Women’s movements to watch right now

Women’s movements to watch right now

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 czar 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.

Mexico. 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 accused of sexual harrassment and rape. 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 growing crisis of femicide — in Mexico last year, a woman was killed every 8 hours (Spanish). The numbers got worse during the pandemic, when quarantine rules forced many women to stay at home with abusive partners or family members. The second is the growing movement to change Mexico's restrictive abortion laws, 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 success of the abortion-legalization movement in Argentina — part of a broader "Green Tide" of feminist organization and power across Latin America.

Poland. Earlier this year, the Polish government approved a draconian new abortion law — 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 opposed by a majority 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.

India. By now you've doubtless heard about the massive farmers protests roiling New Delhi. (If not, see here.) But you've probably heard less about the sizable role that women are playing in the movement, as participants, speakers, and organizers. It's not hard to see why. Consider that 80 percent of working women 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 otherwise-popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure.

Australia. 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 allegation of rape against the current Attorney General. Brittany Higgins, an alleged victim who has become the face of the growing movement, says she felt silenced by the government after coming forward in 2019, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to call 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 say is the pervasive misogyny of Canberra's old boys' club. (You may recall former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's now-famous misogyny speech from parliament in 2012.)

Japan. Around the globe, women have suffered disproportionately from COVID's social and economic aftershocks. In Japan — where biases that disadvantage women are deeply ingrained — that toll has been especially pronounced: about 7,000 Japanese women 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 list — the way that women in particular are responding to the issue is new. More assertive women's right advocates and groups 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 place an unreasonably high burden of proof on alleged victims (victims need to prove that they "fought back" during an assault).

Bottom line: 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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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