Global Roundup: Sex Worker Rights, Trans Buddhist Nun's Temple Haven, LGBTQ Retirement Community, Female Electoral Leaders in India, Haiti's Madan Sara

Compiled by Inaara Merani

'Existences also depend on sex work' in Hamburg, Germany Markus Scholz/dpa/Alamy Live News via Open Democracy

SWAN Vancouver is an organization which supports immigrant and migrant sex workers in Canada. The organization’s new campaign, ‘Anti-Trafficking: Harming While Trying to Help’, seeks to inform and educate anti-trafficking campaigners on the unintentional consequences of their actions. The campaign includes a guidebook, an interactive guidebook, a video, as well as a webinar.

Usually when migrant sex workers report instances of violence, exploitation or trafficking, the woman becomes the target of a prostitution or trafficking investigation, or she is arrested, detained and deported under immigration policy. This contradicts Canadian policy which banned immigrating for sex work as a means to prevent exploitation. Predators are aware that it is extremely difficult for women to report these issues, and use it to their advantage to continue exploiting them. Additionally, when individuals engage in anti-trafficking campaigns or report instances of trafficking, they fail to understand that it makes sex workers much more vulnerable. 

Anti-trafficking campaigns inadvertently contribute to the conditions in which trafficking thrives. In Canada, where we work, anti-trafficking laws, the enforcement of those laws, and the public discourse around human trafficking all impede migrant and immigrant sex workers from having violence perpetrated against them addressed. And that's whether they're trafficked or not - Alison Clancey, Executive Director of SWAN Vancouver 

SWAN increasingly became aware of the lack of action taken by policymakers and authoritative figures. Migrant sex workers have voiced their concerns, but they usually go unheard. SWAN has participated in public forums and has endlessly tried to engage with these figures, but still, the voices of migrant sex workers were ignored. Thus, the organization decided to launch this campaign. 

The campaign encourages the government to look at important factors such as: gender inequality, poverty, systemic racism, and Canadian immigration policies. These factors create these conditions where trafficking is more prevalent. The ultimate goal of this campaign is to raise awareness about the negative consequences of anti-trafficking campaigns so that immigrant and migrant sex workers remain protected. Alison Clancey, Executive Director of SWAN Vancouver, urges society to move past the outdated ‘moral’ views about the sex industry. Anti-trafficking campaigns should ultimately be about preventing violence within the sex industry, they should not impede the work of immigrant and migrant sex workers. 

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via Matcha

Located in Moriguchi City, Osaka, Shozenji Temple is the first LGBTQ+-friendly temple, and was started by Japan’s first transgender nun, Soshuku Shibatani. The temple was built on the belief that gender discrimination does not exist for Buddha, and therefore everyone should be free to live how they choose. The name ‘Shozenji’ originates from a doctrine called ‘seizensetsu’, which is the belief that humans are inherently good and can attain enlightenment. 

Soshuku is the head nun of the temple. Having undergone gender reassignment surgery and officially changing her family and Buddhist registries, she now guides members of the LGBTQ+ community who may be struggling with their identity and religion. Soshuku was assigned male at birth, however she began to identify as female in elementary school. Although she identified as a woman, it was difficult to express her true self, until she started learning about Buddhism. She resigned from her job and completed her doctorate in Esoteric Buddhism .

Buddha saw beyond the differences of gender - Soshuku Shibatani 

As Japan’s first transgender nun, many turn to Soshuku for guidance regarding Buddhist practice, as well as their struggles with gender identity. Shozenji Temple was not exclusively created for the LGBTQ+ community; it functions as a temple for anyone and everyone. Religious practices are performed here, along with a number of other services including the administration of Buddhist weddings for same-sex couples, and consultations for those struggling with their identity. 

While the monk community stresses the importance of the difference between men and women, that distinction does not exist in Buddhist scriptures. The current male-dominated Buddhist society was a product of patriarchal structures. 

Soshuku Shibatani has demonstrated that religion should have no bounds, and inclusivity and acceptance are imperative. She has demonstrated that it is possible to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and still heavily invested in one’s religion. Japanese society is slowly beginning to understand the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, however the focus is still mainly on same-sex relationships. Although progress is slow, Ms. Shibatani is hopeful that, in due time, sexual minorities will be able to live their lives freely without discrimination. 

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The TMC has been activating its Mahila Cell (Women Frontal) in all assembly constituencies quite fiercely in the run up to the West Bengal Assembly elections 2021 via Feminism In India

The upcoming 2021 election in West Bengal, India has been gaining traction, as citizens await the start of the electoral process. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) government places significance on India’s grass roots and has been mobilizing female grassroots leaders leading up to the election. 

