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 from June 10 to June 18, was compiled with support from Becky Allen and Anne Connell.
Violence against women politicians Late last week, British Labour Party politician and Brexit opponent Jo Cox was fatally shot on a public street in northern England. Colleagues and constituents expressed shock, praising Cox as a rising star in the party who was a leading voice in support of ending the Syrian conflict and providing quality education to refugee children. Following her assassination, hundreds paid tribute to Cox at events in Beirut, Brussels, London, Oslo, and Washington, DC. While attacks on politicians are rare in Britain, female politicians across the globe face significant threats of violence from governments, political party leaders, candidates, constituents, and communities. A 2014 UN Women study, for example, found that 60 percent of women in India, Nepal, and Pakistan reported fear of violence as the reason for not taking part in politics, and 90 percent of threats to candidates in the 2010 Afghanistan elections targeted women. Global attention to this issue is growing: in November of 2015, the Organization of American States (OAS) agreed on a declaration condemning political violence against women, and world leaders and civil society organizations have led campaigns to raise awareness about harassment and assault of female politicians and voters.
North and South Korea clash over female defectors On Tuesday, a tense diplomatic confrontation between North and South Korea over twelve female defectors moved to the South Korean judicial system. The South Korean government asserts that the twelve women— waitresses in a North Korean-run restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo—voluntarily fled in April with their manager to seek residency in Seoul; North Korean officials, however, accuse the South Korean government of kidnapping. The case was further complicated by accusations from human rights lawyers that authorities in the South were unlawfully detaining the women, who have been kept at a tightly guarded government facility in recent weeks. Reports suggest that the women are hesitant to testify in court out of fear that their families in North Korea may be threatened if they admit to defection. In recent years, thousands of North Korean citizens have defected—typically embarking on dangerous trips across the border with China and then north to Mongolia or to Southeast Asia, which puts women at risk of trafficking or forced marriage. Reports confirm that those captured and returned to North Korea are often subject to harsh punishment.
Record number of displaced people globally A UNHCR report released to mark World Refugee Day on June 20 concluded that 2015 saw the largest number of people displaced by conflict in history, topping the previous year’s record. By the beginning of 2015, the number of displaced people had reached 59.5 million, up from 51.2 million the year prior—a staggering rise from the previous seven years, during which the population of refugees fluctuated between 40 and 45 million. According to the new Global Trends Report, if the population of displaced people formed a country, it would be the twenty-fourth largest nation in the world—and the majority of its inhabitants would be women and children, who now make up well over half of all displaced persons globally. Research shows that women and children are the most vulnerable populations during transit and in refugee camps. Female refugees fleeing violence to seek asylum in Europe faced heightened risks of sexual and gender-based violence; girl refugee children are disproportionately affected by the collapse of education systems; and child marriage is on the rise among many displaced populations.