Ms. Global: Feminists Create Transnational Abortion Network; Syrian NGO Supports LGBTQ Rights; The World’s First Openly Gay Head of State

The U.S. ranks as the 19th most dangerous country for women, 11th in maternal mortality, 30th in closing the gender pay gap, 75th in women’s political representation, and painfully lacks paid family leave and equal access to health care. But Ms. has always understood: Feminist movements around the world hold answers to some of the U.S.’s most intractable problems. Ms. Global is taking note of feminists worldwide.


Canada

+ While its southern neighbor seeks to roll back access, the government of Canada allocates more than $3.5 million ($2.7m USD) to national abortion projects. 

The funding will be distributed to Canadian organizations such as Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Action Canada) and the National Abortion Federation Canada (NAF Canada). Action Canada’s funding will cover travel costs and other logistical support to pregnant individuals, while NAF Canada will focus their project on training abortion providers and expanding the capacity of various abortion facilities. 

While abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, barriers for those seeking abortion include a lack of financial resources and persistent stigma. These barriers are compounded for minority groups—specifically Indigenous peoples, youth and members of the LGBTQ community. This project hopes to break down many deeply entrenched systemic issues. 

“Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, and these projects will help build a more inclusive health care system,” said Marci Ien, Canada’s minister for women and gender equality and youth.

Members of feminist collectives march in Mexico City, on Sep. 28, 2021, the Global Day of Action in support of legal, free and safe abortion in Mexico and Latin America. (Gerardo Vieyra / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Mexico

+ Mexican feminists help Americans get abortions by creating a transnational network. 

In January, nearly 70 abortion rights activists from Mexico gathered along the U.S.-Mexico border, where they strategized how to support Americans amid increasing abortion restrictions. Members of 30 different abortion rights groups from both countries formed the Red Transfronteriza, or Cross-Border Network. This network would guide Americans through the use of abortion pills and mail donated abortion medication to the U.S..

This is not the first time abortion networks have developed across Latin America. In 2000, the state of Guanajuato tried to limit abortion in cases of rape. In turn, Verónica Cruz founded Las Libres (“the free ones”) to organize demonstrations and educate others about abortion pills. 

“We began to develop accompaniment networks as a way of providing security,” Cruz said. “So that women would have that guarantee that, despite the fact that it was illegal, despite what the world said negatively about abortion, we had a group of people that were in favor of it, that were going to accompany them.”

This transnational feminist network seeks to show Americans how to use abortion pills and rely on an international support system, particularly if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

Malta

+ Abortion rights activists in Malta file a petition with national courts demanding the legalization of abortion. 

The petition, filed by the Women’s Rights Foundation, is on behalf of more than 188 people who support abortion rights—including those who have had abortions abroad, have carried unwanted pregnancies, or could become pregnant in the future and want to secure their right to terminate. 

“Among us there are persons who were raped or sexually abused, and were terrified that a pregnancy would result from that abuse, knowing full well that instead of finding support they would find condemnation if they had an abortion,” activists noted in a statement read aloud at the June 15 protest.

According to demonstrators, if their petition receives no response, they are prepared to launch a court case in the European Court of Human Rights. 

Malta is the only member of the European Union in which abortion is criminalized, and one of the few Western states with a total abortion ban. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, strongly urged the Maltese government to decriminalize abortion, noting that reproductive healthcare is critical.

Rebecca Gomperts lands a ship in Valencia, Spain. (Courtesy of Vessel press kit)

International 

+ Dr. Rebecca Gomperts continues to build an international abortion network. 

Dutch physician Dr. Rebecca Gomperts is the founder of Aid Access, Women on Waves and Women on Web. For more than 20 years, she has provided abortions to those in countries that restrict abortion access—mailing abortion pills around the globe and providing abortions aboard ships in international waters.  

Soon after Aid Access launched in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent Dr. Gomperts a cease and desist letter, but she continued to offer her services. Then, last fall, when Texas banned abortion after six weeks, she shipped individuals “advanced provision pills” so they could have them on hand. 

With the United States Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, Gomperts continues to partner with U.S.-based physicians in states where abortion is restricted. Those in states without a local doctor can even receive a consultation and abortion pills from a physician overseas.

+ The European Parliament issued a resolution calling on the United States to protect abortion rights amid efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

The impending Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court will have international implications, particularly as countries that rely on aid from the U.S. for public health programs may reverse their commitment to reproductive rights. 

This resolution is the first issued by European policymakers and responds to the potential rollback of abortion rights in countries such as Poland and the United States. In the resolution, members of Parliament urge President Biden to ensure access to safe and legal abortion, call on Texas to repeal Senate Bill 8, and request that other U.S. states bring their abortion legislation up to international standards for human rights. 

Risa Kaufman, director of U.S. human rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “The resolution by the European Parliament reflects the growing and profound concern within the global community over abortion regression in the United States, where abortion access is under increasing attack.”

