Global Roundup: Myanmar Women vs Junta, Indigenous Women in India Lose Land Access, Portraits of Black Muslim Women & Girls, LGBTQ+ Colombians Embrace Visibility, Black Queer Artist Uplifts Community
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Photo Credit AFP/Getty Images via Deutsche Welle
Women in Myanmar continue to play a central role in resisting the military junta. Even after the military brutally put down the mass protests that followed the coup there in February last year, flash mobs have repeatedly gathered in major cities to keep up the protests, which are life-threatening, as the security forces often shoot without warning, or drive their vehicles into the demonstrators.
The mostly young demonstrators unfurl posters, chant slogans, and walk through the streets, only to disperse into the side streets shortly thereafter.
Htet Htar, 25, says that street protests are no longer enough. Last June, she joined the People’s Defense Forces, which is spearheading the armed resistance against the regime.
What other option do I have? The military has taken away everything from us. I joined the resistance to liberate my country. I keep thinking about a liberated Burma. - Htet Htar
Myanmar is a conservative country and the military is particularly steeped in conservative, patriarchal tradition, seeing itself as the preserver of the “real” Myanmar. Last year, Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, told state media that protesters were “wearing indecent clothes contrary to Myanmar culture,” which many believe is a reference to female protesters in pants. The constitution has historically favoured men as well.
However, something has changed since the coup. The women’s network has grown considerably – it used to be mainly women from ethnic minority areas who had been campaigning against the military for years, but now many women and women’s organizations from the nation’s heartland have now also entered into close cooperation with the Women’s League of Burma (WLB).
Parts of the resistance are also organized and carried out mainly by women. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), one of the first movements against the coup, began in hospitals and later expanded to schools. It is estimated that 70-80% of its leaders are women.
The National Unity Government (NUG), the government-in-exile, appears more inclusive than any previous government. Hser Hser, secretary-general of the WLB, says there is still a long way to go, but she is very pleased to see gender equality firmly anchored in the constitution that the NUG is currently drafting.
That’s good. But we haven’t reached our goal yet. We want that women are involved in all decisions on all levels… On the grass root levels, people have started talking about women being part of the revolution and that they should have a say in the future. – Hser Hser
Adivasi tribals are see during a celebration on the occasion of International Day of the World's Indigenous People, in a forest in Mumbai, India, August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
India’s forest-planting push to compensate for trees cleared for mining and infrastructure projects has led to the loss of homes and livelihoods of thousands of Indigenous people across the country, particularly women.
During the bone-chilling winters of Panna in central India's Madhya Pradesh state, Janaka Bai needs at least three bundles of firewood each week to keep her family warm and another to fuel her kitchen stove every day. However, new Indian laws that mandate large-scale tree-planting to compensate for declines in forest cover have made this increasingly difficult.
They call us firewood thieves and sometimes take us to local police stations. Or they threaten us, snatch our tools and shoo us out of the forest. And yet we go back because there is no choice. - Janaka Bai
Officials say the afforestation is taking place on degraded or government land. But the programmes have become flashpoints, with campaigners arguing due process has not been followed and land rights claims ignored. From bypassing village council approvals to not informing locals about plans, many say it is only when the fences are erected that they realise they can no longer access the land.
Sometimes the boundary walls are being made around standing crops waiting to be harvested. People are simply told it is not their land and are literally left to fend for themselves. - Sadhana Meena, member of Adivasi Ekta Parishad, an NGO working on tribal rights in the western state of Rajasthan
Bai and thousands of other indigenous women now have to sneak into their native forests to collect firewood and seasonal produce. She says that local people have been driven away from the natural areas that were once their home, firstly when forests are used for purposes such as mining and now for forest-planting. Women are also dependent on gathering and selling natural resources from the forest.
We were self-reliant, and the forest produce gave us enough income for a comfortable life. Now we are forced to take loans, sometimes from mine owners who then exploit us till we pay back. There is no other work, particularly for women. - Janaka Bai
In 2006, India passed the Forest Rights Act which recognises the right of tribes to inhabit land their ancestors settled on centuries ago. However, researchers say implementation has been poor, with loopholes getting exploited routinely and ownership of every resource ultimately being taken over by the state. Bai also notes that most locals do not receive proper compensation because they lack documents to prove land ownership.
What do you do when your home and resources are both taken away? We have totally lost our way of life. - Janaka Bai
Photograph shot by Faisa Omer for her series on Islamophobia in Edmonton . Faisa Omer via Global News
A series of racially motivated assaults, against mostly Black Muslim women, have made it an especially tough year for Canada’s Muslim community in Edmonton. Photographer Faisa Omer is drawing attention to Islamophobia and gendered racism though a portrait series of Black Muslim women and girls, in which they are lit by projected images of public areas in Edmonton where attacks have occurred.
Being a Black Muslim woman myself, it stirs up a lot of emotions. Do I actually belong enough? Am I Canadian as everyone else. That’s kind of what’s being stirred up, even with the people being pictured. - Faisa Omer
There have been more than a dozen attacks against Muslim women in Edmonton since December 2020, according to the executive director of the Africa Centre. Most recently, a woman was attacked near a northeast Edmonton mosque on New Year’s Day.
