Global Roundup: Pakistan Queer & Trans Flood Victims, Tanzania Woman Environmental Expert, Madagascar Garment Workers vs GBV, LGBTQ Afghan Project, Vaginal Cleansers & Racist Marketing
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Credit: Getty Images; Elham Numan/Xtra Via Xtra
Hafsa Arain, a PhD candidate in anthropology at Boston University studying queer and trans communities in Karachi, started a GoFundMe for queer and trans flood victims in Pakistan to fill the gap left by mainstream non-profits. The floods that started late last summer in the country killed over 1,700 people and left millions homeless, hitting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan the hardest.
During the floods, Arain was keeping in touch with their friends and the queer networks they had built through their time in Pakistan, and they expressed a specific concern for queer and trans people living in rural areas.
The money raised is mostly intended to help people with food rations, clothing and shelter, although recipients receive a direct cash transfer that they can use as they see fit. More than a hundred people have received donations so far, which are distributed via ACTCEPT, a Pakistani trans rights organization. Arain’s original involvement with fundraising efforts was going to be focused on providing immediate aid to queer and trans flood victims, but they soon realized they could reach a much larger number of people.
Several mainstream non-profits have also been reluctant to provide aid to queer and trans locals, Arain notes. Many queer and trans people in Pakistan work in stigmatized and precarious professions, like sex work and alms collection (receiving charity), which is also one of the reasons they have been disproportionately affected by the flooding.
A lot of this probably has to do with a kind of middle-class morality that comes into play in terms of how these NGOs operate, who they’re held accountable to, who gives them money and what those donors expect the money to be used for. -Hafsa Arain
Arain also discusses how trans women often live in collective houses, thus even one being destroyed displaces many people. There are a lot of resources that might have existed collectively, that are really difficult for individuals to get on their own. Trans women are also often excluded from women-only shelters in Pakistan. Saving the trans homes has been a priority for the fundraiser.
Now that the GoFundMe has surpassed its initial goal, the fundraiser organizers are hoping their work can be developed into a longer-term project, using the connections they have built through this campaign to create sustainable solutions to the issues queer and trans people face from climate disasters.
A farmer harvests sorghum as part of a WFP-backed climate-smart agriculture project in Ibwaga village in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. Photo: WFP/Imani Nsamila via WFP
Jacqueline Tesha, a Tanzanian environmental and climate expert is working to find solutions for a continent on the frontlines of the climate crisis – by helping rural women in her homeland access vital weather and climate information. Over the coming year, Tesha is also taking on a new role; working to develop climate tools at the World Food Programme’s headquarters in Rome (as part of a multi-year, Norwegian-funded programme, aimed to get more female scientists into the world of climate action).
The climate crisis is devastating communities across Africa, and women and girls are being left behind. We must halt the crisis and help people adapt. -Jacqueline Tesha
Despite the continent of Africa contributing just 4% of the world’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions, it is facing the brunt of the consequences of climate change. Already it is seeing shrivelled harvests, extreme weather events, mass migration and rising poverty and hunger – all byproducts of a changing climate that risk only getting worse.
Working in Tanzania’s climate services over the past eight years, Tesha has worked with organizations that gather climate and weather information, such as rainfall and temperature. They also train communities on how to interpret and use the information to better anticipate and prepare. However, she realized that the information is not always relevant, or not reaching the target audiences in a timely manner, and sometimes people do not understand the information. She is working to change that by distributing information via a website, television, radio or text and in local languages. Reaching women in rural communities is especially challenging:
Many families only have one mobile phone or radio, and the man takes it with him wherever he goes, meaning women don’t receive vital warnings. -Jacqueline Tesha
Many rural women are usually not part of community decision-making. And yet they are key players when disasters hit. Men often migrate in search of work when that happens – leaving women, already juggling children and household chores, in charge of the farming as well.
Over the coming year, Tesha will support WFP efforts to develop and integrate climate services tools into programmes to better anticipate and mitigate disasters. Already, she is breaking norms in her own family, where members have pursued more traditional careers in medicine and law.
We all know that climate change impacts women more than men, so having more female experts is very important. -Jacqueline Tesha
Via IndustriALL Global Union
Inspired by training on the International Labour Organization Convention 190 to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work facilitated by IndustriALL Global Union, the workers in Madagascar’s textile and garment industries are devising ways to deal with gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in their factories.
For example, workers at Marine et Moi formed a committee to fight GBVH at their factory in Antananarivo. They held a training workshop attended by 30 participants, which focused on sexual harassment and how to reduce the risk factors. The committee met and discussed an action plan. Participants said they were engaging their enterprise committees on GBVH and carrying out awareness campaigns to sensitize workers on fundamental rights at work. GBVH is also included in union recruitment and organizing activities. The workers also identified social dialogue as another platform that is useful to the campaign.
The workers identified gender discrimination as stressful to women workers in the factories and made a commitment to confront it through their union activities and campaigns. The workers also said decent wages are key to addressing GBVH as low wages and precarious working conditions increase vulnerability of women.
