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Global Roundup: Women in Iran Defy Mandatory Hijab Law, Myanmar LGBTQIA+ Community, Indonesia Women vs Sand-Mining, India Women Protest Ethnic Violence, Grassroots Queer Arts Collectives
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Students at the University of Tehran protest against campus bans and unfair disciplinary orders. Photograph: supplied to The Guardian
At least 60 students in Iran have been barred from university for defying the country’s mandatory hijab law. Several women activists have told the Guardian that detentions and arrests of young women are on the rise. They said they have been warned of serious consequences if they fail to adhere to the mandatory hijab law.
The students’ council of Iranian universities has said that at least 40 female students were “conditionally suspended” from classes for failing “to fully observe” hijab rules. However, the NGO The Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) say that at least 64 students have been suspended and three expelled.
I have been slapped with repeated temporary suspensions for protesting on the 40th day of Mahsa Amini’s death. Considering that I will be suspended again next semester, I will fall behind a whole year. I dream of studying abroad, but unfortunately, given the current situation, my future is dark. - Anonymous student
Students have also said the university security teams are violently raiding dormitories and kicking students out for sharing social media posts in support of protesters and those sentenced to death. Students have also been warned that their course grades would be marked as zero.
Another student said court-like trials were being held in universities, with women given a verdict based on the accusations and then suspended. However, she was stoical about her treatment:
There are those who lost their eyes; there are those who were murdered. Compared with what they’ve suffered for the freedom of Iran, my suspension is nothing. -Anonymous student
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community march during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, 19 February 2021. Photo: EPA
This past week, Justin Min Hein, the leader of the LGBTQ Union of Mandalay, was sentenced to ten years in prison for so-called violations of the ‘Anti-Terrorism Act.’ He had been arrested in September 2022 and experienced beatings and denial of food and water while awaiting trial. Before his arrest, his organisation, LGBTQ Union Mandalay, had documented and publicized the sexual assault that a particular transgender prisoner was experiencing in prison, with Justin speaking out to call for justice and an end to such torture, despite the stifling environment for freedom of expression and the threats faced when criticizing the junta and its security forces.
Last month, the Myanmar LGBTQIA Human Rights Watch Forum – a forum created in October 2022 comprising 15 LGBTQIA organisations and numerous LGBTQIA+ activists in Myanmar – released a report, Rainbow Amid the Storm, that documented the human rights situation of LGBTQIA+ community since the attempted coup. The report found that members of the LGBTQIA+ community face a “wide range of verbal abuse, physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, and economic violence” in various aspects of daily life, including from their own family as well as junta-run security services and authorities.
The LGBTQIA Human Rights Watch Forum urges the repeal of Section 377 of the colonial-era Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex relations and the amendment to Section 375 of the Penal Code so that same-sex rape and rape of LGBTQIA+ people are criminalised. In addition, the 1945 Police Act is used to target transgender persons and must be repealed.
Despite the challenges, the LGBTQIA+ community’s resolve and increased space within the democratic movement, catalyzed by the Spring Revolution, mean that there has been progress over the past two and a half years. The LGBTQIA+ community was a visible part of the mass protests in the early months of the Spring Revolution’s street protests. It remains active throughout the country in the ongoing resistance movement, organising and leading political defiance actions, being part of strike committees, and engaging in the armed resistance movement.
In 2021, when a mining company began setting up camp in the iron-sand-rich Indonesian coastal village of Pasar Seluma with plans to start operations, the local women agreed that they’d be leading the protests this time around. About a decade ago men led protests against a different iron-sand mining company that ended in the arrest of six men, who were later found guilty of damaging property and other charges.
Over the years, villagers have witnessed the impacts of mining, especially how it threatens the local population of saltwater mussels, which has for generations been one of their main sources of income. Pasar Seluma residents also fear that mining will exacerbate the impacts of climate change, such as tidal flooding and coastal erosion.
More than 100 women in Pasar Seluma are involved in the village’s movement against mining. Their work is part of a collective effort to protect their home, which is one of 53 villages in the province of Bengkulu classified as highly vulnerable to tsunamis by the country's disaster mitigation agency. In one of their bigger protests, the women set up tents in December 2021 at the mining sites and stayed for five days and four nights, calling on the company to stop operations. The company halted their activities for about a year, but as 2022 saw on and off operations, Pasar Seluma residents continued to protest.
The women of Pasar Seluma who opposed the mining operations agreed to protest, deciding that the men should just stand behind us, because we don’t want a repeat of what happened in 2010. We don’t want the men to be arrested because they are more emotional, so it’s the women who will fight against the company. - Elda Nenti, 35-year-old woman from Pasar Seluma
The women said that company employees have verbally harassed them, making lewd sexual comments. Among them was Nenti, who filed a police report after an incident in January. The perpetrator was only arrested about six months later, she said.
