Global Roundup: India LGBTQ+ Rights Online, Eswatini GBV, Myanmar Women Human Rights Defenders, Brazil Queer Women & Funk Music, Indigenous Women Snow Sculptors
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
A group of transgender women walks in a neighbourhood in New Delhi, India, December 18, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Mehran Firdous
In India, the online abuse faced by LGBTQ+ creators, predominantly on Instagram, is pervasive and includes death threats, hate speech, rape threats, bullying and other forms of harassment. -Jeet, founder of Yes, We Exist, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group on Instagram
The widespread abuse significantly impacts the mental health of LGBTQ+ people, leading some to self-censor, limit online activities or, in rare cases, consider self-harm, said Jeet. While legal protections exist, investigation of complaints is slow and convictions for abuse are scarce, he added. Even if companies such as Instagram have strongly worded policies on hate speech, LGBTQ+ advocates say that parent company Meta falls short on enforcement.
16-year-old Priyanshu Yadav dreamt of being a teen influencer – he had amassed about 17,000 followers on Instagram while alive, a number that has since doubled – but the barrage of homophobic cyberbullying his posts provoked may have gotten too much, according to LGBTQ+ online content creators and campaigners.
Non-binary lawyer Reyansh Naarang, said abuse of minorities was both rife and rising in the fast-paced social-media world. In a bid to keep the bullies at bay, Naarang took the decision to turn their public Instagram account private in 2022.
Our bodies are framed as primary targets for harassment and are policed – both offline and online. -Reyansh Naarang
Yadav’s suicide led to an online petition – started by LGBTQ+ artist Roshni Kumar – calling on "Meta India to change guidelines to protect queer individuals". Since its launch in late November, the petition has garnered nearly 3,000 signatures but "Meta hasn't shown any desire to deal with the problem", Kumar said. Digital rights expert Nikhil Pahwa said platforms could also enhance reporting and let users report mass targeting incidents. He said it was also crucial for platforms to employ reviewers who understand local languages and slang, ensuring they follow the nuances of different cultures and contexts.
The Parliament of Eswatini in Lobamba, on October 29, 2021. © MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images
Human Rights Watch article has called on Eswatini’s parliament to provide sufficient resources to protect women against violence and to effectively implement the 2023-2027 National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini. On February 9, King Mswati III is scheduled to officially open parliament and approximately a week later, Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg will deliver his annual budget speech.
The year 2023 ended with a spate of killings of women, and very little to show by way of concrete government action, despite the rise in the frequency and brutal nature of violence against women. The government neither fully implemented nor funded the previous 2017-2022 National Strategy and Action Plan to End Violence in Eswatini, under which a multi-sectoral approach to addressing violence in the country, including violence against women and girls, should have been put in place.
The 2017-2022 National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini just collected dust. It was a good strategy, but nothing was done. -Nonhlanhla Dlamini, executive director of the Swatini Action Group Against Abuse
In October 2023, a deputy sheriff allegedly shot five women, killing four of them and seriously injuring the fifth – he was allegedly romantically involved with one of the women. In November 2023, a woman was shot and killed by her husband, who allegedly then turned the gun on himself. That same month, another woman was brutally stabbed and killed at a bus station in front of commuters, with her partner being accused of her killing. Many other cases are likely to have been unreported.
In November 2023, the Swatini Action Group Against Abuse called on the government to declare such violence a national emergency. Speaking at the end of year national prayer service, King Mswati publicly condemned the recent acts of femicide, stating that there is no justification for the killing of women by their intimate partners. But mere rhetoric will not protect women and girls from violence, Human Rights Watch said. They added that the National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini and the Cost Action Plan 2023-2027 should not have the same fate as the previous one – It should be financed and implemented.
Anti-coup protestors set up a road barricade, with women’s clothing hanging overhead to mark the International Women’s Day in Yangon, Myanmar, March 8, 2021 (AP photo)
Three years after the Myanmar coup, women human rights defenders continue to be at the forefront. Many women activists and revolutionaries are working to ensure that the fall of the military will also lead to a revolution in gender equality.
During these difficult times, women and girls, especially those from ethnic areas, including the Rohingya as well as those who identify as LGBTQ, have faced more forms of violence, including domestic assaults, sexual violence, rape, being coerced into sex work, and human trafficking. Rather than submit to the military junta and its patriarchal dictates, women have increased their participation in various facets of the pro-democracy movement.
Women are on the literal frontlines of the war against the military, taking up arms or serving as combat medics. They are fundraising to support the resistance and creatively engaging in online campaigns, podcasts, visual art projects, and protests. Over two-thirds of the demonstrations after the coup comprised women, who were often the majority of those protesting. Women also continue to lead the effort in the provision of social services and humanitarian aid to conflict-affected areas.
Findings from a new report called “Triple Resistance,” released this month by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), a community-based organization working on the rights of the country’s women, revealed that despite the risks facing women human rights defenders, including threats to their physical and digital security, they have not been discouraged. Of the women interviewed for WLB’s report, nearly 100 percent are involved in humanitarian work, and 50 percent have taken on new roles in the political arena, particularly as federalism becomes more established.
As local leadership across ethnic states and regions in Myanmar adopt federal bodies and institutions, women have participated in leadership capacities and have been central to forming a new federal Myanmar. For example, in Karenni State, women occupy several positions in the Karenni State Consultative Council, the Ta’ang Political Consultative Council, and other locally-driven bodies, as well as in People’s Administration Teams and village administrations. Women in Myanmar are an inspiration to resistance efforts around the world and it is important to amplify their achievements.
