Global Roundup: Women Artists from the Arab Gulf Region, Football as Solace for Hazara Women, ‘Because We Are Girls’ Documentary, Turkish LGBTQ+ Activists Continue to Fight, The Linda Lindas

Compiled by Inaara Merani

“The Female Matrix” by Noora Alhashimi (photo courtesy of Khaleeji Art Museum)

The Khaleeji Art Museum is the first online museum which features work from artists within the Arab Gulf region. Recently, the exhibition ‘Enough Is Enough’ was showcased, promoting the work of 12 emerging women artists who incorporated symbolic statements about sexual harassment and assault in the region. Every exhibit is free of charge, and the work of artists from diverse backgrounds and identities is presented, ultimately affirming the museum’s belief that art and knowledge should be accessible to all. 

Noora Alhashimi is one of the 12 artists who were featured in the ‘Enough Is Enough’ exhibit. One of her pieces ‘The Female Matrix’ shows a disfigured woman trapped in a matrix, which she described as “a satirical take on the expectations and boundaries imposed on women, meant to silence them after they are sexually harassed.” In particular, Alhashimi’s work explores how surroundings can shape identity and how she perceives the world through her body and being. 

It’s a heavy topic and there’s no humor to it really. It’s a satirical take — I wanted to make the woman a literal object, as a lot of times that is what women are reduced to...Another way to interpret this artwork is how, as a coping mechanism, victims may revert inward and feel a loss of identity - Noora Alhashimi 

Coinciding with Kuwait’s ongoing #LanAsket movement, this exhibition reaffirmed the need for laws to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence. Kuwait-based photographer Maha Alasaker uses her art as a source of education and resistance. In the exhibition, Alasaker included many self-portraits to express how she felt trapped within her own body. Using fabric, fruits, and glass objects, she attempted to depict how women’s bodies have been sexualized. 

A Trap Called The Body, Maha Alasaker, Kuwait 2018 photography. (Khaleeji Art Museum)

Alasaker explained that in western countries, women are more aware of their rights, and these conversations are more common and prevalent. She believes that art is one way of bringing these issues forward and raising awareness; she is currently collaborating with others in the #LanAsket movement to curate an online exhibition which will educate women on their rights.

Although the exhibit is now closed, it is still available for viewing online

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The female football players were mocked and questioned over their participation in sport, but thanks to their perseverance, they got to train on a proper field. (Fida Hussain)

For years, the Hazara community in Pakistan has been persecuted and subject to violence. The majority of the ethnic minority community live in Quetta, and are considered one of the most oppressed groups in the region. Despite the rampant attacks and discrimination, young Hazara women have found football to be a solace for their difficulties.

The National Women’s Football Championship was held in Karachi in March of this year. Two young footballers, Sughra Rajab and Shamsia Ali, travelled hundreds of kilometers to fulfill their dream. Travelling to Karachi for this tournament was not an easy decision. The safety of these women was of great concern, as attacks against the Hazara community happen everyday. Saba It, the team coach, convinced these women’s parents a year in advance, providing consultations and counselling for months. 

Our community is a victim of constant persecution and killings. I had to plan and start convincing the families a year in advance before the tournament...Trauma and fear is so prevalent in whatever we do, it is ingrained in every decision we make in our lives - Saba It 

It was Saba’s commitment to supporting Hazara women and empowering them, which prompted these women to take interest in football and form a team. In 2017, she set up a handicrafts and stitching workshop in Hazara Town, accommodating those who had lost family members in the ongoing attacks. While at the workshop, young women saw photos of Saba playing football in her youth and they became intrigued, which led to the formation of their team. Although she was mocked at first, Saba and the team persisted, and have been playing football ever since. 

In Quetta, Saba started counselling sessions for the families of these women in order to help them come to terms with their fear, and understand how football was an outlet and form of empowerment. As Hazara women, the burden for these young women is doubled; their intersecting identities pose a major threat to their livelihoods. 

They are at first marginalised because they are female. The marginalisation is doubled since they are from the Hazara community...The sexist societal issues and the cycle of fear in the community subjugates the Hazara women further. They are already in trauma because they have lost their uncles, brothers or fathers. The lack of professional skills and liberation in a turbulent environment, mired by violence, leaves them traumatised - Jalila Haider, human rights activist and advocate 

The situation for the Hazara community in Quetta is unpredictable. Attacks and killings occur everyday, and this community fears for their lives every single day. Playing football has helped these young women develop strength and resilience, and they will continue to play everyday in order to challenge negative stigmas. 

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Still from the documentary film "Because We Are Girls," by Baljit Sangra. (CAAMFest)

In 2019, filmmaker and director Baljit Sangra created Because We Are Girls, a documentary exploring the impact of sexual abuse on a Punjabi-Canadian family. This documentary is currently streaming at the 39th edition of CAAMFest, a festival created by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) to highlight stories of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. At a time where the AAPI community has been severely discriminated against, this festival serves as an important reminder that we must continue to support and elevate AAPI voices and stories. 

