Cultural Custom in Nepal Leaves Woman Dead

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – On January 8, 2018, Ms. Gauri Bayak, age 21 of Nepal, was found dead inside a smoke-filled hut by her sister-in-law. She lived in a village in Achham, a western district of Nepal. She had been banished to sleep in a shed as a result of menstruation.

It is custom in Nepal to force women who are menstruating to sleep outside the house. The community sees menstruating women as impure, contaminating the home, and angering the gods. They are barred from touching food, men, cattle, and religious icons. Thus, they are excluded from the house and forced to sleep outdoors in small sheds or huts. This practice is known as chhaupadi. It is believed that not following this practice will lead to bad fortune such as death or sickness of family members or livestock.

Image of a Menstruation hut. Photo courtesy of Navesh Chitrakar.

These huts are often poorly insulated and unheated. During the winter temperatures can drop below freezing in Nepal, thus the necessity to build the fire that ultimately lead to Bayak’s death. Additionally, there have been reports of wild animal attacks on the women sleeping in these menstruation huts. Married women typically spend only a few days from home while unmarried women will remain away from home for a week.

The practice was officially banned in Nepal in 2005, but many remote villages still practice this ritual. In 2017, the Nepali government passed a second legislation that criminalized chhaupadi. As a result anyone caught to have forced a women to go through with chhaupadi will face three months in jail and a 3,000 rupee fine.

Traditions have been slow to change as chhaupadi is a deeply rooted religious and culture practice in Nepal. Aid workers have found success with reducing the number of days menstruating women spend secluded outside as well as with promoting the use of secluded rooms inside the home.

The district’s Women’s Rights official said that women’s families should ‘take responsibility and stop this practice’ to protect women’s rights.

 For more information, please see:

The Strait Times- Nepali woman sent to ‘menstruation hut’ dies of suspected smoke inhalation – 10 January 2018

The Guardian – Woman in Nepal dies after being exiled to outdoor hut during her period – 12 January 2018

Times of India – Nepali woman suffocates in ‘menstruation hut’ – 10 January 2018

Iceland Becomes First Country to Enact Mandatory Equal Pay Law

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Iceland has enacted a new law that requires all companies and government agencies to pay men and women equally.

Iceland’s Parliament in Reykjavik. Photo Courtesy of Frank Augstein.

The legislation was announced by Iceland’s parliament, which is approximately 50 percent female, on International Women’s Day.

The new law, known as the Equal Pay Standard, requires that all companies with more than 25 employees obtain an official certification showing they provide equal pay for work of equal value. The law is not voluntary, as opposed to many existing equal pay laws currently in existence throughout the world.

In order to remain compliant, companies must analyze their salary structures every three years. The analysis must then be provided to the government for recertification. Companies not in compliance will face penalties including fines.

Iceland has been at the forefront of the push for wage equality. However, despite strides that have been made in recent years, gender pay gap problems have not been eliminated.

Demonstrations occurred in October 2016 to protest the wage gap. In one instance, thousands of women coordinated a walk-out from their jobs at a coordinated time of 2:38 pm. Women’s rights groups calculated this to be the time when women stopped being paid for equal work and began working for free.

Ms. Valdimarsdottir, one of the organizers of the walk-out, said “We have come a long way and we are in the forefront of gender equality in the world. But we are so far from having equality in Iceland.”

Iceland has maintained the best overall score on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for the past nine years. This report measures wage differences between men and women in areas such as health, economics, politics and education in 144 countries. Iceland ranks 5th in the report for wage equality.

The law is largely supported by the general population in Iceland, with just 21 percent in opposition.

While critics say that the cost of audits will be expensive, many proponents believe that the law will be of greater benefit to society as a whole.  “This is a cost that… we decided that… would be of benefit to society and that was of more benefit than… saving companies money” said Brynhildur Heidar- OG Omarsdottir, managing director of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association.

Iceland has vowed to eradicate the gender pay gap entirely by 2022.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Women of Iceland are now Required to Earn Equal pay to men – 3 January 2018

The New York Times – Iceland Makes Companies Prove That They are not Paying Women Less – 3 January 2018

NPR – New Law in Iceland Aims at Reducing Country’s Gender pay gap – 5 January 2018

Female Leaders Tackle Gender Equality at Summit in Iceland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Over 400 political leaders from around the world gathered in Iceland on Wednesday, November 28th to discuss gender equality.

Former President of Iceland Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Photo Courtesy of David Keyton.

