Global Roundup: Women and LGBTQ+ People Raise their Voices against Violence and the Patriarchy

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Many Tunisian women dreamed of greater gender equality after autocratic leader Ben Ali was toppled by protests in January 2011 [Constantin Gouvy/Al Jazeera]

During the revolution a decade ago, Tunisian women protested on the streets to help force autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down after nearly 20 years in power and to force a reckoning with the patriarchal nature of their country’s political sphere.

Since then, feminist activists have noted that women’s political representation and engagement has waned. Although women won 28% of the seats in the 2009 legislative— election a larger share than in the United States House of Representatives in 2021—Hela Omrane, a former member of parliament elected in 2014, says that Ben Ali had instrumentalized women for political gains as a “PR exercise for the regime”. Feminist revolutionaries demanded more than “state feminism.”

There has been some progress since the revolution. Many women who were never previously politically engaged started mobilizing politically, which brought several historic victories. For instance, in the 2014 presidential election, one million women voted for Beji Caid Essebsi, from the newly formed secular and centrist party Nidaa Tounes, leading to his win. However, in the 2019 legislative elections, only 36% of registered Tunisian women voted and only 22% of the seats were won by women, indicating a downward trend.

Many women have been disillusioned with the “enduring patriarchal and misogynistic nature of Tunisia’s political sphere”.

In addition, women experience barriers such as lacking transportation and the required documentation to vote. Younger women often do not see their interests represented by any of the parties in parliament today. The ministries also continue to show gender stereotypes, as women are almost exclusively allocated to the ministry for women’s affairs. The verbal abuse women face on social media is another factor deterring them from entering politics.

We are still far from equal representation today, but we have won some battles since the revolution, and the fight for securing women’s place in politics continues. We believe in a better Tunisia, and a better tomorrow - Belhaj Hmida, lawyer, politician, and leading Tunisian feminist

For Tunisian women, it is clear that the fight continues. They refuse to accept being used as instruments by political parties - even progressive ones. Superficial gains rarely benefit the majority. Liberation for all will require a complete restructuring, where women are not just included but prioritized, the barriers they face are dismantled, and they lead decision making.

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The former Thai civil servant identified as Anchan P. arrived at court in Bangkok on Tuesday before her sentencing on lèse-majesté charges.Credit...Associated Press

A woman in Thailand has been sentenced to 43 years in prison for criticizing the Thai Monarchy. It is the longest sentence to date for violating Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which prohibits defamation of senior members of the royal family. The former civil servant, Anchan Preelert, was sentenced to 87 years, but her prison term was cut in half because she agreed to plead guilty. She had been imprisoned from 2015 to 2018 while awaiting trial.

For almost 3 years, Section 112 of the criminal code, which applies to criticism of top royals, was not enforced because King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun had reportedly wanted them halted. Activists believe the authorities have resorted to that code once again to quash last year’s surging protest movement. The pro-democracy protests, which have been largely led by students, demand reform of the Thai Monarchy and the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who took power in a 2014 coup.

It can be seen that Thai authorities are using lèse-majesté prosecution as their last resort measure in response to the youth-led democracy uprising that seeks to curb the king’s powers and keep him within the bound of constitutional rule. Thai authorities are trying to use a sledgehammer to slam this genie back in the bottle - Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch.

Anchan’s lawyers plan to appeal her sentence. This censorship is appalling. People in Thailand continue their vehement campaigning for democracy despite the government’s increasing attempts to silence them using the law.

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LORENA VILLELA, ABOVE, AGED 19, AND HER FRIEND DUDA CORREIA, 25, AT THE CASA NEM REFUGE. VILLELA HOPES TO LEAVE SEX WORK FOR BEAUTY SALON EMPLOYMENT, AND CORREIA IS PREPARING TO LAUNCH HER CAREER AS A TRANS MODEL. PHOTO: BRUNO KAIUCA FOR VICE WORLD NEWS.

