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Global Roundup: South Africa First Black Woman Freediving Instructor, Puerto Rico LGBTQ Community & Hurricane Devastation, Tunisia IPV Law, Zimbabwe Lesbian Refugee, Ghana Trans Musician
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Zandile Ndhlovu, South Africa’s first black female freediving instructor, is changing perceptions of the ocean. Photograph: Zander Botha/Courtesy of Black Mermaid Foundation via The Guardian
Even the wetsuits, they were not designed for a black woman. It fits your hips so you wear it, but the water is gushing in everywhere else. So all these challenges can’t help but remind you that you are the only one. -Zandile Ndhlovu
Born in Soweto, Johannesburg, Ndhlovu grew up far from the coast, and like many children in South Africa, was raised on tales of why she should never go near deep water. Only 15% of South Africans can swim – and most of those are white. During apartheid, white children would play in the private pools that remain a fixture of middle-class suburban homes, while few Black children would even have seen a public swimming pool. With up to four people drowning every day in South Africa’s lakes, dams, oceans and private pools, almost all of them Black, that legacy remains.
In South Africa, Black people are displaced from the ocean, it is a haunted place, and its history wraps around this narrative firmly, a place of the transatlantic slave trade. So how do we unbox the water from only being a white people’s space? For me, I need to be in the ocean, it is where I feel peace. -Zandile Ndhlovu
In 2020, Ndhlovu qualified as a freediving instructor. She documents her journey on her blog The Black Mermaid as a way to diversify the ocean and change the narrative surrounding Black people and swimming. The environmental degradation of the ocean is something that concerns Ndhlovu greatly and she believes that connecting children with the underwater world helps raise their awareness.
I see the parents in shock, they say, ‘Never in my life did I think to see my kids under the ocean.’ It’s a generational thing but it gives them pride and equal status because being in the ocean has been a very exclusive thing, even for people who live close by. -Zandile Ndhlovu
RICARDO ARDUENGO/GETTY IMAGES via Teen Vogue
The LGBTQ community, who often struggle in Caribbean societies, have been left particularly devastated as they deal with discrimination, lack of access to resources, and trouble getting life-saving medications amid the destruction left behind by hurricanes. On September 18, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, dropping more than 30 inches of rain across the region. The storm devastated the island, wiping out electricity and infrastructure just five years after Hurricane Maria left an impact that Puerto Rico still has yet to fully recover from.
Pedro Julio Serrano is a human rights activist and the president of Waves Ahead, a community-based organization that aids people LGBTQ adults, including those living with HIV. Serrano says that Puerto Rico’s ongoing crises — economic, governmental, and health — are amplified for queer people living with HIV, particularly in the aftermath of a devastating storm.
We don't see the community-based organizations that are doing the real work getting that [federal funding] and those resources to make sure we rebuild from a community-based standpoint…Sometimes we get companies and entities from outside Puerto Rico [that] come here and they just want to come in and do things without consulting us, without understanding our culture and history. -Pedro Julio Serrano
In the aftermath of Maria, at least three popular queer establishments were forced to shut down, leaving even fewer places for regulars to socialize and feel connected to a larger community. Now, with Fiona’s destruction, the queer community is once again left without some of these safe spaces.
[The storm] has impacted me emotionally, specifically my mental health; I can't believe that the heavy rains of Fiona impacted so much of the island. We are not ready for another. -Diane Michelle, Afro-Boricua transgender woman
Love In Gravity podcast is a show dedicated to shining light on the experiences of queer Latinx people living with HIV. It tells stories about the community that reflect the universal experience of love. As physical entities were shattered in the wake of Fiona, locals and community organizers have worked endlessly to make sure the voices and faces of the LGBTQ youth are kept alive. Love In Gravity's stories have brought art as a use of mutual aid to expand access to critical information like housing access, HIV prevention, and queer safety back to the forefront.
Authorities in Tunisia have not done enough to protect women against intimate partner violence despite the country adopting progressive legislation five years ago, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tunisia passed Law 58 in 2017 to tackle domestic violence against women and it was regarded as a pioneering initiative, but the HRW report said that “insufficient” implementation has kept women in the country unsafe. The law expanded the definition of punishable violence, including sexual harassment in public spaces. It was also meant to guarantee legal, financial and social support for survivors.
Kenza Ben Azouz, the author of the HRW report “So What If He Hit You?: Addressing Domestic Violence in Tunisia,” said that the 2017 law is generally “very strong,” but added that there are amendments that could be made within the law, such as recognizing explicitly sexual violence within couples. What is worrying, she added, is that the law is not being fully implemented due to “insufficient funds allocated to the law’s implementation.”
