Global Roundup: Bolivia Feminists vs Femicide, Bangladesh Trans Community Neglected, Hong Kong Gar Rights Crackdown, Mexico’s First Shelter for Trans Women, LGBTQ Youth Sex Ed Servers
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Parents of the teenage girls murdered and buried in the home of Richard Choque. Photograph: Sara Aliaga Ticona/The Guardian
Bolivia’s feminist collectives have been driven to spectacular measures in an effort to force government action against femicides – and the corrupt justice system that allows them. There were at least 108 femicides in 2021 in Bolivia, among the highest rates in South America. In January, there was outrage over the case of Richard Choque, a serial rapist and murderer who was given house arrest and then continued to commit crimes. It led to the biggest feminist protest seen in El Alto: the march began outside Choque’s house and culminated at the courts of justice, where activists covered the walls with graffiti, red paint and the names of unpunished rapists and murderers.
We wanted to redirect the discourse. For it not to be a discourse of victimhood, nor a tabloid nor a police discourse. Because what Richard Choque shows is that the central problem is state corruption. This man was a prisoner, and yet he went free. - María Galindo, founder of Mujeres Creando, a feminist collective in La Paz
Galindo took to barging into state institutions and putting civil servants on the spot, live streamed on social media. The one-liners she whipped them with went viral on TikTok. Then she teased a run to be Bolivia’s ombudsman – before tearing her application up in front of the cameras.
Gender violence in La Paz and El Alto is exacerbated by the absence of the state and the fact that the city draws migrants who are looking for work and vulnerable to abuse. In 2013, the government introduced Law 348, which, among other things, made femicide a crime punishable by 30 years in prison – Bolivia’s maximum sentence. However, feminists critique the implementation of the law and the lack of resources such as prosecutors and investigators. Many also believe the entire justice system is corrupted.
In response to the protests, the government set up a commission to re-evaluate cases like Choque’s, which, though extreme, was not unique. Galindo, however, views the commission as an attempt to deflate their pressure campaign. Adriana Guzmán, a feminist activist based in El Alto, says that it was limited from the start, since it is only reviewing a fraction of gender violence cases. She is also skeptical that Mujeres Creando will reach beyond the urban middle classes. She believes the true forces are the campesino and Indigenous organizations.
Within them, feminism isn’t a thing. There are lots of prejudices against feminism. -Adriana Guzmán
Houses located beside the Padma river are seen flooded as the flood situation worsens in Munshiganj district, on the outskirts of Dhaka, outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Social prejudice and stigma in Bangladesh combine to exclude trans and intersex people, said Mahfuza Mala, a climate expert and gender justice activist who works for Naripokkho, a feminist organization focused on gender issues. As a result, these groups are especially vulnerable to shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather fueled by climate change, including the devastating floods that have hit the northeast this month.
In 2014, the Bangladesh government attempted to integrate trans people into society by legally recognizing "hijra" as a gender identity. However, trans activists say little has been done in practice to enable trans people to gain access to education, employment and other rights.
Sukta Sagarika, chairperson of the Hijra Youth Welfare Organisation in Sylhet, a place affected by the recent floods, has given shelter to hijra people whose houses were inundated.
Hijras who rely on alms collection for their livelihood went without food. Since government support was not forthcoming, I had to feed as many people as I could manage. - Sukta Sagarika
Natasha Kabir, who set up the Bridge Foundation working with socially disadvantaged groups, said Bangladesh lacked an inclusive disaster management policy. Much of the support provided to transgender people is centralized in the capital Dhaka, leaving those in remote areas behind.
At the Banishanta brothel in the coastal region of Khulna in southwest Bangladesh, hijra sex workers live with their female peers in thatched houses near the Pashur river, putting them at risk of floods, cyclones and other climate threats, said Shaikh Md. Mominul Islam (Moon), an activist working for trans rights.
Trans people in Bangladesh are fighting to get recruited in various organizations and for educational institutions to encourage more trans and hijra students – which will in part help them out of precarious conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable during disasters.
There is a need to upgrade the skills and competencies of the hijra and transgender community. - Moon
The pride parade in Hong Kong in 2018.Photographer: Yan Zhao/AFP/Getty Images Via Bloomberg
Hong Kong’s crackdown on social activism is threatening to undo progress for gay rights. Well-known LGBTQ figures, including former lawmakers and singers, have been arrested or jailed for their political activism. The national security law imposed following the protests of 2019 has also exacerbated the pandemic’s restrictive impact, forcing the suspension of the annual Pride marches and prompting human rights lawyers to leave the city.
We are worried that there will be a decrease in the space where LGBTI activists can challenge discriminatory laws through legal avenues. -Kai Ong, a researcher with Amnesty International
Activists say the current climate is particularly dispiriting after Hong Kong secured some important gains for the LGBTQ community in recent years, most notably a landmark court ruling in 2018 saying that gay expatriate workers can bring their spouses on dependent visas. The case, called “QT” after the name of the British lesbian plaintiff, was lauded as a major step forward in a region where homosexuality faces discrimination and prosecution.
Activists say such legal challenges may become difficult ahead. Ong said the city’s human rights lawyers faced growing attacks from Beijing, as well as technical obstacles including changes to the legal aid system such as caps on the number of judicial review cases lawyers are allowed to take on.
