International Trans Day of Visibility

There is a staggeringly high amount of trans rights discourse in mainstream media, yet 1% of adults currently describe themselves as transgender, non-binarynon-conforming, or “in another way” rather than as either man or woman  (World Economic Forum 2021). While the current debate on trans rights circulates on media platforms, critical components of a trans person’s experiences such as seeking out community, goals of gender euphoria and chosen family sometimes go unsung. Self-proclaimed radical feminists find themselves in agreement with more conservative individuals in that they both oppose the notion that ‘trans women are women; trans men are men’. There needs to be a focus on the humanity of trans people.[a]

Community and kinship are powerful and pertinent components of the trans community and of trans people themselves. People who share the same identity can be bonded in ‘obscure and emotional’ ways ‘which [are] more powerful the less they could be expressed in words’ (Conner, 1993, p. 383). There is a deep connection between individuals who experience walking through the world as people of trans experience. With a small percentage of the world’s population who identify as transgender or non-binary, these communities and connections are important. A sense of belonging comes naturally to human beings, we crave to belong in groups. Cole Banton articulates that although every trans person’s journey is unique and different, trans people are driven to create spaces for themselves through a collective feeling of alienation from social society on the basis of their gender identities. Banton further asserts that the trans community is important and life-saving and sometimes a replacement for biological family relations – there is a ‘sense of feeling at ease with other trans people’. Banton communicates sentiments that a large number of trans people feel in relation to the community. Not only do trans spaces provide protection, but they are a nexus of intense kinship that produce waves of cultural shifts.

Ballroom is a prime example of such a community, it is a carefully curated space. Emerging amid the Harlem Renaissance in a response to a staunch campaign by the Black Church to rid New York of its LGBTQ residents; black trans women created a space to empower the community. Ballroom’s system of “houses” and the use of terms “brother”, “sister”, “mother” and “father” show the importance of the ballroom community in the lives of trans people, with chosen families taking the place of biological ties where needed. Typically known for the production of “voguing”, a widely known dance form, Ballroom is a community and a space that steps outside of the binary across gender, relationships, and sexuality with contributions to popular culture since its inception. Trans-friendly spaces are born from resistance, from being outcasts to influencing mainstream works such as “Renaissance” by Beyonce. Ballroom has grown internationally from an underground scene in Harlem to multiple scenes from London to Tel Aviv, and the need for such trans-inclusive spaces around the world is clear. No community or group is without its internal politics, but Ballroom focuses on creating a space that celebrates individuals in all stages of transition.

Those in Ballroom resist mainstream notions of gender and sexuality, it dwells within the centre of the debate on trans rights. Simone Weil, a feminist philosopher, discusses the notion of human rights and proposes a focus on human needs. Weil argues that there is something about human beings that make them sacred that is divorced from personal characteristics. In relation to trans people, it is important to address the core needs of human beings outside of the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter. Trans people need family, stability, recognition of existence, safety and more components to life that ensure not only survival but a good quality of life. With policymakers debating on various aspects of trans lives, the needs of trans people should be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds when voting on policy.

Ultimately, International Trans Day of Visibility celebrates the lives of all trans and gender-nonconforming people – it’s a nod to trans history and plays a part in maintaining society’s push towards a more inclusive world for trans people.

How Social Media Fuels the Iranian Protests

Iran has seen major waves of resistance in the form of protests in 1999, 2009, 2017, 2019 and 2021; what separates the 2022 protests from protests before? All preceding protests reveal an underlying legitimacy crisis for the regime where the population have called for regime change. These protests share common themes of widespread dissatisfaction with the regime and its exclusionary policies towards women and other minority groups. However, the protests sparked by Amini’s death have transcended sectarian and ethnic differences, and the role of social media has differentiated the 2022 protests in terms of reach. Amini’s death has sparked global outrage across the country with individuals in adjacent countries and the West demonstrating support for Iranian protests by burning their hijabs and cutting their hair. The impact of social media has meant that protestors have been able to share videos of severe uses of force by the Iranian police and protests in real-time using the hashtag #Mahsa_Amini

