Global Roundup: Using Transport and Technology to Fight Violence Against Women, #MeToo in Greece, Recognizing Muslim Women Scholars, Trans Victory in India

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Joanie Fredericks and her partner Bernadette Morrison who help provide expecting mothers in the community with diapers, food and more in the Cape Flats in South Africa. November 2020. Handout via Tafelsig Mitchells Plain CAN via Reuters

South African activist-turned-entrepreneur Joanie Fredericks has launched Ladies Own Transport, a taxi service which provides safe transportation options for women living in the Cape Flats, an area which is notorious for gang warfare and sexual violence.

Ladies Own Transport initially launched in 2018 as a women-only driving school, where hundreds of women learned how to drive -- on the first day, more than 500 women signed up to learn how to drive!! Many women said that they felt much safer learning how to drive with a woman because driving with men usually leads to harassment and violence. Additionally, the women who partook in driving lessons often found themselves stopping the car just to sit and talk with their instructor, because this was often the only space where women could get away from abusive relationships and talk about their daily struggles. 

I'm not going to stop until Tafelsig is a place where anybody feels they can come any time to visit without fear of being robbed, raped or killed. And I think I'm getting there - Joanie Fredericks

As time progressed, Fredericks realized that accessing safe transportation was becoming more problematic for women in Cape Flats. As of March 2020, more than 53,000 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa, although women’s rights groups have said that this number is probably much higher. Public transportation has been a longstanding issue within the community and thousands of residents suffer from transport poverty, which refers to the inaccessibility or unsuitability of transport which can negatively impact a person’s life. Research has demonstrated that transport poverty disproportionately affects women and girls due to sexual harassment and abuse. 

The lack of action by the government to fight back against the ongoing inequalities faced by women, at the hands of the patriarchy, is precisely why Ladies Own Transport was launched. As a community activist in the Cape Flats for two decades, Fredericks was motivated to protect the women and girls in her community through this empowering initiative. Alongside her dedication to destroying the patriarchy through her inspiring work, Joanie Fredericks is also committed to supporting local community members. Since the pandemic began, for almost a year now, Fredericks has been running a feeding scheme for more than 10,000 people. What an icon!! In the coming months, Fredericks hopes to expand her taxi business across the Cape Flats to ensure the safety and security of women in the area.  

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Megs Shah - co-founder of The Parasol Cooperative. CELESTINA ANDO via Forbes

Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed met last year through a Facebook support group for survivors of abuse. The two began to talk about their personal experiences, as well as the elevated rates of domestic violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After discussing their ambitions and what they wanted to accomplish, Shah and Ahmed founded the Parasol Cooperative. 

The Parasol Cooperative App will provide users with easy-to-use digital products and online communities which will enhance the work of organizations supporting survivors of domestic abuse. It will connect survivors with shelters, community centres, and safety programs, as well as other survivors in the area. Essentially, the app will connect survivors with experts, resources and services which they can use to safely request help. 

When the stay-at-home order came early last year we talked about the implications on the abused individuals, men and women alike. The thought of being stuck at home with an abuser was bone chilling in some cases and we wanted to find a way for these individuals to safely request help - Megs Shah

Research demonstrated that the majority of victims do not report the abuse due to lack of knowledge, cultural and social stigma, and the fear of getting caught while requesting help. Additionally, organizations, such as women’s shelters, only use technology for operational uses and they are unfamiliar with how to best utilize the technology to support survivors of violence or cannot afford it. Current guidelines require survivors to have an option to call, chat or text organizations, yet many organizations do not have the capacity to implement these measures. Rather than having every organization implement these features, the Parasol Cooperative app will act as the middle entity between survivors and organizations. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought months of sadness and sorrow. As rates of domestic violence began to surge, the world started to notice but governments around the world did not take immediate action. In the coming months when the app is officially launched, it will be inspiring to witness the Parasol Cooperative succeed and support survivors of domestic violence around the world. 

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Sofia Bekatorou met the Greek president (R) on Monday night and was praised for speaking out - photo by EPA via BBC

cw: sexual assault, trauma

After former Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou revealed that she had been sexually assaulted, many followed suit, prompting a #MeToo movement in Greece. Using the hashtag #metisofia, meaning “on Sofia’s side”, more athletes have come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault in a similar setting. 

The mother of two said she ultimately chose to stay silent in order to keep competing, saying that the perpetrator is still in a "position of power" at the federation.

At that time we did not have any collaboration with a sports psychologist, and of course I would never talk to my parents because they would have stopped me from sailing - Sofia Bekatorou

Bekatorou was only 21 when the incident occurred, and feared that if she spoke out, she would be forced to quit sailing. She ultimately decided to keep the incident to herself until this year, when she spoke about her experiences via video conference. Speaking out about sexual assault is not common in Greece, especially when prominent or well-known figures are involved. With prominence comes wealth and status, two factors which prevent many victims from speaking out against their perpetrators. Bekatorou’s story has inspired others to come forth about their experiences in order to hold perpetrators accountable, and hopefully, individuals will continue to speak out. We cannot forget about the millions of people around the world who endure sexual violence, and we must continue to fight for their cause. 

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Women’s contributions to faith traditions are too often erased or ignored. A new collection on female Muslim scholars seeks to remedy that. Dr. Akram Nadwi has published a 43-volume biographical collection on over 10,000 Muslim female scholars and transmitters of Hadith in Arabic. This collection is based on decades of research carried out by Dr. Nadwi, along with archives from all over the world. The latest edition of Muhaddithat sheds light on over 1000 years of Muslim women’s scholarly histories, their journeys, and their contributions to Islamic tradition. 

This biographical collection will be available within the next few weeks, digitized and with translations in English. Dr. Nadwi’s work will bring forth the important contributions of Muslim female scholars who have not traditionally been recognized. In Islam, women are often deemed as inferior due to cultural and societal norms. This collection will provide an opportunity for individuals to understand the contributions that tens of thousands of Muslim women have made to Islam. For example, Zaynab bint al-Kamal was a 12th century scholar who taught more than 400 books of Hadith at the most prestigious institution in Damascus. Fatima bint Sa`d al-Khayr was another 12 century scholar who travelled over 3000 miles on her scholarly journey. This collection will demonstrate that women are not just making history in the present, they have made history.  

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Photo of Anjali Patil by Free Press Journal via ShethePeople

Anjali Patil is recognized as the first transgender person to win the gram panchayat election in Jalgaon, in the Indian state of Maharastra. Representing the village of Bhadli Budruk, the 40-year old won the local election on Monday this week. Authorities had initially rejected Patil’s nomination because she filed her application as a woman.

As a trans woman, Patil has been faced with scrutiny and criticism, but it has not stopped her from following her passions and ambitions. After encountering these difficulties, Patil moved her case to the Bombay High Court, which certified that she was permitted to run in the election as a woman. 

I was dejected after my nomination was rejected by authorities as I had filed it from a seat reserved for women after other contestants objected to it. I had selected the other option in my nomination form to describe my gender. However, we moved Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court that allowed my candidature as women and now I have won the elections by a margin of 560 votes - Anjali Patil

Following Patil’s victory, officials reached out to congratulate her on the inspiring win. Although not the first transgender person to participate in an election and win, Anjali Patil has made history within the small village of Bhadli Budruk, and will continue to do so during her term. 

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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.