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Attending the Amanitare sexual rights network Multi Generational School for women 23 to 27 January 2012

Published February 3, 2012 by transfeminists

S.H.E attends the Amanitare Sexual Rights Network Multi Generational School for Women in Uganda 23 to 27 January 2012

 

After a pleasant departure from East London, the South African delegates mostly from the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, the South African Airways flight SA 462 landed at OR Tambo International airport. On arrival and after a power packed breakfast, the delegates met up with Khathatso Moeketle, the founder of SHARISA[1] and sexual and reproductive health rights activist who was chosen as one of the SA delegates. After a somewhat time consuming entrance into Uganda, the delegates were transported safely to the Metropole Hotel in Uganda. Dinner was served and everybody went to bed to be well-rested for a full first day of conferencing.

 

After some opening remarks from the Ugandan Amanitare country coordinator, day one of the gathering started with introductions and expectations. Most of the participants expressed the need for learning and sharing. True to (Ugandan) form, there was a precautionary note from the coordinator on safety and political issues. An unknown man entered the conference room and was soon removed by the coordinator. With these incidences, one has to realize you are indeed in Kampala, Uganda. As an introductory exercise, participants had to pick out one of the other participants, get to know that participant and introduce her to the rest of the group.

After this exercise, the facilitator put up three “islands” at the back of the room labelled “agree”, “disagree” and “not sure”. Following this, the facilitator gave three different scenarios from the computer and participants had to decide whether these statements constitute violence or not. This exercise really opened the dialogue on what is violence and what is not. More than this, it stirred debate and brought the difference in opinion.

One of the key concepts from this discussion is the term “economic deprivation” and was also established as one of the forms of violence against women.

When the time came for tea break, individuals were placed in groups where they had to discuss the causes of violence and factors contributing to violence against women. Very interesting points were raised by the different groups.

 

Group 1 listed to cause of violence against women in the following way:

–          Silence (cultural)

–          Lack of protection at all levels

–          Lack of domestication of international laws

–          Lack of recognition if African culture

–          Lack of women’s human rights

–          Living in “fear”

 

Group 2 listed the causes of violence as following:

–          Power imbalance between men and women (patriarchy)

 

They listed contributing factors to violence against women in the following way:

–          Poverty

–          Unemployment

–          Conflict

–          Religion

–          Cultural beliefs illiteracy

 

Group 3 listed contributing factors to violence against women as follows:

–          Dependence on men

–          Ignorance

–          Culture of silence

–          Stigma

–          Poverty

–          Cultural factors – religious doctrines

–          Laws and the lack thereof/implementation

–          Media messages

–          Power relations

–          Socialization, they way in which people are brought up

 

Group 4 listed the cause of violence against women and linked a cause with a particular contributing factor:

 

Causes Factors
Patriarchy Control, and too much of it
Socialization and culture Cultural practices
Religion Religious practices
Feminization of poverty Denial of economic resources
Poverty Poor education
Social norms Substance and alcohol abuse
Feminism and sexuality Independence of women
Ignorance Lack of understanding of sexual minorities and SRHR
Political climate Criminalization of sexual minorities
Body politics Denial of full bodily integrity for women.
   

Group 5 listed their causes of violence as follows:

 

–          Culture and patriarchy                  –              women are inferior to the man

Women can’t be heirs

Early marriage

Bride price (lobola)

–          Poverty                                                –              Lack of financial means

Men as sole providers

–          Low education levels                     –              no information on rights

Gender preference. More education for men.

–          Gender, Age and status

 

Following the presentations from the difference groups, the floor was open for discussions. This is the part where participants gave their ideas and opinions on some of the causes and contributing factors to violence against women. While all the participants gave valuable inputs on these the group work that took place, it was a comment from one of Nigerian participants:

 

“While we sit around and discus the issues on violence against women, we have to keep in mind that the scripts for women have been written a long time ago, by who? We must be cautious to treat the symptoms and totally miss out on the point. The society has already written the script for women and they (women) are simply acting on it”. Mario from Nigeria, feminist leader from Nigeria.

 

For me there were some very important connections on VAW as they are experienced by cis-gender[2] women and as they are experienced by transgender women. Day 2 of the conference had an elaborate discussion on the links between VAW[3] and SRHR.[4] Some of the specific links that comes to mind right away are:

 

  • HIV and Aids: transgender women are very vulnerable to HIV. There are no accurate statistics on HIV prevalence amongst the transgender community given that up to now, they have been included in MSM (men sleeping with men) and WSW (women sleeping with women). In this way there is a violation of the identity of transgender people. This has clear sexual and reproductive health implications.
  • GBV (Gender Based Violence). Transgender women are subject to violence within relationships. Be that in the family or intimate setting. As a result of the violence they experience, very often they do not access sexual health services. A clear form of violence in this sense for me is economic deprivation. If a transgender woman who is HIV + is not given the resources (like transport) to access, for example, ART, it is clearly to her detriment.

