Global Roundup: Sea Women in South Korea, Senegalese Farmer Fights Poverty, Rematriating Land to Indigenous People, Gender-based Violence in Kuwait, Cree Two-spirited Student Pageant Winner

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

6 APR 2021. Experienced haenyeo Jung Sun-ja, 84, Yoon Yeon-ok, 74 and Ko Keum-sun, 69, pose for a photograph. 

Climate change and environmental pollution have become a serious threat to South Korean haenyeo, or “sea women”. These women follow a centuries-old tradition of free-dive fishing without oxygen. They gather marine life such as sea cucumbers and seaweed by hand and sell it to the market. Most living haenyeo now are over the age of 70.

I'll continue unless I'm sick, and my wish is this seafood can live until then so that I can continue this work. – 86-year-old Ko Bok-hwa, who has been a diver since she was 13

Every year, the waters have warmed as much as 2.6 times more than the world average, which has significantly altered the undersea environment. Scientists have found that climate change has been causing an influx of non-native species, which has displaced the haenyeo’s traditional catch and changed the seafloor habitat by introducing more stony coral and killing off seaweed forests. Less seaweed also means the haenyeo have to dive deeper, which is physically more challenging. The haenyeo and scientists are aware that these changes are only getting worse every year. 

I thought that as long as my body is healthy, I could have been the oldest haenyeo when I'm 90 or 100...Now that I think about it, my health is not the only concern. I'm worried this job will change drastically or even disappear because of climate change. – Jin So-hee, 28-year-old haenyeo

Younger haenyeo 28-year-old Jin So-hee and 35-year-old Woo Jung-min have tried to adapt by running a YouTube channel called "Yozum Haenyeo" (Modern Sea Women) as a way to document their livelihood – the most popular video has over 600,000 views. Still, they remain worried whether they will be able to spend their lives as free divers or if climate change will eventually destroy this centuries-old tradition. 

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Korka Diaw is a member of the Malayora Gueye agricultural cooperative in Saint Louis, Senegal, and President of REFAN, the Network of Women Farmers in the North of Senegal. Photo: UN Women/Yulia Panevina

Korka Diaw, a Senegalese farmer, is the president of REFAN, the Network of Women Farmers in the North of Senegal that empowers women and fights poverty through agriculture. In an interview with UN Women, she discusses how agriculture activities have been adapted due to COVID-19 and climate change.

COVID-19 movement restrictions and curfews prevented Diaw’s cooperative from accessing their fields as needed and some were unable to do any processing. Now, they have adapted by wearing masks in the field, being careful about contact with each other, and frequent handwashing. 

We have been entrusted with the land, it is important that we take care of it. – Korka Diaw

Diaw also notes how for years they did not understand the effects of climate change and how it was disrupting their cultivation calendar. UN Women and other partners have supported them in using more adaptive techniques such as seed selection. She mentions how water drainage is one of the best ways to protect the land as well.

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Dr. Rupa Marya. (Photo credit: Jennifer Graham)

Dr. Rupa Marya is a medical doctor who works at the intersections of climate, racial, health, and economic justice. Through her new farm, Ma Da Dil and a new organization, Deep Medicine Circle, she is working on rematriating (or returning) land to Indigenous people, cultivating plant medicines and supporting food liberation for oppressed groups. In an interview with Civil Eats, Dr. Marya discusses her work in detail.

This is about billions of people around the world fighting for control of our material reality. And in capitalism, which almost the whole world is suffering from, the people who are working the land do not have control of their material reality as they should. We work in solidarity with all those people who are struggling in this way. – Dr. Rupa Marya

Dr. Marya is working on a rematriation project that will return 38-acres of land back into the hands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, the original people of the San Francisco peninsula. Of the handful of Ramaytush who have survived the genocide of their land, none currently hold land in their ancestral territory. Deep Medicine Circle will advance a model they have called Farming Is Medicine, where the food farmers make will go to people in need, rather than the market economy. This model fits with the Ramaytush Indigenous partners’ stated ancestral responsibilities to both care for the earth and care for the people. 

