Bulgarian Protesters
In mid-November 2022, Bulgarian protesters took to the streets outside the Balkan country’s Parliament building to fight for a livable minimum wage. Increasing inflation sparked the movement, and fears of minimum wage freezes prompted Bulgaria’s two largest employee unions to begin protests calling for raises in the minimum wage. The protests started right before winter because many are experiencing energy poverty and cannot afford to heat homes. Without an increase in the minimum wage, Bulgaria could have thousands, if not millions of its citizens, drop into energy poverty and lose its stance in the “eurozone.”

Bulgarian Minimum Wage

Bulgarian protesters are tackling the issue of minimum wage outside the Parliament building because the minimum wage is crushing the lower classes. Bulgaria has one of the lowest minimum wages in Europe. Bulgaria’s minimum wage is not keeping pace with the continuously-rising inflation, as inflation has effectively outpaced the national wage increases. The minimum wage stands at BGN710 or €362 per month. However, despite the pay increases, due to the amount of taxes taken out of most minimum wage earners’ pay, they only take home about €281.

By 2020, the poverty rate in Bulgaria reached 22.1%. The updated figures show the actual number of Bulgarians in poverty is likely much higher. About 35% of Bulgarians are considered the “working poor,” according to Radio Bulgaria. To be “working poor” one must have a job, work 27+ weeks a year, in the labor force, but still fall below the poverty line. The term “working poor in Bulgaria refers to those supporting themselves on minimum wage.

Bulgaria’s working poor have no way out of their poor status as long as the minimum wage remains as low as it is. With the inadequate pay, many Bulgarians fear the costs of living, specifically energy costs, might increase and force them into “energy poverty.”

Bulgaria’s Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy sources and services. It is one of the main causes of Bulgarian protesters taking to the capital. Energy poverty is one of the dominant challenges the Bulgarian government has faced since the Parliamentary and presidential election of 2021, as it is one of the poorest energy nations in Europe. In 2020, 27.5% of Bulgarian homes did not have adequate heating and 22.2% of Bulgarian homeowners and property renters were late or in debt due to overwhelming energy bills.

Bulgaria depends on Russia for 75% of its gas, making it one of the nations most reliant on Russian gas. The European Union held off on implementing the same bans on Russian oil that the U.S. did, but Russia slashed its gas exports and EU members scramble to seek alternate natural gas providers. The oil pipeline transporting Russian gas and oil to Eastern European nations, including Bulgaria, will remain open but with limited quantities. The minimal gas imports are likely to cause gas prices to soar again. Prices have been fluctuating wildly. The EU is in talks to set a cap on Russian gas prices, which the EU will decide on by December 5, 2022.

Until the EU sets that cap, though, Bulgarians dependent on Russian gas while only earning minimum wage will continue to struggle. Fears of living in energy poverty are motivating Bulgarian protesters as they head into the region’s coldest months of the year.

Protests and Their Implications

Bulgarian protesters are led by the nation’s top two labor unions. Bulgaria’s labor unions are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for a significant number of Bulgaria’s workforce. Around 15% to 17% of Bulgaria’s workforce is involved with labor unions. Nationwide, there are two dominant labor unions, with countless smaller unions covering various employees and their protective needs.

Bulgaria is a member of the EU and is on its way to being a member of the “eurozone.” To be a member of the zone, one must meet four critical criteria: price stability, sustainable public finances, an inflation rate that is not more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate of the three best-performing member states, and exchange-rate stability. Bulgaria met the criteria required to join the eurozone, which should go into effect on January 1, 2024. However, with inflation continuing to rise and a lackluster minimum wage impacting the economy, Bulgaria could lose its spot in the eurozone.

Bulgarian protesters are calling for Parliament to raise the minimum wage before an economic freeze takes hold, Al Jazeera reports. Should a freeze happen, the minimum wage will remain low in the current inflation crisis, and the government will lose its spot in the eurozone. Without an increased minimum wage, Bulgaria’s economy will not have the proper structure to lift its poor citizens out of their financial danger.

