RALF Newsletter: The Anti-Gender Movement -A Universal Threat

28 April 2021 was the 13th anniversary of Eudy Simelane’s murder. Eudy, one of the first openly lesbian women in the South African township of KwaThema was abducted, gang raped and stabbed 25 times. Since February 2021, at least 6 LGBTIQ+ South Africans have been killed: Bonang Gaelae was found dead on 12 February 2021. Nonhlanhla Kunene was found half naked in Edendale, Pietermaritzburg on 5 March. Sphamandla Khoza was beaten, stabbed and had his throat slit on 29 March in Kwamashu, Durban. Nathaniel ‘Spokgoane’ Mbele, was stabbed in the chest in Tshirela, Vanderbijlpark on 2 April. Andile ‘Lulu’ Nthuthela whose body was mutilated and burned was found on 10 April in KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage. Lonwabo Jack was found dead on a pavement in Nyanga, Cape Town on 17 April.

On March 15 2021, Ayesigye Jordan and Atuhwera Chriton, LGBTI refugees residents of Block 13 Kakuma Refugee Camp were set on fire while they were sleeping. After suffering extensive burns Ayesigye Jordan and Atuhwera Chriton were slow to receive medical attention and after spending two days at Lodwar County Hospital, that did not have the adequate facilities to treat them, they were airlifted to Nairobi after Civil Society Organisations put pressure on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On 12 April 2021 Chriton ‘Trinidad’ Atuhwera passed away.

On 26 April 2021, activists and allies held protests marches in Johannesburg and Cape Town to address the murders of and oppression and violence suffered by LGBTI and queer people on the African continent.

After a decade of activism at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights (ACHPR), CAL – The Coalition of African Lesbians – was finally granted observer status and the means to proactively advocate for the sexual rights of women and queer Africans and to confront and hold accountable states that perpetuate violence against citizens and residents of their respective countries. In an unprecedented move, the Executive Council of the African Union mandated the ACHPR to withdraw observer status from CAL. Amongst the reasons stated was the need ‘to consider African values’ and that CAL’s work in women’s and sexual rights was contrary to those values.

Tradition | African values | family values | traditional African family values – maintaining the natural order of society, of community, of family. When individual members of society violate, brutilise and murder LGBTI and queer Africans and when African states deny LGBTI and queer Africans their fundamental human rights, their defence is often the preservation of traditional African values. However traditional values and the traditional family, are not benign concepts and ideas. The use of traditional family values to deny all people who do not conform to traditional societal roles (single women, people seeking abortions, sex workers, trans people, bisexual people, lesbians and the list goes on) their human rights can be traced to a worldwide anti-gender movement. The Rights at Risk: Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trends Report 2017 highlights that “Across regions and religious contexts, fundamentalisms seek to employ references to religion, culture, and tradition to justify violence and discrimination. A common theme amongst conservative and anti-rights actors is their fixation on gender and sexuality. Gender justice is greatly undermined by the strategies of religious fundamentalisms, which use the bodies of women, girls, and individuals with non-conforming gender identities or sexual orientations as a battlefield in their struggles to appropriate and maintain institutional and social power. Time and again, across regions… women are turned into symbols of community, embodiments of the nation’s ‘culture and tradition’ and its future reproduction. Women and non-conforming bodies and sexualities become key sites of religio-political preoccupation…”

Essentially the anti-gender movement and anti-gender politics work to disrupt decades worth of feminist work on autonomy and the dismantling of institutions of oppression by centering and protecting traditional family values, which feminists like Silvia Federici, Asanda Benya and recently @miss_mumbz (in response to the detaining of 6 refugees in a Nairobi prison) have consistently highlighted, cannot be delinked from cis-hetero-patriarchal capitalism.

“Anti-rights actors are chipping away at the very content and structure of our human rights concepts, institutions, and protections, with disastrous consequences for human rights and gender justice. These manifest in sexual rights, including rights to bodily integrity, the right to choose one’s partner, and the right to decide on sexual relations; rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI); reproductive rights and health, including access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSe), contraception, and safe abortion; equal property and inheritance rights; equal rights in all aspects of family law including marriage, divorce, and custody of children; freedom of expression, belief, assembly, and opinion; the right to reclaim, reaffirm, and participate in all aspects of religious and cultural life; the right to live free from gender-based violence; and women’s full equality” – Rights at Risk: Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trend Report 2017 

At its core, the anti-gender movement and anti-gender politics, threatens our autonomy and, by virtue, our power and has amassed huge amounts of resources to be able to do so. As Sonia Corrêa highlights in her presentation at the CREA Reconference in Nepal in 2019, the work of anti-gender actors can never be fully apprehended through nationally framed lenses – while context is important – this is a trans national affront, galvanising religious and secular actors across the globe. “They are highly adaptable to contextual conditions, moving swiftly in civil society and institutional channels, parliaments, judiciaries, public policy formations and public and private institutions of education”.

Feminists activists have taken bold steps to counter this affront to our work, human rights and autonomy. To continue to do so it is imperative that we understand, and locate the work of anti-gender actors across our movements, contexts and identities.

To learn more 

#AntiGenderPolitics – aseries of videos produced by Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) that interviews a group of experts who are conducting a regional study across 10 countries, offering a Latin-American overview of the processes, discourses and strategies of conservative groups dedicated to preventing any progress on gender and sexuality, while eroding democracy in a wider scale.

The nine episodes series covers the antecedents, eruption and propagation of anti-gender crusades in nine countries and at the Organization of American States.

Anti-Gender Ideology: Tracking its Origins and Meanings; A film, produced by Sonia Corrêa for CREA’s reconference, 2019.

“Sonia Corrêa has been involved in research and advocacy activities related to gender equality, health and sexuality. She has extensively published in Portuguese and English. The list includes, among other, Population and Reproductive Rights: Feminist Perspectives from the South (Zed Books, 1994) and Sexuality, Health and Human Rights, co-authored with Richard Parker and Rosalind Petchesky (Routledge, 2008)”

The Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs) is a collaborative initiative that aims to monitor, analyze, and share information on initiatives that misuse religion, culture, and tradition to undermine the universality of human rights. Grounded in a feminist framework, the OURs initiative works across regions, issues, and human rights spaces towards the advancement of social justice. The OURs Working Group is made up of organizations and activists who work to protect and promote the universality of rights”

Read the Rights at Risk: Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trend Report 2017 here