Global Roundup: School for Trans Students in Pakistan, Musical Feminism and Environmentalism, Queer-Inclusive Churches in South Africa, Outrage at Indian Muslim Women Auction, Corrido to Sylvia Rivera
Compiled by Inaara Merani
(@DrMuradPTI via Twitter)
Earlier this year, a trans woman in Pakistan opened the country’s first Islamic religious school, exclusively for trans people. Alongside this madrasa, or religious school, there are a few other schools in Pakistan which are devoted to educating the trans community in the country. As part of a government program called TransEducation, Pakistan opened the first government-run school for transgender students in Multan last week. This school is run by trans educators, creating a space of acceptance and inclusion.
With just 18 students, the curriculum was developed for grades 1 through 12 based on Pakistani and Japanese educational standards. Students who enrolled in the school spoke to the comfort and happiness they felt after beginning their studies at this new institution.
Boys used to tease us and misbehave.They never recognized that we were their classmates. Even the behavior of our teachers and other staff in the school was quite upsetting. We realized after coming to this school that a good decision has been made for us. - Baby Doll, student
The opening of this trans-inclusive school was applauded by activists across Pakistan. This institution will be part of a growing number of government-funded schools specifically designed for the Pakistani trans community.
People see us as a means of entertainment when we go out. Educated people do not misbehave, but those who are illiterate make nasty comments and harass us. The difference between life at school and life outside is that we feel relaxed here. - Hania Henny, student
In 2018, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed in Pakistan, which guaranteed full equality for trans people under the law. This allowed countless individuals to legally change their names and genders, and also provided protection against discrimination in employment, healthcare, and other sectors. Despite this progress, however, the trans community in Pakistan still endures repression and discrimination. Trans women and people are murdered at alarming rates every year, and there has been little done to combat this issue. Currently, same-sex sexual conduct is criminalized in Pakistan, originating from the British colonial era.
Image Source: Rediff. (Feminism in India)
Independent artist, environmentalist and musician Aditi Veena, also known as Ditty, is creating music with meaningful intentions. Ditty draws on humanitarian issues such as climate change and gender inequality in order to inspire her music and her work.
After completing a degree in agriculture at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, Ditty became aware of the realities of capitalism, thus prompting her to shift her work and talents to focus on urban ecology and musical environmentalism. In 2016, Ditty and her filmmaker friend Lakshya Dhungana created “Streets For Us”, a project which showcased Ditty busking on the streets, serenading strangers on the street. The purpose of this project was to foster dialogue with strangers about how unsafe the streets have become. She performed in Nepal and Sri Lanka, where her performances were well-received, however after performing in New Delhi, Ditty was heckled by drunken men and her friend Dhungana was arrested - so outrageous!
While in college, Ditty wrote her thesis about performing in public spaces and creating public spaces for the performing arts. Her busking activities revealed the inaccessibility of public spaces for women in major Indian cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. While individuals in Nepal and Sri Lanka offered support and encouragement, many people in Indian cities catcalled, made lewd comments, discouragement and public manhandling.
Contrasting Bollywood’s misogynistic and objectifying culture, Ditty’s music is defined by ecofeminism. In one of her songs, “Eulogy For A Sparrow”, she sings about endangered species and the killing of sharks for their fins. Ditty calls her creations ‘earth songs’, because her songs are renditions to Mother Nature.
Last year, Ditty went on a carbon neutral tour of India called “Make Forests Not Wars. Given that tours and concerts usually generate a high carbon footprint, Ditty opted for more eco-friendly tours and concerts by planting local, indigenous plants, and creating forests wherever she toured.
Ditty continues to spread awareness about deforestation, animal extinction, womanhood and more through her work as an artist and activist. Although small, the steps that she is taking to dismantle systems of oppression will have a meaningful impact in our world.
(@IAM587 on Twitter)
After being subjected to homophobia from religious communities and their own families that makes many people of faith backgrounds leave religion, a group of LGBTQ+ South Africans launched the NGO, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM). Their aim is to challenge religious homophobia and envision a future where the LGBTQ+ community across Africa is celebrated and is able to fully participate in their religious communities.
IAM partners with faith-based organizations to challenge their bias, as well as with African LGBTQ+ groups to encourage collaboration with religious communities While this can result in positive outcomes, there have been negative repercussions as well. IAM staff were kicked out of a meeting in Malawi, and were told not to conduct a workshop in Uganda because their safety could not be guaranteed.
Oftentimes, religious leaders across the continent engage in homophobia and transphobia, which many followers of religion use as guidance in their own lives. The effects of religious leaders spreading this hatred can be catastrophic. To combat this, IAM utilizes transformative dialogue processes and authentic conversations in which staff encourage religious leaders to read the Bible in a different way.
To open minds is to have a conversation in a setting where there is diversity. Faith leaders will say that there aren’t any LGBTIQ people in their congregation. And we will push back and say: ‘Are you for real?’ - Reverend Hanzline Davids, Process Coordinator at IAM
Progress may be slow, but Reverend Ecclesia de Lange, Director of IAM, is hopeful after seeing a shift in attitude in the Methodist Church, which has many disciples across southern Africa, as well as the Dutch Reformed Church operating in South Africa and Namibia. Additionally, the creation of a regional network in southern and east Africa demonstrates the impact that IAM is having across the African continent. However, IAM has struggled to meaningfully engage with the Evangelical community due to their very literal interpretation of the Bible and their large financial backing.
Many of the individuals working at IAM have endured internal conflicts where they have questioned and denied their sexuality because of the measures and pressure put forth by their religious communities. However, as de Lange put it, “I came to see that it is better to be rejected for who I am, than to be accepted for who I am not.”
You should be able to come into a space and confidently say: ‘I'm a Black queer woman of faith’. Christianity is about faith. It's about love. It's about having that brotherly and sisterly support. The minute it becomes about hate and policing, it is not Christianity. - Nokuthula Mjwara, Process Coordinator at IAM
Fatima, a student activist, says she won’t be deterred by the online harassment [Courtesy of Thoufeeq K.] (Al Jazeera)
Around two weeks ago, more than 80 Muslim Indian women were ‘put up for sale’ at a fake online action. The “auctioned” women included students, activists, and journalists whose pictures were unknowingly posted to the app “Sulli deals” without their knowledge or consent. The name ‘sulli’ is a derogatory term used by Hindu trolls for Muslim women, essentially calling them ‘deals of the day’. Disgusting.
Afreen Fatima was one of the many women who were listed on this app. She had just completed an online forum discussing the persecution of Muslims in India when she was informed that she had been put up for sale. This also happened on the same day that a far-right Hindu man allied for the abduction of Muslim women gathering at a park in Pataudi. Hiba Beg was thousands of miles away in New York when she also discovered her profile was up for auction. Her physical distance from India was not enough to stop these Islamaphobic misogynists from attempting to dehumanize her.
The company GitHub hosts the app and took it down after public outrage. On July 8, a police complaint was filed after the Delhi Commission for Women and the National Commission for Women called for an investigation into these injustices. There has still been no arrest made.
The way they [Hindu far-right groups] sexualise you is the only way they believe they can shame and silence Muslim women online. We are supposed to be ‘oppressed’ in their books – so they think, ‘How dare we speak out for ourselves?’ - Rana Ayyub, journalist and contributing opinion writer for the Washington Post
This is not the first time that an auction has taken place, however. Earlier this year on the night before Eid, another virtual auction took place in which Muslim women were auctioned and it was even livestreamed on Youtube, labelled an “Eid Special”. There are absolutely no words to describe how appalling that is.
When I get trolled, my gender is never separated from my religious identity. I’m not being trolled as a woman, I’m being trolled as a Muslim woman vocal on political issues by mostly Hindutva accounts, - Sania Ahmad, media professional and victim of the auction earlier this year
Despite the attempts by far-right Hindus to silence and debase Muslim women and the government’s inability to support them, activists will not give up. For many Indian Muslim activists, it has been a traumatizing experience to endure this misogyny and Islamaphobia, especially as it occurs so frequently and rapidly with the heightened use of social media around the world. This however, does not take away from their fight against this cause. Activists will not stop speaking out against misogyny and Islamophobia and they will continue to support one another by continuing to speak out publicly against these offences, using every public space possible.
Photo: Twitter. (Be Latina)
Two of Mexico’s most iconic and important musical LGBTQ+ stars, Renee Goust and La Bruja de Texcoco, decided to sing about the history of pride, honouring the struggle behind the rainbow flag. The two artists released the Corrido de Sylvia Rivera.
A corrido is a Mexican ballad which typically narrates a historical event. According to Mexican tradition, Rivera was the first to throw a stone at the Stonewall Riot in 1969. Although it is a well-known fact that Marsha P. Johnson was the first to throw a stone, many in Mexico still honour Rivera for her activism and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sylvia never had a rainbow to protect her,” the song goes. “They ran her out of the house for being clear about who she was.”
Influenced by her upbringing on the US-Mexico border, Goust is considered a neo-folk artist who writes bilingual songs about gender equality, the LGBTQIA+ experience, immigration, and other social justice issues.
La Bruja is a performer, songwriter, and scholar of Mexican folklore. Today she is one of the most influential musicians on the scene in her country.
Sylvia Rivera’s story is one of resistance and bravery. Goust and La Bruja wanted to honour her by singing this corrido and keeping her legacy alive, as well as the legacy of Stonewall and LGBTQ+ rights.
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.