[COLUMN] How womxn in the Global South are RECLAIMING SOCIAL MEDIA to celebrate being queer

22 September 2017

Image source: To Revolutionary Type Love. Artist/source: Kawira Mwirichia

I don’t remember the first time I kissed a boy in public. Why? Because it wasn’t a big deal. Boys and girls kiss each other in public all the time. However, if I had kissed a girl in public I have no doubt that there would have been (negative) reactions. Being queer – denoting or relating to a sexual or gender identity that does not correspond to established ideas of sexuality and gender, especially heterosexual norms – is unfortunately frowned upon in many societies, add being black or brown to that and the discrimination increases. Before I continue with this column, I’d like to make readers aware that I’m conscious of my positioning as a heterosexual, black, South African womxn. Therefore, I will not pretend to know what it feels like living as a queer womxn. Instead, in this column I want to highlight how a few womxn in the Global South are reclaiming social media to celebrate being queer.

In many African countries, expressing your sexuality and/or love can result in severe, unjust punishments.

In many African countries, expressing your sexuality and/or love can result in severe, unjust punishments. Why? Simply because you don’t fit into society’s socially constructed box of heteronormativity. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, homosexuality is outlawed in 34/55 African countries. In Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria homosexuality is punishable by death. In addition to criminalizing homosexuality, Nigeria has legislation in place that makes it illegal for heterosexual friends and allies of the LGBTQI community to be supportive. According to Nigerian law, a heterosexual ally "who administers, witnesses, abets or aids" any form of gender non-conforming and homosexual activity could receive a 10-year jail sentence. However, African countries are not the only ones that treat queer people unjustly. Other countries in the Global South where being queer is punishable by law or death include Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

In addition to criminalizing homosexuality, Nigeria has legislation in place that makes it illegal for heterosexual friends and allies of the LGBTQI community to be supportive. According to Nigerian law, a heterosexual ally "who administers, witnesses, abets or aids" any form of gender non-conforming and homosexual activity could receive a 10 year jail sentence.


Image source: Independent.co.uk

At the other end of the spectrum, South Africa, Colombia and Uruguay have the most liberal laws for LGBTQI people. However, the law doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. In South Africa for instance, violence against LGBTQI individuals, especially black lesbians, is still widespread across the nation. Despite this bigotry, several womxn in the Global South are choosing to express their sexuality despite the consequences, and are using social media to spread their messages.

The law doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. In South Africa for instance, violence against LGBTQI individuals, especially black lesbians, is still widespread across the nation.

Meet Kawira Mwirichia – from Kenya, a “queer, African, female visual artist with an innate desire to change the world through beauty that inspires and educates the community". Her latest project, To Revolutionary Type Love aims to celebrate queer love through the demonstrative narrative of each East African country’s LGBTQIA milestone through symbols and beautiful quotes designed on a “kanga/khanga" – an East African traditional cotton cloth decoratively printed in bold designs with a Swahili saying or message included. The khanga is often shared with others as a gift or used in celebratory events such as weddings to honour the couple, guests or the occasion. Toast to revolutionary love and follow the project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Image source: To Revolutionary Type Love. Artist/source: Kawira Mwirichia

Say hello to Gaysi – a combination of the words gay and desi (desi is Hindi slang for south Asian. “Gaysi Family was started as a blog to provide a voice and a safe space to desis (people from the South Asian Subcontinent) that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer. What began as a simple idea of sharing stories about what it meant to be gay and desi (thus, Gaysi!) has evolved into a space with a roster of authors worldwide, diverse content and traffic from countries all over." Arguably, what makes Gaysi such a powerful platform is the fact that majority of the content comes from female guest contributors from across the queer spectrum. Along with the website, Gaysi is also active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

What makes Gaysi such a powerful platform is the fact that majority of the content comes from female guest contributors from across the queer spectrum.


Artist: Taarika John

Have you heard of AHWAA? Launched in 2011, AHWAA is a bilingual (Arabic and English) open space to discuss LGBTQ-related issues in the Middle East and is now the largest LGBT community site in the Arab world. A range of topics are discussed on the platform including sexuality, identity, relationships and religion. Considering the systemic oppression that LGBTQI individuals face in the Arab world, AHWAA takes safety and anonymity seriously. When joining the site, users create a pseudonym and a custom cartoon avatar to protect their identities. Users are able to unlock features of the website by earning points. Points are earned by making contributions deemed positive and helpful by their peers. These unlocked features include the ability to create chatrooms and send private messages. Furthermore, “Ahwaa implements data encryption, filters users by helpfulness, and stresses the importance of security guidelines regarding the sharing of personal information that could compromise the safety of its users". These safety and anonymity measures grant participants the freedom to participate freely in a supportive and safe environment. Have a look at AHWAA on Twitter and Facebook for more.

Ahwaa implements data encryption, filters users by helpfulness, and stresses the importance of security guidelines regarding the sharing of personal information that could compromise the safety of its users. These safety and anonymity measures grant participants the freedom to participate freely in a supportive and safe environment.


Image source: AHWAA

Lastly, we have the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). CAL “is a feminist, activist and pan Africanist network of 14 organisations in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa committed to advancing freedom, justice and bodily autonomy for all women on the African continent and beyond." CAL is active on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. As discussed in one of my previous blogs, social media platforms like Twitter can be beneficial for feminist activists as they can be used to raise awareness and encourage advocacy, to organize and mobilise, to create counterpublics, and for network-building. CAL’s latest campaign, The Autonomy Project, is a four-year multi-country feminist campaign in Southern Africa, East Africa and West and Central Africa. Led by womxn who are marginalised based on sexuality and gender, the central message of the campaign is the assertion that gender non-conforming womxn have agency, own their bodies and lives and have the right to make decisions that affect them and their lives.

Led by womxn who are marginalised based on sexuality and gender, the central message of the campaign is the assertion that gender non-conforming womxn have agency, own their bodies and lives and have the right to make decisions that affect them and their lives.


The Coalition of African Lesbians – image source CAL

Although there has been a global progression towards decriminalising people based on their sexuality – why it was criminalised in the first place is beyond me (a conversation for another day) – more work needs to be done in Africa and Southern Asia. Expressing your sexuality in an environment where you could face legal punishment or even death is brave beyond measure. Although I have only highlighted four profiles of womxn in the Global South who are reclaiming social media to celebrate being queer, I have no doubt that there are plenty more out there involved in the battle. I stand by you and salute you.

Expressing your sexuality in an environment where you could face legal punishment or even death is brave beyond measure. I stand by you and salute you.

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