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RALF Newsletter: July 2020

Feminist Research

In this edition of the newsletter we continue our reflections and sharing of the different workstreams at CAL. This month we spend some time with the Research and Knowledge Management Team .

The research team takes us through their work in the last year focusing on the Autonomy Project and research conducted by collectives in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana. 

We are also incredibly excited to launch Remembering African Feminist Voices (RAFV).

A creation of the research team at CAL, RAVF is a project borne out of frustration and fear. Frustration at the palpable lack of African voices within the global feminist discourse and fear that those voices would be forgotten and never celebrated. The RAFV is, therefore, a project aimed at embracing these voices by amplifying the works of women and non-binary persons who, in their unique ways, have explored African feminism. 

Writing Activism and Collective Strides  

CAL’s research and knowledge production team is excited to share some updates on some of the work we have been doing this year, but first, we’re thrilled to announce that we have a new member in our growing team: Nozizwe, Research Officer extraordinaire! Nozizwe joining us means two things regarding our research work, more, and better.

The Autonomy Project

Last year we worked together with collectives working on the Autonomy project on incorporating knowledge production more deliberately in their work. The first knowledge project the collectives set out on was the task of documenting their collectives’ history, challenges, success, and their general perspectives on collective organizing within the context of their own work. These case studies were prepared in a reflection process by collectives from Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Botswana 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 in different phases of their work and at different stages in their growth, so their stories necessarily differ and offer various perspectives on what it is to organize collectively in increasingly difficult and hostile contexts. Here are a some snippets:

To read this compilation of case studies on collective organizing written by the Autonomy project collectives, click here.  

For more information on the Autonomy Project read the ‘What Works‘ report that delves into the experiences of each collective including successes and achievements, strategies, implementation, challenges, lessons and next steps.

The Autonomy project keeps on giving!

We have expanded this project from Southern Africa into Rwanda, Benin and Tunisia with the support of the African Women’s Development Fund. Part of this expansion process has involved conducting desk research on violence against women and women’s political participation in the three countries. The report, which has been validated in conjunction with Tunisian, Rwandan and Benin feminists activists, will be published soon. We will be hosting a webinar to share the report and have conversations about what our next steps are. Stay tuned for further announcements on dates and other details. 

Remembering African Feminist Voices!

Welcome to Remembering African Feminist Voices (#rafv)!

One of the basic tenets of feminism is to recognise the voices and labour of women who throughout history, have often been silenced and erased by patriarchy. With this in mind, this project seeks to play an active role in amplifying the various ways in which feminism has been explored through theory, literature, art and many more forms. The aim is to celebrate African feminism and African voices and to document their work for the sake of remembrance and knowledge preservation. 

Our first publication is an exploration of African Sexualities. We ask ourselves, individually and collectively, what it means to embrace our sexualities as African Women. Inspiration is drawn from the academic works of Sylvia Tamale and Patricia McFadden who take us on a journey of their understanding of African Sexualities. The provocative and radical artistic work of Lady Skollie is highlighted as a reminder of the importance of representation through art within the African Sexualities discourse. 

We hope that the lessons drawn from each of the highlighted works have contributed to our knowledge of feminism. Moreover, we hope each of us are compelled to not only interrogate our understanding of sexualities but also to celebrate the diversity.

#RAFV Issue 1: African Sexualities

As an African woman, when did you process yourself as a sexual being for the very first time? When did you first confront your body outside of the parameters of its biological functions? How have you navigated the expression of your sexuality? In your language(s), how do you say ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ or ‘pansexual’? Growing up, which women – on television, in magazines or even within the community – affirmed and validated your sexual existence and desires? 

These are but a few of the questions that come to mind when thinking about what it means to be African and to be a woman who experiences sexuality as an intrinsic part of their humanity. We do not candidly speak about sex as something that women can enjoy, crave and even initiate. Instead, sex is socialised as something that happens to us rather than an act that we can avidly participate in. Slut-shaming represses our innermost sexual desires while the hyper-sexualisation of women’s bodies obliterates the sexual identities that are not premised on sexual attraction, asexuality as a case in point. 

No one speaks to us about orgasms or the numerous powerful nerve endings found in the clitoris. We are not taught about masturbation or encouraged to explore our sexualities outside of the heteronormative sense. The result of this is a suppressed understanding of ourselves and our bodies as African women. Another consequence is the gross erasure of our sexualities which in turn curtails our human experience. 

