I had the privilege of attending the Africa Review Conference on Beijing +25 in Addis Ababa and as a first time attendee of a platform review process it did feel like a big privilege. Sponsored by RESURJ; an alliance of feminist activists working across generations to contribute to systemic change through transformative ways of working and thinking, relying on the leadership of communities most impacted by sexual and reproductive oppression. There I was, a queer Ugandan woman walking the halls of the African Union headquarters, the Africa upon whose assumed “uniform culture” my queer identity has been denied and criminalized as contrary. It felt like a privilege because without the support of feminist spaces like RESURJ I would never have had the opportunity to engage in these spaces.
Many parts of this learning opportunity stood out for me but I will stick to these 2:
1.The Beijing Platform for action is an important cornerstone of gender equality and considered the most progressive blueprint for advancing women’s rights. Adopted under the 4th World Conference on Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action emphasized bodily autonomy and integrity, imagining a world where each woman and girl can exercise their freedoms, choices and realizing all their rights. I am not proud to say that as a rights activist I had quite limited information on its significance and how movements working on the advancement of rights and equality can use this platform. It was only until the Advocacy in Practice training received in preparation for the review engagements with Civil society attendees from across Africa that I fully grasped its importance.
2. The youth and Civil society statements emphasizing the need by States to accelerate measures to address discrimination and inequalities based sexual orientation, gender identity. The need to pay closer attention in strategies to address violence against women to our intersectional identities such as disability and sexual orientation that do aggravate violence was in itself validating. While I was part in the statement development processes for the youth delegation, as it was read I kept waiting for any of the gate keepers of “African culture” to straight up oppose these recommendations on freedom from violence, stigma and stereotypes for we were specifically mentioning sexual orientation and gender identity and its link to violence as uniquely lived by Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer women. I felt validated by how accepting young people from diverse African cultures were on gender identity, sexual orientation and the importance of open and honest conversations around what’s been considered taboo by some in the name of African cultural values. There was consent to address issues like discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender diversity, but I definitely noted resistance to address issues like access to safe abortion and sex work decriminalization.
At the end of the 7 days, taking part in this regional review process taught me through many interactions how far we have come as women and African youth in owning and using our voices to push boundaries using policy provisions such as this review process. I keep thinking about how much work we still need to do mainly around transforming our way of thinking, and the urgent need to work within and alongside our many intersectional identities if we are to achieve sexual and reproductive justice. It is important to know that transformation of thought cannot be achieved unless we make it a point to encourage information and space access for diverse populations.