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Global Roundup: Environmental Activism in Cameroon, Queer Ukrainian Refugees in Berlin, Malta Abortion Bill, Trans Activism in Peru, Iranian Lawyer for Women’s Rights
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Duncan Moore/UNEP. Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet. Champions of the Earth 2022. Photo via AllAfrica.
Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet is a Cameroonian activist and agronomist, working to improve women’s rights and the rights of women to own agricultural and forest land. In her work, Ndjebet also supports the preservation of Cameroonian forests and the communities that depend on them. This year she was named a Champion of the Earth, the UN’s highest environmental honour.
The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Champions of the Earth award recognizes individuals that find innovative ways to support the restoration and renewal of the environment. Ndjebet co-founded the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests in 2009 with 20 member countries from across the African continent.
I’m trying really to push for gender equality in all those mechanisms and also advocating for direct access to funding, more specifically climate finance funding to women so far. – Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet
For the last several decades, Ndjebet has dedicated her work to improving women’s rights, particularly those pertaining to the environment, as well as environmental preservation. In 2001, she formed the organization Cameroon Ecology (Cam-Ec0), which trains, educates, informs, and supports women in understanding and participating in forest conservation and restoration. Since its inception, the organization has restored over 600 hectares of degraded land.
When you're in the forest and you have been living in the forest, like myself, the forest has been part of my life. We know the value of conservation because for us it is our home. It has provided all the medicines, food, security, and even provided income. So, conservation for us is very important, because of what we have as benefits, while the environment is well protected. Conservation for us is part of our way of living, and we have to fight to save our environment, our territories, our forests, our dry lands, and our ecosystem in general. – Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet
Although African women contribute to around 80 percent of food production, they often lack the right to own the land where the food is produced. In true patriarchal fashion, many women are unable to gain ownership of land because property is usually inherited by the man in every family. Women play a key role in the agricultural sector, and it is due time that their contributions are recognized and honoured by improving women’s land rights for agricultural and forest land in Cameroon.
And this is our fight. Women don't own anything, but women are those who are producing everything. How can you explain that? It does not make sense. It does not make sense at all. So we need to work on that, we need to show our traditional chiefs, those who are applying these cultural restrictions or exclusion in the land right to know the differences. And that is why have been succeeding because we show them the added value of women in food production for the communities in biodiversity conservation in their communities. – Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet
Courtesy: Quarteera]. Photo via Al Jazeera.
When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, millions of Ukrainians fled to neighbouring countries, while millions were displaced within Ukraine. In Ukraine, queer people face extreme and violent threats. Although President Zelensky has expressed his support for same-sex partnerships, it does not change the reality of queer peoples’ experiences in Ukraine.
Following the Russian invasion, many queer people fled to Berlin. Berlin’s queer scene is a stark contrast to that of Ukraine’s; the city is known for its inclusiveness and widespread support for the LGBTQ+ community. Dimitry Pakhomovsky, a 27-year old photographer and photo editor from Kyiv, said that living in Berlin has been life-changing. For the first time ever, they have met people who fully share their values as a leftist and a feminist.
For others, such as Yaroslav Reznikov, being queer in Berlin has been a positive experience thus far, in that queer Ukrainians can finally breathe a bit without fear of facing legal penalties for expressing their sexuality. However, immigration is not always a fairytale, especially when individuals enter a country under refugee status.
It’s like a dream to come to Berlin and get a visa, financial assistance for housing and food, and incredible access to health care. But the dark side is that you didn’t come here because you finally made your dream come true — you came here because of war. – Yaroslav Reznikov, massage therapist
Although Berlin has acted as a safe-haven for queer Ukrainians who can now freely express and embrace their sexualities and gender identities, Berlin is an expensive city and adjusting to a new society and lifestyle can be difficult. Many queer Ukrainian refugees have struggled to find housing and are doing their best to make ends meet.
Here in Berlin you can definitely be yourself and be free. People come here from all over where it’s impossible to be gay, so it’s very international and accepting. I’m grateful to have a chance to build a life here. In Ukraine, getting married and having kids with your husband might be something you dream about, but here it feels like a real possibility. I believe somehow things will change, and people like me will not need to run from their own country just to be themselves. – Yaroslav Reznikov
Activists hold up banners in English and Maltese reading, ‘I decide’, ‘Abortion is a woman's right’ and ‘Abortion is healthcare not a crime’ outside the courts in Valletta, Malta, last June. Photograph: Kevin Schembri Orland/AP. Photo via The Guardian.
A few weeks ago, Malta’s government published a draft law which would loosen the nation’s very strict abortion laws by allowing the termination of pregnancies when the mother’s life or health are at serious risk. Critics have argued that the draft bill fell short, as women still do not have the choice to have an abortion, it is circumstantial.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said that this act to decriminalize abortion is an imperative step, but more measures must follow to ensure that Maltese women have safe, equal, and legal access to abortion care.
