Global Roundup: Chile Proposed Constitution & LGBTQ Rights, Canada MMIWG Epidemic, Pakistan Forced Marriages, Albania Women Activists, Nigeria LGBTQ+ Underground Ballroom
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Organizando Trans Diversidades President Ignacia Oyarzun (Photo courtesy of Ignacia Oyarzun)
Chile has experienced a crucial turn in its political landscape with the results of the December 17 referendum in which voters rejected a proposed constitution that generated concern among LGBTQ activists. Chileans rejected the draft constitution with 55.8 percent of voters supporting the “against” option.
The Republican Party, founded by the far right-wing former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, led the effort behind the proposed constitution. Sunday marked the second time that Chileans went to the polls to decide on a new constitution — the process began after social protests rocked the country in 2019. A year after the unrest, more than 80 percent of voters were in favor of replacing the constitution, but the first attempt that independents and left wing sectors led, failed in 2022, when 62 percent of Chileans voted “rejection.”
María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales, noted that the proposed constitution could have resulted in constitutionalized discrimination. Furthermore, Cumplido pointed out that even the 1980 constitution does not ensure real protections against discrimination. Cumplido highlighted the broad conscientious objection could allow discrimination on religious grounds, the lack of a sufficiently robust non-discrimination principle, and weakness of the rights of children and adolescents.
Ignacia Oyarzun, president and coordinator of legislation and public policy of Organizando Trans Diversidades, expressed relief over the referendum’s results. Oyarzun also affirmed the results guarantee the continuity of the advances in trans rights and for the broader LGBTQ community.
…the proposed constitution] gave the possibility of going backwards in rights that we have already currently managed to achieve, such as for example identity recognition or for example circulars, in this case of Infancia Circular de Educación 0812, which enables the respect of the gender identity of girls and boys (and their ability to) use (their) social name, (their) use of (a) bathroom, (a) uniform. -Ignacia Oyarzun
In relation to the risk posed by conscientious objection and the lack of protection against discrimination for trans people, Oyarzun highlighted the concern about overt discrimination in educational establishments and stressed it could have led to a worse quality of life and an increase in violence that would directly affecting the life expectancy of trans people.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, right
CW: gender-based violence
Winnipeg Police said a woman was restrained starting in the afternoon of December 9, physically assaulted until she lost consciousness and then abandoned in a dumpster on December 10. Someone found her in the dumpster while she was screaming for help and she was taken to hospital. First Nations leaders in the province say something needs to change.
With the last couple of incidents, when it came to our women, it just seemed that they were so disposable, that there's nothing that can really be done. That bothers me as the grand chief, so we need to change the narrative of how our women are being treated. -Cathy Merrick, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief
First Nations leaders from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and Southern Chiefs Organization said in the past 12 months in Winnipeg, there have been 25 female victims of homicide and more than 400 reports of missing women, girls and two-spirited individuals. Merrick and MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said they want to meet with the province and the federal government and hear what immediate steps they will take to end the violence.
A spokesperson for the federal office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said the violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people is an urgent and ongoing crisis that needs to stop. The spokesperson listed actions the federal government has taken including working towards establishing a Red Dress Alert system, so when an Indigenous person goes missing, they can be found. First Nations leaders said if work doesn't happen quickly, the results could be deadly. As Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people continue to go missing and get murdered, it is clear that not enough is being done to address this systemic issue rooted in misogyny, racism and colonization.
‘I have no life. I am traumatised,’ says Inteha Bibi. In 2019, the brother of the man trying to enforce the ghag came to her home with a pistol to take her away. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch
Despite a ban on ‘ghag’ forced marriages in Pakistan, a man laid claim to Inteha Bibi when she was 12 years old and now she lives in fear as her family fights for her right to marry the man of her choice.
A man called Mahabat Khan was trying to enforce a ghag on Bibi, 25, and made it clear to the community in the tribal Bajaur district where they lived that he still intended to enforce it. Although Bibi and her family rejected Khan’s proposal when she was a child, she cannot marry anyone else, according to the custom. Bibi describes this situation as being traumatic and taking a severe toll on her mental health.
