Global Roundup: Hijab Cosplayers Challenge Stereotypes, Decriminalizing Sex Work in South Africa, LGBTQ Rights Group vs Russian Government, LGBT+ Couples Protest in Taiwan, ‘Queering The Map’ Project
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ange Minami via Jakarta Post
Many women and girls in Indonesia are finding creative ways to cosplay while wearing a hijab despite the negative comments they receive. Cosplay is short for “costume play”, a hobby where fans dress up to look like their favorite fictional characters. It began in Japan with mostly Japanese manga and anime characters before becoming popular globally.
A challenge Lina Freya, 28, had to consider was how to let the hijab serve its purpose while still dressing up as her favourite character. In keeping with the purpose of her hijab, she also avoids treating the hijab as a wig replacement and instead incorporates it within the theme of the costume.
I'd been interested in cosplay before but didn't have the nerve to try it. At that time, I didn't know how. I didn't have any friends [with the same interests] either. I thought that if you wear a hijab, you can't do cosplay. - Lina Freya
Lina believes that a cosplayer does not have to look 100 percent like the character they portray. Instead, she emphasized that the important thing is "to bring out the character's distinctive personality traits." Hijab cosplayers often dedicate a lot of time studying the characters and their various costumes online.
For Ad Diena Islamy Haq, a 20-year-old university student, the hijab is a unique selling point for cosplayers, but it is not very popular among Indonesians.
Many appreciate it, but there are also many who give negative and non-constructive comments. My parents also thought it was a little strange at first, but now it's okay as long as I prioritize my study. My friends support me as well, and they're happy that I can do what I like. - Ad Diena Islamy Haq
Many of the hijab cosplayers note that there are various reactions and critics online. However, they are able to brush off the negativity and take pleasure in their hobby.
There are also those who criticize that if you are already wearing a hijab, you should not cosplay because cosplayers should wear a wig to be more accurate with the original character. But keep in mind that if you don't like it from the start, then no matter how good the cosplay is, the response will be negative. - Lina Freya
PHOTO: Twitter/@SweatTweets via News24
CW: sexual violence
Sex workers and organizations representing sex workers in South Africa are optimistic about recent talks to decrimialize the profession, after years of fighting for their rights. Currently, the buying and selling of sexual services is a crime in the country. However, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development began engagements with representatives of the pro-decriminalization sex work sector last week.
Lona, who has been a street-based sex worker for the past six years, said she braces herself for the worst every time she goes out to work.
I know that I could be raped, assaulted or even killed every time I’m with a client but there is nothing I can do, I need the money and there are no jobs. Some men are evil. Sometimes you agree on R50 but when they’re done, they refuse to pay. Some will just beat you up or keep you locked up for days and just keep raping you. - Lona
Sex workers say that they are subjected to violence and discrimination, are constantly targeted by police, and face constant ill-treatment by nurses at clinics. They hope that their profession will be decriminalized so that they can work in peace and stop fearing for their lives. Sex worker advocate Megan Lessing, spokesperson for Sex Work Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), said they are excited that after numerous objections, they are finally getting their voices heard. According to Lessing, sex workers across the country are able to talk to the deputy minister and share their needs and ideas.
There’s a notion that by decriminalizing this industry that everyone would now want to start working as a sex worker, and that it will increase human trafficking. All this is not true… It’s not the responsibility of sex workers to stop human trafficking, it’s the government and police’s job. - Megan Lessing
Constance Mathe, the national coordinator of Asijiki Coalition (a group of sex workers, activists, advocates and human rights defenders who advocate for law reform for the decriminalization of sex work in South Africa), believes that decriminalization looks like sex work being recognized as a profession and having the human rights of sex workers recognized.
We want to reduce the stigma and discrimination against them, and also reduce the level of gender-based violence against them…We believe that if sex work is decriminalized, we will create a safe space for them to work. - Constance Mathe
Lawmakers finally having dialogues with sex workers is certainly a step in the right direction. However, there remain many people who are against decriminalization, including culture activist Nomagugu Ngobese who sees it as “promoting prostitution.” It is important that those with lived experience are centred and the intersections of patriarchy, misogyny and sex work are examined.
The Russian government made an unsuccessful attempt to shut down one of the country’s largest and most prominent LGBTQ rights groups, the Russian LGBT Network. Human rights advocates say there are likely more attempts on the horizon.
A court in St. Petersburg sidelined a lawsuit that had been filed by Russia’s Justice Ministry last week. The suit accused the Russian LGBT Network of spreading “LGBT views” and engaging in activities that go against “traditional values.”
