Global Roundup: Systemic Rape of Uighur Women, Māori Women Against Sexist Oppression, Support for Mongolian Survivor, Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, and the Power of Black Trans Activism
Compiled by Samiha Hossain
Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China's network of internment camps. Photo via BBC
CW: sexual violence
The BBC has obtained new harrowing detailed testimonies from women who were former detainees and a guard in China’s detention camps for Uighurs in which they describe systemic rape, sexual abuse and torture at the hands of Chinese policemen, camp guards and other authorities. The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic minority group with a population of about 11 million in Xinjiang in north-western China. According to human rights groups, the Chinese government has been gradually curtailing the religious and other freedoms of the Uighurs. Independent estimates say that over a million Uighurs have been detained in a network of camps, which China claims are for the purpose of “re-education” – a clear euphemism for an “oppressive system of mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and even forced sterilisation”.
You can't tell anyone what happened, you can only lie down quietly. It is designed to destroy everyone's spirit - Tursunay Ziawudun
Tursunay Ziawudun is a Uighur woman who spent nine months in the system of internment camps in the Xinjiang region. After her release in 2018, she fled to Kazakhstan and is now in the US. Ziawudun recounts watching police regularly take women into a black room devoid of surveillance cameras. She was one of those women on several nights. The women that were returned to their cells were threatened against telling others what had happened to them and some were never returned. On her first night in the torture room, the Chinese men in a mask pushed an electric stick inside Ziawudun’s genital tract. She also talks about police kicking her in the abdomen with hard and heavy boots during interrogation – she had surgery in the US to remove her womb, now unable to conceive children.
You forget to think about life outside the camp. I don't know if they brainwashed us or if it was the side effect of the injections and pills, but you can't think of anything beyond wishing you had a full stomach. The food deprivation is so severe - Ziawudun
A Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was detained for 18 months in the camp system says she was forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men. She also says the Chinese men paid to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates. Many Chinese teachers have been drafted to “re-educate” the detainees, which entails stripping the Uighur of their language, culture and religion and indoctrinating them into mainstream Chinese culture. Former teacher Qelbinur Sedik, an Uzbek woman from Xinjiang, describes hearing the screams of detainees echoing throughout the building. Another teacher, Sayragul Sauytbay, witnessed a young woman making a forced confession and then being gang raped in front of 100 other detainees.
A policy shift resulted in those with spouses and relatives in Kazakhstan to be released from the internment camps. Ziawudun waited in Xinjiang for a while after her release and recalls seeing the effect of these policies on her people – a plummeting birth rate, which has been called “demographic genocide” by analysts, and women turning to alcohol to cope with the trauma of the sexual violence. These testimonies from women, particularly those that have been raped and tortured, are brave and undoubtedly painful to rehash. Time and time again, we see that marginalized women shoulder the violence of misogyny in tandem with racism. How many times will patriarchy and the state get away with using women’s bodies for power and dominance before the world responds with the kind of urgency these atrocities against women deserve?
They say people are released, but in my opinion everyone who leaves the camps is finished...Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it - Ziawudun
New Zealand is often praised as a forerunner of women’s rights but Māori women suffered more political oppression after colonisation. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images via The Guardian
This week, the Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry hearings will begin, which will investigate claims on “the specific tiriti violations of the crown that have led to injustice against wahine Māori across social, physical, spiritual, economic, political and cultural dimensions”. The inquiry was first filed for in 1993 and led out by the Māori Women’s Welfare League, then initiated as an inquiry in 2018. In this essay, Tina Ngata, a Ngati Porou woman and Indigenous rights advocate, writes about how it is crucial to take into account the specific sexist forms of oppression Māori women have experienced and continue to experience.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s parliament secured women’s right to vote in 1893, before other nations.
What is so often missed in this accolade is the fact that wahine Māori, under the colonial regime, suffered greater political oppression than they had at any other time. Pre-colonial wahine Māori were landowners, spiritual and political leaders, fighters and navigators - Tina Ngata
Prior to colonization, they were spiritual and political leaders, as well as landowners. But they had to sign agreements that they would never take on their ancestral sacred markings if they wished to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which spearheaded the suffrage movement. The colonial land tenure system economically and politically disempowered them and they were restricted from going to school in Britain or Europe.
Ngata also discusses the intergenerational cycles of addiction, violence and assault from the trauma of war. Furthermore, white anthropologists have contributed to the misrepresentation and even erasure of Māori women’s importance pre-colonization, as their written material is marred by white supremacy and misogyny.
Colonial conquest is, at its heart an act of war, and like all wars, it comes with sexual violence. Rape featured in the colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand throughout its history. It occurred at the hands of Cook’s crew. It occurred as a tool of the land wars, at Rangiaowhia, at Parihaka , at Maungapōhatu.
Today, Māori women are recognized globally for their leadership in Indigenous academia, business, justice, environmental advocacy and education. Yet, they are significantly underpaid, experience numerous barriers to adequate healthcare and social assistance, and suffer one of the highest incarceration rates for women in the world.
