Religion Fellow, Kim Windvogel, Share Their Experience

My name is Kim Windvogel and in this blog, I will relate to you my experiences of being a religion fellow with OutRight Action International at the United Nations.

Before arriving in NYC I didn't know what to expect. I knew what the Commission on the Status of Women was all about, but I kept on worrying about things. Things like, why was I chosen out of all of these qualified individuals, will my voice be loud enough? Am I courageous enough? What if I die in a foreign country because I forgot to get travel insurance?

Being a fellow means a lot of things. It means being taken care of by OutRight, it means being provided with the correct training before commissions start, it means being fed knowledge and experience that will prove to be of immense value to your work back home.

On the first day of CSW, it was chaos. The line outside of the UNHQ stretched far outside of the building and I wondered whether the UN is usually this busy, or whether it is only this busy now because we were at a commission discussing issues pertaining to women and gender marginalized people, you know, the type of issues everyone seems to have an opinion about, even those who shouldn't have any say. Fast-forward to my experience in July when we returned to NYC for the HLPF on sustainability and half of the people who were at CSW probably lost their invite in the mail. Sustainability issues had no reason to be policed by the overflow of society, it seemed.

Thankfully, there were organizations who held the feminist principles and ideals to a high level and to those organizations who provided space for creativity and reflection, I thank you because, without your spaces, the CSW would have turned into a nightmare for me.

One nightmarish experience was a talk I attended hosted by the Holy See. The content that filled the space was about how the African Woman does not want access to Reproductive Justice. The speakers were quick to paint the African Woman with the same brush, calling us this homogenous group who strives for the same thing. I smirked. I am African, I work in Reproductive Justice as the co-director of FemmeProjects NPC and at the time of being at this event, I had an Intra-Uterine Device neatly nestled in my fundus. Did that make me unafrican? When I reached out to one of the speakers post-event, she was quick to remind me that she does not revere South Africa as part of their research on this African Woman they speak of. Not shocking. Sometimes I feel as though my country is not African enough for the countries we share a continent with, not shocking either, our people are violent and bursts of Afrophobia are not unheard of, sadly.

Religious-based homophobia and misogynoir is not reserved for spaces such as the UN. Back home, we have an inclusive constitution. South Africa's constitution is a document filled with this utopia that if a foreigner read its pages, they might be fooled into believing that what it says in theory, it puts into practice. However, this is far from the truth. South Africa was the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages and to encourage gender identities and expressions In all its diversity. But for those of us who occupy these identities we know that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately affected by violence. The term 'corrective rape' was coined by our country, a sad reality. Our country was colonized like most African countries and Christianity was enforced on our people. These ideals inflicted upon our people have overstayed its welcome to the point where our people, our men are the reason that every 8 hours a woman is killed due to intimate partner violence. That a black lesbian, living in the informal settlements has a high risk of being raped due to their lesbian visibility in a messed up attempt to 'correct' their sexual orientation. Teachers, pastors, nurses, doctors, marriage officers will refuse treatment or service to members of the LGBTQIA+ community because although, according to our constitution we cannot discriminate, we also have the right to deny certain things based on our religious belief. Nurses can deny performing abortions because of something called 'Conscientious Objection", our police force (although not theoretically allowed) deny members of the LGBTQIA+ community to press charges or refuse to take trans people's cases of violence seriously. All of these things are rooted in hetero-patriarchy and supposed religious freedom and bigotry.

Being a fellow means going to caucus meetings, getting your daily feminist fill and embarking on a new day of intellectual stimulation and emotional degradation by people whose politics should have died along with the supposed abolition of slavery.

Being a fellow means having difficult conversations about your politics, but allowing that process to happen so that you can flesh out the intricacies of your opinions and return home a stronger and fact-fuelled human being.

Being a fellow means making connections and building on the achievements of others. One of my fellow-fellows, Xeenarh Mohammed edited a book called She Called Me Woman, a book about queer women of Nigeria. They gave me a copy to read and after getting their blessing, it inspired me to reach out to South African Publishers in my country. One of them responded and now we have our own version coming out in August 2019, the title is slightly different, but the notion is the same.

After coming back from CSW, I had a meeting with the director of the Triangle Project in South Arica and now I am the Communications Officer for the first ever Global LBQ Women's* Conference in Cape Town in July 2019.

My organisation, FemmeProjects is currently compiling a book entitled: "It Doesn't have to be" diving into the debunking of myths regarding SRHR-related issues. This book is being compiled with the help of learners across our country. Being a fellow means fellow empowered upon your return to put into action the things you have been dreaming about.

The UN has a lot of issues. The Commission on the Status of Woman had its sixty-second session this year! CSW has been around for sixty-two years and we are still sub-par to cis-hetero-men? Change is slow they said, but when you hear that these sessions have been going on for almost double the amount of time you've been on this planet, you start to question who these sessions actually benefit.

In the same breath, one can see and one can feel the benefits of activists coming together to debate about the ways of the world and in my opinion until the system burns to the ground we have to use the channels we have at our disposal to drive change. And after March 2018, CSW is another channel I intend to use.