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.

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.

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

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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.

 

Justice and Compassion for All

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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

 

 BIO:

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.

WHERE ARE THE VOICES OF AFRICAN LESBIANS?

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Binyavanga Wainaina is brave man for coming out at a time where there is rising homophobia and the introduction of homophobic laws on the continent. And he chose to come out the best way he knows how-through his writing, in a letter to his mother. Granted, Binyavanga is not a nobody in Kenya or in Africa, and his coming out garnered attention because of his renowned literary status. One wonders whether his coming out has given other gender and sexuality diverse people courage to claim their sexuality, publicly or privately-but that’s yet to be seen, or declared. It is, however, a step in the right direction for the sexual and gender rights movement in Africa, because the more of us they see, the more they realize that we are not a sexual minority as often purported to be. But is Binyavanga’s coming out representative of all so called sexual minorities in Africa?

Binyavanga’s coming out begs the question-where are the lesbian voices in Africa? Can lesbian women publicly and proudly raise their voices without fear of reprisals from conservative, patriarchal systems of silencing and oppression? And if we can- then why aren’t we? What systems of oppression still keep us muffled and quiet?  When homosexuality is spoken about in Africa, the voice, rhetoric and overall emphasis on either affirming or disputing the rights of non-heteronormative people is more often than not the voice of gay men. Binyavanga is a gay man and he has ‘come out’ and publicly said so. But what does this mean for bisexual, trans and lesbian women? Does Binyavanga’s coming out also give us a voice and a space to claim our rights to exist in spaces that are hostile to our otherness? Can a lesbian woman in Africa copy-paste and edit his letter as a telling of her own story? Has he, in essence, spoken for us all? Women’s sexuality as a whole is a completely side-lined and unacknowledged part of womanhood, where societies, cultures, traditions and religions refuse to recognize women’s sexual rights and bodily autonomy. In this light, lesbian women struggle for legitimacy in a phallocentric world, where the absence of the penis means the absence of sex and sexuality. It can even be argued that colonial laws never took lesbian relationships to account because the very thought that two women, or women alone, could have sexually gratifying relationships was seen as ludicrous, and therefore unaffected by any kind of laws. Sexuality, sadly, is still seen as the dominion of men, both heterosexual and homosexual.

 There is an assumption that the voice of the gay and lesbian movement is one-and that it does not matter whether it’s a gay man or a lesbian woman that ‘comes out’ and asserts their sexuality and gender preference publicly. But it does matter. We can argue that Binyavanga’s self-outing was made easier because he is a man, and a non-effeminate man at that. Masculinity, in its various manifestations in both heterosexual and homosexual contexts, continues to dominate spaces and voices, and Binyavanga’s masculinity, in a patriarchal world, in a way, protects him. Would Binyavanga’s heartfelt writing be received the same if he were a trans-woman? Or what if Binyavanga was a lesbian woman-how much support would (s)he have attracted?

A quick Google search for prominent black African lesbians yielded a host of African American queer and lesbian icons and of course, Brenda Fassie. Another blog had a list of prominent South African lesbian musicians-all of which but one are white, and some of which live outside Africa. Brenda Fassie made this list of course, which one cannot help but think, is Brenda Fassie the only prominent, black African lesbian woman known? Granted, the internet’s contents cannot be taken to be exhaustive, but the very absence of black African lesbian women online speaks volumes. Google searches for black African lesbian women often turn up unsolved murder stories of lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The story isn’t any different for Google searches of gay African men-but thanks to Binyavanga, an African gay man’s voice is being heard, and he is claiming his space on the continent and in his country. But lesbian women need to raise their own voices-and claim their own spaces.

Binyavanga has helped push an already happening conversation into a public, heterosexual space. The energy around unapologetically and honestly stating our sexuality should not lose momentum. And the voice he uses in planting, firmly, his homosexual identity, is admirable. He makes no apologies, and offers no explanations. And neither should we. We need more lesbian voices, and the voices of gender non-conforming women, asserting ourselves and owning our place on the continent. It doesn’t have to be a coming out story, and you don’t have to be a literary giant. It just has to be your truth as a lesbian, bisexual or transgendered woman, but it has to be spoken out loud, because like Audre Lorde said-your silence will not save you.

               

TRANSGENDER DAY OF REMEMBERANCE-Press release from S.H.E

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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: transfeminists@gmail.com/coordinator@transfeminists.org

Anele Klasmani, S.H.E Programs Officer, Tel: +27(0)43 7220750, Email: aneleklsm@gmail.com/programs@transfeminists.org