Namibia: Standing Up For Their Rights - Coalition of African Lesbians formed in Windhoek

By Musa Ngubane and Liz Frank
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) congratulates African activists on the formation of the Coalition of African Lesbians.

Below is the Coalition's announcement:

Women from 14 African countries gathered in Namibia’s capital Windhoek in the last week of August 2004 to develop the African Lesbian Alliance, which was renamed the Coalition of African Lesbians at the meeting. Hosted by the rainbow project together with Sister Namibia, 25 representatives of lesbian organisations and a number of individual women from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia spent a fruitful week developing the vision, objectives and structure of the organisation.
The African Lesbian Alliance was founded last year by women from seven Southern African countries, who met in Johannesburg for a research project on lesbian lives that was organised by the Gay and Lesbian Archives (GALA) based at the University of Witwatersrand. They presented their findings at the Sex and Secrecy Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society held in June 2003. Together they envisioned getting to know and networking with African lesbians across the continent. This idea was further strengthened in February 2004 by the women’s caucus at the Johannesburg Symposium of the All Africa Rights Initiative, which campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across Africa.

At the Windhoek strategic planning meeting, Southern African feminist activist Patricia McFadden gave an inspiring presentation on how radical feminism can and must engage with the struggle for lesbian rights, based on every woman’s right to sexual autonomy and choice. Anjana Tang Suvarnananda of Thailand presented a paper on the successes and constraints faced by the Asian Lesbian Network when it began to bring together lesbian women from different Asian countries in 1988. A representative of the Latin American Lesbian Network was unable to attend, but sent an informative paper on the networking experiences of lesbian women on her continent.

Based on this rich experience, participants worked on building the vision for the new African organisation, which reads as follows: “The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) is a network of organisations committed to African lesbian equality and visibility. We work to transform Africa into a place where all lesbians enjoy the full range of human rights, secure in the knowledge that we are recognised as full citizens, with rich and diverse cultures, and a significant and respected presence in all spheres of life, through personal and organisational growth. Our work is shaped by an African radical feminist understanding, informed by research, and strengthened by the claiming of social and economic power.”

The aims and objectives of CAL are: to advocate and lobby for political, legal social, sexual, cultural and economic rights of African lesbians by engaging strategically with African and international structures and allies; to eradicate stigma and discrimination against lesbians in Africa; to build and strengthen lesbian voices and visibility through research, media and literature and through participation in local and international forums; to build the capacity of African lesbians and CAL’s member organisations to use African radical feminist analysis in all spheres of life; to build a strong and sustainable lesbian coalition supporting the development of national organisations working on lesbian issues in every country in Africa and to support the work of these national organisations in all the foregoing areas, including the facilitation of the personal growth of African lesbians and the building of capacity within their organisations.

The participants also worked on the structure of the Coalition, and an interim secretariat was elected together with an interim steering committee comprising members from five African countries. The next tasks of the steering committee will be to develop the constitution and plan for the official launch of the organisation, to organise a first capacity building workshop for member organisations to be held in early 2005, to develop a work plan and proposal for our partners and to plan for the launch of the research on lesbian lives to be published towards the end of next year.

The contact person for CAL is Madelene Isaaks at the rainbow project, Namibia, email trp@mweb.com.na