Global Roundup: South Africa Black Feminist Writers, Kid’s Book about Abortion, South Korean Film on Mother-Child Separations, Protesting Homophobia in Hungary, Indonesian Artist Centres Mental Health

Compiled by Inaara Merani

(Wits University Press)


Despite increased access to publications written by individuals from the Global South, as well as increased visibility of Black women, gaps still remain. These gaps translate to individuals reading works from Black, postcolonial and decolonial feminists from Global North countries, leaving behind the experiences of Black women everywhere else. 
The recently published book Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa, brings attention to the many radical Black feminists in South Africa, and the contributions they offer to the field.Surfacing includes 20 chapters which showcases a collection of radical black South African women who have been part of undocumented intellectual and artistic legacies. In this book, notions of transnational and Black feminism are redefined and Black feminist engagement in the South is brought into focus, as it often goes ignored. One chapter titled Do I Make You Uncomfortable, written by Zukiswa Wanner, discusses writing in a predominantly white publishing industry, where Black women writers in South Africa have been reduced to stereotypes.
Wanner reminds us that Black women writers in South Africa have distinct experiences of being stereotyped. She sums this up in her confrontation with one reviewer who described her work as “chick lit”.

And if black women are the majority in South Africa and I am therefore the standard, shouldn’t it just be called a good book? And I was chick lit versus what? Could she point out to me the male authors in South Africa whose books she’d referred to as ‘cock lit’? Take (JM) Coetzee, with his women characters who aren’t well-rounded and don’t seem to have any agency; was he cock lit? - Zukiswa Wanner

Surfacing brings awareness to the absence and acknowledgement of most Black South African women writers, and also discusses how certain women, such as Sara Baartman and Winnie Mandela, have been transformed into global icons. Meanwhile, dozens of other Black feminists from South Africa have gone unnoticed. 

Each chapter in this book is different, with some taking the form of personal essays, and others drawing on poetry. Some chapters also explore the intersections between religion and feminism in South Africa. The collection is extremely diverse in its artistic forms, but also diverse in the experiences and stories that it shares.

Throughout the book, it is evident that the positionality of each writer contributes to their contextual experience and shapes their identity, thus deepening their messages and allowing readers to truly understand which experiences shaped their current livelihood. 

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(Women’s Media Center)

For years, Carly Manes has been working in the reproductive health sector. After having conversations with clients about their needs, she noticed a pattern: many desired more resources for parents who wanted to explain abortion care to their children. 

For years, Carly Manes has been working in the reproductive health sector. After having conversations with clients about their needs, she noticed a pattern: many desired more resources for parents who wanted to explain abortion care to their children. 

Before COVID, a lot of folks brought their kids to the clinic because finding child care is really hard...“So they wanted to talk to their young ones about their abortions and would ask me if I had any advice or if I had any resources. But I did not, so I thought, ‘I guess I'll just try to make one.’ - Carly Manes 

Following these conversations, Manes created What’s an Abortion, Anyway?, a children’s book which she co-created with her colleague Mar, who works as an abortion doula and also produces art. Mar was immediately intrigued and connected with the idea of a children’s book about abortion care, and felt that this was a wonderful opportunity to connect their love of illustration and their work in reproductive health. 

Manes originally started writing the book in 2018, with the intention of having it published by a formal publisher or having an agent represent the book. After emailing 300-400 book agents and 15-20 presses, still no one wanted to endorse or help publish the book. It was then when she decided to self-publish the book and contacted Mar to assist with illustrations and development. 

Working with We Testify, a program of the National Network of Abortion Funds, Manes and Mar were able to use diverse images of individuals who had abortions in the past, and who found power in sharing their stories. The co-creators also wanted to destigmatize abortion and chose to illustrate everyday activities, such as sitting in a field, painting, or hanging out with family because an individual is not defined by abortion. While it is an important moment in their lives, abortions are not the prevailing characteristic in their lives and there is so much more to their lives, which the co-creators wanted to illustrate. 

With over $23,000 raised on their KickStarter, Manes and Mar have surpassed their funding goal and are hopeful that the book will be published soon.  

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Film director Sun Hee Engelstoft poses for photograph after an interview in Seoul, South Korea on May 28, 2021. Bringing her camera to a home for unwed mothers on South Korea’s Jeju island, Engelstoft anticipated an empowering story about young women keeping their babies. She ended up with a raw and unsettling documentary about how a deeply conservative sexual culture, lax birth registration laws and a largely privatized adoption system continue to pressure and shame single mothers into relinquishing their children for adoption. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Sun Hee Engelstoft went to South Korea’s Jeju Island in the hopes of creating an empowering documentary about young unwed women keeping their babies. Instead, she ended up with footage depicting an entirely different narrative. She found that South Korea’s deeply conservative sexual culture, loose birth registration laws, and a privatized adoption system have pressured single mothers into putting their children up for adoption.

Her film Forget Me Not explored the shock and grief of mother-child separations and intense fear of social stigma which prevents thousands of Korean adoptees from reconnecting with their birth mothers after they were raised in western countries.

