Global Roundup: Fighting Period Shame in China, Malta Activists vs Femicides, Pakistan Trans Rights March, Sudanese Woman on Clothing & Freedom, Two-Spirit Mentorship
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Image by Wendy Kou via NPR
After witnessing the social media debate about whether to sell sanitary pads on trains in China, university student Wendy Kou made posters about fighting period shame and hung them around her campus. Some felt it provided a basic women's health service, while others vehemently opposed it as a private matter and felt that women should come to trains prepared.
I found the request totally normal. It is surprising to see that so many people are against it and raising it to the level of bigger issues. -Wendy Kou
Majoring in visual design, Kou drew up a series of posters about menstruation and posted them around her university's campus. One of her inspirations comes from the common experience of buying sanitary pads in China: The checker/sales assistant always wraps them in a black plastic bag before handing them back to customers, assuming it is embarrassing to be seen with them.
A group formed by young women, Period Pride, wants to bring the subject of menstruation out into the open in China and works to fight against the stigma surrounding it. To celebrate 2021's International Women's day, it launched an online campaign called #NothingToBeAshamedOf, encouraging women to openly share their hygiene products and personal stories related to menstruation. During the past two years, they have been helping women obtain menstruation products in some cities where China's zero-COVID policy enforced stringent lockdowns, limiting access to these supplies.
Growing up with her parents and her brother in a village outside of Chongqing city, Nova Tan knew that her period should not be discussed openly, as her mother always hid sanitary pads carefully and threw them away immediately after usage.
Behaviors are even more convincing than words. My mom has never left any traces of period at home. So without saying it explicitly, I know that period is considered embarrassing. -Nova Tan
Today in some parts of China, menstruating women are still seen as "dirty." Tan remembers that she was told not to go to wedding ceremonies when she was having her period, which would be seen as inappropriate at festive occasions. Last year, she created a podcast called "TruffleRice." Her idea is to have conversations about female issues with two friends, and their first topic was menstruation.
Women continue to advocate to end period shame and normalize these conversations. Weeks after the social media firestorm, some noticed that the period products were being sold on China Railway.
In January activists had protested the police's handling of the murder investigation of 29-year-old Paulina Dembska. Times of Malta file photo of activists outside the police headquarters in Floriana
Activists in Malta plan to protest today against what they say was a failure by authorities to protect murder victim Bernice Cassar. Titled “Who Will Answer For These Femicides?” and timed to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Friday’s march will see multiple NGOs and human rights groups march together for a common cause.
Cassar was shot as she was driving to work in Paola. Her husband Roderick Cassar, who she had accused of domestic violence and who had been ordered by a court not to approach her, is under arrest and suspected of her murder. Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà confirmed this week that Cassar had filed five separate police reports against her estranged husband, the most recent coming on the day before she was murdered. He said three of those reports had resulted in the police pressing charges against Roderick Cassar for domestic violence last May. However, that case was put off to November 2023 due to court backlogs.
The protest is being fronted by Moviment Graffitti, the Integra Foundation, the Women’s Rights Foundation and Young Progressive Beings.
We are meeting to ask the authorities to take responsibility for this gross failure. Every delay in court procedure kills women. It's time to ensure that domestic violence is acted upon properly and swiftly. -Organizers
The Canadian-Pakistani singer Urvah Khan, who performed at the Khwaja Sira march in Karachi this weekend. Photograph: The Guardian
Pakistan’s transgender community came together last weekend to take part in the country’s first march in support of their rights, held in in the city of Karachi. Often ridiculed and even murdered for dancing at functions – one of the few occupations open to the community, known as Khwaja Sira, people were instead able to take to the stage in celebration on this occasion, dancing, chanting and singing.
Payal, 30, came from Multan, a city in southern Punjab, to participate in the Sindh Moorat – the indigenous term for transgender – march.
It feels good to be here for the march and be myself, a trans woman, openly. We do not get respect in the society – people hurl abuses and slurs at us but I hope we will get accepted. -Payal
The Khwaja Sira community has been facing growing violence in Pakistan, with a surge in the number of hate crimes this year. According to Pakistan’s Trans-Action Alliance, since 2015, 91 trans women have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and there have been more than 2,000 registered cases of violence.
We deserve to be treated equally and with respect but this must start from our families. A lot of the transgender community is persecuted. This must stop, society and the families should support their children. -Arma Khan, march participant
The community has long been fighting for rights, and has won some significant successes in the past decade. The Khwaja Sira were given the right to vote and identify their gender on the national identity cards by the supreme court of Pakistan in 2012. In 2018, the country passed the Transgender Persons Act, which in theory gave the community basic protections. Still, it did not bring an end to the discrimination, with “honour” killings, rape, blackmail and sexual harassment still rife. Recently, religious conservative political parties have challenged the bill.
Held on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the march was attended by hundreds of participants including artists, activists and writers. Elif Khan, a dancer, was one of many attending the march.
