Today women’s day in South Africa, we remember SIZAKELE SIGASA and SALOME MASOOA who were raped, tortured and murdered on the 7th July 2007 in Soweto. We rmember all our African lesbian sisters murdered, raped and living with HIV and AIDs.
The submission of women is an essential aspect of patriarchy. Sex is one of the tools used by men to subjugate women. Any signs of a woman becoming financially or sexually independent becomes a threat to male power. Whether this is an unmarried woman who is financially independent or a lesbian who is sexually independent.
Lesbianism challenges male authority and power in a number of ways. In her paper, “The Emerging Lesbian Voice in Nigerian Feminist Literature“, Unoma Azuah commenting on the work of four Nigerian women writers who address lesbianism in Nigeria, writes
“These new voices portray female characters in sexual/emotional relationships with women….Thus these authors have challenged the positions of established writers, such as Catherine Acholonu’s concept of motherism, which is a movement that promotes motherhood as a source of empowerment for Nigerian women
It is not just the notion of motherhood that is challenged by the financially and sexually independent woman
The emerging lesbian voice also stands in sharp contrast to the existing feminist position in Nigeria, which advocates a complementary relationship between men and women. Feminist writers in Nigeria tend to see men as their allies in the fight against social and political oppression and thus to foreclose the representation in their works of romantic/sexual relationships between women.
Further, the lesbian voice speaking to human rights in Nigeria presents an inclusive and challenging vision of rights which as they stand in Nigeria and most of Africa are selective and exclusive. By demanding equality, lesbians are in fact offering the wider society the opportunity to expand the concept of human rights.
Azauh quotes from an article by fellow Nigerian, Udama Kalu who speaks for the typical Nigerian man and describes lesbian voices
“as a symptom of that senselessness […] of a carefree contemporary Nigeria […] part of the social disorder, the fall of morality […] the corruption endemic in us […] the depravity, the insanity and violence of our time.”
This language is the same kind that has been used at various points in history to demonise and exclude different groups of people. Recently in the language used by the Apartheid regimes in South Africa to speak of Africans. Stepping further back in recent history, the Nazi’s used this language to describe the Jews. The Europeans colonisers of Africa in the 18Th and 19th centuries used terms such as depraved, beast like, sub-human to describe the people of Africa. In this way they were able to justify to themselves the subjugation and slavery of Africans. This continued in the United States and even after the abolition of slavery and the restoration, Black Americans continued to be treated as non persons. Black men were portrayed as over sexual animals and rapists while Black women were nymphomaniacs and harlots. Both were portrayed as immoral and as a threat to the dominant culture and way of life. Similarly today, lesbians are portrayed as being a threat to the culture and traditions of Africa; morally bankrupt, depraved, promiscuous, an abomination.
One argument against any discussion of lesbianism and human rights is to say that Nigeria/Africa has more pressing problems; for example: child slavery, violence against women, female genital mutilation, rape which is almost an epidemic in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, forced marriage, unequal educational opportunities, HIV/AIDS. I argue that each and everyone of these are human rights issues. But as long as Africa lives under the shadow of religious and cultural dogma that operates on fear and submission we cannot even begin to solve any of the above problems. How can we talk of human rights when rape is used as a way of “curing women of lesbianism” and stoning to death is used as a punishment for homosexuality and infidelity? When women are thrown out of the marital home for disobeying their male relatives or spouse or being raped on their way home thus denying them access to shelter, food, family/friends networks that ordinarily would be the right of any family member? Are these the traditions which so many are bent on upholding?
Another assertion made by African church leaders, governments and individuals is that lesbians are unAfrican, they are a “western import”. On the contrary same-sex relationships have always existed in Africa and there is significant research illustrating this from across the continent [Agenda]. One of the reasons for the invisibility is that women loving women in Africa may not necessarily identify themselves as lesbians. In other words whilst the behaviour of women loving women is exists and always has, it is not named as homosexual or lesbian.
To return to the African lesbians whose lives we celebrate today – those who are gone from us will be forever in our memories and those of us that are alive will continue with the struggle.
It may be that they died for what they dared to share, for what they confronted as a fear of us all, but I raise my fist and call them greats because what they lived for they also died for, what they believed alive they went to the grave still believing. When we are afflicted from every side I pray we keep our faith and know they may hate us but they can’t stop us from loving one another, they may kill us but they won’t finish us, we are here and we ain’t going nowhere!! From PMT