Global Roundup: Mexico GBV & Femicide Documentary, Uganda Queer Community, Remembering Lesbian Activist Lilli Vincenz, Jordan Women Divers, Ghana Women Bodybuilders
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Women hold crosses in a protest against femicide and violence against women outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico. © REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Mexican journalist Gloria Piña won the 2023 Breach/Valdez Award for Journalism and Human Rights for her documentary “The Survivors: Forgotten by Justice.” Told through interviews with survivors, lawyers and women’s rights defenders, the documentary has galvanized calls for reform to end gender-based violence in Mexico and has become a rallying cry for women to break their silence and forge alliances with other survivors to rebuild their lives.
I thought it was important to tell their story. When you don’t name something, it is as if it does not exist. But when you name it, we can make a change. -Gloria Piña
For her research, Piña reviewed complaints and court sentences across the country, documenting how legal loopholes, negligence, a lack of gender perspective in the legal system and harmful social norms allow a vast majority of violent attacks against women to go unpunished, leaving victims unprotected and without reparation, and in many cases with little or no accountability for the perpetrators.
The message the legal system is sending is that in Mexico there is impunity and that a woman can be attacked or killed. Not only are there no legal consequences for killing women, but the State will do nothing to protect or financially take care of the victims. -Gloria Piña
According to government figures, 2,481 women and girls were officially reported as “missing” in 2022, though civil society groups say the real number is higher. The disappearances of women in Mexico hide other forms of violence against women, including femicide, kidnapping and human trafficking, civil society groups say. Many victims decide not to file a complaint for fear of being stigmatized, or to avoid a costly and cumbersome legal process that can drag on for years without any punishment for the perpetrators, Piña said.
The women who appear in the documentary have turned their haunting experiences into a struggle for justice. Through her documentary, Piña wanted to show how these women are rebuilding their lives. For instance, Carolina Ramírez Suárez was kidnapped and brutally tortured by her estranged husband after she fell ill and needed care. The husband received a minimum sentence for attempted homicide and died in prison, while Ramírez Suárez received $750 in reparation from the State. She now leads a support group for women survivors of gender violence.
When you are subjected to violence of this magnitude it is as if you are first broken in pieces. Then it's like putting your pieces back together, knowing that the healing has to do with your emotional part, with your energy, with your heart, with your way of connecting with the world. Survivors also tell and we live to tell. - Carolina Ramírez Suárez
A trans woman at a safe house for LGBTIQ residents in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by Luke Dray / Getty Images
Queer people in Uganda disclosed the harmful impacts of the of anti-gay law to Open Democracy. At least nine people have been charged under Uganda’s repressive new Anti-Homosexuality Act in its first month. But both out and closeted LGBTIQ people say the impact is much wider, with the threat of violence and blackmail putting them under intense psychological pressure over fears their identity could be weaponised against them.
The new law prescribes life imprisonment for the offence of homosexuality and – under section 14 – imposes a legal duty to report any LGBTIQ people to the authorities, with the threat of five years in prison for failing to do so.
Nicholas Nyanzi, a 26-year-old trans sex worker, is navigating heightened safety and financial difficulties since the law came into force. Meeting clients is now difficult: Nyanzi left her rental home because of safety issues, but using motels for work is risky. She has also had to cut out new clients because she doesn’t know if she can trust them.
There is a lot of risk involved. If the police get you and check your phone, you implicate [other queer people] too. -Nicholas Nyanzi
For those who run LGBTIQ-focused organisations, their work is criminalised under the dubious but overreaching offence of “promoting” homosexuality, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Zahara (not her real name) – who heads a Ugandan organisation advocating for the digital rights and freedoms of marginalised women – said the Anti-Homosexuality Act had opened her and her staff members up to a high risk of imprisonment. Even her home may not be safe any more, she says: when she takes work calls there, she has to consider whether family and friends who don’t know about what she does for a living might be able to hear.
I keep wondering if anyone has heard me mention ‘queer’ or ‘lesbian’ while on my Zoom calls…My work as a queer organiser could be weaponised against me and the people I work with. My sole responsibility as a leader is to ensure the safety of my staff. But I am a target. -Zahara
Social media is not a refuge either, with increased online attacks. But amid all of this, queer Ugandans are determined that times will get better – and are organising to counter the hate and violence they face.
Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images
In the early 1960s, Vincenz joined the Mattachine Society of Washington, an early homophile organization, making her one of the first lesbians to join a group predominantly composed of gay men. The Mattachine Society of Washington organized what is thought to be the first demonstration for gay rights in 1965, a group of 10 people picketing outside the White House, including Vincenz. In a 1999 interview, she said that she joined the organization to “be with gay people, help the movement, help unmask the lies being told about us, correct the notion of homosexuality as a sickness and present it as it is, a BEAUTIFUL WAY TO LOVE.”
Vincenz was also named editor of the Mattachine Society’s monthly newsletter, the Homosexual Citizen, in 1966. She later co-founded the spinoff newspaper the Gay Blade, which eventually became the Washington Blade, now the oldest LGBTQ+ newspaper in the U.S. She was also a member of the first national lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, and in the 1970s began inviting gay and bisexual women into her home every week for discussions that became known as the Gay Women’s Open House.
In addition to being an activist, Vincenz was also a prolific documentarian, with lesbian photojournalist Kay Tobin-Lahusen calling her the first lesbian videographer.
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Divers after a clean-up. ‘With every single dive, we make an important contribution,’ says AlSharif, far right, with, from left: Nawal Abbasi; Sarah Shahin; Natalie Burgan and Shirin Rahil. Photography by John Goodwin
Project Sea clears rubbish from Aqaba’s reefs in Jordan, which is recycled into bags by Palestinian refugees – a women-led scheme. Led by 34-year-old Beisan AlSharif, it’s an initiative born two years ago when AlSharif, a keen diver, and her friend, Seif Al Madanat, began to collect rubbish every time they dived. It is now a community of more than 150 volunteers, with local women forming its heart.
Gender stereotypes and societal expectations do exist in Jordan and have influenced perceptions about certain activities, including diving. However, these stereotypes are evolving, and the notion of what women should do or are expected to do is becoming more inclusive and diverse. -Hana Gammoh, one of the divers
Together, the divers have removed more than seven tonnes of waste; most of it plastic, such as disposable cups, bottles and bags. Another group of women then benefits from recycling the waste – Palestinians living in the Jabal el-Hussein refugee camp, in the capital, Amman, who give a second life to the material by creating tote bags from it. Bearing the logo of Project Sea, the blue-hued bags are sold on social media, during clean up-events and from the deck of the yacht, providing the Palestinians with a much-needed source of income.
The Gulf of Aqaba is known as a “refuge” for coral reefs – one of the only places on Earth where the corals seem, so far, to survive coral bleaching. Studies have recently suggested the reefs here could survive the worst impacts of the climate crisis for another century or more, making it an important site of research. But while the Red Sea corals can withstand higher temperatures, there are a host of other human-made threats. The population and infrastructure of the coastal region of Aqaba have grown rapidly in recent years, and with them the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the Red Sea.
Photo via @mary_go_fit
A group of women in Ghana are determined to change the stigma surrounding bodybuilding. Seeing Ghanaian women with brawn and muscles bothers a section of the population. Still, these women are determined to change the narrative.
When my body started transforming because it was so new to people, I always covered my body. But now, I wear my booty shorts, I wear my sleeveless and walk around. I mean people are going to stare and I will make it worth their while, like yeah, you should stare. This is me, and this is who I am. I love me, and I have accepted who I am, and it's something I'm doing intentionally. -Mary Nyarko Omale, professional bodybuilder in Ghana
The sport of bodybuilding has been thriving in Ghana for decades, primarily among men. When women participate, disparaging looks and remarks are meted out to demoralize them. But there are ways for them to compete, with the most popular competition being the Arnold Classic International in South Africa. Given the numerous hurdles and societal backlash, few Ghanaian women have taken the initiative to pursue the sport professionally. For those brave enough, it hasn't been a walk in the park as their mental health bears the brunt of constant scrutiny.
In Ghana, everyone has a perception about you putting on muscles as a woman and from my side, it was quite a struggle. I grew up feeling intimidated by friends and some women who would tell me to work on having curvier hips and stop building muscles. -Victoria Agbeyeye, former bodybuilder now turned weightlifter
As a profession, more funding is needed to support the level of competition. Most female bodybuilders work different jobs — primarily as fitness instructors — to fund their dreams. Sometimes they go to competitions once a year and, in dry seasons, attend none. In 2022, the competition for the title of Ghana's Strongest Woman was launched by Media General as a way to support female bodybuilders and give them a bigger platform.
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.