Global Roundup: South Korea Same-Sex Couples, Black Women Photographers Directory, British Muslim Fashion Influencer vs Islamophobia, Filipinas of 1st Lesbian Pride, Celebrating Indigenous “Cholitas"
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Participants gather at Seoul City Hall Plaza during a Pride event. (Getty) via Pink News
South Korea has recognised the legal status of same-sex couples for the first time, by allowing them to have the same health insurance rights as heterosexual couples. The landmark ruling comes after Seoul High Court overturned a ruling by a lower court in January. The higher court found a health insurer did owe coverage to the spouse of one of its customers after the firm withdrew it after discovering the pair were gay.
Though it is the first time South Korea has recognised same-sex partners’ legal rights, the country still does not recognise same-sex marriage.
The couple involved in the case, So Sung-uk and Kim Yong-min, said the process was long but they were happy with the outcome.
I am delighted because I felt like the judges told us through a court decision that the feelings of love I have for my husband should not be the target of ignorance or insults. -So Sung-uk
Kim was registered on So’s insurance scheme as a spousal dependent but the insurance company ordered Kim to pay contributions as well due to the pair not being legally married. However, the high court ruled that spousal coverage was not limited to legally defined families – married couples – and that denying that right was discrimination. Amnesty International’s east Asia researcher Boram Jang believes it is a step in the right direction.
There is still a long way to go to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, but this ruling offers hope that prejudice can be overcome…This ruling is significant as the first decision legally recognising same-sex couples to be made by a court at any level in South Korea, but much more needs to be done to end discrimination against, and criminalisation of, the LGBTQ+ community. -Boram Jang
KRESHONNA KEANE FOR HUFFPOST
Polly Irungu, a 28-year-old photographer and photo editor born in Kenya and now based in the US, is the founder of Black Women Photographers, an online directory of Black women and nonbinary photographers. Irungu had noticed a need for community among other Black women trying to find their way in the publishing industry and she wanted to get them hired. She was tired of hearing excuses from editors and brands who often claimed they could not find new or established photographers from diverse backgrounds to hire because they did not know where to look.
My goal at the time was really to just have a one-stop shop for people to find us and hire us. And then, how can I also just find community? I was just feeling very lonely, and the craft is already so isolating because it’s just an independent job. -Polly Irungu
Today, Black Women Photographers — a global community and database of Black women and nonbinary photographers — has grown to over 1,500 members in over 60 countries. Black Women Photographers offers free educational workshops, photo events, in-person and virtual meetups, and portfolio reviews with editors at established news organizations. In 2020, Irungu started a COVID relief fund for the organization, which raised $14,000 to help photographers out of work because of the pandemic. And in just over two years, Black Women Photographers has been able to give over $150,000 in grants.
Irungu herself has taken on assignments to document moments in history. One of her last assignments was for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. She shot descendants of the massacre — and relied on her top rules she follows in her work: listen first, respect your subjects and photograph them “in their truest light.”
I think being able to move across America a couple of times has allowed me to be able to — within my work as a journalist or within my work as a photographer — be able to actually get to understand people and talk to people and lead with more empathy. I never want to overstep or cause harm with anything that I do. -Polly Irungu
Irungu hopes Black Women Photographers will keep expanding, with more brands hiring and collaborating with the photographers in the database. She is not done helping others and is hoping to keep building community within the organization.
For me, it’s always just being able to pass down what I know and really just inspire somebody along the way because I was taught and inspired by somebody else. -Polly Irungu
Salma Masrour (Instagram/Salma Masrour via Middle East Eye)
Salma Masrour is a British Muslim influencer who wants modest fashion influencers to be recognised for their work. Masrour, who lives in the UK and is of Moroccan descent, has over 180,000 followers on Instagram where she shares photos and videos of her style choices, as well as video blogs on her lifestyle and travel experiences.
She says she has been doing this work for seven years now. According to Masrour, a lot has changed in the fashion industry since she first got involved in lifestyle influencing, most notably the growth in the popularity of people like herself. Now, it is more common to see brands creating modest clothing, as Muslim women have been recognised as a potential market valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
Masrour, who collaborates with major brands, says that influencers have played a role in getting big companies to take Muslim women seriously and assign budgets for collections with them in mind. But despite this progress, she says that the industry still needs to do a lot more in terms of representation.
We often see big campaigns and there’s just one woman in a hijab. We’re not seen for our talents or our work, we’ve become like a diversity tick box. Sometimes at events, I’m the only one in hijab. -Salma Masrour
The rights of hijab-wearing women are a topic close to Masrour’s heart. Last November she was at the centre of a social media storm after a restaurant in Paris allegedly refused to seat her on account of her headscarf. In a series of videos that have been viewed more than a million times, Masrour says the popular Gigi restaurant in Paris told her there was no available seating while her white friend – who does not wear a hijab – was immediately offered a table.
The incident caused outrage online and the restaurant was forced to limit comments on its social media posts due to the backlash. Even months after the incident, Masrour remains indignant about the episode and says the restaurant's promise to “make changes” came too late and does not go far enough. For Masrour, the incident was an insight into the discrimination women who choose to wear the hijab in France face. She has since begun legal action against the restaurant.
This was just one small incident and made me feel horrible, so I can’t imagine how women in hijab in France feel. -Salma Masrour
Masrour is now even more determined to use her platform to speak out on issues related to the hijab and prejudice against Muslim women. She also wants to continue empowering Muslim women as well. She hopes to do this by continuing to build her following and by establishing relationships with big companies to make modest fashion more visible.
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This photo shows Filipinas joining the Pride March of The Lesbian Collective in 1992. via PhilStar
“Lesbian Pride Stories,” an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the first lesbian pride march in the Philippines, took place earlier this month. Giney Villar was one of the speakers at the event who says that lesbian women’s early acts of expression and pride laid the ground for lesbian women today to assert their “right to be seen.”
The participation of Filipino lesbian women in the International Women’s March in 1992 was deemed an "important precursor" to the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March held in the Philippines in 1996 according to Villar. She read a statement during the march on behalf of The Lesbian Collective, one of the earliest lesbian organizations in the Philippines.
At the time, it was still difficult even among women to say the word ‘lesbian,’ even though we were all holding a big banner proclaiming ourselves as The Lesbian Collective. -Giney Villar
Lorna Israel, another member of The Lesbian Collective who helped organize the first lesbian march, said that they had to “negotiate for space” in the women’s march. The Lesbian Collective was also threatened to be cut off from the program due to time constraints, according to Israel and Villar.
It was important to claim a public space. It was important for that space to allow us to be seen, and most importantly, to be applauded. -Lorna Israel
Thirty years after the first lesbian pride march, lesbian women in the Philippines, along with other members of the LGBTQ community, have yet to enjoy the right to marry their partner or to be protected from gender-based discrimination. Even the sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) bill that merely seeks to protect against SOGIE-based discrimination in the workplace, educational institutions, healthcare facilities and public places continues to face hurdles at the Congress. Villar believes that the seeming absence of lesbian women in media and popular culture contributes to holding back legislation.
However, despite the glaring gaps in legislation to strengthen the rights and protection of lesbian women, Villar says that there is less pressure now for women who wear masculine clothing to “soften” their looks, adding that feminists had helped to debunk misconceptions about gender over the years. Israel says that lesbian women today can take up more space in the academe, politics and other industries without having to negotiate for their “right to exist.”
Every time you react, you rejoice, you respond to discrimination, you create a space for yourself. For lesbian women, every minute is a space-carving act. -Lorna Israel
Dressed as a cholita, María Luz Coca Luján is keeping her Indigenous culture alive in the United States, one TikTok at a time. (Video: Hadley Green/The Washington Post)
María Luz Coca Luján is a social media influencer and cultural preservationist with her digital persona, “K’ancha,” dressed like the Indigenous “cholitas” of her native Bolivia. She has been battling to keep Quechua, the Indigenous South American language, alive.
Coca Luján is there at birthdays, baptisms and graduation parties, emceeing the festivities and broadcasting them to family members a continent away. She helps run an Instagram account that promotes Quechua to English-speaking youth. Her radio show, streamed live on Facebook and TikTok most weekday afternoons, features a mix of music and off-the-cuff commentary in both Quechua and Spanish for a combined following of more than 180,000 people.
A handful of other Bolivian women play a similar role in Northern Virginia, home to the largest Bolivian population in the US, each with their own social-media radio show and following across the diaspora. They all self-identify as cholitas, or women who claim their Indigenous Andean heritage and preserve this style of dress.
The objective that I started with has always been to maintain our culture within our community. Being able to dance in the cholita skirt, jumping, having fun — it’s like a whole new sensation. It makes me feel more connected with my family, like I am at home. -María Luz Coca Luján
Coca Luján was inspired to start this work when she moved to the United States in 2017 to work as an au pair and finally understood the value of traditional fashion. All alone in an unfamiliar country, she struggled to feel at home and find other South Americans. She was also astounded at how much Bolivian culture was present in Northern Virginia.
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.