How many more years will Afghan girls lose to Taliban oppression?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Afghanistan has dropped off the news agenda, but the violence and oppression continue — and for too many of us Afghan women, no matter how loud we shout, it feels like the world has stopped listening, Meetra Qutb writes.


Earlier in March, Afghan teenage girls should have been going back to school, marking the beginning of a new academic year. 

In most other countries, girls of 11 or 12 years of age would be preparing to begin their secondary education.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, female education ends at grade six.

I know full well how it feels to live in fear and uncertainty. My first encounter with the Taliban was back in 1996 when I saw two women whipped on their feet for not covering their faces.

I was five years old and had become one of the millions of girls deprived of their education during the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

I was one of the “lucky” ones, however — I was home-schooled and attended a secret school for girls in Kabul. 

But the fear of getting caught followed us everywhere, especially as we travelled to and from our classes. My classmates and I would hide our schoolbooks in cloths used to cover the Qur’an.

Two years ago, I watched in horror in March 2022 as the Taliban U-turned on their promise to reopen girls’ secondary schools — a ban that is estimated to affect over 1 million girls. I saw girls break down in tears in front of news cameras. 

It was a pain that felt personal to me.

A vortex women are stuck in

Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, girls have been banned from secondary school for over 900 days — a shocking figure when we consider the effects of school closures on children globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just think of how Afghan girls have been impacted — not only have they lost the opportunity to progress academically, but they’re missing vital opportunities to socialise, develop friendships, and grow as individuals during the formative years of their lives.

Health experts have expressed concerns over the impacts on girls’ mental health, with surging cases of depression and anxiety, and near-daily reports of female suicides.

Here at Afghan Witness, a project run by the Centre for Information Resilience, we’ve been speaking to women and girls since the Taliban’s takeover. Their sobering accounts reveal how it feels to be deprived of the most basic of human rights.

Sofia*, a university student, described the current situation as a vortex: “the women and girls of Afghanistan are stuck in it. No one can even shake their foot from it. All their dreams and goals are outside”, she said.

Gawhar*, a high school student before the ban, told us: “I wanted to become a journalist in a local media agency. A fellow female classmate wanted to become a doctor — unfortunately, all of us became hopeless.”

Edicts as a means of oppression

Since their takeover, the Taliban have issued 80 edicts in total — 54 of which specifically target women and girls, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Among them are requirements for women to be accompanied by a male guardian when travelling over 72 kilometres and to cover their faces in public.

These edicts have strengthened male family members’ control over women’s behaviour and clothing and could potentially pave the way for more inter-familial violence, thanks to a culture of impunity that thrives under the group’s rule.

There are also very real economic consequences to restrictions on women’s work and education. The talent and opportunity lost will impact not only individuals but Afghanistan as a country. 


There’s already been an exodus of professionals, and, with half of the population deprived of higher education, sectors such as health, justice and education are destined to suffer.

But make no mistake: the women who have studied and become lawyers, journalists, teachers or doctors over the last twenty years refuse to give up their livelihoods so easily.

Some have taken to the streets in protest, and when their protests were met with suppression and violence, they took their campaigns online. They have shared videos of indoor demonstrations, coined hashtags, campaigned for the release of those in detention, and used theatre, music and dance to tell stories of Taliban brutality.

Do not underestimate Afghan women — but do protect them

The ability of Afghan women to adapt should not be understated. 

Many have poured their time into advocacy, while others have set up secret schools or online classes. Those who managed to leave Afghanistan have worked tirelessly to tell the stories of those who remain, establishing women-led newsrooms that operate in exile to ensure Afghanistan is not forgotten.


And while the resilience, strength and creativity of these women offer a glimmer of hope in the darkness — the reality is that being a woman in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan means living in fear and uncertainty.

In January, reports emerged that a number of girls and women had been arrested for non-compliance with the Taliban’s hijab rules. 

Suicide cases among women in Afghanistan appear to rise year on year and are possibly linked to domestic violence, forced marriage, and the group’s restrictions. Reports of femicide are also frequently recorded by our investigators at Afghan Witness, with family members, Taliban, and unknown individuals often cited as perpetrators.

Afghanistan has dropped off the news agenda, but the violence and oppression continues — and for too many of us Afghan women, no matter how loud we shout, it feels like the world has stopped listening.

Meetra Qutb is the Relationship Manager and Communications Specialist at the Centre for Information Resilience’s Afghan Witness project. She previously worked as an associate lecturer at Kabul University’s law and political science faculty and is an independent researcher and commentator on human rights and politics in Afghanistan.


At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

*Names have been changed by Afghan Witness to protect the women who chose to speak out from repercussions by the Taliban.

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This Ramadan, Muslim world can end gender apartheid in Afghanistan

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The Taliban’s authority hinges on their purported adherence to Islamic law. However, that is based on a fundamentally flawed, selective and extreme interpretation of Islamic texts, meaning their policies are against their own stated principles, Dr Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al Issa writes.


Since the Taliban re-took power in Afghanistan in 2021, “women (have been) banned from gyms, public spaces, schools, university, and from most jobs.” They have marginalized Afghan women, hurting Afghan society in the process.

But now, a groundbreaking gathering last week reveals another uncomfortable truth for an already embattled government: the Taliban had little hope of engaging with the non-Islamic world. But they’re also fast losing confidence in the Muslim world, too.

Last week, during our most sacred month of Ramadan, and in our most sacred city of Mecca, we at the Muslim World League convened hundreds of the world’s leading Muslim scholars from all sects and denominations.

This historic gathering was a return to a venerable Muslim practice called ijma’ (consensus), and over two days, leaders representing the rich diversity of Islam took a defiant stand against sectarianism and condemned all practices that fail to represent true Islam.

This includes the Taliban’s ongoing mistreatment of women.

The Taliban’s estrangement keeps growing

The Taliban have long defended their gender restrictions like preventing women from accessing education, through Islam. 

However, hundreds of leading Islamic leaders forcefully rebutting such claims radically undermines their justifications, including the Taliban’s “inclusive Islamic Emirate”.

Our feelings towards the Taliban were clearly indicated in one of the articles of the Charter on Building Bridges Between the Islamic Schools of Thought and Sects, which underlined the importance of the family unit, access to education, and the protection of women’s rights.

In fact, all Islamic nations follow principles that the Taliban’s ideologies starkly deviate from. Contrary to the Taliban’s claims of facing opposition only from political figures, the reality is drastically different. 

The fact that senior Afghan scholars attended the conference in Mecca and opposed the Taliban’s stance highlights the group’s growing estrangement from mainstream Islamic teachings.

This is why the Taliban must realign with the broader principles of Islam to avoid further isolation as extremists within the Islamic community.

This acute gender apartheid is still apartheid. What they dismiss as malign Western constructs is actually deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, values, and history.

No one has the right to take away women’s right to learn

The Qur’an and hadith, the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, make this clear. In the Qur’an, God describes human beings as rational, and nowhere in the Islamic tradition is the capacity for reason gendered. 

The Qur’an not only describes women as the religious equals of men, but men and women as partners and protectors for one another. Not only that, but the Qur’an condemns discrimination against women once rampant in Arabia.

One of the reasons the Qur’an calls on “believing men and believing women” is to make clear that men and women have the same fundamental moral standing, the same essential moral rights, and the same basic moral responsibilities. 

In fact, there is a well-known hadith in which the blessed Prophet Muhammad describes “seeking knowledge” as an obligation “for every Muslim,” which has always been taken to mean Muslim men and Muslim women.

Most intriguingly, the expression in Arabic, “talab al-‘ilm,” or “seeking knowledge,” is the root of the word Taliban. The origins of the movement’s name belie their own claims. 

Learning is a responsibility we owe to God, which means it is a right no government can abrogate. 


And it is an argument no Muslim can easily overlook, which is why we sought this ijma’, or consensus, in Mecca, following a long Muslim practice of seeking unanimity on core questions.

The Taliban can’t dismiss our call

Throughout Islamic history, in fact, whenever we have faced new threats or the recurrence of religious distortions, Muslim scholars have come together to reaffirm our core commitments, even across our sectarian differences.

In Mecca, we followed that tradition once more. And the Taliban are no doubt paying attention.

While the West issues critiques of the Taliban’s excesses in a language unfamiliar to them, the Taliban cannot so easily dismiss our call. 

The sheer number and diversity of Muslim scholars, from different parts of the world and different perspectives within Islam, undermines the Taliban’s claim to authority. 


For these Muslim scholars are declaring their unanimous commitment to the place of women in religious life, including the right to education, work, worship, and movement.

The Taliban’s authority hinges on their purported adherence to Islamic law. But in this instance, their adherence is based on a fundamentally flawed, selective and extreme interpretation of Islamic texts, meaning their policies are against their own stated principles. 

The collective declaration by scholars in Mecca underscores a commitment to reclaiming the essence of Islamic teachings — promoting a vision of Islam that champions the rights and dignity of all individuals, especially women, who have been disproportionately affected by the Taliban’s rule.

Aligning with Islamic principles would be true to our shared faith

This is as substantive a rebuke as possible. The Islamic Emirate is already isolated on the international stage, confronts neighbours like Pakistan, and now faces a lack of confidence from the Muslim world.

But it is not only a rebuke. For the interests of Afghanistan, and especially Afghan women, the Taliban should know we — the Muslim scholars from various global schools of thought and sects — are keen to work with them to align their policies with Islamic principles. 


That would of course be in their interest. It would also be true to our shared faith.

The virtues we call for are not the property of the West nor restricted to any one part of the world. 

The values we are calling the Taliban to follow are not imitations of Western culture but come from our sacred texts and traditions. 

This is why we close with the first verse of the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, named simply, “Women,” which commands believers “to remember God, who created you from one soul, and from that soul a partner, and spread forth from those two many men and many women.”

Dr Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al Issa is the Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), the world’s largest Islamic NGO.


At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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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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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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French cinema has its #MeToo moment, sparking growing need for intimacy coordinators

A cascade of sexual violence allegations has rocked the French film industry in recent months, with actor Judith Godrèche leading the charge for a reckoning about gender-based abuse. Calls to safeguard actors on set are growing, as is the need for intimacy coordinators – a job that is yet to be officially recognised in France.

For the first time in history, an actor spoke to MPs in the French upper house of parliament about sexual violence and gender-based abuse in the film industry last week.

Addressing the Senate’s women’s rights committee, actor Judith Godrèche called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into gender-based violence and reprehended the “incestuous family” that is French cinema.

The actor-turned-filmmaker has become a bellwether for France’s #MeToo movement. She recently accused two filmmakers, Benoît Jacquot and Jacques Doillon, of sexually assaulting her as a teenager. Both men have denied the allegations.

In her speech, Godrèche also urged for a “more effective system of control” that would include a “neutral advisor” in shoots involving minors and an intimacy coordinator for sex scenes.

Her words have all the more clout given that there are only four intimacy coordinators currently working in the whole of France.

Breaking power dynamics

Ten years ago, intimacy coordinators were practically unheard of. Although theatre productions have used “intimacy choreographers” in the past, the job of “coordinator” got its first big break in the US in 2017, when a catalogue of sexual violence cases in the film industry were brought to light by the #MeToo movement.

Actors began demanding professional safeguards for their well-being on set and pushed for better regulation of intimate scenes, not only to ensure full consent but also to provide accountability in cases of gender-based violence.

Read more‘Wind of revolt’ sweeps French cinema in belated #MeToo reckoning

“In a 2017 TV series called The Deuce, one of the actors decided she needed more help discussing her boundaries and wanted more support when shooting intimate scenes. So on season two, HBO hired an intimacy coordinator,” says Paloma Garcia Martens, one of the few intimacy coordinators working in France. “And then it kind of spread.”

For scenes involving nudity, simulated sexual acts, sexual violence or assault, or any other form of sexual activity from kissing to fondling – intimacy coordinators act as mediators between the actors and the director.

Much like stunt coordinators, their role is to make sure actors are safe throughout the filming process and that scenes look believable. They act as “neutral advisors”, to use Godrèche’s words, and find a middle ground between in a relationship that is often fraught with power dynamics.

“Filmmakers sometimes have a way of directing actors that is a little violent,” says Pedro Labaig, a first assistant director based in Paris. He says that since intimacy coordinators are so uncommon in French film productions, it is often up to assistant directors to ensure the well-being of everyone on set.

“There have been times I’ve had to intervene and reassure the actors that I’m here, that they’re allowed to speak to the director and that it’s OK to tell them they need to do things differently,” he says. “It’s complicated though. The director is the artist and nobody wants to boss the artist around. But I can, to a certain extent.”

Once intimacy coordinators receive a script, they begin by clarifying the details of intimate scenes with the director. “Screenplays can often have vague phrases like ‘they make love passionately’,” says Marine Longuet, an assistant director and member of the feminist collective 50/50, which combats sexism in French cinema.

“Intimacy coordinators will ask the director what they mean by that phrase. Will the actor be naked? Will they be under a duvet? Do they kiss? Are their bodies covered in sweat? They help directors be more precise … And ensure that actors know exactly what they’ve signed up for,” says Longuet.  

They also work with the cast to define boundaries before scenes are rehearsed, carefully creating a safe space and open dialogue to ensure consent is given throughout the filming process.

“There is such a prevalence of trauma around sex … Most actors I’ve worked with have told me horror stories of intimate things that went wrong on set at some point in their lives,” Martens explains. “Very often, they are put in positions where they have to improvise or they haven’t had the time to go over [what their] boundaries [are]. They never even thought that they could actually consider their own boundaries. And they end up in situations that, although most people are well-meaning, lead to harm.”

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

While filming, intimacy coordinators stay on set. If an actor changes their mind about a detail in a scene or begins to feel uncomfortable, they can flag this to the coordinator. And if a director wants to change something previously agreed upon, they must go through the coordinator and get approval from the actors before doing so.

“Mostly, it’s all about communication … If at one point the director’s idea isn’t aligned with someone’s boundaries, then we workshop solutions,” says Martens. “We connect with all the different departments [to inform them of boundaries], including costume and make-up to find ways of hiding specific body parts for example, and create closed set protocols to define which essential personnel is allowed during intimate scenes and who is allowed access to monitors, these kinds of things.”  

In the US and the UK, intimacy coordinators are much more prevalent than in France. The profession is widely recognised and regulated. US TV network HBO has required their presence on all of their productions with intimate scenes since 2018, a decision which helped popularise the job.

The US Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) published guidelines for intimacy coordinators in January 2020. And Directors UK, an organisation representing UK screen directors, published a quick guide in 2019.

To date, there are no official guidelines for intimacy coordinators in France. Nor is there an official training course for people to become certified intimacy coordinators.

A budding profession in France

According to a study published by the French National Joint Employment and Training Committee (CPNEF) in December 2023, there are only four intimacy coordinators in the whole of France, compared to 80 in the US.

All intimacy coordinators in France are women, but male intimacy coordinators do exist. David Thackeray from the UK worked on the fourth season of the TV series Sex Education, for example. 

The CPNEF recommends those interested in working as intimacy coordinators to go through SAG-AFTRA for vetted training courses, which all take place in English. The committee says it is currently working on creating a certified training course to encourage more people to take up the profession.

“I’m seeing more and more people who claim to be intimacy coordinators,” says Longuet worriedly. She fears that without proper training, self-defined intimacy coordinators could make matters worse. “We shouldn’t be adding to the risk.”

As of January 2025, the CPNEF plans on training six people a year to become intimacy coordinators.

“This job does not yet exist in France and is currently being defined in order to determine appropriate training,” the French organisation for assistant directors in fiction AFAR wrote on its website in 2020. “The director’s team is currently responsible for ensuring that ‘intimate’ scenes run smoothly.”

Although Martens works on French film productions, she was trained abroad. “I did several training courses in the US and Canada, and right now I’m in the process of updating my certification with Principal Intimacy Professionals,” Martens explains.

There is no requirement for intimacy coordinators on French film sets. Directors or production companies decide for themselves whether or not scenes in a film warrant their presence.

“Sometimes stunt coordinators are called on set for no reason. But I have never come across an intimacy coordinator,” says Labaig.

In the absence of regulations, it is up to the employer to protect the health and well-being of workers. Since producers or a production company are usually considered the employer on film sets, they must implement the appropriate prevention, information and training measures and see that what happens during working hours is in line with the French Labour Code.

Film actors and crews can also turn to “harassment officers” in cases of sexual assault.

“Harassment officers” are in charge of taking on and handling cases of gender-based violence.

According to the French Labour Code, it is mandatory for French companies with more than 250 employers to have a harassment officer, and each officer has to undergo mandatory training.

“Harassment officers are crew members who, on top of their job on set, are there to provide resources in case something happens. But until recently, they have rarely been mentioned, because productions often didn’t have human resources managers,” says Longuet. “Their role is to flag whenever a labour law has been breached and if they see any violence on set, they have a duty to report it.”

“But unlike intimacy coordinators, they are responsible for the entire team. Intimacy coordinators have a very specific role minding the relationship between directors and actors,” she says.

The tide is turning

Longuet explains the lack of intimacy coordinators in France as being twofold. Directors are afraid of losing autonomy, and France has a vision of cinema as a sacred artform rather than an industry.

“Directors often imagine intimacy coordinators to be some kind of moral police,” says Longuet. “And since it can take four, five, six years to make a film … it is so precious to them – they can be afraid that an intimacy coordinator will rob them of something.”

But for Longuet, this is simply a misconception of what the job actually entails. “When we see intimacy coordinators at work, it is clear that they don’t direct scenes. They prepare them.”

Then there is a broader cultural understanding of what cinema is. Longuet explains that in the US, cinema has always been seen as an industry. And where there is an industry, there are protocols. “In France, we have a different model. Since the New Wave, we have prioritised auteur cinema. The auteur is the director, and the director always has the final say, which is not always the case in the US or UK. The auteur writes, directs and generally isn’t asked to share their thoughts on the mise en scène (production),” she says.

“It’s as though directors have some kind of exclusive territory.”

Martens also mentions the fact that the US, Canada and the UK have very powerful actor’s unions. In France, “actors don’t have a lot of power, and a lot of times their agents don’t even support them because they are just chasing the next check”, she explains.

Although intimacy coordinators have yet to become an integral part of French film productions, the industry is seeing a monumental shift in behaviour. More and more women like Godrèche are speaking out about the inherent sexism and abuse they face working in cinema, paving the road for some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Of course, gender-based violence is still rampant, but both in my work with 50/50 and as an assistant director, I try to work from a perspective of solidarity and sisterhood. To me, that’s eminently precious,” says Longuet.

“When I meet colleagues on set, I feel a newfound sense of solidarity. Even if everything seems to be exploding around us, I am seeing change. I see kindness and goodwill around me. And that’s something to celebrate.”

The tide is turning for France’s handful of intimacy coordinators as well. “I’m getting a lot more calls from production companies,” Martens beams.

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Why it’s urgent that we fight for reproductive rights in Europe

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

On this International Women’s Day, we the citizens of Europe have a chance to let our voices be heard. We demand the protection of women’s rights today and into the future, Nika Kovač writes.


Marta, Anna, Jusyna, Beata, Iza, Joanna, Izabela, Alicija, Dorota. These are just some of the names of women who have died in Poland due to an almost total ban on abortion. 

This ban has a devastating impact on many women and their families. And yet, Poland was one of the first European countries to introduce legal rights to abortion back in 1932.

This striking turnaround didn’t happen overnight. It happened gradually, starting in the 1990s, and by 2020 an almost total ban was passed by the Constitutional Court in a decision that is generally perceived as politically motivated and is in discord with the majority of Polish people who support abortion in all or most circumstances.

It shows how quickly reproductive rights can be threatened, and that every generation needs to fight for them all over again.

Around the world, women’s control of their bodies is being undermined. The decision by the US Supreme Court in June 2022 to overturn the rights afforded women by Roe vs Wade was a seismic shift but elsewhere, away from the glare of publicity, reproductive rights are threatened by attacks that are more subtle – but just as insidious.

The UK has seen a sharp increase in prosecutions of women for suspected illegal abortions, with as many women convicted in the 18 months to February as in the previous 55 years.

While countries such as Poland have taken legislative and other steps to significantly reduce women’s rights, a number of others still regulate abortion primarily through their penal or criminal codes. 

This prioritises rules around what can and can’t be done legally, potentially putting women and those who assist them, at risk of committing criminal offences, rather than treating abortion like all other medical services, which are focused on meeting an individual’s healthcare needs.

Many EU countries restrict access through economic and practical hurdles, including highly restrictive timeframes to access abortion, obligatory non-medical steps such as counselling and waiting times, and financial requirements, eg excluding abortion from insurance and free healthcare provision. 

After Roe v Wade was overturned, the European Parliament reacted to the situation by MEPs passing a resolution in 2022 calling for the European Council to enshrine “the right to safe and legal abortion” in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

But this resolution and other statements by visible EU functionaries didn’t lead to much concrete action.

We’re putting women’s lives at risk

Abortion laws in Poland and Malta remain the strictest, in addition, many countries still have provisions in place that make access for women very difficult. 

Germany and Belgium, for example, require medically unnecessary procedures, such as counselling and a waiting period, before abortion can be accessed. 

In Italy, women struggle to find doctors willing to carry out abortions due to laws that provide for a “conscientious objector” status, which has been adopted by around two-thirds of doctors. 

In Spain, where conscientious objection among physicians is also high in some regions, women are often forced to travel long distances in search of a doctor who will carry out the procedure they need. 

Although abortion is possible within the first three months of pregnancy in Austria, it is not covered by health insurance, leaving women to cover the €300 to €1,000 themselves.

These provisions disproportionately disadvantage women with limited resources, and those in difficult circumstances, for example, young women or people with pre-existing or pregnancy-related illnesses.

Needless to say, this situation causes needless suffering and is putting women’s health, and lives, at risk.


Things might get worse post-European elections

Abortion and reproductive rights have rarely been high up the agenda of the EU and the EU elections. 

However, it seems that might change in the run-up to the European ballot in June this year. 

Current projections indicate a surge in strength for the far-right which often has anti-abortion positions in their agenda, building on recent electoral wins in the Netherlands, Italy, Finland and Sweden.

On the other hand, recent successes, such as the vote in France to enshrine women’s right to an abortion in the Constitution, are positive.

The stark reality is that well-funded internationally connected neoconservative actors that take their steps from the same playbook are trying to erode existing rights all across Europe. 


Recent polling shows that the majority of EU citizens support access to abortion for women in all or most situations, but this is not enough on its own to ensure those rights are protected.

All of this has brought activists together from across the EU to launch the My Voice, My Choice European Citizens’ Initiative, or ECI. 

An EU mechanism could be the solution

An ECI allows any citizens in the EU to gather signatures in support of a cause, and to put their proposal to the European Commission for consideration. 

To qualify, initiatives must be supported by 1 million or more people from at least seven EU countries within the specified timeframe. It is the only mechanism by which EU citizens can call on the European Commission to propose new legislation.

My Voice, My Choice is a grassroots coalition for reproductive rights, bringing together committed individuals and organisations to argue for action to be taken to turn support for abortion rights into reality for all women in the EU. 


We are proposing the creation of a fund that will support member states in providing safe and accessible abortion care to all who need it in accordance with their laws. 

The fund will support the creation of safe and accessible abortion services in areas where this is needed and also enable women in need of abortion services to travel across EU borders if necessary. 

We are waiting for the European Commission to register our initiative so that we can start collecting signatures.

Citizens of Europe have a chance to speak up

The campaign is rooted in the belief that every woman should have the right to make informed decisions about her body without facing unnecessary barriers or endangering her health and well-being, based on the understanding that the right to choose is a common value. 

It is the absence of a ban; it is neither an instruction nor a guideline. It is only an option that is given to every woman. 


It is a fundamental principle of public health that does not differentiate between individuals. It’s an open space where a woman is free to decide so that in the end she can say: “This was my decision.”

The My Voice, My Choice overall goal is to safeguard and advance abortion rights across Europe, ensuring that all women have access to the safe, respectful, and legal healthcare services they deserve. 

We cannot take the right to safe access to abortion for granted. That is why our message on this year’s International Women’s Day is that we the citizens of Europe have a chance to speak up, to let our voices be heard and that we demand the protection of women’s rights today and into the future.

Nika Kovač is the founding director of the 8th of March Research Institute, a movement-building organization that uses storytelling and advocacy to confront gender and economic inequalities.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.


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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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As France makes abortion a constitutional right, UK women see sharp rise in abortion convictions

As France enshrines abortion access in its constitution, the UK is facing a sharp rise in abortion convictions. A law dating from 1861 is being used to prosecute women in England and Wales, in at least one case leading to incarceration.

France has become the only country in the world to protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its constitution after abortion access was officially added to the freedoms guaranteed in the French constitution on Monday. The move was a direct reaction to the rollback of abortion rights in the United States and elsewhere.

But across the English Channel, women are still at risk of prosecution for having the procedure because abortion in the UK has not been decriminalised. Britain is facing a sharp rise in abortion convictions, with a law dating from 1861 being used to prosecute women and in at least one case leading to incarceration.   

Between 1967 and 2022, three women were convicted of having an illegal abortion in England and Wales. But in the last 18 months alone, six women have been prosecuted over suspected abortion offences.

Of the six prosecutions, three cases were dropped and two cases are awaiting trial, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). One woman was sent to prison.

Illegal abortion and life imprisonment

According to legislation passed 163 years ago, abortion is still a crime in England and Wales.

The Offences Against the Persons Act of 1861 states that it is illegal for a woman to procure her own abortion or provide the means for another woman to terminate a pregnancy.  

What makes abortions accessible today is the Abortion Act, passed by parliament in 1967. The law allows doctors to perform abortions and allows women access to them, but only if they have authorisation from two registered medical practitioners and meet at least one of a specific set of circumstances: These include potential injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children in her family, any substantial risk to her life, and any serious physical or mental abnormality the unborn child could have.   

A time limit of 24 weeks was added in 1990 but with exceptions, for example, if a woman faces the risk of death or “permanent damage” to her physical or mental health, or if there is a serious foetal abnormality.

But outside of these restrictions, women can still face a sentence of life imprisonment – one of the harshest penalties for having an illegal abortion in Europe.  

Many countries in Europe will punish you for performing your own abortion or getting an abortion outside of the healthcare system, says Mara Clarke, co-founder of Supporting Abortions for Everyone (SAFE), a pan-European charity for providing access to abortion.

“But none of [the punishments] is life in prison.”  

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

Doctors in England, Wales and Scotland have the final say on whether or not a woman can access an abortion. They determine whether a risk to health is serious enough to call for terminating a pregnancy, whether an abortion is necessary to avoid “grave permanent injury” to a woman’s mental or physical health, and can even opt out of providing abortion care if they object for reasons of conscience.

A woman in England or Wales can even be prosecuted if they purchase abortion pills online without the authorisation of the two required doctors, or if they terminate their pregnancy beyond the 10-week limit for at-home medical abortions or the 24-week limit for abortions at a vetted healthcare facility.   

Other health care professionals, including nurses, are not authorised to sign off on an abortion, with the necessary double approval restricted only to doctors.  And there is “no consideration of the reasons why a woman might want to end a pregnancy”,  according to a UK abortion rights campaign group run by healthcare professionals called Doctors for Choice.

“The law prevents nurses and midwives from having a full role in abortion care despite being more than capable of doing so,” the group says on its website.

The Independent newspaper reported that Dr Jonathan Lord, the co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, knows of at least 60 criminal inquiries into suspected illegal abortions in England and Wales since 2018.

‘An aberration’

“We really have better things to be doing with our time and money,” sighs Clarke from SAFE. “There are 60 investigations, yes, but out of how many abortions – 200,000?” She feels frustrated by the fact that public attention is turned to the prosecutions rather than the safe and guaranteed provision of abortion care for all.

“How many times did Carla Foster have to turn up in court before her case was overturned?” For Clarke, the answer is “too many”.

Carla Foster is a mother of three who ended her pregnancy outside the legal 24-week legal limit in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic. She took mifepristone – a medical abortion pill – after the limit expired during lockdown.  

Read moreUS Supreme Court ruling on abortion pill could ‘tie the hands of every state’

She received a 28-month custodial sentence in June 2023 and was sent to Foston Hall prison in Derbyshire, where she was incarcerated for 35 days.

Foster took her case to a court of appeal to reduce her sentence and won. A judge deemed the 46-year-old needed “compassion, not punishment” and reduced her punishment to a 14-month suspended sentence. She was released in July.

“UK public opinion is very liberal on abortion and is quite strongly pro-choice,” says Sally Sheldon, a professor at University of Bristol specialising  in healthcare law. “It’s relatively easy for people with access to the NHS (National Health Service) to receive abortion care. In that context, these cases are really an aberration.”

Nevertheless, the legal remedies – when applied – are severe.

“Most of these women are having their laptops and phones taken away … There have been reports of women having their children taken into care because they were seen as a risk to their kids,” says Sheldon. “It impacts the whole family. The impact is enormous.”

Sheldon surmises that the sudden uptick in prosecutions could be connected to an increased awareness of abortion pills. “Since the pandemic … women can have an online consultation and have the pills sent to them,” she says. “I think that has led to a climate of much greater suspicion around unexplained later pregnancy loss or premature delivery. It seems like most cases are being reported by healthcare professionals … who report it to the police.”

Earlier this year, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists released new guidance for abortion care. Stating their “concern at the increasing number of police investigations following later gestation abortion and pregnancy loss, and the impact this can have on women”, it urged healthcare professionals to “abide by their professional responsibility to justify any disclosure of confidential patient information”.

Labour MP Diana Johnson this month is expected to introduce an amendment to the UK’s Criminal Justice Act that would end prosecutions of women for terminating pregnancies after the 24-week limit.

“If that amendment gets selected for debate, I would hope it’s got a good chance of being passed,” says Sheldon. “But it’s very difficult to know.”

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Women’s rights and women wronged in 2023

The year saw progress on women’s rights in some countries, such as Spain’s introduction of menstrual leave, France’s bid to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution and the arrival of the #MeToo movement in Taiwan. But there were also setbacks in 2023, from Taliban edicts tightening restrictions on Afghan women to what the UN called a “global epidemic of femicide”.

The year 2022 was marked by major convulsions in women’s rights across the world, from the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to the “Woman, life, freedom” chants in Iran, which were followed by a massive government crackdown.

This year saw more gradual developments, from the continuing assaults on and pushback against diminishing abortion rights in the US to the steady disappearance of women from public life in Afghanistan.

FRANCE 24 looks back at some of the major developments in 2023 that left their mark on women’s rights across the world.

Spain becomes first European country to introduce menstrual leave

Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero after a parliamentary vote in Madrid, on December 22, 2022. © Thomas Coex, AFP

In February, Spain became the first European country to pass a law creating menstrual leave for women suffering from painful periods. Equality Minister Irene Montero – from the far-left Podemos party, part of the Socialist-led ruling coalition – called it “a historic day for feminist progress”.

The law, which passed by 185 votes in favour to 154 against, entitles employees experiencing period pain to time off, with the state social security system – not employers – picking up the tab.

As with paid leave for other health reasons, it requires a doctor’s approval. The length of sick leave was not specified in the law.

The new legislation also allows minors aged 16 and 17 to have an abortion without parental permission, reversing a requirement introduced by a previous conservative government in 2015.

Read moreSpain passes Europe’s first menstrual leave law

The #MeToo wave reaches Taiwan’s shores

Chen Chien-jou, 22, during an interview in New Taipei City, Taiwan during the #MeToo movement crisis.
Chen Chien-jou, 22, during an interview in New Taipei City, Taiwan during the #MeToo movement crisis. © Sam Yeh, AFP

It was a Netflix series that triggered the #MeToo movement in Taiwan – more than five years after the Harvey Weinstein abuse case sparked the social media-driven awareness campaign in the US and many parts of the world.

“Wave Makers”, an eight-episode Netflix drama released in April, is a political thriller that revealed the inner workings of a fictional presidential campaign team – and how women in power on the island deal with sexual harassment.  

The effect was instantaneous. Over the weeks that followed, several Taiwanese women broke social taboo to reveal their experiences at work. Female employees of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party kicked off the first major wave by accusing powerful politicians of sexual harassment and assault. The phenomenon spread to cultural and academic circles, with alleged victims accusing celebrities, doctors and professors.

A year after Roe v. Wade overturned, abortion battles rage in the US

Abortion rights demonstrators at rally in Washington, DC on June 24, 2023.
Abortion rights demonstrators at rally in Washington, DC on June 24, 2023. © Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP

In its June 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ended a half-century federal protection of abortion rights and allowed each state to legislate on the issue.

In 14 states, abortion has been outlawed, in some cases without exceptions for rape or incest. On the other hand, 17 states enacted laws or held referendums to protect abortion rights.

In other states, access to abortion is not prohibited, but is threatened by laws designed to restrict or prohibit the procedure. This is notably the case in Montana, Wyoming, Indiana and Ohio.

In April, a legal battle over the abortion pill opened a new front in the US battle for reproductive rights when a Texas district court judge invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the abortion pill.

Days later, an appeals court struck down parts of the Texas judge’s ruling, but affirmed many restrictions on access to mifepristone, the abortion drug. The Justice Department under the Biden administration as well as the company manufacturing mifepristone sought emergency relief from the Supreme Court, which temporarily halted any changes.

In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the FDA and mifepristone manufacturer Danco Laboratories. A decision is expected by end-June 2024, making abortion rights a likely campaign issue ahead of the 2024 US presidential election in November.

South of the US border, Mexico decriminalises abortion

A demonstrator in favour of decriminalizing abortion in Mexico City on September 28, 2023.
A demonstrator in favour of decriminalizing abortion in Mexico City on September 28, 2023. © Silvana Flores, AFP

Going against the grain of other Latin American countries and the US, Mexico decriminalised abortion across the country on September 6.

In a landmark judgement, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that criminal penalties for terminating pregnancies were unconstitutional.

Abortion was already decriminalised in a dozen of the country’s 32 states. The capital, Mexico City, was the first jurisdiction in Latin America to authorise abortions, in 2007.

Macron announces a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France’s constitution

Placards read
Placards read “My body my choice” (L) and “Abortion in the Constitution” at rally outside the Senate in Paris, February 1, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

In a speech on March 8, International Woman’s Day, President Emmanuel Macron announced a plan to put forward a bill enshrining abortion rights in France’s constitution.

The commitment was made during a tribute to feminist activist Gisèle Halimi, who played a key role in the passing of the 1975 Veil Act granting women the right to abortion and contraception.

Seven months later, the French president stepped up the pace, when he revealed that a draft project would be submitted to the State Council, France‘s highest administrative court, so that “by 2024, women’s freedom to have an abortion will be irreversible”.

Read moreThe challenge of enshrining abortion rights in the French constitution

Taliban slides into ‘gender apartheid’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ terrain

Afghan women wait to receive aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in Ghazni, Afghanistan on October 31, 2023.
Afghan women wait to receive aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in Ghazni, Afghanistan on October 31, 2023. © Mohammad Faisal Naweed, AFP

The year began with a Taliban ban on Afghan women from working in national and international aid organisations. It ended with an edict forcing the closure of all-women beauty salons, one of the few places left in Afghanistan where women could gather outside their homes.

Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, Afghan women’s rights have been steadily rolled back, exposing the impoverished country to the “most serious women’s rights crisis in the world”, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Taliban have “completely dismantled the system” that had been developed to respond to domestic and gender-based violence in Afghanistan, noted the New York-based rights organisation. The beauty salon ban spelled the closure of “one of the last havens for mutual support among Afghan women”. Around 60,000 women lost their jobs in the process.

In a joint report to UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said the Taliban’s actions “could amount to gender apartheid”.

The report also noted that the severe discrimination “may amount to gender persecution – a crime against humanity”.

Read moreAfghanistan’s NGO ban for women exposes rifts in Taliban ranks

Iran toughens penalties for women defying hijab rules

A woman holds up a placard with a picture of Mahsa Amini at a solidarity demonstration in Hasakeh, in Syria's Kurdish northeast on September 25, 2022.
A woman holds up a placard with a picture of Mahsa Amini at a solidarity demonstration in Hasakeh, in Syria’s Kurdish northeast on September 25, 2022. © Delil Souleiman, AFP

On September 20, a few days after Mahsa Amini‘s first death anniversary, the Iranian parliament approved a bill increasing prison terms, fines and penalties for women and girls breaking the country’s strict dress codes.

Penalties were also increased for employers as well as management of shopping malls and small businesses for failing to enforce the dress code.

The legal measures came after nearly a year of protests that saw women appearing in public without their hijabs as anger over Amini’s death while in custody exploded on the streets across Iran.

Following a brutal crackdown on the protests, many Iranian women continued to record and post anti-hijab clips and posts on social media. The new measures include penalties for “mockery of the hijab” in the media and on social networks.

Before the bill becomes law, it must be approved by Iran’s powerful Guardian Council.

Read moreYear after Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran crushes anti-veil protests

Morocco’s monarch nudges family code reform – again

On September 26, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI sent a letter to the country’s head of government, Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, instructing the latter to ensure the revision of the country’s family code.

The letter followed a speech by the monarch on July 30, 2022 – marking the country’s annual “Throne Day” festivities, when Mohammed VI called for a revision of the Mudawana, Morocco’s family code.

The speech raised the hopes of Moroccan women – deprived of numerous rights such as inheritance, alimony and custody – to see enhanced gender rights in the kingdom.

In his letter to the prime minister, the king stated that the family code needed to adhere to the principle of “broad participatory consultation” with all concerned parties, including civil society activists and experts.

The king also asked the prime minister to speed up the reform so that a first version of the text could be presented to him within six months.

The family code, which had already reformed in 2004, has enabled joint responsibility between spouses, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18, granted women the right to request a divorce and the freedom to choose a husband without the authorisation of a guardian. But the weight of tradition and the discretion left to judges – much to the regret of women’s rights activists – have created a significant gap between the text and enforcement of the family code.

Feminicide hits global record high

A woman wears a mask during a
A woman wears a mask during a “Not One Less” demo against feminicide outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. © Luis Robayo, AFP

Around 89,000 women and girls were deliberately killed in 2022, the highest yearly number recorded in the past 20 years, according to a study by the Research and Trend Analysis Branch, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women.

In a joint statement issued ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women called for an end to the “global epidemic of femicide”.

While #MeToo and other movements “have broken the silence and demonstrated that violence against women, girls and adolescents is happening throughout our communities, they have not always been followed by adequate reforms of laws and policies, nor have they produced much needed results and changes in women’s daily lives”, the statement noted.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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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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