‘Too high a price’: Ukraine’s war widows forge a path towards an uncertain future

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel have died since Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. The families left behind face building a new life amid an ongoing war with no end in sight.

Anastasia, 40, found out her husband had died while watching the news. Oleksii Dzhunkivskyi was well known in Ukraine as a champion boxer turned children’s coach who ran his own gym in Irpin, a satellite city outside of Kyiv.  

When Russia invaded, the family decided that Anastasia and their daughter would leave Irpin while Oleksii stayed behind as a volunteer working with the military to help civilians. “He delivered food, water, medicine, and helped with the evacuation. In total he managed to save about 50 people,” Anastasia says. 

As Russian forces occupied the city, intent on using Irpin as a stepping stone to capture the nearby Ukrainian capital, the “conditions were terrible”, Anastasia says. “There was no [internet] connection at all, constant shelling, no lights, no water.”   

On March 23, Oleksii said he planned to leave Irpin and reunite with his wife and daughter – right after he helped one final family to evacuate. 

But a day later the news reported that Oleksii was dead. Eyewitnesses said he had been shot after Russian soldiers entered his boxing gym. 

Read more‘If you stay, you will die’: How one front-line volunteer is saving lives in Ukraine’s Donbas

 

Anastasia Dzhunkivska and her late husband Oleksii. © Anastasia Dzhunkivska

 

Tens of thousands dead 

Neither Kyiv nor Moscow releases official figures on military losses – Ukrainian officials say disclosing the figures could harm its war effort.  

The United Nations estimates that 10,000 civilians have been killed as a result of war in Ukraine since February 2022 and 18,500 wounded.  

The military death toll is thought to be significantly higher. A Ukrainian group that collects data about the war, the Book of Memory project, said in November it had confirmed the deaths of nearly 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers but expected the real death toll was more than 30,000. 

A New York Times report in August estimated that 70,000 members of the Ukrainian military had been killed while Russia is thought to have lost 120,000 soldiers so far. 

On both sides, the death toll surged in winter and spring 2023 during the battle for Bakhmut, an eastern city given the grim moniker the “meat grinder” as hundreds of troops were killed or injured there every day for weeks on end.  

Watch more‘It’s always scary’: Medics in Ukraine’s ‘meat grinder’ city of Bakhmut

 

“Oleksiy often told me on the phone about military life in the trenches and about the fighting. In Bakhmut, he said the war was most intense in the air – the positions were constantly shelled, and there were huge losses of life,” says Juliya Selutina, 40.  

Her late husband was a lawyer and entrepreneur living in Kyiv who, when the Russian invasion began, immediately decided to fight for Ukraine. 

By May 2022 Oleksiy had completed army training and was sent to the front line in Bakhmut while Juliya and their teenage daughter fled to safety overseas, living in a village in northern England.  

A couple stand together looking into the distance with blue sky behind them.
Juliya Selutina with her late husband Oleksiy. © Juliya Selutina

Oleksiy sustained a life-threatening injury from an aerial attack on July 2022 and died three days after being admitted to hospital. Juliya rushed back to Ukraine as soon as she found out he was wounded – a nine-day visit that ended up including her husband’s funeral.  

Finding support 

Juliya only truly started confronting her grief when she returned to live in Ukraine in late 2022. “I felt a new wave of pain. It was then that I finally realised that Oleksiy was gone,” she says. 

Her 14-year-old daughter returned with her to Ukraine despite the danger, insisting she wanted to live in the country that her father died for. The project Juliya was working on in the IT sector lost funding and she became unemployed, so they now live off a state military pension granted to her daughter.  

Military widows in Ukraine are entitled to a one-off financial payment from the state and other financial payments, such as monthly sums from regional authorities, depending on the region in which they live.

No such funding is available for Anastasia, whose husband was not in the military when he died. When he was alive, Anastasia did not work. During the Russian occupation of Irpin, Anastasia and her daughter lost their house and all of their possessions. Now she volunteers distributing goods to those in need and relies on her husband’s friends for financial support. 

Watch moreWar in Ukraine: Irpin residents return to ruins after Russian withdrawal

 

Anna Tymoshenko, 33, has also not received any financial support since her partner, Serhiy, died in August 2023, as she and Serhiy were not married.

Serhiy had served in Ukraine’s army for years, working his way up the ranks to become a decorated officer. From February 2022, he was based in east Ukraine fighting in Mykolaiv, Kherson and Donetsk. 

Anna was four months pregnant with Serhiy’s child when she received a phone call informing her that he had died from wounds incurred in a mine blast.  

Since then, she has been living in a state of shock. “The whole family keeps waiting for him to come back from the war, for his messages or calls. Although we know it’s impossible, you can’t tell your heart what to think,” she says.

Anna works in the Odesa district as a family doctor, and would have liked some social support from the state. Her child will be eligible for financial support after it is born. 

“Social workers could help families of fallen soldiers with the necessary documents, provide psychological and legal assistance, and not leave them alone with such a great grief,” she says.     

Instead, she says, those left behind are “learning to cope with their problems on their own”. 

“[But] it’s hard to be alone and pregnant when you had your whole life ahead of you and so many plans for the future.”

‘Life has been divided’ 

There is a state-run help line offering psychological support for widows in Ukraine, but both Anastasia and Juliya have found their children gave them the biggest sense of purpose in their grief. “The realisation that I was the only one left for our daughter helped me to hold on,” Juliya says. 

For Daria Pogodaieva, 32, one of the hardest parts of her new life is helping her 4-year-old son understand that his father is gone. “He remembers his father, and that he loves him and is missing him,” she says. “But he doesn’t know what death is. He doesn’t know what forever is. He doesn’t understand that he will never see his father again.” 

Daria met her late husband Dymtro in Kyiv, and he worked as an engineer at her family’s pharmaceutical business. When the Russian invasion began, they never spoke about whether Dymtro would join the army. “But I knew he had this feeling that he had to do it,” she says. “He was that kind of person.” 

By January 2023, Dymtro was working as a scout in a marine brigade. He was on the front lines when Ukraine launched its counter-offensive in summer 2023.  

Two men pictured in military uniforms
Daria Pogodaieva’s late husband, Dymtro (left), and Anna Tymoshenko‘s late partner, Serhiy (right). © Daria Pogodaieva / Viktor Zalevskiy

With positive news of Ukrainian villages being liberated from Russian occupation came personal tragedy for Daria. Dymtro died on July 15 with two other troops in Makarivka, a recently liberated village, while helping to move large weaponry.  

“His watch stopped at 13:45,” she says. “That was the moment when the bombs fell on them.” 

Daria’s grief has made her question the war overall. “When Dymtro died, I couldn’t understand the purpose of his death. Was it worth giving his life for this? I still have some hope for victory but, at the moment, there is no clear perspective on when that could happen.” 

For others, grief has made Ukrainian victory a necessity. “We have paid too high a price already,” says Anna. “We want to be a free people [so] we must defend ourselves to the last.” 

“I have a great hope that we will see a quick victory because I really want to believe that these terrible losses have not been in vain,” adds Juliya. 

For Daria, the only certainty is that war has changed her life – and the lives of so many others in Ukraine – irreversibly. After nearly two years of fighting, air raids, bombings, drone attacks and now grief have become daily realities.  

“This is maybe the scariest thing to do to people,” she says. “You get used to this new life and there is not so much hope that things can be the same as they were. Life has been divided; before his death and after his death. And the life I had before is never coming back.” 

Daria Pogodaieva translated accounts for this report.

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Women’s rights take centre stage in DR Congo election

from our special correspondent in Kinshasa – Ahead of Monday’s election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women’s faces can be seen everywhere, pinned up on electoral posters throughout the country. During his five-year term, President Félix Tshisekedi demonstrated a commitment to women’s rights and better female representation in politics, but there is still a long way to go.

Days out from the DRC‘s presidential election, campaign clips play constantly on state broadcaster Congolese National Radio and Television (RTNC). One of the advertisements, from the campaign of President Félix Tshisekedi, known colloquially as “Fatshi béton”, highlights one of his flagship policies: free maternity care. 

Since being implemented in September 2023, the measure is gradually taking effect in public hospitals and health centres. At the Kinshasa General Hospital (still informally known as “Mama Yemo Hospital”, after the mother of ousted President Mobutu), Julie is receiving postnatal care after giving birth to her daughter, Yumi.

“This is my third child. I had a C-section. For the first two, I gave birth elsewhere and paid 40,000 Congolese francs, then 65,000 for the second (€14 and €22.60 at current exchange rates),” says Julie. “I am satisfied with the free maternity care because, this time, if I was made to pay for the C-section, I would have died. I couldn’t have afforded the operation (one million Congolese francs, or €340).”

Julie gave birth to a baby girl by Caesarean section and benefitted from free medical care for the first time. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

She still must pay for her painkillers and the medicine for her newborn’s fever, but the impact of the financial relief is evident. “Before free childbirth, if you didn’t pay, they kept you in the hospital until the bill was paid,” Julie says.

Women and hospitals alike

Still lying on her bed after giving birth to her son Vainqueur (“Winner”, in English), Pierrette Mayele Moseka praises the policy. “This is my sixth child. According to my husband, when I arrived, I was in agony. We came from very far away, and care was immediately provided at the hospital. We will all vote for President Fatshi.”

Despite its dilapidated buildings and very basic equipment, Kinshasa General has one of the best public maternity wards in Kinshasa. For doctors, the free care provided to mothers and their babies can mean the difference between the life and death of their patients.

The maternity ward at the
The maternity ward at the “Mama Yemo” general hospital in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“The measure allows us to free up beds more quickly. After two or three days, women can go home if there are no complications. It makes our job easier,” says Olenga Manga, one of the two medical interns, finishing his shift.

“Often, women would refuse C-sections because they couldn’t afford them. With the free service, maternal mortality has decreased. Today, we can intervene quickly. We no longer worry about whether a woman can pay. Infant mortality has also decreased,” he says, walking through the delivery room still under partial construction.

Progress or politics?

In his brand-new office, hospital director Dr Jean-Paul Divengi likewise praises President Tshisekedi’s policy but believes the responsibility to make effective use of the funding ultimately rests with care providers.

Indeed, the director explains that the free childbirth policy does not only affect the maternity ward. “This involves other departments: functional rehabilitation, resuscitation, anaesthesia, paediatric surgery, and also the morgue for unfortunate situations,” says Divengi. “It’s a significant step forward for women but also the hospital in general.”

Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the
Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the “Mama Yemo” general hospital. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

With free childbirth, instead of asking patients to front the bill, the hospitals invoice the health ministry for their care each month. This has put less pressure on finances, says Divengi.

“I was at the helm for three years [before the policy was implemented], and almost no bill was fully paid!” says Divengi. “For this program to develop successfully, technical and financial partners must also follow suit.”

However, not everyone is convinced. According to lawyer Arlette Ottia, a member of the party of former president Joseph Kabila (2001-2019), it is “a political and populist measure. In reality, you will hardly find women who have given birth for free. It’s only politicians who talk about it.”

Read moreNobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege unveils DR Congo presidential bid

After just three months, it is difficult to determine the status of the ambitious program. While several institutions in Kinshasa have implemented the initiative, few data are available to assess the DRC at large, with its more than 100 million inhabitants.

‘Feminist president’

At the presidential palace in Kinshasa situated on the banks of the Congo River, Tshisekedi is nowhere to be seen. With the election just days away, he is touring the enormous territory to rally support – from Katanga to Kivu to Kasaï.

Tina Salama, Tshisekedi’s spokesperson and a former journalist from respected outlet Radio Okapi, vehemently rejects accusations that the government’s promises are empty. “The president of the republic is a staunch defender of women’s rights. Under his presidency, the country has never done better.”

In the gardens of the Nation’s palace which has housed the “great men” of Congolese history, from Patrice Lumumba to Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Salama explains why she thinks her boss is a “feminist president”.

Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi.
Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“In 2019, we had 17 percent women in state administrations and public enterprises. In 2023, we have reached 32 percent,” says Salama. “It is the first time we see women in decision-making positions. We have a deputy chief of staff, and I am the first spokesperson. There is also a woman heading the Central Bank of Congo, a woman minister of the environment and another who is the minister of justice.”

Tshisekedi’s advocacy for women’s rights comes from his belief that female emancipation is key to social development in the DRC, Salama says. “Women have strongly influenced his life: his mother (Marthe Kasalu Jibikila, wife of Étienne Tshisekedi, a former prime minister under Mobutu known as an ‘eternal opposition figure’), his wife, and his four daughters. He says he takes great pleasure in being surrounded by all these women.”

A long road to emancipation

At the other end of Kinshasa, in the offices of the Jema’h Association, an organisation that promotes women’s rights through access to education and the labour market, a group of young girls record a podcast about the dangers of social media.

Despite the lack of air conditioning in the studio, the young panellists discuss the harassment women can face and the potential toxicity of trending influencers.

For Tolsaint Vangu, 23, the project is about “influencing women who are ignorant of their rights, their duties, telling them about what they can do with their lives. I would like to influence them to be independent.”

Marie-Joséphine Ntshaykolo, who led the Carter Center program which funded the creation of the recording studio, says there has been “significant progress” in women’s rights in the DRC. She does say, however, that the women’s conditions vary by province or whether they live in cities or rural areas.

“The obstacles to women’s emancipation, especially in public affairs, are primarily cultural. In Congo, there is generally male domination. Women are discriminated against due to customs, norms that are not favourable to them,” she says. “But there are more and more women candidates at the legislative level. In the government, there are more women.”

“There is a change. Today, we are heard, and what we have to say is considered,” says Ronie Kaniba, another participant in the podcast.

Women in office

As the Congolese prepare to head to the polls on December 20, Kaniba, who works as a nutritionist for a UNICEF program, tries to keep her distance from politics. “We avoid [discussing political subjects] because it can be dangerous. But there are things we can do. For example, I am an observer (for an independent election watchdog). You observe, you note, and you report. You don’t need to disclose you have done the job because it can be dangerous.” 

Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of
Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of her podcast “A toi la parole” in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

In addition to the next president, the elections will also determine the national and provincial deputies as well as municipal councillors.

According to a report by UN Women, 29,096 women are candidates for these positions (compared to 71,273 men). The percentage of successful female candidates is expected to be revealed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on December 31, a result that will indicate the progress of women’s representation in Congolese public life.

