2019: Females who crushed it

In 2019 we took the streets to continue our fight. Here are some of the best moments.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photo: Al-lami-Ali

This year has been convulsed by a series of social protests by or for women’s rights, fight for policies, environmental, and other future issues. There were moments where women held the power, took over the show, inspired action, won a game or a prize, or simply enjoyed the moment. 

In 2019, we gave one more step; we know how far we have come, and where we still need to go. Here is a look back in frames of these unforgettable moments.

Nancy Pelosi, a congresswoman from the Democratic Party in the United States of America, became in January the speaker of the House of Representatives. She is the first female to hold this position. 

Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, showed a strong commitment against the shooting of two mosques in Christchurch City. She pushed for substantial gun reform laws and also was firm in not mentioning the shooter’s name, just the victims. 

Yaritzia Aparicio, a Mexican actress was the first indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress Academy Award for her role in the movie, Roma, produced by Netflix. 

Yumi Ishikawa, is the creator of #KuToo  kutsu (shoe), kutsuu (agony). This hash tag became the icon for Japanese women in a fight to stop using high heel shoes at work as part of a dress code in a conservative and patriarchal nation. Her campaign got over 28,000 signatures on Change.org petition to raise awareness for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, about the problem.  

Sudanese women, thousand took over the streets to overtrow president Omar Al- Bashir after 30 years ruling. A lot of women led the manifestation. One of them was Alaa Salah, a 22 year-old student dressed in white, who made her voice to be heard in the social uprising.

Joy Harjo, was named Poet Laureate of the United States of America. She is the first indigenous woman to hold this award. She is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In her writing, she incorporates feminist, social poetic traditions, indigenous myths, symbols, values, land, and tribal history. 

Women’s World Cup Football, one of the biggest events in sports, was held in France during the months of June-July.  At the final match between the Netherlands and the United States of America, the crowd shouted “Equal pay! Equal pay” Why? Because for this tournament, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) awarded $30m, but for the men’s team they granted $400m last year, which is almost thirteen times more. The same issue happened with the money given for preparation cost and club compensation.

Olga Misik, age 17 years. This teenager´s photo went viral on news and social media after reading the Russian Constitution to the riot police during a protest against the government for banning the opposition candidates from running for the upcoming elections. She was imprisoned for 12 hours even though she is a minor.

Photo: Vera Oleinikova/BBC

Greta Thunberg, the teenager environmental activist said, ” charge is coming whether they like it or not”. During her visit to the United States of America in September, she inspired millions to join climate strikes globally.

Waad al-Kateab, a Syrian filmmaker produced a documentary titled For Sama, which records her life at a hospital where she met her husband and gave birth to her child during the rage of the brutal war in Aleppo.  It was filmed over five years.

NASA had the first all-female spacealk.  Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir went outside the International Space Station to restore a controller. The mission lasted over seven hours.

According to the New York Times, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has 12 female astronauts in ranks from a total of 38 active ones.

Simone Biles, at age 22 became the world’s artistic gymnast in history.  She owns twenty-five World Championship medals, of which 19 are gold and five were won at the Championship in Stuttgart, Germany this past October in these categories: team all-around, individual all-around, vault, balance beam, and floor.

Northern Ireland made progress on abortion to be decriminalized by March 2020, and same-sex marriage will be legal from January 2020.

Emoji Period, menstruation,   periods,   monthly time, etc. Call it how you want, but there is still a taboo to talk about it with family and friends. Since the emoji is a growing language, Plan International from the United Kingdom created the emoji and partnered with others.  So now, it is available on your phone. 

Las Tesis, a Chilean feminist collective, created the performance A rapist in my way, which was sung and choreographed in many American and European countries. 

Photo: Social Media

Sanna Marin, at age 34 she is the world’s youngest Prime Minister. She was sworn in early December. Marin, is the third woman to hold this position and the youngest in the Finnish history. The government in Finland is a coalition of five parties all headed by women; four of whom are under 35 years old.  

Political prisoners

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball

In April 2018 a political and social crisis broke out in Nicaragua, Central America when the government of President Daniel Ortega issued a decree to cut pensions and raise social security payments, which led to massive demonstrations. President Ortega responded with deadly force.

Over the past year, at least 325 people have been killed, shot dead on the streets by police snipers and paramilitary troops or executed out-of-sight. Dozens of victims were children. Over 500 persons are missing. Doctors and nurses have been fired from their jobs for merely treating wounded protesters in hospitals.

Over this past year, things have not returned to normal. Thousands have fled the country. Activists and journalists have reported ongoing arrests and harassment by the government.

