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Global Roundup: Somalian Women’s Rights Activist, Senegalese Women in Hip-Hop, Moldova’s Peaceful Pride, Indian Muslim Women Performing Hajj, Women Freedivers in South Korea
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Dhubo Abdi, speaking at a meeting organised for women activists to engage with traditional leaders. (Safer World)
Dhubo Mohamed Abdi is a women’s rights activist in Kismayo, Somalia, focusing on eliminating gender-based violence and increasing women’s participation in political and peacebuilding activities. She has recently collaborated with different community members and organizations to address violence against women in the Jubaland state in Somalia and promote women’s participation in peacebuilding at community and state levels.
Abdi works with local authorities and community leaders to raise awareness about women’s rights, bringing together women activists and traditional leaders that have dedicated their time to developing women’s peace platforms in Kismayo. One of the traditional leaders she engages with, Omar Abdi, works with government officials to strengthen women’s peace coalitions, detect and prevent conflict-related sexual violence, and support security and justice institutions that protect women from violence.
Lack of safety and security... acts as a major barrier to girls' and young women's activism. Sometimes I can’t engage in issues I am passionate about because they are too dangerous. – Dhubo Mohamed Abdi
Some examples of activities that Abdi and her fellow activists have implemented are establishing women’s centres in Jubaland, which provide women with a safe space to access support services like counselling, legal aid, and healthcare. These centres also offer skills training and income-generating activities. Each of these activities and training modules have been developed to ensure the women of Kismayo are financially independent, free, and secure.
As women who advocate for the rights of other women in a predominantly patriarchal society, Abdi and her comrades have endured harassment and discrimination, but it has not affected their dedication to supporting women in accessing their rights and freedoms.
We were facing a lot of challenges as women activists, including threats and harassment from those who did not want us to speak out about violence against women. But by working with traditional leaders and establishing these peace platforms, we have been able to create a safer space for women to come together and advocate for our rights. – Dhubo Mohamed Abdi
‘It is women who give life’ … Sister LB (centre) in the video for her song Maa La Dig Tekki. Photograph: YouTube (The Guardian)
Sister LB is a 34-year-old hip-hop artist from Dakar, Senegal who wants to empower women and highlight social injustice through her music. This has led her to become part of the flourishing women’s rap and hip-hop scene in Senegal, upholding the nation’s legacy of socially conscious and radically urban music. Rapping since the age of 13, Sister LB has lived on the outskirts of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, her entire life.
In 2019, she released her first single, Ji Gën, meaning ‘woman’ in Senegal’s most widely spoken language, Wolof. The song is a celebration and demonstrates that women’s happiness is important and their lives matter. Released a few months ago, her newest single, Do Xool, rejects the traditional expectation that a woman’s role in life is to have babies, and celebrates the other accomplishments in their life.
Everyone knows I’m the rapper who carries the voice of women, no matter what. We are seen as the weak sex but we are a strong sex – it is us who give life. If I didn’t amplify the voice of women, it would be like denying my own voice and killing myself. – Sister LB
Senegalese hip-hop has challenged marginality and engaged in political critique for decades. Artists have repeatedly spoken up about government failures, and have encouraged young people to vote to enact change. Although, it is a risky undertaking; well-known artist Nitdoff was imprisoned this year for speaking out against the current government. Despite the outspoken commentary about social issues, the hip-hop scene in Senegal is still widely dominated by men. Artist Magui says that older generations are wary of rap because they see it as the stereotypical form of music that promotes illegal activity.
They see it as an area where there are only men. There are stereotypes involving gangs and other toxic things. Conservative values and the social reality here in Senegal mean that many girls can’t go far in [a rap career]. We’re still fighting for equality between men and women in hip-hop. It is something that is coming. The numbers of female artists are increasing. – Magui
DJ Zenya, playing music in Dakar. (The Guardian)
DJ Zeyna, a 31-year-old artist, combines her music with protest because she feels it is her duty. She frequently uses her platforms to raise awareness for women’s rights and injustice and is active in the campaign to free Nitdoff. She, like many others, believes that women deserve a seat at the table. DJ Zeyna has also created a charity to train other women to DJ.
I am a person who doesn’t like injustice and who loves their country. I don’t sit with my arms crossed. I fight for my country…This is what I have wanted since I was a child. I had to prove that I could do it and I had to continue. – Dj Zeyna
A Ukrainian couple from Odesa hug at the Moldova Pride march, 18 June 2023 | Lucy Martirosyan (Open Democracy)
For the first time in Moldova’s history, the annual Pride parade did not require any police protection, making it the most peaceful Pride parade ever in Moldova. Hundreds of activists, supporters, and members of the LBGTQ+ community showed up on Sunday in the capital city of Chisinau to show their outpouring of love and support for the queer community.
