Global Roundup: Gaza Woman Artist, Spaces for Queer Women in the Philippines, Women in India vs Sexual Harassment, Burkina Faso Women & Motorbikes, Trans Hairdresser Ditches Gendered Pricing
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Hind and other actors on stage during the pantomime on gender issues she directed
Hind Abu Hassanin, 37, from Gaza is a visual artist, drama teacher, theatre director, storyteller, decorator and fashion designer. While the path as a woman in the arts in Gaza is not always straightforward, Hind was determined to pursue it. From her childhood, she loved to act. Later as an adult, she came across a call for arts facilitators for the Gaza Summer Games in a local newspaper. She was subsequently admitted as a theatre major on an arts course at Theatre Day Productions. As a woman in theatre, she resolved not to let herself be limited by stereotypical norms and expectations of women which can restrict their participation in the arts.
Previously, participation in culture and the arts was restricted to men in Gaza. However, society has begun to accept the arts and broader participation in them – I think some of this change can be attributed to the influence of social media. -Hind Abu Hassanin
Despite the progress Gazan society has achieved in the culture and arts, Hind says that women artists are often still confronted with obstacles, including the carving out of space in a relatively small arts scene and little remuneration. Hind would like to see more attention paid to cultural projects which are sustainable for artists and guarantee equal participation.
Hind successfully directed and partook in a pantomime during the 2022 edition of the Athar Al Farasha Festival (Butterfly Effect Festival) organised in Gaza by partners including UNESCO, the French Institute in Gaza, Dar Al Kalima University, and Shababeek Galllery. The festival was organized to support artists in Gaza. Hind wrote and directed “We Refuse it” about gender issues in Gaza, as well as women’s resilience in overcoming them, featuring women with hearing disabilities alongside whom she also acted. The pantomime explored issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the struggles of women with hearing disabilities in the Palestinian society.
Hind wanted to leave the audience with one key message through the Athar Al Farasha festival: “Palestinian women are determined to be heard!” For Hind, the best way to convey lived experience is through performing arts. Her involvement in various productions has helped to deepen her understanding of Gazan women’s realities and what it means to be a Palestinian woman. Theatre has been a vital means of engaging the wider public and encouraging women to get involved in the arts.
I aspire to be a voice for Palestinian women who are not in the position to express themselves. We just want to be heard. -Hind Abu Hassanin
Bunny de Leon, a Filipino lesbian woman, holds exclusive disco nights for queer women in her bar, Studio Dance Club – echoing Manila’s now-defunct exclusive lesbian bars that closed shop in the late 2000s. On regular nights, such as shown in the photo, she welcomes people of all gender identities Photo by Cristina Chi and Jan Cuyco
Filipino queer women are attempting to revive women-centric queer safe spaces in Manila that disappeared in the late 2000s. However, perceived low profitability in courting a majority lesbian market, as well as cultural expectations on Filipino women, have made this an uphill battle. Bisexual and lesbian Filipino women say that the absence of physical spaces that cater specifically to queer women in Metro Manila have pushed them to deal with misogynistic remarks and sexual harassment from men of various sexual orientations. Others have shared their discomfort with the fetishization of their sexual identity in their quest to find a community.
57-year-old lesbian writer Giney Villar, who used to host gatherings for working lesbian women in her restaurant in Manila, said she organized these events because she found that lesbian women struggled to find queer women friends at work, especially in traditional male-dominated corporate environments.
[I remember] a lesbian guest who approached me [after my event] saying, ‘Thanks for inviting me. I forgot I was a lesbian. I kept thinking, how could you forget something like that? She forgot that this was an important part of herself that she wasn’t able to take care of. The system just eats you up. -Giney Villar
Around the world, lesbian bars have faced a hard time staying in business, the Philippines is no exception. One of the reasons cited by queer women business owners is that women tend not to spend as much money on leisure activities — such as going out at night — as men. Coupled with the heavy cultural expectations imposed on Filipino women to stay at home and take care of the household, this discourages people from opening a business exclusively for women.
Queer women need more diverse options for safe spaces, said Villar, preferably ones that cater specifically to their preferences. Bars and clubs, for example, can be prohibitively expensive and many people outgrow them with time. According to Villar, a broadening movement of LGBTQ acceptance in the Philippines should allow queer Filipino women to feel safe even outside of exclusive bars. One queer woman, Pauline, suggests queer women-exclusive library or book club in Manila where women can meet and have access to media and literature with lesbian representation.