Mijatović believes that there are other steps that Malta’s government must take to ensure the protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Her recommendations are as follows: repeal any provisions that criminalize abortion and instead provide safe and legal access, safeguard access to healthcare in case abortion care is refused due to a doctor/clinic’s personal beliefs, make contraceptive services available and affordable, and provide mandatory and comprehensive sexual education.
Malta’s government was criticized earlier this year when the Council of Europe called the nation out for the danger of the blanket ban on abortion.
Credit: Photo courtesy of YMCA of Greater Toronto; Getty Images; Unsplash; Elham Numan/Xtra.
In Peru, legal protections for trans people do not exist. This can lead to repeated acts of violence against trans individuals. In light of the lack of protections for the trans community, trans activist and lawyer Miluzka Luzquiños Tafur has created a new gender identity law which has been heard but not yet codified into law.
The queer community in Peru is subject to widespread discrimination. The country is one of a few South American countries that does not legally recognize same-sex couples. Additionally, trans people in Peru are systematically disadvantaged due to the stigma associated with transness and queerness.
The majority of trans women never went to school or dropped out at a very young age. Many of them are sex workers or are victims of human trafficking. – Miluzka Luzquiños Tafur, trans activist and lawyer
Due to the stigma, discrimination, and violence that manifests in a number of ways, trans people in Peru have more difficulty accessing legal documents. More than 10 percent of the trans community does not have a National Identity Document, which is necessary to access healthcare and other social services. Trans people also face barriers to changing their legal name and sex designation. Although the option exists to fight their case in court before a judge, these processes are demanding of one’s time, are quite costly, and they often require individuals to have already undergone gender-confirmation surgery. Tafur noted that changing a trans person’s name and sex has taken up to 35 years in the past, only emphasizing the need for more legal protections for the trans community.
As the author of the gender identity law, I would like to be buried as Miluzka, and that’s the aspiration of all of us, to have a dignified death and part of the dignity for trans persons is that we are recognized by the name that has stayed with us our whole life. – Miluzka Luzquiños Tafur
Without accurate identification, trans people are outed by anyone who sees their identification such as the police, employers, landlords, etc. Tafur’s project was first presented to Congress in 2016 with the goal to create administrative changes to create legal protections for trans rights.
Having a legal framework of protection and recognition lowers the violence and the stigma [against trans people]...In countries like Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay, there has been proof that having a gender identity law lowers the risks [of violence] against the lives of transgender people. – Miluzka Luzquiños Tafur
If this law is passed, it will not solve the struggles of trans people in Peru, but it will create significant change and will pave the way for the future of the nation’s trans community.
Photo via OHCHR.
Mahnaz Parakand is a lawyer and activist from Iran who has spent her life and her career fighting for the rights of Iranian women. Growing up in Tehran in a poor family and a society dominated by the patriarchy, Parakand’s father asked her not to complete her university degree due to the fear of judgement from others, but she did not back down and instead used her experience to fuel her career.
In 1978, Parakand was admitted to Tehran University’s Faculty of Law, where only 20 percent of students were women. At the age of 22, she was arrested for participating in political demonstrations. Parakand was imprisoned with hundreds of other women, and was badly beaten and tortured while in custody. Although she was initially sentenced to death, her sentence was later reduced to time at a prison. She vowed that if she ever made it out of prison alive, she would obtain her lawyer’s license and defend the rights of political prisoners and activists.
Iranian women and girls have been standing up for their rights in the face of inequality and oppression, and they have great merits and capabilities. Despite all the restrictions, they managed to make up more than 60 percent of university students. They excel in many sports. Many of them are lawyers, doctors, writers and poets, and a role model for younger generations. Despite many being arrested and tortured for standing up against discrimination, Iranian women and girls have never bowed down to oppression and oppressors. – Mahnaz Parakand, Iranian activist and lawyer
Once she received her degree, she joined the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. After facing the threat of execution again, she left Iran and now lives in Norway, where she continues to work as an activist, standing up for the rights of women.
She has also written a book titled Women’s Rights in Simple Language, which explains how both rights and discrimination exist within Iranian law. Using simple vocabulary, Parakand wanted to ensure that a larger number of women, without formal education, could benefit from learning about the nation’s laws.
Her other work pertains to the rights of prisoners in Iran, and how prisoners can mobilize and take control of their rights. She continues to write articles and speak at conferences to raise awareness about the systematic discrimination against women in Iran. Parakand’s work is ever-important as women in Iran propel a feminist revolution in their country.
I would like to see a future where Iranian women are recognized as human beings with human rights and citizenship rights, as well as an established position in society, instead of being seen as tools for meeting men's sexual desires and bearing children. – Mahnaz Parakand
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.