Global Roundup: Nepali Women Protest, Muslim Writers call out BBC, Incarcerated Indigenous Women, Sex Worker Fights for COVID Vaccine, Black Trans Model Against Social Media’s Racism and Transphobia
Compiled by Samiha Hossain
Hundreds of women in Nepal are protesting against a new travel ban. - Copyright Niranjan Shrestha/AP via euronews
Hundreds of Nepali women have been holding protests on the streets of Kathmandu, following a recent proposal by the Department of Immigration that would require women under the age of 40 to obtain permission from their families and local government to travel to countries in Africa and the Middle East. According to the government, the law would protect women from being trafficked abroad. However, women’s rights activists say that efforts should be focused on protecting women within the borders of Nepal.
Though Nepal’s constitution guarantees equal rights to women, activists believe further action is needed to make that a reality. The protesters chanted slogans demanding equality and some even held a mock Hindu funeral of a woman during the rally in protest against the country’s violence, rape and discriminatory laws. They also tried to march to the prime minister's office, but were blocked by riot police and barbed wire barricades. Activists have received rape and death threats online since the protests.
Women are increasingly being discriminated against and underage girls are getting raped and killed but the police and state are not concerned at all – Reshu Aryal, women’s rights activist
According to estimates, around 35,000 Nepali’s were victims of human trafficking between 2018 and 2019 – 15,000 of which were women and 500 were girls. However, historically travel bans have been largely ineffective and have even exacerbated issues. For instance, in 2017, the Nepali government banned citizens from taking up domestic work in Gulf states to protect them from human trafficking and modern slavery. The ban only made women more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, as they could be tricked into fake jobs or sold on.
The state only seems to be concerned with women’s safety when it can infringe on women’s rights and treat them like children. Nepali women will not accept the government’s patriarchal fuckery. They demand that the government find effective ways to tackle trafficking that do not restrict women and girl’s movement and that they pay attention to the abuse that happens within the borders as well.
Zara Mohammed was elected first female leader of the Muslim Council of Britain in January. Photograph: MCB/PA via The Guardian
Writers Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Mariam Khan wrote an open letter signed by more than 100 public figures to the BBC to protest the “strikingly hostile” interview with Zara Mohammed, the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain, on the programme Woman’s Hour. The letter calls on the BBC to diversify its editorial and production team and better engage with Britain’s Muslims. In addition, it claims that the line of questioning in Mohammed’s interview reinforced “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam and Muslim women.
In January, Zara Mohammed, a training and development consultant from Glasgow, became both the Muslim Council of Britain’s first female leader, as well as its youngest. She appeared as a guest on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme where presenter Emma Barnett repeatedly asked about the number of female imams in the country. Mohammed was asked this question four times and her answer was interrupted each of those times, despite her repeated claims that religious adjudication was not within the parameters of her role leading a civil society organisation.
Seeing the interview between Emma Barnett and Zara Mohammed was disheartening. However, our concern isn’t just about this singular moment – it’s about the wider cultural problem within the BBC and the media when it comes to the representation of Muslims. This is a crucial moment in which the BBC can choose to turn its back on the Muslim community or engage in making a change and acknowledging it’s very real-life impact on the lives of Muslims in the UK – Mariam Khan
The letter follows another open letter to the BBC published by Labour MP Dawn Butler recently about the corporation’s decision to make its editorial director, Kamal Ahmed, redundant. It asks: “We would like to know how the BBC intends to deal with its all-white news board and lack of diversity at the leadership level?”.
Women are not afraid to hold the BBC accountable and to demand for better. Too often, the media cannot see Muslim women as more than their religion and the men of their religion. Dealing with Islamophobia and having to speak for an entire religion (as if that religion were a monolith) is exhausting. Both the patriarchy and white supremacy may want Muslim women to acquiesce, but they will not back down.
Kimberly Squirrel, 34, was found frozen in Saskatoon on Jan. 23. Her death 'raises the issue that that there aren't enough services out there for women, both while they're incarcerated and certainly after they are released from an institution,' says the acting executive director at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kara Squirrel) via CBC
Late last month, Kimberly Squirrel, a 34-year-old mother of six from Yellow Quill First Nation was found frozen to death in Saskatoon. Advocates are saying that this incident reveals several gaps in Saskatchewan's correction system. Squirrel was on remand, meaning she was facing charges but had not yet been convicted. She was also battling a crystal meth addiction. Accessing resources is difficult for incarcerated women and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this issue.
