Discover more from FEMINIST GIANT
Global Roundup: Azerbaijan Young Queer Activist, Zimbabwe Women’s Savings Club, Afro-Latina Rapper, Young Ugandan Women Climate Activists, 92-Year-Old Indian Woman Goes Back to School
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
cw: gender-based violence
Image by Alvi, courtesy of Alex Shah. (Global Voices)
Alex Shah is a 16-year-old queer activist from Azerbaijan who is on a mission to break down deeply entrenched prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community at their school. After being bullied and discriminated against for their sexual orientation, Shah was determined to fight back and demand justice, as well as help others along the way.
Shah says that as kids, everyone in their house would dress in women’s clothing and the upstairs neighbour would rank everyone based on their style. They would always score the highest points, however, after some time, wearing their mother’s lipstick and makeup resulted in mockery and humiliation.
The young activist says they have been bullied and taunted since the third grade. At home, their father would beat their mother for Shah’s increasingly feminine disposition. At school, classmates taunted and humiliated them, called them names, and sometimes physically abused them. When they complained to the teachers and the headmaster, they were met with homophobia and no support.
During Geography class test, my teacher scolded me yet again, telling me that I should be like the rest of the boys in the classroom. One of the boys said, those like me are cursed in Islam and should be murdered. I started shaking and crying. My teacher told me to stop behaving like a girl. – Alex Shah
Searching for help in trying to deal with their experiences at school, Shah consulted a number of individuals and public services trying to voice her complaints and fight for justice. The police, the Ministry of Education, and the prosecutor’s office each listened to her complaint, only to insult her and refuse to help her. The only support they received was from the LGBTQ+ community in Azerbaijan. With the community’s support and the coverage from the local media, Shah’s teachers were reprimanded for their behaviour and their classmates only received a warning.
Now, Shah is a young queer activist who tries to make a difference in the lives of young queer people. Last month, the student wrote a letter to their school administration asking for permission to organize a week of “Awareness against harassment” in October. The week of awareness would include the distribution of learning materials about gender equality and inclusion that would help teachers and students, the consequences of bullying, physical and emotional harassment, and other forms of discrimination. Although their proposal was rejected by the school, they are hopeful for what the future holds and their future as an activist, and possibly a journalist.
I want to be the kind of journalist that can make an impact. I think my country really needs this right now. – Alex Shah
Unity collects money at a weekly meeting of her informal savings club [Tawanda Karombo/Al Jazeera]
In Zimbabwe, women have begun attending weekly savings club meetings to make ends meet and to invest in themselves financially. Members contribute regular savings that they pool together. Each person can then borrow money from the communal pool with interest, usually over a period of one week, two weeks, or one month.
The clubs were created to support locals’ informal businesses or to simply help with the daily costs of living. Known as mukando, a contribution, these savings clubs have become very popular in Zimbabwe. Banks are not commonly used in the country as people do not trust the formal institutions, therefore the informal economy thrives. The clubs are mostly attended by women and tend to have 20 members or more, most of whom belong to a similar social group or area where they live or trade.
A woman, Unity Gope, began attending a weekly savings club after her husband recently passed away and she took over the family’s finances. The Matapi savings club that she joined in January has 23 members who each contribute a minimum of $10 per week over four months. Once the contributions are pooled together, the money can be borrowed by members with an interest rate of five percent per week. At the end of each savings session, which is usually every four or five months, each member receives back their full contribution, as well as a share of the accrued interest.
Due to popular interest and the success of the group, a subcategory was introduced in Unity’s savings club where each member contributes an additional $5 per week. The money is pooled together to buy groceries in bulk, which is usually cheaper, and all the products are then shared among the members of the club. These clubs across Zimbabwe have given countless women the motivation and hope to continue investing in themselves and their families in order to financially secure their futures.