The last time the country went to the polls, in 2018, conditions were disastrous and the results were contested. A repeat would be bad news for both women and democracy in central Africa’s largest and most populous country.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Tennis star Simona Halep: Doping suspension ‘worst moment of my life’

Euronews caught up with former world number one tennis star Simona Halep, as she awaits the findings from the Court of Arbitration for Sport over a doping scandal which she admits could spell the end of her illustrious career.

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Simona Halep has climbed to the top of world tennis, winning two Grand Slam titles along the way. But now she faces the biggest battle of her life after having been found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

In this episode of Interview, the Romanian tennis star talks mental health, legal battles, friendships being pushed to breaking point, and her dream of being cleared to compete at the Paris Olympics 2024.

Watch the conversation in the video player above, or read the full interview below.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: It’s been quite a year for you. A year out of the game. Describe to me, if you can, what’s your state of mind right now?

Simona Halep: Well, it’s been actually more than one year already, and every day it felt very painful, very emotional, hurtful, because I know I didn’t do anything wrong and I know I’m clean. So it was a shock when I received the letter that my urine test, only the urine test came out positive, with actually an extremely low quantity of substance, banned substance. I’ve been always against doping and you know, I’ve been loud as well about this, so it didn’t even cross my mind in my whole life to do something like this. So it was a shock. I struggled with the emotional part because it’s been very heavy on my shoulders and seeing this so much in the public, it was really affecting my mental health, for sure.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: Well, you’ve received an enormous amount of support online, not surprisingly, because you’re one of the world’s most popular sports stars, but also a lot of detractors as well. How have you reacted to that?

Simona Halep: Well, the support has been amazing. The fans who are supporting me unconditionally, which means a lot. It means a huge amount to see the people, even if I’m facing the worst moment in my life as an athlete I know I’m clean. I received tonnes of messages, good messages, and the biggest thing is that I’ve never faced a person who told me something negative. So all of them were positive, and this gave me the strength to keep fighting every day, to clear my name and to show that I didn’t do anything wrong. The players also, which are opponents, they also showed their support and I really appreciate it because it means a lot. We are fighting on court and when you are in the worst situation, they are there and they support you. Also the legends. I had such a big support from legends in tennis and they were also publicly speaking about me and this means a lot. They were supporting me fully and it’s great, it’s huge. Everything helps me to stay strong in these difficult times and to fight to clear my name.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: We’ve had also the International Tennis Integrity Agency say that, you know, three different panels of experts have said that you intentionally took this performance-enhancing drug. What’s going to be your defence?

Simona Halep: Well, yeah, they said that. But it’s very clear that it was a contamination. Three days before the positive urine test, I was negative in blood and urine. So I’ve been told at the beginning that it’s a very, it’s an extremely low quantity of this substance, banned substance, and in those three days I could not have doped. It was not my intention and never has been the intention to do something wrong or something disrespectful to this sport, because I have respected everything and I dedicated my life. My principles are not like this, so I didn’t think to cheat in tennis. The two things that… The contamination, I think it’s very strong for me. And the second one, the blood, I had many, many tests and all of them were negative. So they never found anything wrong in my blood. So with these two things, I feel confident going and facing CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport).

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: Do you trust the process, though?

Simona Halep: Yeah, I think it’s way too long to wait for an athlete, a professional athlete. I accepted I had nothing to do against this and now I’m looking forward to February when finally I will have the final decision.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: Some of the criticisms that have been levelled against you, and some of those have also come against your team as well, Patrick Mouratoglou, perhaps the most high-profile tennis coach in the world. He’s come out now in the last month and said, he’s admitted responsibility, saying, ‘yes, our team got it wrong’. You did have this contaminated collagen. What’s the relationship like between you and him now?

Simona Halep: It’s true that he went out. I wish he could have done that a little bit earlier. I have stopped working with the academy for a while already. I’m just, you know… When I found myself in this situation, it was difficult to manage because I have always trusted in my teams, previous teams and everybody that I work with because I felt like trusting, you have a better chance to perform at your maximum. And I’ve always been open to learn from people. That’s why you hire people, because you need the information, you need to be better. So I always trusted this and my trust is broken a little bit right now. And in the future, I don’t know how it’s going to be, if I can trust again. And probably I have to learn, because this is my principle in life, if you hire somebody and you work with that person, you have to trust.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: And when was the last time you two spoke?

Simona Halep: Not very soon. Like a few months ago. 

Tokunbo Salako, EuronewsIf the Court of Arbitration does, the decision goes against you, will this effectively be the end of your career?

Simona Halep: I think so, yeah, because four years is going to be a lot, for my age at least. And for an athlete who has done this thing every day for 25 years and dedicated their life to tennis and to sport I don’t know how it’s going to be, but it’s catastrophic if it’s going to be four years, and I don’t know how I will handle it. Probably, it’s going to be the end of my career, yes. And for something that I didn’t do and that is not my fault, it’s even more catastrophic. 

Tokunbo Salako, EuronewsWell, you remain a national hero in your native Romania and beyond, for sure. Lots of people are going to be watching this interview, young people are going to be watching this interview. What message would you have for them?

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Simona Halep: Well, for the kids, the only thing I can say is that they have to dream big. I think this is the most important thing to visualise yourself with the big trophies. Of course, you never know what is going to happen in life, but if you dedicate yourself to sport, if you are disciplined, if you work hard, and if you have the passion, the big passion for this sport, I think you are able, one day, to lift those trophies. I did this and I can share this with them. They have to have the courage to trust themselves and to go forward. I know some days are difficult because you don’t feel like going there. You feel tired, you feel exhausted, you feel depressed sometimes. But if you push yourself and you go on court in those days, the step is huge. And I wish them good luck and to trust in themselves, to have confidence inside them.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: Now before I let you go, if we do look ahead into the future and the ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport is positive in your favour, will you be back here in Paris, perhaps for the Olympics?

Simona Halep: Of course. This is my dream! I know there are not big chances for this, but I’m dreaming of this because Paris is my dream city. I won Roland Garros here when I was a junior, so everything started very early, and it will be amazing to be back on court, no matter what. But I just want to be on court because that’s where I belong and I feel like I want to do it again.

Tokunbo Salako, Euronews: Simona Halep, thank you for this interview.

Simona Halep: Thank you, too, for listening and for talking to me.

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Gender-based violence in French universities: ‘I decided something had to change’

The most prestigious universities and business schools in France such as Sciences Po and HEC train the country’s future executives and politicians. But due to the prevalence of gender-based violence that takes place on campus, for many students, they are also spaces that don’t feel safe.

On November 15, Nantes University published the results of a report and found that 4 of every 10 of its students have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The majority of victims identified as women or non-binary. 

A few months earlier, the French Observatory on Gender-Based Violence in Higher Education published its own report based on 10,000 student testimonials, which found that more than half of students don’t feel safe in their institutions, with 4 in 10 saying their school doesn’t do enough to combat gender-based violence. 71% of respondents identified as women.  

Run by student associations across France, the Observatory helps academic institutions track the gender-based violence and draw up preventative action plans, maps existing student initiatives and holds student conferences on the topic. 

