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, covering January 15 to January 21, was compiled by Anne Connell and Becky Allen.
Gang rape in Burundi Late last week, the human rights chief of the United Nations (UN) called for an investigation into new reports of atrocities—including gang rape of women by government forces—in the small central African country of Burundi. A United Nations Security Council delegation, including U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, headed there on Wednesday amid concerns about worsening violence. To date, 13 cases of systematic gang rape of women during searches of their homes have been reported. This number likely represents only a fraction of the total number of such attacks. First-hand reports of the rapes suggest that violence perpetrated by government forces in Burundi—which began as a crackdown on political protest—is taking on an increasingly ethnic dimension.
Closing the gender gap in Iceland For the past six years, Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s international ranking of countries with the strongest indicators of gender equality, part of WEF’s annual Global Gender Gap Report. This week, Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF’s gender equality campaign, projected that Iceland would be the first country to eliminate the gap entirely, according to the tracker’s measures. The country has had a female president or prime minister for twenty of the last fifty years. A voluntary quota system has boosted women’s representation in politics at the local, regional, and the national levels. Icelandic women’s participation in the workforce is the highest in the world (88 percent), while subsidized access to high-quality childcare has enabled a steady birthrate of two children per woman. Gender gaps in access to healthcare and education are nonexistent. Even so, advocates and policymakers say there is work to be done to address the disparities that remain, including a persistent gender gap in pay.
Female genital mutilation in Liberia The prevalence rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) of young girls has risen in the Twah River Administrative District in Nimba County, Liberia. An estimated 66 percent of all Liberian girls undergo genital cutting, which leads to complications including bleeding and infection, organ damage, sterility, recurring urinary tract infections, birth complications, fistula, and death. Though the practice is outlawed in Nimba County, the local leadership claims not to have the tools necessary to deter it. Members of the country’s gender ministry as well as advocacy groups have expressed strong support for a federal ban, but the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been uncharacteristically quiet on the issue. Many neighboring countries in West Africa—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Togo, and, as of summer 2015, Nigeria—have already passed national legislation banning FGM.