My Views on Transgender Feminism

Feminism is alive and constantly redefining itself. It has long been an empowering roar fed by the voices of all kinds of women. Today, something else can be heard too. It’s the sound of thousands of women – transgender, transexual and intersexual women – who have found their own voice, strength and value with the help of feminism.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned feminist, recently stated that the life experiences of transgender women can’t be the same as cisgender women, because, in her opinion, they have experienced male privileges before transitioning.

“It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I would like to explain why this is relevant for the trans community. From the beginning of our lives, we’ve had this ever-present feeling that we don’t belong. We feel as strangers in our own bodies. We don’t fit in with boys, we don’t fit in with girls. Boys are too tough for most of us. Girls see us as trustworthy friends, but never as one of them.

As we explore our own identities, we get our own dose of daily bullshit: “You should probably cut your hair, you’ll look manlier“, “You should date a girl. People are talking about how you’ve never dated one before“. The experience is, of course, different from person to person, but in the end most of trans women are treated like this before coming out openly as trans.

I can only agree with the part where Ngozi Adichie says that we can’t equate our experiences. But let’s keep in mind that feminism is made by a multitude of experiences.

“A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Trans women aren’t treated “as male by the world“. We are raised as boys – we are expected to look like one and act like one. But we never felt like one. Every time we were taught a new ‘boy code‘ or told that “a man shouldn’t waste his time on making female friends if it’s not to have sex with them“, we feel as uncomfortable as a cisgender girl would feel listening to that. Whenever we have a female role mode, we are told to get a manlier one. Whenever we buy feminine clothes or straighten our hair, we are told we look like fags. Our male friends make fun of us.

Sadly, that’s where our experiences as trans women equate to the experiences of cisgender women. People are always expecting us to behave a certain way, based purely on our gender. That’s why I don’t think experiencing male privileges for some time is enough to push trans women away from the rest of women.

I’m not writing this to raise my opinion over Ngozi Adichies. Some trans women have benefited from male privilege before transitioning, but not all have. I’m writing this because trans women’s testimonies need to be heard so we can create an accurate and inclusive picture of the experiences of trans women. After all, having different life experiences shouldn’t separate trans women from other women. Some of us have experienced some kinds of privileges, but we are still contributing to the fight for equality. Some people are willing to share their time with people who need it, others contribute with their expertise and knowledge. We each need to be aware of our position and to do our best to help others from where we are.

It’s always going to be easier for someone and harder for the rest. I don’t think that should lead us to divide feminism. Controversial opinions should be used as tools to spark civilized discussion. Let’s bring something good out of this. Talking about our differences is what strengthens feminism. Plurality is what helps us to understand and support each other.

Cover photo credit: Stephanie Ecate

Activism in Indonesia: a movement for change

It has been a couple of weeks since I got back home from an intense week in Indonesia. With our project Let’s Talk Equality, my project partner Anna and I visited several organizations and doctors in the suburbs of Jakarta and Bali. The objective of the trip was to gather footage for our documentary on maternal health in Sweden and Indonesia.

I was completely blown away by the positive energy present in every office I visited. Despite facing a lot of resistance, people were determined and confident that it was worth all the work. Having tried to understand the slow and difficult process for change in Indonesia, I will try to share some of my observations here, before the launch of our documentary later this spring.

Having grown up in Sweden, I was raised under the impression that certain privileges were certainties. Like legal abortions. Low maternal mortality rates. Free contraception. Paid paternity leave. The right to love regardless of gender. In Indonesia, none of these “certainties” exist. In fact, abortion is illegal. As is homosexuality. Parental leave is exclusive for mothers and limited to 3 months only. Not everyone have access to contraceptives. The lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 210.  Also, child marriage is still legal; the legal age of marriage for girls is 16 but 18 for boys. To me, these facts seemed surreal. How can it be legal for a man to marry a child, but not another man?

On a happier note, there are plenty of organizations working to change these facts and we had the privilege of visiting some of them. One was the White Ribbon Alliance (or Aliansi Pita Putih Indonesia), who welcomed us to busy Jakarta. Their mission is to improve the situation for mothers and families all over the country by working and educating communities in what they call “Alert Villages”.

