Commitment to Feminist Ways of Working:
This Statement is a commitment by the Coalition of African Lesbians to work in ways that are rooted in our idea of how the world should work and how change happens. It is also intended to share our own ideas of organizing and movement building with others as we seek to develop genuine friendships and relationships based on solidarity. The ideas here are based on years of thinking and analysis which have been consolidated into a few key principles and values rooted in our feminist identity. These ideas are ever evolving as we continue to think, question and act…
Why CAL and why Feminist:
CAL was established as a feminist space for lesbian women in Africa to organise and to raise our voices and visibility and lead within and as part of the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex communities as well as within the women’s and sexual and reproductive rights movements. We have always been committed to economic justice and to finding ways to surface, expose and understand as well as generate ideas about the connections between sexuality and gender and economic justice.
From the outset, we made a choice to openly name ourselves as feminists because our analysis of the problems we faced as lesbians viewed patriarchy [a system of male privilege and oppression of women and gender non-conforming people] as a key system of oppression of women including of lesbian women. Patriarchy serves to keep women compliant and oppressed and regulates and punishes women who do not comply with its norms and expectations. Patriarchy further punishes men or any person who do not comply with gender and with its ideas about what a man or a woman is and should be. This is the root of attack on various forms of gender expression. Our analysis foregrounds the deep violence of the impact of patriarchy on women and links this to other forms and basis of oppression.
Why Feminism Matters:
A feminist approach to our work is one which centres power. It names and exposes oppressive forms of power – power over – and actively seeks to confront this power and to build collective and shared power [power within, power with and power to]. We embrace feminist ideas because it is a guide to becoming a more just society where all people are free and equal and live in dignity. Feminist thought also works from an understanding of “the personal is political”. This means that the lived experiences and daily lived realities of each one of us is key in creating change in the world. We have to create the kind of world we want to see “out there” by relating “in here” in ways that exercise a practice of freedom, equality and dignity.
We seek to name oppression and violations and to ensure that these are seen and recognized by society in general and those in decision making in particular. In this regard we recognize and articulate the realities of multiple oppressions based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is embedded in and connected to other oppressions based on race, gender, [dis]ability, geography, class and other realities and oppressions. As such, we are able to articulate a textured, complex and nuanced analysis of oppression. Anything else results in an oversimplification and reductionist as well as narrow, disconnected analysis and understanding.
Feminist Ways of Working:
We have distilled the ideas we have generated over the years into notes on five main areas in relation to our approach to organizing, that is, our ways of working. These five areas are linked and overlap.
At the centre of our organizing are love, care and respect for people. This is the core purpose of our struggles. As such, we build relationships and do this in ways that are affirming, challenging, direct, open and honest. We do not shy away from robust debate and disagreement and welcome diverse positions and opinions.
Our organizing is based on careful and sound process, where mutual respect and mindfulness is key and where domination and power over is confronted and increasingly replaced by collective action and power.
We work with others to build a world where we are all free and enjoy equal access to opportunities and resources and live in dignity. To change the world, we need to build new ways of working with power. We develop power within/ personal power, power with/collective power. We channel power within and power with to power to bring about the kind of transformatory change we want to see in the world. We also resist oppressive power, the power that dominates and controls. This anti-power work is critical because of the brutality that those in power exert on us and the violations that we face as a result of this. We are ready and actively rebel, refuse, resist and revolt and connect this with our power to imagine new and more just ways of being and doing.
Our analysis of power has implications for how we organise in the movements. Here three areas are of particular importance:
- The politics of knowledge [who writes, who researches, who publishes and on what terms, in whose interests]
- The politics of money [who funds, what they fund, under what terms and conditions, whose interests this funding serves and what the costs are to whom of such funding]
- The politics of organizing [who represents, who is visible, who is not who is included in what and why, who is excluded? How? Why? Whose voice is heard, who says? Under what conditions?] We ask these questions of ourselves and try to learn about these and strengthen our ways of organising on them. We ask these questions of others too even though they are often not welcome by those whose interests are served by silence on these questions. All of these are linked in very direct ways to partnerships.
A key approach in our change process is to work with others to build movements and to take collective action. Partnership building is critical to movement building and advocacy. Our approach to partnerships is to view it as building solidarity and friendship. Working in partnership can promote challenges when the partners have different ideologies, approaches and ways of working. We seek and work to build and contribute to non-extractive, honest and direct, affirming and transparent relationships with partner organisations. Within partnerships we are thinkers and writers and are capable, conscious actors. As far as possible we seek partnerships that are based on a relationship amongst equals and where this is not the reality we seek to name the power and inequality and to find ways of working that recognize but also minimize the negative impacts of these imbalances. Some of our best partnerships shift into more sustained solidarity building.
We have core partners [shared feminist ideologies], solidarity partners [shared pan Africanist and geopolitical analysis], strategic partners [work together on specific pieces of work for specific periods of time] and potential partners [whom we may or may not work with at any time in the future should this be necessary] We are also aware that as we set these standards for ourselves we ourselves will be challenged by them. We work to be open to learning and taking guidance as well as to being challenged in respectful, open honest and direct ways.