Global Roundup: Protests as Turkey Withdraws from Istanbul Convention, Puerto Rican Feminist for Change, Cycling Himalayas to End GBV, Care for Pregnant Asylum Seekers, Qwitter for LGBTQ2+ Nigerians

Compiled by Inaara Merani

A rally to mark International Women’s day in Istanbul where protesters demanded government commitment to the European accord on violence against women via CNN

Two weeks ago, on International Women’s Day, Turkish women protested against the widespread gender based-violence in the nation, demanding strong measures to combat this violence (see Global Roundup). Just a few days ago, following these mass protests, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his country from an international treaty to protect women through a presidential decree issued in the early hours of Saturday. The 2011 Istanbul Convention is the world’s first legally-binding treaty preventing violence against women, and ending legal immunity for perpetrators.

The public debate around the convention peaked in August when religious and conservative groups began an intense lobbying effort against the convention, lambasting it for degrading family values and advocating for the LGBTQ community.

Erdogan’s decision was utterly shocking, and was met with the wrath of thousands of peaceful protesters over the weekend. 

Since the announcement, women across Turkey have been participating in protests. Some took to the streets to chant and march, others banged pots and pans outside their windows at 9:00pm yesterday, in protest of the midnight decree of the withdrawal. Protesters also waved purple flags and held up portraits of some of the many murdered women in Turkey. 

It is obvious this withdrawal will empower murderers, abusers and rapists of women - coalition of women's groups

The withdrawal of Turkey from this convention will set the nation back in its efforts to combat gender inequality, and there is no telling what is to come. In 2020, around 409 women were killed in Turkey; since the beginning of this year, 77 women have been killed. In the 24 hours after the government announced its withdrawal from the Convention, five women were found murdered by their current or former spouses, and one woman was found dead without a suspect.

These numbers are not only extremely disheartening, they are also unacceptable. How much longer must women live in fear? How long must we continue ‘controlling’ our behaviour, when is it men’s behaviour that must be controlled? 

Women will never stop fighting for our rights, no matter how many entitled men try to bring us down. Together, we must stand in solidarity against the injustices committed against women around the world and smash the patriarchy to the fucking ground. 

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Alexandra-Marie Figueroa Miranda via Ms Magazine

Alexandra-Marie Figueroa is a Puerto Rican feminist who is making noise, advocating for the rights of those around her. She is also the co-creator of La Clara, a social media account which advocates for human rights and social justice, and also simplifies politics for young voters. Last year, the account launched a campaign which educated people on electoral participation and voter registration. 

Last year, Figueroa joined feminist organizations to fight for justice for the many women who were murdered in Puerto Rico last year. She was thoroughly involved in advocating for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in 2019, and also volunteered to help count ballots during last year's election. In addition to her activism, Figueroa also works full-time as the communications director for Taller Salud, a non-profit women’s health organization in Puerto Rico, and she is also currently studying law.

Recently, she was included in an exhibition at the Contemporary Museum of Art in Santurce, organized by Coordinadora Paz para La Mujer, a local organization fighting gender violence. This exhibition highlighted the faces of women who work tirelessly for the women in their communities. It is clear that smashing the patriarchy is always on her mind, as she dedicates her personal and professional time to fighting for this cause. 

She never stops working, which sometimes worries me...She’ll call me all worn out and I’ve told her to take vacations but the work she does doesn’t take vacations. Domestic violence doesn’t take vacations. Violence against women doesn’t take vacations. And she doesn’t either - Diego Sánchez Nieves, Figueroa’s longtime friend 

Figueroa is always working behind the scenes, and is constantly involving herself in projects and activities which fuel her passion to support women’s rights in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. As Puerto Rico’s political landscape begins to change, more room is being paved for a feminist future; a future which Alexandra-Marie Figueroa is helping to lead. 

Alexandra-Marie Figueroa’s Twitter post for IWD

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Image from @sabita_cyclist on Instagram. 

Sabita Mahato and Shruti Rawat are cycling through the Himalayas in order to raise awareness about gender-based violence, as well as the violent exploitation of natural resources by the capitalist patriarchy. The two young women are supported by One Billion Rising South Asia, as well as Young Sangat, a youth-led network of advocates for diversity and equality. 

The Himalayas are one of the world’s most sensitive regions to climate change, as resources are continuously exploited while the mountains melt, affecting food, water and animals. Along their ride, Mahato and Rawat have met locals in different communities, and speak out against gender-based violence, as well as the importance of sustainable living. During the initial lockdown last year, the world began to understand how sustainable methods of living could be practiced everyday, not just during a pandemic. Mahato and Rawat are trying to demonstrate that our everyday practices can be sustainable, coinciding with this year’s One Billion Rising campaign, Rising Gardens, calling on individuals to heal their communities through growth, both physically and internally. 

When we share about One Billion Rising, people want to know more. Being a girl, my safety is important for me. If we are safe on cycle, if we can claim our own space on the roads, nothing can stop us from achieving our dreams - Sabita Mahato 

The turning point in Mahato’s life was seeing her sister get married off, even though she was an accomplished volleyball player. Mahato is an athlete herself; she is a national volleyball player, a mountaineer, and an endurance bike rider. She has a strong belief that women can do anything and everything and has demonstrated to her younger sisters that they are capable of achieving their dreams. 

