This week in women’s rights: The right to protest

This week in women’s rights: The right to protest

The most important women’s rights stories this week, from all over the world. 

Pakistan’s authorities have denied permission for the Aurat March to take place

Organisers of Pakistan’s annual women’s march are fighting for it to go ahead after the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore denied permission for the rally, citing “controversial cards and banners for awareness of women’s rights” among its reasons. 

In a statement, organisers of the Aurat March Lahore said: “The DC’s actions are a blatant denial of our fundamental rights as a people’s movement. We do not require a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to exercise our constitutional right to march. There is no legitimate “public order” rationale to prevent us from assembling, marching and making our voices heard.” 

The Aurat rally has been taking place every year since 2018 on International Women’s Day (March 8), to raise awareness of women’s rights and call for an end to violence and harassment against women. It has faced a backlash from authorities, and organisers receive threats and abusive messages from its opponents. 

“In Pakistan it is very difficult for women to just exist,” journalist Ailia Zehra told us in 2020. “The public spaces are not accessible for women. When they go alone they’re cat-called, they’re sexually harassed. A woman has to have a man with her at all times in order to be safe.

“A woman who has an opinion is targeted,” she added. “This is even more than just having an opinion. Having an opinion, going out on the streets and expressing it in such a powerful way, this is something that they are scared of.”

In 2022 the march was cut short by the district administration despite receiving an NOC for it to go ahead. “Permission was still given to violent and hateful groups to hold a counter-protest along the route of the march,” Aurat organisers said in a tweet. 

“There is no doubt that we will march on March 8th because we will not cede the little space we have carved for ourselves for 6 years,” it continued. “We will march, upholding the rich history of Pakistani women and transgender activists defiantly fighting the systems that seek to oppress us.

“We will march because our lives depend on it.” 

Aurat march, women's march
Source: Aurat March Lahore

Hong Kong’s first women’s day march since 2020 has been cancelled 

Hong Kong’s first women’s day march since 2020 has been cancelled over fears of violence. 

The march had been scheduled for Sunday, March 5 but a day earlier the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association announced that it was being cancelled via its Facebook page. While the group did not give a reason, members of the government have told reporters that some “violent groups” wanted to join the protest, without identifying who they were. 

The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association had received a verbal approval for a “notice of no objection” to be able to stage the march. However Hana Young, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, commented on the government’s crackdown on the right to protest peacefully: “Since mass protests in 2019, the Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly and aggressively curtailed the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with unlawful force and vague legislation.

“Sunday’s demonstration should be allowed to take place without interference from the police – a right that has rarely been afforded to peaceful protesters in Hong Kong in recent times, and certainly not since the introduction of the repressive National Security Law.” The vigil had been banned for three years since 2020 with the pandemic cited as the main reason.  According to Amnesty International a number of civil society groups have been forced to disband, with many members facing charges under the National Security Law.

Minnesota could become the first US state with an office for investigating missing Black women

The state of Minnesota has passed a bill in favour of creating an office to investigate the disappearances of Black women and girls, the first of its kind in the US. 

The Minnesota House voted 110-19 in favour of advancing the bill.  If the legislation is signed into law, it will see the state establish the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls, modelled on a similar, existing office that investigates missing and murdered Indigenous people. The department would be dedicated to research, data collection, reviewing cases and advocating for legislation to address violence against Black women and girls. It would also require the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to operate a missing person alert system, and would fund public awareness campaigns and community organisations. 

Black women make up 13.9% of the US population, however they represent a disproportionate 35% of all missing women nationwide. In 2020, during the pandemic, nearly 100,000 of the 250,000 women that went missing in the US were women of colour, leading campaigners to call it a “neglected epidemic.” 

According to the state report completed by Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls Task Force in 2021, Black women are less likely than white women to receive media attention when they go missing. It also noted that the  key causes of violence against Black women include stereotyping, hyper-sexualization and economic disparities, such as having fewer opportunities to find safe, affordable housing – a crucial factor in protection from violence.

Taskforce member and chief author of the bill Rep. Ruth Richardson, said: “It is not one thing, it is a real true intersection of things. For example, we know Black girls are less likely to get AMBER Alerts than their peers, they are more likely to be classified as runaways.”

The bill will need to pass through the Senate before it becomes law. 

Women across Israel dress as Handmaid’s Tale characters to protest government reforms 

Women in six different cities dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale to protest the Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms, which could hand the government the power to override Supreme Court decisions.

