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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MeToo, for Israeli victims too: Gaza war drives wedge between French feminists

French feminist groups have come under fire for purportedly turning a blind eye to the sexual violence unleashed on Israeli women during the October 7 attacks by Hamas, echoing the anger levelled at rights organisations elsewhere. The accusation is indicative of the competing narratives and loyalties elicited by the devastating conflict. It also reflects a failure to rapidly investigate and establish the specific, gender-based nature of some of the atrocities committed. 

Efforts to place the focus on the violence inflicted on Israeli women and girls triggered an incident in Paris last week at the annual November 25 march to condemn violence against women, which organisers said brought some 80,000 demonstrators to the streets of the French capital. 

A group of around 200 protesters, some carrying Israeli flags, claimed they were confronted by pro-Palestinian activists and effectively barred from joining the march. The protesters wore clothes stained with fake blood, a reference to the searing images of bloodied female victims of the October 7 massacres, filmed and posted online by the perpetrators of the attacks, in which an estimated 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians.  

The protesters had planned to “carry the voice of the Israeli victims of Hamas and denounce the deafening silence of feminist groups”, French daily Libération cited the activists as saying. They brandished placards reading “MeToo, unless you are a Jew” and “Feminists, your silence makes you complicit”. 

Tens of thousands of people marched in Paris on November 25 to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. © Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, AFP

Reports of the incident spread widely on social media, feeding into wider condemnation of an alleged bias among advocates of women’s rights. “The ‘Nous Toutes’ (We All – France’s equivalent of MeToo) that has been proclaimed for years is a becoming a ‘Nous Toutes unless you’re Jewish,” wrote prominent journalist Rebecca Amsellem in an Instagram post, a day after the Paris march. Writing on X, author Sophie Gourion lamented the “double standards” she claimed many fellow feminists were guilty of.  

Government ministers and senior politicians also stepped into the fray. “One doesn’t choose which violence (to condemn) based on nationality or the type conflict,” said Gender Equality Minister Bérangère Couillard, warning that state subsidies for advocacy groups were conditional on the respect of “such universal values”. Senator Laurence Rossignol, a former minister for women’s rights, spoke of a “split among feminists, unlike any seen before”. 

Organisers of the Paris march hit back in a joint statement on Tuesday, stressing their “unambiguous condemnation of the sexual and sexist crimes, rapes and femicides committed by Hamas” on October 7. They also blasted an attempt to “instrumentalise” the fight against gender-based violence and accused far-right activists of stoking tensions at the march and seeking to discredit its organisers.  

Sexual violence overlooked 

The criticism voiced in France echoes complaints targeting rights groups and international organisations in other Western countries and in Israel. United Nations agencies such as UN Women have faced particular scrutiny over their alleged failure to condemn the specific violence inflicted on women on October 7. 

Ahead of the UN’s international day for the elimination of violence against women, Israeli First Lady Michal Herzog published an opinion piece in Newsweek expressing outrage and betrayal over the international community’s failure to condemn the gender-based sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. 

“A Hamas video from a kibbutz shows terrorists torturing a pregnant woman and removing her foetus. Our forensic scientists have found bodies of women and girls raped with such violence that their pelvic bones were broken,” wrote Herzog. 

On Wednesday, a UN commission of inquiry investigating war crimes on both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict said it would focus on gathering evidence of sexual violence in the October 7 attacks. Navi Pillay, the commission’s chair, told reporters she would pass the evidence onto the International Criminal Court and call for it to consider prosecutions, amid criticism from Israel and families of Israeli hostages that the UN had kept quiet. 

Critics contend that the gruesome footage taken and posted on social media by Hamas militants, as well as CCTV images and the accounts of first responders, provide ample evidence of the horrific crimes committed by the Islamist group and other factions that took part in the massacres in Israeli communities and at the Supernova rave that was taking place close to the Gaza Strip. 

