Event: Yes Lorde! A tribute to Audre Lorde

Calling all radicals,activists, irreverents and academics to honour the 20th anniversary of the passing of Audre Lorde; a black lesbian, feminist, poet, mother, activist, lover and survivor who pioneered fighting societal oppression on every front. 
YES LORDE! A TRIBUTE TO AUDRE LORDE takes the form of an outdoor picnic set to create an intersectional space to engage, have dialogue and share views on Queers, Feminism, Gender equality and Activism. Our goal is to have a fun, diverse and robust experience that hears everyone’s views.
On the panel;
  • Zandi Sherman – MA Sociology Student at UCT.
  • Busisiwe Ncane Deyi – cisgender queer feminist/transfeminist.
  • Tiffany Kagure Mugo – Feminist & founder of HOLAAfrica
  • Sian Ferguson – Feminist Writer
On poetry;
On some music;
We’re also having a book exchange. Bring a book on any of the following subjects;
  • Queer
  • Feminism
  • Gender
and get another one on any of the above subjects.
Admission: R20 (with a book to exchange) or R40.
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What Ruth First’s underthings told me about leadership

Claire Martens
Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

The other day I attended a Ruth First-related event. I sat next to someone from a well-respected organisation, an organisation I won’t mention, but who updated me on some of their women’s programme work in Southern Africa. It was not all good news. She told me that much of their attempts have been thwarted by lack of good leadership, where personal agendas override the general issues, leading to poor mobilisation and a loss of critical mass.


Speakers at the event talked about the feminism of Ruth First, her powerful teachings and her refusal to negate herself in the face of perceptions. This final point came about through a discussion of her clothing. I know that seems benign, but some audience members took offence to the description of her silky underthings. What the speaker was suggesting, however, was that even though Ruth First identified and sympathised with the working class and a racial group not her own, she still remained true to herself and her love of silky underthings, despite peoples’ ideas of how she should act or dress.

That is a side issue, but a teaching which I have taken to heart. We tend to negate our own desires, passions and hobbies when we take on an agenda. When I first identified as a feminist, I used to talk about my love for washing clothes with sarcasm, negating this joyful occupation because it doesn’t seem like something a feminist would do. Bollocks. This untruth about feminism is something I have accepted even before I heard about Ruth’s love of expensive and elegant clothing.

But the real matter which arose from the event was the question of leadership. While I sat there listening to the speakers praise Ruth First, I tried to think of someone who is like her, that I personally know, and who I respect considerably. While at the time it was difficult, partly due to the fact that none that I know have been assassinated recently, I have subsequently come to understand that there are leaders amongst the people I know or know of. They may not be known to others, or may do simple work, but as people they are incredible. I can name many but I think I will name just one. When I think about my own personal feminist leader, I think about Jen Thorpe, who has beaten a path for me to be the feminist I am today.

What I have realised about the feminist movement (or women’s movement) is that is fragmented (in my opinion). Worse, I think that many young women and men don’t identify with it because their perceptions of feminism are messed up. They may be messed up because feminists are not a homogenous group of women (only), but have different passions, agendas and different identities. What feminism requires is a leader who doesn’t have a personal agenda and who identifies that all issues related to women are important. We need a leader who breaks down stereotypes and who never negates what she believes, despite opposition and perceptions. Mostly, we need a leader who has the intelligence and rationality to tackle the issues in a way that does not isolate or fragment an already fragmented movement. We need a leader who doesn’t negate the work of the movement, but gives it a strong identity and ethic.

As Jen will attest, her leadership in this movement has not been easy. The thing about leading is that you become the target for the movement. She recently wrote about the harassment she endured from an online source. All the time that leaders are leading and taking on the burden of being targeted, their support is required for other’s work. People like Jen cannot do it alone. As feminists, we need to make sure that the forcefulness of feminism is supported by a united front. While I think that there are many common issues which we face, I get the feeling that other issues may go unsupported because they do not speak to the core agendas of other feminists. We need to pick our fights. We must not waste our energies. We need to decide on what will really make a difference and go for gold. While I am a great believer in little actions making the world a progressively better place, I also believe that we need to be making bigger changes. We need to be changing the system as a whole. The question for me is who will lead?

