Written by collectives in Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe | Compiled and edited by Varyanne Sika & the Coalition of African Lesbians
Everywhere you look in African women’s history there is collective action which made much of life as we know it possible. Whether organized or organic, African women have a long history of coming together to work towards a common goal such as through economic empowerment groups when they were locked out of the formal economy, providing support to each other in times of need, fighting for liberation from the colonialists and fighting for justice for women among many other reasons.
In her book “Women and Collective Action in Africa,” (2006), Filomina Chioma Steady captures succinctly what grounds African women’s organizing:
“…women’s collective action [in Africa] is rooted in three main factors. The first is indigenous mechanisms of [women’s] mobilization and cooperation; the second is the historical experiences of colonization, and the third is the present reality of corporate globalization.”
Women in Africa have organized themselves into different formulations of collectives based on these three factors for social, political, and economic interests that are either practical or strategic. They have mobilized in formal and informal associations in one way or another, to challenge patriarchal hegemony, economic injustice, violation of their rights, violation of their freedoms and the denial of women living freely and with dignity. Collective organizing and subsequently action by women has contributed to advancing human rights and democracy for decades, it is a critical component of advancing broader struggles against all forms of oppression against those who live in the margins of society. This organizing also does the important work of maintaining the gains that other women have achieved, ensuring that any reforms and success achieved in the past does not get eroded as a result of a lack of watchfulness and fierce protection of women’s victories.
The documentation of the collective’s creation, struggles and success is just as important as the work these collectives do. A crucial component of CALs thinking work is producing knowledge and supporting our partners and members in incorporating knowledge production in all aspects of their organising and activism. We have done this work with our partners in the Autonomy (also called Masakhane) project in Southern Africa and have supported the collectives in which they are organized in thinking about documenting and sharing the stories about their collectives.
The Autonomy project is a project by CAL focusing on strengthening lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women’s leadership and enhancing capacities of CAL members and partners to do advocacy through campaigning in-country and learning through action. This is done through provision of financial and technical support by CAL to in-country activists to mobilise, learn together and form collectives to do advocacy work in the respective countries. Their advocacy builds on the regional advocacy (campaigning) CAL is doing on the following themes – autonomy, intersectionality, access and accountability. The collectives are made up of activists across movements including LBQ women, women living with HIV and AIDS, sex workers and young women.
These case studies written by the collectives from Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Botswana were prepared in a reflection process by the collectives who see value in documenting their work to share with other activists who might be interested in learning from them and in joining them in cross-collective solidarity. The collectives are at various stages in their work and their growth, and consequently, their stories differ. They offer various perspectives on what it means to organise collectively in the increasingly difficult environments brought by oppressive governments.
Towards Autonomy in Lesotho: A collective’s decision to focus mental health within diverse groups of women in Lesotho
Living in the intersections of oppressive systems coupled with various narratives that are engendered by these systems such as capitalism, misogyny which at the heart of, dismantle the idea of wholeness and replaces is it with compartmentalized living. One of the disheartening results of this way of life is the place that mental health and wellness is assigned: unimportant. From concepts of culture and traditions that have cast women as inferior, to the subliminal and sometimes overt teachings of capitalism in a country whose economy sees a huge percentage of the population living in poverty, mental health is an aspect of being is that is often overlooked.
However, despite this popular school of thought and way of life, there are individuals and organisations that seek to contribute to the landscape of organising and advocacy with particular interest on mental health and well-being. This saw the formation of the Lesotho Masakhane Autonomy Project Collective which is comprised of six individuals who in their personal capacity had already been doing community organising. Founded and rooted in feminist ideology that values the importance of an intersectional approach, this collective looks to create an in-depth analysis of the state of mental health within the different social groups we have partnered with. The basis of our partnership with individuals and organisations that serve as representatives of Women Living with Disabilities, Women Living with HIV/AIDS, Sex Workers, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women was to, in the end, have a more nuanced analysis that includes groups that are often excluded when research is done.
