Global Roundup: Togo Sexual Rights, "Lavender Book" for Black LGBTQ+ Safety, Mobile Apps for Mexican Women's Abortion Aid, Zimbabwe Stand-Up Comedians, Menstrual Health Conversation in Canada
Compiled by Inaara Merani
Photo by: Hayathe Ayeva
Hayathe Ayeva, 20, is a passionate activist who is promoting and protecting the sexual rights of young people in Togo. At the age of 12, Ayeva joined the Youth Action Movement (YAM), run by the Togolese Association for Family Welfare (ATBEF). She now sits as the President of this organization, where she works with colleagues to support ATBEF’s advocacy efforts to improve young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, as well as access to information and healthcare services pertaining to this issue.
In Togo, youth face many issues relating to their sexual rights. Prohibitory traditions consider sexuality to be a taboo topic, there is a lack of activities dedicated to supporting youth along this journey, youth-friendly healthcare services are scarcely located across the country, and there is limited access to information and contraceptive care.
In recognition of these challenges, YAM hosts youth-friendly activities where young people can access important information and healthcare confidentially. At times, Ayeva pays for activities that require costs, so that as many young people as possible are able to participate and learn. As a young woman in a position of leadership, she has also encountered numerous challenges as a result of dominating patriarchal values.
They include society’s view that tends to place men above women – and the resultant women’s lack of self-confidence, forced marriages and early pregnancies, family and marital responsibilities that impede them from fully pursuing their ambitions. Governments must promote gender equality and appoint more women to positions of responsibility. This will ensure they are represented at all levels and in organizational structures. More honour should be accorded to women in order to encourage others to cultivate the culture of excellence - Hayathe Ayeva
Ayeva’s work has inspired many young people to take advantage of these resources and to use their voice to reach out to marginalized populations who might not have the same access. In doing so, she will also elevate the voices of young women who are ready to fight back and claim their rights.
Thousands march during a Transgender Resistance Vigil + March in Boston on June 13, 2020.Barry Chin / Boston Globe via Getty Images file
This week, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and Out in Tech launched Lavender Book, a web-based app where the Black LGBTQ+ community can find safe spaces around the US. The app has a crowdsourced search engine which locates safe and friendly establishments, such as coffee shops or restaurants. Users can also specify their search by filtering for certain attributes such as ‘gender-neutral restrooms’ or ‘trans-trained’.
Lavender Book was “built for the Black Queer, Black Trans, and Black Gender Non-Binary communities” with a mission “to spread the word about spaces where people can be themselves,” according to its website.
Lavender Book is based on Green Book, a guide which provided a list of safe establishments for Black motorists across the nation during the Jim Crow era. Executive director of the NBJC, David Johns, explained how time-consuming, laborious, and mentally exhausting finding safe spaces can be for the Black LGBTQ+ community.
Black LGBTQIA+ folk, and then [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] folks with intersectional identities thereafter, spent a lot of time making phone calls and leveraging community networks to identify places where the likelihood of us being victims of verbal harassment, bias, discrimination or violence associated with actual or assumed sexual identity and gender orientation or expression will happen - David Johns
Recognizing those experiences, Johns wanted to bring his years-long dream to life and create a resource to support the Black LGBTQ+ community. The year 2021 has seen a rise in anti-Black and transphobic legislation, as well as trans homicides. Lavender Book will act as an important resource to protect and support the Black trans community. Although the app currently only includes businesses, it is possible that hospitals, clinics, and health care centres may be included in the future.
Sofia of the organisation Morras Help Morras shows how she uses her cell phone to help accompany women who are clandestinely aborting across Mexico where it is illegal in 30 states [Andalusia Knoll Soloff/Al Jazeera]
In Mexico, many women are turning to online support networks in search of assistance with at-home abortions. With the fear of contracting Covid-19 at a hospital or clinic, Maria Muñoz, a journalist in Mexico City, found herself turning towards WhatsApp to help her with misoprostol, the over-the-counter abortion medication.
After learning about this network through a friend, Muñoz contacted them and was added to a WhatsApp group with psychologists, labelled “abortion accompaniers”. Psychologists frequently checked in with her to see how she was feeling, sent infographics on where misoprostol could be purchased, provided advice on how to take the pill and what she should eat beforehand, and also sent reminders so that Muñoz would stick to the administration schedule.
After enduring this experience at home, Muñoz was added to another WhatsApp group with women across Mexico who had been through something similar and wanted to share their experiences. In Mexico City, abortion is legal until the 12th week of pregnancy, however in many other states, it is only permitted in certain situations.
