Ms. Global: Scotland Eliminates Period Product Fees; Poland’s Pride March; Nonbinary Joan of Arc Debuts at Globe Theatre

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.


Scotland

+ Scotland paves way for period poverty movement, eliminating fees for period products.

Menstrual products, including pads and tampons, will now be offered free of charge in public facilities—including pharmacies, education providers and community centers—across Scotland. In Nov. 2020, lawmakers unanimously passed The Period Products bill, the first of its kind in the fight against period poverty. 

“Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them. This is more important than ever at a time when people are making difficult choices due to the cost of living crisis and we never want anyone to be in a position where they cannot access period products,” said Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison.

In the United Kingdom as a whole, one in 10 girls (ages 14-21) reported difficulties affording period products. In the U.S., approximately 14 percent of college students struggle to afford period products, according to George Mason University. “We are the first but won’t be the last,” wrote Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour lawmaker, who introduced the bill in 2019.

Pakistan

+ Amid floods, volunteers provide menstrual product access. 

Over 30 million individuals have been affected by record floods covering the country, rendering thousands homeless. With half of the victims women and girls, aid organizations (such as the Mahwari Justice campaign) have developed supports to provide menstrual hygiene product access.

Since June, founder Bushra Mahnoor and colleague Anum Khalid have mobilized funds and volunteers to pack and distribute emergency sanitary kits containing pads, underwear and soap. Each kit costs 200 rupees ($.90) to make. “Periods do not stop during floods. Women need this assistance,” said Mahnoor. 

Mahnoor described the difficulties she faced when establishing the campaign, particularly in a culture where menstruation is taboo. The floods have reached the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, one of the most conservative parts of Pakistan, which operates under a strict honor code. Many flood victims are also mixing with non-family members for the first time in shared bathrooms, complicating the issue of privacy. 

Much of Mahwari Justice’s work has been met with disgust, particularly online. The campaign has even been accused of pursuing a “liberal agenda” that has taken funds away from food or medicinal access. 

Social media has also been beneficial to Mahwari Justice, serving as a site for many volunteers to become involved. “I put myself in their place and thought this would have been such a huge problem for me if I didn’t have these things,” said volunteer Nyle Imtiaz. 

Singapore

+ Singapore sees mixed progress for LGBTQ+ rights movement.  

On Aug. 21, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore announced the government would repeal a colonial-era law criminalizing sex between two consenting men. “Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue … This will bring the law into line with current social mores and I hope provide some relief to gay Singaporeans,” said Lee. 

Reversing the law, known as Section 377A, has long been an objective of gay-rights activists in Singapore. During the recent Pink Dot pride rally, activists spoke of the harsh discrimination they face, ending the night with the cry to “Repeal 377A.” “To me, repealing 377A is the first step to reclaiming what it means to be normal. Discrimination is legally sanctioned, in a country that professes the right of every citizen to equal protection before the law,” said Remy Choo, a lawyer and LGBTQ+ activist.

However, opposed to same-sex marriage, Lee also proposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Poland

+ Peaceful Pride marches suggest changing national reality. 

The city of Katowice successfully hosted Pride events on Sept. 3, drawing around 4,000 participants. Katowice Pride organizer Przemysław Walas said the march reminded “our city, the region, and all of Poland that we are here, that we will not disappear because someone has a problem accepting that the world is not black and white.”

In the past, counterprotesters have resorted to violence, launching eggs and explosives. To ensure order, the mayor of Katowice issued an order banning anti-LGBTQ+ group Fundacja Pro from the march—but it was later overturned by a court. Some members of Fundacja Pro did make an appearance, displaying signs linking the LGBTQ+ community with pedophilia, but the march remained peaceful. 

“There is an absolutely huge change compared to previous years. We are extremely happy that our marches have changed our reality,” said one march participant. 

Afghanistan

+ LGBTQ+ activist Ozlam plans a protest in Pakistan to support Afghan refugees. 

For trans women like Ozlam, the Taliban takeover in 2021 represented a severe danger, as many LGBTQ+ individuals have faced violence from the Taliban for various offenses—including wearing Western clothes. “Under Taliban rule, we faced harassment, torture, beatings on a daily basis,” Ozlam said.

Like so many others, Ozlam decided to cross the border into Pakistan. Many hope to someday reach western Europe, Canada, the United States or Australia where they can be themselves. However, since she crossed the border, she has faced financial hardships and harassment from Pakistan police. In collaboration with Roshaniya, an organization with the goal of getting LGBTQ+ Afghans to safety, Ozlam hopes to stage a protest in Pakistan. This protest is believed to be the first ever staged by LGBTQ+ Afghans.

“We now want to defend our rights and raise our voice because no one is focusing on LGBT Afghans and nobody is taking care of them. The only reason I’m doing this is to defend our lives and to raise our voices to the world, to hear us,” said Ozlam.

Spain

+ Spanish legislature passes “yes means yes” consent law. 