The demonstrations took place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa among other cities, coordinated by several human rights organisations including the Building An Alternative coalition.  Earlier this year almost 100,000 people staged a similar protest in Jerusalem. 

Israel’s recently formed government is a coalition of nationalist and religious parties, and one of its key policies is to reform the justice system. This has led to weekly rallies with tens of thousands of people protesting what they fear may endanger the country’s democracy, as Israel does not have a written constitution and the Supreme Court represents the only check on the government – which it is aiming to weaken. 

Speaking at the demonstration in Kfar Saba last weekend, journalist and activist Hadas Regulski, said: “This coalition has signed a series of agreements and submitted bills whose meaning for us is one thing – harming women. Our performance, which reflects what can happen here, destabilised the entire country and crossed continents. Thousands of women volunteered because they realised that the life they know is in danger.”

The government has also come under fire for its lack of female representation, and two of the parties in the ruling coalition – the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas – refuse to have women candidates represent them in parliament. There have also been bills proposed that could see private businesses refuse service to women on religious grounds or prevent them from entering at certain times of day. 

Google is directing pregnant women to anti-abortion services in the UK

Google adverts are directing women seeking information on abortion to services run by anti-abortion groups, according to an investigation by British newspaper the Observer.

The adverts are styled to look like genuine search results and they appear above listings after people have typed in search terms for pregnancy and abortion. 

The Observer analysed 251 adverts shown by Google UK to a user searching 40 phrases including “confidential abortion support” and “pregnant teenager help;” 117 of the results were from groups opposed to abortion.

Healthcare experts and politicians including Labour MP Stella Creasy have described the marketing approach as “misleading” and “clearly immoral”, urging the government to force Google to remove the listings. “Anyone who puts ‘NHS abortion’ into Google should be shown a link to the NHS website as the first result,” said Pam Lowe, an expert on anti-abortion activism.  “There’s a risk that people could end up with biased information.” 

The Taliban have banned contraceptives in two Afghan cities 

The Taliban have stopped chemists from selling contraceptives in the capital city of Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, claiming their use is part of a “Western agenda” to control the Muslim population. 

The pharmacies have been ordered to dispose of all birth control medicines and contraceptive devices, with staff sharing that they have been threatened by members of the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s Ministry of Public Health has denied the claims, calling them “fake news”, however Afghan news agency Rukshana Media has received several reports from women who have been unable to find contraceptives in chemists, or have been refused contraceptives by midwives. 

“The midwife I always visit said the Taliban has told them not to inject contraceptives because it is haram,” one source said. “When she said that it was haram, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When I went to buy tablets instead from outside, the price had doubled.”

According to the UN, Afghanistan is the country with the most maternal deaths in the Asia Pacific region. 

The ban on contraceptives is the latest crackdown on women’s rights since the Taliban regained power in August 2021. 

The legal age of marriage in England and Wales has risen to 18

The British government has increased the minimum legal age for marriage from 16 to 18 in England and Wales. The change in law means that under 18s will no longer be allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if their parents consent. Those found guilty of arranging child marriages could face sentences of up to seven years in jail. 

The change was introduced through a bill  brought to Parliament by Pauline Latham OBE MP, and was supported by organisations within the Girls Not Brides Coalition, which works to end child marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse. 

“This is a landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over five years to ban child marriage in this country,” Latham said. “Child marriage destroys lives and through this legislation we will protect millions of boys and girls over the coming years from this scourge.”

Payzee Mahmod has been one of the leading campaigners to end child marriage in the UK. She was coerced into marriage herself at the age of 16, but while she managed to escape her sister Banaz was not so fortunate. After fleeing her abusive marriage she disappeared, having asked the police for help a number of times. Three months later she was found murdered in an “honour killing”, with her father, uncle and three other men later tried and sentenced for life imprisonment. 

“I’m living proof that child marriage happens,” she said via video. “My sister is living proof of the detrimental impact that it has when girls are married at such a young age. 

“Child marriage cuts across many communities, religions and countries. To anybody who sees this change in the law as a negative, I would really urge you to think about the impact that it has on a child who is in that position. I’ve spoken about my experiences in detail. I assure you that every survivor of child marriage has a similar story to tell. There is nothing negative about eradicating child marriage. It’s actually empowering your child to have a future to make their own choices. And what wouldn’t we want in a society other than happy children, who are our future?”

Featured image: Photo by Graham Klingler, under creative licence

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