Global Roundup: Armenian Mothers, Chile Abortion Rights at Risk, Queer Environmental Activists, Saudi Arabia Women’s Rights Activist, Queer Pan-Asian Voices
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Women in Stepanakert rally to demand the reopening of a blockaded road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia on July 25, 2023. Photo: ANI BALAYAN
Armenian mothers told Open Democracy about their struggles after eight months living under Azerbaijan’s restrictions. Energy use in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been at the centre of a brutal tug of war between Azerbaijan and Armenia for decades, is strictly rationed, and each neighbourhood receives power according to a rota. One day it might switch on at 7am; another day it might start at 9am or 11am. The gas supply was cut months ago.
Mary Grigoryan, 42, is a paediatric surgeon and mother-of-two. After work, Grigoryan searches for food on her four-kilometre walk home. The lack of fuel means there is no public transport. Dinner usually consists of one loaf of bread after waiting hours in the queue at bakeries, sometimes even coming away empty handed. Other times, it may be an overpriced kilogramme of potatoes, tomatoes, or parts of a watermelon.
Sometimes I think I’m a bad parent because I haven’t stocked up on essential products, but we also try not to fixate on it. I hold explanatory conversations with [my children], explaining that we suffer all these deprivations for the right to live in our homeland. -Mary Grigoryan
Gayane Aydinyan, a 39-year-old school teacher and mother to triplets born during the eight-month blockade, is haunted by the fear that baby formula and diapers may become impossible to find.
I can’t sleep. I live with those thoughts 24 hours a day. What will we do if their formula runs out? We can’t feed them with anything else. -Gayane Aydinyan
Classes are about to start in September for Aydinyan’s two other children, aged 10 and 13, despite the shortages of food, gas, and electricity. Aydinyan says it’s difficult to find stationery and clothes for them and she sometimes feels upset that she can’t focus on her older children as much, who she relies on to help take care of her younger children.
The eight-month blockade has also increased levels of stress and malnutrition, leading to anaemia in more than 90% of pregnant women and a tripling of miscarriage rates, according to a statement by the Artsakh ministry of health. Ruzanna (not her real name) suffered her own miscarriage in July, seven months into the blockade. She suspects the pains in her legs since her miscarriage are also linked to malnutrition and to her constant walking and standing in long lines for groceries. Her 15-year-old daughter hasn’t had a period in three months. Even if her menstrual cycle were to restart, there are no sanitary products available in pharmacies.
Every day it becomes increasingly challenging. The foremost concern is the question of security and survival. -Ruzanna
Photo: Daniel Becerril/Reuters
The hard-won right to an abortion in Chile is at risk of being overturned, activists have warned, as the country’s far right moves to enshrine protection for “the life of the unborn child and maternity” in a new constitution.
Clearly, there is great concern over the risks to women and children implied by the suggested amendments, which threaten the most basic rights of human beings. In a nation which seeks equality and justice, it is intolerable. -Lieta Vivaldi, director of Alberto Hurtado University’s gender and social justice programme
After a progressive constitutional proposal which would have paved the way for the expansion of women’s rights was decisively shot down by a plebiscite in September 2022, the Republican party swept elections for a new constitutional council in May, winning enough seats to veto legislation.
More than 200 Chilean organisations have been joined by international groups in signing an open letter denouncing the Republican party’s proposal, which comes as part of a second attempt to draft a new constitution for the country. The sexual and reproductive rights organisation Miles Chile drafted the letter, which has almost 750 signatures, declaring that the “Republican party … wishes to impose practices which threaten the rights of women, relegating their lives to second-class [status].”
It would be a gigantic step backwards for women’s rights in Chile. It would mean joining us to a very small group of countries which have penalised abortion in any context. -Stephanie Otth Varnava, Miles Chile’s investigations coordinator
In 2017, under Chile’s first female president, Michelle Bachelet, abortion was decriminalised in three specific cases: when the mother’s life was at risk, if the foetus was unable to survive or if the pregnancy was the result of rape. However, while the political tides have changed since the leftist president Gabriel Boric was elected in late 2021, attitudes toward abortion have liberalised over the last two decades.
The 52-person constitutional council is currently working on a “pre-project” drafted by an expert commission, to which it can propose amendments and changes which it must then pass by a three-fifths majority. The pre-proposal guarantees a “right to life” without elaborating further, and the Republicans have targeted that bill as a means of crowbarring in their conservative view of abortion.
Fi Quekett and Isaias Hernandez are LGBTQ+ climate change activists. (Credit: Getty Images / Andrea Domeniconi / Mariah Berdiago)
Queer environmental activists warn of LGBTQ+ people ‘suffering first’ from catastrophic climate change. Fi Quekett, a queer climate justice activist, has been campaigning for Fossil Free Pride in Leeds and has been involved in the #StopRosebank and Axe Drax campaigns, which are focused on fighting what they see as “new and existing climate-wrecking projects” in the UK.
