An Aspire look at some of the positive changes in women’s lives around the world.
An El Salvador woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after suffering a stillbirth has been released after nearly three years in jail. Following an appeal, a court ruled that the now 20-year-old Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, be allowed to return home until her retrial. Cruz gave birth at her home in a small rural community in April 2016 before passing out from blood loss. During her trial, the then-teenager said she had been raped repeatedly, but was too afraid to report the crime. Until she became ill shortly before giving birth, she insisted that she never realised she was pregnant. Medical experts could not determine whether the foetus died in utero or shortly after birth and Cruz herself was unsure. The judge refused to believe that she was unaware of her pregnancy and prosecutors wanted her held culpable of murder for not getting prenatal care. Pro-choice and human rights organisations are hopeful a new judge will recognise the lack of actual evidence that she deliberately killed the foetus. Campaigners say there are at least 20 women still jailed unjustly due to El Salvador’s strict abortion laws, but that they have managed to free around 30 other women by pursuing evidence reviews and retrials.
The Berlin Film Festival has made a pledge to promote gender equality, taking the first step toward that goal by screening an almost an equal number of movies directed by women as by men. The festival also will strive to have more women in its jury. Festival director, Dieter Kosslick, signed the pledge on February 9th at an event co-hosted by Women in Film and Television Germany (WIFT). The pledge does not set mandatory quotas for films directed by women, but promises an even gender ratio in festival management and improving transparency around selection processes by publicly listing the members of its selection and programming teams. First introduced in Cannes last year, the charter, also known as the 5050×2020 Pledge, also aims to compile gender-based statistics on the films submitted and selected for participation, something the Berlinale recently published. The Toronto, Venice, Locarno and Sarajevo festivals have also signed the agreement.
Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Seth are the first women in India to fly MiG-21 Bison fighter planes. The three already became trailblazers when they became the first women to undergo the intensive pilot training for the Indian Air Force. Now they’ve boldly smashed another glass ceiling by undertaking solo fights in MiG-21s, which hold the record for the world’s highest take-off speed (at 340 kms per hour). From solo flights, trainee advances to tactical flight manoeuvres and ultimately to air combats, this is first of the many steps that these pilots will have to undergo before they can be qualified as trained fighter pilots. While combat roles in the Indian Army and the Indian Navy, as well as others, remain off limits to women, such advances prove that the times are changing.
On Valentine’s Day, thirteen same-sex couples in Japan filed a lawsuit against their government, arguing the country’s rejection of equal marriage under the law is a violation of their constitutional rights. While there is no law banning same-sex marriage in Japan, the constitution’s marriage provisions have been interpreted as only applying to heterosexual couples. The lawsuit is the first legal action of its kind in the country and argues that Article 24 of the constitution should be reinterpreted to include same-sex relationships. Article 24 states: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” Lawyers representing the 13 couples say the government’s legal interpretation ignores parts of the constitution that guarantee marriage equality. A survey taken in January found that 80% of people between the ages of 20 and 59 in Japan support legalising gay marriage, according to Japan Today.
Women in Saudi Arabia have launched a protest against the abaya, a full-length robe worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world, by wearing the garment inside out. A traditional abaya is black and covers the entire body, leaving only the head, feet and hands visible. Earlier this year, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stated that women in the country need not feel obliged to wear the abaya, as long as they dress in a ‘decent and respectful’ manner. After hearing the Crown Prince say this, Saudi feminists have come up with a new form of protest and gave it the hashtag ‘#inside-out abaya’,” which activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted.
The Muslim Council of Britain has organised a groundbreaking six-month intensive training programme for women to obtain leadership roles in Britain’s mosques. The course offers a unique chance for women to develop skills which could benefit them in senior positions on a mosque leadership committee, such as public speaking training and event planning. Few mosques in the UK have women on their trustee or management boards which are usually elected by the congregation. Currently, men outnumber women on all charity trustee boards by two to one, according to the Charity Commission. Announcing the new course, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said: “This lack of diversity is unacceptable and it is essential for the management boards of mosques and third-sector organisations in general to reflect the communities that they serve in order to function effectively.”
Upskirting – the practice of taking photographs under someone’s clothes without their permission – is set to become illegal in England and Wales after the bill recently cleared its final legal hurdle. A new law will now be introduced in the next couple of months. It could mean that perpetrators may face up to two years in prison and are added to the Sex Offenders Register. The next step for the bill is the consideration of any amendments and then Royal Assent, a requirement before it becomes law. It is not expected that there will be any further hold ups. The bill forms part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and will cover England and Wales. Upskirting has been a crime in Scotland since 2010.
It took 109 years, but the nation’s oldest college a cappella group, Yale University’s The Whiffenpoofs, has its first female singer, Sofia Campoamor. For the last several years, in protest to their all male selection, women had auditioned. But last year, the group decided it would now admit students based on their voice part, not their gender. While this will still be a hurdle for women, as only tenors, baritones and basses are in the Whiffenpoofs, not the soprano and alto parts that women usually sing, some, like Campoamor, could make it in. While she sang soprano and alto in her first three years at Yale in a co-ed group, Campoamor made it into the group as a tenor. She sings mostly high parts that were written in the arrangements for a man to sing in falsetto. A music major at Yale, Campoamor is also using her voice to advocate that they pick more choices from female artists. Of next year’s 14 Whiffenpoofs, recently selected to replace the current class, another one woman has also been chosen.
A jury has awarded $1.5 million to a former Delaware franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken employee who said she was demoted because she wanted to pump her breast milk. The Delaware franchisee must pay former employee Autumn Lampkins $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages. A lawsuit says co-workers and supervisors at KFC and KFC/Taco Bell restaurants made it so difficult for Lampkins to pump during her shift that her milk supply dried up. When Lampkins was hired to be an assistant manager at a Camden location of KFC just a few months after giving birth in 2014, she was told that it would not affect her need to breastfeed. But she immediately had to work 10-hour training sessions with just one break, which didn’t allow her to pump every two hours, as her doctors recommended.