The documentary explores the true story of three sisters who, from the ages of 11 to 17, had been raped, molested and psychologically manipulated by an older male cousin. It was only when these women were in their 20s when they realized they had each been assaulted by the same family member, which is when they finally began talking about their childhood trauma. Now in their 50s, these sisters wanted to highlight the prevalence of sexual assaults which occur at home, often committed by a friend or family member of the victim. 

Jeeti Pooni, one of the survivors, chose to stay silent about her rape because in the Punjabi community, as well as other South Asian communities, families may become ostracized or othered for speaking out about this taboo issue. This is a prevalent issue which many young women in the South Asian community are faced with. By speaking out, a burden can be placed on their family, but staying silent can result in years of emotional turmoil. 

After telling their family about the trauma that they had endured, the sisters decided to go to the police in 2009, where their cousin was charged with indecent assault, one count of sexual assault, and one count of sexual intercourse without consent. Although their family did support them, they were afraid of what people would think. The Hindi phrase “log kya kahenge” translates to “what will people say/think”, is commonly used when such an issue arises. Ostracization from the community remains a common fear, which is what prevents many young women from speaking their truth. 

Because We Are Girls highlights the gendered violence and cultural norms which contribute to the cycle of abuse and trauma. This film depicts the courage and resilience of the Pooni sisters, as well as the importance of speaking out about sexual assault in the South Asian community. 

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Protesters holding rainbow flags participate in a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey, on Mar. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel/Xtra*)

In Turkey, there has been a recent surge in homophobia and transphobia from government officials. However, increased police presence and ridiculing by authority figures have not broken the spirits of activists. The queer and trans community in Turkey is making themselves even more visible through Pride and protest.

At a protest in March at the Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, more than 50 people were arrested, including 20 students, for protesting against the undemocratic appointment of the university’s new rector. Police raided the LGBTQ+ campus club room and allegedly assaulted students with pride flags or those who identified as queer. During these protests, notable politicians made homophobic remarks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan provided the following remarks, “LGBT, there is no such thing. This country is national and moral and moves into the future with these values”. The head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Erbaş, blamed homosexuality for spreading disease during a sermon on the first day of Ramadan. 

Despite these awful and disgusting attacks, protestors and activists have remained strong. Yildiz Tar, a model and activist, believes that LGBTQ+ activism has been so successful in Turkey that the government has begun suppressing activists. The last legally permitted pride parade in Istanbul was in 2014, where over 90,000 people participated. Since then, the government has banned pride parades and has tear gassed those who try and participate. 

Every social movement has phases: Visibility, then there is a backlash coming from the state, and then the turning point that determines whether we will go through recognition and equality or another scenario - Yildiz Tar

These government-led attacks against the LGBTQ+ community have resulted in the collapse of much-needed organizations, leaving many in the LGBTQ+ community without support such as mental health services and legal assistance. The upcoming presidential elections have been suspected to be the cause of Erdoğan’s increased homophobic rhetoric, as the President relies on support from religious and conservative Turks. 

It is unlikely that these attacks will stop anytime soon, but Turkish activists and advocates will not back down. They will continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. 

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The Linda Lindas, from left: Eloise, Mila, Bela, and Lucia. (Jessie Cowan)

At the beginning of May, the Los Angeles Public Library hosted the Linda Lindas, a local Asian and Latinx punk rock band comprised of four young women: Lucia, 14; Eloise, 13; Mila, 10; and Bela, 16. The video of the band has since gone viral, mainly because these girls, simply put, are badasses. 

Mila, the band’s drummer, explained the rationale for “Racist, Sexist Boy”: before the Covid-19 lockdown began, a boy in her class came up to her and said his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people. She then proceeded to say “After I told him that I was Chinese, he backed away from me. Eloise and I wrote this song based on that experience. So this is about him and all of the other racist, sexist boys in this world”. 

The band performed their song “Racist, Sexist Boy”, tearing down all the racist and sexist boys in the world. At such a young age, these women are fighting against the patriarchy and demanding equality and justice through their music. 

After going viral a few years ago, Linda Lindas was recognized by many notable Hollywood actors, and have been featured in productions such as Amy Poehler’s Moxie, and opened for feminist rock icons such as Bikini Kill and Alice Bag. 

After the Los Angeles Public Library posted the video of their song on Twitter, it was retweeted more than 50,000 times. Mila explained that after she had that racist encounter with her classmate, she did not know how to act. She began working with Eloise, and the song came to fruition at the beginning of last year’s presidential election. 

The Linda Lindas are this generation’s feminist rock icons, and they are going to make it big by smashing racism and sexism through their music. 

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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. 

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