When I talk to others and hear their struggles I sit down and think deeply that at least I am able to get something from my stall at the market. That alone is what gives me hope. Being able to generate some income and use it to meet some of the expenses gives me this sense and feeling that we are actually better off and that one day we will grow our small savings and order more stuff and grow the business. – Unity Gope
cw: underaged pregnancy, sexual assault
J Noa Tiny Desk Performance (NPR Music Youtube Channel)
J Noa, an Afro-Latina rapper from the Dominican Republic, uses her art to illustrate experiences of “el barrio” (the hood). The 17-year-old writes songs about her experiences growing up in the hood, combining her Dominican roots and contemporary rap influences, to create music that resonates with fans. This week, the artist was featured on NPR Music for the company’s Latinx Heritage Month Tiny Desk program.
The rapper comes from the San Cristóbal region of the Dominican Republic, and her real name is Nohelyn Jiménez. J Noa’s music is not only catchy but also carries powerful narratives that speak to the challenges, triumphs, and social issues her community faces and beyond. Social commentary is commonly intertwined into her lyrics, reflecting her commitment to raising awareness about important topics.
In one of her songs, “Betty”, she expresses her anger from being exposed to difficult situations, such as underage pregnancy and sexual assault. At the end of the song, she uses her voice and art as a beacon of hope for young girls living in the hood and leaves listeners with a love letter.
J Noa has been working on her craft for almost half her life, and she is only a teenager. Her commitment to authenticity and raising awareness about social issues through her music speaks loudly about who she is as an individual, an activist, and a musician.
FEMINIST GIANT is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Joanita Babirye is head of the Ugandan youth-led group Girls for Climate Action. Photo courtesy of Joanita Babirye. (UN Women)
Over the last two years in Uganda, young women and girls have led the climate activism movement in the country. Girls for Climate Action is a youth-led movement which is headed by Joanita Babirye, a young Ugandan climate activist. Through this initiative, Babirye hopes to train more than 1000 young women in climate policy and advocacy as part of the 2030 commitments to Generation Equality’s Feminist Action for Climate Justice Action Coalition.
Girls for Climate Action has already trained more than 300 women between the ages of 15 and 30. These emerging leaders come from different parts of Uganda, such as Kasese and Moroto in the southern region and Manafwa and Bududa in the east which have faced the devastating impacts of landslides, floods, and droughts. The organization also created five separate climate demonstration hubs across the country where young women and girls can prototype, create, and launch local and impactful solutions to climate change, also creating more green jobs for themselves and their communities.
The organization has also initiated projects which aim to safeguard ecosystems and natural resources. For example, in Jinja, activists have rallied for the restoration of the Butamira forest and against the encroaching sugarcane growers and sugar companies. In Kasese, women and girls are speaking out against the copper mining that is affecting water sources, and they are also trying to improve living conditions for climate refugees displaced by heavy flooding.
Finally, the group has also transformed local environmental committees that were previously dominated by men. Now, many of the committees in Uganda have a significant presence of young women in leadership roles.
Image Credits: The Citizen. (She the People)
A 92-year-old great-grandmother from Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India is living out her lifelong dream of going back to school. Salima Khan is now learning how to read and write for the very first time in her life, inspiring countless others in the process.
Khan was born in 1931 and grew up in a village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh with no access to schools, despite wanting to become literate. At the age of 14, she was married and has since cared for her family, including her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My grandchildren used to trick me into giving them extra money as I couldn't count currency notes. Those days are gone. – Salima Khan
Around six months ago, she began her education journey alongside students almost 80 years younger. She attended the class with her grandson’s wife and soon went viral on social media when people around the world began to witness her inspiring story. Initially, teachers were hesitant to teach Khan, but were eventually won over due to her “unwavering passion to learn. We didn’t have the heart to refuse her,” says school headmistress Pratibha Sharma. Since enrolling in school, 25 women from Khan’s village have also joined literacy classes, including two of her daughters-in-law.
Similarly, earlier in the year, 108-year-old Kamalakanni from Tamil Nadu emerged as the top performer in Kerala’s literacy program. Despite her age, she enrolled herself in the literacy program and was committed to learning and strengthening her literacy. She, like Khan and millions of other women in India and abroad, only studied until a young age, after which they left to support their families.
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.