Global Roundup: Peru Forced Sterilization, Violence Up for Sex Workers in UK since BREXIT, Women for Digital Equality, Miss Universe Contestant Raises Awareness for Myanmar, Black Trans Model Joy

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Women hold signs reading 'We are 2,074 and more, forced sterilisations never again' during a protest against violence against women in Lima, Peru, in 2017 [File: Mariana Bazo/Reuters]

Victims of forced sterilization in Peru may finally receive some justice, but the upcoming Peru presidential election poses a threat. 

From 1990-2000, President Alberto Fujimori ran a family planning program. In its early days, it was funded by the United States and the United Nations. However, allegations soon emerged that healthcare workers were tricking women, particularly Indigenous women and women with limited education, into getting sterilized. There are also claims that doctors were under pressure to meet unrealistic quotas, leading them to cut corners in the procedures. According to Peru’s health ministry, 272,028 women were sterilized, and human rights groups believe tens of thousands of those were forced sterilizations. 

After decades of legal roadblocks, a judge finally heard details of the case against Fujimori and three of his former health ministers earlier this year. The judge will also soon decide whether the case can finally go to trial. However, Fujimori’s 45-year-old daughter, Keiko Fujimori, is running for president and has promised to pardon her father if elected. It is believed she will also shut down new prosecutions of her father, including the sterilization case.

Maria Elena Carbajal, 51, was forcefully sterilized in 1996 within hours of giving birth at the hospital. She fears the possibility of the Fujimori family returning to power. Her unwanted sterilization has led to health problems she suffers from even today such as arthritis, which forced her to retire from her job as a geriatric assistant. 

It’s like a bucket of cold water in the face. After all these years, we were finally getting close to justice. They treated us like animals, like cattle, and now they could be about to get away with it forever. – Maria Elena Carbajal

Forced sterilization is a serious human rights violation and continues to occur in several countries around the world. Of course, the case going to trial will not undo the damage, but for many victims it will be an important step towards healing and justice. It is troubling that these women who could finally be getting some form of justice will be blocked if Keiko Fujimori comes to power. And her role is a reminder that some women with proximity to power prefer to uphold patriarchy, at their own gain and often at the expense of other women.

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SEX WORKERS AND CAMPAIGNERS MARCH ON INTERNATION WOMEN'S DAY 2019. PHOTO BY WIKTOR SZYMANOWICZ/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES.

According to research from the University of Salford and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), sex workers in the UK have faced increased xenophobia, violence, and fears around deportation in the years since the Brexit referendum.

Since the UK has voted to leave the EU, freedom of movement rules no longer apply to EU and UK citizens, so European citizens also face the risk of being detained or deported if they have not applied for settled status. Many sex workers in the UK are non-British nationals, with the majority coming from Eastern European countries.

The report found that 63% of sex workers felt clients’ attitudes to them had worsened since the 2016 referendum and 62% felt the general public’s attitude towards sex work has worsened. Many reported experiencing an increase in violence and 57% observed a rise in the levels of hate crimes that they had experienced since the referendum.

Sex workers hesitate to go to the police in fears of being disbelieved and threatened with deportation.

I have been in the UK since 2015. [During] this time I never heard any girl saying they weren't safe. After Brexit, now, the girls have a WhatsApp group to share information about what's happened. Every day one or two girls say ‘Look, this client is being difficult, [he] wasn't a nice person, tried to force me to do something or didn't want to pay.’ I know people who have worked here for 15 years, and they say the same thing, after Brexit, things changed completely – Tania

Tania, a sex worker working in London with EU citizenship, told VICE that if clients notice a woman is from a European country, they will often challenge the sex worker’s immigration status and try to take advantage. 

This is an important report that sheds light on how hostile immigration policies hit those working in precarious industries the hardest, particularly women and migrants. Sex workers should be able to do their jobs without living in fear of violence. The report is yet another piece of evidence along with what sex workers have been advocating for years that sex work needs to be decriminalized.

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Regina Honu has seen an increase in women signing up for tech school via BBC

In many countries, there is a gender gap in access to technology between men and women. According to the UN, women are less likely to have access to the internet in nearly every region of the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing the need for online access, this disparity has become especially apparent. The BBC interviewed some women who are fighting for digital equality.