Many war crimes experts, however, stress that the harrowing images must first be corroborated by material and other evidence – a painstakingly slow task further hindered by the unprecedented nature of an attack that caught Israel completely off guard.

Céline Bardet, a war crimes expert and funder of the NGO We Are not Weapons of War, said the acrimony and mistrust surrounding the subject highlighted the need for an independent and thorough investigation into the crimes committed on October 7. The criticism levelled at feminist groups and UN bodies “is a little unfair”, she added, noting that the authorities had been slow to establish the specific gender-based nature of some of the most horrific violence.

“We know that, due in part to the ongoing fighting, the investigation of sexual violence was not made a priority in the days and weeks following the attack. That means a lot of the work still needs to be done, but it’s much more difficult now,” she told FRANCE 24, warning that much of the evidence is likely to have been compromised.  

“Israeli police have never faced such a challenge before,” she added. “We are ready to help them if they seek our expertise.”  

Women’s rights groups in Israel have warned of significant failings in preserving forensic evidence that could have shone a light on the scale of sexual violence committed against women and girls in last month’s Hamas attacks. 

Tal Hochman, a government relations officer at the Israel Women’s Network, told the Guardian: “Most of the women who were raped were then killed, and we will never understand the full picture, because either bodies were burned too badly or the victims were buried and the forensic evidence buried too. No samples were taken.” 

While grisly footage of the carnage soon spread on social media in the wake of the attacks, detailed reports of sexual violence were much slower to emerge.  

On October 24, Israel published a first video of a soldier citing evidence that women had been raped, followed by more such accounts over subsequent days. On November 8, local media reported the first testimony of a survivor who described the gang-rape, murder and mutilation of a woman at the Supernova rave. A week later, on November 14, police announced they had opened an investigation into “multiple cases” of sexual violence committed on October 7, citing video evidence, DNA samples and witness accounts. 

Israeli authorities have been playing catch-up, Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote the next day, highlighting the role of civil society groups in pushing for the investigation and recognition of the gender-based violence that had been overlooked not just by international organisations – but the Israeli government too. 

“Whether it was an effort to protect the (…) victims and their families, an inability to handle the ugly details or simply one of the many systemic failures of Israel’s leaders in the initial days after the October 7 attack, the full extent of the sexual atrocities committed were not detailed or documented enough to make national or international headlines,” she wrote. “And so an opportunity was lost: the chance to gain a greater degree of recognition and sympathy from international rights organisations as to the depth of the brutality and viciousness of the Hamas attack.” 

‘Pitting one side’s sorrows against the other’s’ 

In recent weeks, the Israeli government has stepped up its efforts to obtain greater recognition and support for the victims of sexual violence. 

On November 5, the Israeli state issued an appeal on its official X account “calling all feminists” to “support all of the Israeli women who were raped, tortured, murdered and kidnapped by Hamas terrorists” – and drawing a parallel with the international support for Iran’s Mahsa Amini. The following week, Israel’s foreign ministry launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #BelieveIsraeliWomen. 

Speaking on FRANCE 24, French writer Sarah Barukh said many feminist groups had failed to “abide by their core principle: to tell Israeli women, ‘we believe you’.” 

Claims of a lack of evidence smacked of “hypocrisy”, she argued, adding: “It’s somewhat strange to argue that more proof is needed, when it was all filmed live and published on the Internet by Hamas.” 

Barukh said the silence on the subject betrayed a bias on the subject. She described the habit of “systematically comparing the suffering of Israelis with that of the Palestinians” as a way to “minimise” the former.  

Weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip and the forced displacement of its population have shifted much of the media focus on to the plight of women and girls trapped in the enclave and the spiralling civilian death. Health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory say women and children account for two thirds of the more than 15,000 people killed.

Journalist Olivia Cattan, the founder of the advocacy group “Paroles de Femmes” (Women’s Voices), argued that many feminist campaigners’ views on the decades-long conflict roiling the Middle East had clouded their judgement and blinded them to the atrocities committed against Israeli women. 

