Global Roundup: Young Women Protest in Myanmar, Feminists Fight for Accessible Abortions in Spain and Honduras, Black Maternal Care in the US, and an Algonquin Two-Spirit Artist

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Photo by EPA via BBC

On February 1st, the military seized power in Myanmar, overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi's government. Despite the lack of evidence, they claim that the November election that returned her National League for Democracy (NLD) to power was fraudulent. Protests have erupted across the country in response to the coup and young women protesters have taken a lead in creative ways.

Young protesters have been holding up pro-democracy signs with messages referencing memes and popular culture associated with Millennials and Generation Z. Some examples of these humorous, self-deprecating and playful messages include “'My ex is bad but Myanmar military is worse”, "I don't want dictatorship, I just want boyfriend”, and “Ah fuck here we go again”. Young women in the city of Yangon also staged what they called a “princess protest” where they showed up in ball gowns. Another group of women sat in inflatable tubs, holding signs. Beauty pageant and cosplayers also took part in the demonstrations. 

During an anti-coup protest, 19-year-old Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing was shot in the head. She is now suffering from serious head injuries and in critical condition at the hospital. Rights groups say that the wound was consistent with one from live ammunition. According to a doctor, a man wounded at the same protest also appeared to have similar injuries.

The United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar has warned the country's security forces that they face prosecution under international law if they use excessive force against demonstrators. US President Joe Biden has also said his government will impose sanctions on those responsible for the coup. In addition, they will enforce strong export controls.

It is heartbreaking that a young woman is fighting for her life because she protested against a military coup – a woman who reassured her brother’s worries over the phone shortly before the protest with "It's OK. Even if they fire, it should be fine." These demonstrations led by women show that young people are not concerned with following conventions or even respectability politics when it comes to making their voices heard. And why should they when the military is clearly unconcerned about protesters' lives?

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Women in Madrid march for safe abortion, 28 September 2019. Alberto Sibaja / Pacific Press/Sipa USA/PA Images via Open Democracy

The women’s rights group Women’s Link Worldwide has filed a lawsuit before the Spanish National Court against restrictions on information about abortion. Aintzane Márquez, an activist with the group, explains that the lawsuit is on behalf of Women on Web, an online abortion service that provides women and people who can become pregnant with vital information on how to have a safe abortion by taking a combination of pills.

In early 2020, the Spanish government blocked Women on Web – making Spain the only European Union country that has censored this website. Without providing any evidence, they claim that the website sends women drugs that are banned from being sold online in the country.

In her essay, Márquez argues that women are being denied their reproductive rights in practice by being barred from receiving information on their legal rights, healthcare options and how to get a safe abortion.

Marta (not her real name), who needed an abortion in June 2020, was given incorrect information by her public health centre. The law in Spain asks women to reflect on their decision for three days. Making them wait longer can have significant consequences, as as there are time limits on when women can have abortions.

I went to the nearest public health centre, and they asked me to think it over for five days. When I came back, they asked me to think it over again, because, as the doctor put it, I am running out of time to become a mother – Marta

Women on Web is an online platform where women can share their experiences and access information based on WHO-approved scientific evidence in multiple languages and adapted to the country in which they live. Since 2010, Spain has legalized abortion in a wide range of circumstances. However, the government has failed to launch any official campaigns to inform women about their rights. It is important that women and people who can become pregnant have accessible information about abortion in plain language. During COVID-19, access to abortions has only gotten more difficult. The government’s lack of action makes services like Women on Web even more needed, yet they have opted to block the website. 

The situation in Spain reflects how legalizing abortion, though important, is not enough. Women and people who can become pregnant need accessible information and healthcare providers need to follow protocol. It also goes to show that the patriarchy will always find ways to control women’s bodies and autonomy.

All women deserve to have accurate, comprehensive information about their abortion rights, and timely and dignified access to these services - Aintzane Márquez

Through the lawsuit, Márquez and her organization hope to call attention to the obstacles women face when attempting to access abortion services in Spain. 

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A woman speaks through a megaphone during a demonstration in favour of legalising abortion, after lawmakers approved a constitutional reform that would reinforce the ban, near the Congress in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 25, 2021 [Fredy Rodriguez/Reuters] via Al Jazeera

Feminist organizations in Honduras are stepping their campaigning to decriminalize abortion in the staunchly conservative country. Their activism comes as the government has hardened its absolute prohibition of abortion after Argentina legalized elective abortion until the 14th week. The Honduras Congress has put a lock on its position by explicitly adding the abortion ban to its constitution, and setting the number of votes required in order to make a future change at the highest level – three-quarters of Congress.

They did it out of fear. Because they think they can ban the future. But you can’t ban the future - Neesa Medina, an activist with Somos Muchas

Somos Muchas is a women’s rights group of mostly young women who have been moved into action by recent events. Local activists are hopeful that this means change is still possible.