In an October 2023 editorial published by French daily Libération, the Observatory and other student groups called for “an urgent increase in the [financial] resources dedicated to combating gender-based violence in higher education and research institutions”. A year earlier, in October 2022, Minister of Higher Education Sylvie Retailleau announced the budget to combat gender-based violence in French universities would be doubled. While student groups called this “a step in the right direction”, they said the €3.5 million allocated was “far from enough to cover” more than a few workshops and campaigns to raise awareness.    

“Establishments must set up the necessary tools to help prevent, report and support victims of gender-based violence,” the groups wrote in the editorial.  

That is where Safe Campus comes in. Though other French collectives combatting gender-based violence in higher education like CLASCHES exist, providing tools for victims and raising awareness on campuses, Safe Campus is the first organisation aimed at implementing preventative tools specifically in higher education institutions across France.  

Its founder, the 30-year-old Marine Dupriez, decided to set up the organisation after having studied at a top French business school, where she witnessed countless cases of gender-based violence and sexism.

FRANCE 24: What prompted you to take up the challenge of combatting gender-based violence in French universities?  

Marine Dupriez: What I experienced at business school was a deeply sexist, racist and homophobic culture. When I was a student, there was a school newspaper that would come out with a “whore of the month” for each edition. At the time, it’s not like the administration actively supported the newspaper, but it wasn’t strictly prohibited. Now practices like this have been banned.  

There is also a specific way in which prestigious universities in France are structured. Student associations are a key part of student life in these schools, and many students join these groups because it’s important for their education – it’s vital for networking. But at what cost? The recruitment process into these associations bring about group dynamics and integration rituals that are often violent. There are very little “positive” integration rituals.  

I eventually began volunteering for a number of associations that taught secondary school students about sex and emotional life while I was still in university. The more time passed, the more I realised how important it would be for these things to be taught in higher education institutions. 

After graduating, I joined an organisation focussed on the prevention of domestic and sexual violence. I would talk to my former classmates about the work I was doing and they would say how wonderful it was, but nobody would talk about what happened while we were at university. 

It’s as if my work and our shared experience of gender-based violence were two completely separate things. I decided that something had to change and took matters into my own hands.  

Can you briefly explain when you started Safe Campus and what it is you do?  

When I started Safe Campus in September 2019 and began contacting universities, all I got were refusals. Institutions would tell me that gender-based violence didn’t exist on their campuses, and if it did, that they had it under control. They closed the doors in my face. I almost gave up, but in January 2020, an investigation published by French online newspaper Mediapart found that gender-based violence was running rampant in these elite business schools. Universities started contacting me and we began working together the way we do today.  

We use a three-step approach. First, we work on improving or setting up reporting protocols. What that means is, if I’m a student and I’m experiencing gender-based violence, I’ll know exactly who to turn to and how. I will also know exactly how my report will be filed and the measures taken to treat it. We work on ensuring there is a clear protocol, staff at hand to deal with reports and that everybody knows this protocol exists.  

Marine Dupriez speaks to students about gender-based violence in order to raise awareness on the issue. © Marine Dupriez, Safe Campus

Then we train people according to their role in the protocol. We’ll work on how staff can support a victim, for example, in particular on what we call the “first listening session”, the first interview that allows a victim to speak out. We also provide training on investigations, because it’s up to universities to carry out disciplinary hearings to get to the bottom of a case.  

The last thing we do is raise awareness among students. And I use the term “raise awareness” intentionally. It’s not the student’s responsibility to get training on gender-based violence, it’s the administrations. We talk to students about how to prevent gender-based violence, consent, the legal framework and stereotypes, for example.  

It’s very important that this is the last step because very often when we intervene in an institution, people end up identifying situations they experienced as violent and turn to the administration to report what happened. If those taking in a victim’s report are not properly trained, it’s can be even more disappointing or hurtful.     

Does your work change depending on which university you intervene in?  

Gender-based violence is not the same across all universities in France. In prestigious establishments (“grandes écoles” in French) like business schools or engineering schools, there are more cases of violence between students, particularly during ritual parties or integration events. In bigger universities where campus life and student associations aren’t as present, there tends to be much more violence between professors and students. Often between a thesis director and their student, for example.  

There are also differences between private and public universities. In public institutions, there is no choosing sanctions or penalties, they are already detailed in French law. For example, the law stipulates that any civil servant who has knowledge of a crime or misdemeanour must report it. Private establishments on the other hand are more or less free to choose how to sanction gender-based violence.  

What is your biggest challenge?  

My challenges have changed with time. But there is one that persists, and that is the financial challenge. Unfortunately, these days, higher education institutions still don’t have enough time nor enough money to allocate to the prevention of gender-bases violence. So we’re obliged to do short interventions with large audiences, which inevitably will have less of an impact than long interventions with small groups.  

There are laws in France stating that each university should have an advisor or specialist to help victims of gender-based violence. But there is no obligation for these universities to open new jobs, or even to increase the salaries of staff who become advisors. It’s so important to relate the legal framework to the reality on the ground.  

What about when you speak to students? What are the biggest sticking points?   

It changes a lot depending on what year the students are in and what kind of university they’re attending. First year students are at an age where they are questioning their identity, their sexuality. They’re adults but they’re still discovering themselves. So things can get a bit tricky when we try to raise awareness, there can be frictions, because they’re still figuring things out and getting to know one another.  

But debates and frictions take place regardless of what year students are in. We sometimes get students who aren’t happy at all with what we’re saying, who find our presence extremely disturbing. That happens. We’re talking about difficult topics like sexual violence, but we’re also talking about consent and linking it to their everyday lives. For example, is it OK to get your mate to drink when they don’t want to? How does inebriation affect consent? 

The use of alcohol is actually a very big sticking point. And the notion of consent can really call into question habits that some students don’t want to lose.  

What makes you hopeful?  

When I work with universities today, especially prestigious grandes écoles, the majority of female-led student associations are being taken seriously. They speak out. They aren’t afraid of escalating issues to the administration. They’re being listened to. That would have been unimaginable four years ago.  

There is one university in particular where a female-led student association pushed so hard to prevent gender-based violence that now any student group leader has to go through mandatory training before being recruited.  

As someone who could only do this kind of work after graduating, I find it extremely moving. 

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Malnourished, sick and scared: Pregnant women in Gaza face ‘unthinkable challenges’

Before the latest escalation in violence between Israel and Hamas, pregnant women in the Gaza Strip could have health check-ups, get advice on nutrition and prepare their homes for the arrival of their babies. Today, thousands are living in shelters where there is not enough food or clean water, and they dread the prospect of giving birth on the floor with no doctor or midwife to help.   

Shorouq is seven months pregnant with her first child. She is living in a shelter in Khan Younis in the south of Gaza.  “How can I possibly give birth here?” she asks. “There’s no access to healthcare and hygiene. Giving birth in this shelter would be a catastrophe for me.”  

She is one of 50,000 pregnant women in the Gaza Strip, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). More than 150 births take place every day.  

Since Hamas massacred 1,400 Israeli and foreign civilians and took more than 240 people hostage on October 7, Israel has since been carrying out a sustained bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip and launched a ground invasion focused on the north. The UN estimates that over a million people, fleeing the bombs and fighting, have been displaced within Gaza. 