Ending poverty for Bulgarians is possible, especially if the government raises the minimum wage, and the efforts to reach this goal earned the attention of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Bulgaria joined in November 2021, a recent but significant change. The IDA has granted $458 billion to 114 countries through grants with 0% interest. The funds go to programs that decrease poverty and improve the economic status of a nation. Joining the IDA is symbolic of Bulgaria’s progress away from the title of “developing.” Bulgaria’s economy is improving, but inflation and a lower minimum wage could halt any potential improvements. With the IDA’s assistance and a raised minimum wage, Bulgaria has a phenomenal chance of securing those better futures.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Panama Protesting Against Living Costs
In July and August 2022, Panamanians protested the rise in the cost of living in Panama, including food and gas costs. What started as teachers unionizing to oppose the cost increases, quickly turned into the largest protest since dictator, Manuel Antonio Noriega, was removed from power in 1989. Various Indigenous groups, unions and industry associations joined the teachers in this historic Panama protesting against living costs.

About What Has Been Happening in Panama

Due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, COVID-19 and the high inflation rates in Panama, the cost of living has been increasing significantly over the past few years spawning the Panamanian protest against living costs, specifically the rise in transportation, food and gasoline costs. In December 2021, the inflation rates were only 2.6%, but by May 2022, the inflation rates were 5.2%, a 100% increase.

Inflation has led to a jump in the cost of basic necessities such as food and gas. Transport prices have risen 16.1% since the start of the year.

Gas prices have been reaching an all-time high time in Panama. Since the start of the year, the prices have risen by approximately 50%, reaching a high in June. The average cost of a single food basket also significantly rose this year. Since last year, the price of a food basket has increased by approximately $18.

In 2019, an estimated 500,000 Panamanians were living under $5.50 per day, and more severely, 52,000 Panamanians were living under $1.92 per day. In 2020, an estimated 575,000 were living in poverty. Poverty is widespread in Panama but it hits the rural areas the most, affecting the Indigenous populations. According to the World Bank, in 2020, inequality in Panama was a high 49.2 on the Gini index, an index that measures the severity of class inequality. The high poverty rates among the indigenous people and lower class have been a factor in the establishment of Panama protesting against living costs.

The Impact of the Protests

Since the protests started there has been an estimated $500 million in economic losses. Food producers by themselves have lost approximately $131 million at the time of the protests.

Because of the duration and magnitude of Panama’s protests against living costs, negotiations between the protesters and the government have occurred, some resulting in a win. The government agreed in July to lower the price of gas to $3.95, a 24% decrease since the end of June.

However, the demonstrations continued and the government froze the cost of fuel at $3.25 in August. The government has also agreed to regulate the prices of 72 food items, a 30% saving on the price of a basket of food, which would in turn be more than $80 in savings.

The government has been dialoguing with the protesters and has made significant decreases in fuel and food prices. While some protests have turned violent involving the police, the government and the protesters are making their mark in history.

– Janae O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

Ghana's #FixTheCountry Protests
Recent protests have broken out in Accra, Ghana, as Ghanaians express their displeasure with the nation’s current democratic government. Rallying behind the hashtag #FixTheCountry, an overwhelmingly youthful group of protesters has taken to the streets, donning red and black and chanting patriotic songs. As these protesters call for change, it is worthwhile to investigate what they are fighting for and how certain conditions in Ghana have precipitated their outcry. Here are five facts about the causes, execution and stakes of Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests.

