Global Roundup: Peruvian Women Wigmakers, Afghan Women Learn Judo Over WhatsApp, First Queer Tamil Collective Outside Sri Lanka, Assam Women Fish Workers vs Climate Change, Women-Only Cab Service
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Kiara Kulisic, left; Maritza Baca Espinoza and her baby in the foreground, with other wig-making women and their children. The Guardian.
Seven women craft hairpieces in a workshop in Ollantaytambo, near the Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. In a region with few opportunities for women, the company Chiqa is providing women with a decent wage to be able to support themselves and their families.
After developing the autoimmune disorder alopecia, Kiara Kulisic was inspired to create ethical wigs for herself, and other women in Ollantaytambo, Peru. This wig-making business has created job opportunities for women in the region who have struggled to find jobs over the years. After discovering her alopecia, Kulisic immediately began researching options for wigs when she came across a number of human rights abuses connected to the unregulated wig industry in Asia. Some reports state that women have been forced or tricked into selling their hair. She also read statistics about the abuse of women in Peru, where seven out of ten women will experience violence from a family member. In Peru, many Andean women experience sexism and severe oppression for speaking Quechua, the indigenous language.
There’s a classist separation between white and brown people, poverty, and a macho culture. All this stops them from getting the same opportunities as other women in my country. – Kiara Kulisic
Although she was disheartened by the research, Kulisic was still empowered to seek out women who would be interested in her project. The region has a tradition of weaving, and Kulisic teamed up with a few women and a welfare organization in the highlands to establish Chiqa.
After taking a wig-making course in the US, Kulisic began to strengthen her skills. To train the women creating wigs, she brought in consultant Gretchen Evans, who creates customized hairpieces for the film industry. As the women have been perfecting their skills, Kulisic has started to take orders from friends and family. All the hair is sourced locally, and each order takes around a month. Additionally, each order is customized to the exact shape of the customer and each hair is sewn on individually. Kulisic plans to launch the official website this month.
To learn something that I love doing, something that requires patience … it’s like doing therapy. You forget all your problems when you concentrate on something that has value and that can help the lives of other people. I want those who need toppers to wear them and get use out of them. I want children and others who suffer from cancer to feel proud of themselves, happy and not alone. – Kiara Kulisic
Khalili in Uzbekistan after she fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover [Courtesy of Qudsia Khalili]. Al Jazeera.
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, Afghan women’s rights were stripped away. One of the many groups that was forced to disband was the Afghanistan women’s national judo team.
Qudsia Khalili, a former competitor for Afghanistan’s national judo team, was one of the many women forced to flee after she caught the Taliban’s attention as a public face for the women’s judo team. Six armed men were sent to her house just a few days after the Taliban took control. Her father was able to convince them to leave, and she left for the airport immediately after.
Khalili ended up in Uzbekistan, alongside her former coach, Farhad Hazrati. With the help of the Norwegian Judo Federation, they travelled together from Uzbekistan to Turkey, and finally to Norway. Currently, Khalili competes on the Norwegian women’s national judo team.
As many of the women are still in Afghanistan, Hazrati and Khalili host training sessions via WhatsApp video call. Although they cannot be in Kabul physically, they are helping their teammates learn and stay on top of their skills remotely.
Different girls who train like this have different motivations. Some train to improve their mental health, others to form friendships with other women…Every day, the Taliban restrict more and more for women. It makes it very hard to achieve our goals. I think all Afghan women feel it is very hard. Many cried the first time they were not allowed into their school. It was a hard day for them. It is hard to live with no future…Every time there is a training, I feel there is some hope. – Judo Competitor
Abhirami Balachandran, coordinator of the Queer Tamil Collective exhibition, stands in the Kennedy Gallery at Scarborough Museum, one of the museum buildings where queer Tamil art from Toronto and around the world is being shown until Jan. 31, 2024. - Dan Pearce/Metroland. Toronto.com.
The first exhibition that features queer and Tamil artists outside of Sri Lanka is on display until January 2024 at the Kennedy Gallery at Scarborough Museum, in Toronto, Canada. Created by the Queer Tamil Collective, this exhibition showcases excellence in queer Tamil visual art in Scarborough, where most of the Tamil population in the Greater Toronto area reside.
The Queer Tamil Collective is a non-profit organization in Toronto that provides support, empowerment, and advocacy for queer Tamil artists. For decades, the Tamil community has been at the forefront of advocacy and activism within Canadian arts and culture. The collective emphasizes its intersectional makeup and addresses the violence that queer Tamil people continue to endure.
