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This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.
<p><strong>Mexico. </strong>Latin America's second most populous country heads into March 8 embroiled in a major #MeToo political scandal, as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defends a powerful member of his party <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/opinion/international-world/amlo-feminist-salgado-macedonio.html" target="_blank">accused of sexual harrassment and rape</a>. That alone is fueling what are likely to be sizable protests this weekend, but there are two other big issues that have spurred the women of Mexico to action in recent years. The first is a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/22/mexico-femicides-president-amlo-women-shelters" target="_blank">growing crisis of femicide</a> — in Mexico last year, a woman was killed <a href="https://www.milenio.com/policia/feminicidios-mexico-cierra-2020-940-casos" target="_blank">every 8 hours</a> (Spanish). The numbers <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/05/americas/mexico-femicide-coronavirus-lopez-obrador-intl/index.html" target="_blank">got worse during the pandemic</a>, when quarantine rules forced many women to stay at home with abusive partners or family members. The second is the growing <a href="https://apnews.com/article/mexico-city-mexico-f84cb30c4b3f30c0a09e856e3d941e47" target="_blank">movement to change Mexico's restrictive abortion laws</a>, which strictly limit the procedure in most places outside the capital city. While public opinion is divided on the issue, feminist leaders in Mexico are looking to the recent <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/30/world/americas/argentina-legalizes-abortion.html" target="_blank">success </a>of the abortion-legalization movement in Argentina — part of a broader "Green Tide" of <a href="https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29445/a-new-type-of-politics-argentina-s-pro-choice-movement" target="_blank">feminist organization and power</a> across Latin America.</p><p><strong>Poland. </strong>Earlier this year, the Polish government approved <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/poland-thousands-protest-as-abortion-law-comes-into-effect/a-56363990" target="_blank">a draconian new abortion law</a> — now among the strictest in the EU — that all but eliminates women's right to terminate pregnancies legally. Throughout the pandemic, protest groups led by women have hit the streets in opposition to the measure, which is supported by the ruling rightwing Law and Justice Party, but <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54716994" target="_blank">opposed by a majority</a> of Poles. And while protests have died down since the law was passed, it will be a fresh focus this weekend. More broadly, the debate over abortion has become a totem of the wider cultural and political clash in Poland, which pits a conservative national government with strong ties to the Catholic Church and a largely rural political base against an increasingly liberal opposition in the country's big cities. Polish pro-choice activists face an uphill battle, but again — so too did those in Argentina, where the campaign lasted some 15 years.</p><p><strong>India. </strong>By now you've doubtless heard about the massive farmers protests roiling New Delhi. (If not, see <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/farm-to-negotiating-table-in-india" target="_self">here</a>.) But you've probably heard less about the <a href="https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/farming-protests-india" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">sizable role that women are playing in the movement</a>, as participants, speakers, and organizers. It's not hard to see why. Consider that <a href="https://www.oxfamindia.org/women-empowerment-india-farmers" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">80 percent of working women</a> in India are employed in the farming sector, and half of India's self-employed farmers are women. That means the government's new agriculture liberalization laws — which farmers worry will put them at the mercy of conglomerates — will have a huge impact on India's hundreds of millions of rural women. This issue has become the single biggest political crisis of <a href="https://morningconsult.com/form/global-leader-approval/#section-56" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">otherwise-popular</a> Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure. </p><p><strong>Australia. </strong>In Australia, a rape allegation made by a former staffer for the ruling Liberal party has dominated the country's politics in recent weeks, causing a stream of women to come forward with stories of sexual harrasment and assault in Australia's Parliament House, including a separate decades-old <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/02/australia/christian-porter-australia-rape-allegation-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">allegation</a> of rape against the current Attorney General. Brittany Higgins, an alleged victim who has become the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/24/world/australia/australia-parliament-house-rape-claim.html" target="_blank">face </a>of the growing movement, says she felt silenced by the government after coming forward in 2019, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56078818" target="_blank">to call</a> for an inquiry into the parliament's "workplace culture." A slew of female politicians — from parties across the spectrum — have left politics in recent years because of what many <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-08/bullying-of-women-in-politics-also-seen-at-state-level/10208898" target="_blank">say</a> is the pervasive misogyny of Canberra's old boys' club. (You may recall former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's now-famous<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNuPcf8L00" target="_blank"> misogyny speech from parliament in 2012</a>.)</p><p><strong>Japan. </strong>Around the globe, <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/the-pandemic-is-hurting-women-more-than-men" target="_self">women</a> have suffered disproportionately from COVID's social and economic aftershocks. In Japan — where biases that disadvantage women are <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/japans-new-gender-equality-policy-takes-a-step-back/" target="_blank">deeply ingrained </a>— that toll has been especially pronounced: about 7,000 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/22/world/asia/japan-women-suicide-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">Japanese women</a> committed suicide in 2020, a 15 percent annual increase (the number of Japenes men who committed suicide decreased from the previous year). While the subjugation of Japanese women is not new — Japan currently ranks 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Gap<a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf" target="_blank"> list</a> — the way that women in particular are responding to the issue <em>is </em>new. More assertive women's right advocates and<a href="https://savvytokyo.com/4-of-the-most-powerful-to-date-feminist-movements-in-japan/" target="_blank"> groups </a>have begun mobilizing to shine light on the conditions that lead to Japanese women's experiences of alienation, helplessness, and depression. One particular focus in recent years has been the push for reforms to the country's archaic rape laws, which critics say <a href="https://www.vice.com/en/article/evyqap/japans-outdated-sexual-assault-laws-are-leading-to-unjust-rape-acquittals" target="_blank">place </a>an unreasonably high burden of proof on alleged victims (victims need to prove that they "fought back" during an assault).</p><p><strong>Bottom line: </strong>International Women's Day can sometimes fall prey to a kind of cultural kitsch, with lazy appeals to "girl power" and cringey hashtags. But for many women around the world, it's a day to celebrate how far societies have come in the fight for equality, and to reflect on how far we still have to go.</p>
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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics in Washington, DC:
Another stimulus bill is about to pass the Senate. Why won't the minimum wage be going up?
Well, the problem with the minimum wage is it didn't have the 50 votes it needed to overcome the procedural hurdles that prevent the minimum wage when traveling with the stimulus bill. Clearly support for $15 an hour minimum wage in the House of Representatives, but there's probably somewhere between 41 and 45 votes for it in the Senate. There may be a compromise level that emerges later in the year as some Republicans have indicated, they'd be willing to support a lower-level minimum wage increase. But typically, those proposals come along with policies that Democrats find unacceptable, such as an employment verification program for any new hire in the country. Labor unions have been really, really fixated on getting a $15 an hour minimum wage. They may not be up for a compromise. So, we'll see what happens.
<p><strong>What's next for Congress after the stimulus?</strong></p><p>What's next is probably more stimulus. Over the summer, you're going to see Democrats focus on doing a lot of nominations for executive branch nominees, as well as starting to apply pressure on some of their more moderate members to eliminate the legislative filibuster. If they eliminate the legislative filibuster, that will open up a whole suite of new possibilities, including voting rights reforms that will be critical for the Democrats if they want to maintain the majority in the House of Representatives going forward because the voting rights reform bill that passed the house would block partisan gerrymandering that's helped Republicans get a structural advantage that's kept them in the majority now for quite some time. And will probably be helpful and winning it back for them in 2022.</p><p><strong>Texas is open. What's happening in the Lone Star State?</strong></p><p>Well, Texas is the first large state to fully reopen and to eliminate any restrictions on coronavirus. That means no mask mandate, no capacity restrictions on restaurants. Governor Abbott recognizes that coronavirus is still an issue in his state, but sees the hospitalization and death numbers going down, and the vaccination numbers going up. He claims they have the testing ability to keep the virus under control even without these restrictions on people's movements. And that's probably a pretty popular move in Texas. The reality is even without the mask mandates, some restaurants and individuals are going to continue to wear masks and insist that their customers do. And they're going to keep social distancing and all that. And even under the mask mandates, a lot of people weren't following the rules anyway. So, this is going to be a trend that happens over the next six to eight weeks as vaccinations become widely available in America. And you're going to see more and more states start to drop their restrictions, which is likely to lead to an economic boom in the spring going into the summer.</p>
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."
Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.
It's not like things are going well in Mexico.
COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.
<p><strong>The pandemic has weighed heavily on <a href="https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/nation-world/story/2021-03-01/a-year-of-covid-pandemic-has-pushed-mexicans-into-dire-economic-straits" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Mexico's economy</a>.</strong> In 2020, GDP fell more sharply than in any year since 1932. The first wave of coronavirus killed 12 million formal and informal jobs, and later waves have slowed the employment recovery. (Nearly <a href="https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210209-staying-home-an-unaffordable-luxury-for-many-mexicans" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">30 million</a> people work in Mexico's informal economy.)</p><p><strong>Deadly violence and organized crime continue to plague the country. </strong>Murder rates remain historically high across Mexico. In the state of <a href="https://apnews.com/article/shootings-guadalajara-latin-america-mexico-f2874cbdf08710c667dd806f264af9a0" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Jalisco</a>, 10 men and a boy died in a hail of gunfire on February 27 in an attack blamed on competition among competing drug cartels. Add their names to the 189 found murdered in that one state last year and the 18 plastic bags full of body parts discovered there in early February. </p><p><strong>It's no wonder then that Mexico's government has weak poll numbers. </strong>A <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2021/03/03/morena-se-divide-por-la-candidatura-de-felix-salgado/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">survey</a> (Spanish) published this week by El Financiero found that just 42 percent of Mexicans surveyed said their government was doing a good job managing the pandemic, and 30 percent reported a positive view of its economic policies. </p><p><strong>But... that same poll gave Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an approval rating of 63 percent, up from 61 percent in January.</strong> As he approaches the midpoint of his single six-year term — Mexico's presidents are limited to one term — the president who <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/International/mexico-now-countrys-president-reflects-challenges-ahead/story?id=59516091" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">promised</a> to revitalize Mexico's economy, tackle violent crime, fight corruption, and create new opportunities for the poor and marginalized seems immune to political blame. </p><p><strong>Why is he still so well-liked? </strong>In part, it's because Mexico's political establishment, which ran the country for decades before Lopez Obrador was elected in 2018, remains deeply <a href="https://www.as-coa.org/articles/approval-tracker-mexicos-president-amlo" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">unpopular</a> because many Mexicans say past governments were profoundly corrupt. </p><p><strong>It's also because he's an authentically talented politician. </strong>Lopez Obrador's COVID response is justly criticized: He's encouraged Mexicans to continue business as usual even as the virus was spreading, and he consistently refused to wear a mask. Few were surprised when he contracted COVID-19. </p><p>But when asked why he had left himself vulnerable, he reminded voters that he had refused to break in line for early vaccination and insisted he became infected by showing up for work, as hard-working Mexicans do. Some may doubt his judgment, but recent polls say a solid majority of Mexicans consider him honest. </p><p><strong>And no one can deny his common touch</strong>. Lopez Obrador does more than share a love of baseball with millions of Mexicans. He's shown himself willing to grab a bat and take his turn at the plate. He might need some coaching on keeping his weight on the back foot, but Mexico's 67-year-old hombre del pueblo can still <a href="https://twitter.com/lopezobrador_/status/1366855032935645185" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">drive a baseball</a>. </p><p><strong>Mexico faces elections on June 6.</strong> Voters will fill every seat in Mexico's lower house, and Lopez Obrador's Morena Party hopes to keep its majority. In addition, nearly half of Mexico's 32 states will choose governors. Can he remain popular enough to use his remaining three years to get things done? </p><p>Results of those elections — and the president's continuing ability to beat the political odds — will tell the tale.</p>
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