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Global Roundup: Breaking Menstruation Taboos in Kolkata, Zimbabwe LGBTQ+ Artists, Iceland Women’s Strike, Afro-Latine Wearable Affirmations, Sub-Saharan African Climate-Resilient Farming
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Source: Clicked by author. (Feminism in India)
In many parts of India, Durga Puja was recently celebrated, a festival which epitomizes the victory of good over evil and which celebrates the goddess Durga Puja in the form of a mother and in the form of a daughter. In reality, however, menstruators are restricted from engaging in societal activities while menstruating as it is considered impure. This is not just the case in India or in Hindu cultures, other religions and societies also prohibit menstruators from participating in activities while menstruating.
During this festival, many pandals, structures where events are typically hosted, are set up where individuals can celebrate the goddess. In Kolkata, which is considered the cultural capital of India, the streets are transformed into platforms for art exhibitions that illustrate innovative and thought-provoking themes. This year, one of Kolkata’s puja (prayer ritual) committees stood out as it broke the taboos of menstruation by incorporating menstruation into their Durga Puja theme.
The Pathuria Ghata Pancher Palli Durga Puja Committee decided to use this initiative to spread awareness about how individuals are restricted during their menstrual days. The committee wanted to become a catalyst for change, and they wanted to exhibit the subject in a place where it was already forbidden – in the religious sphere. The name of the theme was “Ritumati”, meaning “menstruating person”. The theme aims to break the taboo surrounding menstrual hygiene, and to promote awareness about it.
The pandal is a visual representation of the menstrual cycle, showcasing the various stages of womanhood. The decorations have an emphasis on red, the colour of blood, to symbolize the menstrual cycle. During Puja days, the committee will also be organizing an awareness camp on menstruation and will distribute free sanitary napkins. It is estimated that around 50 percent of menstruators between 15 and 24 years in India use scrap clothes while menstruating, which can lead to reproductive issues, urinary tract infections, and in extreme cases, cervical cancer.
Menstruation is a natural biological process, and there is no need to hide it. It’s high time we challenge these taboos, and the first step is to bring such issues to the forefront. – Ellora Saha, working president of the Pathuriaghata Pancher Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab committee and councilor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation
After the pandal was installed the Puja committee received huge appreciation and positive feedback from locals. The theme of their pandal this year, Ritumati, champions inclusivity and urges everyone to take part in dismantling the barriers that prevent progress, because everyone is involved in this fight. The Puja committee said that if the initiative could change the mindsets of at least five people, then it would be worthwhile.
LGBTIQ community members’ artwork can be found in the Sexual Rights Center in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 10 October 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Lungelo Ndhlovu. (Openly)
Zimbabwe is a difficult place to make a living as an LGBTQ+ performer, where the economy is weak, engaging in gay sex is illegal, and LGBTQ+ people often face discrimination and harassment. In spite of this, gay and trans musicians, poets, and other artists in Zimbabwe are finding their ways to the stage.
To get gigs in the corporate world, your brand has to be extra good because before everything else, your sexuality/gender identity already disadvantages you. – Stevie Le Savage, 27-year-old trans musician based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Some members wait for public events that are hosted by civil society organizations, which support inclusivity, however others strictly perform at private gatherings after experiencing abuse during their public performances. Artists in Zimbabwe that are assumed to be gay or trans face “huge barriers and stereotypes”, according to Farah Monroe, who is the director of the Shoko Festival, an event that takes place in Harare, the capital of the country.
In an effort to change the many barriers that still exist for the LGBTQ+ community in Zimbabwe, the long-running Shoko Festival has started to include panel discussions featuring LGBTQ+ speakers and has also reserved slots for artists from the community. Additionally, in Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe, the Intwasa Arts Festival has guaranteed space for artists from the LGBTQ+ community.
A lot of work has to be done to ensure that creatives from the LGBTI community feel empowered, feel safe and feel valued in the arts industry. – Farah Monroe
Due to the ongoing economic crisis in Zimbabwe, most LGBTQ+ individuals cannot afford to stop working, therefore they continue to perform to support their livelihoods. Although these efforts by civil society organizations do go a long way for many LGBTQ+ performers, the reality for many is that they still fear their safety while performing, or even when they go out on a day-to-day basis.
It’s already bad for generally every artist within the city of Bulawayo. As a transgender woman, surviving or coping in the arts industry in Zimbabwe is very hard. – Stevie Le Savage
People across Iceland gather during the women’s strike in Reykjavik, Iceland, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Iceland’s prime minister and women across the island nation are on strike to push for an end to unequal pay and gender-based violence. (AP Photo/Arno Torfason)
On Tuesday, schools, shops, banks, and swimming pools shut down in Iceland as women went on strike to push for an end to unequal pay and gender-based violence. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir said she would stay home as part of the strike, and also expected other women in her Cabinet would do the same.
