Global Roundup: Women challenging patriarchy and its crimes in Pakistan, Liberia, Yemen, USA and Nunavik

Compiled and written by Sahra

A policeman guards a health worker in Karachi. After the shooting of a policeman last month in Chaman, officers in the area are now reluctant to protect female polio workers. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian

Women in Chaman, a city on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, are risking their lives in the fight to eradicate polio. Chaman is in Balochistan, one of the most dangerous places in the region for the women who work on the frontline of the polio vaccination programme. Pakistan is among the two countries worldwide that have not yet eradicated polio.

A major barrier against the eradication of polio is the patriarchal fuckery that seeks to control women and keep them in a state of subjugation. Politicians and religious figures in the conservative area have consistently campaigned against the vaccination campaign using conspiratorial and misogynist language. They have pushed the narrative that the polio vaccination drive is a western conspiracy being forced on Pakistan, is violating Islam by allowing women to work as polio vaccinators, and that women polio workers are going against the culture and thus corrupting society. 

People tell us this job is not for women and that we are ruining the society, but I am only doing this job to support my children…People coming from Afghanistan also make our work an uphill task…If it were not for my children, I would have never done this job. We are constantly disrespected and declared American agents and infidels - Shireen Khala, a polio worker in Chaman.

Along with patriarchal fuckery, US imperial violence has clearly hurt the national polio drive. The vital work and the safety of men and women working to vaccinate children was endangered after the C.I.A. organized a fake vaccination programme that sent a team into Osama Bin Laden’s compound to gather information and DNA samples as part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in 2011.

Last year Nasreen Bibi and her co-worker Rashida Bibi were the latest victims of the violence against women polio workers. Men shot them while the women were waiting for a ride home after a day’s work vaccinating children. Rashida survived the attack while Nasreen did not, joining the other women who are collectively known as polio martyrs. Despite the violence and misogyny, there are more than 400 women working as polio vaccinators in the Killa Abdullah district. The female polio workers in Chaman and the border areas are seen by many as a crucial step towards challenging the patriarchal society imposed upon women in this region of Pakistan

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Naomi Tulay-Solanke says: "We need to recognize that we are oppressed and want to be liberated. Don’t pity us though, we just demand equality" via Forbes

Naomi Tulay-Solanke, the founder and executive director of Community Health Initiatives in Liberia is clear about what she fights: patriarchy. In this interview, she talks about the fights ahead for women as they take stock of the impact of Covid19 and how Libera’s patriarchal government no longer prioritize women in the way the country’s first female president used to when she was in office.

A few years ago we elected West Africa’s first female president in Liberia. She put gender on the national agenda and appointed several women to high-level decision-making posts. Now we are back to the status quo and pushing women in leadership and decision-making positions is no longer a priority. We are fighting against that - Naomi Tulay-Solanke

In the past 6 months there has been a 50% rise in sexual and gender-based violence with more than 600 rape cases. When the state and other institutions of power and governance refused to act, women staged a three-day protest in August to hold those who commit these crimes accountable. The goal of the Community health initiative shifted since Covid19 began, focusing more on women's rights.

In addition to the increased social and political organization, the initiative provides young girls with free reusable sanitary pads, which are necessary as the lack of sanitary products keeps young girls from attending schools. Naomi understands that liberation for women and the fight against patriarchal fuckery is possible by addressing the current physical barriers that prevent women from occupying positions of power. Asked what are the key spaces where women and girls need to be, her answer is clear:

A lot of places. First, schools. Power comes from being knowledgeable so first we need to empower and educate more women. Then they will be able to make it to other institutions. In many religions women can’t be in top positions. A woman can’t be a priest, or an imam. In some traditional cultures she cannot be chief. Why? We need to ask these questions. And when women are able to occupy these spaces, we need to support them. 

