Global Roundup: India Trans Community, Japan Women vs Male-Dominated Politics, Gaza Women Pushing Boundaries, Mexican Women in Tech, TikToker Spreading Trans Joy
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Rudra (left) and Gupta (centre) at the Tweet Foundation shelter in New Delhi | Shefali Rafiq
The transgender community in India, often referred to as hijras or Kinnars, has historically been marginalised and discriminated against, socially, economically and politically. They face discrimination in education and employment, for example, and it can be difficult to obtain identity documents such as passports, voter IDs and driving licences. In addition, there are barriers in accessing affordable and quality healthcare, including gender-affirmation surgery. Open Democracy spoke to five individuals, to hear their own personal experiences of being trans in India – three of which will be shared here.
Aqsa Sheikh is a doctor and a professor of community medicine at a Delhi university with a large social media following. Well known for her trans activism, she speaks frequently about the challenges faced by her community and other marginalised groups in India. Sheikh had a difficult childhood because she did not conform to the expectations of gender stereotyping. She faced emotional abuse from her family when she told them about transitioning. Eventually, at the age of 28, she found the courage to leave Mumbai to start a new life in New Delhi and begin her transition by taking hormones. She now describes the life that she is living as a dream come true but she remains concerned about her Muslim identity.
I'm worried because the Muslims in the country are being targeted frequently which adds another layer of fear in our lives. -Aqsa Sheikh
Shanaya (not her real name), a 35-year-old trans woman from a village in Haryana state, northern India, was abandoned by her family at the age of 15 because her stepmother believed she was a bad omen for her own children. In adulthood, Shanaya found support and friendship within the LGBTIQ community, who helped her raise money to undergo gender-affirmation surgery. Desperate to undergo surgery and lacking other options, she ended up having the procedure done at a clinic with a dubious track record. According to trans activists, potentially dangerous genital surgeries are still prevalent in India, especially in rural areas where unlicensed medical professionals perform them.
Rudra, 29, left his home town of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh a decade ago in order to be true to himself and has since then lived in three different cities to avoid the pain of not being recognised as a man. According to queer activist Avali Khare, who is transmasculine, trans men and transmasculine individuals experience a different form of stigma from trans women – partly because they do not have the same visibility or presence that trans women have. Moreover, Indian society already marginalises women and girls and exerts a lot of control over their mobility and sexuality, which makes it difficult for them to escape the family fold. Trans men also face more difficulties in accessing gender-affirmation surgery, particularly bottom surgery, according to Khare.
There is not enough knowledge in the community about bottom surgery, and the doctors and healthcare providers who perform this surgery are few and not well known. -Avali Khare
Despite the many obstacles trans people face, they continue to find ways to assert their true identity and many NGOs are there to support them through the process. Rudra was determined to continue with his top surgery, and was lucky to get financial and medical help from an Indian NGO. He has also been taking hormones, which have deepened his voice.
Ai Ishimori campaigns for local office in Tokyo. ‘There are so few women in Japanese politics that people have got used to the idea that it is the preserve of men’ via The Guardian
Women candidates running in the elections in Japan – which covered most of the country on Sunday and the Tokyo region a fortnight later – are up against a male-dominated system. Women’s participation in politics in Japan is among the lowest in the world. The cabinet of Fumio Kishida contains just two women a decade after his predecessor and mentor in the Liberal Democratic party (LDP), Shinzo Abe, promised in a speech to the UN general assembly to “create a society in which women shine.”
An alarming number of women who run for office say they are the target of sexual and other forms of harassment, including inappropriate touching and verbal abuse. In a 2021 cabinet office survey of 1,247 women with seats on local assemblies, 57.6% said they had been sexually harassed by voters, supporters or other assembly members. Many said they had been targeted with sexually explicit language or gender-based insults.
Ai Ishimori, 38, is running in local elections in Tokyo – her first attempt to win political office. Ishimori says most voters have reacted positively to her focus on childcare provision, young carers and low-paid contract workers.
There are so few women in Japanese politics that people have got used to the idea that it is the preserve of men. If we can show them that there is an alternative, then the situation will improve. -Ai Ishimori
However, Kaoru Yamaguchi, a fellow Constitutional Democratic party (CDP) candidate running for an assembly seat in Shinjuku – a diverse Tokyo ward with a large proportion of foreign nationals and low-income households – says it is “almost impossible” for women to run for office in Japan, especially if they have families.
Most people ignore me, but some come up to me to say they will support me simply because we need more women in local politics…I think the situation is changing, but it will take time…But I still hope to use my experience to work on issues affecting children, people with disabilities and Shinjuku’s multicultural community. People tell me I can do it. -Kaoru Yamaguchi
Mizuki Ono, who is running for a seat in Setagaya ward in western Tokyo, says little will change as long as children are taught to believe that politics is the preserve of older men.
