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RALF Newsletter: September 2020

Advocacy @ CAL

In the beginning of this year CAL welcomed an Advocacy manager to our team. Fadzai has a long history with CAL and was a part of the team that organised at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights and eventually secured CAL observer status in 2016 and we are thrilled to welcome her back.  In this edition of the newsletter we sat down with Fadzai to speak about her vision for advocacy at CAL, her thoughts and feelings around the current climate and potential advocacy strategies and much more.  

Speaking Advocacy 

How do you feel the advocacy landscape (in how CAL has been organising in regional and international advocacy spaces and work with members and partner) has changed from when CAL first applied for Observer Status at the African Commission?

Advocacy, defined by the Alliance for Justice as any action that speaks in favour of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others, is mainly concerned with bringing about change for others or a focus on the external environment, and for CAL that focus was on regional and international human rights mechanisms in collaboration with members and partners. Although that approach hasn’t changed, there seems to be a more intentional focus on internal organisational processes that include the functioning of the Secretariat, the relationship between members and partners and the role of the board. By turning the focus internally and grounding the care and wellbeing of members and staff, through the strengthening of intra and interpersonal relationships and cohesion between teams in the organisation there is an understanding that these conditions set the tone for the type of work we want to do and the outcomes we want.Important too, from what I observe, is the need to establish healthy functional relationships with the partners and organisations CAL collaborates with, ensuring that what we seek out there is something we are also working on in the organisation and the movement. We also need to ensure that our analysis remains critical – even, and perhaps especially of the institutions we choose to engage in and with, including human rights mechanisms. One such example is the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). There has been concern from civil society organisations, for some years now, that the independence of the ACHPR is being compromised by the African Union. The withdrawal of CAL’s observer status and the SERAP decision led to the setting up of Coalition for the Independence of the African Commission (CIAC), a coalition of human rights organisations working at the ACHPR and invested in the independence of the ACHPR based on the undue influence of the AU through the Executive Council’s decisions. The struggle for freedom and lives free from violence due to the conditions created by colonialism, neoliberalism, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity and ‘our’ states continues, but I think there is also a deep understanding that the systems and structures that were created to protect and promote human rights are not necessarily the spaces where these freedoms will be won. So, while we call for an independent ACHPR we are also very aware that the AU is not the only problematic human rights body, and that ACHPR itself is compromised. 

Considering the history of the ACHPR with sexuality rights and activism, what opportunities and challenges do you see for civil society organisations engaging in and wanting to engage with the Commission?

Full disclosure, I struggle with the idea that there is independence at the ACHPR that has and is being compromised by the AU through the Permanent Representative Committee and the Executive Council. I don’t think the ACHPR is independent, and this is based on the behaviour of commissioners during CAL’s observer status application process, and other processes where commissioners have been complicit to state and non-state violence in the ACHPR spaces. Even during the last session of the ACHPR, the Focal Point on Reprisals, the body charged with monitoring reprisals against Human Right Defenders, questioned the criteria for granting observer status to coalitions. This felt, to me, like a form of reprisal – to seek to put in place restrictions on organisations wishing to apply for observer status by using criteria that are not in the existing guidelines. In terms of challenges and opportunities: for one thing, I understand the challenges of wanting to be revolutionary, while working in systems and structures of power and doing this work through funding which may not have the space to be creative and divisive. I also understand the fear of ‘failure’ and the loss of funding – but there are opportunities from this failure, there is specifically the opportunity of a process of reflecting on the heteronormative, capitalist script that comes with success, which can allow CAL to re-write stories and think about queering the trajectory of the Coalition. The withdrawal of the observer status could be an avenue for CAL and other organisations [to continue] to pursue or to think of a different strategy that creates alternative processes that harness people power, and hold people centred commissions that are not confined to the human rights mechanisms that should also be held accountable for their in/actions.

What are you feeling and thinking about the current Black Lives Matter protests and organising at the UN Human Rights Council? 

What the Urgent Debate on Police Brutality and Racism in the United States highlighted was that the members of the Human Rights Council and Global North states are racist and will close ranks to protect each other at all costs. The Debate also made visible the false notion that Global North are generally more ‘progressive’ and that Global South are ‘conservative’. It also laid bare the hypocrisy of Global North states interaction at the Human Rights Council, where for example the same Global North that has financial institutions that are investing large amounts of money in monoculture, which has led to the destruction of natural resources and has fuelled land-grabs, are engaging on resolutions on foreign debt or the right to food.There seems to be disbelief at how the Human Rights Council responded to the Urgent Debate, but as has been said ‘the system is not broken, its working the way it was designed  for the benefit of those who set it up’, which makes it a challenge for the ways in which queer Global South organisations participate in a flawed and racist system. Working in this space also has us questioning the decolonisation agenda and the need for justice, when where we seek justice is in the heart of white power and  through those who have historically, and in the present, violate and abuse us and the environment.This current iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement has been vital in showing what is possible, and a different way of thinking and seeking justice. The calls for prison abolition and to defund the police, among others, is a clarion call for us to think about creative ways of seeking and attaining freedom that involves collective actions and radical tactics

What is your vision for advocacy at CAL?