Ngata recognizes that true treaty justice cannot be achieved for Māori families without justice for the women. Countries like Aotearoa New Zealand are applauded for their supposedly progressive values. Too often we forget that these countries continue to commit serious human rights violations against Indigenous peoples, particularly women and children.
Women wearing protective masks walk past a mural, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
A Mongolian woman has raised thousands of dollars in crowdfunding to mount a sexual assault case against a former policeman in a first for Malaysia. Nandine-Erdene Khoskhulug, 21, made an appeal for 46,500 ringgit ($11, 500) last month to bring her case to court; this was after her case was struck out for lacking a 70,000-ringgit court deposit. Her lawyer says she has raised over $12,000 in under two weeks, so can now refile her civil case against the former police inspector, seeking unspecified damages for alleged sexual assault and unlawful detention. He plans to file the action next month.
When I first saw her at the police station, she was on the verge of giving up. With the support people have given her, the view has changed and she wants to be vindicated - Mathew Thomas Philip, lawyer
Women’s rights advocates have pointed out that this deposit rule demonstrates the wider problem survivors face when trying to pursue justice. It is outrageous that women must have a certain amount of money to file a case against their rapist. This is on top of the other burdens the criminal justice system puts survivors through, including reliving the trauma of the sexual violence and being disbelieved. It is yet another barrier put in place by the patriarchy to silence women. From the actions of Khoskhulug, those that raised money for her and women’s rights advocates, it is clear that they will not accept this.
The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), an advocacy group supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, holds an Anti-FGM workshop aimed at empowering women to claim their rights and those of their daughters in February 2016. Photo: UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women via UN Women
February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is usually carried out between infancy and age 15 according to UN Women. Not only does it have no health benefits, it has many immediate and long-term health consequences such as infections and abnormal scarring, debilitating pain, infertility, complications in childbirth and death.
The purpose of FGM is to control women’s sexuality – many communities (incorrectly) believe that FGM reduce’s women and girl’s sex drive. In addition, it is thought that “cutting” increases a girl’s marriageability, leading to early marriages.
Over 200 million women and girls alive today in 31 countries have undergone genital mutilation. However, it is likely present in over 90 countries based on small-scale studies, media reports and anecdotal evidence. This year, 4.16 million girls and women around the world are at risk of genital mutilation. The global pandemic might add as many as 2 million additional cases of FGM by 2030 that would otherwise have been averted. UN Women highlights the stories of several survivors and activists fighting against FGM in their communities.
Natalie Robi Tingo. Photo: Jenny Riva. via UN Women
One of these women is community mobilizer, Natalie Robi Tingo. The 28-year-old is the Founder and Executive Director of Msichana Empowerment Kuria, a women-led community-based organization in rural Kenya. Since 2015, they have worked to end FGM by tackling its root causes and empowering women and girls. Tingo talks about growing up in Kuria and giving away her extra sanitary pads to girls at her school. She saw many girls stop attending school after undergoing genital mutilation and getting married off. She sees FGM as imbedded in social norms where girls feel pressure to have it done. During the economic hardships of COVID-19, the gifts and dowry from having girls cut has been a source of income for many families, therefore increasing the number of girls at risk of FGM.
I was angry at my community, angry that people who were supposed to protect children were instead abusing them. I needed to do something. I understand the pain of survivors, being a survivor of sexual abuse myself. I know what it means for someone to hold your hand - Tingo
Tingo firmly believes in centering the voices of girls because once they understand that what is happening to them is wrong, they can fight for themselves and their communities. Eradicating the inhumane and misogynistic practice of FGM will require both social and political transformations. Women like Tingo continue to pave the way for girls to take control of their narratives and demand for more in a society that continues to fail them.
Kendall Stephens Photography by Meredith Edlow via HuffPost
Kendall Stephens is a Black trans woman and LGBTQ rights activist in Philadelphia. For over a decade, Stephens has been fighting for trans rights through peaceful protests, speaking engagements, serving on a community advisory board and facilitating support groups. In this essay, she writes about why she is fighting harder for the rights of trans women. In August 2020, a mob broke into her home and beat her senseless while screaming transphobic slurs, in front of her goddaughters.
Rest assured, whatever a Black trans woman may know about suffering is continually redefined, as our oppression is as boundless as it is pervasive
During an internship at a transgender residential recovery facility, Stephens met another Black trans woman, Rem’mie, who she describes as “vibrant, talented and self-assured”. Rem’mie planned to become a renowned fashion designer and model. Stephens lost contact with Rem’mie once she left the facility and soon became aware of her death. She secured a $25,000 reward in an effort to catch the person of interest in her murder, who has since been arrested.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 44 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in 2020 – the highest number on record since 2013 when the organization started keeping record. In 2019, the American Medical Association called the fatal violence against transgender women an “epidemic.” Stephens knows that these are realities that existed way before recent years. She believes that the resilience of her community keeps them going. Through community building and pushing for political change, she hopes to end violence against trans women.
I operate within the three Ps of my advocate playbook: protest, politics and policy. We protest to bring public awareness to our plight by showing bravery, strength and empowerment through our collective visibility
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.