Global Roundup: Russia LGBTQ+ Artist Trial, Underage Marriage in Sundarbans, Chinese Online Feminist Groups Shut Down, Indigenous Trans Woman Runs for Office in Mexico, "Black Women Are Worthy" Film

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Yulia Tsvetkova’s drawings, with captions like “Real women have body fat and it’s normal” and “Real women have wrinkles and grey hair and it’s normal.” Courtesy of the artist via Artnet.

Yulia Tsvetkova, 27, is a Russian LGBTQ+ activist and artist currently on trial for violating Russia’s ban on LGBTQ+ “propaganda” by posting vagina-themed art online. She could face up to six years in prison if convicted. This comes after she was placed under house arrest for four months up until March of this year. She reportedly is still under strict travel restrictions. 

The case began in 2019 when Tsvetkova was detained in connection to a group she ran on a popular Russian social media site VKontakte, where she posted stylized illustrations of vaginas that authorities claim are pornographic. Amnesty International has called her trial “absurd.”

This absurdity has lasted almost a year and a half. A woman has been criminally charged with ‘producing pornography’ simply for drawing and publishing images of the female body and freely expressing her views through art. During this ordeal, Yulia has spent time under house arrest and twice been subjected to extortionate fines under the so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law - Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

She has also been accused of violating a 2013 law signed by President Vladimir Putin forbidding the spread of information on “non-traditional relationships'' to minors – a law that has since led to a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime attacks. In 2019, authorities forcibly shut down a play Tsvetkova directed in an art fair for children, Blue and Pink, which criticized gender stereotypes. She has also been fined under the “propaganda” ban twice – a $780 fine in 2019 for running an online support group for LGBTQ+ people and a $658 fine last summer for a drawing that depicted loving same-sex families.

Tsvetkova and her mother, Anna Khodyreva, say they have been subjected to death threats since the initial arrest, which has led them to now live in fear. 

I'm still looking back at the door even now. The police have barged in so many times that I'm not ready to have the children involved in this mayhem. – Yulia Tsvetkova

Tsvetkova’s case has been gaining international attention. Vladimir Pozner, a popular TV journalist, has spoken out against the charges. The European Union’s delegation to Russia has called upon officials to drop the case and has said that “her persecution is related to her public position as an LGBT activist” according to the Associated Press

Given the extent to which the state has been targeting Yulia Tsvetkova, it is clear that they view her as a threat and are afraid of the power she has to liberate the LGBTQ+ community and challenge patriarchal norms. Fuck the patriarchy for trying to silence activists like her while also enabling those that commit serious human rights violations. 

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Women and children outside their house at Sagar Island in the Sundarbans [Namrata Acharya/Al Jazeera]

COVID-19 along with climate change have been disproportionately affecting women and girls  in the Sundarbans, forcing them out of school and into arranged marriages where they often face domestic violence. 

Sundarbans is the world’s biggest delta formed by a dense forest of tidal mangroves, straddling India’s eastern coastline and western Bangladesh, opening into the Bay of Bengal. Nearly 4.5 million people live there, many of whom are subsistence farmers. Rani Khatun, 17, a resident of Sagar Island in Sundarbans, was preparing for the upcoming board exams in April last year with the hope of becoming a teacher one day. Less than a year later, she was forced to drop out of school and into an underage marriage. 

Many people in the region migrated to cities for work after Cyclone Aila in 2009. However, with the COVID-19 lockdowns, many of these people lost their jobs and had to return home. With their return came Cyclone Ampahn in May 2020. Khatun’s father’s income was severely impacted after the lockdown was imposed. When a marriage proposal that demanded little dowry came for Khatun, her family married her off – despite dowries being outlawed and Khatun being a minor that could not be married according to Indian laws.

The groom’s family didn’t demand any money. We thought by marrying off our daughter, we would have one person less to feed. – Nazula Biwi, Rani Khatun’s mother 

Khatun was assaulted by her husband and in-laws and came back to her parents’ home after a month. There are many other cases similar to hers – poverty, which has been exacerbated by climate change and COVID-19, is forcing girls into these situations. Luckily, Khatun is back in school for now. 

The pandemic and Cyclone Amphan have reportedly caused a spike in the number of underage girls being married. There are initiatives to tackle the issue. For example, Laboni Singha Das, a representative of Childline India Foundation, has rescued close to 50 girls from child marriages in less than a year after receiving tip-offs about their marriages. The government has also made it mandatory for the children forced into child marriages to be sent to rehabilitation centres for a minimum of 40 days. Facilitating the marriage could lead to up to two years of imprisonment and a 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,360) fine.

Experts stress that climate change has been and continues to be a serious threat to the region and women and girls face the brunt of the consequences. It is imperative that we pay attention to how climate change, natural disasters, poverty and gender inequality are all linked. Anurag Danda, a senior visiting fellow with think-tank Observer Research Foundation’s Energy and Climate Change Programme, explains that economic hardships have an ecological angle.

