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Global Roundup: Abortion Travel Volunteers in Europe, Ghana Documentary When Women Speak, Raveena Sings About Love and Holiness, Gender-Diverse Pan-Asian Collective, Iran Journalist Fights Loneliness
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Hanien supports women in Malta, where abortion is a criminal offence. Photograph: Cliona O’Flaherty/The Guardian
The Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a UK-based charity founded in 2009 that helps people from European countries access abortions. Eighty volunteers with ASN provide logistical advice, travel planning, a place to stay and solidarity to people who live in countries with restrictive abortion access. The founder Mara Clarke says that abortion travel is very prevalent in Europe despite people thinking it is only an American or developing-world thing. ASN also works with partner organizations across the continent who direct people to one another for local advice and funding. Volunteers across Europe share their experiences in a Guardian article.
Ciara, 36, is a helpline volunteer in London. She says that money is often the biggest hurdle for the callers. She has given a grant of £5 before, as it was all that was preventing a woman from accessing an abortion. Kasia, 35, is an adviser and helpline volunteer in London and she mentions how Brexit means people from the EU can no longer travel to the UK using only their national ID card, which affects many callers.
Callers are often angry, especially from Poland. They feel abandoned by the government and stigmatized by society. It can be nice to offer solidarity and say, “It’s not you, it’s the system. It shouldn’t be like this.” And to remind them that they are not alone. - Ciara
Hanien, 24, a volunteer for a helpline in Malta says that she was taught from a young age to associate abortion with murder and that anyone who seeks it is evil. Maltese law states that abortion is a criminal offence, with no exceptions. Hanien says that her work comes with the danger of social stigma as it is a small country, and she can easily be identified. As a woman of colour, she faces racialized stigma as well.
Sometimes people are surprised that I do this. I wear a hijab and people associate being religious with being anti-choice and anti-abortion. But that is misinformation and ignorance about how Muslims view abortion. This work is my way of standing up against damaging patriarchal structures that affect me and my peers. - Hanien
ASN’s Instagram page, which is used to encourage people to donate and promote the organization’s work, receives a lot of online abuse and harassment. Pip makes Instagram posts for the organization and often deletes hateful comments.
Aga, 27, an Abortion Without Borders volunteer in Poland, says the volume of emails increased dramatically in the run-up to the Polish abortion ban. Volunteers in the country have to be careful now and stick to things they cannot be prosecuted for. Thus, Aga no longer sets up abortions and instead translates medical records and press releases.
While we don’t have control over what happens in Polish hospitals, and we can’t change the law on our own, doing this work gives me a sense of agency in an otherwise overwhelming situation. - Aga
Still from the new Ghanaian film ‘When Women Speak’ via Open Democracy
A new documentary, When Women Speak, uses interviews, archival footage and animation to tell the stories of 16 women in Ghana from the early 1950s to the early 2000s. This is particularly powerful as women’s struggle for freedom and liberation in Ghana has been largely erased by the violence of patriarchy. Women’s contributions to the independence struggle in the 1950s, and nation-building following independence from Britain in 1957 are barely taught in Ghanaian schools, if at all.
Women’s roles in the story of Ghana’s formation and growth are as fundamental as the role of a seed in the story of a plant. The struggles for freedom from colonial rule, freedom from economic hardship, freedom from corruption and bad governance, and freedom from oppressive sociocultural structures are built on the backs of women. - Akosua Hanson, Open Democracy
The documentary contains rich conversations, amusing anecdotes, and behind-the-scenes accounts of pivotal historical moments. It also uses animation to fill in the gaps.
In the 1970s and ’80s, women organized amid the turbulent backdrop of coups d’état and bloody military regimes. Women activists were vocal against cruelty and abuse, and were essential actors in movement-building, despite the threats to their lives and freedom that were always hanging in the air. For instance, women helped widows’ rights gain national prominence and they were heavily involved in environmental activism, organizing, and educating farmers about the dangers of surface mining and how it would affect their livelihoods.
The author of the article for Open Democracy, Akosua Hanson, believes that knowing the past is the foundation to building the present and future. She says that the feminist struggle continues today and When Women Speak is a good reminder to constantly remain vigilant in the face of patriarchy.
