Why a Saudi women’s rights activist was deemed harmful to national security

Why a Saudi women’s rights activist was deemed harmful to national security

 

WOMEN

Why a Saudi women’s rights activist was deemed harmful to national security

hands driving
olivia moore

23rd February 2021

 

The Saudi Arabian feminist activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been released from prison on probation after serving nearly 3 years on charges of spying and conspiracy. Al-Hathloul is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists, known for her vocal opposition to the law which prevented Saudi women from being allowed to drive. She was instrumental in the Women to Drive Movement, which fought to tackle this ban, as well as being vocally opposed to the male guardianship of women. Al-Hathloul was arrested in May 2018 alongside eleven other women’s rights activist, just weeks before the driving ban was lifted. Many of the women who were arrested were released on bail, charged with criminal records, with many more women being arrested in further weeks after the first swoop.

 

In Saudi Arabia in 1957 a ban was implemented which forbade women from being able to drive and to obtain driving licenses, with many people believing there was no need for women to be able to drive as they are unable to travel anywhere without a male guardian. In Saudi Arabia, the rights of women and men remain extremely divided, with this being the last country in the world where women were not legally allowed to drive. While there was technically never a formal or official ban on women being unable to drive, the ban on obtaining a driving license effectively meant that they cannot legally drive. The driving ban was ultimately lifted on June 24th 2018 after King Salman, the ruler of Saudi Arabia issued a special decree which granted women permission to get legal driving licenses.

 

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has seen many milestones when it comes to achieving gender equality. 2013 saw women being able to partake in sport as well as compete in the Olympics, 2018 was the year women were able to watch football in a stadium. 2015 saw women being able to run for elections in local councils, Loujain al-Hathloul ran in November when it was officially legal, but her name never appeared in any of the ballots meaning people could not vote for her. While the male guardianship laws are still in place, the past couple of years have seen a relax in these rules, but women still need permission from a man for many things, whether it be her father, husband, son.

 

“The courts continue to deny these accusations saying there is no proof she was ever transported to the places she says she was abused.”

 

Al-Hathloul was detained on May 15th 2018, and for the first ten months of her detainment, she did not face any charges or trial, and for the first three months, she was refused any access to communicate with a lawyer or her family. Al-Hathloul was subject to immense abuse during her detainment, claiming she was ‘beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed, and threatened with rape and murder’. The courts continue to deny these accusations saying there is no proof she was ever transported to the places she says she was abused. Her family say these have been dismissed by an appeals court and that she was offered freedom if she lied and said she did not endure any abuse while in prison. Al-Hathloul’s hearing occurred on the 28th December 2020, over two and a half years after she was detained and held in a maximum security prison. The Saudi Court found Loujain al-Hathloul guilty of spying with foreign parties and conspiring against the kingdom and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison. The court ultimately suspended two years and ten months from her sentence and stated her start date to be May of 2018, when she was first arrested, meaning that she only had to serve three more months at the time of her hearing. The Saudi Kingdom repeatedly denied the reason she was arrested for her part in campaigning for women’s right to drive but for her part in a campaign to undermine the royal family. Her sister believes this idea was based on her contact with foreign journalists and the accusations she applied to work at the United Nations as well as her contact with foreign diplomats and the media.

 

Loujain al-Hathloul was released on the 10th of February of this year and was granted by probation by a judge in Riyadh after serving a total of 1,001 days in custody. Her case was backed up by a strong global campaign which was supported by her relatives and groups, such as Amnesty International. Her sister uploaded pictures of her to Twitter announcing she has been released and is not at home. Despite her being released from prison, Loujain’s freedom is far from achieved and still a distant hope. She is unable to discuss and talk to the media, she is unable to leave Saudi Arabia due to her five year travel ban as well as the authorities having the right to re-arrest her, regardless of the situation. Her story has gained global attention considering her mistreatment of in prison and the removal of her basic human rights while she was detained, in which she organised a hunger strike in protest to the conditions which she was subject to in October of last year. The charges in which she received have been referred to as “spurious” by the UN and not fitting as she was exercising her rights to freedom of expression. Her release has been extremely welcomed and a milestone in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, but her case is still ongoing and has not ended quite yet.