The group, comprised mostly of female political leaders, convened to address barriers to progress in the quest for gender equality.

The summit, held annually, is sponsored by the Women Political Leaders Global Forum, an organization intent on increasing the number of female political leaders in the world, in collaboration with the Council of Women World Leaders, a network for female prime ministers and presidents.

The theme of this year’s summit was “We can do it!”, a reference to Iceland’s success in achieving gender equality.

Iceland is known for being a champion of gender equality. For the past nine years, the World Economic Forum has identified the country as having the smallest gender gap, with pay being a factor considered along with life expectancy and access to educational opportunities. Iceland has the highest employment rate of females worldwide, with 8 out of 10 women there employed.

Iceland was the first country in the word to elect a female president. In 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir defeated three male candidates.

There is a great disparity in the ratio of male to female political leaders in other parts of the world. Women make up only 7 percent of heads of state and comprise less than a quarter of parliamentary seats worldwide.

The pay gap is another topic of concern. The World Economic Forum’s most recent index suggests that under current trends it will take another 217 years for the pay gap to close between men and women. In Iceland, the pay gap is projected to close by 2022.

On November 20th, the European Union recommended a two-year plan to close the gender pay gap. The plan recommends sanctions for companies that do not provide equal pay as well as the monitoring of policies to ensure discrimination is not taking place.

On average, women earn 16.3 percent less hourly than men. This number has remained steady for the past five years.

In addition to addressing pay gaps and the lack of political diversity, the summit addressed the recent tide of allegations of rampant sexual harassment throughout the world.

“That kind of behavior, which is now deemed widely unacceptable, has been one of the barriers to women getting ahead,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. “Lots of sectors — parliaments, film industries and others — are having to face their past and say, ‘We are going to do it better.’”

While strides have been made in terms of achieving greater gender equality, proponents believe there is much left to be done. At the summit, Finnbogadottir received an honorary award at and addressed the crowd.  “Gender equality has changed tremendously in Iceland since then but we still got some ways to go,” she said.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – EU Proposes Two-Year Plan to Close Gender Pay Gap – 20 November 2017

The Guardian – Only 23% of the World’s Politicians are Women. It’s Time for That to Change – 29 November 2017

Press Herald – Iceland Summit Stresses Gender Equality in Politics – 29 November 2017

The Washington Post – Women Leaders Tackle Gender Equality at Iceland Summit – 29 November 2017

The New York Times – A Man Among Female Leaders: ‘The Risk of Mansplaining Is Very High’ – 2 December 2017

UK Supreme Court to Rule on Abortion Ban in Northern Ireland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Activists in Northern Ireland are urging lawmakers in the United Kingdom to overturn the current restrictions on abortion in the country.

A Protestor at a Rally in Belfast. Photo Courtesy of Charles McQuillan. 

In June, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Council (NIHRC) was unsuccessful in its efforts to convince judges that the rights of sexual assault victims and women with fatal fetal abnormalities were being violated.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will hear evidence from the United Nations Human Rights Committee beginning on Tuesday, November 7th. The hearing is scheduled to last three days and end with a vote. The Supreme Court in London is the final court of appeal. Ireland will hold a referendum in 2018 regarding its strict abortion laws.

Criminalization of abortion began in 1861 with the passage of the Offences against the Person Act. Abortion is currently still illegal in Northern Ireland, but a provision was added in 1945 that allows for termination of a pregnancy if there is a threat to the life of the mother. Those who break the law face life imprisonment.

Human rights activists believe that the strict laws strip women of their fundamental human rights. Nathalie Lieven, lead counsel for the NIHRC said that “The impact of the criminal law in Northern Ireland does amount to inhuman and degrading treatment by the state.”

In 2016, the legislature voted against allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.

Ms. Lieven says that the laws cause “trauma and humiliation” and criminalize those who are already in “exceptionally vulnerable position(s).”

The NIHRC has provided testimony from women who have been denied abortion to bolster their case. Ashleigh Topley was four-and-a-half months into her pregnancy in 2013 when she was told by doctors that her baby’s limbs were not growing and that the baby would die. Ms. Topley was forbidden from terminating the pregnancy. Her baby girl’s heart stopped when she went into labor after thirty-five weeks.

A poll conducted by Amnesty International found that the majority of citizens favor a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy given certain factors. 85% of citizens in Northern Ireland would support the choice for abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape, 81% if there is a diagnosis of fetal abnormality and 89% if a woman’s health is at risk.