What does it mean to be feminist in Women’s Month?

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Many people spend a lot of their time making straw-women arguments about what it means to be feminist. Feminists, they assume, are all unshaven, definitely don’t wear make-up or do their hair, and perhaps are a bit overweight. Feminists, they think, are all militant and anti-men. Feminists do not have a sense of humour, and are party poopers.

It seems unsurprising then, that many women shy away from the label, believing that if they name themselves feminist, they’ll lose the concession granted to ordinary women to define who they are without rigid categories. Ordinary women, they assume, are able to be concerned about their appearance whilst still wanting their husbands/wives to do some of the housework. Ordinary women, they assume, can be pro-men, and can be anti violence against women without really having to do anything about it.

I doubt however, that it is ever as simple as either of these examples let on. Feminism is bigger than how you look, and being an ‘ordinary’ (and lets just state here that ordinary is indeed class, race, and sexuality bound) woman means benefiting from the gains of feminism.

August is generally focussed around activities that celebrate women. In fact, the Ministry of Women (oh, and children and people with disabilities – in fact, everyone except able-bodied men) spent all their money last year on a nice party to say so. But, the month provides for little discussion of what it actually means to be feminist, and/or what in the hell happened to the women’s movement in South Africa. It doesn’t encourage women to get engaged in civil society, or activism around their rights. That’s because, few gains have actually been made for women in the last ten years, and all three branches of government have done little to push women’s rights.

My thinking is that somewhere between the stereotypes of feminism, and the burn out of anti-apartheid feminist activists, we’ve lost our mojo and our identity.

Feminists are not really sure what we’re fighting for anymore, and so, we don’t fight. We watch the news and maybe we make a comment every now and then, but we certainly do not organise around legislative gains that could make it easier for us to access safe abortion. We certainly do not organise, or actively support the few civil society organisations who do organise, around our right to be free from violence. We certainly do not organise around the education of girls in South Africa, or the fact that women in high level positions are consistently paid less than men. We don’t organise around the rights of sex workers, and we certainly don’t organise around the rights of HIV positive women’s reproductive rights. We do not organise around the rights of lesbian, bisexual and trans women, or around the need to make sure that the internet does not become a place where women are verbally/physically/sexually harassed while others watch on.

Why not? Why don’t you organise? Why don’t you go to that feminist get together when it is organised? What do you say when people say that feminism is out of fashion? What concessions do you allow the label ‘feminism’ to make sure that it can work for  you?

What does it mean to be a feminist these days? Is it just a middle class luxury term? Or is it a reality?

I’d love to know your thoughts, so write for us!

I hope you get involved this month,

Love Jen

Call for Chapters: Women`s Rights in the XXI Century

This post originally appeared on the Writers Afrika website.

Deadline: 5 June 2012

Each chapter should combine theoretical considerations & practical problems affecting women. We welcome chapters devoted to the following topics (but not limited to):

– Women`s Rights (legal studies, case studies)
– Women`s Rights & Conflict
– Sexual violence
– Women`s Rights & Migration (displacement, refugees)
– Women`s Rights in developing countries
– Women`s Rights & Democracy
– Women`s Rights & Religion
– Women`s Rights & Culture
– Women`s Rights & Activism
– Women`s Rights & Community Development
– Women`s Rights in Public International Law
– Mothers’ Rights
– Other problems affecting women

Prospective contributors are invited to submit their initial proposals (500 words) and short CV to the editors by June 5, 2012. The invited essays (8000-9000 words) are to be submitted by July 15, 2012.

The language of the proposed publication is English. Please also feel welcome to circulate this call for papers to colleagues who may be interested in contributing a paper.

Deadline for abstract submissions: June 5, 2012.

Deadline for final chapters: July 15, 2012.


For inquiries/ submissions: caroline.schultz.unim@gmail.com

2011: The Year in Pictures through the Greenpeace lens

By Jen Thorpe

Our world is changing and unless we get involved, it will not be changing for the better. Watched this amazing video from Greenpeace and was so proud that we have a branch of Greenpeace right here in JHB, SA. If this doesn’t motivate you to get off your ass and do something, I don’t know what will. And, in a more personal light, this made me so proud of my incredible boyfriend Mike Baillie who you can see dangling from a crane and shouting in in a protest. Love your work! Keep up the good work Greenpeace and thank you for fighting the good fight for us.

Find out more about how you can get involved with Greenpeace Africa here.

Updates from Women In and Beyond the Global

New posting at WIBG: “Haunts: The women of Mali: “Indignons-nous!””: “On December 2, 2011, the Malian parliament passed a Family Code, which threatens to set back women’s rights in Mali quite considerably. In 2009 the Parliament had passed a fairly progressive law, which didn’t quite bring women and men to equal status, but was a major step in that direction. Conservative, mostly religious, forces swung into action. The President quickly rejected the law, and sent it back to Parliament, where it has sat for two years. The new bill declares women’s legal obligation to obey and serve their husbands, as well as the husbands’ singular leadership, or dominion, over the household and all within it. Many argue that such terms violate the national Constitution, specifically in the articles where it codifies the meaning of Malian nationhood as an independent, democratic, sovereign, secular republic. Women of Mali were immediately, and continue to be, indignant. More than indignant, they are indignées. They are organizing the Malian Spring.”

Read further herehttp://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=1165.


New posting at WIBG: “Haunts: Jakadrien Turner: there was no mistake”: “Jakadrien Turner is a United States citizen. She is fifteen years old. She speaks no Spanish. She is African American. Last year, she responded to the death of her grandfather and the divorce of her parents by running away from her home in Dallas. Her grandmother immediately started to search for her.

At some point, Jakadrien Turner was picked up by police in Houston, apparently for theft of some sort. She gave police a false name. Remember, Jakadrien was fourteen years old at the time. The name she gave turned out to be that of a Colombian undocumented resident.

And so, Jakadrien Turner, at the age of fourteen, speaking no Spanish and with no contacts in Colombia, was deported. Yes, she was.

Today (01/07), finally, Jakadrien Turner was returned to the United States and to her grandmother, Lorene Turner’s, custody.

The news media and the blogs all agree that Jakadrien Turner was “mistakenly deported”. From Colorlines to Feministing to CNN to local Texas media, they all say the same thing. Mistakenly deported.

There was no mistake.”

Read further here: http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=1162


New posting at WIBG: “Haunts: Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison: “Occupy, along with Indignados and Spring, is spreading, to new places, and so takes different, local and yet global forms. In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.”

Read further here (to find out about women occupying prison in Venezuela!)http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=1157

There is a time

By Jen Thorpe

There are times when you need to stop. To sit down. To rest. To recoup.  Sometimes they are simply a moment of defeat. We feel we cannot go on.  At these times we stop because we feel that there is no other option – we cannot continue. The pressure from the world, our loved ones and ourselves to do what we should can become overwhelming.

But stopping, or resting, is not giving up. These periods of stillness can be incredibly important for us. These times help us to reflect. They are an opportunity to exercise compassion for ourselves and for the people who we interact with in our everyday lives. They can become a chance to assess whether we are on the right path, or whether we are doing what we think we should be doing.

Last year was tough. After a year of working hard in the field of sexual violence, and trying my hardest to make a change within the limited opportunities for feminist activism within the parameters of Patriarchal South Africa (We should be the PSA, not the RSA) I had begun to become impatient with my own inefficacy – how could I have been doing this for so long, and yet so little ground appeared to have been gained? Would it always be this hard? How would I continue for another year without despairing?

In an effort to distract myself from feelings that were not practical for someone who needs to be in this in the long haul, I took a complete break from work. I went on leave from the 16th of December, and will only return on the 10th. In this time I have read books, written for my own book, started attending a yoga class, been on holiday to the Transkei, gone for long walks, and eaten and drank as I pleased. This period of stillness has helped me immensely.

I was reading an incredible book recently, written by two yogis from the United States. The book showed them in extraordinary positions that I would love to master one day. Alongside the photographs were a number of comments from this pair, some of which I found reflected in my own life. There was one in particular that resonated with me after last year, and made me realise that sometimes we feminists can be very tough on ourselves. For those of you who don’t believe in yoga and karma, fair enough, but bare with me.