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has sparked protests against the current regime in Iran throughout all 31 provinces in the country and across the world. Amini’s death followed after being arrested for protesting the compulsory headscarf rules, resulting in her death. The Iranian police claim her death was a result of heart issues, however, public opinion rejects these claims as eyewitnesses have come forward with allegations that Amini was severely beaten by police officers almost immediately after her arrest. The police tried to dispel these allegations with reportedly heavily edited CCTV footage showing Amini holding her head and subsequently fainting whilst in police custody – this has sparked further outrage across the country. Several factors have been attributed to the protests in Iran, and scholars and journalists have highlighted the general dissolution of Khamenei’s regime, the contention of Islamic law, and women’s rights. Social media, albeit underappreciated, is a major factor driving the current wave of Iranian protests and is essential to comprehending both their effectiveness and the broad indignation over Amini’s death.

The outrage sparked by Amini’s death is far-reaching and pervasive. Cities like Mashhad and Qom, previously considered loyal to the regime, are protesting against the state. Despite state-sanctioned restrictions on the internet and apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram, the videos of protests and police killings have dispensed the spirit of resistance to areas that have previously been key strongholds of the regime in terms of public opinion and therefore upholding the regime’s legitimacy. The impacts of social media on the protests in Iran are pertinent, it plays a major role in unearthing even the quietest feelings of dissatisfaction and animosity towards Khamenei’s regime. The government’s internet censorship highlights the critical role that social media has played in the Iran demonstrations. The attempt to contain public fury and the dissemination of information online are two examples of how social media has helped the protests endure.

Similar to the major waves of resistance in previous years, the 2022 protests have been highly decentralised, there is no central leader or organisation that drives the resistance against the current regime. Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the United Kingdom when social media circulated videos of the public shooting of George Floyd, social media incentivises individuals in Iran to protest online and organise resistance on the ground.   Iran’s “George Floyd moment” might be summed up by saying that Mahsa Amini’s passing served as both the impetus and fuel for the public’s active forms of resistance to the government. Iran has gotten support from all around the world as a result, much like the BLM movement, which benefited greatly from social media. Iran was thus kicked out of the United Nations (UN) Women’s Rights Council, and the UN also sanctioned Iran’s Morality Police based on allegations of human rights abuses. 

Ultimately, many elements contribute to the Iran protests. Mahsa Amini’s death was the catalyst that started a continuing global movement against Iran’s current regime. Scholars and journalists alike have drawn attention to the role of women’s rights and debates on Islamic law, but social media has been a key component that helps to facilitate the impact of all grievances. Understanding social media’s significance is essential for comprehending the ongoing Iranian demonstrations since it reveals how a decentralised movement has spread throughout the globe. Social media is still a vital tool for winning over other nations’ and international organisations’ support.

Rethinking the Environment with Indigenous Agency

Earth’s climate crisis could be approaching a “point of no return’’. 

The UN has reported that governments have not committed enough to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The scale of climate damage has already been immense: floods and landslides have forced 12 million people from their homes in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. In 2019, Cyclone Idai took the lives of over 1000 people across Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique only for Cyclone Kenneth to sweep through Northern Mozambique a mere six weeks later. The current climate emergency has far-reaching economic, physical, social, and political impacts on humankind, but a human-centric approach to achieving sustainability has not yet been successful to solve the climate crisis. Indigenous scholars are advocating for an alternative approach, critiquing society’s tendency to view the natural world as property, a commodity, or a resource. According to Linda Robyn, colonial logic argues that those who are “less civilised” (Indigenous Peoples) are unable to properly exploit the land and its resources so those who are deemed “civilised” must make the decisions about the land. Indigenous knowledge about the environment has been undermined as being non-knowledge or merely folklore instead of being a source of knowledge to establish a reciprocal relationship with Earth.

Ultimately, the ecological crisis is an “intensification of colonialism”, exemplified by the disproportionate effects of climate change, with poorer countries experiencing colossal damage to their economies, populations, and land. COP27 in Egypt discussed the impact of climate change on poorer countries, with richer countries most responsible for climate change agreeing to payments, however is there any accountability or self-reflection? Without the use of the word reparations or compensation, countries who contribute to climate change the most are not acknowledging their roles in the damage caused to countries like Nepal, Mozambique, Pakistan or Bangladesh. 

