Global Roundup: Fighting for Abortion Rights in Sierra Leone and Italy, Asian-American Women Chaperones, Supporting Homeless and Youth LGBTQ2+ in NYC, México en La Piel Supporting Wage Equality

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Photo by WHRRO 

In Sierra Leone, millions of poor women, young women, rural women and their families are forced to bear the unfair, and sometimes long-lasting, consequences of unsafe abortions. The Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights Organization (WHRRO), in partnership with the Safe Abortion Action Fund, is working to advance women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Sierra Leone, specifically by addressing stigma surrounding abortion, and fighting against the many unsafe abortions which occur every year.

Abortion was banned in Sierra Leone in 1861, a full century before the nation became independent. In the almost 200 years since its inception, this law has not changed, and abortions are only legally administered to pregnant people in severe danger. As such, there are millions of women who are forced to undergo unsafe abortions, many of whom have not finished school or may have experienced sexual violence. These abortions can cost up to double the amount of a safe procedure in a hospital. Additionally, Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes. 

Look at the lengths women will go to end an unwanted pregnancy. Let our commitment be as great to ensure that women do not face unwanted pregnancies and that when they do, they do not have to put their very lives in jeopardy - WHRRO 

Religious and traditional groups strongly oppose abortions, labelling those who support the cause sinners, murderers, and agents of darkness. Despite the threats and discrimination, the WHRRO envisions a society where no woman or girl dies from an unsafe abortion. To fulfill that vision, the organization is implementing the following measures: providing comprehensive sexuality education for young people, holding community awareness campaigns on the prevention of unintended pregnancies, hosting clarification workshops on abortion, and meeting with the members of parliament to push for the removal of the 1861 law.  

The WHRRO hopes to see unsafe abortion addressed through law reform, and also hopes that through these measures, communities in Sierra Leone will be able to better understand the need for abortions, especially in cases such as rape, incest, and violence against women. 

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Katrina Ramos (co-founder), center, meets with Compassion in Oakland volunteers in Oakland's Chinatown in March. (Compassion in Oakland)

Anti-Asian attacks in the US have been on the rise over the past few months. After witnessing the number of attacks in the Bay Area in February, Jess Owyoung decided to take action to support the Asian-American community during such a difficult time.

She discovered a post on social media by Jacob Azevedo, who offered to bring his dog and walk with anyone in Chinatown to ensure they felt safe. Owyoung immediately reached out to Azevedo and offered to help organize a team of volunteers to accompany Asian-Americans going to and from work, to doctor’s appointments, and the grocery store. 

Several other individuals also offered to help out, which led to the creation of Compassion in Oakland, an organization dedicated to supporting and protecting Oakland’s Asian-American citizens from anti-Asian violence. Since it began a few months ago, Compassion in Oakland has received over 2000 volunteer applications, and hundreds of requests for chaperones from Asian-Americans of all ages. 

A lot of people are feeling scared right now, and it’s awful that they have to worry about being attacked…We want them to know that there are people who care and are out there doing good things…And we also want to change what our world looks like and open up some conversations about what it means to be Asian American - Jess Owyoung

For the last two months, Compassion in Oakland volunteers have worked in small teams to fill requests for walking chaperones. Group members also meet on weekends to spread the word about their free service and offer encouragement to Asian-American business owners. 

For those who need to travel further or are unable to walk, Kye Perrot recently launched Cali Kye Cab on Instagram, which offers transportation for those who do not feel safe taking public transportation and cannot afford a cab. In just two days, Perrot raised $100,000 to pay for the cab rides of older adults and women. Asian-Americans who need a ride can fill out a request for a cab, and are later reimbursed.

A post shared by @calikyecab

With the recent increase of anti-Asian attacks in the US, Asian-Americans, and many other allies, are standing together in solidarity to protect the Asian-American community. Owyoung and Perrot are both motivated to get these individuals to their destinations safely, and to let them know that they are not alone. 

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Source: Getty Images via them.us

The Mayor's office and the NYC Unity Project (the city's LGBTQ2+ programming initiative) have announced a partnership with the national LGBTQ2+ homeless youth shelter. Through this partnership, a program will be created which will specifically focus on supporting homeless and runaway LGBTQ2+ youth.

Launching on July 1, this program will work with participants for up to two years, providing those aged 16-24 with jobs or paid internships with businesses which are committed to fostering inclusion and diversity. Participants will have access to a number of services and resources including food, clothing, and mental health support. 

The program will also offer participants with the option to enroll in an advanced training certification program in the fields of media, the arts, human and social services, and more. 

