/om-re {breathe}: Healing from culture & sustaining community as LBQ feminist activist and organizations

Remembering how to breathe, remembering who we are, and learning to prioritize ourselves. 

Remembering ourselves, learning to put yourself first. 

Having coping mechanisms, building a community of peer support and family. 

Creative expression such as singing, writing, painting, a dance that ignites the spirit, singing protest songs to comfort the heart. 

The shift from victimhood to becoming warrior women, writing women, women that paint their scars that turn into beautiful art as experiences. 

We want to reconnect with our ancestral knowledge cultivating feminist spirituality practices and healing. 

Creating protest healing songs to give hope against backlash of our activism and as an act of community care for healing and justice. 

Music connects us to our highest selves, by developing massaging that touch the soul in solidarity. Other times, we create protest songs for our own wounds. We sing with ancestors heal  

The future of lesbian feminist activism is centered around sustained community actions through promoting mindful advocacy which is focused on spirituality that demonstrates joy, gratitude, resilience-building & care. As we co-create creative community-driven communications, and  facilitate indigenous healing justice community platforms, we are imagining a new form of activism that is centered on the body, mind and soul. Learning to breathe as a black Lesbian activist is a task deemed as unnatural, sinful and ‘Un-African’ against the doctrine of harmful culture and religion that is dominated by patriarchy.

The essence of love is the roots of our spirituality, and we find support, strength and acceptance away from the domination of patriarchy and the heteronorms that constitute African Religion. Religion has undermined women’s choice and agency and lesbians challenge those power imbalances by breaking away from the traditional church as a radical expression of self- care. 

I have always battled between who I am being a Christian and loving God because I always feel like I have been a spiritual person that my connection with God is something that is wrong that I came to a point that I felt like I had to distance myself from that doctrine of Christianity to find peace of within myself”  – Irene //Garoës

 

Grandmothers as healers and spiritual guides 

The scars of the great grandmother, her pain, her pleasure & resilience, 

tested and re emerging as Nature’s gifts. 

We are the great-granddaughters of African matriarchs 

that have been the most trusted advisors and comforters, the ancestors. 

The self-leadership of the granddaughters is seen as grace 

through the storming stages of life, through adversities. 

There are unnamed tears of wounds the granddaughters are healing through activism. 

We are tracing the footsteps of our grandmothers. 

Healing the wounds of grandmothers by healing ourselves.  

Grandmothers sustain us with kind reminders through dreams, the wind and the moon.  

Healing takes time and unconditional love of self and a generation of women. 

I was cracked open with my flaws, scattered pieces, unashamed and breathing. 

My breath has won battles of the wilderness of the mind. 

The wilderness is the refuge from institutions dominated by the patriarchy 

that lesbians resist and actively challenge. 

The violence against lesbians is a threat that is the silencing 

that takes the breath way far into isolation. 

The sin that as accordingly to the very patriarchal in nature, 

the expectations by society keeps women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy under surveillance  

By letting go of victim mentality and seizing our own power is what builds character. 

Our character through the resilience gives us purpose to stand up against racism, 

patriarchy and capitalism.    

By embracing our highest consciousness through self-awareness, 

letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore 

we are reclaiming radical healing for social justice. 

Hurt us. 

It is time we refuse and say No to living up to the expectations of Cultural and religious practices.

 

Culture, violence

Culture, on the other hand, needs more scrutiny.  There is limited research on the effect of harmful cultural practices on lesbians, but there is unreported oral herstory of homophobia within the family, the society, and violence carried out by institutions.      

Cultural attitudes, upheld by heteronormative expectations & gender inequality are visible in same sex relationships. Violence  impacts the mental health and wellbeing of LBQ women. The unhealthy power imbalances promoted by those cultural attitudes increases violence among same sex relationships. Incidence of family violence against LBQ women makes it difficult to seek protection.

Activists whose advocacy work on the discrimination of people based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender and Identity Expression (SOGIE), through connecting solidarity building with non-traditional allies and movements are proving effective as they center the dismantling of patriarchal oppression, cultural oppression and discrimination against women, girls & marginalized communities who are vulnerable to abuse.

