Global Roundup: Congolese Women’s Role in Ebola Outbreak, Ugandan Trans Woman Receives New ID, Medical Books in India to Remove Queerphobic Content, Halloween as “Gay Christmas”, 2-spirit Drag Queen

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Dekila Kavira Kyakimwa, 29, and Zawadi Kavira, 39, (On Right) pose for a portrait in the town of Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 15, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Hugh Kinsella Cunningham

During the Ebola outbreak three years ago, women in the Democratic Republic of Congo were able to take leadership roles in their community and perform work that has been traditionally considered for men. Many women took part in construction to build a treatment center for instance.

I tried to make myself useful. Women can turn their hands to anything, and we wanted to be involved. -  Zawadi Kavira, 39-year-old Congolese seamstress

Women also played an important role in correcting misinformation that was preventing people from reporting symptoms or seeking treatment. Many in the community of North Kivu, which has suffered more than 20 years of armed conflict, were suspicious of the efforts to tackle the outbreak.

Women have so much influence on their husbands, their children, and the community as a whole. We could not achieve anything without them. - Aime Kiakimwa, a leader of women’s group, SOFEPADI 

However, as a fresh Ebola outbreak is hitting the region this month, local women's leaders say the opportunities have been short-lived. Many local women paid to engage in awareness-raising are now unable to find paid work as organizations with funding for such work tend to favour men, said Antoinette Zawadi, coordinator for a Beni-based umbrella association of local women's groups.

Zawadi also said some aid workers had "deliberately capitalized on the naivety or the lack of awareness of these (women) about sexual exploitation and abuse" during the crisis. Several investigations have also reported this – just last month, an independent commission set up by the World Health Organization found more than 80 aid workers were involved in sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls.

Many women who were able to experience empowerment from their role in the previous Ebola outbreak through the salary they received are suffering now. For instance, Kavira was able to buy a sewing machine through her work building the medical centre. But when violence broke out in the town earlier this year, she fled to Beni with her family, and thieves stole the machine. Today, she is back to her old work selling mobile phone top-up cards, earning no more than eight dollars a day.

It is clearly not enough to only empower women during crises. The recent Ebola outbreak in Congo highlights how much work there is left to be done if we want women to have equality and freely participate in public life in a long term and sustainable way.  


Photo: Cleopatra Kambugu. Photo edit: Inge Snip. Via Open Democracy

This month, Ugandan trans woman and human rights activist Cleopatra Kambugu publicly celebrated receiving a new national identity card bearing her preferred gender marker and name. This is only the latest milestone for trans people in Uganda in Kambugu’s life. In 2015, she had sex reassignment surgery. In 2018, she received a new passport with her preferred gender marker and name (though getting her new ID card is more significant).

My ID says that I am also here. This is not just my win, it’s also the community’s win. - Cleopatra Kambugu

OpenDemocracy spoke with other trans Ugandans about this win. They were enthusiastic, but warned that gender recognition remains out of reach for most. Apako Williams, a trans man and executive director of Tranz Network Uganda, says that officials reviewing requested gender changes on documents seem “more accepting if they think one is intersex”.

Justine Balya, a lawyer for the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) NGO says that because being trans is not explicitly banned, trans people are in a “legal limbo”.  

Uganda’s existing legislation does not explicitly ban homosexuality; it depends on same-sex relations being interpreted as acts that are “contrary to the order of nature”. However, in May, parliament passed a new anti-LGBT “sexual offences” bill, which includes “a ban on a sexual act between persons of the same gender”. 

Balya says that many people have taken advantage of the new ID card scheme to register with their preferred gender marker and name, but if documents were issued previously, it is very hard to change them again.

The law still requires the person to have a doctor who swears that the applicant has had a “complete sex change” – however, hormonal treatment and surgery are often inaccessible and expensive. In addition, the “average” trans person lacks connection to civil servants, lawyers or human rights activists.

Kambugu talks about the importance of communality and “transitioning of community” for her, as she wants to live openly and for her community to know what a trans person is.  She knows talking about her experience publicly puts her at risk, but she hopes to “open a conversation between the community and government institutions about transgender people as ‘a third gender’” in Uganda.


LGBTQ ACTIVISTS IN THE INDIAN CITY BANGALORE TAKING PART IN A 2020 PRIDE PARADE. PHOTO: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via VICE

In a landmark move, India’s medical regulatory body has ordered colleges and publishers to remove derogatory and unscientific depictions of LGBTQ people from their medical textbooks and curriculums. The National Medical Commission (NMC) stated in an order released earlier this month that “wherever the issue of gender or similar kind arises, the mention of clinical history, complaints, signs and symptoms, examination findings or history about nomenclature shall not be taught in such a way that it becomes or is perceived in any way as derogatory, discriminatory and insulting to the LGBTQ community.”

While LGBTQ rights activists welcomed the move, they also pointed out the additional need to revamp prejudicial language in other curricula, such as gynecology, pediatrics and general medicine.

