What is happening to Iran’s schoolgirls?
Thousands are suspected victims of mass poisoning
The Wrap brings you all the latest news on women's rights around the world, including:
🇩🇪 Germany announces a new feminist foreign policy
🇦🇫 The Taliban bans contraception
🏳️⚧️ Trans rights victories in Hong Kong and Spain
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HONG KONG — Hong Kong's highest court ruled this month that requiring transgender people to undergo full sex reassignment surgery before changing gender on their identity documents violates their rights. The case was brought in 2019 by Henry Edward Tse and another person known as Q, who had hormonal treatment and top surgery but were not able to change the gender marker on their Hong Kong Identity Cards because they had not undergone bottom surgery. The judges ruled that “it is objectionable in principle to adopt as the criterion for amending a gender marker, a requirement of undergoing a highly invasive surgical intervention which may be medically unnecessary.”
Politics and Economics
IRAN — More than 1,000 girls are suspected to have been poisoned by toxic gas in Iran since November, with the students suffering respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. It is feared the poisonings are an attempt to force the closure of their classrooms. Schools have become one of the epicentres of protests against the Iranian regime and compulsory hijab laws. The country’s authorities say they are investigating the poisonings. Last month, The Iranian regime released feminist activists Yasaman Aryani and Monireh Arabshahi. Aryani and her mother Arabshahi were arrested in April 2019, shortly after going viral in a video showing them distributing flowers for International Women's Day on the Tehran metro, neither of them wearing a hijab. Their first public words after their release from prison were "Woman, life, freedom" — the slogan of the mass demonstrations that began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini.
GERMANY — The German government has presented guidelines for a new feminist foreign policy. Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock – the first woman to hold this position in Germany – and development minister Svenja Schulze made the announcement on the eve of International Women’s Day. The new policy includes the appointment of an ambassador to promote the policy and a plan to increase the number of women representatives in German embassies. It will also give €5 billion over the next two years to projects that are gender-sensitive or contribute to reducing inequalities. In one example, humanitarian aid from Germany will take into account the need to provide menstrual hygiene products.
CHINA — International concern is growing over the health of Huang Xueqin, a journalist and a central figure in the country's #MeToo movement, who has been detained in China since September 2021. Human rights organisation Front Line Defenders says the activist is experiencing health problems including hormone imbalance, weight loss, calcium deficiency and stress, and is being subjected to sleep deprivation. Huang was accused of “inciting subversion of state power” and detained alongside labour activist Wang Jiangbing. Both have been denied access to a lawyer and contact with their families. No date has been set for a trial. The International Federation of Journalists has condemned Huang Xueqin's arbitrary detention and urged the Chinese authorities to “release her immediately and ensure she has access to appropriate medical care.”
SCOTLAND — Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon will step down after eight years in power. “In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it is right for me, for my party and for the country,” she said. Sturgeon is a supporter of Scottish independence from the UK. Her government had been hit hard by the UK's decision to overturn a gender recognition law passed by the Scottish parliament at the end of the year. Her decision came a month after the surprising resignation of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Sturgeon had previously said she felt “full of energy” and had no plans to leave, but on resigning she said it was difficult to have a private life, to “meet friends for a coffee or go for a walk on your own”.
US — Five women are suing the state of Texas after they were denied access to an abortion during medical emergencies. The lawsuit was filed on their behalf by the Center for Reproductive Rights on March 7. If the courts rule in their favour, abortion will not become legal in the state, but the decision would set an important precedent for allowing people to terminate unsafe pregnancies and doctors to intervene in cases of foetal anomalies. Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, the supreme court ruling that guaranteed abortion rights in the US, abortion is only permitted in Texas to save the life of the patient, and does not cover circumstances such as rape or incest.
SPAIN — The Spanish parliament has approved reproductive rights legislation that allows teenagers between 16 and 18 to have an abortion without parental consent, a right that had been rescinded by the former right-wing government. The reform eliminates a mandatory three-day reflection period for abortions and prohibits practices such as forcing the pregnant person to listen to the foetal heartbeat. It also entitles workers to paid menstrual leave – a European first. The parliament passed a separate law allowing people over the age of 16 to legally change their gender without the need for a medical diagnosis. Teenagers between 14 and 16 years old will need parental authorisation to legally change gender, while those between 12 and 14 will need judicial approval. The legislation also prohibits conversion therapies and guarantees access to fertility treatments for lesbian and bisexual women and trans people.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC — The Dominican Senate in February approved a new penal code that ignores the right to abortion. Feminist organisations had been taking action for years, including camping out in front of the Legislative Palace in Santo Domingo, to demand the legalisation of abortion in limited circumstances in the updated code. These circumstances were cases of foetal abnormality, rape, incest or risk to the patient’s life. The Dominican Republic is one of the few countries in the world where abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. “The penal code condemns women and girls to death and secrecy”, the campaign #LasCausalesVan said on Twitter.
AFGHANISTAN — The Taliban has banned the sale of contraceptive pills in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, according to a report by Rukhshana Media. Officials have reportedly ordered pharmacies to clear stocks and warned health workers to stop selling contraceptives because they are “forbidden” under Sharia law and are part of a “western conspiracy” to control the Muslim population. The information has not been confirmed by the Afghan health ministry. Fewer than half of Afghan women aged 15-49 have access to modern contraception according to the UNFPA. In a collaboration with Zan Times, we published the stories of the thousands of women journalists who have lost their jobs since the takeover. Those who remain often have to work for no pay, while facing near-constant Taliban harassment and intimidation.