Global Roundup: Harpist Amplifies Black Trans Womanhood, Nigerian App vs Sexual Violence, Manipur’s 1st Trans Women’s Grievance Cell, Migration Rights in Chile, SAfrica Introducing Third Gender Option

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Ahya Simone next to her harp, Ebony. Source: Jayne Lies via them.us 

Ahya Simone is a Black trans musician and filmmaker who is telling stories of Black trans womanhood. From a young age, she played many instruments and sang, but was introduced to the harp at age 16, when she fell in love. Her work as a harpist is very well-known, and her mastery has caught the attention of many reputable individuals. 

The harp represented the femininity I had hoped to embody as a woman. It was unique, elegant, intriguing, and just all around fab. It was an outlet for my teenage gender dysphoric carry - Ahya Simone 

Not only is Simone a multidisciplinary artist with multiple films in the making, she is also heavily involved in community organizing, and uses her artistry to convey important messages. In 2016, she provided the musical score for Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, a documentary portraying the life and death of a Black trans woman from Detroit, Shelly Hilliard. That experience opened up many doors for Simone as she then directed, co-produced and held a leading role in the web series Femme Queen Chronicles, which explored the lives of four Black trans women in Detroit. She is currently in the process of trying to make this a television series.

I love my city and where I've come from, and I think archiving and documenting things that I've experienced as a born-and-raised Detroiter is important. We have such a rich Black queer and trans history here that I’m looking to tap into and learn more about and honor. I just want to tell authentic stories and document that shit - Ahya Simone 

Her artistry is a reflection of her love and loyalty for Detroit, as well as her dedication to uplifting and advocating for the Black trans community. Detroit has a history of rebellion and resistance from oppression, and Simone wanted to document the strength and resilience of the Black community over generations. Later this year, she will be releasing her femme queen film Iridescence, which will be an ode to self-love and affirmation.

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Sa'adat Aliyu launched Helpio on Android phones to allow sexual assault victims to report crimes anonymously. Source: Sa'adat Aliyu/Al Jazeera 

Instances of sexual violence are frequent in Nigeria, yet few women and girls come forward and report their experiences. In 2019, a survey revealed that at least one-third of Nigerian women had experienced some form of sexual assault before turning 25. Rape and sexual assault remain taboo subjects in the nation, especially in the northern region where conservative values govern a predominantly Muslim population. To combat this prevalent issue, software developer Sa’adat Aliyu launched Helpio, an application designed to combat sexual violence and break the cultural norms which prevent victims from seeking assistance.

Victims can gain immediate access to a network of counsellors, doctors, SGBV activists, and legal representatives. This app is entirely free and support is immediately provided to victims, with a hotline for those in immediate need of help, and resources for others. This is also the only app in Hausa, the main language spoken in northern Nigeria, making it accessible to more than 30 million people in the region. Individuals who have not experienced sexual violence but want to take precautions to remain safe can also download the app and learn how to protect themselves and family members from any potential threats. 

Helpio is but one of several grassroots initiatives to help fight SGBV. We’re all doing our part to put an end to sexual assaults for all and make Nigeria safe for everyone - Sa-adat Aliyu

Helpio was launched in August 2020 as Covid-19 lockdowns began restricting movement and preventing victims from seeking help and reporting cases. The lack of transportation and limited access to the overworked healthcare system also discouraged victims from reporting. Helpio also allows victims to seek help anonymously, which the team hopes will encourage survivors to come forward. Some have pointed out that victims in remote areas may not have access to reliable networks, making it difficult for them to utilize such a platform. Aliyu is hopeful that in the coming months, an upgrade will be created to support victims in remote communities. 

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At the release of Santa Khurai’s latest research book. Source: Feminism in India 

Earlier this month, the first Transgender Women’s Grievance Cell was opened in Manipur, India. Created by Santa Khurai, a well-known trans activist, this initiative will play an extremely important role in protecting trans women against everyday transphobia, and it will also attempt to address and eradicate the systemic and institutionalized discrimination that the trans community experiences daily. 