Five years after the promulgation of this progressive and ambitious text, the authorities’ actions have been insufficient. -Salsabil Chellali, HRW’s Tunisia director
Tunisian police registered nearly 69,000 complaints of violence against women last year, but “the real magnitude of domestic violence is however difficult to gauge, in part due to poor data collection and the social and economic pressure on women to tolerate men’s violence,” according to the report. Women interviewed said the police did not explain to them their rights and options and responded dismissively to their complaints. Officers have also pressed women “to reconcile with their abusers or acquiesce to family mediation rather than pursue criminal complaint,” the report said. Another issue is inadequate access to emergency shelters, particularly in rural areas.
Laws intended to protect women continue to fall short. Many activists say that they do not want to be protected by the law or the state and demand a society where they can live freely instead. Still, better enforcement of the law has the potential to help survivors and it is important that the report is addressed by those in power.
Members of the South African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community chant slogans as they take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade. (RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty) via Pink News
Beverly had to make the painful decision to pack up her things and flee to South Africa in search of safety due to her sexuality. The Zimbabwean knew that same-sex relationships were not accepted in the country where homosexuality is criminalized.
Beverly recalls how she forced herself into relationships with men from the age of 19 in a desperate bid to live the traditional life society expected of her. After just two years of dating men, she found herself a single mother of two children – and she was becoming increasingly aware that her sexuality was not a phase, as she once hoped it was.
The LGBTQ+ community in Zimbabwe, they have to hide. The moment they find out you are part of the community you are over and done with. I had a cousin of mine, she came out as a lesbian and she was sentenced to jail. -Beverly
Life was good for Beverly until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which resulted in her losing her job in hospitality. It was a turbulent time, but it led her to get involved with the Dream Academy, an initiative which offers classes to those who need them. After taking classes herself through the Dream Academy, she was given the chance to run her own class on parenting. Those classes also inspired her to rebuild her relationship with her son, who was raised in Zimbabwe by her sister. She travelled back to Zimbabwe to meet her son face to face so she could talk to him about his sexuality. The trip was a success – they are now closer than ever.
While Beverly has built a life for herself in South Africa, where she now lives with her partner, she still does not have permanent residency. When she first arrived in the country, she claimed asylum – but her refugee status was ultimately withdrawn when she briefly travelled home to Zimbabwe to visit a sick family member. At the time of the interview, she only had a guarantee that she could remain in South Africa for a couple more months. She is hoping she will be able to get an extension.
But for me I am out and proud on my social media – everyone knows – so for me to go back to Zimbabwe into hiding would roll back everything. -Beverly
Angel Maxine during a music recording session for her album in Accra, Ghana, on Nov. 24, 2022. | Nipah Dennis for Global Citizen
Angel Maxine is a trans musician and activist living and working in Ghana and this past June, her song “Wo Fie” became a viral Pride month hit. On Global Citizen, Angel writes about her experience being a trans woman and musician in Ghana and how glad she was that her song could be used to draw attention to the issues in the country.
Angel discusses how it was difficult growing up in Ghana as a LGBTQ+ community member. Coming out as a trans woman gave her the space to fully embrace herself and her activism. But it came with a price – she lost family, friends, work and accommodation. As an activist, she faces security threats and relies on donations from people to be able to support herself.
“Wo Fie" means "your home" and everybody comes from a home, everybody identifies from a home, everybody identifies from a family. LGBTQ+ people come from homes, LGBTQ+ people have families, LGBTQ+ people have loved ones, too. -Angel Maxine
Angel felt pained by the closure of the LGBTQ+ office, as well as the issues of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill in 2021, and an increase in homophobic attacks. She wrote the song “Wo Fie'' to send out her community’s message to the world about love and acceptance. The song went viral during Pride month, when she posted a video of it on her social media. It became number one trending on TikTok. Angel started gaining a lot of followers on social media and receiving a lot of solidarity messages. People have also donated to her GoFundMe to support her activism. However, the song is not played on the radio in Ghana.
Angel advocates for Ghana to be a safer place for everyone. She calls for radio and TV stations and journalists to be better educated about the LGBTQ+ community so they do not spread misinformation. She also wants the anti-LGBTQ+ bill removed completely.
It’s hard to be bold about things in this homophobic Ghana. [However, thanks to the song] people began to realize we exist in Ghana and we have a voice. It created awareness in the international communities and sparked conversations. -Angel Maxine
To mark World AIDS Day and to help in the fight to end HIV/AIDS, Angel released a new song titled "PrEP," intended to help boost the intake of PrEP. She says that people can support LGBTQ+ Ghanaians through continuous sensitization and education of the general public, joining protests against the anti-LGBTQ+ bill, and the creation of opportunities for queer Ghanaians.
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.