She wrote in a blog post on the Mediapart news site: “I am not asking for your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I am simply asking that you pass judgement on this massacre of women and children. Full stop.” 

Such remarks mirror the divisions that have also roiled left-wing movements in France and abroad, with critics arguing that sympathy for the Palestinians – widely identified as the oppressed party in the conflict – has at times prevented forceful condemnations of the October 7 attacks. 

In a column on MSNBC, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, a historian of gender at The New School in New York City, suggested the “minimisation” of violence against Israeli women was “the result of an ideological turn among some feminists and progressives that elevates an ‘antiracist’ agenda above the core feminist commitment to defend the universal right to bodily autonomy for all women”. 

She added: “This argument contends that because Israel is a colonial power oppressing the Palestinians, any resistance is a justified dimension of decolonisation.” 

Others have voiced the opposite argument, bemoaning a lack of empathy for Palestinian women driven from their homes, scrambling for shelter from the bombs, giving birth with no anaesthetics, no painkillers, no electricity. 

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

In an op-ed published by Mediapart on the eve of the eve of the November 25 march, Nobel literature laureate Annie Ernaux joined several activists and academics in condemning the “dehumanising and gender-based violence” perpetrated on October 7 – while also denouncing “the double standards applied to an occupied people – the Palestinian people – and an occupying state, a double standard that also applies to feminism: as if the lives and sufferings of Palestinian women had no value, no density, no complexity”. 

Hanna Assouline, of the women’s group Guerrières de la Paix (Warriors for Peace), bemoaned a widespread tendency to take sides in the conflict and amplify divisions, instead of calling for unity and peace. 

“We’re witnessing a sad spectacle of selective empathy and pitting one side’s sorrows and deaths against the other’s,” said Assouline, whose advocacy group has helped organise silent gatherings for peace, with neither flags nor slogans.  

“It’s as if we were incapable of displaying a united front of humanity facing all this horror,” she told FRANCE 24. “The only way forward is to step out of our respective solitudes and mourn together, mobilise together, and voice our common indignation.”

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Financial abuse in intimate relationships, a red flag for domestic violence

Stealing money from bank accounts, forbidding or sabotaging work, controlling or unevenly splitting household expenses: financial abuse in intimate relationships persists in France. Often undetected, it’s frequently linked to physical violence.

Despite the advances of the 2021 Rixain Law, which aims to promote economic equality among genders, more than 200,000 women in France continue to suffer at the hands of their intimate partners due to a lack of early detection and prevention.  

Financial abuse is one of six types of domestic violence reported in France, which include psychological, verbal, physical, sexual as well as legal and administrative abuse.  

According to a November report published by the Fédération Nationale Solidarité Femmes (FNSF) – a nationwide network of nonprofit organisations dedicated to helping women victims of violence – around 26 percent of women in France said they had suffered financial abuse in 2022, a percentage point higher than in 2021. 

Handling a total of 93,005 calls last year, the FNSF, which operates the 3919 hotline, noted an increase in the number of women living with financial insecurity.

“This can take different forms, such as the woman being forbidden to work, but also the confiscation of household resources by the perpetrator of the violence, such as family allowances and wages, thus preventing women from leaving the aggressor. And sometimes, they don’t even have a bank account,” FNSF Executive Director Françoise Brié told FRANCE 24. 

Twenty euros a week from her husband 

“It’s a pernicious form of violence,” Brié said as she related the testimony of a woman who was given a mere €20 per week by her high-income husband to feed herself and her children, as well as provide for all their basic needs.  

This type of abuse takes place within the home, but can also continue after a couple separates, with non-payment of child support or repeated legal proceedings against women who have little or no resources. 

Read moreFor survivors of gender-based violence in French overseas territories, ‘silence prevails’

Financial advisor Héloïse Bolle, the author of the book “Aux thunes citoyennes!” (Here’s to women’s money!), pointed out that unequal financial distribution within the household can also be seen as a form of economic abuse. 

“When a person lives with a partner who earns a lot more money and imposes a 50-50 splitting of expenses in spite of this, it contributes to the woman’s impoverishment and prevents her from saving money,” Bolle said. 

A survey conducted by research institute Ifop for the feminist newsletter “Les Glorieuses” published in late October revealed that 16 percent of women in France have suffered from this kind of abuse. 

The report also noted that 41 percent of the women who had been in intimate partnerships had experienced some form of financial abuse at least once. 

“Many have found themselves in difficult financial situations, because they have accepted this type of expense allocation, often without having thought about it beforehand,” Bolle said, adding that many victims were even unaware of the financial abuse they had experienced. 

Risk indicator 

While often undetected, financial abuse can serve as a “risk indicator”, Brié said. 

“[Abuses] are often linked to physical violence or can be a warning sign that should not be overlooked,” she said. 

To raise awareness, “Les Glorieuses” newsletter has produced an online test, and a special barometer based on the same model as “The Violence Meter“, which is a tool that helps to identify violent behaviour and measure whether a relationship is healthy or violent. 

While the FNSF calls for a better definition of financial abuse as well as higher awareness among banks and other financial institutions, “Les Glorieuses” said raising women’s salaries could be another key to addressing the problem, given that a woman is twice as likely to be a victim of domestic financial abuse if she earns less than her partner. 

And this is very often the case, as France has a gender pay gap of around 15 percent, according to a study published by the national statistics agency (INSEE) in March. 

Government action 

Recent action undertaken by the French government has helped prevent some of the financial abuse that women often fall victim to. 

The Rixain Law, which was passed by the French parliament in 2021, has made it compulsory for companies to pay out wages into individual or joint bank accounts held by their employees.  

The law also made it possible to opt for personalised income tax rates, so that rates are in line with the salary level of each spouse.  

new regulation that came into effect October 1 would allow disabled married people in France to perceive an increase of €300 on average in their monthly disability allowance, which is known as the allocation aux adultes handicapés, or AAH. 

By no longer taking a spouse’s income into account, the new measure aims to help prevent disabled women from being taken advantage of. 

The French parliament also voted in February for an emergency aid that will allow victims of domestic violence to apply for financial support ranging from €250 to over €1,300 – per month, for a limited period – based on the applicant’s financial situation.  

Lack of resources for nonprofits 

While the French state has increased its support of domestic violence victims, organisations say much more is needed to effectively help women who suffer abuse from their partners. 

“Women have done their bit by filing more complaints, and that’s still going on, but we need to be much more effective in supporting and protecting victims”, the president of the Fondation des Femmes (the Women’s Foundation), Anne-Cécile Mailfert, told AFP in an interview. 

As France reported a 15 percent annual surge in domestic violence in 2022, nonprofit organisations are struggling to find adequate funding as they are increasingly overwhelmed by the number of victims asking for help. 

“We are seeing organisations on the ground at the end of their tether, so overwhelmed by requests that some are going bankrupt,” Mailfert said.  

No longer able to offer victims support and accommodation, the nonprofits are desperately awaiting financial support from the state or local authorities, she said. 

The 3919 hotline provides information and guidance in 12 different languages: English, Arabic, Creole, Dari, Spanish, Hebrew, Kabyle, Mandarin, Persian, Polish, Portuguese and Turkish in addition to French.

This article is a translation of the original in French

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How will women vote in Poland’s next election?

The vote of women in the incoming parliamentary election in Poland could be crucial in determining whether the PiS will hold on to power – or would be punished for restricting access to abortion in the country, experts say.

As a crucial parliamentary election which could weaken the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s hold on to power quickly approaches in Poland, experts are wondering what role women will have in determining the future of the country.


Less than a month ahead of the 15 October election, the PiS – which has been in power since 2019 – could take home a victory but fail to reach an overall majority.

