Global Roundup: Justice for Indigenous Women in Guatemala, Poland Abortion Rights Protests, #NoBeijing2022 Campaign, Prominent Sudanese Activist Detained, Philippine Trans Calendar Girl
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Indigenous Mayan Achi women accompany the survivors of sexual violence during the country's 36-year armed conflict, which ended in 1996 [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]
Survivors of Guatemala’s decades-long armed conflict have welcomed a Guatemalan court ruling that found five former paramilitary patrolmen guilty of raping and sexually abusing Indigenous women during the war.
It was ruled that 36 Indigenous Maya Achi women had been subjected to domestic slavery, sexual violence and rape during the 36-year conflict, which pitted the Guatemalan military against leftist forces from 1960 to 1996. The court sentenced five former members of the so-called “Civil Self-Defence Patrols” paramilitary group to 30 years in prison for crimes that took place in the early 1980s.
The Indigenous Mayan Achi women have spent years demanding justice for crimes committed during the conflict. They have said that this ruling is a key step in the path to justice.
Pedrina Lopez, a 51-year-old Indigenous Maya Achi survivor and one of the plaintiffs in the case was 12 when she was taken and raped by the paramilitary patrolmen in her village in the early 1980s.
I feel happy…We did it. We do not want what happened to us to ever happen again. - Pedrina Lopez
The fight for justice has not been easy. The women involved in the case first began organizing 11 years ago. The court did not accept the case on multiple occasions, and in 2019, the accused were set free after Judge Claudette Dominguez ruled that she “did not believe” the testimonies. But the case advanced after the judiciary was changed upon appeal.
The pain never ended then, nor did it end with the peace agreements. Forty years have passed since those events, and yet they continue to suffer accusations [against them], and they continue to suffer discrimination. [The sentence] brings closure for them. A closure that lets them say that justice was done. It brings relief to their hearts, to their minds. They can look to heaven and tell their deceased [that] justice was done for their ancestors. - Melissa Gonzalez, psychologist who worked with the women involved in the case
Sexual violence has long been used as a strategy of war. This ruling is a step towards justice and allows survivors to be heard and shed light on the horrific crimes that took place during the conflict but are rarely spoken about.
Supporters of Abortion Without Borders protest outside Poland’s top constitutional court in Warsaw. Photograph: Czarek Sokołowski/AP via The Guardian
Agnieszka T was pregnant with twins when one of the fetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. Agnieszka’s family said the doctors refused to remove the fetus, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second fetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated. After the termination, Agnieszka’s health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspects that she died of sepsis, but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.
Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy. - Wioletta Paciepnik, Agnieszka’s twin sister
Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.
Protesters laid wreaths and lanterns on the streets of Warsaw in memory of Agnieszka T. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where she was from. All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organize road blockades in the coming days. Agnieszka’s case is currently under investigation by the regional prosecutors in Katowice.
We continue to protest so that no one else will die. The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time. - Marta Lempart, organizer of the protests
Since Poland’s tightening on its already restrictive abortion laws, several women have died after being denied abortions. More than 30,000 Polish women sought illegal or foreign abortions after the change as well. Again and again, advocates have asserted that abortions should be a human right, for anyone and for any reason. Abortion bans put the lives of pregnant people at risk and force them to seek illegal and risky abortions.
Image via Teen Vogue
A coalition of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and pro-democracy Chinese activists, led by remarkable young women, have joined together in the #NoBeijing2022 campaign, which aims to shed light on repression perpetuated by the Chinese government. A core issue is China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority group who have been disappeared, surveilled, and imprisoned in forced labor camps. The boycott addresses China's genocide against Uyghur people, oppression inside Tibet, Hong Kong, and Southern Mongolia.
Zumretay Arkin left Ürümqi with her family when she was 10 years old and grew up in Canada. Now, she is a program manager with the World Uyghur Congress in Munich. She knows that working on #NoBeijing2022 may put her family back at home in danger – though she is willing to take the risk, it is not an easy sacrifice.
Once you leave the country, you become an exiled Uyghur. You automatically become an activist. It’s this unspoken rule where, if there are protests, everyone has to go because it's this show of solidarity. You’re now out in the world, where you do have rights, you do have freedoms, you can express your views and opinions…Being Uyghur means being resilient. - Zumretay Arkin
Chemi Lhamo is a 25-year-old Tibetan activist who was arrested in Athens for participating in an anti-Olympics protest in October. She and several other activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a flag that read “No Genocide Games!” She also interrupted the ceremony to speak about the genocide of the Uyghur people.