The Russian LGBT Network is known for leading actions against the country’s anti-LGBTQ policies and actions, including Chechnya’s anti-gay purge, which started making national headlines in 2017. Since then, at least 140 gay and bisexual Chechen men have been abused and detained in the semi-autonomous Russian region, according to Human Rights Watch.
Tanya Lokshina, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, said she expects Russian officials to ask the court to reconsider the case. She sees this move as a part of a “very disturbing trend of stifling independent voices in Russia.” According to Lokshina, journalists and LGBTQ activists are among those often targeted in these government efforts. They are being painted as foreign aliens who are bringing values that would destabilize and weaken Russian society.
The Russian LGBT Network defended its mission in a statement to NBC News.
…However, despite the whims of the political climate, LGBT+ people exist. We refuse to give up and let the government shut us down; we refuse to agree that the very activity of helping LGBT+ people does not correspond to the idea of ‘charity,’ as is stated in their claim. LGBT+ people are the citizens of this country just like every other social group and deserve the same rights and freedoms. - Dilya Gafurova, a spokesperson for the Sphere Foundation (the legal group that operates the Russian LGBT Network
Joyce Chan (R) and Queenie Oyong (C) kneel down during the protest. (Sam Yeh/Getty) via Pink News
LGBT+ couples in Taiwan gathered today to protest for true marriage equality on Valentine’s Day. The country is celebrated for being the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia, but LGBT+ campaigners have long pointed out gaps in the law. During the protest, activists tied yellow ribbons around the gates of the Executive Yuan building. The names and nationalities of couples who have been separated were written on the ribbons, as well as the length of time they have been separated for.
Taiwan allows citizens to enter into same-sex marriages with partners from other countries – but only if that country also recognizes same-sex marriage, leaving many couples forcibly separated. Andrew Chuang, one of the protesters, said that he and his Japanese partner have been forced to endure a two-year long separation.
Taiwanese resident Joyce Chan explained her worry that she could be indefinitely separated from her partner, Queenie Oyong, who is originally from the Phillipines and staying in Taiwan on a student visa. They fear that if Queenie returns to the Phillipines, where same-sex marriage has not been legalized, it could prove impossible for them to be together again.
We don’t just want to be each other’s Valentines – we want to become a real family. - Queenie Oyong
Taiwan’s courts have been responding to individual challenges to this law on a case by case basis. However, both partners are expected to be present in court, which is particularly difficult for couples during the pandemic, as Taiwan’s strict border controls forbid entry into the country for the majority of foreign visitors. As of 2022, three couples have successfully won their cases and been allowed to marry a foreign partner from a country where same-sex marriage is not legalized.
Each black pinpoint on this pink map represents a queer experience submitted by a reader. (queeringthemap.com) via CBC
Queering the Map is a project created by Lucas LaRochelle from Montreal, Canada, in 2017. On the pink shaded map, anyone can anonymously add black pins with a blurb documenting queer experiences all over the world. The goal is to archive LGBTQ2IA+ experiences and prove that such experiences aren't confined to certain physical locations.
Since the website was shared in a viral TikTok last month, Queering the Map has received over 250,000 visitors. It was all after Ismail Jan, a Pakistani TikToker who now lives in London, wanted to share stories of queer people in his home country. When he looked up Pakistan, he was blown away by the number of messages that had been left behind by queer people. Many of the locations were even places he had visited with his family. Same sex relations being illegal in Pakistan, he wanted to help amplify these stories through his TikTok video.
Being queer can often be quite a lonely experience, being a person of colour and queer can be even lonelier. So I think knowing that there are people who are just like me with the same background, same culture … it made me feel less lonely. - Ismail Jan
LaRochelle said a lot of the stories on Queering the Map show that queerness is a communal experience, even for those whose community isn't physically close to them.
Digital tools like maps facilitate or can help facilitate a sense of kinship, a sense of belonging that's beyond what physical space can provide. - Lucas LaRochelle
LaRochelle says they first created Queering the Map out of a hunger to connect with their own community. Experiences on the map have included anything from someone’s first kiss to experiences of homophobic or transphobic violence. Submissions are first sent for approval by the moderators, which include LaRochelle and a team of volunteers. They screen the submissions for hate speech, spam or breaches of anonymity, all to ensure the site remains a safe space for those who visit and contribute. Though moderating the stories can be emotionally taxing, LaRochelle says it is worth it.
One of the impulses was really wanting to hear more queer and trans stories by queer and trans people. Anything from the banal to the fantastic and everything in between…I feel incredibly grateful to be able to steward these incredible, incredible stories. - Lucas LaRochelle
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.