Girls' Education in ChinaChina, the world’s most populous nation, has made great strides and significant progress towards improving girls’ education. Since Deng Xiaoping’s societal reform and opening up, the country has not only made great economic improvements but has ensured growth and development in its education system. Although the country continues to take steps to improve girls’ education, there are still challenges that need to be further addressed.

Laws Mandate Girls’ Education in China

In 1986, the “Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China” Law took effect. This law required that all citizens obtain at least nine years of education, funded by the government. Before this, the greater value of males in society gave boys priority over girls to the right to an education. According to the journal Gender Inequality in Education in China, “Thanks to the compulsory education system and gender equity promotion, the gender gap in educational attainment has been greatly eliminated in the past decades.”

Rural Girls Still Struggle to Obtain an Education

As mentioned before, there are still many challenges in terms of girls’ education in China, including:

  • The priority of boys over girls to the right to education in poverty-stricken areas
  • Gender segregation between higher and vocational education
  • The education gap between urban and rural areas
  • Barriers for female educators and researchers in the workplace

A further challenge is the population of left-behind girls in China, a population of girls whose parents have moved from their village to the city to find better-paying jobs. Often times, parents are more inclined to take their sons to the city and leave their daughters behind. According to China Daily, 96.1 percent of girls in rural areas attend school from ages six to 11. However, only 79.3 percent have access to high school education. Additionally, these left-behind girls are often put in a position where they have to drop out of school and find work to provide for their aging grandparents.

Government and Nonprofit Programs Address Remaining Education Gaps

Nevertheless, the country’s government and international NGOs are working to improve such challenges to girls’ education in China. For instance, the State Council publicized its National Program for Women’s Development that worked towards development dealing with China’s women, making women’s education one of the six areas of priority.

In 2006, China’s new five-year plan incorporated more investments in education. In the same year, the state revised its compulsory education law that takes steps to improve rural students’ quality of education by “abolish[ing] tuition and miscellaneous fees for all rural students and guarantees free textbooks and subsidies for room and board.” Meanwhile, UNICEF has proceeded with its efforts in western China to improve the quality of education in poor areas, focusing on gender equality.

Furthermore, China has made significant progress in girls’ education in China in the last three decades. Female enrollment in higher education is on the rise. In 2012, female college students made up 51.4 percent of the total university student population. Women are beginning to take on more roles in science and technology. More and more programs are beginning to subsidize girls’ college tuitions. Although numerous programs have been put in place to further girls’ education in China, it is important to continue this work to improve gender equality awareness throughout the country.

– Emma Martin
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in North KoreaIn 2015, the tale of Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector whose story shed light the repressive and backward nature of North Korea’s government and society, took the international media by storm. However, contrary to the usual negative depiction, girls’ education in North Korea is actually more modernized and progressive than many other aspects of its society. The statement “women hold equal social status and rights with men” was promulgated in the 1972 North Korean constitution, and to a large extent, this statement is accurate in regards to girls’ education in North Korea.

Public Education in North Korea

Only after the opening of Korea to foreign countries in the late 19th century could more Korean females gain access to modern education, with Christian missionaries establishing girls’ schools. In North Korea, education is universal and state-operated, offering free compulsory education to the secondary level, which consists of 11 years of schooling at the minimum. North Korea’s “people’s school” (primary school) and “middle-high” (secondary school) curriculum encompasses Korean language, mathematics, literature and “socialist ethics”, which refers to political and ideological subject matter.

The reported literacy rate of North Koreans is 100 percent for both men and women over age 15. This number is self-reported by the North Korean government, making its reliability questionable, but if accurate, it makes North Korea one of the most literate countries in the world. There is no doubt that the secondary education is equally accessible to men and women.

Some Obstacles to Girls’ Education in North Korea Remain

Nonetheless, some differences do exist among the varied educational programs directed at boys and girls, and there are some restrictions on higher education for women, obstructing the potential greater progress for girls’ education in North Korea.

