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African Feminism

3 LGBT-Friendly African Feminist Organizations Who Aren’t Afraid of Using the F-Word

“We Work on “Gender and Sexuality” Issues (But We’re Not a Feminist Organization)”

 

I recently spent some time in Windhoek, Namibia as part of Africans for Africa, my 6-month long volunteer project training women’s and LGBTI organizations all across Southern Africa in new media communications. To make the most of my two-week stay, I decided to look up local women-run organizations in order to introduce myself and in hopes of learning more about Namibia’s non-profit/social justice landscape.

After an hour or so of web researching gender and sexuality issues in Namibia, I had compiled an inspiring list of organizations that primarily served women in a variety of ways, including combating homophobia, educating girls, advocating for survivors of domestic violence, children with disabilities, and so much more.

As I read the founders’ stories, many of them survivors of some form of trauma, called to political action by some personal circumstance, I “mmmn”-ed out loud, soaked in what felt like a familiar brand of afrofeminism, the kind I’d become accustomed to being raised by a child of war, the kind that held its breath through resistance, generation after generation, with the dim hope that the work and sacrifice would afford their daughters the privilege of being able to breathe more freely.

Phrases like “fight against oppression”, “promote gender equality”, “resist patriarchy”, and “empower women” could be found in almost all the mission statements, yet, despite the parallel goals and shared context, the words “feminist” or “feminism” were nowhere to be found.  So far, in my travels, the word feminism has proven to be as taboo (and as divisive) as it gets. Ironically, nothing creates quite awkward a silence as someone perceived to be “pushing a feminist agenda” (or, my favorite, “man-hating”) in an African women’s circle.

I’ve certainly met my share of African feminist individuals — they’re the crazy ones that would drop the F-bomb (“Feminism”) in the middle of a discussion (and embrace the consequences, while describing the chaos as a series of “learning moments”. (Note: I say this, fondly.)

On the flip side, many of the organizations I’ve met working on combating gender stereotypes or gender-based violence are adamantly against using the word, “Feminism”, in their work, even if some of the leadership identify as feminists). Some of the resistance stems from the good sense to avoid alienating many of the women they serve, a scenario I myself can relate to; I received way more responses (and invitations) when I described my tech training as equipping African women (vs. African feminist organizations), so I made the switch. My mission, after all, is to make sure more women are skilled at using media for advocacy. Thus, for my purposes, I really don’t care whether or not these women identify as feminists or not.

However, besides tactical reasons similar to the scenario above, some of the pushback against using the F-word also stems from negative perceptions feminism. Unfortunately, I’ve met one too many feminists who exclusively blame “ignorance” or “patriarchy” for the bad PR. While I agree that some of this is certainly at play, I quite frankly find it ineffective (and self-righteous) to continually blame an audience for bad messaging. Feminism isn’t always the problem; sometimes, feminists who use feminism to alienate (vs. engage) are the greatest barrier to engaging women in what’s arguably one of the most powerful movements of our time.

Queer Nigerian Boi Seeks African Feminist Organizations; Must Be Open-Minded (i.e. Love the Gays)

I personally have felt excluded from so called “inclusive feminist spaces” based on my disdain for academic jargon, my love of hip hop music, the task of constantly having to fight against assumed heterosexuality, and the frustration of hearing even allies conflate my gender presentation as a tom boi and my sexuality as the same issue. Like religion, at its core feminism is good; but when preached as a doctrine in the way it’s quite often done (especially at conference spaces), when policed in the way that it frequently is by so-called “real” feminists, it can feel more like dogma, a set of rules and judgments, rather than loose set of principles, heavily strengthened by an appreciation of the “gray”, which can guide all of us to better caring for ourselves and for our communities.

Given the tensions that exist within and around (African) feminism, I was pleasantly surprised to discover (and get to know) three amazing organizations that have found a way to strike a balance between engaging all kinds of women from where they are and empowering women who already identify as feminists to “spread the good word”; who welcomed me whole, and didn’t reduce me to being the “gay one” in the group. It was so encouraging to meet so many open-minded African women, some LGBTI, some not, who united around a shared commitment to (all) women’s empowerment.

