Global Roundup: Victory for India #MeToo, Ending Period Poverty in New Zealand, Telemedicine Abortion Deemed Safe, Pakistani Women Mountain Rescuers, Surrogacy in NY

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Priya Ramani after getting bail in her defamation case on February 25, 2019, in New Delhi, India via CNN

In 2017, journalist Priya Ramani alleged that she had experienced workplace harassment during a job interview with an unnamed editor. A year later, she came forward and identified the individual as MJ Akbar, a former journalist who was serving as the Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time. Ramani’s allegations prompted more than a dozen women to come forward, and her case is recognized as one of the earliest and most prominent #MeToo cases in India.

After she publicly identified him, Akbar sued Ramani for public defamation. Last week, more than two years after the lawsuit was filed, the court ruled in Ramani’s favour and acquitted her of all charges.

I can't stop smiling today…"This case was not about me, it was about what women face at the workplace. My victory belongs to everyone who spoke up during the #metoo movement…It feels amazing to have your truth validated in a court of law - - Priya Ramani

Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey spoke to Ramani’s case, and also spoke to the failure of India’s institutions to protect women and victims of abuse. 

Despite how well respected some persons are in the society, they in their personal lives, could show extreme cruelty to the females...The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims...The woman cannot be punished for raising (her) voice against the sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation, as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution - Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey

This case speaks volumes about the institutional treatment of survivors of sexual assault who come forward. Survivors of sexual assault are often disregarded, and many are attacked for ‘going after’ high-profile figures and ‘ruining’ their careers. If convicted of defamation in India, individuals can face up to two years in prison; for survivors who have come forward, it is completely unjust. The court’s decision to acquit Ramani was absolutely necessary, and hopefully, Indian society will begin to recognize the importance of cases such as this one.  

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Getty Images via BBC

New Zealand schools will have free access to sanitary products for the next three years, in an attempt to alleviate period poverty. According to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, research demonstrated that 1 in 12 young people missed school due to period poverty. There were a range of issues experienced associated with menstruation, including: stigma, missing classes, being ‘caught’ without products, cost, lack of knowledge and discomfort. 

Providing free period products at school is one way the government can directly address poverty, help increase school attendance, and make a positive impact on children's well-being - Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand launched a six-month pilot project which provided free sanitary products to around 3200 students in 15 schools. The pilot program was very successful, which prompted the nation to fully implement this program. The New Zealand government is confident that this initiative will result in fewer students missing school, and reduced financial burdens. 

Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to make all sanitary products free, and free sanitary products were made available to primary and secondary students in England. Many US states have also passed laws mandating that free sanitary products be provided to students in schools. 

Ardern has been recognized as a global champion for women’s rights. Her dedication to women and marginalized populations is remarkable, and her work does not go unnoticed. The programme will be implemented later this year, in June. 

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Based on a sample size of 52,142 people, researchers found that no-test telemedicine abortion model is just as safe and effective as the traditional in-person medication abortion model. (Pexels / Creative Commons) via Ms Magazine

When the abortion pill was initially introduced in the US, lawmakers placed the pill under a drug safety program which required doctors to physically distribute the pill in-person - this practice is still in effect. During the pandemic, many patients were unable to obtain safe abortions, due to the restrictions in place. However, new research, conducted in the UK, has determined that no-test telemedicine abortion is just as safe and effective as in-person abortion healthcare

Prior to the pandemic, the UK also had similar restrictions in place, where patients were required to make an in-person visit to their healthcare provider in order to obtain an ultrasound and the abortion pill. When the pandemic hit, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published new guidelines, prompting healthcare providers to provide consultations for abortion via telephone or video call, and an in-person visit and ultrasound if absolutely necessary. The sample size of the study included 52,142 people.  

In March 2020, the British government issued emergency orders allowing no-test medication abortion; this shift in policy allowed researchers, for the first time ever, to examine the effectiveness of no-test telemedicine abortion. Research demonstrated that this form of abortion medicine was just as safe and effective as in-person abortion medication. 

This is huge! Individuals seeking abortions now have the opportunity to safely obtain the pill without having to visit a doctor. Many states in the US are adamant on preventing individuals from obtaining abortions without an in-person visit, and this research demonstrates that there is no reason to prohibit this kind of model from moving forward. Amazing news! 

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Volunteers refreshing their skills on rope management — image courtesy: AKAH-P via Dawn

Gilgit-Balistan, Pakistan is home to some of the world’s highest mountain ranges. It is also a region which is heavily affected by climate change, often disturbed by tremors, avalanches, landslides and floods resulting from melting glaciers. Over the years, many individuals have lost their lives or have been severely injured. 

Shamim Bano is a middle school teacher who has been trained in community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM) by the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Pakistan, and she also trains other women in CBDRM. Bano is only one of 50,000 volunteers, half of which are women. As a child, Bano witnessed many women dying because of a practice known as ‘purdah’, which is the seclusion of women from public observation. Many purdah-practicing women lost their lives when disaster struck because men found it awkward to help these women. In 2008, Bano seized on the opportunity to become a search and rescue volunteer, and has been participating on missions since.

I think it is necessary for women to be in a rescue team as men of the families may not always be there at the time of disaster and keeping cultural sensitivity and purdah in mind is very important to the local people - Bibi Nusrat

These volunteers brave the cold and harsh winters, and spend weeks attempting to rescue injured civilians. Bibi Nusrat, 40-year old nurse from Karimabad and CBDRM training officer at the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Pakistan since 2000, is also heavily involved in these missions. Alongside their rescue missions, Nursrat added that the Agency holds day-long training sessions in villages to create local risk management plans so that in the event of a climate emergency, locals are able to evacuate and safely reach a shelter. 

Although this belief is not widely shared among conservative communities, many are confident in the abilities of women in this field. Many purdah-practicing women have passed away because of conservative beliefs, and therefore it is imperative that there are women who are able to participate in these missions to save every last person.

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JEWEL SAMAD/Getty Images via them.us

New York has finally legalized commercial surrogacy - a huge win for the LGBTQ2+ community, as well as those experiencing infertility. The Child-Parent Security Act was introduced last April but officially went into effect last week on February 15. This new legislation lays out some of the strongest safeguards for surrogacy in the country. 

The bill lays out some of the strongest safeguards in the country when it comes to protecting surrogates and parents, and “will provide clear and decisive legal procedures to ensure that children born through third party reproduction have secure and legally recognized parental relationships with their intended parents,” according to the legislation’s text.

“The law will make it clear that donors do not have parental rights or obligations and that those rights and obligations reside with the Intended Parents,” it continues. The bill also makes clear that a surrogate has the right to make medical decisions concerning her own health, and the right to change her mind and back out of an agreement, without legal consequence, prior to pregnancy.

Prior to this legislation, surrogacy was illegal in New York. LGBTQ2+ couples were often forced to undergo expensive and extensive processes in order to secure legal parental rights. Many couples often went out of state in order to seek assistance and find a surrogate. Outlined in this act is a ‘surrogate bill of rights’ which gives couples the right to independent legal counsel of their choosing, comprehensive health insurance coverage, psychological counseling, life insurance and more. 

In Nebraska and Michigan, commercial surrogacy is still illegal. In Louisiana, it is considered a criminal offence. LGBTQ2+ advocacy groups are hopeful that this step forward for New York will pave the way for other states. Anyone who desires to have a family should not be denied that opportunity because of outdated laws. 

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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.