U.S. State Department downgrades Office of Global Women’s Issues
A letter sent by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations articulated the Trump administration’s plan to shutter, downgrade, and reorganize certain functional offices, special envoy positions, and ambassadorships within the State Department, including the Office of Global Women’s Issues, which will no longer report directly to the Secretary of State. Instead, the office—which advances the rights of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy—will be subsumed within the Under Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The announcement comes after more than forty business leaders representing major American companies—including Accenture, Aetna Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Macy’s Inc., Xerox—authored a letter to administration officials highlighting the critical importance of the office and urging the administration to fill the Ambassador-at-Large role, which has been vacant since January.
Tunisia reforms family laws
Last week, Tunisia’s government issued an ambitious new proposal to reform the country’s laws on marriage and inheritance. The revision would allow Muslim women to pursue interfaith marriages, a practice that is already permissible for men. It also would replace current inheritance laws—which limit women’s allotment to half of what men receive—with a gender-neutral scheme. Tunisia has long been hailed as a regional model for reforms to promote women’s rights, and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has expressed his intention to maintain progress for women under his administration. While some critics have claimed that the proposed reforms would not adhere to Islamic law, a number of Islamic scholars in Tunisia voiced their support for Essebsi’s proposals.
Child marriage rises in South Sudan
New reports suggest that rates of child marriage are increasing in war-torn South Sudan, now in its fourth year of civil conflict. Although child marriage is a long-standing practice in the country, United Nations agencies and the South Sudanese government say that conflict-driven mass migration, poverty, and food insecurity have increased prevalence of this practice. In the past year, the rate of child marriage has risen well above 60 percent in South Sudan’s most unstable states. Research also suggests that South Sudan’s marriage economy is linked to insecurity: skyrocketing bride prices, with higher prices paid for younger girls, are reportedly driving men to engage in cattle rustling and attacks on villages in order to gather enough cows to afford to marry.