I’ve listed them here in no particular order. And, luckily for you, because I spent quite a bit of time training a number of their members in new media for branding and visibility, so they’re pretty active on Facebook. Like them :)

Young Feminist Movement in Namibia (Y-Fem)

Y-Fem’s mission is to nurture the next generation of feminist leadership. Pow! These inspiring young women I was privileged to spend two weeks with in Namibia describe themselves as “an organization that creates space for passionate, stylish, and fashionable young Namibian women and allies.” Ooh la la — sign me up! This is exactly what we need — an organization that isn’t afraid to make feminism cool, fashionable. During my sessions with them, it came up, over and over again, that they were committed to making sure Y-Fem appealed to the ‘every day’ girl, not just women’s and gender studies major. Incidentally, I got to help them prepare for their first major event, which was an informal social gathering intended to create an awareness of feminist and women’s issues through the use of poetry by both established and aspiring poets. They pulled that event off like pros; I arrived mid-way through it to find 40+ people gathered around a blazing fire as a woman chanted and sang about her love for African women. Namibia’s women’s movement is in good hands if Y-Fem has anything to say about it. Like them on Facebook

Women’s Leadership Center

WLC is a feminist organization that promotes women’s writing and other forms of personal and creative expression as a form of resistance to oppression embedded in patriarchal cultures and society, and aims to develop indigenous feminist activism in Namibia. (Wow!) They’ve published several anthologies of stories, poetry, and photography produced for and by women living in rural areas, and routinely host writing workshops in order to develop interest in writing both as a tool for archiving African women’s stories and advocating for equal rights and access. Before I left, the director of the program, Liz Frank, a feminist scholar herself, gave me about five books to read, including “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “We Must Choose Life”, both writings of Namibian women on gender, culture, violence, and HIV/AIDS. As someone whose work is all about women telling their stories, discovering WLC was such a treat. Visit their website.

Sister Namibia

And, last but not least, Sister Namibia is a feminist, women’s rights organisation based in Namibia that uses media to raise awareness on women’s rights issues in the country and region. An African feminist media organization? It sounded too good to be true when I stumbled across their website. I hadn’t imagined that I’d receive a response as quickly as I did (yay African hospitality), that the director would invite me to come spend an afternoon with them in their office, nor that this “office” would be an actual building the organization owned. When I stepped into their small bungalow, I was blown away by the display table in the entryway that held past issues of Sister Namibia’s print magazine, “Sister”, and the wall-to-wall covering of bookshelves filled with books about African women, feminism, gender, sexuality–the whole shebang. This organization doesn’t need to “create space” for women (or feminists); they already have one. Their physical space, which I’ve come to fondly call my favorite African feminist temple, serves as both a library and a meeting space for local students, activists, and community members. They rock. Love them on Facebook.

What other self-identified African feminist organizations exist on the continent? I’m sure they’re lots. Please feel free to recommend them. Have you come across organizations that don’t explicitly identify as feminist but practice feminist principles? Should African women’s organizations necessarily adopt the feminist label? Why/why not? 

HONEY & GOLD Elixir

Black Lesbian Self-Love Now Comes in a Bottle: HONEY & GOLD Elixir

Early this morning, I received a message from Jasmine Burems, a Black lesbian organic herbalist, who specializes in women’s wellness.

She congratulated me on the success of my Africans for Africa campaign, and was hoping I’d lend support to her own project on IndieGoGo. Honestly, I receive so many requests like this, and can’t always respond to them all. But there was something that intrigued me about Jasmine’s message.

After Jasmine introduced herself as a lesbian entrepreneur (win!), she proceeded to let me know about her mission to bottle and mass produce the first EVER organic women’s wellness beverage:

HONEY & GOLD Signature Elixir, a ready-to-drink, organic, gluten free, GMO-free women’s wellness, pleasure and beauty tonic.

Let me repeat: HONEY & GOLD Signature Elixir, Pleasure and Beauty Tonic. 

I don’t know about you all, but  I want to drink whatever claims to be a Pleasure and Beauty tonic! Lots of it! Check out the titillating description below:

HONEY & GOLD Signature Elixir is made from a unique combination of sustainably grown herbs, rich raw honey and shimmering edible gold. Signature Elixir is a sincere prayer for deep nourishment, a nutritious and luxurious women-specific health-drink providing lots of nutrients.