5 Facts About Ghana’s #FixTheCountry Protests

  1. A young social media influencer masterminded the protests: People know social media influencer Joshua Boye-Doe as Kalyjay. With Twitter as his primary platform, Kalyjay, who boasts more than 450,000 followers on the site, began the movement back in May 2021 in response to raised prices and tax increases. On Kalyjay’s Twitter account, one might discover an interesting variety of memes, videos and retweets about Ghanaian soccer players and other Ghanaian athletes. Most significant, however, are the tweets that end in #FixTheCountry —“Enough is enough,” one reads, or “Tomorrow we go on a peaceful walk to rewrite history.” Each one of his tweets reaches hundreds of thousands of followers, and on August 4, his movement came to a head as he helped organize several thousand people to peacefully protest in the nation’s capital.
  2. Discontent and turmoil have been brewing since President Nana Akufo-Addo’s December reelection: The current democratically elected President of Ghana is Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party. He narrowly won reelection in December 2020 in a race against John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress. According to the BBC, Ghana has a history as one of the more stable democracies in all of Africa when it comes to fair and legal elections. At the same time, there has still been plenty of public outcry to Akufo-Addo’s reelection. In the week following the December election, at least 60 incidents of violence related to the election took place, with five Ghanaians killed as a result. Though independent officials described voting and polling as fair and free, Mahama refused to concede the election for several days after the announcing of the results.
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Ghana’s economic problems: Following a difficult economic year during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Akufo-Addo promised to reinvigorate Ghana’s economy, which had suffered due to price fluctuations of oil and cocoa, two of the nation’s key exports. Now in mid-2021, #FixTheCountry protesters are frustrated with the administration’s apparent inaction. Prices of basic goods and services have risen over the past year, and the government has imposed several new COVID-era taxes. Some are particularly displeased with the president’s decision to build a $200 million national cathedral, asking for $16 monthly donations from citizens. Many protesters view this project as non-essential, urging the administration to focus on fixing the economy at large.
  4. This kind of public protest is unusual for Ghana: Due to its strong democracy, Ghana is not a country well known for large, public demonstrations from its citizens. Ghana has a history of maintaining free media and holding relatively peaceful elections with subsequent transfers of power. Ghanaians typically utilize the power of the ballot box to voice their dissatisfaction. The 2020 election saw a voter turnout of 79%, higher than the U.S.’s 67% turnout in the same year. Though the population is incredibly politically active, perceptions abound that individuals cannot influence or pressure political officials. Eighty-five percent of responders from a 2019 survey stated that they had never contacted a member of parliament. The #FixTheCountry protests are thus somewhat unusual to see, but they connect to the fears of poverty that worry many young Ghanaians.
  5. This nonpartisan hashtag has become a movement: Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests have denounced both of Ghana’s primary political parties. Rather than focusing on partisan politics, the #FixTheCountry movement has swelled around passionate, frustrated young people. With more than 70% of Ghana’s population younger than 35, this young crowd hopes to tackle and address unemployment and other economic issues. Just 10% of graduates from Ghanaian universities find a job within their first year of graduation. Among the movement’s specific demands is a new constitution with limits on the power of the executive and an economic charter that directly guarantees economic liberty, ensuring liberation from poverty.

Looking Ahead

Accra’s recent #FixTheCountry demonstration highlights the ways in which the fight to downsize poverty is continually evolving. In a developing nation like Ghana, where poverty and inequity continue to plague many pockets of the population, young people have found a voice through Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests, organized through social media, to fight economic inequality.

– Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr

Tunisia's Crisis
On July 25, 2021, Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, used his emergency powers to decommission parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister. Saied claims that he did so per article 80 of Tunisia’s constitution, which allows him to use “exceptional measures in the event of imminent danger” for 30 days. At the time, the Ennahda Movement, an Islamist political party, was facing violent protests. Citizens have also been criticizing the government for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created economic instability in a country already dealing with other forms of poverty and socioeconomic inequalities. As such, Saeid not only believes he is justified, but according to a poll conducted after the act, only 3% of Tunisians disagreed with his actions while 87% were in full support. However, many critics are calling Saied’s actions unconstitutional with multiple headlines referring to Saied’s takeover as a coup, a crisis and an affront to the democracy that the nation has worked to attain over the years. Still, many believe that a silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis exists.

Tunisia’s History

Tunisia has a history of political turmoil, poverty and inequality, beginning with the Arab Spring rebellions about a decade ago. These bloody protests resulted in the removal of Tunisia’s then-dictator of 27 years, turning the country into the first and only democracy to come out of the rebellions.

Unfortunately, Tunisia and its people have not had it easy since then. In fact, “for many Tunisians, it has been a decade of disappointment.” One man, Aroussi Mejri, claimed that “from what we’ve seen so far, democracy has no value,” and asked, “why did we revolt?” Tunisia has experienced increased unemployment rates of around 17%, a declining economy that, in the last year, has diminished by 8% and a corrupt government that has done little to help. As a result, some Tunisians have resorted to leaving the country or even suicide.

The last straw, it seems, was the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated all of the aforementioned issues. Therefore, when President Kais Saied used his emergency powers to take control of the government, many Tunisians flooded the streets to show their support. For them, Saied is a silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis that has always been there.

