Ms. Global: Protests Against Taliban Bans on Women’s Education; Iran Ousted From U.N. Panel; Increased Calls for Press Freedom in India

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 healthcare. 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.


+ Activists, students and professors protest the Taliban’s ban on female university students.

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan almost two years ago, girls in grade six and above were banned from secondary education, while university students were able to attend gender-segregated classes. But as of December 2022, the Taliban banned women and girls from attending universities, according to a letter released by the Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education. The ban went into effect immediately.

Activists gathered outside Edrak University in Kabul, chanting in the face of Taliban forces, “Do not make education political! Once again university is banned for women. We do not want to be eliminated!”

In protest, male professors resigned from their jobs and dozens of male students walked out of their exams amid cheers from their female peers waiting outside.

“I am opposing this brutal clampdown on girls’ education, even if I have to stand alone,” said Obaidullah Wardak, a lecturer at Kabul University. 

+ The Biden administration contemplates actions to punish the Taliban.

The Biden administration is considering how to respond. One option is cutting U.S. aid to Afghanistan; other proposals include economic sanctions and tighter bans on Taliban leaders’ ability to travel abroad.

Officials have been reluctant to restrict U.S. financial aid, fearing doing so would exacerbate the day-to-day challenges Afghans face. Scott Worden, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said, “The U.S. government’s leverage is extremely limited. This needs to be approached both multilaterally and with a strategy looking at the Taliban’s interests and what can impact them over time.”

But the U.S. approach may be shifting: Global outrage is growing in response to the Taliban’s exclusion of female aid workers, which is making the delivery of necessary medicine and food more difficult. White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Biden administration hopes to “make clear to the Taliban that they will only be further isolated from the world and not get the legitimacy they seek.”

A final decision on future U.S. actions may not be released until interagency discussions conclude, according to administration officials.

+ Humanitarian aid efforts paralyzed by the Taliban.

The Taliban’s recent decrees prohibiting university education for women have also barred women from working at NGOs. This makes the delivery of much-needed medicine and food incredibly difficult for service groups. Aid groups have added their voices to the resounding international outrage calling for the ban’s reversal. 

One such group, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has worked in Afghanistan since 2003 and employs 470 Afghan women. Female employees are needed to assist women-headed households and widows. Afghan social and cultural norms (and Taliban prohibitions on mixing genders) make it impossible for men to do this work.

Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the NRC, met with the Taliban following the announcement of the new university ban. “[The Taliban] all say that they want us to continue work and hope we will continue without females,” he said. “But when I say we’re not willing or able to work with males only, they realize that the population is totally dependent on international assistance at the moment, food, shelter, sanitation.” 

Egeland said the NRC’s female staff comply with the Taliban’s dress codes and gender segregation rules. He warns the consequences of the ban will continue to spread, particularly with the rise in malnutrition and death resulting from the inability to deliver life-saving services. “The Taliban decrees on female workers, on education for girls is so wrong for Afghanistan, for the population, for the future, for the economy.”


+ Iran removed from a United Nations women’s rights panel. 

Iran was ousted on Dec. 14, 2022, from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women following the U.S.-led campaign. The resolution passed with 29 votes in favor and eight against. 

According to representatives from the U.S., the effort to remove Iran was inspired by the September killing of Mahsa Amini by the “morality police” and subsequent global protests. The resolution for Iran’s removal expressed concern over the government’s actions “to continuously undermine and increasingly suppress the human rights of women and girls,” and “often with the use of excessive force.” 

A demonstration against the Iranian regime on Jan. 8, 2023 in Rome, Italy. The mobilization is to express the growing concern about public executions, death sentences and arrests of young protesters taking place in recent weeks in Iran. (Stefano Montesi / Corbis via Getty Images)

Russia and China supported Iran, claiming there were no formal procedures to push Iran off the commission. But traditional American allies such as Canada and the United Kingdom backed the effort, saying Iran’s membership undermined the credibility of the commission.