Some of my favorite women-specific benefits of the Elixir include:

  • Tones muscles of the pelvic region including the uterus (I imagine this would contribute to ease of childbirth…)
  • Supports healthy, relaxed, pleasurable flow of energy (As an activist, self-care and relaxation need to be intentional or they simply won’t happen)
  • Supports maintenance of balanced vaginal flora (I have no idea what this means but it makes me feel like one of the ‘soaring-in-slow-motion’ women in those tampon commercials)
  • Synergistic formula for womb, heart and third eye. (Mmmm, deeper intuition, community connection. YES please!)

If you can’t tell, already. I’m sold on this Elixir. So, I’m hoping the LBTQ women’s community–everyone, in fact!–bands together to make this campaign a success, so Jasmine can design and brand this self-love potion in the best imaginable way; not just so that she can sell it, but so that she can help more women who are in desperate need of more intentional self-care.

Photo Credit: Latino Health Zone

Incidentally, over the past 3 months in South Africa, I’ve met and interviewed queer African women activists, artists, and scholars from all walks of life about their work and mental health.

Across the board, women feel the tension between sustaining their communities and sustaining themselves, but are finding it hard to make the connection that our self-love is absolutely necessary, not just for our us, but for our communities that we care so much about.

Jasmine’s observations about women and their constant battle with self-care have been similar to mine:

When I began doing healing work I realized that many women take care of everyone else before taking care of themselves. They feel there’s not enough time, or they don’t know exactly how…sometimes, we just aren’t inspired to take a small step to affect positive change.

This is spot on. It’s not that many women aren’t sold on the idea of self-care, it’s that they find it hard to make self-care a priority, and thus, struggle to justify investing the time (or money) necessary to care for themselves.

But here’s why I think Jasmine is brilliant. She’s found a way to sell self-care as a balance between priority, luxury, and convenience.

Photo Credit: Salon

If I saw a bright, shiny, HONEY & GOLD bottle with the words Elixir, Self-Love, and Potion on it, I’m pretty sure I’d be moved to take a number of steps: purchase a few bottles, a few unscented candles, then head home to a wonderful evening of relaxation on my couch with some indie soul music playing in the background and incense burning in the air. And even if I had to skip the evening on the couch, I could still drink it on-the-go.

That’s just me, though. Love is My Revolution, after all. But what about you?

Jasmine’s campaign has over 40 days to go. On my traveler activist budget, I won’t be able to contribute monetarily, but it would make my day if at least 10 people that read this post, checked out her page, and confirmed that it would be a great idea to contribute to her campaign. What do you say? Will you be one of the ten? :)

Backers of the campaign to mass produce HONEY & GOLD will be well-rewarded; Jasmine is offering very exciting “Thank You” goodies, including a bottle of the HONEY& GOLD Elixir (or an entire case!), a 30-day supply of herbal tea cones and other self-care rituals and recipes, and (oh, I’m so jealous of this) an opportunity to host a self-love workshop filled with herbal remedy and holistic health self-care lessons for a group of friends! (Someone please invite me if your contribution earns this perq!).

Photo Credit: My Self Love Life

In all honesty, after years of practicing self-care, I’ve realized that it’s quite common to meet so-called health coaches who love to claim it as a lifestyle, a cute “alternative” to put on a business card.

Let’s face it, in some circles, self-care has become an individualistic (opportunistic) indie fad. This is frustrating, because the fad-iness chips away at the credibility of real holistic health care practitioners, and nulls the idea that self-care is a viable path to better health, and better lives for everyone.

Nevertheless, if more women embraced self-care, really embraced it, and practiced it, as a way of healing and sustaining our minds, bodies, and spirits, every single day (at least as often as we brush our teeth), we’d all be so much happier. 

This is why when I meet someone whose commitment to the idea that love is revolutionary isn’t just evident in their words, but shines through in their work, and who’s willing to take huge risks (starting a social venture is no joke) just for the hope of sharing it— I tip my hat, and I do whatever i can to support them. And dear reader, I hope you will, too.

Jasmine is a practicing doula and herbalist. She teaches a range of workshops that integrate holistic health principles, ancient wisdom, organic and sustainable herbalism, meditation, movement, sacred sense therapies for women, and more. She’s an inspiring queer woman of color whose work is all about uplifting other women of color. Hence, I encourage you, this one time, read something, then do something. Make a contribution to her campaign. We’d all be better for it.