The climate crisis will disproportionately impact those who have been made most vulnerable by the systemic injustices in our society, and that includes the LGBTQ+ community. These injustices manifest in factors such as lack of access to safe and affordable housing, healthcare and employment – all of which are exacerbated by extreme weather events – displacement and food and water insecurity that result from climate breakdown. - Fi Quekett
Homelessness, poverty and discrimination can be compounded by extreme weather events, and limit people’s access to resources such as air-conditioning and flood insurance, while climate change could adversely affect food prices too, Quekett said. These issues are more prevalent within queer communities, with research into the ‘LGBTQ+ pay gap’ previously finding queer people are paid, on average, 16 per cent less than their straight peers, while other studies revealed that LGBTQ+ youth are 120 per cent more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.
In 2017, activists in Washington DC disrupted Capital Pride to protest against the event’s sponsors, including financial services company Wells Fargo, which helped fund the Dakota Access (oil) Pipeline, which has been opposed by Native American communities. Quekett pointed out that Fossil Free Pride recently succeeded in getting the British LGBT Awards to drop Shell and BP as sponsors, with 13 other Pride events agreeing to refuse sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and funders.
Isaias Hernandez, the creator of environmental platform Queer Brown Vegan, said he uses social media to educate followers about the climate crisis, claiming that 25 per cent of people in the US learn about climate change through that medium. According to Hernandez, tackling the climate crisis is “part of LGBTQ+ liberation”, and efforts to improve the situation must involve creating a “just” system for marginalised people.
The idea of ‘queering’ a system doesn’t just come from putting a rainbow on it, it’s actually putting justice on it. That means challenging the ways in which heteronormativity in our world – indoctrinated in many individuals – is constraining these ideologies. -Isaias Hernandez
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PHOTO BY CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN BY REFINERY29
Manal al-Sharif is coined as one of the key activists in getting women driving in Saudi Arabia legalised via the Women2Drive campaign. She was imprisoned in 2011 for "driving while female" after posting a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. She was then pardoned on the condition of remaining silent, but later continued to publicly oppose the ban until it was lifted in 2018.
But al-Sharif's advocacy for women's rights doesn't stop there. She has a degree in computer science that looks at the intersection between human rights activism and technology. Recently, she’s been busy with several projects including The Ethical Technologists Society and her Tech4Evil podcast. She will be one of several high-profile guests speaking at Australia's first-ever SXSW Sydney in October. While specific details of her session are still under wraps, she says technology will be a big talking point.
I'm a computer scientist and I work in cyber security. So, we're like the police of the internet that help you have a safe experience when you go online. Technology helped me in a heavily censored environment, Saudi Arabia, to find the truth and also to give me a voice when I was voiceless. -Manal al-Sharif
While she's been living in Australia since 2018 in what she describes as a "self-imposed exile" from Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif keeps tabs on the challenges women face back home. Whether it's women in Saudi Arabia not being allowed to drive for so long, or women in Australia battling a gender pay gap, al-Sharif believes these issues stem from women being barred from key policy decision-making.
What women go through around the world, whether in Saudi Arabia, whether in the first world or the Western world, I think it's just we are asked to live in a world with rules that were written in our absence. We were not in the room when those rules were written. -Manal al-Sharif
Queer Asia, a network and collective of queer-identifying scholars, academics, activists and creatives, has been spotlighting issues affecting LGBTQ+ people – or those belonging to other non-normative sexualities and gender identities – in Asia or Asian diasporas. Set up in 2016, Queer Asia began as a platform to encourage cultural dialogues, research and collaboration by a group of academics and activists specialising in queer culture from different regions in Asia.
Initially making its mark as an academia-centred collective, Queer Asia has since expanded its scope and prioritised accessibility. From film festivals to art exhibitions, the collective’s bases in London and Berlin are showcasing vibrant communities of culture and proudly showcasing solidarity for queer Asian people. Gay Times interviewed Queer Asia members Misha Yakovlev and Ragil Huda to find out more about the platform and how they’re championing queer Asian stories.
Misha describes Queer Asia’s aims as providing a queer safe space for Asian people and other people of colour, serving as a space for collaboration and for people to exchange ideas and practical solidarity, and building campaigns and personal coping networks. Misha adds that they want to decenter Europe and the US in discourses of sexuality and LGBTQ+ rights. Ragil says they are contributing to an Asian-German queer history, archiving collectives that built the Berlin that exists today.
Some UK members are currently involved with the transnational weaving project, a queer weaving project inspired by transnational connections and the AIDS quilt. Queer Asia is also in the very final stage of opening a chapter in India. Ragil is working on an ambitious exhibition in Berlin and organising a performance night in Hamburg.
As Misha and Ragil navigate bureaucratic and funding challenges, they have high hopes for Queer Asia’s future.
The general hope is to foster a greater proliferation of discussions of queerness in Asia and solidarity amongst queer people in and from different parts of Asia and the world. It’s important to centre voices that don’t get heard, voices that make up the majority of the world’s population. We really hope that we can contribute to engagements with queerness that no longer centre the West or trace the often racist Western narratives of progress. -Misha Yakovlev
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.