Global Roundup: Somalia Women & Drought, Laos Sexual Health Crisis, Yemen Women’s Rights, Book Documenting Stonewall Protests, Lebanon Pioneering Trans Woman
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Women who are internally displaced gather at Dolow health centre in the southern Gedo region of Somalia [UNFPA Somalia] via Al Jazeera
Somalia is grappling with its worst drought in 40 years, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the country says this has threatened and displaced more than 1.9 million women and girls of reproductive age.
Aisha Hussein had to travel four hours away to see a doctor for the first time since her pregnancy when she went into labor. Distance and the cost of seeking care held her back, especially because of the drought. Hussein lost her baby girl due to complications. Malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women is soaring, posing severe risks to their health and wellbeing. Hussein’s doctor said that even if her baby had made it, the malnourished mother could not have breastfed her.
A recent report by UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, says access to healthcare, including family planning and maternal health, has been severely compromised in districts of Somalia that are at risk of famine.
All concrete indications show the country is facing famine and 80 percent of the affected people are the women, children and the elderly, and if there is no adequate funding to respond, there will be a catastrophe in Somalia as a result of the climate change impact. -Abdirahman Abdishakur
On top of the daily struggle to survive, the UN says at least 720,000 Somali women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence. The high prevalence of violence against women comes as they now make longer journeys to obtain food or water, which leaves them vulnerable to sexual assault. Out of the nearly two million displaced women and girls of reproductive age, UN data shows there has been a 21 percent increase in reported rape cases in drought-affected communities since 2021. There is a dire need for more mental health support for those depressed in the camps as well.
In a makeshift camp in the Dolow district, Asma Adan, 29, from Gof-gaduud, a village northwest of Baidoa, says her depression was triggered by losing everything to the drought, including crops and livestock.
The worst was when I couldn’t get anything to feed my children for two days and had no clean water. My children and I become malnourished, and that has deeply affected my mental health. I also lost my menstruation period because of the depression. -Asma Adan
Women and girls continue to face the brunt of the consequences of climate change. Their reproductive and mental wellbeing must urgently be addressed.
LEFT: DR VANNY KEOPSEUTH SHOWS PATIENTS HOW TO USE A CONDOM SAFELY IN A MAKESHIFT COUNSELLING SPACE IN A DISTRICT HOSPITAL. RIGHT: A YOUNG WOMAN, NA, HOLDING CONDOMS SHE HAD JUST BEEN GIVEN BY A FAMILY PLANNING CLINIC. ALL PHOTOS: SOPHIA SMITH GALER VIA VICE
Stigma around using contraception before marriage and the belief that only sex workers contract STIs is driving a sexual health crisis in Laos, and a new railway connecting into China could make things even worse.
Laos is battling one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates and the highest teen pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia. Here, a third of women aged between 15 and 19 years are married or living with their partners – while the age of consent is technically set at the age of majority, 18, relationships below that age are widely accepted. There is a strong association between marriage and using contraception. Many unmarried couples do not see condoms, the pill or other options like the implant are for them. However, girls are expelled from school if they marry or fall pregnant.
In Laos culture, if you believe contraception is only for after marriage, in the opposite way if you are still single you will think contraceptive use means you are not a good girl or you are a sex worker. -Dr Southisouk Inthavilay, deputy director of Lao’s Promotion of Family Health Association
Sexual health services in Laos are reliant on international aid, and foreign aid workers across the board fear their work will be undone once they leave. Sally Sakulku, UNFPA’s sexual reproductive health programme coodinator, can remember a number of French NGOs undertaking projects when she started working in the space in 2001. Once the projects were completed, they would leave in the hope that the local community and government would take on the learnings and funding needs themselves. In Oudomxay Provincial Hospital, the family planning doctor Dr Vanny Keopseuth said that she used to reach a lot of sex workers in her clinic when there was a local programme funded by the Asian Development Bank. But now that that funding has disappeared, so have all the sex workers she used to see walk in.
The Boten–Vientiane railway, set to transform Laos as the only landlocked country in southeast Asia, began running in December 2021. Intended to strengthen trade and tourism with China, Laos paid a substantial amount of the full $6 billion it is said to have cost. But experts fear that sex tourism, and sexual exploitation, could become an even bigger problem in Laos because of this railway.
Laos doesn’t have a developed healthcare system that can address the needs of sex workers – the country’s protection system is not developed enough to address the needs of those who are coerced into sex work. Social stigma is high. Our fear is negative health outcomes and rights violations. - Israt Jahan Baki, head of adolescent development and participation programme at Plan International
Despite the stigma, lack of access and other barriers, many women in Laos are advocating for themselves and ensuring their partners are using condoms or other contraceptive methods. Women are also spreading awareness. In a small village health centre, the village leader who only gave her first name, Supmanee, drops by to get her contraceptive injections, which she has been taking for 9 years. She told VICE World News that she holds four monthly meetings in the village, during which she directs young people to access the clinic’s services.
