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CAL Freedom School


From 20 -31 October 2018, CAL held an exciting initiative, the Freedom School (FS), planted in the Meaningful Representation, Dialogue and Advocacy (MRDA) plan of the KP REACH programme.  

The KP REACH programme was made possible by a Global Fund (GF) grant to Hivos, with sub-grants to four networks representing key populations in eight countries in sub- Saharan Africa – the African Sex Workers Association (ASWA), African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), CAL and the Southern Africa Trans Forum (SATF). The FS aimed to critically engage with intersecting and multiple forms of structural oppression and violence that impede the agency of women and marginalised groups in southern Africa. The FS sought to contribute to learning on the systemic and root causes of violence and its impact on access to health, particularly as it affects LBQ 


Our intention was to include a diverse group of young LBQ women from across Southern Africa. Applicants varied in experience and skills from being trans activists advocating for transwomen’s inclusion in feminist spaces, human rights activists, a social worker, and a psychologist-in-training; as well bloggers; storytellers; LBQ community leaders; women working in LGBTIQ organisations; an LBQ comic book creator; feminist and women’s rights organisers, poets; visual artists; as well as survivors of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Participants hoped to benefit from the FS in the following ways: to support organising and networking among Southern African LBQ women; to discover and learn more about African feminisms and intersectionality; to advance transwomen’s inclusion in feminist and women’s rights spaces; to learn from each other and build solidarity across country contexts; to be in a safe space that nurtures LBQ women’s leadership and development; to learn from each other about coping strategies in hostile environments; to expand knowledge and understanding of feminisms and African feminist activisms; to learn from each other about ways of ensuring WSW are included in KP health access and service delivery; to grow as LBQ women leaders, and to strengthen skills for challenging violations. 


We exist at a time of the constant rise of right-wing agendas: increasingly powerful patriarchal politics in action, religious fundamentalists taking control of nation states; and increasingly narrowing definitions of ‘what it means to be African’ – with attempts to exclude anything assumed to be ‘other’ including variously, LGBTIQ people, human rights, women’s and girls’ rights and freedom, equality and autonomy. 

In this context it is vital to build and strengthen feminist activism across the region, to expand our understandings of the present moment; to mobilise against perceived shrinking spaces for dissent and dialogue (and related violent crackdowns); economic injustice, with the soaring cost of living, and struggles to survive impacting women’s and LBQ freedoms, and the precarious activities undertaken for survival that increase our vulnerability to different forms of violence enacted on our bodies and psyches. 

The Freedom School set out to advance: 

  • Understandings of intersectionality, in particular looking at the cross-roads of gender, race, class, disabilities, sexualities and social constructions of exclusion; 
  • Critical engagement with feminisms, and the intersecting and multiple forms of structural oppression and violence LBQ women face; 
  • Our abilities as African feminists to influence discussions and debates on structural oppression and violence; 
  • Our conceptual understanding of how institutional cultures and policies intersect to form exclusionary practices that feed violence and undermine human rights; 
  • Sharing key lessons, strategies, ideas, resources and information to influence policy and programming for feminist leadership, gender equality; resisting violence against women (VAW) and advancing our rights to health. 


The Freedom School included feminist and LBQ leaders and thinkers as faculty. We foregrounded participants as the experts of their own lives, communities, work and contexts. This created space for: 

  • Participatory and interactive engagement; 
    • Hands-on and experiential learning; 
    • Thinking and learning for inspired creative activism, advocacy and self-care; 
    • Reflective thinking for ourselves, about ourselves; and for 
    • Considering ourselves and our positionalities in relation to the work we do. 

The Programme 

Following from the methodology, the programme was structured around conversations and debates, linked to creative activities and breathwork for centred, whole-self connection throughout the School. 

  • Understanding and Engaging with Key Feminist Concepts 
  • Framing violence
  • The Law, Human Rights and African Feminist Futures 
  • Feminist Disruptions and Protesting – Possibilities & Limits 
  • Disrupting Creatively
  • Building Healthy Solidarities of Conscience 
  • Subversive Feminist Strategies 
  • Creative Reflection & Appreciation 

Post-Freedom School Evaluation 

An evaluation questionnaire for Freedom School participants was circulated once participants had returned to their home contexts. This was to allow for time to absorb and reflect on the experience of the FS. Responses were overwhelmingly positive with arguments made for the FS initiative to become an ongoing feature of CAL’s work to nurture and support the development of LBQ activists and leaders across Southern Africa; to support their networking, organising, learning and knowledge-sharing. 

Participants particularly enjoyed the African feminist, decolonial approach pioneered at the FS, noting how effective this approach was to learning, reflection and their broader development