Global Roundup: Italy Sex Workers Gather, Namibia Queer Community, Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh, Queer Nigerian Author, Indigenous Artist on TikTok
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Photo by @Danimale_sciolto
For the first time in almost 20 years, sex workers in Italy have gathered in the city of Bologna to discuss how the legislation around sex work in the country affects their daily lives. The gathering was held on June 2nd to coincide with international sex workers’ day.
This year's event, which followed a march on the streets of Bologna, was attended by groups, associations and individual sex workers fed up with the jurisdictional approach that the country has toward them, which has been fundamentally hostile since 1958, when Italy shut down its ‘closed homes’, also known as ‘houses of tolerance’. These ‘houses’, which were introduced in the late 1800s, allowed sex workers to meet their clients within the safe space of a home, which was also their designated place of business. Since then, sex workers have been forced to move to the streets, where conditions are often unsafe. At the same time, the country also introduced the crimes of exploiting and aiding & abetting prostitution which also leads to unsafe conditions for sex workers.
It’s a systematic repression of sex work enacted through the creation of crimes as aiding & abetting prostitution. That means that people cannot work inside a home, and if they work in the streets they’re unlawfully occupying public land. -Maria Pia Covre, sex worker and advocate
Sex workers reunited in Bologna are asking for the legislation around sex work, which punishes third parties, to be eliminated, and for sex workers to have the same rights as any other worker in the country. They are also calling for the stigma around the profession to be eradicated, and for the profession to be normalised and become socially respectable so that they can pay taxes, rent a home, or file a complaint to police if they’re assaulted while at work without fear of being diminished or mocked.
Our request is to decriminalise sex work. Sex workers are already punished by the legislation. If you add the fact that more vulnerable people can be sex workers, like migrants, refugees, or trans people, the situation becomes unbearably difficult. -Maria Pia Covre
Sex workers in Italy want for the country to follow in the footsteps of Belgium, which has recently decriminalised sex work. Under this model, consenting adults can buy or sell sex without committing any crime, while laws against trafficking, violence, rape and sex work involving minors remain in place. The law has allowed to shift law enforcement’s focus on protecting sex workers rather than criminalising them, defending them from exploitation from criminals and violence.
Less than a month after Namibia’s highest court ruled that same-sex marriages should be recognised, LGBTQ people in the country are facing more homophobia and discrimination than ever before. In response to the ruling, leading Namibian politicians and church leaders are now publicly speaking out against same-sex relationships, with many encouraging their followers and supporters to fight against the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. This week, Namibia’s Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila announced a plan to bring an “anti same-sex marriage bill” to the nation, which would effectively ignore the court’s ruling.
Namibia’s Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago directed the nation’s government to recognise same-sex marriages that have taken place outside of the country, where one of the partners is born outside of Namibia. It means that a gay couple in which one is a Namibian and the partner is foreign-born, could technically get married in South Africa, which is next to Namibia and has legalised gay marriage, and then travel back to Namibia to be recognised in law.
As the Supreme Court judgement was announced and LGBTQ groups celebrated, a series of WhatsApp groups were created to fight the ruling. According to Vice News, many of them have hundreds of members, including leading names in Namibian politics and religion. These groups are full of hatred and encouragement of violence towards the queer community.
Campaigners are now warning people in Namibia to stop using gay hookup apps because of threats of outing, blackmail and violence coming from homophobes catfishing on the platforms. This comes as drag shows and other LGBTQ events have been cancelled for the first time in years because organisers are worried about targeted attacks.
This should be a time of celebration, but instead we’re scared. Our politicians and church leaders are really showing their true colours, and they’re at the forefront of oppressing an already marginalised and vulnerable group in Namibia, and in the name of God – a God that’s supposed to promote love and uplift us. - Omar van Reenen, founder of LGBTQ rights group Equal Namibia
Van Reenen urges the rest of the world to pay attention to what’s happening in Namibia and to hold the government accountable. Despite the threats, Van Reenen said they are not giving up.
