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 April 22 to April 29, was compiled with support from Anne Connell, Becky Allen, and Alexandra Eterno.
Islamic State atrocities against women in Iraq Kurdish news outlets reported this week that the self-proclaimed Islamic State group summarily executed 250 women and girls in Mosul for refusing marriages and sexual relationships with combatants. These reports follow a December 2014 estimate from Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights that over 150 women had been killed for refusal to participate in what has been termed “sexual jihad.” Over the past two years, rights groups have documented thousands of cases of Yazidi and other ethnic minority women in Syria and Iraq being held in sexual slavery and brutalized by the extremist group, leading to a recent announcement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the sexual atrocities committed against Yazidi women amounted to acts of genocide. In Kurdish regions, a number of organizations now provide psycho-social support to women and girls who have escaped captivity and face significant challenges reintegrating into their communities.
Legal rights for women Saudi Arabia In a recent interview, Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia signaled that he would support increased legal rights for women, potentially opening the door for women’s right to drive. The Prince allegedly told a former senior U.S. military officer that “[i]f women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammed], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels.” However, the Prince subsequently hedged his comments, suggesting that reforms require public support and could not be rushed. Discussion surrounding women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia has dovetailed with the Saudi cabinet’s endorsement of an ambitious set of economic and social reforms under the country’s new Vision 2030. The unprecedented agenda acknowledges the relationship between gender equality in the labor force and economic growth and calls for an increase in women’s labor force participation from 22 to 30 percent by 2030. Many express hope that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 will hasten economic and legal reform to advance women’s rights in a country that currently ranks near the bottom of the 2015 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.
Women leading earthquake recovery in Nepal This week marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating back-to-back 7.8- and 7.3-magnitude earthquakes that killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women and children were the most vulnerable populations among displaced Nepalis in the direct aftermath of the quakes, affected by both devastated health systems and disrupted access to safe water and sanitation. The destruction of water systems continues to pose significant burdens for women: in remote rural areas that have seen little or no reconstruction—due in part to political gridlock and corruption that have hampered investment—many women spend up to five hours a day fetching water. Scores of households lost their sole breadwinner and land owner, leaving many women across the country without resources to rebuild permanent homes. Reports suggest, however, that women in some districts are leading recovery efforts—rebuilding housing, installing water tanks, building solar power infrastructure, and receiving skills training in economic empowerment programs. In the district of Sindhupalchowk, where nearly 90 percent of structures collapsed, aid organizations have financed female-owned businesses and trained women in masonry and carpentry skills. Post-disaster investment in women has been shown to yield broad gains in reconstruction and contribute to community resilience.