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Global Roundup: African Feminist Movements, Colombia Women Electrical Line Workers, Mauritius LGBTQ+ Rights, Brazil Women vs Fatphobia, Morocco LGBTQ Film
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
A gay rights activist holds the rainbow flag during a 2019 court hearing in the Milimani high Court in Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya. REUTERS/Baz Ratner. REUTERS/Baz Ratner via openDemocracy
Joy Asasira writes about African feminist movements in 2023 on Open Democracy. She notes that the overturning of Roe v Wade will be felt in the African continent and will affect legal, policy and public service spheres. She also believes it will “intensify the ideological war to control women’s bodies and push LGBTIQ citizens further to the margins.”
Following the US reversal of Roe v Wade, I was among the African gender justice advocates who feared a domino effect on the continent. That hasn’t happened. However, even though we haven’t seen any changes to the law to further restrict abortion access, the US decision has definitely re-energised anti-abortion narratives. -Joy Asasira
In 2023, Asasira urges Africa’s feminist movements to reinvest in their own defence of bodily autonomy, in accordance with the Maputo Protocol. Adopted by the African Union in 2003, this treaty obliges countries to legalize medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother or the fetus is not viable. However, many feminists believe that all pregnant people should have access to abortions regardless of their reasons.
Asasira mentions how Western conservative activism promotes false claims such as fetal personhood, spreads misinformation about contraceptives, pushes for women to be forced back into gendered family roles and stokes moral panic about LGBTIQ people. Thus, African feminism is faced with pushing African governments to protect their citizens from these dangerous influences. Misinformation is likely to get worse according to Asasira because billionaires such as Elon Musk are taking over social media platforms like Twitter.
The failure and/or disinterest of Big Tech owners to regulate the abuse of their platforms will only embolden such bad faith campaigns, putting women, LGBTIQ and other marginalized communities at risk, just as in the offline world…African feminists and their allies have a steep uphill battle to fight in the culture war waged by Western conservatives. -Joy Asasira
Two of the apprentices on the female training programme in La Ceja learn how to repair power lines. Photograph by Soraya Kishtwari via The Guardian
Colombia’s only line school for women is changing attitudes in a male-dominated field. Marianela Hernández Valencia, 28, is among 15 women hoping to graduate as one of Colombia’s first-ever intake of apprentice linewomen, in La Ceja, a small town about 40 km southeast of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city. Line workers scale towers and transmission lines hundreds of feet above the ground to install and repair power cables. They are often the first responders after a storm or natural disaster and are regularly away from home for long periods.
I’ve always been drawn to electrical work. That feeling you get when you’re able to help switch the light back on and seeing the kids’ faces light up – it’s indescribable. -Marianela Hernández Valencia
Hernández Valencia was working as a restaurant administrator in Medellín when her partner – a lineman – told her about the recruitment drive. Her partner, however, was not happy that her training session overlapped with another group of men trainees. He told her to choose between him and the training – Hernández Valencia chose to continue training. Her refusal to give up her course and the subsequent breakdown of her relationship have made her all the more determined. Her teachers say she is an outstanding student, and is emerging as a group leader.
In Colombia, we have very complex cultural egos. Women are very capable but they’ve always been relegated. -Claudia Laguna, engineer
The work also comes with challenges as many of the workers are mothers who have to leave their children behind. In addition, the women deal with sexist attitudes from their families and society. Still, all the women on the course reported that they had grown in confidence.
Collectif Arc-en-Ciel is an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in Mauritius. (Photo courtesy of Collectif Arc-en-Ciel) via Los Angeles Blade
The organization does awareness sessions within firms about the importance of equality in the workplace. Since 2008 the country has had an inclusive Workers Right Act so the law prohibits workers from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. If someone feels like they have been discriminated against, they can file a complaint at the Equal Opportunity Commission so that the Commission can try to mediate between the employee and the employer and if they fail, the matter is taken to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.
However, Collectif Arc-en-Ciel’s Jean Danie says that although same-sex relations are regarded as legal, sodomy remains criminalized. Various LGBTQ and intersex activists have asked the Mauritius Supreme Court to overturn the law. A survey by the organization found that 60 percent of respondents said that they had nothing against LGBTQ and intersex people, as long as they are not part of their immediate family. Danie notes that Mauritius is deeply rooted in religion and tradition and these two have an impact on everyday lives. However, Danie is hopeful that slowly and surely society is changing for the better.
Rayane Souza via BBC
Rayane Souza and fellow law graduate Mariana Oliveira have set up a campaigning group in Brazil called Gorda na lei, the Portuguese for "Fat in the law." It aims to advise people of their legal rights if they are discriminated against because of their weight. They receive around 70 messages per month from people who want compensation or simply to share their story.
At age 14, Souza got stuck in the bus turnstile yet again, and feeling the eyes of the rest of the passengers on her, she vowed never to take this form of public transport again. Another Brazilian woman recently got stuck in a turnstile on a bus for more than four hours.
In the end, firefighters had to be called to free her. A few passengers tried to help her, but she said others posted embarrassing pictures of her on social media.
I was the victim of bullying, of fatphobia. All the students made a WhatsApp group and they took my photos that I published on my social networks in that group and started to make fun of me. -Rayane Souza
Brazil is among the countries leading the world in successfully forcing through policy changes to accommodate different body shapes. According to official statistics, there are more than 1,400 open cases mentioning fatphobia just in Brazilian employment tribunals. Even though fatphobia is not a specific crime, it can be pursued under existing legal categories such as libel, slander and moral harassment, explains Oliveira, who is now a human rights lawyer.
One of the places in Brazil where policy change has been made is in the city of Recife. A bill passed by its council last year obliges schools to have bigger desks. Recife's councilwoman Cida Pedrosa was the key mover in introducing the new legislation as she had heard a lot of stories where people were humiliated because they could not fit behind a school desk.
Fatphobia remains a gendered type of discrimination around the world that attempts to control women’s bodies. Gorda na lei is undoubtedly playing an important role in raising awareness for the issue and encouraging women to seek justice.
“The Blue Caftan,” a film by Moroccan director Maryam Touzani, openly depicts homosexual love in a country where consensual same-sex acts are punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. It tells the story of Halim and his wife Mina, a couple who make and sell traditional robes in one of Morocco's oldest souks. Their relationship is rocked by the arrival of a handsome young apprentice, forcing Halim to confront his feelings as he falls in love with his apprentice, Youssef. Though there has been some progress regarding the LGBT community, there is still a long way to go.
I think that today we are starting to become more open because we are starting to see articles in the media that talk about people from the LGBT community, whereas before they were never mentioned. In other words, they are starting to exist in the eyes of society and in the media, which is already a big step forward. But I think we are still quite far away. -Maryam Touzani
Shortlisted for the International Feature Film category ahead of the Oscars, Touzani hopes that her work can change mentalities and lead towards acceptance. Touzani sees it as a film about love rather than a film about homosexuality. What she hopes to achieve through the film is creating empathy for the characters.
“The Blue Caftan” is the second film representing Morocco to be shortlisted for the Oscars, after "Omar Killed Me" by French-Moroccan director Roschdy Zem.
I really think that nobody has the right to tell us how we can or cannot love, no matter where we live in the world. -Maryam Touzani
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.