JASS Blog

by Rosanna Langara on June 18, 2021 at 9:27 am
Almost a year ago, 20 members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community were arrested and detained on 26 June 2020 as they led the Pride March in commemoration of the International Pride Month in Manila, Philippines. Bahaghari Philippines, together with their allies in Salinlahi (an alliance of child rights advocates), Gabriela Women’s Party, and GABRIELA were detained for five days. Holding a protest rally in Mendiola, Manila was a bold move; it was the first time that a group dared to protest near the presidential palace since COVID-19 militarist lockdown restrictions were first imposed in March 2020. 


"At its very core, Pride is, and will always be, a protest; Pride means fighting back. And so we marched to Mendiola, demanding the right to health, economic aid, and democracy,” said Carla Nicoyco, chairperson of the LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari Philippines. Carla was among the 20 detained and charged with resistance and disobedience to authority, illegal assembly, and violation of Republic Act No. 11332, the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases. They were released five days later but were further investigated, and the charges against them were only dismissed on 26 October 2020. Carla added, “We can say that we were disappointed but not surprised with the violence Pride 20 experienced under the hands of the police. We experienced different forms of torture and treatment for almost five days -- from psychological warfare to sexual harassment. We were only given a corner while male and female detainees were kept in separate quarters.”

After their release, the government passed the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law. “I noticed the shift in how the LGBTQ+ community in the country views Pride from something that is celebratory into something of a protest. This is a consequence of the worsening conditions of the LGBTQ+ community. The relentless attacks on leftists intensified. With the new law, the government has additional justification for attacking its critics -- leftists or ordinary people alike. This government is so sensitive to criticisms on its colossal shortcomings,” said Carla.

Bahaghari echoes the call of many justice groups opposing the Anti-Terrorism Law, which lists broad provisions for criminalizing many forms of dissent. Bahaghari also criticizes the Philippine government for its militarized response to the pandemic and an absence of aid and support to its people. 

It was inspiring to see the overwhelming support extended by many groups and individuals, objecting to the detention of the Pride protesters, which, according to Carla, was an important factor for their release. JASS was one of the first organizations to support Pride 20. A day after the Pride protesters’ arrest, JASS mobilized 50 local, regional, and international organizations to sign a global solidarity statement calling for the release of the 20 LGBTQ+ activists and advocates. “The global unity statement and the swift support from JASS not only provided help with our immediate needs, but it also gave us political and moral support. The messages and actions by JASS’ broader network of allies and partners were critical” said Carla. “We endured all the hardships for almost five days. We would not have survived if it were not for different organizations and individuals here and abroad who gave material and moral support,” Carla added. As the Pride 20 were locked up in cramped quarters with nothing to sleep on but the cold floors, JASS provided for their beddings. Upon release, JASS also supported their healthcare needs including COVID-19 testing while in quarantine for two weeks through the Mobilization Fund. JASS also facilitated connections and gave recommendations to several protection organizations for their legal defense and other needs. 

After their release, the Pride 20 protesters filed a counter-charge against the police for unlawful arrest, physical injuries, and maltreatment. When the lockdown policies eased in Metro Manila, Carla and the rest of the Bahaghari continued their organizing with urban poor communities: “When the government eased  travel restrictions during lockdown, we were able to go back to the communities. With the funds from JASS, we were able to reach out and organize. The intensified attacks on activists and peasant rights organizers is fueling anger. But we are harnessing that anger and transforming it into energy.” Bahaghari established new chapters in several provinces in the country. Bahaghari’s social media pages garnered thousands of likes and followers in just a span of a few months. They plan to continue to build the momentum through sustained online and offline mobilizing and organizing.

Recently, Bahaghari led protest actions following the killing of transgender man Ebeng Mayor. Ebeng was mutilated, raped, and murdered. His body was discovered last month. “It is a clear example of a hate crime. We condemn this murder. We seek justice for Ebeng. We call for the arrest and imprisonment of the perpetrators. We also want the Philippine Congress to certify the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill. LGBTQ+ people are vulnerable to violence, especially hate crimes. It has been 21 years since the SOGIE Equality Bill was re-filed in Congress. It remains unpassed. It is as old as Ebeng who was 21 years old,” said Carla.  

Bahaghari will once again lead the Pride protest this month. They are expecting thousands of LGBTQ+ and supporters to come out to join the demonstrations against the Duterte government’s authoritarianism and criminal negligence. Carla concluded with a rousing message addressed to the LGBTQ+ community: “Us queers have lived our days in hiding and fear. We're living in a world that does not want us to exist. Like other oppressed sectors of society, we've experienced abuse, injustice, and violence first hand. We've been handed our sorry lot by the world when we know there's a better one. But we're here. We persist against all odds. Our existence is resistance.” 