In 2022, the feminist struggle continues with LGBTQI+ activism gaining prominence in an increasingly violently homophobic and transphobic Ghana. Young feminists today, carrying the fearlessness and patriotism of their forebears, are changing sociocultural norms using the new technology of the times – digital activism. - Akosua Hanson
Photo Credit Furmaan Ahmed via them.us
On Asha’s Awakening, her recently released second album, Raveena bares her personal relationship to spirituality more explicitly than ever before. The dreamy, genre-bending record follows a Punjabi space princess named Asha who revisits Earth after thousands of years meditating in the galaxy. Highly trained in advanced magic, the character is introduced to humanity’s wonders, evils, and contradictions over the course of 15 songs spanning styles as diverse as R&B and Bollywood. Through the guiding lens of spiritual introspection, Asha’s Awakening explores abortion, the unsatisfying hollowness of social media, and the joy of a topless bath with friends, among other experiences.
Born in the United States to Sikh refugees from the Punjab region of India, Raveena expresses her heritage through belly dancing, dressing in saris, and singing in Punjabi.
I do definitely identify with [Sikhism]. But it’s more that my spirituality stems from a lot of different religions...I’m just enjoying creating my own philosophy. - Raveena
Raveena’s work also incorporates the divine feminine, or the idea that women possess a certain ethereal, otherworldly quality worthy of worship and praise. For instance, in her song Stronger, she channels her femininity to escape trauma and mistreatment.
Entering the mainstream as an artist who makes religious and spiritually charged music is particularly challenging in a secular age. Raveena’s work emerges from a collective societal hunger for ritual, rest, self-love that feels much deeper and more authentic than the capitalist construct of “self-care.”
Peach Paradise. (Netflix) via Pink News
Co-founder ShayShay says starting a new collective was not easy as venues were initially concerned that “there wouldn’t be enough Asian performers to fill a lineup” and they questioned whether there would even be an audience. But since it formed in 2019, The Bitten Peach has experienced meteoric success with sell-out shows across the UK and a devoted fanbase
As a collective, we are blessed to have a really supportive audiences that come out, that are there for us. We have a lot of queer trans POC coming to support us. - ShayShay
For filmmaker and performer Shiva Raichandani, who directed Peach Paradise, their encounter with The Bitten Peach was particularly inspiring and important, especially given the lack of representation and spaces for queer Asians.
Given all of my identities, whether it’s being Asian or queer, non-binary, as a dancer… it’s always been difficult to find visual representation, templates, references of my experiences out there. - Shiva
Through creating Peach Paradise, Shiva seeks to demonstrate that the stories of marginalized folks are both “deserving to be told” and “commercially viable”. Peach Paradise was produced with an all-Asian crew, both on-screen and off-screen, and the team hopes it will “show people that the talent is out there and stories are out there, just waiting to be tapped into. The only thing that stops us is opportunity.”
Both ShayShay and Shiva believe performance and film are important mediums for pursuing social change.
Drag, cabaret and performance in general, can hold many truths. It can be fun, messy, joyous, political. The very fact that someone like ShayShay is on a stage, that in itself is inherently political. The fact that this documentary exists, is inherently a political statement in itself. The fact that we are showcasing radical queer joy is a form of protest and dissent in itself. - Shiva
Maryam Azimzadehirani is seen in a radio studio in Montreal. She writes that returning to journalism helped her deal with pandemic isolation. (Submitted by Maryam Azimzadehirani) via CBC
Some of Azimzadehriani’s first memories are of her family isolating in dark underground tunnels to stay safe from bombardment attacks on Tehran. When she was born in Iran in the 1980s, her country had already been at war with Iraq for years.
I stayed in the tunnels with my grandmother during the day while my parents went to work. I would hear about children who lost their families during the war, and my anxiety over being abandoned has been there ever since. - Maryam Azimzadehriani
Azimzadehriani’s choices were limited in Iran’s patriarchal society. Though she was known as a good scientist and researcher, her academic supervisor favoured men over independent and determined women. The man she wanted to marry also wanted her to be dependent on him and forget about immigration. As she began freelance journalism, she faced discrimination and harassment as a woman. Freedom of speech was limited as well. These factors and wanting to be independent led her to immigrate to Canada.
Despite the common struggles of language barriers and culture shock, Azimzadehriani was able to persevere. However, the pandemic caused the resurgence of her fears of being alone.
During long days of confinement, I discovered that although I was seeking an independent world, I'd become dependent upon my social and work interactions. I realized I had not recognized my fears — instead I'd just tried to escape them. - Maryam Azimzadehriani
Now, Azimzadehriani has had many accomplishments as a journalist including producing news podcasts, TV reports and articles in class. She also published her first serious English article about what annoyed her in doing journalism in Iran: the limitations put on women journalists. She recognizes that regardless of where she is, she can always find ways to fight loneliness.
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.