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Global Roundup: Ending FGM in Uganda, Trans Artist Vs Ghana Anti-LGBT+ Bill, Women’s March in Bolivia, Queer Muslim Network Toronto, Haitian Film Takes Black Feminist Lens
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Priscilla Nanagiro shares her experiences about Female Genital Mutilation in Amudat. Photo: Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) /B. Ssewankambo.via UN Women
Priscilla Nangiro is a former female genital mutilation (FGM) practitioner from Uganda and today she is an advocate working to eliminate the practice in her community. Nangiro underwent FGM at the age of 13 believing that it was her initiation into adulthood. She went on to perform FGM on other girls in her village in Uganda. It provided her with supplementary income to support her family.
I bled over and bled the whole day, and my parents were worried, other girls were also worried since I was over bleeding and things were not working well. Some of them feared to undergo FGM as result of me over bleeding but they were forced by their parents to do it. - Priscilla Nangiro
A 2010 law made FGM illegal in Uganda, but the practice has continued and gone underground as it is believed to be a necessary rite of passage for young girls. It is often performed in a rush, in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, thus increasing the health risks. Girls travel in small groups to a remote area where they get cut and sometimes, they may seek treatment at health facilities later. Close to 95% of girls and women in Nangiro’s Pokot community have undergone FGM.
UN Women is working with the NGO, Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU), supported by the Spotlight Initiative, to drive out the practice of FGM in rural communities in Uganda. The programme uses a methodology called “SASA!”
UN Women and partners have been using the SASA! Model to change the mindset of community members. The programme uses media, communications, and community dialogues to address the root of the problem and the social dynamics that have allowed for FGM to continue. It also targets community elders who are the gatekeepers of the traditions and social norms. - Evelyn Letiyo, UN Women programme specialist in Uganda
Attending the training session for the programme prompted Nangiro to stop performing FGM and focus on her business selling Indigenous (Pokot) clothing and accessories. As a community activist, she conducts group dialogues and one-on-one exchanges with community members to change their attitudes. She has also mobilized fellow community members and started a drama group to educate people on the dangers of FGM. Ultimately, Nangiro is certain that ensuring girls’ education is the best way to end FGM once and for all.
I believe there is more that needs to be done, but we are on the right track. We are engaging youth, community elders, and religious leaders and working with parents so that they understand the dangers of FGM. - Priscilla Nangiro
Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi, 40, a trans woman who is an artist and LGBT+ activist, applies makeup before attening the funeral of her grandmother in her family's village, in Lume Atsyame, Volta Region-Ghana, December 18, 2021. "There are some of my siblings and cousins who, for over five years, we never spoke, even though I love and miss them so much," said Fiatsi. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi is a Ghanaian artist and LGBT+ activist who fears for her community due to a potential law intended to tighten already strict anti-LGBT+ regulations which render same-sex relations illegal.
To say I'm afraid is an understatement, but I am what I am. It feels like waiting to be slaughtered. - Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi
A group of lawmakers from Ghana's opposition introduced what they called a "Family Values Bill" in November, which would impose jail terms of up to 10 years for advocacy of LGBT+ causes and between three and five years for those who "hold out" as lesbian, gay, non-binary, transgender and transsexual, or who undergo or perform surgical procedures for gender reassignment. The bill is yet to be voted on, but it has wide support and no politician has come out publicly against it. Fiatsi is a former Christian pastor and many of her former colleagues support the bill as well.
There have been no national opinion polls on the bill. Advocates say LGBT+ people are often subject to physical abuse and blackmail in Ghana, and those who come out or are outed are frequently ostracized by friends and family.
No longer welcome at the churches where she used to preach, Fiatsi channels her evangelism into art and activism. Her studio compound, where she hosts LGBT-friendly artist residency programmes, is filled with sculptures carved from tree trunks or shaped from old electronics. Murals and affirmations like "We Are All The Same" line the walls.
Fiatsi has a global network of allies, but she insists she will stay in Ghana out of solidarity with those unable to leave.
There are many more of us that will be born, even far after I'm gone," she said. "What I do today is not for me, or even for those living today. It's for the future generation. - Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi
(Image by Josué Antonio Castañeta/ABI) via Pressenza
CW: gender-based violence
Last week, there was a massive Women’s March against sexist violence and corruption in the justice system in Bolivia. The event was organized by feminist activist María Galindo’s “Mujeres Creando” (Women Creating). It was led by the Indigenous Aymara women of El Alto. Later, women’s collectives from different parts of the country joined in as well. Participants included relatives of victims of femicide and victims of male violence.