As land turns saline or there are breaches of embankments, people lose land and economic hardships ensue. Also, with every generation, landholdings turn smaller as they get divided among scions. All this leads to a higher incidence of poverty and subsequently child marriages and trafficking – Anurag Danda

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THE GROWING VOICES FROM YOUNG FEMINISTS IN CHINA ARE COMING UNDER MORE SCRUTINY. PHOTO: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP via Vice

Recently, several popular Chinese online feminist groups were shut down. These are groups on Douban, a book and movie review site and message board predominantly used by mostly young, educated Chinese people. Many of the group members discussed 6B4T, an idea originating in South Korea’s feminist movement that rejects heterosexual sex, marriage, and child-rearing.

I think this is a way to tell men that women can live in a world without them. As long as the feminist fighters are here, we will be able to find new spaces. – Cindy, 21-year-old student in the central province of Henan

Administrators of the banned groups were told that the forums contain “extremism, radical politics, and ideologies.” The term “6B4T” is also banned on the site now.

6B4T is a passive way of resistance and self-protection under the current gender equality situation in East Asia – Geogriana Lee, 24-year-old translator in Guangdong

Traditionally, feminist movements have been seen as less threatening than other kinds of activism or political topics in China. However, as more young, educated women join the movement, it faces more official scrutiny. In addition, feminists worry that the country’s plummeting birth rates will cause the government to step up efforts to push women into having children. 

China’s governing model is still pretty much relying upon heterosexual marriages as the stabilizer. These feminist groups, especially the ones against marriage, against childbirth, are touching the nerves of the fundamental governing structure. – Kailing Xie, researcher on gender and politics at the University of Warwick

Feminism should be feared by those in power – particularly a feminism that rejects heterosexual norms. This censorship is concerning, though Chinese feminists seem determined to continue the conversation. 

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Francisco Marven, an indigenous transgender woman known as Lady Tacos de Canasta who starred in the Netflix series Taco Chronicles serves hot sauce for tacos at her restaurant, as she is set to campaign as a lawmaker in the local elections in June mid-terms in Mexico City, Mexico April 9, 2021. Picture taken April 9, 2021.REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Marven, 36, who identifies as Mexico's 'muxe' third-gender, is running for Mexico City's congress, one of a bevy of newcomer candidates in midterm elections in June that will be one of the biggest in Mexico's history.

All my life I've been singled out for my sexual orientation and I've been persecuted for selling on public streets...Why not fight, why not raise your voice? – Marven

Marven is of Mixtec origin and identifies with the neighboring Zapotec indigenous transgender tradition of muxes, who mix gay male and female characteristics. She is known as ‘Lady Tacos de Canasta’ as well for appearing in a video where she sold tacos on her bicycles in a colourful skirt while loudly chanting “tacos de canasta, tacos!" She is also known for starring in a segment of Netflix’s “Taco Chronicles” in 2019, where she talks about being muxe and her experiences as a taco vendor. 

Last year during the pandemic, police officers tried to confiscate her bicycle and basket, as her taco sales violated health measures. The ensuing argument where tacos went flying was documented on camera and posted on social media. The incident led her to opening a small eatery serving Oaxacan food.

As a local lawmaker, she would want to protect the merchants of Mexico's vast informal economy. She is backed by the Equity, Freedom and Gender political party. Her name on the ballot will appear as “Juan Francisco Martinez” alongside 'Lady Tacos de Canasta’ to “show the world [her] gender duality.” Other first-time candidates include artists, athletes and beauty queens. Marven believes that this will help break ineffective traditional politicians. 

We Mexicans are fed up, we need a real change – Marven

It is inspiring to see non-traditional candidates, particularly those that are at the intersections of many marginalized identities, get into politics. These spaces were not built with people like Marven in mind, yet she is determined to represent her community and fight for change. 

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DEUN IVORY via Essence

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, artist and photographer Deun Ivory and a team of fellow creatives she handpicked helped her create a short film for Black women who have survived sexual abuse entitled “Black Women Are Worthy”.

I have experienced sexual trauma, so for me, the ‘Black women are worthy’, that whole line is very important because I’m the one who found myself trying to work and perfect my way to worthiness. The film and hearing the message, it just kind of let me know, not checked me, but let me know that, hey, you’re born with worthiness. You are worthy. It doesn’t matter what happened to you in the past. It doesn’t matter what you do in the future. You are worthy of great things. You are worthy of respect, of love, all of these different things – Chasidy Billups, lead costume designer

Ivory is a sexual abuse survivor herself and in 2018 she exhibited the powerful stories of Black female sexual abuse survivors who shared their stories with her for a photo series she named “the body: a home for love” using the VSCO Voices grant she won. She is deeply committed to creating spaces for Black women to heal from their trauma. 

Ivory has also created a nonprofit called “the body: a home for love” that provides healing spaces for Black women survivors through artistic expression and visual storytelling. She aims to raise 2 million dollars to serve Black women now and ultimately to raise 100 million toward helping other survivors in a meaningful and life-changing way. She will use this money to create jobs for Black wellness practitioners and invest in Black women’s mental health resources. Statistics on Black women and sexual assault are alarming. For instance, 22% of Black women and girls are survivors of rape – a rate significantly higher than for women in general. 

I feel like whenever we’re bottled up with other movements, Black women are consistently shuffled to the back, and that’s so problematic. And I’m like, this is a space for Black women only, and I don’t care how you feel about it. – Deun Ivory

Ivory is doing truly important work in empowering Black women survivors and potentially transforming their lives. Her short film delivers an incredibly powerful message and is visually stunning. 

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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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