Friday, 6 July 2018

Queer Spaces will change things at UP

We have not done enough for queer persons at South African universities.

Studies and surveys carried out at universities in the United States and Australia show that queer persons suffer higher rates of sexual violence and harassment than non-queer persons. These surveys were carried out in jurisdictions with progressive laws and legal systems, much like those of South Africa. They are evidence that tough laws and policies provide good structures, and that the living and social realities of queer persons in our universities need to catch up. The harassment of queer persons is an issue too pressing to be ignored if the sanctity of learning spaces is to be guaranteed. Queer persons are as much a concern as other members of the staff and student community in planning both the present and the future training of foot soldiers through awareness raising and education.

A few months ago, my debut novel Fimí sílẹ̀ forever was released. Among other things, it addresses the dire state of the human rights of queer persons in Nigeria. On the understanding that the human rights of queer persons are a global concern, a few conversations have been held on campus against the backdrop of the book. In these conversations, there are two recurring questions: 'How African is queerness?' and 'Can a queer person be a person of faith as well?' These questions are proof that the humanity of queer persons is still being questioned. This doubt fuels the vulnerability of queer persons. This vulnerability results in queer persons making up a substantial portion of those who are most susceptible to unreported and unaddressed violations and harassment on campus. This fact challenges the presumption that Universities offer a learning and working space that is safe and inclusive for all.

There are many queer persons among staff and students, and the widespread stigmatisation of queerness heightens our vulnerability. Some of us come from homes where we must hide our queer identities or face the risk of being thrown out or disowned, or both. Some assailants know and exploit this. Sometimes, our assailants may be someone in a position of authority over us. At other times, our assailants may be persons of equal rank or subordinates. Lesbians and gender non-conforming students are particularly at risk. On a few occasions, they have admitted publicly to carrying weapons for their protection. The vulnerability of queer persons is heightened by the fact that we use denial, withdrawal and silence as coping mechanisms. Perhaps we believe that the continuity and completion of our involvement at the institution depends on this silence. Often, we have little or no knowledge of the structures available to address harassment. Sometimes, even when we know where to go, we lack sufficient understanding and/or faith in the structures to make the best use of them.

A few departments, including the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria (UP), as well as staff and students, have come together to create the UP Queer Space Collective (QSC). This is an informal group with the vision to make UP safer and more inclusive of queer identities, using creative writing and expression.

The QSC has requested a designated physical space for queer literature at the Merensky 2 Library. The Department of Library Services is also now working on a queer lib-guide (an online repository on the library website of links to online and physical locations of queer literature). A physical reading space for queer literature is already up and running at the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender. The main purpose of this is to sustain a space at UP where being queer is okay and protected.

Awareness-raising is important because, as in the wider community, there are many people at UP taking deliberate advantage of the vulnerability of queer persons. These are people who are ignorant of queer persons and queer identity, and as such inadvertently abuse them, or people who, although queer themselves, 'cash in' on other queer persons' vulnerability for several reasons. Awareness-raising at the University is particularly important because UP plays a major role in social transformations. Every year, UP receives and graduates South African and international students in various disciplines. This means that UP has a great opportunity to contribute to training foot soldiers for change on the continent and in the world. As such, it is important that we teach ourselves, and our friends and colleagues, to think of queerness and harassment of queer persons differently. We can do this by reforming minds and spaces, and punishing perpetrators to deter others.

The QSC has the potential to be a one-stop shop for all queer-friendly UP persons and institutions. If effectively supported and sustained, the QSC can continue to contribute to the sanctity of Queer UP, especially through the de-stigmatisation and protection of queer persons.

(originally published on:

Building alliances between IDAHOT and MaputoProtocol@15 for womxn

The international Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia

Maputo Protocol:
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

No set definition. This term, as used in this piece, refers to a broad still unraveling category of persons of female gender who voluntary identify, live, express their gender crossing stereotypical roles and standards, embracing her several cross-cutting circumstances and layers of identity, recognizing the humanity and diversity in her community, operating, demanding, believing in and working towards the substantive equality(equity) of all sexes and genders and against the repressive confines of the poisonous glorification of masculinity at the expense of the human rights of persons of female gender in all spaces. A feminist.

People around the world celebrate IDAHOT annually on May 17 to mark the ‘de-pathologisation’ of same-sex attraction in 1990. 28 years later, in 2018 the African continent celebrates the 15thanniversary of the emergence of the Maputo Protocol, Africa’s regional articulation of the human rights of persons of female gender taking particular cognisance of the African context. Theme for IDAHOT this year is ‘Alliances for Solidarity’, focusing on the important collaborations that have been and need to be forged in laws, policies, theories, practices, movements and relationships in order to foster cut-throat progress in the advancement of human rights, particularly the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the human rights of LGBTI persons. Linking the Maputo Protocol, IDAHOT and their camps as allies I believe is a match made in heaven for the aid of vulnerable groups such as womxn.