The resolution was passed with 364 votes in favor, 154 against and 37 abstentions. 

Azerbaijan

+ A pride event seeks to advocate for LGBTQ rights in light of recent violence.

After eight years of underground activism, queer activists held a Pride event in Baku, Azerbaijan. LGBTQ activists Javid Nabiyev, Ali Malikov and Rabiyya Mammadova spoke to journalists “to get attention to issues facing LGBTQ+s, to protest against the discrimination we see, and to voice our demands before the state and society.” 

In the wake of several murders of LGBTQ+ people in Baku—including that of an unnamed trans woman in September 2021, as well as that of journalist and activist Avaz Hafizli in February of this year—the local activists are trying to draw attention to a rise in discriminatory rhetoric among politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Activists say that in addition to institutional discrimination and police brutality, openly LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan are prevented from working as teachers, and those who serve in the military are designated as having “personality disorder”—meaning that their property can be forcibly removed.

San Marino

+ The oldest country in the world has the first openly gay head of state in the world.

Rondelli in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons)

Captain Regent Paolo Rondelli became the the first openly LGBTQ head of state in the world in April of this year, when he was chosen as one of the country’s “captains regent.” He will serve in the role for the next six months.  

His position represents a major stride for the small country, where homosexuality was punishable with three to 12 months of jail time up until 2004. In 2019, San Marino finally banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

While Captain Regent Rondelli—who is known of being an activist for women’s and LGBTQ rights—might be the world’s openly gay head of state, there have been openly LGBTQ head of governments such as Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel and Serbia’s Ana Brnabić.

United States

+ New executive order seeks to support LGBTQ individuals. 

On June 15, President Biden signed an executive order on Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals, in honor of LGBTQ Pride month. But while many applauded the action, advocates say that it is not enough. In the face of legislation such as Florida’s much-maligned “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, as well as mounting restrictions on health care access for trans youth in Texas and elsewhere, queer and trans youth in the United States have faced increased attacks in 2021 and 2022 that advocates say show no signs of stopping.

Biden’s order is aimed at reducing discrimination experienced by LGBTQ individuals, and seeks to protect queer youth. While it calls out “dangerous” practices like conversion therapy—the practice of attempting to convince LGBTQ people that they are not queer, often through emotionally or physically damaging methods—it does not issue an outright ban on them. And while the order uses the acronym “LGBTQI+,” it does not explicitly mention other identities and groups that are often erased, such as asexual and two-spirit people.

Syria

+ Newly founded NGO supports Syrian LGBTQ people despite an ongoing civil war.

As the world celebrates Pride month, LGBTQ activists in many countries still fight for their rights. Geneva-based Guardians of Equality Movement (GEM), founded by Syrian and international LGBTQ activists in Sep. 2021, is working to fill the needs of LGBTQ people in Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) regions. 

“We as an organization are trying to increase the engagement of the Syrian LGBTQ+ community, whilst providing holistic solutions, mental support and in some cases financial support,” said one of the organization’s founders, who goes by “Locked.” In Syria, homosexuality is penalized by Article 520 of the Syrian Penal Code—and the penalty for those persecuted can be up to three years in prison.

On top of this criminalization, the country’s ongoing civil war intensifies human rights challenges for the local LGBTQ community. One of GEM’s goals is to help people who need to leave the country find transportation. Additionally, GEM lobbies policymakers to take action to stop hate crimes and discrimination against Syrian LGBTQ community members.

People hold signs at Bangkok’s pride celebration on June 5, 2022. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thailand

+ Pride returns to Bangkok, as newly elected governor pushes for more tolerance and support.

This year, Bangkok’s Pride celebration has finally returned after a years-long hiatus. But activists say that discrimination and prejudice remain rampant. Activist Ratanon Kuiyoksuy told the Guardian earlier this month that impressions of Thailand as a “heaven of the LGBT community” are innacurate. “It’s not true, because Thailand still doesn’t have a law or the policy that proves that we exist,” Kuiyoksuy added. The country still has no gender recognition law or marriage equality.

But Bangkok’s new governor, Chadchart Sittipunt, intends to change tackle these issues, publicly proclaiming his support for LGBTQ rights. “Understanding each other and working together will allow us to move forward,” he said recently. “Don’t forget that our society is not binary, so pride should be about celebrating the diversity that exists in a democratic society.”

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About and

Dominik Drabent is an editorial intern for Ms. and a graduate student in the gender & women's studies program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He earned his bachelor's degree in gender & women's studies and aviation management from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His research interests are queer studies, feminist pedagogy, transnational feminism, the Middle East, Islamic feminism and Muslim sexualities.
Hannah Phelps is an editorial intern at Ms. and a senior at Smith College majoring in government and the study of women and gender. Her interests include educational equity, international law and transnational feminism.