Mar 10
Her eye on the news
'No moral judgment'

Amsterdam’s first woman mayor wants to improve conditions for the city’s sex workers, and her past support for their profession may overcome long-held skepticism about government involvement.

Mayor Femke Halsema, a former Green Party leader, said her administration is working to update the city’s current prostitution policy with the help of local sex workers, sex business owners, researchers, and police. Among the measures being discussed are a possible change to city law that would allow for sex work in apartments outside De Wallen, Amsterdam’s best-known red-light district.

Under current law, sex workers who work behind windows, as they do in De Wallen, are barred from recruiting clients online Yet, a 2017 survey of sex workers found that 80 percent felt that online recruitment improved the quality of their working lives. Many also believed it enhanced their safety because the internet allowed them to vet potential clients before meeting them.

Speaking to The Lily, an employee going by the name of Karin at the Prostitution Information Center said that many sex workers were wary of government initiatives that are ostensibly meant to help them. In one case, she noted, complaints about tourists videoing women as they solicited clients through the windows of their brothels resulted in the municipality closing down the brothels in question.

“The tourists misbehave, yet we’re the ones who are punished,” she said.

But Halsema’s past support for sex work, which has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000, has given some optimism that she could make brothels safer without compromising sex workers’ ability to make a living.

“I have no moral judgment about the work these women do, but I do have a moral judgment about the safety and circumstances in which they do their work,” said Halsema in October.

Read the full story at The Lily.


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Even as the Chinese government cracks down on political activism and freedom of expression, the country’s women’s rights movement continues to push forward.

Four years ago, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Chinese authorities jailed five women for planning to hand out stickers protesting sexual harassment on subways and buses. Since then, the government has only tightened its grip on public protest. But China’s feminists have become adept at finding ways around the authorities.

For one, rather than being led by a small handful of high-profile activists, the women’s rights movement in China is a more decentralized network of agitators. In January 2018, in a coordinated effort, thousands of students at universities across the country signed petitions to protest against sexual harassment. Government censors deleted many of the petitions shortly after they were posted online, but the action galvanized the country’s nascent #MeToo movement.

By engaging in protests with no recognizable leader or hierarchy, feminists in China have made it more difficult for the government to target them. This stands in contrast with other political movements in China, many of which are led by high-profile male activists like Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody in 2017. 

What’s more, the authorities’ attacks on feminists don’t necessarily signal hostility towards women’s rights — gender equality has been on the books in China far longer than in many Western countries. In its first constitution in 1954, the Communist Party stated that women should have “equal rights with men in all areas of political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic life.” (Of course, in the 65 years since, women in China have dealt with plenty of inequality, despite official policy.)

More likely, the government’s pushback against China’s women’s rights movement has more to do with its aversion to any particular group of citizens organizing politically. Even as China has transformed from a relatively closed society to a booming free-market economy, the Communist Party has insisted on its own singularity as the country’s sole political force, and has resisted “movements” of all kinds, from Falun Gong to LGBT rights.

But China’s feminists may have cracked the code to unimpeded activism. As one leader of the movement told The Guardian: “The feminist movement is about… building a community, rather than just having one or two famous individuals who can enlighten everybody else.”

Read more at The Guardian.


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Parties and protests

Brazil’s iconic Carnival festival took on a decidedly political air this year as throngs of women engaged in colorful protests against rape, violence towards women, and the country’s blatantly chauvinist president Jair Bolsonaro.

At the festival, many women emblazoned their breasts and buttocks with messages such as “my body, my rules” or “no means no.” The face of late Rio de Janeiro councilor Marielle Franco, a black gay rights activist who was killed in an apparent assassination last year, was visible across the city on flags, stickers, and banners. The Mangueira Samba school paid tribute to the late politician in their championship-winning parade. And at a women-run street party called Calcinhas Bélicas (Warlike Knickers), festival goers were heard chanting Franco’s name.

“This year, Carnival has a completely new face,” said Franco’s widow, Monica Benicio. “Brazil’s feminist movement is one of the most organized in Latin America, and to see Marielle become a symbol of this is very emotional.”

“When Mangueira pays homage to her, when it highlights this woman, it is demanding justice,” added Rafaela Bastos, one of Mangueira’s top dancers.

Bolsonaro’s election — and his flagrant disgust for women’s rights and the LGBT community — had galvanized women across the country, many Carnival attendees said. Bolsonaro has also drawn condemnation for telling a female lawmaker he wouldn’t rape her because she didn’t “deserve” it.

One group of women protesters wore crop tops, pink shorts, and blonde wigs as they posed as “Barbie Fascists” — an ironic reference to the denunciations lobbed at feminists by Bolsonaro and his supporters.

“He is a threat to our rights,” said one Barbie, Priscila Rangel, as she stopped to pose for a photograph.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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To God's ears

A group of roughly 800 Orthodox Jewish women known as the Women of the Wall had their prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem violently disrupted by thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters on Friday. The service, which was meant to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary, had to be moved to the egalitarian side section of the holy site after two of Women of the Wall’s members were injured by protesters, according to a spokesperson from the group.

Women of the Wall has long fought with ultra-Orthodox groups over the right of women to lead prayers at the Western Wall. Ahead of Friday’s service, several prominent rabbis had called on their students to disrupt it. Police said that at least one ultra-Orthodox protester had been arrested for attempting to assault a police officer, but declined to say whether the women at the service had been attacked. In a statement, the Women of the Wall accused police of “abandoning” them as protestors pushed, shoved, and cursed at them.

According to Women of the Wall, the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch also sought to sabotage the service by refusing them the right to use a speaker system for the prayer. Instead, they said, Rabinovitch gave another group in the men’s section the right to use their own speaker system, allowing them to drown out the Women of the Wall’s service.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman said her group refused to be intimidated.

“We have been here for 30 years,” said Hoffman. “And so we will continue, every month of the year, for good.”

Read the full story at Haaretz and The Times of Israel.


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Heart emoji

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II posted on Instagram for the first time on Thursday during a visit to the London Science Museum. In her post, the Queen shared a photo of a letter written by computer pioneer Charles Babbage to her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Writing on a touchscreen iPad at the museum, the Queen noted that the letter described Babbage’s “Analytical Engine,” upon which “the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.”

“Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert,” the Queen wrote. “I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors.”

The Queen signed the post simply: Elizabeth R.

In a comment on the Queen’s post, the Science Museum thanked her for her support, as did many other adoring commenters, some of whom noted the significance of the post’s timing.

“Her Majesty is brilliant,” wrote @gloriam_vanine, appending her comment with several hand-clap emojis. “In the International Women’s Day, she posts a message informing all of us that the first programmer was a woman.”

Read the full story at CNN.


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