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Global Roundup: Brazil Indigenous Women vs Colonialism, South Africa VAW, India Trans Activist, LGBTQ+ Muslims in the UK, Mi'kmaw Beaded Calendar
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Hamangaí Marcos Melo Pataxó and his sister Itocovouty Galache Melo embrace for a portrait. Photo by Pablo Albarenga by Open Democracy
Indigenous women in Brazil have been holding marches and several days of debates and workshops to assert their rights. Various Indigenous groups – Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, Pataxó, Kaimbé, Kiriri, Tumbalalá, Pankararé́ and others – danced and chanted anti-government slogans and shouts of "Fora Bolsonaro!” (“Out with Bolsonaro!”).
The discussions led by Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe women have been attracting interest at the camp and so is one of their activists, 24-year-old Hamangaí Marcos Melo Pataxó. She is the national coordinator of Engajamundo, an NGO that works on environmental issues with young people throughout Brazil. Hamangaí also serves as an advisor to Humana, an organization that works for the rights of Brazilian girls and women. She sees cattle ranchers and farmers as the biggest threat to her people’s territory, as they continue to deforest what little is left of the tropical rainforest known as Mata Atlântica, the ‘Atlantic Forest’. The battle against them, she says, cannot be separated from other ‘invisible’ evils, such as gender inequity.
These lives, Hamangaí says, are full of accumulated pain and suffering, which she traces back to the colonial era. Women, says Hamangaí, were subjected to terrible and systematic violence by the colonizers, who appropriated their bodies as an integral part of the spoils of conquest. The young activist’s vision is the reclamation of the Indigenous female body, which was colonized just like the land it inhabits.
Women are sacred because they generate life, because they generate food. She is sacred because she brings ancestral knowledge, sensitivity, healing through medicinal plants. She is sacred because she brings the message, the word, the advice, the wisdom that comes from the heart, that comes from within. She is sacred because she is an extension of nature. -Hamangaí Marcos Melo Pataxó
In her village of Caramuru village, Hamangaí organized a therapeutic community session around an offering of plants, fruit and necklaces at the village school. She is determined to get the women in her village to talk to each other about gender issues that exist everywhere, in rural and urban areas and among all communities, Indigenous, Black, white or mestizo. The session includes both older women and young teenage girls and it is obvious there is considerable interest in Hamangaí’s efforts to help the community share its problems and look for viable solutions.
The workshop ends with a decision to draw up a plan for action as well as a catalogue of rights. Portrait photos are taken, with each woman posing as a protester in a way that best represents her. This illustrates the women’s attempt to project themselves as powerful, determined to fight and to build their self-esteem. The session culminates in a group photograph that serves as the final catharsis after the intense emotion of the day. Hamangaí says she appreciates the power of the day’s work and the liberating effect of the stories. Her dream is that women can move around safely and not be afraid to be women in Brazil.
Activists of South African women's rights groups demonstrate against gender-based violence, outside the magistrate court in Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct. 18, 2022 via VOA
CW: violence against women
At a summit on gender-based violence in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said murders of women jumped by 50% this year and called for action to stop the trend, but experts say his government’s efforts are falling short. National police reported 1,753 women were murdered in just the first half of this year.
M, whose name is being withheld for her safety, said she thought she would become one of those statistics when her ex-boyfriend imprisoned her and her daughter in his apartment for months. M had met her boyfriend online. She said at first, he was sweet, and the relationship was ordinary. But once she had been staying with him for a prolonged period, he turned on her and became violent, subjecting her to physical and sexual abuse. M said she later learned she was not his only victim. M and her daughter are now safely staying at a women’s shelter. As she waits for her case to make it to the courts, M said she wants other women like her to know there is help available.
Vanita Daniels, administrative director for the nonprofit Rise Up Against Gender-Based Violence, said there are droves of women seeking help.
We are almost five times the international average for femicide — it’s horrendous, those numbers. It’s a cause for great concern, especially when we are not, you know, a war-torn country. We’ve had survivors that had to leave their homes with absolutely nothing except the clothes on their backs. And so, they go into a shelter space, and they need everything. -Vanita Daniels
Despite it being four years since the inaugural presidential summit on gender-based violence, nonprofits supporting survivors say there are still shortfalls in funding and resources from the government to meet those needs. Those working on the ground are demanding greater efforts from the government, including greater enforcement of existing laws and policies. They also say that there needs to be a societal overhaul in how men and women are treated and valued.
One of the things that we are not tackling in this country effectively is issues around culture, issues around religion, issues around harmful patriarchal practice. -Vanita Daniels
Via Your Story
Priya Babu, 50, is a trans woman based in Madurai, India who is making a difference in the trans community through her various initiatives like the Transgender Resource Centre, Trans Kitchen, and more.
