Ms. Global: Haiti’s Sexual Violence Surge; Saudi Women Become High-Speed Train Drivers; Murders of Women Journalists on the Rise

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.

Sierra Leone

+ Sierra Leone makes history with its passage of the Gender Equality Act. 

Last month, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio signed the landmark Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill into law. The Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWE) represents the largest increase to women’s political participation in the country’s history: the GEWE establishes a 30 percent quota for women’s participation in government roles. The quota will go into effect ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential, parliamentary, mayoral and local council elections this summer. 


+ Indigenous women in Brazil find strength in UN-sponsored workshops aimed at tackling the ever-present threat of gender-based violence.   

Today, women from Brazil’s indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. In Parque das Tribos, an indigenous neighborhood in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, violence against women is common. But, new initiatives sponsored by the UN reproductive and sexual health agency, UNFPA, have offered empowering tools for indigenous women to protect themselves. Lutana Ribeiro, a member of the Kokama ethnic group and only female chief of Parque das Tribos, recently spearheaded a series of workshops with UNFPA for survivors of gender-based violence. 

The Parque das Tribos workshops covered the nuances of violence against women, presented local social support networks available within the indigenous community, and explained the ways in which the community could use the law to protect against gender-based violence. 

“After the first lecture,” said Ribeiro, “many women felt stronger. The next day, people said ‘enough’ to violence. These men will no longer do what they want with them, because now the women are more empowered.”

These workshops served to strengthen ties within the indigenous community, creating a space for women to share their experiences and champion solidarity. 

“The workshops created a safe space for women to reflect together on the different forms of violence that affect their daily lives and on coping strategies,” said Débora Rodrigues, the head of the UNFPA office in Manaus. Rodrigues explained that these strategies include “expanding the supply of and access to services that guarantee protection and rights for all the Parque das Tribos community.”


+ As the political stalemate continues to plague Haiti, acts of sexual violence surge. 

Since Haiti’s political stalemate last year, criminal gangs continue to commit acts of sexual violence as part of their campaign of terror. 

“We are in an abysmal situation,” said Elizabeth Richard, the program coordinator of ActionAid Haiti, a nonprofit group that supports survivors of sexual violence in the country. 

This rampant sexual violence has contributed to Haiti’s crumbling economic system, with many survivors fleeing their workplaces out of fear of being attacked again. 

According to the UN, specialized police units lack the resources and gender sensitivity training to correctly respond to these plethora of reports of sexual violence. This means that survivors of sexual violence are essentially unable to seek justice. 

“Hope is possible,” said Richard. “But officials and also the community, the international community, really need to support our justice system for these women to get the justice they deserve.” 


+ As China faces a demographic crisis, women feel pressure to have more babies.

Last month, The Washington Post reported statistics that China’s population is officially shrinking — more people are dying than being born in China. In response, conversations about how to tackle this “demographic crisis” have erupted.

Some nationalists support a government campaign that encourages more births, while others argue that a campaign of this nature will put an undue burden on women to give more of their energy to birthing children, as opposed to investing in their careers. A government campaign like this would suggest that it is a woman’s responsibility to bear children for the good of the state. 

Many people in China’s middle class would prefer for the government to accept that it cannot encourage a reproduction solution to these demographic problems, and instead reduce financial barriers for families and secure career opportunities for women. 

When China’s “one child” policy was abolished in 2016, many middle class women became increasingly concerned about the government inappropriately encouraging women to have more children. In response to abandoning the policy, Yun Zhou, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, conducted research about the ways in which young Chinese people have become increasingly concerned about gender discrimination pervading the workplace: employers and companies have become more hesitant to hire women, for fear that these women will be less active in their roles and spend more time away from the job having multiple children. 

Since the statistics were published, there have been countless online debates about governmental interference in women’s lives, gender discrimination in the workplace and general concerns about a woman’s right to choose to have children. 


+ Diplomats who are nursing have been arbitrarily denied the ability to bring electric breast pumps into U.S. embassies.

The U.S. State Department faces serious criticism about their workplace environment, recruitment, and retention, after diplomats who are nursing have been denied the ability to bring electric breast pumps into U.S. embassies around the world. 

“We’re still dealing with basic accessibility issues that any private company would have had to sort out years ago so they don’t face any discrimination lawsuits,” said one U.S. diplomat. 

The policies that allow or block electric pumps in U.S. embassies are arbitrary, and vary embassy to embassy. Even so, the union representing foreign service officers have registered a formal complaint. 

In response, The State Department spokesperson claimed that the department’s bureaus of Medical Services and Diplomatic Security “are working together to create a uniform policy governing the use of breast pumps in controlled access areas.” 

On Dec. 23, Eric Rubin, the head of the American Foreign Service Association, sent a letter to a senior State Department official requesting new, transparent guidance for nursing mothers. “The Department should make it as easy as possible for nursing mothers to return to their demanding jobs,” said Rubin in the letter. “If the Department wants to increase the ranks of women in senior leadership, they should set them up to succeed every step of the way.”


+ The Indian state Kerala introduces menstrual leave.

The local state government of Kerala announced on Jan. 19 that the state government will grant menstrual leave to all female students at state universities under the Department of Higher Education.

Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala. (Wikimedia commons)

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan explains this decision as part of the government’s “commitment to realising a gender-just society”. Some critical voices have made their concerns vocal that such a menstrual leave might result in further discrimination of women due to menstruation being “taboo” in India.

The Department of Higher Education in Kerala issued an order that decreased the percentage required to attend the semester exams from 75 percent to 73 percent to account for absences caused by menstruation.

Additionally, the Kerala government announced that all female students of age 18 and above now have 60 days of pregnancy leave.

Also in Kerala, the local Palakuzha Panchayat from the district of Ernakulam has allocated funds for the distribution of menstrual cups.

This decision was made because of the high monthly costs families in the region pay for menstrual products such as sanitary pads. The efforts for this project will be carried out in collaboration with local agents such as the Kudumbashree Gender Resource Center.

Registration numbers show that 80 women are already interested in this project. The local entities still plan to conduct a door-to-door campaign to convince residents of the advantages of using menstrual cups, not only for their own budgets but also the environment.


+ Senegalese activist calls for Africa taking ownership of its own destiny.

In an interview with the NewAfrican Magazine Senegalese activist, Bineta Diop, called for developing the African continent themselves. Diop states, “For me, I believe Africa has to take ownership of our destiny. With all that we have seen at the multilateral level, it is time we realise that we need to develop ourselves. No one will come and develop us. That is the reality and we are facing it now.”

Bineta Diop, who is a widely recognised activist in Africa, has been a longstanding advocate for women’s rights and empowerment. Diop follows the pathway of her mother, Marèma Lô, who was one of the earlier feminists in Africa and became a leader of the women’s movement in the Socialist Party of Senegal. It was her who insisted that her four daughters would receive an education.

The Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security of the Chairperson of the African Union Commision, Bineta Diop, takes a tour around the AMISOM Level II hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on November 26. (AMISOM Photo / Tobin Jones, Wikimedia commons)

The centrality of her work relies on women. As she told the NewAfrican Magazine: “We can have the Agenda 2063 or Agenda 2030 but as long as we don’t consider women as equal, we will be missing a lot. Women and youth have to be at the centre, at the core.”

Diop has held various roles during her fight for women’s rights in Africa, including being the Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on Women, Peace and Security during the past eight years. While her term is coming to an end, Diop will continue her advocacy efforts.

The “three Cs”—COVID-19, climate change and conflict—as Diop calls them, are a real threat to women’s empowerment and their rights. She says, “In the last three years, we see that we have been going backwards on gender equality issues. We need to reenergise ourselves and we need to reinvent and innovate and make sure that we scale it up, [put] our solutions in our actions.”

Diop calls on African leaders, the youth and women to build Africa’s future together and secure the rights women deserve.

Saudi Arabia

+ Women become high-speed train drivers.

In 2022, 32 spots opened up for Saudi women to apply to become high-speed train drivers. The call saw an overwhelming response—28,000 women applied for those spots. The train, which operates between the cities of Medina and Mecca, drives with speeds up to 186 miles per hour. Saudi women only gained the right to drive cars in 2018.

In recent years the percentage of women in the workforce has increased constantly to 37 percent nowadays. In 2016, that number was as low as 17 percent. Saudi Arabia has a highly educated group of women, but unemployment is as high as 20.5 percent. As Saudi economist Meshal Alkhowaiter explains, “The challenge has shifted from encouraging women to join the workforce, to creating a sufficient number of jobs to employ the thousands of Saudi women entering the workforce every quarter.”

Raneem Azzouz, one of the lucky women to be trained to become a high-speed train driver, recalled about a female passenger: “She said: ‘Frankly, when I saw the (job) advertisement, I was totally against it. I said that if my daughter was going to drive me, I wouldn’t ride with her.” Later the woman admitted that the train ride had not felt differently than with a male train driver and that Azzouz had “proved herself.”

While some critical voices make their dissent about female train drivers heard and women’s advancements are viewed with distrust, many rules and laws have changed during the past years. Those include barring workplace gender discrimination and easing dress code restrictions. Saudi women still have many obstacles to overcome and the changes needed must be fully supported by all entities: government, businesses and the Saudi society at large.


+ New movie covers female Indonesian superhero Alana.

A new movie called Sri Asih will make its debut at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, this year. The Indonesian superhero, Alana, was created as a comic figure in the 1950s. A screen adaptation had been created in 1954, but the materials got lost and the movie was never shown.

Comic books featuring Alana are rare, which explains the missing representation of Alana in Indonesia. As the director, Upi Avianto, stated: “I was surprised and amazed to learn that the first-ever superhero in a country with such a strongly patriarchal culture at the time was a woman…Unfortunately, we couldn’t watch it because the original reels were lost long ago.”

Thus, the movie’s debut in Rotterdam will highlight the importance of women’s rights in Indonesia at a time, where new legislation further restricts women. The new criminal code prevents women from accessing comprehensive information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In the movie, Alana’s life and her birth as a superhero will be discussed. Being born during a volcanic eruption and growing up without parents, she learns how to kickbox. Alana later realizes that she is a reincarnation of Asih, the fighter-goddess of Indonesia, who aims at restoring the balance of the world.


+ 12 women journalists were killed in 2022.

The new 2022 report by the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) revealed that 12 women journalists were killed in 2022. The lead takes Mexico with four murders, followed by the Ukraine with three.

Palestine has two murders, including Shireen Abu Akleh, who had been a veteran journalist. CFWIJ also reported one murder each in Afghanistan, Chile and Iraq.

According to the report, the safety of female journalists worldwide has decreased significantly in 2022. Murder was only one factor. Imprisonment and online harassment are major threats to women’s journalism.

The death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini sparked protests that led to a 64 percent increase worldwide of women journalists being imprisoned. With 35 female journalists being in prison, Iran is the top jailer of women journalists. Other top jailers  of women journalists include Turkey (17), China (16) and Myanmar (9).

A member of the Iranian community in Seoul stands outside the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran during a rally to defend women’s rights in Iran on September 28, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In Afghanistan, the situation has been critical since the Taliban took over the government operations. Due to the imminent danger, many journalists, especially women journalists, try to leave the country. CFWIJ helped over 450 women journalists to evacuate from Afghanistan in 2022.

Female journalists remain at risk, especially in countries restricting women’s rights further.

Read more:

About and

Dominik Drabent is a former editorial intern for Ms. and a Ph.D. student in the Gender Studies program at Arizona State University. He earned his master’s degree in Gender & Women's Studies from Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he also was an instructor. His research interests are queer studies, feminist pedagogy, transnational feminism, the Middle East, Islamic feminism and Muslim sexualities.
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.