Global Roundup: Abortion Investigations in England & Wales, Argentina GBV Visual Project, Congo Women’s Movement, Colombia Trans Women Docu, Queer South Asian-Canadian Activist
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
A protest in New York against the US supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 case that gave women the constitutional right to an abortion. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA via The Guardian
People in England and Wales who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths are being investigated by police on suspicion of having illegal abortions, with some forced to hand over their phones and laptops for invasive “digital strip searches”.
The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act says it is unlawful to procure a miscarriage using “poison”, “an instrument” or “other means whatsoever”, and that those found guilty can be jailed for life. The 1967 Abortion Act transformed women’s healthcare by legalizing terminations in England, Wales and Scotland up to 28 weeks, with the legal limit since reduced to 24 weeks. But abortions are only lawful in circumstances where two doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy would be risky for the physical or mental health of the woman. The old law was never repealed, so anyone who has an unregulated abortion or tries to terminate their pregnancy without supervision from medics is acting unlawfully. Anyone assisting them can also be prosecuted.
Police have launched dozens of investigations into suspected breaches of the law in the past 10 years, with the alleged offences including cases where women took abortion pills bought on the internet and induced their own abortions by drinking herbal remedies without supervision from doctors. In the 10 years to April 2022, police in England and Wales have recorded 67 cases of procuring an illegal abortion. MSI Reproductive Choices says it knows of cases where the 1861 law had been used to investigate women and girls who had lost their pregnancies through natural causes.
In one such case in 2021, hospital staff called the police on a 15-year-old girl who had an unexplained early stillbirth, as they thought she had taken a substance bought on the internet to end her pregnancy. The teenager’s phone and laptop were seized and examined for evidence of supposed wrongdoing, including text messages she had exchanged with her boyfriend expressing worry about the pregnancy. The case was dropped after postmortem tests found the baby had probably been stillborn because of natural causes.
Campaigners say that the legislation criminalizes women over a healthcare issue and deters some from seeking aftercare for fear of repercussions. It takes bodily autonomy away from those who can give birth and invades their privacy during what is often a vulnerable time for them. After the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US, there has been increased scrutiny of reproductive rights in Britain and demands for legislative changes to protect access to abortion.
Left: Andrés de la Torre, father of Tehuel de la Torre. Tehuel is a young trans man who disappeared in March of 2021. Right: Say Sacayán, a transgender rights activist, standing in front of a sign that reads "Where is Tehuel?" Photo by Eleonora Ghioldi via NPR
CW: gender-based violence
"ATRAVESADXS" (transversed in Spanish, the "x" is for language inclusivity) is a visual project that documents the testimonies of relatives, siblings, parents and friends of victims of gender-based crimes in Argentina. Eleonora Ghioldi has collected more than 70 testimonies from people who have lost a family member in a femicide. "ATRAVESADXS" is part of one of her visual projects that shed light on issues that affect women in Latin America and the United States. The portraits are displayed in public spaces, on building facades to raise awareness. Three of the families’ testimonies will be shared here.
“ATRAVESADXS” shows that, unfortunately, the violence does not end with femicide but continues in many other forms. From the media — violence that not only re-victimizes and blames the victims but also the families — to the justice system that not only is not present in the prevention of violence but also does not accompany the families in the process of requesting justice. - Eleonora Ghioldi
Diana Sacayán was one of the main activists of the human rights movement and the fight for the recognition and social inclusion of the trans collective in Argentina. She was murdered in 2015 and in 2018, the Oral Criminal Court No. 4 of the City of Buenos Aires sentenced her murderer in a sentence in which, for the first time, the Argentine justice described the murder of a transgender woman as a hate crime to gender identity. Her brother shares what the experience meant:
We were able to talk about the structural violence that exists on the trans population; we were able to talk about the deaths that are preventable. When we speak of homicides of trans people, we speak of violent crimes against transgender people that are not far from the structural violence that exists because there is a whole hatred that is socially constructed as a result of the fact that there was an absent state and there was no type of right to the trans population. - Diana Sacayán’s brother
Marta Ramallo is the mother of Johana Ramallo, a victim of human trafficking and femicide. She says her daughter “was disappeared by a human trafficking network with the complicity of the Buenos Aires police and the DDI of missing people.” Marta describes the horrific violence to which her daughter was subjected.
When we say that there is a complicit judiciary, it is complicit in the disappearance and the femicides of Johana because the death and disappearance of Johana could have been prevented by having a state present. - Marta Ramallo
Florencia Bustamante found out about her sister Karen’s femicide in 2021 on the news. She discusses how her family is not financially well enough to get a lawyer and take on other expenses such as psychological support.
