The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is a daily newspaper published by Fairfax Media in Sydney and is also an Australian national online news brand. Founded in 1831 as the Sydney Herald, the SMH is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia and is published six days a week. Historically, the SMH had been a conservative newspaper, but announced in the 2004 Australian election that it would "no longer endorse one party or another at election time.”
A woman holds up a sign in French that says "don't abort my right"
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Roe v. Wade And Beyond: The Battle For Abortion Rights Around The World

As many look to an imminent threat to abortion rights in the U.S., there are changes afoot around the world, from strict new bans and more subtle means for limiting access to surprising progress elsewhere for women's right to choose.

PARIS — While Roe v. Wade cemented abortion access in the United States almost 50 years ago, the pro-life fight to overturn the landmark legislation has long kept the United States in the global spotlight in the debate over reproductive healthcare.

A recent Texas law banning the procedure once cardiac activity is detected (about six weeks into pregnancy) has resulted in an 80% reduction in abortions in the country's second-largest state. Now, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on November 1 to determine whether the federal government has the right to sue over the law, it's an opportune moment to also look at the status of legal abortions around the world.

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A New Delhi vaccination center on June 25
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Vaccines v. Variants: When Can We Put The Pandemic Behind Us?

As the first coronavirus wave finally abated late last spring, experts warned us that the pandemic was far from over. Second and third (and more) waves were likely, and new restrictions would be necessary to limit the death toll. There was only one sure way out of these pandemic times, a vaccine, which could take years to develop.

And yet today, despite the seemingly miraculous arrival of effective vaccines, and more than three billion doses already administered around the world, we still find ourselves asking the Question: When will it end?

New anxieties right now are being fueled by the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, including in countries that are leading the vaccine race. In the UK, where nearly two-thirds of adults are fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's "irreversible" roadmap to normality is looking increasingly blurred with 120,000 new COVID cases in the past week. In Israel, where more than 85% of those eligible are vaccinated, caseload levels have climbed this week to the highest since April, reports The Times of Israel.

The good news is that the virus is spreading mostly amongst young people, and studies suggest that most vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant, which represents almost every current infection in the UK and the majority in Israel.

Still, even while hospitalizations are fewer, Israeli health officials report that half of new COVID-19 cases are, in fact, in vaccinated people.

So if the Delta variant more easily bypasses vaccines, but people get less sick, what does it mean for our Question about collectively bidding farewell to the pandemic?

Officials must continue to motivate enough people to get vaccinated.

The most immediate worry is of course that hospitalizations will begin to rise; after all, the symptoms of the new variant are different — more similar to those of the flu or even hay fever — and so the longer-term effects might also deviate from the initial COVID-19 strain.

But more likely perhaps, is a drawn-out battle between vaccines and new variants, or a combination of vaccination and continued social distancing measures. Indeed, many experts believe that vaccinations or lockdowns alone won't be enough to slow the spread of the contagious new variants.

In Australia, where strict lockdown measures, stringent border controls and efficient contact-tracing systems left the country largely detached from the pandemic, Delta variant cases have nonetheless ballooned in the last few weeks, forcing Sydney, Darwin, Perth and Brisbane into a new quarantine.

If a more holistic approach becomes the way, combining mass vaccination with restrictions to reduce the spread, policymakers face the same questions about how to best contain the virus: Can we go to the beach? How effective are masks? Simultaneously, officials must continue to motivate enough people to get vaccinated.

And of course, there are huge swaths of the world still mired in the pandemic, with scant access to effective vaccines. Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union special envoy leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent, blasted Europe on Thursday, as Africa faces a third surge of infections. "Not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa," Masiyawa said.

Meanwhile in France, like many other Western countries, vaccination rollouts seem to have reached a ceiling, with the daily number of people receiving their first dose having dropped to its lowest level since April, French daily Les Echos reports.

So it seems that the answer to when this will all be over is a matter of definition. As a complete eradication of the virus seems unlikely in the near future, the best case scenario is one where the virus exists among us, but doesn't make us severely ill. In such a case then, yes, things will go back to normal — but it will be a "normal" in which we're constantly aware that another pandemic is always just one cough away.

A food delivery worker in London
Cassidy Slockett

How COVID-19 Exposed The Hard Questions About The Gig Economy

Consumers are convinced. Wall Street is buoyant. Demand around the world for app-based services is booming, with entire nations stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdowns and the prospect of goods and services at their door with just a click. As the so-called "Gig Economy" spreads alongside the pandemic, society has struggled to keep up.

• Online sales in South Korea have grown by 17% this year, and 42% in food deliveries.

• The freelancer platform PeoplePerHour registered a 300% increase of users in March of this year in the UK, 329% jump in Spain, and 513% in Japan.

Upwork reported a 24% increase in signups over the summer.