In April, lawyer Michael Vidler abruptly left Hong Kong for the UK, as photographers from pro-Beijing media filmed him at the airport. Vidler had come under attack for handling cases related to the 2019 protests. Before closing his firm, he had been representing a trans man who was suing to change his official gender identity without undergoing sex assignment surgery. Vidler had also previously represented QT and other LGBTQ plaintiffs as well.
Activists, including Jerome Yau, a co-founder of advocacy group Hong Kong Marriage Equality, said they were trying to figure out how best to deal with a changed political climate.
We need to find the right methods that are compatible with the new situation. We are at a big intersection, we just need to figure out which is the better way to go. -Jerome Yau
Via Aztec Reports
A spate of killings, abuse and societal indifference led Kenya Cuevas, a trans woman from Mexico City, to found the country’s first shelter for transgender women. Now shelters are popping up across Mexico.
I wish this house had existed when I was 14. It would have spared me so many things. I wish someone would have cared like Kenya cares about us. - Faina Malika, 29, a trans woman
After the death of her trans sex worker friend who died at the hands of transphobia, Kenya dedicated herself to seeking justice for her. Her activism attracted danger, however, and she received constant death threats and even fended off three men who beat and stabbed her.
In 2021 her sacrifices paid off –Kenya succeeded in making authorities in Mexico City apologize for their handling of her friend’s case, and classified it as the first recorded case of trans femicide in Mexico. Since then, Prosecutors in Mexico have acknowledged that 283 trans femicides have occurred from 2010 to 2020. However, 17 states out of 32 do not have any records on these types of crimes.
Kenya had started to build a name for herself within the transgender community as a person people at risk could turn to for help. She had begun letting trans women stay in her apartment in Mexico City as a makeshift shelter, and helped accompany them to medical appointments, receive medication, and even claimed deceased sex workers at morgues. In April 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in which Mexico City authorities shut down all hostels and hotels in the city, Kenya ventured into the streets to find stranded sex workers to give them a place to stay at her newly opened shelter.
I will never forget that day, the thunderstorm on April 2. I bought some pizzas for the girls and started talking to them about the [shelter]. I said look, the place is empty, but we can fill it up with the stuff you are carrying, and tomorrow we can see how we manage. We’ll get through whatever we need to, and that’s how I opened on April 2, 2020. - Kenya Cuevas
Trans women who are living in La Casa de las Muñecas Tiresias benefit from medical exams and medication provided through the shelter, support processes such as obtaining identification cards, as well as online access to education from elementary through high school. The shelter also provides alternative job opportunities for former sex workers and support with finding them independent housing once they are ready.
To date, the La Casa de las Muñecas Tiresias social project — in which human rights activists support trans women and sex workers — has been replicated in seven states across Mexico, two of which have opened up full shelters. The project aims to open two more shelters in the states of Mexico and Nayarit this year, with the idea of opening shelters in all seven states in the near future.
Here in the house, we lack nothing. Love, respect, dignity. Here we have it all. I am alive because of this place. - Faina Malik
IMAGE BY JASMYN via VICE
Christopher Chasse, Jr who is trans created a discord server called Let’s Be Transparent where more than a dozen trans youth join each week to discuss transitioning, sexual health, and their bodies. To do this, Chasse partnered with a professional sex educator to give users a space to discuss being a sexual person while also being trans. Chasse was inspired by his involvement in JASMYN, an LGBTQ youth organization in Florida. The organization, though helpful, was an hour away from his home. He said that having this kind of resource could have helped his 14-year-old self feel safe and free—without an hour-long ride across Florida’s bustling interstates.
It’s so important for young people to know that things are going to feel different, but there are steps to take to ensure you’re still feeling pleasure. - Christopher Chasse, Jr
Across the country, LGBTQ youth organizers and their allies are leveraging Discord to ensure they have access to affirming sexual health education. This has become essential as far-right legislation limits access to life-saving resources in schools, homes, and health clinics throughout the United States. Without these in-person spaces, technology has emerged to provide young people with information about pleasure, consent, and medicine—ensuring they are satisfied and safe.
Along with this legislation, school closures during the pandemic meant that LGBTQ teens could no longer access essential safe spaces, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, that offered accurate information about their bodies. To support themselves, young people from around the country said they turned to Discord for sex ed. LGBTQ groups typically have chats organized by discussion topics like “Sex-Ed Questions,” “Drop-In Hang,” and “#MemesOnly.” These content-specific chats ensure that youth are never forced to engage in conversations about sexual health before they are ready to do so or before it feels safe for them.
In a world that’s so dedicated to generating their misery, it’s essential for LGBTQ youth to practice experiencing joy. -Hanna Harris, a queer poet and organizer
Creating a new narrative about sexual health means sharing information about consent and pleasure before LGBTQ teens become sexually active, according to Harris. For Chasse, this means covering topics like access to birth control for trans men and discussing what it’s like to have sex when you’re pursuing a medical transition.
Having these online spaces is so important because it’s the rural areas that are being targeted right now. Those young people don’t have anyone around them to relate to or even who particularly cares. I’m talking to someone 50 miles away, and they’re probably the closest trans person to me, but at least I can talk to someone about this because I can’t talk about it in school. - Christopher Chasse, Jr
Activists know that Discord is not the final answer, LGBTQ youth still need transformative policies protecting their right to bodily autonomy. Still, the platform allows young people to explore important topics without being shamed or punished. The servers are valuable resources for young people to ask questions, access information and see that they are not alone.
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.