Traditional gender roles influence the educational system in North Korea. In this patriarchal society, this is seen in the practice of separating boys and girls into single-gender schools in both the elementary and middle school levels, preventing the two sexes from receiving a uniform educational instruction. Meanwhile, there are different curriculums for boys and girls, with more emphasis on “physical education for boys and home economics for girls”.

On top of that, at the university level of education, the limitation on girls’ education in North Korea is showcased more obviously. In contrast with the high accessibility of basic education for women and men, one of the top universities in North Korea, Pyongyang University for Science and Technology, has previously only had male students. However, recent reports have indicated increasing numbers of female students at this university.

North Korean Women Work for Educational Equality

Despite the prescribed gender roles and attendant images, there are many women majoring in medicine, biology, foreign languages and literature. These North Korean women are encouraging the breakdown of certain obstinate social norms and expectations imposed on not only women, but on men as well, that may discourage students from studying the subject of their choice.

North Korea is notoriously restrictive of its people’s freedoms, and the limits placed on girls’ education are but a mild example of the government’s repression. However, the fact that North Korean girls have the educational opportunities that they do is a heartening sign of progress, and can be of great benefit to girls and women now and in the future.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Google

Access to Health Services for Afghan WomenAfghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. For decades, women in Afghanistan have endured overwhelming marginalization, discrimination and highly restricted access to education, healthcare and employment. Since the 1996 rise of the Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group, women and girls’ human rights have been severely violated.

Before the Taliban’s rise to power, women’s rights were gradually improving, despite high maternal and child mortality rates and a very low literacy rate for women. Before the 1996 takeover, Afghan women helped draft the 1964 Constitution, there were at least three women legislators in Parliament by the 1970s and a 1978 decree required education for girls. But as the Taliban insurgents gained control, those rights deteriorated and the nationalist group centered its campaign on terrorizing women.

During the Taliban’s rule, women and girls were forced into marriage and slavery, they had to be accompanied by a male relative in order to leave the house, they were banned from driving and only about three percent of girls received some sort of primary education. Additionally, the Taliban implemented heavy restrictions on access to health services for Afghan women, including a ban on receiving care from male health workers, which left many pregnant women without the aid of skilled doctors, nurses or midwives.

After five years of brutally sexist and misogynistic authority, the Taliban government was defeated in 2001 by U.S. and Northern Alliance forces. However, internal conflict and fighting between the Afghan government and Taliban forces is still a crisis as of today; thousands of civilian fatalities were reported in 2017. Once the Taliban fell from power in 2001, hope sparked for improved economic and social conditions, leading to a positive reemergence of women’s rights.

But, despite government attempts to devise and institute plans to empower Afghan women, inclusion for the women of Afghanistan still remains a challenge. According to a 2017 report, women and girls have continued to endure gender-based violence by state and non-state actors, there has been an increase in public punishments of women by armed groups and restricted access to girls’ education by armed groups has persisted.

However, women are striving to regain their role in society and present living conditions are gradually progressing. For example, as of recently, access to health services for Afghan women has increased. These improved services include a newly established health center and an increase in hiring female health workers in Daman district.

Daman district, located in central Kandahar Province, is known for having a lack of health facilities and female health professionals, which has led to increased maternal and infant mortality rates. Afghanistan as a whole has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, and pregnancy-related causes have taken the lives of thousands of Afghan women each year, although most of the causes are easily preventable.

However, since the establishment of the Azam Qala Basic Health Center in 2015, those rates have slightly decreased. Kandahar Province’s new health center is seeing more female patients and healthy deliveries, and as of March 29, 2018, there now are at least 20 childbirths at the center each month. Overall, the Azam Qala Health Center sees more than 70 patients a day and serves more than 13,000 people in the Daman district.

