Welcome to a special edition of "Women Around the World: This Week," a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week's post, which highlights 2017's most significant stories on the status of women and girls globally, was compiled with support from Anne Connell.
- Record-breaking Women's March. On January 21, 2017, the Women's March on Washington, DC, drew an historic public display of support for women's rights in a global mass protest, estimated to be the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history. With sister marches held on every continent around the world—including Antarctica—experts estimate that the crowd included over 5 million participants globally.
- Global #MeToo campaign. This fall, millions of women took to social media to share their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign inspired women to share personal accounts of sexual harassment in eighty-five countries and counting, with women in France, Italy, and nations across Latin America and the Middle East launching their own offshoot hashtags. In many parts of the world, however, sexual harassment is not only pervasive, it is also perfectly legal: 424 million working-age women live in countries without any legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Legal advances in the Middle East. This year brought significant changes to women's rights across the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, King Salman issued a decree allowing women to drive, thereby ending the country's longstanding prohibition on a practice allowed in every other country in the world. Other MENA countries also reformed restrictive family laws: Lebanon and Jordan eliminated provisions permitting perpetrators to escape punishment for rape if they marry their victims, and Tunisia's parliament imposed penalties for sexual harassment and improved prosecution of domestic abuse.
- U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Act is enacted. In October, the U.S. government enacted the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, codifying its commitment to women's participation in peace and security processes. The bipartisan act will strengthen efforts to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflict around the world by increasing women's participation in negotiation and mediation. The law recognizes the critical link between women's participation and peace, requires a U.S strategy to grow women's participation, and reflects a growing global movement to advance women's inclusion in the security sector.
- U.S. slashes funding for global women’s health. An international summit on women's health was held in Brussels in March, which included development ministers from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and produced pledges of nearly $200 million for women's sexual and reproductive healthcare services worldwide. The summit was created 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 jeopardizes funding for HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health, and other global health priorities.
- Legal reform on child marriage. In the spring, Malawi—a country that consistently ranks among the world's top twenty nations with the highest prevalence of child marriage—passed historic legislation to curb the harmful practice. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala followed suit over the summer by passing laws to close loopholes permitting child marriage in cases of parental consent or pregnancy. Yet in Bangladesh, parliament approved new legislation to the opposite effect, passing a law that authorizes underage girls to be wed by local councils and courts; in Iraq, legislators proposed a law that would permit children as young as nine years old to marry.
- Gains in women's political leadership. This year, several women made history by ascending to the highest levels of government: Hong Kong elected Carrie Lam as its first-ever female chief executive, Angela Merkel began an historic fourth term as German chancellor, and Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand's third female prime minister and its youngest leader in more than 150 years. Globally, however, the number of women heads of state and government dropped: with several transitions of power around the world, including of prominent female leaders in Latin America and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia, the number fell from twenty-two to eighteen.
- Low participation in peace talks. Despite women's critical contributions to security, their representation in peace processes is lagging, according to a new interactive CFR report tracking women’s inclusion. Many new rounds of talks held in 2017—including those aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria—had few or no women in formal negotiating roles. In Syria, women represented between only 10 and 15 percent of official negotiators at the table in recent rounds, though a Women's Advisory Board comprised of twelve female civil society representatives continues to advise the process.
- Global migration crisis grows. Over half of all refugees migrating to the EU—and well over half in camps for the internally displaced worldwide—are women and children, according to recent demographic trends. Reports confirm that women and girls fleeing Syria and Iraq continue to face grave risks, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and aid organizations struggle to remedy overcrowded shelters, food insecurity, lack of access to health and educational services, and child marriage.
- Female fighters combat terrorism. Thousands of Kurdish female fighters made history by taking part in critical battles against the self-proclaimed Islamic State group this year, including in Raqqa and Mosul. Over 7,000 women participated in Women's Protection Units aligned with the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in front-line combat roles and as leading sharpshooters, and several Kurdish groups joined an array of official Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition in an offensive that pushed Islamic State extremists out of their strongholds in the region.