To arrive at this directive, the Madras High Court reviewed a report submitted by Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, one of Karnataka state’s first transgender doctors, which highlights the outdated and inflammatory content in the forensic medicine curriculum, which mentions “transvestism” as a “sexual perversion,” and “lesbianism,” “sodomy” and “oral sex” as sexual offences.

The harm that is perpetrated by these books is through doctors thinking that they can and ought to change non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity and they make promises to parents of young LGBTQIA people. This practice of conversion ‘therapy’ is unethical and unscientific. It follows directly from the damage caused by these books with their pathologizing descriptions and the prejudices that healthcare professionals have. - Lakshmikantan Ramakrishnan, vice president of healthcare rights non-profit SAATHII

LGBTQ individuals continue to be subjected to conversion therapy along with discriminatory treatment in health care settings that lack appropriate policies and infrastructure for LGBTQ patients. Activists have praised the NMC’s initiative, but caution that there is still a long way to go to make healthcare inclusive and affirmative to queer and trans folks.

…The NMC is yet to remove queerphobic competencies, outlaw conversion therapy, and include queer doctors in its decision making. Most importantly, it is yet to conduct focused group discussions and community outreach to determine competencies for the Indian medical graduate to become a queer affirming practitioner. - Dr. Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju


Violet Chachki performs with dancers at the Voss Events Halloween Drive N' Drag show in Massapequa, N.Y. Astrida Valigorsky / Getty Images file via nbc.com

Many LGBTQ Americans hail Halloween as "gay Christmas." Lee Roberts who is queer and trans recalls frequently partaking in costume parades and working at haunted houses. He says that many aspects of Halloween and the things celebrated are things he has always been drawn to. Today, Roberts continues to play out his Halloween fantasies, working as drag king under the name Sweaty Eddy. Eddy’s year-round performances include a rendition of the movie "Silence of the Lambs," an act where he rips off his hand and reveals bare bone, and a plethora of body casting.

It’s less that I’m obsessed with Halloween and more that like I feel genuinely connected to exploring these things in my work," he said. "I see as a gateway into an appreciation for things that are 'othered.' – Lee Roberts

The modern phrase "gay Christmas" stems from an earlier queer nickname for the holiday, "bitches Christmas," according to Marc Stein, a professor of history at San Francisco State University. During the 1950s and '60s, Philadelphia's LGBTQ community celebrated "bitches Christmas" by dressing up in drag and partying in the city's gay bars. Revelers by the hundreds would follow drag performers from bar-to-bar, forming some of the country's first queer Halloween parades. Also, Halloween was the only safe time to wear drag and not get arrested, as cross-dressing was prohibited in many cities and states across the country. 

As for why LGBT people were so drawn to the holiday, I think it picks up on those older traditions that Halloween’s a time for transgressing all sorts of social boundaries. So, it had a particular set of meanings for people who were basically living a straight life and saw Halloween as an opportunity to express their genders and sexualities. - Marc Stein

Many of today’s LGBTQ Americans now celebrate in queer nightclubs on Halloween. LGBTQ bars host Halloween-themed parties throughout October, making it one of their busiest and most profitable seasons of the year. Merrie Cherry, a Brooklyn drag queen who is a contestant on Shudder’s fourth season of “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula,” says she has performances booked every night of the week leading up to Halloween on Sunday. 

We have to put on these, not just masks, but shields to protect ourselves from everyday, regular straight life. Halloween gives queer people a chance to let their freak flag fly and be as explicit and insane looking as possible. Sometimes, you just want to be a different person, you know? - Merrie Cherry


Ella Lamoureux is a two-spirited individual from the Yukon, who moved to Kelowna where she had a major part in growing the drag scene. (Submitted by Ella Lamoureux) via cbc.com

Drag queen Ella Lamoureux who has been a drag entertainer for over a decade, will make her reality-show debut in the new drag competition Call Me Mother. The Canadian reality show is hosted by Entertainment Tonight Canada's Dallas Dixon, and will see emerging drag performers join a drag house and compete in group challenges, ultimately vying for the title of "First Child of Drag" and $50,000 in prizes. The show is inspired by drag families where an experienced drag performer, referred to as "house mothers" mentors "children" or those who are new to performing.

Out of drag, Lamoureux is Dustin Dufault, which is what he says he views as his "colonial name." Dufault is a two-spirited individual from the Yukon, a member of the Kaska Dena First Nation who moved to Kelowna where he had a major part in growing the drag scene.

Growing up in a small northern town in the Yukon, you grow up with this sense of shame with anything that's feminine when they're supposed to be a stereotypical boy. – Dufault 

When Dufault moved to Kelowna, British Columbia, he tried drag for the first time and fell in love with performing. He realized it is a part of who he is. Dufault says that this new show is fully inclusive, all drag artists are eligible to compete, including drag queens, drag kings, and transgender and non-binary performers.

When I first walked onto this set and I saw the people around me, I was really excited. There were so many different cultures presented in that one room between the 10 of us castmates … This show is breaking ground with the diversity on their casting and it's pretty awesome. - Dufault

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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.