Global Roundup: Bangladesh Young Women vs Climate Crisis, Lebanon LGBTQ Crackdown, Empowering Women Artists in Sudan, Bhutan LGBTQ Community, Self-Care for Black Women
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Nawfat Ibshar, front, and other climate activists in Sylhet protesting at the lack of global response to the floods. Photograph: Suvra Kanti Das/The Guardian
Young volunteers are leading rescue teams helping women and girls hardest hit by catastrophic flash floods in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Over the past few weeks, catastrophic flash floods – the worst in Bangladesh in a century – have inundated much of Sylhet, where rising waters have washed away whole towns, killing at least 68 people and leaving thousands displaced. According to the UN, an estimated 7.2 million people across seven districts have been affected.
24-year-old Amina Ahmed is a volunteer for the Bangladesh Red Crescent, where she is part of a team leading rescue and relief operations during the current crisis – despite her fear of water. Ahmed recognizes that women in Sylhet are more likely to be affected by the climate emergency than men, which is a key motivation for her work. For instance, she ensures menstruators have proper access to sanitary towels in the cramped conditions of the shelters.
I’m in the best position to help impacted women as I personally understand the gender-based issues that they face. -Amina Ahmed
Humayara Jeba, 20, a climate fighter at YouthNet, the largest youth-led network for climate advocacy in Bangladesh, says women and girls are the most affected by the flooding because of their limited access to resources. Jeba has been involved in crisis response planning – so when the recent floods struck, she was ready. She was pivotal in making sure those most at risk made it to safety, including children, elderly people and pregnant women. Many healthcare facilities have sustained extensive damage, which affects access to maternal care.
With high existing levels of poverty and inequality, climate change is intensifying the everyday challenges they already face. -Humayara Jeb
Nawfat Ibshar, 18, has been busy planning her next climate protest. Frustrated by the lack of global response, Ibshar wants to ensure that the plight of her people is heard. On the day of the protest, a group led by Ibshar marched down a busy road, chanting climate crisis slogans in Bangla and English. One protester holds up a sign that reads, “Up to my neck in the climate crisis” – while half submerged in flood water.
We don’t expect much from global leaders as we’ve become used to their empty promises. But we can always expect Sylhetis to show up, especially during a crisis. -Nawfat Ibshar
ANWAR AMRO AFP via France24
Lebanon's LGBTQ community, long among the most vocal and visible in the Middle East, has been targeted by a crackdown that has seen queer activists harassed and Pride gatherings cancelled. It has heaped pressure on a community that already lost many of its safe spaces in the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion and been depleted by an exodus driven by Lebanon's severe economic crisis. On June 24, the interior ministry instructed security forces to clamp down on events "promoting sexual perversion.”
It feels very intimidating and quite scary to be a queer person in Lebanon right now. We are afraid these signals are only the beginning of further attempts to restrict the individual, civil and political rights of LGBTQ people. -Tarek Zeidan, head of the Beirut-based Helem association
The LGBTQ community in Lebanon has long been visible and outspoken, defying arbitrary crackdowns on its bars, nightclubs and community centres. Annual efforts to host LGBTQ gatherings have regularly been banned, or cancelled over threats. But the state's latest directive – condemned by human rights groups as unlawful – deepens the multilayered crisis that members say now threatens the very survival of the community.
In 2018, the court ruled that same-sex conduct is not unlawful, but since then the community has seen more setbacks than victories. The Beirut port blast heavily impacted an inner-city district with many gay-friendly spaces, also destroying the Helem offices which have only recently reopened.
The state move triggered an avalanche of homophobic slurs and threats from politicians, religious authorities and radical activists, as security forces banned even private workshops and movie screenings. Rasha Younes of Human Rights Watch called it "definitely the most general ban we have seen in recent years", adding that it lacked a legal framework and set "a dangerous precedent.” Activists now report receiving phone calls from state security officers "inviting them for a chat over coffee and making it clear that they are monitoring their social media accounts," Younes said.
Last week, LGBTQ activists planned a sit-in protest outside the interior ministry, but they called it off after receiving death threats.
The ministry's decision came after a Christian group calling itself the "Soldiers of God" live-streamed a video of its members tearing apart a Beirut billboard featuring blooming flowers in the colours of a rainbow flag. Marked #LoveAlwaysBlooms, the billboard had been created by Beirut Pride. Hadi Damien, its 33-year-old initiator, says the angry backlash is not new, but it is all the more intense at a time Lebanon is gripped by a broader crisis and has seen the near-total collapse of the state.
When institutions are weakened, we go to a very primitive way of governing people. It means abuse of power is rampant, it means that any person can pretend to be law enforcement and crack down on a venue…When so much is going on, you need to show that you are doing something. So you always hit the people who seem like the easiest target. -Hadi Damien
Photo Credit: Reem Saif-Aldin Aljeally via Okay Africa
Community is at the forefront of Reem Aljeally’s artistic pursuits, as she empowers artists just like her in Sudan. The country's capital, Khartoum, has been a budding attraction for creativity and expression, though inextricably linked to the uprisings that shook the country in 2018. Art was deployed as a tool to register discontent on rising prices and the removal of subsidies on basic goods. Artists became an integral part of months-long protests that saw Sudan experiencing numerous marches, strikes, and protests. Among such artists were Aljeally, who created three murals depicting the involvement of women in the sit-ins at the military headquarters in Khartoum.
