Gender Equality, 2017 Year in Review
From the rise of the #Metoo movement to numerous new laws on violence against women and the conviction of the ‘butcher of Bosnia’ for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, this post is a selection of some of the noteworthy moments for women’s rights and gender equality from around the world this year.
Women, march on
A defining moment for the women’s rights movement, the women’s march in January galvanizes an estimated 3.5 to 5.5 million people globally in at least 58 countries to take to the streets for gender equality. The sheer turnout says it all, but in case you were hibernating, Facebook confirms the march as the largest recorded event on its network this year. Coincidentally, International Women’s Day, celebrated annually in March (no pun intended), also ends up being the most talked about moment in 2017 on Facebook globally with double the social chatter from last year. Naysayers, get out of the way. Women are marching on for an even playing field.
Iceland to require pay equality
It’s robbery! Globally, women make 23 per cent less than men — a point UN Women’s now award-winning #stoptherobbery campaign has been driving this year. While numerous countries already have some equal pay policies in place, Iceland takes it up a notch in March by becoming the first country in the world to introduce legislation requiring companies to prove pay equality — or face fines. Switzerland proposes legislation to better enforce equal pay through regular auditing of pay practices. Also this year, ILO, UN Women and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development launch the Equal Pay International Coalition to get countries to follow suit on innovative equal pay policies. And, Norway’s football association sets a historic standard in sports by announcing pay equality. Now, that’s a goal worth shooting for.
Kyrgyzstan adopts domestic violence law
Kyrgyzstan adopts a new law on domestic violence in April that improves protection measures for survivors, simplifies reporting procedures and introduces rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators. A couple of months later, Liberia’s parliament passes a domestic violence law, but receives criticism for dropping a provision to ban female genital mutilation, a practice still prevalent in the country. Today, at least 140 countries have domestic violence laws. Even so, 1 in 3 women still experience violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner. Clearly time for the laws’ rigorous enforcement.
Running the distance
As if we needed more proof that women can do anything, in April 22-year-old María Lorena Ramirez from Mexico’s Tarahumara indigenous community defeats 500 other runners from 12 countries in a 50km race in Puebla, Mexico — all in a pair of rubber sandals with no ‘professional’ training. Unorthodox enough, her win makes headlines. But to the Tarahumara peoples, running is a way of living. Ramirez reportedly gets her ‘training’ as a cattle herder where she walks up to 10 miles a day. Also making the news, American Kathrine Switzer, who famously became the first woman to run the 1967 Boston Marathon after flouting a ban on women, takes center stage at age 70 when she runs the New York marathon in November.
Smashing records on screen
The first female-led superhero film since Elektra in 2005, Wonder Woman smashes entertainment records as the highest-grossing live-action female-directed movie worldwide, surpassing the original Iron Man and Man of Steel. It’s one of many firsts: Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is the first to direct a female-led superhero film. Can someone hand Jenkins a Bracelet of Victory already? This year, the silver screen in the U.S. also tackles serious issues: American drama series Big Little Lies, co-produced by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman, and The Handmaid’s Tale both bring violence against women to the limelight, snagging the Emmys in the process.
African women lead
One need look no further than the women behind Liberia’s peace movement or Rwanda’s post-civil war recovery efforts to recognize that women play a key role in achieving lasting peace and driving sustainable economies. Seeking to maximize on women’s leadership potential in Africa’s transformation with a focus on governance, peace and stability, UN Women, the African Union Commission and the Permanent Mission of Germany launch the African Women Leaders Network in June. There is a surge of women leaders in other parts of the world, too: in the US, for instance, a record number of women plan on running for office. And it’s about time: globally, women still only make up 23 percent of parliamentarians.
Childhood, not wedlock
9 June-17 August
A string of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean make historic strides to end child marriage: In June, Trinidad and Tobago amends a number of marriage acts to outlaw underage marriage; Honduras modifies its national family code to revoke a legal exception to the marriage of minors through parental consent; in August, Guatemala removes a legal exception that allows judges to authorize unions if considered in the “best interest” of the child; and the same month, El Salvador closes a loophole that allows young girls to get married under certain circumstances, such as pregnancy. Not limited to the region, Malawi removes a provision that permits children ages 15 to 18 to marry with parental consent and India rules sex with an underage wife is rape. In other marriage related news, India also orders the practice of “instant divorce” unconstitutional.