 

 

Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

 

Polish abortion ban

Polish abortion ban

 

WOMEN

Polish abortion ban

sign that says 'big pharama'
olivia moore

18th February 2021

 

2020 saw Poland, an already restrictive country with regards to reproductive rights, introduce a further ban on abortion. In October, the Constitutional Tribunal, the constitutional court of Poland, ruled that abortion is acceptable only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life may be in danger. The PiS (translating to the Law and Justice Party), a national conservative and right-wing populist political party, came into power in 2015 and have repeatedly attacked women’s rights organisations through raids, refusal of funding and mischaracterisation of their work as dangerous. They stated that abortion due to foetal defects was not compatible with the Polish constitution. In Poland, a country with a population of 38 million, there is reportedly less than 2000 legal abortions a year. However, women’s organisations estimate that up to 200,000 terminations occur either illegally or abroad. Abortion Dream Team is an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the pharmacological method of abortion and to promote a positive message about abortion, based on the real experiences of those who have had abortions and those who support them. Natalia, who is an activist for Abortion Dream Team says that since the new restrictions were announced, their phones have not stopped ringing. While Poland is a democratic country, it is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, and has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

 

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic described it as “a sad day for women’s rights” and stated that the ruling means “underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford, and even greater ordeal for all others”.

 

“Polish women have had to deal with limited access to sexual and reproductive health information for many years now, including an effort to criminalize sexual education while equating homosexuality with paedophilia, as recently as early 2020.”

 

The ruling, understandably, invoked rage from the public, with more than 400,000 people protesting across the country despite the coronavirus pandemic. The head of the European People’s party, Donald Tusk, declared: “Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical”.

 

Many of the protests were led by Women’s Strike, an organisation that works towards rejecting the decades of economic inequality, criminalization and policing, racial and sexual violence, and endless global war and terrorism. Amnesty International reported that the Polish authorities responded to peaceful protests with excessive use of force, including pepper spray, the criminalization of peaceful protesters, and incitement of violence against protesters by public officials.

 

The ruling had a three-month delay as a result of the volume of protests that took place in October, but was eventually enforced in late January despite the lack of support from the public. This sparked three consecutive days of protests across Poland. Protestors in Warsaw wore green handkerchiefs representing the symbol of abortion rights in Argentina where abortion had been legalized just a month earlier. Demonstrators waved Polish and rainbow flags, along with the red lightning symbol that is used by Women’s Strike. Euronews held an interview with Bartlomiej Wroblewski, a parliamentarian, member of the PiS and a supporter of the new ruling on abortion. He argued that “it’s a universal right that protects all human beings, from the beginning to the end of life. People who are ill or disabled have the same right to live as healthy people like us do”. One of Warsaw Churches’ leading priests, Father Roman Trzcinski talks of the “civilisation of death that is spreading throughout the world through atheistic movements,” and claims that people are being manipulated by the protests.

 

Polish women have had to deal with limited access to sexual and reproductive health information for many years now, including an effort to criminalize sexual education while equating homosexuality with paedophilia, as recently as early 2020. Both bills concerning the near ban on abortion were citizens initiatives. The director of Amnesty International Poland, Draginja Nadazdin said that “Attempting to pass these recklessly retrogressive laws at any time would be shameful, but to rush them through under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis is unconscionable”. Polish Human Rights activists are furious over the new ruling and promise to seek legal action in the Polish Courts.

 

 

Featured photo by Zuza Gałczyńska on Unsplash

 

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

 

OPINION + WOMEN

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

trinity college dublin entrance
olivia moore

16th February 2021

 

Over a century ago, former provost of Trinity College Dublin, George Salmon, reputedly uttered his infamous words: “Over my dead body will women enter this college.” And yet on Friday 5th February 2021, the very same university confirmed that the next Provost of Trinity College Dublin will be a woman, for the first time in its 429-year history since its establishment in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Announced was an all-female shortlist of three senior academics – Linda Doyle, Professor of Engineering and the Arts and former Dean of Research; Linda Horgan, Professor of Ecumenics and former vice-provost; and Jane Ohlmeyer, prominent historian and Trinity’s first Vice-President for Global Relations. Professor Ohlmeyer was, in fact, the only female candidate when Professor Patrick Prendergast was elected Provost in 2011. On the line is a ten-year position, complemented by a respectable €200,000-a-year salary, to begin when Professor Prendergast competes his own term on July 31st. To achieve this reward, however, candidates must first engage in what has been described as a “papal-style election process”, involving engagement with multiple hustings events before 800 full-time academic staff vote on April 10th.

 

But apart from the novelty of it being the first-ever provost-election to take place online, Susan Parkes identifies the election of a woman as provost as the real milestone moment for the university. Originally, they were not regarded as equal members of the university upon first admission: “There was no residence on campus for women. They had to be off campus by 6pm and weren’t allowed to dine in the dining hall. It continued as a male, residential community for many years.”

