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Where is the power?

In March 2023, Essy joined JASS’ Feminist Movement Building School (FMBS) in Nairobi, Kenya. As the Executive Director of the Initiative for Equality and Non Discrimination (INEND), Essy began organising around LGBT issues after the post-election violence of 2008. Nearly two decades later, in the wake of multiple African governments re-criminalising the existence of LGBTQI+ bodies, Essy had been struggling with the fractured and exhaustive nature of LBTQI+ activism and movement building. 

The FMBS featured 50+ participants from 20 LBTQI+ organisations from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa. The purpose of the school was to use feminist popular education methodology to build a collective analysis of the current socio-economic and political realities impacting LBTQI+ movement building and organising. Most importantly, it aimed to bolster pan-African solidarity to counter the domino effect of legislative change across the continent.

Essy found renewed energy, sharper strategy, and solidarity at the FMBS. In particular, the school deepened her understanding of power and power analysis. JASS’ power analysis demonstrated that one’s own movement and other movements across Africa do not need to challenge every power holder—that a more strategic approach could bring alignment internally and transnationally. Essy brought this power analysis back to INEND to develop their next strategic framework and focus on where they need to dismantle oppressive power. 

“Now we meet and we say, where is the power? Where do we need to reduce power, and where do we need to increase power? What do we need to concentrate on?”

Where are the grudges?

Essy shared that one thing that was really transformative from the school was the opportunity to have a space to address conflicts with fellow activists. In a context where the LBTQ+ movement is spreading thin because activists feel exhausted from fighting for so long and being so under-resourced [financially but also in terms of human resources], political spaces that allow activists to reconnect in their struggles are vital for the sustainability of movements. 

“That space helped me learn how to approach issues [with fellow activists], and allowed people to make their feelings known, or even my feelings known. Sometimes, we hold grudges that we don’t even know exist. And now we need to allow ourselves within the movement to be able to work together to fight outside.”

Where are the mechanisms?

INEND also received support from JASS through its solidarity resource mechanism, which supports organisations financially alongside deep feminist movement building work. INEND used the solidarity resourcing mechanism to provide training on advocacy strategies to seven other LBQ organisations that make up the “Our Voices Count” consortium. 

“So we decided [INEND] that we have this funding that’s for movement building, and we’re building this big, huge, huge movement. We have a Whatsapp group, and we said INEND can support this [advocacy] training. And we got someone to take us through the training on CSW, African Commission, Universal Periodic Review processes, and many other processes that LBQ women can be part of.” 

After the training, Essy witnessed people participating in the consortium and elevating their activism by connecting to regional and international human rights mechanisms. One of the organisations that is a part of the “Our Voices Count” consortium engaged in CSW by organising a parallel event and participating as panellist. Essy recognised that, even though it was a small solidarity resource grant, the fact that it was completely flexible actually impacted more than one organisation.

The school and solidarity resourcing served to build a shared political analysis of the region, strengthen organisational strategies, and  provide a space for collective care. Expanding organising and transnational solidarity amongst LBTQI+ groups in Southern and East Africa, the school helped activists like Essy feel revitalised and supported.

The FMBS integrated many practices from JASS’ Heart-Mind-Body approach which, facilitated by a practitioner on-site, enabled activists to name and recognise the deep hurt that homophobia inflicts in their bodies, and further give space to collective care and protection strategies.

The context however remains risky for LBTQ activists. In discussion with the participants, JASS will continue to provide partners like INEND with more spaces for collective care and protection strategy strengthening through their Heart-Mind-Body approach.

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