Unstereotype Alliance launches
From the ‘Beach Body Ready’ ad that sparked a 70,000-signature petition to the ‘naked’ woman bathroom shower tour, daily ads reaffirm that sexism is alive and well. To counter this, UN Women, together with industry giants Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, AT&T and IPG among others, launches the Unstereotype Alliance at the Cannes Lions Festival to globally eliminate harmful gender stereotypes in adverts. Taking steps in a similar direction, France issues laws to protect models’ health, including a requirement that digitally altered commercial images are labelled as such.
‘Marry-your-victim’ law abolished
26 July-16 August
In succession, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon scrap controversial laws that allow rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims. Tunisia’s move to eliminate impunity for perpetrators is part of its first national law passed in July to comprehensively tackle violence against women. The long-awaited law recognizes physical, economic, sexual, political and psychological forms of violence against women and girls. It also seeks to provide protection mechanisms to enable survivors to access necessary services, including legal and psychological assistance.
At last: Behind the wheel
Women in Saudi Arabia can now get behind the wheel — at last. Formerly the only country in the world to bar women from driving, Saudi Arabia issues a decree in September allowing women to acquire driver’s licenses, a move set to go into effect in June 2018. Welcoming the decision, UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls it an “important step in the right direction.” UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also expresses hope that the lift “starts the journey to substantive equality for women and girls in Saudi Arabia.”
In the wake of sexual allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein, two words ignite a movement: #MeToo. Originally penned by activist Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, #MeToo unleashes 1.7 million tweets across 85 countries in the first few weeks alone, exposing the scale of sexual harassment and assault women face. Related hashtags in other countries further expose the issue. The fallout is swift for men in senior positions accused of sexual misconduct, from entertainment to news and politics. Initial responses include a new code of conduct for the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the U.S.; France considers fines for catcalls. TIME Magazine also names the “Silence Breakers” its Person of the Year and Merriam-Webster announces “feminism” as its top searched Word of the Year. The tide seems to be finally changing.
Landmark rulings: Guilty
In a long-awaited verdict, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentences former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić — also dubbed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’ — to life imprisonment for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and other acts of sexual violence committed more than 20 years ago. Mladić is among the top figures to stand trial at the Tribunal and the court’s last major case. In another landmark sentence, a national court convicts Frederic Batumike, a deputy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s South Kivu province, and 11 members of his personal militia in December to life imprisonment of crimes against humanity for the murder and the rape of 37 young children in Kavumu. The conviction constitutes the first time a sitting government official in the DRC is found guilty of superior responsibility for such crimes and represents an historic moment in the fight against impunity for sexual violence in the country.
An orange world without violence
25 November-10 December
As the #MeToo movement continues unabated, iconic monuments from Brazil’s Cristo Redentor to Ukraine’s Independence Monument turn orange to symbolize a future free of violence for women and girls during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence; activists worldwide organize marches, concerts, exhibits and more. Taking a creative approach, activists in Indonesia organize a “Safe Bus Journey” to spotlight sexual harassment on public transport. It’s a topic that has also taken wind in other parts of Asia this year: In Pakistan’s most populous city Karachi a women-only pink taxi service is launched and in India’s capital New Delhi an all-female police motorbike squad takes to the streets to fight sexual harassment and assault in public spaces.
Australia legalizes same-sex marriage
After a non-binding national referendum shows public support for same-sex marriage, Australia’s Parliament overwhelmingly votes to legalize it in December. The landmark law that has gone through 22 failed attempts since 2004 is hailed as a long overdue victory. Spreading the love, Germany, Malta and Austria also legalize same-sex marriage this year upping the count of countries that do so to 26. In more wins for the LGBTQI community, citizens in Germany and Canada can now register as third gender in official documentation.