Approximately, 130 political prisoners remain imprisoned, of which nine are brave women who stood against the authoritarianism government. There are:
María Guadalupe Ruiz Briceño
Amaya Coppens
Olga Valle
Ivania Alvarez
Neymar Hernández
Wendy Juárez
Olama Hurtado
Katherine Martínez
Mayela Cruz

Do you have women political prisoners in your country? Name them before 2019 is over.

My hair: style or political decision?

My natural hair is style and a political element. Here is my story.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photos: Kimmo Lehtonen

Weeks ago Miss Universe pageant was held at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe. She is 26-year old, an activist who fights against gender-based violence, and an advocate for natural hair.  She said, ” I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful”. 

These words are not unexpected for many of us as black women. When I was a child, Saturday evenings were dedicated to my hair. I remember it was not a pleasure. I used to get in a bad mood, cried or shouted to wash and untangle my voluminous hair.

This day was chosen because Mom had time to comb and neat my hair for Sunday school. I guess, for her it was also not easy because she had to spend hours doing this same process to me and my other two sisters, regardless  they have “good hair”.

At age twelve, I started another process: relaxing my hair. Yes, my mom was the one who got it done, but eventually it was done by one of my sisters. My scalp is very sensitive, so by the time it was finished applying I had burn all over. I remember sometimes asking my sisters to rinse my hair before the timing was over because it was painful. 

Besides using chemicals on my hair, I remember also using a hot comb. Along came the burnt of scalp, ears and forehead. What a nightmare I lived, all because we were taught that black women have to relax their hair to look good, professional and acceptable in the eyes of society. 

Across oceans and continents, black people had been discriminated during centuries because of their hair, sex, colour and heritage. In South Africa during the apartheid, hair played a role. A pencil test was done. It was past through each person’s hair to determine racial identity. I guess if I was living there during this period of history, I would have been separated from my sisters because of hair texture differences.

Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in her book Americanah, “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. […] Your hair rules you. […]You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do. If you go natural and take good care of your hair, it won’t fall off like it ́s doing now”. 

Discovering my hair 

At a Caribbean and Latin-American Afro women summit, I met several girls of my age with natural hair. I was startled went I saw those beautiful black hair, volume and style. But I was most amazingly of the pride they have about it. 

Months later I stop relaxing my hair. I went natural. My hair was reborn. I was glad. I had support from other friends and my partner to go natural. But others were not happy with my decision. My mom was shocked when she saw me for the first time. 

A friend of mine Cynthia Davis who relaxed and blowed-dry my hair for years was not pleased with my real look. She said, “ girl you need to come to me”, I said no. Eventually, she got lo like my natural hair and has been motivated to go natural. 

Alicia Clair, the owner of a bakery shop in the lovely village of Pearl Lagoon, south Caribbean of Nicaragua, is completely proud of her natural hair. Sitting at her place and eating coconut sweets, I heard her story of going natural. She said people had reaction phrases like “what are you doing? are you going crazy? do something to your hair”. 

Alicia thinks that black women should challenge themselves to do it. “ […] It’s part of our identity, not perming it feels good, it’s healthy, the hair has life, […] and you do not kill it”. 

I got to confess that going natural was not easy at first. You fight against your hair to clear it out, to moisturize, and style. It is a process. I learned to feel it, to discover it, fall in love with it, and finally to give and receive. It becomes a marriage between you and your hair. 

Afro natural hair is a gift. It ‘s variable so styling can be fun. But besides being a style, it is also political. My hair is part of me and who I am. With it being natural, I want to demonstrate that I am proud of my Afro heritage and that neither me nor any other black woman should be judged because of our hair. 

Females making headline in media

Four outstanding females of the week.

Text: Shirlene Green Newball

This week, as usual the media was full of bad news, but what caught my attention were repetitive faces in almost all the newspapers and social media platforms. They were the faces of four outstanding females from different continents and backgrounds, but with one purpose of making their voices be heard and showing leadership in their respective fields. 

In Finland, we woke up with the news to have the youngest prime minister in the world. Sanna Marin, from the Social Democratic Party won the election on Sunday after Antti Rinne resigned as PM. The government in Finland is a coalition of five parties all headed by women; four of whom are under 35 years old.  

Sanna Marin comes from a humble family in Tampere, the centre of Finland. She was raised by her mother and her female partner and was the first from her family to finish high school and attend university. In 2015, she became a Member of Parliament and rose quickly as she gained confidence and attention.

According to AFP news agency, Marin said: “I have never thought about my age or gender; I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate.”

Photo: Social Media

I love football and believe that females should also have the same right as males in this field. Megan Rapione was named 2019 Sportsperson of the year by Sports Illustrated Magazine. This magazine has 66 years since its first publication and Megan is the fourth woman to receive this award. She was also named by the Fédération Internationale of Football Association (FIFA) Best Woman Player of the year, two months after the World Cup. 