Colm O’Groman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland, stated that the public shows strong support for “women making their own decisions about their pregnancies.” He points to the poll as evidence that the issue is not as divisive as the media portrays it.

“Public support varies on the precise gestational limits but it remains solidly behind women making their own decisions about their pregnancies,” said O’Groman.

Litigation regarding the law was initiated by NIHRC is 2014 and has been ongoing ever since.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion law – 23 October 2017

BBC News – Abortion Laws ‘Punish Sex-Crime Victims’ – 26 October 2017

Reuters – UK Supreme Court Hears Attempt to Change Northern Ireland Abortion law – 24 October 2017

The Washington Post – Rights Group Challenges N Ireland Abortion ban at top Court – 24 October 2017

Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to Robot Named Sophia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Writer, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On October 25, Saudi Arabia became the first nation to grant full citizenship to a robot. The robot, referred to as Sophia, was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. During the nation’s Future Investment Initiative, a three-day tech conference, she addressed the media, most notably in English and without wearing a hijab.

Sophia speaks to the press after she is granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Photo courtesy of YouTube/Arab News.

“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” she said, “it is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.” Furthermore, when asked about the concern about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, Sophia responded by stating, “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies.”

This decision has generated lots of controversy for several reasons. Many conservative Saudis believe that the human representation in any form including art is sacrilege. However, the primary concerns focus on her rights as compared to women and other citizens living in Saudi Arabia and how quickly she obtained those rights. Sophia does not have a male guardian, does not wear a hijab, and can travel in and out of the country. In addition, she has not demonstrated the ability to read or write in Arabic, a requirement for citizenship.

The country also prohibits foreign workers, which make-up about one-third of the population, from obtaining citizenship. Journalist Murtaza Hussain stated that Sophia received citizenship, “before Kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.”

The decision has also come with more severe consequences. Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said, “women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around.”

Apart from Sophia, the country faces other criticism as it continues to push technological advancements in the country. Sophia was on display next to a virtual rollercoaster and a holographic lion. Saudi Arabia stated on the conference that they intended to build a new $500 billion city from scratch, called Neom. The city would be populated with robots.

The government plans to push these new advancements while other areas a lacking support. Currently, only 20% of the city capital has sewage coverage. Al-Ahmed was discouraged by this news and stated, “There is a failure of this government to satisfy basic needs, and they want to spend $500 billion on a new city with robots.”

For more information please see:

Independent – Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to a Robot for the First Time Ever – 26, Oct.

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia gives citizenship to a robot – 26, Oct. 2017

Newsweek – Saudi Arabia gives rights to a Non-Muslim, English speaking robot – 26, Oct. 2017

BBC – Does Saudi robot citizen have more rights than women? – 26, Oct. 2017

Sexual Abuse and Slavery Being Used as Weapons Says Human Rights Group

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Women and children face fears of sexual violence. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

DAKAR, Senegal — A recent report by Human Rights watch released on October 5, 2017 details the horrific ordeals of the plight of women in the Central African Republic.  Women in the region have been subjected to repeated instances of rape and sexual slavery.  The repeated violence is the result of a coup that took place in the country in 2013;

“Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have been uprooted in a conflict that broke out after the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in early 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.”

It’s clear, according to Human Rights researcher Hillary Margalois, that the violence against women is calculated and intentional;

“Armed groups are using rape in a brutal, calculated way to punish and terrorize women and girls…Every day, survivors live with the devastating aftermath of rape, and the knowledg[e] that their attackers are walking free, perhaps holding positions of power, and to date facing no consequences whatsoever.”

This targeting has a directly negative effect on the women involved.  Women may not feel as if they have effective recourses against the treatment, which may lead to underreporting of the violations against them, “Due to stigma, under-reporting by survivors, and security-related restrictions on research, the full number of sexual violence incidents by armed groups during the conflict is undoubtedly higher.”

The stigma discussed is not just that of being the victim of rape or sexual exploitation.  There are also cultural factors at play that can affect women twice over, social and familial. A woman can be forced to bear shame from the violence against her and be ridiculed by family and community members;

“Stigma and rejection also present significant barriers to women and girls disclosing rape or seeking help. Survivors said their husbands or partners abandoned them, family members blamed them, and community members taunted them publicly after rape…Only 11 of the 296 survivors interviewed said they had tried to initiate a criminal investigation. Those who had informed authorities faced mistreatment including victim-blaming, failure to investigate, and even demands to present their attackers for arrest. Three survivors said that their relatives had been killed, beaten, or threatened with death when they confronted members of an armed group responsible for their rapes.”

The stigma attached to the violence, coupled with shame and ridicule, leave these women with little options to pursue justice.  The threat alone of repeated physical violence or even death is enough to deter women from seeking out help.  As a result, many of the aftereffects resulting from the violence and rape leave permanent afflictions;

“Women and girls often said they suffered incapacitating physical injury and illness, including HIV, because of rape, as well as suicidal thoughts and loss of livelihoods or access to education. Most had not received post-rape medical or mental health care – including medication to prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancy – due to a lack of medical facilities, the cost of services or transport to facilities, and misconceptions about available services.”

Violence against women in conflict zones is unfortunately a rather frequent occurrence in Africa.  Women and children tend to be the most vulnerable and do not have the means to seek effective redress. The United Nations has spent considerable time and resources in identifying and trying to address the problem head-on. There have been regional initiatives that attempt to empower tribunals to conduct investigations into allegations of sexual violence and bring those responsible to justice.  The Special Criminal Court (SCC) is backed by close to 20 non-governmental and international human rights organizations. The challenge, however, is to convince surviving victims that pursuing justice is a possibility and that it doesn’t result in further intimidation or violence from the perpetrators.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — ‘Rape, sexual slavery are weapons in Central African Republic war – report’ — 05 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Central African Republic: Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War’ — 05 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Central African Republic: Support the Special Criminal Court’ — 16 November 2016

Amnesty International — ‘Global campaign targets rape in conflict zones’ — 23 November 2012

United Nations — ‘Rape: Weapon of War’ — June 2008

Saudi Arabia Lifts the Ban on Female Drivers

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi ArabiaOn September 26, Saudi Arabia announced that it would lift the ban on female drivers in the country. Prior to this announcement, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that forbid females from driving. Only men were allowed to have licenses and any woman caught driving was subjected to a fine or prison. A minstrel body will be established to provide advice on this proposal within 30 days and the ban will be officially lifted by June 24, 2018.

Saudi Arabian officials announce that women can begin driving in June 2018. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The law will stand apart from the country’s “guardianship” rules which require women to seek the permission of their male “guardian” to travel, work, or undergo certain medical procedures. Women will not need the permission of male relatives to obtain a driver’s license and would be able to drive alone. However, it has yet to be determined if they will be allowed to work as professional drivers.

Women have long been advocating for the right to drive in the country. The first protest for the right to drive occurred in 1990. It was followed with more protests in 2011 and 2013. As mobile technology became more readily available, women began protesting by positing pictures and videos of themselves behind the wheel.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman implemented this policy as part of his Vision 2030 plan, which began two years ago. The Vision 2030 plan focuses on economic expansion in the country. With oil prices remaining low, the nation is trying to find new methods to get its citizens involved in the workforce. The Prince hopes allowing women to drive, it will increase the number of women in the workplace. Until now, women had to rely on male family members pay professional drivers to take them to work. The cost for daily drivers discouraged women from finding work. With this barrier removed, it is expected that more women will look for work.

This decision has not been met with unanimous support as many conservatives do not agree with the new decision. The phrase, “The people reject women driving” was popular on Twitter following the announcement of the new rule. Clerics have often citied religious rules as explanations for why women should not be allowed to drive.

Despite some unrest, the response has been well-received overall both in the country and around the globe. U.S. State Department spokesman Heather Nauert called the decision “a great step in the right direction.” Women activists in the country are excited about the opportunity to receive drivers licenses. Aziza Alyousef, a long-time activist in Saudi Arabia, hopes to be one of the first with an official license and stated “I wish my license number would be 0001.”

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia to Lift Ban on Women Driving, Ending Global Isolation – 26, Sept. 2017

The New York Times – Saudi Arabia Agrees to Let Women Drive – 26, Sept. 2017

BBC – Saudi Arabia women hail end of driving ban – 27, Sept. 2017

Independent – Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving – 27, Sept. 2017

Pope Francis calls on Colombia to stop violence against women

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Pope Francis called attention to issues of violence against women during his visit to Colombia. He points out how the patriarchal and chauvinistic customs of the country have contributed to extensive violence against women.

Pope Francis celebrates mass in Bogota, Colombia. Image Courtesy of The Washington Post.

The Argentine pontiff was the first Pope to visit the largely Roman Catholic country in over three decades. His five-day trip is to show support for war-torn Colombia as it moves toward peace. He urges Colombians to resist temptations of vengeance and move past their conflict.