Check out her campaign video below:

Thank you, Jasmine, for the breath of fresh air your idea will bring to all our lives. I hope your campaign is a huge success. I can’t wait to purchase my first bottle!

Ibhabhathane Community Centre

[VIDEO] Africans for Africa Update: A Day at The Ibhabhathane Community Centre

This post is part of my Africans for Africa project updates: I’m traveling through Southern Africa for 6-months offering free social media, online fundraising, and organizational development strategy workshops to African women, LGBTI, and youth grassroots groups. I publish stories, reflections, lessons learned, and interviews from along the way.

Never Doubt a Small Group of Dedicated Women…

I recently visited the Ibhabhathane Community Centre, the only pre-school available in Rieebeck East, a small farm village with a population of about 700 people. Needless to say, providing good quality education (much less early childhood development) is a challenge. But a small group of dedicated women are making a difference.

An elderly black South African woman (she’s serving food in an apron in the video) reached out to Yolande, a white afrikaans woman, then a new resident to the small town, asking for her assistance in setting up a small center to care for toddlers; many of the young children were left idle / unattended, without sufficient social stimulation, and were growing up with developmental challenges, further impeding their success at the local primary school.

Yolande, a teacher by training, worked with the local community to open the first creche (pre-school) in an abandoned wooden shack. A few local women volunteer to teach and play with the children every day in their native language, Xhosa. And, over time, they remodeled the shack into a warmer, more colorful space. The roof needs to be fixed, and the floor needs to be re-tiled, so fundraising is top priority for them as they hope to grow and implement higher quality programming (in a more conducive environment) for their children.

A few of their goals include building a comprehensive library of children’s books, acquiring funding for more teachers, and a bigger space so they can take in more children, who, without the centre, would remain idle in the village, as the unemployment (and alcoholism) rate is very high.

Rieebeck East, My New Favorite Getaway

During my visit, I stayed with Yolande, the project leader, and her husband, Marc (a talented visual artist and photographer) in their charming Bohemian style mud house, located just outside the township. The interior was painted aqua blue, and they had beautiful art they’d collected from over the years hanging on the walls. Yolande, who comes from a family of mosaicists, has tiled the counter tops, floors, and walls in a simple, yet accentuating masonry of pastel yellow, silver, grey, and black tiles and pebble stones.

On the night I arrived, they happened to be entertaining friends from  out of town, so we all built a fire for a brai (South African barbequeue), and spent the rest of the evening drinking wine and conversing passionately about the arts, apartheid, and the media’s spin on the murder of 36 protesting mine workers. Nothing like spending an evening outdoors, by a fire among fellow artivists; it was the most fun I’d had in several weeks.

My remaining two days there were a lot quieter, a much-needed oasis of nature, peace, and serenity, especially after spending nearly three weeks in the cold city of Cape Town. I woke up each morning to the sound of their fives dogs, three cats, and a whole lot of chickens, then watched the sun ascend from the horizon (which one can see for miles and miles around), as I sipped Rooibos tea. The landscape was breathtaking, and the warmth with which I was tended to, moving. It reminded me that as a traveler, there’s only one way to find home away from home; don’t search for it whole; find snippets, bits & pieces wrapped in small acts of kindness.

When I left, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and with two new friends whom I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe next year.

A Bit of Kindness, Returned

Ibhabhathane Community Centre is currently trying to raise about R8000 (~$1000) to get high speed internet installed. Currently, there is no connection in the very small town, and Yolande needs to drive about 45K up a dirt road to the nearest university to use the internet (her mobile data modem is much too slow for anything more than checking email). Getting the infrastructure installed will make it easier for her to improve communications with potential donors (and the outside world in general), and also, increase Ibhabhathane’s social media engagement, which they’d like to use for fundraising.

I made this video for them because I was moved by how much they’ve accomplished with so little, and also, how kind everyone was to me, a total stranger, just passing through. I’ve visited about 20 NGOs since I arrived in South Africa in July, and this is the one with the idea — and the people — that have touched me the most.

So, here’s the short video I made — a snapshot of “A Day at the Ibhabhathane Community Centre”. I hope you enjoy it, and consider supporting them as well. You can donate to their project here.

