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Global Roundup: Cambodia Survivors Use Theatre, Indigenous Woman Fights for her Mother, Indonesia Women Ulama, Uganda LGBTQ+ Refugees, Indigiqueer Graphic Novel
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Lakhon Komnit, which translates to ‘thinking theatre’, works with domestic abuse victims throughout the year. Photograph: Courtesy of Lakhon Komnit via The Guardian
Women in Cambodia are using theatre to speak out against intimate partner violence through a theatre group in Battambang that is producing shows to help survivors talk about the topic. The shows are part of a grassroots effort led by local Khmer artists who have experienced or witnessed abuse themselves – to spark community discussions about intimate partner violence. One in five Cambodian women report experiencing abuse from an intimate partner.
Nov Sreyleap, who co-founded the non-profit Lakhon Komnit (thinking theatre), which produces the shows, says her own family’s violent history made her shut down emotionally until she grew up and started performing as an actor. She wants the women to use theatre to “think for themselves” and open up to one another. Lakhon Komnit works with intimate partner violence victims throughout the year, plus LGBTQ+ communities and people with disabilities, recruiting people to attend workshops, take part in role play and perform their own shows.
They can see their own story and start to understand their own life more and more. -Nov Sreyleap
Cambodia’s theatre scene, along with other arts, was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Since then, theatre has been largely limited to traditional forms, such as shadow puppetry and apsara dancing, with theatre therapy like Lakhon Komnit’s almost unheard of throughout the country.
Chenda, 42, wore a drawn-on moustache and a men’s shirt as she staggered around a makeshift stage by a busy road, playing a drunk husband shouting at his wife. It was a scene that mirrored Chenda’s own experience of years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband. When the show ended, the actors started the scenes again, but this time, the audience indicated when they wanted a character to behave differently. The facilitator also asked for a show of hands: “If you were the family’s neighbour, would you be brave enough to stop the husband in the middle of an argument and call the authorities to intervene?” Chenda is currently living in a shelter while her real-life husband is in a drug detention centre. She is not sure when he will come home but taking the lead role in the performance has given her confidence in herself.
I have enough power to open my mouth and stand up to say whatever I want and do whatever I want. No one can stop me. -Chenda
Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, has been calling for a search of the Prairie Green Landfill where it's believed her mother's remains were dumped earlier this year. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
Cambria Harris has been too busy fighting for action for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to grieve for her mother. She has not stopped since she found out two weeks ago that her mom, 39-year-old Morgan Harris, was one of four Indigenous women Winnipeg police believe were killed by Jeremy Skibicki.
It is not the first time Harris has found herself calling for justice for Indigenous women and girls in Canada. When 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's body was found in the Red River in 2014, Harris, 13 at the time, marched in Winnipeg's North End holding a sign reading "I will not be next."
This time, her fight for justice led her to Ottawa, where in many ways she has become the face of a decades-long movement to protect the safety of Indigenous women. While in Ottawa, Cambria and her younger sister Kera Harris demanded a search of the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, where it is believed the remains of both her mother and Marcedes Myran were dumped earlier this year. They called for Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth to resign following a decision not to search the landfill — something police said would be too difficult. The sisters also met with politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
[Justin Trudeau] said to us 'I'm so sorry, my condolences, my heart goes out to you and I'm sad that we have to meet under circumstances like this and it shouldn't have to be like this.' I called Trudeau out and I said 'No we shouldn't, but a search needs to get done and we need to look for these women and bring them home.' -Cambria Harris
On Wednesday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the federal government had agreed to cover costs of a feasibility study to determine what would be needed to conduct a search at Prairie Green landfill. Merrick said Harris and her sister have moved this issue forward.
While Harris waits to find out what will come next, she said she wants her mom to be remembered for who she was, not just how she died. Harris was part of the child welfare system until she was 17. She said she watched her mother struggle with addiction, mental health issues and homelessness after she lost custody of her children. She believes her mother was failed by government systems.
Harris plans to keep advocating for missing and murdered Indigenous women. She knows changes cannot come overnight, but said there needs to be more safe spaces for women, more support for the homeless and faster access to addictions services.
Everything I'm doing right now is for my mother, all missing and murdered Indigenous women.… I'm doing it for my daughter, I'm doing it for the next generations that come after this. -Cambria Harris
Indonesian Muslim women perform the first 'Tarawih' prayer on the eve of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at The Grand Mosque of Bandung on April 2, 2022 Algi Febri Sugita—SOPA/LightRocket/Getty Images via TIME
Five years ago, a group in Indonesia did something unique: they convened the world’s first congress of women “ulama,” the Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia or KUPI. Last month, they convened again, bringing together more women ulama, academics, and activists from across the country and around the world to share their experiences and views. Ulama are Islamic scholars whose advanced understanding enables them to be spiritual and community leaders. Many work in roles such as running Islamic boarding schools or as preachers. They can issue fatwas, clarifications or interpretations of the religion.
At this year’s KUPI conference, a national minister promised to support a push for greater women representation in local government across Indonesia, saying that women ulama can play a major role in leading villages and empowering women in areas beyond religion, like education. KUPI organizers say that the movement has put Indonesia at the forefront of the efforts to produce women-friendly interpretations of Islam and popularize gender-equitable religious views.
