The Week in Women
Biden's cabinet, Trump's abortion legacy, Afghan women under attack, Greece's #MeToo moment, and J.Lo.
Scenes from another life (Rio de Janeiro, April 2014)
Welcome to The Week in Women, a roundup of women’s rights news from around the world, followed by links to a few good features, longform pieces, podcasts, and radio stories in the universe of gender equality, international human rights, politics, and whatever else is interesting on the internet.
Enjoy, subscribe, and share.
What to Know:
Open America: Excuse the shameless promotion, but my husband has a truly exceptional piece in the Sunday New York Times about the long tail of the Muslim ban — how Biden was right to overturn it, but that doesn’t come close to undoing the harm or repaying the human cost.
Trump’s legacy: A global alliance against abortion rights.
Perversion of Protections: In an insult to the Geneva Conventions and human rights norms everywhere, the anti-abortion Trump administration joined the world’s worst authoritarians to draft a “Geneva Consensus Declaration,” declaring that the traditional family is the primary unit of social organization and “there is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion.” Now that Biden is in, this joke of a declaration is hopefully on its way out.
Ungagged: Joe Biden will end the Global Gag Rule this week. But there’s a lot more to this story, and to ensuring that women can access safe abortion procedures no matter where they live or how much money they have. I wrote about all of that in far greater detail here, for paid subscribers.
No choice: Honduras already has some of the harshest restrictions on reproductive rights in the world, and they’re considering making it even harder to change these laws. I wrote about the impact of Honduras’s near-total abortion ban, even in cases of rape, incest, and threat to a pregnant woman’s health, as well as the nation’s ban on emergency contraception, for Politico last year. Honduras also has astronomical rates of sexual violence. All together, this means that Honduran girls and women live with the pervasive threat of rape; they face a police force that, taking cues from the misogynist national laws, often does nothing; and then, with emergency contraception outlawed, they have little ability to prevent a pregnancy resulting from rape, and face potential jail time if they do get pregnant and seek out an abortion. Now, Honduran lawmakers have preliminarily approved an amendment that would make it even more difficult to change both abortion laws and Honduras’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, requiring a 3/4 majority for approval, rather than the current 2/3rds.
Women Under Siege: A wave of assassinations in Afghanistan has targeted prominent women’s rights activists, female judges, prominent women generally, journalists, intellectuals, and the progressives who seek to make the country more open, fair, and accepting.
On the basis of sex: On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order seeking to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in education, health care, and the workplace (just take a minute and realize that LGBTQ people are still not fully protected from discrimination at school, at work, in housing, and on and on). The order is meant to reinforce a recent Supreme Court decision that applied Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to transgender people, saying that the Act — which bars discrimination on the basis of sex — also applies to workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Biden administration is interpreting that decision broadly (as they should). Conservatives and even some feminists are angry, though, claiming that the Biden EO opens the door to the end of single-sex spaces — that anyone could simply claim they identify as a woman and enter women’s bathrooms or locker rooms, or sign up to play girls’ sports. That is a good bit of fear-mongering, especially since the Supreme Court decision explicitly says those are questions for another day: “we do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind,” read the majority opinion.
Old Firsts: Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female doctor in the United States, followed shortly by her sister Emily, who became the nation’s third female doctor. The sexism of the medical profession pushed them both into obstetrics and gynecology, and the two sisters, as a new book puts it, “brought medicine to women and women to medicine.” But the sisters were also hostile to feminism and to other women ascending to their same position, making the story a complicated look at female ambition and the long history of the successful woman who believes herself to be anomalous and special, unlike the rest of her gender.
New Firsts: The whole Biden cabinet is a smattering of historic firsts: The first Black Secretary of Defense, the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the first openly gay cabinet secretary, the first Native American cabinet secretary, the first female Treasury secretary, and on and on and on. But, as Claire Cain Miller at the Upshot explains, not all cabinet positions are created equal, and women and people of color are often slotted into the less-influential positions, while women men dominate the “inner cabinet”: the secretaries of state, the Treasury, defense, and homeland security, as well as the attorney general and, of course, the VP. So how is Biden doing by that measure? Two of the six inner cabinet members are women (Harris as Vice President and Janet Yellen at Treasury), while four are men. Two are Black: Harris again, and Lloyd Austin at Defense. And Alejandro Mayorkas, at Homeland Security, is an immigrant from Cuba. Notably, neither Donald Trump nor George W. Bush had a single woman in those inner cabinet positions.
