Ms. Global: Protests in Iran; Malta Offers Free Gender-Affirming Surgery; San Marino Legalizes Abortion

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.


+ International outrage erupts after the killing of Mahsa Amini by morality police.  

Anti-government protests broke out across Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed while in the custody of the country’s morality police. Amini was initially arrested in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran’s hijab law, which requires women to cover their hair.

Amini’s death sparked outrage across social media and the international community at large. While the protests first started in direct response to her killing, they have since expanded to a larger criticism of the Iranian government’s oppression of women. Protesters chanted “death to the dictator,” rejecting the Iranian Republic’s theocratic rule under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, the government restricted internet access and arrested at least 17 journalists in an attempt to quell the protests. 

Protesters set their scarves on fire while marching down a street on October 1, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Getty Images)

The demonstrations, which have spanned a dozen cities and university campuses, have been led mostly by women — who have been seen removing their hijabs and defiantly waving them in the air. Some women have even been seen cutting off their hair in solidarity during public protests. In response to the protests, Iranian security forces have started to fire into the crowds, killing many and injuring more. “We will fight and take our country back,” proclaimed protesters.


+ Mothers protest a new law giving fathers exclusive control over their children’s education.

On Sept. 25, three women gathered outside Jordan’s Parliament to protest an amendment to the Children’s Rights Law, which gives fathers and male guardians the final say in their child’s education. The amendment replaced the word “parents” with the terms “father or guardian.” 

These three women have formed a campaign called “Joint Custody,” demanding that mothers be allowed to make decisions for their children. “Excluding mothers from decisions undermines their role as nurturers, especially since the responsibility of childcare in our society falls disproportionately on the shoulders of mothers,” said Haneen Assaf, a member of the campaign. 

This new amendment also targets single mothers, as similar laws seek to minimize their control over the lives of their children. Aveen Kurdi, a divorced mother, explained, “I am the main provider for the house, so it’s really offensive to find out that I don’t have a say in decisions related to my daughter’s education.”

Although social media called for women to join the protests, only three women were present outside parliament. Assaf believes this is because women in Jordan are afraid to voice their rights. “I still think we are speaking for many,” she said. “Women cannot continue to be excluded from making decisions when it comes to their children.” Campaign representatives were able to speak with members of parliament who claimed they would try to re-open discussion on the amendment.  


+ Brazil elects the first trans members of parliament despite campaign violence.

On Oct. 2, Brazil elected three trans women, Erika Hilton, Duda Salabert and Robeyoncé Lima, to parliament in a historic win. Hilton, who is Black and trans, was first elected to the Municipal Chamber of São Paulo in 2020 and has since worked toward healthcare and social reforms. “As long as I’m alive, I’ll fight like a lioness to protect what I believe in and avenge the voices of my people,” she said

Erica Hilton campaigns for fellow progressive candidate Guilherme Boulos, 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hilton will be joined by Duda Salabert, who founded the organization Transvest—which organizes against transphobia—and has centered her political career on environmentalism. Her digital campaign was the first in history not to use a single piece of paper, pamphlet or sticker. Lima has worked as a lawyer and activist, helping to secure human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. 

As a country, Brazil sees the largest number of trans people killed each year of anywhere in the world. Under the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, trans people have also endured increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence. Among more than 30 trans candidates tracked by the National Association of Travestis and Transgender People, about 80 percent have received threats during this election cycle. This campaign season was particularly violent for trans candidates such as Salabert, who received death threats from opponents and had to hire a bodyguard. 

This win for Hilton, Salabert and Lima comes in the midst of a presidential race between right-wing Bolsonaro and left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula). Although Lula beat incumbent Bolsonaro in the popular vote, he only received 48 percent of the vote — which is shy of the 50 percent needed for victory. The run-off election will take place on Oct. 30. Many of the newly-elected candidates will now spend their time campaigning for Lula.

“Together we made history…All those votes went to a trans person committed to the people’s agenda. The fight doesn’t stop here, but it continues and grows from there,” explained Lima.


+ Two women elected to Kuwait’s National Assembly.

On Sept. 29, thousands of Kuwaitis voted in the parliamentary elections — the second in less than two years. 367 candidates, including 27 women, sought 50 legislative positions in the National Assembly. Female voters and candidates hoped that this election would bring change (28 women ran in the last election, but none were successful).

Two women — Jenan Mohsin Ramadan Boushehri and Alia Faisal Al Khaled —were elected as part of the opposition – the party who won the majority of the seats. As a result of their wins, women will return to parliament for the first time since 2020. 

“We will work for Kuwait … our goal is one, we will fight with love … so that Kuwait is in a better situation,” said Al Khaled.


+ Maltese Prime Minister promises free gender-affirming surgery.

Prime Minister Robert Abela confirms that Malta will offer free gender-affirming surgery as part of the country’s LGBTQ+ rights reform project. The government has already legalized same-sex marriage, expanded recognition of nonbinary individuals and criminalized conversion therapy

During a radio show with One Radio, Abela noted those seeking surgery “will be placed on the national health service, which means the state will finance the procedure.” This statement comes two weeks after the government lifted the ban on queer men’s blood donations

“Nobody chooses how they are born so how can we as legislators penalize somebody because of that? That’s not acceptable in any society,” said Malta’s Equality Minister Helena Dalli. Malta continues to be internationally recognized for its pro-LGBTQ+ reforms.

“I’m happy that more people in Malta are living better lives, at least in the eyes of the law. But then when it comes to practicalities there is some more work we have to do because it’s not so easy to change attitudes and culture,” said Dalli.      

San Marino

+ San Marino legalizes abortion. 

One year after the country’s 2021 referendum on abortion rights, lawmakers voted to overturn a 150-year-old criminal abortion ban in San Marino — which prior to the ruling, was one of the last European states to have outlawed all abortions. The September referendum found that 77 percent of voters want to legalize abortion beyond the first trimester of pregnancy, in the case of health concerns. 

In the past, residents of San Marino — a predominantly Catholic nation — have had to travel to Italy for abortion care. Under previous San Marino law, those who sought abortion services abroad risked criminal prosecution if discovered. 

This new law requires San Marino’s public health system to cover the cost of abortions, a significant departure from their previous law. “Before the new law legalizing [abortion], women not only had to pay for it, you had to do it in secret,” said advocate Elena D’Amelio, who collected signatures for the referendum. While it is not yet clear how many healthcare workers will declare themselves “conscientious objectors,” this new law notes that citizens will be reimbursed if healthcare workers refuse to perform their abortions, and they are forced to seek care abroad in Italy.

Sri Lanka

+ New bill introduced in parliament to decriminalize homosexuality.

On Sept. 11, President Ranil Wickremesinghe declared that the government will not oppose a newly-introduced bill meant to decriminalize homosexuality. This bill comes from a private member of parliament, Premnath C. Dolawatte, and seeks to affirm same-sex relationships between consenting adults. 

Currently, same-sex relationships are illegal in Sri Lanka. In March, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) called on Sri Lanka to repeal its law criminalizing same-sex relationships. This push also comes after a Human Rights Watch report found that Sri Lanka has performed invasive “virginity tests” on LGBTQ+ individuals to “prove” their sexuality. 

This new bill requires support from individual members of parliament. “We are for it, but you have to get the support of individual members. It’s a matter of their private conscience,” said Wickremesinghe.   


+ Cuba legalizes same-sex marriage.

On Sept. 26, in a sweeping referendum, 67 percent of Cubans voted to allow same-sex marriage. This law is part of a new Family Code, which will also give same-sex couples the right to adopt children. This policy represents a positive change for Cuba, given the country’s history of persecuting LGBTQ+ individuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Cuba’s government approved this new legislation, and ran an extensive campaign urging voters to approve it. President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed his support, noting that “love is now the law.”

Despite the high levels of support for the referendum, it has also faced significant opposition from conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church. In the past, government-backed policies have received more than 90 percent of the vote. This opposition is rooted in the country’s growing evangelical movement and social norms, according to Alberto R. Coll, a law professor at DePaul University.  

While many activists approve of this new legislation, some critics say this is merely a way for the Cuban government to show a liberal, progressive face amid political and economic discontent. Officials continue to grapple  with the country’s worst financial crisis since the 1990s, which culminated in the anti-government protests of 2021. 


+ Italian elections show a far-right majority.  

Giorgia Meloni at CPAC 2022. (Wikimedia Commons)

On Sept. 25, Italians voted in an election that ushered in conservative representative Giorgia Meloni — of the far-right Brothers of Italy party — as the country’s first female prime minister. Meloni has been criticized for her far-right views, which have been widely compared to former dictator Benito Mussolini. She has called for a naval blockade against migrants and insighted fears about a “replacement” of native Italians. 

Despite the constraints in the Italian Constitution, many liberals fear the power of Meloni’s new coalition to erode democratic norms and increase government power. According to election results, the Brothers of Italy secured 44 percent of the vote and a majority in parliament. Lorenzo Castellani of Luiss University claims that this majority will allow the coalition to govern in a stable way. This new government is likely to be seated in October or November, although liberals hope there is a possibility for political changes while seat-trading begins in parliament.  

Meloni’s election comes at a time when many European countries are seeing a surge of far-right and fascist rhetoric and politics entering the mainstream, and even winning elections — such as those in Sweden and France.

South Korea

+ Korean deaf LGBTQ+ activists work to eliminate prejudice in Korean Sign Language. 

Korean LGBTQ+ activists Woo Ji-yang and Kim Bo-seok are working to eliminate anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in Korean Sign Language (KSL) through the creation of new signs. Currently, the sign for “gay” in KSL details an act of intercourse between two men. As a result, Woo noted that he often felt shame when introducing himself along with his sexuality. When LGBTQ+-related signs contain overly sexualized and degrading connotations, they can prevent queer people from coming out and living life freely.

In 2019, Woo and Kim gathered with like-minded deaf sexual minorities, forming the Korean Deaf LGBT advocacy group to create alternative language. The group’s goal is to create signs that LGBTQ+ individuals can use with pride, claiming that “language must be shaped by those who use it.”

In April 2021, with the help of the Seoul Human Rights Film Festival and the Daum Foundation, the group presented 37 new sign expressions associated with gender identity, sexual orientation and Korean queer culture. According to these new sign expressions, the sign for “gay” demonstrates a “man attracted to another man.” The sign for marriage also moves away from a strict heterosexual meaning and toward one similar to that for “celebration” — including the gesture for fireworks and an arch of flowers. 

By the end of this year, the group hopes to file a formal complaint to the National Institute of Korean Language to remove the existing sign expressions, which they believe are based on prejudice. They also hope to bring more deaf people together to build the momentum of the deaf rights movement. “We believe we all need to come together ― the deaf and hearing people, as well as the sign translators,” Kim said.

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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.