Global Roundup: Moroccan Photographer Breaks Barriers, Women at Forefront of Myanmar Protests, Improving Safe Access to Abortions in Kyrgyzstan, Uganda’s Eco-feminists, Bangladesh’s First Trans Anchor

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Self-portrait of Serri in a mirror, held by an anonymous woman between her spread legs. (Courtesy of Fatima Zohra Serri)

In a nation which has increasingly repressed journalists, activists and artists who challenge societal norms, Moroccan photographer Fatima Zohra Serri is making women’s bodies and experiences visible. Serri has learned how to adapt, and how to thrive, in a conservative society which often challenges women’s claim on public space. 

Serri is one of 14 photographers who recently formed the Noorseen Collective, in 2020, which aims to reclaim agency through representation, and to showcase community talent through social media. The collective has a vision to shed light to the hidden talents of Moroccan photography, with the word ‘Noor’ meaning light in Arabic, combined with the English word ‘seen’. 

Serri has also used social media as an important platform to share her artistry. Her work is also featured in Rabat’s National Photography Museum, as part of the inaugural exhibition. The exhibit, Sourtna: Moroccan Photographers of Today and Tomorrow, was created by Moroccan photographer Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, in an effort to showcase young artists who defy cultural norms and taboos. 

Serri draws inspiration from her own experiences, but also those of her female friends, relatives and colleagues. She seeks to challenge preconceived stereotypes and taboos about women in order to make the bodies and experiences of women visible, from menstruation to sexual harassment.  

How can you be ashamed of something that is natural, in your own body? How can you belittle yourself just because of it? I feel sorry for these girls, who see themselves like that, who reduce themselves to the word hshuma [shameful]...I must empower the women around me. I have to feel [for] them, to talk about them, to help them to fight for equality - Fatima Zohra Sehri

Although Morocco is referred to as one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East/North Africa region for women’s rights, women still face inescapable inequality and discrimination, and are forced to live under patriarchal laws. 

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Protesters in Yangon last month. (The New York Times)

Women in Myanmar have been at the forefront of protests, despite the increased danger they may face, in order to fight against a reimposed patriarchal order which suppressed women for half a century. Young women appear to be on the front lines, and sadly are the ones who are singled out. Last week, at least 30 people were killed during the protests, including 18-year old Kyal Sin who was fatally shot by security forces. 

Over the last month, since the military coup took place, hundreds of thousands of women from every sector have gathered daily for marches. Groups of female medical volunteers have also been patrolling the streets, tending to the wounded and dying. 

In an attempt to prevent the military from advancing, protesters in Myanmar have begun hanging women’s clothing on lines across the street, as traditionally, walking beneath women’s clothing is considered bad luck for men. Some have even hung up images of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who orchestrated the coup, as a symbolic way to denounce his aggression.

Young women are leading the protests out of fear for their futures. Women have the most to lose in this new regime, as the military is deeply conservative. The military has systematically sexually assaulted women from ethnic minorities, has repeatedly stated that women are weak; impure; and inferior, and often speaks about the importance of modest dressing for ‘proper ladies’. What kind of fuckery is this? 

“Women took the frontier position in the fight against dictatorship because we believe it is our cause - Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, a 27-year-old politician and former political prisoner 

This is not the first time that women have protested for their rights in Myanmar. During the 8888 Uprising of 1998, women led the charge in their fight for democracy. Today, they are doing the same. Women in Myanmar will continue to stand on the front lines, just as generations of women before them have done.

I do not have any fear of being arrested…I am fighting for justice. I am fighting for democracy. I am fighting for our generation - a woman human rights defender and member of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions.

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Photo by KFPA

Kyrgyzstan’s law dictates that women can obtain an abortion up to 12 weeks into their pregnancy. Following the 12-week period, abortions are still available, but each case must be approved by medical professionals. Additionally, termination of pregnancy is allowed at any time when there is a medical necessity. While this may be written into law, those seeking abortions in Kyrgyzstan encounter many barriers along the way. 

Technically, the government should be providing co-payments for abortions and support for those who require it, but this information is often not shared with patients. Specialists charge patients unofficially, with prices ranging from $20-$100 USD in government hospitals, and double that cost in private clinics. Thus, women living in rural villages have limited access to family planning services and abortions because of both the time and cost of travelling. Stigma is also another barrier for women. Abortion is heavily stigmatized in the nation, and the topic is absent in the mainstream media. There is also minimal knowledge on the subject and limited supply of abortion medications and trained personnel. 

