Aswat – Palestinian Feminist Queer Movement for Sexual and Gender Freedoms

Aswat is a feminist queer movement for sexual and gender freedom for Palestinian women.

Aswat is a feminist queer movement for sexual and gender freedom for Palestinian women, who are part of an indigenous minority living and discriminated against in the state of Israel. Our mission is to empower queer Palestinian and Arab women, and stimulate an alternative discourse that promotes the struggle for sexual rights and freedoms with a community-based and grassroots focus. We envision a Palestinian society that respects the sexual and gender diversity of all its members and understands its struggle as intersectional against all forms of oppression and discrimination. By building a vibrant, mature, strong, and proactive cadre of young feminist queer and trans leaders, Aswat hopes to challenge the existing mainstream views and attitudes about sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the Palestinian society and regionally.

Aswat remains the only group in Palestine that is entirely composed of queer and trans women that directly works on issues related to Palestinian women’s sexualities from an intersectional and queer perspective. As a grassroots organization, we are part of the community of beneficiaries for whom we work. We involve the community of queer Palestinian women in all of our activities, and we design our projects based on their needs and well-being, as well as the gaps that exist in the knowledge and sovereignty of the wider Palestinian societies.

Legal and political discrimination hinders Palestinian women from developing their own discourse on sexual rights and freedoms. Aswat has to bypass a rigid system of Israeli laws to implement effective programs for sexuality education. At the same time, we deal with conservative stakeholders, and social and religious taboos that interfere with our work in the field. In the reality of Occupation, Colonization, Apartheid, and the geographical separation of Palestinians, Aswat contributes to offering an alternative to Israel’s Pinkwashing practices and Palestinian taboos regarding sexual freedoms and rights. By showcasing contextualized perspectives and positionalities from within Palestine and the region, or stemming from movements of queer resistance, it reaffirms the role of queer Palestinian resistance in the struggle for sexual freedoms and national liberation. At the same time, it highlights the importance of regional solidarity and collaboration by shedding the light on the intersectionality of regional struggles with the aim of advancing issues of sexual and bodily rights, and standing against occupation.

Aswat’s work is needed to help queer Palestinian women and trans be more at ease with their identity as both Palestinians and queers, and rally them around the centrality of queer liberation for a free and just society. In addition to raising awareness within Palestinian societies, our work ensures that community leaders, activists, artists, academics and service providers are in engaged in and mobilized around a critical dialogue about sexuality and the discourse of sexual orientation and gender identity.

October Grantee News

Read this month’s news from our grantee partners. Aswat, Forum for the Empowerment of Women, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project celebrate their 10th anniversaries. Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals & Gays’ drop in center for homeless gays closed under pressure from city officials. And, Women’s Coalition of Hong Kong’s twelve years of organizing work has led to significant victories in Legislative Council of Hong Kong’s 2012 elections.

Congratulations on a Decade

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In July 2012, FEW members and allies protested the silence about recent brutal murders that targeted LGBT persons by the Africa National Congress, South Africa’s governing party.

Three Astraea grantee partners, Aswat, Forum for the Empowerment of Women, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project, are celebrating their 10th anniversaries. We congratulate them for their groundbreaking work, and the immense contributions they have made in the past decade towards LGBTQI rights, freedom from violence, and empowerment.

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Aswat is a group of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning and queer Palestinian women. They establish safe and supportive spaces for Palestinian LBTQI women to address personal, social, and political struggles as a national indigenous minority living inside Israel, as women in a patriarchal society, and as LBTQI women in a wider hetero-normative culture.

Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) addresses violence against lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people in South Africa through political mobilization, brokering relationships between community members and local police and legal authorities, and increasing community visibility through events such as SOWETO Pride. FEW also leads media training for lesbian, bisexual, and trans women, and training programs in high schools to make educators aware of the needs of vulnerable students.

SRLP-image Portrait of Sylvia Rivera by Valerie Shaff.

Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) provides access to legal services for low-income transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people. In addition to community training and public education, SRLP tackles policy reform, and undertakes precedent-setting lawsuits to end institutional discrimination, violence, and coercion on the basis of gender identity and expression. SRLP is a non-hierarchical collective, by and for the community, that strives to maximize political voice and power while providing desperately needed services.

J-FLAG Forced to Close Center for Homeless Gays

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We are saddened to learn that our grantee partner Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG) was forced to close down Jamaica’s only drop-in center for homeless gays, under pressure from city officials. A testament to J-FLAG’s work, the group reported in their 2012 National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans Towards Same-Sex Relationships that “while Jamaicans continue to have strong negative attitudes towards homosexuality, one in every five Jamaican is tolerant of LGBT persons and would support an addendum to the charter of rights affording rights to the LGBT community.” Read more about the center’s closing.

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Victories in Hong Kong for “LGBT Platform 2012”

Women’s Coalition of Hong Kong collaboratively developed the LGBT Platform 2012, a platform for political candidates covering 8 issues vital to LGBT citizens.

The comprehensive platform demands legislative protection around a variety of issues including sexual orientation discrimination, employment discrimination, same sex partners’ rights, domestic violence among same sex partners, LGBT-sensitive health care services, and gender equality in education.

Women’s Coalition successfully lobbied to secure full endorsement of the platform by 15 candidates and partial support from 8 candidates. Of the 15 candidates in full support, 9 were elected into office, marking the highest number of elected officials committed to an LGBT platform since Women’s Coalition began mobilizing twelve years ago with the LegCo campaign in 2000. Amidst Women’s Coalition’s efforts during the campaigns, elected official Raymond Chan became the first ever openly gay representative in Hong Kong’s 70-person legislative assembly.