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Mc Marie at a funk event in Rio de Janeiro, October 2023. (Dan Maia)
MC Marie is a funkeira (woman funk artist) who sings songs full of explicit sexual declarations, such as her hits “Gosto Muito” (“I really like”), released on the Brazilian National Day of Lesbian Visibility in 2021; “To Querendo um App” (“I’m Wanting an App,” about a lesbian sex app”); and “Ele Me Quer, Ela Me Quer,” (“He Wants Me, She Wants Me”), a bisexual anthem written for a friend. The vulgarity is not for nothing; these songs are part of a growing subgenre of Brazilian funk that is pushing for a new kind of liberation through music.
Sapatão, which literally means “big shoe,” comes from “Maria Sapatão,” a nickname first used in the 1970s to refer, derogatively, to queer women said to prefer men’s shoes over “ladylike” shoes. “Sapatão” has since been reclaimed by the community.
Recognizable by its bass-driven volume and hard-hitting lyrics, the broader genre of Funk Carioca or Brazilian Funk originated in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s, a creation of Brazil’s largely Afro-Brazilian favela communities. Beyond serving as a protest discourse of Brazil’s youth, funk has a rich history as a catalyst for social change, tackling issues such as poverty, racism, and police violence. The politically subversive power of its lyrics also creates a medium for marginalized youth to claim and express their pleasure through sex, love, and joy. A genre immensely popular across the globe, currently reaching a new level of fandom through its rapid spread on TikTok, funk music remains a vibrant protagonist voice of Brazil’s Black and favela communities. MC Marie speaks about her earliest memories of funk, when her school hosted a career day. Her mother, who had no formal work at the time, showed up in a skirt, with a little radio in hand, and taught the seven- and eight-year-olds how to dance funk.
Parents started pulling their children out of school because my mother was teaching funk. There was a big prejudice against funk, a discomfort with this culture that comes from the periphery. -MC Marie
Although they both speak lovingly about what funk at large means to them, MC Marie and MC Mano Feu also point to the sexism and homophobia that exist within the genre, both in the lyrics and in the industry itself. Wrapped up in the genre of funk at large, the Sapafunk artists explain, is a total focus on the sexual desires of men. These funkeiras are flipping that on its head. Some may critique the lyrics as crude. But the sexually explicit nature, like that of mainstream funk, is itself of political significance.
I used to have a prejudice towards funk putaria [funk with heavily sexual lyrics], but I deconstructed this. Like, if what's popular right now is talking about sex, I'm going to talk about mine, about what's good for me. The guys are out there spouting a lot of bullshit. Only their pleasure has visibility, mine doesn't. We talk about our pleasure without denigrating or humiliating anyone. Hey, if we're going to talk about sex, let's talk about ours. -MC Mano Feu
MC Manu Feu says that Sapafunk serves as a form of education for young people, an education that permeates their streets and their homes. Around the world, there is a growing number of advocacy and creative projects pushing for queer and lesbian visibility, and these Sapafunk artists are at the forefront of that effort within the Brazilian context.
Captain Heather Friedli puts the final touches on Team Kwe’s sculpture, “Wenabozho and Dadibaajimad Journey on the River of Souls.” CAROLINE YANG FOR ATLAS OBSCURA
Named after an Anishinaabemowin term for women, Team Kwe are the only snow sculpting team in the United States that’s made entirely of Indigenous women, as far as they know. Their sculpture of an otter diving beneath lily pads titled “Ngig Nibi Ganawendan” (Otter Water Protector) won them second place in the People’s Choice category at the National Snow Sculpting Championships in Wisconsin.
Team Kwe’s captain—and the most experienced of the trio—is Heather Friedli, a visual artist who has spent the last 13 winters as a professional snow sculptor. Friedli recruited her sister, Minneapolis karate teacher Juliana Welter, in 2019. Kwe’s third member, who joined in 2021, is Maggie Thompson, a Minneapolis-based textile artist. The team uses their snow sculpting designs to connect to their own identities as Anishinaabe women—the sisters being of Odawa descent, and Thompson, Ojibwe—and to tell a story with their work.
Traditionally in the Ojibwe culture, storytelling season is when there’s snow on the ground. For us, telling a story is important. -Heather Friedli
In 2022, for the Indigenous Arts Festival in Mankato, Minnesota, their sculpture featured a bison and a shawl dancer, honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women. While their pieces often have serious social messages, Team Kwe also has a sense of humor, says Friedli. For States in 2022, they carved a winged bison with a pair of jeans snagged on its horns, based on an infamous tourist misadventure when “a lady got her pants ripped off by bison,” says Friedli.
This year at the 2024 Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition, Team Kwe’s was called “Wenabozho and Dadibaajimad Journey on the River of Souls,” and was a homage to Ojibwe artist Jim Denomie, who died in 2022. The design is deeply meaningful to the team, but also practical, created without the gravity-defying elements Friedli is known for. That’s because this year, daytime temperatures, instead of ideal single digits and teens, were above freezing. Nonetheless, they were proud of their work.
I feel really interconnected with the world when I’m out there sculpting, creating, and knowing that the pieces go right back to nature. It’s the circle of life, and reminds us that even we’re impermanent, just like the sculptures. -Heather Friedli
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is an aspiring urban planner studying at Toronto Metropolitan University. Throughout the years, she has worked in nonprofits with survivors of sexual violence and youth. Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She loves learning about the diverse forms of feminist resistance around the world.