Global Roundup: Kyrgyzstan Protest vs Bride Kidnappings, Chinese Road Tripper Challenges Gender Norms, Egyptian Woman Teaches Muay Thai, Album by Women in Ghana “Witch Camps”, Non-binary Cree Artist

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Bride kidnapping remains widespread in the former Soviet republic despite official pledges to crack down on it [Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters]

The recent murder of a woman abducted for marriage in Kyrgyzstan and the police’s inaction towards bride kidnappings and femicide have culminated in hundreds of people rallying in front of the Kyrgyzstan’s interior ministry and demanding for the interior minister and city police chief to resign.

Two days after being kidnapped, 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova was found strangled in a car with her suspected murderer who had died from self-inflicted knife wounds. His suspected accomplice has been detained. Police failed to find the suspect even though the kidnapping was caught on camera with the car model and number plates clearly visible.

A bride kidnapping involves a man forcibly taking a young woman or girl to his home and pressuring her to agree to marry him by writing a letter of consent. It is a widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan despite being outlawed in 2013. One in five marriages are concluded after a bride kidnapping incident in the country according to the UN Women’s office in the capital, Bishkek. 

About 500 protesters gathered in Bishkek in front of the ministry headquarters shouting “Shame!”. They also held banners with slogans such as “Who will answer for Aizada’s murder?”, “End the femicide” and “Who still thinks that murder is a tradition?”

It is impossible to be quiet and observe the violence that our women, who lack any rights, must endure –  Mahinur Niyazova, journalist

Prime Minister Ulugbek Maripov asked the crowd to give police time to investigate the murder, to which many protesters called for his dismissal too. In addition, President Sadyr Japarov said in a statement the culprits would be punished, calling Kanatbekova’s death a “tragedy”. 

The last time a bride kidnapping led to protests on the streets in Kyrgyzstan was 2018, when 20-year-old medical student Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy was killed in a police station where officers had held her with her kidnapper as she prepared to file a statement against him.

Bride kidnappings are yet another deplorable and violent form of patriarchal fuckery that serves to control women, their bodies and their autonomy. Coercing a woman into marriage leads to marital rape among other serious trauma. Women in Kyrgyzstan are being vocal about their demands for accountability and an end to systems that enable these murders.

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Photo via New York Times

Su Min is a 56-year-old retired Chinese woman who made the decision to shed her traditional life and pursue her dreams through road tripping. Su Min has become an internet sensation and feminist icon for challenging gender norms and sharing her struggles, which are all too familiar for so many women across the country. 

I’ve been a wife, a mother and a grandmother. I came out this time to find myself – Su Min

For 6 months, Su Min has been on a solo drive across China while documenting her journey for over 1.35 million online followers. She shares details of her abusive marriage, dissatisfaction with domestic life and the joys of her newfound freedom along with the scenic vistas she captures. Before, she thought she was the “only person in the world who wasn’t happy”, but many older women now send her messages saying they relate to her story. Some women even greet her at her destinations with fruit and home-cooked meals.

Why do I want to take a road trip? Life at home is truly too upsetting. – Su Min

Prior to this road trip, Su Min had rarely travelled, but had always been interested in driving. She married her husband in her early twenties after meeting him only a few times – a common practice at the time – and was subjected to verbal and physical abuse. She never considered leaving due to fears of social stigma. She expresses feeling lonely during that time and was eventually diagnosed with depression. 

Through her trips, she has travelled across the country visiting historical sites, driven as fast as she wanted and made new friends. She did not let her husband's mockery stop her from embarking on the journey, or the hostility she receives from others including a man that asked how she could air her family’s private affairs and threatened to beat her if they ever met in person. Su Min says she does not feel qualified for the title feminist, but living for herself is something she is “waking up to”. She knows she will have to eventually come home, but is determined to leave her husband if he continues his abuse. However, she does not want a divorce, as it will cause her daughter to bear the burden of caring for him. For now, Su Min is focusing on the next few years and her plans to cover all of China. 

Now that I’ve finally come out, now that I want to leave behind that life, I need time to let it melt away, There are many things that, as time passes, may have an outcome you never imagined – Su Min

Su Min’s story is refreshing and counters ageist and sexist notions that a woman’s life is effectively over after a certain age. It urges us to think about what kind of fulfilling lives we could have without the shackles of gender norms. And how might we reimagine our lives beyond the confines of patriarchal, heteronormative and capitalist ideals?

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Coach Samah Ahmed poses for a photo inside the Monsters Academy in Abu Zaabal, Qalubiya governorate on April 1, 2021, via Reuters

Samah Ahmed, also known as Coach Samah, is the founder of the Monsters Academy – a training camp in Egypt that teaches Muay Thai (Thai boxing) to a group of about 40 women and girls. 