I don’t really call it activism. It’s a responsibility and a duty I have. Every Tibetan born after 1959 is born an activist — I don’t think we have the choice. - Chemi Lhamo
The activists feel a sense of solidarity and inspiration in working together on the different issues.
All of us coming together under this movement is a sign of our strong alliances, and a message to the [International Olympic Committee] and to China that we are all united and we will not be silenced. - Zumretay Arkin
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintains that they “must remain neutral on all global political issues.” However, the activists note that the Olympics have never been apolitical. For instance, they allowed Taiwan to compete at the Olympics only as “Chinese Taipei” due to pressure from China.
This coalition of activists is not anti-Olympics, unlike other recent movements against the Olympic Games. Anti-Olympics groups do not support this boycott movement; instead, they argue for the abolishment of all Olympic Games. The Boycott Beijing activists, on the other hand, carry affection for the Olympics and have fond memories of it.
Ultimately, the activists hope to tell the stories of the peoples oppressed by China and raise awareness for the issues.
Whether or not [athletes] decide to participate in the Olympics, we want them to reach out to us, connect with us, and educate themselves. I want them to meet a Tibetan, a Hong Konger, or an Uyghur, so they can hear our stories from our own mouths. So we are able to narrate our own lives. - Chemi Lhamo
Family of prominent Sudanese women's rights campaigner Amira Osman is seen after arresting her at home in Khartoum, Sudan January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Sudanese women's rights campaigner Amira Osman was detained in a raid earlier this week. About 15 armed, masked men wearing civilian clothes abducted Osman after storming her house in Khartoum late at night according to her sister Amani Osman.
We don't know where she is or the security agency that took her. We are worried about the nature of her arrest and her critical health condition. - Amani Osman
Osman's detention comes after what activists say has been a campaign of arrests of civil society and pro-democracy figures since a military takeover in October. The United Nations mission in Sudan said on Twitter it was outraged by Osman's arrest, citing a "pattern of violence against women's rights activists" that risked reducing their participation in politics.
Osman campaigned for women's rights in Sudan under the Islamist rule of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted during an uprising in 2019. She was arrested in 2013 under public order laws for refusing to wear a headscarf and was convicted and fined in 2002 for wearing trousers.
Women played a prominent role in the protests that led to Bashir's overthrow. A transitional government later repealed the public order law used to regulate women's dress and behaviour, though some other restrictive laws remained.
Women activists are vulnerable to horrific misogynist violence at the hands of the state. Human rights activists around the world must advocate for justice and accountability for Amira Osman and others arrested and in detention centres.
IMAGES: COURTESY OF SASSA GURL AND WHITE CASTLE WHISKY via VICE
Sassa Gurl, 25, is a trans woman and Filipina TikTok star with over 4.5 million followers on the platform. She’s known for her no-filter takes on life and culture in the Philippines, as well as her comedic skits about everyday Filipino scenarios—from classroom shenanigans and neighborhood gossip to encounters with jeepney drivers and corner store characters. Earlier this month, she became known for something she admitted she thought about but didn’t think was possible – she became the face of a local liquor brand’s calendar.
White Castle Whisky announced it was looking for its next calendar model. People of all genders were welcome to join the contest and just had to upload a photo of themselves edited into a White Castle Whisky calendar. Sassa’s fans, lovingly called “‘nak shits,” which literally translates to “shit sons and daughters,” encouraged Sassa Gurl to join the contest.
Sassa Gurl said she took a comedic approach to her calendar girl entry. She captioned her photo: “Us bakla (queer people) always cover the drinks but you girls are on the calendars?” The winner was selected based on their posts’ likes and shares, and the creativity of their calendar – Sassa Gurl was announced the winner for 2022.
There are lots of reactions on social media… I can’t deny that there were many who came before me who were LGBT and fought for rights and representation. But I think I gave my fair share in representing in mainstream media, and people say this is another glass ceiling that’s been broken. It’s another heteronormative thing that’s been successfully entered by LGBT representation. Comments like this are some of my favorites. - Sassa Gurl
Of course, there has been some backlash on social media, which Sassa Gurl anticipated.
Usually, calendar girls are objectified, turned into fantasies by men. But this time, it’s a statement that doesn’t serve the male gaze. It’s a progressive step for representation in the mainstream media. How are you going to jerk off now? - Sassa Gurl
For Sassa Gurl one of the most important things is to be authentic, as it brings her happiness and inspires others. She wants her calendar to widen the scope of other people’s thoughts and dreams – to not have them limited by things like gender or looks. She hopes this stint encourages the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups to keep dreaming and not lose hope.
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.