What’s alarming is, this happens to most of us. It started off with words or with looks and now it’s escalated to physical contact. That’s where the alarm comes from. - Faisa Omer
Omer said she hopes her portrait series amplifies the voices of Black Muslim women and leads to change. She said that bystanders of attacks should record a video and stay behind and give their account to the police or make a witness statement.
Some of Omer’s other photos are on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of an exhibit called 5 Artists 1 Love for Black History Month. Her Islamophobia series can also be found on her Instagram page.
Corey, Tito and Edgar walk the streets of El Carmen de Bolívar, Colombia. Photo by Kiran Stallone via The Guardian
In El Carmen de Bolívar, a mountain town near the north coast of Colombia, LGBTQ+ people want the history of their brutal persecution by police and paramilitaries to be told, Today, you can find impromptu shows of drag queens striking poses in extravagant Caribbean carnival costumes on the streets of the town.
For nearly 30 years, the town and surrounding region of Montes de María were infamous for violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ individuals, targeted at one time or another over the country’s long civil war by right-wing paramilitaries, left-wing guerrillas, government soldiers and the police.
Many of the armed groups in the region – publicly aligned with the country’s conservative elite – began persecuting the LGBTQ+ community. While such brutality was widespread in Colombia, in El Carmen de Bolívar and the surrounding region of Montes de María, it was made particularly public – including with forced boxing matches between gay men and transgender women. Sexual violence was also rampant and meted out as a punishment. Those who resisted risked being taken in a van known as the “final tear”, as the people it picked up never returned. A survivor also remembers a helicopter dropping pamphlets in 1999 with a warning to LGBTQ+ people: “get out now,” as well as threats of being killed for being gay.
Now, LGBTQ+ people in El Carmen de Bolívar say they feel more secure now than ever before.
I feel very happy because we can go out without any problems. Before we were afraid to go out, and if armed groups found us on the street at midnight, they could take us away, torture us, or send us home. – Corey, 46
Caribe Afirmativo, an organization which runs a community centre in the town including a soup kitchen and job training, as well as outreach work to support understanding of the LGBTQ+ population, has played a big role in creating this security. The group provides safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people in “periphery territories”, areas with limited government attention.
One of the things that makes me happy in El Carmen de Bolívar is that my advocacy work has been heard, that we have made progress, and that we have changed society. – Nawar, 26, trans woman
In 2020 the Colombian national government formally recognised the collective damage suffered by the LGBTQ+ community of El Carmen de Bolívar because of the conflict; the third community in the country to receive this recognition. The ruling means support for the region’s efforts to document the community’s history.
However, the LGBTQ+ community still faces challenges such as employment discrimination. Some say that the sense of security is fragile given the increasing violence in Colombia’s war-ravaged regions. Nonetheless the LGBTQ+ community recognizes their achievements and progress over the years and continues to take up space.
Photo Credit: Reuben Bastienne via NME
Cat Burns, 21, is a London singer-songwriter who addresses themes including anxiety, queer acceptance, and furtive relationships. Her music resonates with a huge TikTok audience. On the app, she posts both original material and stunning, pared-back covers, and in the process, has gained almost 1 million fans on the platform.
Burns’ latest single, ‘Free’ recalls her experience of coming out to her family and is a celebration of self-acceptance and not “living a lie for a life” anymore. The joy-filled track’s artwork is significant, too; it’s a photo of Burns as a child with her mother, who she describes to as “the free-spirit that encouraged me to sing.”
Leading up to the arrival of her ‘Emotionally Unavailable’ EP, Burns talks to NME about what it’s like to be a viral star, overcoming rejection, and why she wants to uplift her community.
Someone actually messaged me and said, ‘I feel really uncomfortable in my home since I came out, but I feel like I live in my own little world when I listen to this song.’ I was very aware when I was writing this song that some people may not be in situations where it is safe for them to come out, so I wanted to give them a place to escape to when they listen to it. – Cat Burns
Burns wants to inspire other young LGBTQ+ artists to be authentic and confident in using their platform.
I think I’m part of a wave of LGBTQ+ artists that are encouraging others to be more open. We’re singing about more complex things within the themes of love and relationships, such as dating someone who’s not out yet. A lot of artists have started to become more comfortable telling those important stories, both lyrically and visually, which has allowed me to be more open. Personally, I want to help Black queer artists to be like, ‘OK, let me tell my truth, too. – Cat Burns
Burns also talks about how connecting with others online has been a big part of her journey coming out, finding herself and even learning LGBTQ+ history. It is important for her to use gender neutral pronouns in her songs, so they are relatable to anyone. She would love if other artists also normalized using gender neutral pronouns in their music.
Despite her current success, Burns struggled starting out. However, she was determined and knew she was authentic, and people wanted to hear what she has to say.
After being rejected by labels, I just knew that I really wanted to prove myself. I would say that their apprehensiveness was understandable, because they hadn’t really seen a Black female do what I want to do. When I was first going to [the labels], they just didn’t really know what to do with me, as there hasn’t been someone like me yet. – Cat Burns
Burns’ EP ‘Emotionally Unavailable’ will be released in the spring and in it she will share songs about anxiety, dealing with growing up, and coping with old friendships breaking apart.
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.