Furthermore, considering the danger that comes with speaking for certain constituencies without involving them in the work and risking the possibility of misrepresenting their lived realities, the first partner meeting was held with the directive of interrogating what women who form the social groups we chose to partner with experience. This meeting revealed that there is little to no work done on advancing the mental health state of these groups. Therefore, having realized how mental health is implicated in the overall wellbeing of a woman, despite Gender Based Violence having gotten many votes as a primary area of focus for the collective, a unanimous decision was made to make mental health and wellbeing the focal point of our work.
As with every journey and process, working together for a year has presented some challenges that sought from us innovative approaches to deal with. The first and paramount was the time it took for the project to get off the ground. This challenge presented an opportunity for us to exercise effective communication and to later also prioritise effectiveness since we started later than we had communicated with our partners. Additionally, we encountered challenges amongst ourselves as the working group in terms of availability and unclear communication challenges. Through these challenges, we learned to diversify ways to conduct meetings with evolved from meeting physically to utilizing the digital space.
Autonomy Project Botswana
By the Botswana Collective
The Botswana CAL Collective consists of 3 organisations namely; Health Empowerment Rights (H.E.R), Higher Heights for Girls Organisation (HHGO) and Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO). The representatives of the 3 organisations have been leading on the work of the Autonomy Project, which is a campaign based on the need for a recognition of the right of everyone to make decisions about their bodies and lives, especially women and gender non-conforming people. The campaign works with others to build a world where all people are able to exercise autonomy over their bodies and lives and to make decisions that affect their own bodies and lives without interference by individuals such as fathers, brothers and husbands, institutions such as state, religion and tradition and the society and community as a whole. The collective works within Botswana context looking at current affairs affecting women. The value of each organization was to ensure the representation of all these women. LEGABIBO works with lesbian and bisexual women, H.E.R engages with women who have sex with women, sex workers, women living with HIV and Transwomen along with HHGO that works with adolescent girls and young feminist advocates.
The Masakhane Project is a project by the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] but is led and owned by in-country activists who are passionate about making bodily autonomy real in the lives and minds of people and who want to ensure everyone involved in the campaign is ready for the implementation of the campaign and is able to articulate the full range of issues and diverse lived experiences of the focus group of the campaign. Furthermore, the intention of the collective is to engage activists, movement, media, legislators and the general public on the concept of Autonomy and everyone involved in the campaign and to use this to inspire, create and sustain momentum for proactive campaigning in country, based on knowledge and feminist organising and movement building.
Botswana is a country that does well in hiding behind religion and culture, to oppress womxn and take away their right to basic rights. Issues that affect bodies of womxn are usually left in the mercy of men. In Botswana for instance, abortion is still illegal, it is only permissible, if the abortion will save the woman’s life, that is if the pregnancy gravely endangers the woman’s physical or mental health, or if it is as a result of rape or incest. This is termed as a “paralegal” the grey area. The Botswana collective has since decided to focus on the abortion act and has been raising awareness on this issue and advocating within relevant spaces with stakeholders for there to be a change. The project aims for the inclusion of the womxn in such decisions being made about their bodies, and to allow the womxn to decide the terms of having an abortion, which is what The Autonomy Project was formed for, empowering womxn to decide what happens to their bodies. The “paralegal” cases are very difficult for the average Motswana woman who does not have medical aid or access to such information. It also forces the notion of motherhood on womxn, without considering that womxn should have a say in whether or not they want to be parents. This is the best angle to start the advocacy work. Liaising with other organisations would be essential when taking this endeavour, according to the research statistics released in August 2018 Batswana spent R600 000 at Marie Stopes in Mafikeng (an abortion clinic. The current statistics of illegal abortions in the government are staggering, even more shocking it is the sentence of up to 7 years maximum. Another area of focus is the moving away from heteronormative ways of policy making, The Autonomy project, insists that other forms of sexualities be considered when making laws, e.g. the adoption act to be inclusive to same sex partners. The marriage act to be open to same sex marriages too. These are some of the key areas, where conversations have been hosted by The Autonomy Project and open to the community, to raise awareness on how such laws are infringing on the rights of womxn.