…I am a human, and I have all rights to get engaged and married to whoever I want. I am a woman, not a toy, and I don’t want to be married to someone forcibly. -Inteha Bibi
Ghag endures in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan. The claim is made by sending a marriage proposal, firing a gun outside the girl’s house or making an open declaration in writing for a girl’s hand without her or her parents’ consent. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa parliament banned ghag forced marriages in 2013, making it an offence punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment or a hefty fine.
Bibi’s younger brother, Sanaullah, is currently fighting in the courts for the rights of his sister after the local jirga – a council of tribal elders – failed to act. In 2021, under a court order, Mahabat Khan and his brothers were arrested. Mahabat Khan signed an affidavit that he would not claim ghag again. However, that has not stopped him from continuing to harass Bibi and her family.
Most cases of ghag are not reported, and when they do reach court, the men are often granted bail after offering apologies. Shahid Mehmood, regional coordinator in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, knows of dozens of similar cases, but says people fail to make official complaints.
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Albanian women protesting in front of Government building on International Women’s Day in Tirana, Albania, 08 March 2017. International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on 08 March to promote women’s rights and equality. Photo: EPA/MALTON DIBRA
Xheni Karaj traces the hate to the moment she came out as gay in 2012. Since then, she said she has “systematically received hate messages on social media, primarily threats of murder, rape, insults and curses”. Karaj is an Albanian human rights activist and leader of the LGBT Alliance. For activists like her, online abuse and harassment has become disturbingly common in Albania as the digital space grows in importance for this kind of work.
According to a study by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) 83 percent of women human rights defenders who were interviewed said they had experienced a violation of their digital rights at least once in their career. Women activists cited incidents of sexist language, organised smear campaigns, sexual harassment, and threats of sexual assault, rape, or murder. Even when the IDM report came out, co-author Megi Reci, a lawyer, faced a torrent of abuse.
Offensive and violent comments poured in from anonymous profiles, who ironically chose that form to tell us that there is no violence against women or women activists. For me, that reaction is enough to [re]validate the study’s findings. -Megi Reci
Journalist Zhaklin Lekatari, the author of a blog on sexual education, comes under attack every time she speaks publicly about gender equality and sexual behaviour, issues that many Albanians regard as taboo. She said it has led to depression and anxiety.
The law concerning digital rights violations, however, does not recognise motives based on political beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender, said Reci. The only legistlation dedicated to protecting activists is the 2019 Parliamentary Resolution for Human Rights Defenders, but this resolution is not legally binding and remains unenforced given that MPs have yet to approve an action plan for its implementation.
Constant feelings of threat and insecurity start to affect your mental health, occasionally triggering anxiety and insomnia problems. It is crucial to have a support group that provides love, security, and assistance, a catalyst that turns challenges into a source of strength to continue your mission. -Xheni Karaj
Oji Emeka, who goes by the stage name Oge Classic, at the Rainbow Academy Ball hosted by the Bisi Alimi Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria. November 18, 2023. Thompson Reuters Foundation/Ugonna-Ora Owoh
Drag stars find their feet in Nigerian ballroom, a thriving underground scene for LGBTQ+ Lagos. Their hope is to give voice to their sexuality through costume and dance and be free to be themselves in a rare safe haven in socially conservative Nigeria. Same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in jail, so these balls held in Lagos can only thrive by existing deep underground.
As the beat changes, a fashionable crowd clears the centre of the floor for the category presentation, the crowd's fingers snapping to Afrobeats music as they fill the hall with a thundering chorus of "give me face, face, face" – lyrics from Beyonce's song Heated.
Oge Classic, a famed Nigerian drag queen with 24,000 followers on TikTok, and the throng of dancers fold their bodies into an elaborate set of moves: elbows rigid, kicks high and graceful pirouettes.
Discrimination is common and sometimes spills into homophobic violence – Oge Classic recounted being beaten in an anti-LGBTQ+ attack while en route to a gig in March. But for many drag artists, their biggest concern is making a living. Divine Ahiwe, who performs as Lilith, moved from southeast Nigeria to bustling Lagos and has built a solid online following – even if the kudos does not always translate into paying gigs.
Another Lagos-based performer, Onyx Godwin, has featured in international magazines – including Vogue and i-D – but has often faced difficulty making money at home in Nigeria.
But the 25-year-old said that while the drag scene was still underground "soon we will get the spotlight our art and creativity deserves", despite persistent prejudice.
I won't allow their personal bias get in the way of my drag journey. - Onyx Godwin
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.