Backlash After President Kais Saied’s Actions

When President Kais Saied took control of the government in Tunisia, headlines criticized and attacked Saied, referring to his takeover as a “coup,” “crisis” and “unconstitutional power grab.” In a United States Department of State press statement about the situation, Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “Tunisia must not squander its democratic gains,” referring to the country’s time as an autocracy before the Arab Spring rebellions.

Criticisms of Saied continued as police attacked Al Jazeera offices in Tunis and detained Vivian Yee, a New York Times reporter, for two hours. Between assuming absolute power over the government and targeting journalists, some fear a return to authoritarian rule in Tunisia.

Support of President Kais Saied’s Actions

Shocking to many on the outside looking in, most Tunisians support President Kais Saied’s acquisition of power. This is because all of Tunisia’s governments after the Arab Spring rebellions have failed to fix poverty and inequality in the country, including the current government. As a matter of fact, according to Arab Barometer, in March 2021, three-fourths of the country claimed to be dissatisfied with the nation’s education system and two-thirds with the healthcare system. Only 10% do not believe Tunisia’s government is corrupt in some way. Tunisians are hoping that Saied can make a change and be the silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis.

The Silver Lining

Some news outlets and westerners might find that the silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis is its democracy and the reestablishment of Tunisia’s government, while most Tunisians might find that it is President Kais Saied. However, with so many questions left to answer about Saied’s intentions and what the future will hold, one could determine that Tunisia’s silver lining is really the aid that the country has received amid the chaos. For instance, with COVID-19 cases and related deaths increasing rapidly during the protests surrounding Saied’s coup, the country has received millions of coronavirus vaccine donations from other countries. Whether or not this is because of Tunisia’s heightened infection rates following Saied’s takeover is uncertain. Still, since the nation has been facing vaccine shortages, the donations will definitely help Tunisia tremendously, especially since 93% of Tunisians had not garnered vaccinations as of early August 2021.

Additionally, if Saied keeps his promise to allow civil society groups “freedom to operate,” like the International Labour Organization (ILO), an NGO with the mission to “break the cycle of poverty in Tunisia,” at least those in need should be able to receive the help and representation they deserve.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Flickr

Anti-government Protests in Cuba
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the country of Cuba has seen tremendous uproar from its citizens. Thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting against the communist regime in the most significant Anti-government revolts in decades. Protesters have spanned across 30 different areas around the island, including Havana. The protesters have thwarted the government’s attempts to keep the protests in Cuba under wraps by showcasing their efforts via social media, making the revolting world-known.

What are the Protests in Cuba About?

The current protests are responding to several issues that emerged during the pandemic. Some problems include an 11% decrease in the nation’s economy, leaving many citizens without food to eat and no medicine to treat their sick. They are protesting against the dictatorship regime and want to fight for more freedom in what they do. They are also protesting against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected over 7,000 people and killed 47.

When the coronavirus hit, Cuba had to close its borders, preventing tourists from visiting the island. The United States imposed sanctions on sugar exports, costing the government $5.5 billion in 2020. As a result, Cuba is experiencing an economic crisis, which has resulted in the loss of many jobs and an increase in unemployment.

In response, citizens have taken over the street, successfully shutting down entire expressways for their cause. Beginning on Sunday, July 11, citizens have taken to social media to express their outrage for their leaders. They were requesting a political change, vandalizing areas in which they operate and attempting to deliver their message.

“It’s time for things to change. The situation is critical,” said 22-year-old construction worker Christian Veliz in an interview with AP News.

The Cuban Government has then reacted to these protests with police authority. So far, the police have dispersed all demonstrations across the country, even going into people’s homes to arrest them. Police arrested and locked up about 100 citizens. Another 150 to 200 people have reportedly gone missing.

“People are dying in the streets at the hand of the police. The government denies help to those hurt,” said Adrian Artega in an interview with Wink News.

The Government’s Response

To stop the protests, the government has even shut down the internet nationwide, making it difficult for people to communicate and continue their efforts on social media. Cubans are now using word-of-mouth and social media to keep the protest going and gain international support.

After a while, the Cuban government softened its stance on the protesters and tried to defuse the situation. Now that Cuba has lifted the internet ban along with food and medicine taxes, all Cubans can access these goods. However, many feel as though it is too little, too late.

