Global Roundup: Indigenous Rights in Kenya, Intersex Rights in India, FGM and Abortion on the Law Books, Fighting Refugee Period Poverty

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Indigenous women from some of the 14 pastoral counties showcasing bead products during the second day of the Annual Indigenous Women Conference in October 2020. Credit: Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

Kenyan women living in pastoral counties are demanding more inclusion on land issues. Currently, the main obstacle to women’s access to control and use of the land is that the system only permits men to control and manage resources - this issue needs to change. At the 2020 Annual Indigenous Women Conference in Isiolo, Kenya, women from 14 pastoral counties gathered to discuss important issues which they felt needed to be addressed. Many women asked county assemblies to ensure women’s participation in land forums, policy formation, and decision-making processes. 

Jane Meriwas, Executive Director for Samburu Women Trust, said that county governments should undergo civic education on land issues to ensure the wider population is well-informed on their rights.

They (women) including the indigenous ones, should be allowed to share their views during public participation sessions and not just inviting the elites from towns - Jane Meriwas

Meriwas also highlighted that women have a big role to play in the protection of unregistered community land and other community resources.  Additionally, due to the patriarchal dominance over land rights and issues within the region, men can sell land without the consent of their wives or children. 

It is important to ensure that women have full access to their rights so they do not become physically, emotionally or financially dependent on any individual who could exploit them. Women, especially Indigenous women, are often left out of important decision-making processes and it is time that their voices are heard and change is enacted. 

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The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) recently made a recommendation to the Delhi government to ban gender-affirming surgeries on intersex infants and children. Currently, these surgeries are still legal as long as a parent or guardian provides consent. 

Not just in India, but all around the world, intersex people are othered and are forced to undergo gender-affirming surgeries because they do not match the exact physical attributes of the conventional “boy” or “girl”. Usually, these surgeries begin at a young age so that the child can grow up with only one pair of genitalia and identify as the corresponding gender, yet in many cases, patients are forced to undergo life-long surgeries. By forcing children to undergo these gender-affirming surgeries, these individuals lose the opportunity to choose their own gender, and erases their chosen gender identity.

Intersex identity is often equated with transgender identity in India, which leads to the invisibilisation of trans men and women and struggles unique to them. Further, people born intersex could identify as non-binary or genderfluid, so referring to them as trans erases and disregards their chosen gender identity

The DCPCR made this recommendation based on past cases, as well as Tamil Nadu’s decision to ban gender-affirming surgeries. Gender-affirming surgeries have been recognized as problematic and inhumane around the world, and many hospitals have begun to ban this practice. 

Intersex people have been mistreated for decades because they do not conform to societal standards of binary sexes. Hopefully with this recommendation, the Indian government will recognize how catastrophic these surgeries can be and intersex people will be able to make these decisions themselves at an informed age. 

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A counsellor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM) in Minia, Egypt, June 13, 2006. REUTERS / Stringer © REUTERS

Egypt’s cabinet has toughened the nation’s laws regarding female genital mutilation (FGM). If an individual is convicted performing FGM or is otherwise connected to an incident, they face between 5 and 20 years in prison, depending on who performed the procedure, and if permanent damage or death occurred. Additionally, doctors and other medical staff risk losing their license for five years.

Nearly 90% of Egyptian women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, according to a 2016 survey by the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the ritual is practised widely by both Muslims and Christians despite the 2008 ban.

This is only the second time that the Egyptian government has permitted an amendment to the law banning FGM. Five years ago, the law was tightened in order to eliminate the practice, yet, no one has been successfully prosecuted under this legislation, and women’s rights groups have said that this ban has not been well-enforced.

While Somalia has the world’s highest FGM prevalence rate of 98%, Egypt has the highest proportion of women who have undergone the procedure, and still there was no concrete progress made since the last amendment. If the practice is to be eradicated both in Egypt and abroad, these new restrictions must be effectively enforced in order to hold perpetrators of this ancient practice accountable. 

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Abortion-rights activists demonstrate outside congress in Buenos Aires. Campaigners in Honduras have drawn inspiration from the success of the decriminalisation movement in Argentina. Photograph: Victor Caivano/AP via The Guardian

Legislators in Honduras are currently pushing to legalize a constitutional reform which would essentially make it impossible to ever legalize abortion, in any capacity. This new law will prohibit abortion under any circumstance, including the administering of an emergency contraceptive. Women’s rights groups are afraid that this new bill, which is being called a “shield against abortion”, could cause a domino effect in neighbouring countries; however, they are not yet ready to back down. 

It comes in response to the feminist “green wave” movement sweeping across Latin America that recently achieved its biggest victory yet with the legalisation of abortion in Argentina.

It’s a shield to stop the green wave…In Honduras there is an absolute violation of the reproductive rights of women and girls - Cristina Alvarado, Women’s Movement for Peace.

An estimated 40% of pregnancies in Honduras are unwanted or unplanned, which results in thousands of women and girls risking unsafe abortions each year. In 2017, more than 8,700 women were hospitalized because of abortion complications.

Feminists and women’s rights groups have been working relentlessly to advance this agenda and legalize abortion, but the Honduras government was concerned with stopping the incoming green wave. 

The feminist groups are in constant action, bring together support, denouncing, drawing attention, and I think this is the work now - Carmen Lopez, lawyer

While this new law will bring hardships and difficulty, women’s rights groups and feminists in Honduras are determined to rethink their strategies and continue to advocate for the legalization of abortion. Abortion rights activists have been fighting for this right for generations, and they will continue to do so because governments are influenced by patriarchal sentiment, and they have a fetish for controlling the bodily autonomy of women and girls and people who can become pregnant. Our work will never be complete until the patriarchy is entirely dismantled. 

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Nearly 2,500 pads sewn by 150 volunteers have now been sent to refugee camps in Greece and Lebanon with four given to each woman at a time. Photo via The Pachamama Project

The Pachamama Project is fighting period poverty by creating and distributing reusable sanitary products to women living in refugee camps. Started by Ella Lambert, a student at Bristol University, this initiative was named after the Inca goddess of fertility, celebrated as the Mother Earth of Inca mythology.

At the beginning of the first lockdown in March of 2020, Lambert began to think about the challenges faced by refugees in accessing these products, juxtaposed with her own ability to access the exact same products in a different country. With the help of her friend, Oliwia Geisler, she launched the Pachamama Project. Since its launch, the Pachamama Project has provided over 600 refugees with essential products, totalling over 2500 sanitary pads. 

Period poverty has been an ongoing, global issue, but the Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem for millions around the world. For some people who menstruate, sanitary products are not easily accessible or affordable, and they must resort to using towels, leaves, scrap materials, etc., which can lead to infections. Additionally, the accessibility of these products results in missed days of work and school.

The Pachamama Project relies on volunteers from around the UK. The organization is essentially a growing network of volunteers, sewing reusable sanitary pads for refugees around the world. Once the pads have been sewn, they go through a quality check and are then distributed to charities working in refugee camps. The pads can also be used for up to 5 years - incredible! The organization currently supplies products to The Free Shop Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, as well as Becky’s Bathhouse and The Azadi Project which support refugees in Lesbos, Greece.  

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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