Making Access Real: Autonomy Project

Who are we?

The Autonomy Project is a collective of 25 activist organisations and individuals working in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. We are currently mobilising in Livingstone (Zambia’s tourist capital) and the Copperbelt province. Some organisations represented in the collective are: Women’s Alliance for Equality, Transbantu Association Zambia, Friends of Rainka, Zambia Sex Worker’s Alliance, Network of People living with HIV, Generation Alive Zambia and Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia. These organisations work on issues around lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) persons, sex work, women living with HIV, and women working on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), specifically, women seeking or advocating for abortion services. The collective evolved out of the Autonomy Project of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). Through funding from CAL, we have employed two people as coordinator and assistant coordinator. We work to build a world where all people are able to make decisions about their bodies and lives without interference from fathers, brothers, husbands, the state, religion and society. The collective embraces intersectional feminism as both a practice, and an approach to bringing about change.

What was the issue?
• Women in Zambia have no autonomy over their bodies. This is manifested in: o the restriction of abortion services o the criminalisation of sex work as well as of consensual sex between women o the fact that society prescribes how women should dress, whom they should sleep with, and where they should go. This policing is related, not only to patriarchy as a root cause, but also to the fact that our society blames women for the spread of HIV.

• Women have normalised the consequences of the lack of autonomy and have been raised to believe that this is how the world should be. • Despite this lack of autonomy being a cross cutting issue, women in Zambia were working in silos and holding on to identity politics which prevented a common and amplified voice in different spaces.

What was the change we wanted to see?

We wanted to see marginalised women (LBT, sex workers, women living with HIV, abortion activists) being aware and conscious of the roots of the challenges they face daily, and being able to recognise that, although belonging to different groups, their oppression was connected. This in turn was going to foster afeminist movement that is intersectional in its approach, with women from these groups being able to individually or collectively recognise the oppression, challenge it and advocate for a positive and supportive political, social-cultural and economic environment for marginalised women.

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