Solidarity statement in support of Sistah Sistah

We have learned this week with great anger and sadness about the arrest of Ann Kazingha Holland, Gladys Mwangala Monde (Co-Founders of Sistah Sistah Foundation Zambia) and their colleague Chilombu Kabambi, who together with many feminist volunteers organized the #WomensMarchZambia this past weekend, on 4 of March 2023.

This is an annual march that has been held in Zambia every year since 2019 as an advocacy strategy to highlight the plight of women in Zambia who are facing intersectional systems of oppression such as patriarchy and capitalism, among others; and multiple forms violence like sexual, physical, and emotional violence. For example, over 20 thousand cases of gender-based violence were reported countrywide in 2021 by the Zambian police, and nearly 80% of these were directed against women and girls.

These arrests, unfortunately, are not isolated incidents as the African continent has in the recent past seen a renewed wave of homophobic attacks and sentiments. In recent months, the continent has experienced a surge in the systemic spread of homophobic rhetoric, from Uganda to Ghana, to Kenya, and to Burundi. State resources and right-wing institutions have been deployed to the ‘fight against ‘the gays’’. We continue to see multiple shut-downs of queer and feminist activist organizations, collectives, and spaces by the government. Uganda’s Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2016 which suspends or revokes the licenses of such organizations, is but one example.

“What if our starting place is to claim that Africa has always been queer?” asks Hugo ka Canham, a Black, queer South African writer. Indigenous African systems of kinship included plural understandings of sexual and romantic relationships including same sex relationships, gender identities beyond binaries, and even radically different conceptions of gender altogether. However, in many of these countries colonial rule instituted systems of violence that regulated what they saw as individuals engaging in “perverse” sex. For example, the sodomy laws of India, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, and Uganda (and many other ex-colonies) are bundled under the same British penal codes and are commonly invoked by politicians and patriarchs to bolster their homophobia in the post-. As we protest and condemn these recent state-sponsored acts of violence, we also need to clearly and directly attribute these legacies of violence and control that fundamentalist politicians have relied on for their attacks – against queer people, feminists, and women – to the historical and current colonial infrastructures.

This colonial legacy is globally spread and augmented by our digital technologies, in particular our online spaces that mirror and perpetuate the offline realities of oppression and violence. Social media platforms are being used to promote disinformation under the torch of “free speech” with life-threatening consequences for queer and feminist communities that are being silenced and targeted with hateful content. Along with dissemination of disinformation by supporters of the right-wing on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, there are multiple cases of violations of the right to privacy, anonymity and protection of personal data of queer, trans and gender-diverse people in the region. Forced outing and doxxing as direct attacks against trans and non-binary folks are especially surging on Twitter which is failing to combat online abuse motivated by prejudice and hatred. These forms of digital violence on Twitter are contributing to this grave wave of government-led systematic LGBTIQ-phobic persecutions against the queer community. Coordinated digital abuse campaigns against queer, trans and gender-diverse people, as well as queer and feminist activists not only put their lives in immediate danger, but also threaten to jeopardize movement mobilization and provision of support to hundreds of thousands of people right now.

Following the #WomensMarchZambia, Ann, Gladys and Chilombu from Sistah Sistah Foundation have been targets of backlash with misleading stories on social media and in the local news. Sensationalization around the reporting of the march by the Zambian media has led to the misconstruction of the intention of the march to “promote” homosexuality. To say that the march was not “promoting” homosexuality would be to play into the homophobic narrative. Rather, the organizers of the march recognize the intersectionality of women’s issues that affect not only cis-hetero women but also lesbians, gays, bisexual, trans, non-binary, and queer persons, who remain particularly vulnerable.

This crisis is the result of the complex and multi-layered influence of colonization, fundamentalisms, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and capitalism on grassroots, national, regional, global and online levels with severe consequences. It is the backlash on feminist and queer movements and collectives who are at the front lines, immobilizing their collective efforts and work done on sexual and reproductive rights, autonomy, accessibility, and freedoms. It penalizes the struggle for a right to a dignified life free of any form of violence and oppression by criminalizing their very own existence and perpetuating the neocolonial project of the far right.