We have not yet reached our goals of full gender equality and we are still tackling the gender-based wage gap, which is unacceptable in 2023. We are still tackling gender-based violence, which has been a priority of my government to tackle. – Prime Minister Katrin Kakobsdóttir
On Tuesday morning, Icelanders woke up to men leading the morning news broadcasts announcing shutdowns across the country; public transportation was delayed, hospitals were understaffed, and hotel rooms were uncleaned. The strike’s main organizers, trade unions, called on all women and nonbinary people in the country to refuse paid and unpaid work, including chores. In Iceland, 90 percent of the country’s workers belong to a union.
Iceland has ranked as the world’s most gender-equal country for 14 years in a row by the World Economic Forum, which is measured by pay, education, healthcare and other factors. Still, no country has achieved full gender equality, and a pay gap still remains in Iceland. In Iceland, most of the lowest paying jobs are still predominantly done by women, such as cooking and cleaning. The tourism-dominated economy also depends heavily on immigrants who typically work longer hours and take home the lowest salaries.
The walkout on Tuesday was the largest since Iceland’s first event on October 24, 1975 when 90 percent of women refused to work, clean, or look after their children in order to peacefully voice their anger at discrimination in the workplace. The government passed a law in 1976 guaranteeing equal rights for everyone in the country, regardless of gender, but many inequalities still exist, such as unequal pay. Since the law was passed, there have been many partial-day strikes to protest for gender equality, including in 2018 when women left their jobs at the exact time they stopped earning equally compared to men.
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Gloria Malone is an Afro-Latina public speaker and entrepreneur whose latest venture is wearable affirmations. Malone creates jewelry with words and phrases that remind individuals how great they are. Her unapologetic attitude, authenticity, and self-acceptance has shaped her path and allowed her to overcome societal expectations to create her own definition of success.
One of Malone’s goals is to shed light on overlooked stories of Afro-Latine people; many mainstream media outlets frequently and intentionally erase and ignore the narratives of Afro-Latine people. Malone refuses to accept this erasure, and instead uses her voice to amplify these individuals’ stories.
She first found her calling on social media, where she uses her platform to share the rich history of Afro-Latine culture in order to educate others and empower others to proudly embrace their identity. In 2022, she embarked on her new journey, Wearable Affirmations.
Malone’s idea for the business was to create jewelry that serves as daily affirmations in order to remind herself, as well as those who wear the jewelry, of their strength and self-worth. Each piece is a powerful statement, meant to empower the wearer and the community they represent. Each piece is also not just an accessory, but a symbol of self-love and acceptance.
Malone’s work extends beyond entrepreneurship – it is a call to action for everyone. Her small business demonstrates how individuals can embrace their cultures and backgrounds and still feel and look beautiful, no matter what society says or thinks.
Disebo Makatsa, who received training from UN Women and the Food and Agriculture Organization, is seen on her farm in Free State province, South Africa. Photo: Dee-Y Trading. (UN Women)
Since 2019, UN Women and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have partnered on a programme to provide climate-resilient farming skills to tens of thousands of women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative, “Contributing to the Empowerment of Women in Africa through Climate-Smart Agriculture”, includes technical farming skills, recommendations on best business practices, and climate-conscious agriculture methods.
According to a recent FAO report, women’s working conditions are likely worse than men’s, with many women working in informal, irregular, and labour-intensive work. The report also found that 66 percent of working women in the sub-Saharan region are employed in agricultural fields.
Although commercial farming is still a male-dominated industry where women have to work doubly hard, the reality is that women have always been farmers, working the land and producing food. What many small-scale women farmers need are skills, finance, technology, and access to markets, to move into the formal economy. – Disebo Makatsa, a South African woman who turned her mother’s vegetable garden into Dee-Y Trading, a 368-hectare vegetable and dairy farm in Free State province
Since the creation of the programme in 2019, thousands of women across sub-Saharan Africa have received training which has helped their businesses grow. In South Africa, 4560 women farmers underwent training, which focuses on helping them grow crops such as maize and beans. In Malawi, 10,461 women farmers were reached, with a focus on growing ground nuts. In Uganda, 1400 women learned how to cultivate farm-raised fish, and in Nigeria, the UN Women and FAO-led programme reached 12,500 women with techniques to create shea butter and rice.
In addition to the training on farming techniques, the programme also introduced techniques to help fight climate change by enforcing responsible land care and using climate-resilient farming techniques and technologies. Participants also receive guidance on legal compliance, which assists them in formalizing their businesses and working with retailers and distributors.
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.