Manipur does currently have a Transgender Welfare Board, but it has not been functional for quite some time and when it was, it did not effectively create change and support the trans community. A public hearing was recently held by the State Commission for Women to discuss gender policy in Manipur, and Khurai attended in order to discuss issues concerning trans women, especially indigenous trans women. At this hearing, the chairperson recommended that Khurai submit a draft proposal recommending necessary changes and initiatives to implement in the state. Outlined in this proposal was the creation of the Transgender Women’s Grievance Cell, but also many schemes that would benefit the trans community, from improved access to healthcare, to including trans narratives in school curriculums. 

Since this hearing, the Grievance Cell has been the first implemented initiative, with hopes that the other recommended schemes will also be implemented soon. The Grievance Cell will assist trans women in accessing and navigating the legal system. Legal advisors will provide trans women with legal advice, making litigation accessible for trans women; oftentimes, legal remedies can be expensive, time-consuming, and confusing, but this new initiative will make the entire process simpler and free. Through this Grievance Cell, trans women will be able to pursue criminal and civil cases against their experiences of violence and discrimination, which often goes unreported.  

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Source: UN Women

Vanessa González is a psychologist who chose to migrate to Chile two years ago due to the socio-economic situation in her homeland, Venezuela. After working at the Secretariat of Immigrant Women, she recently became the first female president of the National Coordination of Migrants in Chile, a civil society organization which defends migration rights and brings together different migrant groups within the country. In her position, she fights against xenophobia, racism, hate speech, and violence against women directed at migrants in Chile.

Machismo has no borders. Women are still subjected to various situations that derive from the patriarchal system, but also when you are a migrant woman we are subject to situations of greater vulnerability, a situation that is exacerbated when it is difficult to regularize migration, because we are not considered right holders. This gap is much greater when we talk about racialized bodies or migrant women from specific native peoples, their cultural identity is not recognized - Vanessa González 

Last year, many migrant women lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Without a source of income as the head of the household, women were unable to guarantee food for their families, rent became difficult to pay, and in some cases, the difficulty of applying for visas was exacerbated as women were not able to demonstrate a valid source of economic support. 

González wanted to support the many migrant women who were experiencing hardships, and so she helped launch the campaign “Contribute with a basket for a migrant family”, which provided a quick food response and economic support to more than a thousand families across Chile. The campaign was run by women for women, and although it was only supposed to continue for a few months, the program was extended to six months and it was also extended to Chilean women. The team wanted to demonstrate solidarity and unity between families of all nationalities, highlighting the importance of female collaboration and community work.  

Investing in the health of migrants is not only the right thing to do, but also brings benefits of social cohesion, it is a human right and as such should be guaranteed to people, especially if they are in vulnerable situations - Vanessa González

During the first half of 2021 as president, González wants to ensure universal access to the Covid-19 vaccines for migrants who are not yet eligible for citizenship, especially Venezuelan nationals who entered Chile without documentation. She urges migrant women to speak up and demand change, and hopes that in doing so, support networks will be strengthened and migrant women can come together to support one another.  

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Members of the LGBT+ community march in the Pride parade in Durban, South Africa, in 2018. Source: AFP via Getty/Rajesh Jantilal via Pink News

During apartheid, citizens in South Africa were assigned a 13-digit national ID number at birth in order to indicate a person’s race and then treat them accordingly. While this code does not indicate race anymore, it still acts as a preliminary form of ID disclosing an individual’s date of birth, citizenship status, and gender. From registering to vote, to opening a bank account, these ID numbers are used everywhere in the nation. The South African government recently committed to offering a third gender option in order to better accommodate the LGBTQ2+ community. 

Currently, there are only two options for gender: male and female. One’s gender is indicated in the seventh digit of the ID number. If the seventh number is anywhere between 0-4, the holder of the ID is female; anywhere between 5-9 means the ID holder is male. While this digit may seem trivial to some, it can be demeaning and discriminating as it perpetuates a false narrative about these individuals. 

Instead of the seventh digit ranging from 0-9, individuals will be able to use the letter ‘X’ in order to accommodate the LGBTQ2+ community and allow them to identify how they choose on their legal documentation. It is estimated that around 530,000 South African people identify as non-binary, each of them left without accurate identification. This change is an important step towards eradicating discrimination against the LGBTQ2+ community.

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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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