Specifically, he warns the country to correct their ill treatment of women. He said, “We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote” all that women do for the church and society. He warns bishops to value women more and not let them be reduced to servants.

On his visit, he said mass in the central plains of the city of Villavicencio and emphasized the importance of respecting women to his listeners. Colombia is a deeply conservative society where women often face discrimination, sexual violence, and abuse by partners. Knowing this, he used his homily to preach respect for women. He noted, “the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history.”

This speech comes in light of how profoundly women suffered during this war, Latin America’s longest running conflict. Government data shows that about 20,000 Colombians, most of them women and girls, were victims of rape and sexual violence. Both sides used sexual assault as a weapon during the war. Also, seven million Colombians were forced from their homes and women bore the brunt of this displacement. Violence against women was instrumental in the war and has grown as a result.

Colombia’s chauvinistic and conservative culture is demonstrated in relationships especially. A significant amount of violence toward women occurs at the hand of their partners. “One woman is killed every four days in Colombia, often at the hands of a former or current partner.” Additionally, women that have reported partner abuse attribute 80% to have been inside the home.

Critics see Pope Francis’ message as hypocritical. The Roman Catholic Church has an anti-abortion stance and does not allow females priests. This has been protested by several reproductive women’s rights groups.

However, Pope Francis showed some resistance to this policy when he indefinitely extended the ability to grant absolution for abortions to all priests last year. This was a monumental move for the church.

He asked his listeners in Villavicencio, “how many women, in silence, have persevered alone?”

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Visiting Colombia, Pope addresses patriarchy, violence against women – 8 September 2017

BBC – Pope Francis addresses violence against women on Colombia visit – 8 September 2017 

Washington Post – Pope says ‘thick darkness’ threatens Colombia – 7 September 2017

CNN – Pope to begin peace-building visit to Colombia – 5 September 2017

Saudi Woman Released from Prison after Arrest for Wearing Skirt in Public

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabian police officers have released a woman who was arrested after she was walking through a fort in the historic neighborhood Ushayquir in a skirt and crop top, seen in videos online.  The woman, known by her given name Khulood, was arrested on Tuesday and turned over to prosecutors.  She was released a few hours later after questioning and was not charged with any crime.  The videos were posted to Snapchat originally, According to Khulood, the videos of her walking in the skirt and crop top were posted without her knowledge.

“Khulood” walking through Ushayqir in a skirt (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Many have criticized the woman’s outfit for not being conservative or traditional enough.   Critics say that because she chooses to live in Saudi Arabia, she should accept its laws and customs.  Saudi write Ibrahim al-Munayif tweeted that “[j]ust like we call on people to respect the laws of countries they travel to, people must also respect the laws of this country.”

Others have shown their support for the woman’s freedom to choose her own outfit.  Supporters suggest that her choice was brave, and point out that when foreigners visit the country they are exempted from the country’s dress code.  Some have pointed out that on their trip to the country in May, neither Melania nor Ivanka Trump wore abayas.  Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, commented that “Saudi Arabia’s continuing obsession with policing women’s clothing choices shows authorities haven’t moved on from the paternalistic and discriminatory mind-set that hampers women’s lives.” Whitson further noted that “Saudi Arabia’s purported plans to reshape society and advance women’s rights will never succeed as long as authorities go after women for what they wear.”

A number of people have called for an official investigation into the video, asking authorities to take action against those who made the video.  Saudi Arabia’s religious police released a statement assuring that they were looking into the matter.

Amongst a strict dress code for women, Saudi Arabian women also need to permission of a “male guardian” to travel or work, and they are prohibited from receiving driver’s licenses.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Saudi Arabia Releases Woman in Viral Miniskirt Video that Sparked Public Outcry Without Charge — 19 July 2017

The New York Times — Saudi Arabia Releases Woman Arrested for Wearing Skirt in Public — 19 July 2017

Time — Saudi Woman Arrested for Wearing Miniskirt has been Released — 19 July 2017

The Washington Post — Saudi Arabia says Woman Arrested for Wearing Skirt in Viral Video has been Released — 19 July 2017

Ireland Votes to Amend Abortion Laws

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

DUBLIN, Ireland — Members of the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland voted for a constitutional amendment that would mandate the Oireachtas to deal with the issue of abortion.  The vote came out 51-38, and resulted in the decision that Article 40.3.3 (the Eight Amendment, which protects the “right to life of the unborn”) “should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman.”

Protestors rally in Dublin to demand more liberal abortion laws (Photo Courtesy of the Independent)

The alternative option was for Article 40.3.3 to be “replaced or amended with a constitutional provision that directly addresses the termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman.”  This option would have specified in the constitution under which circumstances abortion would be allowed, and would limit the powers of the Oirechtas to legislate on the issue.

Pro-choice activist groups are disappointed that Citizens’ Assembly did not recommend the law be repealed entirely.  The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign commented that they are “disappointed that after six months of deliberations – which included the heartfelt testimony of women forced to travel for abortions – that the Citizens’ Assembly has opted against recommending the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment.”  The group did note, however, that they are “heartened that 87 per cent of members did vote for some form of constitutional change – proving the majority believe the Eighth is not fit for purpose.”

Brian Murray SC addressed members of Citizens’ Assembly on the same issue previously, and warned that a complete repeal of the Eighth Amendment might not lead to a more liberal abortion regime.

Some heated exchanges took place after the vote between Assembly members.  Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy commented that it was a “fraught” day for members, and asked members to be “respectful of [their] fellow citizens and alternative viewpoints” in the final session on Sunday.   Ms Justice Laffoy hopes that the members will “regain collegiality.”

This upcoming Sunday, members will analyze eight different scenarios in which the Oireachtas might legislate on the issue of abortion.  Some of these issues include a real and substantial physical risk the woman’s life, a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the woman, and availability upon request with no restrictions as to reasons for the abortion.

 

For more information, please see:

Dublin Live — Citizens’ Assembly: 87% in Favour of Changing Ireland’s Abortion Laws — 22 April 2017

The Guardian — Abortion in Ireland: Committee Votes for Constitutional Change — 22 April 2017

Independent — Irish Citizens Assembly Votes to Amend Abortion Laws — 22 April 2017

Irish Times — Assembly Votes to Mandate Oireachtas to Legislate for Abortion — 22 April 2017

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Agreement with Better Pay

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Tuesday, the United States’ women’s national soccer team and U.S. Soccer, the team’s governing body, agreed to a new five-year agreement.  The new agreement follows a year-long dispute over demands for equal pay.  The team’s previous agreement expired in 2012, but was extended while negotiations took place.  Some players brought the situation to court to explore the possibility of going on strike to protest a lack of progress in negotiations, however U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled against the players last year.

U.S. women’s national soccer team members Tobin Heath, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Samantha Mewis at a game in March (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

While the new agreement will not match the women’s national team pay with the men’s national soccer team pay, it does outline better working conditions, travel arrangements, increase per diem stipends, and match bonuses.  Because the agreement will last through 2021, the team will not have to renegotiate terms for upcoming major events, such as the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati called the agreement an “important step” for women’s soccer.  Gulati praised the agreement and said that “[it] helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grassroots level.”

U.S. women’s team veteran Megan Rapinoe said she was “very proud” of the team throughout the negotiation process.  Rapione thinks there is still progress to be made for the women’s team and women in general, the Women’s National Team Players Association should be proud of their accomplishment with the new agreement.  National team player Alex Morgan said the agreement “felt very empowering.”  Morgan commented that she “felt really happy with the agreement that [they] reached and the fact that [they] can now do what [they] came for and play soccer.”

The agreement was reached on National Equal Pay Day, which is the date that marks how far into the year women have to work in order to earn the same amount of pay that men made the previous year.  The women’s soccer agreement mirrors that of the women’s national hockey team.  Last week, USA Hockey and the U.S. women’s national hockey team reached an agreement to improve compensation.  Some of the women’s national hockey team players threatened to boycott the women’s world championship tournament unless they saw improvements in pay and financial support.

 

For more information, please see:

NPR — In ‘Important Step,’ U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Deal — 6 April 2017

The Huffington Post — On Equal Pay Day, U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Finally Strike a Deal — 5 April 2017

The New York Times — Long Days, Google Docs and Anonymous Surveys: How the U.S. Soccer Team Forged a Deal — 5 April 2017

PBS News Hour — U.S. Women’s Soccer Scores Higher Pay, Better Conditions in New Labor Agreement — 5 April 2017

Women in U.S. Strike – ‘A Day Without a Woman’

By Sarah Lafen


Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Last Wednesday, on the holiday designated International Women’s Day by the United Nations, the female activist group who organized the Women’s March on January 21 organized a strike by women in the workplace.  Women across the nation skipped work, wore red to signify love and sacrifice, and refused to spend money to support the cause.