The state left us, let go of our hand and we are adrift, as are thousands of families, because they do not arrive until the girls experience the femicide and not even after the femicide do they reach the families that can't find any type of consolation beyond the fact that they will never be able to return our sister to us. They also do not contribute anything to leave us a little reassured that they are really working because there are many ends they leave loose; they do not move as they have to move. - Florencia Bustamante
A portrait of Kourissa and her son Okili Dojido at a funeral outside a home at “La tchiemé.” Photo Credit: Victoire Douniama via Okay Africa
Women in Congo are disturbing the gender boundaries of La Sape, a protest against French colonialism dating back to the early 1920s and 1930s, which has been historically dominated by men. La Sape was strictly reserved for men and Congolese women were expected to wear African print dresses and be housekeepers. Despite the challenges and backlash, a group of Congolese women kept challenging the status quo, fighting for their style of expression. Today, hundreds of women have joined the movement, dressing in suits, tuxedos, and bow ties.
Documenting these women is Congolese photojournalist Victoire Douniama. Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Douniama has always been inclined towards art from a young age. She was inspired by her older sister’s sketchbook.
I was so fascinated by [my sister’s[ art and her drawing talent. So visual arts has always been a passion of mine. - Victoire Douniama
For Douniama, centering her craft in her native country is important, as it not only represents her roots, but it is also an opportunity to use her passion to showcase the rich natural resources and cultures of the Congo. Of the various projects under Douniama's belt is her photo journal, Les Saupeuse du Congo. For Douniama, La Sape is more than just a fashion statement. She recognizes the political elements of the visuals. The emergence of female sapeurs is revolutionary and, without a doubt, impressive.
I wanted to give the ladies a space to share their experiences and what exactly inspired them to join this movement, and how people within their societal circle responded to this. Because at some point, this conservative movement was only reserved for men.- Victoire Douniama
In colorful suave suits, these women are overturning gender norms, which require them to dress in traditional “lady-like” attire known as Liputta — a bold move for a conservative country as Congo. This photo project has given Douniama a look into the dynamic of La Saupeuse and their self-fashioning practices.
Via La Prensa Latina
Known in their native language as “wërapara” (“not women”), the trans women of the Embera indigenous people of northwestern Colombia are speaking out against discrimination. Roxana Panchi, who lives on the Embera reserve of Karmata Rua in Antioquia province, says being a trans indigenous person in the community causes her shame sometimes. Some common taunts she receives are “you were born a man,” “you will never be a woman,” “how will you be a woman if you don’t have a vagina?” She responds with “I like men, I like to be penetrated. I am a woman, very much a woman.”
Roxana is part of the documentary “Wërapara, Trans Girls,” by Colombian director Claudia Fischer, which had its official premier Saturday in Bogota as part of Pride Month. The film tells the story of Roxana and five other trans women of Karmata Rua: Marcela, Jaima, Gina, Alexa and Pamela.
Many work harvesting coffee, with practically non-existent pay and subjected to discrimination and abuse, but the remarkable thing about this group of Emberas is that they remain in the community, devoting themselves to agriculture, weaving, making chakiras or ceramics. - Claudia Fischer
Fischer met the women three years ago in London, where she traveled to be a part of the interactive project WRAPAROUND, centered on the process of fashion designer Laura Laurens and the trans artisans of the Karmata Rua community.
The documentary begins with Alexa singing in Embera:
“Always woman, turned into the flower of the hummingbird,
Perfume with the scent of earth, clay woman,
Flower of the earth, trans girl, always woman,
Alyy Patel Credit: Alyy Patel via Rabble
Patel grew up in Toronto and thought they were the only “gay Brown woman ever,” as they had never seen a queer person that looked like them. It made them feel “completely alone” in navigating their sexual orientation. Patel thought venturing into LGBTQ+ spaces in university would allow them to feel more acceptance and belonging, but they were constantly perceived as heterosexual in queer spaces due to their Brown skin and South Asian features such as having long hair.
For years, this had turned my pride for my South Asian roots into shame and pressured me into assimilating. Despite my best efforts to hide my South Asian identity, I continued to experience racially-charged microaggressions from white queer people, as I was unable to fully disassociate from my South Asianness without being exiled from the Brown community. The inability to be queer in culturally conducive ways is extremely invalidating, invisibilizing, and infuriating. -Alyy Patel
Patel discusses their struggles fighting for sexual liberation, against male domination, and for their ethnic and sexual identities to co-exist within queer spaces. Patel recognizes that sexual and gender fluidity was widely accepted and considered normal in pre-colonial South Asian society until it was repressed by British colonizers.
North American LGBTQ+ communities speak extensively about sexual liberation—but for who? As a Brown woman, I have never been given the agency to define my own sexuality in queer spaces. -Alyy Patel
Patel is frustrated by acquaintances telling them they must “come out” to their family. They critique mainstream LGBTQ+ organizations for depicting living authentically as “declaring your queerness and severing ties with anyone who does not accept you.” Many queer South Asians cannot “come out” to their family without risking their safety. Many also do not want to sever ties with the people who made sacrifices to give them a better life.
I refuse to give up my South Asian identity in order to be accepted by the queer family and I refuse to give up my queer identity in order to be accepted by the South Asian family. -Alyy Patel
Patel founded QSAW Network in 2019 so that all gender marginalized LGBTQ+ South Asian-Canadians have a family-like space where they can show up and be unconditionally loved as their most authentic selves.
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.