“No, we don’t want crumbs. We want Liberty. Blood has not run in Cuban streets to be able to import a few suitcases,” tweeted by government critic Yoani Sanchez.

Local and International Supporters of the Protesting

Along with the lifting of trade restrictions, there has been an answer to Cuban protesters’ calls for help. Several musicians of Cuba, such as Adalberto Alveraz, the Elito Reve Orchestra and more, have voiced their support for what is happening in Cuba.

The U.S. government and President Biden have also lent their support to the protesters and Cuba. They have even stated that they would like to send assistance to Cuba when they are able.

“There are many things we are considering doing to help the people of Cuba, but that would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government,” said President Biden.

President Biden and Homeland Security have since developed a hardline policy toward Cuba. This has resulted in the fourth round of sanctions against the Cuban government in the hopes of forcing Cuba’s top officials to change their ways and finally appease its citizens. Biden, who sympathizes with the Cuban people, has stated that he will continue to impose sanctions on Cuba until the conflict resolves.

“There will be more [sanctions] unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t anticipate,” said Biden in a meeting with the Cuban American leaders in the White House.

Although protesters have made demands and received support, protests in Cuba are still ongoing as citizens rally for a better government.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar's Healthcare System Post Coup

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup. Following a series of raids, several democratically-elected government officials were arrested, including the president, Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the coup, many protesters have taken to the streets, resulting in more than 100 deaths on March 27 alone. Even before the coup, Myanmar’s healthcare system was in shambles. However, NGOs and other groups believe that the coup, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, will exacerbate conditions in the country. The situation is compounded by the return of 100,000 migrant workers to Myanmar in March 2021.

Effect on COVID-19 and Immunizations

Healthcare workers were among some of the first to join the pro-democracy movements. However, this has led to shortages of staff, significantly impacting healthcare service delivery. According to The New Humanitarian, “Soldiers have also occupied major public hospitals and attacked healthcare workers, including emergency responders trying to help injured protesters.” With limited healthcare services available, some doctors are volunteering their time and community groups are stepping in to bridge the gap in healthcare. “The public health system has practically collapsed,” said Andrew Kirkwood, the senior U.N. official in Myanmar, during a briefing in March 2021.

Additionally, the coup has stalled routine vaccinations for children. Due to healthcare workers joining the movement, as well as continued fighting in the remote regions, many refugees and citizens are unable to get their children vaccinated. By July 2021, close to one million children were unable to receive their vaccinations since the coup began.

Due to the fragility of Myanmar’s healthcare system, COVID-19 testing and treatment also came to halt, producing uncertainty regarding Myanmar’s vaccination rollout amid the coup. The coup and the counter-protests induced outbreaks, worsening COVID-19 and causing shutdowns. With the economic strain as well as the risk of the virus, Myanmar’s impoverished families are struggling. Fortunately, in July 2021, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar stepped in to scale up “the provision of critical health services and COVID-19 vaccination efforts.” The U.N. Country Team is also working to increase testing rates and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination rollout while tackling the oxygen shortage.

Effect on HIV/AIDS

The coup also led to the shut down of HIV treatment programs and testing, putting many lives at risk. Before the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar implemented several programs to tackle HIV/AIDs in impoverished areas. With the ongoing conflict, it has become harder to access anti-retroviral drugs and there are concerns of shortages due to disrupted supply chains.

ICAP, a global public health NGO, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief  (PEPFAR), is “collaborating with the community-based organization Myanmar Positive Group (MPG) to build its capacity to deliver HIV care services.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, ICAP provided “virtual conferencing software for community self-help groups” to host virtual support meetings as these services are crucial to controlling HIV in Myanmar. ICAP also provided training on using virtual software and conducting tele-counseling. During the coup, these established tools will ensure these services continue.

The Good News

Several NGOs stepped up to help Myanmar. The Myanmar Red Cross is intensifying its efforts for humanitarian assistance and healthcare. The organization reported in June 2021 that nearly 236,000 people require assistance as COVID-19 shutdowns and the coup exacerbate poverty. About 2,000 Red Cross healthcare volunteers provided frontline assistance to those injured during the protests and others in need of healthcare services. The organization also provided ambulance services.

