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Global Roundup: Hungary Abortion Access, Guyana Threats Against Women Activists, Botswana LGBTQ+ Healthcare, Tackling Gender Norms in Cameroon, Black Queer Joy on Camera
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
People hold up a placard reading "If you don't have the uterus, don't comment"(R) at a protest in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary on September 28, 2022. - Copyright Attila Kisbenedek/AFP
Surgical abortions are legal until the 12th week in Hungary but women are required to attend two mandatory meetings with a state service. The first one is to inform them of other opportunities, including adoption, Réka Lebedi, a lawyer at Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), a human rights NGO, explained. The second’s purpose is to inform them of the dangers of the surgery. Lebedi notes that the process can lead to women running out of time.
These family protection services are incredibly busy. And through our partners, we know that the intonation at these counsellings can be degrading towards the women. - Réka Lebedi
Christian Fiala, a gynaecologist at the Gynmed clinic in Vienna, says the facility administers abortions to 10-15 Hungarian women every week. Gynmed is only one of the multiple clinics that pop up on the first page of a Google search. In these clinics, the cost of an abortion is between €500-600, excluding travel, half of Hungary's average monthly pay. Abortions in Hungary cost €100 – but many of those who can afford to, opt to travel to Austria to avoid the Hungarian system. Of course, that leaves behind all those that cannot afford to travel abroad.
Over the past decade, multiple laws have been passed that dampen access to abortion in Hungary. Last September, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalist Fidesz party, curbed abortion rights further with a “heartbeat law” requiring women to listen to a pulse generated by the ultrasound monitor, misleadingly dubbed the foetal heartbeat, before making the decision to abort. Advocates like Krisztina Les, a social worker at Patent, a Hungarian women’s rights organisation, are not optimistic about the current situation improving.
Compared to Western Europe, the situation in Hungary is troublesome…Due to the ongoing communication of the current government, we can only imagine the laws tightening. -Krisztina Les
Image via Canva Pro.
Women protesting sexual and other forms of extractive violence are allegedly being targeted in Guyana. The country was recently discovered to hold a wealth of oil reserves and climate crisis activists have been met with increasing threats of violence over the past five months. Most appear to be primarily targeted at women, who have been on the receiving end of death threats and other forms of intimidation for speaking out against mining, fossil fuel extraction and sexual violence.
On the heels of a threat in late July, Guyanese citizens issued a letter of support for the activists. On July 31, women's organisations, as well as members of the Caribbean diaspora and women region-wide, issued a second statement, which has been endorsed by climate justice movements like 350.org and Instituto Climainfo. Entitled ‘Touch One, Touch All,’ the statement's header is a nod to the late Guyanese activist Andaiye, who used the call to action in a 2017 campaign against sexual violence in the Caribbean. Red Thread is a women’s development organization, co-founded by Andaiye, that has been specifically targeted.
Our beaches disappear daily. Our lands are deforested. Our people are uprooted from their homes. Our water and air is polluted. Our fish die and our livelihoods are at risk. As the world burns, it is obvious that we are all called upon to struggle to prevent the destruction of our environment through mining, fossil fuel extractivism, deforestation, pollution and dispossession whether we are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago all the other many beautiful Caribbean islands, Suriname, Belize or Guyana. -Statement, signed by women Caribbean-wide
Red Thread has been staging monthly protests outside the Office of the President to raise awareness about some of the key clauses in the country's oil contracts with ExxonMobil. The group has also been very vocal in calling for the resignation of Minster of Local Government and Regional Development Nigel Dharamlall, who has been accused of raping a 16-year-old Indigenous girl. Karen De Souza, who also co-founded Red Thread, has suggested that the police response to the threats has been less urgent than they would have expected. In the interim, Caribbean women and women's organisations are rallying behind Red Thread, co-signing its statement in a show of support.
A nurse from Marie Stopes NGO displays a condom during a family planning course at a dispensary in the village of Nedgo, near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso February 16, 2018. Picture taken February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
A 2019 court ruling that decriminalised gay sex in Botswana put the nation among a handful of African countries that have legalised same-sex relationships, but four years on, discrimination against LGBTQ+ people remains widespread.
When Kesego Otumile, a transgender woman from Botswana, sought treatment for a sexually transmitted infection at a village medical clinic, the female nurse refused to treat her and sent her to a male colleague instead.
