Semra Turan – Berna Kişin
Translated from Mesopotamia Agency
Women have been resisting patriarchal and sexist policies to enable “change and freedom”. But these same problems have surfaced in different regions around the world throughout the year.
Patria, Minerva and María Teresa are three sisters who have inspired women with their opposition to 31 years of oppressive rule. They opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic. They symbolise the struggle against the dictatorship as well as the struggle for the existence of women.
Although their deaths were covered up as a traffic accident on 25 November 1960, their struggle, which created a “butterfly effect” throughout the world, became the name of a new beginning, not one of mourning. The path opened by the Mirabal Brothers was the fear of dictators.
2020: The year of protests and demonstrations
2020 has been a year in which women have demonstrated in the streets for their rights and freedoms. Women who do not accept the patriarchal policies imposed by the state have waged determined struggles throughout the year, from America to Argentina, Poland to Chile, Greece to Germany, Switzerland to Egypt and El Salvador to Sudan. In these countries, 90% of which have sexist laws, women have struggled to protect their rights and to ensure compliance with the Istanbul Convention. They have struggled and protested on the streets against violence, war, female genital mutilation, child marriage, gender and ethnic discrimination.
During the period of coronavirus isolation and the pandemic – which through lockdowns and other measures has paralyzed life – domestic violence has increased, women’s shelters have had to close and women have not been able to file criminal complaints. However, even through these times, new solidarity networks have been established. Resisting with the awareness of self-defense, women have organized joint resistance struggles and their mass actions have created a solidarity that has transcended borders.
Women continue to be subjected to sexual and physical violence
At a meeting held in October to mark the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Women, it was pointed out that one out of every three women in the world has been subjected to violence and 12 million young women are married before the age of 18 every year.
According to a report that was published by the United Nations (UN) in April, 243 million women between the ages of 15-49 around the world have been subjected to both sexual and physical violence in the past year. There are increased concerns about women’s security, health and economic situations.
According to the UN’s World Women’s Progress Report for 2019-2020 – entitled “Family in a Changing World” – 137 women are killed by one of their family members every day. According to the World Bank’s 2018 data, one out of every three women is subjected to physical or sexual assault by a man, and only four out of ten countries consider such offences within a marriage a crime.
In the 2020 Gender Inequality Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Western Europe was the region with the highest gender equality with an average of 76.7%. Turkey, the Middle East and the North Africa region, had a lower gender equality rating at 60.5%. According to the report, it will take at least 100 more years for women to have equal rights with men.
According to the 2020 data presented in the ‘Women in Politics Map’, which has been prepared by the United Nations Women’s Unit and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) since 2005, the percentage of men in parliaments exceeds 75% of the total; the representation of women was 24.9%.
The situation in the US
In the US, which has the strongest economy and technological development in the world, women’s participation in the workforce still lags behind that of men. The participation of men is 69.3%, whilst women’s participation in the labour force stands at 57.7%. Domestic violence and femicide is increasing in the US which is among the “ten most dangerous countries for women in terms of sexual assault”.
Despite efforts led by several women’s rights organizations and activists in the US, one out of every four women in the 18-24 age group is subjected to physical violence by their partners. According to a report by the Colorado-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in five women in the country are raped. The resources for economic, psychological and social support to women who have been subjected to physical violence and sexual assault are insufficient.
Recently, there have been attempts to restrict abortion rights in the country. Abortion is one of the most hotly contested and debated issues in the US, which is one of the 30 countries that have signed the Geneva Consensus Statement that emphasizes “the power of the family in a successful and developing society” to challenge abortion rights.
With the “Me Too” campaign which emerged in 2017, women have exposed date-related violence, harassment and sexual assaults that have been taking place. The campaign has changed US politics and women’s struggles in the US have stimulated similar women’s struggles worldwide. Women have challenged Donald Trump, who has been at the centre of the controversies relating to racist and sexist statements since his presidency in 2016. They gave the strongest response to the Trump-style understanding of “masculinity” in the recent elections held on 3 November. California Senator Kamala Harris was elected Vice President after Joe Biden won the presidential election. Harris will be the first female Vice President of the United States. Sarah McBride (30) also became the first trans woman to be elected to the Delaware State Senate. “Black Lives Matters” activist and Democratic Party candidate Cori Bush won the elections and became the first black member ever to be elected to the state’s House of Representatives.
The situation in Sudan
Sudan is another country where those in power were overthrown as a result of the actions of women. Whilst the public was outraged by the oppressive Omar al-Bashir regime, which had been in power for 30 years in the country, this anger turned into a revolt with the actions of women in 2018. As a result of uninterrupted mass actions for two years, the campaigns behind the slogan of activist Alaa Salah, ‘Bullets do not kill, silence kills’, attracted great attention throughout the world. Alaa Salah was one of the women who began the demonstrations in Sudan and inspired women’s participation and mass mobilisation in the protests.