Therefore, the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples are crucial to how we understand and combat climate change. Indigenous Peoples across the globe have endured constant waves of settler colonialism that have decimated their lands. Despite this, they have adapted and survived through centuries as great stewards of their environment; Indigenous lands make up around 20% of the Earth’s territory and contain 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinabe Nation, writes, “sustainability in these marginal habitats did not simply rely on a matter of luck”.

Conceptions of the environment by Indigenous Peoples requires a greater complex framework – one that is conscious of the relationship between specific communities, individuals and their land, intertwined with living, livelihood, culture, and even legal rights. Consequently, movements by Indigenous populations against environmental exploitation also take a specific language of their own, and there is much we can learn from their resistance. In India, the Dongaria Kondhs – an Indigenous community in the state of Odisha – launched resistance against the bauxite mining project of Vedanta Resources (UK based mining company) in 2002. The movement gained traction when Vedanta started acquiring land in Niyamgiri mountains, a sacred place tied to the ancestry of the Kondhs. At the beginning of the movement, any reasoning of the movement on ecological grounds against the bauxite mining project was dismissed in favour of the sacredness of the Niyamgiri mountains to the tribe’s culture by India’s Supreme Court. However, a clear separation of livelihood, ancestry, sacredness, and environment simplifies and is culpable in erasing the complex interlinkages of these aspects in indigenous life. The Supreme Court’s act of dismissing ecological concerns from cultural concerns assumes that the culture cannot be ecological, because the environment is separate from human life (see ruling here). However, indigenous cultures are a prime example or reminder that environment and life are interlinked. This is an important purview that environmental movements at large should adopt. The environment is not an abstract idea that can be acted upon separately. 

Resistance against ‘developmental’ projects is also common, as projects of the Western ‘development’ model often impinge upon regional lives. Often, what is understood as ‘development’ leads to violence, dispossession and erasure of indigenous cultures and communities. Protests against ‘developmental’ projects by Indigenous communities in India, and globally, emphasise the connection of natural resources, forests, rivers, and land, to tribal and adivasi (term for specific Indigenous communities in India) populations. Resistance by the Gond community in the state of Chhattisgarh, active for the past decade, intensified this year as the government approved three new coal mines, which would result in future environmental degradation and increased clearance of Hasdeo Aranya forests. Villagers from around the forest region have occupied the forests, building campsites, hugging trees (a historical form of tribal protest in India known as chipko), conducting speeches, events, and even work from within the forests. Demonstrating not only that their forest has cultural significance and provides livelihood, but there is a question of legal rights as well. 

These movements emphasise the casual disregard for rights of Indigenous communities in these projects. The disregard of indigenous rights is directly tied to the disregard of Indigenous existence and colonialism. The lack of Indigenous consensus on decisions of ‘development’, or land, forest interference is symbiotic of erasing marginalised voices. The disregard for understanding grassroots mobilisation for ecological catastrophe and implementation of top-down policies which do not consider violence on certain lives as violence, or do not account for how life is lived in the regions targeted for ‘development’ is a manifestation of imperialism. 

We do not suggest that indigenous life is infallible, but that Indigenous perspectives and mobilisation are crucial to the environmental movement at large. The constant dismissal of Indigenous lives is a symptom of colonialism. Indigenous communities should be considered active agents in the environmental movement, and intersectionality should extend to Indigenous communities within different contexts.

SOAS and 67 other UK Universities strike again in March

Trade unions UCU and UNISON saw their members  taking further strike action from Monday 21st to Friday 25th March 2022. This is the latest move in a long saga as employers refuse reasonable negotiations on pay and working conditions and “force through” pension cuts despite the efforts of 68 UK universities who have already undergone 10 days of strike action between 14th February and 2nd March this year. 