We thought why not come together so we can give more voices to the women ulama that have been working on women’s rights issues so that we can be heard in the public and shift the public in a more moderate direction on religion. I think our voices are louder than when we work separately. -Ruby Kholifah, Jakarta-based human rights activist and the Indonesia director of the Asian Muslim Action Network
Although Indonesia has had a reputation for being moderate, religious conservatism has gained traction in recent years. Last week, the country revised its criminal code to make sex outside of marriage illegal and to expand its blasphemy law. The women behind KUPI hope that the fatwas they help issue will help shape what life is like for women in Indonesia.
Since 2017, when KUPI issued fatwas on sexual violence, child marriage, and environmental degradation, the Indonesian government has legislated changes relating to two of the fatwas issued. In 2019, the country raised the age that women can marry from 16 to 19. And in 2022, a sexual violence law was passed which provides protections to victims of sexual violence, including those in abusive marriages.
I think successful advocacy at the national level stemmed from the contribution of KUPI to open the conversation. -Ruby Kholifa
Paul had to flee Uganda and travel to Kenya to claim asylum once his family discovered he was gay. He has spent the last four years at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kakuma Refugee Camp. He would ultimately like to make his way to the UK or Canada so he can live his life openly as a gay man, but advocacy groups have told him there is a serious backlog of cases due to the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine.
In the camp, Paul has struck up a friendship with other LGBTQ+ people who are seeking asylum. They do their best to band together and keep each other safe, but it is not always possible. Many have been assaulted and some have experienced sexual assault according to Paul. He says there are also issues with access to medication and adequate shelter – he knows of people who have contracted malaria or pneumonia after sleeping outside so they can get away from others who hold homophobic or transphobic views.
What sustains Paul is his friendship with other LGBTQ+ refugees. They look out for each other and they have even launched a fundraiser of their own so they can pay for vital supplies. They are now calling on the international LGBTQ+ community to offer their support for queer refugees and people seeking asylum.
Please help us find a solution for all the suffering of LGBTQI refugees in Kakuma. We are also calling on the European Union to please continue with the work they’re doing. They’ve been doing some advocacy for LGBTQI people in Kenya. Please continue with that advocacy so we can get assistance as queer people in Kenya at large. -Paul
The Kakuma refugee camp was first set up in 1992 following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, according to the UNHCR. The camp, and a separate integrated settlement, had a population of 196,666 people at the end of July 2020. According to PinkNews, there are around 800 refugees in the camp who are LGBTQ+. Staff in Kakuma have been given sensitivity training, but queer refugees can still face discrimination from other refugees and asylum seekers in the camp. Daniel Sohege is the director of Stand For All, an asylum advocacy group based in the UK. He says LGBTQ+ people are often not believed by government officials when they apply for asylum on sexuality or gender identity grounds.
Longtime friends jaye simpson and Valen Onstine. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan via Indiginews.com
When they were growing up, artists jaye simpson and Valen Onstine always longed for more stories about queer and trans Indigenous joy so as adults, they began working together on a coming-of-age graphic novel that aims to affirm the experiences of children with similar paths to their own.
The writer and illustrator were recently awarded $96,300 from the Canada Council of the Arts to complete their book Crow Girl, which follows the story of a trans and Indigenous protagonist growing up in East “Vancouver.” Working on the project with Indigenous Youth in mind has validated both of them in ways they did not anticipate.
I often wish I was allowed to be the queer child that I was, I wish I was allowed to be the Native child that I was. So, this is me wishing that for someone else. Also, reaffirming some reassurance that queer Native Youth should be able to be queer Native Youth because they are children. -jaye simpson
Author simpson is an Oji-Cree Saulteaux trans creative writer and drag performer from the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, and Onstine, the primary illustrator for Crow Girl, is a Cree and Deneza trans visual artist from Horse Lake First Nation. Both of them grew up away from their home communities.
I’m excited. Terrified. I feel like I’m learning everything all over again. But as things get closer to being real, I feel more excitement. I feel more joy. I feel like I’m succeeding. And I get to kind of quash that impostor syndrome. -Valen Onstine
It has been imperative for both simpson and Onstine to share a story of a diverse group of trans and queer Indigenous Youth that will counter the overwhelming negative representations and stereotypes of queer and trans Indigenous Youth. Often media representations of Indigenous queer Youth are people who are dying, dead or living a life only marked by unspeakable trauma. But as Onstine and simpson point out, Indigiqueer lives are so much more than oppression under the domination of colonialism.
My experiences have been full of queer trauma, yes, but it’s also been full of queer Native joy. So why not populate that story and focus on those moments and focus on these very beautiful things? Why not weave a story where there is a lot of beauty? There is going to be conflict, 100 percent, but there are going to be so many glimmering moments of joy and hope. -jaye simpson
simpson and Onstine applied for the grant with a detailed budget which included fair pay for themselves and community engagement, including ceremony, protocol, and community consultations. They want to be able to fairly compensate the people they will be consulting with to appropriately depict cultures and experiences that are not their own, in order to prevent harm through appropriation or misrepresentation. Crow Girl is currently well on its way with the storyboarding for the first chapter nearly complete. They expect to launch the first iteration online and in print in the summer of 2023.
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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.