Our Challenges and how we face them
The collective’s greatest challenge has been finding partners in country that work on the aforementioned issues. There are internal politics with the organizations that make work in the collective rather challenging. There has often been tension that has held back the collective’s progress regarding forming a foundation and moving forward with the work required. Another hinderance has been weight of work carried within the collective, due to a lack of resources or delays in obtaining funds late from our funders, the collective hasn’t been able to apply themselves to their full capacities. Throughout all the challenges however, our collective has been able to remain grounded and tight knit which has shown the strengths in sisterhood and necessity in being rooted in a common objective and politics. Lastly as a collective we have been able to assess the need for there to be internal policies which protects us as a working group. These policies will help in accountability and will help speed up the process of securing funds for activities and motivating collective members to contribute to their full capacities.
Collective Organizing by a small diverse group of Women
By: Ngamanya Nkunika, Mapesho Nyundu, and the collective
Our Understanding Collective Organizing; a collective is a group of individuals who work together on a common project by relying on internal hierarchies. They might exist temporarily or over a long period and membership in them is voluntary.
The Zambian Participants in the Autonomy Project is a collective of 21 activists from diverse organisations working in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. These organisations work with and on issues affecting lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LBT) persons, sex work, women living with HIV, and women working on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), specifically, women seeking or advocating for abortion services. The collective evolved out of the Autonomy Project initiated by the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). Through support from CAL, we have employed two people as coordinators of our activities and work. We work towards building a society where all people are able to make decisions about their bodies and lives without interference from fathers, brothers, husbands, the state, religion and a restrictive society at large.
Our collective embraces intersectional feminism as both as internal and individual praxis and an approach to our activism. The state of women living in Zambia lives far from ideal. Women are continuously violated, and the justifications often used are the cultural and religious norms which Zambia uses as the moral law of the land. The violations and their justifications have resulted into a state where women do not hold any autonomy over their bodies; women are instead owned and ruled over. Socio-economically, politically and in the religion, women’s positions are at the bottom. Because of this among several issues their sexual and reproductive health rights are not a priority and are diminished if not violated altogether. There are other groups of women in Zambia who suffer from an added layer of discrimination due to their HIV status, their sexuality, gender identity and the work they engage in. These are sex workers, lesbians, bisexual women, transwomen and women living with HIV/AIDS.
The Autonomy project in Zambia was built upon the already existing Autonomy project work that has been done in Zambia since 2014 in Lusaka and Livingstone. The work by the collective in the project so far has focused on movement building among the target groups we work with, and consciousness raising on the issues affecting the groups we work with as well as their root causes. In this cycle, the reference group decided to expand the geographical focus to include one more province which is Copper belt, the group also decided to deepen the understanding and analysis of the crosscutting issues affecting the women we work with through a feminist lens and direct action by the collective.
We envisaged that at the end of the project, there will be improved coordination and collaboration among activists and organisations in their advocacy actions. Another goal within this project general consciousness raising that will enable the activists and organisations to understand the root causes and analysis of the challenges they are tackling with their advocacy while also incorporating, promoting and ensuring wellness and wellbeing in activism.
Forming our collective
At the first meeting about the Autonomy project held in Lusaka 2017; the meeting was hosted by Coalition of African Lesbians and Transbantu Association of Zambia which focused on forming a collective of diverse Zambian women living on the margins. The objective was to create a unified platform which would amplify the isolated marginalized women groups. Because before then the Zambian feminist movement was so segmented and had not quite coordinated in the past in the manner that the Autonomy had idealised.
