Tunisia is often portrayed as the poster-child of the Arab Spring as the revolution was peaceful and a relatively open democracy has been formed by the Tunisian people. As with many countries in North Africa, a key problem that has dogged their societies has been how women have been treated by regressively-minded citizens and conservative figures of authority. However a democracy can only truly function if all members in that society are free to express themselves without fear of repercussions. This requires a raft of civil liberties that are inalienable and defended by the judiciary and so long as women are subject to coercion and prejudice, Tunisia will not represent the views of all its citizens. Thankfully action has been taken.
One of the most inspirational movements of political history was the movement for female suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a struggle by a disenfranchised group that sought to radically transform how the existing political order functioned, and succeeded despite the fact that none of their group were in the corridors of power. Men and women came together to rectify an injustice that in modern discourse could only be conceived of as a thought experiment rather than as a serious policy proposal. Thankfully in democratic countries this arbitrary distinction has been removed, but the campaign for women’s suffrage can, in my view, easily compared to the struggle for Kurdish liberation. On the surface this may seem like a bit of stretch but hopefully this article will convince you of my case.
In the last few years that has been an increase in public awareness about the so-called ‘tampon tax’. The tampon tax is not actually a specific tax on tampons, but a decision by the Treasury to classify tampons as ‘luxury items’ and thus liable for VAT. Although I am not a woman, I am somewhat aware of what my sisters go through on a monthly basis and to say that tampons are a luxury item is fucking ridiculous. However to add insult to injury, it has been revealed that some of the money from the Treasury has been funneled into the coffers of the anti-abortion group Life. Unacceptable doesn’t cover how unjust this situation is.
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the developed world, however this has not stopped the government wishing to introduce an even more restrictive law which seeks to ban abortion in all cases including rape and incest. The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is seeking to introduce the law but the prospect of this even stricter legislation being passed is on a knife edge due to parliamentary realities. The women of Poland have not delayed and have taken to the streets in protest around the country to make the issue as politically toxic as possible. Firstly I’ll look at how these courageous women are fighting before going ascertaining whether or not this law will pass.
Uganda’s record in combating HIV/AIDS has been much better than many other African countries, but there are a growing number of women who are claiming that doctors, some in government-run hospitals, are sterilising women with the disease. It doesn’t need to be pointed out how much of a violation of women’s liberty this is but what the revelations do do is leave a massive stain on the country. It it unclear as to whether this was the isolated actions of a few doctors or was instructed by the Ugandan government. This may be difficult to read.
After being derided for years as lacking clarity, Germany’s controversial rape law may be on the verge of significant change. The motivation behind the change was the explosion in sexual assaults in recent months, and whilst this was a tragic set of incidents, the change in the German penal code would be a way of closing this chapter with a positive outcome. As I said the change is welcome but the existence of the current law points to an existing societal problem.
Restrictions on women’s rights have serious real-world consequences. This was proven in Northern Ireland last week when a 21-year old woman from Belfast was sentenced to three months in prison for terminating her own pregnancy. Northern Ireland is one of the few places left in the Western world that in many cases doesn’t allow abortion, and these laws force women into making dangerous choices, as was true in this case. To add insult to injury these women are prosecuted. This shouldn’t be happening in the 21st Century.