Unfortunately, with the numbers of women that are incarcerated right now … getting a telephone call out is difficult. And even though we have an 800 [toll-free] number, there's always a demand for the phones to be used by women who are trying to call family, as well as agencies in the community. So it is really a sad testimony to how our society is dealing with the issue of criminalized women – Patti Tait, acting executive director at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan.
Patti Tait, who works for an organization that supports women who have been or may become criminalized, says that mental health supports and addiction treatment are crucial to women on remand, yet seriously lacking. Another major issue is how people often experience homelessness after release.
Our movements cannot forget incarcerated women, as they face many barriers that can even lead to their death. It is appalling that Indigenous women account for 42% of women in federal custody in Canada, yet Indigenous people only make up 5% of the population. Canada continues to fail Indigenous peoples by using the carceral state as a substitute for the support people need, often as a result of the intergenerational impacts of colonialism and the ongoing violence of white supremacy.
A SEX WORKER IS SITTING IN A STUDIO. (PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN GOLLNOW/PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES) via Vice.com
Solana Sparks, a Latina, queer femme sex worker, is fighting for sex workers to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. Sparks was initially told by a public health official in King County, which includes the city of Seattle, that Washington state would soon begin prioritizing sex workers for vaccination. However, when she tweeted about this, she was told that the whole thing had been a “misunderstanding.”
Sparks is worried because overwhelmingly, her clients don’t want to wear masks, and they don’t want sex workers to wear masks. Joanne Csete, an associate professor of population and family health at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center agrees that sex workers are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and more should be done to protect them. Even the Washington State Health Department’s own guidance about vaccine prioritization declares that “sex workers are at risk when seeing clients, which disproportionately impacts queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and other people of color”. However, this feedback does not reflect who is eligible for the vaccine in any specific phase according to the department.
I think that the worst thing was that 28 hours of hope. I was bold enough to believe and that hurt. That really cracked me open pretty wide – Solana Sparks
Sex workers have been particularly affected by the global pandemic – many were unable to get financial support from the government. Also, many sex workers’ regulars have vanished, forcing them to see new people, which potentially exposes them to the virus. In addition, after Sparks tweeted about the vaccine, she received a lot of online harassment. She will now screen new clients more seriously in fear that they may be someone who has a grudge. Still, she is determined to get the government to recognize that sex workers have legitimate public health concerns and that their work should be decriminalized. Recently, she spoke with health department officials to push for her vision.
The systems that operate in our society have roots in white supremacy and patriarchy, and I never expect them to let me in..I think the best that we can do, the best my ancestors could do, the best that my community of sex workers can do, is try to get the most information we can and try to keep ourselves safe – Solana Sparks
Model Munroe Bergdorf poses for a photo in this undated handout photo courtesy of Luke Nugent via Thomson Reuters Foundation
Munroe Bergdorf is a Black trans model who is calling out social media companies to act faster to tackle racism and transphobia on their platforms. She regularly receives threats and has to wait hours for racist comments to be deleted.
If you're only investing in cis white men, or cis white people, to write the algorithms then there's a huge oversight there when it comes to lived experience and the nuance of hate speech – Munroe Bergdorf
Bergdorf tweeted recently that she would be speaking at an International Women's Day event in March. She was met with dozens of transphobic comments saying that she should not be a speaker because she is not a woman. She then announced that she would be deleting her account:
In 2017, Bergdorf was chosen as the first trans model for the cosmetics brand L'Oreal’s advertising campaign celebrating diversity. However, she was sacked for saying on Facebook that all white people were racist – which she later said was a reaction to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. In 2020, L'Oreal offered her a new job helping to shape the firm's diversity policies, amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, which she will soon be starting. Bergdorf does not want to hold grudges and believes in working together when possible.
Bergdorf will not let large companies or social media commenters silence her or get away with racism, transphobia and misogyny – a triple burden she should not have to face regularly. It is inspiring that she is disrupting a space that has been dominated by whiteness and cisnormativity for far too long.
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.