Ms. Global: Iranian Women Unveil in Protest; Hungary Sued Over Anti-LGBTQ Law; Sierra Leone Overturns Abortion Ban

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.


Afghanistan

+ Afghan media struggles to remain independent — but some outlets persist and report on women’s rights.

Nearly a year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, a former flourishing media landscape has suffered continual attacks. Many media channels have shut down — 40 percent of the country’s radio and television outlets have closed in the past months, thanks to Taliban censorship. Organizations are particularly at risk if they cover women’s rights or protests against the Taliban’s treatment of women.

One of the country’s few remaining news organizations to still cover these issues is Tolo News. In March, when the Taliban refused to reopen schools for girls, Tolo News interviewed a teenage girl in the streets of Kabul, who cried that her access to education was denied by the Taliban. The moment became an international symbol for the suffering of Afghan girls and women under the Taliban regime.

Though 90 percent of the Tolo News staff left Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, they currently employ 20 women journalists — nearly doubling their number of women journalists in the past year, despite Taliban limitations on women’s employment.

Iran

+ Iranian women unveil this month to protest the country’s dress code. 

On July 12, the National Day of Hijab and Chastity, women across Iran protested the by removing their hijab in public settings, saying that they see their bodily autonomy and rights restricted by the state’s mandate to veil. The women risked being arrested for immoral behavior by defying the Islamic dress code — violators can face public rebuke and fines in addition to the possibility of arrest. Iranian authorities have historically struggled to impose a strict dress code for women, with women of all ages interpreting the laws differently.

Women taking part in the protest took to social media to display their social disobedience, under the hashtag #No2Hijab. Their protests were supported by some men as well as some women that voluntarily veil. As one man tweeted according to U.S. News: “I don’t have a veil to remove. But I will come to the street to support and defend the women and girls of my land. #No2Hijab.”

Sudan

+ Artist uses murals as a form of protest, and to empower other women artists in Sudan.

Through her murals, artist Reem Saif-Aldin Aljeally depicts women’s role in Sudan’s 2018 national uprisings and sit-ins at the military’s headquarters in the capital Khartoum. She told OkayAfrica: “My murals, which showed a woman wearing a white toub while carrying people forward, garnered a lot of attention. One mural was erased by the military but two are still there.”

To support the local art scene, Aljeally launched The Muse Multi Studios in 2019. Since then, 90 artists have been able to receive training for various skills including painting and drawing through the studio. The studio has also supported nearly 40 artists to have solo exhibitions. 

She’s also started Bait Alnisa — a platform dedicated to art from Sudanese women. “I believe the female generated art comes in many different unusual forms in our society and it should be represented in more various ways,” Aljeally told OkayAfrica. “It has also given me the chance to meet and discover many artists and females leading important careers and visions in our country.”

Aljeally hopes that The Muse Multi Studios can become Sudan’s first art institution, while she continues building her reputation on a local and international scale.

Bangladesh

+ Young activists in Bangladesh highlight the effects of climate crises on girls and women, and supports them with resources.

In response to the flash floods in Sylhet, Bangladesh, young activists protested the lack of global response to the catastrophic crises as a result of climate change. They also provided services and resources to assist the victims of the flooding.

Activist Amina Ahmed highlighted the gendered component of the climate crisis — according to UN figures, 80 percent of people displaced by climate emergencies are women. 24-year-old Ahmed also noted that girls and women often lack the facilities and resources to accommodate their periods during periods of climate crisis. Sanitary towels are often not included in emergency packages for them, so Ahmed makes sure they are. “I’m in the best position to help impacted women, as I personally understand the gender-based issues that they face,” she told The Guardian,

“With high existing levels of poverty and inequality, climate change is intensifying the everyday challenges they already face,” added 20-year-old activist Humayara Jeba, who works with YouthNet, a youth-led climate advocacy organization. Much of the infrastructure that supports women, such as community clinics that provide medical support, was destroyed by the flooding

Other activists, including 18-year-old Nawfat Ibshar, lead protests — marching down busy streets chanting in English and Bangla about the climate crisis. “Organizing people to come together during a crisis is of course difficult,” she told the Guardian. “But people are angry. If we don’t demand change, who will?”

Germany

+ Women of the Social Democrats Party are drugged during their summer convention.

The Social Democrat Party (SPD) of Germany believes that at least eight of their female guests were given “knockout drops” that fall under the “date rape” substance category at an internal summer party. 

“This is an outrageous turn of events, which on our side was immediately reported to parliamentary police,” said senior SPD official Mathias Martin.

One woman who felt weak and could not remember what had happened sought medical support the day after the party and was tested for substances. After the test result came back positive, she filed charges with the police against an unknown assailant. The party leadership urged other potential victims to speak up and to file charges with the police.

The Social Democrats’ senior whip in parliament, Katja Mast, stated: “We are all outraged and will do everything in our power to shed light on this unbelievable occurrence.”

China 

+ Two Chinese women hospitalized after attack at a restaurant, prompting internal police investigation.

Following a June 10 attack that has left two women hospitalized, concerns about public safety and the mistreatment of women have spread across Chinese social media networks. In the city of Tangshan, security camera footage from a local restaurant shows an attack launched by a group of men against four women. Officials have noted that the video appears to depict one of the women rejecting the advances of the men before being “brutally attacked.” 

Some social media users have decried the assailants and the overall sexist attitudes they feel enabled the men to attack the women, while others have turned their outrage on the local police. Fifteen hours after the attack occurred (and six hours after the video went viral), authorities issued a statement claiming that they would be “going all out” to arrest the suspects — prompting accusations that the police only became involved after public outcry. 

