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Global Roundup: Haiti Survivors Demand Justice, India LGBTQ+ Healthcare, Feminist Library in Armenia, Georgia LGBTQ+ Scene, Indigenous All-Women Caribou Hunt
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
CW: sexual violence
Sexual violence has surged in Haiti amid widespread gang killings and kidnappings, a political stalemate that has crippled most state institutions, and socioeconomic uncertainty across the country. Over the past several months, criminal gangs vying for control of territory have enacted a campaign of terror in the capital of Port-au-Prince, which includes using sexual violence “to instill fear and to punish and to terrorise” residents, according to a United Nations official.
Elizabeth Richard, programme coordinator at ActionAid Haiti, a non-profit group working to support sexual violence survivors in the country, says that videos of gang attacks circulated widely on social media created a sense of numbness and dehumanisation.
I don’t want it to be normal – because we have to reach a point where we say, ‘OK that’s enough.’ In Haiti, [women] are the pillar of the society. If you have women experiencing this type of issue, how can you have a society at all in a sense? -Elizabeth Richard
Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (SOFA), a feminist civil society group in Haiti which operates five centres in support of sexual violence survivors in the northwestern region of Grand’Anse as well as another centre in Port-au-Prince, documented a sixfold increase in reported rape cases in the capital between January and December of last year. Fanm Deside, a women’s rights group based in Jacmel in southern Haiti, also said in its year-end report that it provided support to 508 victims of violence in 2022. Experts say female Haitian merchants, many of whom are forced to travel across gang-controlled areas to make a living, are among those most vulnerable to attacks by gang members.
Haiti’s virtually non-existent government system has made seeking justice for acts of violence a seemingly impossible task. In its October report, the UN said “impunity remains the norm” for sexual violence perpetrated by Haitian gangs, while the lack of accountability is made worse by insecurity and weak state agencies, including specialised police units that lack resources and gender sensitivity training.
Richard says that many civil society groups working to stem sexual violence have few resources to respond to survivors’ needs, which include medical as well as psychological support. However, she remains optimistic that the veil of impunity can be broken.
Hope is possible, but officials and also the community, the international community, really need to support our justice system for these women to get the justice they deserve. -Elizabeth Richard
Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, an associate professor of community medicine and the first transgender person to head a Covid-19 vaccination centre in India.Vikram Sharma/Outlook
Indian law is supposed to be gender-affirmative, but not much has been done since 2019 and the Transgender Persons Act…The result of this is a transphobic system. -Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, an associate professor of community medicine and the first trans person to head a Covid-19 vaccination centre in India
Historically, the healthcare system has pathologised LGBTQ+ people. The ignorance and discrimination toward queer patients remains even after the passing of a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court that recognised transgender citizens and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. This lack of knowledge is visible when it comes to basic things, such as addressing someone with the right pronouns, but also when it comes to gender-affirmative surgeries or mental health issues.
For a long period of time, LGBTQ+ healthcare was constantly associated with sexual health, especially HIV-AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases. Healthcare providers are now facing a new challenge of considering queer people’s health as a whole beyond HIV-AIDS. Humsafar Trust, India’s oldest community-based organisation working on health and human rights for the LGBTQ+ community, has for instance expanded its services to other health fields.
What about mental health? What about common diseases like diabetes, heart problems, or asthma? Queer people are now conscious about their other needs as well, needs that should be understood and taken care of by health workers. -Fazlur Rahman Gulfam, senior strategic analyst at Alliance India
Another issue is how upper-class/caste patients can afford private medical care, which is not affordable to everyone. Very few public hospitals provide gender-affirmative surgeries in India. It is a delicate procedure, and not many plastic surgeons learn how to perform these surgeries. In addition, few members of the trans community have IDs or other administrative documents, which prevents them from accessing healthcare insurance.
In its last Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends that “all members of the healthcare workforce receive cultural knowledge training focused on treating gender and transgender diverse individuals with dignity during orientation and as part of annual or continuing education.” Dr Aqsa Shaikh believes the curriculum in India is in need of change. Humsafar Trust offers workshops to medical school students to bring social change and acceptance. Though there is a long way to go, the community remains optimistic.
India has come a long way. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 2018. The current health system is not ideal, but it is getting better. India is one of the few countries in the world that has an act of parliament in favour of gender affirmative care. Things are going to be stepping up. -Dr. Sanjay Sharma, the Association for Transgender health
In Yerevan, in March 2022, Taline is immersed in a feminist book, Cunt, by American writer Inga Muscio, published in 1998. “Books with feminist ideas and written by women are not generally available in public libraries in Armenia,” she says. via Equal Times
FemLibrary is the first feminist library in Yerevan, Armenia, where thanks to a group of feminist and LGBTQ+ activists, hundreds of books written by women or about gender discrimination and gender equality are freely available.
There is a main room with a place for anyone to sit and enjoy the literature at their leisure. The books are arranged by language: Russian, Armenian, English, German, French. While many bookshops in Europe have specialised in feminist literature, this library has already come a long way since 2016.
I come here whenever I can. There aren’t many non-hostile spaces for women in Yerevan. This apartment is one of them. - Taline, 33
Friends Arpi and Anna are the founders of FemLibrary. Anna was living and studying in Manchester, England, where she would regularly read books written by women who questioned patriarchal values. When travelling back to Armenia, she would sometimes slip a few of them into her luggage and share them. In her flat in Yerevan, Anna set up a sample of this library. She met Arpi, who dreamed of opening an art studio.
One day we sat down and put the whole concept of the library on paper. Then we started looking for funding. All our requests were rejected. I think it was because we were too radical. The team had to move several times. Everywhere we went, we were victims of homophobic or misogynistic violence and had to leave. -Arpi
Those who come to the library are their friends, their “comrades, brothers and sisters in arms,” as they call them. Among them are many activists from intersectional movements and others interested in feminism. Around 15 people come on a regular basis. There is no membership fee, but a donation box is available for anyone who wants to contribute a few drams, the currency of Armenia.
In Armenia, the gender inequality index is 0.220. The UN even raised concerns in 2022 about the legal exclusion of women, such as pregnant women, from certain occupations.
Everything we think stems from culture. Books with feminist ideas and written by women are not generally available in public libraries in Armenia. Nowadays, women are expected to keep quiet. And so, they are not respected…-Taline
Recently, Anna, Arpi and their community launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money, to help them cope with the challenges ahead. More than just a library, they emphasise that the place they have created has become “a space for healing after the war [in Nagorno-Karabakh] and a refuge for marginalised voices in Armenia.”
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Comedian Nata Talikishvili (Credit: David Koridze) via BBC
Nata Talikishvili never wanted to be a comedian. With a career that ranges from sex worker to club bouncer, Talikishvili uses her acerbic humour to expose society's hypocrisy, telling true stories that make light of her own difficult experiences as a trans woman in the transphobic culture of Georgia.
When Talikishvili was five, living in a remote Georgian village, she announced to the world that she was a girl. In such a traditional and religious country, it was considered remarkable that her grandparents supported her decision and raised her happily as a girl. But when they died, she had to move to the capital of Tblisi to make a living. Aged just 14, she says she felt she had no option but to start sex work.
Many landlords refused to rent to trans people and so a lot are forced to live on the street. There was even a lot of division among the trans sex workers. Though the red light district was far from safe, it was also the only place Talikishvil could express herself as a woman. Alongside sex work, Talikishvili worked for years as a club bouncer.
I did it to show the people who would come that there is nothing scary about being trans. I did it as [a kind of] activism. Even inside the queer community, and queer groups on social media, there was a lot of transphobia before. The community has to overcome [that] because if even the queer community can't then who can. -Nata Talikishvili
Giorgi Kikonishvili is the founder of Georgia's first LGBTQ+ event, Horoom Nights at Bassiani, which started in 2016. Bassiani is a hub for Tbilisi's underground scene. During the day, Kikonishvili works at the Fungus Gallery, an LGBTQ+ art collective and gallery in a quiet corner of Tbilisi that invites artists from across the Caucasus region. Tevdorashvili says it is hard to understate the importance of club culture in these social changes.
Nightlife changed the whole context of how Georgian society perceives queer people. Clubs were the first place to offer them a safe space, and now the attitude people have in the clubs is shifting to daylight. -Giorgi Kikonishvili
Artist and activist Tekla Tevdorashvili and others wanted to get involved in more than just clubs, so they set up Fungus, where they recently put on Resilience, a group exhibition of photography and multimedia art dedicated to trans women. A few years ago, Tevdorashvili put an art installation up in a public park days before the annual church-organised "day for family purity." The installation was a rainbow-coloured box entitled "Closet," with handwritten notes from the LGBTQ+ community, which played a speech and then the Diana Ross song Coming Out. It was attacked by a far-right activist within just a few hours of being up.
Though homophobia and transphobia is rife in Georgia, the LGBTQ+ scene is thriving and queer people are making it clear that they are here to stay, take up space and share their stories.
An all-woman group carried out a successful caribou hunt in northern Quebec between Jan. 13 and 21. In total, the group travelled 1,500 km in the territory between and around Kawawachikamach and Caniapiscau. Pictured from left to right are: Medora Losier, Isabelle Shecanapish, Louise Shecanapish, Elena Pien, Brenda Nabinacaboo and Jessica Nattawappio. Another member of the group, Amanda Swappie, is not pictured. (submitted by Robbie Tapiatic) via CBC
An all-woman group carried out a successful caribou hunt in northern Quebec, Canada, between January 13 and 21. The seven-woman Indigenous Naskapi group travelled, in total, more than 1,500 kilometres by snowmobile, over eight days. In total, the group harvested 28 caribou.
Louise Shecanapish organized the expedition – she had been on a men's hunting trip about 10 years earlier as the expedition cook. Shecanapish works as the cultural coordinator for Kawawachikamach, a community of approximately 650 people north of Sept-Îles on the north shore of Quebec. She admits to being anxious initially, as the expedition was taking shape.
I'm a strong believer that … if men can do it, women can too. -Louise Shecanapis
None of the women were experienced hunters and two of them had never been on a snowmobile expedition before. Shecanapish says she felt proud of what they accomplished, from packing up their sleds, gassing up the snowmobiles and hauling 170-litre tanks of fuel to the campsite. They helped each other when they got stuck and learned from each other. The group was also very grateful for the chance to speak Naskapi and learn words tied to the hunt and the land.
Annie Vollant helped in the trip preparation and is the partner of one of the Naskapi guides. She said the women have already inspired many in the community and elsewhere.
On Facebook there are already comments. Women in more urban areas say they want to try the same thing too. There is even [another] group of women Naskapies who also want to leave. This expedition will snowball. -Annie Vollant
The group has given five of the harvested caribou to be used as part of some local traditional-skill workshops happening this week in Kawawachikamach. All parts of the animal will be used. And the rest of the harvest will be shared between the hunters and their families.
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.