Building alliances between IDAHOT and MaputoProtocol@15 for womxn

Author: David Ikpo
Nigerian lawyer and storyteller with a Master of Laws in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa

IDAHOT: The international Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia
Maputo Protocol: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
Womxn: No set definition. This term, as used in this piece, refers to a broad still unraveling category of persons of female gender who voluntary identify, live, express their gender crossing stereotypical roles and standards, embracing her  several cross-cutting circumstances and layers of identity, recognizing the humanity and diversity in her community, operating, demanding, believing in and working towards the substantive equality(equity) of all sexes and genders and against the repressive confines of the poisonous glorification of masculinity at the expense of the human rights of persons of female gender in all spaces. A feminist.

People around the world celebrate IDAHOT annually on May 17 to mark the ‘de-pathologisation’ of same-sex attraction in 1990. 28 years later, in 2018 the African continent celebrates the 15th anniversary of the emergence of the Maputo Protocol, Africa’s regional articulation of the human rights of persons of female gender taking particular cognisance of the African context. Theme for IDAHOT this year is ‘Alliances for Solidarity’, focusing on the important collaborations that have been and need to be forged in laws, policies, theories, practices, movements and relationships in order to foster cut-throat progress in the advancement of human rights, particularly the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the human rights of LGBTI persons. Linking the Maputo Protocol, IDAHOT and their camps as allies I believe is a match made in heaven for the aid of vulnerable groups such as womxn.

In 2015 Caitlyn Jenner rocked most of the world by stepping into public glare to broadcast her transitioning from the widely celebrated athletic and ultra-masculine Bruce Jenner to the now sultry, unsettling, ‘who-do-you-think-you-are’; gracefully disruptive sensation Caitlyn Jenner. ‘This is taking gay to a whole new level!’ the world may have thought- I may have thought so too at the time. Some distance away from Caitlyn’s situation, in spaces like East and West Africa – and even some parts of the South- the noose was tightening legally around persons of same-sex loving sexual orientations and socially around anything that connected to or smacked of derogation from the glorification of heterosexuality and stereotypically set expressions of gender.

At home in Nigeria, it was such a heated time, it is still very heated at the moment. In some parts of Nigeria, actual or perceived homosexual sexual orientation could land persons and groups serious beatings, lynching, unlawful arrests, public humiliation in the media and even death. The flame of this homophobic inhumanity is fanned by the media, pop-culture, religious and political leaders. In South Africa, where I now reside, where the laws are progressive and the expectations are high, there are still recurring incidents of homophobic human rights violations.

Unfortunately, because the general and uninformed impulse is to flatten everything that is not heterosexuality to homosexuality, this translates to lived realities getting several times as hard  and repressed for womxn, for the multiple reasons that: they are persons of female gender; they cross de-glorifying constructs of socially and culturally set standards of femininity and poisonously glorified masculinity in all spaces; there is often a strict expectation that womxn should not be doing the latter; womxn breaching this expectation is perceived as highly offensive and threatening by persons and systems of authority. As if regular gender inequality was not bad enough, womxn deal with recurring and increasing degrees of gender-based violence, domestic violence, rape, humiliation at work, school, places, of worship, policing of their femininity, their views, careers and bodies. In a greater part of the continent, womxn on a daily basis deal with shocking levels of human rights violations.

In several African societies, there are a thousand and more shades of womxn or persons perceived to be womxn.  These range from persons of female gender who choose to wear trousers and not skirts to persons who  wear a darker shade of lipstick than others; dying their hair a colour/shade  or two varying from the default ; pierce more than one hole on an each ear for jewelry or pierce multiple holes around their body; having tattoos; stubbornly insisting on going to school;  pursuing a career as opposed to involuntary staggering into marriage;  not being interested in marriage at all; having a deeper note of baritone than is permissible; being sexually and romantically inclined or  attracted to or involved with other persons of female gender; having social, genetic, genital or physical features that are outside poisonously glorifying masculine expectations of what a person of female gender should be. But this is not the only problem.

In 2017, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award winning Nigerian author whose feminism is often woke, made the controversial statement ‘Transwomen are transwomen’. This earned her so much hostility. She subsequently explained that she meant to say that transwomen are separate category with unique experiences from naturally cisgender women. More interestingly this controversy highlighted the argument that more often than not feminism is largely pegged on the tokenisation of female persons whose gender identities and expressions are reasonably within the scope of tolerance of the masculine glorifying structures, enough to matter as the majority of persons of female gender , and often as the only persons of female gender that count.

Generally, in most African societies and at the regional level, womxn do not fall within this scope of tolerance as such they have been unjustly excluded from the broad and open conversations on gender and human rights. Contrary to Chimamanda’s inclinations of separating the different struggles in order to keep them all in focus, the plight of womxn have been separated and ignored. Separation has not worked. Perhaps this is because gender and human rights on the African continent still generally caters to poisonously glorifying masculine standards.

Often when feminist suggest that we should think of gender differently, it is assumed that they mean to think within this set scope of tolerance. The wide resistance to the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) should also have been perceived as a bold and unjust resistance to the substance of the Maputo Protocol and the human rights of persons of female gender on the African continent. A resistance that all persons of female gender, and everyone else should recognise as a disappointment and threat to human rights and democracy.

The Centre for Human Rights recognises this resistance and is presently working on a visual campaign with the theme of ‘Transwomen are women’ to mark the 15th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol.  This campaign argues for  respect for diversity and the recognition of the plight of womxn as part of the major issues that concern persons of female gender on the African continent. This is because a person of female gender is never just one thing. This campaign encourages that the articulation, policy making, law making, activism and positive practices around the human rights of persons of female gender be enriched to include and cater for the human rights and specific identities and realaties of womxn as well. The stars align in Africa, allying IDAHOT and MaputoProtocol@15, we need to think and work inclusively, progressively and productively for all persons of the female gender; nobody should be ignored. Nobody should be left behind.

About the Author:

David Nnanna C. Ikpo is a Nigerian lawyer and storyteller with a Master of Laws in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is presently the Communications Officer at the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression Unit, Centre for Human Rights where he is also a doctoral candidate. He is a member of the Queer Space Collective, an informal group with the vision of making the University of Pretoria safer and more inclusive of queer identity and expression through creative writing and creative expressions. He runs his personal blog ‘Letters to My Africa’. His debut novel Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever which addresses the dire state of sexual and gender minority rights in Nigeria has been nominated for Best Gay Fiction at the LAMBDA Awards 2018. He is also contact person for the ‘Transwomen are women’ visual campaign.

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