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Global Roundup: Safe Abortion Access in Sub-Saharan Africa, Migrant Trans Sex Workers Documentary, Elderqueer and Indigenous Amazonian Stars on TikTok, Scotland to Require LGBTQ+ History in School
Compiled by Inaara Merani
Illustration by Jem Milton for Safe Abortion Action Fund
The MAMA Network is a collective comprised of grassroots activists and feminist groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. The organization shares information about self-managed medical abortion, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with pregnant people who need the support. Founded in 2016, the Network now has 54 members in 22 countries, demonstrating that safe abortion is possible and will soon be accessible to the entire continent.
Culture and religion stand in the way very often. There is also the shame that we have to navigate within our community as we promote and affirm that safe medical abortion indeed saves lives. - IJEFA, Democratic Republic of Congo
Every region in Sub-Saharan Africa has a different reason for engaging in medical abortions and advocacy. CTYA in Zambia is advocating for this cause because around 30% of all maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortion. YNCSD in Nigeria wants to improve access to safe abortions in order to engage young people in critical SRHR issues to catalyze social change. The Network also created safe abortion hotlines where women and girls can call in to learn more about abortions and obtain resources.
Our unique challenge is not just in raising awareness about self-managed abortion, but leaping over the psychological barriers and getting people to a place where they can entertain a conversation about abortion, about the many young women who are dying due to unsafe abortion, and finally, what we can do in order to mitigate the problem at hand. - CTYA, Zambia.
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has posed, many youth-led organizations across the continent have grown and are increasingly supporting work surrounding safe abortions, as well as finding new, innovative approaches to ensure every individual who wants an abortion is able to get one.
In Nicola Mai’s latest film, the lives of two trans sex workers are explored as they navigate their lives which are rampant with transphobia, and issues with immigration systems and the police. Caer (Caught) is half documentary and half fiction, however it is based on the experiences shared by members of the New York-based community organization Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo (CITG), which fights for the rights of migrant trans Latinx women and non-binary people.
We’re making a film in which we’re telling the truth about our lives as trans women. Our backgrounds are different, but we’ve all lived something similar. It’s not fiction. It’s real.”- Rendon
Nicola Mai is a filmmaker, sociologist and anthropologist. His work at the University of Newcastle in the UK focuses on labour migration, as well as how social stigmas impact experiences of exploitation. During his research, he worked with individuals who informed him that sex work was a way for migrant workers to avoid being exploited in a mainstream job.
In the film, every actor is a member of the collective or a friend of the community and their lives are representative of how migrant sex workers navigate harassment at the hands of the police and the state. Additionally, the editing was done as a group and the film even features snippets of members watching the staged footage and discussing the film and the issues that it covers.
Some of the people in the film would tell me, ‘Well, you should tell us what to do.’ The expectation is that a film director directs. But I would say, ‘This is our film. I can give some ideas, but we have to decide together.’ - Nicola Mai
Trans latinx sex workers are frequently discriminated against - in the US, SESTA/FOSTA consist of laws which classify, and thus criminalize, the promotion of online sex work as sex trafficking. This, paired with the site Backpage.com - a website used by sex workers to promote themselves - being shut down, has been extremely difficult on the community and is something which is referenced throughout the film.
Throughout the film, the actors frequently discuss strategies to advocate for their legal rights. They highlight that they are aiming for decriminalization, not legalization. Legalization of sex work would only oppress undocumented migrant workers further and create more areas of vulnerability.
Courtesy of the subjects via them.us
Older queer content creators are part of a larger #elderqueer community on TikTok which brings 20th century queer history to life. Individuals such as Your Lesbian Mom, Calla Felicity, and The Old Gays are just a few examples of the many creators on the app who are facilitating discussion and bringing joy to TikTok.
I want to show [young queers] through example that your dreams can come true. - Your Lesbian Mom
The Old Gays are a group of four retired gay men who make videos about their lives and queer culture and trends, which also then sparks an intergenerational dialogue about queer culture. Many people do not know old gay men, and The Old Gays have been a source of happiness for many.
These individuals first began posting on the app during the pandemic, and are providing first-hand, pertinent information on LGBTQ+ history to young queer people. Many young queer people are not being educated on LGBTQ+ history and queer issues, and many do not know any queer people. This somewhat personal connection to these creators has provided the young queer generation with the hope that they will persevere through social stigma and oppression.
Young folx on Tiktok… are encountering me, specifically, for the first time, picturing their own self as a living, hopefully still-relatable person like them. - Calla Felicity.
While these older queer content creators have educated the younger generation, their followers have also kept them connected to modern queer culture, making them still feel part of the wider queer community. These stories will continue to resonate throughout the queer community and will be stories passed down to the next generations, keeping the history alive.
Also in the TikTok spotlight is Maira Gómez Godinho, otherwise known as Cunhaporanga, a 22-year old Indigenous Amazonian woman from the Tatuyo community in the Brazilian Amazon. Cunhaporanga shares the traditions of her people, the foods that her community eats, the practices and activities they engage in, and more.
For example, Cunhaporanga has made videos about the Tatuyo people, who paint their faces bright red and wear traditional regalia. The community coexists with squawking macaws, and they survive on what they can catch or grow.
When the pandemic first struck, she set up an antenna with her brother in the village. Although only accessible by boat, she would spend her days in the village exploring social media networks such as TikTok. She tried out a few trends, but later gained traction when a video of her eating beetle larva went viral and someone asked why she was eating it, something she later explained and educated her followers on.
I have a lot to be thankful for, for the support and affection of all those who follow me. I want to keep posting my videos and my photos. - Cunhaporanga
With over 2 million followers on TikTok and over 300,000 on Instagram, Cunhaporanga has found a way to increase visibility of her community and promulgate knowledge. Like many other Indigenous peoples in Brazil, Cunhaporanga has found that social media is the best method to communicate and educate her peoples’ cause and their traditions to thousands of people.
Ross MacDonald/Getty Images
Scotland has officially become the first country in the world which will implement a mandatory LGBTQ+ curriculum in schools. A new teacher toolkit launched this week, providing educators with access to a website which offers e-learning courses on topics relating to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a number of other materials which strive to foster inclusivity.
Although LGBTQ+ topics will be explicitly taught, this new curriculum will also integrate inclusion into everyday learning. Examples of the lessons offered on the teaching toolkit involve completing exercises on discrimination to a math problem involving a young girl and her two dads.
The Scottish government implemented this curriculum to help students receive a more well-rounded education, but also to help reduce bullying. A study in the UK found that LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to have been bullied in the past year compared to their cis classmates.
Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) is an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Scotland which was successful in lobbying the Scottish Parliament to implement nationwide inclusive learning. TIE worked with many other LGBTQ+ advocacy groups on the country’s LBGTI Inclusive Education Working Group, which investigated inclusion in schools. Just a year later, the Scottish government accepted all 33 of the working group’s recommendations.
In recent months, the Scottish government encouraged schools to adopt gender-neutral dress codes and to allow trans students to use their preferred names, pronouns, and bathrooms. Scotland has been a pioneer for LGBTQ+ rights and continues to set examples for other nations to follow.
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.