Global Roundup: Indigenous Woman Vigil, Tunisia First LGBTQ Play, The Vagina Festival, Syrian NGO vs Period Poverty, Degendering Beauty
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
A vigil for Doris Trout, who was killed in a homicide in Winnipeg's Central Park neighbourhood. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
A vigil was held for Doris Trout, an Indigenous woman who was killed in a homicide last week in Winnipeg, Canada. About 40 people attended the vigil, right outside the building where Trout's remains were found. The Cree woman from Gods Lake Narrows First Nation had been missing for more than a month when her body was discovered early last Thursday morning, in a common area of an apartment complex.
One person close to Trout said she remembers her fondly, but had to keep her identity private since she is staying in a shelter for fear for her own safety, after receiving threats. Her own daughter, who is the same age as the victim, has been missing for months.
I just cannot fathom how this can continue. It's just unbelievable that we have to stand here and mourn the loss of another one of our women, and especially from our north. It's just too sad. - Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee
According to Settee, not enough is being done to prevent this devastating violence, despite the recommendations of Canada's National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
MKO's MMIWG liaison director Heidi Spence said Trout's death has many community members worried about their safety. She said young people from remote communities can be especially vulnerable when they start out in a big city.
Rights groups and allies need to continue fighting the intersections of misogyny, colonialism and white supremacy and push the Canadian government to listen to Indigenous communities. Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people should not have to fear for their safety.
Image via Mawjoudin (We Exist)
“Flagranti" (In the Act), the first queer play to be staged in Tunisia, has premiered in the capital, Tunis. Directed by Essia Jaibi and co-produced by LGBTQ rights group Mawjoudin (we exist), the play tells the stories of people who have suffered violence at home, in the workplace and in public. It is played by six mostly amateur actors aged between 23 and 71, reflecting a decades-long struggle for gay rights in the North African country.
Imagine depicting stories with things that actually happen to people, to Tunisians, on a daily basis, talking about laws, regulations, definitions, on the constitutions, trying to educate people. This was more than just a play, this was like, an empowering event. - Alay Aridhi, audience member
Tunisia saw a rise in public LGBTQ rights activism in the years following its 2010 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring uprisings. However, rights groups say the community is still vulnerable, with as little as a photo on a phone potentially leading to arrest, physical violence and anal examinations. 59 people have been jailed between early 2020 and October 2021 under Article 230 of the penal code, first introduced by French colonial administrators in 1913, which punishes consensual same-sex conduct with up to three years in prison. With the parliament dissolved and the country in political turmoil after President Kais Saied's power grab last year, an end to this homophobic law does not seem in sight.
Mawjoudin member Karam Aouini said the play aims to challenge "discriminatory" mentalities and campaign for an end to a "backward law", as well as promote queer art. In addition to LGBTQ issues, it also covers police and judicial corruption, impunity and the brain drain as people leave to seek better economic prospects in Europe and elsewhere. The powerful play resonated with many people.
I saw my life on the stage. It was overwhelming, I had a lump in my throat. - Salim, 24-year-old member of the LGBTQ community
Drag ting Shardeazy Afrodesiak, one the acts performing at The Vagina Festival. (Heather Glazzard) via Pink News
The Vagina Festival, which took place this week in London’s iconic LGBTQ+ venue, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, was created by Ellamae Fullalove, a writer, advocate for those with MRKH syndrome and founder of Va Va Womb; and spoken word poet and activist Emilie Epperlein, who performs with the stage name My Hairy Vulva and Me.
I really wanted to be able to communicate my message that presenting vulva diversity in the world is really important. - Emilie Epperlein
Ellamae’s journey into the world of gynaecological art and activism began at 16, when she was diagnosed with Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, which means she was born without a uterus or a vagina, and has never had a period. Ellamae’s diagnosis of MRKH syndrome opened her eyes to issues of gender, identity, sex and diversity.
As someone who identifies as a woman without a vagina and that doesn’t have periods, I felt like I can relate to and empathise with so many of those subjects, I’m part of a community of people that don’t fit that societal norm of what a body is supposed to be. The message of not all women have wombs and not all people with wombs are women is really, really, really important to me. - Ellamae Fullalove
Ellamae and Emilie moved in the same feminist and activism circles and after meeting online, they “got their heads together” and created the first Vagina Festival, a Zoom event during lockdown in March 2021. The event was a huge success with more than 450 people in attendance. The event also managed to raise £2,400 for gynaecological cancer research charity The Eve Appeal.
The festival this week featured award-winning spoken word artist Desree, “drag ting” Shardeazy Afrodesiak and comedy band Flat and the Curves. There will also be an open mic segment, with performers carefully chosen by the organisers to ensure a diverse range of voices, experiences and topics. The pair deliberately called it the “Vagine Festival” rather than the “Vulva Festival” because they believe the hidden nature of the vagina represents all the untold and hidden stories. They included the word in their title because they “want to be shameless.”