She said she felt uncomfortable as 'I'm like a man'. The male nurse then refused to give me condoms and said, 'just abstain, you people are promiscuous and dirty'. -Kesego Otumile
Trans people are at the greatest risk of HIV infection in Botswana, which is among the top four countries in the world most affected by HIV and AIDS with up to 400,000 people living with the virus, according to UNAIDS estimates. Access to medical help is hampered by discrimination from staff, an ongoing shortage of condoms and a lack of sexual health awareness campaigns that address their particular needs, activists said.
The LGBTQ+ community is never adequately represented or identified directly and so they often feel left out and not represented in mainstream HIV/AIDS campaigns. -Hazel Mokgathi, director of NGO African Women for Sexual Health
While the 2019 court ruling decriminalised gay sex, lawmakers are currently debating a legislative amendment that would build on that by recognising same-sex relationships and trans identities. The proposals have drawn fierce opposition from the Botswana Council of Churches, fuelling anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in a country where acceptance towards the community had been growing. Persistent homophobic attitudes, including among healthcare professionals, continue to deter LGBTQ+ people from seeking medical care including HIV testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, which can increase the risk of the virus's spread, campaigners say.
Some campaigners are working on initiatives to overcome healthcare barriers. Thabo Kgobothi, an activist, has collaborated with a friend who works in the medical fraternity to develop a clinic and "safe house" for the LGBTQ+ community, in the capital. As well as offering tests for HIV and STIs, the centre also offers free information on sexual health and general wellness, including counselling for people living with HIV.
It is important to ensure that the trans and gay community have safe spaces where they are accepted and their rights and dignity is upheld. -Thabo Kgobothi
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A facilitator from Cameroon’s United Youths Organization leads a HeForShe dialogue with men in the municipality of Batibo. Participants wear shirts with the hashtag #TogetherAgainstGBV. Photo: United Youths Organization.
Cameroon has been hit by repeated crises, including climate disasters, attacks on civilians by insurgent groups, and the economic impact of COVID-19 and rising inflation due to the war in Ukraine – women facing the brunt of it all. In 2022, 979,000 people were in need of gender-based violence (GBV) services, 94 percent of whom were women and girls.
According to Loveline Musah, CEO of United Youths Organization (UYO), harmful social norms in Cameroon have “resulted in men asserting dominance over women. If a man violates a woman physically or sexually, it’s because communities believe that men are more powerful than women. And these beliefs perpetuate GBV.” Melvin Songwe, UYO’s Chief of Administration, adds that women and girls are often afraid to report GBV for fear of retaliation by their husbands.
UYO is one of the organizations in Africa that have partnered with UN Women to change attitudes toward GBV and discriminatory gender norms. UYO has organized grassroots discussions, convening men, women, and religious and traditional rulers.
We did one training with 60 men, the majority of whom were ignorant about the issues of GBV. By the end of the session, 90 percent of them were emotional about the fact that they had been causing harm to women and girls. -Melvin Songwe
Women leaders from the community have also joined the workshops to share their experiences with GBV and the emotional and physical toll it takes on women and girls. Songwe understands that, in a patriarchal society, it cannot be only women fighting for their rights. Men must be advocates and teach others to change the social norms driving gender inequalities in their communities.
Lyte ImaginAri / Courtesy photo
Lyte ImaginAri (@yeahitslyte) has a gift for capturing the moment. She finds herself most fulfilled in shooting Atlanta’s queer nightlife scenes. Her shots, full of emotion and authenticity, have gained traction around the community as of late.
Lyte moved to Atlanta from small town North Carolina only three years ago, in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic. She came from a traditional religious background.
How I grew up, I didn’t really understand who I was, I didn’t understand anything that I was feeling. I wasn’t allowed to experience anybody else in the world. Moving here was like the beginning of everything for me. -Lyte ImaginAri
Upon moving to Atlanta, Lyte was introduced to ideas about gender expression she had previously been taught to see as black and white. Being a trans woman did not feel like a possibility, much less her reality – yet she knew she did not fall into the box of cisnormativity from a young age.
Taking pictures made it easier for Lyte to engage with people. First, she just started taking pictures on a phone because the camera felt intimidating, but people were loving the phone shots so much and she was meeting so many cool people that bringing the camera just felt right. Many people she has met through photography have built the community of love that has enriched Lyte’s life and spirit. Much of her inspiration comes from the gratitude and love for the queer community she has found. Capturing those feelings is how she likes to pay them forward. Lyte says she “got lucky” in finding the spaces and people that have empowered her to be her most authentic self, because for a long time it did not feel attainable.
I want other people to see my work, get the story and go experience it too. It’s here, and it’s just as cunt as it looks! -Lyte ImaginAri
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.