This brave woman became the voice of many sportswomen on and off the field by demanding equal pay, sexual diversity respect, fight against racism and sexism in football, and also became a hero after scoring at 61stminute the goal against the Netherlands to defeat them 1-0. That gave the United States of America the 2019 World Cup Championship.

I am not a fan of watching Miss Universe pageant, because it is not of my interest. But the following day when I read the news that Zozibini Tunzi from South Africa was the new Miss Universe, I thought it was time for a black woman to have the crown again since it was 8 years ago that Miss Angola, Leila Lopes, won the beauty contest. 

She was raised in Eastern Cape with her two sisters. She has a bachelor’s degree in public relations and image management. One big change in last Sunday night pageant is that she became the first woman to win the title with her natural Afro hair, which was well done. When answering the final question, her last sentence was “it is up to us to keep our planet safe”. 

Photo: Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe

And this leads us to our fourth personality, Greta Thunberg, who participated this past week in Madrid, Spain, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP25. This teenager started a strike by skipping school on Friday. Instead, she when outside the Swedish parliament building to protest for climate action, which later became a global action known as #FridaysForFuture. 

This week Time magazine chose her as Person of the year 2019.  She is the youngest person to earn this title since this award was first issued in 1927. 

These four females are all below 35 years old, come from different places and environments. Nevertheless, they are creating and moving spaces that had been difficult to achieve years ago. They are all from a different field, which makes it more interesting and diverse for women empowerment and role modelling. 

They were my inspirations for this week, and I am sure that they will continue moving our fight. Their stories and others similar to these, also, can inspire you. 

The viral gender performance

It is not a song to the raper it is a denounce of gender violence from north to south and east to west.

Text by: Shirlene Green Newball Photo: Rosamaria Bolom

“El patriarcado es un juez, que nos juzga por nacer, 

y nuestro castigo, es la violencia que no ves. 

El patriarcado es un juez, que nos juzga por nacer, 

y nuestro castigo, es la violencia que ya ves”.

 “The Patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born, 

and our punishment is the violence that you don’t see. 

The patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born,

and our punishment is the violence that you see”.

These words and choreography started on the streets of Chile on the 20th of November and spread across the Pacific Ocean to many countries in America and Europe such as Mexico, Peru, Colombia, United States of America, Uruguay, Nicaragua, France, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Finland, Sweden and many others in a week.  

I am sure that you had heard these words over and over on social media during the past week.  These are part of the performance A rapist in your way (Un violador en tu camino) composed by Las Tesis

But who are these women? Las Tesis is a Chilean feminist collective formed years ago by four women from Valparaíso. Sibila Sotomayor and Daffne Valdés are performing artists, Paula Cometa Stange is a designer and, and Lea Cáceres is a costume designer.  

The performances aim to act feminism theories to reach to different audiences colloquially. The first one was done in 2004 based on the book The caliban and the witch (El calibán y la bruja), of scholar Silvia Federicci.  The current performance, A rapist in your way took inspiration from the feminist Rita Segato’s thesis that develops the structure of sexual violence and rape against women as a form of fragile masculinity. 

In an interview given to El Tiempo newspaper,Sotomayor said: “Our interventions last only fifteen minutes, the idea is that it be so, precise, concise, and effective”.

In the second paragraph of the performance, you need to do four squats, which symbolize the squats women are obligated to do after being arrested and naked by the Chilean police. This violation of human rights has also been perpetrated in Nicaragua, which is under an authoritarianism government. A report given by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights describes this type of action (page 64). 

“Es femicidio

Inmunidad para mi asesino

Es la desaparición

Es la violación”.

“It is femicide

It is Impunity for my killer

It is the disappearance

It is rape”.

The last part of the performance refers to part of the Chilean police anthem, which is an irony between words and their actions. 

Over 50 women from several Latin American countries, Finland and other countries also did the viral performance. The cold weather, of course, did not stop us to shout and march once more to denounce rape, femicide, and impunity in cases of gender violence committed by the state or individuals.  This event was organized in two days, so a lot of us rehearsed at home. In my case, I did it on the buses and trams on my way to work. 

If you had not participated in the performance, I invite you to organize it with your friends, adapt it to your context, film, and share it. We need to be heard; no matter what language you speak because we are tired. 

“And it’s not my fault, nor where I was, or how I was dressed”.

“Y la culpa no era mía, ni donde estaba, ni cómo vestía”.

“Syyllinen en oo mä, Ei missä olin, ei mun vaatteet”.