We celebrate the endless efforts and outstanding work that African feminist organizations and communities carry out in this challenging context. We want to support and affirm their dreams, hopes, and desires, and share and produce a common sense that puts these at the center of life. We renew our solidarity, love and admiration for the many African women in the struggle, especially for Ann Kazingha Holland, Gladys Mwangala Monde and Chilombu Kabambi who have been recently released, but now stand to face undue criminal proceedings. We demand that charges against them be dropped so they can continue to do the necessary and hard work of “amplifying the injustice victims of sexual and gender based violence face in Zambia, the increased harassment and cyberbullying women/girls face online on social media platforms, and the lack of attention to these cases that often go uncovered by the media and unnoticed by the public”.

Read Sistah Sistah Foundation’s official statement.

Find below a set of resources for emergency assistance, legal support, security, and rapid response grants for feminist and queer activists.

Urgent Action Fund

Urgent Action Fund‘s Rapid Response Grants support the resilience of women’s and trans* movements by providing flexible and responsive support to women’s and trans* human rights defenders who face immediate threats and by supporting advocacy when unanticipated opportunities emerge to set new legal or policy precedents.

Additional information: UAF accepts applications in any language using online, text and mobile funding applications 365 days of the year. We respond to applications within 24 hours of submission. Decisions are usually made within 1-10 business days. (Translation needs may increase the time to decide.) Once a grant is approved, funds can be wired within 24 hours to 10 business days, dependent on need.

The Dignity for All: LGBTQI+ Assistance Program

The Dignity for All: LGBTQI+ Assistance Program provides emergency assistance; security, opportunity, and advocacy rapid response grants (SOAR grants); and security assessment and training to human rights defenders and civil society organizations under threat or attack due to their work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex human rights.

Contact Freedom House or a member organization of the Dignity Consortium working in your region with a concept for any urgent, short-term advocacy or security initiative designed to have significant LGBTQI+ human rights impact. Dignity for All is run by a consortium of international human rights organizations:

Dignity Emergency Assistance

Provides human rights defenders and civil society organizations, who are facing threats due to LGBTQI+ human rights work, with small, short-term emergency financial support to address urgent needs. Support includes, but is not limited to:

  • Medical expenses
  • Legal representation
  • Prison visits
  • Trial monitoring
  • Temporary relocation
  • Dependent support
  • Security and equipment replacement
  • Other types of urgent expenses

Dignity Security, Opportunity, Advocacy and Rapid Response (SOAR) Grants

SOAR grants provide CSOs working in unpredictable environments with urgent short-term funding for rapid response. Grants are intended to provide local CSOs with resources to counteract urgent threats and to take advantage of unexpected opportunities to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ people. Grants are flexible and can help CSOs to address:

  • Proposed or recently passed legislation
  • Sudden government crackdowns
  • Increased levels of violence
  • Unexpected openings in civil society space
  • Urgently needed security assistance and capacity-building for security
  • Other emergent opportunities or dangers
  • Security assessment & training

Dignity Security Trainings

Dignity Consortium partners conduct preventive security workshops and training designed to:

  • Improve the security and protection capacity of LGBTQI+ activists, organizations and communities;
  • Build awareness, knowledge and skills on assessing and mitigating risks; and
  • Develop and implement security plans.

Front Line Defenders

Protection grants can pay for provisions to improve the security and protection of human rights defenders and their organisations including, but not limited to:

  • Improving physical security of an organisation or individual, digital security and communication security;
  • Supporting legal fees for HRDs who are being judicially harassed;
  • Paying for medical fees for HRDs who have been attacked or who have suffered a medical condition as a result of their peaceful human rights activities;
  • Providing family assistance for imprisoned HRDs or family members who are at risk because of a HRD’s activities.

National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission provides the following services:

TransQueer fund

The TransQueer fund is a community dedicated to organizing relief funds for trans and queer folks in Kenya.

African Rainbow Family

The African Rainbow Family support for LGBTIQ people of African heritage and the wider Black and Asian Minority Ethnic groups (seeking asylum). Based in the UK.