 

It Takes a Village: Fikelela Orphan Shelter

It Takes a Village: Fikelela Shelter for Orphans with HIV/AIDS Fosters Community Advocacy

“It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind when I reflect on my visit to the Children’s Center of the Fikelela Aids Project, a program of the Anglican church that fosters orphaned children living with HIV/AIDS.

Villas of Hope

On the morning of my visit, Rachel, the founder and project leader, picked me up from my residence and drove me to Khayelitsha, where the centre is based. On our way to the site (about a 20 min drive from town), we both chatted about our passion for philanthropy. Rachel shared that a friend of hers, Villa, had been the inspiration behind Fikelela; Villa had always dreamed about opening a home for children who were HIV+, called “Villas of Hope”. Villa passed away from AIDS, and Rachel has since kept that dream alive.

Rachel may be the visionary behind Fikelela, but the centre’s operations are heavily driven and overseen by Kate, a social worker by training. Over some very delicious tea, she outlined the program’s vast operations, of which there are many moving parts: child developmental activities led by Kate, play and care by the staff carers, medical services (TB and HIV/AIDS testsing, general health check ups for which they partner with local clinics), and a variety of art activities and fun outings for the children. What struck me about Kate was her unwavering love and commitment to the children; every bottom line she described, whether fundraising, reporting, hiring new staff, working with other non-profits, social works, and government agencies, were all articulated via impact on the children.

Love Fills These Playgrounds

After speaking with Rachel and Kate for a bit, I received a tour of the facilitites. The girls and boys each have their own separate quarters, rooms with individual bunk beds and cribs with their names on them. I arrived during nap time for the younger ones (2-4 yrs), and the older kids were still away in school. I didn’t want to snap photos of the children as they were sleeping, but I did capture one little girl, Nikkie, who had woken up early and wanted everyone passing by to pick her up! Her smile won me over.

I noticed that the bathrooms have towels and toothbrushes labeled with the children’s names. Kate explained that children naturally want to feel special, and thus, in a group as large as theirs (up to 40 children at a time), Fikelela tries to affirm them as individuals in as many ways as possible. The children have a wonderful playground at the back of the centre. They’re even getting a pool very soon, donated by a supporter of Fikelela. They have bikes to ride around on, and indoors, an assortment of toys and games.

I spoke with a few “carers” (women who tend to the children — bathe them, feed them, play with them etc), too, and was moved by how much love they expressed for their work. One of them, Pindiwe, has four children of her own; she works at the centre three days a week, and on the days when she isnt, tends to her children. I accompanied her as she prepared a daily booster (immune system strengthening drink) for a few of the children. When I asked her how she could love so many children at once, she replied, “I just really love children. I can’t help it. They make me so happy.”

More Than a Shelter, A Dedicated Community

A good number of the kids that come to the centre are HIV+. Yet, the centre is literally bubbling over with love, laughter, and joy. The few children that I saw awake were smiling and happy. The staff were themselves upbeat and positive. And, in fact, Kate explained that they hardly ever disclose which of the children are HIV+. “Everyone is treated the same. If I wear gloves for one, I wear gloves for all. If I kiss one, I kiss them all. Visitors who come in to start mourning are asked to leave. I don’t need them bringing in negative energy. My children are happy.”

“It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind when I reflect on my visit. From the driver who shuffles the children back and forth from school, picks and drops off ARV meds etc, the carers that tend to the children (change their diapers, feed them, lead playtime activities), the social workers that visit to facilitate developmental activities (so that the children can eventually become better and be reunited with their families, not just physically, but emotionally), and the volunteers who stop by to help (cleaning, painting, projects for the children etc), Fikelela is more than just a centre for orphans; it’s the hub of a truly extraordinary ecosystem of childcare.

Everyone working there spoke frankly about the love and passion they have for the work they do, but were also realistic and forthcoming about challenges; despite having a stellar reputation with the department of social services — who are constantly recommending them — it’s clear that Fikelela is an organization that is constantly pushing themselves to accomplish even more than they have, for the sake of the children fortunate enough to be in their care.

In the words of their founder, Rachel, “… thinking about the millions impacted by HIV/AIDS, it’s easy to get discouraged. Making the differences in the lives of the one or two is what keeps me going.”

Villa would be so proud.

If you’d like to learn more about Fikelela, visit their website, or donate to them via their profile on GlobalGiving.


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