Investors and founders of the likes of Doordash and AirBNB are cashing in, with the two companies IPOs hitting record highs and earning Wall Street approval for their respective market dominance. Still, the stock market is not the economy, and white-collar and blue-collar workers alike have been forced to turn to gig-work out of financial necessity — offering little in the way of social benefits or long-term prospects.

"I have to work twice as much to make half of what I was making to survive," said Tyrita Franklin-Corbett, a former retail worker turned Instacart gig-shopper, to Reuters in October.

How it works: Rather than earning a regular wage, these apps pay for each "gig" completed. While it's not uncommon that people turn to freelance work during periods of economic downturns, the health crisis presents a unique scenario in which freelance workers risk being exposed to the virus in order to get paid.

• In the UK, a recent survey by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) found that 78% of app workers thought their health was at risk while working.

Exploited & Exposed: The pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of millions of workers already in precarious financial situations and without a safety net. Deliverers are considered "essential," but they don't receive the same protections (both physical and economic) as other essential workers.

• With Uber Eats in France offering 10 euros to customers on three orders during lockdown, workers have accused the tech-giant of "promonavirus," that is, using them as "cannon fodder," to serve meals while everyone else stays at home, Le Monde reports.

• "We have no protection," migrant food delivery rider Diego Franco in Australia recently told the Sydney Morning Herald.

• Already this year, 15 delivery workers in South Korea have died from "kwarosa," literally "to die of overwork." The gig-world is at its tipping point.

At a rally by Uber and Lyft drivers calling for basic employment rights in Los Angeles — Photo: Ringo Chiu/ZUMA Wire

Pushing back & shutting down: In the face of this harsh reality, gig workers have responded with work shutdowns, lawsuits and union organizing.

• In the U.S., thousands of Amazon workers have gone on strike in New York City after reports emerged that several employees had tested positive and still lack safety gear.

• The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) won a lawsuit which accused the UK government of failing to extend health and safety protections such as PPE to gig workers.

• The Italian food delivery industry, Assodelivery, has threatened to protest in order to give legal status to relationships with workers.

• As a result of the increase in demand during the pandemic, Scottish workers created the Workers Observatory union to discuss difficulties and track data in order to "challenge conditions in self-employed and gig work."

Fixing a fairer future: Ultimately, gig work has thrived until now on its lack of regulation. Yet the pandemic has clearly displayed the need for basic regulations, both for the workers and ultimately for the companies as well.

• La Stampa reports that Italy is attempting to strike a solution, where companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Glovo, JustEat will recognize workers as employees starting in 2021, earning a minimum wage of 10 euros per hour, along with overtime pay equal to 10%, 15% and 20% linked to following night work, holidays and bad weather.

• California recently passed Proposition 22, which seeks to provide contractors with health insurance and retirement benefits. The ballot initiative was funded by $200 million from Uber and its competitor Lyft, who presented it as a way to add some protections for its drivers while leaving them flexibility in when and how they work. Still the measure's main point was to specifically exclude gig workers from basic health and retirement benefits of a new law. Californians overwhelmingly supported the proposition, passing it 58 to 42 %.

France is offering € 1,500 to self-employed entrepreneurs who have experienced a drop in turnover of at least 70% as a result of COVID-19. But some gig workers simply cannot afford to face this drop to begin with. For them, it's even more crucial to keep working, even if it means extra hours and health risks.

The real takeaway? Critics have argued that these efforts are mainly face-saving measures that protect the platforms in the long run, and do little to address exploitation. In Europe, labor experts say that reforms that have long been driven by the rights of permanent employees must now focus on the broader status of "workers." Others are pushing for the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) to address the entire economic system. The pandemic has offered further proof that the Gig Economy is not going away. But it has also shown that it is built on a system of inequalities that, IPOs aside, are not sustainable in the long run.

The bitter irony of the effect of the health crisis on the world of work has begun to fuel the simmering worldwide debate about minimum wage. 
Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID-19's Essential Workers Shake Up Minimum Wage Debate

Why are some of society's most crucial employees still fighting to get paid a fair wage?

After the arrival of COVID-19, we started calling them "essential workers," as the pandemic gave long overdue recognition to those driving our buses, sweeping our floors, stocking our supermarket shelves. These are the people formerly known simply as "low-paid workers."

The bitter irony of the effect of the health crisis on the world of work, compounded by the overall disproportionate effect of the virus on poorer communities, has begun to fuel the simmering worldwide debate about minimum wage.

As the pandemic sparks a global recession, it has amplified the perennial economic dilemma of how to ensure a decent living for workers on the one hand, and protect the survival of vulnerable businesses on the other.

In places such as the U.S., a clear majority of the population is for the first time supporting a raise in the federal minimum wage to $15. Other countries, including Australia, have put scheduled minimum wage increases on hold following pushback from cash-strapped employers.

