As a girl growing up and as a member of the LGBTQI community, Lucinda van den Heever admits she never felt entirely safe. Today, ensuring a safer and equitable future for women, LGBTIQ and marginalised groups as a gender activist and advocate, is her life’s work.
Her journey began at Stellenbosch University (SU) where her BA (Human Movement Studies) and her BA Hons (Sport Science) were significant in kickstarting her consciousness around gender equity and feminist thought.
“I started the first seven years of my career in sports development in South Africa, parts of Africa and internationally, where I encouraged women and girls to participate in sport. This is where my awareness grew in terms of the challenges young girls face. Getting that understanding of how society is structured to benefit men and oppress women, has strengthened my conviction in being a feminist.”
She was awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Sussex in the UK in 2008, which galvanised her move into doing her advocacy and feminist work full-time.
After more than 10 years of working in the women’s rights and LGBTQI movement across Africa, Lucinda is now working as a women’s rights programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), where she oversees and manages women’s rights grants in Southern Africa and across the African continent.
“I also see to the operationalisation of the women’s rights strategy for Southern Africa. This entails identifying, selecting and recommending projects and proposals for funding in Southern Africa countries and across Africa. These proposals are women and feminist led in the areas of economic justice, sexual- and gender-based violence, and political and structural transformation. It aims to challenge gendered norms and transform society that will lead to women realising and accessing their human rights, bodily freedoms and integrity.”
She is quick to point out her deep commitment to this work and the position she occupies. She does not take it for granted.
“I want to ensure resources go to the women most marginalised by patriarchal structures, and to women rights defenders and queer activists who are fighting for their human rights and freedoms. And, to build networks of solidarity across local, regional and global spaces for greater impact on the Africa continent.”
She says although the South African government has made great advances in the rights of women over the years, much more still needs to be done.
“We have many great policies in place which protect the rights of women and of LGBTQI people in our constitution. However, this is always under threat as society is still very patriarchal and conservative. You also have to change mind-sets, i.e., work with religious institutions and community structures to ensure effective change. If women do not feel safe walking down the road, get the services they require and access to justice for crimes committed against them, then I do not feel that the government is doing enough.”
She has the following sage advice for men wanting to make a difference during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
“Check yourself, check your own behaviour. Do not participate in victim blaming and aggressive behaviour towards women, girls and LGBTQI people. It has a deadly effect, maybe not in the short-term but it starts with small micro-aggressions building up over time. If we say nothing about these micro-aggressions people believe it is okay to continue with their aggressive and bullying behaviour. There must be accountability, because without accountability gender-based violence flourishes.”
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