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Global Roundup: First Black Woman HRC President, Inflation Widening Gender Gap, Peru Girls Campaign for Social Change, Queer Black Debut Novel, India’s Feminist Movement Exhibition
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Kelley Robinson speaks during a press conference following the Peace Walk in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, DC in January 2022.Brian Stukes/Getty Images via them.us
Just my being here is revolutionary. I also have a lot of privilege. I show up in the world as a cisgender woman. I have to make sure I’m creating space for others whose identity I don’t hold, to make sure they see that this movement for LGBTQ+ people is a space where all of us are seen, where all of us are celebrated, and we’re going to fight like hell to make sure all of us have the freedoms we deserve. -Kelley Robinson
Robinson is a veteran organizer in progressive politics who comes to the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, where she worked for three years as executive director.
A number of states have passed laws restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, and some have also passed anti-trans bills about participation in athletics. And the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which based a federal right to abortion in a right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, has raised some questions about whether a decision for marriage equality, based in that same right, is also vulnerable. The Senate has delayed a vote on a bill that would protect some aspects of marriage equality until after the November midterm elections.
The HRC has a mandate to ensure freedom and liberation for every LGBTQ+ person and to address the intersectional challenges of the moment, Robinson said. That looks like fighting for marriage equality and saving the lives of transgender people who are being murdered, working to ensure access to medical services from abortion to gender-affirming care, and pushing for dignity in workplace regardless of the industry, she said.
We’ve talked about intersectionality as a theory and now we’re applying it to our movement building work as truly the only way for us to survive. -Kelley Robinson
It is important for marginalized groups to be visible in leadership positions. But it is even more important for those leaders to work from anti-oppressive and intersectional frameworks – Robinson shows a commitment to working in the interest of all LGBTQ+ people.
A woman enters a pharmacy in Beirut, Lebanon, 20 Sept 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Tala Ramadan
From Kenya and Lebanon to Sri Lanka and Britain, rising living costs triggered by the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic are widening gender inequalities, say women's rights campaigners. Women, who typically earn less than men and take on more unpaid household caring duties, are bearing the brunt of the crisis. They are being forced to neglect their own health to meet family needs as inflation squeezes household budgets with the situation set to worsen further as many countries impose austerity measures.
What we see happening is women end up reducing the number and quality of meals they eat each day, and foregoing essential healthcare – such as maternal healthcare and period products – in order to buy food. -Wangari Kinoti, global women's rights lead at ActionAid
Agnes Wachira noticed a pain in her chest almost six months ago, but the Kenyan mother-of-three dismissed it as a symptom of the daily grind of working long hours hand-washing clothes in the narrow lanes of Nairobi's Kawangware informal settlement. Over the months, the ache has developed into a persistent tightness across her chest, often leaving her breathless. Yet with Kenya's inflation running at a five-year-high of 8.5%, the 48-year-old single mother says she cannot afford to seek medical help.
Another woman, Karine, a 26-year-old translator from Beirut, can no longer afford the birth control pills she takes to treat the hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome. She said the cost for the oral contraceptive is 12% of her monthly salary, so she has to make a decision between buying enough food for her child and filling her prescription for the pill.
Gender rights campaigners warn that the situation for women's health in many countries is likely to get worse as cash-strapped governments seek to curb spending in order to pay back debt incurred during the pandemic. Time and time again we see how economic crises and global conflict hit women the hardest, despite them doing the bulk of the work and receiving little aid.
Many governments are imposing austerity measures and so this is going to impact efforts to improve and expand social welfare services such as healthcare and education which are core to human dignity. And of course, it will impact women even more and further exacerbate gender inequalities. -Felister Gitonga, gender justice and women rights lead at Oxfam
Venezuelan and Peruvian girls participating in the Chamas en Acción (Girls in Action) programme pose with two of Quinta Ola’s founders, Beatriz Córdova and Gianina Márquez (second and third from the left, first row). © UNHCR/Sebastian Castañeda
Quinta Ola is an organization that works to empower young Peruvian women and Venezuelan refugees and migrants from the same demographic. Founded in 2017 by three Peruvian women in their early thirties, Quinta Ola – which translates to Fifth Wave, in a reference to the successive stages of the feminist movement – teaches women and girls political empowerment through workshops, community organizing, and activism. It also includes mentorships aimed at helping participants identify the types of the social change they want to champion.
The seed for the organization was planted one day when the three friends, Beatriz Córdova Aquino, Gianina Márquez Olivera and Karina Nuñez Paz, were discussing gender-based violence and came to the terrible realization that it had affected nearly every woman they knew. Gianina said they wanted to find a way of breaking the cycle of violence by giving young women a voice within their own families and, eventually, a seat at the tables of power.
This June, Quinta Ola was among seven women-led organizations to win UNHCR’s annual NGO Innovation Awards for its work focusing on the empowerment of Venezuelan girls.
Pau was 11 years old when she and her mother left their native Venezuela to make the exhausting overland journey to Peru. At her new school in the Peruvian capital, Lima, she became the brunt of so much bullying that she fell into a deep depression. She eventually joined Quinta Ola’s online sessions, which covered topics such as sexism, xenophobia, gender-based violence and youth activism.
