Global Roundup: Zimbabwe Women Politicians vs Gendered Violence, Singapore ID Policies & Trans Community, Mexico March Against Femicide, Bhutan LGBTQ+ Community, Indigenous Representation in Fitness
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Opposition activists – Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova via Amnesty International
Women politicians and activists in Zimbabwe are facing a torrent of gender-based violence, both online and off, in the build-up to next year’s general election.
Underpinning violence against women in politics, is the sociocultural notion that women politicians are “homewreckers” who achieve political influence through immoral behaviour. Many people hold the view that women in leadership and decision-making roles are akin to “prostitutes” and have slept their way to the top.
The rise of social media has shown that sexual and gender-based violence is structural and deeply ingrained in Zimbabwean culture. When men lose arguments or fail to back up their opinions with tangible evidence and facts, they often resort to intimidation and emotional and verbal abuse online. Credible women politicians who base their arguments on academic research are frequent victims of cyberbullying, especially body shaming and slut shaming.
Cyberbullying remains one of the reasons why women shy away from politics. -Sitabile Dewa, executive director of the Women Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence
Zimbabweans who disagree with the political views of Linda Masarira, president of the opposition party Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD), have resorted to bashing her on social media for not bathing. Masarira, who has a dark complexion, has been ruthlessly dragged on Twitter by veteran politicians obsessed with winning political arguments. It is hoped that the new Cyber & Data Protection Act, introduced at the end of 2021, might help protect women politicians from being bullied online.
Despite the constitution protecting women’s political rights, women in Zimbabwe remain underrepresented politically. Some structural barriers include the recent increase in nomination fees for candidates. There is also the corrupt judicial system that tends to favour the powerful and influential and encourages a culture of silence among victims of political violence.
In 2020, three female opposition activists – Cecilia Chimbiri, Joana Mamombe MP and Netsai Marova – were abducted by unknown assailants, and reportedly sexually abused and tortured, after protesting against poor health service delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of investigating what had happened, police arrested the three women on allegations of faking their abduction. After two years of court hearings, the case is still ongoing, with the latest hearing due in a couple of weeks.
As next year’s general election approaches, sexual and gender-based violence against women political candidates will likely be on the rise. Still, many women in Zimbabwe remain undeterred and continue to fight for the rights of marginalized people.
Lune Loh, 25, a transgender woman, looks at herself in a mirror in her living room in Singapore, on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) via AP
Lune Loh, 25, is a trans rights activist in Singapore, pushed by her traumatic experience in the military to speak about the detrimental effects of requiring trans people to undergo surgeries before their genders are legally recognized.
These ID policies continue to exist in a number of countries, a practice international human rights bodies have condemned as torture. These policies have left untold numbers of trans people with an agonizing choice between their fertility and their identity.
For those who opt against surgery, the policies’ consequences can be severe, limiting their prospects for jobs, housing and marriage. They are unable to access government benefits, which are often designed around heterosexual families. Since their identification documents list their genders as the opposite of how they present in public, they can easily be outed, leading to everything from bureaucratic hassles to life-threatening confrontations.
People are not getting housing, people are not getting jobs … that’s basically what we’re fighting for. We just want to help people survive another day, another month, another year. -Lune Loh
Surgery makes some transgender people feel more comfortable in their bodies, but others consider it medically unnecessary, invasive and painful or prohibitively expensive. In addition, many trans people want to keep the option of having biological children open.
Singaporeans under 21 must get parental consent to undergo gender-confirmation surgery, a landmine for transgender children reluctant to tell their conservative families about their transition. But if they do not, they are required at many schools to use bathrooms and wear uniforms that match the gender marker on their national identity card, causing anguish.
They don’t feel themselves in school, so they can’t concentrate in school, so a lot of them don’t do well. And I’m speaking from experience. -Teo, trans man
Loh has always found solace in poetry and open mic nights where she can be herself without having to worry about the rules. One poem she wrote during her mandatory military service, “Moonface,” detailed her exhaustion over her warring identities, “that whiplash whenever you take off the wig.”
Via La Prensa Latina
CW: gender-based violence
About a hundred people, including relatives, friends and activists, marched on Friday in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Mexico’s Chiapas state, to demand justice for the killing of a young woman whose body was found abandoned on the side of a highway in the region earlier this month.
Estefanía Martínez disappeared on October 30 and her body was found seven days later on the side of the Tuxtla Gutiérrez-Emiliano Zapata highway. Given the lack of progress in the investigation and total impunity for femicides in the country, the demonstrators decided to march from the north of the city to the State Attorney General’s Office.
Women wore green scarves – a symbol of the abortion rights movement – and purple, a color associated with the fight against violence. They drew graffiti on road signs and public buildings and shouted slogans such as “We are missing one!” and “Justice for Estefania!” They also carried banners that read “Your voice is in each of our cries of protest!”, “Until you get justice!” and “For Estefanía, for those who are no longer there, for those who suffer daily!”
According to figures from the Feminist Observatory against Violence against Women of Chiapas, 152 violent deaths of women have been recorded between January and October, of which 53 are femicides. October also saw an increase in the disappearance of girls and women with at least 40 women reported missing, of which 15 have not yet been found.
Miss Bhutan, Tashi Choden Chombal, attends an LGBTQ pride event in Thimphu in June. She came out to friends on social media when she was 15, and a few months ago announced to her family she is gay. Namgay Wangchuk / AFP/Getty Images via LA Times
Pema Dorji, 30, is co-founder of Queer Voices of Bhutan – he and fellow activists continue to celebrate a vote by lawmakers in December 2020 to repeal a section of the country’s penal code that had criminalized “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.”
Growing cellphone coverage and access to social media have allowed LGBTQ activists in Bhutan to mobilize, strengthen their platform and give a face to the community. That, combined with a Buddhist culture that respects diversity, has helped to fuel a quiet revolution in this quiet little kingdom.
Today, Bhutanese can differentiate the true spiritual teachings of Buddhism from the cultural baggage that came with it. Buddhism does not teach intrinsic individuality. There is no real self or person, thus people can have different types of gender or sexual identity. -Karma Phuntsh, scholar
Namgay Zam, the former director of the Journalists’ Assn. of Bhutan and a long-standing ally of the queer community says he covered the first story on LGBTQ+ rights for the national broadcaster in 2014, less than 10 years ago. Zam is a popular public figure in Bhutan with more than 50,000 Instagram followers and a podcast, “Hello from Bhutan!” that has recently been featuring queer stories, including an interview with the country’s oldest known trans woman.
Karma Wangchuk has 36,000 subscribers to his Instagram account, Bhutan Street Fashion, which celebrates the national dress:
We’ve actually always been open about our bodies and the way we look in Bhutan. But in the 1990s, MTV and U.S. pop culture introduced a new sense of right and wrong, a Victorian sense of morality, showing men as masculine and women looking feminine, completely eroding the ease we had with our bodies. … I want us to unlearn that side of globalization. -Karma Wangchuk
Miss Bhutan, Tashi Choden Chombal, crowned this year, posts photographs of herself and her girlfriend to her 28,000 followers on Instagram. She came out to friends on social media when she was 15, and a few months ago announced to her family she is gay.
They had a strong reaction, but I want to give hope to people like me, who come from a hard conservative family. I know about the struggle; I’ve had my mental health issues, but I believe you must keep being unapologetically authentic. My family are quite OK with me now. -Tashi Choden Chombal
When Verna Volker took up running, she noticed a complete lack of people like her — a self-proclaimed “chubby” middle-aged Native American (Diné) — represented in fitness media, leading her to carve out space for herself and her community.
At first, the mission for Native Women Running (NWR) was fairly modest: creating a social media presence to showcase its namesake. But soon after Volker debuted the NWR Instagram account in 2018, it took on a life of its own. Today, that community consists of 30,000 followers from all across North America, with sponsored teams at top races like the Boston Marathon and annual charitable runs that have raised more than $150,000 to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. Volker recently retired from teaching to focus full time on NWR. Bustle spoke to Volker about her mission to make running more inclusive, one race at a time.
I started Native Women Running because I didn’t see myself in running, which is such a white space centered around the blond, fit, fast girl. But for me, it’s every body type and every group of people, specifically Native women representing their tribes and sharing their journeys, no matter what level they’re at. - Verma Volker
Volker talks about how running has long been part of Native cultures but a lot of that has been lost over time because of erasure. She recalls a story growing up that was passed down from one generation to the next and resonates with her: When you wake up in the morning before the sun rises, you run to the east to greet Creator and say your prayers, which helps you stay in balance in life.
Volker has done work with race companies to provide registrations for free. NWR has covered travel expenses like flights, hotels and Ubers for native women.
…When these women show up at these races, they encourage each other, they laugh and cry together, and they become friends who go on to run more races together. It’s building community. To me, that’s what Native Women Running is. -Verma Volker
Volker believes that running is healing and powerful. She runs all her races in honour of the loved ones she has lost and writes their names on her shoes. She hopes people will continue to be receptive to stories of Native women in the running space. She would also like to grow her team, start running groups in the United States and Canada and develop a program for children. In terms of how fitness companies can do better, she emphasizes the need to centre Indigenous women’s voices and go beyond land acknowledgements.
For example, what are you doing to support Native organizations in that community? Can you provide scholarships or other opportunities? Above all, companies need to offer a safe, welcoming space for Native runners that recognizes the trauma we carry. These conversations can be hard, but we need to be heard. -Verma Volker
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.