… in Response to the Exclusion of Transgender and Intersex Persons in the Feminist Political Education Training
The divisions in an already fragile women’s movement in South African are not helpful.
It is with great disappointment that we learnt about the exclusion of transgender and intersex persons from a feminist political education training, presented by the One in Nine Campaign. We were truly shocked when a colleague forwarded to us an invitation for the Feminist Political Education 2013 Programme, which set out, amongst others, the following requirement:
The course is open to female-born people who are not male-identified.
This requirement effectively sets out to exclude transgender and intersex individuals from the course. Asked about this blatant exclusion, 1 in 9 campaign director, Carrie Shelver responded as follows:
“I am glad that you raised these concerns with us directly and we welcome the opportunity to respond and share with you our ideas and thinking. I need to forward your email to the board of the Campaign so that we can collectively respond to the issues raised with the seriousness they warrant. I am cc’ing Pumla Gqola, One in Nine Campaign Chair of the board. I hope you will give us a few days to do this. Once we have sent this through we would also be happy to meet and discuss it in person with you and others who may be interested”.
The final response from the One in Nine Campaign came on 23 February 2013 from which we drew two very disturbing implications:
“The organisation (One in Nine) is not an LGBT organisation, even though many of the active members identify as lesbian, bisexual and gender non-conforming. Based on our analysis of social oppression and our capacity to respond, the campaign focuses its limited resources on developing leadership of female born people who are socialized as women and who live their lives within the social category women and whose access to resources and spaces are accordingly determined and so frequently under attack”.
The interpretation of this sentiment wishes to imply privilege on the part of transgender and intersex women in South Africa. This is not a true reflection of the lived experiences of this group of vulnerable women often excluded from mainstream personal development opportunities, and the denial of basic human rights such as education, exacerbate this context for transgender and intersex women in South Africa.
“The criteria for the One in Nine Feminist Political Education Program is an articulation of patriarchal values. As a woman, I was born intersex, socialized as a woman and lived within the social category of woman. Intersex women also experience limited access to resources, their lives and health are frequently under attack, and therefore, you can never imply privilege on my part”. – Nthabiseng Mokoena, Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA).
“On 13 April 2013, the One in Nine Campaign is called all on LGBTI persons to gather for a public mass meeting to discuss Joburg Pride. As much as we don’t support the privatisation of our sexual identities, as has been the case with Joburg Pride. We find it ironic that Transgender and Intersex person affected by Joburg Pride is called upon to support this initiative, however, the One in Nine Campaign in not clear on its partnerships in a broader feminist agenda that advances all women and feminists irrespective of how society has biologically imposed an identity. The One in Nine Campaign seems to affirm this very state construction of gender which goes against the human rights approach taking place in other countries”. – Jabulani Perreira – Iranti-org.
Carrie went on to explain that in the past “One in Nine Campaign had very successful collaborations with a broad range of progressive organisations – including those that work with men, including gay and transgender men and women”.
This statement echoes the very problematic categorization of gender, gender identities and sexual orientations. From where we are, this seems to echo the conglomeration of both gender identities and sexual orientations into one big category of masculinity and masculine identities. This does not speak to the autonomy of transgender people as an identity separate from those of both cisgender and gay men. Moreover, this places transgender women on a very masculine spectrum of identities. With all due respect, no feminist, no women and no person can determine the gender identity of another human being, least of all, the expression thereof. Says Liesl Theron of Gender DynamiX: “This is an articulation of 1970’s, second wave feminism characterised by a very transphobic attitude”.
S.H.E, the social, health and empowerment FEMINIST collective of transgender and intersex women of Africa is an organisation established in 2010 to address the concerns and issues of transgender and intersex women through feminist analysis. We have organised and established ourselves to advocate against the very attitude portrayed by the One in Nine campaign.
We are familiar with this mentality of exclusion and have long been advocating against it. What is particularly disappointing about this instance is that it plays off against the backdrop of an already very fragile women’s sector.
At S.H.E, we advocate for women, all women, despite the fact that our name mentions only transgender and intersex women. We advocate for transgender and cisgender sex workers alike. Our work in the Amanitare coalition on sexual and reproductive health rights had a broad focus and as an organisation, we particularly voiced for rural, HIV+, transgender & intersex women, and sex workers. Our focus has always been to create an enabling legal and policy environment for all women.
“If you can recall, I was one of the women in the audience at a presentation on the IPAS tool used in surgical abortions at the People’s Healthy Assembly during July 2012. This was not because I want to force myself and the organisation I represent in cisgender women spaces but because abortion rights is a cross cutting issue in all our communities. Again, with women at the centre of this problem, as a transgender woman, I fully support abortion rights for ALL women, even those gender non-conforming. The same goes for all the other women issues like breast cancer, domestic violence, discrimination in employment and high HIV rates amongst women. These issues and many others we support for transgender and cisgender women alike. We do this because we don’t believe in the creation of categories of women. This is the very tendency that creates hierarchies of power, the same hierarchies of power visible in patriarchy. What we need, as a country right now, is to look beyond our differences and recognise the bigger issues that oppress and marginalise women”.– Leigh Ann van der Merwe – S.H.E
An interesting question on which we are pondering is whether this sentiment is supported by all the members of the One in Nine Campaign? We do believe that your membership comprise some transgender and intersex supportive organisations and it would be interesting to find out whether or not they support the sentiment uttered by the secretariat.
“On 13 April 2013, the One in Nine Campaign has called all on LGBTI persons and organisations to gather for a public mass meeting to discuss Joburg Pride. As much as we don’t support the privatisation of our sexual identities, as has been the case with Joburg Pride. We find it ironic that Transgender and Intersex person affected by Joburg Pride is called upon to support this initiative, however, the One in Nine Campaign in not clear on its partnerships in relation to its broader feminist agenda that advances all women and feminists irrespective of how society has biologically imposed an identity. The One in Nine Campaign seems to affirm this very State construction of gender which goes against the human rights approach taking place in other countries,” says Jabu Pereira, Director of Iranti-Org.
We believe this attitude is merely taking us backward and breaks down an already fragile feminist and human rights movement.
We urge the One in Nine Campaign to do away with this discriminatory requirement for participation in this training course. It echoes inequality and discrimination, the very qualities that we see in the transphobic societies in which we live and survive each day of our lives. I am ending my letter with a quote from the transgender feminist, Julia Serano:
“Feminism is based on the conviction that women are far more than merely the sex of the bodies that we are born into, and our identities and abilities are capable of transcending the restrictive nature of gender socialization we endure in our childhoods”. Love and kinship are two of the most central tenets of feminism.
We trust our words will find a place in your hearts and minds. Moreover, we hope this letter will set off some much needed dialogue to bridge the divide that exists.
We shall await a response from you.
Leigh Ann van der Merwe – coordinator S.H.E
This letter is endorsed by the following organisations:
Transgender and Intersex Africa