Global Roundup: Women Fighters Making History in Muay Thai, Godmother of Afghan Women’s Rights, Children’s Book about Self-Love, Exploring Queerness and Muslim Faith, ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest
Compiled by Inaara Merani
NIRAWAN TANGJEW (L) AND TANAWAN THONGDUANG BATTLE IT OUT ON SEPTEMBER 18 IN BANGKOK, THAILAND. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUMPINEE GO SPORT
In 1956, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium opened and has since become one of the world’s most prestigious sites for Muay Thai, Thailand’s martial art; however, women have traditionally been forbidden from fighting there or even touching the ring due to superstitions about menstruation and its ability to ‘pollute’ the sacred space.
At the end of September, this tradition changed as women stepped into the ring for the first time ever. Fighting for a championship Muay Thai title, this fight paved the way for aspiring female fighters. Although the fight was only available for viewing online because of pandemic measures, it gained considerable traction. Viewers watched Nirawan Tangjew, a highschool student, beat 20-year old Tanawan Thongduang. Despite not winning the title, Tanawan said she was still honoured to have been able to fight at Lumpinee.
I’m a little sad not having won, but I’m so happy and proud to have been given the opportunity to be in the historical first female match in Lumpinee. It’s something I’ve never dreamed could happen to me. You know, when you go watch the matches there, they won’t even let females come near the stage. So to be able to be in that ring is such a huge honor for me. - Tanawan Thongduang
Nirawan, who fights under the name Sanaejan, was born into a family of boxers and has trained with her father since the age of 12. He originally wanted to teach his daughter to box in order to stand up for herself against bullies, but once Nirawan started enjoying, the duo began taking the sport much more seriously and began fighting in amateur matches.
Some people would ask me, ‘Why would you let your daughter fight? She’s going to get hurt.’ They were among the minority, though. There are no differences between men and women. Women can be anything—even a prime minister, a musician or any other career that a man can pursue. - Chamni Tangjew, Nirawan’s father
Tanawan, on the other hand, began boxing at the age of 7 and currently lives in a Muay Thai camp. She has expressed how the sport has taught her discipline, hard work, and responsibility, as well as a way to earn a living.
Women have always had a complicated relationship with Muay Thai, with many gyms still forcing women to crawl under the bottom rope to enter the ring while men enter by climbing over the top ropes. This match, however, comes after years of pioneering by trans boxers who have fought against men at Lumpinee stadium. Most of the pushback comes from the conservative demographic, but it seems that this outdated attitude is slowly shifting as women begin to dominate the sport.
Source: The Globe and Mail
Mahbouba Seraj is known as the godmother of Afghan women’s rights, and she is determined that this time, the Taliban cannot win. Despite the current situation in Afghanistan right now, she has said that the women of Afghanistan are very different than they were 20 years ago, even if the Taliban’s mindset remains unchanged.
The most important thing is not [whether] the Taliban has changed, but that Afghanistan has changed. We as women have changed. We are not the same people who were so scared because somebody beat us on the head. - Mahbouba Seraj
In 1978, Seraj fled Afghanistan and spent 25 years in New York while her home country underwent Soviet occupation, civil war, and Taliban rule. She returned in 2003 and has since led a movement to push for the inclusion of women in Afghanistan’s political processes. Seraj has attended many international conferences and has spoken about the future of women in Afghanistan, and was a participant in the High Peace Council - an Afghan-led initiative to negotiate with the Taliban; however, the Council’s authority was usurped when the US entered into discussions with the Taliban. Time Magazine also listed Seraj as one of the world’s 100 most influential people for her dedication to women’s rights in Afghanistan.
Although the Taliban has been cracking down on women and those who are outspoken, Seraj is not worried about being punished for speaking out.
Why should I be afraid of saying the truth? I can yell it from the mountaintops. There isn’t a single lie in [what I’ve said]. I haven’t accused anybody of anything, I haven’t said anything nasty about anybody – and I’m not planning to, either. But I’m planning to talk about it. All the time. Until something changes. - Mahbouba Seraj
Seraj recognizes that many women cannot fight and have been forced to flee out of concerns for their safety; she made the same decision many years ago. But this time, she wants to stand by those who cannot escape and who need help. She is staying to send a signal to young Afghan women that they do not have to accept the fate that the Taliban has assigned to them.