Unions must continue to campaign for social dialogue on GBVH and educate members on the issue. -Remi Botoudi, the chairperson of the national council for IndustriALL affiliates in Madagascar
In the many testimonies that were shared in the workshop, the workers said GBVH took many forms from demanding sex to extortion. Financial forms, especially bribes for women to keep their jobs, deprived the workers of their hard-earned wages. In some instances, women paid monthly bribes of up to 20% of their wages. At the factories, some women workers said they shared toilets with men, which violated their privacy. Further, some changing rooms used by both male and female workers were in open spaces next to offices and had no privacy.
Harmful cultural practices that discriminated against women, domestic violence, and a justice system that did not give stiffer sentences to perpetrators, increased the risk to GBVH. There were deeper discussions on what is sexual harassment and its different forms in the world of work. Discussions included social practices that privileged men while oppressing women.
As trade unions, we must break the cycle of GBVH because it happens on a continuum and is caused by unequal power relations between men and women. Gender inequality is worsened by patriarchy, harmful social and cultural norms, and discrimination. We must address these root causes, carry out risk management, and stop the abuse of power. Additionally, we must find ways to deal with reprisals that women face when they resist GBVH that include dismissals and other forms of harassment. -Armelle Seby, IndustriALL director for gender
A new project launched by LGBTQ rights activists based in Lebanon and Paris offers emotional support services to members of the LGBTQ community — initially to refugees from Afghanistan and later to LGBTQ people throughout the North Africa and Western Asian region.
The project is named Nour Sarah (Light of Sarah) in honor of Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian LGBTQ rights activist who unfurled a rainbow flag at a rock concert in Cairo in 2017. She was arrested, imprisoned, tortured until she fled to safety in Canada, where she sought asylum in 2018. But the stigma and psychological pressures that she experienced led to her suicide in Toronto in 2020.
The Nour Sarah project says they aim to provide “LGBTQIA+ people living in the North Africa and West Asia (NAWA) region or those of NAWA region descent with the necessary tools and resources to support their mental health and well-being, using a trauma-informed and culturally/linguistically-appropriate approach.”
These tools and resources are offered free of charge, in Arabic, Persian, Pashto and Kurdish, and will be available online where they can be accessed securely.
Due to the current situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, Phase I of this initiative will focus on LGBTQIA+ individuals currently located in Afghanistan or Afghan LGBTQIA+ individuals who recently relocated to neighboring countries or to Western countries. Pashto and Persian (Dari), the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan are prioritized in this phase, ending by January 2023. Next phases will expand to other countries in the NAWA region and will include other languages.
via The Guardian
Curtis discusses how much has already been said about the health risks that come with douching, but a growing body of research has also begun to examine the effects of vaginal wipes and washes – which, unlike douching, are designed to cleanse the exterior vulva, rather than inside the vagina itself.
Beatrice Dixon, a Black woman and founder of Honey Pot, has talked openly about using natural ingredients to treat her case of bacterial vaginosis, inspiring her to bring plant-based hygiene products to the masses. The Honey Pot’s branding is laden with diverse images of Black, trans and queer folks happily using their vaginal washes and wipes. They make it clear that they are not advocating for douching, but rather “cleansing” as part of vaginal wellness.
I never thought I needed to use such products, but the Honey Pot’s marketing made them seem additive to my self-care, not harmful. I struggled to reconcile messages from my own online research and guidance from my OB-GYN, who advised against the use of vaginal cleansers, as I surveyed this new wave of products seemingly designed for people just like me. I thought, if vaginal wipes, powders and cleansers are really that bad, why aren’t more people – especially the women in my life – talking about it? -Paige Curtis
Social taboos around talking about vaginal health are often to blame.
Vaginal cleansers and the associated risks have gotten such little attention over the years, and it has a lot to do with social taboos around talking about vaginal health. - Alex Scranton, director of science and research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, an environmental organization.
This taboo may well be a global phenomenon; a 2006 study of women from 13 countries found that less than half were comfortable talking with healthcare providers about vaginal health issues.
But these taboos may carry even more weight and more risk for Black women.In the US, about one in five women aged 15 to 44 douche. One study from 2015 found that a higher rate of Black women – nearly 40% – reported douching, compared with white and Mexican American women. The same study found Black women had 48% higher levels of a metabolite of diethyl phthalate – a toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemical used to extend the life of fragrances in products – in their urine, compared with white women.
Curtis says it is the legacy of racist advertising that causes Black women to still use vaginal cleansers at higher rates than other groups.
Black women are overexposed and underprotected, when it comes to environmental health risks. In focus groups, we’ve learned that Black women are socialized to believe we need to smell better, by using highly fragranced products – odor discrimination is definitely at play. -Astrid Williams, from Black Women for Wellness
Curtis mentions how the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act – which regulates menstrual products as “medical devices” but unmedicated vaginal products as “cosmetics” – has not been substantially updated since 1938. She also believes it is important to have conversations with family and friends about the personal care products they use.
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.