 

“To achieve this reward, however, candidates must first engage in what has been described as a “papal-style election process”, involving engagement with multiple hustings events before 800 full-time academic staff vote on April 10th.”

 

Not until the late 1960s were female students given rooms on campus for the first time, and allowed to join debating societies and became eligible to be elected as fellows and scholars. A prime example is our very own Mary Robinson, who was elected president in 1990, was auditor of the college’s law society and became Reed Professor of Law there too. But, as Parkes asserts, “[n]owadays, there are plenty of women in leadership positions in the university. They are more than ready for it. If this happened 10 years ago, it would have been bigger news… it’s taken a long time.”

 

In fact, several other colleges beat Trinity to it, with a number of female heads presiding over institutes of technology in recent years, and Kerstin Mey of the University of Limerick becoming the first woman to head an Irish university last summer. However, one certainty arising from Trinity’s jumping aboard, says Ms Parkes, is that it will be the first time a female is appointed to a top role in a traditional Irish university on a permanent basis new female provost.

 

Of course, our work is not yet done. The gender balance across all senior roles in Irish academia has been the subject of criticism for a long time now. A 2018 report on higher education found that while women made up half of the staff at third level, they held only a quarter of the professor jobs. However, it must be noted that at this time no woman had ever held the position of university president, and only two had been appointed to lead an institute of technology. Just look how much ground has been broken in the meantime.

 

It cannot be doubted that the election of a woman provost will absolutely be a “boost for women academics,” according to Parkes. “To think it’s really not that long ago women weren’t even allowed in the university common room… I sometimes say to female students to this day, be sure to get your photo beside the statue of George Salmon, just to shows how far we’ve come.”

 

 

Photo by Stephen Bergin on Unsplash

 

A historic vote for Argentina  

A historic vote for Argentina  

 

BUSINESS/POLITICS

A historic vote for Argentina

graffiti on an argentinian building
tara mc cormack stand news

Tara McCormack

29th January 2021

 

A monumental vote occurred in the Palace of the Argentine National Congress in Buenos Aires on the 30th of December 2020. This vote legalised the act of abortion in Argentina. Before this, abortion was allowed only under two stipulations; where the women’s life or health was in danger or when the pregnancy was a result of the rape or an assault against a mentally disabled woman. The passing of this law allows abortion under any circumstances up until the 14th week, but will also be legal after that time in cases of rape or health issues with the mother. This bill extends to anyone who can become pregnant, regardless of gender orientation. This means that Argentina is the largest country in Latin America to legalise abortion. However, it has been a long road.

 

History of abortion in Argentina:

Argentina first criminalised abortion in 1880 with the introduction of a penal law that categorised abortion as a crime with no exceptions. This was in place until 1922, when three exemptions were written into law. These were; where the pregnant woman’s life or health was in danger, where the pregnancy was the result of a rape, and where the pregnant woman was mentally disabled. The next amendment occurred during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, and further reduced availability by adding ‘grave’ danger to a women’s lives and in the cases of rape, stated that criminal proceedings needed to be in place. Once the dictatorship fell, the abortion bill was reverted to the 1922 conditions. Since 1984, the abortion law in Argentina has remained unchallenged, resulting in roughly 30 deaths-per-annum due to lack of access to safe abortion.

 

The campaign for change:

Pro-choice activists have been campaigning tirelessly for the past 30 years in order to improve access to abortion. The battle has been long. In 2018, the same abortion bill had been passed by the lower house of congress but failed at the senate level of government. This was largely due to the Catholic church putting immense pressure on senators to vote in line with Catholic teachings. Argentina is the birthplace of the current Pope, Pope Francis. Nonetheless, the senators who voted ‘no’ in 2018 did so in opposition to public opinion. The issue of reproductive rights became an important consideration for many voters in the 2019 Argentinian elections. Mauricio Macri, a conservative politician that opposed abortion rights, lost the presidential race to Alberto Fernández, who centred
his campaign around promises to bring reform to the abortion laws in Argentina. Although a Catholic himself, Fernández stated that the issue of abortion was a “public health” issue instead of a morality issue.

 

 

“1,532 Argentinian women have been imprisoned over the last 8 years on charges related to abortion.”

 

 

Green versus blue:   

Opinions around abortion are often highly divisive, and Argentina is no exception. A feminist movement, nicknamed the ‘Green Wave’, campaigned tirelessly to ensure reproductive rights were at the forefront of political debates. For the Green activists, December 30th is a celebration of years of work. For them, the passing of this bill meant that women finally had bodily autonomy and the freedom to choose. This relief could also extend to the 1,532 Argentinian women who have been imprisoned over the last 8 years on charges related to abortion. Human rights lawyers hope that this bill will grant these women clemency, if they had been imprisoned on the grounds of miscarriages and stillbirths.

