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Global Roundup: India Student Pride March, Nicaragua Feminist Groups vs Government Bans, Belgium Decriminalizes Sex Work, Pakistan Disability Activist, Queer Muslim Representation
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Photo via NewsClick
Students in India held a Pride March earlier this week. There were songs and an assertion that “we will love who we want.” Powerful slogans like “Love is Love” and “Queer will not live in fear” were heard at the Pride March at the Arts Faculty in Delhi University, organized by the Students Federation of India (SFI).
Participants said queer communities in India are facing a double assault as the “politics of masculinity” had tightened its grip over the country in the previous few years, coupled with predatory market forces “commoditizing their feelings.”
History suggests that gay and lesbian communities have always been there. They did not appear all of a sudden. These communities have always been oppressed and the present day right wing politics wants to continue with it. Through this march, we are saying that this is not acceptable. - Komal, student at Delhi School of Journalism
One student, Uttara, said the feelings of the queer communities are being commoditized and people need to understand the difference between “queer liberation and rainbow capitalism.”
If these brands really support queer communities in their struggle, they can extend support in any month, not necessarily June! If you are an ally in this struggle, be with us throughout. - Uttara
Many queer students are not welcome at home if they wish to live life on their own terms. Parents may ask their child to get “cured” as if it is an illness. Another student believes it is important for all movements to come together to put up a fight against “oppressive politics” that are hell bent on imposing a universal character on its citizens.
We must realize that inclusivity cannot be limited to one community alone. A movement for dalit liberation, queer liberation or movement against Islamophobia, each has its own significance. Intersectionality among movements is a must. The best form of feminism is intersectional feminism, where we also consider other factors, such as class. - Azeez, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia
Women take part in a march to mark International Women's Day in Managua, Nicaragua, 8 March 2017/Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo via Open Democracy
Dozens of feminist groups in Nicaragua that provide crucial support to vulnerable women have been labelled “foreign agents” and outlawed by the government, preventing them from operating. The government ban includes reproductive healthcare services, shelters for survivors of gender violence, and loans and training for peasant women.
It’s a delusion of absolute control. [The authorities] know there is critical thinking, a defence for human rights and a democratic vocation in feminist organizations. - María Teresa Blandón, sociologist and prominent feminist who coordinates one of the affected groups, La Corrient
President Daniel Ortega’s regime has outlawed 267 NGOs since 2018, including 40 women’s groups serving vulnerable groups. Many of them were affected by a 2020 law that forced any group receiving funds from international donors to register as a “foreign agent”. La Corriente refused to register, arguing it was against their right of association and the Nicaraguan constitution. However, last month, the Nicaraguan National Assembly terminated its legal status.
La Corriente has provided inclusive education for women and LGBTQ youth, and managed development projects since 1994. It is one of the leading voices denouncing violence against women and LGBTIQ people. With their legal status revoked, La Corriente and other groups were no longer eligible for international funding, so they had to shut down operations.
There is no legal protection for LGBTIQ people in Nicaragua, and sexism and homophobia are widespread. In the first four months of this year, the country has reported 22 femicides (there were 71 in 2021). Today, only three shelters for women and children survivors of gender-based violence remain and they have to operate clandestinely to avoid government persecution.
One of the first feminist groups to close was one of the oldest, the Matagalpa Women’s Collective (Colectivo de Mujeres Matagalpa, CMM), set up in 1984 by leftist women activists. It worked with women in impoverished communities in Matagalpa department, a countryside area ravaged by the US-funded civil war in the 1980s. When CMM became involved with anti-government protests, three foreign members of CMM were deported, and several Nicaraguan members forced into exile. CMM activists who still live in the country face harassment and persecution.
We have been called everything, from terrorists to lesbians to being financed by ‘Yankee invaders’ to money launderers. [Since Ortega took power in 2006,] Matagalpa’s people experienced brutal repression, peasants were murdered, and we feminists needed to raise our voices. - Anonymous activist
Nicaraguan women’s rights groups have been at odds with Daniel Ortega since 1998, when his stepdaughter Zoilamérica accused him of sexual abuse, and feminists stood with the victim and demanded justice. Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo began to attack feminists, branding them murderers financed by the “Yankee empire”.
With no projects to run nor options to raise funds, feminist activists are seeking ways to sustain their work and resistance. CMM will continue supporting community efforts to organize, and denouncing "human rights violations and authoritarian rule.”
Feminism does not depend on funds or a physical space. Our work will continue because they cannot take away our right to think and build critical consciousness. - María Teresa Blandón
Sex workers perform songs at an event to celebrate decriminalisation Brussels, Belgium. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Joanna Gill
Sex workers celebrated Belgium becoming the first EU country to decriminalize sex work. The celebration - bringing together sex workers, government officials, social workers and campaigners - was the culmination of a 30-year push to decriminalize the buying and selling of sex in Belgium.
Belgium is the first country in Europe to decriminalize sex work, which supporters say will allow sex workers to set their own terms, and could reduce exploitation and violence, and make it easier to access medical services.
