Global Roundup: The Fight to Educate Girls in Afghanistan, Body Positivity in Uruguay, NYC Protests for #MeTooinChina, Sudani Superhero, Ukraine Pride

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Since 2009 Pen Path has managed to enroll more than 2,000 girls, reopen over 100 schools and distribute study material to 54,000 girls | With permission. Source: openDemocracy 

As the Taliban continues to extend its treacherous rule over Afghanistan, the rights of women and girls continue to plummet. The Taliban has tightened their hold over women’s education, which many fear is a return to their former policies. 

Over the last several weeks, as the situation in Afghanistan has worsened, there have been many protests to fight for the fundamental rights of women. However, almost every protest has been met with violence, which only contributes to the uncertainty of the future of women’s rights in the nation.

The Taliban are checking if we have painted our nails, if we’re wearing high heels and whether we have smartphones. We are unable to travel across districts without a ‘mahram’ [a male guardian], who has to be your husband, brother or father. They are not letting us through if unaccompanied. - Zarlasht Wali, teacher and activist 

Despite these threats and the ongoing violence, Pen Path, a Kandahar-based NGO campaigning for girl’s education in rural Afghanistan, is determined to keep fighting. Zarlasht Wali, a 26-year old English teacher and human rights activist, joined the organization in 2015 while she was a student, and canvassed door-to-door to convince parents to enroll their daughters in school, as this is a point of contention in rural areas.

In Afghanistan, the men take decisions for us. I have accepted that, as long as they don’t obstruct our education. To enroll our girls in the schools, we have to pass through their parents, brothers, the tribal leaders and religious scholars. - Zarlasht Wali

Since 2009, Pen Path has worked with 2400 volunteers, 400 of which are women, to help enroll more than 2000 girls; reopen over 100 schools; and distribute study material to 54,000 girls. The NGO was founded by brothers Matiullah Wes and Attaullah Wesa, and have faced many threats from the Taliban over the years, including Matiullah’s school being burned down in 2004. 

With the increase of violence at protests for women’s rights in Afghanistan, convincing parents to send their daughters to school will be difficult; however, the team at Pen Path is determined to keep fighting against the authoritarian and misogynistic Taliban rule for the right to education for women and girls. 

The Taliban said last week that they would open schools for high school-aged boys but not girls. A spokesperson said on Tuesday the Taliban were working towards reopening high school education for girls but gave no timeframe for action.

Source: Women’s Media Center 

For many individuals around the world, finding clothing that fits can be challenging. The fashion industry has been adamant on pushing the skinny agenda, leaving out basically every body type that does not fit the preconceived norm of beauty and health. 

In Uruguay, a group of women have put forth a proposal to enact a law which would create standardized clothing sizes for all. Known as ‘the law of all sizes’, this proposed legislation intends to foster inclusivity and body-positivity in the fashion industry. 

The law proposes that the government undertake a study to understand the different body types within Uruguay, to inform an expanded table of sizes which will ensure every Uruguayan can find clothing which suits their needs and bodies. The law would also mandate brands to provide training to their employees to guarantee that consumers are treated with respect and care. Additionally, the law of all sizes would prevent stores from using the ‘Unique Size’, a one-size-fits-all approach which is not applicable or inclusive. 

We must work to avoid discrimination and consider the rationality of real men and women and not the stereotypes created by marketing specialists to generate commercial processes. - Luis Puig, President of the Gender and Equity Committee

When individuals feel pressured to conform to societal standards of fashion, beauty, and health and purchase clothing they do not feel comfortable in, it can have detrimental impacts on one’s physical and mental health. Despite this law being at least 14 years in the making, the group behind the idea is confident that it will soon be approved, resulting in a more body-positive and inclusive society.

Source: @promiseli_ on Twitter 

In 2018, Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi, came forward and accused television personality Zhu Jun of sexually harassing her while she worked as his intern in 2014. Zhu denied all the allegations, and this case quickly went viral when Xianzi sued Zhu for damages and also demanded a public apology.  

