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

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

 

Sexual violence in SpainAfter five years of pushback, in May 2021, Spain finally approved a bill defining all non-consensual sexual acts as rape. The passing of the bill comes after the notorious “wolfpack” case. When five men gang-raped a woman, the public sought justice. Citizens wanted the Spanish government to promise that this type of horrific violence would never go unpunished. The legislation that has come about as a result of the case is a positive step toward fighting sexual violence in Spain.

Sexual Violence and Alcohol

Extreme substance and alcohol consumption has been linked to acts of sexual assault for several reasons. First, people who consume large amounts of alcohol and substances in social situations can become targets of sexual assault due to the inability “to resist effectively.” Second, heavy drinkers may use intoxication as an excuse for unacceptable behavior, which includes sexual assault. Third, the impairments caused by alcohol may lead to misperceptions and aggressive behavior which can prompt sexual violence.

Regardless of the contributing factors to sexual violence, actions addressing the issue of sexual violence are insufficient. In order for victims of sexual violence in Spain to achieve justice, Spain’s laws require legislative reform.

“Yes Means Yes” Model

In December 2018, the whole nation of Spain watched in shock as the five men that gang-raped a young woman were charged with sexual abuse but not gang rape. The court’s ruling rests “on the grounds that Spanish law requires evidence of physical violence or intimidation to prove a rape charge.” The ruling caused outrage throughout Spain with many women protesting justice for the victim.

After more than a year of heated protests, Spain’s Supreme Court overturned the previous court ruling, convicting the men of rape and sentencing them to 15 years in prison. The bill is based on the “yes means yes” model of sexual consent. This model defines any non-consensual sexual act as rape. Maria Jesus Montero, a spokesperson for the Spanish government, stated that the new law places “the victim at the center of the public response.” Most importantly, she stressed that passivity and silence do not equal consent.

Under the existing legislation, the predator must have used physical violence or intimidation for the act to count as rape. Now, with the new legislation, stalking, street harassment and genital mutilation will also become crimes. Furthermore, gang rape has gained more severe punishments, including prison sentences as high as 15 years. Additionally, the legislative reform called for the development of a 24-hour helpline for sexual assault victims.

Eliminating Sexual Violence in Spain

The “yes means yes” model of law puts Spain on the same level as 11 other European countries that have similar laws and legal definitions. Some of these countries include Sweden, Portugal and Britain. For its part, Spain has put itself at the forefront of fighting against gender-based violence, from implementing gender violence legislation in 2004 to legalizing gay marriage in 2007. With the new legislation, the government aims to improve research and reporting on all forms of sexual violence in Spain.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr

Las Damas de BlancoLas Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White) is a peaceful civic movement of wives and female relatives advocating for the release of jailed political protestors in Cuba. The group has been active since 2003 and is internationally acclaimed for its dedication to human rights advocacy, having won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. Currently, the movement is the subject of a resolution on the Senate calendar.

History of Las Damas de Blanco

Las Damas de Blanco formed in 2003 following an event known as the Black Spring. The Black Spring was a mass arrest of 75 journalists and political protestors in Cuba. Each of the arrested had either spoken out against the Castro regime or advocated for democracy in some way. The people arrested ranged from librarians to human rights activists who were all peaceful in the dissent and yet were arrested for threatening Cuban national security. In response to the arrests, the wives and sisters of the protestors decided to band together and form a countermovement. Every Sunday, the women gather and attend mass wearing white, and then, march silently through the streets. The white clothing symbolizes peace and the message is centered on family and freedom.

Overcoming Barriers

As a women-led movement, Las Damas de Blanco faces many challenges in its advocacy efforts. The movement is agitated by other citizens and particularly by Cuban authorities. The Cato Institute reports that the women “are routinely harassed, threatened, beaten and arrested” for the peaceful protest. Despite this, the movement has never weakened. The Ladies in White continue to march every Sunday and the members have brought global awareness to the issue. All 75 of the protestors arrested in the Black Spring were freed by 2011, in large part due to the efforts of the Ladies in White. The women-led movement still protests consistently and will not cease until all Cuban political prisoners are freed.

US Recognition

In March 2021, Sen. Mark Rubio introduced a resolution honoring Las Damas de Blanco and adding the Senate’s voice to the call for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. The resolution acknowledges the efforts of the women-led movement and the Cuban regime’s consistent attacks on the movement. It particularly honors the legacy of the movement’s founder, Laura Ines Pollán Toledo, on human rights advocacy.

