Ms. Global: Historic Kenyan Elections; Malaysia Passes Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill; Germany Introduces Self-Determination Act

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.


Kenya

+ Martha Karua could become Kenya’s first female deputy president.

On Aug. 9, Kenya holds elections for a new president, but also for many other positions — including the deputy president. Martha Karua, who is running for deputy president in a bid together with opposition leader Raila Odinga, would be the country’s first female deputy president if elected. Though the Odinga-Karua bid is reportedly energizing Kenyans, the partnership faces strong competition and a complicated history. In 2007, Karua reportedly accused Odinga of ethnic cleansing during the post-election violence.

Martha Karua in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Karua previously ran for president nine years ago, but she received less than one percent of the total votes and took a break from politics afterward. Many feminists and activists support Karua, and expect to see change if she gets into office. 

Boniface Mwangi, an advocate against corruption, told The Guardian: “She gives me hope that when she’s in government, at least we will obey the constitution. That as a human rights defender, I wouldn’t have to live in exile or be afraid that, if I protest, I’m going to get shot.”

But still, many of Karua’s supporters question whether she will be able to bring change and keep her promises or if she will be overshadowed by Raila. Eunice Musiime from the feminist organization Akina Mama wa Afrika told The Guardian: “It’s coming from a space of understanding that this is the reality — this is a system we are working with and it’s going to take something to change that.” 

The August 9 election’s results are still pending at the time of this article’s publication.

Japan

+ In a historic win, Japan’s Upper House of Parliament sees 35 newly elected female candidates.

Thirty-five women candidates won a record-breaking number of seats in Japan’s Upper House of parliament election, held on July 10. These election results represent a drastic increase from both the 2016 and 2019 elections, in which 28 women won.  

Among the winners were Satsuki Katayama, former minister in charge of regional revitalization and member of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Kuniko Inoguchi, former minister of state in charge of gender equality and social affairs. 

This historic win comes amidst efforts to achieve gender parity, particularly within Japan’s Upper House. In 2018, a nonbinding act called on political parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates — through actions such as increased media coverage for female candidates. 

In the July 2022 election, there were 181 total female candidates and 245 open seats. However, this represented only 33.2 percent of the overall total and thus, fell short of parity. By 2025, the Japanese government hopes to raise the ratio of women running in parliamentary elections to 35 percent.  

Hong Kong

+ Hong Kong stock exchange hopes to create 1,300 corporate board seats for women by 2024. 

According to the new rules of the Hong Kong stock exchange, any company seeking to list in-country must have at least one female director on the board majority. In January, the exchange already established a deadline of three years for all companies to ensure gender diversity on its board. Therefore, these new initiatives hope to create 1,300 new board seats for women by the end of 2024. 

Up until now, many women have been shut out of boardrooms, with many companies relying on “old boys networks” to fill positions, as president of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Susanna Chiu explained

Current data suggests that women hold approximately 16 percent of board seats among companies listed in Hong Kong. In 2021, a review of Hong Kong businesses claimed that of the 2,500 companies listed on the exchange, 815 had no female board members at all. 

Nasrine Ghozali, a member of the steering committee of the 30% Club Hong Kong (which advocates for more gender diversity on boards), noted that “The new rules are creating some momentum for companies to finally consider diverse board candidates.” 

India

+ After more than a decade, the local government in Nagaland will hold elections, bringing women into civic life.

Women will finally have a chance to break into political leadership positions in the Nagaland state of India, thanks to a 33 percent quota for women in civic body positions. This rule, which had been adopted as an amendment to Nagaland’s Municipal Act, led to many protests, which grew violent at times — leading to the death of two people in 2017. Protests primarily came from groups that claimed the quota ran in opposition to customary laws protected under Article 371(A) of the state’s constitution.

Organizations such as the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA) argue contrarily that the 33 percent reservations are a constitutional amendment, while Article 371(A) is part of the Parliament’s body of law, and therefore, there is no conflict between the two. While the NMA has actively been involved in peacebuilding efforts, but the female activists have no say in the political decision-making processes. Thus, the 33 percent quota will secure an important place at the table of policymaking in Nagaland.

After the Indian Supreme Court criticized the local government of Nagaland in February of this year, the state government met with all stakeholders such as tribal representatives, churches and political parties to discuss the need for elections for the urban local bodies. On April 12, the local authorities informed the Supreme Court that all parties involved agreed to hold elections by accepting the 33 percent rule that will bring women into political decision-making.

Germany

+ New law would allow trans and non-binary people the right to self-determine legal gender markers.

Germany’s new Self-Determination Act, introduced on June 30 of this year, now permits trans and non-binary Germans to change their name as well as the gender marker on their legal documents without medical reports or court orders, which were previously required. The new law would also apply to minors of age 14 and above with the permission of their legal guardians. 

