This week in women’s rights: Women’s healthcare needs action

This week in women’s rights: Women’s healthcare needs action

Our global weekly round-up tracking progress on gender equality and women’s rights issues. 

The UK government has rejected a change to menopause law

UK ministers have blocked a proposal that would have made menopause a protected characteristic under the country’s Equality Act, claiming it would be discriminatory to men. 

Protected characteristics are a set of characteristics including age, gender, disability, race and pregnancy that are illegal to discriminate against by law. 

In July last year, ministers from the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee called on the government to introduce menopause as a tenth protected characteristic, and to require that employers provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal staff. 

At the time committee chair Caroline Nokes stated that “The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act is no longer tenable, given that 51% of the population will experience menopause.

“Stigma, shame and dismissive cultures can, and must, be dismantled. It is imperative that we build workplaces – and a society – which not only supports those going through the menopause, but encourages some of the most experienced and skilled workers in our economy to thrive,” she added. 

But this week the government rejected the proposal, saying that there would be “unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions”.

Research shows that menopausal symptoms affect more than 75% of women, and more than 25% describe them as “severe”. These can last around seven years on average, however one in three women continue to experience symptoms beyond this. 

In a written response to health minister Maria Caulfield, Nokes said that “The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women’s needs, yet government progress has been glacial and its response complacent. 

“Its refusal to even consult on reforming equalities law doesn’t make sense and we urge it to look again.”

UK women’s healthcare is declining rapidly, study finds 

The British government’s decision to reject changes to menopause law came during the same week as the latest Hologic Global Women’s Health Index was published, revealing a serious decline in healthcare for women in the UK. 

The UK now ranks 60 out of 100,  placing it on a par with Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Kosovo and Poland, and behind China and Saudi Arabia. 

Alarmingly, the UK is among the top five fastest declining territories for emotional health, along with India, Bangladesh, Benin and Guinea. 

Inadequate access to preventative care, such as screening for cancer, diabetes and blood pressure, diagnosis of causes of pain and mental health support were cited by analysts as being behind the UK’s poor outcome.

This week we revealed that one in four UK women haven’t been for a smear test in the last five years, and under a quarter have had a cervical smear within the past year – the lowest percentage out of all the countries surveyed in a study by Roche. 

The index also found that women’s ability to meet basic needs such as affording food fell between 2020 and 2021, while men’s ability to do so did not change.

Rape survivor Brisa De Angulo has won a historic sexual violence case against the state of Bolivia

The inter-American court of human rights (IACtHR) ruled the Bolivian government to be “internationally responsible” for violating Brisa De Angulo’s rights when they failed to prevent, address, punish, and redress the sexual and institutional violence she suffered. 

De Angulo was repeatedly raped for months by an adult relative when she was 15. She endured three trials but didn’t receive justice.

It is the first time in history that the IACtHR heard a case relating to the human rights violations of an adolescent victim of incest. The court’s decision establishes legal precedents for Latin America, which could improve access to justice and prevent discriminatory practices for millions of child and adolescent victims of sexual violence.

Survivors of 9/11 can finally receive compensation for uterine cancer

It has taken more than ten years of campaigning, but first 9/11 first responders and survivors with uterine cancer can finally receive federal health coverage. 

Until now uterine cancer was the only cancer that had not been added to the list of covered illnesses. For the last decade women have had to pay for treatment themselves if they didn’t have insurance that covered it.

According to the US government, the reason for the delay was a lack of data linking the disease to 9/11 exposure. But researchers believed this was due to data collection overlooking women, and because only 14% of first responders are female.

Now all women with uterine cancer who worked and lived in the area where the attacks took place will be covered under the government’s World Trade Center Health Program. 

Istanbul has opened a new safe space for women

A new safe space for women at risk of violence has opened in Istanbul. Called the First Step Station, it aims to provide a temporary space for women and their children who don’t have immediate access to a shelter. 

The centre is operated by non-governmental organisation Women’s Solidarity Foundation (KADAV) with support from UN Women, the European Union and Şişli Municipality, where the centre is located. 

Öznur Sarıahmetoğlu, Manager of Social Services Support at Şişli Municipality, said: “The First Step Station is a safe space for women who are victims of violence. We built this space with women who live in our district. They donated every single piece of furniture. Together with the women of Şişli, we created this space for women who would like to escape from violence, be willing to determine their own destiny and take a break before they take the next steps for their future.”

In 2021 Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, created to provide a legal framework that protects women from violence. 

The We Will Stop Femicide Platform has been recording the rate of femicides in Turkey since 2010, and found that in the past 12 years  the only year that femicide  decreased was 2011, when the Istanbul Convention was first signed. It noted that in 2022, the first year since withdrawal from the treaty, there was a steep increase in femicides and suspicious deaths of women. 

Jailed Iranian activists have written to the state asking for an end to executions

Women incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison have written an open letter calling for the government to stop arresting and executing protesters. 

The thirty signatories include French-Iranian anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah and journalist Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both of whom are jailed for “propaganda against the state”. 

“We, the political and ideological prisoners in the women’s ward of Evin Prison, demand an end to the execution of protesters and an end to unjust sentences of prisoners in Iran,” they wrote in the letter published on January 22. 

“We have come together to say ‘no’ to execution. We defend people’s right to live in justice.”

Protests continue throughout Iran more than four months after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Reuters estimates that 585 people have been killed in the protests, with over 18,000 people arrested. Around 20 people have been sentenced to death. Four people have been executed so far. 

Kyrgyzstan’s Miss Universe contestant faced a backlash for highlighting gendered violence 

When Altynai Botoyarova, Kyrgyzstan’s contestant at the Miss Universe competition decided to use her appearance to highlight the problem of violence against women in her home country, she did not predict the huge backlash that followed. 

During the swimsuit segment of the contest Botoyarova wore a cape with a stylised image of a woman covered in hands, symbolising violence. This prompted both supportive messages on social media who commended the move, but also an outcry from people who thought this would depict a negative image of Kyrgyzstan at an international competition. 

While Botoyarova initially posted on Instagram about the issues of gendered violence, she has since felt pressure to delete her comments and apologise. 

Speaking to Eurasianet, women’s rights activist Aizhamal Bekten explained the significance of Botoyarova’s gesture at the pageant. “Many were outraged that when people find out about gender-based violence in our country they will form a negative opinion about us. But these same people are not interested in exploring ways to stamp out this violence. People are only interested in the opinions of white people and losses to the tourism sector.”

Body image campaigner Taryn Brumfitt has been named Australian of the Year

Writer and filmmaker Taryn Brumfitt has been named 2023’s Australian of the Year for her work promoting positive body image. 

She is the creator of the Body Image Movement (BIM), which she founded as an “international mission to help people embrace their bodies.” 

Brumfitt first gained public attention with her before and after photos documenting changes to her body after having children. She was initially determined to regain her pre-pregnancy weight, embarking on a gruelling weight-loss regime that included a stint as a bodybuilder. However in her book Purpose, she revealed that this strict lifestyle had made her unhappy. 

She has since used her platform to promote acceptance of women’s bodies and tackle harmful imagery in the media. 

In a speech following her award, she said: “There is so much despair in this nation for children and adults when it comes to what we think and how we feel about our bodies. Australia, it is not our life’s purpose to be at war with our body.” 

Amnesty International calls for the end of male guardianship in Yemen for women in prisons

Amnesty International is calling for an end to the male guardianship rule in Yemen, which does not allow women to be released from prison after they’ve completed their sentence unless they have a male guardian to be discharged to.

Yemeni lawyers told Amnesty that the custom has no legal basis.

“Male guardianship is a tool of social control over women’s lives and freedoms and must not be legitimised through such practices,” says said Grazia Careccia Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Authorities must work on eliminating discrimination against women by ending male guardianship in law and practice, even when this requires challenging existing social norms.”

Read full story here: Yemen must end male guardianship rule for women prisoners, Amnesty says

Sierra Leone has passed a landmark new law on women’s rights

Sierra Leone has just signed the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act into law to ensure women are better represented in the workplace and in politics. 

Under the new law, 30% of public and private jobs must be reserved for women. It also assures 14-weeks of paid maternity leave, equal pay and equal access to bank credit.

Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs Manty Tarawalli applauded the “groundbreaking” Act, stating that it “will break the economic and political exclusion shackles for urban and rural women across the country.”

Read more: Sierra Leone has passed a landmark new law on gender equality

Featured image: Freepik

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