 

The facilitator put individuals in small groups discussing the linkage between VAW and SRHR and these were the points made in my group:

 

  • Ukutwala[5]: young girls are abducted and are forced into marriage with usually, older men where they are rape and as a result, contract STI’s and HIV. This is also a violation of the young girl’s bodily integrity.
  • Sex work occurs when women are discriminated against in the workplace and job scarcity. This form of VAW is referred to as economic deprivation.
  • Young men coming from the initiation school rape girls to get rid of the “dirt” and sexual frustration of being in the initiation school for so long.
  • Many sexual minorities[6] contract HIV through corrective rape[7].

 

There are many more examples that can be unpacked but the above illustrations are sufficient for the purpose of this report.

 

A documentary was screened on an American women’s rights activist whose face was literally blown away when she was shot in the face by an abusive partner. Her partner also killed her mother. This brought a clear understanding of the consequences of violence against women.

There was a discussion on the regional and national protocols to address violence against women. The facilitator tasked the different country groups with the assignment of discussing the country specific legislative framework on addressing violence against women. A second part to the assignment tasked the different group of listing the implementation gaps of the specific legislation, and finally, the groups had to list at least 3 three strategies on improving implementation of the referred legislation.

 

Global, regional and national protocols to address VAW

 

Some very interesting discussions came out of the different groups. One of the countries called specifically for the harmonization between the common law and national legislation. The South African delegation discussed four important pieces of legislation and the challenges to implementation:

 

Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998          

Sexual Offences Act 23 of 1957                  the central challenge to the implementation of this legislation:

Maintenance Act 99 of 1998                        -lack of documentation

NSP[8]                                                                      -no monitoring and evaluation of the implementation

                                                                -protection orders are treated badly by police officers

                                                                -access to service

                                                                -lack of specialised services

                                                                -corruption and carelessness – dockets going missing

                                                                -long deliberation of legal proceedings

                                                                -lack of sufficient psycho-social services

                                                                -lack of training of all relevant service providers

 

 

On effective strategies on how to deal with the lack of implementation, the group decided these would be most effective:

–          Training of police officers and court officials in dealing with administrative challenges like shortages of documentation;

–          Effective M&E of all relevant legislation

 

Individuals were placed in their respective age groups and this discussion brought valuable insights. The expectation was to discuss some challenges in dealing with the different age groups, off course providing a country context. The rationale of this workshop is to highlight key challenges and provide strategies on how close the gap between different age groups within an organisation. I was part of the 30 to 40 year old age group (as per my age) and needless to mention, this was very insightful. This age group had to map the challenges of dealing with both the older as well as the younger generation of women.

 

Challenges in dealing with the older generation Challenges in dealing with the younger generation
–          Feminist forum is not inclusive of younger women

–          Older generation feminists tend to celebrate “old victories”

–          The older generation deny the contributions of younger women

–          Older generations expect eternal gratitude

–          Older generation deny younger women opportunities of progress and development

–          Younger women are very temperamental

–          The younger generation don’t want to take ideas of previous generations

–          Young women get conflicting messages from the media, family and peer pressure

–          There is a lack of role models

–          When younger women come from training institutions they just want to hold jobs and tend to be 8 to 5 activists.

 

This group echoed the difficulty of being in this generation and acting as the “middle person” to the two other age groups and some humorous depictions of this age group came to the fore. These include being the UN[9] (a peace-keeping body) within our respective organisations. On a more serious note, this age group describe their position as being between a rock and a hard place, being between directors and lower level employees. The only concrete solution this group proposed in regards to dealing with this multi-generational gap is for all relevant stakeholders to recognise and acknowledge this position and to have more dialogue around it. Another proposal put forward by the group is to recognise the hard work and foundation laid by the older generation but in a peaceful diplomatic way to bring a realisation to this generation to pass on knowledge and skills and the understanding that nothing lasts forever.

 

The different milieu in which violence against women manifest is an essential discussion to have and to facilitate this discourse, the facilitator placed different individuals in groups of four to five people. The facilitator listed different settings in which violence against women can take place, among them:

–          Intimate settings

–          Educational settings

–          Home

–          The workplace

–          Public spaces

 

On reporting back the different groups provided valuable insight in the forms of VAW and the form it takes within different settings. I gave input to the groups dealing with VAW in the educational setting.

The group in which I was listed the risk factors for VAW in the following way:

Primary school:

–          Sexual abuse

–          Discrimination

–          Isolation

–          Stigmatization

–          Content of school books articulating patriarchal values

–          Intimidation

–          Selection of leadership

 

Secondary level:

–          Rape (by both teachers and peers)

–          Sexual harassment

–          Environmental contexts (like being away from parents and the discipline of hostels)

 

 

Tertiary level:

–          Transactional sex

–          Lecturers negotiating sex for better marks

 

The groups proposed authentic ways on how to deal with VAW. Our group’s core strategy is centred on the re-socialization of boys. This sentiment was so well summarised in one of our group member’s words. Mario, a feminist leader from Nigeria said:

We need to empower men because they are so disempowered. If we take the example of a young girl and her male peer, a girl twelve years of age is already taught to clean and cook. This way she learns to manage and coordinate. Her male peer of the same age wakes up in the morning and heads straight to the playing field without anything gained from that. Men grow up thinking the world is their playing field”.