Protestors rally at Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Wednesday (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

One thousand people gathered on a city block in New York City, and eventually moved to Trump International Hotel.  According to the Women’s March on Washington group, 10 organizers were arrested in NYC for blocking traffic.  In Providence, Rhode Island, the municipal court shut down because eight employees stayed home from work for the day.  Schools in Alexandria, Virginia, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina, and Prince George’s County, Maryland were all closed for the day due to the amount of teachers who skipped work.

Spokeswoman Cassady Findlay explained that organizers of the strike were inspired by the recent “Day Without an Immigrant” protests which were held last month.  Findlay said that the goal of the strike was to highlight the effect of women on the United States’ socio-economic system, and would demonstrate how the work of women keeps communities and economies functioning.  Findlay told reporters that “[women] provide all this value and keep the system going, and receive unequal benefits from it.”

Shannon Craine, of San Francisco, told reporters that while it was a diverse crowd, everyone was at the protest for the “same reasons.”  Craine emphasized that everyone who attended the strike “care[s] about women’s rights” and that there are some things “[they] are just not willing to negotiate about.”

Conservative group Right2Speak is organizing a “positive counter-movement” to the strike.  Right2Speak wants to encourage women to “to continue working, serving, giving, sharing and loving their communities, their families and their endeavors.”  The group is also encouraging women to use the hashtag on social media #NotMyProtest and #WeShowUp accompanied by pictures of them working.

Protestors held signs reading “Resist like a girl” and “Power to the resisters forever!”

 

For more information, please see:

CBS New York — ‘Day Without a Woman’ Celebrates Female Power on International Women’s Day — 8 March 2017

The Huffington Post — ‘A Day Without a Woman’ was a Day of Activism Across the Country — 8 March 2017

The New York Times — ‘Day Without a Woman’ Protest Tests a Movement’s Staying Power — 8 March 2017

USA Today — Conservative Group Counters #DayWithoutAWoman with #WeShowUP — 7 March 2017

Women’s March Organizers Plan General Strike

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON DC, United States — The organizers of the Women’s March last month announced a plan to hold a general women’s strike on a date that is yet to be determined.  The plan for the strike has been announced across the official social media accounts for the Women’s March, declaring there will be a “General Strike: A Day Without a Woman.”  The idea of a general strike comes from labor-oriented political movements where people leave their place of employment to demand political action.

The will of the people will stand.

A post shared by Women's March (@womensmarch) on

(Photo Courtesy of Salon)

The general strike comes on the heels of the Women’s March which took place last month, in which over three million Americans across the nation protested their dissent for the new president.  The official website of the Women’s March thanked participants, however also noted that the “march forward does not end here.  Now is the time to get friends, family and community together and make history.”

Organizers of the Women’s March have voiced their praise for boycotts of companies that support President Trump, and reinforce their commitment to engage in “actions that affirmatively build community, strengthen relationships and support local, women- and minority-owned businesses” at a time when “foundational principles of freedom and equality are under threat.”

Many other organizations have called for strikes against the new presidency as well.  Strike4Democracy has a general strike planned for February 17, and according to its Facebook page, over 16,000 people will be participating.  The organizers of this strike are encouraging people to strike from work or school and spend the day doing community service.  The strike is also calling upon members of Congress to defend the Constitution.  Writer Francine Prose wrote an article in the Guardian, calling for a general strike following President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from seven countries.

There are no other details about the women’s general strike aside from the caption on the Instagram picture announcing the strike, which reads “The will of the people will stand.”  The Instagram post is the only public announcement that has been made about the general strike so far.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — ‘A Day Without  Woman’ — Women’s March Organizers Plan General Strike — 7 February 2017

The Huffington Post — Women’s March Organizers are Planning a ‘Day Without a Woman’ — 6 February 2017

Marie Claire — The Woman’s March Organizers are Planning a Women’s Strike — 6 February 2017

Salon — “A Day Without Women”: Women’s March Group Announces Plan to Hold a General Strike — 6 February 2017

Russia Decriminalizes Forms of Domestic Violence

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia — The Duma recently passed a bill which would decriminalize some forms of domestic violence.  The bill, also known as the “slapping law,” would eliminate criminal punishments for first offenses, or attacks that occur only once a year in which a woman or child is not “seriously” injured, and does not require hospital treatment or sick leave from work.