Violence prevention responses should be community driven. Covid 19 makes the realities of LBQ women and girls more vulnerable to violence. Our activism will be much more sustainable if it is centred on healing and building learning communities. Feminists organizations can build strong advocacy through cross movements using intersectional responses to women human rights.

As organizations, we need to shift our strategies by documenting the lives of African lesbians living in rural communities and their strategies for survival against harmful cultural practices which have an impact on their health and wellbeing. Reimaging solidarity means actively seeking constituencies of women in their diversity and supporting them to define what healing means to them through power. 

Strategies for Building an Organisation with Soul’ describes power as:

Power to – capacity to take action is not just ‘agency’, it has to do with physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological wellness; a sense of boldness and creativity. As activists and leaders we require ongoing healing lest we bring bitterness into our spaces. The very state of our bodies and health matters so we are in a position to do the work that needs to be done. Most of the issues we are confronted with on a daily basis make us brutally sick. Lack of power to take care of ourselves not only makes us bitter, sick and angry but can also be paralysing. Shifting our individual and collective behaviour and embodying these changes in our work with partners, we will seed ground on which they and the broader field of community organising can evolve”

Power with – we cannot construct sustainable collective power if we are unable to recognize and respect our differences, deal with competition and the need for recognition, all of which emerge from our deeply held emotional, psychological and spiritual deficits and traumas. Collective power comes from honesty and truth-telling, accepting creative tensions and the contradictions we sit with without letting them cripple us. We need to get over individual egos and experience collective inner wisdom. Cultivating and practicing self-awareness, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, practice communication skills, and innovative thinking and applying these skills to create a more integrated, nimble and visionary organization that seizes upon the creative capital of all involved” 

“Harmful cultural practices to me as a lesbian woman are dehumanizing because one can’t be fully and unapologetically themselves.  Being a lesbian is seen as taboo in my culture because there is the stigma attached to it, forgetting that lesbians are human too” -Bella Phoenix

Feminist leadership is seeing humanity within ourselves and those of our colleagues and activists communities. Leading with spirituality means love for ourselves, fellow countrymen, country, and continent.  We actively remove the facets of our ego from our work and activism by practicing radical authenticity and vulnerability through documenting our activism. The mess and the intensity of activism is balanced by black feminist that are using the internet to hold space for each other through collective care.  As a form of self-preservation and acts towards collective care and empathy we are developing new ways of young feminist organizing that build LBQ young women’s collective power through transformative feminist organizing.

The mental health of activists is a song that we still do not actively practice within our organisations. The removal of the ego welcomes new ideas of healing practices and rituals of expressing vulnerability. We need new kinds of feminist organisations that are centered on the soul and the joy of the people that lead them. The more we try to run away from our trauma within our activism as lesbians the more we give power to the ego to overshadow our resilience of collective activism. Lateral violence of internalized hate against lesbian bodies is what causes further division and vulnerability with the movement. 

A new form of activism that is centered on spirituality is needed to respond to  our fundamental human desire for support and guidance. As we redesign African Feminist healing workshops that use feminist lenses to examine spiritual expressions and rituals we must not leave our communities behind by co-creating methodologies that are central to the needs of the African  lesbian communities  

Healing our organizations, healing our souls

Organizations and movements whose services and work focus on LBQ women must prioritize advocating and mobilizing resources for  mental health of LBQ women  through their programmes and train lesbians to become community mental health and creative healing officers. Holistic wellness and self-care approaches as a necessity to recharge, reshape, redesign as a project of care, healing, protest and learning. For a long time western influences on African queer activism have not been sustainable: it has driven us further away from creating new languages that are affirming and supportive and heal our movement while connecting it to our struggles.  The future of Queer feminist organizations is central to equality and justice in their actions. The more we strive for gender equality within our organizations, the more our actions should support visions to end violence against African women and girls. However, we first need to breathe as a form of political resistance and reflection. If we don’t create the time and the space to reflect, to think, to unlearn and relearn as an organization we are risking our personal and organisational wellbeing. Hope Chigudu wrote: 

“Where are the organizations that include in their budgets time to think about what they have done; time to explore with the people in the communities they work with, with the other organizations they ally with – how they are doing? Is our work-style building up the capacity and confidence of those we work with? Are our strategies taking us where we want to be going? Resisting and ultimately transforming power – in all its relations, structures, forms, spaces, and places is not work for extremely tired leaders. It is work for those who stop, re-energize and retool” 

In order to build proactive methodologies and feminist leadership to coordinate feminist movements, we need space and time to heal our own wounds and reflect on the work that we do. COVID-19 is demanding us to relook at our individual leadership and building collective agency of care with the young feminist movements led by LBQ feminists.

 

Sustaining community

“We are struggling for the heart and soul of community – community built on a commitment to the common good and cooperation … upheld by solid bonds of human relationships that respect diversity and human rights, a weave of justice woven with multiple threads of power and people…” – Mexican and Central American Women Leaders, JASS movement-building Institute, September 2006

Lesbians’ activism in Namibia has been centered on creating community through sisterhood and friendship. Here are some of the ideas and recommendations we received from a grassroots activist at some of our community convenings on the sustainability of communities to rise above mental health silencing: 

Mental health is very important.”

“There is a stigma regarding mental health issues; NGOs should address the issue of stigma, homelessness, unemployment, lack of information.”

“Mental health issues arise from a lack of early awareness/diagnosis and burnt out.”

“NGOs are mainly based in Windhoek, we need to decentralize as the regions are neglected.”

“Do we inform people on the downside and side effects of medication of mental illnesses? What are the alternatives?”

As we are shifting our individual and collective behaviour through the uncertainty presented by the COVID 19 pandemic, we need to tap into our unused power within and allow that power to shift the paradigm of collective action. Feminist spirituality as a site of power and healing is a way to decolonise our activism, driven by love and care. Caring for our communities means examining patriarchal factors that may cause harm within our communities and organisations. We must create open spaces to reflect, critique and explore healthy ways of community care and support. If we don’t talk about our challenges and what isn’t working within our communities and movements, we are recreating systems that are not healthy for our mental health  and that will create fear and anxiety. The more we unpack and heal our relationships with each other as activists, and by actively practicing emotional intelligence within organizations, the more we will create healthy feminist organizations and communities.

Activism and COVID 19

The pandemic has made the lives of activists more vulnerable as most grassroots activists are facing economic and mental challenges. COVID-19 is a gendered crisis. While the virus itself does not discriminate, systemic inequalities faced by women and gender diverse people means that our experience of this pandemic is unique. Grassroot lesbian groups and activists are facing major stressors that threathen the sustainability of these groups, such as lockdown restrictions, limited resources and little support within broader CSO spaces. Feminist Solidarity is essential to support the frontline women human rights defenders with mental health care and services as they are leading the work  to protect activists from violence. We are still moving because of love, love for ourselves & communities for all of us to enjoy our full human rights. Hope Chigudu writes: 

“Why love? It is the ultimate motivation of a transformative leader. Love of a country, movement, cause, principles, people we work with or those whose lives we want to change and love of the future. Love inspires, it activates audacity, boldness and courage, and it generates boundless energy. Without love of a cause, how can we take a stand, how can we make sacrifices, how can we venture, how can we take risks? It is love that generates the energy that keeps us unfolding the future, that keeps us engaged, that keeps us in the ‘groove’. There is a deeper commitment to seeing something through that also makes one willing to be ‘daring’ and not just be a bureaucrat and ‘represent’ people in an ‘all protocols observed’ kind of way. Love is what keeps transformative leaders going when the barriers the movement is fighting against seem insurmountable. Love should be ingrained in the DNA of our leadership training programmes”

 

Reference: 

  1. Strategies for Building an Organisation with Soul – Rudi Chigudu, Hope Chigudu
  2. JASS: on principles of Power

 

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