Even before October 7, the healthcare system had been facing “significant challenges over the 16-year blockade”, says Dominic Allen of the UNFPA. Israel has restricted the entry of goods and fuel into the enclave ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, after making gains in parliamentary elections a year earlier.  

“Now the healthcare system is on the brink of collapse and, in some health facilities, already collapsing,” says Allen. “Pregnant women are unable to access basic maternal health services. They’re facing unthinkable challenges.”  

A newborn and a woman’s injured hand inside the neo-natal department of Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, October 26, 2023. © Bisan Owda for UNFPA

‘I am so scared for my unborn child’

Shorouq, an interpreter with a master’s degree in English-Arabic translation, hasn’t seen a doctor since she was displaced from her home in the north of Gaza four weeks ago.   

Israeli air strikes destroyed two buildings near her home, so she believes it has been at least partially destroyed. She can’t go back to see if all the clothes and toys she picked out for her unborn daughter are intact. “I bought them one by one, and I was very selective in choosing her things,” she says.   

She took just one toy with her as she and her husband fled: a toy that she made herself. “It’s a source of green life and full of good things, I made it for my princess,” she explains.   

A toy that Shorouq made for the daughter she is expecting.
A toy that Shorouq made for the daughter she is expecting.

Shorouq and her husband had planned to try their luck at seeing one of the few doctors or midwives at a health centre near their shelter. But as they were walking there, they saw a car being bombed.

“We were so close, we were terrified. We started running back to the shelter, abandoning our plans to go the health centre.”    

The bombing is traumatic for Shorouq. “If I wasn’t pregnant maybe I could cope. But I am so scared for my unborn child,” she says.  

The shelter where they are staying in Khan Younis is not a bomb shelter and was not designed to accommodate the 50,000 displaced people who are staying there now. It’s a training college run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Eighty-eight UNRWA schools have become temporary shelters.

“These shelters are a lifeline, but they’re under significant duress,” says Allen.  

Palestinians comb through the rubble of a building following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis on November 6, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Palestinians comb through the rubble of a building following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis on November 6, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. © Mahmud Hams, AFP

Sharing a toilet ‘with thousands of people’

In the shelter, Shorouq is at risk of contracting both waterborne and respiratory diseases.  

“You have to wait in a long line to go to the toilet, and when you’re waiting in this line you’re just thinking that you’re exposed to many diseases from the thousands of other people who you’re sharing a toilet with. You can hardly ever find soap,” she says.    

“This is stressful for me, that I could be infected with one of these diseases and it could affect my baby. Since I’ve been here I’ve started to feel dizzy, I have a bad cough and backache from sleeping on the floor,” she adds.   

“A lot of people, especially children, are suffering from infections, including skin sores and waterborne diseases like diarrhoea,” says Dr Bashar Murad, director of the Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City. “They are living in shelters where hygiene is bad and people are very close together, so disease spreads.”  

Diarrhoea can be deadly. The World Health Organization says it is the second-biggest cause of death in children under 5 years old around the world.   

Two pieces of bread a day

Allen says the humanitarian standard of water consumption is three litres a day per person, minimum. “Pregnant women need at least one-third of a litre more, and breastfeeding women need at least two-thirds on top of that,” he explains. 

“A woman who gave birth seven months ago told us that her milk supply has dried up because she can’t drink enough water, and also because of the stress and strain of moving from one shelter to another,” says Allen.   

Hiba Tibi from CARE International says some women who are unable to breastfeed “are being forced to use contaminated water for baby formula as they have no access to clean water”. While a limited number of aid trucks are now arriving into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, Israel is not permitting fuel to pass for fear Hamas will get hold of it. Fuel is needed for water desalination systems and pumps to operate.  

Shorouq is thirsty and hungry all the time. “If I’m lucky, I get one small bottle of water a day and two pieces of bread, with processed cheese and sometimes dried thyme,” she says. 

There are no sources of protein, fresh vegetables or fruit in the shelter.  “Most of us are starting to suffer from malnutrition,” says Shorouq. 

‘There is nowhere safe in Gaza’ 

“There’s the safety issue of where is she going to give birth, and how,” says Allen. “There is nowhere safe in Gaza at the moment.”    

Shorouq does not know where she will give birth to her first child. Because of regular communications blackouts and overall patchy network coverage in Gaza, women in labour cannot count on being able to call an ambulance, doctor or midwife. “It’s also dangerous to travel because of the bombing,” says Dr Murad.     

If they make it to hospital, mothers are likely to be discharged within just a few hours after the birth. “There is no regular post-delivery monitoring,” says Tibi. “If the baby is in a very critical state, they may get one of the very rare spots in hospitals.”  

Even inside hospitals, women and newborns are at risk of catching infections. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of victims from air strikes and running out of medical equipment, “hospitals are now reusing disposable material that should only be used once”, says Tibi. “There is a lack of water because of the lack of electricity and fuel needed to power pumps, and disinfectant,” she adds.   

Once discharged, mothers and their newborns won’t be going home but back to overcrowded and unsanitary shelters. “We pray every day we can go back to our homes and have a normal life,” Shorouq says.  

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Proposed hijab penalties in Iran: ‘They can’t prosecute millions of women’

One year ago this Saturday, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for wearing her hijab “improperly”. Her death led to massive anti-regime protests, known by their now-iconic slogan: “Woman, Life, Freedom”. The Observers team has been in regular contact with dozens of women across Iran over the past 12 months. Many of them have told us that it has become the “new normal” for millions of women in Iran to go out in public with their hair uncovered. But with a new law under discussion that would massively increase the penalties for hijab-related offenses, how long will these new freedoms last?

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While a year ago it was unusual to see women without hijab in public spaces in Iran, thousands of amateur images posted online – and the accounts of women inside the country – show that millions of Iranian women now routinely go out in public without the Islamic head covering. 

A new law is under discussion in the Iranian parliament that would increase the penalties for the improper wearing of hijab from the equivalent of 1 euro to 3,000 euros, and the maximum prison sentence from two months to 10 years. The proposed law has special measures for so-called “celebrities”, including the confiscation of 10 percent of their assets.

‘I no longer wear hijab in public spaces’

Sita (not her real name) is a young Iranian university student who lives in Tehran. Although she grew up in a religious family, she has decided to stop wearing a hijab.

After the protests started, this question in my head became louder and louder: Why do I have to seek permission from the state – from an ideology that I don’t even believe in – to live the way I want to live? I have found new courage to stand up for my choices, despite the risks.

In the last year, many things have changed for me. The first change was in my family. I feel that they are much more open-minded and look at women differently than they used to.

Since the death of Mahsa Amini, I no longer wear hijab in public spaces. Society has generally been supportive. Before the protests, if you went out in public without hijab, people would stare at you, even other women. Now, the most common reaction is a simple smile. Sometimes people say encouraging words when they pass by.

History has taught us that any change in society is difficult, and entrenched ideologies are difficult to crack. Despite all this, I see many changes in society. I have the feeling that many people who are religious and observant have asked themselves this question: “If I have the freedom to lead the lifestyle I choose, then girls and women on the street who do not wear hijab should have the same right to dress the way they want.” 

We’ve seen that Iranians are willing to pay the price for supporting women. The café owner accepts that his café might be closed down for a few days, but he does not ask the women in his café to wear the hijab. When men fight like this for women’s rights, it shows that a revolution has happened in a macho society.