One of these villages is called Mekarsari. Mekarsari is a densely populated and poor village a couple of hours outside of Jakarta. The village has over 60 000 citizens and was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The streets were narrow, fitting only some street vendors and motorcycles. The climate was incredibly humid, and despite the large population the pace was slow and sleepy. The mayor is a woman, which I was told was a rarity. Although she did not speak English, she showed us her office and the demographics of the city. One of the main programs for improved health in Indonesia is free healthcare for the poorer citizens – an important step for a country with big economic inequalities.

We participated in a local class for elderly and pregnant women, held every second week. In the class, a midwife explained some common signs of pregnancy. Although we did not understand her words, it was clear that the audience enjoyed the light-hearted way she delivered the information. Women of all ages, including kids, were sitting on the floor and watching patiently in the small and hot room.

IMG_4995Afterwards, we were asked questions about Sweden, and everyone found it amusing that there are 10 million people in such a big country – a number equivalent to the population in city of Jakarta. We were told that after Indonesia gained independence, the president installed a policy banning family planning and contraception, since “a big country should have a big population”. Now, Indonesia works in many ways to promote family planning in their overpopulated country. People were also amazed by the fact that we had access to free contraception, and that us Swedes could get abortions as many time as we wanted without even having to give a reason for it. We finished up by taking some pictures, and left the clinic with a lot to think about.

Entering into a different society like that is a very special thing. Seeing the dirty streets of the town made me value the clean and spacious environment I live in, and even though I had read of the differences, it was completely different to see them for myself. Never have I met so many inspiring people and learned so much in so few days. My experiences are too many to fit into one single blog post, so I will continue my story in a short series. Until the next post, you can be inspired by White Ribbon Alliance’s important work here.

Photo credits: Tilde Holme

#InvestInUGchildren Media Tour: Teenage Pregnancy in Arua District, Uganda

It’s a humid Saturday morning when we arrive at Bondo Health center in our air-conditioned land rovers to have a meeting with health workers, teenage mothers and community members. I enter the stuffy metal tin roofed meeting room a little late, and find everyone settled on concrete benches.

All eyes are on a young pregnant woman in the corner, I realise as the discussion is going on that she is not really a full grown adult woman, she is a pregnant teenage girl. Her hands are shaking, she can barely get a word out of her mouth. Her eyes keep darting around the room looking for help. Anyone would feel nervous too, imagine sitting in a room full of strangers while they ask you, “How could you allow yourself to get pregnant?” “Will you be returning to school once you’ve had the baby?”

It must be too overwhelming for a young girl like her, and I doubt she ever considered the consequences of her pregnancy. We continue to ask our questions as though we understand (with our NGO jargon) what it means to be a girl like her. We ask our questions as though opportunities in this area are growing and falling off trees like unwanted over-ripe mangoes.

At first she refuses to answer the questions and others decide to answer for her, They say “Her father died, Her mother went mad, there is nobody to guide her…..” Finally my boss asks, ” What happened to the man who made her pregnant?” There is some mumbling among the participants which dies down immediately and then the question is forgotten, and silence returns. Again my boss insists, “What happened to the man who made her pregnant?” To which there is silence until one brave middle-aged man stands up and says, “You see if she lived closer to me I would have advised her like a daughter to stay away from men, but the children of these days they are different. What can we do?” He shrugs his shoulders and sits down. He seems proud of himself thinking he has said what the NGOs want him to say. But they have still failed to answer the question.

This man who impregnated her has quite simply and quickly been absolved of all responsibility. By now the young girl has already made her way to the back of the room. Unrecognizable among the crowd, she can relax and let them talk as though she isn’t there. Eventually my boss asks another question, “What would the women in this community like to see happen so that girls are better protected from defilement?” He kindly gestures towards the women in the room as he talks to the translator. First there is silence, except for the children playing outside. My boss asks his question again and some smiles appear on the women’s faces. Can you imagine a man actually ignoring what the men have said and now seeking the women’s opinions? Then finally one woman is brave enough to stand up and say, “Here we have no voice. In our community it is the men who make all the decisions. Even if it is our hardwork that brings in the income, it makes no difference, for it is the men who decide how to spend the money, some days you can even fight with your husband to pay school fees for your children.”


