Global Roundup: Brazil Decriminalising Abortion Vote, Canada LGBTQ Rights Protests, Kyrgyzstan Women’s Rights, Colombia Women in Prison Rights, African Continent Queer Experiences
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Brazil's Supreme Court has started voting on whether to decriminalise abortion. Currently, abortion is only allowed in three cases: that of rape, risk to the woman's life and anencephaly – when the foetus has an undeveloped brain. If the Supreme Court votes in favour, abortion will be decriminalised up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Paloma, 26, only found out she was pregnant when she went to have a contraceptive implant fitted. The foetus was found to have body stalk anomaly – a rare condition in which organs lie outside the abdominal wall meaning the baby would die shortly after birth. She was told to go back to her doctor to discuss it. At her next appointment, she asked what was wrong with the baby. The doctor said he couldn't tell her.
Paloma was told by a different private doctor that as long as she had two medical professionals recommending a termination, then a judge could grant one. The doctor wrote a report, she just needed her regular obstetrician to support it. However, the obstetrician insisted she listen to the baby's heartbeat. The nurse in the room said "that's the heart beating, you'll end up regretting having a termination". He refused to recommend an abortion.
It took several more weeks before she could find the right people to support her – they involved lawyers, psychologists, medical specialists and even the permission of her husband to allow her to end the pregnancy.
I think I speak for everyone when I say it was a nightmare - because we aren't in charge of our own bodies. It could have been so simple but they prolonged my suffering. -Paloma
Dr Roberta Kronemberger Santos, who works at the Women's Hospital in Santo André, believes in women’s right to choose. She has had cases of women who have tried to carry out abortions at home – by the time they come into hospital, they're bleeding and have infections.
The more we talk about it, the more people will understand. We've never talked so much about women's rights as we are now, talking about this prejudice. All those discussions have come together. -Dr Roberta Kronemberger Santos
Protesters and counter-protests take to the streets over gender and sexual education in schools at Queen's Park in Toronto on Wednesday. PHOTO: (EVAN MITSUI/CBC)
Posters created by a group called 1MillionMarch4Children say rally participants are standing together against what they call gender ideology in the nation's schools. The protests are linked to emerging policies across the country that require young people to get parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names and pronouns. The rallies are being met with counter-protesters who say those policies are a violation of children's rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.
Protest locations include Montreal, Fredericton, and Ottawa — where thousands of people are facing off in front of Parliament Hill. In Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener and Guelph, school boards issued statements expressing support for LGBTQ students, staff and families.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs — whose government helped spark the national debate about gender policies in schools — told reporters that parents must be informed if their children are questioning their gender identity.
Alex Harris, a transgender student and advocate in Riverview, N.B., told CBC News that the protests and discourse is creating a scary and dangerous situation for queer students.
I have had more slurs yelled at me in the hallway since I have gone back to school this September than I ever have previously, and I have been out at school as part of the LGBTQ community for probably five years now. -Alex Harris
While Harris's own parents have been supportive after he came out as trans, he said he knows several students who are scared to come out to their parents for good reason, and school needs to stay a safe space for them. He says he wanted to attend a counter-protest over LGBTQ rights in school but decided against it because he didn't feel it was safe.
CW: violence against women
Women march marking the International Women's Day in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, March 8, 2023. © 2023 Vladimir Voronin/AP Photo
On Wednesday morning, Bermet (not her real name), a 36-year-old Kyrgyz woman, was found brutally assaulted and drenched in blood at her home. Her attacker, Bermet’s former husband and father to their two children, assaulted the officers as he fled, but they apprehended him. Their youngest child, a 10-year-old boy, was at home during the assault. After nearly eight hours of surgery, Bermet is in critical but stable condition, though more surgery lies ahead.
The media has reported that since their separation five years ago, Bermet’s ex-husband had repeatedly attacked her, beating, raping, and even attempting to kill her. Over the past two years, Bermet had reported attacks by her ex-husband to police. Although police detained him and opened at least two criminal investigations, Bermet withdrew her complaints. Police released him each time, at least once on probationary supervision. According to her sister, Bermet’s ex-husband’s family pressured her to drop the complaints in exchange for his relinquishing parental rights. Because Bermet withdrew her claims, police considered the situation resolved via “reconciliation,” which the domestic violence law allows as grounds for dismissing charges.
