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Global Roundup: Italy Same-Sex Parents' Rights, India Women’s Safety in College, Healthcare for LGBTQ+ Nigerians, Japan Misogynistic Advice for Pregnant Women, Black Trans Sex Workers Documentary
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Mauro Ujetto / NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Italian Interior Ministry initially ordered the city of Milan to stop recognizing non-biological parents on birth documents in March, a move backed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right administration. In June, the Padua prosecutor’s office also ordered the cancellation and reissuance of 33 birth certificates of children born to lesbian couples, dating back to 2017. The office confirmed to CNN on Friday, July 21, that the government had begun removing the names of non-biological parents, with 27 names stripped from 27 birth certificates as of last week.
Surrogacy has been illegal in Italy since 2004; same-sex couples are barred from undergoing artificial insemination and can only adopt their stepchildren. With this year’s crackdown, — orchestrated by Meloni’s “traditional family-first” government — only biological mothers will have parental rights, which apply to everyday situations like authorizing medical care and signing field trip slips. If a child’s biological mother died, they could be turned over to relatives or taken by the state.
Vanessa Finesso and Cristina Zambon are one Paduan couple who were informed that their parental rights could be taken away. The pair said that Finesso has cancer, and that there was a real fear that Zambon could lose the right to raise their child.
According to the law, I am the giving-birth mother. What happens if I die and only my wife is left? By that same law, she has no rights or duties towards our little Vittoria. -Vanessa Finesso
The move follows the proposal of a law that would make it illegal for Italians to pursue surrogacy abroad. The law would penalize people who pursue surrogacy in other countries with a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to 1 million euros. The move is widely considered an attack on same-sex parents; Italian conservatives have increasingly rallied against so-called “utero in affitto” (womb for rent), which Politico wrote is “often uttered in the same breath as the LGBTQ+ community.”
A mural in Jammu, India. Many female students are scared to report sexual abuse, due to societal pressures and fear of their family taking them out of college. Photograph: Reuters
CW: rape, sexual assault
Rani (name changed) was a second-year computer science student at a higher education college in Mumbai. Last month, the 18-year-old was found dead in her room on the fourth floor of a government-run hostel. Rani was allegedly sexually assaulted and murdered by a security guard, Prakash Kanojia, who later killed himself. He had free access to the hostel rooms and Rani’s friends said he had been harassing the teenager for weeks before her death. After her murder, 50 former and current students signed a letter to the city’s directorate of technical education, outlining serious flaws at the hostel and the lack of concern about students’ safety. It called for “immediate and decisive action” to address the issues.
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act came into force in India after what is known as the Nirbhaya case – the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a student in Delhi, in 2012. It makes it compulsory for all higher education institutions to have an internal complaints committee (ICC) to address abuse on campus. But in 2019, a report by the Ministry of Education found only 95 out of 188 institutions had established committees, and those that were in place were considered ineffectual by students.
While the government has introduced laws, many colleges and universities consider it a tick-box exercise and often it is only implemented after a scandal, and not in an effective way. This shows that women’s safety is not a priority. -Ekta Viiveck Verma, the founder of the Invisible Scars Foundation, an organisation that supports survivors of gender-based abuse
Verma notes some factors that make women hesitant to report abuse including fear that it will affect their studies, their parents will take them out of college, and victim blaming.
Aryan Gupta, national organising secretary of the All India Students’ Union, one of the biggest student bodies in the country, says Rani’s murder “highlights our concerns about the lack of adequate protection for students”. The All India Students’ Union wants all higher education authorities to review and strengthen existing safety policies.
One of the Nigerian men arrested on charges of public display of affection with members of the same sex, walks with a friend on the streets of Mushin in Lagos, Nigeria, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
For LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria, where having same-sex relations can incur a jail sentence, a trip to the doctor can be traumatic, deterring many from seeking medical care. When Abimbola, a gay man from Lagos, went to a sexual health clinic for a yeast infection, the nurse who saw him said she would only treat him if he promised to "pray against the demon". He swiftly left without being treated.
As well as deterring many LGBTQ+ Nigerians from seeking medical care, widespread homophobia means healthcare professionals lack training on how to deal with health issues affecting the community. Without health awareness campaigns, LGBTQ+ people themselves can also be ashamed to seek help in clinics - sometimes turning to potentially dangerous "cures" bought online or from unqualified underground doctors. Transgender and non-binary people face even greater obstacles, said Matthew Blaise, an activist who founded the Obodo Nigeria rights group.
Healthcare systems have no provisions for them, like gender-affirming healthcare, or even psychological therapy. - Matthew Blaise
Poor understanding of the community's particular health needs mean even LGBTQ+ people do not know treatment is available, said Ugochukwutuberem Nnamdi, a sexual health activist from eastern Nigeria who campaigns about HIV. Education campaigns would encourage people to overcome their fear of discrimination to seek help and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, in turn limiting the risk of the virus's spread, Nnamdi adds.
