Global Roundup: Andorra Abortion Rights Activist, Mexico Trans Community, Kenya Femicides, U.S. Trans Civil Rights Groups, Russia Queer Artists
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Photo via Amnesty International
The acquittal of abortion rights activist Vanessa Mendoza Cortés on defamation charges in Andorra is an important victory but she should never have been charged in the first place, said Amnesty International following a court decision this week
Cortés, President of the women’s rights organisation Stop Violence (Stop Violències), was charged with criminal defamation after voicing concerns about Andorra’s total abortion ban at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to examine the country’s record on women’s rights in 2019. In 2020, after the Government filed a complaint, the public prosecutor brought three criminal defamation charges against her, but following an international outcry, two of the charges involving prison sentences were dropped. In December 2023, Cortés faced trial accused of a ‘crime against the prestige of the institutions’. She was charged under provisions in Andorra’s penal code punishing defamation against state institutions and the heads of state.
The unjust prosecution of Vanessa Mendoza Cortés and the concerted efforts to delegitimise her work to advance sexual and reproductive rights follow a global pattern of intimidation, attacks and stigmatisation of people who are defending the right to abortion.
We call on the Andorran authorities to publicly recognize the legitimacy of the human rights work carried out by Vanessa Mendoza Cortés. The authorities must take concrete measures to ensure she and other activists can defend the human rights of women and girls in Andorra, including the right to safe and legal abortion, without intimidation and fear of reprisals. -Joint public statement from Amnesty International, The Centre for Reproductive Rights, Women’s Link Worldwide and Front Line Defenders
A demonstrator holds a candle and a picture of trans woman activist Samantha Gomes as members of the LGBTQ community take part in a protest following Gomes' murder, Jan. 15, 2024, in Mexico City. Rodrigo Oropeza/AFP via Getty Images
On January 14, Mexico City's Attorney General's Office reported that a trans woman was fatally shot several times while in a car. LGBTQ rights advocacy groups say that the woman killed was prominent activist Samantha Gómes Fonseca. According to Yaaj, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, Fonseca had "a notable track record in defending highly vulnerable groups" and was running for the Senate of the Republic of Mexico in the left-leaning Morena political party.
Earlier this month, Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called Mexico's first openly trans representative Salma Luévano a “man dressed as a woman." The comment, for which he later apologized, was criticized by advocates for its potential to stoke anti-trans sentiment throughout the nation. Luévano condemned the recent trans killings and called for action against anti-trans violence and sentiments: "They are killing us," she said in an Instagram post after Fonseca's death.
I fear for life but I won't shut up and I'll continue to raise my voice. -Salma Luévano
On January 11, another trans activist named Miriam Ríos was fatally shot at the store she owned. Ríos was the municipal commissioner of the Movimiento Ciudadano in Michoacán – a left-leaning political party in Mexico. The LGBTQ political advocacy organization The Movement for Equality in Mexico, MOVii, said the killing of Ríos represents an attack on human rights and the fight for equality. On January 13, municipal police in Guadalajara discovered Jalisco, a trans person who appeared to have a gunshot wound in their back lying in a ravine, according to a statement from the state prosecutor's office.
The deaths have prompted protests from members of the LGBTQ community and supporters, who marched through Mexico City calling for an end to the violence: "Trans sisters and allies of our cause, fight with us for respect, visibility and recognition of our gender identity!"
Kenyan women hold a vigil for femicide victims in 2019. As of 2022, more than one-third of Kenyan women have experienced physical violence. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA-EFE
Rights groups are calling for the Kenyan government to urgently investigate and prosecute cases of femicide, after the brutal murders of two women. Last year, Femicide Count Kenya recorded 152 killings – the highest in the past five years. And at least four cases of femicide have occurred since the start of this year.
This is a national crisis – we are not doing enough as a country to protect women. -Audrey Mugeni, co-founder of Femicide Count Kenya
Two of the four known femicide cases this year gained public attention, including the murder of 26-year-old Starlet Wahu, who was stabbed by a man alleged to be part of a criminal ring, whose members violently extort and rape women they target through dating sites. A man is in police custody and investigations continue. Barely two weeks after Wahu’s body was discovered, another woman was drugged and dismembered by a man she had arranged to meet in a rented flat.
More than one in three women in Kenya report having experienced physical violence in their lifetime, according to a 2022 national survey. Rights groups say while the country has strong laws and policies against gender-based violence, implementation is wanting. Recent murders have sparked widespread social media outrage, with calls for an end to gender-based violence using the hashtags #StopKillingWomen and #EndFemicideKe.
