Global Roundup: Women Against Patriarchy and the State in Pakistan, Ukraine, China, India, and Zimbabwe  

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Family members of missing Pakistanis hold photos of their relatives at a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement protest rally in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 13, 2018. RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES via Foreign Policy

Through the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or the Pashtun Protection Movement, activists have been demanding the Pakistani state for “an end to harassment, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings; the return of missing people to their families; and the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission”. Women have been particularly active in the movement. 

Waziristan is a region in Pakistan populated by Pashtuns, an ethnic minority group in the country. The region has been plagued by Taliban presence, military invasions and CIA drone strikes. In fact, out of the 430 U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan, 400 struck Wazirista resulting in over 1,000 civilian deaths between the years 2004 and 2018. Up to 6 million Pashtuns were displaced from North and South Waziristan by 2016. Pashtuns forced to urban centres face “harsh discrimination, racial profiling, and stereotyping”. 

Khwazhamina Wazir, who is referred to by the Pashto word for mother, adoy, is a woman over  80-years-old who speaks passionately at PTM rallies about freedom for her people. The majority of the men in her family have been killed, are in prison or have gone missing. Sanna Ejaz, a 30-year-old woman, lost her job as a news anchor due to her involvement with PTM. There are also several arrest warrants in her name across the province. Despite these consequences, she is committed to creating space for women in the PTM:

We take to the streets to protest for our missing loved ones, but we are also helping dismantle patriarchy, the roots of which lie in colonialism - Sanna Ejaz

Ejaz notes that Pashtun women still face barriers in the movement due to patriarchy. She has been working on setting up a movement solely for Pashtun women -  Waak Tehreek, or Movement for Empowerment. This grassroots campaign focuses on more local issues such as cultural programs, library fundraisers, and climate change. Social justice movements are not immune to patriarchy. If movements truly seek to liberate all, they must contend with the patriarchy that is embedded within society.

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Women self-organise against violence in eastern Ukraine’s frontlines. Illustration by Inge Snip via Open Democracy

Eastern Ukraine has been in conflict for almost 7 years due to power struggles between a faction aligning with Russia and another aligning with the European Union. Amid the instability, women have been taking the lead in organizing against gender-based violence. As should be well known, conflict only exacerbates gender-based violence, which prompted these women to self-organize and fill in the gaps in state protection and services for survivors. Their actions include accompanying survivors to the police station and hospital and raising awareness regarding domestic violence in order to denormalize it in their communities. In addition, they must learn about details of Ukraine’s legal system to provide accurate legal advice.

Irina Pavlyk, a frontline worker with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, discusses how during military conflict, women’s rights and issues are often dismissed and rarely prioritized. Thus, women are left to challenge authorities and hold them accountable on their own, which is met with hostility. 

Women had no choice but to take responsibility and ensure that those left behind survived. They started with providing food for the most vulnerable, checking on elderly, negotiating with the military - Katerina Khaneva, gender-based violence coordinator

Eastern Ukraine’s growing grassroots women’s movement faces challenges including language barriers and learning the laws. Furthermore, if they want to access funding, they must travel to the nearest city to register an organization - this option is not affordable or accessible for many. Still, the women remain dedicated to work in solidarity and with compassion. Patriarchy places the burden of care work on women’s shoulders - work that goes uncompensated and undervalued. Yet, clearly we can see that this work upholds society and its people during conflict.

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Supporters hold banners as they wait for of Zhou Xiaoxuan outside at a courthouse where Zhou is appearing in a sexual harassment case in Beijing on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. In a blow to the MeToo movement in China, a court in Zhejiang province found a young man and woman guilty of defamation against a prominent Chinese journalist on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 for publishing an alleged account of sexual harassment. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

A court in the eastern city of Hangzhou ordered on December 5 that two journalists in China who published an article accusing a third journalist of sexual misconduct pay 11,712 yuan ($1,813) in damages for defamation. Zou Sicong and He Qian published an online article in 2018, in which He alleged that Deng Fei sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in 2009. The article came out at the peak of the global #MeToo movement. Deng was successful in petitioning to keep details of the case out of the public record. 

Zou and He said they faced a higher burden of proof. Very few sexual misconduct lawsuits are filed in China - its definition remains unclear and many cases are prosecuted in courts as labor disputes or under laws to protect public reputations. The defendants believe that the ruling will discourage others from coming forward. 

This is equal to telling someone who was humiliated, who was hurt, that if you don’t have audio recordings or videos of the event, then you better hurry up and shut your mouth -Xu Kai, Zou’s and He’s lawyer

Zou and He plan to appeal the ruling. Though they see the judgement as a setback, they will continue to fight for the rights of other women. Fuck the patriarchy for punishing women for speaking out and for valuing men’s reputations over our lives. 

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Photo via Feminism in India

In response to the COVID-19 lockdown in India, the Modi government announced several items as essential to prevent hoarding and panic. Some of those items include edible oil and seeds, vanaspati, pulses, rice, sugarcane, and its products; petroleum and petroleum products. For many, there is one thing glaringly missing from the list: sanitary pads. In fact, sanitary pads, tissue paper, diapers and soap were nowhere to be found on the list. As a result, manufacturing units were closed and transport suspended. Sanitary napkins were added to the list eventually, however, the delay led to a wide inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene across the country. 

A large number of young girls are dependent on schools to supply them with sanitary napkins - with their closure, this is no longer an option. Pads are often not available in the local stores of remote villages, hence people must go to the nearest town or district centre, which is difficult now due to social distancing and limited public transportation. In addition, menstruation remains taboo in many rural households making using toilet facilities difficult with men increasingly at home due to the lockdown. For migrant workers, the sudden imposition of the lockdown led them to walk for miles to their homes. If they started menstruating, they were left to go without any menstrual products or use old clothes such as socks.

Menstruators face so many barriers to menstrual hygiene and the global pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. Now, more than ever, it is evident that menstrual products are a basic human right that should be free and accessible to all. 

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Natsiraishe Maritsa inside her room in the Epworth settlement near Harare [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP] via Al Jazeera

Natsiraishe Maritsa is a Zimbabwean teenager who is using her passion for taekwondo to fight child marriage. Maritsa holds martial arts classes for children as young as 4, as well as recently married girls, many of whom were Maritsa’s former classmates. After the lessons, they talk about the dangers of child marriage. She started the project in 2018 after seeing many of her classmates leave school for marriage.

The role of teen mothers is usually ignored when people campaign against child marriages. Here, I use their voices, their challenges, to discourage those young girls not yet married to stay off early sexual activity and marriage - Natsiraishe Maritsa

Though neither girls nor boys can legally get married until the age of 18 in Zimbabwe, it is a widespread practice due to economic struggles. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 30% of girls are married before reaching 18. COVID-19 may result in an increase in child marriage as poverty worsens and schools are closed.

Maritsa hoped to build the confidence of married and single girls through her martial arts classes. She has limited resources with support only from her father who is a small-scale farmer and her mother who is a homemaker. Her inspiring work is a testament to the power of community-led action. Transforming society will require that we invest in young girls. As it remains now, we continue to fail young girls and leave them to fend for themselves.

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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.