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A U of T study found that pregnant Inuit women had concentrations of PFAAs, found in non-stick coatings for cookware and cleaning products, that were twice as high as those in a representative sample of Canadian women (photo by Halfpoint via Getty Images) via UofT News

A recent study by the University of Toronto in Canada found that pregnant Inuit women living in Nunavik are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals at a higher rate than pregnant women from across Canada. The study demonstrates the severity of environmental racism targeting Inuit people and women every day.

The study measured the concentration of perfluroalkyl acids (PFAAs), which are used in a wide range of consumer products including non-stick coatings for cooking ware, water and stain repellents, food packaging, paints, cosmetics and cleaning products. It found that PFAA concentrations in pregnant Inuit women were twice as high as those in a representative sample of Canadian women.

It’s an environmental injustice because people’s food in the Arctic is being contaminated by chemicals made far away from their homes - Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, an expert on toxicology as well as public and environmental health.

Exposure to PFAAs, including during fetal development, is associated with changes in hormonal, kidney, cardio-metabolic and immune function. The researchers found that one of the likely sources of PFAAs concentrations in the blood is the consumption of country foods, particularly marine wildlife. Many living in the north of the country experience food insecurity and rely on the nutritional and cultural value provided by country foods, which make up the traditional Inuit diet.

The benefit of consuming traditional foods still outweigh the negatives…[But] we need adequate regulations that protect these country foods from harmful contaminants because these communities rely on them, especially pregnant women who need the nutritional value - Élyse Caron-Beaudoin

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A woman makes an order at the only all-female cafe in Marib, Yemen. REUTERS/Nusaibah Almuaalemi

In Yemen, when Um Feras realized that her city did not have a leisure space for women, she founded her own cafe - by and for women - and challenging and changing the conservative ideas of many in the community that are against women working outside the home let alone owning and running a cafe.

There were no places for women to gather comfortably, no places belonging to the female community: where the team from administration to the youngest employee is female - Um Feras

In addition to being a safe space for women to gather, the cafe also provides a reliable internet connection, a luxury for young women in schools whose education is affected by the poor network connection across the city of Marib. Other cafes in the city have only limited spaces for (young) women - a reminder of the efforts that seek to systematically alienate women from society and confine them to their homes. Um Feras has bigger plans. She wants to expand her cafe into an even bigger leisure space for women and children. 

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Cori Bush, a nurse and activist, would be the first black woman to represent Missouri’s first district. Photograph: Joe Martinez/The Guardian

As the results of the US 2020 election come in, let’s remember: a record number of women, including a record number of women of colour, could be elected to Congress.

In the 2020 election, 318 women - of whom 117 are women of colour - contested the 535 seats that are available across the House of Representatives and Senate, an increase from 2018 when a record of 257.

Among the already announced victors is Cori Bush, a nurse in Missouri who rose to prominence for her activism during the Black Lives Matter anti-police brutality protests in Ferguson in 2014. Bush, a progressive, was elected to the House of Representatives for the state’s first district, which includes St Louis and Ferguson. She celebrated on Twitter by sharing a photo of herself with the congressional portrait of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress.

Today, I became the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress. It’s 2020. I shouldn’t be the first, but I am honored to carry this responsibility…Today we take this fight for Black Lives from the streets of Ferguson to the halls of Congress. We will get justice - Cori Bush

Another woman who won her seat is Teresa Leger Fernandez for New Mexico who will now be joining Deb Haaland, a Native American woman who was elected in 2018. In Texas, Candace Valenzuela could become the first Black Latina woman in Congress. While more women are running for elections it is important that women of diverse background are also running. According to the Center for American Women and Politics only 48 of the 535 members of the House and Senate are women of colour. There are 127 women in Congress overall.

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Sahra is currently pursuing her undergrad in Sociology, Feminism and Gender studies. She plans to redefine the terms of life to suit her needs and those around her by challenging the patriarchy and other oppressive systems that shape our world. She loves to paint, laugh and spend time with her loved ones.