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by JASS on March 8, 2021 at 4:39 am

Women have been at the forefront of the sustained resistance to stop the military coup and demand for democracy in Myanmar. Since 1 Feb 2021, when the military seized power, people from different communities and sectors took to the streets, with women making up for 60% of the thousands protesting every day. Most women activists and feminists say that they need to win this time, otherwise, “we have no words to say to our younger generation and kids.”

Women constitute more than half of Myanmar’s 51 million population (including 135 ethnic groups). Women across ethnic groups and movements are actively and creatively leading and mobilizing people to participate in the civil obedience and seeking support from others, including lobbying the regional and international community. “I bang pots and pans, [and] never thought I would become a safety guard, but I am; the age of fear is over...We formed civilian night guards at wards to protect ourselves from armed forces. Brave women are night angels. We won’t sleep until we gain democracy in the country where I live,” says feminist, Mai T. Sui Leng. 

women garment workers march in MynamarGarment workers—70% being women—were the first among others such as medical workers, government civil servants, teachers, and their students to join the civil disobedience and call for street protests. According to Andrew Tillett-Sake, a labor organizer based in Myanmar, "The sight of industrial workers, largely young, women garment workers seem to have deeply inspired the general public, broken down some of the fear, and catalyzed the massive protests and general strike we are seeing now.” However, the resistance has come with grave consequences as military forces crackdown on protestors with violence.Among the 1,200 people arrested, 30% are women and six women were identified among the dead,” says feminist, May Sabe Phyu.

Like everywhere, feminist and women activists in Myanmar struggle with discrimination, sexual harassment, and insults. Being violated on the streets, in their communities, in their homes is not new. Facing state violence committed by “security” forces, police, military personnel, and others is not new. A labor organizer, Myo Myo Aye says, “We, the Trade Union leaders, are being targeted and we’ve been hiding because we are listed as 'wanted'. The majority of the workers don’t get leave, but they are still joining the protests, and some face termination or deduction of their salary...Worker's life is unsafe. A few of the trade union federations urged factories to close for a month but some workers disagree because they fear the loss of income.” Kyal Sin, the 19-year-old killed on 3 March 2021 in Mandalay, deeply understood the danger she was in. Known as Angel, she left a message about her blood type, a contact number, and a request to donate her body in the event of her death. The black t-shirt she wore on the day she was shot said, “Everything will be ok.”

Feminist, Mi Kun Chan Non says, “Women are facing different difficulties in the demonstration. There is evidence that sexual harassment and the world should not watch us suffer. We need the full protection of human rights especially for women’s rights.”  While there is evidence, “in this moment of crisis, it is a challenge to document clear violation cases against people and human rights defenders; let alone by age or gender. There is also not much analysis written about the situation and harassment of women activists during the protests. But this is important to do,” says feminist Tin Tin Nyo.

activist_MyamnarAn activist and a woman lawyer, Daw Zar Li Aye says “This is the time for us to unite [in] solidarity regardless of gender and sexual orientation, religion and social status...As a woman lawyer, even just providing legal service to the people is challenging...but we, women lawyers, stand tall in our ethical duties to provide legal support even in front of prisons! Our role is to protect the human and legal rights of people. This is the time to respect each other, even a little thing we can do [adds] a little more relief and hope.”

The military coup has also ignited new reflections and awareness regarding the 10-year transition to democracy in Myanmar among its people. “When I was young, I just cheered for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She would be in power, and that’s what we wanted to see because we were looking at democracy not as a system, not as a collective thing, but more like a person. Having that person in power meant we lived in a democratic country. No, that was clearly the wrong idea, and I think people are starting to realize that. We are sick of personality-based politics and personality cults,” said a young feminist Thinzar Shunlei Yi.  

The coup has also given the people a clear view of the corporate actors supporting the military. As the feminist, Thinzar Shulei Yi urges the international community, “to support Myanmar, look at the Dirty List of companies supporting the military junta’s businesses and pressure these companies to stop working with junta.” And here is the list of countries involved in training and cooperation with Burmese military.

People outside Myanmar are paying attention. Some are closing their eyes and their mouths. Some, heartbroken to see young people every day killed in the streets, injured, detained, are trying to support in different ways. Those looking in, admire the young people’s courage, their sacrifice, their deep organizing; their strong stand to release Myanmar from the grip of the military.