As a teenager struggling with her gender and sexuality in the early 90s, Priya fled to Mumbai from Trichy, then a small town in Tamil Nadu. In the streets of Mumbai, she found many like her, but also encountered many problems – from sexual abuse to societal stigma. To escape the trials and tribulations, Priya sought solace in books
Priya stumbled across the Tamil book, Vaadaa Malli, written by the prolific late author Su. Samuthiram. Samuthiram encouraged Priya to indulge in her love for reading, and even start writing, and soon Priya started contributing to a local Tamil magazine. Priya wrote several articles and books and formed a transgender theatre group to produce plays that showcased the issues faced by the community.
In 2017, Priya opened India’s first-ever Transgender Resource Centre in Madurai. The centre mobilized funds and acted as a knowledge and support centre for the trans community. The centre was also home to a huge collection of books in English and Tamil, newspaper clippings with information on transgender rights more than 100 films and documentaries on the subject. But Priya says it was COVID-19 that saw the centre really come alive. She made sure that help was offered to anyone who reached out, and these included migrant workers, daily wage labourers, street vendors, HIV-positive women, single mothers and women in sex work.
When the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown happened, trans people across the country were left bereft with zero sources of income. A lot of trans people were into begging and sex work, and both of these came to a complete stop. They needed urgent help. -Priya Babu
Most recently, as a Regional Programme Manager for Community Action Collab, Priya successfully runs the Trans Kitchen in Madurai, where she employs nearly 10 other trans people, ensuring a steady income for them. The kitchen is now involved in multiple relief activities in the neighbourhood. One such act is providing food to the patients who visit the transgender ward at the Madurai General Hospital.
Food is a way to connect with other human beings. We felt the hotel will not only employ trans people, but also help them connect with the public who are generally hesitant to communicate with us. -Priya Babu
Priya has also recently directed a short film based on a trans woman, titled ‘Arikandi’. The trailer of the movie was launched earlier this month, and it is slated to release in January 2023.
Once we have come to this planet, we all have to leave it. What we do in between can make a huge difference. I want to leave behind a legacy of helping others like me, who perhaps have no hope. -Priya Babu
LGBTQ+ Muslims are made to feel unwelcome, unsafe and unwanted in many LGBTQ+ spaces – and it needs to end, writes Arbër Gashi, ambassador for LGBTQ+ young people’s charity Just Like Us, on Pink News.
Gashi discusses how society views Muslim and LGBTQ+ identities as unable to coexist, but that is not the experience of LGBTQ+ Muslims, of course. As a result, they face homophobia within their familial and cultural environments, as well as Islamophobia perpetuated by the world around them
Gashi denounces vilifying whole countries and the religions in them, as it negatively affects those LGBTQ+ people who exist in these environments.
I have myself been undermined, questioned, and picked apart by LGBTQ+ people who desperately seek to comprehend why I still want to “latch onto” my identity as a Muslim. I am therefore considered a “walking contradiction” for identifying with a faith that others regard as “oppressive”, “backwards” and in contrast to anything LGBTQ+. -Arbër Gashi
November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month and Gashi believes we should all deconstruct the discriminatory notions of Muslim communities and Islam and be particularly mindful to bring awareness to those who are further disenfranchised in Muslim communities, specifically LGBTQ+ Muslims. Muslims in the UK are particularly facing a rise in Islamophobia – in research by the University of Birmingham in 2022, Muslims were found to be the second ‘least liked’ community.
This no doubt affects all Muslims in the UK, but more precisely, LGBTQ+ Muslims go on to experience difficulty in navigating oppressive systems that undermine, disrespect, and weaponize both their Muslim and LGBTQ+ identities against them. -Arbër Gashi
I wanted to teach people about the whole idea of how our months are more descriptive than what we hear in English. I wanted to show people that part of the language. -Ashley Sanipass
Sanipass wanted to create something that would allow her to both share her language, which is known as being "verb- based," and show how each calendar month is called something that is actually happening in the territory at that time. From the croaking of frogs to the time when animals start fattening themselves, she beaded an image of each month into a 12-piece circle. She said the project, which took her 180 hours to complete, has also taught her how her ancestors used the land based on their description of each time of year.
One challenge Sanipass faced was that some communities have adopted the 12-month calendar while others still keep a 13-moon calendar. Sanipass said she tried to honour both by including the 13th moon in the centre of her poster. During her research, she spoke to elders from several communities and pulled out common themes about the name of the month and how to depict the activity in her beaded pieces.
She worked with University of New Brunswick Saint John to create the poster, which includes the English month name, the Mi'kmaw word for the time of the year and an English translation. Her work is among three pieces by Wabanaki artists commissioned by the campus that will be on display in January. Sanipass said she had a lot of fun learning from elders and language experts.
Mi'kmaw people have such good humour and the laughter at times when we're talking about the months and learning. -Ashley Sanipass
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.