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Global Roundup: Zimbabwe Mine Sweepers, Barbados Decriminalizes Same-Sex Relationships, Decreasing Maternal Mortality, Brazilian-American Sculptor Reclaiming Women’s Agency, Queer Artivism in Tbilisi
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Female deminers in a minefield in Chipinge, Zimbabwe. December 5, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Matiashe. Photo via Context.
A group of women in Zimbabwe are working to clear mines in the eastern part of the country, where former British colonial rulers laid millions of anti-personnel landmines during the 1970s Liberation War. Employed by the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) humanitarian group, these women are helping to reduce injuries and deaths caused by these mines, and restore empty and idle land.
On a daily basis, we used electronic detonators to destroy the landmines without fear. We excelled in the landmines clearing industry as an all-female team just like our male counterparts. – Memory Mutepfa, member of the women’s group removing land mines
In 1980, Zimbabwe gained its independence from colonial rule during the Liberation War. Although the war ended over 40 years ago, more than 1500 people have been injured or killed by landmines that were placed during the war. Lands contaminated with mines cannot be used for agriculture or to graze livestock, making this endeavour extremely important. This project has been taking place for the past decade and this year alone, 1322 landmines were removed in Chipinge which led to 5 million square metres (54 million square feet) of previously affected land being released for productive use.
I'm independent. I don't have to rely on my husband. I have properties including a house and a car in my name. This is women's empowerment. – Memory Mutepfa
These women work from 4:00 am until the afternoon for 22 days in a month, braving their lives every single day. While some support their families with their income, others have supported themselves in getting an education and creating stability. Undertaking this work allows these women to redefine the deep-rooted patriarchal notions and gendered stereotypes about the kinds of jobs women should hold within Zimbabwe.
BGLAD members and supporters on parade in Bridgetown, Barbados on Sunday, July 22, 2018. Photo via Caribbean Life.
The Barbados High Court has officially decriminalized two colonial-era laws which criminalized same-sex relationships and consensual sex. With this landmark ruling, Barbados has become the third country in the conservative Caribbean region to decriminalize same-sex relationships this year.
Chief executive of Human Dignity Trust (a London-based human rights organization), Téa Braun, commented that these changes in colonial-era policies have created a tidal effect in the Caribbean. Although these policies were rarely utilized, the very existence of these laws criminalized the queer community without any just cause.
The striking down of the laws reverses that and overnight tells the entire society that this is consensual contact and that what people choose to do with their private relationships is not the business of the law. - Téa Braun
Although same-sex relationships have been decriminalized in a number of nations in the Caribbean region, a number of countries continue to target queer people with outdated laws including: Guyana, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenadines, and Jamaica. Queer people in these countries experience violent attacks, and many have escaped in search of a safer life.
While the complete overturning of these homophobic laws will create change in some aspects, it is not a solution for the discrimination that queer people in Barbados endure on a daily basis. Braun said this was not the last step to acquiring justice for queer people, but it is a major stepping stone for queer rights.
Irene Berenge, the reproductive health coordinator of Nandi County, Kenya, educates former traditional birth attendants about maternal health. Photo via Anna Gordon/Al Jazeera.
The Kenyan government launched a programme in 2000 which began training trusted local community leaders to transition into community health volunteers. At the same time, former midwives began educating expecting mothers about the importance of giving birth in proper healthcare facilities. Initially piloted by a few counties, the initiative eventually spread throughout the country due to its success rates.
Volunteers educate interested individuals for about two hours per day about supporting women during at-home births. A report conducted by Ethiopian researchers this year found that almost one fifth of women in 11 countries across East Africa still prefer home delivery over giving birth in a health facility. However, a majority of these births take place with the help of traditional birth attendants who do not usually have knowledge of safe healthcare practices for at-home births. Coupled with unsterilized conditions, this has led to high maternal mortality rates in the past.
We have the names and locations of all the pregnant women living throughout each sub-county…If a woman does not show up to her scheduled doctor’s appointment, we will try to call her phone. If we cannot reach her by phone, we will then contact her village chief, who knows where all the residents of his village live, and he will help us make a door-to-door visit. – Hellen Murei, a head nurse at a maternal health clinic in Nandi
With the implementation of this training initiative, the percentage of women giving birth with a skilled birth attendant increased from 37 percent to 69.5 percent from 2017 to 2021 in Nandi County, higher than the nation’s average at 65.3 percent. This is a stark contrast to the county’s maternal mortality rates in 2009, which were the sixth highest in the country.
