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, capturing November 23 to December 2, was compiled by Anne Connell, Dara Jackson-Garrett, and Katherine Hall.
Changing landscape for women in Saudi Arabia
The upcoming Saudi elections represent a landmark for the nation: more than 900 women will appear on the ballot in the December 12th municipal elections, marking the first time in Saudi history that women are able to vote or run for office. Reforms for women’s political rights have been slow-moving and barriers remain: Saudi women still face numerous restrictions on voting and female candidates for office are barred from campaigning in public. Structural and legal obstacles to women’s participation in public life also inhibit women’s political participation: women comprise only 6 percent of the total registered electorate, or an estimated 136,000 women out of the total 1.5 million registered voters in the country. Some experts have postulated that gradual moves towards the introduction of women into public life made under the late King Abdullah have slowed or stalled under King Salman. However, women’s participation in upcoming elections—alongside recent reforms to family law that expand the rights of widows and divorced women, and the construction of four female-only industrial zones that will eventually bring over 5,000 Saudi women into the textile, pharmaceutical, and food-processing industries—may signal otherwise.
Gender equality and the climate talks
World leaders gathered in Paris this week to kick off the pivotal 2015 climate talks, with the aim of reaching a legally binding agreement on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The topic of “gender and climate change” was on the docket for discussion this Wednesday in Paris. The secretariat held a session to review a technical paper on integrating gender considerations into climate activities. This comes in recognition of many experts’ claims that women are disproportionally affected by climate change: women are highly dependent on natural resources and agricultural production for their livelihoods, are particularly affected by drought due to their role in rural communities as water collectors, and suffer higher rates of mortality linked to climate disasters. The gender disparity in disaster mortality is strongest in countries with low social and economic rights for women, highlighting that the degree to which climate change is linked not only to gender but to poverty, power and access to resources.
Muslim Women in Europe after the ISIS Attacks
Local parliament in the Swiss canton of Ticino passed new legislation banning women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public. The law, easily passed, will dole out fines of up to $9,800 USD to those who do not abide by it, and includes no exemption for tourists or women passing through the canton from neighboring areas. The Swiss federal government gives significant leeway to cantons and cities to legislate on such issues and ruled in 2013 that this type of local ban on full face- and body-covering veils does not violate federal law. Several states across Europe already have highly controversial national bans on the burqa or niqab in public spaces that have been challenged by young Muslim women in the European Court of Human Rights. And while hate crimes targeting Muslims have been trending upwards in Europe for several years, the new piece of Swiss legislation comes amid a concerning surge in Islamophobic rhetoric and assaults following the November attacks in Paris. In the UK, a recent briefing on anti-Muslim acts showed a 300% increase in hate crimes post-Paris attacks, and women and girls in traditional Muslim dress are reportedly disproportionately victimized.