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A feminism conference, a national adolescent meeting and a regional SRHR meeting

Date Released: Wed, 14 December 2016 15:54 +0200

Malvern Chiweshe has recently traveled to all sorts of exciting places representing the CSSR. Here is his latest blog on his experiences.

African conference at Penn State

The past two months have been a hive of activity. Starting on the 23rd of September - 24th I presented a paper at the African Feminist Initiative conference on the state of African feminist thought and practice, which was held at Penn State University. The conference brought together more than two dozen outstanding feminist scholars from across the continent and beyond to map out innovative new approaches and developments in the field of African feminism.  The highlight for me was sharing a shuttle from the airport with a legend of African feminism Dr Patricia McFadden. Our discussions on the problems of nationalism in African feminism will sure stick with me forever. The fantastic surroundings of Penn State were an appropriate venue for the conversations that followed. Beginning with a keynote by Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Patricia McFadden, which focused on the need to document and reflect on where the field is, we took part in some enthralling discussions. The panel on Feminist Historical Research: Nationalism, Militarism and Activism touched on some nationalist feminist movements in South Africa, Ghana and Cameroon. The inspirational Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (one of my feminist heroes) and Mary Hames then took us on a journey on how we can start documenting African feminism. Other highlights were panels on Feminist Methods across Africa and Alternative Literacies at the Nexus of African Literary Studies and African Feminisms (which was held together with the American Comparative Literature Association). My panel titled Queering African Feminisms: Gender, Sexualities and Reproduction included papers on child marriage and Feminist-Queer Activism.

 My paper titled “Most African languages don’t even have a way of phrasing having an abortion that means anything good.” Is abortion un-African? received interesting responses from the audience. In the paper, I explored the recent statements at a UN event, of Obianuju Ekeocha, founder of Culture of Life Africa, a pro-life organisation based in England who argued that abortion is un-African and that the calling for safe abortion from European countries amounts to neo-colonisation. I traced how these anti-abortion discourses in Africa, which are located in colonial and postcolonial debates, have been successful in opposing ‘abortion rights’ by seeing abortion as a Western project that violates African traditions and culture. I problematize these discourses by applying African feminisms and showing how by locating abortion debates in colonial and postcolonial debates there is a high risk of losing the ‘woman’. The argument centered on Tamale’s (2014) warning of homogenizing African women and the inherent politics of representation i.e. who speaks for whom and the politics of voice i.e. who should speak. I advocated for an African feminism that is grounded in pluralities and multiplicities of the lived experience of African women. I argued that by continuingly using culture talk to deny safe abortion,  those who claim to speak in the name of the ‘silenced Other’ (the African woman) are susceptible to being ‘co-opted’ in the continued oppression of African women.

Technical Committee Meeting for the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy, Pretoria 25– 28 OCTOBER 2016

Together with Professor Macleod we attended a technical meeting that brought together government departments and civil society to chart a way forward for adolescent SRHR. We were representing both the CSSR and Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC). At the meeting we presented two papers - I presented a paper titled Abortion and Ubuntu: Lessons from the region and Professor Macleod presented a paper titled Research on Life Orientation sexuality education in South Africa. The meeting was structured around the 5 priority areas which are:

Priority 1: Increased coordination, collaboration, information, and knowledge sharing on ASRH&R activities amongst stakeholders

Priority 2: Developing innovative approaches to comprehensive ASRH&R information, education and counselling to adolescents

Priority 3: Strengthening ASRH&R service delivery and support on various health concerns

Priority 4: Creating effective community supportive networks for adolescents

Priority 5: Formulating evidence - based revisions of legislation, policies, strategies and guidelines on ASRH&R

The governments departments presented progress in the different priorities. The departments included the Department of Social Development, Department of Basic Education and the Department of Health. Other government sections included the National Population Unit and National Youth Development Agency. Presentations from other organisations that included Lovelife, Partners in Sexual Health, SRJC and UNFPA all revolved around the prority areas. The UNFPA also presented the State of the World Population Report (SWOP) which focuses on targeting 10 year old girls as the decisive age where interventions need to start. Professor Macleod’s paper reviewed 27 SA studies that looked at life orientation (LO) skills and concluded that there are serious problems with the current life orientation skills that include a dominant emphasis on ‘danger, disease and damage’, the promotion of rigid gendered norms, a sense of disconnection by students of what is being taught, LO promoting heteronomativity and homophobia, and the many challenges of teaching sexualities. My paper looked at how abortion can be understood within Ubuntu. I criticized a rights only approach in Africa as it: 1) assumes active unfettered agency on the part of women; 2) fails to examine the social context; 3) wrests abortion from other reproductive issues; 4) hides the stigma associated with abortion; and 5) glosses over the several obstacles that women negotiate in accessing abortion. I advocated for a reproductive justice approach that focuses on the contextual nature of women’s lives. I argued for a reproductive justice approach that is grounded in Ubuntu. In so doing the woman who terminates a pregnancy can be seen, through the lens of Ubuntuism, as not just an individual making a choice to have an abortion but as a member of a community who has an unsupportable pregnancy: a pregnancy rendered complicated by interpersonal, religious, biological, cultural, economic, legal, and healthcare issues.

Campaign on safe abortion in Southern Africa: A regional strategic colloquium, Johannesburg, 3rd November – 4th November.

My next stop was in Johannesburg for a day two day colloquium on safe abortion in Southern Africa. Participants were drawn from government agencies, academia and civil society from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Mozambique. The colloquium provided space for people working to address unsafe abortion in the Southern African region, to engage in a strategic conversation to identify useful strategies and take action on advancing the right to access safe abortion for women and girls in the SADC region. The first session focused on understanding unsafe abortion in the Southern Africa region. People from the Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (RSRHR) Fund, IPAS and CALS provided a picture on abortion in the region. For example the efforts currently taking place in Malawi to liberalize abortion laws were discussed. In the second session Professor Charles Ngwena from the Center for Human Rights did a Comparative analysis of law and policy strategies, approaches and lessons using Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia. He reminded us that Tunisia was the first country in the world to liberalize abortion laws before any other Western country thereby crushing the notion that liberalizing abortion laws was not African. The last session looked at addressing challenges to access to services and the strategies and opportunities to address these.  Restrictive laws were identified as one of the challenges together with socio-cultural barriers, health system barriers and media barriers. One of the main strategies was for more regional co-ordination as a way of learning from countries like South Africa and Mozambique who have reformed laws. Participants were urged to continue advocacy as liberalizing laws alone did not guarantee access.

Source:Malvern Tatenda Chiweshe