Nevi Anggraeni, a 32-year-old woman from Pasar Seluma, said the fight to oppose mining in her village will continue as long as the threat to their livelihoods remains. She traced a direct link from the cessation of the mussel trade to a lack of household income, then to her and other women’s domestic responsibilities, like buying food and taking care of children.
Why are we still fighting to this day? It’s because we don’t want our village to be left with only its name, we want what our village has to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren in the future. -Nevi Anggraeni
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Image: Prabhakar Mani Tewari/DW
As ethnic conflict rages on in the Indian state of Manipur, women’s groups are organizing protests amid the violence between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki communities that has claimed more than 130 lives since it first broke out in May.
Clashes in the northeast Indian state grew deadly after the Meitei community, which accounts for more than 50% of the state's 3.5 million residents, demanded that it be recognized as a "scheduled tribe." Under India's constitution, this status unlocks new economic benefits, political powers, and quotas in government jobs and education. The move enraged members of the predominantly Christian Kuki and Naga tribes who argue that the Meitei are already the dominant community in Manipur. Both Kuki and Naga currently enjoy the "scheduled tribe" status.
Amid the turmoil, women’s groups have staged demonstrations, foiled search operations by the army and also blocked key roads with trucks carrying essential supplies to the state. Locals say women’s groups have been active in various parts of Manipur, staging flash mobs and forming human chains to condemn the violence. The army however, accuses the women of aiding the rioters.
Lourembam Nganbi is an experienced activist and member of the women's group All-Manipur Kanba Ima Lup. She dismissed the army's claims that Meitei women’s groups have been harassing paramilitary forces and helping the safe passage of Meitei armed rebels.
Anyone can say anything about us. They can try calling us names or portray us in whatever way they want to. The only truth is we are women and mothers who will not think twice about going in the midst of battle. -Lourembam Nganbi
The current push for peace is only the latest in the long history of Manipur women fighting for political goals. In the past, groups knowns as Meira Paibis (Women Torchbearers) or Imas (Mothers of Manipur) staged non-violent protests against illicit liquor, use of drugs, and most notably against legislation that granted special powers to troops and paramilitaries in "disturbed areas.” Women of Manipur have also participated in two major mass movements —called "Nupi Lan" or women's war, against British rulers in the early 1900s.
Northeast India has a rich history of women's resistance movements that have played a significant role in fighting for the rights of their communities. These movements have been born out of a necessity to address the issues of violence, conflict, and human rights abuses that have plagued the region for decades. - Chitra Ahanthem, independent journalist from Manipur
Music duo Glow Motive play at an event organized by Transgender Expressions Haven and Queer Art Exchange in 2022. SUPPLIED BY QUEER ART EXCHANGE
Dimple Takhtani, a gender non-conforming media artist who goes by Nhylar, started the Queer Art Exchange as a digital place for people to share their creative work. They were pushed by their experience of loneliness when they first moved to the Canadian city of Vancouver in 2020.
I didn’t know any queer poets, and it was a pandemic, and it was hard to hit up open mics. I started a virtual page, and then it turned into a virtual community and became a virtual art showcase. -Nhylar
The grassroots initiative started doing physical events as the city opened up, starting with an event celebrating queer South Asian art and expanding to other get-togethers throughout the year. Recently it hosted a Sunday Chillin’ day that included crafting, a pop-up market, and a clothing swap—creating artsy real-world spaces for queer people to hang out and produce art together.
Nhylar was also involved in setting up the Transgender Expressions Haven, a trans and non-binary art organization that started by throwing basement suite drag parties, created an online art gallery, and is now running Hot Trans Summer events alongside Vancouver Pride. Co-founder Angelic Goldsky says that art provides a powerful avenue for all kinds of positive community work. Creating grassroots societies to support and uplift queer and trans artists is “anti-violence work, it is suicide prevention work,” Goldsky says, but it’s also a chance to give people a place where their work doesn’t need to be explained to an audience who aren’t familiar with queer or trans themes.
A lot of the experience people have with performing or exhibiting is often done within a context that is not trans. So there’s a lot of work that might be lost in the translation or the legibility of a work, It’s important for us to create space where it’s like, ‘Oh, we already have an understanding’—or maybe we have an agreed non-understanding. -Angelic Goldsky
When most queer and trans community gatherings are parties or vigils, LGBTQ2S+ events are often heightened embodiments of either joy or grief, Goldsky says. Art events give people a space to exist in a more neutral emotional state—not just trans joy or trans grief, but trans weirdness, trans confusion, trans anger.
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.