With advances and setbacks, a year of struggle for women’s rights
From the US revoking the federal right to abortion to Afghanistan mandating the burqa and gradually banning women from public spaces, FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the main events that marked the struggle for women’s rights around the world over the past year.
From one continent to another, women both achieved milestones and encountered setbacks in 2022.
Iran has been dominated by riots and demonstrations provoked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman who died in custody after the country’s morality police arrested her for violating hijab laws.
In Afghanistan, more than a year after the Taliban returned to power, the situation is becoming increasingly worrying for women. Following several decades of social progress for Afghan women – and despite the promises of the Taliban, who had already imposed an ultra-rigorous application of Islam between 1996 and 2001 – they are once again being forced to wear the burqa and girls are banned from attending school.
The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed American women the constitutional right to an abortion, prompted fierce debate and protests in the United States and beyond. Pro-choice advocates warned the effects of the decision would be felt the world over by emboldening anti-abortion activists, especially in developing countries.
But the fight for women’s rights has resulted in a few victories, which although they sometimes seem small are nonetheless symbolic.
FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the main events that marked the struggle for women’s rights around the world in 2022.
February: Colombia decriminalises abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy
Following in the footsteps of other Latin American countries, on February 21 Columbia’s Constitutional Court decriminalised abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Until then, women who had abortions could be imprisoned for between 16 to 54 months in this predominantly Catholic country.
This ruling allows women to have an abortion for any reason up to the sixth month of pregnancy.
Previously, this was only allowed in cases of rape, if the mother’s health was in danger or if the foetus had an untreatable malformation, according to a 2006 court ruling, which also allowed doctors to refuse to perform abortions based on personal beliefs.
France extends the legal limit for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy
In the pipeline since October 2020, a cross-party bill aimed at extending the legal time limit for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy was passed in parliament on February 23 with 135 votes in favour, 47 against and 9 abstentions. “Today is an important day for sexual and reproductive health and an important day for women’s health,” said former health minister Olivier Véran at the time.
March: The Taliban regime strips away Afghan women’s rights
Women are gradually disappearing from the public sphere in Afghanistan as they are being deprived of an education, forced to wear the burqa, and banned from politics and the media. The Taliban regime has put a rigorous version of Sharia law in place that leaves little room for women, who make up more than half of the population.
On March 23, girls who were initially allowed to return to school after the Taliban decided to reopen secondary schools were asked to return home a few hours later. Afghanistan has thus become the only country in the world where girls are forbidden to attend secondary school.
Since a decree came into force on May 7, Afghan women have once again been forced to wear the burqa.
“Women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” read the decree, announced by Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
In November, the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice published a new set of rules: Women are now banned from gyms, swimming pools, parks and gardens. Previously, separate times and days had been set aside to ensure that men and women did not cross paths.
June: US Supreme Court overturns abortion rights
The conservative-dominated US Supreme Court voted on June 24 to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade decision, which had guaranteed American women the constitutional right to an abortion for almost half a century.
Although the new ruling does not make abortions illegal, it leaves it up to each state to regulate or outlaw abortion, which was how the US operated before the Roe vs Wade ruling.
Thirteen states had “trigger bans” on abortions designed to take effect shortly after a Roe reversal. Fourteen states have since banned or mostly banned the practice, according to the Washington Post, and seven more have had new restrictions on abortion blocked by the courts.
In total, 26 states are likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which gathers information on birth and abortion statistics in the US and around the world. Seventeen states and the District of Colombia currently have laws guaranteeing the right to an abortion.
September: Iran rises up after Mahsa Amini dies in custody
On September 16, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died in detention three days after being arrested by the morality police for not properly respecting Iran’s strict dress code on women wearing the hijab when in public.
Since then a wave of demonstrations – first in the provinces and then Tehran – has continued unabated despite a government crackdown.
The slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom” emerged as a rallying cry and demonstrations in support of Iranian women have erupted up around the world.
Female protesters in Iran have gone bare-headed, burned their headscarves or cut their hair in protest.
But many demonstrators have paid the ultimate price. More than 300 people have died since the protests began, according to the authorities, with thousands more arrested. Several of those charged have been sentenced to death in connection with the demonstrations; on December 8 a 23-year-old man was the first to be executed, provoking the indignation of the international community.
At least 21 people have been sentenced to death, according to Amnesty.
India’s top court recognises the right of unmarried women to abortion and the concept of marital rape
Feminists in India have applauded two key advances in women’s rights this year. India’s highest court declared on September 29 that unmarried women also have the right to safe and legal access to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
This is a “revolutionary recognition” of women’s rights, according to activists, as it removes the outdated distinction between married and unmarried women.
The Supreme Court also announced that there will no longer be a distinction made between rape and marital rape. Following from this decision, the court said that the definition of rape must include marital rape in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. This was seen as a key advance in a largely patriarchal country where the law currently states that sexual relations between a man and his wife cannot be considered rape if she is over 15 years old.
The Delhi High Court had been examining a petition since January filed by two women’s rights organisations to have marital rape recognised and criminalised.
A regional court of appeal in March upheld the prosecution of a man who had raped his wife. The judge in Bangalore (the capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka) dismissed his appeal, stating that not punishing marital rape would violate the constitutionally guaranteed principle of ensuring equality between men and women.
November: French National Assembly votes to include the right to abortion in the Constitution
The lower house National Assembly voted in favour of enshrining the right to an abortion in the French Constitution on November 24, thus adopting (by 337 votes to 32) a proposal from La France Insoumise (LFI), France’s left-wing populist political party, that was supported by the majority.
LFI put forward this text enshrining abortion rights to “protect against a regression” in light of the reversal of abortion rights in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, according to the group’s leader Mathilde Panot, who dedicated this “historic victory” to women in the US, Poland and Hungary.
December: Spain votes to introduce menstrual leave
A menstrual leave bill could make Spain the first European country to offer state-funded paid leave for women suffering from painful periods and associated health problems, following the example of Japan, Indonesia and Zambia.
The bill, which was approved by the ruling left-wing coalition in May and by parliament in December, would also strengthen abortion rights, as the government hopes to ensure access throughout the country and end the taboo on menstruation.
This article has been translated from the original in French.