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Civil Society

Another World Seen Through the Lenses of Gender and Sexuality

Women activists from the Middle East and Kenya, (from left) Saffana Abu Safyeh, Ivy Teressa, and Farah Shaer, sharing insights on gender and the path forward at the World Social Forum in Kathmandu on Feb. 18. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Women activists from the Middle East and Kenya, (from left) Saffana Abu Safyeh, Ivy Teressa, and Farah Shaer, sharing insights on gender and the path forward at the World Social Forum in Kathmandu on Feb. 18. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

KATHMANDU, Feb 18 2024 (IPS) - On a white canvas, people were painting different structures, objects and creatures in a range of colours. Kavita Sada Musahar’s creation was on its way to becoming a painting — with houses, humans, birds, trees and rivers — and a bright red heart.

“I painted a heart,” said the young activist at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Kathmandu on Sunday. “But some people don’t use their hearts, and that is the reason we don’t see empathy in our surroundings. I felt like we all have hearts, and we need to know and use them to treat everyone equally and respectfully.”

The Musahar are one of the most marginalized and historically discriminated communities in Nepal. The majority of women don’t have access to education, so for Kavita — one of the few women to be able to attend a higher level of school in her village in Sunsari district — an ideal world is where everyone has access to education. “And economic opportunities —employment,” she added.

As Kavita contemplated the urgent need for an “empathetic heart” to dream about liberation, feminist activist Saffana Abu Safyeh, a Palestinian refugee in Jordan, shared her pain during the session, Breaking Chains: Unravelling the Intersection of Law and State Control in Shaping Gender Identity, Sexuality and Bodily Autonomy.

 

Gender and sexuality lens a “luxury”

“The problems faced by women and queer people in other countries are not up for discussion in our space. We don’t have the time and luxury to focus on these issues,” said Safyeh, visibly emotional. “With ongoing war and occupation, we cannot address harassment, law, bodily autonomy or sexuality. These are luxuries to Palestinians, especially for women and the queer community.”

In the ongoing assault on Gaza, more than 28,000 people have already died, the majority women and children. “Once the occupation ends, there will be time to solve our problems and liberate, or at least focus on overcoming all forms of discrimination for true liberation,” added Safyeh.

While expressing solidarity with Safyeh, Ivy Teressa, a youth feminist activist from the African country of Kenya, shared with the same session her vision for an equitable world where people will listen and engage in healthy debate on the road to progress.

“But to do so, we have systemic issues to solve first. We are dealing with patriarchy, meaning we don’t have time to take a break,” Teressa said, while laying out possible criticism and judgment individuals might face from people who are used to living with patriarchy.

“We may get bullied, isolated. But we must engage in discussion every day; we need to share knowledge about feminism and identities of gender and sexuality in every possible way.”

In recent years, feminist movements all over the world have been targeted by large sections of society, but Lebanese filmmaker and activist Farah Shaer emphasized the importance of continuing the fight.

“It doesn’t matter what they say or want, as long as we keep focusing on what we want, asking for our rights until we are equal. Then maybe we can stop calling ourselves feminists,” Shaer said. “Until then, there is a long journey; we are going to call ourselves feminists, and if they are bothered, there is nothing we can do.”

 

Indian Queer activist Queer activist Pritesh Sanjeevani Chandramani Kamble at the World Social Forum in Kathmandu on Feb. 18. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Indian Queer activist Queer activist Pritesh Sanjeevani Chandramani Kamble at the World Social Forum in Kathmandu on Feb. 18. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

 

The way to an equal society

In Rosy Zuniga’s vision, the path to equality is via education. “Through education, which focuses on critical thinking, we will be able to see the world from diverse perspectives,” the Mexican activist told IPS. “Education opens economic opportunities and means to organize, which ultimately leads to liberation from all forms of discrimination,” added Zuniga, who works on feminist education in Latin America.

According to the International Finance Corporation, gender equality and economic inclusion are essential for economic growth and development. It states: “No country, community or economy can achieve its potential or meet the challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of women and men, girls and boys.”

Equal treatment and equal opportunity in every sector of society are a pre-requisite to real change, said queer activist Pritesh Sanjeevani Chandramani Kamble. “Being gay, I must say, if everyone respects and accepts humanity regardless of gender and sexuality, that would be the first step toward creating another world.”

“If we provide equal opportunities in every sector, that’s the second step. Also, we must think about the rights, livelihoods and entailment of the queer community,” added Kamble, who works on issues around advancing equality and inclusivity in India.

 

 

 
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