Dancing for girls in public in Iran with no Islamic hijab could have a severe consequences, however many Instagram infeluencers share their videos.

‘They can’t prosecute the millions of women in the streets’

The “celebrities” targeted by the draft law could include social media influencers. One of the favourite targets for arrests by Iranian security forces in the weeks before the anniversary has been female influencers who post images of themselves without hijab to their tens of thousands of followers.

In recent months, several Iranian influencers have been arrested, among them a female motorcyclist, a young lifestyle and fashion influencer, a travel blogger and Sar, a teenager whose video of her with her friends in a shopping mall went viral.

Varia (not her real name) is a lifestyle influencer who lives in Shiraz. She talks about the pressure influencers face.

It’s scary. Every day I hear that a friend or colleague has been arrested, their bank account frozen or their car impounded. But I am glad that there are so many women who resist despite the threats and pressure by the regime. Even if they silence women who are so-called “celebrities”, they cannot prosecute the millions of women in the streets.

The most impressive change I have observed since a year ago is that verbal harassment of women on the street – which used to be not uncommon – has decreased. I have not had a bad experience in a year, even though I’m downtown working every day.

The private sector does not dare to require its female employees to wear hijab. As far as I can tell, people have made their peace with women’s personal choice. And what is even nicer is that these changes can be observed not only in the rich neighbourhoods of Tehran, but also in the poor neighbourhoods in the south of Tehran and in other cities. These changes are permanent, I think, they are the result of 40 years of resistance.


Elaheh Asgri is a travel blogger, she was recently arretsed for weeks.

Iranian authorities have also targeted Iran’s fast-growing start-up industry, accusing it of propagating Western values by allowing women to go to work without a hijab.

In recent months, several start-ups were targeted by security forces. Some of them had to stop working for weeks, others had their headquarters attacked or their executives arrested.

Shamila (not her real name) is a senior executive at a start-up in Tehran. She talks about her experience over the past year.

Most people who work in startups support the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests. Most women at start-ups like ours refuse to wear hijab. However, it is easier to bully start-ups than millions of women on the streets, one by one. The authorities send threatening letters and sometimes order start-ups to close their office for a few days. The companies that own the start-ups just want to avoid headaches and keep the money flowing.

I think this will force more Iranians than ever – especially talented women working in these startups – to migrate abroad.

The women we have been speaking to believe – or hope – that the protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death have changed Iranian society forever. But they say there is more to be done to remove the theocratic regime that governs their lives, and they will keep fighting.


Sar, a teenager influencer who’s one her video went viral and the she was arrested for days

Varia, the influencer, says:

For months I was preoccupied with the price we pay for these changes: People, teenagers and even children who have lost their lives. I wish all that spilt blood had made a bigger difference. But I think all that pain has led our society to where we are now.

This bloodshed has made the equation clear to everyone in Iran, I think: either we put an end to them or they put an end to us, there is no middle ground.

Sita is also optimistic about the future:

The war is not over yet, but so far we have won some battles. You can see by their actions that the regime is desperate; they are arresting singers, journalists, university professors. But I’m optimistic about the future of our country. I’m really focused on the present. What can I do? How can I help the protests to succeed?



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‘We don’t need a public holiday, we need more funding’: Politicians urged to match Matildas’ fervour with funding

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has told the Australian public to “watch this space” when it comes to more funding for women’s sport in the wake of the Matildas’ World Cup successes.

With much of the country swept up in football fever, pressure has been mounting on politicians to match platitudes with investment in the sport.

“We don’t need a public holiday, we need more funding,” Fitzroy Lions soccer coach Hayley Truskewycz told ABC’s Oliver Gordon for AM.

“We in fact have a waiting list, and we can’t find enough coaches. And we don’t have enough grounds, so we’re restricted by our resources and our facilities.”

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton this week pledged $250 million for grassroots women’s sport if the coalition wins government.

He wants the states to match that figure, bringing it to $500 million.

“We’ve still got young girls who are going to soccer games getting changed in the car or in the car park, which is completely unacceptable,” he told Today.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slammed the opposition’s credentials on funding women’s grassroots sports, pointing to the Morrison government’s sports rorts scandal.

“He sat in a cabinet that provided women’s sports programs to clubs that didn’t have women’s teams,” Mr Albanese told Sky News.

“Watch this space. We’ve been considering issues of sporting infrastructure and these issues for a long period of time.

“We’ll make an announcement at an appropriate time.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the Matildas v Lionesses semifinal.

Matildas captain Sam Kerr highlighted the call for more funding after the team’s loss to England’s Lionesses.

“We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding. We need funding everywhere,” she said.

“The comparison to other sports isn’t really good enough. And hopefully, this tournament changes that because that’s the legacy you leave — not what you do on the pitch. The legacy is what you do off the pitch.”

Chloe Logarzo, who plays for Western United in the A-League and competed with the Matildas in the last World Cup, said investment was needed in stadiums and training facilities from governments and sponsors. 

“We need people to be able to come to the games and help support us, because we don’t just want to let what happened in this last month slip away, we want to be able to capitalise on it,” she told ABC News 24. 

“Imagine what it could be like if we had the right investment, and where the national team could go — maybe win a World Cup and have an Olympic gold medal.”

Women earning a quarter of men’s World Cup prize money

Disparities between the men’s and women’s game are stark.

The men’s World Cup prize pool was $US440 million ($686 million). The women’s World Cup prize pool is a quarter of that, at $US110 million.

Sam Kerr running with hand in a fist.

Sam Kerr has joined the call for more funding for women’s soccer.(AP: Tertius Pickard)

In the Australian A-League, women are contracted for 35 weeks a year, compared to 52 weeks for men, giving female athletes a smaller pay packet.

Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Sarah Langman told 7.30 she was not paid for her first season playing with the A-League, and was paid just $1,200 in her second season. The minimum wage for players will be $25,000 for the upcoming season.

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Iranian parliament to consider law targeting ‘celebrities’ who defy hijab law

Under a new law under consideration in Iran, “celebrities” who defy the Islamic Republic’s hijab restrictions could find themselves facing confiscation of 10% of their total assets. The proposed bill is the latest effort by hardliners in the regime to suppress support for the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement, in which many Iranian actors, athletes and social media influencers have participated in one way or another.

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On July 23, Iranian media reported that the Islamic Republic’s parliament plans to debate a bill that would take action against the widespread opposition of Iranian women to the hijab requirement in Iran. Under current law in Iran, any woman who does not cover her head and her body in public faces up to 2 months in prison or a fine of up to 50,000 tomans (one euro). The bill proposes strengthening those maximum penalties for all women to 10 years in prison and 150 million tomans (€3,000, 30 times the monthly minimum wage). The minimum monthly wage in Iran is about €110.

The bill, submitted by the parliament’s research centre, contains a special provision for “celebrities”, allowing the government to confiscate up to 10 percent of their wealth, and banning them from working in their field. for 15 years. The bill’s use of the word “celebrities”, an anglicism commonly used in Iran, means it could be used against a wide range of people. 

 





The research center wrote in a memo regarding the bill: “These new measures will be preemptive. They will make it impossible for our enemies to use public arrests by police for their own propaganda purposes.”   