Earlier this week, a Beijing court ruled against the plaintiff, stating that there was not enough evidence to support her claims of sexual harassment. After three years of fighting for justice, Xianzi told a small group of supporters that she was exhausted and had not been given a proper chance to tell her story. Although her claims were denied, she still plans to appeal the verdict. 

Unfortunately, the result in Xianzi’s case is quite common for sexual harassment victims who complain in China. The court finds that the victim does not have sufficient evidence that the harassment occurred and denies the claim, and then the victim must defend against a defamation lawsuit by the alleged harasser. - Aaron Halegua, lawyer and author 

Over the weekend in New York, feminists gathered to protest the dismissal of Xianzi’s case and to stand in solidarity with the survivor. Despite misogynistic sentiment prevailing in China, activists were determined to show their support for Xianzi and demand change. 

Online discussion of the case was censored in China, which only highlights the fear of feminism in the nation. Many news outlets also failed to acknowledge this case, in yet another attempt to silence the voices of survivors. As censorship continues in China, feminists and women’s rights activists are virtually silenced, but they are determined to continue fighting. 

The comics are designed to empower and inspire young children in the MENA region (AWRA/supplied). Source: Middle East Eye

Reem Abdellatif, daughter of Egyptian immigrants in the Netherlands, never saw herself represented in the mainstream media. As a child, she suffered from abuse and bullying at school, and she notes that she may have found solace if she had seen others that looked like her on TV and in comics. 

Seeing sheros, or characters that resonate with me as a girl of colour, would have made a huge difference in my life at the time. - Reem Abdellatif 

Abdellatif wants to ensure that other young girls who may be experiencing the same issues have that comfort, which is why she created Kawkab. Kawkab is a 10-year old Sudanese girl with superpowers which allow her to defy space and thus, fulfill her dream of becoming a space traveller. 

When I was a child, kids got bullied for being into science. Kawkab's superpower is her ability to dream big and turn those dreams into reality. - Reem Abdellatif 

She launched this comic in August, which explores the adventures and friendships of a group of friends who travel to space. The story of Kawkab belongs to a wider series of comics which has been designed to empower young girls in the MENA region. 

Abdellatif is an Egyptian-American journalist and is the co-founder of the African Women Rights Advocates (AWRA), a survivor-led-organization which empowers women through activism, art, and education. Composed of women activists from the MENA region as well as the diaspora, AWRA raises awareness about taboo issues and has worked on projects pertaining to period poverty, FGM, and child marriage. 

Today, girls and women in the MENA region and Africa need allies and partners, not saviours - especially the younger generations. - Reem Abdellatif

Thousands of Pride-goers carrying flags, banners and signs march through the streets of Kyiv (STR/NurPhoto via Getty). Source: PinkNews

In Ukraine, homophobia is rampant and perpetuated societally and by the government as well. In August, activists threw a rave outside the president’s office to protest his views on LGBTQ+ rights and to demand the adoption of a bill which would create protections for hate crimes against the queer community. 

A recent survey found that around 47 percent of respondents in Ukraine had a negative view on the LGBTQ+ community. Currently, Ukraine does not permit same-sex couples to get married or adopt children, and the workplace discrimination laws in place do not account for discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. 

Despite this institutionalized homophobia, around 7000 protesters participated in the Kyiv Equality March, Ukraine’s Pride parade over the weekend. The peaceful march for LGBTQ+ rights was a powerful demonstration of equality and inclusion. Several homophobes held a huge banner bearing the words “LGBT are 0.3 per cent of the population, but 40 cent of the paedophiles,” a common narrative in Ukraine where homophobia is widespread.

The Ukraine LGBTQ+ community and activists will not back down in the face of homophobia. 

[We] are here at the Pride to support the LGBTQ community in Ukraine. We are here to promote human rights because LGBTQ rights are human rights and, unfortunately, the community faces a lot of violence and discrimination in Ukraine still. - Kateryna Lytvynenko, protester 


Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling 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 that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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