LGBTQI homeless young people, who are mostly young people of color, have been marginalized and rejected both interpersonally and institutionally for too long and this past year has only exacerbated those experiences. We are eager to share lessons as we learn them with our colleagues nationwide and are hopeful that this is only the beginning of large-scale government investments in human-centered LGBTQI anti-poverty and economic justice programming. It’s what our communities desperately need and deserve - Ashe McGovern, executive director for the NYC Unity Project and senior LGBTQ policy advisor in the mayor's office

The NYC Unity Project was founded in 2017 to strengthen the LGBTQ2+ youth community's involvement with city services, and this new program is the first of its kind across the US. 

Homeless and youth LGBTQ2+ are often overlooked when it comes to programming. In 2021 alone, at least 15 trans people have been killed. This new endeavour is not the be-all-end-all, but it is a start. We must remember that accountability is everything, and we must continue to hold our governments and local organizations accountable for their actions. 

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Photo courtesy of México en La Piel 

Paola Gonzalez, originally from Mexico, founded her artisanal business, México en La Piel to celebrate the beauty of Mexico and inspire women to embrace their beauty and their heritage. Born in Mexico and raised in Arizona, Gonzalez has always understood the importance of elevating her heritage and culture.

After graduating high school, she felt the urge to create something which would embody her Mexican culture, even if her family and friends did not agree. Her family remarked that she should have gone back to Mexico because she wasted her opportunity of the ‘American Dream’; but, these comments did not stop her. 

I think their comments were part of the reason I opened up México en La Piel. I wanted to prove to them that you can become anything that you want to and that anyone should feel empowered to speak about their roots and heritage - Paola Gonzalez 

With the hopes of serving as many people as possible, she founded México en La Piel. Throughout this process, Gonzalez has also ensured that everyone involved in the production would benefit from the business, from the person who sells her textile fabrics, to the person that helps transport her products. Her business currently supports 22 other businesses, including women artisans. Gonzalez felt that compensating the women involved in her business would make the brand more genuine, but it would also help fight the patriarchy by paying them fair and equal wages. In Mexico, women are paid around 19% less than men, and Latinas are the lowest paid women in the US. 

Breaking that machismo mentality means having women stray away from feeling like they have to worry about ‘what ifs’ or following a certain path…Our culture tries to dictate a lot about women, but it’s missing the part where women need to be empowered at all times. This is why I strive to empower women by giving them a platform where they can present themselves and their work -  Paola Gonzalez 

México en La Piel hopes to close the gender pay gap in Mexico and the US by providing opportunities to those that will uphold cultural values and authenticity. Through this multifaceted production incorporating many different businesses and shops, Gonzalez wants people to feel connected to her creation, no matter where they are. 

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150,000 people from all over Italy gather and march against the 13th World Congress of Families, in Verona, Italy, 30th March 2019. | Photo by: Ferdinando Piezzi / Alamy Stock Photo.

Although abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, it has experienced severe backlash from ultra-conservative groups and far-right movements. Feminists are calling on Italian women across the nation to take part in an online and offline protest taking place this weekend, in protest of this absurdity. 

Recently, the conservative, right-wing regional government in the Piedmont region stated that it was looking for organizations to work in the maternal and child protection field. The eligibility criteria has enabled anti-abortion movements and given them a way into public hospitals. The criteria was as follows:  “presence in the [organisation’s] statute of the purpose of protecting life from conception and/or specific activities concerning support for maternity and the protection of the newborn”.

The president of Federvita Piemonte, part of an anti-abortion federation, remarked that this call-out for organizations was the avenue that anti-abortion groups had been waiting for - an opportunity to dissuade women from obtaining abortions. They will do so by citing article 2 in the law which states that family planning clinics should assist pregnant people overcome the causes that could lead to terminating a pregnancy - essentially a loophole in the system. 

The local government wants to let anti-abortion movements inside public facilities. We call them 'anti-abortion' groups, not 'pro-lifers'. We say, be careful – because this is our life, not theirs - Carla Quaglino, co-president of women’s rights group House of the Women of Turin

Feminist movements have chosen to say fuck you to the statement by Federvita Piemonte by protesting on Saturday afternoon in Turin, the main city in the Piedmont region, and across Italy. Activists are calling on all women, people and organizations who care about this issue to show up and fight for women’s rights. 

Those who attended the WCF are the same people the local government wants to put inside the public facilities. There is a political plan to repress women’s rights locally, nationally and also at an international level – just think of what is happening in Poland. This is why we want to build broader networks and to fight back together - Carla Quaglino 

Quaglino explained that reproductive rights in Italy are not good. Many doctors can declare themselves as ‘conscientious objectors’, which allows them to refuse to perform abortions. Last August, the Ministry of Health declared that counselling centres and hospitals could begin to provide medical abortions, yet only a few regions in the nation have adopted this mandate. 

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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