With great support from the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition Program (SEHAT), the Azam Qala Basic Health Center was financed and provided with skillful female health professionals, and now access to health services for Afghan women is much improved. SEHAT’s objective is to expand the scope, quality and coverage of health services to Afghanistan, particularly for the most vulnerable. With continued efforts, women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan will continue to improve.

– Natalie Shaw

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in BelizeCountries around the world celebrate March as International Women’s Month, and Belize is no different. On March 16, 2018, the country hosted its annual 20,000 Strong rally for women’s rights in Belize. Women traveled from all over the country to Belize City to add their voices to the thousands of empowered women making a statement about gender equality. Wearing orange and supporting the businesses of other women, attendees made a public statement that they refuse to live in fear.

The 20,000 Strong Rally

The 20,000 Strong march began in 2014, boasting the slogan “Imagine a Belize Without Women.” Women were encouraged to take the day off from work in order to demonstrate how Belize is dependent on its women. Attendees were asked to wear orange clothes to show support for the UNITE Campaign, a U.N. campaign focused on ending violence against women around the globe.

The National Women’s Commission planned the event and executed it with the help of several other government departments. Speakers came to empower the women in attendance and encourage conversations about solutions for gender-based violence and women’s rights in Belize.

Initiatives like the 20,000 Strong march are critical for ending violence against women in Belize. The country has historically been a dangerous place for women to live. Abuse, rape and trafficking are real threats to women and children in Belize. While the 20,000 Strong march has always had special significance for women’s rights in Belize, the 2018 march could not have come at a more appropriate time.

Coming Together for Justice

On March 1, Belizeans awoke to the news that a 17-month old had been violently raped by her stepfather. She died on March 4, and Belize took to the streets on March 5 to call for justice. Belizeans gathered outside the courthouse in Belize City during the stepfather’s trial, demanding that justice be served and action be taken to protect children from heinous abuse.

The horrifying events of the month added fuel to the flame of the 20,000. On March 16, thousands of children joined the marchers, adding their voices to the conversation about women’s rights and violence against women. The coast guard, the Belize Defense force, the police and the First Lady of Belize joined the march, a crucial demonstration of the government’s support of women’s rights in Belize. Along with hosting speakers, some of whom are in high school, the event also supported Belizean small businesses operated by women.

The State of Women’s Rights in Belize

Women’s rights have been a point of concern for Belize. While rape is illegal, the justice system rarely convicts rapists, typically because the accuser cannot testify for fear of physical retaliation. Domestic violence records contain similar patterns. Belize has laws designed to combat sexual harassment, but they are not incredibly effective in practice. Employers are also mandated to pay men and women the same, but the pay gap and unemployment gap remains substantial. Furthermore, female representation in the government is low, with only 3 percent of Parliament members being women.

Female empowerment initiatives speak strongly to the direction Belize is headed. These women (and men!) are coming together and brainstorming ways to inspire change. With the support of the government, legislation is sure to follow that will improve conditions for women. The high attendance from schoolchildren also provides substantial hope for the future. More than 50 percent of Belizeans are under the age of 25, so they will set the direction for the country in the next few decades. With empowered women and children, Belize can look forward to better equality in the future.

– Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

Facing Challenges for Women in the Dominican Republic
In recent years, the Dominican Republic has transitioned from an agro-industrial economy to a service economy. With this transition has come many changes for the nation, primarily economic changes. The Dominican Republic has experienced significant economic growth due to this transition, which can be seen in its 4.7 percent growth rate between 2004 and 2012. Due to this growth, the Dominican Republic is now classified as a middle-income country, as opposed to a low-income country.

Despite the recent economic success of the country, the Dominican Republic is still facing many obstacles and challenges. Specifically, challenges for women in the Dominican Republic are especially prevalent. Though the economy has grown, so have crimes against women. Reported domestic violence and femicide cases have continued to increase in recent years.