[We need] to get to a level where we should allow people to access healthcare irrespective of who they are and who they love. -Ugochukwutuberem Nnamdi
Seeking to build wider understanding of community members' needs, LGBTQ+ groups have forged links with medical centres that offer gender-affirming care for trans people. Blaise's organisation fundraised to supply items such as chest binders. For Blaise, equal healthcare access will only be possible if the country's laws against same-sex relationships are scrapped.
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Pedestrians walk past a woman wearing a maternity badge on a street in Tokyo on March 3, 2016. Toru Yamanaka—AFP/Getty Images
For the past five years, expectant mothers in a Japanese city have been receiving unsolicited advice from local authorities via a flyer telling them how to behave after giving birth—not for their own or their babies’ wellbeing, but to avoid annoying their husbands. The colorful flyer with cartoon drawings highlighted behaviors that men “didn't like” in their wives, such as being “busy taking care of the baby and not doing chores” and “getting frustrated for no reason.” It also recommended that new mothers prepare their husbands’ lunch every day, thank men for doing basic household chores, and always have a smile on their faces.
Although the flyers have been distributed for several years in Onomichi, a city in Hiroshima Prefecture, it was only this week that it made the rounds on social media and sparked a wave of public anger so intense that local authorities apologized and pulled the plug. On Tuesday, Onomichi Mayor Yukihiro Hiratani posted on both the the city’s government website and Twitter that the contents of the flyers promoted stereotypical gender roles. The controversial advice was taken from a survey of 100 fathers in the city in 2017, and local media reported that every year since 2018, authorities have mailed about 600 flyers to female residents in their seventh month of pregnancy.
In Japan, only around 13 percent of managerial jobs are held by women. Women also take up 68 percent of non-regular jobs, which usually offer lower wages and are less secure. This skewed workplace representation is a result of traditional gender roles at home, where women are expected to take on more household duties than men. Women in Japan are also often plagued by matahara, or maternity harassment, which describes pregnant women or new mothers being discriminated at work for their perceived unproductivity.
Recently, critical discourse on gender issues has been moving more into the public sphere, with gender stereotypes coming under increasing fire. In 2021, the head of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee resigned after a sexist comment caused public outrage. Last year, a medical school in Japan was ordered to compensate 13 women after a government investigation found that it had unfairly rejected female students by judging them more strictly than men in entrance interviews.
The flyer in Onomichi reignited similar conversations about the harmful gender stereotypes that are still entrenched in Japanese society. By Wednesday evening, the flyer had racked up 156 complaint emails and 51 phone calls. Many are not satisfied at just stopping the distribution of the flyers – they want to address the deep-rooted chauvinism.
Women are working so hard that giving birth is already more than enough. The first step is to inform fathers about the roles they should play and what they should do after giving birth. -Twitter user (@canon0625)
D. Smith's documentary Kokomo City features Black trans sex workers like Dominique Silver, who is working to pay for gender-affirming care. Magnolia Pictures photo
Smith moved to New York after 9/11. She struggled, sleeping in parks and singing in the subway for money. There, she was discovered and signed to an Atlanta music label, where she worked with superstars like Lil Wayne, Ciara, and Andre 3000. But in 2014, after she came out as transgender, the music industry forced her out. She bounced back, making history as the first trans woman on reality show Love & Hip Hop, and started pursuing filmmaking.
As strong as I am as a person, I really went through hell to welcome the person who I am, to defend the person who I am. -D. Smith
Smith looked to her stomping grounds — Miami, New York, and Atlanta — for the subjects of Kokomo City. She found them online in the comments section of high-profile trans folks. She didn't want to feature people who had PR reps. Instead, she wanted to work with Black trans sex workers with darker complexions who represent the people who are being targeted and murdered. Tragically, one of the film's stars, Atlanta's Koko Da Doll, was shot and killed on April 18, 2023, after filming had been completed.
Kokomo City explores how stigma and secrecy around transgender identities and sex work in the Black community affects the community as a whole, not just those who are trans and have turned to sex work to survive. Daniella Carter is an intellectual conflicted about how her work affects Black women in relationships with the men who pay her for sex. Dominique Silver is a thin beauty working to pay for gender-affirming surgery. Rich-Paris, who is trans, and Xotommy are a couple in love, and you see the raw intimacy of their union. Koko Da Doll is an incredible and honest storyteller. And Liyah Mitchell is truly the heart of the film. She's funny and charming and exudes a sort of lightness despite the potential threats caused by her work.
Each of them brought something to the table that represented various trans women in the world. Obviously, not all trans women are the same. -D. Smith
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.