We need to listen to women when they say they are facing violence. Femicides don’t just happen – there’s usually a series of events that happens before it ends in [a killing] – so we need to pay more attention to that. -Audrey Mugeni
There has also been victim blaming online with people stating women should take greater safety precautions to ward off attacks – views that women’s groups say normalise femicide. Women’s groups emphasise that it is about the men perpetrating violence. Furthermore, the women’s rights NGO, the Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness, joined calls for the government to hold perpetrators of femicide accountable, saying it was “disturbed” and “appalled” by the “distressing pattern of violence”. Feminist movements in the country have called for protests later this month to demand an end to the killings.
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Andrea Hong Marra and Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen. Courtesy of the National Center for Transgender Equality
Two of the largest transgender civil rights groups in the U.S. will merge into one this year, a move their leaders say will consolidate resources and political power to push trans rights forward. The new organization, Advocates for Trans Equality (A4TE), will focus on policy at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as litigation and public education.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), both founded in 2003, announced the merger in a joint press release this week. A4TE will be led by TLDEF executive director Andrea Hong Marra and NCTE executive director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen as CEO and Executive Director, respectively. The merger is expected to be finalized sometime in summer 2024, and will establish two separate entities, according to the release: a 501(c)3 organization focusing on “litigation and public education,” and a 501(c)4 that will “influence policy to fight for transgender equality at local, state, and federal levels.”
Advocates for Trans Equality will show exactly what can be materially achieved when trans advocates come together and seek nothing less than equality for trans people in America. - Andrea Hong Marra
2023 saw a record number of anti-trans bills filed and there are at least 280 more already active in 2024. So Heng-Lehtinen believes that “now is the time to unite and use our combined power and influence to advance trans equality in bigger and bolder ways than our organizations could alone.”
TLDEF’s notable programs include the Name Change Project, which helps trans people amend official documents, and the Trans Health Project, which connects trans patients with specialized attorneys. The NCTE, in contrast, has focused its resources on political lobbying to secure numerous reforms over the past two decades, as well as organizing the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. As both organizations wrote in this week’s press release, A4TE “will maintain, strengthen, and expand upon the life-saving policy and legal programs for which each organization is known,” with staff working across the country and two physical offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
In the face of discrimination and injustice, the trans community needs the strength that this historic merger will create. -Shelby Chestnut, executive director of Transgender Law Center
Russia's queer artists are finding ways to express themselves — even if in exile. In 2020, the world was heralding a new wave of queer creativity in Russia, a state that had outlawed much LGBTQ cultural life. Gay artist, model and musician Angel Ulyanov’s latest single and video served to "dismantle homophobia" in the country.
Founded only five years after President Vladimir Putin's infamous "gay propaganda law" was passed in 2013, the Moscow-based publication O-Zine was then a vanguard of the queer culture underground. But this seeming tolerance has largely evaporated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. O-Zine appears to be on hold and many queer artists have since gone into exile.
In November 2022, Russia's parliament widened the gay propaganda law that essentially outlawed same-sex relationships, or in the words of the law, the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations" among minors. The new law now bans any material that is positive about LGBTQ lifestyles across books, films, advertising and online. In November 2023, the Russian Supreme Court said that the international LGBTQ community was part of an "extremist movement" and its activities will be banned beginning in 2024. Days later, it was reported that Russian police started raiding clubs and bars where lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and non-binary persons gather.
The authorities planned a war not only in Ukraine, but also in their own society, choosing a new target for this war — the LGBTQ community. I am no longer angry and outraged by this fight with 'non-traditional values.' I just want to forget the existence of this country. -Angel Ulyanov
Ulyanov has since left Russia and is living in the U.S. Many other queer artists have followed, including LGBTQ activist and museum curator Pyotr Voskresensky. The artist had been a champion of LGBTQ rights in Russia since 2007 "when protests were still possible." Before his flight to Germany, Voskresensky had been forced to shut down a private exhibition in St. Petersburg that celebrated Russian LGBTQ figures, after receiving threats.
Gena Marvin, a self-described "drag activist" in her early 20s, continued to defy the authorities in Moscow with her queer performance art during the early 2020s. The subject of the acclaimed documentary "Queendom," the non-binary artist creates highly expressive costumes that often carry a message — including about the struggles of the LGBTQ community in Russia. The film documents Marvin's creation of an outfit made with barbed wire, an anti-war statement she paraded on the Moscow streets days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Both Gena and the director, Agniia Galdanova, were subsequently detained by police. It was then decided that the artist must leave Russia. She now lives in Paris, where her work continues — and her protest.
[Queendom] is not a unique story about one person. It is a document of human freedom. A path of uniting, a path of fighting for the opportunity to be yourself. Queendom is one of the many stories of the queer community. -Gena Marvin
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is an aspiring urban planner studying at Toronto Metropolitan University. Throughout the years, she has worked in nonprofits with survivors of sexual violence and youth. Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She loves learning about the diverse forms of feminist resistance around the world.