My murals, which showed a woman wearing a white toub while carrying people forward, garnered a lot of attention. One mural was erased by the military but two are still there. -Reem Aljeally
According to Aljeally, the immense expression of creativity was both a result of loosening restrictions on freedom of expression and, at the same time, a catalyst for further change. The 24-year-old artist, who grew up in Khartoum, directs efforts towards helping other emerging artists realize their dreams.
In July 2020, Aljeally debuted Bait Alnisa, a platform dedicated to all Sudanese women both in the country and diaspora. The platform showcases, supports and empowers Sudanese female artists and promotes their work. Bait Alnisa works through exhibitions, online content and articles, training and documentation.
…I believe the female generated art comes in many different unusual forms in our society and it should be represented in more various ways. It has also given me the chance to meet and discover many artists and females leading important careers and visions in our country. -Reem Aljeally
Haneen Khalid, 22 years-old, born and brought up in Khartoum, is one of the beneficiaries of Bait Alnisa. According to Haneen, it has been an enlightening journey with Reem who continuously inspires and encourages her.
[Reem] always encouraged my ideas and never boxed me into my creativity. My pictures left my small digital space for the first time and it was being showcased for hundreds of people. It was just an immersive experience. I felt very empowered sharing the space with women who came from different backgrounds exhibiting various art. All thanks to Reem’s space that brings us together, empowers us and gives us exposure. -Haneen Khalid
In 2022, Tashi Choden Chambal became the first openly lesbian woman to be crowned 'Miss Bhutan' via dw.com
In 2021, Bhutan decriminalized homosexuality after King Druk Gyalpo signed off on a law amending the small Himalayan country's penal code. Parts of the code had criminalized "sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature," which was a thinly veiled reference to same sex behaviour. Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, who had submitted the recommendation to repeal the penal code, said the sections had become a "stain" on the country's reputation.
Last month, Tashi Choden Chombal was crowned Miss Bhutan 2022, and will become the first openly lesbian woman to represent Bhutan in the Miss Universe 2022 pageant.
Initially, it was a little difficult to make my family understand about my sexual orientation as I come from a very 'straight' and conservative family. But things have changed now, as they have accepted me as I am. -Tashi Choden Chombal
However, a year after decriminalization of homosexuality, LGBTQ activists say there is still little awareness about members of their community and the issues they face. Same-sex marriage is not yet legally recognized in the country.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the community, such as homosexuality being a choice. There is also a lack of awareness about different terminology, and what it means. People are still learning, and due to decriminalization, they have become more open to learning. People from the community don't often talk about violence or persecution that they face. -Tashi Tsheten, a rights activist with Queer Voices Bhutan
Physiotherapist Passang Dorji came out on television in 2015 before decriminalization. He thinks telling his story on TV inspired the younger generation. Speaking about queer issues has since become easier, as the change in law provided a platform for advocacy and awareness.
The government has become more accepting to our community, the civil society is opening up, so there is a lot of progress. -Tashi Tsheten
DELPHINE LEE via Women’s Health
As Adeeyo was starting her career as a budding journalist 10 years ago, she was also taking care of her mom who had rheumatoid arthritis and lost limb mobility. At the same time, she was dealing with her own health issues including anemia and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Adeeyo says it made her start reflecting on her mom’s and her own self-care habits.
For so long, racism and sexism (a.k.a. misogynoir) told Black women that we cannot sit down and rest, because we must work twice as hard to be respected and rewarded. -Oludara Adeeyo
Adeeyo’s mom’s death “pushed [her] mortality into the forefront of [her] existence.” She resigned and in 2017 decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work, “looking to work in a field where [she] could have an impact on others and use [her] gift of active listening and nurturing.” As a social worker, she has been able to explore the needs of Black women.
The death rate for Black women from preventable diseases has always been higher than for non-Black women. The sparse research on Black women’s health also shows great disparities caused by a few factors, stress being the most common one.
Adeeyo started integrating self-care into her own life including seeing a Black woman therapist to do inner-healing work. She also began paying more attention to the needs of her mind, body, and soul through going on walks, journaling through anxious thoughts, processing microaggressive encounters with friends, saying no to things that didn’t align with her, and eating foods her body liked.
For Black women, self-care isn’t just manicures and massages—though it can include them. It is about activities that aid our self-preservation in a world that is structured to oppress us. It is preventive care. -Oludara Adeeyo
Adeeyo wrote the book Self-Care for Black Women and says part of her job as a social worker is to encourage people to take tiny steps toward elevating their wellness, their greatest form of resistance.
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.