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Bringing our own seats to the table-First seat's first! should there even be a table?

The first time I had the conversation about the hypothetical table related to women’s day and other human rights days, has to have been two years ago in my God-Mother’s living room, on Women’s Day.

Social media was abuzz with posts by many young women in the city, who were at one tea party or the other, on one radio station or another, and in one panel or another discussing the importance of women’s day, and celebrating the day that it was.

I had realised earlier that day that I was not invited to any events that year, and had called someone who I knew would also not have been invited – Tshepo Jamillah Moyo.

The reasons for our non-invitations differed. Mine was that in the preceding year, I had been invited to an event and upon my attendance, I was asked to speak as a “representative” for transgender persons, because of the litigation work I have held, in support of change for sex markers for transgender persons, as well as the advocacy work I have been involved in in support of trans-rights organisation.

When asked to speak, I made my position very clear – I do not and can never purport to represent transgender people, because I am not myself, trans, and cannot proudly occupy a space, which rightfully belongs to someone else. I would rather the seat at the table be empty until it is occupied by the right person, than take the seat myself.

As a further act of protest, I had taken to Facebook and demanded that institutions like the one which had invited me, do better in upcoming celebrations.

The post had gained more traction than I had anticipated, and stirred up much needed conversations about who is invited to what, on human rights days, as well as which human rights days are observed, often for their commercialisation. Tshepo’s uninivitation stemmed from similar circumstances. Having taken a bold position in protection of women – and specifically, all women – people were uncomfortable with having the conversations which would demand of them that they confront their own privileges even in celebrating the feats for women and women’s rights movement in any given time. She constantly disrupts the various comforts of people, and says, “hold up! Are we going to act like a known rapist did not just open up a restaurant which many of the city’s influencers are going to, like they are not aware of his putrid behaviour?”

She is protective of the “not-so-good-girls” who did not make it to Beijing that first time, proudly stands by them and demands that any space occupied by any human is a space that should be accessible by all other humans, including the very other’d women. It therefore only felt right that the first conversation about seats at the table be with her. I am grateful that she obliged. Welcome to our virtual table.

The first guest is Tshepo. We hereby allow you Tshepo’s most pronounced reflection on International Women’s Day, in generally, is that it is a difficult day because of the duality attached to the day. Where it is important to recognise and acknowledge and celebrate the day, there are so many women, womxn and womyn who are left out of the celebrations of the day.

There are a lot of conversations which

need to be had. Often the voices which are heard, and who guide the conversations being had, are those of the most visible and mainstream – because the world gives platform to those it is most comfortable with and those it can understand. A lot of times, Women’s Day is a celebration of how many women survived being victims, than it does recognising the moves towards protecting women, and actually promoting the rights of all women.

The question then arises of whether or not there is even space for us to bring our own seats to this table.

Or if we are kidding ourselves and need to completely undo the notion of this hypothetical table, because even if you bring your own seat to it, you will never set its agenda, and your participation at the table will always be limited to what is allowed at the table.

 Some women, Tshepo says, find themselves at the table, whether intentionally or by chance, and what they realise once they are there is that nobody will even pass you the salt shaker once you are at the table, and that’s when it really becomes apparent that the table, even though it is set up on International Women’s Day, is not really about women, womxn or womyn.

Our parliament is a typical example of this. Of course there are other considerations to be had when considering women and the level of engagement on women’s rights and the historical oppressions of women, in moving forward. But are the women who are there even interested in having those conversations?

How would they be had in such a system as the one which persists?! Like other human rights days, International Women’s Rights Day is an important day in the Human Rights calendar, one whose history demands that it be celebrated and honoured. Reflecting on my table conversation with Tshepo, it becomes apparent daily that women, womxn and womyn in this country have increasingly fewer choices and options.

The pandemic is even more limiting in how it affects the livelihoods of women, forcing them even further back into the -isms they already occupy. Sure, the table is an impossible space to occupy. But should we not try, as we go about recognising and celebrating these days, to actually think of more impactful conversations, and making more concrete moves towards the recognition, protection and promotion of the rights of women, womxn and womyn?! Tshepo Jamillah Moyo, is Motswana Intersectional Feminist Human Rights Defender and Writer.

Through performing arts, public speaking engagements and her expansive writing works on digital and traditional media, Tshepo has, put a lens on critical issues around equal rights and autonomy for women and girls.

Tshepo has a strong background in development, human rights and communications spanning a decade. She has, throughout her career, gained extensive experience in consultancies for human rights and advocacy on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights for women and adolescent girls and youth across the world and particularly the most marginalized in Africa. Tshepo self-published her debut Chapbook Becoming in 2020. You can interact with Tshepo via her social media platforms.

There Are No Others

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