In addition to showcasing the extraordinary artwork of queer Tamil artists, this exhibition also explores the intergenerational trauma experienced by Tamil people. In July 1983, a killing spree of Tamil people began, which set off a wave of Tamil migration to Canada; this is known as Black July. This pogrom established the largest Tamil diaspora, outside of South Asia, in Canada.
Many Tamil families have been displaced and separated from their families over the years due to the horrors of Black July. This multi-layered exhibition is meant to continue a dialogue where queer Tamil people can feel seen and can express themselves freely.
As queer and trans Tamil people are often left behind in conversations of reflection and remembrance, artists from across the world featured in the ஊர் exhibition use their practice to speak on displacement and bring to light the queer stories of immeasurable grief and strengthened resilience that continues to live within us today. – The Queer Tamil Collective
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Source: Mongabay/Feminism in India
With an abundant amount of water resources, Assam, India is an ideal location for a flourishing aquaculture sector. Fish farming is a significant economic activity and a vital source of livelihood for many rural communities in the region. However, the sustainability of Assam’s aquaculture sector is facing challenges due to the adverse effects of climate change. Erratic rainfall patterns have disrupted seasonal production, which affects the productivity and livelihood of individuals who are dependent on fish farming.
The current fish farming practices in Assam also overly rely on harsh chemicals, such as antibiotics; fertilizers; and pesticides in order to meet commercial demand. Excessive use of these chemicals has led to several environmental and health issues. For example, antibiotics promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the pesticides used enter bodies of water, which contribute to water pollution and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.
This industry has left little room for women to contribute, leaving them with limited access to ownership and decision-making roles. ICCo, a development organization in the Morigaon district of Assam, recognized the need for structural inclusion and empowerment of women in aquaculture and has begun to support women fish farmers.
Despite the declining rates of fish farming in Assam, ICCo gathered women fish farmers together to create the cooperative society, Champavati Meen Palan Samabai Samiti. Established in 2020, the collective has a total of 2000 women fish farmers today. The cooperative society has empowered women to embark on their careers in commercial fish farming. The women have gained access to resources, training, and support, which have contributed to their success as fish farmers.
Women encounter sexism daily, as many conservative members of society do not believe that women should work or be in charge of their own finances. Many of the fish-farming women are also of a lower caste; the intersectionality of their identities makes this job even more daunting as they experience systemic racism and sexism. Champavati Meen Palan Samabai Samiti challenges the gender norms in Assam and exemplifies how gender-inclusive approaches can combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable practices.
In addition to bolstering women’s safety, all-women cab services such as Taxshe offer employment opportunities for marginalized women. (Photo courtesy of Taxshe/Women’s Media Centre)
Women in India constantly fear for their safety, especially at night when they travel alone. A 2013 survey found that 94 percent of women worry about their safety when travelling alone. In 2018, the Thompson Reuters Foundation ranked India at the top of the most dangerous countries for women in the world.
Recognizing the precarity of women’s safety throughout India, the government and stakeholders established women-only cab services as a way to improve the safety and comfort of women travelling alone and empower women drivers at the same time. A Some of the companies include Sakha Cabs, Taxshe, She Taxi, SheCab Dehradun, Go Pink Cabs, Priyadarshini Taxi, and Dovely.
I think it’s important for women to have these services because we may need to travel late due to work or emergencies. This also gives agency and employment to women drivers, which I like. – Shweta Sharan, writer and educationist
Many of the women drivers that are employed by these taxi services are first-generation professionals in their families. Stigma and misogyny have prevented women from working outside the home or having financial independence. As they carry out their jobs as drivers and their household chores, such as cooking and cleaning, they are still often subject to stigma, violence, and abuse in their homes. Driving has traditionally been seen as a “man’s job”, therefore most women in the workforce rarely think about pursuing a career in driving. Vandana Suri, founder of Taxshe, agreed that it is very challenging to find women who want to take up driving professionally.
The demand for these all-women cab companies has grown over the years, however as many of the companies are still quite small in scale, bookings typically take place over the phone, on WhatsApp, or by filling out an online form on a website. It is estimated that there are around 200 to 250 professional women drivers in India.
We’re training women to drive and are relaunching post-COVID. It is very difficult to break the stereotype that women can also take up driving as a career. The biggest issue is to find women and convince them to drive. As there’s no work-sharing at home, even if a woman is a professional driver, she has to finish all her tasks at home before leaving for work. – Shruti Kaushik, founder of SheCab Dehradun
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.