The decision to not employ any police protection signals that attitudes in Moldova are changing. In previous years, the annual Pride parade has been met with protesters linked to the Orthodox church. Although one hundred or so protesters showed up, it did not compare to the volume of protesters that showed up at Pride parades in the past. Since the 2020 election of President Maia Sandu, who pledged last month that Moldova would join the EU, the country has seen more reforms and policies that are targeted at being pro-European and embracing diversity.
Judging from the march, European Moldova is progressively moving towards a normal society of people with diverse views. Political will is still needed in order for us to be accepted in normal fashion in this society. – Alexei Marcivov, GenderDom-M
The event was organized by GenderDom-M (GDM), the oldest and most prominent LGBTQ+ organization in Moldova. In a country that has only been independent for 30 years, GDM celebrates in 25th anniversary this year, a testament to the resilience and perseverance of the LGBTQ+ community. Currently, Moldova does not recognize same-sex unions, and although activists do not expect any changes to happen quickly, they will continue to advocate for the cause at events such as Pride.
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An Indian Muslim woman waits to get vaccinated ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage beginning on June 26. EPA (The National News)
Last year, the Saudi Arabian government announced that women would be able to perform Hajj, the holy pilgrimage in Islam, without a male guardian, or mahram, present. Traditionally, women have never been allowed to perform the pilgrimage alone, which has made it difficult for women around the world to partake in the hajj. This change to the law has opened up the door for millions of Muslims around the world.
Zubeda Mohammed’s husband died from Covid-19.
I am sad that he is not there on this pilgrimage. We wanted to go together. But I still want to go and fulfil that wish of a lifetime…He was working in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and had performed Hajj twice. After he came back a few years later, he had promised to take me too. But his untimely death changed everything. - Zubeda Mohammed, 56
Zubeda Mohammed is one of 4,300 women from India, preparing to perform hajj this month without a mahram. In a historic journey to Makkah, these women will have the opportunity to partake in one of the five essential pillars of Islam. India is home to more than 200 million Muslims, with tens of thousands of people travelling to Saudi Arabia every year. This year alone, more than 175,000 pilgrims from India are set to perform the hajj.
‘We’re like family’. The new generation of haenyeo together with some veterans. Photograph: Louise Krüger (The Guardian)
The haenyeo are a group of South Korean women freedivers who are upholding a centuries-old women’s tradition in Geoje Island, South Korea. Hailing from Jeju, the largest island in South Korea, the first haenyeo began diving to escape from the shadow of men and achieve a new level of independence that few Korean women had. Initially born out of need, the haenyeo take care of the ocean and harvest food for the island.
With the diversification and growth of the South Korean economy, many of the older women did not expect the traditional practice to continue with the new generation. A recent survey found that more than half of the region’s divers were more than 70 years old. After understanding that women who were not born into the practice needed a place to learn and grow and after a wave of enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the Jeju haenyeo tradition, the Geoje Island community founded the Geoje Haenyeo Academy.
The Geoje Haenyeo Academy makes it possible for every Korean woman interested in the practice to learn from the community and join other women freedivers as haenyeo. Women who have taken on the diving practice say they prefer it to what they describe as tough Korean work culture. The women harvest whatever food is available, but there is less food to harvest nowadays and there are threats and injuries caused by water pressure. Even if there is some food available, the haenyeo also care for the ocean and want to live with it, not against it. They will only harvest whatever is feasible and reasonable, remembering that supporting the ocean is their priority, not over-harvesting.
The work we do is risky. There is no room for mistakes. But every day they become a little better. We’re like family. – Lee Bok-soon, 69-year-old freediver
Thus far, over 100 recruits have graduated, with 15 women moving on to become full-time divers. With Geoje’s small community of 90 haenyeo, these numbers demonstrate a younger generation’s willingness to uphold a sacred tradition. Although it is a journey that takes years, the young haenyeo are ready to take on this new chapter in their lives.
I think diving is a job that cannot be replaced by machines. Haenyeo work to preserve nature while reaping the benefits from it. The older freedivers know the cycle of mother nature and follow the rules to keep it alive as they can. I hope their story and spirit can be passed on. – Shin Ho-jin, 37-year-old freediver
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.