By Ayanda Masina
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown,
And yet on and on and on it sings
for it is not just any bird
the caged bird wants nothing more than to be heard from that distance
into that distance it sings
for not only is it caged for its being
but it is also caged for the fear of its songs
The songs it sings tearfully for the outcomes of it are known
for the response of those who from that distance hear the songs unknown
and yet on and on and on it sings
With the fearful trill of things unknown to those who hear, who have heard and who will hear
~ Maya Angelou
"Hai Suka!awbheke lama Ntombazne azenza abafana” they are a disgrace to the community. One of these days siszo shisa lezinto”
In a crowd of people, that hoarse and loud voice pierced my ears from a distance. He appeared in his Rastafarian ensemble, with a face that expressed hatred and disgust. He stood looking at me and my four friends. A lot was going on in my mind. I did not know what to do or say. We were making our way to a community dialogue at the Tsakane Park so we were rushing to get refreshments for the day. Tons of people stood there in the mall looking at us. A lot was written on their faces. In their hearts and minds, words were forming into lines and sentences, sentences were forming into paragraphs. Paragraphs filled with hate…love…pity...shame and the need to express themselves.
“But my brother what’s wrong with you?” asked Mpo my friend. ”People like you are the people we need for today’s session, please be kind enough to join us at the park at 2 pm because what you just said shows that we as lesbians are failing to reach our goal in educating and equipping the community with knowledge and so we will face this kind of behavior every day.”
I was amazed at how calmly and respectfully he addressed the guy who had just insulted us in front of a ton of people. Slowly I turned around, my pretty smile worn on my beautiful face, and I asked, “Will you join us Bhuti?” He just looked at us with eyes of disbelief and then walked away.
For this excellent behavior I really have to say that a huge catalyst was the Gender Action Learning (GAL) process. Sitting with people and sharing ideas at the action learning process on how to deal with issues that came up: “You cannot end violence or abuse with violence or abuse.”
So we did what we came to do at the mall and we headed for the park where we found a group of people already there. The atmosphere was very chilled and welcoming. People had gathered in a circle on their camping chairs, some on the grass, some even standing.
We had invited people from the community—mothers, fathers, sisters, daughters and every community member. The expressions on their faces said a lot, but most importantly the day we had all been waiting for had come. Friendly faces relaxed us a bit and we used the facilitating skills we had learned in the GAL workshops.
We were ready to stand in front of a crowd with different opinions, views and beliefs. We were ready to start the work in breaking cultural and societal norms. We were ready to accept positive and negative criticism, but through our learning with GAL, we knew we were equipped. In our hearts we knew we had to listen and keep the crowd engaged.
After the greetings we asked: “Which problems are our communities faced with? Unemployment, teenage pregnancy, crime?” The community members expressed everything but left out hate crimes, gender-based violence (GBV), HIV and stereotypical behavior. It could be that they did not pay attention or that they did not know. The truth of the matter is we also did not pay much attention to GBV and HIV, yet we knew that women were being abused.
What surprised us most was when a pretty, bubbly, tall and slender black girl stood up and said “as much as abuse is there in heterosexual relationships, it exists in homosexual relationships too. You find a girl beating up another girl she is in a relationship with because she is butch and claims to be the husband of the femme. (A butch is a masculine dressing lesbian and a femme is a feminine dressing lesbian).This is not only in relationships. Even in society or in the workplace there is abuse. Abuse is not only beating up someone but also denying to do what they desire because you feel it is against your culture or religion. That is also a violation of your rights.” Silence and shame was written on almost everyone’s face. But also written was discovery.
Many issues were tackled—from HIV and xenophobia to GBV and for us facilitators, it was easy to give answers to everyone. They also shared bits and pieces of knowledge with us and we learned from each other as well.
We realised that we were growing and becoming more polished through the GAL because really a lot has changed since the process begun. Everyone is now eager and more determined even though we don’t have a structure and a leader, we still keep on.
We are stronger than before. The GAL process taught us that even without a leader, through determination, ambition and hard work, a lot can be done. Having been through the process, we were equipped with information. We have learned how to trust ourselves and we have learned a different and inclusive style of facilitation where everyone can be a teacher and everyone can learn. We learned a kind of facilitation that breaks the wall between audience and facilitator. This kind of facilitation says “we are all teachers as well as learners in this place”.
Through the GAL, we could look at problems not at eye level only. We learned to remove the lens and we were guided to look deeply into matters such as societal norms as things people believe in. People believe that this is how it has always been, and in so doing people forget that we are groomed like this. The Gender Action Learning process created spaces where we could voice our views and opinions. We could tackle issues without being judged.
During the dialogues we tried to get to know the norms community members hold on to. This was important to understand in order to deal with issues like gender-based violence, homophobia and xenophobia, HIV and more. The knowledge and guidance we received helped us with these discussions.
A lot has changed since the process began or rather since we became a part of it. The people who attend the study circles and especially the coordinators have changed their approach to addressing cadres and community people. There is more energy and clarity. Now we can hear and see passion and dedication when they talk. People have more drive and their spirit has changed.
I recall an incident in the study circle where we were discussing dialogues and for the first time, people were complaining about the reading material. One of our coordinators, Sweeto, suggested that people read at home but bring their information and have an open discussion in the groups. This resulted in people being more active in the study circles.
After all is said and done, after the marches, the study circles and dialogues, we hope that the acceptance, equality and respect we long for will eventually come. One day, someday, the hard work will pay off and people will see with the same eyes. The struggle shall continue.
Ayanda Masina is a participant in the Gender Action Learning process that we faciliated in South Africa in 2012-13. At the end of the year, we had a short writing workshop with some of the participants. This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the stories that emerged.