The Human Impact

“They told me to have a sex change” – Iranian lesbian

Sara, a bright young woman studying for a masters at Tehran University, is a lesbian – but if the Iranian authorities had their way, she would change her sex and become a man.

Homosexuality is considered sinful in predominantly Muslim Iran, and homosexual acts are illegal. Sex changes, however, are legal and appear to be positively encouraged by doctors and psychologists as “treatment” for people who prefer their own sex.

When Sara came out to her family nine years ago at the age of 20, she was sent to a psychologist who declared after one 40-minute consultation that she should have a sex change.

“She said I was really a man in a woman’s body and I had to change my body to suit my personality. My sister had brought a photo along, (taken when) I was maybe 5 years old. I was wearing boy’s clothes and had a toy gun in my hand and the psychologist emphasised that this photo showed that I was a man,” Sara told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I was shocked because I had never wanted to be a man and I really liked my body. I had never had problems with my female body. I had emotions towards girls, rather than boys, but I could only imagine myself as a girl loving another girl, not as a man.”

Catch 22: Steven’s story of statelessness in Britain

Three years ago Steven walked into a police station in the British city of Cardiff and asked to be arrested even though he hadn’t committed any crime. When the police refused, he asked if it would help if he insulted an officer. They refused again.

Steven had hit rock bottom after a series of events had left him destitute, and he believed a police cell would be preferable to another night sleeping rough.

His predicament boils down to one fact: No country recognises him as a citizen.

“Being stateless is like being an alien. Anywhere you place me on the planet, everyone will still say, ‘You are not from here’,” he says. “Just talking about it makes me feel anxious.”

“FGM is bad, but it’s not child abuse,” says London-born victim

J

When London-born Jay was a teenager her mother suggested she join a secret women’s society in Sierra Leone. There would be a big party, new dresses and she would be treated like royalty.

“If they’d told me what the real deal was I would have probably skipped town!” she says. “I wouldn’t have got on that plane.”

Her humour masks a long struggle to come to terms with what happened during that Easter trip to her parents’ birthplace. Jay Kamara-Frederick is a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Do gender and sexuality really matter anymore?

Contestants wait for the start of the annual race on high heels during Gay Pride celebrations in the quarter of Chueca in Madrid

Contestants wait for the start of the annual race on high heels during Gay Pride celebrations in the quarter of Chueca in Madrid

When I sat down with directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini to discuss “Mala Mala,” their documentary which premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, I took out my laptop and went over my questions one more time, as I always do.

It turns out I didn’t really need them, as the interview quickly turned into a striking conversation about gender and its many nuances, love and how we perceive ourselves.

Frontline reflections on Guinea’s battle against Ebola

 

Ebola.jpg

Nobody would have thought that Gueckedou, a market town in southern Guinea, was the front line in West Africa’s battle against the deadly Ebola virus.

When I arrived to report on the outbreak, it was business as usual on the dusty, potholed streets. Traders set up their stalls under tattered, sun-bleached parasols and waved hand-held fans to stop the food spoiling in the tropical heat.

Below the surface, though, lay a simmering tension. Nobody shook hands here if they knew what was good for them, and those who could afford it bought gloves and face masks to avoid the gruesome disease that has killed well over 100 people in Guinea and Liberia since it was first reported in February.

Gender identity a top theme at Tribeca Film Festival

Music may have been the biggest theme at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, but movies exploring gender identity and sexuality also made a strong mark at the event, which wraps up on Sunday in New York.

Among them was “Mala Mala,” about the trans community in conservative Puerto Rico, and “Something Must Break,” a Swedish drama depicting the difficult love story of a young man whose looks defy gender norms and his straight-identifying boyfriend.

“The whole process of filming was really investigative, we were curious,” “Mala Mala” co-director Antonio Santini told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We had no other intention rather than understanding.”

Is wartime rape inevitable?

The mass rape of hundreds of thousands of women and girls from Bosnia to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo has reinforced the conventional wisdom that rape and sexual violence are an inevitable feature of war.

But rape is not a fact of all wars and if sexual violence does occur within a war, not all armed groups are necessarily involved, experts say.

“There has been a certain kind of rhetoric that all armed groups through history have engaged in sexual violence. But not all armed groups do engage in sexual violence. It’s not just something that always happens in war. Some armed groups can and do prohibit sexual violence,” said Elisabeth Wood, an expert on wartime sexual violence and professor of political science at Yale University.

Can a mother truly hate her own son?

One line in Bad Hair, which had its U.S. premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York, has made me uncomfortable for days.

“I don’t love you,” Junior, the nine-year-old protagonist of Venezuelan director Mariana Rondón’s movie, tells his mother in the emotionally charged scene.

You would expect a mother to dismiss such a dramatic statement and rebuke her son for speaking such nonsense but all that Marta, Junior’s mother, says is: “Neither do I.”

Election day, a time of hope – and concern – over Indonesian women’s rights

Tri Widayati is the first woman in her family – and her village too, she thinks – to find employment. At 18, soon after graduating from high school, she left her small village in Klaten regency in Central Java for Bekasi, a satellite town of the capital, Jakarta.

“Every woman in my village, once they get married, they just stay at home and look after the children,” including her mother and sister, Tri said.

“I wanted to come here for self improvement. If I had just stayed in the village it would be the same old life and there’d be no progress,” she said, sitting in the office of a workers’ union in Bekasi.

Why coexistence doesn’t equal reconciliation in Rwanda

One Hutu killer describes feeling “like two different people” as he took part in the genocide: a man who obediently slaughtered his Tutsi neighbours because the mayor told him to, yet who hid one of their daughters in a grain basket to save her from the machetes.

A Tutsi survivor recalls the moment attackers rounded on her 17-year-old brother as he cried: “Why are you killing us? We used to be friends.”

And an aid worker and an ambassador lament the world’s failure to stop the fastest genocide of its scale in history.

    •