I’m finding my own girls. They are young ones, and they are bloody courageous. They just found me, and I have found them – and we are working to make this something real powerful. They are taking their place, and I want to be here to see them take their place. - Mahbouba Seraj
Source: United News of Bangladesh
Nabela Noor is a Bangladeshi-American entrepreneur and activist who recently debuted her children’s book Beautifully Me. This book delves into the importance of self-love in a world where society’s shallow and Eurocentric beauty standards prevail.
Beautifully Me is about Zubi, a Bangladeshi-American teenager who is self-conscious about her weight after seeing her mother body-shame herself. Zubi continues to hear more people being critical of their own bodies, as well as others, until she has an outburst at dinner which shows her family how the world can be a more beautiful place if everyone lives their authentic, beautiful lives without fear of what society may say.
Throughout my career, I have consistently advocated for self-love and body celebration and over the years, I’ve learned that healthy body image needs to be taught at the root -- with children. I spend every day helping people unlearn negative and unhealthy beauty standards. What would happen if I helped teach children to define beauty for themselves? - Nabela Noor
Noor is a first-generation Bangladeshi-American content creator, who first began her journey on Youtube years ago. A self-love advocate, she uses her platform to inspire millions to love who they are and love the skin that they are in.
Her children’s novel was published on September 14 and is now available for purchase.
Non-binary, Muslim drag queen Amrou Al-Kadhi. (glamrou/Instagram)
Amrou Al-Kadhi is the creator of the drag show Glamrou: From Quran to Queen, which explores the author and performer’s relationship with queerness and their Muslim faith. The show was initially launched before the pandemic, but Al-Kadhi was forced to pause its production. Now that the pandemic is slowly subsiding, the show is ready to be released.
As a nonbinary artist, Al-Kadhi articulates their love story with drag and Allah. Growing up, their Muslim and queer identities felt completely opposite; there was a time where they identified as Muslim and suppressed their queerness, and after they came out, they identified as queer and suppressed their Muslim side. Through their struggles, Al-Kadhi learned that drag was a tool for healing.
There’s lots about my Iraqi heritage I always loved growing up, but these things were inaccessible to me as someone assigned male. In drag, I have been able to connect with these parts of my heritage I never had access to, and in a sense it has helped me merge my queer identity with my Arab heritage. Growing up, I was told I was worthless and that I was weak, and in drag, I’m able to sublimate this and to feel invincible. And now, even when the drag comes off, some of that remains. - Amrou Al-Kadhi
The artist also mentioned how difficult it is to be a queer, nonbinary person in the UK right now amidst rampant homophobia and transphobia. Al-Kadhi has been very outspoken about these issues on social media, and believes that the transphobes will lose.
In all my work, whether it is drag, or live performing, I relish the ambiguity and magic of contradiction, and love holding up perceived to be oppositional things besides each other – I think this dialectal space is where progress and conversation happens, as it can’t be condensed into a Twitter stream war. The show is also unapologetically transgressive, and I think showing audiences that we have the tenacity to be ourselves completely unapologetically is really important right now. I mean seriously – we’re not going anywhere! - Amrou Al-Kadhi
Photo courtesy of HITN.
The ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest is a month-long online film festival featuring the work of aspiring Latinx filmmakers and creatives. In partnership with HITN-TV, this film festival celebrates the impact and influence of Latinx creatives in the film industry, giving these individuals the opportunity to share their experiences and their cultures onscreen.
Our young Latinx community offers distinct perspectives developed from unique life experiences. These storytellers just need a pathway to make their voices heard, and our goal with the film festival is to provide a platform to amplify their work. Through the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest, we’re providing them with the opportunity to both express their creativity and encourage an ongoing conversation about social and cultural change. - Lina Sands, Director of Marketing at HITN
The festival began in mid-September and has been organized into three sections: arts and culture from September 17-25, the new generation of Latinx filmmakers from September 27 until October 2, and social justice; education; and empowerment from October 4-10.
With over 400 submissions of short films, an independent jury will evaluate the entries and select 20 finalists based on a number of criteria. One grand prize winner will win $5000, and a $2000 scholarship will be awarded to a student with an outstanding paper. Honourable mentions will also be awarded to participants who will receive access to e-learning film courses to further their knowledge about the film industry.
The ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest is showcasing the amazing work of powerful Latinx voices in an attempt to amplify their stories and their work, while also providing these creatives with the learning opportunity of a lifetime. The winners of the film festival will be announced on October 24.
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.
Keep telling these stories - they are important.