South Africa: FEWs 5th Anniversary a Milestone in South African Black Lesbian Organizing

Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW)
No.1 Kotze Street, Women's Gaol, Constitution Hill
Braamfontein Johannesburg
Email: / Tel: +27 (011) 339 1867/ 7321
January 11, 2007: South Africa, Johannesburg

Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) proudly celebrates its 5th year of empowerment, support, and networking for black lesbians living in and around Johannesburg. On January 27, 2007, the organization will host an African-themed Cultural Celebration at the Women's Gaol Atrium, Constitution Hill, Braamfontein as from 14h00 to 19h00 in order to commemorate its five years of struggle to establish, serve, and sustain a grassroots-based community of lesbians from all walks of life in townships, rural areas, and cities.

FEW began as a series of meetings and dialogues back in January, 2002, between some 27 proud and out womyn who were ready to lay claim to social space and a political voice for black lesbians in the new South Africa. Simply called the Women's Forum back then, many talented members of our communities worked and organized tirelessly to make a mark, and to make a difference, in the lives of our sisters and each other. Through our collective efforts, and at various moments with and without funding, FEW emerged and managed to reach out to hundreds of lesbians by offering a safe space for self expression, collective political expression, skills training, and grief, trauma, and life counseling. Additionally, FEW initiated community interventions and education workshops on safer sex and HIV/AIDS, gender and human rights, violence against women, hate crimes, and self-defense. Such interventions were often carried out not in the privileged space of Braamfontein, but in the streets, community township halls, and in one case even under a tree, in order to meet our grassroots base in their own comfort zones.

In November 2003, we were formally registered as a non-profit organisation. Along the way, we have also played key roles in the expansion of human, gender, and sexual rights in this country through our participation and leadership in the Same Sex Marriage Campaign (2005-2006), our advocacy around the Sexual Offenses Bill (2005), and most significantly since 2003, our on-going anti-hate crimes campaign The Rose Has Thorns, which works to publicly expose and eradicate lesbophobic violence against black womyn through public advocacy, lobbying, service networking, and community research.

In our celebrations of 5 years of black lesbian solidarity and empowerment, and in our anticipation of many more years of success, we cannot forget that it has been scores of ordinary womyn sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, aunts, girlfriends and lovers who have shaped our community and our organization along a path of strength and healing by sharing their lives and their stories of struggle and of triumph. It is the humanity of these womyn which has demonstrated that our personhood, our womanhood, and our sexuality is about more than sex.

We are proud to honour the many beautiful and talented comrades who have come and gone, yet who have contributed a legacy to our success, womyn like the late poet, writer, and activist Buhle Msibi.

We wish also to recognize with excitement that we have gained the support and recognition of some of the most influential womyn and men of our time, leaders across the gender, human rights, and anti-poverty sectors who have demonstrated to us the meaning of solidarity across borders and regions. While it would be impossible to name them all individually, we wish to extend our gratitude to their respective organizations for helping to sustain us: ADEFRA, African Women and Development Fund (AWDF), African Feminist Forum (AFF), Chicago Gay Games Committee 2006, Engender, Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), Commission for Gender Equity (CGE),FEDAEPS, Gender AIDS Forum (GAF), International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA), International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), member organisations of the Joint Working Group, member organisations of the 1 in 9 campaign, South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), HSRC, WomensNet, World Social Forum.

As we move on and forward with celebrating 5 years of solidarity, and as we join others to commemorate past historic campaigns and struggles won in this country the 1956 Women's March, almost 13th years of democracy we at FEW also acknowledge the many challenges that still lie ahead of us. As a community of black lesbian womyn, we are faced not only with constitutional battles still to be fought for equality before the law, but with the continuous threat and reality of lesbophobic violence against our bodies. Additionally, we are also face the struggle against the lack of affordable and publicly funded educational opportunities for our young lesbian mothers and their children, rising unemployment, increased homelessness, same sex partner abuse, HIV/AIDS, and growing social inequalities between the few rich and the many poor.

At this time we urge new blood to nourish our communities, and we invite those young, passionate, activist feminist lesbians in our midst to come out, join, and lead these struggles across the racial, gender and class divides. Because the people united will never be defeated.