Global Roundup: LGBTQ+ Activists Rally for Gaza, Peru Feminists Help Access Abortions, Malawi Women Sex Work, Uganda Activists vs Anti-LGBTQ Law, Kurdistan Abortion Rights
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
A large contingent of LGBTQ+ protesters came together this week in Brooklyn, New York, to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to call on Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and congressional Democrats to do the same. The protest, organized by the group Queers for a Liberated Palestine (Q4LP), began with a rally in Brooklyn and continued with a march across the Manhattan Bridge.
The rally location was partly chosen due to its proximity to the office of Rep. Jeffries (D-NY 8th District), the House Minority Leader, and leader of the Democratic Caucus. As Q4LP organizer Ira explained, the goal was to send a message to Democratic members of Congress that “people aren’t going to just vote ‘blue no matter who’ anymore.” Ira added that they chose to focus on Jeffries because of his connection to groups like Pro-Israel America and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Beyond the calls for an immediate ceasefire and Democratic congressional support, Ira emphasized that Q4LP also seeks to amplify the voices of queer people within Palestine. They pointed to the November 7 statement “A Liberatory Demand from Queers in Palestine,” written by a self-described group of “workers, students, farmers, parents – as Palestinians, as queer Palestinians” and published online.
Whatever queers in Gaza and in the West Bank want are exactly our demands, and that is total and complete liberation from the occupation. -Ira
Hoisting signs and banners bearing slogans such as “NO PRIDE IN GENOCIDE” and “NY FAGS FOR A FREE PALESTINE,” an estimated 2,500 protestors, per Q4LP, gathered to listen to speakers from across New York’s LGBTQ+ community. Sema, an Arab community organizer and tattoo artist, gave a speech evoking both the history of Palestinian resistance and the “beautiful lineage of resisting oppression” in the queer community.
The same language that is used to pass anti-trans bills in this country is used to justify genocide. The same language that excuses the murder of Black and brown sisters here is used to justify genocide. Our enemy is the same and that could not be any more clear. They want us to be tired when we get stronger every single day. -Sema
Basil, an organizer with Q4LP and a queer, trans Palestinian, reminded the crowd that although Palestine may seem distant, the issue is incredibly close to home for Americans and funded by their tax dollars.
Manuela Ramos Movement activists march in Lima on 25 November 2023, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Magda Gibelli/openDemocracy.
Valeria (not her real name), a 23-year-old from the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho, became ill after buying fake abortion pills on the black market in 2019. Then, she borrowed some money and went to an illegal clinic, where she was offered a surgical abortion, but it cost 400 soles ($106) – far more than she had. By the time she had raised enough money, Valeria was 20 weeks pregnant and desperate.
I didn’t know if [the woman who performed the abortion] was a doctor, I didn't want to ask anything, I just wanted that nightmare to end. -Valeria
Terminations are permitted in Peru only when a medical board says the health or life of the pregnant person is in danger and are illegal in all other circumstances, including when a pregnancy is the result of a woman or a child being raped. Having an abortion is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years. However, those who are convicted more often receive a suspended sentence and are ordered to pay a fine and regularly check in at a police station or court for a set number of years. Moreover, since 2005, Peru has been observed four times by United Nations bodies due to the violation of the human rights of girls and adolescents who have been forced to give birth after being raped.
Feminist activist Antihoraria (not her real name) became a companion for people seeking abortions through support group La Biblioteca (The Library) after finding herself in a similar situation to Valeria in 2014.
Persecution and stigma don’t stop a woman from making the decision to have an abortion, they just push her into a corner. -Antihoraria
Members of The Library liaise with other feminist organisations and use anonymous posters and leaflets to advertise their work. They provide medical checks and ultrasound services and arrange the delivery of the pills and issue instructions on taking them safely. The hardest part of the group’s work, Antihoraria said, is supporting teenagers from rural and low-income areas who do not want their families to find out they are pregnant but often share bedrooms with relatives or live in houses without bathrooms. The activists plan workshops or activities that give the girls an excuse to leave home for a night to have an abortion.
The support offered by The Library and other similar organisations is risky for Antihoraria and her colleagues – including receiving threats from anti-abortionists. But despite the risks, Antihoraria and her fellow activists won’t stop helping women in need or fighting for abortion to be decriminialised. Such a law change, she said, “will not mean women will have more abortions, it will only save lives”.
A woman weeps at a cyclone-affected area in Blantyre, Malawi, on 17 March. Cyclone Freddy, the longest-lasting tropical storm recorded, killed more than 1,000 people. Photograph: Imago/Alamy
Cyclone Freddy in Malawi has pushed more women and girls into sex work to feed their families. Starting in February this year, Cyclone Freddy, the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded, struck Malawi twice in six days. The cyclone triggered floods and landslides across the country, killing more than 1,000 people and displacing nearly 700,000.
For Grace (not her real name), a 29-year-old subsistence farmer from Najawa in the ravaged southern Machinga district, the damage was life-changing. She says the water washed away her home and crops. In desperate need of food, Grace began selling sex for the first time in her life. Grace is one of several women in Najawa, a village of just over 1,000 people, who have been selling sex since Cyclone Freddy wiped out their farms. In Malawi, women make up 70% of the agricultural workforce and often bear the responsibility for household food security.
All natural disasters have a gender-bearing, and it is women who bear the brunt of them. -Caleb Ng’ombo, Director of People Serving Girls at Risk
People Serving Girls at Risk, a Malawian organisation working to protect young women and girls from sexual exploitation, has provided counselling to 187 young women and girls in 2023, up from 56 in 2022.
In Malawi there is also little understanding about the legal status of sex work. It is not illegal but related criminal offences are often used as a reason to target, harass and arrest sex workers, which makes it difficult for women to report any crimes against them to the police.
We try to negotiate for safer sex, but some hostile customers deny it, so we just accept though we don’t know their [sexual health] status. -Natasha (not her real name)
Pauline Kaude, of Malawi’s gender ministry, said the government was rebuilding infrastructure and housing to help women affected by the storm restore their livelihoods, but she agreed that Cyclone Freddy had increased poverty and worsening food insecurity had led to a rise in sex work. With climate change on the rise, Malawi and other countries will continue to experience extreme weather events and women and girls bear the brunt of the aftermath.
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A queer activist pickets on April 4 outside the Uganda High Commission to protest the country’s anti-homosexuality bill. Photographer: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images
Ugandan activists said this week that they will challenge the country's Anti-Homosexual Act in court, charging that it violates the country's constitution and international human rights standards. The protesting group, which includes academics, attorneys, human rights activists, and journalists, said that the current law, signed by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in May, not only sweeps up members of the LGBTQ community with harsh punishments but their allies as well. The organization said the law also uses vague language that targets the "promotion of homosexuality" and anyone advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people with prison terms of up to 20 years.
We are challenging the Anti-Homosexuality law because it does not pass any constitutional litmus test, and we shall win, because such an abhorrent law whose only aim is to spread hate and institutionalize discrimination and exclusion does not belong on Uganda's law books and should never have been enacted in the first place. -Clare Byarugaba, Ugandan LGBTQ advocate
In May, Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Annet Among called those opposing Uganda's strict anti-homosexuality law "bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists." Among said the law was passed "in the interest of our country." It, however, has drawn strong condemnation from international observers as well as activists in Uganda and around the world.
When 21-year-old Tre (not her real name) found out she was pregnant, she was shocked and panicked. She was unmarried and did not want to have a child. The doctor, in compliance with the law, refused to help her. Tre went to visit four other gynaecologists who she said rudely dismissed her. Eventually, through a friend, she was able to obtain abortion pills on the black market to terminate her pregnancy. She described the process as scary, humiliating and isolating.
If I want to talk about the freedom of women in my society, I have to start with the choice of how she deals with her own body. I see this decision as a main route to women's freedom. -Tre
Iraq is one of a handful of countries that prohibits abortion altogether. Doctors who perform the procedure could be jailed and lose their licenses. A woman or girl can be sanctioned for having an abortion, as can anyone who assists someone in accessing abortion. But the Kurdistan Region Parliament, which can pass its laws independent of Baghdad, passed a law in September 2020 that included a provision on abortion. The Patient’s Rights and Responsibilities Law states that if a pregnant woman’s life is at risk, she can obtain an abortion with the consent of her husband, approval from an expert committee of five physicians, and a pregnancy test done in the public sector.
Nujeen Family Democratizing Organization (NFDO) formed The Choice is Yours coalition, along with 11 other feminist groups. The group is using media campaigns and legal advocacy to expand the grounds for legal abortions to include cases of rape, incest, unlawful relationships, and economic or social reasons. Suher Hashim is the coalition’s legal consultant who prepared and submitted the draft amendment.
The issue of unsafe abortions has spread frighteningly. Therefore we [must] protect women and protect their lives in line with safe procedures for abortions. -Suher Hashim
Though she expects strong opposition from religious leaders, Suher is optimistic that the amendments put forth by the coalition could be approved. Gender issues are facing significant backlash in Iraq amid an increase in violent crimes against women and girls with impunity. But in Kurdistan, notable advances in women’s rights over the past two decades include legal reforms removing protections for perpetrators of so-called ‘honour’ killings and the creation of a domestic violence law.
As abortion activists around the world are all too familiar with, the work comes with dangers. Members of the coalition say they are sometimes concerned for their safety after having been targeted on social media for their advocacy. But as their advocacy work enters the crucial final months before the parliamentary committee is formed, Eman Emad, the project manager at NFDO, says she feels hopeful.
We are optimistic about change, maybe not in the law but at least in the mindset of people. We are gaining more supporters step by step. At least we have brought safe abortion to the table for discussion. -Eman Emad
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is an aspiring urban planner studying at Toronto Metropolitan University. Throughout the years, she has worked in nonprofits with survivors of sexual violence and youth. Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She loves learning about the diverse forms of feminist resistance around the world.