Women-Loving-Women in Africa and Asia

This report is the result of the work of an amazing group of women from Asia and Africa who came together to research into the conditions of women in same-sex relations in their countries. The report is edited by Saskia E. Wieringa.

“With great determination and courage this group of women set about revealing the many obstacles, humiliations and indignities these women face. They uncovered not only pain, invisibility and silence, but also the pleasures of bonding and the beauty of love” (from the preface)

Major themes in the research were female masculinity, the silencing and invisibility of Women-Loving-Women (WLW), and attempts at organizing on the basis of non-normative sexualities. An overriding research theme was violence. More than 300 participants were interviewed in 14 different languages. In the course of this project, one lesbian women’s organization was set up (Surabaya). In Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Central Asia, the focus of the investigation was on organizing WLW. In three countries, Bangladesh, Botswana and Sri Lanka, this was the first research done on lesbian women. The projects in Jakarta and Johannesburg focused on women who in various ways identified as masculine, whereas the Mumbai project focused on the multiple gendered realities of people born female. The researcher in the Pretoria project collected stories of lesbian women who faced mental distress” (from the executive summary).

Isis International engaged in this research project, through the Kartini Asia Network, in 2010 to 2011, to surface lesbian, bisexual, and transgender or LBT women’s issues in the Philippines towards achieving affinity politics in feminist movements. The Kartini Asia Network is a women’s studies network in Asia that bridges the academic and activist communities through action research. The first objective of this Isis International research project with the Kartini Asia Network is to understand the issues of LBT women in the Philippines. The second objective of the study is to explore how feminist organizations can systematically address LBT issues.

In the context of increasing fundamentalism, Isis International continues to advocates for LGBTIQ rights in Asia. Specifically, Isis seeks to bring feminist analyses into LGBTIQ spaces such as ILGA-Asia and ILGA-World, while bringing LGBTIQ issues into feminist spaces such as the AP-NGO Forum and AWID. When Isis engages in intermovement dialogues between LGBTIQ movements and feminist movements, it is within the framework of affinity politics.

Affinity politics is located in the broader framework of social inclusion and the belief that the struggle for freedom and human dignity is shared by all human beings. Affinity politics recognizes the specificity of needs and issues of each group and the diversity of forms of oppression each group experiences. Unlike identity politics, affinity politics argues that the basis for coalition-building must be affinity rather than identity, or the recognition of difference and not sameness. Within affinity politics, women can embrace the cause of LGBTIQ people and people from whatever position and can work in solidarity with one another.

The chapter on Surfacing Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Transgendered People’s Issues in the Philippines: Towards Affinity Politics in Feminist Movements was written by Tesa Casal de Vela, Mira Ofreneo and Marion Cabrera.

The complete research report can be read and downloaded from the Isis International website.

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