Global Roundup: Pakistan Outrage vs PM Rape Comments, Indian Women Demand Rationing Transparency, Ghana LBGTQ Community Refuses to be Silenced, Afghan Climate Activist, Victory for Georgia Trans Woman

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Activists of the 'Aurat March' shout slogans and carry placards during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Islamabad on March 8, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AFP

tw: rape, sexual violence

Pakistan rights campaigners have accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of “baffling ignorance” after he blamed how women dress for a rise in rape cases. In a weekend interview on live television, Khan said an increase in rapes indicated the “consequences in any society where vulgarity is on the rise” and advised women to cover up to prevent temptation.

The prime minister said that sexual violence was a result of "increasing obscenity", adding it was a product of India, the West and Hollywood movies and said women in Pakistan should remove "temptation" because "not everyone has willpower". He said women should observe purdah - a term referring to women wearing modest clothes around men or segregation between sexes.

Hundreds have signed a statement circulating online on Wednesday calling Khan’s comments “factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous” and emphasising that “Fault rests solely with the rapist and the system that enables the rapist, including a culture fostered by statements such as those made by [Khan].”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights watchdog, said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by the comments.

Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honour crimes - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Nationwide protests erupted last year when a police chief admonished a gang-rape victim for driving at night without a male companion. The Franco-Pakistani mother was assaulted in front of her children on the side of a motorway after her car ran out of fuel.

Last year, Khan was also criticised after another television appearance where he failed to challenge a Muslim cleric’s insistence that coronavirus had been unleashed because of the wrongdoings of women.

The latest controversy comes as the organisers behind International Women’s Day marches battle what they have called a coordinated disinformation campaign against them, including doctored images and videos circulated online.

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Source: Feminism in India

Uttar Pradesh, India has one of the highest malnutrition levels in the country. In September 2020, the government employed 68,000 self-help women groups to help locally source and distribute food in regions with high rates of malnutrition. This initiative was enticing, because not only were thousands of beneficiaries receiving rations of food to defeat malnutrition, but thousands of women were provided with employment.  

By involving self-help group members, ASHA, and Anganwadi workers, we can ensure that the right beneficiaries are able to avail the scheme along with correct information about breastfeeding and other practices to beat malnutrition - Krishna Kumar, Public Health Expert

Although thousands of self-help women groups were recruited as the liaisons between the government and beneficiaries, their duties have drastically changed. When this scheme first began, the self-help women groups were able to equitably distribute the rations to eligible beneficiaries in their regions. However, soon after, they were told that they had no role in this scheme. They were told to sign the receiving invoice, regardless of whether the rations had been received. When these women asked why some beneficiaries were receiving multiple rations, whereas others were not receiving any, supervisors threatened to send them to jail. 

Last month, around 350 women arranged for tractors to take them to the District Collectorate office, 15 kilometers away, to speak with the District Magistrate about the inconsistency of the rationing scheme. They demanded transparency and fairness. The Chief Development Officer agreed that there needed to be greater transparency in this scheme, however regional project officers have denied this lack of transparency, stating that every beneficiary receives equal rations. 

It is uncertain whether or not these claims will be recognized, however these women will continue to demand equality and transparency so that every beneficiary receives an equal ration, in order to ultimately combat malnutrition. 

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Throughout the month of February, the LGBTQ2+ community in Ghana was subject to unlawful raids, the closure of a resource space, as well as ongoing and widespread discrimination at the hands of the government and society. The community refuses to be silenced. 

On Twitter, the hashtag #GhanaGetsBetter has been trending to raise awareness of what the LGBTQ2+ community in Ghana has been experiencing. Supporters have been encouraged to change their display pictures to the colour red to show solidarity with the community. In a Twitter thread, LGBT+ Rights Ghana highlighted the many events and instances of violence that the community has faced, citing the need for awareness and change. Many have also joined in on the hashtag, sharing their own experiences of discrimination because of their gender and/or sexual orientation. 