The EU also stepped in to assist with a donation of “€9 million in emergency humanitarian aid” in April 2021. The funding will go toward “emergency health support, protection, food security and multi-sector emergency assistance” in Myanmar.

With organizations taking a stand to help Myanmar’s most vulnerable people during the coup, citizens will receive the aid they need while the country awaits the end of the widespread violence and instability.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

women farmers' movement in IndiaIndia is experiencing one of the largest and longest-lasting protest movements in world history. It has seen continuous protests for about seven months, most prominently in New Delhi, the capital city. Hundreds of thousands of protestors have gathered to support the movement, in which farmers demand the repeal of three agricultural laws passed by India’s government in September 2020. Women, many of them farmers, are leading these protests.

The Farm Laws

The three laws passed are known as the Farm Laws. They allow for the privatization of agricultural markets. While the government stated that the Farm Laws would “give expanded market access and provide greater flexibility to farmers,” protestors say the laws will push small farmers into poverty by curtailing produce prices and favoring large corporations.

Women’s Role in Agriculture

Women are prominent in the farmers’ movement protest scene for multiple reasons. The laws can affect both their work as farmers and their family lives as spouses to farmers. According to India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research, women account for more than 42% of India’s agricultural labor force but own only 2% of farmland.

In 2019, more than 10,000 agricultural sector workers in India committed suicide, partially due to financial hardships. Widowed women were left to provide for themselves and were often unable to gain rights to their husbands’ farmland due to gender-biased inheritance traditions.

Women’s Role in the Protests

The farmers’ protests and women’s role in them have received mixed reactions from the public and the government. S.A. Bobde, the Chief Justice of India, asked, “Why are women and elders kept in the protest?” Bobde asked advocates to encourage women to stop showing up at protest sites. However, women responded to his remarks by yelling “no” into microphones and continuing to protest.

Jasbir Kaur, a 74-year old farmer, told Time Magazine, “Why should we go back? This is not just the men’s protest. We toil in the fields alongside the men. Who are we — if not farmers?” On Christmas Eve, protestor Amra Ram, the vice president of the All India Kisan Sabha, acknowledged the work and importance of women in the farmers’ movement in India.“Women farmers are fighting the battle at the threshold, and we are here to follow them,” he said.

Global Response

Despite governmental dismay toward the protestors, there is support for the Indian farmers’ movement across the globe. Solidarity protests have been held in Great Britain, the U.S. and Canada. Furthermore, women celebrities such as singer Rihanna, climate activist Greta Thunberg and author Meena Harris have used their Twitter platforms to stand in solidarity with the Indian activists.

“We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” Harris tweeted in February.

India’s foreign affairs ministry accused foreign celebrities of being dangerously “sensational” after Rihanna’s tweet reading “why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest” increased anger toward India’s government officials.

History of Women in Protests

A large female presence is not new in Indian protest scenes. In the 1960s and 1970s, women activists stood up against gender violence and the economic exploitation of women. Their efforts drew the attention of the United Nations, which called for the reassessment of social conditions for women in India. That led to the founding of the Committee for the Status of Women in India (CSWI) in 1974.

More recently, in 2012, protests following the gang rape of Jyoti Pandey demanded public safety reform for women. India passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 2013 to address concerns about sexual violence.

In India, women protestors have historically been persistent in demanding reform. Women are propelling the farmers’ movement in India, one of the largest protests in history. However, the Indian government has yet to repeal the Farm Laws as protestors demand.

– Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Protests in EswatiniEswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a country in sub-Saharan Africa that has been dealing with protests for weeks. The pro-democracy protests in Eswatini are against the rule of King Mswati III, who has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle.

Poverty in Eswatini

In 2018, Swaziland changed its name to Eswatini. It borders South Africa and Mozambique. According to NPR, the country is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, and political parties are banned there. The ruler of the country is King Mswati III, who has reigned since his coronation in 1986.

King Mswati III has received heavy criticism for living in luxury while nearly two-thirds of Eswatini’s population of 1.2 million live in poverty. This gaping inequality is one of the reasons for the current pro-democracy protests in Eswatini.

Additionally, more than 330,000 people in Eswatini struggle with food insecurity. The country is still reeling from COVID-19 and a 2016 drought that ravaged the country’s food supply. Most of its people face poverty while their king lives in splendor.