The legal changes can be made simply by going to a registry office. The disclosure of these legal changes by registry officials could result in the entity or person being fined — an additional element to protect trans and non-binary people. Those changes are part of a reform package that the political coalition in power announced in November 2021. 

The reforms are significant, given that trans Germans wishing to change their legal gender were forced to undergo sterilization by law up until 2011. Julia Monro from the German Society for Transidentity and Intersexuality, told Der Tagesspiegel: “There have never been such progressive projects for the rights of queer people in a coalition agreement. This is a milestone and the queer community is cheering.”

The next months will show if this progressive agenda will pass and thereby allow the right to self-determination for trans and non-binary people.

Zimbabwe

+ Violence hinders women’s political engagement.

Women’s participation in politics is low in Zimbabwe, despite the fact that the country has had a quota of 60 seats reserved for women out of 270 seats. This quota will expire after the next year’s elections and the Parliament will then have 210 seats once more.

Women who go into politics face challenges ranging from overcoming stereotypes to tangible physical violence. On March 16 of this year, Thokozile Dube, who is a party member of the Citizens Coalition of Change (CCC), experienced intimidation by nearly 40 men that belong to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The men carried stones and threatened her so that she would not participate in the elections.

During the elections, at least six women were harassed and injured. This violence contributes to the low numbers of women running for office. For the National Assembly, only 16 participants were women out of the 118 candidates. Since 2018, 37 cases have been recorded where women were tortured and even killed for political reasons. 

Women like Dube, who are politically engaged, say they hope for justice and for violators to face justice prior to the 2023 elections.

Malaysia

+ Malaysian Parliament passes anti-sexual harassment bill — despite displays of sexism by members of Parliament.

After more than a decade of pressure from advocates, the Malaysian Parliament has passed an anti-sexual harassment bill to make harassment of both men and women a crime. The bill was originally introduced in the Lower House of the Malaysian Parliament, the Dewan Rakyat, in 2011. “This law is for all Malaysians. It shows the government’s commitment to prevent sexual harassment for both genders,” said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun. 

The Malaysian parliamentary building in Kuala Lumpur. (Wikimedia Commons)

Under the law, any uncalled behavior in any form — verbal or non-verbal, visual, signal or physical — directed towards another person which offends, disrespects or harms their well-being is categorized as sexual harassment. Those found guilty of committing sexual harassment may pay up to RM 250,000 (about $56,000) or be jailed for two years. This new law is also in line with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Article 8 of the Federal Constitution on gender equality. 

During the Parliamentary proceedings, Teo Nie Ching (PH-Kulai) spoke about her experience with sexist remarks made by other MPs, including Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, Bung Moktar Radin and Tajuddin Abdul Rahman. She noted, “When this Act is enforced, will there be a change in Parliament? When a tribunal is formed, and these MPs continue to make sexist remarks, can we haul them to the tribunal?” In turn, the aforementioned male representatives attempted to justify their sexist comments. While the bill was passed, this conversation has raised greater concerns regarding sexism in the Malaysian Parliament. 

China

+ Two university students are punished for the distribution of rainbow flags.

Two students, identified in the press as Huang and Li, from Beijing’s Tsinghua University have been disciplined for handing out pride flags on the university’s campus. In May, the students allegedly left 10 rainbow flags in the campus convenience store alongside a note encouraging fellow students to take a flag in celebration of “#Pride.” Later that same day, the students were summoned to speak with school officials. 

In June, the students then received letters of penalty, which accused them of “distributing promotional materials on campus without authorization.” School officials claimed that this is a direct violation of the university’s code of conduct and thus, could lead to disciplinary action. Despite the pair’s attempts to have the penalty overturned, they received formal disciplinary warnings in mid-July. According to these letters, the students had caused a “negative impact” by distributing the flags. As punishment, the students are unable to receive scholarships for the next six months. If their actions are repeated, they could receive a more serious penalty, which could jeopardize their ability to secure government jobs later in life. 

The country’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ university advocacy is not a new practice. In 2021, WeChat (a commonly-used social media app in China) deleted dozens of LGBTQ+ accounts run by university students. In 2016, the Rainbow Group at Sun Yat-sen University was prohibited from hosting on-campus events. 

“When I attended university in Beijing, which was between 2007 and 2011, I couldn’t find any LGBT group in my school,” said Diǎn Diǎn, a doctoral researcher currently based at Emory University. Diǎn suspects that the crackdown on LGBTQ+ advocacy is due, in part, to the active role of students in other social movements, such as the #MeToo movement and the campaign for labor rights. However, these groups remain crucial for students such as Màomào, a recent graduate from a university in Southern China. “As someone who had never been part of a march, it was an unforgettable experience for me to have the chance to openly express my sexuality and attitude,” he claimed.

