Global Roundup: Kenyan Women and the Climate Crisis, Poland Abortion Ban Protests After Woman Dies, US Muslim Women in Media, Forgotten Women Artists in Turkey, Somalian Artist Breaks Barriers 

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Christine Sitiyan, 25, found refuge in Umoja village after fleeing from her husband. Photograph: Peter Muiruri via The Guardian

The village of Umoja in Samburu county, Kenya has become a rescue centre for women and girls escaping intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriages - a place where there are no men. Despite escaping these threats, the women are still vulnerable to “drought-instigated violence”. 

When droughts persist, families experience financial hardships and have to marry off their daughters early to receive dowry payments. Without school fees, it is often girls who are forced out of class who then bear children at a young age, making them vulnerable to intimate partner violence. 

Women are also the unintended victims of tribal conflicts as communities fight over dwindling resources. Men are forced to move remaining livestock tens of kilometres away to find foliage, and the women and children left behind are at increased risk of attacks by bandits. In addition, many men who are unable to cope with the drought take it out on their wives.

He would beat me almost every evening out of frustration. The drought killed part of his family’s livestock, while raiders from a neighbouring community stole the rest. One day, I just took off with the children and found refuge [in Umoja]. - Sitiyan, 25

These women are exposed to risk of attacks from other men and from wild animals as dwindling resources mean they have to travel farther from their homes to get water or firewood.

No place is safe for us. I  was almost beaten up after some young men waylaid me on the way to the river, but I managed to escape. It is a risk we take daily in order to provide for our children. - Sitiyan

Evidently the climate crisis has a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities, particularly for women and girls. Discussions surrounding the climate crisis must centre these voices and take an intersectional approach.

A woman holds a banner saying ‘Not one more!’ as people protest against changes in the abortion law in front of the ruling Law and Justice party office in Gdansk. Photograph: Michał Fludra/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Protestors in Poland paid tribute earlier this week to an unnamed woman who is thought to be the first victim of Poland's near-total abortion ban. They placed candles in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, which issued a ruling last year that led to the tightening of what was already one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws.

Some of the protesters wore red garbs reminiscent of those worn by characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, a book-turned TV show about a repressive regime that uses women solely for the purpose of reproduction.

The woman was admitted to the hospital because her fetus lacked amniotic fluid. The doctors waited for the fetus to die instead of performing an abortion. Later, the woman died of septic shock. 

In theory, the woman should have been able to terminate the pregnancy if her life was at risk. But reproductive rights activists argue that restrictive abortion laws tend to make doctors fearful of terminating pregnancies even in legal cases.

When the laws are very repressive and carry sanctions for doctors, they tend to interpret the law even more rigidly than the wording of the law to avoid taking personal risks. - Irene Donadio, The International Planned Parenthood Federation

A preventable death like this at the hands of doctors is horrifying. Abortions should be made available to people whose lives are at risk, but also to anyone who simply wants an abortion, regardless of the reason. 

Rifat Malik. Photo via AMT

Rifat Malik was recently appointed as the editor in chief of American Muslim Today, a new American publication centering the work of Muslim women journalists. Six women make up the editorial staff and the majority if the content is authored by women. 

Malik wants to counter the mainstream narrative where muslim women are both vilified and infantalized. The publication aims to provide professional coverage of news and topics that appeal to the roughly 3.5 million Muslims in America, as well as those living in other Western countries and provide a woman’s perspective.

I think today there is a shift in the media industry writ large with more and more women going into the profession. That is being reflected in the Muslim community. Last time we had seven female interns with the publication. I think that interest and that of their families suggests a growing understanding of the importance of media. - Rifat Malik

Malik dreamed of becoming a journalist as a child, but was encouraged by her family to pursue a law degree. Seeing the racism that her younger siblings faced inspired her to write an op-ed to The Guardian, which gained a lot of traction and allowed her to share her story. She then decided to focus her career on journalism. 

As editor in chief of American Muslim Today, Malik hopes to provide coverage of taboo and little-considered topics, particularly issues that often go uncovered involving women. These stories include breast cancer awareness and mental health.  

It’s not just about changing the narrative and speaking for ourselves. That is, of course, important, but we think it’s also key for this generation of Muslim Americans to build institutions — including within the media. - Rifat Malik

Echo (detail; 1952), Yildiz Moran. Yildiz Moran Archive via Apollo

Deniz Artun is a curator and a scholar of Turkish art who has put together a show called “I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women” for an exhibition in Istanbul. The show included 117 artist women, many of whom are not remembered outside their own families. The 232 works in the show were all created by women living and working in Turkey between roughly 1850 and 1950. 

The ground floor is themed around the idea of “I” and is filled with self-portraits. Upstairs is the “You” section, which has depictions of family and motherhood. Artun says the aim is for people to question ‘who decides that the mother’s body is sacred and the body of the odalisque is not?’ It also reflects how successful women have their identity as an artist overshadowed by their familial role. The final “They” floor has more than 100 works by 85 artists depicting flowers and trees displayed salon-style. Many of them are the only known pieces by the artist, as painting a flower in a vase was the safest work for a woman.

When women are mentioned in Turkish art history, they are always described in relation to someone else, as the mother or wife of a male artist, as if they were not able to become an artist on their own. - Ceren Ozpinar, senior lecturer at the University of Brighton

Artist women who made it publicly in the Turkish art world are exceptional, which points to the discrimination these women and their peers faced. Ozpinar says the few known artist women are considered as rebels in history while similar male artists are considered normal. Museums prefer to exhibit works by artists who teach at the universities and they have been mostly male.  Work by women artists is often still undervalued by collectors and commercial galleries in Turkey.

Artun hopes that her show inspires further investigation into forgotten artist women. 

Somali artist Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin, 21, displays some of her paintings at her home in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, Oct. 15, 2021 via VOA

Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin is a Somalian artist who lives and works amid the rubble of her uncle's building that was partially destroyed in Mogadishu's years of war. A career in the arts is taboo in the country due to decades of conflict and Islamic extremism - some Muslims believe that Islam prohibits all representation of people. Despite the challenges she faces, Sana loves her work. 

Abdi Mohamed Shu'ayb, a professor of arts at Somali National University, calls Sana unique and a national hero and says “ her artworks capture contemporary life in a positive way and seek to build reconciliation.”

As Sana’s work has drawn more public attention over the years, she faces more challenges. She recalls a confrontation during a recent exhibition at a university where a male student began shouting "This is wrong!" and professors tried to calm him, explaining that art is an important part of the world.

Her work explores social issues including political tensions as well as vulnerable young women. She also wants her work to reflect beauty and hopes to gain the confidence to exhibit it more widely, beyond events in Somalia and neighboring Kenya.

We have passed through 30 years of destruction, and the people only see bad things, having in their mind blood and destruction and explosions. ... If you Google Somalia, we don't have beautiful pictures there, but ugly ones, so I'd like to change all that using my paintings. - Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin

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.

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