In 2018, Linda Mama, a universal healthcare coverage system, was introduced for pregnant people in Kenya. Meaning ‘protect mama’ in Swahili, the programme covers the cost of delivery and routine check-ups for expecting mothers. This has also contributed to the decrease in maternal mortality throughout the nation.
“I gave birth at home to my first baby in 2012 because I could not afford it…When you give birth in the hospital it is not scary. I was scared for my life the first time I gave birth. I am so grateful for Linda Mama.” – Meryline Jepkemboi, Nandi county resident
Juliana Cerqueira Leite installing Orogenesis at the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy, 2019, Image: Enrico Fiorese; Courtesy of Alma Zevi Gallery. Photo via Stir World.
Juliana Cerqueira Leite is a Brazilian-American sculptor that defies conventional body norms through her art. Based in New York, Leite uses clay art to redefine the stereotypical and conventional history around body and femininity.
Sculpting is a technique that has been used for centuries, however the depiction of women historically has been catered to the male gaze. Early philosophy and religions constructed the idea of femininity, which forced women into gendered roles to establish a patriarchal society.
This process coincided in many cases with a shift in relation to nature—one of material domination instead of familial, or spiritual connection. Working inside large volumes of material, like clay, or applying plaster directly onto my body to create shapes, I question the hierarchy between maker and material. I want to consider myself, an embodied natural animal, as inherently material. My relationship to materials is therefore often an exchange of qualities and possibilities. – Juliana Cerqueira Leite
Leite uses her background in performance and fine arts, as well as her MFA in sculpture to reimagine what the human body can be. Using clay, latex and plaster in her sculptures, she believes that redefining the human body would create more inclusive and less destructive relationships.
I use myself—my body, as people possessively say—as a material in order to question how we represent human beings to each other, and the narratives that determine our relationships to each other’s bodies, the environment and history. =Juliana Cerqueira Leite
Uta Bekaia, “Lost in patriotism.” Photograph courtesy of Fungus Collective. Photo via W Magazine.
Project Fungus is an art collective in Tbilisi, Georgia that serves as a support group and a social network for young queer artists in the city. Uta Bekaia, the founder of the collective, left his home in Georgia in 1998 and settled in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
I was a young queer man, very confused…We were very lost in the post-Soviet situation. We saw the system crumble with our own eyes. When you’re at that age, you need your tribe. Going from a crumbling Soviety state to New York, it was like someone hit me with a hammer over the head. It was so intense. – Uta Bekaia
In New York, Bekaia found a job as a theatrical set and costume designer. Five years ago, he returned to Tbilisi for the first time since he left, and ended up staying in his hometown for an extended amount of time. Bekaia began attending queer parties with performances created by young queer people. This was the first time that he had witnessed queer people in Georgia freely expressing themselves. It was after attending these parties when he decided he wanted to support the young queer people of Georgia.
It is something that should come to light, even though it is beautiful and happens in the dark and you have to be careful not to fuck it up…It was important for me to work with young kids. I felt like their mom a little. – Uta Bekaia
The group began when Sofia Tchkonia, creator of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Tbilisi, invited Bekaia and his young artist colleagues to participate in the events of the week. It was at this time that two of Project Fungus’ young artists created a manifesto for the group, which illustrated their story and what they represented.
Like fungus, we do not fully comply with social and cultural norms…We thrive wherever we get even a little chance to grow….We all have our own habitation rules, we speak different languages, but we are all rooted to one fungus base, whose task is to destroy the accepted social construct that seems to be standing firm, but actually rots from the inside. – Project Fungus Manifesto
The collective has travelled to a number of events and exhibitions to showcase the diversity of talent of these young queer artists. They are continuing to embark on this journey to educate and spread love throughout Georgia and abroad.
In the exhibitions that we do, a lot of people come off the street and see the images, and they get used to it…Before, they would only see gay parades that come from the West. It is easier for them to understand when you show them a queer identity that is very local. It’s not implanted but very natural. For me, the most important thing for Fungus is that it is in the daylight for everyone to see. – Uta Bekaia
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.