The protests were sparked in September 2022 when Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police known as “Garsht-e Ershad”. The unit halted their patrols soon afterward, but Iran’s police announced July 16 that patrols targeting “immoral clothing” had resumed. 

READ MORE: Morality police patrols return to Iran’s streets after 10 months

During the 10 months of protests, countless thousands of Iranian women have chosen to stop wearing hijab and go about their daily lives with their hair uncovered. They have been joined by numerous actors, musicians and athletes, who have appeared without headscarves at public appearances and on their social media accounts. Beauty and fashion influencers with large followings on Instagram and other social media have also abandoned the hijab.

This Iranian stylist specialised in hijabi fashion before the 2022-23 protests. She now poses with her hair uncovered. © Observers

Actress Taraneh Alidousti, who has appeared without a hijab in support of the protests, was arrested in December 2022, held for nearly three weeks, and ordered to pay a fine. She has reportedly been banned from Iran’s government film watchdog has threatened to ban films starring actresses who have removed their hijab in public.

“They can declare a ‘financial jihad’ against us, but it won’t work”

“Tarlan”, a well-known Iranian actress, spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers about the new bill in parliament. Like many other Iranian actresses, she has appeared on social media without hijab since the protests began. We are concealing her identity to protect her, and this article does not contain any images from her accounts.

I first heard about this bill when many of my followers on social media sent me links to the news. My first reaction was anger and a little bit of fear. But after a few seconds I honestly didn’t care. I’m not sure they will dare to actually pass the bill. While it’s being debated in parliament it will make Iranians even angrier: it’s targeting artists and personalities that people love and care about. 

“Tarlan” does not believe her fellow artists will be deterred by the prospect of financial penalties. 





 

There are women who have lost their lives on the streets: young beautiful souls like Nika [Shakarami], Kian [Pirfalak] and Hadis [Najafi]. Money is nothing compared with what they have sacrificed. And I think of fellow artists who have already paid the ultimate price for an artist because they supported this revolution: the price of being banned from practising their art as actresses, superstars like Taraneh Alidousti.

These are not just nice words I am uttering here. I really believe it: the anger and sadness is deep inside me, and many of my colleagues I have spoken to feel the same. On the other hand, I am not naive. I am sure that this will scare many of my colleagues, especially the younger ones who are starting out, who are not yet so well-known, who need to be seen and present.

I’m afraid the regime will use this bill as a sword to hold over the heads of artists to force them to do what the state wants them to do. It might, for example, put pressure on them to appear in state-funded propaganda films and series, and to support the regime’s ideology on their social media accounts. The regime has in the past arrested actors for arbitrary reasons such as drugs or an extramarital affair and forced them to do what they ask.

 





But we are not stupid. Some of our friends and I are thinking of solutions if this bill really becomes a law. We’re talking to our lawyers. There are already solutions being proposed to us, like transferring our assets overseas or to someone we trust in Iran. If we have no more assets, they’d have to confiscate ten percent of nothing!  They can declare a ‘financial jihad’ against us, but it won’t work. Iranians, especially women, have chosen their path, and nothing can be done to stop us.

Since Mahsa Amini’s death on September 16, 2022, more than 500 people have been killed by the security forces.

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Morality police patrols return to Iran’s streets after 10 months

Nearly 10 months after Iran’s so-called “morality police” disappeared from the streets during mass protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian police announced July 16 that they had resumed patrols targeting “immoral clothing.” Amateur videos and first-hand reports from our Observers in Iran indicate that the patrols had resumed in the days before the announcement. But with many Iranian women having gotten used to going out with their heads uncovered in recent months, it remains unclear whether the patrols will be able to stop them. 

Issued on:

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Amini, 22, was arrested by members of Iran’s Guidance Patrol on September 13, 2022 for allegedly not wearing a headscarf, and died three days later. Her death sparked months of mass protests that resulted in more than 500 deaths, thousands of injuries, and tens of thousands of demonstrators arrested.

The protests, under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” led many Iranian women to refuse to wear the Islamic hijab in public, defying Iran’s mandatory hijab laws. Guidance Patrol units stopped patrolling, and Iran’s regular police had to focus on breaking up the protests, not enforcing hijab rules.

Now the Iranian regime is cracking down.On July 16, Saeed Montazer Al-Mahdi, spokesman for the Iranian police, announced that the morality police would resume conducting morality patrols. “Following massive demand by several groups of people, and the urging of the president and the head of the judiciary to achieve a safer society and enforce family values, police patrols will, from today, alert persons wearing immoral clothing and, if they insist, report them to the courts.”

 


In this video posted on Twitter the man filming says the woman in black is an officer of Iran’s Gasht-e-Ershad morality police making an arrest in the Gisha neighbourhood of north Tehran on July 15, 2023.

 

Many Iranians on social media report seeing police conducting morality patrols on the streets in recent days. They have posted images showing women with their heads uncovered being stopped by women in black chadors accompanied by uniformed male police officers. Police vehicles are visible in the images, along with unmarked white vans. 

Most of the posts on social media report seeing the patrols merely order women to put on a headscarf, but there are also videos suggesting arrests are being made.

Montazer Al-Mahdi did not specifically mention the Guidance Patrol (known as Gasht-e-Ershad in Persian), and it was unclear whether the new patrols are being conducted by regular police or personnel from the religious police unit. Iran’s attorney general had announced in January that the Guidance Patrol was being disbanded, but it was denied by state media.

Iranian authorities have for months been using traffic-surveillance cameras to detect women drivers and passengers without hijabs, and using the vehicles’ licence plates to identify the women and summon them to court to pay fines.

 

“Young women aren’t afraid of arrest or fines”

Niusha [not her real name], an Iranian woman in Tehran who has refused to wear Islamic clothing in public places for more than a year, explains what is now happening on the streets of Iran:

“I go outside as I please, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. However, I have seen patrols of the morality police in several places in Tehran in the north and in the city centre, although I have not seen or heard of them arresting anyone yet.

I have seen their female officers in black chadors as usual. But now they are in white vans, whereas their vehicles used to be white and green [official colours of Iranian police vehicles].

On the other hand, I know many women who have been summoned to court. The Islamic Republic agents have reported them to the authorities for not wearing Islamic dress in public places and the women have been brought before a judge and are now waiting for their verdict.

 


The caption of this video posted on Twitter 17 July 2023 says it shows officers of Iran’s morality police checking women for hijab violations in the western city of Kermanshah.

And the number of threatening text messages to women drivers in cars has increased. Traffic cameras are used to check whether the women in the car are wearing an Islamic hijab or not, and if not, they send a text message and fine the car owner, sometimes impounding the car for a while.

And I don’t see Iranian women actually giving in to the pressure. The main force behind the protests  and most of the women you see without Islamic hijab  are young women and teenagers. I do not see any way the morality police are going to stop them. Young women aren’t afraid of arrest, fines, or parental pressure, or being deprived of their social rights. They’re not afraid of anything.

But middle-class families who have to go to work every day need their car, and some of them might fold. One of my friends, who has not once worn a headscarf in the last few months, put one in her car as a precaution.”

 


This video posted on Telegram shows Iranians in the city of Rasht protesting following the arrest of three women on 16 July 2023 for not wearing Islamic hijab on the street.

On July 17, media outlets close to the state claimed a judge in the Tehran province sentenced a woman to work in a morgue in Tehran for not wearing a headscarf in her car.

The Islamic Republic has once again set out to push back Iranian women with the help of police forces, but many political analysts call this latest act a shot in the Islamic Republic’s own knee.

This photo posted on Twitter on 15 July 2023 shows a suspected morality patrol by police in Tehran’s Valiasr Square. © @NR2OH

 

For the extremists, enforcing Islamic hijab is the last bastion before the regime’s collapse

Tara [not her real name] is a political analyst in Iran. She has been arrested several times for her criticism of the Islamic Republic. She is also one of the Iranian women refusing to comply with the Islamic dress code imposed by the mollahs in Tehran. She explains why, just two months before the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death and amid an unprecedented crumbling of legitimacy for the regime, the Islamic Republic is adding fuel to the fire after decades of economic, environmental, political, diplomatic and human rights crises.

“As far as I can tell, there is a struggle between different political factions in Iran. There are extremists, including Ahmad-Reza Radan, Iran’s newly appointed police chief, who want to reintroduce the morality police. They have the upper hand. But there are other blocs who, for whatever reason  maybe fear of more mass protests  disagree. Some hardline websites such as Tasnim News and Javan [two media outlets close to Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC] have denied the morality police are being redeployed, saying the amateur images showing such patrols are ‘fake’. 

For the extremists, enforcing Islamic hijab on the streets is critical, the last bastion before the regime’s collapse. It’s a way of showing that the regime is still in control.  That is why the hardliners have recently organised rallies by their supporters to protest the regime’s lack of initiative to enforce Sharia law in public spaces.

We should not forget that we are approaching the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death. Maybe they think that with such a strong presence on the streets they can stop people from marking this day in the coming weeks. But I think that will backfire on them in the end.”



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Femicide: Is Luxembourg failing its women?

Luxembourg has made huge progress in recent years to improve gender equality and tackle domestic violence. But when it comes to women being murdered by men some have raised concerns.

Diana Santos, a Portuguese woman in her 40s who had recently moved to Diekirch, Luxembourg, was found brutally murdered and dismembered in Mont-saint-Martin, across the French border in September last year.

Three weeks later, a 20-year-old woman was beaten to death with a hammer at a house in Luxembourg’s capital. 

In December 2022, the body of another Portuguese emigrée – 32-year-old Diana Martins Cachapa – was discovered “partially dismembered and mutilated” in her apartment in Bonnevoie. 

These horrific deaths sent shockwaves across Luxembourg, a country known for its tiny size, serene landscapes and wealth, boasting one of the largest GDP per capitas in the world. 

In other European countries, such murders can be deemed “femicides”. That’s the deliberate killing of a woman motivated by sex-based hate. 

Past cases have caused a reckoning among governments and members of the public, with officials trying to confront an epidemic of violence against women.

But not in Luxembourg. Here three women’s deaths were labelled as simple homicides and considered legally no different than any other murder in the country.

While femicide has become part of the mainstream debate around much of Europe, only two European countries currently recognise it as a crime in its own right – Cyprus and Malta.

Still, Luxembourg’s homicide rate is generally much lower than elsewhere in Europe. In 2021, it was 0.6 cases per 100,000 population, while in France the homicide rate was 1.35 per 100,000 people the year before. 

“From the perspective of other countries like France, there are not a lot of femicides in Luxembourg,” Emilie Chesné, a French reporter who researched the issue for the Luxembourg Times, told Euronews. 

“But for a country like Luxembourg, that it’s so small, it’s a lot.”

Surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of around 640,000. 

“In Luxembourg, we have normally about 1-2 femicides per year,” Andrée Birnbaum, a spokesperson for the domestic violence support group Femmes en Détresse said. “This seems not to be a big number, but it is more or less the same proportion as in France.”

In Luxembourg last year, 2,521 people were affected by physical violence, 2,374 by psychological violence, 150 victims of sexual domestic violence and 264 victims of economic violence – when a partner exerts control through finances – according to data from the government’s Equality Observatory. 

Two-thirds of those who suffered domestic violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner last year in Luxembourg were women.

Is Luxembourg ‘falling short’ when it comes to femicide?

“We are one of the only countries that have a Ministry for Equality,” Gabrielle Antar, a reporter for the Luxembourg Times who has worked with Chesné to bring the issue to the public’s attention, told Euronews.

“On a superficial level, it looks like we’re doing a lot. But when you look at the concrete issues, and what actually needs to be done to tackle them, that’s where you can see that Luxembourg falls short.”

Murders of women in Luxembourg are often interpreted by the media on a case-by-case basis instead of being seen as symptomatic of a wider phenomenon, Antar said.

Though some observers have started to talk about femicides, others have not. 

“It’s still a conversation that hasn’t really reached the mainstream yet,” added Antar. 

Luxembourg authorities have focused on tackling domestic violence instead – another problem growing in recent years – she continued. 

By establishing femicide as a crime in its own right, journalists Antar and Chesné said authorities could collect data on the phenomenon and take action to protect women better.

“The moment you recognise something you are able to collect data on that,” Antar said. “The data for violence against women except for domestic violence is almost nonexistent, even for femicide.” 

“It’s a shame that we see these cases as just women being murdered and not women being murdered because they’re women,” she added. 

Why recognise femicide as a separate crime?

UN Women estimates that globally 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2020.

Around 47,000 of them – 58 per cent – died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member.

Some women 2,600 were killed in Europe, according to UN data. “However, the number of victims is much higher as not all cases are recognised as femicides,” a spokesperson from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) added.

In its recent research on the issue, EIGE has identified the lack of legal recognition of femicide as one of the most important challenges.

“The experts we interviewed noted that recognising femicide as a separate criminal offence could bring numerous benefits,” the spokesperson said. “They pointed out that it could improve awareness raising, prevention and applying the law.”

Experts also mentioned that this change would contribute to making femicide visible and aid prevention by recognising gender-based violence and increasing reporting to the police by victims.

“What does not exist, is also not discussed,” a professional counsellor from Germany told EIGE. “Neither with the investigating authorities nor with the investigating procedures nor with the judges.”

Belgium has recently introduced new legislation which defines different types of femicide and puts focus on data collection.

Is Luxembourg going to recognise femicide as a crime?

At the moment, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not intend to recognise femicide as a crime. 

In a statement to Euronews, the Ministry of Justice said: “There are currently no plans to create a specific offence of this kind, given that the legal scope of such an offence would be considerably limited.”

Intentional assault and battery against an intimate partner is punishable by 6 months to 5 years imprisonment in Luxembourg. Meanwhile, murder is punishable by life imprisonment, “regardless of the gender of the victim,” the Ministry added. 

“The introduction of an offence of femicide would therefore have no legal impact, particularly in terms of sentencing,” it said. 

A new law introduced on 28 March this year adds discrimination as an aggravating circumstance for a crime, which the Ministry described as “the most effective way of taking femicide into account in law.” 

“This law will enable the courts to find that a person has been killed because of her sex or gender, which will result in an increase in the sentence for offences punishable by prison sentences other than life imprisonment, including assault and battery,” it explained.

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