It's the freedom to be me ... the freedom to decide the conditions of my work, to refuse a client. - Trans sex worker
Activists say the coronavirus pandemic was the catalyst for parliament's March vote to remove sex work from the penal code. Lockdowns left sex workers with no income and no unemployment benefits given their uncertain legal status.
Previously, sex work had been tolerated in Belgium but those who facilitated it, such as hotel owners, accountants or web developers, were liable for prosecution. The policy aimed to prevent pimping and exploitation but campaigners say the lack of legal clarity led to abuses, with sex workers forced to work long hours in venues with poor hygiene and the risk of violence.
With the owners of the spa or nightclub, they say you are an independent worker, so they don't pay any insurance, any holidays ... and they take 50%. - Julia, sex worker based in Brussels
Daan Bauwens’ union of sex workers, Utsopi, was instrumental in getting the law changed. He is now working with the Justice Ministry on a new labour code, due to be finalized this year, which should guarantee sex workers' rights to a pension, paid annual leave, sickness and maternity leave.
Sex workers and campaigners say that the true impact of decriminalization will not be clear for a couple of years. Much depends on the details of the new labour code, which could be sabotaged by politicians by adding rules that are too expensive to implement, such as requiring brothels to have five bathrooms, said Bauwens. Many recognize that a perfect model does not exist and true liberation will require transforming society as a whole.
Tanzila Khan at the Prince's Trust Awards at the Theatre Royal, London, May 24, 2022. Photograph: Arthur Edwards/Pool/PA via The Guardian
Disability and women’s rights campaigner Tanzila Khan in Pakistan picked up her Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment award last week as part of the Prince’s Trust International awards ceremony. Khan does not like people feeling too sorry for themselves – or for her.
I don’t like sob stories or tragedies. I’m not saying they don’t exist – we can all face adversity – but I think we need a more positive approach to solving problems. I wanted to present people with disabilities in a more positive way. - Tanzila Khan
The 31-year-old wrote a short comedy film, Fruit Chaat, addressing some of the challenges she faced growing up in Pakistan as a wheelchair-user. It touches on four aspects of life for a young woman with disabilities: education, employment, entrepreneurship and love. Khan says the film is relevant to many women, especially because of her use of humour.
In Pakistan, Khan launched Girlythings.pk, delivering menstrual, reproductive health and maternity products to women anonymously. She sees the wide disparity among women in Pakistan, where there are empowered women as well as those who have never left the house or gone to school. Many companies do not have access to menstrual care, so women face barriers to working. Khans wants to address these barriers. She has been pleasantly surprised by the positive support from many men in the country.
It made me think: ‘Why haven’t we talked about this earlier?’ I’m only one person and I want to reach every corner, but this response makes me feel hopeful that our society is becoming very progressive. - Tanzila Khan
Khan says her award has given her even more motivation to continue with her advocacy work. She wants other young women to know that “the world is yours. Whatever you want to do, just do it. Be bold. Step up and own it.”
NBC News / Getty Images
Bilal Baig is a Canadian writer and actor who created the hit show “Sort Of.” Less than a year after the series debuted, Baig and the show’s co-creator, Fab Filippo (“Queer as Folk”), have won some of Canada’s top entertainment awards and even earned a Peabody nomination.
I’d kind of run away from making art when ‘Sort Of’ happened. I was moving more into working with nonprofits, developing programming behind the scenes, and really not at the center of any sort of creative endeavor. - Bilal Baig
In “Sort Of,” Baig plays the the series’ protagonist, Sabi – a role that made them the first queer South Asian Muslim actor to lead a Canadian prime-time television series. Sabi is a Toronto native who balances working at a queer bookstore and bar with nannying for a hip, dysfunctional upper-middle-class family — and managing complicated relationships with friends, family and love interests.
Like Sabi, Baig is a mid-20s Toronto-area native who grew up in a big Pakistani Muslim immigrant family. And while the character and their co-creator identify differently — Sabi identifies as nonbinary/gender-fluid, while Baig identifies as queer and trans-feminine — both move in queer, millennial worlds.
Baig also has a play, “Acha Bacha” about a young queer Muslim man, Zaya who is dealing with issues around giving and receiving love and the ways gender and family play into that. For Zaya, that means seeing his two worlds, represented by his genderqueer partner and his mother, come crashing in on each other.
I have these artistic obsessions. I’m obsessed with South Asian moms, queerness, of course, and gender expression — and this notion of constant change. - Bilal Baig
The instant success of “Sort Of,” as well as the international attention in the form of the Peabody nod and a recent Time magazine profile, caught Baig somewhat off-guard. In their estimation, viewers could easily have neglected the show. But they chalk up its popularity to the fact that it and Sabi offer something new to the cultural landscape.
Of course, there’s been representations of trans characters, trans-feminine characters and some nonbinary characters — but not quite in this way, in this genre. The quality of Sabi is different than what I’ve seen, historically. - Bilal Baig
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.