Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, from November 6 to November 13, was compiled by Anne Connell, Dara Jackson-Garrett, and Katherine Hall.
Landmark elections in Myanmar
After fifty years under an oppressive military-backed government, the people of Myanmar voted the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, headed by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to a landslide victory earlier this week. International election observers reported it the freest election in Myanmar in 25 years, despite the fact that thousands of people, including most in the marginalized Muslim Rohingya minority, were barred from voting. President Thein Sein and representatives of the army acknowledged the NLD’s victory and agreed to Suu Kyi’s request for reconciliation talks. Despite the party’s victory, Suu Kyi herself will not join the world’s 18 female heads of state and government as the leader of Myanmar, because the 2008 constitution included several clauses that prevent her from assuming the presidency. Suu Kyi stated in a pre-election press conference that she will nonetheless act "above the president." The election was a landmark for Burmese women, as more female candidates ran for office than ever before in Myanmar: a total of 800 women were on the ballot. This figure represents only 13% of all candidates, but is a promising sign in a country where cultural norms and structural barriers have long restricted women’s access to national political life.
Abuse of female asylum-seekers in Europe
As the refugee crisis unfolds in Europe, concerns are rising about abuses against women and children. En route by boat across the Mediterranean or by land through the Balkan states and Eastern Europe, women face serious threats of sex trafficking and sexual assault at the hands of smugglers. The IOM found in an October study that women smuggled from West Africa to Europe by sea were at particular risk of sex trafficking: nearly 80% of the Nigerian women the study surveyed had been victims of sexual violence during their journey. Among asylum-seekers transiting Europe by land—the majority of whom are Syrian, Afghan, or Iraqi—women and children are particularly vulnerable to abuse in overcrowded processing sites, and, as reported by UNHCR, in locations like parks, train stations, and roadsides where groups of refugees and migrants gather. In destination states, like Germany, there are numerous reports of rape in government-run shelter facilities, and in sports halls or empty office spaces-turned-refugee shelters, there is unmet demand for secure bathroom facilities, gender-segregated accommodations, and safe zones for women.
Thousands march in Madrid to combat violence against women
Elsewhere in Europe, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in the Spanish capital of Madrid last weekend to condemn violence against women. The rally, organized by women’s rights organizations and attended by representatives from all of the major political parties, called for legal reform and the expansion of domestic abuse legislation. Since the protest, four women have reportedly been killed in domestic violence-related incidences in what Spanish Health Minister Alfonso Alonso has called a ‘black weekend’ in Spain. A survey conducted earlier this year found that about thirteen million women, or one third of all women in the EU, have experienced either physical or sexual violence. Similar large-scale, grassroots protests have been held around the globe this year, including a demonstration against domestic violence in Argentina in June and a protest this week criticizing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his failure to protect women against sexual violence. The Madrid rally comes just two weeks before the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, which begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.