The word vagina itself is so stigmatised. We want to normalise it, instead of people calling things ‘private parts’ or’ downstairs’...It brings up stories of having periods or not having periods, or how the word vagina impacts a trans woman being born without a vagina, or someone like myself being born without a vagina. You don’t have to have a vagina to be at our festival, and it’s not a dirty, wrong or shameful word. - Ellamae Fullalove
Utopia’s small as-Suwayda workshop produces reusable menstrual pads as well as nappies for babies and elderly people via The New Humanitarian
Utopia, a small NGO, has been hand-sewing reusable pads in its small workshop in the southwestern city of as-Suwayda, Syria since the start of the year, offering a cost-efficient and eco-friendly solution to menstruators. Syria’s recent economic downfall has led to already-high hyperinflation worsening. The UN says nine in ten of the nearly 22 million Syrians are now in poverty, and a record 60 percent risk going hungry this year.
Eman (not her real name), a mother of three daughters from Damascus says that together, their menstruation costs them $5 a month, in a country where the average monthly salary is lower than $40. Since they cannot afford that, they switched to “using rags and other pieces of cloth instead of pads.”
[They] stay home from school or university on those days, unless it’s urgent… the discomfort is indescribable. - Eman
Eman heard about Utopia when she was visiting family in the area – neighbours had been using and talking about the pads, and she ended up buying a few when she was in town. Each pad cost her around $0.40. It’s still an investment for her, but one she is glad she made, as the long-term savings are bigger and she does not have to worry about leaking in public.
The workshop, along with the rest of the city and much of Syria, gets about one hour of electricity followed by five hours off, the result of government rationing of the limited power supply from Syria’s war-ravaged power plants. This leaves Utopia’s small team with just that hour to sew the fabric they have prepared and cut out during the time they are without power.
The 20 or so pads they make a day has so far been enough to meet demand: in total, Utopia has sold or donated around 370 reusable menstrual pads, plus 900 nappies for babies and elderly people. But more people are seeking out the pads as word of Utopia’s products spreads. According to Nadia Nasr, the manager of the workshop, 120 menstrual pads and 800 nappies were sold in April alone.
It’s this growing need among women, and the discomfort and panic that they live through each month, that brought about the idea of creating longer-lasting, cost-efficient menstrual pads. - Nadia Nasr
Utopia hopes that making and distributing their pads can help fight stigma, given what activists say is a dearth of information and a reluctance to discuss the problem of period poverty inside Syria. The NGO’s work is especially important given that international and local aid groups have struggled to provide enough assistance of any kind, let alone menstrual pads, alongside ballooning poverty rates. Mayyada Sarhan, director of Arab Women’s Society, notes that some families are resorting to marrying off their daughters at a young age to reduce expenses, including period supplies.
For now, Utopia is relying on word of mouth and social media to get the message out, although Nasr hopes the group will be able to expand its assistance in the coming months.
Photo by Kohl Murdock via Allure
Writer, performer, activist, and designer Alok Vaid-Menon, based in New York City, reflects on gender, self-expression, and the need to reimagine beauty in Allure. They discuss how “all the outfits, all the aesthetics, all the ideas and ways of being” came from queer shows and were then pushed into Hollywood and mainstream fashion. Yet, queer history continues to be “systemically, intentionally suppressed.”
Vaid-Menon had to move back home to Texas in the beginning of the pandemic. They said they no longer felt physically safe to present as themself. The experience made them realize how important self-expression is to them and their mental health. Growing up, Vaid-Menon felt ugly and only through meeting other queer people have they started to think about beauty in relation to themself.
Where I grew up, there was such a deep and entrenched colorism and a normalization of self-hatred, so in some ways, my queerness helped me love my brownness. Through it, I was able to understand that the things we are often shamed for as queer people of color are actually the talismans of magic and joy and worth. - Alok Vaid-Menon
Vaid-Menon sees self-expression as a basic fundamental need. They believe we need to change beauty in order to get to the root of what transphobia is in the US.
The goal of the beauty industry should not be to standardize what’s considered attractive, but rather to be a platform where all forms of beauty are acknowledged and recognized and celebrated. - Alok Vaid-Menon
Degendending beauty for Vaid-Menon includes hiring more transgender and gender-nonconforming people at all levels and compensating them fairly; removing gender markers from media and conversations; and integrating a diversity in bodies, ability, skin tone and gender in campaigns and beauty shoots. They advise against making it about Pride Month or “LGBTQ beauty,” as it is a form of othering.
Beauty is play. It should not rely on aspiration or emulation, but on self-authorship. - Alok Vaid-Menon
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.
Thank you for this fascinating round-up, Samiha.