive for future societies that will realise South Africa’s founding Constitution and its enviable Bill of Rights, societies in which all beings are truly equal, free, safe and happy.

In the spirit of hope of celebrating South Africa’s 20th National Human Rights Day, let us work together to hold up the noble foundations of international human rights mechanisms and cultures, to co-create a more compassionate and just world. And let us end sexual and gender based violence against women, intersex and trans people, and other gender non-conforming people now and forever.

 Follow Bernedette on Twitter: @BerneMuthien



Bernedette Muthien is a scholar, poet and facilitator. She works in the intersectional areas of genders, human rights, justice and peace. Her community activism is integrally related to her work with continental and international organisations, and her research necessarily reflects the values of equity, societal transformation and justice. She has published widely, written for diverse audiences, and believes in accessible research and writing. Over 20 years, on all six continents, she produced 200 publications and conference presentations, some of which have been translated from English into other languages, including Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Among others, she serves on the Executive Council of the International Peace Research Association as co-convenor of its Global Political Economy Commission; and serves on various international advisory boards, including the international journal Human Security Studies. She also chairs the Strategy and Policy Committee, as well as the special Committee on Human Remains, of the Council of Iziko Museums of South Africa, and serves as Deputy Chair of the board of the South African NGO Coalition in the Western Cape. In March 2014 she was appointed to a five-year renewable term as part-time Commissioner for South Africa’s Constitutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. Muthien was the first Fulbright-Amy Biehl fellow at Stanford University (1994-1995), and holds postgraduate degrees in Political Science from the University of Cape Town (Dean’s Merit List, 1992), and Stellenbosch University (Andrew W Mellon Fellow, 2006-2007) in South Africa. She is presently leading a pan-African research project on Ubuntu and the Gift Paradigm in Africa with over 30 participating African countries. During 2012 she published her first solo poetry anthology, “ova”, with critical acclaim around the world.

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.