This opens the possibility of a potential coalition between the PiS and the ascending far-right party Confederation Freedom and Independence (Konfederacja Wolsność i Niepodległość), currently the third party in the country; or another coalition led by the current opposition, Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition party (Koalicja Obywatelska), currently the second party in the polls.

Women, who have suffered a crackdown on abortion rights sponsored by the PiS with the backing of the local Catholic church about three years ago, might prove a wild card in the incoming election – either supporting the ruling party or turning against it.

According to Simona Guerra, a professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Surrey and an expert on Polish politics, the PiS’ policies after 2019 have taken “a more radical, illiberal and anti-European stance on most social, cultural, and economic issues – and also and above all, on the rights of women and minorities.”

Since the Polish government banned most abortions in the country, “women have died,” Guerra told Euronews. “This election would be important for women, because while there are those who can afford to have abortions abroad, there are those who cannot.”

According to Anita Prazmowska, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and an expert in Polish politics and history, women in Poland are being treated like “animals” and being reduced to only one purpose, “to give birth.” Despite the Polish government’s efforts to promote pregnancy and reduce access to abortion, the country’s birth rate is still one of the lowest in Europe.

“So what is happening? The answer is illegal abortions,” Prazmowska told Euronews. “Educated, wealthy women can go to the Czech Republic and Western Europe to have an abortion, but women in the rural villages don’t have that option.”

A turn of the screw on abortion access

In 2021, the Polish government imposed a near-total ban on abortion which only allowed the procedure in case the pregnancy threatens the pregnant person’s life or health or it’s the result of rape or incest. of But Prazmowska said that things are worse than the strict law would suggest.

“Though, in principle, abortion is legal in cases of rape, incest and foetal abnormality, as well as in proven cases of threat to women’s health, no hospitals are willing to perform illegal abortions,” Prazmowska said, “because hospitals are dominated by local political groups and fearful of accusations by the church.”

There were two cases in the past two years where women were refused treatment in hospital despite carrying a dead foetus inside them and died of septicemia – blood poisoning by bacteria.

A lack of alternatives

While the Polish government’s crackdown on abortion has sparked huge, nation-wide protests across the country in 2020, “that energy has dissipated,” Prazmowska said.


Educated and working women in Poland’s capital and big cities will certainly think so, she added, “but that’s not enough. Normally, the women’s vote is very conservative, very church-bound. In Poland, the Church controls the villages and the rural areas of the country very, very successfully.”

Prazmowska said that “women’s circumstances in Poland are unbelievable, adding that she wouldn’t know what to compare them with. “Will women see themselves as a group that can actually vote and make their voice matter?,” she asked.

Women who might be unhappy with the way they’ve been treated by the government lack alternative parties who push forward political agendas which actively protect their rights, according to the expert.

“The past rage [over a crackdown on abortion access] has not taken the form of parties creating different programmes fighting this, because everybody talking about abortion, contraception is faced with such a violent reaction in Poland,” she continued.

“State television is now mainly controlled by the ruling party, while independent news media are mostly online,” she added. “On state television, the formal discussion is so violent, so hostile towards women that nobody dares put their head over the parapet,” she continued.


“It would take a very brave person. There have been, but they have not managed to build a platform.

More female candidates for Tusk

Tusk’s Civic Coalition party has been trying to mobilise the female electorate, with a record 44% of women candidates in the incoming election. The party has plans to send buses of its women candidates around Poland to promote themselves and invite women to vote for their agenda defending women’s rights.

Part of the party’s agenda is overturning the current near-total ban on abortion and legalising the procedure up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Earlier this year, Tusk declared that women’s rights are the country’s “number one” issue.

But the former European Council head has been criticised by feminists in the country for using the issue to promote his party, having done little to promote and defend women’s rights while he was in office as prime minister between 2007 and 2014.

Family, church, and politics

There’s also an issue of reaching women in rural areas, Prazmowska said, where women have historically supported the most conservative parties.


According to Prazmowska, outside of Poland’s big cities where women can be independent, “women are still very economically dependent on society as a whole, their families, and their husbands.”

Under these circumstances, women traditionally vote conservative, seduced by a political rhetoric that promises to prioritise families, defend women, and take care of their children – even if what they’re doing is solidifying their dependent role in the traditional patriarchal family.

“It is the older women who vote, not the young women,” said Prazmowska, explaining that the process of secularisation ongoing in Poland has not yet reached the majority of the electorate.

“Older women will likely still vote the same party, the PiS, if they’re going to vote at all,” she said, admitting she’s pessimistic about any political change being driven by the women’s vote, though she’d wish for it.

“This government is just giving women money to sit at home and have children. It destroys any economic incentive to acquire skills and find a good job. Women who don’t want to do that are leaving for Western Europe – Italy, Greece, Germany. So, who’s left to change the situation in Poland?”

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

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

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

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

‘I no longer wear hijab in public spaces’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varia, the influencer, says:

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

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

Sita is also optimistic about the future:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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Video documents female genital mutilation camp in Guinea

The video shows four little girls, one in tears, in what is referred to as a “camp for genital mutilation” in Conakry. Our Observer says that this is the first time a video of one of these places has emerged. While genital mutilation is banned in Guinea, it is still widely practiced. In the wake of the video’s release, activists, including our Observer, have mobilised and authorities have responded to the pressure by opening an investigation into the matter. Authorities have made one arrest and are still searching for other suspects.

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The video, which lasts just under a minute, shows four little girls sitting on the ground, in a row. One of them is crying, seemingly writhing in pain. There are also two adult women present – one of them elderly. Text in French appears on the screen reading “My mother worked hard this morning”. The person filming the video says practically the same phrase in Soussou at the start of the video – though she says “today” instead of “this morning”.

“Don’t cry, sit on the ground, be good,” the woman in black says in Mandinka to the little girl who is crying. 

“Look, the littlest girl isn’t crying, it is the oldest who is crying and she is also trying to cry as loud as possible,” says the woman in red to the same little girl, this time speaking Fula.  

We are only publishing an excerpt of the video. We’ve blurred the faces of the children and the two women.


“What gall to publish that”

The video was posted on TikTok the week of July 17. Negative comments immediately flooded the post and the entire account was quickly deleted. However, at least two women made copies of the video. 

Fafoune Konaté, who runs the TikTok account “Mme Diakité”, who has a lot of followers in Guinea, republished an excerpt of the video on July 19, featuring her commentary facing the camera. 

When contacted by our team, she replied:

The feeling that I had watching it… it was so strong. This little girl who was crying… I didn’t think that I would see that in the 21st century, I thought that mindsets were starting to shift. What gall to publish that. 

I underwent genital mutilation myself and it is something that you live with until you die. I was immediately traumatised seeing that.

A Guinean who lives in France – and wanted to stay anonymous – also saved an excerpt of the video, which she published on Snapchat. 

“This brought back horrible memories,” she said. “I published this video in a group for young mothers and a lot of people reacted. They insulted me and some people said that these women have the right to do what they want.” 

“There’s no doubt that this video was filmed in a camp for genital mutilation”

Kadiatou Konaté is the president of the Club of Young Women Leaders in Guinea, an organisation that works to prevent genital mutilation and forced marriage.

There’s no doubt that this video was filmed in a camp for genital mutilation, even if we can’t say for certain that it was filmed right after a mutilation. 

The girls are dressed in a way common for these camps. The colors might vary, but the style is the same — tops fastened at the back, then pagnes and scarves tied in their hair. Moreover, the way that the girls are all lined up on the floor is common, too – in these camps, all the girls undergo the process together.

Often, these camps are held during vacation at the home of a woman who will carry out the mutilation. She might have a dozen children there and they might stay up to a month. The woman feeds them and “instructs” them in traditional values like keeping your mouth shut and only speaking when you are given authorisation. However, sometimes there are lessons on good values for human relationships. 

Read moreThe fight to end female genital mutilation in Guinea during summer break

People and organisations who had seen the video contacted Guinea’s Office for the Protection of Gender, Children and Morals (Oprogem). 

Authorities arrested one person suspected of sharing the video in the town of Kindia. An investigation into the matter is ongoing, Dadou Camara, the prosecutor at the Kindia lower court, told our team. 

“According to the statement made by the person arrested, the video was filmed in Conakry,” he said. “We are keeping the person in custody because we have not yet located the women responsible for carrying out the mutilations. This video is a first, it is shocking, I’ve never seen anything like it.”


“Parents must understand that you can teach children traditional values without genital mutilation”

Genital mutilation has been banned in Guinea since 2008 but instances of the practice have not decreased, according to NGO Plan international. More than 97% of women have undergone this practice, according to the NGO. Kadiatou Konaté, of the Club of Young Women Leaders, explains: 

We mobilised because we want to at least prevent the people who make these kinds of videos from just uploading them online. The justice system has sentenced people in the past for carrying out mutilations but, often, people are given conditional sentences – often because the accused are elderly. But from our point of view, this is actually because there is still too much tolerance.

There are several reasons why genital mutilation is carried out. That could be for cultural reasons or tradition – some people say that their grandparents did it, people think they should do it. There could be economic reasons because it is a source of revenue for the people who carry it out. It can be related to ideas of dignity and honour. It’s also related to the desire of a patriarchal society to control the sexuality of a growing girl. 

Some people think that it will limit the risk of teen pregnancies. Some people think that husbands don’t like women who aren’t mutilated… People always find a way to justify their behaviour. 

Parents must understand that you can teach children traditional values without genital mutilation, because mutilation is abhorrent.

I do think that the number of genital mutilations is decreasing. It seems like the people who are doing it are hiding it and aren’t doing it in the open. More and more, people are realising that this practice can’t continue. 

Thank you to the Mandinka and Fula teams at RFI for translating the video.

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Video of two naked women being harassed draws attention to tribal conflict in India’s Manipur

A video showing two naked women being assaulted by a mob of men in Manipur, in northeastern India, has shocked the nation and brought renewed attention to a deadly tribal conflict. It has also prompted Prime Minister Modi to make a statement on the violence that is tearing Manipur apart. According to our Observer, the video is a stark reminder of how women’s bodies have been used as a “site of conflict” since martial law was imposed on the state in the 1970s.

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The 26-second video, which emerged on social media July 19, shows the two women, members of the state’s minority Kuki community, being assaulted by men of the majority Meitei ethnicity. The distraught women are pushed around and groped by their attackers, and then escorted towards an empty field. According to a police complaint, one of the women, a 21-year-old, was “brutally gang-raped in broad daylight”, while the other one managed to escape.

We have decided not to include the viral video in this article due to its shocking nature.

The Meitei make up 53% of the population in Manipur, a multi-ethnic state on India’s border with China and Myanmar that has 34 different tribal communities. Under martial law since the 1970s because of frequent ethnic violence, the state is currently governed by India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The incident happened on May 4, the day after deadly ethnic riots broke out between the Meitei who are mostly Hindus, and the predominantly Christian Kuki. The violence was sparked by a controversy over affirmative action: the Kukis, who already have “scheduled tribe” status guaranteeing them quotas for government jobs and university places, were protesting against a proposal to extend the same status to the majority Meiteis. 

At least 140 people have since been killed and more than 60,000 people have been forced from their homes. Meanwhile, police armouries have been looted, hundreds of Kuki churches attacked, and more than a dozen Meitei temples ruined, and villages destroyed. 

After months of silence, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke out about the violence in Manipur on July 20. He responsed to the video by saying: “My heart is filled with grief and anger. The incident in Manipur is shameful for any civil society.”

On the same day, police opened a gang-rape case, arrested four men, and said they would be making more arrests soon.

‘Women’s bodies in Manipur have been used as a site of war since the 1970s’

Our Observer, Binalakshmi Nepram, who founded the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace, has criticised authorities for taking so long to act, despite a police complaint having been lodged just days after the incident. She told us the video serves as a stark reminder of how women’s bodies in the northeastern state are being weaponised in the conflict.

It’s not the first time Manipuri women have been sexually abused, it has happened countless times and not a single person has been punished until now. Men have complete impunity in our state. 

The gruesome rape in the video that was published this week took place in May, but it’s taken a full 78 days for any action to be taken, for any arrests to be made, and for our prime minister to speak up. This, of course, does not inspire confidence in the authorities.

Women’s bodies in Manipur have been used as a site of war since the 1970s, when the counterinsurgency began. We have a martial law which provides complete immunity to armed forces personnel who are operating in the state of Manipur. As a result, there have been various charges of armed security force personnel committed sexual violence and rape on the bodies of manipuri women. 

For example, in 2004, a woman called Thangjam Manorama was brutally gang-raped by Indian paramilitary forces. She was shot seven times in the vagina to destroy evidence of rape. The failure to assign culpability in the rape and murder case led to widespread protests in Manipur. Five days after the killing, around 30 middle-aged women protested in the streets naked. That incident, just like the recent video, shocked the country and the prime minister of India was forced to acknowledge the violence.

The iconic nude protest by women on July 15, 2004 against the Indian Army after Thangjam Manorama was brutally gang-raped by Indian paramilitary forces.

I grew up in a state in which it has become normalised for men with guns to play with our lives. I hope that the bodies of our mothers, sisters and friends that have endured this pain will break through the consciousness of men, who will finally lay down their arms and start negotiating for peace. Because it is women who are paying the price for their violence.

‘The world knows about Ukraine, but the violence in Manipur is taking place behind closed doors’

Nepram also said the violence depicted in the video is emblematic of the near-civil war in the northeastern state, which “no one is talking about”.

The horrific and inhumane video has shaken up India. But brutal sexual assault and the rape of women are not the only crimes that are taking place here.

There have been beheadings, killings and many other atrocities, although videos of these incidents have not been released to the public. These countless crimes against humanity are taking place in the land of yoga, in the world’s largest democracy. 



Images of violence in Manipur againt people from the Meitei tribal group in a Kuki dominated area

I have seen too much violence and many of my family members have died in this conflict. But no one is talking about it. The world knows about the conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan and Myanmar, but the violence in Manipur is taking place behind closed doors. The Indian government doesn’t allow foreign press or humanitarian aid agencies to come here. 

We are being silenced. The history of Manipur is not in Indian textbooks. I have been threatened many times for speaking about this conflict. Our lives are not secure at all, but some of us have to speak the truth.

‘Violence in Manipur is the result of decades of neglect, discrimination and violent extremism’

Tensions in Manipur boiled over in May when Kukis began protesting against demands from the Meiteis to be given official tribal status. But this does not entirely explain the explosive ethnic violence that has engulfed Manipur, according to Nepram.

Although the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community as a scheduled tribe was the immediate trigger, the eruption of violence in Manipur has been the result of decades of neglect, discrimination and violent extremism in the region. 

The current crisis in Manipur reflects the complex dynamics at the heart of India’s northeastern state. Manipur joined India in 1949, over the objections of many Manipuris. It has experienced secession movements, ethnic rivalries, and serious human rights violations by India security forces and the military ever since then. 

Other elements are coming into play as well and worsening the situation. The Kukis say a war on drugs is being waged by the Meitei-led government to uproot their communities. Meanwhile, illegal migration since the coup in Myanmar in 2021 has also heightened tensions. There has since been more pressure on land use from a growing population and unemployment is pushing youth towards the various militias.

Last week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Indian authorities to take action to stop the violence in Manipur and protect religious communities, especially Christians. India’s foreign ministry condemned the resolution, describing it as “interference” in its internal affairs.

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

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

Issued on:

5 min

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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