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 30 to May 6, was compiled with support from Anne Connell, Becky Allen, and Alexandra Eterno.
Women gain parliamentary seats in Iran In Iran’s historic run-off elections—held in constituencies where no candidate won a minimum proportion of the vote in February’s elections—four additional women were elected to parliament, raising the total number of female parliamentarians to seventeen. This represents the greatest number of women elected to parliament since prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, and the first time that women outnumber clerics in Iran’s parliament. The election may signal a shift toward more moderate officials in Iranian politics, reaffirmed by the defeat of many conservative hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani praised the election’s success, specifically citing the number of women elected to parliament as a sign of progress. According to an Islamic Republic News Agency quote translated into English, President Rouhani tweeted, “It is an outstanding record. I hope such a success will promise more effective activity of competent women in all fields.” Despite the historic nature of the new make-up of parliament, women still constitute just 6 percent of Iran’s 290 seat parliament, and Iranian law continues to impose severe restrictions on women’s rights.
Violence against women in India The brutal rape and murder of a Dalit caste, or “untouchable,” young woman in Kerala, India this week triggered protests across the region and outcry on social media. Protests were fueled by reports, just days later, of the gang rape of a 19-year-old nursing student on an autorickshaw. Many have drawn parallels to the fatal 2012 gang rape of a medical student on a Delhi bus—an event that galvanized the country and elevated the issue of women’s safety on the national political agenda, resulting in modest legal reforms. The recent attacks follow an announcement by the Indian government that telecommunications companies will be required to install a panic button on every mobile phone starting in 2017. Critics of the proposed panic buttons suggest that they are hardly a “game-changer,” and instead recommend strengthening the legal framework to prevent and prosecute gender-based violence. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, in 2014 there were 337,922 reports of violence against women—including instances of so-called “honor” killing, rape, molestation, abduction, and cruelty—which represents a 9 percent increase from the prior year.
Closing the gender gap on European corporate boards A new study reveals promising trends in the advancement of women on European boards. Over the past five years, the percentage of women board members for the 600 largest European-listed companies has nearly doubled, rising from 14 to 25 percent. Sweden tops the ranking for board diversity, followed closely by Norway. The introduction of mandatory quota policies for boards in Italy, Belgium, France, and Germany in recent years has significantly boosted numbers, with Italy and Belgium tripling their percentages of female board representation since the last survey. A robust body of evidence validates the business case behind European Union efforts to increase gender diversity on corporate boards: companies with female leadership deliver 36 percent higher returns on equity and are significantly less likely to face governance controversies or corruption. While the general trend toward increased participation of women on European boards is positive, the gender gap in top leadership positions stubbornly persists: only 3 percent of the chief executives of Europe’s 600 largest companies are women—a figure that has barely moved since 2011.