Global Roundup: Women and Girls Write Letters to Modi, Night Pride in London, LGBT+ Community in Afghanistan, Rafia Zakaria's Book Against White Feminism, Two-Spirit Indigenous Boxer Raises Awareness

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Priyakshi Jakhar, a resident of Haryana's Hisar district, posting her letter to PM Modi [Sunil Jaglan/Al Jazeera]

Sonam Kumari left her house in the eastern Indian state of Bihar to pursue a college education when her parents began to plan her marriage last year. Even after moving away from home, the pressure to marry followed her. 

Last month, Kumari decided to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to increase the marriage age for girls to 21, like it is for the boys, “so that we can complete our studies.” Kumari’s story led to hundreds of women and girls writing similar letters to Modi. Nearly 800 letters have been sent to his office where people share their experiences and some even write poems.

Modi promised last year to review the minimum age for marriage for women during his independence day speech. However, there has yet to be any decision made by the government on raising the marriage age of women 

It has been my personal experience. My cousin was married at an early age. She had just completed her Class X. The relationship did not work out, she got pregnant and delivered a baby. Now she is separated and has nowhere to go. I think if she had completed her education, she would have been better settled. - Anju from Haryana’s Palwal district, postgraduate in law

Feminist activists and supporters of increasing the marriage age for women mention the importance of education to girls’ independence, the prevalence of health issues for pregnant girls, and how marriage age should be gender-neutral. 

With early and child marriages rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a crucial issue that women like Kumari are demanding be given attention. Ultimately, women should have the autonomy to decide not only when they get married, but whether they want to get married at all.

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Photo via VICE

There has been a sharp rise in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes in the UK. Last week, around 150 people participated in Night Pride in London to protest the rise in violence against the LGBTQ community. Organizers described the protests as “not a demand for equality”, “not a demand for better policing” and “not a demand for mere tolerance and acceptance. We are revolting, and we will have true liberation!” VICE spoke to some attendees about what the march means to them. 

Naya Thorn, a 19-year-old drag queen, says that she was also involved in a recent Liverpool protest against LGBTQI+ hate crimes. She had personally known several of the people who had been attacked. 

I’m here tonight to keep talking about the fact that the attacks still are happening. Even though that protest happened, the attacks never stop, it’s just that the media coverage has been and gone. We need more events like this tonight and all of this just shows that it’s happening on a national scale, an international scale and it needs to stop. - Naya Thorn

Stacy Martin, the partnership manager for UK Black Pride, notes that hate crimes have mostly gone up for marginalized communities such as towards Black people and people of colour. Jami Chi, a filmmaker, also mentions how the queer Asian community experiences a double marginalization. Ian Johns who is a Gay Liberation Front activist and vintage store owner, talks about how the community does not need corporate sponsorship.

There’s a lot of violence that still occurs towards our community across this country and I think that we’ve become complacent. It’s good that we are on the streets here now, to basically bring attention to this and show that this complacency needs to stop. A lot of us are lucky now, but a lot of us aren’t. I guess that’s why I’m here. - Craig Mantanona, 39, PhD graduate

Many of the attendees emphasized the importance of Night Pride in bringing the community closer and reclaiming a space that too-often feels unsafe for them. It is important that globally we support LGBTQ communities around the world that continue to see increased violence, which has only been exacerbated by the global pandemic.  

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Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 30, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancillal/Handout via REUTERS

The LGBT+ community in Afghanistan faces new dangers as many have gone into hiding since the Taliban seized power last month, fearing they will return to the group's harsh 1996-2001 rule. LGBT+ Afghans said they felt abandoned by the international community as the closure of Kabul airport to passengers this week shattered their hopes of fleeing Taliban rule.

(Foreign governments) should have helped us to get out of here. Things are becoming more hopeless every day (and) now we have been abandoned. – anonymous gay student 

A gay teacher tried to unsuccessfully leave in the U.S.-led airlift that evacuated more than 123,000 people from Kabul since the Taliban takeover, but left tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans behind.

LGBT+ people were already living in fear even prior to the Taliban takeover. Patricia Gossman, associate director, Asia division, at Human Rights Watch says that “many lived an underground life out of fear of violence.”

