Global Roundup: 'The Sex Lives of African Women,’ Young Indian Educator, Surfer Girls of Bangladesh, Protection Against Sexual Assault in the UK, Latinx Artist Fellowship

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Ghanain author and feminist Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah with her new book | All rights reserved. (open Democracy) 

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah has run a successful platform for conversations about sex, centring the pleasure of African women, for 10 years on her co-founded blog ‘Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women’. Darkoa has now published a book titled The Sex Lives of African Women, which sheds light on the personal lives of African women that are often silenced due to patriarchal norms.

The Sex Lives of African Women explores the stories of African women across the continent, as well as the stories of many living in the diaspora. More than 30 women spoke about how they navigate and enjoy sex, sexuality and relationships, spanning across different generations and regions around the world. Stories are written by monogamous, polyamorous, queer, trans, and celibate individuals, encompassing the diverse sex lives of African women. 

Although sex and sexuality are still relatively taboo topics throughout Africa, Darkoa challenges these beliefs and encourages her readers to open their minds to the possibility of sexual freedom, while simultaneously revealing how these generational efforts to control women’s sexuality has ultimately affected their safety and sense of themselves. 

We are all on a journey towards sexual freedom and agency. - Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah 

Darkoa, however, explained how these stories were limited to those of middle-class women which were sourced online; fewer than one in five sub-Saharan Africans use the internet which made it difficult to understand the stories of low-income women. 

The book explores a number of themes, each particular to each woman’s story. These include: self-pleasure, religion, race, and more. No two stories are the same, providing readers with insight into these womens’ lives as they navigate their sexuality and sex life. And the voices included are diverse.

From a young age, I was desired by boys and men, who saw me as beautiful because of my light skin and facial features [...] It didn’t matter that I grew up hating myself because I wanted to look more African; I felt that would make me a whole person, rather than someone who didn’t know whether they were Arab or African. - ‘Estelle’, a pansexual cis woman of mixed African and Arab heritage, who grew up between Ghana and the UK

‘Solange’, a 46-year-old queer trans woman, recalls moving to Canada, where she could medically transition to live in her gender identity.

I realised that I needed to live my life for myself and that not being in accordance with my true self was the real sin. It took me 25 years and being far away from Rwanda, and my family, to have this realisation. - Solange

‘Elizabeth’, a wheelchair user of Nigerian-Scottish heritage, recalls with humour some of the tricky questions that have come up when dating online.

I always jokingly tell men, the only thing I can’t do is stand up and have sex. Besides, when was the last time you had sex standing up?” Elizabeth

Alexis, a 71-year-old queer Black feminist from Harlem, New York, shares her experience of finding love in her sixties – a story that also challenges common portrayals or assumptions that older women are asexual.

The book is now available for purchase online.

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Deepanjali with her parents. Credit: Oxfam India. (Feminism in India)

Deepanjali Patra is from Borbhata, in the Kalahandi district of Odisha in India. Many young girls in her community are married off after finishing the tenth grade, however Patra defied societal and patriarchal norms, took a stance against these outdated traditions, and went on to graduate high school and work as an educator.

The 20-year old teaches at a local school in Borbhata, and over the last three years of her teaching experience, she has grown to understand the barriers that young girls face in attending school, as well as the many ways that this can be combated to ensure every girl receives an education. 

Growing up in Borbhata, Patra had a front seat to the patriarchal norms which dictate the community. Women are expected to adhere to these preconceived gender norms and are prohibited from showing any sort of autonomy. 

Despite being the daughter of a village leader, Patra experienced difficulties when trying to finish her education. When she reached tenth grade and refused to get married, only two other girls at the time had ever graduated from high school. Even after finishing high school, she was expected to get married. Working outside the home is an uncommon occurrence for women in this community, so her family saw marriage as the natural next step. However, at the time when Patra graduated from high school, the local school was in need of a teacher and she saw it as an opportunity to not only financially support her family, but to also reject patriarchal norms and create a life for herself. 

In her position, Patra teaches young children in the mornings and evenings. Since beginning this role, many more young girls have enrolled and started attending school, and they have begun to receive free books and other learning aids which has significantly contributed to the increase in enrollment rates, and it has also eased the financial burden on many families.

There have definitely been great strides and quantifiable results and with more work and commitment to women’s equity, I am certain no girl in this country will be left behind without an education. - Deepanjali Patra 

In addition to the patriarchal norms, many families simply cannot afford to send all of their children to school. Boys are usually prioritized due to the false notion that only men can financially provide for their families, whereas women are only capable of caring for the family and home. Patra suggested that the government begin to implement free, quality education across rural communities in India as many families choose not to send their children to school because the quality of education is so poor. She also recommended that appropriate training should be provided to ensure that young girls will be able to obtain employment in their futures. This would increase school and college attendance for young girls and open up a world of opportunities. 

Patra has seen changes over the years, including women getting married after finishing high school or once they are of age, increased school enrollment, and increased financial independence for women. There is still an immense amount of work which must be done, however, to ensure that young girls reach their full capabilities and obtain a quality education. 

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(Women’s Media Centre) 

Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is known to be a major tourist attraction, but it is also home to thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution and violence in Myanmar. Facing ethnic cleansing as a result of their Muslim identity, Rohingya refugees have been fleeing Myanmar for years in search of​​ a safer life, but living in Bangladesh has proved to be difficult as well. 

