Compiled and written by Samiha Hossain
CW: sexual violence, rape
Thousands of people have demonstrated across Bangladesh demanding justice, accountability, and an end to sexual violence against women and girls. These street protests follow a widely-circulated video on Facebook of a woman from the district of Noakhali being brutally gang raped and beaten. Demonstrators, many of whom are women and young students, called for reforms in the criminal justice system and the resignation of government officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The video has since been removed from Facebook, but it remains in circulation on the internet despite the efforts of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. The survivor has expressed her worries, especially for her daughter, and has said “my life is already ruined”. Like many survivors, she did not feel comfortable going to the police after her assault and was coerced into silence by the rapists.
Between January and September 2020 nearly 1,000 rape cases were reported in Bangladesh, including 208 gang rapes, according to local human rights organization Ain-o-Salish Kendra. Of course, the actual number of rape cases must be much higher, as the majority of survivors do not disclose or report their rape.
How many more women and girls must be raped before they are afforded their full dignity and humanity? The protests have sparked important conversations about misogyny and patriarchy - oppressions that fuel rape culture and sexual violence. Demonstrators have vowed they will not continue to accept the status quo and their protests make clear the urgency of change.
Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]
Pham Doan Trang, a well-known writer and human rights campaigner, has been detained in Vietnam following the end of the annual human rights dialogue with the United States. She was arrested at her home in Ho Chi Minh City on October 6th and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda”, and faces up to 20 years in jail.
Years of government harassment and severe physical attacks have not stopped Trang from writing about LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and democratic activism. She believes in peaceful advocacy and people’s real participation in government.
Vietnam has arrested at least 25 activists and 29 land petitioners this year as the ruling Communist Party prepares for its National Congress in early January. Authorities have increasingly been cracking down on and monitoring political dissidents, social activists, and human rights defenders.
Marie Ulven, better known as popstar Girl In Red. Courtesy of/Handout via Julie Pike / AWAL Recordings via Reuters
Marie Ulven is a 21-year-old Norwegian popstar who goes by girl in red. In a recent interview, she discusses the lack of gay artists in pop and how young LGBT+ people lack role models. Marie is widely known and adored among young lesbians and bisexual women all over the world.
Pop culture lacks queer representation... When I grew up I missed seeing other queer artists - Marie Ulven
Marie acknowledged the importance of her music to queer fans but said she wished that her sexual orientation was not an issue for listeners and that she was frustrated that some listeners wanted to “gatekeep” her music by insisting that it was not for straight listeners. Because queer representation is so rare, many listeners want to hold onto queer artists as treasures they do not want to share with mainstream audiences. She also talks about how COVID-19 has left her emotionally exhausted, her dislike of the term “lesbian” for herself, and her preference to present herself in a non-feminine manner.
Seeing queer woman thrive in their careers is inspiring. Marie’s 2018 hit song, I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend has been streamed more than 120 million times on Spotify. In a world where it is easy to solely focus on the hardships faced by queer people, it is important to highlight queer accomplishments.
The Queer Muslim Project is an Instagram page that explores the intersections of queerphobia and Islamphobia. This week, they posted two stories that I found powerful. One is of Shahamat, who talks about the loss of a gay Bangladeshi man he loved named Xulhaz. Xulhaz was brutally murdered in his own home after coming out. Shahamat grapples with his struggle with his Brown, Muslim Gay identity. He also talks about his grief, radical-self love, and being a troublemaker.
The second post is of Hamzeh, a Queer, Nonbinary, disabled, Muslim, second-generation Palestinian refugee who is currently seeking asylum in the United States. He talks about how in his country his queer identity was suppressed and in the US he was expected to give up his faith and Palestinianness in return for supposed queer liberation. These identities, along with his disability, made it difficult for him to feel at home anywhere. Hamzeh details what healing means for him and how he is now able to hold space for and centre all his identities.
Patriarchy, imperialism and white supremacy work together in insidious ways to obscure the experiences of queer Muslims. Mainstream media often centres the white queer experience, so it is an act of resistance for Muslim queer people to complicate dominant narratives with their personal stories.
Fearless Collective is a “South Asia based public arts project that creates space to move from fear to love using participative public art”. They have helped create murals around the world that highlight grassroots feminist images and stories.
The mural depicts two women holding each other intimately with Hindi calligraphy that translates to “What I want, Who I want, As I want them.” This mural is a beautiful expression of female love and longing.
Public art can be a powerful tool for resistance where women can reclaim their sensuality and sexuality. Women in India and around the world regularly face violence, trauma and other forms of oppression at the hands of patriarchy. It is so important to build solidarity not only through our collective pain, but also through our collective pleasure and joy.
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She also works with survivors of sexual violence in her community from an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed perspective. 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.