Of the 54 countries eligible to vote, at least 16 abstained—a sign of the wariness many representatives feel in setting a precedent where the U.S. determines those worthy of U.N.


+ Tunisian case against gay rights activist is dropped. 

A Tunisian appeals court dropped a long-running case against a gay rights activist facing prison for alleged “homosexual acts,” according to a judicial spokesman on Jan. 3. The case, known as “students of Kairouan,” centers Daniel, a nickname for the activist. 

Daniel, along with five other men, had originally been charged in 2015 with “homosexual acts,” punishable by up to three years in prison. They were sentenced to the full three years. Upon appeal in 2016, their sentences were reduced to 40 days in prison. However, in 2018, Tunisia’s top court sent the case back for another appeal on technical grounds. 

By this point, five of the men fled abroad and found asylum, but Daniel remained in Tunisia and was brought to court in December 2022. According to court spokesman Riadh Ben Halima, the court ruled the case void due to the gathering of evidence—the police searched Daniel’s apartment without a warrant.  

Approximately 30 activists gathered outside the appeals court to support Daniel. “It is a victory for Daniel and for us,” said the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality. 

Tunisian human rights activists hold a rally outside a court in the city of Kairouan on Dec. 19, 2022, during the appeal hearing of six young men who were sentenced to three years in prison for sodomy back in 2015. (Kabil Bousena / AFP via Getty Images)


+ Mexico’s Supreme Court elects its first female president.

In a 6-5 vote on Monday, Jan. 2, Mexico’s Supreme Court elected Justice Norma Lucía Piña Hernández as the first female president to lead the country’s highest judicial body. 

Norma Lucía Piña Hernández was elected Mexico’s first woman chief justice. (Suprema Corte de Justicia de La Nación)

A former teacher and lawyer, Piña has ruled in favor of women’s rights during her seven-year tenure on Mexico’s highest judicial bench, especially the right to abortion. 

“When she is a [rape] victim, they do not limit [abortion]. On the other hand, when she gives consent, they do not allow her to have an abortion at any time. So, what the regulation punishes is the sexual conduct of the woman, which in my opinion also makes it unconstitutional,” said Piña in September 2021. During this time, the Supreme Court in Mexico issued a historic decision declaring that having an abortion was not a crime.


+ Dina Boluarte sworn in as first female president. 

On Dec. 7, 2022, Dina Boluarte was sworn in as Peru’s first female president after her predecessor, Pedro Castillo, was impeached by Congress following his attempt to dissolve the legislative body. 

Peruvian Dina Boluarte greets members of the Congress after being sworn in as Peru’s new leader after Congress removed President Pedro Castillo in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 7, 2022. (Congress of Republic of Peru / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Boluarte, 60, is a former lawyer and leftist politician who was elected as vice president alongside President Castillo in 2021. During Castillo’s brief administration, Boluarte was minister of development and social inclusion. 
Boluarte said her first order of business would be to address the political corruption of Castillo’s administration: “There has been an attempted coup … that has not found an echo in the institutions, nor in the street. What I ask for is a space, a time to rescue the country.”


+ Barbados repeals laws criminalizing gay sex. 

The Barbados high court struck down colonial-era sodomy laws criminalizing gay sex, in a ruling issued Dec. 13, 2022. This oral ruling will be accompanied by a written judgment detailing the court’s reasoning, expected in late January. 

“The striking down of these laws doesn’t solve all problems of course,” said chief executive Téa Braun of the London-based Human Dignity Trust, a human rights organization. “The dismantling of these laws is the first major step, but not the last step.” While the laws are rarely invoked within the legal system, they contribute to the stigmatization of LGBTQ+ people and violent attacks. 

The high court’s stance comes amid years of activism by groups such as Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE). ECADE filed lawsuits in 2019 against such sodomy laws in Barbados. 

“This is a step in the right direction for the protection of LGBTQ+ people in Barbados as we continue to ensure stigma-free access to services and positive inclusion in society,” said Michael Rapley, a member of ECADE. 


