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.
This time with news from Spain, Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey and more.
+ Spain achieves trifecta of progress: Menstrual leave, teen abortion and trans rights laws.
Despite loud disagreement, Spain has passed multiple progressive initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people who menstruate, teenagers and trans people.
Amongst a few other countries, Spain is the first country in Europe to introduce a law that enables menstrual leave. With this new law, people who menstruate and experience severe menstrual pain can take paid time off. Additionally, period products will now be accessible for free in state prisons and schools.
The approved law on teen abortions allows teenagers age 16 and 17 to access abortions without parental consent. The Spanish parliament also made it mandatory for state hospitals to provide abortions.
The parliament also approved legislation allowing individuals over 16 to legally change their gender without medical supervision, in a major win for trans rights. For ages 14-16, the legal guardian’s company is needed and teenagers 12-13 need a judge’s authorization to change their documents. This bill also bans conversion therapy. The legislation was carried forward by Equality Minister Irene Montero. As Uge Sangil, head of FELGBTI+, Spain’s largest LGBTQ+ organization, told news agency AFP, “We’re celebrating the fact this law has passed after eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community.”
+ Only 10 percent of the candidates in the past general elections were female.
Nigeria held presidential and general elections in Nigeria on Feb. 25. Women’s leadership has historically been absent in Nigerian politics—and these elections showed that this trend will continue. Only one out of the 18 presidential candidates was a woman and none of the vice presidential candidates was female. At the local level, numbers were low as well. Out of the 416 candidates running for the governorship positions in 36 states only six percent were constituted by women. Similarly, 8.4 percent of all candidates in the race for the senatorial seats were women and 288 out of 3,122 candidates in the House of Representatives were female. Even at the sub-national level, only 1,046 out of 10,225 candidates were women.
As the Executive Director of Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, stated to The Guardian Nigeria, “This current situation is far worse than what we had in previous elections and this decline gives us grave concern at Baobab. This is because the poor representation of women in elective offices, which is both a cause and effect of persistent inequality and discrimination against women exacerbates the silent pandemic of gender-based violence, the continuous relegation of women to the background, the lack of support for the implementation of laws that favour women and girls, the feminisation of poverty, among others.”
Dipo-Salami encouraged women to cast their vote and vote for candidates that welcomed female leadership and were concerned about women’s issues and rights.
The final results of the elections state that Bola Tinubu of the ruling party has won the presidential elections.
+ Kenyan senator receives hate messages after protesting period poverty.
Senator Gloria Orwoba protested the shameful and taboo perceptions of menstruation, and the inequities associated with it last month, when she attended a senate meeting wearing white clothing stained with fake menstrual blood. Halfway through the senate session she was asked to leave the meeting, as she allegedly had violated the Kenyan senate’s dress code.
Nominated Senator @gloria_orwoba has given notice of motion on Free Sanitary towels ending period poverty. ^JM#TheGreatKBC pic.twitter.com/Nd3ELJ1mWn— KBC Channel1 News (@KBCChannel1) February 14, 2023
In Kenya, Orwoba is known as an advocate for free menstrual products and is championing legislation that would address the need for free sanitary napkins. As the new provision will be introduced soon, Orwoba’s protest is also raising awareness for the issue and the lack of sanitary menstrual products.
Many women and menstrual health and women’s rights organizations such as Global Citizen Africa applauded Orwoba for her activism that aims to empower girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Numbers of the Ministry of Health in Kenya from 2020 indicate that only 46 percent of girls in rural areas have access to menstrual products. In urban areas this number only rises to 65 percent. Fifty-four percent of all women in Kenya cannot afford monthly menstrual products and 20 percent turn to homemade solutions, which can be dangerous and lead to toxic shock syndrome.
As Orwoba stated to The Guardian, “It is important to dare to be shameless.” She continued, “The biggest impact is that we got men talking about periods – and that breaks cultural barriers to some level. Period shaming starts with the man and the boy, because they have been brought up to believe that if a woman happens to have a stain, it’s an appropriate response to laugh at, or castigate her – and then the woman has been taught that they need to go into hiding. That’s the unlearning that we need to do.”
+ Same-sex couples earn historic win as their legal rights are recognized in a court case.
While South Korea has yet to grant same-sex marriage rights, the Seoul High Court recently recognized some rights of same-sex couples, when it overturned a lower court’s decision, finding that a health insurance company owed coverage to the spouse of one of the customers. The insurer had stopped the coverage after finding out that the couple was gay.
As So Sung-uk, one of the plaintiffs, told The Korean Herald, “I feel delighted because I felt like the judges told us through this court decision that my feelings of love for my husband shall not be a target of curse, ignorance or insult. I can say with confidence that love wins, and discrimination or hate do not.”
In the court’s ruling it was stated that “The plaintiff and his partner are both male, but they agreed to recognize each other as loving partners who take care of each other. One financially relies on the other. They declared their partnership before their families and friends. This makes their relationship no different in essence from that of a married couple.”
In former court rulings, Korean courts never made decisions involving queer couples that set them as equal to heterosexual couples. Due to its significance, the case might end up at South Korea’s Supreme Court.
+ Same-sex relationships might be decriminalized
On Feb. 9, Sri Lanka’s minister of foreign affairs revealed that a Private Member Bill will be introduced to decriminalize same-sex relationships. The initiator of the bill is Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government MP and Attorney Premnath C. Dolawatte. The minister articulated the government’s support of this bill, but stated that this new legislation does not aim at introducing same-sex marriage.
The roots of the current legislation criminalizing same-sex relationships can be found in the British colonial rule in the region. Article 365 of the penal code states that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature any man, woman, or animal” can result in a penalty of up to ten years in prison. The British law is over 135 years old, and while the Sri Lankan Supreme Court had ruled it “unenforceable,” it remains in the records. The current government believes that the bill would pass the parliament as there seems to be a consensus that same-sex relationships should be decriminalized.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, the executive director of EQUAL GROUND, told the Washington Blade, “We are very optimistic, but cautiously so. It’s been more than 19 years that our organization has been advocating for decriminalization and it’s good to see the work bearing fruit, finally. But it’s still a long road ahead.”
Sri Lanka is not alone with dismantling old colonial laws that penalize same-sex relations, as India and Singapore decriminalized them in recent years.
+ Sri Lankan female politcians continue to face digital harassement.
According to early results of a survey conducted by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), more than 70 percent of female local councilors and grassroots political activists in Sri Lanka have experienced digital harassment.
“Even if these women politicians go to the police or their party leadership, there is no solution. They have to find solutions themselves. The introduction of the quota for women candidates at the local council level has upset some politicians and they have resorted to the digital sphere to undermine their female opponents” said Manas Makeen, Executive Director of CaFFE.
Sri Lanka does not currently have any mechanisms in place to challenge election malpractice and digital harassment of female politicians.
“Our law enforcement mechanisms are slow. During an election period, immediate action should be taken against election law violators,” said Rohana Hettiarachchi, Executive Director of The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).
In the face of such intense digital harassment, some female politicians have started to come together in solidarity to fight back and learn how to better navigate the digital sphere.
“Initially, a lot of local women councilors were devastated by digital media harassment. I was told that some families were on the verge of breaking up. However, in the past few years, we have seen a counterattack. Female local councilors who are serious about their work have behaved with great integrity and now they are getting social recognition. Their family members, who were initially hesitant or upset about them being in politics, have now warmed up,” said Manjula Gajanayake, Executive Director of the Institute of Democratic Reforms and Electoral Studies (IRES).
+ As the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup quickly approaches, the players on the Canadian women’s national soccer team call out Canada Soccer for ongoing gender disparities in pay and program funding. But, Canada Soccer continues to shut down the players’ protest efforts.
On Feb. 10, the players on the Canadian women’s national soccer team released a statement outlining concerns about recent financial cuts to their program. Their statement was released less than six months in advance of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. That same day, the team went on strike over these budget cuts and pay equity issues.
In their statement, the players cited the stark disparities in funding between their team and the Canadian men’s national soccer team: “Now that our World Cup is approaching, the Women’s National Team players are being told to prepare at a world-class level without the same level of support that was received by the Men’s National Team in 2022, and with significant cuts to our program — to simply make due with less. This is an unacceptable burden to put on the shoulders of our players, especially in the most crucial cycle for our team. We are left feeling frustrated and, once again, deeply disrespected by Canada Soccer.”
Janine Beckie, Canadian soccer powerhouse, spoke with TSN about her team’s strike: “Saying that we’re outraged is an understatement. There’s not really words to describe how it feels to be here in camp with the national team and know we are not being given the same resources that our men’s team was given last year to prepare for their World Cup… I don’t like the word fair. But it is so incredibly unfair to the women, and the staff, and to everyone that supports this team, works for this team, is a fan of this team. We’ve had enough. It’s way, way, too far gone.”
On Feb. 11, after their short-lived strike ended due to lack of financial support, the players released another statement outlining the ways in which the Canada Soccer federation weaponized legal action and financial support against them in order to compel them back to the pitch for the upcoming U.S. game on Feb. 16. The players were outraged that Canada Soccer shut down their strike.
Adriana Leon, a forward on the Canadian women’s team, tweeted at Canada Soccer, calling them out for continually “get[ting] away with” unjust treatment of the women’s team. During all of this turbulence, the Canadian men’s national soccer team also released a statement against Canada Soccer for its “financial and other mismanagement” and its “outrageous” treatment of the women’s team. And Alex Morgan, U.S. soccer superstar, also tweeted at Canada Soccer, encouraging them to do more to support the Canadian women’s team.
Despite their unlucky history, Canada’s national soccer teams have steadily improved in recent years, especially when it comes to the women’s team. As the Canadian women’s national soccer team prepares for this year’s World Cup, they are currently ranked as the no. 6 team in the world.
+ After a massive earthquake destroyed parts of Turkey and Syria earlier this month, thousands of pregnant women are left deeply vulnerable.
Among the estimated 15 million people affected by the massive earthquake that hit parts of Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6, over 214,000 of them are pregnant women, with 24,000 due to give birth in the next month.
Thousands of pregnant women in Syria will need immediate access to maternal health care, including emergency obstetric care and cesarean sections. But given that many health clinics and maternity facilities have been destroyed and many essential medical supplies are lacking in the region, they face a dire healthcare situation. The fear and shock of the earthquake caused Hatice, a 22-year old pregnant woman from the southeastern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa, to go into early labor, according to reliefweb. While she was fortunate enough to reach the hospital in time to give birth safely, she did not have any belongings or supplies to care for her newborn. Buseyana, a young pregnant woman from the south eastern Turkish city of Adıyaman, traveled over 100 kilometers to Şanlıurfa in search of a UNFPA-supported women and girls’ safe space to give birth.
“We were too scared,” said Buseyana. “We left our houses immediately and couldn’t take anything for the birth, not a single baby cloth. There was no one to communicate with and no place to stay. We felt helpless.”
+ Nicola Sturgeon unexpectedly resigns as first minister of Scotland.
On Feb. 15, Nicola Sturgeon, the face of the Scottish independence movement and the leader of the Scottish National Party, announced to widespread surprise that she would resign after eight years as Scotland’s first minister.
In her announcement, Sturgeon claimed that the decision to resign “comes from a deeper and longer term assessment.” Sturgeon also said that she simply was no longer able to give all of her energy to the job.
Sturgeon’s shock resignation comes at an interesting time. Sturgeon recently pledged to make the next British general election a de-facto second referendum on Scottish independence. And the Scottish independence movement has also waned, and it is not likely that a referendum will occur any time soon.