All spaces should be considered queer safe spaces, not just [parties] every Saturday night. It’s not supposed to be like that. Otherwise [queer women] would just be looking from the outside and trying to fit into that. We need a space to know ourselves, to create the right space for us. -Giney Villar
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Many women in India have a story of sexual harassment that took place in crowded public transport. Getty Images
Given the prevalence of sexual harassment in crowded public spaces in India, women have had to get creative in hitting back at their predators, such as using umbrellas, their sharp nails or the pointy heels of their stilettos – however, the ubiquitous safety pin has become the commonly used tool to fight back. A few months back, several women in India took to Twitter to confess that they always carried a pin in their handbags or on their person, and that it was their weapon of choice to fight predators in crowded spaces.
According to an online survey of 140 Indian cities in 2021, 56% of women reported being sexually harassed on public transport, but only 2% went to the police. A vast majority said they took action themselves or chose to ignore the situation, often moving away because they did not want to create a scene, or were worried about escalating the situation.
More than 52% said they had turned down education and job opportunities because of "feelings of insecurity.” Kalpana Viswanath co-founded Safetipin, a social organisation working to make public spaces safe and inclusive for women.
Fear of sexual violence impacts women's psyche and mobility more than the actual violence. Women start imposing restrictions on themselves and it denies us equal citizenship with men. It has a much deeper impact on women's life than the actual act of molestation. -Kalpana Viswanath
Viswanath points out that harassment of women is not just an Indian problem, it is a global issue. A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 women in London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Cairo showed that "transport networks were magnets for sexual predators who used rush-hour crushes to hide behaviour and as an excuse if caught."
In the past few years, Viswanath says that things have improved in several cities. In the capital Delhi for example, buses have panic buttons and CCTV cameras, more female drivers have been inducted, training sessions have been organised to sensitise drivers and conductors to be more responsive to female passengers, and marshals have been deployed on buses. Police have also launched apps and helpline numbers which women can use to seek help. However, Viswanath says it is not always a problem of policing but rather requires social changes.
I think the most important solution is that we have to talk more about the issue, there has to be a concerted media campaign that will drill into people what's acceptable behaviour and what's not. -Kalpana Viswanath
In Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, many ride their motorcycles every day to commute, go to school or move around the city – for many women, it has become a tool of emancipation.
When Nigerian filmmaker Kagho Idhebor first came to Ouagadougou he was blown away by how many women whizzed about on motorcycles. So much so that he directed "Burkina Babes," a documentary on that. It even ran at Africa's largest film the FESPACO, the pan-African cinema and TV festival of Ouagadougou.
The key period of change was the early 1990s, according to anthropologist Jocelyne Vokouma. The country went through wrenching austerity and many men lost their jobs. Women set up small businesses such as selling fruit and vegetables to make money – and as time progressed, many used their savings to swap their bicycle for a motorbike. With that came greater freedom, in developing their business, taking the children to school, seeing friends or just going out for a ride. Vokouma says Burkina Faso's revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, also played a role.
[Sankara] played an emancipating role, breaking down traditional mindsets and thrusting women into the public space, outside the home. Young women today were brought up on his ideas. -Jocelyne Vokouma
Since 1977, the Women's School for Skills Initiation and Training has been based in Ouagadougou. It has trained over 700 women to be mechanics and bodywork repairers. With the mobility women gained, came an entry for them into the male-dominated business of auto maintenance. Discrimination against women has not been wiped out, but women continue to break gender roles.
Melissa Hamilton at work. (Melisshair)
Trans hairdresser Melissa Hamilton has ditched gendered price lists to promote equality and inclusion at her salon in England. She charges her clients based on what they need rather than their gender. Women’s haircuts are traditionally far more expensive than men’s. As well as making things far more equitable, Melissa says that a gender-neutral price list makes a salon more approachable to gender non-conforming clients.
To know that a salon is aware or has some empathy towards trans and non-binary people, and that it is a difficult situation to navigate, is nice to know. For the LGBTQ+ community the salon then feels like a safe space. -Melissa Hamilton
Melissa says that many trans masc people struggle with going to barbershops.
The anxiety and fear of going into a place and being sat amongst heterosexual cisgendered people, not knowing if they’re allies, causes worry of ridicule. Having these gender non-confirming price lists promoted will make it easier for people to call salons and be their true selves. -Melissa Hamilton
Although she initially worried about how the change in pricing would be received in her village, Melissa says she has had an “amazing response”, especially from women with short hair. Melissa is also the co-founder of Chichester Pride – the organisation organises weekly meet-ups and promotes LGBTQ+ inclusion in the local community year-round, as well as organising an annual Pride event.
During lockdown I was reading a lot of articles about non-binary experiences in salons and how they were going to be charged on appearance based on what the stylist perceived them to be. Coming out as trans and being under the Pride umbrella, I thought I need to practice what I’m preaching. -Melissa Hamilton
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.