Global Roundup: Feminist News from the Dominican Republic, Palestine, Germany, Tanzania, and the UK

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Photo courtesy of girlsnotbrides.org

This week, the Dominican Republic signed legislation which will officially make child marriage illegal. The legislation also introduces the creation of the Cabinet of Women, Adolescents, and Girls, which will advance efforts to combat violence and promote gender equality. This is extraordinary news for the nation, just mere days after Argentina’s groundbreaking new law which legalized abortion. 

According to UNICEF, the Dominican Republic has one of the highest rates of child marriage and early union rates in Latin America. In 2017, a study conducted by UNICEF indicated that banning child marriages and early unions in the Dominican Republic would decrease poverty by 10%. The UN has estimated that worldwide, there are around 12 million girls who are married before they turn 18, and are at increased risk of abuse, health deterioration, and generational poverty - this statistic needs to change!  

The nation has a long way to go; breaking the perpetual cycle of child marriage and the added risks is not an easy task. It will likely take decades to fully eradicate the practice. But for now, we can applaud the organizations and individuals which supported this legislation, and we can continue to fight for their cause. 

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Forensic science laboratory expert Rawan Tomalieh conducts a microscopic examination in Ramallah, West Bank 2019. Photo: ©HAYA Joint Programme/Samar Hazboun via UN Women

The HAYA Joint Programme, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), is seeking to eliminate violence against women and girls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In this region, one in three women have experienced violence by their husbands, and 44% of girls aged 12-17 have been subjected to physical violence. As such, Haya’s Joint Programme is seeking justice for survivors of violence by enhancing forensic capacity when investigating their cases. 

The lab uses modern technology and science in order to impartially examine evidence collected from crime scenes, as well as from the bodies of survivors. This evidence is then presented in court in order to solidify survivors’ cases; forensics are crucial in cases of sexual assaults or homicides. In the past year alone, the lab has received close to 1700 cases, and it is continuing to advance its progress to support survivors. 

Those working to support the HAYA Joint Programme are confident that this endeavour will further enhance the capacity of the Palestinian police, and other judiciary figures, to prosecute perpetrators and hold them accountable for their sexual and gender-based violence crimes.  

Working in the forensic laboratory has increased my confidence in the Palestinian judiciary and justice system - Rawan Tomalieh, forensic science laboratory expert 

Rawan Tomalieh, 29, says the lab plays a crucial role for achieving justice for survivors of violence. In the case of one woman killed in a shooting incident between her family and the Palestinian police, the forensic lab proved the bullet originated from a gun belonging to a family member, allowing the perpetrators to be caught and justice be found for the victim. 

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Just 12.8 percent of management board members at Germany's 30 largest listed companies are women [Daniel Roland/ AFP] via Al Jazeera

As part of a landmark bill passed on Wednesday, German-listed companies must now include women on their executive boards. Amazing! If a company has four or more executives on their board, there must be at least one woman appointed as well. Various government officials have noted that this new law will send a very strong signal. This is an opportunity for women to finally showcase their capabilities, something which has been taken away from them too often. 

Out of Germany’s 30 largest listed companies, women only make up 12.8% of board members. Additionally, women in Germany earn an average of 20% less than their male counterparts, which is higher than that of the European Union’s pay gap of 14%. Currently, none of Germany’s biggest companies are led by women and it appears that the country is moving backwards in terms of gender diversity. 

Critics have regarded legally-binding quotas as a tool for achieving gender equality controversial, because they are too prescriptive; however, in the absence of quotas, little to no progress has been made. It seems almost necessary to legally obligate companies to include women on their executive boards, but why did it have to come to this? 

While we should be celebrating this victory, should this not have happened years ago? How is that women have continuously faced barriers in the corporate world, and elsewhere? It seems contradictory to have the government patrol whether or not companies are promoting gender equality and diversity, yet it is also fitting given this dystopian world we live in. 

The tendency to try to rectify socio-political problems through the economy and companies must in no way become the rule…Politicians should rather show greater courage in tackling the reasons why there are so few women on company boards - Iris

Plöger stressed the need to expand digital infrastructure "to make it easier for everyone to balance work and family life."

While steps to increase women’s presence and visibility in all areas are important, it is imperative to ensure that such efforts extend beyond the corporate sphere. We must remember that feminism seeks more than elevating individual women. Feminism must seek to destroy the barriers that hold back all women.

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Photo via Girl Effect

Just around two years ago, the non-profit organization Girl Effect, in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation, created Tujibebe, a mobile-based brand which supports young girls in Tanzania and allows them to speak to those around them. This digital brand has allowed many young Tanzanian girls to reach out to others in search of advice about a range of issues from saving money, starting a business, or finishing their education.

Girl Effect is dedicated to using media and mobile technology to empower girls and change their lives. In order to mobilize Tujibebe, the Girl Effect has utilized local girl networks and ambassadors where young girls can congregate through clubs and organizations to consume content, be inspired, and support one another. The organization also uses Tanzania’s national phone line to offer interactive, on-demand audio content - this is all in partnership with Tanzania’s biggest network provider, Vodacom. 

In the coming months, the organization will be launching the official Tujibebe website where girls can share their stories, discuss shared challenges and receive advice from other girls or experts. Additionally, there will also be Tujibebe chatbots on Facebook and WhatsApp to provide these young girls with an avenue to safely and securely ask questions about any topics or issues.  

What is amazing about Tujibebe is that it has allowed young girls to open up and think about their futures. In rural areas, girls are not afforded the same opportunities as boys and often find themselves leaving school and working from a young age to support their families. Since the initiative was launched, there have been more than 1.6 million calls made! What an inspiring endeavour!! 

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Menstrual products will no longer be subject to VAT. Photo via CNN

The UK has abolished the 5% value-added-tax (VAT) on menstrual products, otherwise known as the “tampon tax”. Prior to terminating the tax at the start of the year, the UK was one of too many nations which still continue to charge unnecessary, sexist taxes on menstrual products. Government officials remarked that this change was critical, as the tampon tax implied that menstrual products were non-essential, luxury items, when in reality they are far from that.

Menstruation is a natural process, yet women and people who menstruate did not have a say!! Periods can be painful but what is more painful is that millions around the world are forced to pay for products that should be free and accessible to all. It is ridiculous that menstrual products are not free worldwide!! 

In November, Scotland became the first country in the world to allow free and universal access to menstrual products in public facilities. Canada, India, Australia and Kenya are just a few countries which have added zero tax to sanitary products, but how have other countries not made the same strides? Abolishing the VAT on menstrual products in the UK was absolutely necessary. Alongside Scotland, the UK is setting precedent for many other countries to follow suit. 

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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