The people, women, LGBTs and youth in Myanmar are organizing beyond the current crisis into the future, for a real democracy, by calling for the amendment of the Myanmar constitution to remove military power. Their ways of organizing and building the mass movement clearly demonstrate an understanding that democracy does not come from one person, or one political party, but collectively from the people’s power. “Unity among the people of Myanmar is very strong; so is unity among WHRD [women human rights defenders]… We people have to win,” says Mi Kun Chan Non.

Today on International Women’s Day, women in Myanmar, “Choose to Challenge Dictatorship”.  Stand and fight with Myanmar women and people…until we win.

IWD_Myanmar

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by JASS on December 4, 2020 at 1:46 am

This year, we are proud to be celebrating the 10th year of JASS’ annual regional campaign One Day, One Voice (ODOV), which aims to unite the initiatives of women across Southeast Asia around the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. 

The ODOV as a campaign continues to build from regional partners’ common ground and to strengthen sisterhood solidarity among Southeast Asian women around social and gender justice. It remains a vibrant testament to the power of sustained grassroots and local-to-regional organizing.

For 16 days (Nov. 25 – Dec. 10), thousands of women from Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Timor-Leste will spotlight this year’s ODOV theme, “People are the Solution!” through street protests, photo exhibits, murals, writing competitions, peace marches, online dialogues, panel discussions, Facebook live chats, Twitter rallies, and media events. 

Below are quotes from regional partners who share with us how being a part of ODOV for the past 10 years has impacted them. One Day, One Voice 2020 image - women united

“One of the biggest changes we are seeing is that more women are taking the lead in terms of movement building and being involved in political and social actions. The past ten years, many problems have remained more or less the same, however, women have become more vocal and have risen up as leaders in different movements. One factor for this is the continued efforts of women activists and organizers in educating people about women’s issues. Women have become more confident because they are now empowered with knowledge and skills. They are now more aware of their fundamental rights.”

“Today there are more opportunities for women activists to reach across transnational boundaries and unite with women in other countries. The expansion of this network of women’s organizations that JASS has helped in forming has been significant in uniting women and finding solutions to women’s issues. Workshops and the exchange of knowledge has helped in capacity building of women leaders in different communities both in their own countries and across borders.”

One Day, One Voice 2020 image - women in a protest“As a regional campaign, One Day One Voice (ODOV) has helped in raising the calls of women as: advocates, activists, human rights defenders and community leaders who have been given a platform in order to raise awareness about issues they feel strongly about. ODOV has also helped members test their new capacities for organizing and mobilizing, putting into practice movement building from the grassroots. JASS in particular has been instrumental in bringing women across countries together, and has been helpful in providing support - financially and through capacity building - to organizations keen on carrying out their projects: social media, creative and cultural activities, community discussions and actions.”

“One Day, One Voice (ODOV) is an opportunity for us to voice against tyranny, militarism, foreign intervention, misogyny, and all other concerns that threaten our human rights. This is a moment for sisterhood and a space for solidarity.”

“One Day, One Voice (ODOV) showcases the local-to-global organizing of women of Southeast Asia. We are proud to be part of the militant tradition of activism of the women’s movement of the Philippines.”

“It is a movement platform that joins diverse networks together across the region. It is a space to strengthen our power, to collect our voice, and to solve injustice and all kinds of violence against women. We are one. We stand together for our rights.”  

“Violence against women has been in existence for a long time. It has become worse in recent times. I invite you all not just to come celebrate with us the ODOV and the 16 One Day, One Voice 2020 image - women in the forest protecting their landDays of Activism against Gender-based Violence -- but also to fight with us -- especially women as women human rights defenders and as land defenders who fight for life.”  

The solidarity actions kicked off on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25) and will culminate on the International Human Rights Day (December 10). For 16 days, JASS highlights the importance of collective strength by continuing to speak out to end violence against women defenders, sexual violence, and other human rights violations. JASS is also centering women-led responses to address the pandemic, the disasters, as well as the gender-based violence and state-sponsored violence in the communities.

You can also be a part of the conversation! Let us know “Why are you joining this year’s ODOV?” Share your answers with us by posting it on Facebook and Twitter, tag @JASSSEA and use the hashtags #1Day1Voice and #PeopleAreTheSolution. Help  us share the messages of hope and resistance, generated by JASS and our many partners and allies around the region. Cheers to another ten years of feminist movement organizing to end violence!

 

 

Written and compiled by: Hoda Baraka

 

 

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