Girls can’t imagine themselves getting involved in politics. That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to run for election. I want to be a role model for Japanese girls, so they look to people like me and think: ‘I can become a politician, and I can change the world.’ -Mizuki Ono
Sabreen al-Najjar, whose daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, works for the Medical Relief Society in the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Loay Ayyoub/The Guardian
Rouzan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic from the Gaza Strip who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, knew that her work saving lives during the 2018 protests on the frontier with Israel challenged assumptions in the highly conservative Palestinian territory about the role of women.
Being a medic is not only a job for a man. [Society] will be forced to accept us … The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else. -Rouzan al-Najjar
An internal Israeli army investigation into her death that concluded last month found the medic was not deliberately targeted, a claim eyewitnesses have disputed. In death, as much as in life, Najjar continues to inspire. Shortly after Rouzan’s funeral, her mother, Sabreen, enrolled on a training course with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. After four years in emergency medicine, she recently began working in a managerial role at the organisation.
The pain I felt ignited my desire to prove how strong Palestinian mothers are and how they can do great things even when they are broken. I liked the idea of following in Rouzan’s footsteps and continuing her work. I am proud of my work and I will spare no effort to support the Palestinian people in peace and war. -Sabreen
Shireen Abu Aita, now 39, was left to bring up her four children alone after her husband was killed in the 2014 war, when an Israeli missile hit the house next door. She is a social worker working with individuals with special needs, as well as caring for her boys, all of whom are still under 18. They all want to study medicine and engineering at university, and Abu Aita is determined to be able to afford the fees.
Widows in Gaza have several hurdles to navigate. The concept of shared matrimonial property does not exist, effectively denying women any legal claim to housing. There is also a cultural expectation to marry a brother or other relative of the deceased husband, and custody of children can revert to the husband’s family.
Hala Shehada, who also lost her husband in the 2014 war, has strived to carve out an independent life for herself and the couple’s daughter, Tuleen, now eight. Despite her grief and the pressures of raising a baby alone, Shehada managed to put herself through university, and in 2017 started her own wedding photography studio. The 30-year-old has since also opened a women’s clothing shop. Although Shehada had the rare chance to leave the strip for a job in Qatar, she was unable to take it, because Tuleen’s paternal grandparents would not allow her to travel.
It is hard to be a widow in Gaza, and to succeed in Gaza, but Tuleen is my inspiration. She wants to be a pilot when she grows up. -Hala Shehada
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Group photo of the women featured in "Mujeres que dejan huella," a new book about women working in the high-tech industries of Guadalajara. (John Pint)
“Mujeres que dejan huella” (Women Who Leave a Mark) by Macamen Navarro and Alejandro Figueroa is a book about women working in the high-tech industries of Guadalajara, Mexico, but the book is not only for people in tech and business.
Don’t get me wrong, we think just about anybody would find this book interesting, but we particularly hope that it will inspire new generations of girls in Mexico. This book is about women who are making a difference. -Macamen Navarro
The authors want to tell the stories of these 26 women to motivate even more girls to take up a career in the field because in Mexico only 30% of high-tech students are women. They also want both men and women in the field to learn something about their colleagues. During the interviews for the book, Navarro asked the women what games they played as little girls, if they suffered from bullying, or at what moment they became aware of the skills they possessed.
All of this can help mothers today to identify what abilities their children have right from when they are little, and to direct them toward careers where they could be successful and not force them into fields where they don’t have skills. -Macamen Navarro
One of the chapters in the book is dedicated to a woman named Claudia Covarrubias. In order to attend school, Claudia had to study in a boarding school 140 kilometers away from home. Whenever it was time to leave, she would cry. One day, her father proposed that Claudia ask herself exactly what she wanted to do with her life as he did not want to force her in either direction. She could continue going to school or her mother could start teaching her how to do all the household chores, as well as all the jobs related to running a rancho. Today, she is the Chief Financial Officer for Latin America and Global Channel Finance Lead of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Navarro says she wrote this book so when a girl hears ‘That’s not for women,’ she can hand the book to her father and say: ‘Mira, Papá, (Look, Dad) here are 26 women working in technology…’
Ezra Butler’s (@lemon.squeezy) journey on TikTok, where he has over 1.4 million followers, was born out of his own eating disorder recovery. Eventually, he came out and started making videos on queer joy. Soon, he realised his videos were encouraging others to overcome their fears and dare to do what they believed impossible.
In his videos, he might talk about how it gives him a warm, bubbly feeling when his identity is affirmed by others; take his viewers along with him to his GP to ask for testosterone; or show himself spreading testosterone gel on his abdomen, dancing with joy while waiting for it to dry.
There is incredible value for LGBTQ+ youth in finding even a single person who can support and affirm them, whether that is online or in their physical community. The Trevor Project found that support and affirmation can have an immensely positive impact on the mental health of queer kids.
Ezra says it has been especially moving to see the impact his videos – whether they are educational, glimpses into his life or those filled with trans joy – have had on queer youth on TikTok.
I do really like sharing it because I’m able to show young, queer kids that it is fine, and it’s going to be OK. -Ezra Butler
At the same time, he is also glad to support people figuring out their gender in their 20s or later. Ezra wants people to know it is “OK to be wrong” and to feel like they can grow up while discovering new aspects of their identity.
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.