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 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 cal.org.za 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 powersource.smith@gmail.com.
In case of an urgent need to contact CAL, please call : +27 76 918 3515
See you at our new place!
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 www.actionappointments.co.za  and email your application by Friday 9th February 2015 to tracy@actionappointments.co.za




Is Homosexuality Un-African?

homosexuality in africa

This conversation is a very chicken-and-egg kind of conversation. What are you first? An African? A woman? Or a lesbian? What identity do we value the most above all the ones that often lead to controversial conversations? This has been something that has always come up for me, even in the most social spaces-where my activism is questioned, and I am told that the fight for racial equality is bigger than the fight for gender equality. I am TOLD that I am first a black, African, woman-and everything else that attaches to this seemingly primary identity cannot have more importance. Like many other things in a patriarchal world, anything that is not supported by a predominantly male heterosexual majority, is quickly pushed to the back.

But my sexuality matters, always has and always will. And my sexuality is as important as my womanhood and my ”Africanness.

In an attempt to start a discussion about the homophobia in Africa-this clip of the World debate on whether homosexuality in  un-African. Participating in the conversation is Fikile Vilakazi, who was representing CAL.

Feel free to share with your friends and comment.





2003 – 2013


The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] invites all our members and partners to submit contributions for a publication celebrating ten years of collective feminist resistance, resilience, revolution and power as lesbian and bisexual women and trans-diverse people across Africa through our association with CAL at various times and in different spaces of our movement.

We welcome critical and reflective articles; anecdotes, memories and photographs of particular moments of our herstory; poetry, stories, letters, speeches, conversations, diary and journal entries, media reports; mobile text messages (cellphone, facebook, twitter, blogs etc); and creative visioning of the continent we want to live in.  

Let’s surface our pain and pleasure, our fear and courage, and document our resilience and resistance, our challenges and victories.

The deadline for submissions is Friday the 30th of September 2013. Kindly send your submissions to calat10@cal.org.za. We will confirm receipt of all submissions, and correspond further with the authors of submissions selected for publication. Contact Fikile Vilakazi (fikile.vilakazi@gmail.com) or Liz Frank (lizfrank41@gmail.com) for any queries related to this call.



What does feminism mean to you? Yes-YOU.

We can never tire of talking about feminism, and indeed we never should. Every time we ask this question-we get different answers, and the different answers give us more things to think about in the ever evolving understanding and application of what feminism means to us. In the recently concluded CAL Southern Africa Planning and Skills-building Workshop, we asked some participants what feminism means to them.

What does feminism mean to you? Share your thoughts.


Feminism for me is change. It can be change from anything to anything else. A lot of people explain feminism as moving away from patriarchy or competing against patriarchal systems. However, I feel that sometimes you can actually use patriarchal systems to your advantage as long as you bring about the desired change that you so wish for.



For me, as a lesbian, feminism is challenging the law, challenging what is prescribed for me, challenging the system, challenging what is seen. It’s about finding out what works for me, what fits me. It’s also about the consciousness: feminism creates a consciousness within me of owning anything I engage in, owning and understanding it so as not to be a follower.



When you look at our position in society, as women – and when I’m saying women I’m using that term really consciously because it can incorporate many other aspects of womanhood; womanhood is not just one thing. When you look at our position as women in society, after so many years of being here, of existing, of being present, we haven’t even come close to addressing the challenges we’ve faced since the beginning of time. But feminism creates a space for people to engage with the relevant issues. You know, everyone has to look at what we are creating for the next generation. Look at what we’re doing now: it’s not as if we’re started something new – feminism has been around forever – but now more than ever we need to claim those spaces and we need to talk about things that are relevant to our realities today and to address those issues with the resources that we have. And when I say resources I don’t need money, I mean relationship amongst each other and so on. It’s about being there, being present, taking charge.



Feminism means being aware of me, of the oppression around my life. For me, it’s opening my eyes to how my power is taken away from me at different moments and how I may be do that to people as well, being conscious of that and trying to change that. So maybe not looking at the big picture and all the scary, huge things that people want to tackle, but just looking at how, for at the moment where I’m at, on that basis how I can start living differently, how I can start supporting practices that are empowering to myself and the people around me.