Despite Bermet’s family providing photographic documentation of her ex-husband’s assaults, police said repeatedly that they would not act unless he killed her – a response familiar to women experiencing intimate partner violence in Kyrgyzstan. Three days before the assault, Bermet asked district police for protection, as her ex-husband had been stalking her for a week, waiting outside her house and threatening her.
Two members of Kyrgyz parliament raised the case in parliament on Thursday, calling for harsher measures to tackle domestic violence. In Kyrgyzstan, only 2,709 of 6,580 registered domestic violence cases went to trial in 2022. Human Rights Watch and other groups have repeatedly urged Kyrgyz’s authorities to investigate domestic violence reports, issue and enforce protection orders, abstain from pressuring survivors to reconcile with their attackers, and bring perpetrators to justice.
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Claudia Cardona’s work with Mujeres Libres has helped change laws on provision of period products in Colombian prisons. Photograph: Courtesy of Claudia Cardona
Claudia Cardona writes about spending nine years in a Colombian women’s prison and how the system is failing women. Cardona started her jail sentence in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2008 when she was 31 with a four-year-old daughter. She chooses not to disclose why she went to prison.
Most women in Colombia commit crime out of a need to provide for their families. They are judged and punished without society or the justice system taking the circumstances surrounding the crime into account. -Claudia Cardona
The prison in Bogotá is one of the biggest in Colombia, housing 1,859 women. However, there is one doctor on duty during the day and another at night, according to Cardona. This has repercussions for women’s reproductive and sexual health. Cardona was given pain medications for her strong menstrual cramps in prison. When she left prison and went to see a gynaecologist, she had to have a hysterectomy because she had uterine fibroids that had gone untreated for so long.
Cardona could afford sanitary towels in prison but she says other women only got 10 sanitary towels every three months which is not enough for one menstrual cycle. She adds that women would cut off a bit of their mattress to use, or would make tampons with wool or thread, which can cause infections.
Today, Cardona is the director of Mujeres Libres, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of women prisoners. Mujeres Libres has been campaigning about menstruation in prison. In June 2022, law 2261, which “guarantees the free, opportune and sufficient delivery of articles of menstrual hygiene for women detained in prisons” was passed.
Women who have been in prison can make an impact, if we’re allowed. People who make decisions about us know nothing about being in prison. They make laws without listening. There are people who think we are not capable, but what we lived through in prison makes us experts by experience. -Claudia Cardona
Tiffany Mugo heads up HOLAAfrica, which strives to present information and stories of real queer life on the continent.
Tiffany Mugo and her partner run HOLAAfrica, an organisation that deals with queer sex and sexuality across the African continent. Mugo also presents a podcast called Basically Life which deals with issues around the queer experience and with her partner, runs the docu-series Mxsterminds which documents achievements by queer people across Africa. She is also an author, having written Touch, a book on sex and sexuality that can be found on the HOLAAfrica website.
For the podcast I talk to people about their lives and their sex lives. It’s a very free-falling podcast. For me it’s not about getting people who are experts in the field, it’s about getting people’s lived experiences. -Tiffany Mugo
Mugo is dedicated to curating the experiences of queer people. Her focus is on everyday queer folk, their daily lives and in particular, their intimate lives. This is something that drives the podcast, and led to a compilation of stories of queer experience, which she put together along with Kim Windvogel.
It all emerged from the creation of HOLAAfrica as a humble blog, which grew and evolved into the podcast. The books and workshops that Mugo has done also fall under the HOLAAfrica umbrella. “It’s a passion project gone wild,” she says.
For us it’s about curating the lived experiences of queer people outside of their sexuality because for such a long time it’s just been about who we’re having sex with. We also want to talk about everyday life. We want to create a holistic, interpersonal narrative that is so much more than who we sleep with and discussing our rights. We want to look at what our intimate lives look like. -Tiffany Mugo
Mugo’s aim next year is to help create more spaces where queer people can have conversations about their lives, about intimacy, and yes, sexuality. HOLA will be reaching out to several countries in the new year to engage in queer life conversation.
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.