The march follows the release of Richard Choque Flores, who has killed at least two women and been accused of raping dozens of women.
A central moment of the march occurred when an endless list of names and surnames of rapists and femiciders released by the justice system was shown in front of the camera. The data was collected through a call on social networks contributed by several rape victims and relatives of femicide victims.
It is not just the case of this judge, it is a structural phenomenon in Bolivia. We will never again be silent, nor will we forget. - María Galindo
María Galindo met Eduardo del Castillo, Bolivian Minister of Government, and demanded the creation of a “Historical Exception Commission” with the aim of counting and compiling the files of cases of femicide and rape at the national level. Following the mobilization, President Luis Arce instructed the creation of a “Commission for the Review of cases of femicides and rapes” that had been released from prison – the commission must present results within 120 days. However, femicide has remained rampant despite the country already having a “Special joint commission of enquiry into the delay in cases of femicide and violence against women.”
The case of the femicide and serial rapist freed by the Bolivian justice system is not an exception, but the rule in a conservative society marked by exacerbated racism and machismo. There are power imbalances between women and men as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Protesters are adamant that the patriarchy underpinning this violence must be addressed.
Summeiya Khamissa started the Queer Muslim Network Toronto during the pandemic. Photo by Yazmeen Khanji via National Observer
Growing up, Khamissa felt like the only queer Muslim around, but during these pandemic years they have found peace with their religion and self and a thriving group of like-minded folks online.
When I was growing up, I was convinced that there weren't a lot of people who were like me in the world… It was really lonesome to know that I was queer. - Summeiya Khamissa
The network now has almost 2,800 followers on Instagram and since last November, an executive team of five more volunteers. The group is running a monthly games night and is aiming to produce two workshops a month.
For many people who come to terms with their LGBTQ+ identity while growing up in a Muslim community, the two aspects of life can be difficult to reconcile. Many are not open about their orientation or identity with family, while queer spaces where being out is assumed or featuring alcohol can be off-putting or make events entirely inaccessible, Khamissa said.
The group is now gearing up for a larger version of its Ramadan Iftar dinner delivery operation, which last year dropped off 50 homemade meals for queer and trans Muslims observing in isolation. People have the option of a regular or undercover box that displays no outward signs.
The regular ones came with stickers, with queer Muslim stuff on it and cards saying we love you from your queer Muslim family. It was beautiful, it was wholesome and I loved it, and we're doing it again this year. - Summeiya Khamissa
Khamissa said the pandemic allowed them to both re-engage with their religion and embrace their queer identity on new terms. They have also been able to connect with queer people across Canada as well as in India, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Freda, 2021, film still. Courtesy: © Sanosi Productions via Frieze
Freda is a feature debut by Gessica Généus that tells a touching story about a young woman’s struggle to find hope in Haiti, despite despair and violence. The film is interspersed with footage from the summer of 2018 protests, where Haitians in Port-au-Prince took to the streets at the ruinous fuel price hikes incurred after Venezuela could no longer supply the country with oil.
In Freda, Généus – a long-time actress, singer and filmmaker – delivers an impressive filmic narrative that paints a vivid picture of her impoverished nation, while never succumbing to sensationalist tropes or poverty porn. Instead, the film often lingers on the more tender moments of Haitian quotidian life: students attending school, folks picking up groceries, friends going to the club.
Généus tells this story through a Black feminist lens, critically focusing on the limited options that women face in Haiti’s male-dominant society. As such, the female characters’ confidence, strength and unwavering resilience is pitted against them and romantic arrogance of their male counterparts – and, by extension, the immeasurable hardships inflicted by their very own country. Freda, the protagonist, is an aspirational, independent woman: an intelligent student, fiercely opinionated and politically engaged, with an obstinate determination that her country can and should do better. Freda, like many of the educated youths in Haiti, feels a moral obligation to stay in a country that ostensibly does not love her back.
It is uplifting to see a film on a historic event that tackles important issues such as political corruption, class and colourism and which centres strong women.
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.