University teaching and support staff have been protesting to tackle five main concerns: cuts to pensions, cuts to pay, precarious employment, pay inequality and unsafe workloads. It is estimated that on average university staff are set to lose 35% of their pension and since pay has dropped by 20% in the last 13 years, staff are essentially working for free one day every week. Additionally, there is a 9% ethnicity pay gap across the sector and a 14.8% gender pay gap. Alongside this, staff have been required to work more and are given unmanageable workloads, an established practice that has only been further compounded by the pandemic. The physical and mental health of staff has been detrimentally impacted with over half showing signs of depression.

SOAS students have an important history in standing alongside workers’ struggles and have played a fundamental role in bringing about effective change in the past. Similarly with recent strikes, students have been consistent and unrelenting in their support, participating in Walkouts, standing alongside the picket lines and attending Teach Outs. Some have even gone to great lengths and occupied management offices and have in-turn been subjected to security violence, intimidation tactics, threats of legal action and denial of basic facilities. Students are willing to put their own welfare at risk because they value the importance of fair and civil leadership, they support the right to fair and equal pay for teaching and support staff alike and recognise the impact that staff working conditions have on their learning. 

SOAS is a university that prides itself on its equality, diversity and inclusivity and through promotion of such values attracts its student customer base. It is therefore utterly disingenuous and hypocritical for it to not only be complicit in maintaining unequal and unliveable work conditions of its staff but to also be actively involved in suppressing them from protesting and voicing their concerns.

To regain the trust and confidence of students and staff at SOAS, students are demanding that management must “do everything in its power to prevent any disruption caused by the employers’ attack on pay and pensions by encouraging employers to re-enter negotiations with the Unions as soon as possible and to voice in UUK to put pressure on USS to implement the UCU proposals, which USS recently said were viable and implementable”.

Finally, as staff and student union members we must remember to always be compassionate and inclusive in our fight for better working and learning conditions. Let us recognise that whilst prioritising the needs of our own union is important, we must also extend ourselves in actively promoting  and supporting  the demands of more exploited staff. Perhaps that is a greater moral use of our strike action – protecting the weakest members of our community.

Photo credit: Sophie Squire for the Socialist Worker

Reimagining Human Rights at home

December 10 is Human Rights Day, a date which celebrates the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s theme is reducing inequalities and advancing human rights.

In Britain, poor human rights are widely regarded as an issue that other nations face rather than a domestic issue. David Cameron declared in 2012 that Britain had a long history of respect and advocacy of human rights, citing the Magna Carta and referencing British involvement in Libya as further evidence of British support for human rights

This widespread perception of human rights as a solely foreign issue fails to confront the fact that Britain is not, either currently or historically, a paradise for human rights. Cameron referenced abolition of slavery as evidence of Britain’s respect of human rights, neglecting to mention Britain’s extensive role in the slave trade and history of colonialism, both of which can be considered to be such extreme violations of human rights that they continue to have devastating impacts to this day. 

Modern day Britain also is the site of repeated human rights violations. Refugee and migrant rights in Britain, especially the right to freedom of movement, have been repeatedly undermined by the British government. Home secretary Priti Patel is currently planning to ‘pushback’ refugees on small boats in the Channel, a policy which if it takes place will arguably violate the refugee convention. The Immigration Act, passed in November 2020, ended free movement and created a points-based immigration system.  

Human rights violations are also evident in the British police force. Discrimination in policing is rife, with Covid-19 lockdown fines disproportionately targeting Black and Asian Britons

In May 2020, London police carried out nearly 44,000 stop and searches related to Covid lockdowns, of which 10,000 were aimed at young black men. Black people in Britain are not only more likely to be stopped and searched, but they are also significantly more likely to be victims of police brutality, with black people eight times more likely to have a Taser used against them than white people in 2018 and 2019. The British government is not only guilty of allowing and causing human rights violations domestically, but also abroad. £17 billion of UK arms were sold to human rights abusers over the past decade, including the sale of £9.3 million of rifles to Libya, and the sale of over 50% of the combat aircraft used by Saudi Arabia against Yemen. This figure does not include the sales of arms to nations which are British allies, but which have also used these arms to commit human rights abuses, such as the American use of British arms to use excessive force against Black Lives Matter protestors

While the UN Human Rights Council visited Britain and criticised racial discrimination in 2019, this criticism has seemingly been the full extent of the UN’s action. The UN’s recommendations for action on racial discrimination have not been enforced. Nor has there been any substantive effort from the British government, who are sometimes the perpetrators of human rights violations, to improve the nation’s human rights record. The British government has failed to challenge perceptions of the UK as a human rights haven, or confront its own complicity. 

