The past year has been ground-breaking for women. Though the fight for gender equality and women’s rights has been on for a long time, 2017 saw women’s issues take centre stage. There were moments which had us glowing with pride, with monumental victories in our favour. But amid the joys came the stories of women persecuted and robbed of their rights.
Here are five thumbs-up and five thumbs-down women’s stories that made news in 2017…
Women’s March in January 2017
Following the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, women took to the streets of Washington in large numbers to protest the anti-women statements he had made and positions he had taken during his presidential campaign. While the flagship protest took place in Washington, several similar marches were conducted by activists and women’s rights groups in different states. The protests also advocated causes such as immigration reform, healthcare, environmental conservation, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, freedom to practise all religions, and the fight against racial discrimination.
Women speak up about sexual harassment – #MeToo
It all started with The New York Times exposé of dozens of women accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and rape. In the weeks that followed, the tally of women accusing Weinstein rose to over 90. Soon many men and women in the film, media and entertainment industries came forward with sexual assault allegations against several famous men – including Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, James Toback, Al Franken, Roy Moore among others. Subsequently, the #MeToo campaign gained momentum on social media with women all over the world sharing their harrowing experiences of being sexually harassed, molested and raped. The Silence Breakers were also named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year.
Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving cars
In a landmark move, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued a royal decree in September, granting Saudi women drivers’ licences. Saudi Arabia is the last country where women were not allowed to drive. This decree was hailed by Saudi women and men alike. A committee will be set up to plan and evaluate the proper execution of the new order, set to take effect in June 2018.
Triple talaq unconstitutional, says Indian Supreme Court
In August, the Indian Supreme Court (SC), abolished Triple Talaq or instant divorce law practised by some Muslims in India. Three out of five judges on the bench ruled against triple talaq, a law that allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by simply uttering the word talaq (meaning divorce in Arabic) three times. This was a major victory for women fighting the triple talaq law, which violates their right to equality. The SC has issued a six-month ban on the law until the parliament passes legislation on the same.
Arab countries repeal ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws
In July, Tunisia became the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to repeal Article 227 that would exonerate a rapist if he married his victim. Soon after, in August, Jordan’s lower house of Parliament voted to repeal Article 308, a loophole which allows sexual offenders to be set free if they married their victims. Lebanon followed suit by abolishing its own “marry-your-rapist” law. Women’s rights activists in the region are hoping more countries will follow in their footsteps.
Widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls in Myanmar
Amidst the gut-wrenching persecution and killing of Rohingya Muslims as part of the ethnic-cleansing said to be carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces, reports assert that Rohingya women and girls are being subjected to widespread rape and torture. While the Myanmar government denies allegations of ethnic cleansing and mass rape, medical professionals treating women and children in Bangladesh’s refugee camps housing Rohingya refugees have been stunned by the sheer volume of rapes.
New Turkish marriage law may spur child marriages and polygamy
In October, the Turkish parliament passed a law allowing muftis to perform civil marriages as opposed to the authority previously lying only in the hands of state officials in the family affairs directorate. The move is considered a blow to women’s rights and has been criticised by activists who fear an increase in child brides being forced to marry older men and a rise in polygamy.
Sanitary napkins taxed heavily under GST in India
The new GST rollout in July infuriated women across India, for under it, sanitary napkins were taxed heavily at 12 percent. Protests broke out in different parts of the country, with the media and women’s rights organisations voicing out against sanitary napkins, a feminine hygiene necessity, being placed in the 12 percent tax bracket. However, even though taxes were slashed on many products in the November revision of GST, taxes on sanitary napkins remain the same.
Trump administration cuts access to birth control under employer coverage
In early October, the Trump administration issued a rule that significantly limits the contraception coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act. This allows a larger group of employers and insurers across industries to exempt themselves from covering contraceptives, which could mean that many American women would no longer have access to birth control free of charge. The move has been condemned by women across the US, citing access to birth control as imperative to treat several pre-existing conditions and for women to exercise reproductive and sexual freedom.
Several women activists killed fighting for human rights
In 2017, the world lost many women activists, most of whom were killed by radicals of opposing viewpoints. Among them were Emilsen Manyoma, a Colombian working with displaced communities; Sherly Montoya, an advocate for the LGBTI in Honduras; Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green, an environmental lawyer working on cases involving land rights in Philippines; and Heather Heyer, killed while protesting against the Unite the Right neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, US. Journalists too were targeted – Gauri Lankesh, a critic of caste discrimination and right-wing Hindu extremism in India; Daphne Caruana Galizia who had led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta; and Shifa Gardi, an Iraqi reporter credited with breaking stereotypes of male-dominated journalism in the region.