In seeking answers to the questions posited above, it became imperative to look to the work of African women who have experienced similar frustrations with the lack of visibility and discourse around our sexualities. These women have explored, in their unique ways, their thoughts on sexualities while being African and this edition of RAFV is dedicated to underscoring their efforts with great gratitude. 

Sylvia Tamale is a Ugandan human rights activist, Associate Professor, former Dean of Law at Makerere University, academic and most importantly, a feminist. During the course of her illustrious career, Sylvia’s areas of research have ranged from feminist jurisprudence, women in politics to gender and sexualities. As editor and co-author of the book ‘African Sexualities: A Reader’, Sylvia penned the introductory chapter titled, ‘Researching and theorizing sexualities in Africa’ which is the work from which inspiration is drawn for this edition of RAFV. 

The essay begins with an important reminder: gender and sexuality are intertwined but they are not synonymous. Both are social constructs and must be viewed with the understanding that they can be varied and influenced by other factors such as class, race and age. The lesson imparted to us by Tamale is to embrace intersectionality, even when exploring our sexualities as African women. 

She goes on to offer a justification of sexuality in the plural i.e. why ‘sexualities’ and not ‘sexuality.’ The use of ‘sexualities’ is a deliberate and radical attempt to expand our understanding of sexuality beyond the current norm and status quo that is binary-centred. We are urged to not view our sexualities as limited to heterosexuality or homosexuality but instead to digest sexuality as a wide spectrum that consists of pleasure, gender identity, sexual beliefs, power and violence, sexual practices, self-esteem and many more aspects. 

Through a recounting of our violent and collective history of colonialism, Sylvia points out that African sexualities have existed since time immemorial but were cruelly bastardised during the imperial expansion. Colonisers branded African sexualities as primitive and immoral while simultaneously construing African women and their bodies as ugly, hypermasculine and undesirable. Of course, this is all fallacious and demands that we adopt a decolonisation lens to understanding our sexualities. This is especially important because remnants of the colonisers’ notions are visible in present day Africa through the criminalisation of homosexuality and ‘same sex acts’ in certain countries.

Born in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Professor Patricia McFadden is a sociologist, seasoned lecturer, academic and most notably, a radical African feminist. She contributed significantly to the struggle against white apartheid rule in South Africa for twenty years. Her areas of expertise and interest include Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), African women’s right to property and Gender politics within Southern Africa. The insights from Patricia McFadden that have stood out in this issue emanate from her essay titled, ‘Sexual Pleasure as Feminist Choice.’

‘Sexual Pleasure as Feminist Choice’ was published at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa and it seems logical to draw strength and parallels at a time when we are collectively grappling with yet another pandemic, COVID-19. Patricia encourages women to reclaim their [sexual] agency by stepping away from the disease commotion. While it is good to remain informed on the latest developments, incessantly doing so can be consuming and to our detriment as women. In the process, we may forget to tend to our sensualities and sexual desires. It is therefore important, during this time especially, to understand ‘self-care’ as inclusive of nurturing our sexual selves. 

Patricia argues that embracing our sexualities as African women is a necessary and radical act of self-love. It is by patriarchal design that women are socialised into sexual modesty while men are boastful monopolies of sex. To express our sexualities is to resist patriarchy. It is to reclaim the full spectrum of our humanity. It is particularly important to centre our sexualities as a source of a pleasure rather than extensions of biological functions i.e. reproduction. Our bodies are so much more than incubators of life and to proclaim this is to amplify our autonomy.

Laura Windvogel, more popularly known as Lady Skollie, is a South African artist who seeks to challenge the status quo on gender, sexualities and race through her art. Her exhibitions have been showcased widely in South Africa, London and France, to name a few. In this edition, we explore Lady Skollie’s ‘Lust Politics’ – an exhibition held at the Tyburn Gallery in Cape Town.

To see Lady Skollie’s entire exhibition, click here

See you next time on another edition of #RAFV. Please do share your thoughts with us as well as who you would like to see celebrated next! Keep well and keep safe. 

The African Feminist Standpoint

The launch of issue #3 of the African Feminist Standpoint is drawing near. As our thinking and analyses have deepend, feminist activists have questioned how the discourse of wellness and self-care assigned responsibility, even blame, to the individual to be well. We are increasingly recognising that ‘self’ care is not a broad enough concept to acknowledge and hold that unwellness is also rooted in systemic oppression – that ultimately to be well, we also need to be free and living in a just world.

We’re so excited to launch an issue that will showcase a wide range of ideas and analysis from forgiveness to food. Stay tuned!

To visit previous issues of the AFS please visit our website .