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 28 to February 5, was compiled by Anne Connell, Becky Allen, and Alexandra Eterno.
Crackdown on women’s organizations in Beijing Despite the Chinese government’s recent public commitments towards advancing gender equality, Chinese authorities have reportedly shut down the operations of a prominent women’s legal aid center in Beijing. The Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Centre, founded by lawyer Guo Jianmei after the landmark United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, had for twenty years represented low-income Chinese women in cases related to domestic violence, child custody, land rights, and employment disputes; Guo was honored for her work by the U.S. Department of State as a recipient of the International Women of Courage Award in March 2011. The closure comes amidst a series of government actions curtailing public dissent and activism in the past year, including the arrest of women’s rights activists protesting against sexual harassment on International Women’s Day; passage of laws under President Xi Jinping’s government that strengthen censorship and surveillance; and the detention of dozens of lawyers, including three prominent human rights advocates, on political subversion charges.
Legal gains for women in India One of the highest courts in India, the Delhi High Court, ruled that any Hindu woman can now be a karta, the legal head of a household, a position previously reserved for a family’s eldest male. Hindu women will be permitted to manage family assets and make decisions regarding sale and purchase of property. The eldest daughter in a prominent business family in Delhi brought the case to court after her father, brothers, and uncles passed away, and her nephew claimed to be the rightful karta. The new ruling follows the precedent set by a 2005 amendment to India’s Hindu Succession Act that first expanded women’s inheritance rights to ancestral property. North of Delhi, in the city of Meerut, two women have begun another legal battle: an appeal to protect access to the labor force after male elders directed village women to stop working in area factories. Though the Indian Constitution guarantees gender equality under the law, local policies and customs limit women’s economic participation: from 2005 to 2012, Indian women’s participation rate in the economy slid from 37 percent to 27 percent.
Sexual violence in Guatemala The trial of two retired soldiers accused of grave human rights abuses against women—former base commander Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former regional military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij—began in Guatemala’s Supreme Court this week. The two men are accused of abducting indigenous Mayan men and enslaving and systematically raping their female relatives during Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war. Fifteen alleged victims of sexual slavery, now women in their seventies and eighties, have come forward to testify against the accused. Experts suggest that Guatemala’s history of sexual violence in the context of civil war contributed to the normalization of abuse, reflected by high levels of gender-based violence and femicide in the country today. The landmark trial—expected to last forty days—is the first time a Guatemalan court will consider the crime of sexual violence used as a weapon of war and could set a precedent for the prosecution of similar crimes.