Pro-Democracy Protests in Eswatini

Over the past few weeks, protests have broken out in Eswatini. People have rallied in opposition to the monarchy, and specifically the king. They are also expressing displeasure about restrictions on political expression and the poor state of the economy.

The protests have also caused immense damage both to the country and its people. At least 40 people have died, and more than 150 protestors have been taken to hospital with injuries. Additionally, violence and looting have caused a lack of basic necessities for many citizens. Protestors are calling for greater political participation, a limit on the monarchy’s power and a popular election for a Prime Minister instead of an appointment by the king.

Light in the Darkness

However bleak the forecast may seem for the protests in Eswatini, there is a ray of hope. Following the social unrest in Eswatini and South Africa, female religious leaders organized a Day of Prayer for their countries to heal.

The Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life in Southern Africa (LCCLSA) organized an online Day of Prayer. The event encouraged participants to pray for peace, healing and an end to the violence. Some people also shared testimonies of how the violence has affected them and their families, allowing for collective healing.

“Though painful and sad to listen to, the testimonies proved to be inspiring and gave a glimmer of hope in the midst of the hopelessness that people are feeling,” Sr Nkhensani Shibambu, President of LCCLSA, told Vatican News. “Many people were moved and touched by the initiative and felt inspired to begin the rebuilding of the country from the ashes that had surrounded them in the past weeks.”

While protests ravage Eswatini, highlighting the inequity between the lavish lifestyle of King Mswati III and the two-thirds of citizens living in poverty, there is hope in people coming together to pray for healing and a better future for the country.

Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

Looting in South AfricaIn early July 2021, South Africa experienced deadly riots and mass-scale looting in response to the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 16, 2021, that at least 212 people have lost their lives, with thousands arrested during the civil unrest. Authorities dispatched the South African military to combat the violence and destruction. The riots were particularly intense in the KwaZulu-Natal province where Zuma’s ethnic group, the Zulus, makes up 80% of the population. COVID-19 caused the South African economy to enter a recession in 2020, putting the country in a vulnerable economic state. The recent looting has not only caused more damage to the already vulnerable economy but has also led to food and fuel shortages, exacerbating poverty in affected areas.

Origins of the Riots

Jacob Zuma was arrested on July 7, 2021, after refusing to testify in court on alleged corruption in the African National Congress. The former president led the country from 2009 until his resignation in 2018 under the pressure of corruption allegations. The African National Congress (ANC) has been in power every year since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. However, the political party’s support waned over the last two decades. The response to Zuma’s arrest reveals the factionalization within the ANC as well as the amount of support the former president still commands. Current President Cyril Ramaphosa made the decision to send in the military to quell the riots after the South African Police Services struggled to do so.

Rioting Exacerbates Poverty

The end of apartheid did not usher in an era of equality in South Africa. South Africa consistently ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the 21st century, with a Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015. According to the World Bank, “High inequality is perpetuated by a legacy of exclusion and the nature of economic growth, which is not pro-poor and does not generate sufficient jobs.” The recent looting in South Africa highlights the desperation that many impoverished South Africans face and the zero-sum nature of inequality’s violent outcomes.

The rioting disrupted supply chains and caused food and fuel shortages that hurt impoverished South Africans. Distributors and suppliers halted operations in fear of the violence, destruction and theft arising from the riots. Many supermarkets and grocery stores were emptied by looters, forcing stores to close their doors and leaving many South Africans without a source of food. In some suburbs, no stores were operational at all.

Even the South African National Blood Services facility was not spared as looters ransacked the Queensmead Mall center on live television. The riots forced a number of facilities in the Kwazulu-Natal province to close, impacting the “movement of blood and samples to SANBS processing and testing facilities, among other functions of the blood bank.”

Looters went as far as ransacking humanitarian aid organizations such as Food Forward SA. The organization, which provides food aid to vulnerable South Africans, had to temporarily close, leaving 125,000 vulnerable people without food. Still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African economy now faces another setback due to the recent political riots.

The Future of South African Civic Society

Like many countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic accentuated South Africa’s social cleavages. As a country with an apartheid history, racial and ethnic tensions were also apparent in the riots and looting. Community militias, private security contractors and even citizens themselves have taken up arms against the looters to protect their lives, businesses and property.