In the meeting a work plan was formulated which would cover the thematic areas of conscious- raising on issues affecting Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender women, sex workers and women living with HIV (Feminism 101), sensitization of sex workers, women living with HIV/AIDS, lesbians, bisexual women and transgender persons on sexual and reproductive health rights and human rights in general, documentation of violations, building solidarity, media & communication as well as wellbeing.
After the initial meeting, we continued to meet regularly for consciousness raising conversations and to plan on how we were going to make the Autonomy project a success when it kicked off in 2017. In preparation for implementation, we established our ways of working by hiring two coordinators, forming a reference group and the general collective. Communication channels were created as well as Terms of Reference (ToRs).
Why we organised;
Women in Zambia have no autonomy over their bodies. This is manifested in:
- No proper advocacy messages on safe abortion
- the criminalisation of sex work as well as of consensual sex between women
- The fact that society prescribes how women should dress, whom they should sleep with, and where they should go. This policing is related, not only to patriarchy as a root cause, but also to the fact that our society blames women for the spread of HIV.
- Women have normalised the consequences of the lack of autonomy and have been raised to believe that this is how the world should be.
- Despite this lack of autonomy being a cross cutting issue, women in Zambia were working in silos and holding on to identity politics which prevented a common and amplified voice in different spaces.
Protection and promotion of human rights is an integral component of Zambia’s Legal system, which has introduced a number of legal and policy reforms to promote sexual and reproductive health rights for all. However, there has been preferential implementation of sexual and reproductive health rights for different groups of women. Lesbians, bisexual women, sex workers, transgender women and women living with HIV/AIDS remain unequal to the general women’s population on these issues.
Women in Zambia have also borne the brunt of the negative cultural practices and religious norms, many of which have been described as oppressive, and which limit the advancement of these women. For sex workers, lesbians, Transgender women, Bisexual women, women living with HIV who are more often than not seen as burdens to their families, they are often pressured into arranged and or early marriages taking away their right to choose their sexual partners, bodily integrity, and consensual sex.
As such, Women face challenges linked to sexual and reproductive health that include among others, visibility, HIV/AIDS and STIs, stigma and discrimination, unreported violence and sexual offenses (as prescribed by law). Too many women face violence. Violence, whether physical, sexual and/or emotional, or the fear of violence can prevent women from negotiating safer sex. For example, women living with HIV and sex workers are sometimes blamed for bringing HIV into the home while Transwomen, Lesbian and bisexual women are ridiculed for being immoral and for breaking sexual norms. Sex work is criminalised under section 146 of the Penal Code, Chapter 87 of the laws of Zambia, which provides that:
“…any person who- knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution or in any public place, persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes; commits a felony and is liable, upon conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fifteen years.”
Same sex relations in Zambia are criminalised under Sections 155 and 158 of the Penal Code, which explicitly consider the act as an unnatural offence and provide for imprisonment where convictions are secured. These two sections undoubtedly criminalize any sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex and have remained unchanged since the Penal Code was enacted in 1931. Lesbian bisexual women and transgender persons are persecuted under this act and resulting in some fearing to access SRHR information and services. This fear is also fuelled by negative media reports of women living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and LBT women thereby reinforcing the idea that there is nothing positive about this group of people. In addition, the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation further oppresses the groups we work with by reinforcing the archaic penal code.
In order for us to address the above issues, it was and still is important that we build a critical mass of activists who understand and are conscious of the issues facing women in their differences and similarities. This is so that we can build a bigger movement of women who, despite our differences can find a common goal and stand in solidarity with each other in either direct or indirect advocacy actions that aim at targeting the root causes of the issues facing women such as culture, religion and the law.
What we have learnt so far;
Informal safe spaces: These spaces provided a forum for people to be more open and honest and enable a deeper analysis of the various issues we work on. In previous workshops that were held by different organisations, women did not open up because they didn’t feel safe. The informal spaces allowed people to be themselves and because most people could relate to what was being talked about, they felt freer to share. The topics that are considered a secret and taboo amongst the target groups were shared in these spaces, and we got to hear the minute details of their everyday experiences that women face from all facets of their communities. These spaces also help to break down barriers between the different groups. In Livingstone, where we did not get a chance to create the informal safe spaces, the women are not as united as the ones in Lusaka. There is still discrimination among the different target groups, and they have not yet started working together.
Meeting people where they are: It is important to meet people where they are in terms of consciousness and knowledge levels instead of working based on assumptions. They are then more willing and able to assimilate the content and messaging of project. Therefore, even if it means interpreting content in vernacular language, accessibility of conversations and learning material is important.
Lived realities as a way of surfacing the issues: It is much easier to bring messaging home if it is linked to, or not far removed from, people’s experiences. In the informal safe spaces, when a woman would share a story, another would pick up and share a similar experience and then we would identify and name the issues. It was different when these concepts were shared with the use of PowerPoint presentations as most could not really connect the presentations to their lived realities.
Intersectional interventions: It is important for marginalized groups to come together and implement intersectional interventions as they lead to stronger linkages, bigger critical mass and real solidarity among different groups. The success of the Autonomy Project in Lusaka lay in women from different target groups being able to articulate each other’s issues and amplify each other’s voices.
Documentation: Documentation should not only focus on the negative, and the violations that people face. These are important for advocacy purposes, but documenting the resilience in our communities is equally important for writing and maintaining our own history. The Autonomy Project has been able to share solutions to common challenges women face in their lives and in their organizing work, by documenting the resilience of these groups of women.
Co-ordination: Before the collective hired a coordinator, communication was difficult, and activities were left to chance, with a few individuals volunteering to take the lead. Having someone dedicated to the task of co-ordination has made a huge difference in these areas.
Legacy of identity politics: Because this is a project that was pioneered by CAL, the Coalition of African Lesbians – and the collective has more LBT women than other target groups – some participants felt that it was an LBT project and they were reluctant to take ownership. These effects of identity politics are real and cannot be dissolved overnight. This is why we worked hard to ensure that people felt welcome and opened doors for women to get involved through call for application to be part of the collective.
Mashakhane Case Study: Zimbabwe
By: Tash Dowell and the collective
The Feminist Action Campaign (FAC)
‘Body Autonomy’ is a term widely understood to mean deviance in Zimbabwe. It is associated with “wayward” women (sex workers), ‘vanoda kuzviita varume avo’ (those who want to be men, aka lesbians) and ‘vema rights’ (women who identify as feminists or want to change the natural order of women submitting to their men). For these groups of women referenced in the different inaccurate definitions however, autonomy has come to mean a number of things but mostly, choice!
In the beginning of 2015, the stripping of a young woman by touts at a commuter rank, incensed a group of four women who shared a desire to see an action-oriented feminist collective. The four women wanted to see a feminist collective that is autonomous and thus, free to organize, quickly and efficiently in emergency cases without fear or apology and accountable only to itself, its core values and the constituency the collective was formed to serve.’ The Feminist Action Campaign (FAC) was formed. The coordinating team of four was joined by a fifth member to form the strategic thinking team of the campaign who are accountable to the rest of the campaigners and to each other within the founding collective.
The FAC was premised on the “I am more than” campaign which had already been in the corridors of women’s rights in Zimbabwe since 2013. The campaign allowed for self-organising and honest and transparent governance among its members. This model of working strengthened the campaign’s resolve to take on the task. At the time of the FAC collective forming, public violence against women and especially, what they wore was on the rise. A number of videos of the stripping of women in different locations in the Harare were circulating on social media, especially the WhatsApp platform. The law did not seem to protect women’s right to choose what to wear, or their dignity as enshrined in the constitution. The campaign was fiercely committed to social justice and women’s sexual freedoms of autonomous choice and expression. Rejecting the over professionalization of activism and frustrated with fragmented work on sexuality with inconsistent and in some cases the complete absence of a political ideology, the FAC attempted to ignite the social awareness required for an ideologically grounded movement to emerge.
