Global Roundup: Ukrainian Refugees Seeking Abortion, Homage to Taiwan LGBTQ Youth, Mexico Women March, Art by Sex Workers, Empowering SAfrica Women
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
Myroslava Marchenko was a gynaecologist in Kyiv before the war. She now advises Ukrainian women about their reproductive rights in Poland. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian
Ukrainians in Poland are finding it difficult to access abortions in the country. More than 2 million Ukrainians have found refuge in Poland since the beginning of the war in February, the vast majority being women with children. In Ukraine abortions are legally provided on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, oral contraception is sold over the counter and the morning-after pill is readily available – however, abortion is almost completely outlawed in Poland and access to contraception is ranked as the worst in Europe.
Oxana Lytvynenko, a Ukrainian reproductive rights activist who has lived in Poland for 16 years and has been helping refugees in reception points since the war began, says that some women have no idea that their access to reproductive healthcare services will vanish upon crossing the border. Members of Poland’s anti-abortion movement have been at the border greeting refugees with leaflets depicting dismembered fetuses and advising women to denounce to the police anyone offering them an abortion.
[Ukrainian refugees crossing the border] are completely unprepared for the situation here, they don’t know the law. Even if someone has read an article somewhere about abortion in Poland, [many] still think, ‘OK, so they don’t do abortion on demand, but if there is a good reason then they will do it.’ It’s difficult because you don’t want to re-traumatise these women just after they are so happy to be safe again. It doesn’t feel like the right moment to tell them the truth. - Oxana Lytvynenko
While Myroslava Marchenko, a gynecologist, waits to receive a Polish medical licence, she has been working with Federa, a Polish women’s rights organisation, to launch a Ukrainian-language hotline for women seeking help on where to access reproductive healthcare services. She says the hotline receives about 10 calls a day, 10% of which are queries on how to access an abortion. As evidence and reports of rape and sexual assault of Ukrainian citizens continue to emerge, activists and politicians in Poland are also becoming increasingly concerned about how rape victims seeking safety in Poland may be able to secure a legal abortion if needed.
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng via SupChina
April 20 marked the 22nd anniversary of the death of Yeh Yung-chih, also known as “Rose Boy,” an iconic figure in Chinese-speaking LGBTQ communities around the world. Yeh died as a junior high student in Taiwan after an accident where he slipped in the school bathroom. Yeh suffered verbal and physical bullying by schoolmates due to his non-conforming gender expression. Although there was no direct evidence connecting the incident to his past experience of being bullied, Yeh’s plight attracted a great deal of public attention and prompted local queer activists to advocate for more inclusive education on diverse sexuality and gender identities in school.
The famous pop singer Jolin Tsai was inspired by Yeh’s story and wrote a song named “Rose Boy” in 2018. It quickly became a hit, earning Song of the Year at the 2019 Golden Melody Awards, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Grammys. Its wide reception among both queer and straight audiences in and outside of Taiwan helped further circulate Yeh’s story and the name of “Rose Boy” in Chinese-speaking societies, including mainland China. But although a host of Chinese singers have covered the song on television, neither Yeh’s name nor the song’s underlying message is ever directly mentioned.
On April 20 of this year, when Zhōu Shēn was set to cover the song, viewers expected something more true to the song’s original form – especially because Zhou himself used to be criticized and taunted for his “effeminate voice.” But Zhou’s rendition turned out to be a massive letdown due to a series of revisions made to the lyrics. For instance, the lines discussing gender variance were removed. The criticism of the performance is proof of heightened awareness of LGBTQ issues in Chinese society. In recent years, the name of “Rose Boy” has appeared with increasing frequency on the Chinese internet, with people using it to refer to youth who have been ridiculed, bullied, and, in the worst-case scenario, lost their life.
On the anniversary of Yeh’s passing, a group of mainland China-based social media accounts dedicated to LGBTQ issues published articles and posts (in Chinese) to memorialize Yeh while also using the opportunity to raise attention about the prevalence of violence against LGBTQ youth on campus and the lack of anti-bullying measures and policies at schools. Some of the articles specifically highlighted the urgency of addressing “school bullying on the basis of gender expressions.”
Last month, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged Mexico to tackle 'the alarming trend of rising enforced disappearances' that is facilitated by 'almost absolute impunity' [Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters] via Al Jazeera
Thousands of women in Mexico spent Mother’s Day marching in the nation’s sprawling capital, chanting and carrying pictures of their missing relatives, to demand accountability amid a worsening surge in violence. The women shouted “Where are they, where are they? Our children, where are they?” as they demonstrated under the banner, “March for National Dignity.” Protesters blocked traffic while pumping their fists and chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Relatives of Mexico’s disappeared march every year, but this year, they were joined by a caravan of Central American mothers searching for loved ones who went missing while on their journey to the United States. Precise figures on the violence migrants face in Mexico are difficult to come by, but rights groups monitoring towns along the US-Mexico border say they are exposed to kidnapping, torture, rape and other violent attacks.
