Global Roundup: 2Spirit Land Defenders, Calls for FGM Ban in Sierra Leone, Lesbian Popstar and Pro-democracy Activist Denise Ho, Gender Neutral Hair App, Women Directors in Mexico Gain Recognition
Compiled by Samiha Hossain
RAVEN BRASCOUPE (LEFT) AND WHALE TAIL JONES (RIGHT). PHOTO BY CASSANDRA GIRALDO via VICE
Two Spirit people have been on the front lines of some of the world’s most high-profile land defence battles, including at Standing Rock, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, and now, Fairy Creek. People are putting their bodies in the way of logging operations to protect some of Canada’s oldest cedars at Fairy Creek, the site on Vancouver Island’s southern tip, near the Juan de Fuca strait. It’s also now considered Canada’s largest act of civil disobedience, with more than 1,200 people arrested since the spring.
While police surrounded the group, two stood front and centre at the camp’s entrance: Raven Brascoupe, 26, who is Algonquin-Anishinaabe, and 23-year-old Pacheedaht member Whale Tail Jones – both are Two Spirit.
To get land back is essentially to help stop the cutting down of the trees, just like [colonialism] cut down all of our ancestors. Having that land back in itself is also a part of being Two Spirit because you’re also regaining culture that was wiped out. - Raven Brascoupe
In August, several RCMP dressed in tactical gear raided the network of camps and destroyed them. Police had also targeted Indigenous land defenders, yanking on their braids and punching them in the face. Despite the daily torrential rain pelts that have caused many to leave, Brascoupe, their partner Jones, and a handful of allies are still on the ground.
You look at a lot of the Indigenous people that are here, and a lot of them represent the Two Spirit, and there’s a reason for that. There’s a calling for the double of our spirit, and that’s why I made it out here… You’re able to grab hold of both of the entities you still have, like the female side: protection, mothering… The masculine side represents the fighting warrior spirit. - Raven Brascoupe
Via Equality Now
The death of a young woman in Sierra Leone almost immediately after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) has revived calls to end the practice. The body of 21-year-old Maseray Sei was found earlier this month, a day after the FGM occurred. Sei’s family said that after the procedure Sei complained of a migraine and was in pain. Activists working on the case believe FGM to be the cause of the complications. The family are now pressing for a postmortem.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world, with 9 out of 10 women and girls aged between 15 and 49 affected, according to Unicef. The practice remains legal in Sierra Leone, with politicians accused of making statements backing FGM and of funding Bondo houses – secret societies where FGM often takes place.
She went to fetch wood and water for her aunt, she was physically fine on 18 December. That night she slept at the Bondo house, and that was when things got bad. For the family, it’s very shocking. They loved her. - Senesie Amara, an activist working with Sei’s family
After Sei’s death, police arrested a number of soweis – senior society members who do the cutting in FGM – as well as a village chief in the Bonthe district, responsible for regulating the secret societies. Turay chairs a coalition of 21 national groups fighting FGM which is now putting pressure on the authorities to carry out the postmortem.
In several parts of the world, women and girls continue to be harmed physically and psychologically by FGM and in many cases they lose their life. It is vital that FGM be banned and that accurate information on its harm be made accessible.
Lesbian popstar and pro-democracy activist Denise Ho was one of seven people arrested by national security police in Hong Kong and released the next day. All seven arrestees were linked to the pro-democracy news website Stand News and were accused of “conspiracy to publish seditious material,” a colonial-era crime punishable by two years in jail and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars. Stand News has since shut down, deleted all its social media pages, and fired all employees.
The arrests and shut down mark China’s increasing crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Human rights activists and international observers say the law is just a way to arrest and silence any of China’s critics.
Ho is a famous actress and performer, known for her often androgynous appearance and singing pop songs in Cantonese. She became the first “mainstream female singer in Hong Kong to come out of the closet” after coming out as lesbian at the age of 36 at the fourth annual Hong Kong Pride Parade in 2012.