On Aug. 25, Spain’s lower house approved a law requiring “affirmative consent.” The new law clearly states that consent cannot be given if a person is under the effects of drugs or alcohol, or if they have fallen asleep. While the law does not require a verbal “yes,” it does claim that “there is consent when it has been freely expressed through acts that, in view of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the will of the person.”  Thus, consent must be affirmative and cannot assume to have been given in cases of silence or by default. 

“It’s a victorious day after many years of struggle,” said Irene Montero, equality minister. “From now on no woman will have to prove that violence or intimidation was used for it to be recognized for what it is.” 

The legislation was originally drawn up following the 2016 assault of an 18-year-old woman by five men. In court, video footage of the attack was provided as proof of consent. One judge claimed that the men should be charged purely for the theft of the woman’s phone. They were sentenced to nine years in prison for the charge of sexual abuse—a lesser charge—until public outcry changed the sentence to 15 years for rape. The law “is a very significant shift,” as it disrupts the idea of “consent being what usually a man imagines a woman is thinking,” said Lise Gotell, a professor of women and gender studies at the University of Alberta. 

Papua New Guinea

+ Rufina Peter elected as first female MP in a decade.

Papua New Guinea has elected Rufina Peter, the first woman to parliament in over a decade and the eighth MP in the country’s history. An economist, Peter originally ran for office out of frustration over the deterioration of infrastructure, social services and living conditions.   

“Rufina is intelligent. She stands for everything we call democracy and good governance,” said Dr. Orovu Sepoe, political scientist and expert on women’s activism in Papua New Guinea. In 2017, Peter ran for office and received the most votes of any female candidate in the country, although 2022 was the first time she was elected. She worked full time toward her 2022 election, traveling around the country to hand out her C.V. and persuade voters to support a female candidate. 

“I had to challenge them about the perceptions of women, especially women in leadership. I would just use the analogy of a woman in a home, and what she does when she wakes up, how many jobs she gets done before she sleeps … And then I say, ‘pick a woman who is qualified to run for this office, and don’t you think she is going to do the same in this house, this parliament house?’ Of course she is,” said Peter.   

This election cycle was particularly dangerous, with roughly 50 election-related deaths this year. Primarily, this violence stems from concerns over the electoral process—the electoral roll has not been updated since 2012, disenfranchising thousands of potential voters. When asked why she continued to run despite these barriers, Peter responded: “Because honestly, I would be equally responsible for the lack of development, and I could not live with that. You know, the least I can do is put my hand up.” 

China

+ Chinese authorities continue their investigation following the June 10 attack.

More than two months after the brutal attack that left two women hospitalized, Chinese authorities are grappling with a national discussion on gender-based violence. Security camera footage of the attack, which showed four women in a restaurant being hit repeatedly by a group of men, has generated national outrage concerning the abuse of women. 

More than a dozen officials and police officers are also under investigation for corruption, sparked by public criticisms that the police were too slow to act. The government claims that the episode was related to “evil forces” involving gang activity, thus playing down the gender-based aspect of the attack. Conversations about underlying misogyny in Chinese society have since been silenced out of government fears for social unrest. 

“For the C.C.P. today, protests over social issues and grievances are seen as a threat to the regime,” said Jennifer Pan, an associate professor at Stanford University who focuses on political censorship.

On Aug. 29, officials charged 28 people involved in 11 crimes dating back to 2012—including robbery, assault and the operation of illegal casinos. In their statement, authorities did not clarify which of the charges were specifically related to the July 10 attack. Their statement concluded with the remark that accounts of sexual violence in relation to the restaurant attack were “false information.” Following this update, online commenters asked why the female victims, who have not been heard from since July, are not discussed more prominently in the state media reports. Some commenters have even pointed out that—if not for the security footage—there may not have been an investigation at all. 

United Kingdom 

+ Nonbinary Joan of Arc debuts at London’s Globe Theatre. 

Joan of Arc will be portrayed as nonbinary in upcoming productions of “I, Joan” at London’s Globe Theatre in a disruption of traditional depictions. Isobel Thom, a nonbinary actor, will play the titular role and use scripted they/them pronouns, with help from director Ilinca Radulian and playwright Charlie Josephine. 

The play will be shown at the Globe through Oct. 22 and depicts Joan of Arc grappling with their gender identity while simultaneously inspiring French soldiers. At one point, Joan notes, “I’m not a girl. I do not fit that word.”  

The play has generated a conflict between LGBTQ+ activists and those who claim that a nonbinary identity is a “21st century idea.” Heather Binning of the Women’s Rights Network, a group that aims “to defend the sex-based rights of women,” objects to the play on the grounds that Joan “existed in a time where her struggles were that of being a woman. Being female, and the biological sex of her body, lies at the root of this story.” Josephine’s goal is to depict “a young person in a female body, who is questioning gender in a very different society than what we live in now. … My younger self really needed a protagonist like this.” 

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About

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.