On Human Rights Day (and always), it is vital to challenge any understanding of human rights which does not acknowledge that human rights abuses can occur anywhere, and can be committed by governments who may view themselves as proponents of human rights abroad.  Human rights abuses can take place close to home, and we need to recognise this in order to truly support human rights globally. 

Image Wikimedia

Toxic Waste Mountain: How The Occupation Also Harms Israelis

Israel is explicit about the objective of its supposedly sustainable projects: to achieve full sovereignty over “the lands of Judea and Samaria” by whatever means necessary, i.e. present-day Israel combined with its occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories. Let’s imagine this objective were to magically be achieved overnight: Israel would literally have a mountain of toxic waste on its hands. 

Israel uses the West Bank as a dumping ground for its own waste and the waste from illegal settlements. Israel also systematically denies Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suitable access to resources and infrastructure for the responsible management of their own waste. This has led to the widespread adoption of unsafe waste disposal practices in the area. Israel is attempting to circumscribe both the Palestinian people and all of the waste in the region within its eight meter walls, and it will eventually fail on both counts. The ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinian people seems to thus entail the ongoing degredation of the lands by Israelis; both practices continue to harm their intended Palestinian victims as well as unintentionally backfiring on Israelis.

Let’s be clear– the occupation of Palestine is a war crime violating a seventy-three-year-long list of human rights; it is wholly inappropriate to compare the suffering of an Israeli to that of a Palestinian. In addition to our awareness about the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation harms Palestinians, it is also important to pay attention to the ways that the occupation harms Israelis: when a bare foot in the grass crushes an unsuspecting bee, the bee is killed– but not before leaving a nasty sting. 

Israel and Palestine are enmeshed in a relationship of coloniser- colonised “stuckedness” as explained by Ghassan Hage: they are bound to one another, destined to be doomed or flourish collectively. Hage states that no matter what, they are in fact “stuck with each other.” Building on this concept of stuckedness, the June 2020 UN report illustrates that Palestinians and Israelis are stuck with their collective toxic waste as much as with each other.

Achille Mbembe’s conceptualization of the “racist affects” of borderwork explains that the Israeli borderworkers are expected to inflict injury on the Palestinian ‘other.’ The omnipresence of “racists affects” within Israeli society have not only perpetuated the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians, but has also led to widespread trauma and chronic mental illness among the Israeli population of indentured soldiers. But there is a third loser in this war: the ‘sacred’ land on which it’s waged. Mbembe shows us that Israelis are encouraged to undertake unsustainable environmental practices (like the mass dumping of toxic waste) as one of many tools for inflicting harm on the Palestinians. These practices are backfiring: poisoning the neighbours’ garden harms yours too, especially when you’re actively stealing their land.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivers a speech on stage during a meeting at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Obsessive anti-Israel bias': Erdan rips up human rights report at UN podium  | The Times of Israel

Two events last month encapsulate the hypocrisy of Israel’s greenwashing. Israeli PM Bennett was outspoken at COP26 about Israel’s green-tech ‘innovations’ and its self-declaration of ‘successfully’ having implemented the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). Elsewhere, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN tore up the annual human rights report on the podium at the UN General Assembly. By using the global stage at COP26 to greenwash Israel’s inherently unsustainable practices, the international community itself is not just greenwashing but also gaslighting the continuation of Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes. Israel’s allegedly “successful” implementation of the SDG’s serves as an offensive cover-up for their policy of genocide and environmental degradation, and also as state approval for the continuation of unsafe practices like toxic waste disposal in the West Bank. These Israeli efforts to destroy Palestinian land are destroying all the lands for all those in its midst, and eventually the toxic waste will be the last one standing.