Challenges for women in the Dominican Republic include the basic challenge of surviving. The Dominican Republic has the third highest rate of femicide in its region, and currently, femicide is the primary cause of death for women of reproductive age in the nation. In addition to femicide, gender-based violence has continued to rise in the Dominican Republic.

With gender violence rising, the need for assistance for survivors has risen as well. This need is one that is not being met currently. The Dominican Republic lacks adequate sanctuaries and care centers for the number of abused women and their children in the nation.

In response to these challenges for women in the Dominican Republic, the government has made constitutional amendments that are intended to help the advancement of gender equality in the nation. These amendments include a declaration that the state should promote equal rights for men and women, places an importance upon domestic work and condemns domestic and gender-based violence. In addition to these constitutional amendments, the government has also created the National Plan for Gender Equality, which makes up one of the four pillars of the country’s National Development Strategy.

Though these governmental and legislative actions have not been enough to decrease the amount of violence against women in the Dominican Republic yet, they are important first steps. With these pillars in place and the recent economic growth, the government now has the opportunity to allocate more funding for women’s programs moving forward.

Though the government still needs to make improvements to the amount of funding given to these programs, the problem has finally been recognized. In 2014, an Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, Mildred Guzmán, told the United Nations Third Committee, “As a country concerned about the issues related to women, and as a tireless actor in the long struggle for their advancement and accomplishments, we wish to reiterate the political will of the Dominican Republic for full, inclusive and participatory citizenship. Recognizing that violence against women is an obstacle for the fulfillment of all human rights and in consequence, in the entire citizenship.”

This statement holds hope for the future of women in the Dominican Republic, and now it is up to the government to fulfill this hope.

– Nicole Stout

Photo: Flickr

Improving Women’s Rights in Tunisia
While Tunisia has the most progressive laws on women’s rights in relation to other parts of the Arab world, patriarchal values still persist. In 2010, a study from the Tunisian government revealed that many of the country’s women are sexually, verbally and physically abused. However, improving women’s rights in Tunisia has become an initiative for many organizations.

The U.N.’s Work to Represent Women in Politics

In June 2016, Tunisia’s parliament approved an amendment to ensure a greater representation of women in local politics. Applying to regional and municipal elections, the amendment included a proposal for “horizontal and vertical” gender parity in Article 49 of Tunisia’s electoral law. This also marked the first time that 73 Tunisian female parliamentarians (from different backgrounds, parties and political ideologies) conducted their own lobbying in favor of the horizontal and vertical parity.

“Besides being a first in our region, the adoption of horizontal and vertical parity in electoral law is a timely achievement because it will guarantee effective participation of women in the upcoming decentralization process in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, the U.N. Women Representative from Maghreb. In March 2016, U.N. Women also began a project with Tunisia’s parliamentarians that would support the implementation of the women’s caucus. This will work toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia by increasing their representation in local and national politics.

Aswat Nissa Training Tunisia’s Women For Political Lives

Many Tunisian women find ways to exercise the power given to them by the country’s progressive laws. Some of these ways include Tunisian women attending political academies that began after the country’s Arab Spring revolution in 2011. In October 2016, the political academy Aswat Nissa was revealed to hold monthly training sessions for Tunisian women who enter political roles.

Aswat Nissa teaches Tunisian women many necessary political skills, including how to debate effectively and draft gender-sensitive budgets. Aswat Nissa enrolled forty Tunisian women in 2016.

“I have visited parliament before, but when you’re an assembly member, it’s something else. You are part of this world,” said Aswat Nissa graduate Karima Tagaz.

Tunisia’s New Law Against Gender-Based Violence

In October 2016, Tunisia’s parliament debated a bill to strengthen legislation on violence against women. The bill would be incorporated into Tunisia’s legislative and government policies, defining gender-based violence, outlawing marital rape and increasing penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill was approved on July 26, 2017, and served as a landmark step toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia.

