Global Roundup: South Korea Women vs Misogyny, Coopting Kurdish Feminism, Organization for LGBTQ+ Youth, Egypt Sex Education, Exhibition on Black, Queer Identity
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Women in Seoul protest against the government's plans to abolish the gender equality ministry via BBC
South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol is trying to abolish the government's Gender Equality Ministry, which supports women and victims of sexual assault, claiming it is obsolete. Korean women decry this move and are fighting back in their own ways.
Women in the country are paid on average a third less than men, face rampant sexism and are expected to take on most of the housework and childcare. The booming tech industry has contributed to an explosion of digital sex crimes, where women are filmed by tiny hidden cameras as they use the toilet or undress in changing rooms.
Yuna who works as a clerk at a major bank was getting harassed by her boss when she refused to do tasks such as make lunch for the team and take the hand towels from the men's toilet home and wash them. She filmed everything and reported the bank to the government. Last month, the government’s investigation concluded the bank had broken the law by committing sexual harassment and discrimination and it has been ordered to pay a fine.
I do think over the past ten years equality has improved, but this is a small city, and things are not changing here, the president is not looking deep enough. If this ministry disappears, what we have built could collapse. -Yuna
Park Ji-hyun, a women's rights campaigner, was hoping to fight President Yoon’s misogyny when she was asked to lead the liberal opposition party. She had no prior experience in politics but made her name as a student journalist when she uncovered an online sex ring, leading the ringleaders to be sent to prison. Just six months later, Park is no longer in post due to the death threats and sexism she faced.
When I wanted to discuss the economy or the environment, they would say: 'You just focus on what you know - women's issues and sex-crimes'. I realised I was a puppet in this position, being used to gather women's votes. -Park Ji-hyun
The ministry currently accounts for just 0.2% of the government's budget but women say it has made a concrete difference to their lives. Since it was established more than 20 years ago, it has supported the victims of hidden spy-cams and women who have been fired after getting pregnant, and secured more generous child support payments for single mothers. Ana, for example, credits the ministry for saving her life. Six years ago, she was raped by her college professor and was not supported by her family or any resources. The Gender Equality Ministry found her a place in the safe house, provided counselling and helped her to pursue a successful prosecution.
I have received more help from this ministry than my own family, which shares my blood. Closing it is a dangerous idea. -Ana
Though Korean society is seeing an increase in anti-feminist sentiments, women continue to fight for their rights and are adamant that the abolition of the ministry would be a major setback.
Image by Sahar Ghorishi via gal-dem
Amed Yones writes on gal-dem about the “trendification” of Kurdish feminism and how the wave of online activism around the protests in Iran is erasing Kurdish women’s crucial contributions to the movement.
Many brands have spoken about the protests in Iran in recents months. In October, Balenciaga deleted its entire Instagram portfolio and replaced it with one black-and-white text photo that read: “Woman, Life, Freedom. Zan, Zendegi, Azadi.” It was captioned with a statement of solidarity with “all Iranian women, in memory of Mahsa.” Gucci followed suit by posting the same phrase on its Instagram stories, as well as a declaration of support for Iranian women and the hashtag #mahsaamini. Yones sees Gucci and Balenciaga’s solidarity for Iranian women, rather than women in Iran as an example of erasure of the role of Kurdish women in the movement.
Yones also points to how most mainstream digital and social media outlets have chosen not to refer to Jina by the name she was born with, the name used by her family and friends, and the name that is now written on her tombstone. They have instead called her by her state name, Mahsa, which she was given in compliance with the Iranian law that all names must be rooted in Persian or Islamic history.
Variations of #mahsaamini have subsequently trended on most social media platforms since the demonstrations began, thereby mischaracterising her while attempting to raise awareness about her life. -Amed Yones
Yones says that the “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” is a Farsi translation of the Kurdish phrase “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,” conceptualised by Kurdish feminists in the early 2000s, as part of their philosophy of Jineology (the study of women). Jineology is a profoundly anti-colonial and anti-capitalist philosophy, born from a spring of revolutionary thinking in Eastern Kurdistan in the 1980s that has driven the modern Kurdish liberation movement. “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” was first chanted by Kurdish women in Turkey at an International Women’s Day protest in 2006. It has since been used by Kurdish women’s movements in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey to symbolise this historic dedication to resistance and liberation. Yones mentions the irony of fashion brands using a phrase that so strongly rejects capitalism and women’s commodification.
Kurdish women have had many things taken from them throughout history. Beginning with the denial of a state, they have had their rights to political freedom, language, and cultural expression removed in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. What I see with the trendification of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi”, then, is the theft of our very history. -Amed Yones
Sameer Jha, LGBTQ+ youth activist and founder of the Empathy Alliance, poses for a portrait holding a book that they wrote, Read This, Save Lives: A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Safer Classrooms for LGBTQ+ Students, in Fremont, Calif. | Andri Tambunan for Global Citizen
Sameer Jha is a queer and non-binary South Asian American who founded the Empathy Alliance, an organization aimed at making American schools safer and more inclusive for young people in the LGBTQ+ community. They share with Global Citizen how being bullied as a child led them to become an activist for vulnerable queer youth.
For Jha, access to safe and inclusive education for LGBTQ+ youth means making sure schools are safe and inclusive, that teachers and educators have access to materials that allow them to support their students, and that students themselves have access to things like books that are inclusive and allow them to feel seen and represented. They speak about how they were bullied in school for being feminine.
I was bullied throughout elementary and middle school with specifically homophobic language, such as, "That’s so gay" or "You're so gay." That made me associate the word "gay" not with its real meaning, but with it meaning something disgusting, something you didn't want to be, something you wanted to avoid at all costs. -Sameer Jha
Jha was able to break down their internalized homophobia and come to terms with who they were once they moved to a different school that was more diverse, open and accepting.
I felt like I could make a difference in schools and I saw what a huge change a supportive environment at school had done for me, personally. It completely changed the trajectory of my experience as an LGBTQ+ person — I went from being someone who felt so scared and ashamed of who I was, to then being able to find community and find support, and to be myself. -Sameer Jha
The first thing Jha did when they started Empathy Alliance was go back to the middle school where they had been bullied and explain to the principal and counselor what they had experienced. They partnered with the principal and counselor and started a gender and sexuality awareness club, specifically focusing around anti-bullying initiatives. They also train teachers on supporting LGBTQ+ students and got an inclusive curriculum put in for sex education. Soon, their initiative expanded nationally and they partnered with organizations such as GLAAD. Eventually, they decided to consolidate everything they learned into a book called Read This, Save Lives, which is an educator's guide.
Jha believes in combating the rising hateful rhetoric with positivity and support. They advise people to not wait for others to come out, but rather always be vocal for their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
When you're a young person, you don't have the same kind of resources or access, and then in many states and countries, that access is being denied, is being withheld — so it's really extra important that you make sure that they understand that it's okay to be themselves and you'll love them for whoever they are. -Sameer Jha
The Motherbeing team at their office in Cairo via UNFPA
Women in Egypt are taking the lead in sex education. In 2019, a media platform called Motherbeing was launched to address sex education and reproductive health, using music, video and creativity to reach the millions of Egyptian women who did not have access to the important information on how their bodies work. Motherbeing aims to reach women at all stages of life – from puberty to menopause – in an effort to demystify and destigmatize sexual and reproductive health information.
Motherbeing’s founder, Nour Amam, a doula and sex educator, created the platform after experiencing postpartum depression. She was motivated by what she calls her “driving passion for knowledge” – producing videos that demonstrate everything from how to use a menstrual cup to how to find pleasure after female genital mutilation (FGM).
Tagged as “Modern Health for Arab Women,” the platform now has nearly 1.4 million followers across social media. Nour’s work has rapidly spread across the Arabic-speaking world.
Since the launch of Motherbeing, other websites have taken off – Mauj (“Wave” in Arabic), available in Arabic and English throughout the Middle East, poses questions like: “What does sexuality mean to you?”
Mauj is the sex education we never got and wish we had. We can’t and don’t want to do it alone, so we’re inviting Arab women on our journey. Together, we can reclaim the conversation around our bodies and begin to shift our collective narrative. -Mauj founders
Platforms like Motherbeing and Mauj are vital because they allow women to take control of their bodies and practice greater autonomy over their wellbeing. As conversations around sex education continue to become normalized, more and more young girls will feel empowered.
Via The National
Matthew Arthur Williams’ new exhibition, Soon Come, explores Black, queer identity. Born in South London, and now based in Glasgow, Williams uses photography, film, and sound to ask questions about what it means to be Black and queer in contemporary environments, rural locations included. Sometimes, Williams uses his own body to present himself as a Black man in the landscape, inviting viewers to confront their expectations of both who belongs in the countryside, and who that countryside belongs to.
My pieces are mainly about presenting an identity, no matter how nuanced. I am, without a doubt, already confronting a narrative that isn’t quite right. Immediately, there are ideas around ownership and land. Even in a cityscape, this can often be the situation. -Matthew Arthur Williams
What is also notable is Williams’ frustration at the lack of broad societal representation in traditional archives. His artwork sets out to change that, filling the gaps with records of the hard work of people who are determined to make a difference, as well as documenting his own processes and position in the world.
In these grassroots or low-level areas, organising workload can result in burnout in individuals due to systemic challenges. I’ve tried to document and create portraits in these spaces and times as a record, because the archive really misses out on these crucial individuals that can keep a place interesting and bustling to an outsider. -Matthew Arthur Williams
Many other creatives have helped inform Williams’ ideas. For instance, the late, award-winning Black director and activist, Marlon Riggs, was a pioneer in creating multi-dimensional documentaries about Black and queer communities in 1990s American society, using performance and music alongside film to confront racial and homophobic prejudices.
The people I surround myself with and work with, in and outside of art, continuously shape me as an individual. I’ve been – quote, unquote – out since I was 20, and have been very much affiliated with LGBTQ+ spaces in every city I’ve resided in. I also work as a DJ, and I’m constantly surrounded by people who work to facilitate spaces and parties in DIY spaces or established venues. -Matthew Arthur William
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.