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Only have a minute to read this newsletter? Here it is in brief:
🇵🇱 Abortion activist on trial in Poland.
🇧🇧 Barbados decriminalises gay sex.
🕊️ Women’s rights campaigners awarded a major peace prize.
📣 And don’t forget to sign-up for our live event on women’s rights in 2023.
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BARBADOS — The Barbados high court has ruled in favour of decriminalising gay sex, finding that two sections of the 1992 Sexual Offences Act are unconstitutional. The act described same-sex relationships as “indecent” and imposed a punishment of life imprisonment for gay sex. Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis also legalised same-sex relations last year. According to Human Rights Watch, six countries in the Caribbean still criminalise gay sex. These are Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
SCOTLAND — The Scottish parliament passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in December. The bill reduces the minimum age for requesting a change of gender from 18 to 16 years old. The legislation, which passed with 86 votes in favour to 39 against, also means that people no longer need to present a medical certificate of gender dysphoria to legally change their gender. Trans people will not be required to prove that they have lived within their gender identity for two years — it will instead be sufficient to sign a statement that they have identified as their new gender for three months. For minors between the ages of 16 and 18, this “reflection period” is six months.
Politics and Economics
GLOBAL — Three women’s rights activists from Iran, Turkey and Ukraine have won the prestigious Olof Palme Prize. Marta Chumalo, Narges Mohammadi and Eren Keskin were recognised “for their efforts in the fight to secure women’s freedom, in an age when human rights are threatened by war, violence and oppression”. Chumalo, a psychologist, works to support victims of sexual violence related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mohammadi is currently in an Iranian prison serving a long sentence for “spreading propaganda”. She is vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. Keskin, a human rights lawyer, founded the Association of Legal Aid Against Sexual Violence and campaigns for the rights of Kurds, women and the LGBTIQA+ community. She has been imprisoned and repeatedly threatened for her activism.
AFGHANISTAN — On December 21, Taliban authorities ordered an indefinite ban on university education for all women. On December 20, armed guards were deployed at the entrances of universities to prevent women from entering. Girls have been barred from secondary school since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, while university education for women was initially restricted, with limited timetables and gender segregation. The Taliban also banned women from working with NGOs in December, an edict that will make the delivery of aid to a population facing a severe humanitarian crisis all but impossible. The reason given by the Taliban for the NGO ban was “serious complaints regarding the non-observance of the Islamic hijab”.
IRAN — Iran has been ousted from the Commission on the Status of Women. The proposal was made by the United States and was carried with 29 votes in favour, eight against and 16 abstentions. The decision arrived after the Iranian regime's repression of demonstrations that began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini. It is estimated that more than 500 people have been killed in the crackdown. A dozen people were sentenced to death, of whom four have already been executed. 22-year-old Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for apparently failing to comply with compulsory hijab laws. She died days later in police custody. The Commission on the Status of Women is the main UN body for promoting gender equality and empowering women.
POLAND — The trial against Justyna Wydrzyńska, the first pro-choice activist in Poland to be charged with assisting with an abortion, restarted on January 11. Wydrzyńska provided abortion medication to a woman who was experiencing domestic violence and could be sentenced to up to three years in prison if found guilty. In a separate case, three activists — Marta Lempart, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin from All-Poland Women's Strike — have been accused of endangering public health and “causing an epidemiological threat” for organising a pro-abortion protest during the pandemic. They are facing up to eight years in prison. Poland bans abortion except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the patient’s life, while abortion in cases of foetal abnormalities was banned in January 2021. At least six women have died as a result of the law since then. Read our interview with Wydrzyńska from last year.
FRANCE — As of January 1, 18-25 year-olds can now obtain condoms and other contraceptive methods such as pills, patches and IUDs free of charge from pharmacies without a doctor's prescription. The morning-after pill is now available without a prescription and free of charge to all. Testing for sexually transmitted diseases will also be free for people under 26. The new sexual and reproductive health strategy aims to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among young people.
BRAZIL — Feminist deputies in Brazil have succeeded in stopping the advance of an initiative that would have limited the right to abortion. The bill would have established the so-called “status of the unborn child”, granting foetuses the “right to life, physical integrity, honour, image and all other personal rights” from the moment of conception. In Brazil, abortion is permitted only in cases of risk to life or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. The bill was originally introduced in 2007, but last year it was pushed by politicians close to former president Jair Bolsonaro. Left-wing parties, including the Partido dos Trabalhadores, managed to block a vote in the Women's Rights Committee in December, while deputy Erika Kokay introduced a bill to support pregnant people, forcing the study of both initiatives together.
NETHERLANDS — Doctors will be able to prescribe abortion pills directly in the Netherlands, according to recent legislation passed by the senate. The law has been given final approval by parliament, but has yet to be enacted. Currently, a pregnant person must go to one of 16 abortion clinics in the country to obtain the pills. In the Netherlands, abortion is legal up to 22 weeks, but medication abortion is available between five and nine weeks. Last year, the parliament abolished a mandatory five-day reflection period prior to receiving abortion treatment.
US — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow retail pharmacies to sell mifepristone abortion pills. The decision could mean that people seeking abortions will be able to go to corner drugstores or popular chains such as CVS or Walgreens to request the pills with a doctor's prescription. Until now, abortion pills could only be dispensed by doctors or licensed clinics. This new regulation will ease access to safe abortion but it will apply only in states where the abortion rights have not been restricted following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, three of the five judges of the South Carolina supreme court ruled this month that the state’s six-week ban on abortion violated the constitutional right to privacy. Abortion advocates hope the South Carolina decision will set a precedent for other states with abortion bans.
Impact is a weekly newsletter of feminist journalism, dedicated to the rights of women and gender-diverse people worldwide. Every month, we publish a wrap of the latest news on women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights, an in-depth interview with a leading thinker or activist, an investigative feature, and an essay from our editor.
This is the English version of our newsletter; you can read the French one here.
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