This could only happen outside of institutions which are often bound by policies and procedures. The campaign understood these complexities and attempted to model a non-hierarchical structure in which any woman who shares the values of the campaign can become part of the campaign as long as those most affected by the discourse remain at the centre. The campaign also understood the importance of strength in numbers and the importance of partnerships and thus, sought to build strong alliances with mainstream women’s organisations as well as other allies in academia, human rights activism and other social movements to learn from each other as well as, develop stronger analyses and arguments to ground our work.
The context in which FACers and other feminists in Zimbabwe worked changed from these efforts and the positive judgement from the tout case, where a woman was stripped naked, meant that women could in most cases enjoy their physical freedoms without fear of harassment. The judgement allowed for further efforts to advocate for more tolerance of women’s choices.
The campaign took on activities to ignite discussions and taking up space by going into facilities that are considered red-light zones, especially bars. In 2015, ICASA was held in Zimbabwe and the collective managed to conduct flash mobs in the public zones. Brown bags, which are essentially short lunch hour sessions were tools to target other CSOs and individuals working in the women’s discourse. These were reported to have high cases of sexual harassment against women. The idea and development of counter pro-abortion messaging was a covert operation that was eventually considered too dangerous at the time as the political environment was further becoming unstable.
In 2016, the FACers coordination dissolved as members had other interests to pursue. This also dissolved the non-hierarchical structure of the movement. The idea of togetherness had been planted and campaigners needed nothing except meeting details to show up and participate. A sense of unity and purpose had been instilled and this carried through to the Masakhane Project when it started.
The collective as we now call it, is a result of these strides. It is comprised of 3 coordination organisations namely: GALZ, Katswe and Pakasipiti, collective members from said institutions, individual activists and partnering organisations such as Voice of the Voiceless and Rise Above Women’s Organisation. The collective members exceed 100 feminists.
In 2017, the Masakhane project gave the collective a new lease of life. Titled ‘Exploding Sexualities’ in Zimbabwe, aimed to create space to engage on the issue of sexuality beyond the masked pretences of sex for reproduction, gender conformity and heteronormativity. The project further created space for the shaping of a movement and according to the people who participated in the initial years of the project, giving them autonomy on organizing as well as providing the subsequent analyses resulting from the various activities. Key among the analyses is questioning how well organisations working on issues of sexuality understand their context and what their political ideologies are in relation to sexuality issues; interrogating whether there is an actual movement working on issues of sexuality in Zimbabwe and improving the understanding of sexuality within the women’s and LGBTI movements and communities in order to reduce the negative impacts on LBQ women, sex workers and women seeking abortion.
Politically, the landscape was changing as rumours of a potential ousting of the former president, R. G. Mugabe had started to surface. This meant that security had to be considered more seriously and urgently in programming. The advocacy context was also changing and driving towards the decriminalization of same sex conduct, especially among men. This worked out well for sex workers and other health related services however, the LBQ community had many other milestones to achieve. Raids at GALZ, which, for a long time had been the only safe space, had left the community vulnerable and fearful. Issues of visibility and taking up space were at the time contentious as the question was, ‘Who is organizing it?’ The project, despite these challenges, brought excitement and a willingness of members of the collective to participate and contribute to the work.
Today, in 2019, the Zimbabwean LBQ and Female Sex workers’ communities remain communities on the margins, recognised largely in the health care sector. Their desires, however, transcends their SRHR needs to societal integration, recognition and appreciation. The environment, however new, owing to the change of power from the long rule of R. G. Mugabe to President E. Mnangagwa in August 2018, remains volatile for the groups as they are unsure of the future.
