Close your eyes and imagine for a second. Imagine that you are living in a country where the very fabric of who you are puts you at risk of persecution. Imagine that you are living in a country where an inherent part of your being is the reason you are being targeted for a life sentence. Imagine that you are living in a country where you are forced to try and hide a part of yourself that you cannot control.
Right now as I write, and as you read, this is the reality for hundreds of LGBTQ+ individuals in Tanzania. These people have been forced to flee or go into hiding after a senior official commenced a taskforce with the sole aim of identifying and punishing gay people. Paul Makonda, the head of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, announced in late October that he had put together a team of officials and police that would intensify persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, who would face lengthy prison sentences if arrested. Makonda is a devout Christian who has stated that homosexuality “tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians” and that he would prefer to anger Western liberal countries than to anger God. Makonda subsequently released an interview on YouTube, calling for Tanzanians to report gay people to the authorities, an action with an unmistakable whiff of Nazi Germany surrounding it.
The Guardian spoke to LGBTQ+ activists who told stories of their houses being raided and people fleeing the cities for the countryside, describing the situation hauntingly as “open season on gay people”. The activists stated that lists of names had been published on social media in order to “out” people. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, responded to the worrying situation in Tanzania by releasing a statement warning that, “this could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”
While the Tanzanian foreign ministry has not explicitly endorsed Makonda’s actions, the office has been a supporter of several homophobic measures since 2015. The government has reacted to the creation of the “task force” by saying that the action is the personal position of Paul Makonda and not of the official government. Tanzania’s colonial constitution and laws prohibit same-sex relations and in October 2017, 13 health and human rights activists were arrested and detained for promoting “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”, an offence which can lead to 30 years or more in a jail cell. Furthermore, in October 2016, the Minister of Health imposed a directive which suspended the provision of HIV/AIDS services and ordered the closure of clinics supporting LGBTQ+ individuals.
On November 6, 10 men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar after police were tipped off about a possible same-sex marriage ceremony. Amnesty International officials expressed fear that the individuals would be subjected to forced anal examinations, the government’s method of choice for finding “proof” of homosexual activity among men.
Since the introduction of the barbarian persecution team, Denmark, Tanzania’s second biggest aid donor, has decided to suspend 9.8 million dollars of pledged aid money, while the World Bank has stated that it will not go through with a plan to loan Tanzania 300 million dollars.
It is absolutely chilling to think that such hatred and intolerance still exists in such an open atmosphere and it is even more chilling to think that these ideas are being spread under the guise of “religious beliefs” and “morality”. While it may seem like such heinous persecution exists only in another world and another time, the reality is that this fear is just daily life for hundreds of individuals in Tanzania.
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Image courtesy of Jiroe at Unsplash
Claudia Nussbaumer continues her investigation into the concept of gender as it is performed in different indigenous communities around the world, this week unpacking the Maori example.
The Maori are an indigenous community hailing from New Zealand. They are descended from eastern Polynesian settlers, who arrived in New Zealand between 1250 and 1300. Maori culture, identity and politics are unique having blossomed and grown over centuries of isolation, before the arrival of the British in the early 1800s. Today, the Maori population in New Zealand is thought to stand at about 885,000 people.
In preparation for this article, I sat down with Hana Tapiata, a lifestyle blogger who lives by traditional indigenous philosophies and mātauranga Māori (Maori knowledge). “Growing up te ao Māori was all I knew” Tapiata tells me. ” I was immersed in it before I was even born, it’s been the foundation upon which I’ve been able to grow.”
Like with so many indigenous communities, Maori traditions and lifestyles before the arrival of foreigners is challenging to uncover- a lot has been lost to time. When discussing the traditional Maori construction of gender and its differences with the ‘western’ conception, Tapiata understands Māori knowledge to acknowledge ‘te ira tāne’ and ‘te ira wahine’, or the male and female energies present within each of us. “There’s a duality in all things, some possessing or expressing more of one than the other.”
The roles of men and women in Maori society have historically been very different. The primary role of men was typical to most societies: Men were the provider and defender. The rank of a man was seen by the amount of facial tattoos he had accrued. Women were not allowed to have full-face tattoos, but they could have tattoos below their lips. Regarding the rank, the same was true for women, the more tattoos they had, the higher their rank. Although women were treated as sacred due to their child-bearing abilities, research suggests that they received their ranks from ancestors and husbands. Despite traditional Maori culture accepting a wider, more fluid, definition of gender performance in areas, it seems that gender roles still operated as a dichotomy.
Nowadays Maori traditions and rituals have changed and people have assimilated to ‘western’ ideas and integrated into mainstream society. In many ways, Maori are still disadvantaged in Kiwi society today. The Waitangi Tribunal, established in 1975, has attempted to undo many of the wrongs perpetrated against the Maori people. Progress has been made but injustices and racism still persist in New Zealand society. According to Hana, the biggest challenges facing the Maori community today have to do with identity and connection. Before the arrival of foreigners, there was a more clear-cut definition of how one could identify with their iwi (tribe). “With our changing world and a mix of whakapapa (descent, genealogy) within many of us, that definition of how we connect and identify with being Māori hasn’t evolved with us.”
Hana has recently come out with a book called ‘Self awareness doesn’t begin with self’ about interpreting ancient knowledge and how to implement that into your daily life.
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Claudia Nussbaumer continues her series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ this week looking at Inuit communities of Greenland, Canada and Alaska.
The Inuit (meaning, ‘the people’) are a large group of culturally similar communities living in the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. The total population is around 150,000.
There are four aspects, which are markers for social hierarchy in traditional Inuit culture: The community as a whole, leadership, gender and marital relationships and the relationship between the Inuit and the people of Canada.
As Inuit people hold their traditions in high regard, elders play a crucial role within the Inuit community. They are thought to be the best source of knowledge when it comes to practices and teachings. Women and men alike are recognised as elders. Elders are not literally regarded as leaders of the community, yet their philosophy is the foundation of Inuit society.
Those chosen to lead are elected on the basis of their ability to communicate the elders’ teachings to the entire community. They act merely as spokespersons rather than decision makers. Inuit society is very communal and governing is regulated by consensus. There is no obligation to obey the decisions made by leaders, though most of the time they are respected as they have the elders’ blessing and the best interests of the community in mind.
Modern conceptions of gender often experience tension with more traditional practices, long considered the norm within Inuit communities. Traditionally, men would be in charge of hunting and gathering, leaving women to bear the brunt of household decisions. Men and women were divided and tasked with gendered roles for the continuance of society. While men would engage in the hunt itself, women would look after the men when they returned, sewing their clothes from the animal skins, cooking meals and performing other tasks vital to survival. Women were, however, free to learn traditionally male skills.
With government-led forced resettlement, traditional Inuit society underwent a radical change. Inuit communities stopped living in camps and started living in more ‘modern’ communities where hunting became less important for survival. Modern wage-jobs became the norm and consequently, had a major effect on gender roles. Women entered the workforce and were empowered through doing so. This change grated with traditional practices of gender that Inuit society had long practiced.
Women have become, in many cases, the primary provider within their families. However, working a wage job whilst looking after children and doing domestic housework is a ‘double burden’ for many women. The opinion of many women is that their traditional social roles should be modified to reflect their changing society, and it should be recognised that these roles often limit the power of women within their communities. The ideas of equality pose potential conflicts with the communitarian ideas of Inuit society, especially as older generations are more likely to conform to the traditional values.
With his rise to the Vietnamese presidency, Nguyen Phu Trong became the latest in a series of Asian leaders to consolidate power. Like China’s Xi Jinping, who has amassed the greatest amount of power in China since Mao Zedong, Trong is set to become the most powerful figure in Vietnamese politics since Ho Chi Minh and Truong Chinh.
Vietnam is controlled by a committee, which is made up of four posts, typically held by four different individuals, in order to avoid any one person wielding too much influence. These positions include the National Assembly Chair, Prime Minister, President, and the National Communist Party General Secretary. Nguyen Phu Trong has held the National Communist Party General Secretary position since 2011, and on October 23, 2018, after the death of President Tran Dai Quang, he was elected as the next President of Vietnam.
This ascent has led to comparisons to China’s Xi Jinping, who currently serves as the General Secretary of China’s Communist Party and as the President of China, who had the Chinese presidential term limits abolished last year, allowing him to remain president for life.
It is so far unknown what Trong will do with his new power, but the trend of strongmen leaders is a growing one, and possibly a lasting development.
Image courtesy of The World Bank Photo Collection at Flickr
What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.
Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.
In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.
In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.
The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.
In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.
As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.
Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr
Armistead Maupin’s Babycakes, the fourth novel of Tales of the City, is a wonderfully chaotic, humorous, and poignant portrayal of life in San Francisco in the early 1980s.
The series delves into the lives of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane, the quirky domain of the eccentric transgender landlady, Anna Madrigal. Other residents include the gentle, gay Michael Tolliver (Mouse), the naive television reporter Mary Ann, and her lawyer-turned-waiter husband Brian Hawkins. Originally appearing as a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Maupin’s Tales unravelled gay, lesbian and transgender life for a mainstream audience. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Maupin reflected that, in his own opinion, his greatest contribution to the world was normalising homosexuality.
But Maupin achieved much more than this. He was the first writer to introduce an AIDs storyline to his work, at a time when very few were acknowledging the terrifying epidemic. His novels bear witness to the suffering of those who were killed by the disease and the grief of loved ones left behind.
Much of Babycakes is concerned with the grief of Mouse who lost his partner, Jon Fielding to AIDs. However, Maupin is never despairing; joy and light always find a way to penetrate even the darkest tragedy. With the constant support of his fellow residents at Barbary Lane, Mouse begins to improve: “But nothing could shake his nagging suspicion that life was finally getting better.” Maupin’s message is quietly reassuring – with the help of our friends we can’t stay sad forever.
Babycakes simply explodes with life and colour. Maupin’s work is an all-inclusive study of humanity, of the trials and tribulations faced by all mankind. The backstory of the dwarf manicurist Miss Treves, whom Mouse befriends in London, is just as important as Mary Ann and Brian’s struggle to conceive a child. There is a great sense of interconnectedness throughout the novel, as the characters’ lives meet and overlap, often in very unlikely circumstances. But the wild coincidences are never jarring; Maupin creates an atmosphere where anything seems possible.
Image courtesy of Eric Ward at Unsplash