 

The #InvestUGchildren campaign was initiated by UNICEF Uganda in 2014. It aims to highlight the many issues affecting children across Uganda that need to be addressed as part of the vision of becoming a modern, competitive and prosperous, upper middle income country by 2040. According to the Situation of Children in Uganda Report, 1 in 4 teenage girls are pregnant or have a child and 15% of  women were married by the age of 15 years.  During the recent media tour that took place in December 2015, UNICEF Uganda traveled with journalists from a range of national media houses to 6 districts (in Northern and Eastern Uganda) for a period of five days. This blog post was inspired by a community discussion that took place in Arua district.

Featured Image: UNICEF Uganda. A nurse comforts a 16-year-old pregnant girl in Arua Saturday 5 December 2015. After her mother died, her father suffered mental breakdown and she had to drop out of school. She was impregnated by a man who abandoned her.

Data Revolution in Post 2015: Who, What and How!

The important role of data in making informed decisions has been articulated in the Post-2015 development discussions. However, too often data is usually released after a long time at best and is inaccurate (missing marginalized groups in the society) or driven by donor priorities at worst. The unfortunate result of this is that governments end up using inaccurate data to come up with incorrect policies.  While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) only tracked eight goals and eighteen targets, the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require governments to report national progress against a whooping seventeen goals and one hundred and sixty nine targets.

At an event, organized by Johnson & Johnson and partners dubbed “Data for Decision Making: Post -2015 Health Measurement and Accountability,” panelists were able to unpackage what it will take to realize the data revolution. Below are some of the highlights.

The Politics of Measurement: Who, What and How!

The amount of data being generated daily has grown immensely. According to one study, the world’s data produced in the last two years has increased by 90%! The great task that lies ahead is finding data to track the 17 goals and 169 targets in the SDGs compared with eight goals and 18 targets in the MDGs.  First of all, when it comes to who is being measured, women and girls are least covered especially when data is not disaggregated by age and sex.

“Gender disaggregated data is needed to not only make women and girls visible but also to visualise inequalities and disparities.”

Data4GlobalGoalsBeyond measuring women and girls, the ‘what’ gets measured equally needs careful consideration.  For example, a lot of issues that impact women and girls remain unaccounted for and invisible the policy agendas. As Kaelan Moat from McMaster Health Forum rightfully says, “The Post Development Agenda should not just be about indicators being reported back, that doesn’t always tell us everything that is happening, but the systematic and transparent analysis of the policies governments are putting in place so as to reach their targets.” Yes, more girls are attending school but data should be nuanced so as to be able to speak more about the quality of education they are getting, safety of the learning environment and the transition rates.

Youth are so much more equipped to handle data and engaging with technology. We must not overlook the important role of participatory evidence. The data revolution needs to incorporate the realities, voices and experiences of poverty from women and girls. This includes embracing non-traditional methods such as new forms of media such as Facebook and Twitter in data collection and sharing. A good example is how CDC is using Facebook Sampling (FBS) to conduct a research study for HIV Sexual Behavior. A few of the issues that must be considered in as far as collecting data in the Post 2015 development agenda as highlighted by the panelists include: control and access (“Open Data”) and integrity in not only how the data is  collected but also in the analyzing and sharing the data.

Better Data, Better Decisions

Dr. Christine Sow, Executive Director of the Global Health Coalition was keen to point out that, “Having data does not necessarily mean we have accountability mechanisms.” Partnerships will play an important role in ensuring that data shared indeed leads to action. Just as we
invest in the collection of data and equal and complementary effort needs to be focused on creating a healthy ecosystem for data sharing and accountability channels. The data revolution cannot happen where there is limited ability to take advantage of new technology or make information available to citizens.  For governments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals there must be a push for better data to allow real progress to be tracked and to allow for leaders to be held accountable.

Follow @GirlsGlobe @felogene on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope, @JNJGlobalHealth,@FHI360, @WomenDeliver and #GlobalGoalsLive for coverage related to the United Nations General Assembly Week – and the health and rights of women and girls in particular.

Featured Photo Credit: A trainee nurse who attends the nursing college that receives technical support from MCHIP poses for photographs in  Dehradun, India Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (Kate Holt/ MCHIP)