Conservative MP Yelena Mizulina is spearheading and sponsoring the domestic violence bill (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
Conservative MP Yelena Mizulina is spearheading and sponsoring the domestic violence bill (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Under the bill, the punishment for domestic violence offenders would be limited to a fine or community service, while subsequent offenses can still be considered criminal.  The bill passed its first reading at the Duma with a nearly-unanimous 368 out of 370 votes in its favor.

Supporters of the bill claim that current domestic violence penalties are “anti-family” and are a “baseless intervention into family affairs.”  The bill was proposed by conservative MP Yelena Mizulina, who is the head of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs.  Mizulina believes that offenders should not be jailed and deemed a criminal “for a slap” or a “scratch.”  According to Mizulina, “battery carried out towards family members should be an administrative offense.”

Those in favor of the bill cite tradition of parental authority as its source.  Mizulina and her fellow supporters believe that because traditional Russian family values are built on the parents’ authority, laws should reflect those values and traditions.

Women’s rights group claim that the bill will leave domestic abuse victims even more vulnerable than they already are.  Olga Yurkova, executive director of Syostri – a recovery center for sexual assault victims – explained to reporters that the proposed “decriminilisation will worsen the situation” of women tolerating domestic violence but not bringing it to public light.

Women’s rights activist Alena Popova has started a petition which demands the Duma pass a completely new law dealing with domestic violence, which has received over 174,000 signatures.  Journalist Olga Bobrova argued that while domestic violence might not leave a physical mark on the victim’s body, such actions still transform “her life into a living hell.”  Bobrova also explained that “domestic violence is a normal way of life” in Russia.

Activists recently handed out stories of abuse victims outside of the Duma to spread word of the cause.

 

For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post — Russia Moves to Decriminalize Several Cases of Domestic Violence — 14 January 2017

CNN — Russia Prepares to Decriminalize Some Domestic Violence — 13 January 2017

BBC — Russia: Anger at Move to Soften Domestic Violence Law — 12 January 2017

Mic — Russia’s Proposal to Decriminalize Domestic Violence Earns a Sweeping Parliamentary Victory — 12 January 2017

Women in France Stage Walkout to Protest Unequal Pay

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France — This past Monday, at 4:34pm, women across France staged a walk-out from their jobs in order to protest the disparity in salaries and wages between women and men.  Women’s rights group Les Glorieuses called for the protest, deciding that the issue of wage disparity finally needs to be addressed in France.  200 women were gathered in Place de la Republique by 5pm on Monday, and there were protests staged in other cities across France as well.  Thousands of women were seen on social media leaving their jobs on Monday afternoon.  The movement became known as “7 november 16h34.”

Women gather at Place de Republique to protest unequal pay (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Women gather at Place de Republique to protest unequal pay (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Les Glorieuses was inspired by a similar and successful protest in Iceland last month.  For the past 11 years, women in Iceland have been walking out on the same day and time that they should leave if they were to be paid the same hourly wage as men.  Iceland’s pay gap between men and women’s hourly wages is 14%.

In France, women were urged to leave at exactly 4:34pm because according to their calculations, after this point women will have been essentially working voluntarily.  In 2010, the gap between men and women’s average hourly wage was 15.5%, which means that a woman in France must work 38.2 days more than a male counterpart in order to be awarded the same salary.  Rebecca Amsellem, founder of Les Glorieuses, “thought the difference would maybe be 10 working days, not a month-and-a-half.”

Amsellem urged that at exactly 4:34pm on Monday, “women essentially stop being paid.”  Osez le Feminisme, another women’s rights group, is supporting the movement as well and has called on French companies to be fined if they do not respect equal pay laws.  Les Glorieuses also claims that factored in to the percentage of pay difference between men and women is the notion that women do 1.5 more hours of unpaid housework every day than men.

In recognition of the movement, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo suspended the city council for the afternoon. French minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, voiced her support for any women from her office who wished to take part in the protest. Rossignol told reports that “[w]hen women protest, they make visible what is invisible, when they speak their outrage and raise collective indignation even higher, I support it.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Why did some French Women Walk out of Work Early? — 7 November 2016

IBT — Following Icelandic Example, Women in France Walked out of their Jobs at 4:34pm — 7 November 2016

The Local —  Women in France Urged to Walk out of Work Early — 7 November 2016

RT — French Women Stage Mass Walkout in Protest Against Wage Gap — 7 November 2016

The Washington Post — Women Across France will Leave Work at 4:34pm Today.  Here’s Why. — 7 November 2016