Mar 11
Her eye on the news
‘Hashtags are not enough’

Meghan Markle spoke openly about the importance of feminism and equal rights during a panel on International Women’s Day, breaking with the British royal family’s traditional reluctance to express political opinions in public.

Markle’s appearance—the first time she has made unscripted remarks since her wedding to Prince Harry last May—coincided with the announcement that she has been named vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which seeks to empower young leaders. Markle was joined by several activists, including songwriter Annie Lennox and Angeline Murimirwa, executive director of the Campaign for Female Education in Africa, according to the Telegraph.

During the discussion, Markle spoke about the importance of taking action to combat inequality. “Hashtags are not enough,” she said. She also talked about menstruation—specifically the need to destigmatize it so young women are not taken out of school or forced to use “old rags, literally” because they do not have access to sanitary products.

“At the end of the day, we’re doing our part just to normalize the conversation,” she said. “That’s the first step. This is 50 percent of the population that’s affected by something, that can also end up creating the most beautiful thing in the world. So it’s a strange one that it’s ended up becoming so stigmatized.”

Anne McElvoy, a journalist and chairwoman of the panel, opined that “growing up in Britain, if a member of the royal family had talked about periods 10 years ago, I think I would have fallen off my chair.” But Markle’s comments may reflect an evolving monarchy. As the Telegraph notes, for instance, the royal family has long adhered to protocols of hierarchy, with Prince Phillip always walking a step behind his wife, the Queen. Prince Harry and Markle do not follow this tradition; Markle has often been observed walking ahead of her husband.

But for the newly anointed Duchess of Sussex, the issue at hand is not of firsts and seconds, but of equals. During the panel, she spoke about the need to involve men in discussions about women’s rights—and insisted that men should embrace their roles as feminists.

“Your confidence comes in knowing that a woman by your side, not behind you, is actually something you shouldn’t be threatened about but, opposed to that, you should feel really empowered in having that additional support that this is really about us working together,” she said. “So I hope that men are part of the conversation. My husband certainly is.”

Markle, who is pregnant, also said that she had recently watched a Netflix documentary in which a pregnant woman had commented that she felt “the embryonic kicking of feminism.”

“I loved that,” she said, according to the New York Times. “So boy or girl, whatever it is, we hope that’s the case.”

Read more at the Telegraph and the New York Times.


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Grave danger

Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender activist, has been arrested in Egypt, sparking concerns that she will be placed in a men’s prison at great risk to her safety.

According to the Independent, al-Kashef was apprehended during a rally sparked by a recent deadly train crash in Cairo, which saw at least 25 people killed after an unmanned locomotive slammed into the city’s main railway station in late February. Protestors have criticized the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for failing to improve transit infrastructure, even after a series of lethal accidents. At least 70 people have been arrested in connection with the demonstrations, ten of whom have been released, reports Mada Masr.

State prosecutors have ordered al-Kashef to be detained for 15 days, pending an investigation, on charges of “misusing social media” and “calling for protests,” Human Rights Watch reports. Al-Kashef has not been given access to legal council and her whereabouts remain uncertain, but it is believed she is being held separately from other prisoners. Since her government ID still identifies her as male, however, she is at risk of being placed with the male prison population.

“Due to her gender identity, Malak is at increased risk of torture by the police, including rape and sexual violence, as well as assault by other detainees,” says Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. Egyptian police, Mughrabi notes, “have a horrific track record of persecuting people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

That persecution has been particularly acute since September 2017, when seven people were arrested for unfurling a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo, sparking an anti-LGBT crackdown. In 2018, 76 people were arrested for “debauchery.” And in January of this year, TV host Mohamed Al-Ghaity was sentenced to one year in prison simply for interviewing a gay man.

According to Egyptian Streets, al-Kashef has been trying to officially change her assigned gender for the past three years, without success. In 2018, she publicly spoke about facing harassment and violence to the point that she was afraid to ride public transportation. She also revealed that she had attempted suicide.

“[T]he Egyptian security forces should immediately release her,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, “and should end their harassment and arbitrary detention of activists.”

Read more at the Independent.


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‘Watershed moment’

A 37-year-old woman has become the first person in the United Kingdom to be convicted of perpetrating female genital mutilation (FGM).

According to the BBC, the Uganda-born woman was sentenced to 11 years in prison for mutilating her three-year-old daughter, and another two years for “indecent images and extreme pornography.” The woman’s partner, a 43-year-old man from Ghana, was cleared of involvement in the FGM, but pleaded guilty to “two charges of possession of an indecent image of a child and two charges of possessing extreme pornography.” Neither perpetrator has been named to protect the identity of the young victim.

Police became aware of the case after the child was brought to a hospital in East London; jurors were told that she had “lost a significant amount of blood” as a result of her injuries. The mother claimed that the girl had sustained the injuries after she fell and cut herself on the edge of a cupboard while trying to get a biscuit, the Guardian reports. The judge, however, was not convinced.

“FGM has long been against the law, and let’s be clear, FGM is a form of child abuse,” Justice Philippa Whipple said during the sentencing hearing, according to the BBC.

FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, can cause long-term physical and psychological problems. There are many factors that fuel the practice in certain communities, including the desire to prevent premarital sex and ensure marital fidelity.

It is not clear what motivated the mother in this case, but Whipple suggested that witchcraft may have played a role; when police searched her home, they found cows’ tongues bound with wires and pierced with nails. They also discovered limes stuffed with pieces of paper with names written on them—including the names of police officers and social workers who had carried out the investigation.

FGM is illegal in the U.K., but it is difficult for authorities to crack down on the practice because it is often carried out overseas. Between April 2017 and March 2018, more than 6,000 FGM cases were identified in Britain, only 85 of which had been perpetrated in the country. And only four FGM cases have ever been brought to court in the U.K. The most recent case marks the first time that anyone has been convicted of the crime.

Leethen Bartholomew, the head of the National FGM Center, called the conviction “a watershed moment,” according to the Guardian.

“[It] sends a strong message to society that this crime will not be tolerated,” Bartholomew said, “and offenders will be held accountable.”

Read about it at the BBC and the Guardian.


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'Still in any storm'

Gayle King has earned accolades for remaining calm and collected during R. Kelly’s unhinged rant during their recent interview on CBS This Morning. The latest viewer to sing her praises? King’s close friend — and this year’s Women in the World keynote speaker — Oprah Winfrey, who revealed to an audience of 10,000 at the recent Qualtrics X4 Experience Management Summit that she saw the interview and “could not believe it.”

Winfrey said that a student at her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, who aspires to one day become a journalist, texted her to say that “Auntie Gayle” had achieved her “broadcast goals.” But Oprah said she told the girl that King’s feat went beyond good journalism.

“The fact that she was able to sit there and be still with all of that hysteria means that she can be still in any storm,” Winfrey told the student. “That’s not just about being a good journalist.”

Many viewers seemed to agree. The now-infamous interview—and particularly a still image of the enraged singer towering over King—has come to illustrate the broader issue of male power and aggression. Winfrey was quick to congratulate her friend for refusing to let Kelly’s rage derail the interview, but she wasn’t surprised.

“I’m so happy for her to have this moment,” Winfrey said, according to Quartz, “because she has been in television for as long as I’ve been in television, and now people are seeing how great and strong and beautiful she is. I’m really excited for her.”

Oprah Winfrey will appear onstage at the 2019 Women in the World New York summit. Click here for more information, and here to secure your seat.

Read more at Quartz.


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'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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