Many couples have also been separated in the chaotic rush to leave the country and they fear they will never be reunited. 

U.S. novelist Nemat Sadat, a gay Afghan-American who left his homeland as an infant has helped take 175 LGBT+ people to the airport last week, but they were unable to pass through the perimeter gates and eventually were sent home due to bomb attack warnings. He thinks the international community should do more.

They don't care about getting queer people out, they don't. Because if they really cared, then the words would have been backed by actions. - Nemat Sadat

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Rafia Zakaria: Photograph: AJ Mast/The Guardian

Rafia Zakaria is an activist and author whose new book is called Against White Feminism. She talks to the Guardian about what led her to write this book. 

Zakaria was born in Pakistan and agreed to an arranged marriage at 17 to a Pakistani man living in the US. She left her abusive husband at 25 and sought refuge in a shelter with her toddler. She managed to leave the shelter only when a Black woman “took her on” and offered her an apartment. Then she went on to finish law school and complete a postgraduate degree in political philosophy. The years of precarity has led to a lot of trauma for Zakaria.

Zakaria wrote Against White Feminism as a brown Muslim woman who wants to challenge that ““liberation trajectory” of the Muslim woman’s story, so that women who live in the west stop thinking “Oh it’s so bad over there – ” it must be “so great here.”” She has many critiques of white feminism including the narrative of “taking feminism to Afghan women and liberating them from the Taliban.”

There are colonial precedents to sending female reporters out there. These white women are sent in as emblems – our women are brave and they are out taking pictures and writing stories and getting your story out to the world. But the assumption is that there isn’t anyone in Afghanistan who can write in English and tell the stories of Afghanistan to the world. - Rafia Zakaria

Zakaria wrote this book to make white women aware of how they make women like her uncomfortable at times. However, ultimately, she wants to share her story and comfort women of colour who have been gaslit. 

I struggled very much. I had come from trauma, I went into trauma. I feel a very strong sense of responsibility towards other women like me, who’ve been through traumatic marriages, migration, being a single mother. Women like me never really make it. The odds are so stacked against someone with my experience, my racial background, my economic background, to be in the conversation at all. And so since I’ve somehow slipped into the conversation I feel a responsibility towards other women who are just as smart as me, just as articulate. Now I’m here, I’m going to say all those things. I believe that you can tear things down when they’re not working, and build them up again. That is one of my core beliefs, because I’ve done it. - Rafia Zakaria

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Kali Reis lands a punch in her win over Diana Prazak on Aug. 21. (Felipe Leon via CBC)

Reis is a two-spirit Native American and Cape Verdean woman and is regarded by boxing historians as the first Indigenous American women's world boxing champion. Last month, she defended her World Boxing Association junior welterweight title with a majority decision victory over Diana Prazak. When answering questions about the fight, she spoke to the crowd about Canada’s residential school system, making her one of the first American athletes to speak about it.

Those of you who know, I'm wearing orange for a reason. All of our children, our [Indigenous] children have now been discovered in unmarked mass graves, over 5,000 children were stolen from us. I fight for not just these…but for our children, our rights, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and, Stop Line 3. - Reis

Reis wore a custom-designed orange ring outfit, emblazoned with the insignias of three organizations dedicated to Indigenous causes: Every Child Matters; Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; and the RedSpirit Women's Motorcycle Riding Club. Stop Line 3 is in reference to a proposed oil pipeline from Alberta to Wisconsin that would pass through the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples.

Five years ago, as a fighter I was like, 'Oh, I better be this way, if I'm too open I'm going to lose opportunities.' Now I'm just like, 'I don't care, this is who I am. I haven't done it because I want likes or anything, it's because it's helpful. It's helping me, actually. Somebody needs to say something. I have a voice for the voiceless. It's kind of my duty. - Reis

While Reis had access to boxing facilities having grown up in an urban setting, she is aware it is not the reality for many Indigenous children. As a visible and successful active Indigenous American boxer, Reis wants to help increase participation within the sport for Indigenous and two-spirit people, as they are underrepresented. She also wants to use the ring to speak on meaningful issues.

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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.

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