Concern for women in Ukraine; protests in Nigeria; abortion victories and setbacks in Latin America
By Agustina Ordoqui
UKRAINE: Russian shelling destroyed a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol in south eastern Ukraine last week, causing “colossal damage”, according to local authorities. Three people, including a girl, were killed in the attack. Elsewhere, women have been giving birth to children in bomb shelters in cities under attack by Russian forces. Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has said the conflict could increase the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Meanwhile, the Transgender Europe network has warned that trans people with identification documents that do not match their gender identity have been unable to pass internal check-points, as the Ukrainian government has told men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in the country and fight.
NIGERIA: The Nigerian parliament has rescinded its decision to reject three bills on gender equality. On March 1, the bills did not receive the two-thirds majority required to pass as proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, leading feminist organisations to protest around the country. They were reintroduced on International Women’s Day and will be voted on again next month. One of the proposed pieces of legislation mandates political parties to ensure women make up at least 35% of their executive councils. Another would allow the foreign partners of Nigerian women to become citizens – the constitution currently only allows men to pass their citizenship to a spouse – while the final bill relates to a woman’s recognition within her husband’s estate if she is from another state. One of the rejected bills proposed establishing a minimum of 35% representation for women in parliament (111 seats). Instead, the parliament approved a 20% quota on March 1, which women’s rights groups say is not sufficient. Currently, women hold only 13 of the 360 seats in the Nigerian house of representatives and 8 of 109 in the senate, one of the lowest proportions in the world.
KENYA: The Mozilla Foundation has revealed that the conservative Spanish organisation CitizenGo funded disinformation campaigns on Twitter to influence the debate over the 2020 Reproductive Healthcare Bill and the 2021 Surrogacy Bill. CitizenGo paid between $10 and $15 per campaign to influencers, who posted 20,000 tweets and 10 hashtags spreading disinformation. Following the Mozilla Foundation’s complaint in February, Twitter suspended more than 200 accounts. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, women and girls in Kenya often lack access to adequate information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
SAUDI ARABIA: Reuters has reported that the phone of activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was jailed for organising a movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia and was released in February last year, led to the discovery of widespread cyberespionage. The activist’s phone was targeted by NSO Technologies, an Israeli technology company whose spyware programme, Pegasus, caused an international scandal last year. According to researchers at Citizen Lab, a software flaw meant the NSO malware left a copy of a malicious image after hacking Al-Hathloul’s phone. This exposed part of the attack code and revealed a powerful new form of cyberespionage: a tool that penetrates devices without requiring any user interaction. It is also evidence that the activist continued to be targeted by the authorities, despite her release.
AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban reopened public universities in February, allowing access to both men and women. However, classes are held separately, meaning that men and women cannot study together or share timetables. Women must also wear a hijab to study. Since the Taliban returned to power in August last year, the situation of women and girls in the country has deteriorated precipitously. Many women are still unable to access paid work or attend medical appointments without the presence of a male guardian.
US: Ketanji Brown Jackson could soon become the first black female judge in the United States. President Joe Biden nominated her for the position on February 25th, and the appointment must now be confirmed by the senate. Confirmation hearings will begin on March 21. Also in February, US Soccer agreed that the women’s and men’s national teams would receive equal pay. (The women’s team is significantly more successful than their male counterparts.)
COLOMBIA: A court victory for feminist groups has given Colombia one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws overnight. On February 21, the constitutional court ruled that article 122 of the Penal Code, which prohibited women from voluntarily terminating a pregnancy was unconstitutional, and authorised abortion up to 24 weeks. After a year and a half of debate, the court declared in favour of the lawsuit presented by the feminist movement Causa Justa with a majority of five to four. With this ruling, abortion will be free and legal on demand, while it will continue to be permitted without any time limit on three grounds: risk to the mother’s life; rape or incest; or a non-viable pregnancy. Stay tuned for Impact’s interview with Mariana Ardila, one of the lawyers behind the victory, next week.
GUATEMALA: A bill has passed in the Guatemalan Congress that more than triples the prison sentence for having an abortion, from three to ten years. The ‘Life and Family Protection Law’ also explicitly prohibits same-sex marriage and education about sexual diversity. The Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, has said he will file a motion to have the law overturned in the country’s highest court. The bill will become law once it is signed by President Alejandro Giammattei. Congress approved the bill on International Women’s Day.
UK: England will no longer allow access to self-managed abortion at home after August 29. Measures brought in at the beginning of the pandemic allowed people to receive and take both pills required for a medical abortion at home via a telemedicine consultation. These measures will soon come to an end, and the first pill will once again have to be taken at a health facility. By contrast, neighbouring Wales has decided that the provision of abortion pills by post will become permanent.
ECUADOR: The Legislative Assembly in Ecuador has passed a bill allowing legal abortion up to 12 weeks gestation, or up to 18 weeks for minors, indigenous or rural people. The bill follows a ruling by the constitutional court to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape. President Guillermo Lasso, who disagrees with the law, has said he will review it. The bill was not well received by feminists organisations, who had hoped for greater access to legal abortion. « Feminists have already announced a lawsuit for non-compliance because the court was clear in saying to use the best standards and the assembly and Lasso are not complying, » Ecuadorian journalist Ana Acosta told Impact.
This issue of Impact was prepared by Agustina Ordoqui, Heloísa Marques, Megan Clement and Steph Williamson.
Impact is financed by the New Venture Fund.
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