Muay Thai turns every part of your body into a weapon: your elbows, your knees, your fists and even your chin...Girls will not need to hold weapons to defend themselves. They can use their bodies as defence. – Samah Ahmed

Ahmed chose the name Monsters Academy because it takes the courage and the power of a monster to learn Thai boxing. She started learning Muay Thai five years ago after being sexually harassed. Initially, her parents were resistant to let her train, as they said martial arts were only for men. Ahmed insisted on learning and eventually teaching it to others like her.

Regular occurrences of offensive comments, stares and groping on crowded public transport can deter women from travelling for work or education. According to a 2013 United Nations’ survey, 99% of women experienced sexual harassment in Egypt. In addition, a 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women. However, young women like Ahmed are demanding for better, including hundreds speaking out about sexual assault on social media.

It is not safe here and learning a self-defence sport like Muay Thai can help many women protect themselves against sexual harassment or any kind of violence. I can go to my school without worrying about getting sexually harassed. – Malak Ahmed, Coach Samah’s teaching assistant 

For the fighters at Ahmed’s academy, it is important for them to feel safe to live fully and move around freely. According to psychologists, female role models in sport, like Ahmed, are incredibly beneficial for girls to counteract the harmful stereotype that girls are weak. Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that the resulting boost in self-confidence enables girls to feel a sense of control over their own bodies and motivates them to be more independent. In fact, trainees at Ahmed’s academy have expressed that Muay Thai helps them get rid of negative emotions, heal from sexual harassment and feel empowered.

Muay Thai is not just a sport but a real weapon against sexual harassment and violence. – Oswa Abdel Nabi, 16-year-old trainee 

Ahmed has built a powerful community of young women and girls who defy patriarchy and rape culture that blames women for their assaults, while also depicting women as inherently weak and silent. More young women and girls around the world should be encouraged to learn and practice martial arts, so they can feel empowered and beat the shit out of anyone who dares mess with them. 

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Photo Credit: Marilena Umuhoza Delli via PRI

Women in Ghana who have been wrongly accused of witchcraft and ostracized by their families and communities have shared their stories on a new album, I’ve forgotten now who I used to be. The album is produced by Italian Rwandan photographer and filmmaker Marilena Umuhosa Delli and her husband, award-winning record producer Ian Brennan. The recording included over 100 women and was done outdoors using objects such as tin cans, teapots and corn husks as instruments. The majority were elderly women who wished to remain anonymous and have never played music or written songs before. 

The women say words over and over again and they sound like prayers, they're just pure emotion. – Marilena Umuhosa Delli 

Death, disease and loss of crops are among the misfortunes that are associated with witchcraft. Due to ageism, personal feuds and mental or physical disabilities, it is elderly and widowed women who are accused of being witches. In addition, relatives often accuse women in order to take their land. Once accused, women are at risk of facing violence and even death and must flee to “witch camps” in northern Ghana 

Umuhosa Delli feels a personal connection to raising awareness about witch-hunting, as someone from her own family was driven out of her village in Malawi as a child after she was accused of being a witch for having a white father. Also, Umuhosa Delli’s mother is a widow with a disability and a Rwanda genocide survivor who is close to the age of the women in the album.

It is impossible for me to look at these women's circumstances and not see my own mother and an inhumane fate, that for a matter of geography could as well have been hers –  Marilena Umuhosa Delli 

It is heartbreaking that these elderly women are forced out of their communities – communities they have undoubtedly contributed to greatly throughout their lives. I’ve forgotten now who I used to be is a beautiful album with many powerful voices that have important stories to tell and emotions to share. 

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Photo credit Sukhdev via CBC

Angel Baribeau is a non-binary Cree artist whose latest music video released last month, I Wish We Were Older, explores young love and features LGBTQ youth.

Baribeau is from the Cree Nation of Mistissini in northern Quebec and grew up surrounded by music. They credit their family for the influence. Baribeau started to take songwriting seriously at the age of 13 when they participated in a music creation workshop in Mistissini. The workshop forced them out of their comfort zone, for which they are grateful.

My grandmother was a musician my whole life and it took me a really long time to even realize that she was a musician because it was so natural that she would play guitar. Even when her hearing was going she would always play guitar and she would like slam it. – Angel Baribeau

Baribeau's latest song I Wish We Were Older was inspired by their younger years and feelings of love, longing and a desire to grow up during those times. They know they are a role model for Indigenous LGBTQ youth and the new music video is a valuable component of that responsibility. They believe that when youth see themselves represented in the media, it helps their sense of belonging. 

I was like, ‘oh you know what? You were a little queer kid when you started writing this song, and you would have loved queer Indigenous representation when you were a wee one in love for the first time and just kinda’ discovering that world. – Angel Baribeau

Baribeau sings beautifully and writes evocative lyrics. They are a powerful role model for Indigenous LGBTQ youth and are paving the way for other non-binary Indigenous people to express themselves creatively.

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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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