I’m now more driven and determined than ever to make sure that our fundamental rights as LGBTQ Namibians don’t get shattered. We have come too far to climb back into the closet. -Omar van Reenen
Photograph: Courtesy of Omar’s Film School
Ara mentions how refugees are prevented from working by Bangladeshi authorities so they are dependent on food aid. Rations are being cut for the second time in a few months. The rations are the same for every person regardless of age. The news about reducing food again has caused chaos and concern among the Rohingya refugees. According to the WFP, the reduction is because of a shortfall of funds.
Some even suspect it’s a premeditated plan to make their life more miserable and create an environment to force them to return to Myanmar. -Yasmin Ara
Ara believes the new cuts will lead to more problems and conflicts including a rise in domestic violence and other crime. Many parents will also take their children out of school and send them to work, to sell vegetables or snacks in order to scrape a few pennies that can go towards their food. There is also the danger of human trafficking as young people are leaving the camp for Malaysia or other countries. Adults and children can be tricked and trafficked easily on such risky journeys.
We Rohingya are anxious about how long we can live under these conditions, of less food and more restrictions, under the threat of crime and violence. Crisis and constant hardship seems to be our fate. -Yasmin Ara
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Photo by Stephen Tayo for The New York Times
Nigerian Ani Kayode Somtochukwu’s first novel “And Then He Sang a Lullaby,” a love story about two young men in Nigeria, was released this week. It’s published by a new imprint at Grove Atlantic, launched by the writer and social commentator Roxane Gay. Gay has said she plans to elevate writers from outside the usual publishing pipelines, and Ani is the imprint’s first author: a queer Nigerian man from a working-class background, whose manuscript, submitted without an agent, came from the slush pile.
“And Then He Sang a Lullaby” centers on two very different young men who meet and fall in love in college. August is wealthy, athletic and passes for straight, while Segun is flamboyant, political, working-class and frequently targeted — same-sex relationships are illegal in Nigeria. The novel explores how people respond differently to homophobia, and how love is possible even under such difficult circumstances.
It is a novel about queer love and about queer pain. But maybe most importantly, it’s about queer resistance. -Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
Ani considers himself an activist first, and says his writing is in service of that work. He describes organizing campaigns in support of L.G.B.T.Q. rights and helping to raise money to buy the freedom of friends and strangers who have been kidnapped and held for ransom because they are gay or trans.
This month Ani will visit the United States for book-related events, his first trip outside of Africa. With his profile elevated, he said he doesn’t fear becoming more of a target in Nigeria, maintaining that his visibility offers him some protection, which he plans to use to push harder on what he believes.
What I want people to know about me is that I am an African queer liberation activist who believes that Africa is my home, that it is a home for queer people. I truly believe that. -Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
Ashley Michel is pictured in the CBC Kamloops office on Monday, June 5, 2023. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)
An Indigenous artist and entrepreneur from Canada is being recognized by TikTok as a visionary voice for her art and educational content and has been named one of the app’s Indigenous Visionary Voices. The first-ever Indigenous Visionary Voices list highlights Indigenous artists and business owners across the country. TikTok says it chose finalists based on those who were using the platform to educate, entertain and advocate for the Indigenous community.
A Secwepemc creator from Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc, Ashley Michel began making TikTok videos to promote her business, 4 Generations Creations, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She now boasts over 164,000 followers on the platform. Michel decorates apparel, accessories, and stickers with her own original designs, which she says are inspired by her culture and language.
As a self-taught seamstress, Michel specializes in making regalia like ribbon skirts, handmade skirts that are often worn during pow-wows. She says her main motivation came from wanting her daughter to have ribbon skirts to wear to events. And she sells ribbon skirt-making kits for others who want to make their own.
As a mom, I couldn't afford to purchase regalia or ribbon skirts from another artist. So I decided to teach myself. I just wanted others to have the opportunity to learn and create for themselves as well. -Ashley Michel
Michel says TikTok has been an asset not only for promoting her business but for educating the public on Indigenous issues, like the residential school system and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She hopes that by sharing her story and educating the public, she can serve as a representation and a voice for future generations of Indigenous people.
I'm trying to change the way that I was raised and my grandmothers were raised versus how my daughters are raised. -Ashley Michel
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.