More on that cabinet: Biden’s cabinet is the most diverse in history. And while he promised a cabinet that “looks like America,” Biden’s cabinet actually looks a lot more like Democratic America than America-America. Women are slightly underrepresented at 48 percent of Biden’s cabinet (women make up 51 percent of the American public, and a strong majority of Biden voters and Democrats). But people of color are overrepresented: While whites are 76 percent of the U.S. population, they make up just 48 percent of Biden’s cabinet appointments. If that strikes you as unfair, consider that for the entirety of U.S. history, whites have been over-represented in every single previous president’s cabinet with the exceptions of Clinton and Obama. For most of U.S. history, whites were the only racial group represented in presidential cabinets. And among Democratic voters, just under 60 percent are white, which puts Biden’s cabinet more in line with the party he represents.
Can Men Take a Joke? Not if Yang Li’s experience in China is any indication.
Sexist Dystopia: Lucknow, the large capital city of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, has announced a plan “to monitor women’s expressions with facial recognition technology to prevent street harassment,” which… listen, I am very much against street harassment, but I am perhaps even more against terrifying and potentially authoritarian state intrusions into peoples’ lives. The plan is to monitor women’s faces for signs of distress, and I’m sorry, but this is a terrible idea. The bigger problem, Indian women’s rights activists say, is that even when women do report sexual violence, the police often ignore or demean them, and certainly haven’t worked to prevent violence against women in the first place.
Not Merely a Woman, but a Symbol of Change: Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch had to flee her homeland because of threats to her life. The threats followed her to Canada, and on December 21, her body was found floating in Lake Ontario. The Toronto police say there’s no foul play, and that Baloch drowned. Her friends, family, and supporters think different. Even as Baloch’s body was flown to her family’s home in Balochistan, Pakistani officials confiscated it, and put her town on lockdown and under the control of paramilitary forces.
Rage Fuel: In November, Sudanese feminist Waad Bahjat stopped to get gas in Khartoum. As she waited, she noticed that the women standing in the women’s line — yes, lines for petrol are apparently sex-segregated — were being harassed by police officers, and that while the men’s line was moving forward, the women’s was at a stand-still. She tried to intervene, speaking with both a manager and the officers, but instead just received a barrage of harassment herself. So she filmed the ordeal and broadcast it on Facebook Live. For her efforts to shine light on misogynist abuses of power, she now faces a year in prison.
Greek Goddess: Olympic gold medalist Sofia Bekatouro has spoken out against a top official in her country’s sailing federation, perhaps kicking off Greece’s #MeToo moment in women’s sports.
What to Read:
Mark Leibovich on Larry King on what was then the impending death of Larry King. [New York Times Magazine]
A Lifetime of Lessons in Mrs. Dalloway [The New Yorker]
LISTEN: The Experiment, a new podcast on American democracy from the Atlantic.
Take a Break
First, feel exceptionally old that Jennifer Lopez’s single Love Don’t Cost a Thing came out 20 years ago (20 years ago!!!). Then watch the iconic music video. Then watch her recreate the iconic music video. Then mousse that hair you haven’t cut in a year, put on your most golden bronzer, overline your lips with a nude pencil, swipe on some juicy lipgloss and let’s bring that classic J.Lo lewk back when we’re all out of lockdown and re-leaning how to socialize with other humans.
Just like J.Lo’s love, the free version of this newsletter don’t cost a thing. Unfortunately, my rent does. So if you’re enjoying the newsletter and want full access to news and analysis on global women’s rights, law, and politics, always feel free to click that “subscribe” button and upgrade.
Have a beautiful week, readers.