While the recent riots display the instability of South Africa, the unrest has also highlighted the humanity still present. The riots, lasting roughly a week, have since died down. South Africans of all backgrounds have been working around the clock to clean up the streets and repair the destruction caused by the riots. Activists have taken to social media to organize volunteers to repair communities and heal South African civic society. The hashtag #CleanUpSA has gained traction on Twitter as the country comes together to rebuild in the wake of violence.

Organizations such as Gift of the Givers are working to provide food parcels to areas impacted by food shortages. Give of the Givers also provided food packages to health workers so that they “could concentrate on their patients and not stand in long queues to access groceries.”

With reparation and restoration efforts underway, South Africans stand as a united front to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of the riots and looting in South Africa.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

Protests in CubaJuly is an especially notable month in Cuban history. Cuba witnessed its largest mass protests in July 1994, when thousands protested due to a major economic crisis that the fall of the Soviet Union brought on. Now, on the weened of July 10, 2021, thousands of Cubans protested in the streets of its major cities due to food shortages, extreme inflation and authoritarian communist rule. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made extreme poverty and repressive government rule worse on the island. Many Cubans at the protests spoke out about starving and having no basic survival resources.

How Age Influences Cubans’ Views on the Communist Government

The recent protests in Cuba are much more complicated than they first appear. According to a man who refused to identify himself in fear of retaliation, younger Cubans tend to vehemently oppose the communist regime due to the lack of food, medicine and electricity. A 17-year-old protester said that the population was protesting because they were hungry and poor. The man noted how there is a lack of resources on the island. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced over a nationwide television broadcast that the protests needed to end. He called on the communists to deliver a “revolutionary response” to the destabilization of the island.

In response to Diaz-Canel’s message, older Cubans, in support of the government and the military and police, blocked off young anti-government protesters in their attempt to occupy vital parts of Havana. Pro-government supporters, some armed with wooden clubs, expressed their ties to Cuban patriotism and supported the security officials in quelling the anti-government protests. Pro-government supporters accused the younger protesters of taking a stand against communism by working as paid mercenaries for the United States. The U.S. spends approximately $20 million annually to support “democracy promotion” in Cuba.

How and Why the Protests Happened

Both economic and health crises largely drive the protests in Cuba. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic measures that the communist government took have made many Cubans’ living situations dire. Throughout 2020, Cuba held the pandemic in check, however, recently, virus cases increased rapidly. Cuba reported 6,750 new cases and 31 new deaths on July 11. However, opposition groups note that the true statistics are most likely much worse. Many Cubans have reported that their relatives died at home without receiving the care they needed to have a chance at survival by citing medical negligence.

The Cuban tourism industry has come to a standstill since the beginning of the pandemic, consequently creating a massive hole in the Cuban economy. Hyperinflation, electricity blackouts, food shortages and a lack of everyday necessities are widespread throughout the island. Economic reforms at the start of 2021 increased worker wages while also causing a major spike in prices. Cuban economists, including Pavel Vidal, believe that prices could rise in Cuba by as much as between 500% and 900% within the next few months. Cuban banks additionally stopped accepting cash deposits of U.S. currency. Many economists viewed this as the most severe restriction put on U.S. currency since the rule of Fidel Castro.

Internet access and mobilizing young people through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were essential in getting the protests started. In 1994, very few Cubans living outside of Havana knew that protests were taking place. Young Cubans have expressed their disdain for the communist regime on social media for years. The Cuban regime has deactivated the internet on the island to stop the unrest.

US Officials’ Response and Cuba’s Future

President Biden called the protests in Cuba a clarion call for freedom and noted that Americans wholeheartedly support Cubans in their fight for freedom. The acting assistant secretary for the state for western hemisphere affairs, Julie Chung, expressed her support in a tweet commending the peaceful protests and Cuban concerns with the multiple crises they face.

Foreign aid to Cuba from the United States and the international community has been minimal in recent years and throughout the islands’ history. This is because the communist leaders would take all of the money and resources for themselves while refusing to distribute them to people in need. The $20 million the U.S. currently spends to support democracy promotion efforts in Cuba is a start. To liberate the Cuban people and end extreme poverty on the island, the United States and the international community need to do whatever they can to help keep the protests going.

– Curtis McGonigle
Photo: Wikipedia Commons