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 February 26 to March 4, was compiled with support from Anne Connell, Alyssa Dougherty, and Loren Grier.
Brussels Summit addresses family planning
Last week, the Belgian government hosted an international summit on women’s health in Brussels, during which representatives from fifty countries—including development ministers from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden—pledged nearly $200 million for women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare services worldwide. Afghanistan, Chad, and Ethiopia were among the developing countries that sent representatives to the conference to present evidence on the relationship between family planning, prosperity, and stability. The summit aimed in part to address the estimated $600 million dollar funding gap left by the Trump administration’s executive order reinstating and expanding the Mexico City policy, which will reduce resources for family planning, and also could jeopardize funding for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health programs. Swedish Minster Isabella Lovin stressed the importance of protecting against global regression on women’s health, noting that “we have seen a decrease in maternal mortality during the last twenty-five years. […] This is progress that we cannot see now reversed.”
Legislation on child marriage
Bangladesh and Malawi—two countries that consistently rank among the world’s top twenty nations with the highest prevalence of child marriage—both recently passed legislation on this issue. Malawi’s parliament took a historic step toward ending the harmful practice last week by closing a constitutional loophole that allowed children between the ages of fifteen and eighteen to marry with parental consent. The minimum age of marriage in Malawi will now be eighteen without exception—a significant reform in a country where approximately one out of every two girls is married underage. In Bangladesh, however, parliament approved new legislation to the opposite effect, passing a law on Monday that authorizes underage girls to wed under “some circumstances,” to be determined by local councils and courts. Despite significant declines in the practice since 2000, over half of Bangladeshi women today are married by the time they turn eighteen, and the nation continues to have one of the highest rates of marriage of girls under the age of fifteen.
China restricts women’s rights group
The social media account for a leading women’s rights organization in China has been suspended from Weibo, a social networking site used by 30 percent of the Chinese public, following allegations that its content violated Chinese law, less than a week after the group re-posted an article authored by leading international women’s rights advocates about the reinvigoration of the international women’s movement. The article at issue referenced events and public demonstrations planned in the Unites States and around the world to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. No such activities are scheduled in China, in part due to the government’s crackdown on political debate and previous demonstrations, which took place shortly before International Women’s Day last year. The group, which intends to use another Weibo account until the ban is lifted, has seen a significant uptick in interest in their efforts as a result of the ban.