A Reflection On 2018: The Year of Advocacy of Women's Rights

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A Year Of Feminism

As the month and year draw to a close, it is instructive to look back and reflect on the year in the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of equality of the sexes, the classic textbook definition of feminism. Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed; Poland and Argentina had movements to liberalize abortion laws; women marched in places as far flung as South Africa and Spain against gender based violence and Nadia Murad shared the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex slavery. Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, issued his annual look at the year in human rights today with a strong reference to women. “In 2018, we witnessed many of these self-proclaimed ‘tough guy’ leaders trying to undermine the very principle of equality — the bedrock of human rights law. They think their policies make them tough, but they amount to little more than bully tactics trying to demonize and persecute already marginalized and vulnerable communities,” Kumi writes.

On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kumi Naidoo adds of 2018: "In India and South Africa, thousands took to the streets to protest against endemic sexual violence.” He goes further, assessing human rights — especially women’s rights — across the globe: “In Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, women activists risked arrest to resist the driving ban and forced hijab (veiling). In Argentina, Ireland and Poland, demonstrators rallied in vast numbers to demand an end to oppressive abortion laws. Millions of people in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia joined #MeToo-led women’s marches to demand an end to misogyny and abuse.” Finally, on the African continent, most notably: “In northeastern Nigeria, thousands of displaced women mobilized for justice for the abuses they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram fighters and the Nigerian security forces.” The full message, with special reference to the fight for gender equality here.

Saudi Arabia: Activism and Persecution

In 2018, as mentioned above, women were officially granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. There are, of course, many catches to that. Saudi Arabia has still not released many of the activists, who fought for the actual change in driving laws, which is surreal. Saudi blogger and women’s rights advocate Eman Al Nafjan’s arrest in May by Saudi authorities has become a flashpoint for human rights advocates. She is still in prison at year’s end for fighting against a law that is now technically illegal. “The arrests of Eman and a dozen other Saudi women's rights activists in May this year and the smear campaign against them created a climate of fear among Saudis,” writes activist Omaima Al Najjar. “After news came out that the women have faced torture, such as with electrocution, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation and threats of rape and death, many activists within the country decided to go into ‘hibernation’.”

Rape Law in Europe

In 2016, Germany broadened its definition of rape. Previously, the term rape was used in Germany only if the victim could prove that she had to fight off an attacker. According to Germany’s DPA Agency, 8,000 rapes occur each year but only 8% of court trials resulted in conviction under the previous law. The new definition of rape occurred after the infamous 2016 mass attacks against women in Cologne and other German cities by foreign nationals as well as German citizens. "It is crucial that we finally embed the principle of 'no means no' in criminal law and make every non-consensual sexual act a punishable offense," Social Democratic Party lawmaker Eva Högl notes in DW.com.

Are Europe’s rape laws outdated? The Amnesty International report is fairly damning. Although it noted the semi-recent progress of European countries like Germany, Ireland, Britain and Luxemburg in matters of consent. "The vast majority of European countries still have laws that fail to define rape as sex without consent,” writes Amnesty International. “Twenty-three of 31 countries analyzed, had laws that only defined rape as sex that involves violence, threat or some other type of coercion.” Malta in particular was cited as being weak on human — particularly women’s — rights.

Ireland: Abortion and Savita’s Case

In May of this year, Ireland overturned an outright ban on abortion by referendum. “Their votes were delivered to a team at the rear of the hall, aggregating the data,” Gavan Reilly writes movingly for DW on the historic electoral event. “Above them on the wall, hung a picture of Savita Halappanavar – the woman whose tragic case had brought this four-decade campaign to a head. In 2012 in Galway, she was suffering a miscarriage, but was refused a termination because the Irish constitution guarantees the right to fetal life. The miscarriage took two days, during which time she developed sepsis. Savita Halappanavar died four days after her premature daughter.” The full story on the victory of women in Ireland here.

Cover image via Bustle