Global Roundup: Safe Abortion Access in Nepal, Indian and Indonesian Women Converting Plastic into Products, Lesbian Art and Poetry, We Need To Talk About Vulvas

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Photo by Visible Impact

In partnership with the Safe Abortion Access Fund, Visible Impact, a local organization which promotes women’s rights, multiple interventions have been implemented to tackle stigmas associated with abortion.

Stigmas in Nepal are perpetuated by the media which falsely project abortion as a dangerous procedure, and also one which defies traditional norms. Headlines such as “Girls in their school uniforms, visiting abortion clinics!” or “Increased abortion, a concern for the society!” are just two examples of headlines which have been used to contribute to the stigmatization of abortion. 

However, Visible Impact and the Safe Abortion Access Fund have trained 35 young people across seven provinces in Nepal about safe abortions, and how safe abortions can be promoted within society. These individuals reach out to members in their communities in order to raise awareness about the issue and shed light on the importance of empowering women and girls by strengthening their sexual and reproductive health rights. 

In addition to engaging young people, shifting the narrative in the media has also been a focal point of this initiative. Seven media professionals participated in a value clarification workshop, as well as a media fellowship program. These programs taught these professionals about the importance of using a rights-based approach in order to accurately and effectively engage in abortion discourse. 

I get many questions following my session on safe abortion. People have reached out to me. I provide the information that I know and try to link them with the service centers – Visible Impact Youth Champion

Although these are small steps, Visible Impact and the Safe Abortion Access Fund are working together to ensure that Nepalese society is well-educated on the topic of abortion, and that stigmas are tackled so that women and girls are able to safely access their reproductive rights. The organizations envision an environment where every woman can access stigma-free abortions. 

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Via @VillageWeaves

After witnessing the staggering rates of plastic waste and the associated environmental consequences in Assam, India, Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi came up with an idea to combat this issue and also support women living in poverty. Gogoi lives nearby the Kaziranga National Park, a major tourist attraction, which is prone to large amounts of plastic wastage. With the support of other women, she gathers plastic waste from the Park and transforms it into handloom products.

Kaziranga is visited by millions of tourists each year, many of who leave behind heaps of garbage...Despite a ban on littering, there are plastic bags everywhere which are not only an eyesore but also hazardous for animals who choke on them - Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi 

Since 2004, Gogoi has employed and empowered more than 2300 women across 35 villages in Assam, while simultaneously reducing pollution and its impacts on the environment. Before beginning this project, she experimented for months until she found a method and plan which worked. 

At first, I tried using just plastic to make different objects from it. But it didn’t work. I then experimented with other types of materials. Finally, it was only after I mixed plastic with cotton threads that I was able to create a durable and pliant fabric that was ideal for creating craft products - Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi 

In Assam, handloom weaving is a skilled tradition which has been passed down through generations. Once Gogoi perfected her technique, she began sharing her knowledge with other women in Bocha Gaon village who may have not learned this technique from their family. Within a year, hundreds of women joined this initiative, and now almost two decades later, thousands of women create handbags, doormats, table mats, wall hangings, coasters, table covers, and more. The products are sold at Kaziranga Haat, a gift shop that Gogoi launched in 2012. Women in the region make around $150-200 per month selling their products. 

Gogoi has also been invited by state governments and local organizations to host workshops to teach rural women the technique of handloom weaving, and specifically how to transform plastic waste into handcrafted products. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed business and travel to the region, she is hopeful that once the pandemic subsides, the participating women will begin to reclaim their livelihoods and continue to produce these wonderful and eco-friendly handloom products. 

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Via @wmn_zine

Despite the 19 LGBTQ+ poetry publications in circulation across the US, there are not many which are solely dedicated to lesbian poets and artists. Created by Venezuelan designer and artist Florencia Alvarado, American photographer Jeanette Spicer, and Swedish designer Sara Duell, WMN is a publication of lesbian art and poetry. WMN provides a platform for marginalized lesbian artists who want their work to be heard or seen. 

We really felt like there’s a lack of lesbian visibility in all aspects of the world—the art world, the sports world, and even in the LGBTQ+ spectrum...Living in New York City, one of the most liberal and populated places in the world, there’s only three lesbian bars, and it’s just like, ‘This is our reality.’ It kind of hits you where you’re sort of like, ‘Where’s my community? - Jeanette Spicer 

WMN was founded in 2019, and has since published three issues which uplift and highlight voices of lesbian artists across the US. Seasons of a Dyke, the first issue, compiled art and poetry of lesbian artists living in rural and smaller cities in the US. The founders of WMN wanted to bring attention to those located outside larger cities where a large proportion of the LGBTQ+ community currently reside. The second issue, Show Me What You Got, brought together an international collection of art and poetry by older lesbian-identifying artists, whereas the third issue, Talking Space, highlighted the experiences of lesbian artists identifying as disabled around the world.

