Decolonising gender inequalities in South Africa
‘Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality among sex workers in South Africa’ is one of the Global Grace projects. Our collaborative project has involved the African Gender Institute, the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance studies at the University of Cape Town and the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task force (SWEAT). As we come closer to completing our work, we wanted to share resources and open access materials from our project that have sustained our work and are informed by feminist and decolonial discussions, activism and literature.
Sex Workers Educational And Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT) http://www.sweat.org.za
SWEAT is an NGO in Cape Town that has a 20-year history in organising sex workers, advocating for and delivering services to them. SWEAT has facilitated the birth of two movements – a Pan African Alliance of sex workers (African Sex Worker Alliance) and a national movement of sex workers called Sisonke. ASWA is now an independent organisation based in Kenya, and Sisonke is moving towards its own independence in South Africa.
Theatre Arts (TA) https://theatrearts.co.za
TA is a community theatre and is the current resident theatre space for the Sex Workers Theatre (SA). TA is found within the same neighbourhood as the NGO SWEAT (see above) – they are both located in Observatory suburb of Cape Town. TA is built on a commitment to affordability, inclusivity and accessibility for theatre practitioners from diverse backgrounds, across differences of culture, economic resources, skills and experience. The structural set up of the venue is an old church, offering other community related programs such as after school activities for children from peripheral communities. TA’s main funding comes from the rental of rehearsal spaces and income generated from performances.
African Gender Institute (AGI), University of Cape Town
The African Gender Institute (AGI) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is a teaching, learning and research institute, focusing on gender, development, and the politics of sexuality in the African continent. Since its inception, over 20 years ago, the AGI has grown into a globally respected and continentally vibrant organisation that has built networks and collaborative partnerships with academic institutions and non- government organisations across Africa. Renowned for collaborative research projects that marry theory, practice and activism, the AGI has delivered innovative integrated outcomes on gender justice, sexuality and human rights, peace and conflict studies and capacity building in relation to gender and women’s studies knowledges.
Through its 20-year history of feminist writing, teaching and research, the AGI has developed extensive experience in engaging with issues of feminist teaching and research, feminist movement building in academia and sexual and reproductive health rights, including sexual violence in the university context. For the AGI, the struggle for gender justice is central to the social and political transformation of the African continent.
Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies (CTDPS), University of Cape Town
The Centre for Theatre, Dance & Performance Studies (CTDPS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) aspires to teach dance and theatre performance as modes of critical inquiry, creative expression, pedagogy and public engagement. Performance is approached as a public forum for contemporary ideas, allowing space to test and debate the central contemporary concerns in an environment that is at once critical, emotional, and collective. Curricula range from the classics to the contemporary with Africa as the central theme, cutting across traditional theatrical, dance and drama disciplinary boundaries.
The Triangle Project https://triangle.org.za/about/
The Triangle Project is a non-profit human rights organisation offering professional services to ensure the full realisation of constitutional and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, their partners and families. TP’s three core services centre on health and support, community engagement and empowerment, and research and advocacy. TP offers a wide range of services to LGBTQI+ communities, including sexual health clinical care, counselling, support groups, a helpline, public education and training services, community outreach, court support to survivors of hate crimes and a needle and syringe programme.
Gender DynamiX https://www.genderdynamix.org.za
Established in 2005, Gender DynamiX (GDX) is the first registered Africa-based public benefit organisation to focus solely on transgender and broader gender diverse communities. What started as a vision, slowly grew into a grassroots organisation. GDX has since become an institutionalised non-profit organisation (NPO) that has played a crucial role in the development of trans and gender diverse movement(s) in South Africa and across Africa. GDX aims to work in ways that uphold ideals of self-identification, self-determination, respect for diversity, inclusivity, meaningful participation, transparency and accountability; whilst seeking to position trans and gender diverse persons through the realisation of their (our) autonomy and potential for nation-building.
Sonke Gender Justice
Sonke recognises that effecting sustained change to gender roles and relationships requires addressing the forces that shape individual attitudes and community norms and practices – traditions and cultures, government policies, laws and institutions, civil society organisations, the media and the family – as well as underlying economic, political and social pressures.
Sonke works closely with a range of organisations and individuals including women’s rights organisations, social movements, trade unions, government departments, sports associations, faith-based organisations, media organisations, university research units and human rights advocates. In addition, Sonke is committed to ensuring that programmes are informed by the perspectives and priorities of those working to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual communities, people living with HIV and AIDS, and refugees and migrants. Women, sexual minorities, young people, refugees, migrants and other relevant stakeholders are represented in Sonke’s governance structures.
Mbasalaki P. K. and Matchett S. (2021) “Como fazer uma Performance (decolonial feminista) como Pesquisa com um Grupo de Trabalhadoras do Sexo: Yeki Hambe - Let it go!”(How to do (a decolonial feminist) Performance as research with a group of sex workers: Yeki Hambe-Let it go!) in de Siquera (ed) Metodologia e Relações Internacionais. Debates contemporâneos volume 3 ISBN: 978-65-88831-08-3 https://bit.ly/3rNx5Bb
This chapter in Brazilian Portuguese is based on a case study from our research in which we worked with a group of eight sex workers, trained by a professional facilitator in physical theatre. The main methodological approach combined physical theatre rooted in the Performance as Research (PaR) approach and was informed by decolonial feminist methods and praxis. The hallmark of PaR is that the research is not a predetermined map with a destination, but rather takes up the position of a wayfarer. Here, we discuss the public performance piece Yeki Hambe: Let it go, and centre the production and performance as a collaborative framing of epistemologies rooted in action research, working towards political and social change with regard to the decriminalisation and destigmatisation of sex work in South Africa.
Matchett S. and Mbasalaki P. K (2020) ‘Butoh gives the feeling back to the people’. Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, 1-13. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10130950.2020.1775102
Our title of this article is a quote from one of the sex workers from the Sex Workers’ Theatre Group (SWTG) who made this statement after intense sessions of butoh (a form of Japanese dance theatre) that lasted three hours each, over a period of four days. The research considered gendered inequalities through a holistic approach to wellbeing, recognising the specific demands of the contexts in which sex workers work. Working with butoh principals, in which techniques offer an embodied praxis, this article draws on embodied thinking and how this can manifest through emotion. Butoh techniques, which call for the body to move in non-conventional ways, speak to how the state of the body modifies the state of the mind and by extension, emotions. In this article, we ask two central questions: (i) within the framework of wellbeing, in what ways does embodied cognition manifest when butoh techniques are used with a group of sex workers, whose daily lived experiences in the midst of violence are physical, emotional, judicial and structural?; and, (ii) within this specific context, could butoh offer strategies to support wellbeing?
Mbasalaki P. K. and Matchett S. (2020) Aesthetic grammars of social justice: sex work reimagined. Routledge journal of home and community science’
Against a backdrop of the persistence of coloniality in structural forms of inequality and racial stratification of labour in South Africa, this piece suggests how creative activism offers insight into, whilst also enabling sex worker perspectives. We relate these perspectives to rehumanisation and re-membering, challenging historically distinct modes of turning humans into objects as part of decolonial possibilities. We ask, what provocations arise from aesthetics of creative activism? And, what might rehumanising/re-membering concretely mean? We argue that art practices fundamentally engage the imagination and open-up possibilities for re-imagining, re-storying and re-centering marginalised knowledges.