Ms. Global: Women Olympians Make History on Global Stage; Argentina Formally Recognizes Non-Binary Individuals; Saudi Feminist Activists Released From Prison

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.


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Workers stack bricks at a factory near Dhaka in Bangladesh. (World Bank / Scott Wallace)

International

United Nations

At the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, experts determined the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for low-income countries have been stunted as a result of COVID-19. As advancements in economic development, well-being, education and human rights have slowed, U.N. officials urge a dual-strategy that includes the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines globally as well as delivering a “financial lifeline” to countries that face debt for mobilizing their pandemic responses.

Olympics

Women Olympians continue to make history throughout the tournaments:

  • Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines their first Olympic gold medal after nearly 100 years.
  • The gold and silver medalists for women’s skateboarding are both 13-year-olds.
  • Simone Biles has received global attention for her decision to step back from competition to protect her mental and physical health.
  • Luciana Alvarado, the first gymnast to qualify for the Olympics from Costa Rica, finished her floor routine by taking a knee with a fist raised in the air. Her tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement is the first of its kind in elite gymnastics on an international stage.

The Olympics have also sparked conversation about sexism and athletic uniforms—especially relevant after controversy following the fine placed upon the Norwegian beach handball team for their refusal to wear bikini bottoms during the European competition.

At the Olympics, the German women’s gymnastics team took to the floor in non-traditional unitards with leggings covering the full length of the athletes’ legs. The wardrobe decision was made to take a stand against the sexualization faced by athletes while prioritizing their physical comfort.

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(Instagram)

COVID-19

Indonesia has become the new hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing COVID infection counts in India and Brazil. Meanwhile, officials have determined Africa to be in the deadliest stage of the pandemic—as rich nations are hoarding vaccines, the future looks even grimmer across the continent where only about 1 percent of people are fully vaccinated. The U.N. called out a “lack of global solidarity” as the vaccine gap grows wider and COVID intensifies with the rapidly spreading Delta variant.

South Africa

Protests erupted in South Africa following the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, whose nine-year tenure ended in 2018. On July 7, Zuma was ordered to hand himself over to prison authorities after refusing to appear before a commission investigating corruption allegations throughout his administration. The government sent troops to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces after protests turned violent.

(TW: sexual assault) Meanwhile, care centers are working to supply survivors of sexual assault with the resources they need throughout the country. In South Africa, one sexual offense occurs every 10 minutes. The support from care centers—which the U.N. recently committed to supporting alongside the South African government—is especially necessary as incidents of sexual assault rise amid the third wave of COVID and recent bouts of gendered violence in taxis

Samoa

After a several month long battle, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, head of the new Fa’atuatua I Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi party (FAST) will become the first woman prime minister. The battle ensued after Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the other rightful prime minister, would not allow anyone from the FAST Party inside parliament. Along with other legal battles, a Samoan appeals court ruled that Mata’afa to be the official and legitimate prime minister—ending the four-decade long rule of Malielegaoi’s party.

“It could have gone pear-shaped, but we were able to keep calm,” said Fiame. “We could have stormed the building and knocked down the doors, like in Washington, D.C. But we just sat and sang a few hymns, sang a prayer.”

Saudi Arabia

Two women, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, were finally released from prison over the weekend after being imprisoned with other women’s rights activists in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is especially crucial as it marks the end to the violence and coercion the activists have endured. At least a dozen of the women released have stated that they were caned on their backs and thighs, electrocuted and waterboarded by masked men, forcibly touched and groped, and threatened with rape or death. 

Although the charges remain unclear, the two prominent activists held a five-year sentence—imprisoned for only three. However, the two are barred from traveling abroad for five years and likely are banned from speaking with the media or posting online about their case. This is likely due to how outspoken they have been about Saudia Arabia’s male guardianship laws among other controversial topics.

Meanwhile, women in Saudi Arabia will, for the first time, have the opportunity to perform the hajj without male guardianship—a historic moment. In an average year, the hajj gathers approximately two million pilgrims. 

Ecuador

A recent report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that strict abortion laws in Ecuador exacerbate inequalities by disproportionately impacting Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations. In Ecuador, abortion is outlawed except in the instance of rape or when the pregnant person’s life is in danger. People who obtain illegal abortion face up to two years in prison, and HRW found that the majority of those prosecuted and incarcerated were Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and poor. Furthermore, about 12 percent of those facing the legal system for obtaining an abortion in the study were minors. 

Chile

After Chile saw a sweeping number of protests in 2019 challenging the inequalities that many face in a “highly patriarchal country,” the protesters are now beginning to be heard. On July 4, feminist Giovanna Roa along with 154 elected members held the first consitutional assembly convention to begin drafting a new constitution drafted by an equal number of women and men.

Although exciting, there remains a battle ahead. “The assembly will have a maximum of 12 months to write the new constitution to be approved by a second referendum in 2022. If it is rejected, the Pinochet-era document will remain in place,” according to NBC News

“We will win when the new constitution is accepted,” Roa explained. “This is the end of a dark era that is still alive, because the concentration of economic and political power is still there, as it was written during the dictatorship. … Now we have the chance to be an experiment of a new kind of democracy.”

Zimbabwe

Civil society groups and health workers are advocating for young girls to access reproductive health care in Zimbabwe following rises in teen pregnancies during COVID. While the legal age of consent in the country is 18, almost 5,000 teenage pregnancies and 2,000 marriages of girls under the legal age of consent were recorded in Zimbabwe between January and February alone. Despite the health minister rejecting a proposal permitting 16-year-olds to obtain contraceptives and abortion services without parental consent, activists continue to organize for comprehensive sex education and health services for youth.

India

Despite the 1961 Prohibition of Dowry Act, the payment of dowry continues to be widely accepted in India. However, the use of dowry has horrific implications for women. Recently, in the state of Kerala, there have been a series of deaths of young married women who faced domestic abuse due to the custom of dowry. In reaction, India has instituted a 24-7 helpline for women facing abuse, school textbooks are being revised to remove misogynistic concepts and language, and schools are being turned into spaces “that embrace gender equality,” according to Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of the region. 

Between 2016 and 2020, Kerala has had 66 dowry-related deaths and more than 15,000 cases of violence against women by husbands and relatives. Furthermore, more than 6,000 women have called Kerala’s domestic conflict resolution centres to report acts of some kind of violence. 

As such, activists are demanding additional actions including penalties for those who continue to use dowry among other recommendations. 

Meanwhile, the backlash against interfaith marriages continues as couples face charges such as being criminally prosecuted for kidnapping, forced conversion, among other topics. In fact, the violence against interfaith marriages has become so bad that, in 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered state authorities to provide secure and safe houses to those in dangerous situations. This resistance to interfaith marriages, according to a Pew Research Center study, particularly impacts women who marry outside of their religion.

Mexico

Now joining Mexico City, Oaxaca and Hidalgo, Veracruz just became the fourth state in Mexico to allow abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The win has been a long time coming, especially with the Mexican Supreme Court striking down a proposal in 2020 to decriminalize abortion in Veracruz. “We thought this day was so far off that we’re in shock, in the best way possible,” tweeted a Veracruz-based feminist group, Brujas del Mar.

Argentina

Argentina became the first country in Latin America to formally recognize nonbinary people. Starting July 21, Argentina’s passports and national identity documents include a third gender category in accordance with a decree from President Alberto Fernández. While activists throughout the country are celebrating, they are also looking for other countries in the region to pass similar measures. 

Pakistan

Women’s rights groups across Pakistan are demanding an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan, after he made insensitive and harmful comments when asked about the rising sexual violence in Pakistan. Instead of addressing the issue, he stated, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the man unless they are robots. It’s common sense.” Activist Kanwal Ahmed responded to his comments, writing on Twitter that it “Makes my heart shudder to think how many rapists feel validated today with the Prime Minister backing their crime.”

Spain

(TW: sexual assault) Spain recently approved a bill which will provide protections for any individual who undergoes some kind of sexual violence. The bill, “Only Yes Means Yes,” was in part inspired by a woman who was raped by five men at the 2016 Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona. Enacted by Parliament in September, the bill will help to criminalize actions of sexual violence—including street harassment, digital sexual violence, genital mutilation, forced marriages, among other instances. 

The bill also seeks to create age-appropriate sex education programs and reparations for victims—through some form of financial aid, paid time off, public housing and so forth. Furthermore, the Equality Ministry hopes to create some kind of official data collection on different kinds of sexual violence occurring in Spain to best understand what is happening and to give victims “visibility.”

Europe

The European Union’s highest court ruled on July 15 that employers are allowed to limit political, religious or philosophical expressions in the workplace. “For any women forced to wear a headscarf or veil, such prohibitions do not address root causes of oppression but risk in practice further curtailing their engagement with society, increasing their isolation,” writes Human Rights Watch. “Rather than helping dismantle patriarchal norms that underpin control of women’s bodies and behavior, such prohibitions can feed them.”

Meanwhile, on June 24, the European Parliament adopted a historic report to ensure the sexual and reproductive rights of citizens. In doing so, the report highlights the necessity of protecting universal access to safe and legal abortion, comprehensive sex-ed, among other important topics. 

“The report states that sexual and reproductive health is a ‘fundamental pillar’ of women’s rights and gender equality that cannot ‘be watered down or withdrawn.’ Instead, states must ‘remove all barriers impeding them from using these services’” writes Open Democracy. 

Afghanistan

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A demonstration of students at Sayed Al-Shuhada school holding signs in support of girls’ education. (Courtesy of Zareen Taj)

Afghan women remain fearful of the prospect of Taliban rule. Recently, the Taliban has steamrolled government troops, taking over a third of Afghanistan’s districts and forcing women and girls into marriage. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops by August 31, women will be particularly impacted as they have been able to take on more prominent roles in society—such as politicians, journalists, actors, etc. As such, the Biden administration is considering offering visas for Afghans affected or in danger from Taliban rule—especially for women and children.

Norway

A Lutheran church held the first name change ceremony for a transgender Norwegian woman, the first ceremony of its kind in the Nordic region. Elin Stillingen, 49, legally changed her name and registered gender last year. “I’m a member of the Norwegian church, and I’m also about to come ‘out of the closet’ as a Christian, so this ceremony is important to me,” said Stillingen. 

United Kingdom and Wales

The High Court upheld the legality of housing incarcerated transgender women in women’s correctional facilities. The case that brought the ruling was waged by a cis woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a trans woman in 2017 while in prison. The Ministry of Justice said their decision was to continue “facilitating the rights of transgender people to live in and as their acquired gender [and] protecting transgender people’s mental and physical health.” 

The ruling proves an important interjection to transphobic stereotypes that pin trans women as sexual predators based on the “misuse of the statistics, which … are so low in number, and so lacking in detail, that they are an unsafe basis for general conclusions,” said Lord Justice Holroyde.

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About and

Lily Sendroff is an editorial fellow at Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She majors in the study of women and gender and government, with a concentrative subfield in comparative politics. Her work typically focuses on feminist economics, transnational feminism, and policy analysis.
Juliet Schulman-Hall is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College. She is majoring in English language & literature, minoring in sociology, and concentrating in poetry. Her beats include caregiving, mental health and disability advocacy, and criminal justice reform and abolition. Follow her @jschulmanhall