Global Roundup: Women leading revolutions

Compiled and written by Inaara Merani

Photo via Women’s Agenda

In October 2019, protests broke out in Chile over the nation’s dictatorial practices and the institutional problems of inequality and injustice. On Sunday, in a historic vote 78% of voters demanded a new constitution and 79% of those voters demanded that it be written by Chilean citizens, half of which will be women.

Four decades ago, Augusto Pinochet implemented a constitution which reinforced his military dictatorship. The new constitution will represent equality, diversity, inclusivity and democracy. Over the next two months, 155 people will be nominated and chosen to help rewrite the constitution; half of the participants will be female and there will be representation from Indigenous groups as well. 

Throughout the protests, women have presented a strong and united front. Some may even remember the chilling performance that Chilean feminist collective Las Tesad began performing across the country to protest against staggering rates of gendered violence and sexual assault and which became a global anthem: “Un violador en tu camino”, translating to “A rapist in your path”. Even if you do not understand Spanish, the message is clear. 

Women are a part of every revolution and uprising. The question must always be: who does the revolution liberate and who benefits from the revolution? If women are to risk their lives to rise up alongside men only to then be pushed aside, what kind of revolution is that? Let Chile show us how to do it!

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A still from a video posted on Twitter showing girls who have undergone FGM being paraded through the street. Photograph: Twitter via The Guardian

Kenya is considered a regional champion in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) but its progress towards eradicating the harmful practice altogether by 2022 suffered a setback after open parades in defiance of the government clampdown took place recently.

Since late September, almost 3000 girls in the Kuria community have undergone FGM and have been paraded around their communities, and showered with money and gifts in order to incentivize other girls to undergo this procedure.

Schools in Kenya reopened in mid-October after seven months of closure due to the coronavirus, but many young girls are missing classes in order to undergo FGM.

We have seen girls going back to class while clad in a lesso (light wraparound dress), a sign that they have just undergone FGM. Some girls would go to class bleeding. When other girls see this, they think FGM is OK. But why do school heads allow such girls back in class in that condition? That seems to legitimise FGM - Natalie Robi Tingo, founder of the grassroots anti-FGM organisation Msichana Empowerment KuriaTingo.

FGM is the total or partial removal of female genitalia. It has no benefits, only harm. FGM is practiced as a way to control female sexuality and control a woman’s “purity” and to that, I say absolutely fucking not. Why the fuck do men have an obsession with policing women’s bodies? 

According to Unicef, 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, across 31 countries. In 2012, the UN resolved to eradicate FGM by 2030. But the economic impact of the pandemic and resultant lockdowns are expected to lead to a resurgence of the practice.

It is one thing to illegally perform FGM and force young girls to undergo this procedure so that the patriarchy remains intact, but it is another to parade these girls around, like they are objects, in order to take advantage of other girls living in poverty and further your misogynistic agenda. This fuckery is not a recent phenomenon; FGM has been taking place (both legally and illegally) for centuries and it is sad that governments have only recently recognized how terrible and demoralizing this procedure is. How much longer will vulnerable girls be taken advantage of? Fuck the people who think that FGM is okay. Fuck gender inequality. And, obviously, fuck the patriarchy. 

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The Shura Council in Lebanon has sided with capitalism and the rich and against migrant domestic workers, whose working conditions have been likened to modern slavery, by blocking implementation of a new contract for the workers that would have improved working conditions and protections for them. The council is the top administrative court in the country. It allows private persons to challenge administrative acts or decisions and holds public authorities accountable for breaches of law.

The new contract included allowing migrant domestic workers to terminate their contract without the consent of their employer. Migrant domestic worker activists and human rights groups have long complained about the Kafala system that entraps tens of thousands of women from disadvantaged backgrounds mostly from Asia and Africa. Conditions for the women significantly worsened since the start of Lebanon’s economic crisis and then the pandemic. And the Beirut explosion further exacerbated their suffering. The new contract was hailed as a way to start dismantling the abusive Kafala system.

Instead of taking the side of women who have been subjected to racism and sexism the judiciary gave a green light to the powerful that they can continue to abuse some of the most vulnerable women.

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Credit: Clean Clothes Campaign via The Circle

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of garment workers in Romania received just over half of their monthly wage. Angelica Manole made the abuses public and this sparked a large social media campaign. Thousands called on Tanex, the company behind these violations, to pay their workers and treat them with respect. In September, workers were finally paid their full salaries and those who left the factory, due to injustices, were compensated for their work as well. 

All over the world, and especially in developing countries, women are exploited in the garment industry. Transnational corporations exploit workers for cheap labour and production costs. If I haven’t said it before, fuck capitalism. 

Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, repression of trade union rights and short term contracts are all commonplace in the clothing industry. It is an industry built on exploitation and growing under a lack of transparency that makes holding brands accountable difficult. We are dedicated to changing this - Labour Behind the Label

Traditionally, women are usually subjected to jobs involving domestic labour such as: stitching, cooking, cleaning, etc. In addition, most of these women are underpaid and are subject to inhumane working conditions. The most unfortunate part about all this is that many women are unable to leave these factories because sometimes their work there brings the only source of income in their household. There are, however, many ways to fight back and support these women. You can: shop local, buy clothing from companies who use ethical labour, find out more about supply chains for your clothing, sign petitions, write to transnational organizations, and raise awareness about this topic. Don’t stop talking about this!! 

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Belarusian women protesting in Minsk last month.Credit...EPA, via Shutterstock via NYT

Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have been protesting against disputed elections which took place in their country on August 9. The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is currently in office serving his sixth term as president. Protestors are calling for him to step down. Lukashenko’s opponent in the election was Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a strong, intelligent and powerful woman. She boldly contested the election, claiming that it was rigged, and demanded a re-election. Students, factory workers, police officers, and more, joined protests for a re-election and against police brutality against protestors. 

Opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya is seen in Copenhagen on Friday. (Emil Helms /Ritzau Scanpix 2020 via AP) via CBC

As footage and photographs from the uprising in Belarus makes it way around the world, one thing is clear: the central role of women.

Tsikhanouskaya has paved the way for many women in these protests. As the leader of the opposition party, she encouraged individuals to take to the streets and protest for their rights! Women have been at the forefront of these protests from organizing multiple peaceful gatherings, to walking hand-in-hand in Minsk to form a human chain against the violent authorities. Although Tsikhanouskaya was forced to flee Belarus and is now in exile, women continue to lead the movement demanding justice. 

Women were stronger in this situation…We had to assume a more significant role. Men’s dominating role in the society has collapsed - Tatiana N. Kotes, a film production designer and activist.

Despite police brutality, women remain resolute.

Now, Belarusian women are world-known, and this is wonderful.” - Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa studying International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is a Muslim Canadian who is passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism. She is deeply interested in destroying 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 she can fight for women’s rights! She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat.