Leigh Ann van der Merwe
Ms. van der Merwe is a passionate and determined African trans feminist who is committed to fighting for a world where there is justice and equality for all women. She is the founder and Coordinator of S.H.E., a feminist collective of trans and intersex women which works to build an African trans feminist movement through feminist leadership development, and by building relationships with women’s and trans’ rights organizations across the continent. Working in a context where trans women are highly stigmatized and face violence from a transphobic community, Ms. van der Merwe commitment to raising the visibility of trans women’s issues and ensuring their rights are protected and fulfilled makes her a fearless leader of the African trans feminist movement.
Ms. van der Merwe is committed to building close links between the feminist and the trans movements. Under her leadership, S.H.E organized the African Transformative Feminist Leadership Institute as a way of bringing together trans women and activists to deliberate on the issues affecting trans women on the continent from within a feminist perspective. At the institute, trans feminists drew up and The Institute provided a space for trans feminists to craft the African Transgender Feminist Charter which stipulates the values of the movement as well as guide the work to be done on human rights issues for trans* women. This charter is a significant step forward in articulating a shared vision and agenda for the African trans* movement as it stipulates three distinct areas of work to be undertaken by the movement: community mobilization and advocacy, human rights and legal advocacy, feminist and alliance building, as well as describing the values that bind the movement together.
Ms. van der Merwe is also committed to building a cadre of transformative trans feminist leaders across Africa. To do this, S.H.E. runs an internship program where they provide opportunities for trans feminists from other countries in Africa to work with S.H.E. and gain valuable skills needed to for daily work in non-governmental organizations. Given that one of the biggest challenges trans people identify is an ability to find employment opportunities, this internship provides a space for trans feminists to gain some work experience and the needed skills to compete in a tough job market.