Making African Lesbian Feminist Activism Visible

The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) illustrates the triumph of feminist lesbian activism and movement building on a continent where lesbo-, homo- and transphobia are rife. It is within this hostile environment that lesbians and the trans-community are continuously forging innovative ways to transgress and challenge heteronormative structures and practices as well as the (re)interpretation of culture, customs, language, religion and stereotypes. Formally established in 2004, CAL remains a prime example of how lesbian feminist activism informs local communities and the wider world of what it means to be human.

I continue to be inspired and awed by the role that CAL plays in raising awareness across the globe about the intersection of race, class, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, sex and sexuality. CAL’s advocacy work has undoubtedly in uenced and shaped the international sexual rights and, indeed, human rights culture.

At the Second Feminist Leadership Institute and General Assembly I witnessed in 2006, delegates spoke at length about the power of knowledge and the power of writing, and urged that there was a need to demystify the research process and that it should become less dependent on academia to de ne research on the lives of black lesbians.

The reality is that coalition and solidarity building have come at a great human cost, because the more lesbian lives have become visible the more lesbians are persecuted in some African countries. With the greater visibility of lesbians and their relationships the laws in several countries which hitherto only criminalised sex between men were amended to criminalise lesbian relationships in the name of gender equality. Gender equality and gender mainstreaming became severely contested terms in the formation of an inclusive language in alternative African feminist circles.

Giving recognition to the existence of lesbians and the numerous contributions they make to society invariably creates a more inclusive kind of feminism on the continent. It should be stressed that African feminism has tended to side-line, if not to sti e African lesbian voices and a commitment to linking gender and racial justice to the struggle against homophobia.

CAL is a brave organisation that takes the lead on issues ranging from cutting edge research on lesbian lives to campaigns that critique the status quo regarding the prevalence of lesbo-homo- and transphobia. It has consistently connected the activist agendas of creating radical knowledge to leading progressive action.

CAL has truly changed the international human rights/sexual rights and gender justice map and has transformed both the metaphorical and geographical spaces for African lesbians over the last ten years. In short, the Coalition has played a central role in rewriting the meaning of “radical African feminism.”

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