 

However, there is an opposing movement in Argentina that is just as passionate. ‘Pro-Life Argentina’ is a group that has adopted blue as their colour, and limited access to abortion as their moral standpoint. For the pro-life group, December 30th was a devastating loss. Those campaigning to revert to the 1984 laws argue that this decision is against Catholic teachings and that every foetus should be born. To do otherwise, they believe, is murder and should be punished accordingly. Pro-life activists have said that they will continue to campaign, perhaps just as passionately as the Green Wave did after their 2018 loss.

 

What comes next?   

The abortion law was officially signed into law by President Fernández on the 7th of January 2021. However, the fight is not over yet. The ties that Argentina has with the Roman Catholic church may impede access to abortion. Anti-abortion groups such as Unidad Provida have pleaded with healthcare professionals to refuse requests to perform abortions. They have even gone as far as to offer payment of legal bills that this may incur. As of yet, it is hard to tell if healthcare professionals will adhere to the Hippocratic Oath or the teachings of the Catholic church.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Thayne Tuason

 

 

 
Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse

Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse

 

WOMEN

Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse 

image of a phone
ellen mcveigh

Niamh Elliott-Sheridan 

15th January 2021

A couple of months ago, many women woke up feeling intensely violated and angry. A server containing thousands of nude photographs saved and shared without consent from the women in the images circulated online. This is sexual abuse.

The server was a collaborative effort by several men using Discord and other networks. Media ranged from private and paid content on OnlyFans, to screenshotted images or saved videos from social apps like Whatsapp and Snapchat. It included stolen content, non-consensual images of women sleeping or in changing rooms, images and videos sent consensually for private viewing and film-based child sexual abuse.

Cue the victim-blaming. The excuses, misogyny and degradation. For women, cue the fear, hurt, anxiety, and anger. We are all affected by the leak, whether it impacted us directly or not. This horrendous act of violence is not the fault of any woman who appeared in that folder. We live in a digital era. People will always take nudes and people will always send nudes. Often labelled “revenge porn”, the term does not capture the severity of the offence, implying that blame should be focused on the victim. It is never the fault of any person who has sent an intimate photograph to someone they trusted, or the fault of sex workers on private websites who have had their content stolen.

This culture of blame and entitlement is founded on the actions of perpetrators such as the men involved in this mass-scale act of violence. The absence of justice is the fault of an unconcerned, patriarchal culture and our judiciary system. Rape culture is prevalent in Ireland – violence against women and children has risen during the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with sexual expression and expecting respect; there is everything wrong with passing-on an intimate photograph, without the consent of the person in it.

When the scandal broke in November last year, image-based sexual abuse was not a criminal offence under Irish legislation. There was no penalty under Irish law, no consequence for harmful misogyny. It was not illegal for someone to share an image of me, a woman, online without my consent. There was nothing to protect me from blackmail, from attempted humiliation, from the unjust job losses that became a reality for women in the past. But speak out against the abuser? Well, that was defamation.

 

There is nothing wrong with sexual expression and expecting respect; there is everything wrong with passing-on an intimate photograph, without the consent of the person in it.”

 

The HSE had encouraged phone, internet or “cybersex” instead of face-to-face physical contact amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, there was zero protection from the law. The fallout of mental health issues lands on the overstretched charities who work tirelessly fighting for change, for issues that require more than simply a legislative shift.

The publication of private images, videos and other content is an ultimate breach of privacy, trust, bodily autonomy and consent. Ireland has consistently failed to protect women and children, instead protecting abusers and criminals. Fighting against overt expressions of abuse is the beginning – further action must be taken toward dismantling and challenging the unhealthy, toxic attitudes toward women and sex ingrained in so many people’s psyches.

On the 17th of December 2020, under pressure following public and political outrage, the Harassment, Harmful Communication and Other Related Offences Act was passed in the Dáil. The law is welcome and long overdue; but concerns remain. As it stands, the statute of limitations is two years after the photo was taken, which urgently needs amendment to “after discovery”. Photos can be shared for years before victims become aware of its existence, as proven in this large-scale case at the end of 2020. This is a conversation for everyone, that does not end with legislation.

As a society, we need to educate young people and provide better sex education. Reports suggested 500 men were on the server. Much more presumably knew about it and said nothing. Many exist in separate group chats, where this behaviour is common. More are complicit in enabling this violence, by viewing the content and staying silent. By not calling out this behaviour, by not leaving these forums and group chats, by holding onto images they should have deleted previously.