As a result of the great resistance of women, the oppressive Sharia regime was overthrown on 6 September 2020. Following the overthrow of the regime that targeted women in particular, female genital mutilation was abolished and the right to travel was attained. The death penalty imposed on LGBTI+ was abolished.
The situation in Chile
The streets of Chile have long been the sites where anti-government protests have taken place and women have been at the forefront of these protests. Chile was the birthplace of the Las Tesis actions, which became the “anthem of feminists” against femicide and gender-based violence. Whilst the dance performed by feminists on the occasion of the “25 November International Day of the International Struggle Against Violence Against Women” last year spread all over the world, its effects still continue.
The dance performance, prepared for four months to protest femicide, sexual assault and abuse, attracted great attention in many countries. The colourful protests of Chilean womenhave been apparent throughout the year. Women continue to organize mass actions across the country to reform the Constitution to enable equal participation of women.
The situation in Poland
In Poland, women took to the streets against the abortion ban imposed by the Constitutional Court on 22 October. According to the Court’s decision, which defines abortion as “serious and irreversible fetal disorders or untreated disease threatening the life of the fetus”, abortion will only be allowed if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, or if the mother has been subjected to rape or incest. Tens of thousands of women have gathered to protest against the decision and have carried out protest “Abortion is freedom” actions in the capital city of Warsaw. Women continue to campaign for the complete withdrawal of the abortion law.
The history of the abortion ban in Poland dates back to 1932. Abortion, which was completely banned in the country until 1932, is partially allowed in case the fetus is defective with a law enacted in 1939. The debate on its total ban came to the fore again in 2011 as a result of the pressure of religious actors. Although there was an initiative to completely ban abortion (where 500,000 signatures were collected to this end by some non-governmental organizations), this could not succeed due to women’s mass protest actions. Similar actions continue today because of the Constitutional Court’s decision that was made in 2020.
The situation in El Salvador
In El Salvador, abortion has been completely banned since 1998 on religious grounds. El Salvador has the strongest abortion law in the world: women cannot have abortions even in life-threatening situations. In El Salvador, many women are imprisoned due to the charge of terminating their pregnancy. Women have organized various mass protests against these concerns. Many women have attempted suicide and lost their lives due to unwanted pregnancies in the past year. Women’s groups continue to organize protest actions to demand a new and less restrictive abortion law.
The situation in Germany
The situation of women in Germany is not as good as most people think. Every two days, a woman is killed by her partner. Whilst violence has increased in the country during the pandemic, the struggle for women’s rights has been rising in Germany as in other parts of the world. In Germany, abortion is still subject to certain sanctions. Women also continue to demand equal pay for work. The difference in monthly income for women in the country is at least 21-22% less than men on average. Despite being prohibited, child marriage and female genital mutilation also still occurs.
The situation in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the countries where women’s struggles against domestic violence and wage inequality continue. Women have gathered in the streets of many cities, especially Geneva, protesting against wage inequality and the increased violence that has taken place due to the pandemic. Women have been protesting, particularly since 1991, about these concerns.
The situation in Greece
In Greece, as violence and murders against women have increased recently, women’s struggles has become more pronounced. Violence against women, rape, flexible and insecure work conditions are among the main concerns that have been raised in the country. As a result of women’s protests against Article 336 of the constitution, rape is now defined as “sexual intercourse without consent”. Whilst the refugee problem remains the most pressing issue in the country, women have opposed border policies with the slogan “Feminism against borders”. They launched mass demonstrations in front of the Greek Parliament in March 2020. They rejected the strict border restrictions approach using the slogan: “We are Greek women, refugee women, we are women who speak different languages but cooperate in the same language”.
The situation in Egypt
In Egypt 99.3% of women are subjected to sexual harassment and 91% to female genital mutilation. According to the United Nations (UN), it is the fourth country where “female genital mutilation” is most commonly practiced. Women encounter difficulty in politics as well. Egyptian women who took an active part in the “Arab Spring” uprisings faced attacks on their basic rights during the later period of the Muslim Brotherhood and the subsequent military coup. In Egypt, women who broke their silence have shared their experiences on their social media accounts. Women have been calling for justice, drawing strength from each other. An important development that triggered the sharing of women’s experience took place in July 2020. Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy, who was exiled to America for announcing her experiences in her own country to the world, stated: “ I have a persistent optimism that a feminist revolution is beginning in Egypt”.