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Global Roundup: Dalit Women Abortion Rights, Iranian Women Forced Confessions, Uganda LGBT Advocacy Group vs Gov’t Shut Down, Anti-Apartheid Activist, Queer Brown Illustrator
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
A mural in Delhi by Shilo Shiv Suleman, founder the Fearless Collective, which creates public art with women and misrepresented communities. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images via The Guardian
Shreeja Rao–a law student and Dalit woman writing on topics including gender, health, education and policy–writes about how the abortion rights movement in India leaves behind Dalit women. Rao recounts sitting in her law class as Roe v Wade was overturned and watching young women hail India’s abortion legislation.
For a movement claiming to represent all women, Indian feminism is a colossal failure. It persistently overlooks the women of my community. Can they afford safe abortion? Are they able to choose birth control measures? Do they have access to reproductive healthcare at all? -Shreeja Ra
Women of India’s historically marginalized Dalit community (formerly known as “untouchables”) are “doubly oppressed by caste and gender.” Dalit women suffer the worst health outcomes in the country, lack access to water and sanitation, and are the poorest and most vulnerable to sexual violence. Many Dalit women cannot afford reproductive rights.
Babita Valmiki, a Dalit woman, gathers human excrement by hand from dry latrines, earning about £3 a month. Although manual scavenging has been outlawed, it continues nationwide and 95-98% of manual scavengers are Dalit women. Babita was unpaid throughout her three pregnancies and was repeatedly denied reproductive care by government hospitals for 11 years due to her caste. Using private hospitals has forced her to borrow 40,000 rupees, which is 133 times her monthly income. Disparities such as Babita’s worsen when seeking abortions. Dalit women are often forced to depend on abortions performed in unsafe circumstances.
Until the mainstream feminist movement, dominated by upper-castes, addresses inequalities faced by Dalit women, it remains exclusionary, and a reflection of patriarchy and caste itself. -Riya Singh, Dalit feminist
Rao says that things are slowly changing with the emergence of community-led organizations working specifically on Dalit women’s reproductive health and providing low-cost, safe medical abortions. She also says that medical professionals should receive inclusivity training.
It is time for Dalit women’s voices to be centred in feminist conversations on bodily autonomy – which must no longer be at our expense, but through our leadership. -Shreeja Rao
An Iranian woman takes off her hijab and posses for a selfie, protesting the law of mandatory hijab. Women post photos and videos of themselves in public places without hijab, in different cities of Iran, via ABC
Sepideh Rashno appeared last month on Iranian state television to apologize to another woman for refusing to wear a hijab in public. A viral video posted days earlier appeared to show Rashno in public without a hijab, which Iranian women have been required by law since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Rashno appeared to be arguing with a woman who wore a hijab, saying she would send the video of their altercation "to the world." Rashno was later arrested and her apology to the other woman was aired on state television. The apology program was continued later in another special report showing her “confessing.” Many believe it to be a forced confession. Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based Iranian and anti-hijab activist, described Rashno’s televised confession, as well as those of other women, as an "act of terror" in a tweet last week.
Dozens of women have been arrested since [the] July 12 day of action against forced hijab. But these acts of terror haven’t deterred women. Our campaign against forced hijab continues. -Masih Alinejad
The public apology arrived at around the same time as women from across the country began a social media campaign to protest the government's hijab law. Some shared photos and videos of themselves without headscarves in public places. They have used a #No2Hijab or #ImAgainstMandatoryHijab hashtag. Several have been arrested for the online posts.
Iran's hijab laws are enforced by the morality police, which often patrol busy areas of the cities and arrest women on the streets for not being compliant with the traditional Islamic dress code. Last month's campaign activity has been treated more strictly by the morality police and those arrested for their activism could face more severe sentencing, as the Iranian judiciary seemed poised to interpret the anti-hijab campaign as a collective act organized by the West, with Iranian officials saying the protests amounted to a plot against Iranian women's "chastity."
A few days after Alinejad posted about Rashno's "forced confession," a man with an assault rifle was arrested near her Brooklyn home. Police said the man, Khalid Mehdiyev, had a loaded Norinco AK-47-style assault rifle, according to a criminal complaint. He was charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, the complaint said. Police have not said what they believe Mehdiyev's intent or motive may have allegedly been.
LGBT Ugandan refugees who fled the country due to persecution pictured here in 2018, Getty Images via BBC
Ugandan officials have ordered shut prominent LGBT rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), for not not registering properly with authorities. The campaign group decried the order as a "clear witch hunt" by the government against LGBT Ugandans..