“Yoga practices help us develop awareness and detachment.  When we can begin to watch our personality’s fearful reactions to situations, we can develop compassion for our own lack of courage.  Through compassion we realise there is nothing to lose.” Sharon Gannon and David Life, The Art of Yoga

Essentially – we need to give ourselves a break. We can do everything or be everyone for everyone all the time. Sometimes we just need to be fearful, and retreat. This can help us to grow more courageous.

At the same time it is becoming increasingly important for us to raise our voices.  Things are changing in many spheres of life, but for women they are often changing for the worse.  Sexual violence continues to escalate with attacks perpetrated most often by men that the survivor knows.  The glass ceiling might have been cleaned so much it is almost invisible, but it is nonetheless there.  At our highest court in the country, few judges are women.  At the pinnacle of political power stand men who are not able or brave enough to commend women, support women, decry violence against women and to suggest that things MUST change.

So my advice for 2012 (if you’re bothered) is to rest when you need to, and to rest well. Fill your cupboard with your favourite foods. Fill your bookshelf or television with stimulating reads or films. Allow yourself to become re-inspired, and your flame to be reignited. Then, when you are ready, get back to action and activism whether your activism is armchair, website, banner hanging, culture jamming or good old-fashioned street marching. Do it. Do it with everything you have left. There is a time for rest.

There is also a time to act, and to start to become people who live and participate in the world. I like to live in this world as a feminist, and I hope that this year our site helps you to find a comfortable space for you to live that way too.

Good luck,


November Editorial – Take criticism when it’s due, and at no other time

By Jen Thorpe

Last month I was involved in some really great activism. I attended the V-girls refuser march (thanks to Story Scarves for the invitation) where I spoke to a group of young women about the influence of the media, and our need to get more women’s voices out into it. These young girls were fearless (watch this video of them all here), and bravely told their stories of abuse and survival. I was amazed at how ready they were to do this, and remembered how at my school I once started a petition and got nearly everyone to sign, only to have the teachers tell me this was not acceptable behaviour. I am so proud of these young women, so grateful to have been invited to participate, and I wish them so much luck and strength for the future. I also recommend suncream to anyone who gets involved in these types of things to avoid the wicked sock tan I now have.

I was also part of a boycott of the Foschini Group as a result of some particularly horrendous t-shirts they had on shelves. Thankfully the group has agreed to remove the T-shirts from stores, and undertake an audit of their t-shirt review process. We’ll be following up on this in December, so keep your eyes peeled for their tees. The reaction we got to this is nicely summarised in a post by hilarious feminist Rebecca Davis. Suffice to say we were labelled humourless feminists (a great video on this here), man-haters (which is really a silly thing to say when you haven’t met all the feminists in the world, and don’t actually know whether their religion is misandry or not) (and is also interesting given that it is mostly men who commit violence, hate speech and war against other men, and yet are entitled to their opinion) and unstylish (as if this matters).

The aim of this criticism was not, in fact, to tackle the offensive content of the t-shirts but to attack us as feminists for wanting to enter the dialogue at all. (See ad hominem moves and the backlash). I don’t believe that any of the comments actually gave us any reason to support these t-shirts, even the ones that said that at least we’d know which men to avoid (because this is a tricky one, and sometimes the men to avoid don’t reveal themselves as avoid-worthy until much later).

What they did show was that feminism is increasingly vital. It is vital to keep public discourse on sexism open (those commentators who argued that a discussion of t-shirts and a request for their removal was against free speech, might like to note is in fact an exercise of our right to free speech). It is vital to begin to break down feminist tropes, and begin to shape more realistic ideas on feminism. It is vital to continue to be a part of the democracy that we live in.

Keep an eye out for our ever growing list of feminists on Twitter and also for the Johannesburg Feminist Tweet up on the 19th of November at Bliss at 44 Stanley. Lets not stop talking.

Don’t give up. Don’t take criticism (especially poorly spelled, sexist criticism) to heart. We can do this.