+ Despite continued threats against her safety, Rana Ayyub fights for press freedom in India. 

Rana Ayyub, an Indian investigative reporter and Washington Post columnist, continues to face death threats, online harassment and legal challenges for her work. In recent years, the Indian government has amped up press censorship, cracking down on journalists like Ayyub who critique Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In an interview with NPR, Ayyub explained that “most of the mainstream media is literally repeating the government’s lies and the ones who are independent, who are critical, are paying a price. … Indian news channels are becoming platforms for hate-mongers. These have become platforms that look the other way as hate is being spread all over India. Yesterday, one of India’s ruling party’s lawmakers asked Indians to keep weapons in the house to silence minorities. The Indian population is largely consuming something that is extremely toxic.” 

Ayyub condemned the circulation of disinformation, which the Indian government and right-wing Hindu politicians appear to have championed. “We have news anchors reading out government pamphlets and demonizing journalists and critics every day. The Indian population is basking in that, but few of them are complaining because there is a culture of disinformation.”

Despite being charged with violating the anti-money laundering law by India’s Enforcement Directorate, the circulation of a fake pornographic video clip that featured her face on WhatsApp in 2018, and continued death and rape threats, Ayyub remains determined to amplify the power of independent media committed to exposing the Indian government’s derailing of journalism that does not support Modi’s administration.

“The harassment against me has been more than a decade long. … Everything that I say oftentimes gets converted into a case, so I head into an uncertain future,” Ayyub said. 

+ Acid attack survivors call for a ban on online sales of acid, after a school girl is attacked in Delhi. 

Hundreds of acid attack survivors are calling for stricter laws against online sales of acid, after two boys threw acid on a 17-year-old Delhi school girl last month. According to investigators, one of the boys bought the acid online. 

“It is a matter of grave concern that the acid was procured through an online shopping portal and thrown on a 17-year-old girl,” Shaheen Malik, an activist acid attack survivor, told The Guardian. 

In 2013, an Indian high court banned over-the-counter sales of acid, and said potential buyers are required to present a government-approved form of identity and provide a valid reason for the purchase. It also declared sellers are required to keep an organized record of all of their sales. 

Laxmi Agarwal, a Delhi campaigner for the rights of acid attack survivors and an acid attack survivor herself, seeks an expansion of the crackdown against online sales of acid. Agarwal’s new petition calls for the total ban on acid sales. 

“This needs to be controlled, otherwise, we will have to face many such cases. Further, the retail sale of acid should be completely banned in the country,” Swati Maliwal, the chair of Delhi’s Commission for Women, said in an issued notice against Flipkart, the online site which last month’s attackers used to buy the acid. The site is still active and continues to advertise the sale of acid. 

South Korea

+ Revised curriculum removes terms such as “gender equality.” 

The South Korean government’s National Education Commission adopted a revised curriculum that completely omits words such as “gender equality,” “social minorities,” “reproduction rights” and “sexuality,” according to local news reports. This marks the largest overhaul of the curriculum since 2015. Many educators fear the repercussions of this change, which will make inclusive education out of reach.

“Teaching students about sexuality is a must if we are to let students know that everyone has the right to be sexually satisfied while being free from violence, coercion and discrimination,” said Y, an educator in South Gyeongsang Province.   

Under the previous version of the curriculum, “social minorities” included disabled people, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people. The revised guidelines omit all references to so-called “sexual minorities.””Gender equality” will be changed to “gender prejudice” to mean the “ethical problems of gender discrimination.”

An official from the Ministry of Education said the current terminology “causes confusion” among students about their social life. Critics say the proposal reflects a push from right-wing groups opposing LGBTQ+ rights. 

“It seems that the expression was changed in order to make it invisible to people who are experiencing discrimination in their daily life because of their gender identity in society,” said Kim Su-jeong, director of Korea Women’s Hotline. 

The curriculum is set to go into effect in 2024.