WMN wants to create a more inclusive and open space where the lesbian community can come together and collectively share their experiences through art and poetry. 

We want to fight for the term lesbian and the people who really fought to claim that term and reclaim the term dyke. And you know, the people who have lost families or jobs or even their lives over the ability to stake a claim in that part of the community and we just didn’t want the word [lesbian] to be lost. We didn’t want it to be this historic phrase - Jeanette Spicer.  

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Indonesian women take on plastic waste brick by brick: Novita Tan launched recycling company Rebrick after Indonesia drew headlines as the second-biggest producer of marine waste in the world behind China. (Yahoo News)

In recent years, Indonesia has been recognized as the second-biggest producer of marine waste in the world behind China. Two women were shocked by the amount of waste polluting Indonesia’s waters, and decided to reduce the environmental toll of marine wastage by converting plastic into paving bricks.

Ovy Sabrina and Novita Tan launched their company Rebricks, which creates recycled building materials from plastic waste. Although the pair initially began their journey collecting waste from food stalls across Jakarta, they now receive reams of plastic waste from donors across the country, thanks to a successful and viral social media campaign. 

It shows how Indonesians have a strong awareness of recycling plastic waste, but they don't know where to do it - Ovy Sabrina 

The plastic packaging is mulched into tiny flakes, which are then mixed with cement and sand, and moulded into building blocks which can be repurposed around the nation. Using this method, the pair diverts around 88,000 pieces of plastic from littering the environment every single day. Since the start of Rebricks, more than 100,000 bricks have been produced. 

In 2018, a dead sperm whale washed ashore in a national park with around 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach. Sabrina and Tan spent two years perfecting their method after gaining insight from Sabrina’s family building materials business. Whereas some businesses in Indonesia convert plastic into household items, such as umbrellas or purses, the pair wanted to create bricks to reach a wider customer base and also contribute to Indonesia’s growing infrastructure. 

Currently Rebricks employs four people, however Sabrina and Tan hope to expand their company and possibly collaborate with a large consumer-goods firm. 

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Via Callaly

Almost half (46%) of 16 to 24-year-olds are not confident they know exactly what a vulva is, according to new research by the period care brand Callaly. But even among those who are clued-up on the anatomy, there’s still a lot of vulva hatred going on. Almost a third (29%) of people aged 16 to 35 have worried about whether their vulva was abnormal, while 40% of 16-24 year olds and 37% of 25-34 year olds wished they had a “neat, symmetrical shaped vulva”.

To debunk the notion of a “perfect” vulva, 10 people have cast their vulvas in plaster for the Callaly campaign We Need To Talk About Vulvas, shedding light on how diverse vulvas really are. Some of them have also shared how their relationship with their vulva has changed over time.

“As a teenager, I started looking at porn and it was all white people,” said Rubina Pabani, a 33-year-old podcaster from Margate. “I noticed I had more hair and a different structure, so I immediately thought something was wrong with me.”

Vic Jouvert, a non-binary trans man, also took part, after going on testosterone and experiencing ‘bottom growth’. “It’s probably the most trans part of my body,” says Vic. “I mean, my whole body is trans, but I like that this part of my body is different from what you were taught your genitals should look like.”

Ginny, 24, who posts under @MyDisabledSexLife, is another ambassador, and wants to remind others that disability shouldn’t automatically be an obstacle to sexual pleasure.

Proving Callaly’s point that We Need To Talk About Vulvas because of taboo and stigma that surround that part of the body, Instagram banned the educational illustrations of vulvas for the new campaign, which appeared on the Instagram page of the Vagina Museum.

It is appalling that Instagram feels the need to remove educational images of vulvas – a body part owned by half the population. The intention of the content is to address a dire lack of realistic reference points, celebrate diversity and open up vital conversations about what our bodies really look like - Jody Elphick, Head of Brand and Content at Callaly

The illustrations were posted as part of a partnership to raise awareness of the need for better education, and had amassed 6,000 likes within the first few hours before being removed, taking with it hundreds of comments from people who celebrated the initiative, and shared their own stories of worry and confusion.

Here is the Vagina Museum’s post on what happened.

Clearly, we must talk—shout—much more about vulvas.

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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.