Sharing private images in an attempt to humiliate or degrade adult women who are comfortable with their bodies, is a pathetic and desperate attempt at ego inflation. A short-term and feeble hit that comes with having a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense. The act is not about sex; it is about violence, power and control. This is a conversation ALL men need to have with each other and something that every individual should reflect on.

We all have mothers, sisters, partners and friends. But respect and consent should not only be understood by men in context to their own lives. These dehumanising attitudes and behaviours serve no purpose in the progressive Ireland we tirelessly fight to build. Do your part in ending the violence. It has no place in society.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash

 

 

 
Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

WOMEN

Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

mass grave found at Tuam, Co. Galway
ellen mcveigh
Ellen McVeigh

14th January 2021

 

We are still only in the first weeks of 2021, but we have already seen enough to put anyone off being a woman in Ireland. In the Republic, on the 12th January the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation report was published, which included the findings that many women were ‘taunted’ when giving birth because of their unmarried status, and the shocking fact that 9,000 children, or 1 in 7, died in the 18 institutions which were investigated. North of the border, on the 5th January, Amnesty International UK called out the failure of the NI health services to adequately fund abortion services which have been legal there since early last year. This came after the news that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust had been forced to stop referrals to their early medical abortion services due to the failure of the Department of Health to commission and fund abortion services. In that same week, the BBC reported that more than 700 women in Northern Ireland were being contacted regarding contraceptive implants which may have been incorrectly inserted.

 

            The coronavirus pandemic, while also creating a public health crisis like nothing we have ever seen, has unearthed so many underlying issues in our society. One of the most important and perhaps most unpredictable aspects was the overwhelming need for cross-border co-operation. This conversation came to the fore in recent years due to a deadly virus which does not recognise national borders, and through Brexit debates which stressed the chaos of a hard border in Ireland. Irish feminists are one group of many, for whom operating across the border is nothing new. In the second half of the 20th century, as second- wave feminism was gaining momentum across the world, Irish women were utilising the fact that they could move, with relative ease, between two different states with varying degrees of rights for women. In 1971, when contraception was illegal in the south but mostly legal in the North of Ireland, activists from Belfast carried large amounts of contraception on a so-called ‘contraception train’ to Dublin,to protest this inequity in women’s rights across the island. Almost 50 years later, after the referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution passed overwhelmingly, hundreds of activists crossed the border to march with activists from the North, who were still fighting for abortion access.

 

 

 

“The liberation of women in Ireland has always been a 32 county issue, and will continue to require cross-border momentum and cooperation.”

 

 

 

While abortion is now, theoretically, available across the entire island, similar obstacles to access are cropping up on both sides of the border. Geographical disparity of availability, individual discrepancies in services offered, as well as deliberate misinformation and intimidation from anti-abortion activists; are issues faced by women across the island in their pursuit of abortion services. The treatment of women, and the fights for gender equality across Ireland, are often mirrored on either side of the border. While the shocking content of the Mother and Baby Homes report was published in the Republic this week, Amnesty International UK, alongside survivors, have renewed their calls for a similar inquiry into the conditions in mother and baby homes within Northern Ireland, calls which have been ignored by Stormont since 2013. While it does not appear to be a failure on the same scale, the story about the contraceptive implants in NI has the worrying undertones of the 2018 CervicalCheck cancer scandal, in which over 100 women were not informed of the revised results of their smear tests, 17 of which had died before the scandal broke.

 

In that same year, two court cases on either side of the border stirred up huge waves of protest across the country. In March 2018, the four men involved in the Ulster Rugby rape trial were found not guilty by the courts in Belfast, and ‘I Believe Her’ protests sprung up on social media and across the country. Many expressed outrage both at the sexist attitudes reflected in the men’s Whatsapp conversations, and the treatment of the young woman in the court, who faced days of cross-examination, with her bloodied underwear held up as evidence. While people were still reeling from the outcome of the Belfast trial, in November 2018, a similar case in Cork reignited conversation and protest across Ireland. The similarities did not go unnoticed, a man accused of raping a 17 year old girl was found not guilty, and again the young woman’s underwear was shown in court, in an attempt to show her consent.

 

The list could go on forever, the names of women who have been failed by both governments live on in many of our memories. Savita Halappanavar, Dara Quigley, Vicky Phelan, Sarah Ewart, Ann Lovett, and many more. While the idea of getting on a bus to attend a protest is a distant memory, we know that social media is and always will be a great tool for protest, particularly across borders. The liberation of women in Ireland has always been a 32 county issue, and will continue to require cross-border momentum and cooperation.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Auguste Blanqui