In 2014, she became an active member of the Umbrella Movement, a social movement that opposes China’s anti-democratic efforts in Hong Kong. In 2019, she also spoke against China’s increasing interference in the region in a United Nations hearing. She was blacklisted as a performer in China due to her pro-democracy involvement.
I think Hong Kong people are slowly becoming aware of what is happening. We’re not as free as we used to be, and we need to fight for ourselves. - Denise Ho
While Hong Kong may appear progressively pro-LGBTQ, there is still much work to be done. There is a lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Same sex couples are not legally recognized and don’t have rights for adoption or raising children. In addition, trans individuals must undergo full gender reassignment surgery before changing any gender markers on ID.
Jess Palfrey, founder of genderless mobile haircut app Dooo, poses in an undated photo. Handout courtesy of Jess Palfrey / Thomson Reuters Foundation
Jess Palfrey has launched an app offering cuts for all individuals without the baggage of gender stereotypes, part of a growing movement towards unisex and LGBT+ inclusive hairdressing. She was inspired by the traumatic experience of being ordered to shave her hair off as a young British army recruit. She has also frequently been turned away by barbers who do not cater to women.
Haircuts are really important to me and to most people in the LGBT community, because it's a way of expressing ourselves. I absolutely think there is discrimination towards people that don't want gender-norm haircuts. - Jess Palfrey
The Dooo app allows people to book a mobile hairstylist to come to their home or work and sets charges according to the length of time their cut takes instead of their gender. Customers can also add special requests, such as their pronouns or any support they may need to manage disabilities during their haircut.
I've had clients ... they've never been confident enough to really go for short hair and to express themselves. And then when they do it is a very, very emotional time for them. I've had a lot of clients cry and hug me and be amazingly emotional. - Jess Palfrey
So far, Dooo has been downloaded on iPhones more than 400 times. Palfrey is "very aware" of criticisms that workers in the so-called gig economy, like those on her app, often lack employment protections but hopes Dooo will help stylists make a decent living. Ultimately, she hopes to challenge gender stereotypes in the beauty industry and help people feel good about themselves in a safe space.
Tatiana Huezo made the Oscar shortlist for best international feature for “Prayers for the Stolen.”Credit...Ander Gillenea/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Women filmmakers in Mexico have recently been releasing more work, gaining critical success and major awards after decades of fighting for recognition in the male-dominated industry. The change has been spurred by an emboldened feminist movement in Mexico and an urgent conversation about sexism worldwide.
Fernanda Valadez’s debut film, “Identifying Features,” won two top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, and this year it won best picture, director and screenplay, among other prizes, at the Ariel Awards, Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars.
It’s been years in the making. But I’m very happy to be part of a generation of women telling powerful stories. - Fernanda Valadez
The journey wasn’t easy, as Valdez encountered obstacles at the Film Training Center, where she was one of only four women in a class of 15. She said some female students at film schools were asked inappropriate questions like whether they were going to have children or would they be able to carry equipment.
We women face more filters. Men in these generations are brought up to believe that destiny is in their hands. - Fernanda Valadez
The legacy of the feminist film movement has been particularly lasting for Mexican documentaries: Between 2010 and 2020 women directed a third of documentaries in the country, compared to just 16% of fiction films. The feminist movement has also taken to the streets in Mexico with the #MeToo movement.
Valdez said the #MeToo movement has had an impact on the reception to her previous project, “The Darkest Days of Us” (2017), the story of a woman haunted by her sister’s death.
Before #MeToo became viral, when we were still editing, there were comments that the film even felt aggressive toward men. After the movement exploded, it began to be understood that it was a film that talked about what #MeToo was putting on the table, the microaggressions, the violence, the abuse. - Fernanda Valadez
Other progress includes the launch of the country’s first “comprehensive protocol against harassment,” a series of procedures and regulations to prevent and punish sexual abuse in the film industry, as well as the Film Training Center reserving half the places in its main courses for women starting this year.
Directors note that there is still more work to be done as the pandemic has led to a drop In the number of Mexican feature films directed by women. When the industry was affected by the pandemic, 17% were directed by women, down from 20% the year before and 25% in 2018.
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.