A more recent event highlighted in the resolution is the second arrest of Las Damas de Blanco member, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, which took place in 2018 and resulted in Miranda developing a rare skin disease in prison. Miranda’s health deteriorated and she was hospitalized in Cuba for more than six months. In 2020, the U.S. government granted Miranda a humanitarian visa and transferred her to a hospital in Miami.

The resolution’s direct calls for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and allow Las Damas de Blanco to attend mass in peace are vital actions of solidarity. If it is agreed to in the Senate, the resolution will further amplify the voices of Las Damas de Blanco and all peaceful Cuban dissidents hoping for liberty.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Farmers' Protests in IndiaOn January 21, 2021, Jai Bhagwan Rana, aged 42, committed suicide by digesting Sulphas tablets during an ongoing protest near New Delhi, India. In his suicide note, he wrote about the current fight to protect Indian farmers’ rights from three new agriculture bills signed by India’s parliament. The note states “The government says it is a matter of only two to three states, but farmers from all over the country are protesting against the laws. Sadly, it is not a movement now, but a fight of issues. The talks between the farmers and the center also remain deadlock.” The farmers’ protests in India have received international attention as people look to protect the rights of farmers in India.

Farmers’ Protests in India

The protests have escalated since the bill signings in late September 2020, with major marches to the capital city of New Delhi following in late November. Violence has disrupted between the stoic farmers and paramilitary troops armed with water cannons and tear gas guns. Mental health counselors have been disbursed to the protest sites and have reported that farmers are burdened with hypertension, anxiety and trouble sleeping and are afraid of losing their homes and their families. Sanya Kataria, a clinical psychologist, reports that “the farmers are not being heard so there is frustration and aggression,” also adding that her patients regularly report feeling anxious.

Violence and Conflict

Five major highways surrounding New Delhi are now filled with protester camps fighting their way through police since November 2020 and thousands of farmers surrounding the northern regions of India settled within the state’s borders. The farmers have rations of food with cooking equipment and shelter supplies on-site and have propped up microphones and stages to keep their mission potent.

Farmers broke the two-month peaceful protest on January 26, 2021, breaking through law enforcement barricades by mobilizing 10,000 protesters on tractors as well as horses and storming into India’s most important 17th-century landmark, the Red Fort. Protesters wielded ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelming the police force with their strength in numbers. Meanwhile, India was celebrating Republic Day, a holiday that exemplifies the country’s strength in military and culture with the attendance of important leaders. The casualties injured more than 300 police officers. Reportedly, one protester was killed by his own tractor and many farmers were bruised and bloodied.

The 3 Farming Bills

The three bills that were approved in early September 2020 were rushed through parliament by the Modi government.

  1. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price and Farm Services Bill. The primary purpose of this act is to form contracts between privatized businesses and farmers and legally allow companies to have control of agricultural remuneration, transportation and methodology. Protesters are weary that corporate investors would simply dominate production and exploit farmers through legal clauses.
  2. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. This bill takes agricultural produced trade outside of India’s state-mandated restrictions, allowing food to be sold outside of mandis (food markets) to cold storage, warehouse, processing units and more. Farmers will be able to do direct marketing, eliminating intermediaries, and therefore, securing higher prices for produce. However, this bill cuts ties between government and farmers, releasing all businesses into competitive markets and cuts farmers from government subsidies or procurement in case of low or fluctuating market demands.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. This act removes particular commodities from a federally approved requirement list, which is predicted to boost farmer revenue and ultimately raise retail prices on non-essential items. The bill specifies that non-perishable items can only be deemed essential if the market price rises 50% and perishable items will be essential if the market price rises 100%. This can lead to hoarding, black market activity, and ultimately, raises food prices for everyone.

Support for the Rights of Farmers in India

More than 50% of the population in India works in the agriculture sector, and in 2019, at least 10,281 citizens ended their lives, mostly due to bankruptcy and debt. The protest continues internationally by relatives and families of Indian farmers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and more, demonstrating their frustration outside of embassies. Since December 2020, millions of international Indian protesters have answered the call to cause. Non-resident Indians have been helping protesters by sending money, arranging transportation and sending rations for the farmers camping outside of New Delhi.

Influencers like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg have used social media to show support for the farmers’ protests in India. The Indian government has banned more than 250 Twitter accounts, blaming specific tweets and hashtags as a “motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds.” Since the beginning of the protest, 60 farmers have died in just 40 days from illness, suicide and the blistering cold. Yet, a protester named Kuldeep Singh forebodes that “We will sit here for the next three years. We will sit till the elections, till the laws are scrapped.”

Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr