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Global Roundup: Kenya Women MPs vs Online Abuse, Reporting SV in Uganda, Chile Feminist Environmental Activists, Romania LGBTQ+ March, Queer Meetups for Muslims
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Esther Passaris, women's representative for Nairobi for the Orange Democratic Movement, on the campaign trail. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Photo Courtesy: Esther Passaris
When Kenyan politician Esther Passaris posted a loving tribute to her late father on Twitter, trolls responded with a barrage of abuse over the accompanying photograph of the 57-year-old in a black kaftan walking alone on a white sandy beach. One user reposted a magnified photo of her thigh and begged her to give men "a chance," while another accused her of "flaunting her nudity." A third quipped "sexualized mourning?"
There are quite a few of my female colleagues who couldn't cope and have dropped off social media because of abuse –it can really bring you down. -Esther Passaris
Kenya has the lowest rate of women in politics in East Africa, with 23% of parliamentary seats, according to the global Inter-Parliamentary Union, most of which, like Passaris, are dedicated women's representatives not mainstream MPs.
Mercy Mwangi, programme coordinator at the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), said women lawmakers had reported more online abuse ahead of the vote. This included sexism, misogyny, humiliating or sexualized imagery.
We don't have enough women in the political space as it is and this kind of online harassment discourages young women who want to enter politics. -Mercy Mwangi
Ahead of the August polls in Kenya, some women have hired social media managers to filter out abusive posts and block and report persistent offenders to the platforms. Women's rights and digital rights groups said that social media platforms were often too slow to react to complaints and take down offensive posts, adding that women candidates should also report serious violations to authorities. However, women MPs say they are reluctant to report cases as most police were not aware of the law and often did not take their complaints seriously.
You have to have deep pockets to have a social media team to contain all this abuse during campaigning…Unfortunately, many women candidates – especially those that are less experienced – don't have the funds, and so they tend to shy away from social media – which is, ironically, key to their success. -Anne Ireri, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya
A protest in support of Samantha Mwesigye. Her complaint has become a Ugandan test case. Photograph: Women Human Rights Defenders Network via The Guardian
In 2018, a Ugandan lawyer, Samantha Mwesigye, filed a sexual harassment complaint against her boss at the Ministry of Justice. It was a year after the #MeToo movement had taken off, with women around the world increasingly prepared to hold powerful men to account for sexual harassment and abuse. Women’s groups rallied behind Mwesigye, holding press conferences, writing articles and showing support online. They saw hers as a test case.
However, what followed was much worse than the decade of harassment according to Mwesigye. She was dismissed from her job and rendered “unemployable” in legal circles, while her boss, Christopher Gashirabake, was cleared by an internal review at the ministry – and was promoted twice, rising to become an appeal court judge. In 2019, she filed a case against him and the attorney general for sexual harassment and unlawful termination. The case has been adjourned numerous times. She is aware that if she appeals against a decision on her outstanding case, it would be heard by the court in which her alleged aggressor is a judge.
This is not something that I’m willing to let go. I’d already anticipated that, from start to finish, this could take at least 10 years, but it’s so upsetting that I’ve spent the first four without being heard. -Samantha Mwesigye
In Uganda, one in five women aged 15 to 49 have experienced sexual violence. Fear of harassment and abuse are part of many women’s daily realities, but they are often disregarded. Victims reporting their experiences are often met with skepticism and disbelief by the authorities. Many cases go unreported, as those who do speak out are often blamed for the abuse.
Because of the structural and systemic issues with our criminal justice system, not many women would come out to report cases of sexual violence because they just know that it would not work in their favour. -Eunice Musiime, executive director of Akina Mama wa Afrika
Mwesigye is working with Africa End Sexual Harassment Initiative, a law reform project based in Nairobi, to change policies, but also wants to create an anonymous reporting platform where women can file complaints about sexual harassment and identify repeat offenders. She acknowledges the challenges of such a site, such as its vulnerability to defamation suits, but says it could stop perpetrators – if only for fear of being outed.
Protesters on Puchuncaví beach after the latest pollution incident, Chile, 9 June 2022. ZUMA Press, Inc. Alamy Stock Photo via Open Democracy
Feminist activists in Chile have won a significant victory in their fight against the poisoning of people and the environment in the area nicknamed "the Chilean Chernobyl". On June 17, the government of the newly elected president Gabriel Boric announced that a smelting plant run by the state-owned National Copper Corporation of Chile (Codelco) would close. It followed a serious pollution incident that affected scores of people in this heavily industrialized area next to the Pacific Ocean.
More than 50,000 people live in the Quintero-Puchuncaví Bay sacrifice zone alone —and 150,000 in the four others. Locals are familiar with acid rain and yellowish-green clouds of toxic gas in the sky. There have been numerous incidents of serious pollution in the bay area. There are also numerous effects on human health including many women with uterine and breast cancer and one in four school children with neurological conditions. Until 2017, when Chile’s ban on abortion was relaxed, pregnant women had to carry dead foetuses in their wombs until the sixth or seventh month and wait for the miscarriage to happen.
More than a decade ago, women in Quintero-Puchuncaví – housewives, social leaders, craftswomen, activists, graduates and school teachers – fought together for the health of their families, the community and the environment. They broke the silence of the authorities by taking ownership of their role as carers of families and communities. They learned about the environment and human health by gathering information and studies. They organized education and awareness activities, social mobilization and participation in communal and public spaces. They also used the law to denounce the violation of their rights, and connected to local, regional and national networks.
This is an achievement for all of us… We have made visible a situation hidden for many years. -Katta Alonso, from the grassroots feminist group Women of Quintero-Puchuncaví Sacrifice Zone in Resistance (Muzosare)
After six decades of shrouding the region in dense, acrid, poisonous gases, the polluting industries may finally be on the brink of closure. As the women activists wait for authorities to fulfill their promises, they strengthen their feminist networks and continue to fight the “false dichotomy between economic progress and environmental care.”
There is no dichotomy here. There is an industrial park preventing us from living in a dignified way. This violates all our rights, in a complex and intersectional way… It is not just our right to life, to health, to a healthy environment, but also to education, culture, work. -Alejandra Donoso, environmental lawyer
More than 15,000 people took part in the largest Pride parade seen in Romania, according to the event's organisers [Alexandra Radu/Al Jazeera]
More than 15,000 people marched in Romania’s capital Bucharest last weekend for equal rights for gender and sexual minorities as the country’s lower chamber of the parliament is set to vote on a law later this year that bans discussion of homosexuality and gender identity in public spaces. An amendment to the Romanian Child Protection Law that was proposed by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), an ethnic minority party that is part of the ruling coalition, was inspired by a similar law which was adopted by Hungary in 2021. The bill was passed by the Senate in April and now needs the backing of the lower chamber of parliament.
The way it looks like at the moment, this bill is completely anti-democratic from many points of view, mainly because it hinders the freedom of expression and because it stands against all treaties, conventions, and international recommendations regarding LGBT rights. -Ionela Baluta
Baluta, a professor at the political sciences faculty of the University of Bucharest, is concerned about the ambiguous formulation of the bill. She thinks it could lead to consequences as far-reaching as gender studies being banned in universities and individuals being incriminated for posting information related to gender identity on their personal social media accounts.
A similar law, attempting to ban gender identity information in Romania’s schools and universities, was deemed unconstitutional by the Romanian Constitutional Court in 2020 after being passed by the Senate and the parliament’s lower chamber.
Back then in 2020 when the law passed through the parliament, it felt like the world collapsed on me because I realized I couldn’t be myself any more…I’m sure this time it would be the same if it would pass, but nobody with real political power asked us young transgender people in Romania how we feel about it. -Gabriel Gherman, community activist and community facilitator with ACCEPT Romania
Bisma Jay, left, and Zahra Haider, right (Submitted by Zahra Haider) via CBC
I mean Montreal is very white, you know. The desi [South Asian] community here is very small, let alone the queer South Asian community. So yeah, it was definitely really nice to meet other queer South Asians there. -Zahra Haider
Being in a space where the majority are queer people of colour presented an opportunity to find others with similar upbringings. Bisma Jay, 24, said it only felt natural to connect with fellow desi attendees.
You want to get to know each other and talk about these shared life experiences. Seeing all of these other amazing, beautiful South Asian people who are also queer and trans was just — it was amazing. -Bisma Jay
Around Ramadan this year, Faiz Abhuani worked with other community members to start hosting gatherings for queer Muslims. It started with one simple, informal gathering. Now, it's a monthly congregation for queer Muslims from different backgrounds. But Abhuani says it remains a challenge to hold these meetings out in the open while ensuring everyone feels safe, as many people are worried about being seen with the group. Abhuani says it will take time for these gatherings to have an open door policy. But it is the start of something that Haider, Jay, Abhuani and the writer of the article have been waiting for.
It's very alienating and isolating to know that there aren't people around you, people that you can go to, people who support you. -Zahra Haider
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.