Queer women in Africa are demanding their own safe spaces.
Queer women from around Africa came together in Kenya this June for the sixth Changing Faces Changing Spaces (CFCS) conference. At the gathering they aimed to voice their grievances, and create a conversation on how to disseminate hate crime and non-acceptance in their various countries of origin. Some of the queer women attending CFCSVI for the first time hoped to find ways to learn from other LBQ women on the continent about how to deal with homophobia’s effect on homosexual women in their respective countries. Where lesbians are tortured, have no voice, and are seen as immoral for being in same-sex relationships. It was an exciting space, especially for those who were experiencing the offering at this international gathering for the first time.
The session brought comfort to many women, as well as a joy in finding people whom they could identify with. They claimed the space as queer feminists from different organisations, from different backgrounds – working towards a unified voice.
Some called themselves “Radical Feminists”, fighting for their rights and voicing challenges they come across as LBQ women. Many mentioned that “it’s really hard to live as a queer woman or a lesbian” in their communities. Some remain in the closet to avoid the unacceptable treatment and violence targeted at their counterparts, as well as everything else that comes their way for being queer.
Some women have ended up homeless – evicted from their homes because their families are not accepting of them. Others are raped by family members of people they trusted. And generally, those close to them turn away and don’t want to remain a part of their lives.
The objectives of CFCSVI were to create a safe space for sharing feminist experiences with delegates from different locations. The goal was to start mapping out where feminist organisations are succeeding, identifying new frontiers of this resistance, and locating these within a broader geo-political analysis of the world. CFCSVI also aimed to start carving out a plural and common agenda with exploration of various strategies, tactics and key messages that can advance this agenda. As well as to develop a social and creative space for queer women across the African continent.
These women used the space as a healing one, to detox from their past experiences and challenges they have faced, as well as a forum to find ways on how to better their respective situations. Although change won’t happen in a day, they are finding ways to challenge existing laws and campaign for this necessary change in their home countries.
The session offered a lot of information on how queer women organise themselves in terms of voicing their challenges and using referral systems in their own countries – specifically when it comes to tackling human rights violations. They identified other organisations they can work hand-in-hand with regarding counselling and facing other issues. Because queer women are afraid to come out to their family members, some are being forced into marriages with men as a result of the pressure they experience from their families. Because of this, unable to cope, some have committed suicide. Those who are more open are made to feel vulnerable: suffering intolerance, discrimination and hate speech by their community. It’s this treatment that kills them from the inside.
The law in some African countries criminalises women who sleep with women. Some are jailed, others have experienced countless brutal attacks, while others have been killed. The discrimination has been geared towards homosexuals as well as trans females and males.
LGBTIQ people are suffering. As a result some have fled, leaving their homes – their countries because of injustice and non-acceptance. Instead they opt to leave everything they know and love behind for a chance in a country where homosexuals are safe, free, and accepted. Where they are free to be who they are without worry of being jailed or killed.
Many homosexuals have been living a life of sorrow and pain for so many years, enduring corrective rape and unwanted pregnancies. Some terminate their pregnancies while others are unable to bring themselves to do this – seeking a blessing regardless of the ordeal. Some lesbians who have become unexpected mothers have come to accept their children in their lives – even though they were created from violence.
Safe spaces created by CFCS encourage the championing of civil rights and working towards a way of ending the stigma faced by homosexual woman in Africa. They offer an opportunity to learn from one another in the fight for freedom and equal rights for all.