Global Roundup: Lawyers vs Haiti’s Legal System, Palestine Women’s Collective, China Queer Photo Series, Brazil’s Carnival & Black Resistance, Trans TikToker Organizing Fashion Gala
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Marie Kattia Dorestant-Lefruy via Bureau des Avocats Internationaux
CW: sexual violence
Three lawyers – Abigail Derolian, Marie Kattia Dorestant-Lefruy and Gladys Thermezi – are fighting Haiti’s legal system, trying to win justice for women who have been raped. Sexual violence linked to armed gangs is on the rise in Haiti since the assassination of the president last year, which has left the country in a power vacuum. Last year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the number of recorded cases in Haiti increased by 377% in 2020.
The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti’s capital, a human rights law organization, set up a rape project in the wake of the dramatic rise in sexual attacks predominantly on women in the displacement camps after the 2010 earthquake. The BAI lawyers help victims through the legal process, from lodging a statement at the police station to preparing the case and representing them at trial. However, trials are rare – of the 528 cases they’ve worked on since the 2010 earthquake, only 10 have gone to trial.
When you live in a society with a lot of problems, women and girls always suffer. In such a situation, gangs use women as weapons of war to get revenge, to show what they’re capable of…We have a lot of women who are raped, and we know that the majority remain silent because they’re afraid. - Abigail Derolian
Karlyn (not her real name), who is being supported by BAI, was attacked during the day by two men. She said she had to resign from her work at a garment factory and move to the countryside because gang members were looking for her. Her case is waiting at the state prosecutor’s office. The lawyers say corruption, stigma and victim-blaming is rife. Bribery is all too common in the courts, while judges will ask questions such as: “What were you doing out at this hour of the day? What were you wearing? Isn’t this a love affair?” Despite these challenges, the BAI lawyers continue to work hard to change the system from the inside and support survivors.
I come from a poor, voiceless family and I’m happy to defend women who don’t have anyone to speak out for them and who don’t have money for legal services. We face a lot of obstacles in getting justice for women … but the work gives me the strength and courage to speak up for these women. - Marie Kattia Dorestant-Lefruy
Amaal Abu Shamsa in Beita, occupied West Bank, April 19, 2022. (Ahmad Al-Bazz) via +972 Magazine
+972 Magazine spoke to Palestinian women at the heart of Beita’s resistance. Palestinians from Beita camped on a mountain for 100 days last year to disrupt the rebuilding of an Israeli settler outpost. The Israeli army used live fire to suppress the protests. Ten Palestinians have been killed on Mount Sabih since May 2021 and dozens have been wounded by live ammunition.
When the protests began nearly a year ago, the men of Beita, which is home to about 18,000 residents, decided to maintain a constant presence on the mountain. They used social media to stream 24-hour footage from the demonstrations, both to garner more support from across Palestine and to maintain contact with people back in the village — including to request water to drink. Amaal Abu Shamsa was one of the first to respond to these requests, writing on Facebook that she and another friend would traverse the rocky path in her car to deliver water and snacks to the youth on Mount Sabih. Soon, she did this regularly, twice a day with a larger group of women.
Together, they prepared 250 meals per day over a period of 100 days and no less than 3,500 meals on Fridays when more solidarity groups joined the rallies. The women decided to name their initiative “Aqal Wajib,” an Arabic idiom that means “the least we can do.”
This is how we, as a women’s group, discovered that our unity makes things happen…The women of Beita followed the development of the logistics, meal preparation, and deliveries through social media. The volunteers increased; more women came to support by contributing their supplies and their time. - Amaal Abu Shamsa
The resistance of Beita’s residents led to the outpost being evacuated in July 2021. Abu Shamsa is certain that the work of the women’s collective helped sustain the protests. Now, the women’s collective has moved on to more social activities in the village: visiting the families of those injured, and showing solidarity to those who lost dear ones through visits and preparing food.
Khitam Dweikat, another member of the collective, felt that the opportunity presented by Beita’s struggle did not reach its full potential. She and Abu Shamsa place a great deal of blame for this on the Fatah party (which runs the Palestinian Authority), which promised to fund the collective’s activities but paid only half of its pledged allocation. Fatah offered Abu Shamsa a job in the PA’s security apparatus. Though she feels like the gesture was meant as a way to sideline her, she does not have the means to refuse paid work. Still, she says she will continue volunteering.
Dweikat says that criticism and rumors were one of the reasons for suspending their activities. Many who believed a woman’s place is in the home saw the collective’s efforts as “worthless.” Dweikat, a lawyer, channeled her frustration into motivation, and ran in the recent municipal elections.
My purpose is to help women realize small projects. I will support women like us — especially those marginalized and those with disabilities. - Khitam Dweikat
"I was very relieved after I found my identity, which means I don’t have to force myself to become just a man or a woman, I am comfortable and even a bit in love with this version of myself." Chaoxiaomi (40), Beijing. via FairPlanet
Shawn Zhang, a Shanghai-based queer activist, created a photo series documenting the lives, loves and struggles of dozens of LGBTQ+ people from across China amid a worsening censorship campaign by the Chinese government.
In China, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997, but same-sex marriage has remained illegal and LGBTQ+ content is often censored in the media. It took Zhang about a decade to fully realize his sexual orientation. Years of emotional suppression turned into vocal support of queer rights, including organizing the now-banned Shanghai Pride parade, sharing his own experience of coming out to raise awareness and volunteering to assist school teachers in integrating gender equality in curriculums.
In his latest campaign, the 26-year-old brought out the individual stories of transgender, gay and lesbian people in China by featuring them in creative and artistic portraits. The photo series, published by AllOut – an international queer rights group – tells the tales of over 100 people from the world’s largest LGBT population.
Zhang highlights how censorship has affected his community. A few years ago, gay and lesbian activists could enter schools to tell students their tales of school bullying and coming out. But now, with policies tightened, they are barred from going into campuses. Zhang must resort to offering training to teachers who have encountered school bullying due to gender identities, or whose students come out to them. He also offers materials to the teachers so they can integrate gender content into classes. Zhang has been contacted by police eight times last year, asking him to write a letter of guarantee for not publishing such content online, trying to obtain more information from him, or threatening him.
The more you talk with people, the less you realize you can do. I just want to survive here, and do more when I am still passionate. Under the current circumstances, proactively trying to make changes can be dangerous, so I’ve moved my campaign online. We become more cautious, and keep changing strategies. - Shawn Zhang
Zhang took inspiration for his photo series from a German photographer who took photos of same-sex couples in a series that features a grey tone, which seems to signify that these people are still living a gloomy life – he felt that was a very western angle. Through listening to many stories for his series, he realized a lot about self-identity and personal relationships with others.
I am like a beacon, and everyone can see my light, and I need more people to [raise awareness] with me. I don’t need people to all become a beacon, but I hope they can transfer the light to others and raise awareness in the country. - Shawn Zhang
Brazil has reintroduced parade season this week in Rio and São Paulo for the first time since the pandemic and many are excited to reactivate a culture that, by strengthening community bonds and promoting the dignity of historically marginalized groups, tells a story of Black resistance and joy.
Carnival has always expressed or translated, in different places and times, and in a comic and playful way, the racial inequalities and disputes that arose from the slaver and the patriarchal system that existed in Brazil…In such a society, where patriarchy and slavery so long penetrated all spheres of life, carnival was the one time in the year when the country’s most marginalized, most notably enslaved people of African descent and women, could, at least symbolically, turn the status quo upside down. - Maria Clementina Pereira, social historian
Maria Clementina Pereira, who is a social historian at São Paulo’s Universidade Estadual de Campinas says that before Brazil’s independence in 1822, enslaved workers used the occasion to whiten their faces and impersonate their enslavers in a mocking way and women would act more boldly than the etiquettes of the time allowed them. Pereira considers this inversion of values, and the symbolic breaking of boundaries, one of the primary ways that generations have found joy through carnival.
For Black Brazilians, and women in particular, finding joy through carnival still remains political. Black Brazilians represent more than 75% of the homicide victims in the country, experience high rates of police brutality, and women, specifically, endure domestic violence and sexual violence at alarming numbers. In this social climate, daring to found or attend a samba school, an institution that celebrates the lives and traditions of those who have always been under attack, is, to say the least, revolutionary.
My aesthetic empowerment, my self-understanding as a Black woman, as an activist, as a professional … My understanding of history and of science … I learned it all with my samba school. I only am who I am because of my samba school. - Larissa Neves, 28-year-old independent carnival researcher
Many Black people express their gratitude towards the samba community in finding their identity, creating meaningful relationships and healing. Knowing the role her samba school played in shaping who she is today, Neves creates spaces for other Black women and girls to find sisterhood, build confidence, and experience joy. In 2016, she helped found Samba Pretinha, a Black women's collective that organizes talks with different samba school communities to discuss the place of women in samba, the objectification of the Black female body, and the working conditions of carnival artists, among other themes.
In Rio’s and São Paulo’s carnivals, joy is seen and felt in many places – especially in the resistance of people whose material and epistemological existence have been continuously under attack, yet who continue to celebrate each other.
Instagram/@devinhalbal via them
Devin Halbal, better known by her TikTok username Hal Baddie, is attempting to throw her very own “HAL Gala” this year. The TikTok star has coined the phrase “Met Gala behavior,” and is now looking to create her own queer event in New York City.
HAL Gala is a space for fashion, It will truly be a cultural reset. Classism and elitism are not welcome here. The theme will be camp!!! HAL Gala Behavior. LET DOLLS BE DOLLS, please. - Devin Halbal
She has created a GoFundMe where funds raised will go toward Halbal’s looks of the night for the fashion show, as well as all other costs for the event including a venue and some performers. Halbal has received some backlash, with one commenter attempting to bring up the existence of homeless trans people to dunk on the supposed excess of Halbal’s fundraiser. She responded, “why do you guys always try to come for everything a trans woman does. Trans people are homeless and billionaires still exist.” She goes on to say that critics should critique the entertainment industry rather than target a trans woman trying to create an event for her community.
FASHION IS FOR EVERYONE and therefore should be accessible to everyone— not just very wealthy people!!! Classism is INHERENTLY VIOLENT!!! The world does not care about the dreams of young, POOR black and brown TRANS people. (EMPHASIS on TRANS PEOPLE). - Devin Halbal
Ultimately, Halbal wants to move beyond viewing the experiences of trans women of color and Black trans women through a lens of suffering. She believes that Black and brown trans women are responsible for much of pop culture and fashion, while they’re simultaneously gatekept from mainstream cultural institutions. She will not let critics stop her from changing this pattern.
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.