The UN agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that 37% of men and 20% of women have access to the internet in the African continent, a divide that appears to be increasing since 2013. Regina Honu is the founder of Soronko Academy, a tech school for women and girls in Ghana.

Before Covid, if we put out an invitation for people to sign up, we would have 100 or 200 women. After Covid, we had more than 2,000 women signing up – Regina Honu

Regina has found solutions that work for simpler phones, as many students lack the tech experience, don’t have high-end smartphones and cannot pay the high data costs. 

Boutheina Guermazi is director of digital development at the World Bank. She is helping women in India get connected through her work for a social-media network run by tech firm Gram Vaani. Women are able to dial into her Mobile Vaani project and receive advice on topics such as maternity. They can also voice record their own contributions to the conversation. The service aims to boost women’s confidence using mobile phones.

Jannat Fazal manages a cyber-harassment phone helpline in Pakistan – it is the first of its kind in South Asia. They saw a 500% increase in calls after the country entered lockdown. Typical complaints included women being bullied or impersonated on social media or being blackmailed when their personal information was shared without their consent. These victims are often blamed for dishonouring their families, so Jannat also offers legal help advice on digital security and psychological assistance for those in distress. 

We need digital literacy and training so that women are more confident using social-media platforms and they're less vulnerable… I think what coronavirus did for the digital agenda was something unprecedented – Jannat Fazal

Given the world we live in today, access to the internet and to technology should be a right for everyone. These women around the world are doing vital work to support women and tackle the gender gap present in access to technology. It is important that governments also do their part in ensuring technology is accessible for everyone, particularly women and girls.

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Thuzar Wint Lwin, Myanmar’s contestant at Miss Universe in Florida, wearing a traditional costume of the Chin ethnic minority in Myanmar. Photograph: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images via The Guardian

Earlier this week, 22-year-old Thuzar Wint Lwin appeared on the Miss Universe pageant stage in Florida wearing the traditional dress of the Chin ethnic minority and unfurled a banner that read: “Pray for Myanmar.” Leading up to the pageant, Lwin was on the streets of Myanmar protesting against the army. She also visited the relatives of those who had been killed, donating her savings. Online, she raised awareness of military violence, despite the risk of retaliation.

She wanted to be a part of the Miss Universe pageant to raise awareness internationally about what is happening in Myanmar. She won the prize for best national costume, for a traditional dress worn by Chin women in north-west Myanmar that is associated with the Khwang Cawi festival, when tributes are paid to courageous and admirable women.

Myanmar deserves democracy, and we will keep fighting and I also hope that the international community will give us the help that we desperately need – Thuzar Wint Lwin

Over recent days, thousands of people in Myanmar’s Chin state have been forced to flee their homes, following escalating fighting between the military and activists opposed to the coup, who have formed the Chinland Defence Force. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 800 people have been killed by the junta and thousands more have been detained including elected politicians, pro-democracy activists and protesters.

The military has been cracking down on activists, influencers and other cultural figures who have criticized the coup. However, young people like Thuzar Wint Lwin are determined to make their voices heard and fight for democracy. 

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Jari Jones poses in a bikini celebrating her 30th birthday via Instagram

Black trans woman model and activist Jari Jones celebrated her 30th birthday earlier this week and used the occasion to share an empowering message to her hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram.

Jones shared several images of herself on a vacation in Honolulu wearing several brightly coloured swimsuits and dresses. In the caption, she shared her happiness at making it to 30 years old, which is unfortunately not easy in a world where transphobia is so prevalent. She also shares empowering words for herself and other trans people. Fans commented words of encouragement and support – many are happy to finally see themselves represented.

Last year, Jones had her first Calvin Klein billboard, which appeared in downtown Manhattan. As a Black trans woman, her work takes on extra meaning for her:

It doesn’t feel like I’m doing this to become famous, or I’m doing this to be well known. I’m doing this for representation, I’m doing this for that young trans kid, young queer people, so they can be like, 'I can do this too.' If that’s something they want to pursue, they have a possibility model, they have a blueprint saying that they have the option to do it. I find a lot of ground in connecting with the people who are going to come after me, or people who are coming up, because that’s what I really want to do. – Jari Jones 

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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.

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