Most of my ideas are based on re/membering – which is a twin-fold process of remembering the vision and dream that was CAL in its inception and the process of centering the members in the identification, development and implementation of strategies and tactics for the work we are doing in our organisations, nationally, regionally and internationally – this is linked directly to the processes of building collectives and collective power that is driven by Radical African Lesbian Feminsism , queer and Pan-African politics. For the politics to be alive, I believe CAL needs to take its place as a shared political learning space, a feminist learning community. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of being in community with some beautiful, amazing and inspiring humans, and we have shared spiritual, il/legal, kink, gardening and other forms of knowledge – these spaces are important to create, birth and nurture ideas that sustain our movements and actions.As we continue to work in and invest huge amounts of time in regional and international multi-governmental spaces, we need to continue to question and understand WHY we are in these spaces when our politics are in opposition to the hegemonic power and hostility we observe and experience. There is a need for us to invest in parallel processes of creating dual power by creating a self-determining community with those who share in the politics and frustrations for the systems, a community where healing, care and love are not only possible,but also a reality.

How do you think advocacy in membership-based organisations needs to be different from non-membership structures – if at all? 

I don’t think there should be a difference, advocacy is about work with and through people, membership-based or not. The types of relationships we seek to build with those which we work, collaborate, share frustrations, love, heal, and whatever else we do with them, is about relating. The difference is probably more about the politics that ground the organisation. There should be some fundamental principles though in how we engage with members and understand the power dynamics that are at play. An organisation like CAL has financial, social and political currency, and so how we engage with our members has to be deliberate, with a focus on not causing harm to those who have chosen to be family, tribe, co-conspirators with us. We are accountable to membership, and as such, this should show in the ways in which we work together, rely on and are dependent on each other We should work towards, sustain and maintain healthy positive and mutually beneficial relationships with the membership

Advocacy in review

Interested in CALs advocacy work? Read some of the work we have published in the last 2 years. 

Article: The Doors to a Feminist Future Must Remain Open

“The ability of feminist funders to continue doing transformative, innovative and subversive work is likely to be severely hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation calls us to question our not having sustainability mechanisms that look beyond donor funding.”

Advocacy Manager at CAL, Fadzai, penned an article published by The Daily Maverick, on the trend of unilateral decision making by States and the effects on feminist organising. Click here to read the full text

Press Release: Resolution on Racism and Police Brutality 

On 17 and 18 June 2020 the United Nations Human Rights Council held an Urgent Debate,  on racial discrimination and police brutality. Over 600 civil society organisations, Special Mandate holders of the UN and the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent hoped the Urgent Debate would result in the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into racial dismcrimiation and police brutality in the United States. What happened instead was the passing of a watered down resolution that did not mention not attempt to hold the United States accountable. CAL issued a press release to speak to the hypocrisy of the Human Rights Council’s inability to ensure justice for Black people across the globe while stating #BlackLivesMatter. Click here to read the press release

Video: The Commission

In the film ‘The Commission: From Silence to Resistance’, directed by Bev Ditsie, follow the work, challenges and triumphs of CALISLAAMSHeR and Synergía as they pushed for the inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

Joint Statement: Defending the Independence of the ACHPR

“Over the years, the ACHPR has been subject to various threats and attempts to undermine its credibility and independence by individual state parties and the African Union as a whole. These attempts to undermine and restrict the work of the ACHPR mirror similar attacks on the global human rights system in a world increasingly characterised by autocratic and populist governments. It is also an illustration of leaders not wanting to be held accountable for human rights violations, and the lack of redress at national level for these violations happening under their watch.”

Click here to read the full joint statement which speaks to the threat of the African Union to the independence of the African Commission, what is meant by a ‘functional independence’, human rights violations & accountable States, shrinking civil society space, impunity and accountability.

Statement: The Right to Food

At the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council CAL delivered a statement on the right to food: “We wish to highlight the intersection of gender, access to land and the right to food on the African continent. While there has been significant progress made through work being done at the ACHPR, women’s ownership, control and access to land and property rights continue to be infringed upon by discriminatory laws”. Click here to read the full statement.

Statement: Racial Equality & Information Technologies

At the 44th session of the HRC, CAL delivered a statement on racial equality in the context of information technologies: “While northern-based tech corporations make a profit out of black bodies and minds from the global South, they purposely continue to allow racist, misogynist and homophobic speech on their platforms. Women human rights defenders, feminist and queer activists, particularly people of color are routinely subject to threats of violence and discrimination online with little means of seeking justice or redress”, Click here to read the full statement.

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 .