Iran

+ Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei opposes the women’s movement of unveiling.

On July 12, the National Day of Hijab and Chastity, many women across in Iran unveiled to oppose the country’s mandate to veil. Iranian activists saw this act of resistance also as a sign of solidarity with other women losing their rights through governmental violence. 

In the wake of the protests, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated that he believes Western forces were behind the movement, saying, “the enemies’ goal is to spread doubt among the people… and shake their faith, which is the main factor in maintaining the country and the Islamic system.”

Many Iranian women, who oppose the state’s veiling mandate, see their bodily autonomy infringed by the state. Protestors faced violence — videos show morality police arresting women on the streets. Sepideh Rashno, a woman who was arrested, later issued an apology statement on Iranian TV that many people believe to be forced. Masih Alinejad, who was under death threats from the Iranian government, described Rashno’s forced apology and her arrest as an “act of terror.” 

Alinejad tweeted, “These are anti-compulsory hijab women on Iranian TV being forced to confess. Dozens of women have been arrested since July 12 day of action against forced hijab. But these acts of terror haven’t deterred women. Our campaign against forced hijab continues.”

Nigeria

+ Artist’s visions of an afrofuturist utopia provide hope for a thriving Nigerian queer community.

In Oct. 2020, 12 protestors of the #EndSARS movement were killed in south Lagos while they rallied against police brutality. Many people, including the queer Nigerian community, were devastated by the killings

Daniel Obasi, a photographer and stylist who has lived in Lagos for multiple years, has published a photo book as part of a project from Louis Vuitton. The book, Beautiful Resistance, is “an ode to the Queer minority community in Nigeria and young Nigerians who stood up against police brutality and political corruption.” 

Working through the trauma of the massacre, Obasi envisions an afrofuturist metropolis that keeps the viewer in the Nigerian presence, while showing a world where queer minorities hold the power.

As Obasi told Dazed Digital in an interview: “My point of view has always been very surrealist, Afrofuturistic, and fantasy-like, building what I feel could be an alternative in visual storytelling. I’m never trying to come from a place whereby I’m sitting in oppression – some visuals do that. I’m interested in going away from oppression to create an alternative where power switches to the minorities – where you see the minorities taking over or taking up the spaces visually. Maybe that’s my way of hoping that such becomes our reality over time.” 

United Kingdom

+ Photographer Emil Lombardo highlights experiences of trans and non-binary immigrants in the United Kingdom. 

Emil Lombardo — an Argentinian-born photographer now based in London — describes his work as “concerned with body politics and gender, representation and visibility of dissident identities.” With his most recent photo series, Lombardo hopes to tell the stories of other trans and non-binary immigrants, particularly those who “share a similar journey” to him. 

“The first trans people I saw in the media were so badly portrayed that it delayed my gender exploration and coming out,” said Lombardo. He hopes to show the diversity inherent in being trans and the need to celebrate this identity. “I want to use my voice to create the representation I didn’t have as a child. The people I photograph are gorgeous and I want the world to see them in all their beauty.” 

While Lombardo notes that the U.K. is a place where trans and non-binary individuals can be embraced, there is still a lot of progress to be made. “Especially for trans people of colour, even if they can feel safe here in their gender identity, they still face racial discrimination,” says Lombardo. “The U.K. government and media have to work a lot to make this country a safe space where the dignity of life is respected.” 

Lombardo’s photo series is part of the Gay Times and Channel 4 campaign, #ProudAllOver, which hopes to spotlight Pride events all over the country.

International 

+ U.N. Human Rights Council adopts The Resolution on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. 

On July 8, the 50th U.N. Human Rights Council adopted The Resolution on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This newly adopted resolution first recognizes the practice of FGM, noting that “the harmful practice of female genital mutilation persists in all parts of a globalized and more interconnected world.” This recognition is a crucial step toward the elimination of FGM, particularly as many countries do not collect data on the prevalence of FGM this practice but this recognition is a crucial step toward its elimination. In a 2020 report, human rights organization Equality Now states that at least 92 countries across the globe have evidence that women and girls live with a risk of FGM. 

The U.N. resolution calls upon state governments to take “comprehensive, multisectoral and international and regional cooperation measures.” These measures may include regional and national legislation prohibiting FGM (per international human rights law), the collection of representative data, a focus on the underlying causes of gender inequality and the development of a partnership among affected communities. 

States are responsible for submitting a report detailing their progress on these measures to the 56th Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. 

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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. She is majoring in government and the study of women and gender. Her interests include educational equity, international law and transnational feminism.