[The sessions] gave me the chance to learn about my rights and understand what I, as a human being, deserve. Having to leave my country demolished my self-esteem. But now, I feel much more self-assured. -Pau
With more than 1.32 million Venezuelans now registered in Peru, the country is host to the world’s second-largest population of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. While the Peruvian government has worked to regularize the Venezuelan population, many report facing discrimination.
Participants in Quinta Ola’s “Girls in Action” programme identified the fight against xenophobia as one of their top priorities. The girls created a survey to gather data about the discrimination Venezuelans in Peru were facing and used their findings to develop recommendations for public policies aimed at curbing xenophobia, which they dispatched to Peru’s regional governments. They also formed working groups to address the hyper-sexualization of Venezuelan women and girls and discrimination in access to education.
I’ve learned so much about society, about the world and about myself. Activism has become something fundamental for me. I sincerely don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t become an activist. -María, 14
Photo via Rashad Newson
INTO spoke with Rasheed Newson about his debut novel, My Government Means to Kill Me, why he made sure to keep the book sex-positive, how activism comes in different forms, and how he plans to bring his debut novel to the screen.
Newson tells the story of young Trey, a Black, gay kid from a wealthy Black Indianapolis family, who leaves his wealth and family behind for the bright lights of New York City in the 1980s. There, he quickly finds himself on a journey of self-discovery and in the middle of gay rights activism that surges during the HIV/AIDs crisis. Through activism, exploring his sexuality, and dealing with old trauma, Trey finds his voice in a world that means to silence it.
Newson says he used his personal experiences to help him write Trey’s story. He talks about how being femme, coming out was not a huge revelation. For people whose homosexuality is “self evident,” they experience bigotry from a very young age before they have declared themselves.
I think for a lot of gay people, especially feminine gay people, there’s such a repulsion to you when you’re a kid. But it’s hard to imagine there are people who will eat that up. There are people who are going to want that, but you have to grow up and find them. -Rasheed Newson
For Newson, it was important that his book be sex positive. He also wanted to highlight that “even during dire times, whether it’s the AIDS epidemic or it’s COVID, people still find and need joy.” Sex is one way people find that joy including people during the AIDS crisis who not always had protected sex.
I wanted a character who reflected those choices. Honestly, it doesn’t make him a bad person. It just makes him someone who’s quite human…We learn a lot about ourselves and we connect with other people through sex and that’s all valid. -Rasheed Newson
Newson has a background in writing TV shows. He thinks his novel will make it to the screen and he wants it to take on its own life when it does. He envisions it being more expansive than the book. Newson hopes the book helps readers see that there is a wide spectrum of activism and it is all important in its own way – no method is better than the other. Ultimately, he hopes readers begin to question “some of the political games that have to be played.”
I’m really encouraged by young people today because they don’t seem to hesitate to throw off some of the respectability politics that I feel, hindered the rest of us. So, I hope my readers walk away from the book feeling liberated and feeling like they don’t have to play by the older rules anymore. -Rasheed Newson
Portrait commissioned by Elle India magazine via Frontline
An exhibition titled Woman is as Woman Does, featuring 27 Indian women artists, opened at Mumbai’s iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) to celebrate its centenary this year. The exhibition is an immersive experience where the images reveal as much about India’s feminist movement as the texts accompanying them.
The artworks, created using several types of media, narrate the story of the feminist movement, marking its milestones. Featuring artists across five generations, the exhibition can be said to be a definitive documentation of the postcolonial women’s movement.
I wanted to show feminism in India from an Indian perspective. I kept the selection simple and direct, not ornate. While describing milestones, I felt it needed something direct and declamatory; senior artists in the same neighbourhood as Gen X or Gen Z. It is important to have a diverse conversation. -Nancy Adajania, curator
The works are in distinctly different styles, with contemporary art mixed with traditional tribal designs. By highlighting subjects such as dowry, atrocities on Dalits, marginalization of tribal people, the show asks the viewer to go back in time and see the present through the lens of the past and also look ahead to the future of the feminist movement in India.
Aqui Thami, who comes from the northeastern region, pays homage to the bojus (grandmothers) with the plants they had gifted her. Thami says that she draws energy from the bojus, who are the keepers of holistic knowledge. Thami’s zines from the Sister Library she established in Mumbai are also displayed. Established in 2019, it is one of South Asia’s first community-owned and run feminist libraries.
A striking black-and-white photograph of Sharmistha Ray taken by Bikramjit Bose hangs from the ceiling, greeting viewers as they enter the second part of the exhibition. Sharmistha Ray, an artist and activist who rejects gender binaries, posed for this photograph in 2015 for a feature #Ungender, meant to break stereotypes and stigmas associated with the non-binary and queer community.
The exhibit features a wide array of feminist topics such as dowries, sexual violence, female infanticide, female friendships and more. The topics are made all the more powerful and evocative through the diverse mediums such as songs, paintings, sculptures, photos, videos, installations and traditional storytelling.
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.