In 2015 Caitlyn Jenner rocked most of the world by stepping into public glare to broadcast her transitioning from the widely celebrated athletic and ultra-masculine Bruce Jenner to the now sultry, unsettling, ‘who-do-you-think-you-are’; gracefully disruptive sensation Caitlyn Jenner. ‘This is taking gay to a whole new level!’ the world may have thought- I may have thought so too at the time. Some distance away from Caitlyn’s situation, in spaces like East and West Africa – and even some parts of the South- the noose was tightening legally around persons of same-sex loving sexual orientations and socially around anything that connected to or smacked of derogation from the glorification of heterosexuality and stereotypically set expressions of gender.

At home in Nigeria, it was such a heated time, it is still very heated at the moment. In some parts of Nigeria, actual or perceived homosexual sexual orientation could land persons and groups serious beatings, lynching, unlawful arrests, public humiliation in the media and even death. The flame of this homophobic inhumanity is fanned by the media, pop-culture, religious and political leaders. In South Africa, where I now reside, where the laws are progressive and the expectations are high, there are still recurring incidents of homophobic human rights violations.

Unfortunately, because the general and uninformed impulse is to flatten everything that is not heterosexuality to homosexuality, this translates to lived realities getting several times as hard and repressed for womxn, for the multiple reasons that: they are persons of female gender; they cross de-glorifying constructs of socially and culturally set standards of femininity and poisonously glorified masculinity in all spaces; there is often a strict expectation that womxn should not be doing the latter; womxn breaching this expectation is perceived as highly offensive and threatening by persons and systems of authority. As if regular gender inequality was not bad enough, womxn deal with recurring and increasing degrees of gender-based violence, domestic violence, rape, humiliation at work, school, places, of worship, policing of their femininity, their views, careers and bodies. In a greater part of the continent, womxn on a daily basis deal with shocking levels of human rights violations.

In several African societies, there are a thousand and more shades of womxn or persons perceived to be womxn. These range from persons of female gender who choose to wear trousers and not skirts to persons who wear a darker shade of lipstick than others; dying their hair a colour/shade or two varying from the default ; pierce more than one hole on an each ear for jewelry or pierce multiple holes around their body; having tattoos; stubbornly insisting on going to school; pursuing a career as opposed to involuntary staggering into marriage; not being interested in marriage at all; having a deeper note of baritone than is permissible; being sexually and romantically inclined or attracted to or involved with other persons of female gender; having social, genetic, genital or physical features that are outside poisonously glorifying masculine expectations of what a person of female gender should be. But this is not the only problem.

In 2017, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award winning Nigerian author whose feminism is often woke, made the controversial statement ‘Transwomen are transwomen’. This earned her so much hostility. She subsequently explained that she meant to say that transwomen are separate category with unique experiences from naturally cisgender women. More interestingly this controversy highlighted the argument that more often than not feminism is largely pegged on the tokenisation of female persons whose gender identities and expressions are reasonably within the scope of tolerance of the masculine glorifying structures, enough to matter as the majority of persons of female gender , and often as the only persons of female gender that count.

Generally, in most African societies and at the regional level, womxn do not fall within this scope of tolerance as such they have been unjustly excluded from the broad and open conversations on gender and human rights. Contrary to Chimamanda’s inclinations of separating the different struggles in order to keep them all in focus, the plight of womxn have been separated and ignored. Separation has not worked. Perhaps this is because gender and human rights on the African continent still generally caters to poisonously glorifying masculine standards.

Often when feminist suggest that we should think of gender differently, it is assumed that they mean to think within this set scope of tolerance. The wide resistance to the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) should also have been perceived as a bold and unjust resistance to the substance of the Maputo Protocol and the human rights of persons of female gender on the African continent. A resistance that all persons of female gender, and everyone else should recognise as a disappointment and threat to human rights and democracy.

The Centre for Human Rights recognises this resistance and is presently working on a visual campaign with the theme of ‘Transwomen are women’ to mark the 15th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol. This campaign argues for respect for diversity and the recognition of the plight of womxn as part of the major issues that concern persons of female gender on the African continent. This is because a person of female gender is never just one thing. This campaign encourages that the articulation, policy making, law making, activism and positive practices around the human rights of persons of female gender be enriched to include and cater for the human rights and specific identities and realaties of womxn as well. The stars align in Africa, allying IDAHOT and MaputoProtocol@15, we need to think and work inclusively, progressively and productively for all persons of the female gender; nobody should be ignored. Nobody should be left behind.

(Originally punblished on: )

Auntim Jane...She always begins with ‘hmmm, look at you.’

You take. You take. You take from yourself till there is nothing left to listen to when you retire to your bed at night. You give yourself t...