Global Roundup: Stella Nyanzi's parliamentary campaign in Uganda, a school for trans students in Bangladesh, a Big Fat Theatre Company in India, feminist and queer rights in Thailand

Compiled and written by Inaara Merani

Activist turned politician Stella Nyanzi on her release from Luzira prison in February 2020. Photograph: Luke Dray/Getty Images via The Guardian

Dr. Stella Nyanzi is widely known in Uganda and around the world for her work in feminist studies and her use of profanity and vulgarity as political weapons to destroy the patriarchy. She is truly a feminist icon. In February, Nyanzi was released from prison after being detained for almost 16 months for writing a poem about Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s mother’s vagina. Nyanzi has recently announced that she will be running for Kampala Woman MP under the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition party. That is fucking amazing! Many locals are confident that Nyanzi will win this election and will fight for the rights of women and minorities. 

Stella is going to win this election because she is a woman, and a very vocal one. Even before she contested she was fighting for the people and was vocal about all the major issues we face - Hanifa Nantegga

Although many residents of Kampala do not share the same progressive beliefs, such as her work on African sexuality and gender, sexual minorities, reproductive health and police brutality, Nyanzi says that she has her own way of incorporating them and will create important change. In a world where women and minorities are not afforded equal opportunities or treatment, it is fucking fantastic to see a strong and motivated woman like Dr. Nyanzi fight back and defiantly and powerfully say fuck the patriarchy. 

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Graphic: Dustin Chambers (Getty Images) via Jezebel

Today marks one week since election day in the US. We have seen many “firsts,” including the first female vice-president, first openly transgender state senator, a record number of Indigenous women elected to Congress, as well as the reelection of many notable female Congresswomen such as AOC and Ilhan Omar. This election also saw a record number of Republican women elected to Congress, something that the outgoing president highlighted in a speech on Thursday night. Many members of the Trump administration, as well as conservative news outlets, called this the “year of the Republican women”. In reality, Democratic women outshone the newly elected Republican Congresswomen in every aspect. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, there will be twice as many Democratic women in the Senate as Republicans in Congress, and there will also be three times as many Democratic women in the House than Republican women. 

While it is great to see so many women elected to Congress this year, it will all be for nothing if these Republican women carry anti-feminist sentiment into their work. Conservative media has tried to spin headlines to make it seem as if Republican women won big this year, when really it is the Democratic women who should be commended for their tremendous campaigns and their dedication to supporting women and minorities.  

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Image via BBC

Bangladesh recently opened its first religious school for trans students. Located in Dhaka, this school will provide courses on Islamic and vocational subjects free of charge. The funding for the school comes from a foundation set up with money left by the late Ahmad Ferdous Bari Chowdhury, a businessman who wanted to help educate the the trans community in Bangladesh.

Although trans people have political freedoms such as the ability to vote and campaign, traditional societal norms make it very difficult to obtain a job or an education. Many have migrated to big cities to support themselves by either singing and dancing or through sex work. Shilpy went to school until the age of nine, but dropped out because of bullying.

No one wants to hire us…When I realised I was a transgender person, then everyone in the school hated me, was afraid, criticised me…That's why I didn't study any more. If there was a separate reading system for us, no one would tease…We also want to be like other people, to walk with dignity. We also want to stand on our own two feet. If I get a chance, I will go that way - Shilpy

School officials have emphasized that the school is open to individuals of any age and it is their hope that upon receiving an education, trans people will be able to procure employment. This is a major step forward for Bangladesh and Southeast Asia as a whole. 

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Image via Feminism in India

After two decades in theatre, Anuradha HR began to realize that the body type was dictating the types of roles she was being cast in. She never found herself as the lead actress or the protagonist, but rather was always cast as a supporting role.

I got involved in theatre at a pretty young age. For the longest time, I found myself being cast in sidekick roles…I was always the mother, the mother-in-law, the grandmother or the domestic worker - Anuradha HR, Director of The Big Fat Company

Fatphobia is all too common today. The patriarchy has continued to insist that skinny bodies are desirable and fat bodies are disgusting and unattractive. It is fucked up that people continue to be reduced to the shape of their bodies, all other aspects ignored. 

Her experiences brought to light the patriarchal aesthetic views that influence casting, and the unwillingness that even the most acclaimed theatre directors—a large number of whom are men—have in breaking deeply ingrained stereotypes.

In 2017, Anuradha founded the Big Fat Company (BFC), an organization which examines the politics of the body through theatre. She brought together a group of plus-sized actors who shared similar experiences and wanted more inclusive representation in theatre.

BFC’s first production, Head 2 Head, was an adaptation of the classic play Hayavadana, which explores an identity crisis involving the switching of heads between bodies. The Big Fat Company used the basis of this play to create a narrative around the bias of theatre companies surrounding plus-sized bodies. In the coming years, BFC hopes to foster an environment where all body types are accepted and welcomed, especially in the performing arts world. 

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The Bangkok parade drew a mix of feminists, sex workers and LGBTQ activists. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha) via Channel News Asia

Thai feminists and LGBTQ activists are protesting alongside other activists in the fight for greater democratic rights, arguing that the fight for equality goes hand-in-hand. Since July there have been frequent protests in the Thai capital, with demonstrators demanding a new constitution, reforms of the monarchy and for Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign as prime minister. The movement, which has been widely student-led, is demanding reform to the current constitution, a new election and an end to the abuse of human rights. 

On Saturday, thousands of anti-government protestors joined Thailand’s LGBTQ community and marched in the Pride Parade. Many issues were advocated for including an end to slut-shaming, access to safe abortions, legalizing sex work, and ending sexual harassment, while transgender activists had signs saying: "I'm not abnormal."

Thai men like to criticise women for how many men they've slept with but they don't have the same (scrutiny) themselves - Natcha

Thailand has a vibrant LGBTQ scene and while gender-bending performers are a prominent part of Bangkok's nightlife, discrimination in schools and the workplace is still rife.

We are not happy in this country; the LGBTQ community is suffering…I believe in equality, peace, and for everyone to be able to live happily - Achita Kittiwannakul

The involvement of the LGBTQ community in the fight for human rights and democracy is absolutely necessary. A new constitution must be inclusive and intersectional so that every individual is accounted for and has access to their rights. 

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa studying International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is a Muslim Canadian who is passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism. She is deeply interested in destroying 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 she can fight for women’s rights! She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat.