Many Australian women are exercising in the wrong sports bra. Here’s how to get the right fit

Wearing a sports bra that fits well and is supportive sounds simple enough – but it’s still a major issue for many women.

And wearing the wrong bra is more than just uncomfortable — it can do serious damage.

“A bra that fits will anchor our boobs to our body,” says Tish Tily, co-founder and managing director of Melbourne-based sports bra specialty store She Science.

“And that is what helps to control our breast displacement when we’re being active. A bra that doesn’t fit can’t do that.”

Experts say getting a professional bra fitting is important.(Supplied: She Science)

Tily says everyday bras aren’t designed to support breasts during physical activity.

“And our boobs move significantly more and differently when we’re being active compared to when we’re lounging or sitting at a desk.

“So anybody that’s being active, needs a sports bra. And it’s not just bigger-busted ladies, smaller-breasted women can experience exercise-induced breast discomfort and more benefit from being supported.”

Wearing the right sports bra can help to reduce breast bounce and breast pain, increase comfort, and lead to better performance.

Tily’s top tips include:

  • Find a bra that fits — “If it does not fit you, it will not work”
  • Wear a band that is snug around the rib cage
  • See a specialist bra fitter that stocks a range of products in your size
  • Understand you may need different bras depending on whether the activity is high impact or lower intensity

More than half of elite athletes wearing the wrong bra size

While the ‘everyday’ woman struggles to find the right sports bra – it’s also a problem for elite athletes.

More than half of elite Australian female athletes have been found to wear the wrong bra size, including Melbourne Mavericks and England international netballer Eleanor Cardwell.

Netballer Eleanor Cardwell holds the ball and prepares to pass during a game.

Melbourne Mavericks goal shooter/goal attack Eleanor Cardwell has struggled to find a sports bra that fits well throughout her career. (AAP: James Ross)

“I got the cheapest bra that I could find and probably didn’t have enough money to invest in a good sports bra,” she told ABC Sport.

“[I was] definitely wearing the wrong size as well, I think I was wearing three sizes too small.

“And then coming to training and being in a lot of pain and warming up I’m holding my chest. Because it’s agony, just bouncing around everywhere.”

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US Supreme Court hears arguments in abortion pill case

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday did not appear ready to limit access to the abortion pill mifepristone, in a case that could have far-reaching implications for millions of American women and for scores of drugs regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

It’s the first abortion-related case the court has taken since a majority of the current justices struck down the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.

A group of anti-abortion doctors had asked the court to restrict access to mifepristone and to limit when in a pregnancy it could be used. 

Key moments from the arguments:

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 as a safe and effective way to end early pregnancies. Last year the pill was used in more than six in 10 of the abortions in the U.S.

The central argument of the conservative group challenging mifepristone is that the Food and Drug Administration overlooked serious problems with the drug when it eased restrictions on the drug, including making it available via mail in 2021. 

Erin Hawley, who represented the doctors suing the agency, argued the FDA “failed to consider or explain … its wholesale removal of safeguards” on the pill.

Read moreThe long and winding history of the war on abortion drugs

But the FDA has long argued its decision to drop in-person appointments to get mifepristone, among other requirements, came after 20 years of monitoring its safety. In that period the agency reviewed dozens of studies in thousands of women in which serious problems — including hospitalization — occurred less than 0.3% of the time.

Hawley pointed out that FDA’s own prescribing label mentions that 2.9% to 4.6% of women taking the drug go to the emergency room. But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar pointed to studies showing that half of women who go to the emergency room don’t get any treatment at all.

“Many women might go because they’re experiencing heavy bleeding, which mimics a miscarriage, and they might just need to know whether or not they’re having a complication, ” Prelogar said.

Because of the highly technical nature of reviewing drug data and research, courts have long deferred to FDA’s scientific judgements on safety and effectiveness.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pressed Hawley on the legal basis for second-guessing the agency’s regulators.

“So what deference do we owe them at all with respect to their assessment that these studies establish what it is that they say they do about safety and efficacy?”

Hawley ran into questions as she argued that a nationwide rule curtailing mifepristone use was needed. 

She was repeatedly interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who voiced objections to such sweeping injunctions.

The case “seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other federal government action,” said Gorsuch.

Normally when a court issues an injunction about a government policy it only applies to the individuals or groups in the case. But in recent years a growing number of justices on lower courts have issued “universal injunctions,” blocking federal regulations nationwide.

Gorsuch noted that there have been roughly 60 such rulings in the last four years.

Chief Justice John Roberts also seemed skeptical that a ruling reversing the FDA’s scientific judgments was necessary.

“Why can’t the court specify that this relief runs to precisely the parties before the court as opposed to looking to the agency in general and saying, ‘Agency, you can’t do this anywhere?’”

The Biden administration argued that the plaintiffs — a group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine — didn’t have the right to challenge the FDA’s actions on mifepristone. 

The doctors who brought the suit argued that they might have to treat emergency room patients who experience serious complications after taking the drug. 

But Prelogar told the court that the doctors don’t have to prescribe mifepristone and they can abstain from treating patients who have taken the pill if they oppose abortion.

“They don’t prescribe mifepristone,” Prelogar said. “They don’t take mifepristone, obviously. The FDA is not requiring them to do or refrain from doing anything. They aren’t required to treat women who take mifepristone.”

Justice Samuel Alito, however, repeatedly pressed the government on who did have the right to sue over FDA’s decisions. 

“Is there anybody who can sue and get a judicial ruling on whether what FDA did was lawful?” Alito, who wrote the 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, asked. 

Several justices pressed Hawley to provide real-life examples of doctors who oppose abortion being forced to treat patients who had suffered from abortion pill complications.

They also took issue with how many hypothetical problems Hawley raised in her argument against the FDA’s loosening of abortion pill restrictions.

“I don’t want to hypothesize,” Jackson said to Hawley, asking her to provide an example of a doctor who was unable to object to providing an abortion.

At one point, Justice Amy Coney Barrett also questioned an example one of the doctors provided of a colleague who had to perform a “dilation and curettage” procedure on a patient with complications. Barrett pointed out that those procedures are not just performed in cases of abortions but for miscarriages as well. 

Some of the justices also pointed out that doctors are already protected from performing abortions when they don’t want to by voicing conscience objection. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh raised that point early on: “Under federal law, no doctors can be forced against their consciences to perform or assist in an abortion, correct?”

For more than a century, the FDA has had sole authority over assessing the safety of drugs and approving their sale in the U.S.

The agency first approved mifepristone in 2000 following a four-year review, including detailed safety studies submitted by the French manufacturer. In 2016, FDA loosened restrictions on the drug to allow it to be prescribed up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and allowed nurses and other medical professionals to prescribe it. In 2021, the agency said the drug could be sent through the mail, doing away with a longstanding requirement that women to pick the drug up in person.

Jessica Ellsworth, an attorney representing the New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, asked the justices to consider how the case could upend the FDA’s decades-old system for regulating drugs, vaccines and other life-saving medicines.

“I think this court should think hard about the mischief it would invite if it allowed agencies to start taking action based on statutory responsibilities that Congress has assigned to other agencies,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s decision last year marked the first time a court had issued a decision to revoke approval of a drug FDA had deemed safe. An open letter signed by nearly 300 biotech and pharmaceutical company leaders last year slammed the ruling as undermining Congress’ delegated authority to the FDA to approve and regulate drugs. If justices can unilaterally overturn drug approvals, they said “any medicine is at risk.”

(AP) 

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‘I’m a bitch too’: Women in Iran launch hashtag against harassment by mullahs

At a hospital in the holy city of Qom, a young woman squats in a corner with a sick child in her arms. Her headscarf has slipped down to her shoulder revealing her hair, and a mullah is seen using his phone nearby. Surveillance video of the scene published on March 9 has caused a furore in Iran, with women angrily accusing the mullah of planning to denounce the mother for hijab violations on a special app created by the Islamic regime. Users supporting the regime have labelled the mother a “bitch”, and Iranian women in response have flooded social networks with the hashtag “I’m a bitch too”.

Issued on:

5 min

The video that emerged on social media was recorded by a surveillance camera in a hospital in Qom, one of Iran’s most religious cities.

An initial excerpt shows the mother squatting in a corner, her headscarf on her shoulders and her hair visible, as a mullah stands nearby using his phone. A second excerpt shows the mother angrily accusing the mullah of taking photographs of her and her sick child without permission. “Give me your phone, let me see the photo, delete it,” she tells him. Several other women, some wearing the Islamic hijab and some not, come to her aid, and one of them takes the mullah’s phone to check it.


A screenshot from the Qom hospital video published on March 9, 2024 shows a mother squatting with her hair uncovered as a mullah uses his phone nearby. Social media users suggest the mullah was using a government-supplied app to report the mother for hijab violations. © Observers

A year and a half after the “Woman Life Freedom” protests kicked off in September 2022, the reaction from women in Iran has been fierce. The videos have been seen hundreds of thousands of times on social networks, with comments suggesting the mullah was using a government-supplied app on his phone to report the mother for hijab violations. The app, known as “Nazer” (“watcher / informant” in Persian), is issued to government-vetted informers to allow them to report hijab violations to the authorities. Women who are reported receive “unveiling notifications” sent via text message, and in some cases receive punishments such as having their vehicle impounded.

 


In this March 9, 2024 post on Telegram Iranian women share extracts from a surveillance video at a hospital in Qom in which a mother is seen accusing a mullah of taking photographs of her with her sick child. The posters call the mullah a “dirty pig” who was using a government-supplied app to report her for hijab violations.

Pro-regime users accuse the mother of ‘bitchy behaviour’

On March 10, Qom’s chief prosecutor, Hasan Gahrib, also a mullah, announced his staunch support for the mullah in the video. “We are pursuing the disruptors of public order and the people involved in spreading the video footage on social media and the Persian opposition media abroad,” he said. The city’s Deputy Prosecutor Rohollah Moslemkhani told local media March 12 that four people had been arrested so far in connection with the dissemination of the video footage.

Pro-regime social media users placed the blame on the mother, with some accusing her of “bitchy behaviour,” using the Persian insult “saliteh,” for allowing her headscarf to fall as she tended to her child. 

Supporters of the “Woman Life Freedom” protests reacted by creating the hashtag “I’m a bitch too” to express their support for the mother. “The Woman Life Freedom revolution is alive,” one woman wrote on X. “It is unstoppable and is impacting our lives and culture at every opportunity. Sometimes we resist by taking off our scarves, sometimes by using words: #I’m_a_bitch_too.”

 


Another woman wrote: “#We_are_bitches, and to overthrow the perverted mullahs, we will get even bitchier.”

 

After the Qom hospital surveillance video was published by an opposition media outlet, some pro-regime social media accounts labelled the mother a “bitch”: “Well… what is clear in this video is the bitchy behaviour of this woman”.
After the Qom hospital surveillance video was published by an opposition media outlet, some pro-regime social media accounts labelled the mother a “bitch”: “Well… what is clear in this video is the bitchy behaviour of this woman”. © Observers

What was the mullah doing on his phone?

After the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in September 2022 and the massive protests that followed, the Islamic Republic changed its strategy. Street patrols by the morality police were halted, and the regime urged Iranian citizens to step in to help report women seen without a hijab in public.

The regime created websites, tiplines and an app for smartphones that allowed citizens to easily report women without a hijab to the police. Citizens downloading the Nazer app must register, be approved and undergo a brief training. Their reports are then used to fine or, in some cases, arrest the women reported.


This message posted on X March 10, 2024 mentions the possibility that the mullah at the Qom hospital was using an app provided to the confirmed agents of the regime “Nazer”. This app allows its users to tip off the authorities about women who do not abide by the hijab rules.

READ MORE  Iran’s hijab war continues with business shutdowns and surveillance cameras


Another confrontation between a mullah and a woman over the hijab in a metro in Tehran. The video was published on March 10, 2024. People come to support the woman.

 

‘If she’s a bitch, we are all bitches’

Asieh Amini is an Iranian women’s rights activist based in Norway. She explains the situation in Iran.

The Islamic Republic is trying to turn people against each other by assigning its followers to take action against people who do not think like them.

People got angry when they saw this video in which a mullah has actually become an informer.

Attacking this woman in Qom and calling her a “bitch” has led to a movement and a hashtag that says we are all bitches if defending her rights and fighting back made her a bitch in your eyes.

Insulting and humiliating women with words like “bitch” is like using a weapon to gain control over their bodies, their behaviour and their lives. Saying “OK, I’m a bitch too,” is a way for women to disarm the weapon.

The real story here is that the Islamic Republic did not arrest the mullah. They arrested the people who posted this video.

People’s reaction to issues like this related to the hijab and women have intensified since the “Woman Life Freedom” protests. 

The Islamic Republic may be disempowering protesters on the streets with killings, rapes, arrests and executions, but that does not mean the protests have stopped. These online campaigns or these kinds of reactions to this mullah are other forms of protest.

Since the “Woman Life Freedom” protest in Iran in 2022, the gender paradigm in Iran has generally changed. In a poll released last week in Tehran, less than 2 percent of people in Tehran support the oppression of people by the state over issues such as the hijab.

 

CORRECTION (13/3/2024): The original version of this article used the English “slut” as a translation for the Persian word “saliteh” being used in connection with the video of the incident at the hospital in Qom.  We have replaced the word “slut” by “bitch,” which is a more accurate translation in this context. While the Persian word “saliteh” is sometimes translated as “slut” or “loose woman” or “Jezebel” in English, in Iranian culture and literature it is also used as a general misogynistic term in a similar way to the English words “bitch” and “shrew”. 

 

 

 



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Do combat sports really measure up when it comes to women’s self-defen

“Developing self-defence skills means reclaiming autonomy, thus regaining control over one’s environment. We are no longer at the mercy of someone,” according to psychotraumatology psychologist, Julie Francols. But are combat sports effective when it comes to fending off an unexpected attack?

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More and more women are venturing into the world of self-defence and combat sports, a trend strongly supported by recent data. A report from the French government highlights an 11% rise in martial arts licences and a 51% surge in combat sports licences among women between 2012 and 2017. Despite these fields being male-dominated in 2017, with martial arts and combat sports having a female participation of 32% and 31% respectively, by 2022, a notable shift was observed. According to the French National Institute of Youth and Popular Education, in France in that year, the majority of Martial Arts licences were owned by women, accounting for 62% compared to 38% for men.

In Lyon, France, the organisation Renouveau Boxe helps women who have been the victims of domestic violence, by offering boxing training.

A participant of the class, who didn’t wish to be named, added: “This training allows us to regain self-confidence and to see ourselves as people. What it shows us is that we’re not alone in this situation. And actually, we’re not ashamed. Because, very often we feel responsible for what’s happening and ashamed of it. But being with others who have lived through the same thing means we understand each other and speak the same language.”

Samir Hamzaoui, an instructor and former high-level boxer, shared his inspiration: “I know what it is to take hits and to put myself in the shoes of someone who can’t defend themselves. That’s what led me to start this project.”

Delving deeper, what spurs some women’s interest in combat sports?

Julie Francols, a Psychotraumatology Psychologist, shed some light on this. “Experiencing an assault makes you feel robbed of something. The assailant unjustly takes control over you. However, developing self-defence skills means reclaiming autonomy and the ability to defend oneself, thus regaining control over one’s environment. We are no longer at the mercy of someone.” She further observed, “You can see it in people from the time they start the training to when they finish; their bodies express the change: they now exist in the world differently.”

How effective are these disciplines when it comes to preventing violence?

Christy Martin, a former boxing champion and survivor of domestic violence, weighed in on the issue. “Even though I was a boxing champion, I was physically and mentally abused by a man… He had threatened to kill me for 20 years, so I would push, but you only push so hard. It was not a match. Even though he was 20 years older, he was still stronger than me. So, physically, I was never going to be able to fight him and win. I mean, any time that he hit me, even if I pushed physically back, I just got hit harder. So, I was never going to win that physical altercation. And the truth is, I never won the emotional altercations, either.” On 23 November, 2010, Christy Marty was stabbed and shot by her husband. At the time, she was 42 years old and the welterweight champion credited with putting women’s boxing on the map.

Julie Francols told us it’s not simply a matter of knowing how to defend oneself: “When we are attacked, the first response, which is an automatic reflex by our autonomic nervous system, uses either attack, flight or freezing up. At that moment, the victim is paralysed”.

“To implement these self-defence techniques, there needs to be a few brief seconds that allow the person to regain control of the situation. It requires a lot of training for self-defence techniques to become automatic. However, at first there will always be these automatic, involuntary responses.”

Navigating trauma and expectations

Addressing a critical aspect of recovery, Julie Junquet, a consultant on issues of sexual and sexist violence and discrimination in sports, highlighted the challenges faced by survivors of violence: “I don’t see self-defence as a solution in the fight against sexual violence, and I find there’s even a message that can be guilt-inducing for these women who take classes, who tell themselves, ‘now I know how to defend myself’, if they face an assault in the future and unfortunately can’t reproduce the techniques they’ve learned. I find that can be somewhat guilt-inducing.”

Junquet also highlighted additional misconceptions about these training programs. “The societal messages are problematic. Don’t dress like that, don’t walk alone at night, learn to defend yourself; it’s always problematic. No, we don’t want to learn to defend ourselves; we just want not to be assaulted!

“We know that placing oneself in conditions of struggle, combat, or potential assault can trigger flashbacks of the real assault, trigger revivals, and there, it can trigger in the brain certain mechanisms that are quite dangerous. Placing oneself in a situation of assault is not trivial.”

Christy Martin cautioned against creating a false sense of invincibility: “You have to be careful with teaching self-defence, so that we don’t put a false belief out there, thinking ‘OK, I’m going to do this self-defence class, and then I’m always going to be able to fight off anybody that attacks me.’ That is not the case.”

So, how can this kind of training reach its fullest potential?

Christy Martin believes it’s not merely about the physical aspect but the self-belief the training instills. “It’s really not about the skills that you’re learning; it’s not about throwing a right hand, throwing a left hook. It’s about the confidence that learning those skills gives you, and that confidence helps you be stronger to stand up for yourself.”

She credits her boxing career for helping her survive the attack she was a victim of. “I think my boxing career gave me mental strength. Much more than it gave me physical strength. Mentally, it made me a fighter. And when I was laying on the floor after being shot and stabbed, I believed in me. I mentally thought ‘with the help of God, I can get up and get out’.”

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Is gender parity the key to economic prosperity? The IMF says ‘yes’

Why does the world need more women in the labour market and managerial positions? Kristalina Georgieva, the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director, shares her thoughts on the Global Conversation.

Research by the International Monetary Fund suggests that global GDP will increase when women are granted an equal playing field in the labour market and decision-making roles.

More specifically, reducing the gender gap in labour markets could boost GDP in emerging and developing economies by 8 per cent. Closing the gap entirely would increase GDP by 23 per cent on average.

But why is women’s empowerment essential for economic growth and development?

Underrepresentation in decision-making roles, particularly in politics, is a widespread issue. Statistically, women account for less than 25 per cent of representatives in parliament in seven EU member states including HungaryIreland and Greece

The European Parliament fares better with a gender balance of 40 per cent women to 60 per cent men. The leaders of the EP and the European Commission are also women while some of Europe’smost influential financial bodies, like the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank, have female presidents.

When it comes to climate change, the EIBdiscovered in 2022 that increasing the number of women in corporate decision-making roles could lead to a 0.5 per cent drop in CO2 emissions.

So how can Europe increase the number of women in positions of power to fast-track sustainable development and boost economic growth? Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the IMF shares her thoughts on the latest episode of the Global Conversation.

Europe still has work to do

**Sasha Vakulina, Euronews:**Ms Georgieva, two thirds of the world’s most prosperous countries in the world are in Europe, and yet income inequality is rife across the continent. How does inequality affect economic growth?

Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director: Growth and inequality are very tightly connected. But let me make a very important point for Europe: as a European, I’m proud that Europe is a place where attention to inclusion and equality has been relatively higher than in many other places. And as a result, Europe enjoys social safety nets, that were put to work after COVID-19, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to protect the most vulnerable people of society. 

Now, this being said, can Europe strive to do even better? Of course, it can. Because what we face in Europe and actually across the world is very anaemic growth, slow growth. How can we boost growth prospects? Well, by tapping into all the resources we have. And that takes us to a particular aspect of inequality, which is gender inequality. Bring women into the labour force, into the power of our societies and economies more, and we would tremendously benefit.

Sasha Vakulina, Euronews: Let’s let’s look at it in detail. With traditional growth engines sputtering, many economies, as you said, are missing out, by not tapping into women’s potential. Now, how much are we missing out on?

Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director: Well, we are missing a lot. Unfortunately, based on the most recent World Bank analysis, there is not a single country on our beautiful planet where women are fully equal to men. So we have a work to do. And I can say from the analysis we do at the IMF, that the evidence is so overwhelming that everybody benefits. 

In these days of slow growth, we can get up to a 23 per cent increase in GDP if we take in the emerging markets and developing economies. Looking at the global average, it is a 20 per cent increase. Why wouldn’t we want to do it, all of us?

Mind the gap

Sasha Vakulina, Euronews: Well, as you said, why not tap into that potential? We understand the stats, they are shocking, we know the reasons, and we know the possible benefits. How else can we push to make that happen?

Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director: The way to push is to have a credible data-based policy foundation. There is a very important ‘closing the data gaps initiative’ that the G20 has promoted. Part of it is to have credible data on the distribution of income, on what we should know when we make decisions as to how to eliminate these barriers. 

We know that tax policies can help, we know that investment in early childcare can help, and we know that safe transportation can help so that women are not afraid to get on a bus or the metro. And we also know that how women are treated by the financial system can help, when women have access to finance on equal footing and they still don’t.

A small story from Brussels

Sasha Vakulina, Euronews: Ms Georgieva, despite significant progress in recent decades on the current pace of reforms, global gender gaps are estimated to close over the next three centuries. I’ll repeat that: three centuries! And one of the most important measures to improve the situation is increasing women’s representation in decision-making positions. This is something that you’ve got a lot to share about. How thorny was your path and what’s your take on that?

Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director: Well, I, started, my professional career as a young professor in Bulgaria. And, from the early days, one thing was clear to me: to be treated as equal, I have to work harder than my male colleagues. And I regret to say that has remained my experience almost throughout my whole professional life. So what I can tell women, young women in particular, is, despite that, there may be obstacles, but:

1.  You can do it. You’re strong, you’re smart. You’re beautiful. You can step forward for yourself but also contribute to society by doing so. 

2.  When you do it – and that is a very important lesson I learned personally, and I saw it time and again in my professional life – believe in yourself. Do not hesitate to present your credentials with confidence. 

When I was vice president for Human Resources we had a very important target to increase the proportion of women in senior positions to 40 per cent. And I can say the Commission did a great job but one thing that I noticed was we had two finalists, a man and a woman. They were interviewed and assessed against five criteria and had some strengths and weaknesses. They covered three of the five and less of the other two. 

How did the man approach the interview? He said: “Look, I covered the most important three criteria in full, and I’m bringing my fantastic personality to the job. Of course, I’m the best person for the job”.

 How did the woman interview? She said: “Well, I only covered three of the criteria, I don’t know, maybe there is somebody better than me”.

 Don’t do that. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should others believe in you? And I would also say to women: work with other women. There is strength in a critical mass. I see it everywhere. 

I see it at the Fund (IMF), I saw it at the World Bank, at the European Commission, when we have more women around the table, you can feel the energy in the room, and we make better decisions because we can provide different perspectives in those conversations.

So, step forward for yourself, for girls and women, for boys and men. Do your part for society!

For Sasha’s full report click on the video in the media player above

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Iran cyber police target ‘un-Islamic’ stores on Instagram

Authorities in Iran are cracking down on small businesses that sell “un-Islamic” clothing and other products on social media, notably Instagram. Owners of Instagram businesses say they have been contacted by the Islamic Republic’s cyber police, who take control of their pages, replacing images of their products with messages saying the pages have been closed for reasons of “#IslamicHijab” or that, “According to a court order, this page has been shut down”.

Issued on: Modified:

5 min

While Iran’s notorious “morality police” have kept a low profile since the eruption of the “Woman Life, Freedom” protests in September 2022, the Islamic Republic’s cyber police have stepped in online, imposing their brand of “morality” on small businesses that rely on social media – many of them owned by women.

Iran’s cyber police, known as FATA, are responsible for monitoring illegal online activity such as child pornography, fraud, and drug and weapon sales. But in recent months they appear to have another priority: targeting small businesses on social media. While networks such as Facebook, Instagram, X, Whatsapp and Telegram have been blocked in Iran for years, millions of Iranian users use VPNs to bypass the censorship.

Clothing and lingerie designers, tattoo artists, massage therapists, tour guides, make-up artists … the businesses that are targeted promote what is perceived as a Western lifestyle, often with photos that violate Iran’s practice of Sharia law. Women appear on lingerie and fashion pages without Islamic hijab, their hair and arms visible. Women and men are seen touching each other on pages that promote tattooing or massages.

Their pages are taken over by the cyber police, and the content is replaced by an announcement: “This page has been closed by the Police for the Sphere of the Production and Exchange of information,” the official name of the FATA cyber police. Businesses that have spent years accumulating thousands of followers see their work and livelihood put on hold.


Despite the pressure from the Islamic regime in Iran on the small fashion designers who sell their products on Instagram, many of them continue their work under fear, as our Observer confirms. The photos have been blurred and modified by FRANCE 24 to ensure the security of the pages. © Observers

The online businesses’ motivations are usually economic, not political. Their owners cannot live without the income they earn from selling their products on social media, especially Instagram. According to a survey published in 2022, there are more than 415,000 small businesses on Instagram in Iran. The jobs of more than 1 million Iranians are directly and indirectly linked to these small businesses on Instagram.

This ceramics manufacturer, which sells its products on Instagram, removed these photos and ceased production of some of its items after Iran's cyber police FATA started targeting online businesses selling products deemed un-Islamic.
This ceramics manufacturer, which sells its products on Instagram, removed these photos and ceased production of some of its items after Iran’s cyber police FATA started targeting online businesses selling products deemed un-Islamic. © Observers

Pages that promote tattooing and massages are regular targets of Iran’s cyber police. However there are hundreds of tattoo artists and masseurs who are active on Instagram.
Pages that promote tattooing and massages are regular targets of Iran’s cyber police. However there are hundreds of tattoo artists and masseurs who are active on Instagram. © Observers

Another page closed by the police, where the police did not hesitate to also remove the bio and put a new hashtag in the bio: “#IslamicHijab”
Another page closed by the police, where the police did not hesitate to also remove the bio and put a new hashtag in the bio: “#IslamicHijab” © Observers

 

‘I am not going to change my lifestyle out of fear’

 

Tina [not her real name] is a small business owner in Iran. Her sales are solely dependent on her Instagram page. She designs and produces women’s clothes, including underwear, and her page features images that show female models with bare shoulders, arms and midriffs, in violation of Iran’s restrictive Islamic hijab rules. While Tina’s Instagram page has not yet been targeted by the police, she is concerned because many of her friends and colleagues with small businesses on Instagram have been ordered to close.

 

I have been running this page for about a year. My only source of income is my clothing, which I sell on my Instagram page. I also try to sell my stuff on Amazon, but it’s very complicated in Iran because we are under an international embargo.

I have several friends whose pages have been closed by the police. They have received either a text message or a phone call, in some cases even via their Instagram messages, asking them to go to the police. The police ask for their password, change the password, then delete all their content and replace it with a single post saying the page was shut down by the police.

In some cases, my friends were lucky that the police only asked them to delete certain photos and they were able to keep their page. I also have some other friends who have ended up in court and are awaiting trial.

This is so much stress that I don’t even want to think about it. My friends always warn me to be careful, but I just refuse to think about it.

I could do business differently, present my products differently. But firstly it would reduce my turnover. And secondly, why should I do that? I am not going to change my lifestyle out of fear of the regime.

Even if they close my page, if they delete my content, I will create a new page.

They can force me to sell my products without photos and videos of models on my page, but I will also make another anonymous page, with models. I will not give up.

What I do is completely normal. It’s the demands of the Islamic Republic that are abnormal.

I also have a personal battle to fight. My family is not very open-minded and they are not happy with what I am doing. They are not religious, but they are conservative. They have changed a lot in recent years, especially after the “Woman Life Freedom” movement, but they still don’t like it when their daughter publishes her photos in revealing clothes that I make to sell.

I don’t want to fight, I’m not an activist, but I will not change my lifestyle, the way I want to live, unless I am forced to. When you live in a country like Iran, you get used to always living in fear and threat, but we have to live our lives. That’s the way it is. 

 

In a further attack on the freedom of social media in Iran, Mohammad Mahdi Esmaili, the Iranian minister of culture, announced on January 31 that “all bloggers with more than 5,000 followers must apply for permission to continue working”.

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‘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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