September 2021 Newsletter: Community Organising and Campaigns

In the May 2020 Newsletter we focused on CAL’s Community Organising and Campaigns work by delving into the Masakhane [Autonomy] Project and chatting openly and honestly about some of the challenges of feminist movement building on the continent. A year on and we’re catching up with Community and Organising at CAL. 

This time we’re talking about experiences of organising in a pandemic, looking back on the Masakhane Project and discussing some of CALs plans for 2022.

Organising in a Pandemic

Considering some of the challenges we spoke about in the last COC update – how have you experienced feminist organising during the pandemic? 

It’s been difficult in the sense of having to reorganise work to fit the immediate needs of the Masakhane collectives and groups they work with – in particular needs directly linked to the pandemic and loss of incomes. Reorganising the work meant we also needed to reprioritize deliverables. What we saw was that advocacy work had to take somewhat of a backseat while Collectives tended to what some call ‘bread and butter’ issues.

This idea of advocacy vs ‘bread and butter’ is not one that is specific to the pandemic is it? We sometimes have very heated conversation  about what the most immediate needs of our communities are. Can you say a bit more about this?

That is completely right and this balancing act is constant. When the whole organisation started to reorganise and recalibrate during the pandemic, we sent out a needs assessment to the Masakhane collectives so we could figure out the most immediate needs of our partners and their communities. Safety was a huge concern as many queer memebrs of the Collectives had to go back home. Access to COVID-19 relief packages was a huge concern for our Eswatini Collective who have some of their constituencies based in rural Eswatini. In Zimbabwe access to antiretrovirals was a concern – as many queer Zimbabweans had moved home they were also worried about their HIV status being known as they tried to source their medication. 

I think what we have come to realise is that advocacy is not limited to what happens at the United Nations and at the African Union. Advocacy is broad and encompasses a wide range of activities. When we were highlighting the inconsistencies of government COVID-19 relief plans and advocating for SRHR services as essential, we were engaged in advocacy work even then.

Reflections on organising in a pandemic: The report

Want to read more about Masakhane work during the pandemic? 

“In this report, Collectives highlight their experiences in organising during a pandemic – in particular mental health issues as a result of isolation from community, the loss of incomes and reimagining organising online and using new technologies” 

Read the full report here 

Masakhane Legacy Project

Can you give us an update on the Masakhane (Autonomy) Project?

After 8 years of the Masakhane project, we are currently in the process of wrapping it up. This is our final stretch. As we prepare to close this chapter we are in a reflective space. We are asking ourselves what lessons we have learned and what role we have played in contributing to promoting human rights in Southern Africa by strengthening women activists – with a focus on Women’s and SOGIE Rights. 

One of the most important questions we are asking ourselves is how we build a legacy or an archive around the Masakhane project. For us, that looks like a legacy site that serves as an archive to store and display the journey we have been on with our partners and the Collectives, and; acknowledges and celebrates everyone who has embarked on this journey. It’s like a time capsule that we can use to ensure future resourcing of Collectives who have made this work possible and for CAL to share our work widely.

Look out for more information on the Masakhane legacy site launch coming soon

Masakhane Collectives on the African Feminist Standpoint

Interested in viewing some of the work the Masakahne Collectives have done in collaboration with the African Feminist Standpoint? 
Follow this link

What does 2022 have in store?

Grounded in feminist leadership, feminist thought and practice, the ability of queer feminist movements to be resourced and maintain a shared value of organising within congenial and meaningful parameters sits at the core of our movement building work. In understanding and having a critique of these dynamics, it is important for CAL and our work to reflect combative ways in which we intercept and reframe the position of WHRDs and the queer feminist movement. 

This year we are excited to have joined a new consortium that will be launched and announced shortly.

Collaborating in a 5-year programme (2021-2025), the Consortium will engage with women human rights defenders (WHRD) and their organisations and networks to build, organise, mobilise and transform power around three strategic agendas – bodies, voices and resources. Our aims are the prevention and elimination of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls; strengthening women’s leadership and women’s participation in (political) decision-making; and strengthening women’s strategies for economic resilience and stability, including access to and control of resources and land. Within this, the partnership focuses on ampliyfing the voices, agency and leadership of constituencies that have been marginalised in their communities and social movements (LBQ women, HIV+ women, sex workers, women workers and rural and indigenous women). Their capacity to sustain pressure and influence policies, resources, institutions, and social norms is essential to the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights at all levels and to ensure women’s greater safety in the face of increased backlash and violence. The consortium’s work is spread across 6 geographic regions (17 countries) and prioritizes Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

Within this consortium, CAL aims to hold and uphold our commitment to ensuring collective power, demand for space and accountability for women in their varied identities and; to collaboratively advance solutions to address injustices that queer women, WHRDs and sexual rights activists are faced with on a daily basis.