 

Discussion on LGBTI and linking transgender and feminist issues

 

LGBTI issues in Uganda are controversial and those issues are discussed in secret. I was asked at attend this conference as a transgender woman with the hoping of adding my voice to this conversation. Given that I had travelled to Uganda on a previous occasion and I understand the hostility towards the LGBTI community, it was a somewhat scary journey for me. With the opening of the conference I had raised this concern with Dr. Hilda Tadria, the executive director of MEMPROW in Uganda. She also raised this issue to the rest of the group and asked that we please discuss this issue since it is vital to this particular discussion and also vital to our advocacy and lobbying within our respective organisations. Just before the last session of the conference Dr. Tadria discussed some broad LGBTI issues and how they tie into sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. She specifically raised the concern that in the case of the transgender and intersex community, medical practitioners in Uganda can often not divorce a person’s anatomy from their chosen gender identity. After that she asked me to “connect the dots” between transgender women’s and mainstream women’s issues and this is what I addressed:

–          HIV and Aids is a common issue for cis-and transgender women; there are alarming statistics among transgender women.

–          Gender based violence is an issues that affects both cis and transgender women.

–          Employment discrimination is affecting cis and transgender women[10]. This is fuelled by patriarchy is professional and employment settings.

–          Re-politicizing transfeminist spaces to be inclusive enough for everyone who identify as female

 

Wrapping up the conversation

 

The last leg of the multi-generational school saw the women going into country groups to discuss what will be the way forward for the respective countries. Sylvia Shekede, the Amanitare Project Manager from the secretariat based in Johannesburg reminded the participants that the MGS is not happening in isolation/ apart from the overall Amanitare project. This is where the different countries were expected to discuss their advocacy strategy. The South African group raised some very burning potential issues as a potential advocacy strategy. This included corrective rape of sexual minorities, an issue which stands out clearly from the research conducted for the Herwai[11] report. Finally, the group decided to pursue the sterilisation of HIV + women without their consent as an advocacy strategy and Buyiswa Mhambi, the South African country co-ordinator reported back on this issue to the rest of the group.

 

Self-evaluation and reflection

 

From an organisational perspective, this was an interesting conference for me. There are so many connections between trans and cis-gender women. This is demonstrated by the way in which they live within their gender roles. I am always so excited to be included in feminist and mainstream issues as a transgender woman and someone who have become the face of this identity. This grants me the opportunity of presenting on the issues affecting transgender women. Despite anti-trans feminists[12]opinion that transgender women are socialized as men and can therefore not understand the struggles of women, I attend these conferences and workshops to connect the dots between trans and cis-gender women. I infiltrate those spaces with the hope of re-politicizing them to be inclusive of transgender women. Anti-trans feminists base their argument on biology confusing themselves and others in the process since the feminist movement is built on the premise that gender is not biological, it is a social construction. And so, it is always very interesting to see how I am perceived within these spaces. Perhaps I am far too analytical in my thinking. Given the fact that I am part of a movement, that of the transgender feminist movement, I am very interested to see how all this will play out within the African context. Up to now, I have been welcomed in those spaces. Coming back to this particular conference, I was amazed by the interest in trans issues. I saw it as an opportunity to engage with mainstream women’s organisations. To learn and share and to a great extent, this conference fulfilled the objectives I set for myself. As far as the coalition is concerned, this was one of those opportunities to educate and to gain some education. My final word on this is that it was a space to learn and share, personally and professionally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Sexual and Health  Rights in South Africa, a non-profit organisation base in Johannesburg

[2] Cis- is a Latin prefix meaning on the same side while gender refers to the socially constructed idea of what a man, and what a woman is. Cis-gender therefore refers to a woman who has not transitioned like a transgender woman. See Trans: transgender life stories from South Africa. Fanele Publishers (2009)

[3] VAW is an acronym for violence against women.

[4] SRHR is an acronym for sexual and reproductive health and rights

[5] Ukutwala is a form of abduction where a young girl who is of age (puberty) is abducted from her clan and forced into marriage with, usually an older man. This is prevalent in the Xhosa culture and happens often in die rural Eastern Cape, Lusikisiki and rural parts of Limpopo.

[6] Sexual minorities refer to those people who do not fit the sexual and gender binaries of societies e.g. the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender intersex community, sex workers and those living with HIV and Aids.

[7] Corrective rape is a form of sexual violence aimed at correcting a person’s sexual behaviour. It is most prevalent amongst black, townships lesbians.

[8] The HIV & Aids and STI Strategic Plan for South Africa

[9] United Nations

[10] In Ehlers vs. Bohler Uddeholm Africa (Pty) the Judge presiding over the case held that the respondent (Bohler Uddeholm) should practice what it preaches. “It has a policy against discrimination yet it wanted the applicant (Ehlers) to hide the fact that she was a transsexual. Unfair discrimination in the workplace should not be tolerated at all costs. It is ugly”.

[11]Health Rights for Women Assessment Instrument, a research instrument developed to analyse the policies affecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.

[12] Like Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffries and Mary Daly

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