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Global Roundup: Indigenous Artists & Love, Cambodia Women Garment Workers, India Women Seaweed Divers, Supporting Black Trans Women, What Queer Joy Looks Like
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
CC standing, and Castro seated, each wearing traditional dress of their culture. Photo courtesy of the interviewees.
Global Voices features the love between two Indigenous women artists. Castro is a 32-year-old queer multidisciplinary artist, event planner, and doula. Her parents are from Colombia and Chile and she is of Muisca and Mapuche descent. CC, born on the sacred lands of San Carlos Apache in Arizona 34 years ago, is a lesbian, multidisciplinary artist, community organizer, and cultural keeper.
In 2022, after participating in an event, Women of the Desert, in Phoenix, they felt their paths were not two, but one, and they have been walking hand in hand ever since in the same direction. They do not have a relationship, they have a healing purpose: to make Indigenous women visible and recover their wisdom through art. Their artwork can be found in the streets of Phoenix, in galleries, in social spaces, and in private collections, portraying strong, free, and autonomous Indigenous women, with their lights and shadows.
I hope to capture an authentic representation of my ancestors through the lens of the spirits that guide me and my brush. I hope to provoke a connection to the Andes for those who have been displaced through migration. I hope that my relatives and those who experience my art will feel the power and light that traveled through me. And that they see the beauty and deeper meaning of intergenerational wisdom and love. -Castro
For CC, her art is a connection to herself and to her roots through culture. It is interrogating her existence.
I use my art as a weapon for the people. I love to paint my people, especially the women. It is an honor to be Apache. Whoever comes across my work I want them to feel loved by theirself and proud. -CC
The sexual revolution is a pending issue in Latin America, and in Indigenous communities even more so. Castro and CC want to show through their work that traditions, spirituality, and creativity are not at odds with sexual diversity, but rather complement each other and become one.
I feel that colonization has robbed us of our sensuality and connection to our divine sexual power and energy. I work diligently to regain this sensual awareness and connection to my body and my sexual power…-Castro
Neat Srey Pov, 19, poses for a photo at her home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on June 23, 2023. Image: © Erika Piñeros pour Global Citizen
When Neat Srey Pov started working in a garment factory, she joined the ranks of approximately 700,000 garment workers in the Southeast Asian country, of which nearly 80% are women under 30. But when the pandemic hit, there were massive global supply chain and transportation disruptions, and Cambodia’s garment workers like her were temporarily suspended or lost their jobs entirely due to the lockdown factory closures.
Establishing regulations and laws to address social and economic barriers faced by women in Cambodia’s apparel industry remains challenging due to the lack of national ownership over factories. According to experts at the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 95% of factories in Cambodia are exporting factories led by foreign direct investment, an issue not seen in other Asian countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh. As a result, there is less accountability and less implementation of practices that prioritize unions, safety measures, and worker health.
The toilet is very far away and we only have one hour for lunch. We have fewer hours to work and the salary is too little. -Neat Srey Pov
Because of policy advocates like Oxfam who have supported grassroots efforts to secure worker rights and fair wages, social protection systems have been strengthened. Social security schemes like the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) helped provide benefits to garment workers during the pandemic’s economic downturn.
We’ve been working with line ministries to improve coverage and benefits, implementing unemployment benefits for suspended and unemployed workers, unpaid care work for women workers and mothers, better health care services, and maternity protection. -Sophoan Phean, national director of Oxfam in Cambodia
Addressing gender discrimination and inequality in care responsibilities remains crucial to empowering women and advancing their careers. Progress in this area would impact garment workers on every level, particularly those like Srey Pov, who is now on maternity leave. Many women in the garment industry end up quitting their factory jobs to take care of their children. This creates a financial strain for them, but adequate child care options are lacking. It is important to continue shedding light on women garment workers, who despite their valuable insights into labor rights, are not often at the forefront of these discussions.
Photo: Ahmer Khan
The seaweed collectors of India’s south-east coast have been diving in the Gulf of Mannar for decades, passing skills from mother to daughter. However, in Rameswaram, on the Tamil Nadu coast, it is a dying art. More girls are now able to go to school and pursue working lives that are less dependent on the dangerous tides and bruising work.