+ Subverting gendered work: In an unprecedented move, Colombia establishes a program to hire and train female electrical line workers. 

In the small town of La Ceja, 15 women hope to graduate as Colombia’s first-ever intake of apprentice linewomen. Lineworkers scale electrical towers and transmission lines in order to install, replace and repair power cables. Lineworkers serve at the frontlines after natural disasters, ensuring that communities have access to electricity. In a country where an estimated 1.9 million people still lack access to electricity, the work of lineworkers remains particularly important. 

One week after the country announced their search for female applicants, 723 women registered interest. “Ultimately, it’s about creating a virtuous chain, and the belief is that supporting these women now, you help establish the foundations for creating sustainable value moving forward,” said Claudia Laguna, an engineer and ISA’s corporate projects specialist who is credited with starting the all-female lineworkers project.

The program is, undoubtedly, subverting the gendered profession of linework, which has historically been dominated by men. 


+ Zimbabwean women de-miners smash traditional gender roles.

In eastern Zimbabwe, women are cleaning the landmines that former British colonial rulers laid during the 1970s Liberation War. Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, although the landmines from its colonial past continue to plague its landscape.

“On a daily basis, we used electronic detonators to destroy the landminers without fear. We excelled in the landmines clearing industry as an all-female team just like our male counterparts,” said Memory Mutepfa, a Zimbabwean deminer.

The women who serve as landmine cleaners carry a strong source of pride and economic independence, which undoubtedly challenges the gendered notion of de-miner labor. “I’m independent. I don’t have to rely on my husband. I have properties including a house and a car in my name,” said Mutepfa. “This is women’s empowerment.”


+ Brazilian women fight to end fatphobia.

After bearing the brunt of fatphobic bullying on social media and experiencing public embarrassment while taking the local bus in Brazil, Rayane Souza decided to start a campaigning group with her fellow law graduate friend Mariana Oliveira. The group’s goal: to make salient changes in Brazilian policy and culture to accommodate all different body types. They called the group “Gorda na lei,” which translates to “Fat in the law.”

According to anti-fatphobia campaigners like Souza and Oliveira, Brazil is on the frontlines of making policy changes that serve to accommodate different bodies. Although fatphobic behavior is not a crime, it can be pursued under certain legal categories, including libel, slander and moral harassment. 

In Brazil, more than half of the population is overweight, and a quarter of the population is medically obese. “We’re not denying that in some cases, being obese can bring health problems,” said Cida Pedrosa, the city of Recife’s councilwoman. “But we also have to stop pathologizing fat bodies and thinking that fat bodies are sick.” 


+ Cuban authorities announce a rule change to allow women to compete in boxing. 

Last month, after years of sexist restrictions, Cuban officials announced that women boxers would be allowed to officially compete in the sport. The selection process for the first Cuban women’s boxing team began shortly after the rule change was made. 

“This [new rule] is going to change everything,” said Joanna Rodriquz, a Cuban boxer. “It could even shift the way of thinking because there is machismo among both men and women here.”


+ Public art revamped to counter gender imbalance in Melbourne.  

Prominent feminist organization, the Victoria Women’s Trust, launches a public nomination process to determine the subjects of three new statues in Melbourne. Currently, only nine of 580 statues in Melbourne depict real women, which has resulted in calls for change from advocacy groups, such as A Monument of One’s Own (AMOO).  

Melbourne’s deputy lord mayor, Nicholas Reece, said the move is long overdue and the contributions of women throughout history must be acknowledged: “The gap between male and female statues in Melbourne is beyond absurd, it is a moral hazard.”

These three new statues come in addition to six previously announced by the Victorian government and the Women’s Public Art Program, which include a statue of trade unionist Zelda D’Prano—set to be unveiled in 2023. 

Up next:

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.

About and

Clio Morrison is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine. She is a senior at Cornell University, double majoring in Government and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies and double minoring in Law & Society and English. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights through the power of writing.
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.