Mahato and Rawat are now more than halfway into their journey, and are set to complete the first female trans-Himalayan expedition. They are advocating to end gender-based violence and promote sustainable methods of living, but they have ultimately demonstrated that women can do anything. 

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Shelter volunteer Marta Leticia Galarza Gandara, right, helps Isa find shoes for her baby daughter in a box of donations. Isa is an asylum seeker from Honduras, and has been waiting at the border under MPP since September 2019. Meridith Kohut for TIME

Every day, many Latin American women make the dangerous trek across the infamous migrant trail with the ultimate goal of seeking refuge in the US. These journeys are not always safe. Women are the most vulnerable demographic of migrants, especially those who are pregnant and/or travelling with children. 

Hotel Filtro, or Filter Hotel, is a shelter located in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico which is known for its reputation supporting migrants on their journeys. Throughout the pandemic, this shelter has been operating as a ‘filter hotel’ where migrants looking to cross the US border can quarantine for 14 days. Not only is the hotel preventing the spread of infection, it is also actively protecting many women from sexual and/or physical abuse along their route. It was at Hotel Filtro where Xiomara, a migrant from El Salvador, was examined and treated by advocate Leticia Chavarría, for the first time in her pregnancy, at no cost. 

In 2019, the Trump administration implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which requires those seeking asylum to essentially ‘wait in line in Mexico’ until they can make an initial claim. An estimated 71,000 people have been waiting in Mexico, for their asylum claims to be settled, since the policy began 2 years ago. As of January 2021, there are more than 29,000 people with active MPP cases.

Research has shown that a large number of women arrived at the US-Mexico border over the last two years, suggesting that there were probably thousands of women who were pregnant or who since became pregnant, due to the prolonged wait. Migrants have access to Mexico’s healthcare system, but many may not have the knowledge or documents necessary, and some face discrimination because of their immigrant status.

In June, immigration lawyer Taylor Levy, along with a midwife and several other community organizers in Juárez, founded Las Zadas. Las Zadas is the only program of its kind which provides free healthcare, legal advice, products for babies, and pre- and post-natal care such as vitamins, sanitary pads and breast pumps. Some women live together at San Juan Apostol, a shelter in Juárez for migrant women, while receiving treatment in order to support one another. 

Over the course of the pandemic, immigration courts temporarily shut down, resulting in increased wait times for those under MPP. Without access to the internet or social media, many migrants were unaware of these closures and showed up to court only to find out their case had been cancelled. Starting at 4:00am, Levy would stand at the Juárez side of the Paso del Norte international bridge, connecting Juarez to El Paso, Texas, to inform asylum seekers of the news.

There were a lot of women coming who were visibly pregnant, just devastated by the fact that the courts had been canceled…It was during those cold dark mornings, where I started thinking about creating this project - Taylor Levy 

At the beginning of Las Zadas, Levy would provide free legal advice, while midwife Anna White would provide free prenatal care. The nonprofit organization Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA) has funded the bulk of Las Zadas’ expenses. Since its conception, Las Zadas has supported around 120 women, and has helped safely deliver about 68 babies. 

The Biden Administration recently began processing asylum seekers into the US. Advocates are closely monitoring his administration and have vowed to hold it accountable.

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Credit: Getty Images; Brian Wong/Xtra

Queer Twitter is often referred to as ‘Qwitter’ by the Nigerian LGBTQ2+ community. It is on Qwitter where members of the community feel free and open, without the constraints of societal norms pushing down on them. Qwitter is not just a social media platform, it is a community. On Qwitter, users are anonymous and are protected, something that is not always afforded to them in their daily lives. The shared experiences and stories of members of the LGBTQ2+ community have brought individuals closer, supporting one other from behind their screens. 

Seeing people live their truth in a public space inspired me to accept myself regardless of what other people thought. Even though I could not wave a Pride flag in real life, Twitter was a space where I could tell the whole world I was queer while remaining safe from bigots and the queerphobic laws of my country - January Ikeoluwa 

In 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill was passed in Nigeria, targeting the LGBTQ2+ community and giving authorities and civilians permission to harass members of the community. Many have been beaten, raped, forced into heterosexual marriages, disowned by their families, and killed. 

When the #EndSARS protests gained traction last year, activists raised awareness about the maltreatment of the queer community and police brutality, yet the LGBTQ2+ community was silenced by cis hetero people. 

When we held placards proclaiming “queer lives matter” and waved the Pride flag, we were told to sit down and wait our turn. Violently homophobic people were placed at the forefront of the protest, and it felt like we were really alone in this fight - January Ikeoluwa 

It is moments like those which is why Qwitter is so important and is such an important space for the Nigerian LGBTQ2+ community. It is a constant reminder that queer Nigerians are living and thriving, they are speaking their truths, they can be both invisible and visible, and most importantly, it is a platform where members of the community can come together to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. Qwitter is also a space to unlearn internalized queerphobia and form meaningful relations.

For many, Qwitter has been a constant source of support and safety for many queer Nigerians who do not feel comfortable, nor safe, expressing themselves in public. It has created a community of individuals who have become a family. 

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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. 

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