Refugees face discrimination because of their status, IDP camps are overcrowded, and sexual assault and human trafficking occurs at alarming rates. However, many have found unique ways to cope with their trauma and find themselves in new ways. 

Author Ruksanna Guidroz discovered teen surfers in Cox’s Bazar who have faced discrimination and poverty because of their refugee status, and chose to write Samira Surfs, a children’s novel about a 12-year old girl who embraces surfing as a way to process her trauma and find herself. 

The novel explores the story of 12-year old Samira who sought refuge with her family in Bangladesh at the age of 11. In order to develop the story, Guidroz did extensive research on the violence that Rohingya refugees experienced, as well as the trauma that followed. However, she found a way to balance the story with positivity by writing about how surfing has become a method of peace and healing for many young refugees. 

Samira learns a new sport that pushes her beyond her comfort zone and tests her endurance as it eventually becomes a springboard for freedom and self-expression. - Ruksanna Guidroz 

This novel explores the unique ways that young girls have coped with living in a new country, in which their identity is often denied or brushed aside. As a surfer and athlete herself, Guidroz recalled the many sporting events she participated in and spoke to the importance of learning about yourself through failure and success. 

But there weren't only stories of success. I took part in track events where I didn't do well and was not as fast as the next person. Those moments can be crushing for a child, but they can also teach you more about yourself and your limits. I had plenty of those days. - Ruksanna Guidroz

Touching on important historical factors from the Rohingya crisis, as well as themes of friendship and belonging, Samira Surfs illustrates the true experiences of refugees, and encompasses their resilience.

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The UK government has finally approved and implemented legislation which will hold employees accountable for protecting staff from being harassed in work settings. This is seen as the first significant win in the country for the #MeToo movement. 

In 2018, the Government Equalities Office published a response to a statement on all forms of harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment, coinciding with the Home Office’s strategy to prevent violence against women which was just released last week. The onus will now be placed on employers to prevent sexual assault, as well as to implement measures to ensure that employees have access to adequate legal protections when submitting a claim of harassment. In addition, there will be explicit protections to protect employees from third-parties, such as clients or customers. 

A recent government survey found that around 72% of individuals in the UK have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, whereas 18% reported that they experienced harassment daily, and 21% said harassment occurred on a weekly basis. 

The Labour Party has called on the government to collect more data on sexual harassment in the workplace specifically in order to continuously support victims, and the Party also called out the government for stalling for two years on this much-needed legislation. 

We cannot end this injustice without understanding the extent of it. That is why Labour is calling on the government to collect data on employment tribunals brought on the basis of sexual harassment. - Marsha de Cordova, MP and Labour’s shadow Women and Equalities Secretary

Workplaces are just one of the many places where individuals face harassment; many are subject to harassment in their schools, places of worship, home settings, or simply just walking down the street. Although this is a turning point in the #MeToo movement, it is not the be-all-end-all. 

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Photo courtesy of fordfoundation.org. (BE Latina)

A multi-million dollar initiative has just been launched to support Latinx artists in the US. The Latinx Artist Fellowship was created through the joint efforts of the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the U.S. Latinx Art Forum (USLAF). Over the next 5 years, these organizations have committed to donating $5 million to the fellowship program. Of this $5 million, $3.75 million will be distributed to 75 artists in $50,000 unrestricted grants, and the remainder will go to the USLAF to support the organization. 

This year, the first cohort comprises 15 Latinx artists who represent a number of different regions across the US, as well as a number of different generations. Some of the participants are established in their careers, whereas some are emerging artists. 

The 15 selected artists are: Elia Alba, Celia Alvarez Muñoz, Carolina Caycedo, Adriana Corral, Rafa Esparza, Christina Fernandez, Coco Fusco, Yolanda Lopez, Miguel Luciano, Guadalupe Maravilla, Carlos Martiel, Michael Menchaca, Delilah Montoya, Vick Quezada and Juan Sanchez.

Giving each of the fellows $50,000 to do their work for a year will support them first and foremost, but with the power of the Mellon and the Ford foundations, this will bring visibility to this kind of initiative, and we hope to encourage museums to get on board. We wanted to create a deliberate and intentional jury process so that the full diversity of the very complicated Latinx community could be represented from gender, gender identity, ethno-racial, class, geographic, and disability. This is how you build a sustained legacy by supporting artists at all phases of their career. - Adriana Zavala, Director of USLAF and art historian at Tufts University 

In order to select the 15 participants, USLAF asked dozens of contemporary Latinx artists to submit their work. Around 200 individuals submitted their work, which was then reviewed by a jury of curators from the Latinx Artist Fellowship’s partner museums. 

Throughout the design process of this initiative, it was discovered that only 2% of philanthropic giving is donated to Latino-focused organizations, despite 20% of the US population identifying as Latino or Hispanic. Additionally, funding for Latinx organizations in the arts has declined drastically in the last several years. The Latinx Artist Fellowship will not only financially support Latinx artists, but it will also support the diversification of the arts in the US. 

We hope that other foundations join us in this effort, especially those that focus on arts and culture and in regions of the country that have large Latinx populations, to come along with us and think about how they can also be supportive of these really important issues. - Rocio Aranda-Alvarado, head of programs at the Ford Foundation 

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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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