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 February 26 to March 3, was compiled by Anne Connell, Becky Allen, and Alexandra Eterno.
Guatemala convicts soldiers of rape as a weapon of war In a landmark ruling, Guatemala’s Supreme Court found two retired soldiers—former lieutenant colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij—guilty of crimes against humanity, including the use of rape as a weapon of war. During the trial, eleven victims from Guatemala’s indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities testified about the systematic abduction, enslavement, and sexual abuse they endured on the Sepur Zarco military base during Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war. The verdict sets a legal precedent that “shows that it is possible to judge crimes against humanity, and especially sexual violence, even 30 years after the fact,” according to Ada Valenzuela of the National Union of Women, one of the Guatemalan civil society organizations that has been instrumental in moving the Sepur Zarco case forward. In Guatemala, and in other countries across Central America, women’s groups have played critical roles in transitional justice processes, including by advocating for the prosecution of crimes related to sexual violence in conflict.
Pakistani province outlaws violence against women Last week, a bill protecting women’s rights and physical safety was passed in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. Local groups as well as international nongovernmental organizations have long advocated for better legal protections for women in the conservative country, which has high rates of violence against women, including dozens of honor killings and acid attacks on women and girls each year. In the Punjab province alone, there were over 5,800 cases of violence against women in 2013, representing 74 percent of the national total for that year. The new law criminalizes all forms of violence against women—including domestic violence, abetment of an offense, economic abuse, stalking, cybercrime, and psychological and verbal abuse—and calls for the creation of a toll-free reporting helpline and the establishment of women’s shelters. While enactment of this provision is a sign of progress, implementation could prove challenging: some in Pakistan reject the new law, including an influential religious body that advises the Pakistani government, which this week declared the law to be “un-Islamic” and in conflict with Pakistan’s constitution.
Iran increases number of women in parliament The recent elections in Iran may double the number of women in the Islamic republic’s parliament, which consistently has one of the lowest rates of women’s participation in the world. Officials say the number of women holding seats in parliament will now reach at least fourteen, with the potential for over twenty to gain seats after run-off elections are completed, as compared to only nine women in the outgoing parliament. This development was spurred in part by Iranian women organizing via social media beginning last November in support of an ambitious goal of increasing the proportion of female parliamentarians to 30 percent. Although women will still comprise less than 10 percent of the 290-member parliament, the World Economic Forum says that the election represents a leap forward for Iran. Others point to the work that remains to be done to unleash the full participation of women in political life: women continue to have a limited function in parliament and have had little success in reversing discriminatory laws, leading some experts to suggest that President Hassan Rouhani’s calls to empower women in national politics are merely “cosmetic.”