The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands, devastated Yemen's economy, left millions hungry, plunging the country into a humanitarian crisis of disastrous proportions. But perhaps one development can be seen in a positive light even if it was unintentional. Suddenly, many women enjoyed greater freedom of movement than before. The catastrophic humanitarian conditions meant that women had to actively contribute to the welfare of society far more than had traditionally been the case. Many traveled the length and breadth of the country in unprecedented manner.
Lamia, a young Yemeni woman who has worked in a humanitarian aid organization for more than three years, is worried that this might soon no longer be possible for her. The Iranian-backed Houthis — who rose up against the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in 2012 and, after years of war, control the southwest of the country, including the capital, Sanaa — are enforcing "mahram" requirements, a guardianship system under which women must be accompanied by male relatives when they travel. Lamia’s father cannot accompany her on trips due to financial reasons and poor health.
The arrangement is frustrating, according to Samar, a human rights activist (name changed). It is impractical to have men accompany women, since many male family members have to work and hardly have time to do so. It also deprives women of their natural right to freedom of movement, which is protected by the constitution, the activist argues. The ruling "treats us women like immature beings," she says.
It puts the brakes on our struggle for progress and development, prevents female education and promotes the increase of gender-based violence. -Samar
The new requirement goes against the constitution, current laws and international agreements on the protection of women's rights, including their right to freedom of movement, says Huria Mashhour, a former Yemeni minister for human rights and human rights activist. The government says that the law is in place to protect women and prevent human trafficking. Even critics do not deny that, given the precarious security situation, travel in Yemen is risky for women in particular. However, the women and their families are aware of the danger and take appropriate security measures, they say. They say restricting women's freedoms and development opportunities cannot be justified by this argument.
Photo by Ramie Ahmed via them.us
Revolution Is Love: A Year of Black Trans Liberation is a book released earlier this year by Aperture Foundation immortalizing the 2020 Stonewall protests through a selection of their images. For many of them, it was a deeply personal experience. Them interviewed abolitionist organizers Qween Jean to reflect not only on the protests themselves but on the origins of Revolution Is Love and what she hopes the book provides for future generations.
For us, the foundation of the protest each week was rooted in message, advocating and uplifting Black Lives Matter and Black liberation. It was really about educating folks and making the corollary that that also had to include Black queer and Black trans folks. That there will be no Black liberation without us. -Qween Jean
Jean discusses the pride for them in showing up every week, in the same way that people might show up for church or their place of worship.
A few months into the Stonewall Protests, Jean had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan McGinley, who had been a fierce advocate, photojournalist, and family member for Stonewall Protests. Ryan asked Jean what she would want the book to look like and she shared that it would be amazing to have messaging throughout the book.
…I thought it would be vital for people to see that our revolution is not a violent revolution. We’re not violent people but we’re living in a violent era. We’re living in a violent world that will do everything to not only discourage us, but to dehumanize us at the same time. So, there is power not only in being present, but there’s power being joyful as resistance. -Qween Jean
Jean mentions the commitment and dedication of the photographers and image makers, many of whom would travel with protestors to Minneapolis, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas. She calls them her “family” and “tribe.” Jean’s desire for the book was trans visibility. She hopes the book can be a “healing balm” for people in the same way the protests have been for her.
I want the world to know that Revolution is Love is a love letter to them. That they are not only enough but that they are seen. That they have siblings who look like them — who may not look like them — but most importantly who love them. -Qween Jean
Photo by Mohamad Abdouni/Blind magazine via 76Crimes
A figure in the trans world, Em Abed was one of the first to dare to dress as a woman and walk around Beirut in the 1990s. -Élodie Bouffard, exhibition’s curator
The country’s history did not hold Em Abed back. But like many members of the LGBTQ+ community, she was buried in oblivion – until Mohamad Abdouni decided to rehabilitate her memory.
To bring his series, “Treat Me Like Your Mother”, to life, Abdouni collaborated with Helem, an organization that defend queer rights, and with the Fondation Arabe pour l’image (Arab Image Foundation). Using archival images and studio portraits, the photographer tells the story of ten trans women: their childhoods, their traumas during the Lebanese war, their professions, their families and their joys.
The title of the project makes it easy to imagine the artist’s intention: that everyone should respect these women and their lives as they would respect their own mothers. After being the stars of Beirut at the end of the 20th century, most of these trans women have fallen into poverty. Abdouni offers them a place again, this time as works of art.
Mohamad Abdouni is making a militant archive, in order to found the history of the Lebanese queer community, to make the trajectories of these women the stages of a historical fresco, to prevent them from being forgotten. -Élodie Bouffard
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.