Global Roundup: Malaysia Teen & S. Sudan Women & Girls vs Patriarchy, N. Macedonia to Legally Recognize Trans People w/out Surgery, Support for Ugandan Parents of LGBT Kids, Trans Rights in Honduras

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Malaysian teenager Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam uses her phone to check on the comments towards her TikTok video in her bedroom in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia April 29, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Last week, Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, a 17-year old from Malaysia, made a TikTok about how her male teacher was joking about rape and promoting rape culture. The video went viral overnight, causing many to question why such an individual would be allowed to teach teenagers with that violent and misogynistic mentality, with others questioning why this young woman would dare speak out against something so taboo.

With over 1.6 million views, Saiful Nizam decided to create the hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace, which she hopes will encourage many young people to come forward about issues they face at school, from sexual harassment, to racism. Since creating the video, the teen has said that many other young women have come forward and shared their own stories about how rape culture is perpetuated by educational institutions, yet there is never anything done to combat this or support victims. 

There's been numerous students who have been coming forward with their own stories to me... but people didn't take any action on what the students had to say. And for me, that is very, very sad - Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam 

Alongside the support and the many positive messages she received, Saiful Nizam also received hate and backlash from students and teachers, who accused her of drawing negative attention towards herself and her school. Some claimed that rape jokes were common and should be simply taken as a joke. Fuck no!

She has also received several rape threats from classmates, as well as many strangers attacking her on social media over her appearance. She has since reported these threats and the teacher’s remarks to the police, where an investigation will take place. After filing a report, however, these classmates sought forgiveness and begged her family not to pursue this case.

This whole situation is quite ironic. On the one hand, her classmates had no issue threatening to rape this young woman because she exposed a teacher joking about rape and because she spoke out against a toxic culture in her school. If we ever want to envision a world where every individual is safe from sexual violence, we must continue to hold our institutions and members of society accountable. Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam was extremely brave coming forward and speaking out against this fuckery in her school. She is hopeful that her story will prompt many other teenagers, no matter their gender, to come forward and smash the patriarchy together.

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Abuk Lual at Aweil police station, Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. Source: Eye Radio

In South Sudan, women and girls work tirelessly everyday to raise awareness about women’s rights and smash the patriarchy. Not all victories are large, but Aluel Atem, a development economist and women’s right activist from South Sudan, explains that it is important to celebrate every victory, no matter how big or small. 

On almost every social issue especially on women and girls’ rights, the wins are small and countable but we celebrate regardless. We celebrate when any perpetrator of sexual and gender-based violence is publicly tried and convicted even when we know deep down that he will be walking on the streets unbothered a few days later. We celebrate when new laws and policies are passed knowing well that there is no political will to see them through - Aluel Atem

Atem brings forth many examples of young women who have challenged patriarchal norms in their families and communities. Abuk Lual, a 16-year old, sued her parents after they tried to forcefully marry her off. Aman Bol went on Facebook live and shared the story of her divorce, including her custody battle for her children, to raise awareness and foster transparency in her community. Or Aluel Garang, a footballer who returned to her club to play three months after giving birth. This sparked outrage in the community and her husband stormed the football match demanding that she leave. This did not discourage her, she was determined to demonstrate her power and abilities, despite the humiliation that may have come.

Whether women and girls in South Sudan dress however they want, speak out against misogyny, leave abusive marriages, or follow their dreams, each of these are radical feminist acts which greatly support the advancement of women’s rights. Sometimes, the big wins do take us far and widely support women in vulnerable situations, but Atem provides a humble reminder that there is so much power in these ‘small’ wins. 

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Celebrations at the Republic of Macedonia’s first ever Pride in 2019. Source: Robert Atanasovski/AFP/Getty via Pink News 

With a new draft law in place, the Republic of North Macedonia has taken a massive step forward to support the transgender community. The proposed legislation would amend the law on birth registry, allowing trans people to be legally recognized, without having to undergo sex reassignment surgery. This draft law is the first time that the country has differentiated between sex and gender. 

Prior to this proposed change, transgender people had to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to be legally recognized as their preferred gender, and to have their ID documents changed. This new law has been in the making since 2019, when a transgender man sued the government of North Macedonia for infringing on his basic rights. The European Court of Human Rights forced the government to pay the man €9000 in compensation, and also ruled that this law was a violation of human rights. 

Another important aspect of this legislation is that a person’s gender on their ID documents could be changed, without notifying every institution. This quick adjustment will keep transgender peoples’ information private, and will prevent them from being outed against their will. 

The draft law was approved by the North Macedonian government on April 27, and now awaits implementation. 

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Clare Byarugaba took part in the 2018 Gay Games in Paris four years after she was outed in a newspaper. Source: BBC News 

In Uganda, homosexuality is extremely frowned upon and the LGBT community in the nation is often subject to hate and discrimination; it is also punishable by life in prison. Many individuals struggle to come out to their families and communities and to freely express themselves because homosexuality has been so stigmatized. Additionally, rejection from one’s family can be painful and detrimental to members of the LGBT community. 

Coming to terms with your child coming out can be quite difficult, but a group exists in Uganda where parents of LGBT members can come together, in a safe space, and discuss and ask questions. The group is called PFLAG, standing for Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays. The group was founded by Clare Byarugaba, a lesbian feminist who was inspired to create a support system after her own family’s experience with her coming out - Byarugaba was outed in the local newspapers before she had a chance to speak with her family. There was no chance to prepare her parents before the community was made aware and ‘shame’ was brought to her family. 

Byarugaba recognized that although LGBT members needed a safe and supportive space to come home to, their parents needed this as well, especially in a country where being associated with this community is one of the biggest sources of shame. Modeled after the PFLAG movement in the US, she adapted it to fit Uganda’s local context.

At the beginning they were using derogatory terms to describe their children. Now their language has changed to: 'Yes, that's my child. That's my child' - Clare Byarugaba

PFLAG in Uganda offers parents a safe space where they can speak to a clinical psychologist and progressive religious leaders, as well as other parents going through similar experiences. Meetings are held in Luganda, the local language, and advice is offered on how to navigate and cope in an extremely homophobic environment. 

Accept your child knowing that this is who they are and won't change. If you don't accept them, neither will the world - Rita, PFLAG member 

This support system has fostered an environment in which parents who were previously ashamed of their children now accept and support them, and recognize that their sexuality does not change who their child is. With PFLAG in motion, Byarugaba is optimistic that more parents of LGBT children will be able to seek comfort and support in each other’s experiences to ultimately support their children as best as they can.  

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LGBT+ activists protest against police abuse in Honduras in 2009. Source: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty via Pink News

In Honduras, the life expectancy of transgender women sits at around 30-35 years. With the world’s highest rate of trans homicides, a top tribunal chose to intervene last year and develop legislation to protect the trans community. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights monitors human rights in the western hemisphere, and is set to make legal history by forcing the government of Honduras to address the violence experienced by trans women. 

In 2009, Vicky Hernández was killed by Honduran police during the country’s coup d’état. A bullet and a used condom was found next to her body. In the twelve years since her murder, forensic tests have not been performed, and it is unclear if an autopsy was performed as well. Trans activist groups argued that Hernández’s death was motivated by anti-LGBT+ prejudice, and was a result of the government’s failure to protect the trans community. They also argue that the government must be held accountable for its actions, and cannot continue to perpetuate hateful rhetoric towards the trans community. 

We need not to remove people from the danger. We need to confront the state and tell the state: Here we are, and we are in danger. We don’t have to leave. You, as the government, have to solve this - Rihanna Ferrera, transgender activist 

This case was heard before the Inter-American Commission in November and activists now await a historic ruling that could set precedent for other countries across Latin America. The trans community, as well as organizations and activists, are hopeful that the court will rule in their favour, causing the government to remain accountable for its actions and implement effective policy and programming to support the trans community in Honduras. 

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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