Casa Nem is a popular shelter and support centre for LGBTQ people in Rio de Janeiro. The house, which occupies abandoned buildings around Rio, has changed locations 3 times since its inception in 2016. Being evicted from the location would force some residents to go back to the houses they fled, find temporary housing or stay wherever they can until the shelter returned to a new location. Since COVID-19, Casa Nem had been using a long-abandoned six-story building to shelter over 60 residents, with an entire floor for COVID-19 isolation. Eviction would mean exposing residents to the country's record levels of violence against members of the LGBTQ community as well as exposing them to infection just as Brazil passed the 115,000 coronavirus death mark. The South American nation is one of the worst-affected in the world by the coronavirus pandemic. 

A far-right wave has swept over Rio and the country at large since Casa Nem’s founding. Ultraconservative leaders have risen at the city, state, and national level, including an evangelical bishop for mayor, a governor who had risen to power vowing to shoot criminals in the head, and President Jair Bolsonaro, who accused a rival in 2018 of creating a “gay kit” to indoctrinate school children. 

When a state judge issued a repossession order for Casa Nem’s space first scheduled for July 2020, Indianare Siqueira, the 49-year-old trans activist and house matriarch, was able to delay the eviction by recruiting allies at the city and state level. When the police showed up in August, a human wall of activists stood in support of Casa Nem while Siqueira negotiated from the balcony and made sure a deal was signed in front of the cameras. She had guaranteed her residents a peaceful move to the school where Casa Nem will remain for 5 years. 

They already lived in a violent situation before the pandemic, but they weren’t forced to spend so much time together with their families. With the pandemic, many of those who had left home had to go back - Indianare Siqueira

It is heartbreaking that LGBTQ people are facing record levels of violence on top of the stress of the virus. Shelters should not have to exist so precariously, especially when they are so essential. Siqueira’s strength and leadership is inspiring, yet she should not have to fight so hard to secure basic human rights for her community. 

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Photo by WU BAOJIAN via BBC

Chinese author Fang Fang was subject to backlash when she documented her life in Wuhan during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak - a year later she speaks on her experiences. She would post daily about her life during lockdown as well as the “dark side of the authority's response”. Her posts were well received at first, but later criticised for being unpatriotic. 

Maybe it's because I have expressed more sympathy for ordinary people than applauding the government. I didn't flatter or praise the government, so I am guilty - Fang Fang

Fang Fang has no regrets about speaking out and says the process helped her reflect on what was happening at the time. She says Chinese media outlets have been ordered not to publish any of her articles. In addition, her work has been shunned by Chinese publishers. She also received abusive messages and death threats online. The attacks are reminiscent to her of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, a period of violent purging of intellectuals. 

It's very difficult for me to understand their hatred of me. My records are objective and mild 

Despite the backlash, many have also praised Fang Fang for her resilience and her documentation of the collective pain and sadness of the global pandemic. She has also raised awareness for better handling of the virus by officials. She refuses to be silenced and will continue her writing.

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Haleh Mir Miri writes that 'free bodies in the new lands' can remind female Iranian immigrants of 'physical confinements and their agonies back home.' (Submitted by Haleh Mir Miri)

In an essay for CBC, Aleh Mir Miri, a graduate student in women, gender and sexualities studies at the University of Saskatchewan, captures her experience as a diasporic, immigrant Iranian woman. Mir Miri discusses how in post-Islamic revolutionary Iran, she suffered from discrimination and injustices as a result of the Islamic government - including the governing of her body and behaviour. 

My immigration story begins with muffled voices echoing in my body, resonating through my head, shoulders, legs and back — my own muted voice and that of my generation - Aleh Mir Miri

She speaks of her resistance and that of many Iranian women who are challenging traditional customs. This included once unveiling her scarf with a friend on the streets “to show how normal a woman's hair is”, as well as wearing a skirt on the streets. Mir Miri also used dancing - which is forbidden for women in Iran - as a form of disobedience. She would attend underground dance classes with young adults of both genders. 

Mir Miri reflects on the trauma women carry in the body from the stress of hidden activities and constant resistance against controlling regimes. Furthermore, in Canada, she experiences a “dichotomous entity” of being both here and there at the same time. 

Mir Miri writes an evocative essay emphasizing the body as a site of both politics and resistance. Of course, the experience of women is not a monolith, so it is important that feminism and other social justice movements are complicated with the experiences of diasporic women.

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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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