The human body stores trauma over several generations. That trauma is transmitted and held, and it shapes our health. – Dr. Rupa Marya

Dr. Marya sees direct links between colonization and current ecological disasters on our planet. She discusses how for tens of thousands of years, the ecologies were in balance and homelessness and hunger did not exist. However, the arrival of Europeans, capitalism and the privatization of property have resulted in growth of wide disparities that predispose Black, brown, and Indigenous people to poor health outcomes.

Indigenous people have had their cultures purposefully robbed from them through the residential boarding schools, through genocide, through cultural erasure. Our duty, as settlers on colonized stolen land, is to provide the opportunity, space, and safety for Indigenous people to reclaim their ancestral knowledge and to guide us to what sanity and health look like. – Dr. Rupa Marya

Dr. Marya is doing important work by critically examining the relationship between food sovereignty, climate change, colonization and other systems of oppression. It will be interesting to see the results of her projects with Indigenous communities. On Earth Day and beyond, it is imperative that we avoid viewing climate change in isolation and that our activism centers marginalized communities that experience the worst consequences of climate change.

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The brutal murder comes two months after Kuwaiti activists launched a nationwide campaign to end sexual harassment and violence against women [File: Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP]

CW: gender-based violence 

Earlier this week, Farah Hamza Akbar was killed in Kuwait by a man against whom she had previously filed two cases for harassment after her family’s alleged refusal to his marriage proposal. The perpetrator was initially arrested, but kidnapped and stabbed Hamza to death after he was released on bail. The perpetrator admitted to the murder within hours and the police arrested him.

This tragic incident has led to social media outrage and the victim’s name trending on Twitter in Kuwait. Women are calling for stricter punishment for perpetrators of violent crime against women in the country. A video has also been circulating where Hamza’s sister is crying and saying her pleas were ignored by the authorities. 

That is what we got, exactly what we said, that he is going to kill her, and he killed my sister. Where is the government? We told the judge. I told you many times he would kill her, and now she’s dead. – Hamza’s sister in the footage.

The horrific murder comes two months after Kuwaiti activists launched a nationwide campaign to end sexual harassment and violence against women. The Instagram account “Lan Asket” (I will not be silent) posted dozens of testimonies from women in Kuwait about being stalked, harassed or assaulted.

Blogger Ascia Al-Faraj released an explosive video during the campaign after a vehicle sped up to try and scare her while she was walking to her car. In the video she said:

Every time I go out, there is someone who harasses me or harasses another woman in the street…We have a problem of harassment in this country, and I have had enough - Ascia Al-Faraj

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As a survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse, Trapper said she is particularly proud of herself for finding her voice and strength. She hopes to be a voice for tolerance in the Cree communities. (Catherine Quinn/CWEIA)

Geraldine Trapper is a two-spirited college student from Mistissini, Quebec, Canada, who recently won the third Miss Eeyou Eenou Iskwaau pageant, organized by the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association and has been held every two years since 2017. 

I am a part of the LGBTQ2S community, I am a 2-spirited woman. I am hoping to plant some seeds and make a difference for the next generation … You go through a lot of hardships just for being who you are. – Geraldine Trapper

Trapper is especially proud of herself for finding her voice and strength, as she is a survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse and has experienced homelessness as a young person. She considered dropping out of the pageant due to school and life pressures, but the other contestants convinced her to continue. 

[The contestants] didn't see each other as a threat or an enemy, there was no animosity …They are already decolonizing each other, by empowering, uplifting and supporting each other. – Stella Masty Bearskin, Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association President

Trapper is currently a student at college studying General Arts and Sciences, with an interest in Indigenous and justice studies. She believes the judges were impressed by her connection to her Cree culture. 

I feel very connected to the land and to my culture and to my ancestors when I work with traditional medicine. – Geraldine Trapper

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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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