Exploring Violence Against Girls and Women with Katswe Sistahood and the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa
Day 7: Johannesburg – Violence Against Girls and Women
- Meet with Sibongile Ndashe, Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa
- Processing and Reflections
- Meet with Talent Jumo, Katswe Sistahood
We began our first day of programming in Johannesburg with Sibongile Ndashe of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA). Sibongile is a feminist lawyer who uses strategic litigation to hold the state accountable and develop laws and legal precedent for upholding women’s human rights and sexual rights on the continent and for prosecuting violations based on sexual orientation and gender entity and expressions. Sibongile had much insight to offer our many Movement Makers who are interested in legal and policy strategies as a means to fight gender-based violence.
Sibongile shared that there is much distrust of the legal system throughout Africa and the process often makes people feel re-victimized and without restitution in the end, but she believes that it is a useful tool and that efforts should be made to make sure the system works. She explained the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women, which says the State will ensure the elimination of discrimination against women and ensure the protection of women’s rights. ISLA’s goal is to use strategic litigation to ensure that the government takes this responsibility seriously and can be prosecuted if it is found negligent.
Her incisive analysis on the barriers in this work, and how NGOs play into them, sparked a robust discussion on the role of NGOs in civil society. Is it our job to hold the State accountable for its responsibilities? Or is it our job to step in and take over some of the responsibilities to ensure they happen? If we step in, are we simply propping up failing systems? By pursuing alternative strategies outside of the State, are we allowing the State to abdicate responsibility?
Sibongile argued that a focus on being “helpful” often pits organizations against each other to fight out who is most helpful, and that those who are seen as most compliant with the system are often the ones given access to decision-makers. She also shared how a false division between mass mobilization and legal strategies has caused fissures in the women’s movement, often along race lines. Rather than NGOs raising money to cover services that should actually be provided by the State, she challenged us to instead focus on telling lawmakers what it costs for them to not rectify the problems we are trying to solve.
Sibongile gave us much food for thought. To help us process what we learned from her, and throughout the learning exchange so far, we spent time on our own reflecting on questions like:
- What am I learning about myself, my own story, my leadership journey?
- What am I learning about my organization, my community, Move to End Violence?
- What am I learning about movement building?
We then took our reflections to share out what we as individuals, we as organizations, and we as movements could do if we were willing to be as bold as our South African comrades. Common themes focused on stepping into stronger, more focused, and more fulfilling leadership; not being beholden to funders and funding; creating the organizations we want to have; using our collective power to demand social justice; integrating art and creativity all the time; and supporting the leadership of those most impacted.
Taking the time to reflect as a group allowed us to be more attentive when joined by our afternoon speaker, Talent Jumo of Katswe Sistahood in Zimbabwe. Talent organizes young women to learn about and fight for their sexual and reproductive rights in the face of repression and widespread poverty. Katswe Sistahood is a partner of International Development Exchange (IDEX) and recently won an international award for its work.
Talent helped us understand the Zimbabwean context she is working in, including the high level of sexual violence, the prevalence of child marriage, lack of education and access to information and services related to health and rights, and overall policing and control over women and their bodies. To combat this, Katswe creates safe spaces for women to have honest conversations and ask questions. They lead and participate in campaigns to encourage education rather than marriage. They organize marches and push collective agendas to show the community they will not be silent, even in the face of great physical risk. Said Talent, “We are called bad women – and we are okay with that!”
Katswe Sistahood also uses music, dance, art, culture, popular education, and physical movement to engage the women and help build connections among them. We had a lot of fun trying out some of the energizers Talent uses with the women she works with, and were so impressed with her approach. “We build a platform for women to speak for themselves,” said Talent. “We need to tell our own stories and develop our own strategies. We need to be the ones to define what justice means to us.”
This international learning exchange was planned in conjunction with our esteemed partners at International Development Exchange (IDEX).