This is the first time that we are having such a march exclusively for our community – this fills me with pride. I am a dancer but I want to progress now, I want to get an education, I want to make an identity for myself. -Elif Khan
People gathering to mark 40 days since the death of Mahsa Amini in Saqez, Iran, 26 October 2022. Photograph: UGC/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian
Khalifa questions whether it is possible to wear the hijab and be free. She is of Sudanese origin but she grew up in Northern Ireland, where, as a teenager, it was not trendy to cover up, she says. She recalls often arguing with her parents about having to cover up.
Khalifa recounts finding an old photo from the 1950s of her mother and her sisters in Sudan wearing shift dresses in public, and confronting her mother about it.
The double standards didn’t make sense. I later asked my mother about it, airing my frustrations at the hypocrisy. She was left a little lost for words as she tried to explain how the cultural and religious climate in Sudan had changed over the years. Leaving the conversation confused, I decided to dig a little deeper. -Basma Khalifa
In mid-1970s Saudi Arabia, a religious police was established as the clergy were given power over public space. In Sudan, President Jaafar Nimeiry, who had come to power in 1969 in a leftist coup, would end up imposing Sharia law by 1983 – including dressing conservatively. Religious police currently operate in various forms in many Muslim countries, from Nigeria to Somalia to Afghanistan.
Speaking to my mother about this, I could hear the whirring sound in her voice as I asked her about her own choices. She told me about her belief in modesty, that the liberal way of dressing was a thing of the past. -Basma Khalifa
People at a protest demanding the return of civilian rule in Khartoum, Sudan, September 2022. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian
Khalifa reflects on how she believes there is a fine line between modesty being the expression of a personal connection to faith and it being a result of patriarchy. She says that repression can be passed down intergenerationally. She also credits social media for creating space for women to form positive communities and making fashion more common in modest clothing. Ultimately, Khalifa expresses solidarity with the women and girls in Iran and recognizes how the issue goes beyond the hijab and is about Islamic fundamentalist men and the patriarchy.
So, while Iranian women are fighting for their own sovereignty, I believe they are also fighting for the sovereignty of all women. We owe it to ourselves and to our mothers. To remind them of a past that once existed where they were free to make their own decisions. And we owe it to ourselves to make sure that the next generation won’t be prisoners of decisions made on our behalf. -Basma Khalifa
Vilerx Pérez via them.us
Across the US, powwows specifically intended for Two-Spirit people are carving out space to heal scars and build community. While being Two-Spirit can mean different things to different people, Faun Harjo says it is about mentorship, kinship, and the role you play in your community. For some Two-Spirit people, storytelling and dance are their community roles; for others, it is medicine and healing; for Harjo and his auntie, Landa Lakes, co-founder of the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS), one of the largest Two-Spirit organizations in the country, it is mentorship.
She took me under her wing and was like, ‘you're okay, you're safe, you're normal. In fact, you're not just normal. You're revered. -Faun Harjo
As a result of colonization, Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people are not always welcome in community spaces like powwows today, whether through dance rules that subtly exclude same-sex couples or explicit harassment. It is this exclusion that drives the goal of community spaces like BAAITS Powwow: to remind people that Two-Spirit people belong in Native spaces and hold sacred roles within them.
It was Harjo’s auntie who first brought him to powwows, taught him the Chickasaw creation story, and introduced him to cultural traditions in his teens, including the concept of Two-Spirit identity. Harjo was 15 when he came out as queer to his auntie and uncle, who both told him they were drag performers in response. Soon after, Lakes took him to his first Two-Spirit gathering, where he encountered Two-Spirit people of all gender presentations and experiences adorned in the regalia of their choosing, including his auntie. Since moving to San Francisco two years ago, Landa has entrusted Harjo with more responsibilities as a BAAITS board member, where he has grown to mentor other Two-Spirit people looking for community.
Even for families with Two-Spirit members, the idea that queerness and whiteness are tied is pervasive. Harjo recalls that his father’s side of the family was initially skeptical of the Two-Spirit traditions his auntie introduced him to.
They didn't believe that I was learning about traditional roles or history from my auntie. They felt like queerness itself was inherently white, and that this was a very revisionist history perspective that my auntie was bringing me into. -Faun Harjo
Prior to European invasion, many Indigenous nations venerated Two-Spirit people, as they often held sacred roles in healing, spiritual, and ceremonial traditions in their communities. As a result of colonization, forced assimilation, and erasure of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people at the hands of the U.S. government, many communities have lost that knowledge. BAAITS celebrated hosting their 12th annual international powwow last February, with guests hailing from as far as Abya Yala (Latin America).
As my auntie brought me in and taught me, I've been able to bring more people in — whether it's our family, or friends that are also indigenous and Two-Spirit who want to connect to those spaces. It really is like going home. It's always like going home. -Faun Harjo
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.