“By enacting this new law, the Tunisian authorities have shown a commitment to the rights of women and are setting a standard that many others would do well to follow,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia’s office director at Human Rights Watch. The new law included requirements to assist Tunisia’s victims of domestic violence, providing them with legal and medical support. Tunisia’s authorities intend to ensure adequate funding and political will to fully place the new law into effect.

A Proposal For Tunisian Women to Share in Inheritance

In January 2018, the Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality (CIFE) planned a proposal for Tunisia’s women to share in men’s inheritance and pass their family name onto their children.

“Tunisia is once again pioneering and irreversibly moving toward advancement,” Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, CIFE’s chairwoman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “All discriminatory laws in the family space and public space are included in the commission’s tasks.”

CIFE’s proposed bill will also ban dowries, allowing Tunisia’s men and women to share their roles as head of the household. CIFE planned to present its recommendations to Tunisia’s president on Feb. 20, 2018, but requested a postponement until after municipal elections on May 6. The news site ANSAmed said that CIFE did not want its proposal to become an issue of electoral tension.

Tunisia’s parliament, the U.N. and CIFE have made much progress in strengthening the representation of Tunisia’s women in politics and protecting their freedom. Many groups will continue working toward improving women’s rights in Tunisia.

– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

International Violence Against Women Act

On Feb. 15, 2018, Representative Janice Schakowsky of Illinois introduced the International Violence Against Women Act of 2018 to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The overarching goal of the bill is to stop violence against women, with a focus on women in other countries, particularly those who live in poverty.

Why the Bill is Necessary

The bill provides several alarming statistics to show that poverty and violence against women are closely intertwined, such as the fact that one out of three women around the world will face violence and abuse in her lifetime. Also, around 70 percent of women in other countries have said they have personally experienced gender-based violence in their life.

Violence, particularly sexual abuse toward adolescents and pre-adolescents, is significantly prevalent. Surveys in Swaziland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Haiti showed that, on average, 28 to 38 percent of young girls and 9 to 18 percent of young boys said they had experienced sexual abuse before they were 18 years of age. Forced marriage of child brides is expected to occur to around 140,000,000 girls between 2011 and 2020. Furthermore, female genital mutilation/cutting has affected around 125,000,000 young girls and women alive today.

The Connection Between Violence and Poverty

However, these distressing statistics do not demonstrate the connection that exists between these forms of violence and poverty. The International Violence Against Women Act further notes that violence against women generally prevents women from engaging in their communities socially, economically and politically.

To be clear, the bill states that economies are affected because, around the world, women are often stuck working low-paying, insecure jobs where they are unable to have basic workers’ rights such as safe reporting systems, access to justice and legal and medical services. The subsequent lack of these rights and resources forces women in poverty to use dangerous methods in order to provide for themselves and their families, which often leads to them experiencing violence and abuse.

Furthermore, violence impacts a woman’s ability to work efficiently and be productive in the workplace and at home, which can hinder food production. As a result, this decreases food security and has the potential risk of subjecting women to more violence. The International Violence Against Women Act noted that research in India, Colombia, South Africa and Uganda found that women who have greater economic power and more control over economic assets are less likely to experience violence.

Strategies of the Bill

The bill aims to end violence against women in multiple ways. First, the bill will work through the continued implementation and monitoring of the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. This strategy was originally passed into law by President Obama in 2012 and was last updated in 2016. The strategy works in three ways:

  1. Prevention of gender-based violence through working closely with a country’s local organizations and civil society, which includes educating men about violence toward women.
  2. Protection for victims of violence by providing related services.
  3. Accountability to create justice for victims and improving legal and judicial systems so that aggressors face consequences for their crimes.

The second strategy described in the International Violence Against Women Act is adding amendments to The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, a law that affirms the U.S.’s goal of helping developing countries achieve security and stable economies. The bill adds amendments that specifically include gender-based violence into the law.

Lastly, the bill seeks the creation of the Office of Global Women’s Issues, to be added as a subset to the existing Secretary of State’s office in the Department of State. The role of the Office of Global Women’s Issues will be to generally promote gender equality and ensure that the status of women and girls around the world remains included in U.S. foreign policy.

– Jennifer Jones

Photo: Google

10 Ways Poverty is SexistProminent figures in the world of advocacy, including Bono and Melinda Gates, claim that poverty is sexist in nature. This is also referred to as the feminization of poverty. Global poverty disproportionately affects women in several ways. Women and girls are more likely to be impoverished, less likely to have access to educational opportunities and more likely to struggle with health issues.

How Poverty is Sexist

  1. Girls have less access to education over their lifetime, one of the major ways poverty is sexist. Education helps girls defy traditional gender roles and encourages them to pursue job opportunities.
  2. Attacks on girls’ schools and education discourage parents from sending their daughters to school, fearing for their safety. In countries engrossed in domestic armed conflict, girls’ education often faces targeted attacks using threats, acid, explosives, gunfire, kidnappings or school closings.
  3. Women spend twice as much time as men doing unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning and caring for children. This kind of domestic labor restricts the time women can spend working for wages, finishing their education, learning new skills or opening new businesses. The traditional gender roles are more prominent in developing nations, so this gap is even larger.
  4. Child marriage, which is often driven by poverty, traps girls in a cycle of poverty. Child brides are less likely to finish their education, making them less likely to earn a safe and adequate income. In communities where child marriage is common, girls’ education is often not valued over their roles as wives and mothers.
  5. Women are more prone to poor nutrition over the course of their life, which makes them more susceptible to diseases. Poor maternal health and nutrition feed down from mother to child, resulting in a vicious cycle of lack of nutrition and provisions against diseases.
  6. Land is a crucially valuable asset in rural areas of the world, yet almost 70 percent of the world’s population does not have access to land registration systems. Women are disproportionally affected by land title ambiguity, making them more likely to suffer from poverty and economic insecurity.
  7. Women face significantly greater challenges in gaining access to financial services than men. In developing countries, women are 20 percent less likely to hold accounts at a formal financial institution than men and often face restrictions that require a male family member’s permission to open a bank account.
  8. A lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights is a form of sexual discrimination that puts women and girls at a higher risk of poverty and limits their economic empowerment. Approximately 225 million women do not use safe and effective family planning methods, most of whom live in 69 of the world’s poorest countries.
  9. Data about global poverty in some of the poorest countries in the world is incomplete and lacking in gender-disaggregated data. There is a major need for gender-disaggregated data in order to understand how poverty is sexist, where and how women and girls are being left behind and how to fix it.

These are only a handful of the many ways in which poverty is sexist. The need for further study of the relationship between poverty and sexism is vital to level the playing field between men and women in the progression of economic and social opportunities.

– Sydney Lacey

Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Timor-Leste

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, a country located in Southeast Asia, gained its independence from Indonesia on May 20, 2002. This came after a popular vote in favor of becoming independent on August 30, 1999. As one of the world’s youngest and poorest nations, it is facing numerous social, political and economic issues. The country is not ignoring its issues but is instead working to improve them daily. One subject that is currently being brought to public attention is women’s rights in Timor-Leste, or the lack thereof.

Women in Timor-Leste face daily challenges that their male counterparts do not face to the same degree. One of these challenges is of an economic nature. Many women in Timor-Leste do not have the same training opportunities as men, which limits their job options. This limited access to jobs became a large issue after the conflict that Timor-Leste faced following the vote for independence in 1999 and before it was declared a sovereign state in 2002. During this time, nearly half of Timorese women were widowed due to widespread violence. These women became the sole provider in many households, and with economic options greatly limited for women in the country, many were left in poverty.

The government of Timor-Leste has recognized the economic challenges faced by women in the country. It is for this reason that Timor-Leste’s 2014 Country Gender Assessment includes an area dedicated to laying out a framework for advancing the economic opportunities of women. This framework includes increasing women’s participation in the labor market by improving training opportunities and implementing the Secretariat of State for Professional Training and Employment Policy’s gender mainstreaming strategy. These efforts will help to increase the number of financially independent women in Timor-Leste. In this area, women’s rights in Timor-Leste are advancing tremendously.

Another area of women’s rights in Timor-Leste that the country has struggled with is domestic and gender-based violence. Domestic violence is the most reported crime to the Vulnerable Persons Unit of the National Police by Timorese women, showing that this is a serious issue that is being faced by numerous women in the country. The government of Timor-Leste is determined to end this cycle of domestic violence. In addition to including women’s rights in the new constitution, the nation has also passed violence-specific legislation. This includes the Law Against Domestic Violence, which was passed in 2010 and defines domestic violence as a public crime. Timor-Leste also adopted the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, which provides a strategy of prevention for domestic violence, as well as a number of services for survivors of gender-based violence and domestic violence.

In addition to the legislative actions being taken to reduce domestic violence in Timor-Leste and promote the economic advancement of women, government officials are also speaking out on the subject of women’s rights in Timor-Leste. The Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Rui Maria de Araújo, made a statement at the Global Leader’s Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in 2015. He stated that Timor-Leste is fully committing to “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.” There is hope in this statement, and the lives of the citizens of Timor-Leste can only continue to improve as the rights of women continue to increase.

– Nicole Stout

Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in Chile
President Michelle Bachelet of Chile leaves office in March 2018. During her two terms as president, Bachelet worked tirelessly to advance women’s rights in Chile. She leaves a legacy of legislative victories in the fight for gender equality.

Bachelet entered government as an advisor in the Health Ministry. She served as Chile’s first female health minister in 2002 and its first female defense minister in 2002. She became Chile’s president in 2006. Her victory depended on the support of women — Bachelet’s victory was the first time a majority of women in Chile supported a left-of-center presidential candidate.

 

Time in Office

During her first term as president, Bachelet championed legislation to further women’s rights in Chile. She passed protections for victims of domestic violence, fought workplace discrimination, reformed the pension system to be fairer to women, gave low-income mothers better access to childcare and introduced universal access to emergency contraception. 

Chile’s conservative governing coalition strongly opposed Bachelet’s plan to expand availability of emergency contraception. Bachelet avoided Congress by issuing executive orders to mandate that public clinics offer free emergency contraception. Her conservative congressional challengers won an appeal in the Constitutional Court, causing Bachelet to instead pursue legislative approval. The bill was popular with the public and supported through mass demonstrations against the court’s ruling. Bolstered by public approval, Bachelet fast-tracked the bill and it was approved in 2010. 

 

Between Presidencies

Bachelet left office in 2010, unable to run for a second consecutive term due to constitutional limitations. She became the first Executive Director of the newly created U.N. Women. As the head of the organization, Bachelet worked to realize U.N. Women’s agenda — ending violence against women, economically empowering women, including women in global peace and security planning, increasing the number of women in leadership positions and influencing countries to focus national policies and budgets on increasing gender equity.

 

Return to Politics

Bachelet then returned to politics, winning a second term as president of Chile in 2013. In her second term, Bachelet created the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. She also passed legislation requiring that women make up 40 percent of candidates running for an elected office.

In 2017, the Constitutional Court of Chile ruled in favor of a reproductive rights bill introduced by Bachelet. The bill legalizes abortions in extreme cases — abortions were previously illegal in all instances. Bachelet’s bill was bolstered by public support — 70 percent of Chileans approved of the legislation.

 

A Strong Legacy and Continued Impact

After exiting office in March 2018, Bachelet will start as Board Chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health where she will continue to advocate for women’s rights in Chile.

“Promoting progress towards building a more equitable and just world, that guarantees the rights of women and girls, is more than a challenge,” says Bachelet. “It’s a necessity and an obligation.”

 – Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr