Global Roundup: Sudan Women’s Rights vs Morality Police, Singapore Decriminalizes Gay Sex, Lebanon Trans Women, Queer Colombian-Canadian Artist, Syria Women Heal Through Art
Curated By FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Photograph: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian
The government has announced the creation of the community police unit to “reaffirm the relationships between people and the police” and ensure security. The former police “community service unit,” which arrested and punished people, particularly women, for their behaviour, was dissolved after the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019. They enforced public order laws targeting women such as preventing women from wearing trousers, having their heads uncovered or mixing with men who were not their immediate family––and banning the brewing or drinking of alcohol. Despite the transitional government repealing these laws, courts in some parts of Sudan continued to prosecute women for violating dress codes and people who were caught drinking alcohol.
Amid a crackdown since the military coup in October, activists believe the creation of the new unit is another attempt to roll back small gains for women’s rights made over the previous two years. In June, a woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, the first known case for a decade. The interior ministry confirmed that the new police unit had recently raided a home in an affluent neighbourhood of Khartoum and arrested 18 people for allegedly drinking alcohol and for prostitution.
It’s a way of domesticating [women], and we have a long history of that, since Sudan was under the British administration. In that last version of the community security [team] they used to mainly target women to get money out of them. -Mervet Elneil, women’s rights activist
PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP via VICE
On Sunday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the repeal of a colonial-era law that criminalized sex between men. The country’s LGBTQ community is cautiously optimistic, as the government promises to retain its other heteronormative policies. Loong reaffirmed in his annual National Day Rally speech the government’s stance on recognizing only heterosexual marriages. He also said authorities would amend the definition of marriage in the Constitution—effectively making it harder to pass laws that would extend marriage to same-sex couples in the future.
So there’s a bit of confusion: Should I be happy, should I be celebrating? -Teo Yu Sheng, founder of local queer merchandise brand Heckin’ Unicorn
Introduced in 1938 when Singapore was under British colonial rule, section 377A of the penal code carries a jail term of up to two years for “any act of gross indecency” between two men, be it in public and private spaces. In the last decade, the government had sought to placate critics by saying it would not enforce this law, but refused to drop it until now.
The 1990s were a time of frequent raids on gay businesses, as well as “anti-gay operations” that saw plainclothes policemen arresting cruising queer men and charging them with different offenses—including section 377A. These operations occurred at varying frequencies, until as recently as 2010.
I’ve lost friends over the years, friends who would never see a repeal coming. So I’m taking a more somber-slash-commemorative approach to this. This announcement will hopefully be able to start reconciliation for many families. At the same time, a moment for healing for the community. -Benjamin Xue, co-founder of queer youth community group Young OUT Here
Activists note that national laws such as public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards and film classification rely on the heterosexual definition of marriage. They also say that the government’s “balancing act approach” between different groups, including comservative and religious groups that oppose LGBTQ rights, makes it harder to address the interests of the LGBTQ community. Despite the government long claiming that 377A will not be proactively enforced, the law has led to social stigma, the lack of inclusive education, challenges in securing housing, and workplace discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
Sharvesh Leatchmanan, a 25-year-old graduate student who identifies as queer and non-binary, says that the repeal has highlighted the inequalities that exist within the LGBTQ community. While gay men are finally being accepted at a national level, there remain those who have fallen through the cracks—especially queer people who live on the intersections of marginalization, such as ethnic minorities.
Honestly, it's quite somber. I really don't think it's a win because it's a win for a specific group of people within the queer community. It's not a win for people like me. What are we doing after this? What happens now? Especially when they amend the Constitution, what can one even do? -Sharvesh Leatchmanan
There are mixed feelings in the LGBTQ community surrounding the plan to repeal Section 377A. Activists in Singapore are cautiously optimistic about the gaps that still lie ahead in safeguarding queer rights, while not forgetting to commemorate the milestone that they have taken decades to reach.
Em Abed, 2019© Mohamad Abdouni via Blind Magazine
In his fourth issue of Cold Cuts magazine, Treat Me Like Your Mother, editor and photographer Mohamad Abdouni continues his work of archiving the trans community in Beirut, Lebanon. Abdouni interviewed ten trans women between the ages of 30 and 50 for the issue. Some have been dancers, artists, and even celebrities. Today they live in precarious conditions, some being forced into sex work to be able to live in dignity. They tell their life stories, of happiness and despair, of the first time they put on women’s clothes, of the people who mattered the most in their lives, of memorable nights. The interviews are interspersed with family photos, archival photos and portraits of each interviewee, as well as portraits taken by Abdouni who continues to photograph them, to put them on a pedestal, to idolize them in his images. Snippets of Em Abed, Nicole and Dolly’s story will be shared here.
[Lebanon] was completely different. Completely different. As different as the moon and the earth. -Em Abed
Em Abed shares her carefree childhood where she never felt different from others and was comfortable sitting with the girls to play with them and never with the boys. However, Abed lost the freedom of her early life after an accident she survived in 2011.
Nicole grew up in Kuwait in a rather wealthy Lebanese family. By the time she was fourteen, she could already sense that her hormones were different. When she was 17, she was invited to a party hosted by a transgender woman in her home, which she describes as “amazing” and “extravagant.” Fearing for her safety, Nicole stole money from her father’s safe, retrieved her passport and took off for Lebanon. She currently resides in Beirut where she works as a hairdresser. Her partner has just been enlisted in the Syrian army.
Dolly worked all kinds of jobs at a young age, including working for magazines, in restaurants, in hair salons, as a housekeeper, and in shops. Eventually she became a sex worker, she says. Dolly recounts very difficult episodes in her life but always with a certain lightheartedness: her will to live has always been stronger than the tragedies that befell her.
Artist Andres Garzon holds a painting at Good Sport gallery and studio in downtown London. The work is part of his new art exhibit on display until September 3. (Michelle Both/CBC)
Andres Garzon, an artist based in London, Canada, has woven together his experiences of growing up religious and queer as a first generation immigrant for his new art exhibit— and finds beauty, humour and meaning along the way. Creating art is a healing process for him. The solo exhibit, No Soy El Sol Que Quema (I Am Not The Sun That Burns), opened this weekend and includes a collection of paintings, linocut prints, ceramics, oil pastel and graphite drawings. Lyrics from Colombian salsa band Grupo Niche inspired the title of the exhibit and reminds him of his upbringing.
I was experimenting with everything, and I also love the romance of painting and the easy spontaneity of drawing. I really wanted to kind of work every muscle that I could when making the exhibition. -Andres Garzon
Garzon also made a book full of dream logs, diary entries, poems and drawings for the exhibit translated into Spanish by his brother to reconnect with his first language and involve his family in the process, he said. The title, 'Mi Libro de Historias de Amor,' translates to 'my book of love stories.' Keeping a diary over the years gave him "a really strong impression" of the journey to get where he is today.
Coming out as gay was a transformative experience. Through his artwork, Garzon reflects on how his relationship with his family and culture connects to his experience growing up Jehovah's Witness along with his identity as a son, brother and queer person. He hopes his exhibit connects with people and that his family enjoys it as “it’s kind of a love letter to them.”
Manal Masoud shows an artwork at a workshop in Sweida, southern Syria, July 3, 2022. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)
A group of women in Syria are creating artwork out of recycled rags as a way to heal and share their stories. Eleven years of Syrian war has resulted in hardships and trauma for many women.
Khloud Hnaidi, from the southern Syrian city of Sweida, started this project a few years ago to rework old rags into usable items such as table cloths, rugs and decorative artworks. She was driven by her love for art and a desire to revive an old tradition of recycling shabby rags, particularly amid the economic hardships facing Syria.
Many women from across the country have joined Hnaidi's workshop to develop weaving skills, and formed a close bond by sharing their own stories. The friendship between them has inspired Hnaidi to call on more women to share their stories by making art works out of recycled rags.
It's special because they didn't know each other before. Each of them started introducing herself through her story about her life, her children and husband, or the place she came from. -Khloud Hnaidi
Today, the main hall of the workshop is filled with paintings done on rags, each presented with small captions about the artist's story. The project has helped participants plow through tough times and address their psychological stress––some stemming from the war, and some from their family.
Manal Masoud suffered from intimate partner violence when her husband hit her in the head, causing memory loss. She was unable to remember what had happened until her memory recovered a few months later and she got divorced, while her husband made up a lie that she had fallen off a ladder while she was cleaning. Masoud made a painting of the ladder to release her grievances. Such an outlet for negative emotions made her feel much better.
There is more than just telling your story or expressing pain, it's hearing other stories and trying to help people who might be more hurt than you. So you feel that you are not alone. The place is so comfortable. -Manal Masoud
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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.