Reflections on our Countries – June 2019

June 25, 2019


Every month RESURJ members collectively share their feminist analysis and reflect on news, events and personal experiences related to sexual and reproductive justice, as well as environmental and economic justice from the different regions and countries we work in. 

For this latest edition of Reflections on Our Countries, RESURJ members and allies share feminist analysis and opinions from India, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Zambia. We learn more about how the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,1972 in India continues to hinder full access to abortion services. We also dive into important questions related to the impact of Tik Tok in Sri Lanka, a mobile platform that allows for users to create small video snippets and how it might be blurring the boundaries between the public, private and personal. In this issue we will also learn about the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development and the importance of feminist spaces for young feminist activists in those types events.

We hope you enjoy this month’s Reflections and join us on Twitter and Facebook to continue the conversation. Please also subscribe and share with your networks and allies as we are planning exciting new things for this space!

Should we move towards decriminalizing abortion to make the services more inclusive and available for individuals in India? 

Jasmine Lovely George, India, HIDDEN POCKETS 

In India, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1972 was one of the first laws in the world to make abortion services an option for women. Yet, regardless of the law, abortions in India are still considered unsafe and unavailable.  

Even today in 2019, if you ask young women about abortion most of them still think it is illegal. And this is where laws fail, when they have not yet entered into the social and cultural understandings and conversations of young people. 

At Hidden Pockets Collective, we have been providing legal and psychological support to young people who want to access abortion services. One of the biggest barriers is this very law which makes abortion conditional. This in turn makes the majority of the population believe that it is illegal and fear going to jail. 

Clearly the MTP Act, has led to one thing: it has ensured that people don’t think of abortion as a right. It is only in the extreme situations when things get complicated, that young people resort to a doctor, and it is for this same reason: they believe that abortion is illegal. Unfortunately, often times by that point, they have lost precious time.  

This law, not only prevents individuals from accessing abortion services, but turns them into  criminals if they do not fit into the clean category of a “vulnerable woman” who wants an abortion. This is a law which completely ignores the social realities on the ground,  and the fact that there are power dynamics between service providers ( gods/doctors) and young people or single people. 

At the SARJAI meeting conducted by the Center for Reproductive Rights  in Nepal in May 2019, there was a lot of discussion around what could be an alternative to the current model of laws around reproductive rights.  How could we move towards a model, where bodily autonomy is translated into the service delivery process? We are also facing the challenge that many of the service providers resort to conscientious objection which is prevalent in the field. What we have is a void, where organisations like Hidden Pockets , literally play the role of tele-tele-medicine and help young people understand the laws and processes and counsel them about abortions. 

What we can hope for is a reproductive justice-based jurisprudence that we ought to push for in the public health movement along with finance laws where abortion falls under the essential services, and also acknowledges the technological advancements made in regard of termination. We can learn from the mistakes of Abortion Laws in US, and ensure that India does not follow this bad example. 

How TIKTOK is a platform for performance and play for women in Sri Lanka

Sachini Perera RESURJ member from Sri Lanka and founder of GHOSHA and Minoli Wijetunga 

The following is an excerpt from a published article, you can find the full paper here:

TikTok is a mobile platform for creating and sharing 15-second videos. Or as stated by Wired (2018), “a short-formed monitised musical meme machine”. TikTok users lip sync, dance and perform to popular songs, dialogue or voiceovers from films and television shows and other audio clips from popular culture and edit the videos creatively using the templates and effects provided on the platform. It is currently the fastest growing social media app for short-form mobile videos and is experiencing a surge of popularity in Asia including Sri Lanka with Mobile Action showing TikTok to be the third most popular app on Google Play Store in Sri Lanka. The mobile research firm Sensor Tower estimates that TikTok has been downloaded approximately 800 million times worldwide by the end of 2018 and this figure does not take into account downloads by Android users in China.

The rising popularity of TikTok is unique for several reasons. For one, it is Chinese owned and was initially popularized by users in China and Asia before being noticed by users in the USA. Approximately only 80 million out of 800 million TikTok downloads are from the USA. Secondly, “TikTok found a way to make allowing regular users to legally play copyrighted music worth the copyright holders’ while. TikTok isn’t offering a new service and then scrambling to monetize it, it’s cashing in on a culture other platforms frown upon.” And while some TikTok stars (popular users) are being offered work in mainstream media similar to the professional trajectory of some YouTube stars, the popularity of the platform has driven celebrities to set up accounts on the platform and join some of the lip sync challenges.

