It’s Red Nose Day in the UK on Friday. This is a fact probably unknown to most people here in South Africa, but for one group of women this year’s event has a special significance.
An exciting three-year project funded by Comic Relief to protect women's rights is about to begin. Set up by ActionAid South Africa (AAISA) and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), the project will work with young lesbian women in urban areas in and around Johannesburg to build leadership and activism to help them fight for their rights.
For some years now, both locally and internationally, the situation of discrimination and violence suffered by lesbian women and particularly black lesbian women in South Africa has been in the news. Stories of brutal rapes and murders of young lesbian women, mostly living in urban areas have created brief sensations in the media and elicited responses from the public, government and civil society alike.
In most cases however the fury soon dissipates, there is rarely any form of legal justice and survivors and their families are soon forgotten and the culture that made this injustice possible remain unchallenged.
Below the sensational lies the day to day reality of lesbian women in South Africa for whom, verbal, physical and sexual abuse have become commonplace. These violations often perpetrated in the name of religion, culture or morality are given legitimacy by the often unchecked homophobic hate speech emanating from political, social and religious leaders. This, despite the existence of a progressive Constitution which specifically protects the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination.
At the heart of the work of ActionAid is the belief that there is power in people. It is the role of organisations such as ours to create partnerships with local organisations to develop programmes that seek to empower and support people who face discrimination to claim their rights. With this in mind, we are proud to work with FEW, an organisation with a long history of work that is for and by black lesbian South African women. They undertake a great deal of work in the fulfillment of this mandate including organising the annual Soweto Pride March.
This Comic Relief grant will contribute significantly to empowering Black South African lesbian women to claim their rights and by doing so will help build a network of informed and empowered activists capable not only of securing their own rights within their communities but also of contributing to change and equality for all LGBTI people in South Africa.