The Structure of the Coalition
The second day promised to be one that focused more on the structure and process of building a Coalition. We had been talking about creating an African Coalition of Sexual Rights and Disability Rights activists for a couple of years, slowly building our ideas through Skyping and emailing together to understand what we could all gain from such a meeting of differences. And we felt we were making progress in the meeting. That is till Sian disrupted all our serious thoughts and brought us back to the one thing which lies at the very root of our project, by asking us: What’s Sexy about You?
Around the table we produced everything from ‘come-on’ smiles to alluring eyes, shaking ‘boodies’ and bums, and breasts to cushion your head in. It all served to remind us that we are much more than our theories of sexuality and disability. Importantly, we are also our physical bodies, every sensory part of them, and our feelings, desires and emotions. We rapidly showed what a very sexy bunch we are!
Ways of Working Together
Much of our second day together was spent in looking at how we would like to organise the coalition and at what we hold to be most important about its functioning. Sian was a great facilitator for the process of thinking about how the coalition might work. Interestingly, she started us off by asking us to identify how we work and, in contrast, how we would like to work. Although there are no guarantees that we can create a coalition that survives without the necessity for mundane admin work (!!), what this process did serve to highlight was that we could aim for alternative ways of working together, more democratic, creative and innovative, sharing skills and knowledge, to provide an environment within and through the links between coalition members that keeps our broader aims in relation to human rights at the centre of our actions, however routine.
And then Stella called us all outside to see the City Assembly Cultural Dance Troup who are performers of traditional Malawi dance. They came together through their work in the Government social service offices and have used the group to emphasise rights issues ever since. With a group of drummers, the 8 women dancers, all dressed in variations of red, green, white and black, and 4 male dancers were waiting by the swimming pool.
Then the drums began.
The women came down the steps and they danced, how they danced, vibrant, energetic and evocative. Washington and Douglas, Grindl and Lucrecia were soon up and joining them, full of enthusiasm and varying degrees of skill that disrupt the smooth flow of the dancers’ moves. But they were pulled in, even re-dressed; Grindl with a white shawl tied by a dancer round her hips so that we could all SEE her shake her boody! Ruth borrowed my wheelchair and went to spin it with the best of them. And Stella, Fatima and I joined in with what turned out to be their penultimate dance, one composed for our meeting there. It addressed the difficulties disabled people face and challenges non-disabled people to support us in creating a better life in the future.
To the Lake!
Stella was a great host and she together with Fatima organised that the third day of our meeting will be spent at Lake Malawi. We gathered at the minibus with our motley collection of gear. The bags, beers and wheelchairs went in the back and then we settled down for the bumpy 1-2 hour journey to the lake. Pulling into the resort, the waters of the lake were turquoise blue in the sunshine, the sand was white and out from shore sat a small island, a bright spot of green vegetation in the midst of the blue.
We tumbled out of the bus and all dispersed to take in the immensity of the lake, to sink our feet into the sand or to stretch out with a coffee and cold drink along the shore. Bliss!
Planning next steps
After lunch, we pulled ourselves out of our various states of reverie, induced by the tranquillity of the space, and gathered to try and reach some final decisions about the coalition.
Trying to follow through on the principles we discussed the previous day, we decided that we will try to work in pairs with an older and younger activist together, sharing skills and offering mentorship as required. Sometime around now Douglas retired from the scene, looking a bit green about the gills. He and I had been the only two who had braved the rising cool wind to go swimming in the pool there (by this stage the lake was covered in brisk white tipped waves, enough to deter all but the fittest of swimmers, even if it wasn’t infested with schisto) but I think, in his enthusiasm, he has swallowed a large share of the pool.
We wanted to ensure that Washy is not left out of the discussion. Sadly none of us is proficient in Sign, especially Kenyan Sign so the discussion continued together with much writing of notes, drawings of diagrams and laughter at the multiple mis-interpretations. I’ve never seen Washy look more relieved than when Douglas returned to the fray.
Decisions for the Future
We have some final decisions still to make about the next steps in the gradual creation of a Coalition for Disability, Gender and Sexual Rights in Africa
If you are working on sexuality, gender or disability and rights and are interested in finding out more about our plans and the next steps, please contact link to our Facebook Page or Contact Washy or Stella, details below.
1. Terms of Reference: We have already done a lot of work on our ideals for the ToR but we are all agreed that we need to summarize our discussions so far and leave things tentative to enable others who join us in the early stages of the Coalition to have an input to what is decided.
2. Membership: this will be a responsibility of all those at the meeting. Each of us will attempt over the next 6 to 9 months to identify another two organisations/ individuals who are interested in the ideals of the coalition and who want to know more. We will be able to share ideas with them, as well as the report of the meeting and our own views about future possibilities. We will bring all these individuals together in about one year’s time to plan the next stage.
3. Web Presence: We aim to start as a simple presence – a Facebook account for news and Dropbox for sharing reports and other information. We will also research accessible websites, costings and what, as the coalition, we will need as basic website functions.
Coalition for Disability, Gender and Sexual Rights in Africa
If you’re working on sexuality, gender or disability and rights in Africa and are interested in finding out more about us or joining us in our plans and in the next steps, please contact:
Washington on firstname.lastname@example.org
Stella on email@example.com
Facebook: Coalition for Disability and Sexuality Rights in Africa