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 March 18 to March 25, was compiled with support from Becky Allen, Anne Connell, and Alyssa Dougherty.
Rome’s first female mayor faces turmoil
After just nine months in office, Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi faces significant challenges, including multiple corruption scandals. Raggi, who had no previous political experience, ran as a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2016 and vowed to break the cycle of cronyism and mismanagement plaguing Italy’s capital, and became Rome’s first female mayor in a sweeping victory. Now with one aide in jail and another under investigation over accusations of abuse of office, along with crippling debt and waste management problems, the new mayor is losing public support. Some experts suggest that Raggi could be victim to the glass cliff theory—namely, that rising to power at a time of crisis leaves officials vulnerable to being blamed for ineffective leadership. Still, the scandals surrounding Raggi’s tenure may affect future female candidates in a country that is already challenging for women running for office: while gender quotas implemented in Italy’s city councils in 2012 led to gains in women’s political representation, women today still comprise only 28 percent of the Senate and 31 percent of the House of Representatives, with few women in executive leadership positions.
European Court of Justice permits headscarf ban
The European Court of Justice (ECJ), which serves as the highest court in the European Union, ruled last week that companies have the right to ban headscarves in the workplace. The court found that a Muslim woman fired from the security company G4S over her request to wear a hijab in her Belgium office did not suffer from direct discrimination, citing an employer’s right to implement existing policies that bar all employees from wearing visible religious or political signs. In a related French case, however, the court found discrimination where there was no consistent internal company policy in place. The decision was issued against a backdrop of legal debates over the hijab in Austria, Belgium, France, and Germany and rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in several upcoming national elections. Kim Lecoyer, president of Belgium-based Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, argued that “the court could and should have seized the opportunity to put a halt to the multiple discriminations faced by Muslim women and protect their fundamental rights.”
Saudi Arabia launches initiative to empower girls
This week, Saudi Arabia held the inaugural meeting of the Qassim Girls Council, an initiative designed to empower girls and improve their educational opportunities. The first meeting of the council, however, made headlines when widely-circulated photos showed a meeting room filled exclusively with men. Although women were reportedly connected via video conference from a separate room, consistent with Saudi policy requiring the segregation of unrelated men and women in public forums, commentators were quick to criticize the Gulf kingdom. Many pointed out that the Saudi government has failed to make substantial policy changes to involve more women in decisionmaking bodies, which continue to be dominated by men at the local and national level. Still, the past year brought some progress for Saudi women, who ran for office and took to the polls for the first time in Saudi history; in addition, Prince Mohammed bin Salman suggested that he would support increased legal rights for women, and thousands of Saudis signed a petition to end male guardianship in the country.