Welcome to a small exercise in introspection. As we adjust and wrap our hearts, minds and spirits around what it means to be living through a global pandemic as African women and people who are Black, young, HIV positive, seeking abortion, sex workers, queer and all the myriad of identities we carry; we wanted to take an opportunity to take a moment, however small, to reflect on who we are, how we’ve done things, and how we carry or leave these behind as we forge on in feminist activism.
CAL has foregrounded itself as a feminist, pan-Africanist and activist organisation with the main aim of collectively creating and broadening a Radical African Lesbian Feminist agenda on the continent. Our ideology is rooted in the production of knowledge that speaks directly to our experiences and realities as African people with a wide range of identities. . CAL organises its programmatic and organisational development work in three categories, or as we like to call them, pillars, namely: Think, Build and Influence. The Build component hosts the Community Organising and Campaigns (COC) stream that is largely based on building, supporting, and enhancing feminist leadership and movements and the development of campaigns that echo a myriad of issues faced by African women and non-binary people.
The guiding principle for CAL’s COC work is organising around autonomy- the autonomy of women in their diversities and the pursuit of sexual rights, freedom and justice under the banner of The Autonomy Project, which over the years, has found a home within feminist movements and collectives in Southern Africa and West and Central Africa. In the Southern hemisphere, our work has involved supporting collective organising in 6 countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The success of the Autonomy Project (also known as the Masakhane) has proven to be an adaptable model for more of CAL’s work with groups of women across the continent. The concept of collective organising has been beneficial in increasing the footprint of queer feminist organising on the continent and has seen the extension of the Autonomy Project to West and Central Africa (WACA), namely, Benin, Tunisia and Rwanda. The Autonomy Project aims to create campaigns that are specific to the context in which Collectives find themselves, but its has also proven extremely beneficial for cross movement solidarity strengthening and to ensure that WHRDs have access to each other, resources and knowledge that supports their national work.
It gets complicated
Feminist principles have taught us the importance of naming the challenges we face and at CAL we have faced quite a few in our movement building work. We have learned that movement building work is a long continuum with factors that vary per country and per context. This realisation has brought perspectives of how capacity development, support, group dynamics and distribution of resources have been key factors in how movements are built, maintained and sustained. The changing contexts – politically, socially and in organising cultures- have also seen collectives in both Southern Africa and WACA contend with ideological differences and the effect of these on who Collectives are able to work with and how. CAL has had to be mindful of each of these factors and has had to make space for Collective building to happen as organically as possible before introducing other aspects, often linked to the NGO industrial complex, to the organising puzzle. This is foresight we wish we had when the concept of the Autonomy Project was developed. All too often collective organising efforts are at the mercy of donor timelines that unfortunately do not cater for the relationship building aspect of feminist movement building and would rather we ‘hit the ground running’ when translations of ways of working guides have not fully been cultivated into the space but exist on a removed compliance pedestal.
It is important also to note the successes of collective feminist organising, and the Autonomy Project, in creating spaces for queer women to organise and showcasing and providing a space for interconnectedness between Southern and Western and Central African feminist activists.
Feminist movement building is at the heart of all of CALs work – the Community and Campaigns work stream is the vehicle in which we hope to tie all our programmatic and advocacy efforts to activists in country – not only so they may be able to use this work to further in-country agendas, but so our efforts may also be driven by these same agendas.
Currently a six country project the Autonomy Project is focussed on strengthening capabilities of CAL members and partners to campaign in country.
The main actors within the Autonomy Project are activists from groups, formations and formal and national organisations. The goal is to invest in developing and strengthening consciousness, competence and confidence within activists so that are able to lead advocacy work in country and to make the connections between local realities and organising and global realities and organising. The project contributes towards movement building, and cross movement solidarity work and strengthening feminist activism.
Over the years the CAL secretariat and members of the various Collectives have produced an array of articles, videos, podcasts, poems and photo exhibitions all under the Autonomy banner.
Below we showcase some of our work. For more you can also visit the African Feminist Standpoint.
The African Feminist Standpoint and the Autonomy Project
Another platform that houses Autonomy Project content is the African Feminist Standpoint. On the Autonomy Project tab you can find a host of content from activists plugged into the Autonomy Project in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia and Eswatini.
Below are a few of the wonderful submissions you can explore on the site.
In an art making session in Gaborone, Botswana, Autonomy Project members from Southern and Western and Central Africa took part in a Zine making exercise. “A zine, short for magazine, is a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images. A zine is a non-professional and non-official publication produced by enthusiasts of a particular cultural phenomenon for the pleasure of others who share their interest.” All zines explored the theme of Autonomy!! Click here to see all Zines produced.