Limited access to records, falsified documents hiding their true origins, as well as a lack of accountability from adoption agencies and the South Korean government are all factors which contribute to this sense of disconnect between children and their birth parents. 

Every time I started following a woman (at the home), they strongly told me that they wanted to keep their child, and that’s just not what happened...I was completely horrified at the result. - Sun Hee Engelstoft 

Released in South Korea earlier this month, Forget Me Not encapsulated the experiences of thousands of single South Korean women who have been forced to give up their children, but it also was a personal attempt to understand her own mother who gave Engelstoft up at the age of 19. Engelstoft believes that her mother was one of many who had to sign relinquishment forms before their child was born. 

I feel deeply uncomfortable by having been bought and sold, sold by an adoption agency and my adoptive parents paying for me, and I think that I would like to reverse that, - Sun Hee Engelstoft 

In the film, young mothers at Aeseowon are depicted, although their identities have been obscured for privacy. Their lives are just like other teens, doing chores and gossiping, but their lives are also a constant debate of whether or not they should keep their babies or give them up for adoption. In reality, however, this decision has already been made for them. In the film, a 17-year old is seen emotionally breaking down after giving in to her parents. They pressured her into signing an adoption consent form and were then seen taking the baby to Jeju’s airport. There are many stories just like these in the documentary.

Creating this documentary, Engelstoft felt like she was seeing her young mother embodied in all of these young women who have forcibly had to give up their children for adoption. 

My mother probably thinks about this every single day and makes that decision every single day not to contact me...I can grasp how painful that must be. - Sun Hee Engelstoft

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GERGELY BESENYEI/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Hungarian government passed a bill which forbids depictions of queer and transgender people in the media aimed at minors. The bill was advertised as “cracking down” on pedophilia in the nation after a series of scandals in which current or former government officials were accused or charged of possessing child pornography and attending orgies. The bill, however, does not explicitly focus on pedophilia. Rather, it states that any form of media which depicts a diversion from one’s assigned at birth sex, change of gender, or a portrayal of homosexuality will only be permitted to air between 10pm and 5am.

Additionally, LGBTQ+ subjects may only be taught in sex education classes as long as these subjects do not propagate homosexuality. 

While this bill was being proposed, thousands took to the streets outside Hungary’s National Assembly to protest against the bill chanting “We are here!” Opposition lawmakers also staged a walkout in protest of the legislation, but ultimately the Fidesz - the current ruling right-wing party in Hungary - controlled the vote and it was passed with a 157-1 vote on Tuesday. LGBTQ+ groups have also criticized the law, as it follows conservative leaders in the past year who have attempted to ban same-sex adoptions, as well as ban trans people from legally changing their gender. This bill has been compared to Russia’s 2013 law which banned the promulgation of LGBTQ+ propaganda. 

They have a right to an education which helps them develop into healthy, fully rounded people, which means they should receive relevant and comprehensive information about sexuality and family life - a spokesperson for a Hungarian advocacy organization 

More than 83,000 people have also signed a petition opposing the law, and while this has not stopped the implementation of this law, advocates and allies will continue to fight. 
Prime Minister VIktor Orban has won the last three elections, however his reelection bid may be surprisingly difficult due to criticism he has faced for not properly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary has the second-highest COVID death rate of any country in the world, with 84,000 Hungarians passing away. This reelection may serve as an opportunity for opposition groups to take over and overturn many of these conservative laws which have been long targeting the LGBTQ+ community. 

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Faza draws using watercolour at a coffee shop in Depok, West Java, on June 5, 2021. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

For many, art has been an important outlet for mental health issues, as well as stress relief. Finding solace in art is often a common theme in regions which have experienced tragedies or disasters out of their control. 

A young illustrator in Jakarta is embracing her mental health issues through her art. Faza, a 25-year old woman who was born and raised in Depok, West Java, has been drawing since she was five years old. In 2004 when a tsunami struck Indonesia, Faza began using art to depict her emotions, feelings and psychological issues. 

Since I watched the disaster on TV, I felt sad and need to express it through drawing. Even though my drawing it's not good, but the sadness has been reflected. - Faza 

Using references from manga, local illustrators and songs, Faza is able to create her unique art using pastel colours. She noted that pastel colours are a statement of her personality as they are not bold, but they are soft like she is. 

When I'm depressed, I want to draw honestly. When I'm sad, I'll draw sadness. If I'm happy, I'll draw happiness. I want to instill in myself that mental health problems are common. I'm not a 'self-healing' weirdo. Although it doesn't always 'heal,' I have tried. To feel it is to heal it. - Faza

For the last 16 years, Faza has used art to help her cope with her own issues. In Indonesia, mental health is stigmatized and it is difficult to speak up about one’s psychological issues, especially in the Millennial generation.

However, Faza’s Gen Z friends allowed her to accept her mental health issues and learn how to cope and manage her stress. Using art, Faza has been able to relieve stress, and create beautiful works of art in the process. 

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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.