The Mahila Cell, or Women Frontal, is the TMC’s Women’s Wing. Female grassroots leaders have been going door-to-door, campaigning for the TMC in the upcoming election. These women created their own plan of action, including designing a roadmap for each day and creating verbal content which will resonate with the public. These icons have also been extremely supportive in engaging with women voters, as sometimes women voters are suppressed when they are forced to prescribe to the same political views as their male family members. Male party workers are frequently at the centre of political movements and campaigns, however these grassroots leaders have successfully carried out this campaign without any intervention or unsolicited advice from other men.

The TMC party leader, Mamata Banerjee, is a woman who is dedicated to supporting the grass roots in West Bengal. The female grassroots leaders, who are carrying out this work, are symbolic of Banerjee visiting her constituents, listening to them, and connecting with them. The mobilization of these female grassroots leaders is a positive step forward, as it encourages women in remote villages to engage in politics, and encourages their voices to be heard. 

The West Bengal election is scheduled to take place at the beginning of May.

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(Madansarafilm.com)

Madan Sara is a new film which explores the power of Black women in the global economy, and how their contributions often go unacknowledged. The documentary focuses on the lives of Haitian women, whose lives are regarded as ordinary and extraordinary. Madan Sara discusses important issues such as structural violence, government failures, and resistance to neoliberalism in the Global South. 

The women in Haiti, known as the madan sara, work tirelessly everyday to buy, distribute, and sell food in the nation’s local markets. Despite the obstacles that these women have endured, the Haitian economy is extremely dependent on these women and they act as a defining feature of the country. The documentary portrays stories of these women who face hardship and social stigma, yet still manage to put their children through school and provide shelter for their family. 

There is a place where women live near trees that, blowing in the wind, sound like music … These women, they are fluttering lanterns on the hills, the fireflies in the night … There is always a place where women, like cardinal birds return to look at their own faces in stagnant bodies of water … Where women return to their children as butterflies … My mother was as brave as stars at dawn - Edwidge Danticat, author

Haiti is a nation which is often portrayed as one which is in need, and one which is struggling. Madan Sara does not depict clips of the poverty trope in Haiti, but rather focuses on the vibrant atmosphere in the marketplace, and the contributions that the madan sara make to society and the economy everyday. Throughout the film, women’s voices are centred and these women even offer policy recommendations so that in the future, the madan sara will no longer be marginalized. They make up a very crucial aspect of the economy and it is important that they are treated with the respect they deserve. 

Madan Sara explodes many of the binaries that the media has used to characterize Haiti: urban versus rural, rich versus poor, lack versus abundance. Seemingly simple in its focus, the documentary takes on a number of broader global issues: the history of Haitian agriculture, government corruption and neglect, resistance to a capitalist system that denies the collective.

It is impossible to talk about Madan Sara without understanding [this broader context because] their work is a resistance movement against neo-liberal policies - Filmmaker Etant Dupain

The feminist documentary tackles important issues in Haiti, which is also a reflection of every Black woman’s contributions that are so important, but which go unnoticed. In honour of International Women’s Day, the Madan Sara Project, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, will be hosting a free online screening of Madan Sara on March 8, 2021 at 6:00pm EST. 

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Later this year, the UK’s first LGBTQ+ retirement community will be opening, providing queer-affirming housing for older members of the LGBTQ+ community. Tonic Housing was awarded a £5.7 million loan, from the mayor of London, to purchase 19 properties in Vauxhall, Lambeth. 

We are making history today, realising a long held dream to provide a safe place for older LGBT+ people to live well, in a community where they can be themselves and enjoy their later life. We applaud the Mayor of London for recognising and supporting the needs of older LGBT+ Londoners - Anna Kear, Tonic Housing, CEO

This new facility, known as Tonic@Bankhouse, will make history. The retirement community will create and host events and activities for the residents, based on their interests, which will include collaborations with LGBTQ+ organizations and support providers. The community will celebrate LGBTQ+ identities every single day. Additionally, all Bankhouse staff will have undergone LGBTQ+-focused training. 

Tonic@Bankhouse is a major milestone for the LGBTQ+ community. Elderly members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a disadvantage as the UK does not currently have any LGBTQ+-affirming provision in care facilities, something which is very much necessary. 

The new living space will consist of one and two-bedroom homes, with views of central London. Sales for homes will begin this Spring. 

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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. 

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