In February, President Nana Akufo-Addo stated that same-sex marriage would never be legal under his presidency. Last month, Adwoa Safo was also appointed as the minister of gender, children and social protection, even though she believes that homosexuality should be criminalized. LGBT+ Rights Ghana brought the violence such homophobia from politicians can provoke into sharp focus.

It spotlighted a queer person “assaulted by a soldier simply because he couldn’t tell whether I’m a boy or a girl” in Teshie, a southeastern coastal town, on 1 March.

While this attempt to suppress the LGBTQ2+ community has been successful in the government’s eyes, the community will not stop fighting. Despite the violence, threats, discrimination and othering that the Ghanaian LGBTQ2+ community endures, they will not back down and they will not stop fighting for their rights. 

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-DECEMBER 17: Afghan internally displaced children pose for a photograph outside a temporary shelter at an Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp on the outskirt of Kabul, Afghanistan on December 17, 2020. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Zohra Sansa spent 9 years in Iran as a refugee, and later returned to Kabul, Afghanistan where she witnessed the catastrophic effects that climate change had on internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. For around 40 years, glaciers in the Hindu Kush mountain range have been melting, causing thousands of deaths. On the one hand, torrents sweep away farms, either killing people or leaving them homeless; on the other hand, years of severe droughts have destroyed crops and starved animals. 

After spending time in an IDP camp, Sansa discovered that the majority of the people in these camps have been displaced by climate-related catastrophes. Only a small number of people are in these camps because of conflict within the nation. In the city, many families are forced to burn plastic and other toxic materials in order to stay warm - this contributes to the smoggy air quality which has already been polluted from years of car exhaust fumes. Witnessing the cycle of homelessness, food insecurity, and mass migration - as a direct result of global warming - inspired Sansa to become involved in the cause. 

Sansa joined the environmental organization Oxygen Afghanistan, which enables young people to volunteer to teach others about the catastrophic impacts of climate change around the world. While the work this organization does is inspiring, members of the group, often women, are targeted for their outspokenness and public demonstrations. The women who are attacked are often attacked by extremists who think women should remain silent, veiled by the burqa.

Many members of Oxygen have been attacked, and some killed, but this has not stopped them from advocating for measures to prevent climate change. Oxygen has empowered many young people, like Sansa, to find potential solutions to environmental problems, and to educate the wider public about these problems. The organization recently launched two successful campaigns in which plants were distributed to re-oxygenate Kabul’s air. 

I love my work with Oxygen, and when I graduate from university my dream is to work to protect the environment. Every single person should take responsibility for their own actions = Zohra Sansa

Rather than pursuing a degree in medicine, Sansa hopes to obtain her degree at Kabul University to study environmental science. She is just one example of young women propelling change around the world. 

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A protest outside the Justice House on 8 March 2018 to demand accessible legal gender recognition for transgender people. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media. 

For the first time in the country’s history, a transgender woman’s gender in Georgia has officially been recognized. After undergoing gender affirming surgery, she was able to change all her official documentation, including her birth certificate.

After serving eight years as the justice minister, Tea Tsulukiani stepped down, which many claim paved the way for this victory. In 2018, Tsulukiani claimed that NGOs were “pressuring” her to “register a person with a man’s [sex] organs as a woman”. Following these comments, civil society organizations called for her resignation, stating that it was the responsibility of the justice minister to raise awareness and increase sensitivity about the LGBTQ2+ community. 

Georgian women’s rights group WISG noted that despite the case, Georgia still lacked proper legislation, as trans people who did not need sex reassignment surgery or other invasive medical procedures were still barred from having their gender recognised. In 2017, two transgender men filed a suit against Georgia at the European Court of Human Rights after they were denied a change in gender status unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery. This case is still pending. 

For years, women’s rights and queer activist groups have frequently shed light on the issue of legal gender recognition. In Georgia, the LGBTQ2+ community is among the most vulnerable. Many trans people were hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, and continue to face obstacles when attempting to find employment. This movement is ongoing, and will require the support and momentum of many. 

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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.