Global Roundup: Sudanese Activist Wins Award, Poland LGBTQ+ March, Canada Migrant Workers' Abortion Barriers, Indonesian-Chinese Author Memoir, Queer Chinese Photographer
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Amira Osman Hamed - AFP - ASHRAF SHAZLY via AFI
Sudanese activist and engineer Amira Osman Hamed has won a Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. She has been advocating for Sudanese women for two decades and was detained this year in a crackdown following the country's latest coup.
After first being charged for wearing trousers in 2002, she drew international support in 2013 when she was detained and threatened with flogging for refusing to wear a headscarf. Both charges fell under morality laws during the rule of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir who took power in an Islamist-backed coup. Osman said at the time that the morality laws had "changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals" and targeted "the dignity of Sudanese people." In 2009, she established "No to Women Oppression," an initiative to advocate against the Public Order Law. It was finally repealed in 2019 after Bashir's ouster following a mass uprising.
In January 2022, 30 masked armed men had stormed into Osman Hamed’s house in Khartoum in the middle of the night, taking her to an unknown location. The United Nations mission to Sudan called for her release, tweeting that "Amira's arrest and pattern of violence against women's rights activists severely risks reducing their political participation in Sudan." She was freed in February.
Osman "never deterred from her mission," Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said in its awards announcement, "consistently [advocating] for democracy, human rights, and women's rights".
Osman Hamed was among defenders from Afghanistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Mexico who also received the 2022 award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. The award has honoured human rights defenders annually since 2005.
Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community take part in Tri-City Equality March in Gdansk, Poland, May 28, 2022. Martyna Niecko/Agencja Wyborcza.pl via REUTERS
Around 7,500 people in Poland marched to demand an end to homophobia on Saturday, as the northern port city of Gdansk hosted its seventh annual Equality March under the slogan "We have the power". Marchers waved the rainbow flag and the transgender flag, holding placards with slogans like "We make love not war."
It's very difficult to be queer in Poland, so it's nice to find a place where you can be yourself. - Sabina Joeck, 24
Gay rights are a highly divisive issue in predominantly Catholic Poland, and the country's ruling nationalists have made battling what they term LGBTQ+ "ideology" a key plank of election campaigns in recent years. A handful of protesters opposed to the march looked on holding Catholic rosary beads and a banner alleging that the LGBTQ+ "lobby" sought to sexualize children. Human rights groups reject accusations that teaching about LGBTQ+ issues in schools seeks to sexualize children.
For Nikodem Mrozek, a 40-year-old mathematician who has taken part in the annual march since its inception, attitudes to LGBTQ+ people in Poland are improving, but the community is still demonized by some politicians.
Society and the mentality (of people) is getting better and better, but the political situation is getting worse and worse. - Nikodem Mrozek
Evelyn Encalada Grez via Simon Fraser University
Migrant workers in Canada face profound barriers in accessing health care, especially when it comes to pregnancy and accessing abortion services in the country.
They often hide their pregnancies because if employers find out, they may send them home or refuse to hire them next season. Workers typically live on their employer’s property and lack the privacy to discreetly seek care. Many live in remote, rural areas where abortion access is already sparse and transportation is hard to come by. And they face the added challenge of being unable to receive health care in their first language. Cost is also another barrier.
Evelyn Encalada Grez, a transnational researcher and advocate for migrant workers who has been studying the subject for more than 20 years, recalls helping one woman get an abortion. Because the woman was so worried about being seen, she met Grez far away from the farm where she worked.
When I met her in the designated place where we agreed to meet, she was soaking, soaking, soaking, and I’m like, ‘Why does it feel like I’m doing something wrong?’ What if she didn’t have a friend or know anyone that does this type of grassroots work, what would have happened to her and her life? - Evelyn Encalada Grez
If the federal government cares about abortion access, it could grant “status for all,” a campaign to grant permanent residency for all temporary migrant workers and families with precarious legal status, said Frederique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Grez echoed this sentiment and added that the government must reform temporary foreign worker programs so that employees are not tied to one employer and can have the freedom to go elsewhere, reducing the likelihood of exploitation.
