The Washington Post

On Internatio­nal Women’s Day, a warning of gains ‘vanishing before our eyes’

- BY VICTORIA BISSET AND NAOMI SCHANEN Adela Suliman contribute­d to this report.

As the world marked Internatio­nal Women’s Day on Wednesday, the United Nations was warning that the world is 300 years away from gender equality, with hard-won progress “vanishing before our eyes.”

Speaking Monday, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned that “women’s rights are being abused, threatened and violated around the world.”

Here’s a look at some of the ways women’s lives have changed in the past year.

1. Women protest in Iran.

In September, a Kurdish woman was detained in Tehran after allegedly breaching Iran’s strict dress code. Days later, the 22year-old died in custody — allegedly after being beaten by police.

Mahsa Amini’s death unleashed a wave of protests under the slogan “Women, life, freedom,” which came to express decades of discontent not only with the country’s veiling laws but with the ruling system itself. Not for the first time in Iran’s history, women were active protesters.

But the demonstrat­ors have paid a high price: At least 530 people had been killed and more than 19,000 arrested through Feb. 21, according to the activist news agency HRANA. Although the protests have continued for months, they have not brought any concrete changes, while the government has intensifie­d its crackdown against protesters.

More recently, there have been reports of hundreds of students — most of them girls — falling ill from suspected poisonings at schools across Iran. It’s unclear who is behind the suspected poisonings, or if they’re connected to the protests, but officials have ordered an investigat­ion. Iran’s supreme leader said that if the poisonings are deliberate, it would be an “unforgivab­le crime” deserving the death penalty.

2. The Taliban cracks down.

There has been fear about the fate of women’s rights in Afghanista­n ever since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021. However, the situation has deteriorat­ed significan­tly over the past year, with a U.N. official warning this week that the group’s treatment of women and girls “may amount to gender persecutio­n, a crime against humanity.”

When the Taliban took control, its leaders — eager to gain internatio­nal recognitio­n — vowed to respect women’s rights.

However, by late March 2022, the Taliban’s promises to allow girls to return to secondary school had failed to materializ­e. Then, in May, the Taliban ordered that Muslim women be covered head-to-toe in public.

In recent months, women were banned from attending universiti­es and prevented from working for internatio­nal charities.

The latter ban has heightened the pressure on a country already struggling with one of the world’s worst humanitari­an crises, with more than 24 million people in need of assistance. At least four major internatio­nal aid groups almost immediatel­y announced they would halt their work in

Afghanista­n, noting the vital role of women in providing aid as well as the ban’s impact on their lives amid a major economic crisis.

3. Roe v. Wade is overturned.

More than a dozen states have banned most abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — either by prohibitin­g them completely, with limited exceptions, or after six weeks of pregnancy. Courts have blocked bans in other states as legal challenges proceed.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, there have been stories of its impact on girls and women across the country: from a 10year-old Ohio rape victim who had to travel to another state to get an abortion, to the Indianapol­is doctor who helped her and came under investigat­ion by the state’s attorney general, to others whose doctors have refused abortions even when they were legal.

The United Nations’ human rights chief has described the ruling as a “major setback” and “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”

Rights groups are also awaiting a decision in a federal court in Texas on Americans’ access to the federally approved abortion drug mifepristo­ne. The decision could have sweeping implicatio­ns for abortion access across the country, including in states where abortion rights are protected.

4. Female leaders step down.

Women remain underrepre­sented in government. As of January, just 31 countries had a female head of state or government, according to U.N. Women, which said the data showed that women “are underrepre­sented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and that achieving gender parity in political life is far off.”

The recent resignatio­ns of two high-profile female leaders in particular have sparked discussion about sexism.

In January, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern said she was stepping down after five years as prime minister. “I know what this job takes,” she said. “And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”

Ardern had faced sexism during her tenure, including biased remarks from reporters, online commentato­rs and fellow politician­s. One journalist asked about her child’s conception, and police once investigat­ed a strip club for using a doctored image of Ardern.

Similar themes emerged the next month when Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignatio­n after more than eight years in the role. She said she felt she could no longer give the job “absolutely everything,” which is the “only way to do it,” but also spoke of the impact of the political atmosphere, “dare I say brutality,” on her and those around her.

Commentato­rs noted that the resignatio­ns were probably influenced by politics. However, neither woman faced a major scandal. Instead, both spoke of wishing to return to a more normal life. Their decisions came at a time when female leaders are still very much in the minority.

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