Biden and the federal 15: The first federal minimum wage was set in the U.S. in 1938. Since then, it has been raised 22 times by 12 different presidents. However, while living costs have skyrocketed there in the last decade, the minimum wage hasn't budged in 11 years. The Democratic Party did make a $15 minimum wage part of its platform ahead of the 2016 election season. And President-Elect Joe Biden has now pledged to push through the highest federal minimum wage increase in U.S. history, from its current $7.25 to $15.

• Biden's opportunity comes at a time when an unprecedented 67% of Americans surveyed (2019) expressed support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

• There are also signs that minimum wage in the U.S. is moving beyond bipartisanship, with 60% of voters in Florida recently voting for a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage from $8.56 to $15 per hour by 2026. Considering Donald Trump secured more than half of the votes in the state, upwards of 1 million Florida voters cast a ballot for the president and the minimum wage increase.

• A handful of states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — have already adopted laws that will raise the minimum wage to $15 over time, and 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

Arguments against: Outgoing President Donald Trump has claimed that raising the minimum wage would crush small businesses — the most common argument among skeptics. Pennsylvania assemblyman Andrew Lewis said a proposal to incrementally raise that state's minimum to $15 as part of a recovery plan would be "artificially inflating wages," and likely to have an inverse effect: job losses.

Almost 10% of workers in the European Union are living in poverty

Europe, one-size-fits-all? A similar dynamic of the federal v. state system is also playing out in the European Union. The pandemic has given new urgency to the idea of establishing the first EU-wide minimum wage framework, as lockdowns across member states have crippled some of the industries that pay minimum wages, such as tourism and hospitality.

• The idea of an EU-wide minimum wage has been floated several times in the past but has been palmed off by both governments and economists as unrealistic. What the European Commission is now considering is not a common minimum wage level, but rather a framework for standards.

• Of the EU's 27 countries, 21 already have statutory minimum wages set by national governments, but workers are often affected by inadequacy and gaps in the coverage of minimum wage protection.

• Therefore, the directive is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all figure for the whole bloc but rather a legal guarantee that workers in all states can make a decent living. Current proposals suggest that the threshold should be 60% of the median wage and 50% of the average wage.

• Six EU member states — Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Italy and Cyprus — have wages set in collective bargaining between employers and trade unions. These countries will not be forced to install statutory minimum wages but thresholds will instead be set for bargaining deals.

A group of local workers joining together for the ""Latinos for Raise the Wage"" in Miami, U.S. — Photo: TNS/ZUMA

What's behind the EU proposal? According to the Commission, almost 10% of workers in the European Union are living in poverty. It is mainly among the countries that joined in 2004 or after — such as Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia — where minimum wage levels are below average and wages are also lower in absolute terms.

• Bulgaria currently has the EU's lowest minimum wage with €312 per month, while Luxembourg has the highest, at €2,142.

• Levels of trade unions also vary widely across the 27 EU states and weak trade unions affect workers' ability to demand higher wages or affect their country's growth model.

• Low salaries and weak unions in turn creates a basis for social dumping, which is the practice of employers using cheaper labour than is usually available at their site of production or sale. They are also among the reasons for large-scale migration and population decline.

• The Commission has summarized the goal of their proposed directive to be reducing wage inequality, help sustain domestic demand, strengthen work incentives and reduce the gender pay gap. It adds that the proposal will also help protect employers that pay decent wages to workers by ensuring fair competition.

A global trend? If the EU's proposal is passed and implemented successfully, it could create a ripple effect on other countries that have already taken initial steps towards setting wage standards. Besides, the pandemic-induced exposure of the gap between the value of frontline workers and the low wages they receive could further bolster such an effort.

• More than 90% of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) 187 member states already have one or more minimum wages set through legislation or binding collective agreements.

• In the Americas and the Caribbean, there are very few exceptions, such as Suriname; and in Asia, there is no minimum wage in Singapore and Brunei. In Africa, exceptions include Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Among Arab states, no minimum wage exists in Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.

• This doesn't mean that in every other country minimum wages cover a majority of workers or that they are regularly adjusted according to inflation. A global poll from the International Trade Union Confederation found that 84% of all respondents judged their national minimum wage to be insufficient for a decent life.

Increased flexibility: In most countries, the ILO has stated that national policy debates focus not so much on whether to have a minimum wage, but on how to make one work effectively. As the pandemic has forced governments to new levels of economic flexibility, countries are also finding more short-term solutions for the minimum wage.

• Australia's fair work commission ordered a 1.7% minimum wage raise to $19.84 per hour in June, but the move faced pushback from employers recommending a wage freeze during the pandemic. The outcome is a compromise where most workers will get a raise, but employees in the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus, including tourism and aviation, will have their wage increase delayed until February, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

• Another example comes out of the Philippines, where minimum wage, as well as micro-insurance, are offered to casual workers who have temporarily lost their livelihood during the pandemic.

• In Qatar, the government has also decided on a delayed increase. After introducing a minimum wage in 2017, the government decided in August this year to raise the minimum with 25% which will come into effect in six months.

The gig economy: However, flexibility also has a darker underbelly, as digitization and an increasingly "gig"-oriented economy allows certain companies to sidestep labor policies.

• While technology has eliminated some of the more mundane tasks, it has also created new forms of exploitation such as crowdsourcing platforms dodging minimum wage requirements by using "independent contractors' rather than employees.

• For example, job platforms such as Appen, Clickworker and Amazon"s Mechanical Turk are not subject to paying their workers the national minimum wage. They have instead been reported to sometimes pay "contractors' as little as a few cents per hour or even wages in the form of gift cards.

• According to a 2019 ILO study, two-thirds of American workers surveyed on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform earned less than the federal minimum wage of US$7.25 per hour.

• The same study showed that only 7% of German workers surveyed on the Essen-based Clickworker platform reported earnings above the national minimum wage of €8.84 per hour.

At the Querdenken089 demonstration in Munich, Germany
Carl-Johan Karlsson

QAnon Worldwide: A Fringe Spreads To 7 Countries, And Beyond

What began as a small U.S.-based conspiracy theory on the fringes of the internet is shaping up to become a global movement. QAnon today boasts adherents in more than 70 countries around the world, according to research from Canada's Concordia University. In some of these, the movement is estimated to have tens of thousands of followers; in France and Italy, QAnon content is spreading rapidly online in local languages, while in London and Berlin, QAnon protests have already moved from the internet to the streets.

American roots: QAnon got its start in October 2017, when an anonymous user called Q began spreading false theories on virtual messaging boards about Hillary Clinton and a child sex ring operating out of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor. Today, while paedophilia and a shadow government remains at the core of the theory, it has grown to become an amorphous idea that is affecting the ongoing U.S. election campaign — while spreading rapidly around the world.

  • QAnon supporters believe that US President Donald Trump is fighting an international pedophile elite that has been secretly abducting and sexually abusing children, and harvesting their blood to make a youth serum.
  • As outlandish as these ideas sound, a fresh poll shows that 6% of Americans believe them to be true.
  • Now, as the coronavirus has created the perfect storm of fear, uncertainty and increased screen time, the movement is growing rapidly, both in numbers and geographically.

Adaptable narratives: Most QAnon content continues to be shared in the US, but studies show that the movement is gaining international traction. Part of what makes this rapid spread possible is the adaptability of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Global spread: Britain is currently the country where the second-largest amount of sharing takes place, followed by Canada, Australia and Germany. While the main tenets center on a pedophile elite attempting to control the world, the theory is being applied to local narratives, including those related to pandemic.

  • QAnon supporters joined anti-restriction protesters in the streets of Berlin in late August to manifest against Germany's coronavirus rules, Deutsche Welle reported. Protesters carried signs reading "Stop the corona lies' and "End the pandemic immediately," suggesting that COVID-19 was an artificial event.
  • In Australia, QAnon has mixed with other global conspiracy theorists, including those claiming 5G towers spreading coronavirus. In an especially local twist, some QAnon posts claim that Melbourne's coronavirus lockdown was a smokescreen for a rescue operation involving child sex-trafficking victims in the city's storm drain tunnels, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
  • In Brazil, one of the South American countries where QAnon content is spreading the fastest, national VIPs have been baked into the theory and pointed out as culprits, including TV host Luciano Huck, YouTuber Felipe Neto, a range of left-wing politicians as well as Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. QAnon content has also been given an unexpected distribution boost by New Age groups adopting the theory. These spiritual and pseudoscientific communities, with practises ranging from shamanism and crystal healing to yoga and numerology, are playing a prominent role in introducing and domesticating QAnon narratives in Brazil.

Holding a flag with half an American flag and half for the QAnon conspiracy theory — Photo: Stephanie Keith/ZUMA

Platform virus: Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have stepped up efforts to try to combat the proliferation of Q conspiracy theories, with Twitter announcing in July to have removed over 7,000 QAnon accounts from the platform. But new accounts seem destined to pop up and gain even more followers. According to Newsguard, there were 450,000 known followers of QAnon sites in France, Italy, Germany and Britain in July.