We need to be more accountable to the people that Canada brings in. - Evelyn Encalada Grez
SCMP/Handout via Asia One
Indonesian-Chinese writer Marga T discusses her latest work with This Week in Asia – If Only, a poignant memoir “about the compulsory duty to have a son, and the tragic consequences for the family when no son was born.” Marga has published 69 books, spanning the genres of science fiction, tales of mystery, children’s stories, and dark chapters of history.
In 1952, Marga’s mother died after giving birth to a sixth daughter. Marga was only nine then. Being the eldest, she bore the guilt of having been born a girl, as her father had expected to have a son so he could carry on the family’s surname. She says she was “accused of having caused her [mother’s] death.” She describes enduring abuse from her family. Marga believes her cancer diagnosis in 1992 was “most likely a reaction” to her childhood trauma.
[The doctor] said unsolved childhood traumas between the age of nine and 13 would suppress the growth hormone, resulting in short stature. That’s me. It would also jeopardize the immune system and cause cancer. That’s me, too. - Marga T
Working on If Only was an act of catharsis, Marga said in the book, her first published in English. She says it was written “in memory of my mother, not to shame my family, but to cleanse my soul, mind and body from the bad childhood memories and their effects.”
Marga’s fame is notable given her rise took place under the rule of former dictator Suharto, who oppressed the ethnic Chinese community during his three-decade rule. Among other regulations, he banned Chinese cultural displays and imposed laws that pushed ethnic Chinese citizens to adopt Indonesian-sounding names. Marga says she was not affected as a writer during the time, as her work rarely touched on politics. Many say, Marga’s work is inspiring for women and she has paved the way for women writers of Chinese descent in Indonesia.
For an ethnic Chinese woman in the New Order era to gain prominence and popularity for writing stories that were relatable for Indonesian readers, regardless of their ethnicity, was an important form of representation for Chinese-Indonesians at the time. - Charlotte Setijadi, anthropologist
Marga wants to see all citizens living in harmony in Indonesia. She is currently working on a second memoir. Through writing about her traumatic past she hopes to share her experiences with those who can relate and purge herself of the pain.
Photography Zhidong Zhang iv I-D
Zhidong Zhang, a Chinese born-and-raised photographer currently based in the US, explores queerness in his work. His series “Natural Impersonation”, a meditative study on re-constructing one’s identity, weaves together intimate portraiture and still life.
That's a really important part of my practice: the freedom to express my culture, my identity, my sexuality. That’s part of the work. And I can’t do that in China, because of the censorship and the societal and familial suppression all the time. I wanted to get away from my homeland, to be in the country that has “freedom” — even though freedom comes with a price here as well. - Zhidong Zhang
Zhang says that queer identities in China are now increasingly visible because the government’s elusive policy towards homosexuality actually provides space for the formation of queer community and activist networks. He believes that the censorship system forces artists to “think in a more innovative way, to circumvent the so-called guidelines, and crack open the rigid codes to define what queerness is supposed to be.” He is inspired by the perseverance of these artists.
Some of Zhang’s images feature objects. He says he is a hoarder and he uses objects he collected from thrift stores.
The simple idea is just to look at one thing that nobody has ever looked at before. How I can bring the attention there? The objects I collected sat until they spoke to me; had a sort of conversation with me. Like imaginary friends. - Zhidong Zhang
Zhang says that he found the images he made to be the opposite of natural, something that did not fit the norm. In the title of his latest series, he intentionally places the two juxtaposing words “natural” and “impersonation” to bring into question why certain rules limit our imagination.
It's my own imagination; my own narrative of an almost utopian world without all those hierarchies, hegemonic masculinity, and patriarchal structure. I'm saying: this is natural — why would it not be? The word impersonation is about how photography is kind of a performance; impersonating some sort of reality. I'm also channeling this queer theory of how gender is just, you know, a social construct. - Zhidong Zhang
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.