March 2021 global news roundup: An awful month for women around the world

The 2017 Women's March in Washington, DC

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last two weeks (March 2021).

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March 8 was International Women’s Day, but the month was marked by awful news for women. In a new study, the World Health Organisation found that nearly one in three women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Intimate partner violence is the most prevalent form of violence.

An awful month for women around the world

Politicians in Australia, including its attorney-general, were embroiled in a wave of sexual assault allegations, and the conservative government was further criticised after leaked videos of staff performing sex acts in parliament. As with the tens of thousands who protested in Australia against sexual harassment and violence, women in the United Kingdom (UK) called on the government to do more to protect women after the disappearance and death of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard. A police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder.

Access to birth control came under challenge too. In Chile, nearly 277,000 packets of oral contraceptives provided by the public healthcare system were recalled. Activists claim that the lack of government communication has led to at least 140 unintended pregnancies, a significant problem because abortion is only permissible in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is at risk. In Venezuela, the inaccessibility of contraceptives because of economic collapse has led to unplanned pregnancies. Likewise, most abortions are illegal. And Turkey removed itself from the Istanbul Convention, which aims to end violence against women. Conservatives had argued that the international treaty encouraged divorce, undermined traditional familial roles, and promoted LGBTQ+ rights.

On LGBTQ+ rights, the Vatican decreed that the Roman Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. However, in Japan, a court ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Some good news for women

In Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan became the country’s first female president, taking over after the former president passed. And New Zealand approved paid leave after miscarriage, a measure believed to be among the first in the world.

Continued spectre of political control and authoritarianism

The Chinese national parliament called for sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, resulting in full control over the region’s political system and wiping out democratic gains made since the 1997 handover. In addition to already choosing the chief executive, the election committee will also fill some seats in the territory’s legislative council. In Myanmar, hundreds of protestors have been killed by the military, with no signs of the demonstrators or the junta backing down.

In El Salvador, there are fears of authoritarianism as president Nayib Bukele declared a major victory in legislative elections, with his party winning more than two-thirds of the seats in Congress. And in Senegal, following days of violent protests which led to the deaths of at least eight people, authorities freed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, now charged with rape and making death threats, from custody.

Political deadlock and (geo)political accountability

Israel’s fourth election in two years produced no clear winner, leaving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu no clear path forward. In Armenia, supporters and opponents of the prime minister held massive rallies at separate sites in the capital.

In the Ethiopian city of Axum, an Amnesty International report echoed the findings of an Associated Press story that hundreds of people were killed by Eritrean soldiers, acts which may amount to crimes against humanity. And in a historic French ruling, former president Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison for corruption and influence peddling. Though he is expected to appeal, Mr. Sarkozy is the first president to be sentenced to jail in the country’s modern history.

Environmental and economic news

Beijing, China was hit with the worst sandstorm in 10 years, causing flight cancellations and school closures. In Egypt, a giant container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, causing dozens of ships to be stranded and billions of dollars in expected trade and economic damage. The ship was dragged off and refloated after six days. And in the United States (US), Congress passed the Biden administration’s US$1.9 (S$2.6) trillion dollar COVID-19 bill in party-line votes. It is one of the largest federal aid packages in decades.

Also in the US: The country had seven mass killings this year, losing 18 people to two mass shootings – one in Atlanta, Georgia and the other in Boulder, Colorado – in six days.

In other news

  • Nigeria: Gunmen abducted 279 schoolgirls who were later received. The government has repeatedly denied paying ransoms, amid questions over whether money was paid to the kidnappers.
  • UK: An interview with Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle has highlighted dynamics within the British monarchy and the role of race in British society. Buckingham Palace said it was saddened to learn about how challenging it was for the couple and said the issues raised, especially with regard to race, were concerning.
  • Yemen: Saudi Arabia proposed a ceasefire to disentangle itself from the country’s civil war.

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