This paper focuses on the top 30 videos under the ceylon_tik_tok hashtag and the comments on those videos. Aside from being a popular hashtag for Sri Lankan TikTok users, Ceylon_tik_tok also brings together a community of TikTok content producers who meet in person in public spaces and create content together that they then publish on TikTok. The users are Sri Lankans and majority are based in Sri Lanka with a few exceptions.

Feminisms, Radical feminism and Gender Equality

Chantal Umuhoza, Rwanda, RESURJ member, SPECTRA 

This article is a response to the article published in The New Times on 25th April 2019. ( )

 The author and other Rwandan feminists that contributed to this article  seek to make clarifications on some misconceptions contained in the previous article .

Feminism and gender equality: It is a common misconception to separate feminism from gender equality. Feminism seeks an equal and just world. It seeks to dismantle oppressive systems of power based on patriarchal ideas about the socially constructed roles of men and women i.e gender . But it is not just a term, it is a movement, a philosophical ideology, an approach and an end in itself. The concept of gender” and the derived terms of  “gender equality” and “gender mainstreaming” have been critiqued by feminists theorists in which they argue that “..the institution of gender continues to create and maintain socially significant differences between men and women”. Which, they argue should be a means not an end.

Gender equality has become more common in development work and in women’s rights movements  but this has led to less use of the broader feminists political theories and principles which goes beyond just  gender differences but further questions the world social order while also recognising the intersections of race and class in ensuring justice and equality of all. With feminism, all issues regarding equality and justice are equally important; there are no “Ifs” or “Buts” or “Howevers”. Gender (in-)equality is just one of the many issues and concerns of the broader movement of feminism.

Feminist movements and ideas have paved the way for solutions to gender inequality, such as women’s political representation and leadership, women’s economic empowerment, property rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights etc. Simply put, feminism is the mother of gender equality and feminism seeks for and remains more than just the equality of the genders.  Radical Feminism: Feminism is a broad movement and women are a heterogeneous group, as such, there are many approaches taken, towards the same goal. Radical feminism is one such approach within feminism, which takes the belief that the root cause is patriarchy in which women are devalued.  Feminists see patriarchy to be at the core of most oppressive power structures. It therefore calls for the reordering of society by eliminating male supremacy in all contexts. This is not to say that radical feminists want to eliminate men – quite the opposite. Radical feminists want to eliminate traditional, discriminatory and rigid gender roles and gender stereotypes from the equation, as these are seen as oppressive patriarchal tools and because they hinder personal development, healthy relationships and mental health, and we believe that the liberation from this oppression will not benefit women only. Most importantly, radical feminists are feminists. There is backlash for feminists identifying as “radical because it is wrongly perceived to be “too much” or “too harsh” or “men haters”; as explained above, and this is far from the truth. These attacks are linked to patriarchal views on what women should be: women should be nice, women should be calm, women should be polite. Attacking radical feminists for pointing out the obvious – that society is structured in a way that oppresses women on the basis of them not being men – is to tell women to “ask nicely”. It is ok to be angry and it makes even more sense for women to be angry at a system that oppresses them.   

Feminism and male engagement: As explained above, feminism is not set out to discriminate against or spread hatred of men, neither does it seek to replace male supremacy with female supremacy, as many believe. It is very crucial that the purpose and goal of feminism remains clear, with the goal being equality and justice, and the liberation of women, who have historically been marginalised in most societies.  Feminists find it crucial to support and seek engagement of all allies of the movement, including male allies. Like Annette Mukiga put it in the article, “men engage is just a strategy and not an end in itself”. Therefore, it remains crucial that alongside the allies, women own and lead the movement.

Feminism as a “western” concept: In most Afican contexts including in Rwanda, Feminism has been wrongly labelled as “Western”. Whereas some of the more organised feminist movements started and became famous in the West, feminism is and has always been embedded in every society and culture even though it may not have been termed as “feminism”, but the principles and practices were for the same purposes. This is the case for Africa too and other parts of the world. In every culture there has always been people, women, that have refused and denounced patriarchal social norms and fought for liberation of women socially, culturally, politically and economically. Many examples exist in the Rwandan society as well for example the story of Rwandan female warrior Ndabaga which happened in pre colonial Rwanda.

The importance of feminist safe spaces for young advocates at high level regional forums.

Toyin Chukwudozie, Nigeria 

In April 2019, people from across the different parts of the African continent gathered in Marrakech, Morocco with a common agenda: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The ambition was great on reviewing the progress and challenges of the continent in the implementation of SDGs 4- Quality Education, 8 -Decent Work, 10 – Reduced Inequalities, 13 – Climate Change, 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions,  and 17- Partnerships.

A key objective of my participation was to sum my voice to those of other activists at the regional forum to apply a human rights approach to the recommendations and ensure that our governments agree on outcomes that guarantee inclusiveness and equality, especially for women and girls, for the goals under review. Amidst the festival of the SDGs in Africa, my participation in different side events and parallel sessions presented the opportunity for me to learn and influence, simultaneously.

‘The Space’ organized by SPECTRA and RESURJ was the coolest thing for young women who were first timers at the regional forum. It was a safe space for us to share exactly what our experiences were as newcomers to the space including our experience on the SDGs process, the challenges and the wins we have had so far. We discussed our contributions towards influencing the final key outcome messages. It was interesting to know that most of the young women in ‘the space’ shared the same concerns about how overwhelming such spaces can be. We agreed that some level of preparation as to what engagement at such forums is really like, would be beneficial for younger women. A key highlight of ‘the space’ for me was the intergenerational dialogue that was possible with the presence of feminists who have been in these spaces for a long time. Their experience was brought to bear in discussions around strategies for engagement at the parallel sessions as well as their support to back us up if and when we needed support. This indicates sustainability by providing mentoring and support as well as making room for younger and more modern ideas.

The issue of shrinking civil society space was evident at the forum. The feminist movement and voices are not daunted by this though, as was evident in the way we organized and in the way we rallied other groups at the ARFSD ’19 . One key outcome for us was our push for concrete and actionable next steps towards the establishment of the African Regional Civil Society Engagement and Coordination Mechanism which will strengthen engagement and influence for civil society in the VNRs, the regional forum and the HLPF towards achieving the SDGs. This was very motivating especially for the younger women. We must continue to sustain the movement and be the influence in national, regional and global spaces representing the feminist perspective.

‘Leave no one behind’ theory vs practice: The case of the 5th African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

Sibusiso Malunga, Zambia

This is a reflection of my experience at the 5th African Regional Forum which was held in Morocco from 16th – 18th April, 2019. My participation was supported by RESURJ through Pepeta which is a Southern Africa Feminist collective. I was excited when I heard the theme for the forum was ‘Leave no one behind’ because as a radical feminist, the social justice issues that I push for have to do with marginalised communities, and governments in Africa have continuously excluded marginalised communities in programming around sustainable development. I expected the forum to start dialogue on marginalised persons living in Africa. By marginalised, I zero in on LGBTQ, sex workers and individuals seeking abortion services.

It is true that states have made progress towards Sustainable development for the general population. Issues pertaining to the marginalised groups were side-lined in review on progress made by states as they were assumed to be within the general population. The discourse completely ignored the nuances of marginalised people’s lives which directly impact on the access to services and the quality of life. There are treaties that African governments are signatory to which push for the protection and promotion of marginalised women’s rights. These have been ignored at regional and continental level as evidenced at the 5th African Regional forum on Sustainable development through the language used and the final recommendations.

There was a sense among advocates and activists participating at the forum that trying to bring up contentious issues (read marginalised people) will push the governments to be resistant towards some general proposed interventions. I agree with this to an extent but I feel this was an opportunity for us to remind our states that there are people who are being left behind despite the theme being ‘Leave no one behind’. If our aim is to leave no one behind, we need to reflect on who is not at the table when the discussions are ongoing and collectively mobilize ourselves to ensure that we move together towards Universal Human Rights. As the saying goes, ‘If you are not at the table, you are definitely on the menu’. 

The goal of our reflections is to highlight the importance of having diverse voices and direct sources from feminists from the Global South as part of the global conversation on sexual and reproductive justice and to challenge who gets to frame the headlines while questioning why. In addition, we hope these reflections support the shift towards creating more inclusive movements that help undermine the discursive hierarchies that reproduce oppression.