The Kyrgyz Family Planning Alliance (KFPA), in partnership with the Safe Abortion Action Fund, has been working to solve these problems, resulting in six years of significant results. The KFPA started working with rural women, who were directly involved as community leaders, and educational campaigns were organized with rural women and high school girls. They also created a referral system for women seeking safe abortions and contraception services; all health care providers in the system were trained and certified. One of their bigger achievements, however, was registering the drug “Medabon” in the country, which combines mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs typically used for safe medical abortions. They were able to register the drug within six months, which has widely increased women’s choice and access to safe abortion methods. 

Though the Covid-19 pandemic caused delays, the organization hosts online training and consultations to ensure that this information is widespread to those who need it. The KFPA has also advised the Kyrgyzstan government to update its guidelines on abortion. Abortion cannot be postponed, and must be recognized as an essential aspect of healthcare. 

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Women protest Bugoma land give away in the Albertine Graben region of Uganda | National Association of Professional Environmentalists via Open Democracy

Many oil companies have begun exploring Ugandan land, for resources, without the community’s free, prior and informed consent. In 2006, the Ugandan government discovered around 6.5 million barrels of crude oil in the Albertine Graben region. Since then, the government has negotiated with oil companies, allowing them to explore different areas within the region. As such, government-funded development projects have been characterized by displacement, forced migration, low compensation rates, land degradation, loss of livelihoods, and increased military presence in order to ‘protect’ oil workers and projects. Although many have been affected by the government’s oil policies, women and girls are carrying the biggest costs. 

Due to pre-existing gender norms, around 73% of Ugandan households engage in subsistence farming, and women make up three quarters of the agricultural force. Although women make up a large portion of the agricultural sector, they own only 7% of land, and are not included in any decision-making processes pertaining to the use of the land. What this also means is that women do not benefit from compensation packages which are offered by infrastructure developments; in this case, oil. 

Hundreds of women in the Hoima, Buliisa, Nwoya, and Amuru districts have been forced to evict their lands in order to pave way for the construction of an oil refinery. Many of these women’s husbands took the 11 million Ugandan shillings package and abandoned their families. These stories are common, and women are left with a lifetime of social, economic, and psychological effects. Since the introduction of oil refining companies in the region, many women have been left worse off, and many have ended up at one of Uganda’s Internally Displaced Persons camps.

Despite the injustices that these women have faced, there has been a growing eco-feminist movement in Uganda, organizing against land grabs. The Bukigindi Tree Planting Women’s Group, for example, has replanted 18 hectares of degraded land with indigenous species on the Buvuma islands, offering a more sustainable way of living which is rooted in indigenous practices. Women also use the Uganda Community Green Radio to address important issues, and to raise awareness about the exploitation of natural resources and the injustices women are subjected to by patriarchal and capitalist institutions.  

These women are demanding radical and revolutionary change, in order to put an end to corporate ‘development’ which only seeks to benefit society’s most elite. 

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Tashnuva Anan Shishir presents the news at a studio in Dhaka Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian

Tashnuva Anan Shishir is the first transgender news anchor in Bangladesh. She made her appearance on March 8, International Women’s Day. Shishir is a survivor of multiple years of sexual assault and bullying. When she could not cope with the distress anymore, she fled her home to live alone in the capital, Dhaka. It was in Dhaka where she underwent hormone therapy, began working for charities and began acting in theatres, while simultaneously completing her studies. 

I never left school. My sixth sense always told me to keep studying. If I continue reading, I will be able to go somewhere...I continued my studies despite enduring hundreds of insults day after day. All I had in mind is that I should continue my study - Tashnuva Anan Shishir 

Bangladesh is home to around 1.5 millions trans people, however the community still faces rampant discrimination and violence. Although the Bangladeshi government legally recognizes trans people, the struggles of the community are ongoing. 

Shishir approached a number of TV stations for work, but Boishakhi was the only private station which was ‘brave enough’ to take her in. She made history in her first broadcast this week, and will continue to do so in the years to come. 

I don’t want any members of the [transgender] community to suffer. I don’t want them to live a miserable life. I hope they will find work according to their skills - Tashnuva Anan Shishir 

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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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