Abortions may be illegal and those that get or administer them are subject to three to 10 years in jail, but they are still happening. However, they are happening often in unsafe conditions. In addition, the country’s hardening on abortion means clandestine abortions will increase in price according to Regina Fonseca, a psychologist, longtime feminist and founder of the Centre for Women’s Rights in Honduras. One in four girls under the age of 19 has been pregnant at least once in Honduras – the second-highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America. Therefore, poorer and young people will continue to be disproportionately affected by the country’s ban on abortions. 

In Honduras, there are women who have miscarriages, and they’re too afraid to look for help because the only thing they hear is that abortion is a crime; it’s bad. There are few words of compassion for them - Neesa Medina

Unsurprisingly, Honduras politicians and religious leaders are invoking “religion”, “values” and “social and cultural principles” to defend their stance on abortion. Whose religion and culture is it really if it is at the expense of women’s rights and bodily autonomy? Fuck the patriarchy.

Somos Muchas plans to legally challenge the legislative change and get health information to women. Medina is encouraged by the number of legislators who did not approve the measure, as it was far greater than the number who had supported a bid to relax the prohibition in 2017. These feminists will not back down when it comes to securing what should be a human right for women and people who can become pregnant.  

You can see the cracks in the system, in the government, and that’s why they’re closing ranks. And it’s in those cracks that this will all crumble - Neesa Medina 

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The global pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing disparities in maternal care, particularly for Black mothers. Amber Rose Isaac was a 26-year-old pregnant Black woman who had been complaining of dizziness and extreme fatigue since early on in her pregnancy, but her doctor appointments were held virtually due to pandemic restrictions. Her deteriorating health led her to see a local midwife and doula duo, who noticed abnormalities and advised her to get bloodwork done. However, it was too late at that point – she died giving birth, as her platelet count had fallen dangerously low from having HELLP Syndrome, a serious pregnancy complication that affects the blood and liver. Isaac’s partner believes her avoidable death would have been prevented had she been white. 

When the mother or birthing person is Black in a hospital it’s a completely different experience. Black people are not believed when we experience symptoms, when we say we're in labor, when we say we know what's best for our bodies -  Emilie Rodriguez, a Bronx-based doula and founder of Ashe Birthing Services.

Even before the pandemic, pregnant Black women in the US were dying at rates three to four times higher than white women. In New York City, where Isaac was from, Black women were dying at 8 times the rate. The US has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths among developed nations, 60% of which are preventable according to the CDC. 

Switching to telehealth amplifies the discrimination Black people already face from medical professionals. Furthermore, at the peak of the pandemic, partners and birthing workers were not allowed to accompany mothers in labor. This support is especially important for Black birthing people, as they experience discrimination during birth – but the support is known to improve outcomes for all birthing people and their babies

Isaac’s story is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Black women and people who give birth often have to face the multiple burdens of racism, sexism, transphobia and other oppressions and it is leading to their deaths in hospitals. For many people, pregnancy and giving birth are a cherished time, yet Black mother’s experiences are marred by their worries about whether they and their baby will survive. 

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Montreal-based singer/songwriter Kizis. Credit: Neal Rockwell via Xtra Magazine

Kìzis is a Montreal-based Algonquin Two-Spirit artist whose new album Tidibàbide / Turn, has over 50 collaborators. Kìzis’s music, which is characterized as “orchestral pop, thumping techno and solemn spoken-word passages...driven by the pulse of the heartbeat drum”, draws on the sacred traditions of powwow dances from her childhood. 

I made this music because I love to create and sing with my native language, first and foremost, as well as English. I take the teachings of my Indigenous family in all different sizes and skin tones to heart. We deserve every opportunity to enjoy the sun on our faces when we’re not underground and let nature do what it does best - Kìzis

From a young age, music was a place for Kìzis to find her identity. Growing up, she says, left her with painful memories. Kìzis shares that she suffered abuse from “outside sources coming into the family home,” as well as a period spent as a sex worker from ages 16 to 18. However, these experiences do not define her. She began focusing on solo work in her early 20s, first earning the support of Montreal DIY label Egg Paper Factory and then Tin Angel Records from the U.K. 

When I was making this album I wasn’t listening to anything else. I was actively creating - Kìzis

Kìzis is meticulous about her art. The nearly 4-hour album has many acclaimed collaborators. The communal aspect is important to Kìzis to evoke a beautiful future through “celebration of the past and acknowledgement of changes needed in the present”. She says that her music sometimes helps her work through anger as well. Spending time with her kin also helped bring the album to life.

I know there is still not enough representation of Indigenous music today because the greatest ones may never be heard. This is why I have worked so hard to build a full landscape, where you can be with this. And love it - Kìzis

Kìzis’s album is truly an immersive experience and unlike anything I have ever heard before. There is something deeply touching about hearing someone’s story and vulnerability through art. 

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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.

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