Authorities have since placed five police officers under investigation, including the deputy chief of the Tangshan police branch. The Hebei province Public Security Department has also noted that in-depth investigations will be taking place to determine the cause behind the slow response to this incident and “serious violations of laws and discipline” by police. So far, nine suspects have been arrested and the hospitalized women are showing signs of improvement. 

The Vatican

+ Three women become a symbol for a new voice in the Church after the Pope’s appointment.

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis appointed three women to the office that advises him on the selection of bishops around the world. The women — two of whom are nuns, along with one laywoman — will now be members of the Dicastery of Bishops and have the power to decide on the selections of 5,300 bishops.

The women will serve a five-year term, alongside 11 men who are cardinals, bishops and priests. Given that in the Catholic Church, priesthood is strictly limited to men, this decision by Pope Francis has been perceived as progressive. There are also indications that the Pope intends to appoint more women to leadership roles in the Vatican.

Nonetheless, some remain critical. Lucetta Scaraffia, founder of Women Church World, the Vatican’s women magazine, told The New York Times: “These women were chosen because they are in line with the Vatican’s hierarchy. Nothing will change, I think.”

Fiji

+ Fiji Gender Action Programme develops to advance women’s empowerment. 

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced their intent to support the implementation of Fiji’s Gender Action Programme. This program will draw together a total of $12.6 million (USD) to address the gender pay gap and strengthen women’s equality. 

The program, also called Marama Ni Viti, will fund the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Women’s Fund Fiji, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and UN Women. Supporters of this program also hope to create a system of exchange and mentorship between the New Zealand and Fijian members of Parliament. 

Jacinda Arden explained that the program’s ultimate goal is to “support Fijian women and girls, in all their diversity and to increase the voice of women in leadership and decision-making.”

Sierra Leone 

+ Government drafts bill to overturn colonial-era abortion ban.

On July 1, Sierra Leone joined the list of nations worldwide moving to protect abortion access. President Julius Maada Bio announced his intended support of the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act, which will decriminalize abortions nationwide. The act has been approved by Bio’s cabinet and must now be approved by Parliament. 

The maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone is currently the highest in the world, which officials hope to address with the decriminalization of abortion. “At a time in the world when sexual and reproductive health rights for women are either being overturned or threatened, we are proud that Sierra Leone can once again lead with progressive reform,” President Bio said

Many feminist organizations applauded the decision, including Fòs Feminista. Fadekemi Akinfaderin, Fòs Feminista’s co-chief officer of global advocacy, noted: “While we see the United States backsliding in protecting their citizens’ sexual and reproductive rights, feminist movements in the Global South, including here in Sierra Leone, are decriminalizing abortion and advancing gender and reproductive justice. I’m hopeful today’s announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made.”

France

+ France repatriates women and children from Syrian camps. 

The French government has returned 16 women and 35 children to their homes, breaking with its previous policy of refusal to repatriate women and children from Syrian camps on the grounds of national security. For years, France has resisted calls by security and human rights groups to repatriate adult women, claiming that they are “fighters” who should face trial in Syria and Iraq for their alleged crimes. 

These women and children, along with thousands of other individuals from over 60 countries, were being held in camps for families of Islamic State (IS) suspects. These specific camps have existed since at least 2019, but none of the detainees have been charged or brought before a court. 

In February of this year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) urged France to consider repatriation, claiming that France has violated the right to life of the French nationals in the camps. Committee member Ann Skelton noted that “the children are living in inhuman sanitary conditions, lacking basic necessities including water, food and health care, and facing an imminent risk of death” and “every day that passes there is a renewed possibility for further casualties.” 

While France has yet to repatriate all French nationals from these camps, with many men in particular remaining in detention, many believe that this is a step in the right direction.

Hungary

+ European Commission sues Hungary over anti-LGBTQ+ law.

On July 15, the European Commission referred Hungary to the European Union’s Court of Justice over a law that it says violates LGBTQ+ rights. According to the Commission, the law “singles out and targets LGBT content that ‘promotes or portrays divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality’ for individuals under 18.” 

This referral is the next step in the legal proceedings the Commission launched in July 2021 against Hungary and Poland for violations of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán proclaimed that he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values” and has been criticized for his treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals.  

President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission stated that “Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatized: be it because of whom they love, because of their age, their ethnicity, their political opinions, or their religious beliefs.” 

International 

+ International Swimming Federation (FINA) bars transgender women from elite swimming competitions; transgender athletes weigh in.  

In June 2022, the world’s governing swimming body, FINA, voted to bar transgender women from competing in international competitions. Under this new ban, only those who medically transitioned before age 12 would be allowed to compete in women’s events. FINA official James Pearce said: “This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s [about] what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair.”

In response to this ruling, Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ athletes, condemned FINA’s decision, noting that “FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles.” The decision comes in spite of research that indicate trans women who are on Hormone Replacement Therapy have no discernible advantage over cis competitors.

FINA’s new policy also proposed an “open competition” category, in which trans women athletes would be able to participate if the do not meet the new requirements needed for competing with cisgender women. According to FINA’s report, a working group will be created in the next six months to determine exactly how to proceed with this new competitive category.

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About and

Dominik Drabent is an editorial intern for Ms. and a graduate student in the gender & women's studies program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He earned his bachelor's degree in gender & women's studies and aviation management from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His research interests are queer studies, feminist pedagogy, transnational feminism, the Middle East, Islamic feminism and Muslim sexualities.
Hannah Phelps is an editorial intern at Ms. and a senior at Smith College majoring in government and the study of women and gender. Her interests include educational equity, international law and transnational feminism.