2017 marked a celebration of milestones by the Coalition of African Lesbian’s [CAL], in movement building, resulting from our work with national organisations in three Southern African countries: Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, supporting them, both financially and technically, to learn together in order to effectively mobilise, organise themselves, and implement advocacy initiatives in-country through the Masakhane Project, established in 2015, funded by LSVD and Filia.
November 2017, CAL undertook a learning and reflection journey within
the three countries to provide an opportunity for all participants to
reflect, analyse and express achievements and learnings, on their own
words, as a collective feminist effort to affirm and celebrate the
project and establish what worked and what needs further
strengthening in order to inform future organising.
It was critical
that CAL looks back at where we started from, how far we have come,
draw learnings on best practises and where to strengthen in order to
inform future organising.
The Masakhane project focuses on strengthening capabilities of CAL members and partners to campaign in country, through learning in action, as the basis for facilitating growth to work effectively. The project’s immediate objective is that CAL members have the ability to apply Advocacy for LBT women in country, in a sustainable and proactive manner by means of:
- Enhanced organizational capacities
- More knowledge and evidence through enhanced data and analyses from a human rights perspective that form the basis for Advocacy messages and communication and
- Enhanced alliances and a broader base for supporters.
The methodology used for reflection and learning was a feminist participatory one in which both CAL Secretariat staff, directors and financial managers of fiscal hosts, coordinators of the Masakhane project, both collectives and beneficiaries were consulted and provided with a safe space to enable them to openly share their experiences and learn from one another.
In Botswana, Masakhane has been successful in creating a safe space for Lesbian, Bisexual and Transwomen (LBT) to strengthen their consciousness, analysis, advocacy skills and thus strengthen their collective organising power.
The work of the Masakhane project in Zambia was aimed at creating space for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, women living with HIV and sex workers to be able to share information on sexual reproductive and health rights (SRHR) and feminism. This would enable women to be better able to locate daily sites of oppression, stigma, discrimination and gender-based violence.
The main project objectives in Zimbabwe included opening up conversations and creating strategies around challenging negative social norms, safety and security of female sex workers, LB women and women seeking abortion.
A number of themes emerged across country context. These included:
A safe space for LBQ women
Masakhane has aided in the creation of a space for LBT women across all three countries to be able to have a space in which they can together begin to understand the way in which a capitalist patriarchy has oppressed them and others like them; where they can share their experiences and life stories in safe and nurturing environments; where they can equip themselves and each other to articulate the struggles of women in spaces where women are not heard; where they can nurture LBT feminist leadership and contribute to feminist movement building.
As discovered by CAL in the concept phase of the Masakhane project, funding geared towards women in the movement and women organising at national level is very small. Masakhane has at the very least started an important conversation about women’s leadership across movements and spaces and has prompted collectives in country to not only begin to source funds for LBT organising in other spaces but to also think about ways in which to sustain this space they have created and nurtured beyond donor driven funding.
All Masakhane collectives across the three countries have experienced group dynamics on a number of levels.
Identity politics are a common phenomenon in LGBTIQ organising where the singling out and essentialisation of often one specific identity over another or others has resulted in a siloing of movements and efforts that may have a larger and more permanent effects on a common enemy if they worked together. Identity politics make it more difficult for consolidated efforts. Collectives encountered such problems, especially at the beginning of the project. Many have tried to counter this through consciousness raising efforts where they would learn about the interconnectedness and intersectionality of oppression and how collected and concerted efforts may yield better results.
Identity politics and group dynamics also affected in-country collectives at organisational levels. Sometimes these dynamics threatened to prevent certain organisations from working with other organisations. In country collectives were sometimes able to bring different organisations together by fostering a belief in, and then buy-in in the Masakhane project.
Personal Ownership of Masakhane
The adoption of the Masakhane project and the Black feminist ideology underpinning the project was a theme that ran across Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana albeit at various levels.
The conceptualisation of the Masakhane project was a joint effort between the CAL secretariat and CAL members in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The nature of campaign and feminist movement building as it exists in non-profit organisations (NPOs) and reliance on donor funding generally means that a project’s lifespan from conceptualisation to implementation is very long and often each stage is completed by a different group of people due to high turnover in NPOs. The Masakhane project was unfortunately not immune to this. This resulted in a lack of understanding and thus ownership of the project by a group of people, the collective, who had not been involved in the conceptualisation of Masakhane who subsequently felt it was something decided on by the Secretariat that may or may not translate to their specific country contexts.
Some countries seemed to struggle more than others in bridging this gap and fully coming to own the project and understanding the process as one that necessitates an application that is unique to the country and group of people it was meant to be implemented with.
Collectives with a larger sense of ownership over the project were further along in thinking strategies for project longevity and sustainability. What was evident, however, was that all collectives had on some level grappled with project ownership and the effects on implementation.
The evaluation process has allowed for a deep analysis and reflection on a number of levels:
- Contextual: As has been specifically highlighted in Zimbabwe and Zambia, the political, social and economic climates of a country have far reaching effects not only the success of a project, but also the way that project members are able to function.
- Movements: The state of LGBTI movements in-country has had various effects, both positive and negative, on the project. Very often politics within the movement dictate who and which organisations can and cannot work together. Movement politics can very often make solidarity and intersectional strategies very difficult. The project has proven, however, that activists are able to look and move past an unhealthy movement politic and dynamic to form collectives that are intentional about and committed to solid and intersectional organising. Where a women’s or feminist movement has not been visible or very big, working groups, such as the one in Botswana, have demonstrated the power of Masakhane to begin to build a feminist movement that works for all those who are a part of it.
- Institutional: The evaluation has been useful in aiding reflection on the relationship between the CAL secretariat and the various actors in the project as well as the relationship between the fiscal host and the working group and task team members.
- Personal: individual participants in the Masakhane have benefitted in a number of ways, for example consciousness raising activities that have grown and expanded their knowledge and understanding of Black feminist ideology. Through participation in the project they have fostered relationships and networks with like-mined women.
From inception to implementation, Masakhane has proven to be a useful and effective capacity enhancement model to strengthen both organisations and individuals. Even in the face of challenges and difficulties members of the project have shown incredible self-awareness and commitment in finding effective and long-lasting solutions. Participants in the project have been able to identify the problems in country, identify potential solutions and the kinds of support they would require to address the challenges at hand. This has resulted in successful and effective activities designed and implemented by the collective.