Sexual minorities face widespread persecution in Uganda, where anti-gay and transphobic views are common. Gay relationships can be punished by up to life in prison for committing "unnatural offences." 194 people were charged under the offence between 2017 and 2020, including 25 who went on to be convicted according to official data.
This is a clear witch hunt rooted in systematic homophobia, fuelled by anti-gay and anti-gender movements. - Frank Mugisha, Smug's director, gay Ugandan activist
On Friday, Ugandan officials announced they were halting Smug's operations because the campaign group had failed to register its name with the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) properly. It is the same reason given last year when dozens of civil society groups were also banned by Ugandan authorities. In a statement the NGO Bureau acknowledged that Smug had attempted to register with authorities in 2012, but that the application had been rejected because Smug's full name was considered "undesirable."
Since its establishment in 2004, Smug has campaigned for the rights of LGBT people in Uganda by promoting access to health services and supporting members of the LGBT community to live openly. It has also taken legal action to protect gay people from hostility, including in 2010 when it successfully petitioned a Ugandan judge to order a newspaper to stop publishing the names and photographs of gay Ugandan men under the headline "hang them". More recently, Smug has vocally criticised anti-gay speeches delivered by Ugandan politicians–including in the run up to national elections in 2021.
The politicians are using the LGBT community as a scapegoat to gain support and win votes and it is fuelling homophobia. -Frank Mugisha
Author and feminist activist Pregs Govender. © Pregs Govender / Wikimedia Commons
South African Women’s Day marks the anniversary of when 20,000 women marched against the apartheid government’s pass book laws, on 9 August 1956. Renowned anti-apartheid activist, politician and author Pregs Govender chats with fellow author and Greenpeace Storytelling Advisor Yewande Omotoso on Mirage News about her activism throughout the years.
Govender acknowledges that fighting against apartheid was not just about a racist state–it was a “racist, capitalist and patriarchal state,” which is a “global system.” She describes the process of writing her book “Love and Courage, the Story of Insubordination” as a “deep internal journey.” The book is about her learning about the power of love and how to connect, to draw courage and be insubordinate, to injustice and to systems of injustice.
We’re not sort of all these disparate pieces – mother here and then I’m a teacher there, feminist here and I’m an activist there, I’m a person of color, I’m black…it’s not in pieces, it’s one thing…That’s how Power Systems work. They fragment us…And I suppose one of the most powerful things is reclaiming that connection. -Pregs Govender
Govender says her biggest influence is her father who was a storyteller and taught her the importance of who is telling the story. She links this by asking “through whose eyes are we seeing climate change and the solutions?”
So it’s not just about whose stories get told, but it’s about if you are writing the story yourself, if it’s your story, if it’s your experience, the power of that is enormous. Because all stories have been written for us and they’ve been re-written. And many times we’ve been written out. -Pregs Govender
Visual artist Jag Nagra via Global News
Jag Nagra is a self-taught illustrator who lives in British Columbia, Canada and uses her art to inspire people to live unapologetically. She is deeply passionate about ending the cultural and social stigma against LGBTQ2 people, especially within the South Asian community.
I find it really healing for me. To be able to represent the different aspects of my identity through my art. Being a brown woman, being queer — all these different things can come together, and I can create something that empowers. -Jag Nagra
Nagra said she struggled with telling her family about her sexuality, and came out to her parents in her early 20s. Her older brother also came out as gay near that time. Her parents were open to learning and accepting their children’s truth.
Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver, said he started the non-profit organization in 2008 because there was virtually no education or support available for queer South Asian kids and their families. He said his 2021 award-winning documentary, Emergence: Out of the Shadows, which also features Nagra, has sparked much-needed dialogue and awareness.
Tradition plays a big role in the South Asian community. Even though your faith may say, ‘Love everyone, we’re all equal, and we support each other as human beings,’ we have grown up in a culture that puts emphasis on (being) married to the opposite gender and having children. -Alex Sangha
In 2012, Nagra set out to teach herself how to illustrate in 365 days and things started to take off. She says she got involved with the Punjabi Market Collective in 2019, a non-profit organization that has been working to revitalize Vancouver’s historic Punjabi Market. That is when she really got involved with her South Asian heritage, and her art started to flourish from there.
Hopefully, this paves the way for other people who will see that there’s this queer, brown, Punjabi woman achieving things, and it gives them the inspiration to do the same. -Jag Nagra
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.