I decided to do it at home because many times you go to the clinic and there are anti-right groups that attack you…It really affected me to listen to women who aborted where it was not legal and they had to suffer from double fear – the fear of aborting and also the fear of being incarcerated for abortion when they are in such a vulnerable moment - Maria Muñoz
Morras Help Morras, a reproductive justice collective, assists women across Mexico in the process of abortion. On average, the group receives around 10 requests a day from women in need of assistance, and then directs these women to support groups and networks. Sofia, the organization’s co-director, has received training to be an abortion companion, but directs women to gynaecologists or doctors within the collective if necessary. Another NGO, Fondo Maria, provided economic assistance to women every year, prior to the pandemic, to help them travel to Mexico City where they could obtain free and legal abortions.
Abortion access was already a challenge and the pandemic has intensified the difficulties - Sofia Garduño, advocate with Fondo Maria
The battle to legalize abortion has been ongoing, and advocates have continued to fight for the cause and stand in solidarity with women seeking abortions. As long as laws are in place restricting abortions, individuals and organizations will continue to support women who are seeking abortion assistance. With the pandemic still very much affecting every community, it becomes difficult for women to access important channels and resources. Social media has demonstrated to be an important tool for people worldwide, and it will continue to serve women in Mexico who require such assistance.
Zimbabwean stand-up comedian Munya Guramatunhu. Courtesy Tirivashe/Munyaradzi Guramatunhu
In Zimbabwe, women stand-up comedians often face misogynistic and sexist comments. They are intimidated, harassed, and sometimes even arrested for joking about the ‘wrong’ political party or policy, or for simply speaking openly about a stigmatized issue. Despite these unfounded attacks, Zimbabwean women stand-up comedians are resisting patriarchal power by speaking openly about issues such as sex and patriarchy.
Zimbabwean society is regulated through gender norms. Usually when women try to step into positions of power, society delegitimizes these women. Women are often called whores or witches, but are called mothers when they take on more submissive roles.
I do not think that the reason we are not in the industry in great numbers is because we lack the confidence. It is because we do not get afforded the same grace to just be viewed as humans as the men are - Munyaradzi Guramatunhu
While on stage, it is seemingly easier to speak about issues that may seem too controversial to bring up in another setting. Female stand-up comedians feel a sense of empowerment when they get on stage, and feel comfortable and emboldened to speak about issues such as sex, sexuality, and the patriarchal domination in society and over institutions.
Sharon Chideu is one of many stand-up comedians in Zimbabwe who has been known to use her stage time to talk about common conceptions of women or how women are supposed to act within society. In 2018, she spoke about the difficulties of being a single mother and also wanting to have sex. She, along with many others, emphasize that women do not need to take on traditionally prescribed gender roles.
Although there are only a few women stand-up comedians in Zimbabwe, women continue to join the industry and are gaining more recognition. Stand-up comedy creates a space where women can speak freely about their frustrations. Women are free to do what they want and should not be confined to a certain lifestyle because of their sex.
Founders of Marlow: Kiara Botha, Harit Sohal, Simone Godbout, Natalie Diezyn, and Nadia Ladak. Source: London Inc
A group of young entrepreneurs are destigmatizing menstrual and sexual health by sparking meaningful conversation. Founded by recent graduates from the Ivey Business School at Western University during a capstone project, Marlow strives to promote inclusive education where menstruators can come together in a safe space to discuss and learn about menstrual and sexual health. The company routinely publishes blog posts about common experiences or questions, such as pelvic exams or ovarian cysts, which in turn normalizes these discussions in the hopes that menstruators feel comfortable discussing such issues.
We were all unsatisfied with our experiences in the menstrual products space...Marlow will transform the way people experience and talk about periods, starting with developing and launching the first-ever lubricated tampon - Simone Godbout, co-founder and CEO
In addition to having these important conversations, the students wanted to create an innovative product which would change the current discourse of menstrual health, and support menstruators around the world. Although more than 50% of the world’s population menstruates, there has been little innovation in the industry. Many menstruators are forced to miss out on school, work, and important activities due to pain and discomfort, or simply a lack of products which cater to their needs.
From a consumer perspective, you wonder, why don’t you just change it? Why aren’t things moving faster? But given the health requirements and medical regulations that surround product development, it’s made us realize that you have to care enough to innovate in this space - Kiara Botha, co-founder and creative lead
As such, Marlow will soon be launching the first-ever lubricated tampon, which was developed to create an easier experience for menstruators, as many individuals face discomfort and pain with big-brand tampons. Each box will come with 100 percent organic cotton tampons, as well as a water-based lubricant free of fragrance, dyes and irritants. The founders are hopeful that this product will create a comfortable and harm-free experience for menstruators everywhere, while also fostering meaningful dialogue about menstrual and sexual health.
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.