According to the government, there are around 37,000 unidentified corpses lying unclaimed in forensic services, though activists believe the number is higher than 50,000. The violence and disappearances disproportionately affect women and girls. In Mexico, an average of 10 women a day are killed, and tens of thousands more go missing.
Last month, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged Mexico to tackle “the alarming trend of rising enforced disappearances”, saying the problem is facilitated by “almost absolute impunity”. A report found that less than 6 percent of disappearances had resulted in prosecutions.
Impunity in Mexico is a structural feature that favours the reproduction and cover-up of enforced disappearances and creates threats and anxiety to the victims, those defending and promoting their rights, public servants searching for the disappeared and investigating their cases, and society as a whole. - United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances
“Hourly Rate Smile” via Ginger Angelica
Dominatrix and madam Lady Velvet Steel and art curator Lilith Terra have opened Studio Lux, a working BDSM dungeon and brothel, to the general public in Berlin, Germany. In early April, Studio Lux opened an art exhibition titled “Art. Sex. Cash.” that featured artwork by sex workers, along with performances by latex-clad DJs and dominatrix-cum-rappers.
Historically speaking brothels have always inspired culture. That fell out of fashion, or has been forgotten to the public. - Lady Velvet Steel
The work ranges from tentacle sculptures to oil paintings, though there is plenty of photography on display, which Terra considers an appropriate medium due to its association with pornography. Terra said she hopes the exhibition can build connections between the different but associated worlds of art and fetish.
It’s exciting to go into a space like this to look at art, to make contact between sex workers and art enjoyers. - Lilith Terra
Sculptor and stripper Ginger Angelica’s piece “Hourly Rate Smile” is a neon sculpture of a pair of luscious pink lips with a green snake peeking out. The work, according to Angelica, is a comment on the emotional labor that sex-workers engage in in their workplaces, subverting the typical advertising imagery that commercializes women’s bodies for the male gaze. For Angelica, Studio Lux and the exhibition reverse the typical relationship between subject and object in art to give sex workers more agency. Sex workers make art too, the exhibition declares.
Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, a performance artist, notes that art by sex workers is often undervalued and not taken seriously due to stigmas around sex work.
Art is one of the best ways for sex-workers to mediate their experiences to a public that would never be able to understand it otherwise. - Liad Hussein Kantorowicz
In early 2020, members of Boss Babes of South Africa — a digital skills-sharing platform —collaborated with Reach for a Dream on a slipper day campaign. From left: Divine Kwabe, Priyanka Naidoo, Jade Voges and Kovini Moodley. (Photo: Supplied / Kovini Moodley) via Daily Maverick
Boss Babes of South Africa, a digital skills-sharing platform, is an all-women movement that provides professionals with the space to share their skills and knowledge with others. The online community allows for collaboration, networking and support among local women.
It really is about giving back to the community… giving back to the women of South Africa, and ultimately creating a safe space for women to connect, collaborate, network and leverage each other’s skills. - Kovini Moodley, founder and CEO of Boss Babes of South Africa
The platform was launched in early 2020 as a “hobby”, according to Moodley, with a handful of followers made up of her close friends and family. Today, Boss Babes has about 22,000 followers on Instagram. It’s primarily a skills-sharing space – about 3,500 professionals are registered as potential contributors. About once a week, Boss Babes hosts Instagram live sessions featuring professionals including doctors, actresses, media experts and pilots.
We’re always open to bringing on things that are interesting to our audience… The big ones are digital marketing, entrepreneurship — we’ve had a lawyer a few times, and mental health coaches. - Kovini Moodley
Kesari Kistnasamy, a chartered accountant who has used the Boss Babes platform as both a contributor and observer says the platform has been especially useful during the pandemic when many people were feeling isolated and “low”. It provided motivation and a space in which to come together.
The platform is intended to go beyond the “glorified highlight reels” on social media to the behind-the-scenes experiences of professional women — the struggles they have needed to overcome to attain success, according to Moodley.
It’s only when I started this that I actually realised the power of social media. Many people look at it and say it’s just a superficial platform, but it actually has the ability to change lives, depending on the type of content you’re putting out there. - Kovini Moodley
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.