More global hotspots:

  • In March 2020, was created. It states that it was founded by "a group of French, anti-globalization patriots, who campaign for the waking up of Nations." French daily Le Monde reports that French-language YouTube videos promoting the movement routinely exceed 150,000 views, and the main French-speaking QAnon Facebook group, "17FR," has had 30,000 members before Facebook banned all QAnon-related pages on October 6.
  • In Italy, the site was registered in February, publishing QAnon content in Italian and other languages, and providing links to the main national and international QAnon resources online. In February 2020, the YouTube channel Dentro la Notizia (recommended source by posted a video named" Trump, Putin and Salvini united against EU elites will liberate Italy." Wired Italia reported that the video had reached 22,000 views in early August. Several Facebook pages were also created during the lockdown, including Qanon Italia in March and The Q Italian Patriot in May — both getting thousands of likes before eventually being shut down by Facebook.
  • In the UK, similar Facebook groups appeared starting in April, including The Great Awakening – the History of Everything (Cabal. Q. QAnon), a group that reached 18,000 members before being shut down. A frequent debate in these groups is whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been "installed" by Q, and is working together with US President Donald Trump to advance "the Plan."
  • A German-language YouTube account, Qlobal-Change, recently reached 100,000 subscribers.
A family gathering near a cable barrier along the border between Canada and the United States

Open Or Close Borders? The Impossible Choice Isn't Going Away

Viewed from the proverbial (and literal) 30,000 feet, the most stunning consequence of the coronavirus pandemic may have been the sudden closing of national borders. In an increasingly open world, the past six months of severe international travel restrictions continues to disrupt lives and hobble the global economy.

Last week, the six-months-long closure of the world's longest land border, between the United States and Canada, to "discretionary" travel was extended to at least until Oct. 21. Leaders of these two neighbors face the same impossible dilemma as other countries pondering the reopening of their borders, between saving lives and saving the economy.

Tanking tourism: Morocco implemented one of the world's strictest border lockdowns, keeping its borders closed since mid-March and only allowing the initially trapped tourists to leave the country and stranded citizens to come back in July. But the country's economy has been dealt a serious blow, especially its tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of its GDP.

Controls at the Austrian-Hungarian border — Photo: Frank Hoermann/DPA/ZUMA

Europe's uncertainty: As soon as coronavirus cases were climbing again at the end of August, several European countries started to either reintroduce restrictions and quarantine measures or to close their borders again — despite German chancellor Angela Merkel warning Europe must avoid closing borders again "at any cost."

  • On Sept. 1, Hungary decided to close its borders to foreigners without consulting any other EU members, while Finland imposed Europe's "tightest" border restrictions and several countries added others in their unsafe travel list. This came with short notice for travellers and holidaymakers who were forced to either postpone, shorten or cancel their trips altogether.

  • But this lack of coordination could have far worse consequences in the long run and not just for travellers, but also for cross-border and seasonal workers, students, or families and couples, and on the European economic and cultural life. That is why 71 lawmakers from the European Parliament wrote an open letter, calling EU member states to come "to an agreement on common sanitary measures in Schengen," after witnessing this summer "the chaos at the internal borders of the EU."

  • The European Commission is currently testing coronavirus contacts-tracing apps that would interoperate across the bloc. But that might not be enough to ensure one country or the other will not close its borders.

Canada's problematic neighbor: Despite economic pressure, others are not so keen to reopen their borders, fearing the free flow of population might result in a resurgence of cases.

  • This is the case for Canada, as its neighbor, the United States is registering the highest number of cases in the world with over 6.9 million infections and highest number of deaths with over 200,000 fatalities.

  • Some border city mayors prefer the border to stay closed for a longer period of time. Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia, Ontario, which borders the U.S. state of Michigan, pleaded to Canadian officials on CTV News: "Just don't open it back up again .. if it backfired we'd have to close it again. And that's the worst thing you can do, give us freedom and then take it away."

  • On the other hand, U.S. President Donald Trump said the border would open "pretty soon", adding that "Canada would like it opened." But a survey conducted earlier this month revealed that 90% of Canadians want to keep the strict border restrictions in place, The Toronto Star reports.

The land border between Canada and the United States was closed to all non-essential travel in March 2020 — Photo: Liang Sen/Xinhua/ZUMA

Real costs Down Under: The consequences of closing borders within the countries themselves are very real too. Australia has closed its international borders to anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident since March, but the closing of its internal borders this summer and difference of restrictions between states has also divided the country in an unprecedented manner and created vivid tensions.

  • "So it's not like "Oh we put the border up, everything's OK and everybody's protected," no — there are real costs to that too" Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sky News. He has pressed states to reopen by Christmas, as anti-lockdown protests erupted in Victoria, the epicentre of the country's latest wave of cases, at the beginning of September.

  • The national daily The Australian called Queensland border rules "horrendously cruel" as requests for exemptions to attend funerals were denied while the country's PM said his office has been swamped with letters from Australians with "heartbreaking" stories of citizens being denied medical care and other vital services.

  • Some states are currently starting to ease restrictions: South Australia is reopening its borders with New South Wales this week, after the latter registered no new cases in two weeks. "A victory for clear, evidence-based policy in the sometimes emotional debate about the role state borders should play in controlling COVID-19", stated The Sydney Morning Herald, which accused other states of adopting "less transparent and evidence-based approach", such as Western Australia, which has refused to disclose any date for reopening.

An hommage to the iconic neck collar of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Laure Gautherin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

RBGs Of The World: 6 Women Who Pushed Progress Through The Law

From Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai to Golda Meir and Corazon Aquino, women activists and political leaders have led the fight for gender equality and human rights around the world over the past century.

But as the tributes keep pouring in for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87, we are reminded of the particular importance of sealing progress in the courts — and the judges and lawyers making it possible.

While a recent OECD study shows that 54% of judges are women in developed countries, it also pointed to a lack of women in top-ranking judicial positions, making profiles like RBG all the more outstanding. From Brazil to France to Malaysia, here are six exceptional women who, like RBG, have made a lasting impact in the courtroom:

Gisèle Halimi (Tunisia/France): Less than 2 months before Ginsburg's passing, women's rights in France mourned one of its fiercest advocates. Tunisian-born Gisèle Halimi, a renowned lawyer, author and Member of French Parliament, dedicated her life to gender equality, changing a male-centric judicial system to protect women and their rights over their own body, as recalls Le Monde in her obituary.

• In 1972, during what is now known as the Bobigny trials, she defended a 17-year-old student accused of having an abortion after being raped, along with her mother and three of her colleagues who helped terminate the pregnancy. Thanks to Halimi, the victim and two of the accused were dismissed. The verdict later played a part in the adoption of the Veil Law, legalizing abortion, in 1975.

• In 1978, she defended in two victims of a gang rape. The case attracted significant media attention, and her defense strategy contributed to a clear legal definition of rape, officially criminalizing it in 1980.

Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat (Malaysia): In May 2019, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat made history when she became the country's first female Chief Justice, reports Malay Mail.

• The 61-year-old mother of four boasts a long legal and judicial career. As a Court of Appeal judge, and then a Federal Court judge, she has presided over multiple high-profile cases.

• Seen as a progressive judge, women's rights groups hope her appointment will help to tackle the issue of lower prosecutions in rape and domestic violence cases and bring "more justice to women."

• Her nomination, according to Free Malaysia Today, came as 2019 marked a milestone for women judges in Malaysia, many of whom were appointed to top positions.

Lady Brenda Hale (UK): Appointed as the first female Law Lord in 2004 (becoming Baroness Hale of Richmond), Lady Brenda Hale was named the Supreme Court's first female president five years later.

• In 1984, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission, where she took part in the groundbreaking Children Act of 1989. The reform obliges government and public entities to place a child's "best interests' at the center of their decision making.

• In 2011, as the leading judge in Yemshaw v. LB Hounslow, Lady Hale participated in redefining "domestic violence" to include verbal and psychological abuse, no longer limiting it to physical assault, reports Family Law Week.

Sudha Bharadwaj (India): Law was not this mathematics student's first love, but after seeing the working conditions of certain minorities in India, Sudha Bharadwaj's pursuit of justice, as described by an editor of The Wire, led her to obtain a late law degree.

• Before becoming a lawyer, she joined the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as general secretary of the Chhattisgarh branch. She was also a member of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha labor party, where she fought corruption among bureaucrats and pushed for fair wages.

• In 2005, Bharadwaj started working in the High Court of Chhattisgarh. Her cases mainly targeted big corporate groups exploiting the Adivasis, an indigenous people, and ruining the environment. She talks more about this particular commitment in an interview on the Socialist Project.

• In 2018, Bharadwaj was arrested along with four other Human Rights Defenders following a TV program claiming they had a link to Maoists. Her arrest was highly criticized as a government move to silence her, and she has been denied bail multiple times by several courts (including the Supreme Court).

Joênia Wapixana (Brazil): Joênia Wapixana became Brazil's first indigenous female lawyer in 1997 and the country's first indigenous congresswoman in 2018, reports O Globo.

• A member of the Wapixana tribe in northern Brazil, she was the first indigenous lawyer to win a case before the country's Supreme Court. The case defined the boundaries of the indigenous territory Raposa Serra do Sol and ended violence against indigenous people who refused to cede their lands to agribusinesses.

• Her role as an activist defending the rights of indigenous people led her to win the 2018 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.

• Following the dam disaster in Brumadinho, she presented her first bill proposal as a congresswoman, which aimed at legally designating environmental crimes as "heinous crimes," which would subject them to more severe penalties.

Arwa Al-Hujaili (Saudia Arabia): There are, of course, some countries that have a particularly long way to go in terms of gender parity. But even women continue to hold court, wherever they may be — like Arwa Al-Hujaili, who became Saudi Arabia's first woman trainee lawyer in 2013.

• Al-Hujaili was only 22 when she graduated from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah in 2010. Yet she would have to wait another three years to be able to practice as a lawyer, which is certainly not the case for men who follow the same educational path. She spent those years working as a "legal consultant", receiving no recognition as a lawyer.

• But Al-Hujaili did not take no for an answer, tirelessly petitioning the Ministry of Justice. On April 8, 2013, The ministry licensed Al-Hujaili as a legal trainee, allowing her to finally practice law. After a three-year apprenticeship, she became a fully licensed lawyer.

A shop assistant in Hong Kong, China, moves freshly supplied rice in a supermarket.

Pasta In Italy. Rice In China. Guns In U.S.: A Hoarding World Tour

People around the world have been rushing out to buy 'essential' products, a concept that varies from culture to culture.

One of the more striking outward signs of these troubled times are the ravaged grocery store shelves. Across the world, one of the first reactions people had to the quickly spreading pandemic was to make a rush on basic necessities. Even more troubling, however, are empty warehouses, as anxious demand combines with interrupted supply chains. But just as every country differs in how it tries to control the coronavirus, there are also nuances, from place to place, when it comes to hoarding supplies.

RICE RICE BABY: Fears of a looming food shortage during the coronavirus crisis spurred China — the world's largest grain importer — to make a serious run on rice. In March alone, the country purchased some 50 million metric tons of it, reports Radio Free Asia. But this is not necessarily national policy orchestrated by Beijing, says Fengrui Niu, the former director of the Urban Development and Environment Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Many imports are from individual businesses "profiting from the raging epidemic to hoard food in order to cash in huge profits," he told the U.S.-funded news outlet.

PASTA PANIC: The Italian staple of choice likewise showed a major boost in the month of March, a 59% increase as one in three families bought pasta supplies every 72 hours, reports Agrifood Today. For those old enough to remember, the buying frenzy may spark memories from 1974, when government price controls caused a nation-wide pasta scarcity. Mamma mia!

BUYING UP BOOZE: Down under, in Australia, it's been bottoms up. Data compiled by the Commonwealth Bank suggest that Ozzies have turned from stockpiling toilet paper to hoarding alcohol, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. As pubs, clubs and restaurants closed down the last week of March, spending on alcohol was 86% higher compared to the same period last year, leading the government to impose limits on alcohol purchases. Now, people can only buy up to two cases of 24 beers or a case of 12 bottles of wine — or both.


Cars line up at a drive-up food distribution center in a parking lot in Palm Beach, Florida, United States.— Photo: Gregg Lovett

COLD HARD CASH: Rather than food, Germans appear to be hoarding the money used to buy it, as the country has experienced an unprecedented level of ATM withdrawals. Cash was already the most popular means of payment before the crisis, but was expected to shrink as supermarkets encourage card payments to lower infection risk. According to the Bundesbank, there is no economic or social explanation for hoarding money, as the cash supply is ensured even in times of crisis.

WIPES AND WEAPONS: People can be forgiven in this period of such uncertainty for wanting to feel safe and secure. And for many Americans, that apparently means having an ample supply of... toilet paper. Lots and lots of it. So much, in fact, that stores are facing drastic supply shortages, both online and off. There's also been a rush on (what else?) guns. In March alone, the FBI reported 3.7 million gun-purchase background checks, not only a 41% increase from the month before, but also the largest number of background checks conducted in a single month ever. Gun and ammunition dealers are also facing a shortage of supplies.

JAVA JITTERS: The whole world apparently can't imagine starting its day without that morning coffee. "Panic buying and stockpiling" has led to higher demand in some countries, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), and prices have surged as a result. In the U.S. alone, weekly sales of coffee increased as much as 73% in March. But the underlying fear behind this compulsive consumerism may not be so unfounded, as the current pandemic is leading to supply disruptions due to lockdowns in coffee producing countries. In Colombia, for example, the usual coffee harvest is in April, yet the country is set to be under a nationwide lockdown until April 27.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a morning COVID-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation.

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why We Care About Boris Johnson

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.


Boris Johnson Taken To Intensive Care: It's a headline that stands out among the non-stop flow of disturbing coronavirus news flashes. We already knew the 55-year-old British Prime Minister had been infected two weeks ago, and even Sunday's news that he was being brought to the hospital with a persistent fever was presented as routine testing.

But there's nothing routine about the ICU, nor the oxygen he was being given after breathing difficulties had suddenly appeared on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is running the country, and Boris Johnson is by all appearances fighting for his life.

There will be time another day to reflect on what this means politically in the UK, where Johnson has been questioned for his choices in fighting the pandemic and more generally criticized about his policies on healthcare. But serious illness turns every politician into a person.

He is of course hardly the only person: 1.4 million have been infected, and more than 76,000 people have died from COVID-19 around the world. On Tuesday, Britain's death toll alone hit a one-day high of 854. Yet for those not touched directly, the gravity of this pandemic hits home again as a very public person deteriorates in real-time before our eyes. Indeed, Johnson had posted a video just before being taken to the hospital where he seemed a bit fatigued, but otherwise his usual moppy-haired wry self. So it's him this time, we tell ourselves. Who will be next?

This has happened before in Britain, in 1918, when the nation's war hero prime minister David Lloyd George caught the flu during a ceremonial visit to Manchester's Albert Square. As his condition worsened, and with World War I in full swing, the prime minister's illness was kept hidden to prevent the news from reaching the country's enemies.

A century later, the stricken leader is very much in plain view — it's the enemy that we can't see.

— Jeff Israely


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London police enforcing the quarantine Sunday at Greenwich Park

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantines And The Climate Change Long Game

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.


There's been no shortage of hopeful speculation that this epidemic may prompt a turning point in the fight against climate change. We've seen the immediate benefits of imposed reductions in human activity, notably with the unprecedented slowdown in emission-producing transportation. But will these clean spring skies last? Alongside the short-term gains in cleaner air, are we set for some kind of global "wake up" needed to permanently reverse global warming? Or will our carbon footprints simply reappear the day we step out the door when the lockdown ends?

There are signs that real change could stick. Since the spread of the virus, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australians have been buying up solar panels as a back-up energy source in case something goes wrong with the main grid. The expanding supplies of wind power is itself proving to be reliable, with 96% of Europe's turbines continuing with business as usual through the crisis.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), sees the unveiling of national stimulus packages to avert economic collapse as a chance to go green for the long haul, believing a commitment to investing in renewables will "bring the twin benefits of stimulating economies and accelerating clean energy transitions."

Still, lasting change will come down to hard decisions in both halls of government and executive board rooms. It's notable that the United States' unprecedented $2 trillion economic stimulus did not include support for green business. Moreover, many important clean energy projects are spearheaded by top oil and gas companies that are facing a coronavirus-induced collapse in crude prices, and may be strapped for resources to invest in renewables.

As for the rest of us, this crisis has been a sharp reminder that we can actually change our habits, but only if we are obliged. In numerous countries, the quarantines required to limit the spread of the virus did not work on a voluntary basis — the government needed to enforce fixed rules.

Yes, this virus has woken people up to the importance of: policy. A general public that flouts safety regulations, corporations leaving the planet by the wayside, the urgent need for coherent healthcare systems… none of this will change without smart and swift government intervention.

— Rozena Crossman


  • European glimmers of hope: The daily death toll in Spain has dropped for the fourth day in a row, down to 637 and Italy"s death toll dropped to its lowest in two weeks. France has 6,838 people in intensive care, some 105 of whom are under the age of 30, but the numbers are rising at a slower rate.

  • UK leaders: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted to hospital for persisting coronavirus symptoms, shortly after Queen Elizabeth gave a rare TV address to urge resolve in face of the pandemic.

  • Monday markets: Global stocks and U.S. futures on the rise as coronavirus cases slow in some European countries, but oil prices remain on edge with postponed Saudi Arabia-Russia talks.

  • Japanese emergency: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expected to declare state of emergency after surge of cases in Tokyo.

  • Abidjan fears: Locals destroy a coronavirus testing center that was under construction in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, fearing it was too close to their homes.

  • Feline cases: A tiger tested positive for the virus at Bronx zoo, after being reportedly contaminated by caretaker. Last week a cat was confirmed to be infected in Belgium.

  • Double duty: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who worked as a doctor for 7 years, has rejoined medical register to help fight against the pandemic.

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Australia: A 'Historic' Ruling On Offshore Detention

Australia's controversial policy of diverting immigrants to tiny Pacific Islands dominated the Australian media Thursday, after country's highest court ruled it was legal for the government to fund and participate in offshore detention. The Sydney Morning Herald juxtaposed a photograph of an immigrant baby with the faces and votes of the High Court's seven justices in what the newspaper called a "historic" ruling.

The failed court challenge — brought by the Human Rights Law Center (HRLC) — focused on the legality of the Australian government to detain people on foreign soil. Australia has for years embarked on a controversial policy in the face of migrants and refugees trying to arrive on the island nation by boat. It intercepts the boats, and places the would-be immigrants in detention on small, relatively poor Pacific island nations.

The islands of Nauru and Manus have been the main destinations in the detention program, and more than 1,400 individuals, including some 70 children, are currently being held on the island while awaiting their claims to be processed, ABC News reports.

The HRLC brought the case on behalf of 260 people — mainly women and children — who had been transported to Australia for medical care. Wednesday's judgment legally entitles Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to send these individuals back to Nauru. According to UNICEF, the group includes women who have been sexually assaulted, 54 children and 37 babies born on Australian soil.