Sethunambu, who, like most of the women, goes by only one name, thinks she is about 60 now, and has been diving for much of her adult life. The collected seaweed has to be dried before it is sold to traders, who sell it on for use in the food and beauty industries. Under the best conditions of low tides and favourable weather, the most the divers can earn is £120 a month.
Munishwari lives in Mangadu village, 3km from where she collects the seaweed. Although she followed her mother’s path, and the trade has earned her a living, Munishwari does not want to see the next generation follow her into the tradition.
I have been living in fear with this occupation, although it was the only source that brought some bread to my house. I want my children to move out of this circle and choose education over this. However, I will teach my daughter the art as a backup plan. -Munishwari
The seaweed divers are facing increasing challenges due to the climate crisis and coastal development. Rising salinity levels, extreme weather conditions and changes in nutrient cycling and pest populations are all eating into their earnings. Government regulations to protect marine ecosystems are also bringing new red tape to their work. Few of the women will mourn the passing of their trade. They all emphasise the risks they face from venomous creatures in the water, and the scrapes, bites and stings that can lead to expensive and painful hospital visits. Nonetheless, they acknowledge and celebrate the financial independence the trade has brought to them over the years.
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Reneka Evans, LGBTQ+ lead at the Minnesota Department of Health’s Center for Health Equity, poses for a portrait in her Minneapolis apartment on June 8. Photo by Ben Hovland | MPR News
Reneka Evans, 54, has dedicated her life to helping Black trans women. She has been working in community health care in Minnesota for more than two decades, first at the African American AIDS Task Force, then as a community health coordinator at the Red Door Clinic, an STD and HIV clinic in Minneapolis. Now she works as the LGBTQ+ community lead for the Minnesota Department of Health as part of its COVID-19 community response. Evans also works with The Aliveness Project, a local organization that offers HIV prevention and support services. She said she facilitates groups for a transgender wellness program the organization recently launched. She’s also trying to pursue a business of her own: Reneka’s Place.
And I'm above 50. That's a strategy. When you live that long being a Black trans person that's open and out and living our truth, to live to be here above 50 — not being murdered, beat, raped, all those things. You have a notebook and a pen in front of you at all times trying to figure it out. -Reneka Evans
Evans’ idea for Reneka’s Place is to start a “Minute Clinic” where services that can be done in under a minute, such as blood pressure and COVID testing, are performed. She sees it as a place where “trans people can come in and seek services and show up as themselves and be appreciated for who they are.” She notes how many existing LGBTQ+ organizations don’t have programming specifically for trans people.
And so by me being a trans person, I do understand that the needs are different, the services are different, and there's always needing to be a safe space for people to be seen and heard. -Reneka Evans
Illustration by Deema Alawa
C.J. Malament is a Denver-based clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Malament recognizes that queer joy can come from community, something which is not always available to everyone. That’s why they choose to focus on how self-love is a radical act of queer joy.
So queer joy to me right now is quiet, and often solitary. It looks like the meticulous practice of rest in order to access pleasure, care, abundance, and liberation…It looks like a refusal to give my body to a capitalist engine that still owes my ancestors a debt. -C.J. Malament
Deema Alawa is an illustrator passionate about nontraditional art and design. Her work as a visual storyteller draws from her dual Syrian-Danish heritage, contemporary art, and eclectic design. She sees queer joy beyond just “Pride Month’s publicized moments of queer expression.” Queer joy can also be found in the quieter moments of building community, she says. As a person who is BIPOC and outwardly asexual, seeing herself represented has always been a challenge. So she finds joy in being the one to fill in those gaps in representation.
There’s something cathartic to filling the missing gaps—I find joy in the moments when I see myself finally represented, and in illustrating the people whose stories are missing from the narrative. -Deema Alawa
Tevy Khou is an illustrator and designer from Long Beach, California. For Khou, queer joy is more radical than Pride. She lists some things she sees as queer joy including being your authentic self, immersing yourself in queer culture and self-expression that defies heteronormativity. The purest form of joy for Khou is when she is with her wife, who makes her feel safe.
Queer joy is not solely confined to grand gestures or acts of resistance. Joy is contagious and nourishes other queers! It can be found in the simplest of moments, shared with another person who understands and appreciates your journey. -Tevy Khou
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.