Because the battles of these communities are often theirs alone, their issues are not tabled in the broader human rights and women’s rights debate. Issues of tokenism come into play in the civil society women’s space as well as in the LBQ and sex worker community itself. The war for funding further fuels tokenism as many institutions are encouraged to be more diverse in how their staff is constituted and their target groups to be more attractive to donors. The gay, bisexual men and trans* (GBT) movement continues to get funding while the lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women’s movement lags behind and is seen as less ‘vulnerable.’ In the past, the LBQ community and the sex worker community had a tendency of discriminating against each other, each assuming they were better than the other.
While progress has been made in the inclusion of specific groups in the health sector, spaces for dialogue and understanding, for the LBQ and female sex workers and women seeking abortion as community and, with allies or the broader society remains scarce. This realisation with the collective, motivated the pursuit and creation of alternative spaces for the LBQ and female sex worker community for determining their needs, deliberating and making decisions on their future. Movement building remains at the core of the collective’s work. Understanding that no woman is an island and that in order to achieve our objectives, we have to have collective power to influence the change we want to see. Thus, throughout the years, one thing has remained constant, and that is ‘showing up’ for each other.
It was also important to create space for unpacking the various traumas that hindered the progression of individuals in their personal and shared community life. The wellness circles as well as the safety and security sessions allowed for collective members to unburden without fear of judgement. Consciousness raising was essential for a shared understanding of the work at hand and to help members to contextualise their issues. The spaces created reminded the collective of the power within and the power to and the power with. This led to, among other things, community members questioning power by, for instance, demanding space in programming within institutions and challenging accountability in those institutions.
Challenges such as language, safety, adequate resources for organizing, accountability and transparency were bundled together as the context’s volatility continued to push the envelope of survival to the brinks of collapse. Some sex workers felt that the spaces were ‘hard’ to participate in because the language and the tools were complex due to their ‘academic nature.’ The uncertainty of the political climate and previous trauma from raids made the communities sceptical of attending events organised by the collective. A number of issues emerged as to the administration and distribution of resources as well as implementation in general. In addition, collective members highlighted implementation differences such as currency use, activity setup and notification, within institutions under the same project. These challenges led to a loss of momentum as collective energy was spent working towards finding solutions to the challenges.
”Project yabatsira kubvisa kutya matiri isu vamwe, takutokwanisawo kutaura zvatiri pachena usina anokuvhunza.”
This project has emboldened us, we are now able to speak about ourselves to other people without fear. The impact of the project is still being felt today despite the challenges encountered along the way. Calls for solidarity within the community remain as loud as Vuvuzelas in unabated resounding agreement in the collective. A number of key lessons were learnt in collective formulation and organising, include:
- Consciousness raising is crucial. The discrimination of women, transcends race, age and contexts however, it is not the same nor do they experience it the same. With this in mind, a collective, needs to have a shared understanding of its cause and its intersectionality in order to fully include all the target groups. It also needs to determine which areas they can work together and at times in silos.
- Accountability and transparency are both important within a collective and it is not limited to those who hold power.
- Allow members of the collective to discuss contentious issues, raw and without restriction. While this can be a recipe for disagreement within the collective, but it opens doors for appreciating differing views and fostering a shared understanding that disagreement is not a reason for the collective to stop working together.
- Maintaining democracy and objectivity in an institutionalised setting is one of the hardest things to do especially in the context of poor economic stability. Resources and how they are managed tend to be at the forefront. In addition, coordination members of the collective do not always participate at the same level depending on the role they are playing. However, we have established a working rotational schedule to ensure equal participation.
- Collective members can at times take a passive stance towards activities and motivating them to take up more daring roles requires patience and time. Issues of public speaking, confidence and knowledge base are important issues to address within the collective for meaningful participation.
Collective organising can be fulfilling work. It brings a sense of belonging, pride and passion to all involved. It creates friendships and alliances beyond specific projects and specified timeframes. Collective organising remains the cornerstone of LBQ and Sex worker programming in the current Zimbabwe context.
We are stronger together.