Ideas

Why Italy's Next President Should Be A Woman — And Not Just Any Woman

Italy's head of state is being elected next week, amid a flood of attention of the candidacy of infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Having a woman in the presidency, argues Italian writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini, may finally help steer the country in a better direction.

Italy is a parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister. The functions of the President of the Republic are more honorary than operational, yet can be crucial in moments of political or constitutional crisis. Next week the votes among members of the Parliament and Senate will decide who replaces outgoing President Sergio Mattarella. With most attention focused on the names of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi and controversial former four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, calls have been sounded that Italy is long overdue for having a female president.

-Op-Ed-

Many Italians, including some women, have criticized those calling for the election of a woman as Italy's next head of state — as if these calls were saying that being a woman is enough to govern well. To attribute such naive and clumsy thoughts to the people pushing for a woman president is an insult — we are taking instead about a question of principle.

"If the Constitution declares," as Sabino Cassese, a former Constitutional Court judge, wisely recalls, "that citizens are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, why has there not even been one woman among Italy's 12 presidents of the republic?"

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India's Legal Age To Marry And Shackles Of The Patriarchy

As India debates raising the legal age of women to marry to match the age for men, one women writer asks what it means for her.

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Growing up in an urban and (mostly) open-minded family, I often had a hard time comprehending the complexities involving women being married off as soon as they turned 18.

My grandmother had been married at the age of 17. My mother, at 21.

As I tried to contemplate the predicament of the women of my family for generations before me, I could feel myself gradually descending into madness — and brimming with questions.

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No Less Than Monks? Buddhist Nuns Seek Gender Equality

The Buddha's "Eight Heavy Rules" included a stipulation that placed Buddhist nuns under the supervision of monks, which have undermined women’s status in the ancient religion.

In recent years, many Buddhist nuns have taken on leadership roles that require either ordination status or academic degrees, all of which was quite unheard of in Buddhist monastic traditions in the past. However, this change has also met with much resistance, as traditionally Buddhism has allowed only men to serve in these roles.

The early Pali Vinaya texts in the Buddhist canon recount how Buddha thrice rejected the request of his foster mother, Mahaprajapati, to be ordained, before his disciple, Ananda, persuaded him to accept women into the monastic body.

Ananda had to make two arguments for his case: an emotional one – that Mahaprajapati had been kind to the Buddha and raised him – and a logical one – that women, too, had the potential to become enlightened.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Omicron Reinfection Rates, Abortion To Supreme Court, Battleaxosaurus

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.
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Society
Marième Soumaré

"She Asked For It" — Rape Culture In Spotlight At Miss Senegal Beauty Contest

A top executive of the Miss Senegal beauty pageant dismissed accusations made by last year's winner that she'd been raped, igniting furious debate across the West African nation about the treatment of women and the retrograde attitudes across society.

DAKAR — As a defense mechanism, Amina Badiane could not have done worse. It was last Thursday, Nov. 18, when the chairwoman of the Miss Senegal organizing committee spoke with Dakarbuzz, a website based in the capital.

The interview was an opportunity to respond to the revelations of Ndèye Fatima Dione, Miss Senegal 2020, who had revealed publicly the violence she'd suffered during her time as the nation's No. 1 beauty queen. Her mother had also revealed that Dione's pregnancy was the consequence of rape, committed during a trip organized by the committee.

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Society
Laure Gautherin

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

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Society
Daniel Murillo and Caroline Watillon

His Pill? We're Long Overdue For Male Contraceptive Alternatives

Male contraception, both pharmaceuticals and procedures, is gaining increasing interest. Yet to date, there is no male contraceptive drug authorized on the market.

If contraception has been a woman's business since the 1960s, it was in the 1990s that international bodies began to take an interest in the idea of sharing the burden of contraception. After the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), calls emerged for sharing the responsibility for birth control with men.

By affirming gender equality in all spheres of life — societal, familial, sexual and reproductive — men are challenged to take personal and social responsibility for their sexual behavior and fertility.

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Society
FLAVIA AMABILE

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer

Alice, 28 years old, from Genoa, terminated her pregnancy one year ago. "It is neither a transgression nor disgrace, I only exercised my right to do so."

GENOA — Alice Merlo terminated her pregnancy with a pill on September 21, 2020. Last week, returning from a four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis condemned women who, like Merlo, choose to end their pregnancies. And yet, Italy's 194 law that authorized the right to abortion in 1978, despite myriad shortcomings, is fundamentally working.

The number of abortions in Italy has been declining for years. This is confirmed by the latest data from the annual report of the Ministry of Health : last year, there were 67,638 abortions, a 7.6% drop that continues a downward trend since 1983. The conscientious objection to abortion applied among gynecologists opposed to the practice is also decreasing, from 68.4% in 2019 to 67% in last year.

Women no longer die from illegal abortions, and yet the Catholic world won't forgive them. The Pope defined pregnancy interruptions as a "homicide." He repeated that "whoever gets an abortion commits a murder, to say it clearly" and that you can see in "any embryology book for Medicine students" that at "the third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA" and that it is therefore a human life! And this human life must be respected." Francis concluded with a question: "Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?"

This was a true attack. Not new but particularly brutal. Alice Merlo refuses to accept the condamnation. "After exactly one year, I don't see myself at all as a murderer. I have not committed a homicide. Getting an abortion is neither a transgression nor a disgrace. I only exercised my right, and rights should not require paying some kind of 'pain fine.'"

Speaking about abortion without shame or anonymity

Merlo is 28 years old, lives in Genoa, works in the communication field and is one of the few women who has accepted to talk about her termination of pregnancy without hiding behind anonymity. On the contrary, she decided to show her face right after the intervention with a Facebook post, and then became a testimonial for a campaign organized by the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in favor of pharmacological abortion.

Not only has she decided to talk about her decision, but to do so without having to pay what she calls a "pain fine" to society.

I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

"It wasn't hard for me to decide, "she says. "I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term. I was lucky to avoid facing the world of the conscientious objection to abortion, the gynecologist who followed me medically me was not an objector so she accompanied me in the treatment of Ru486, here in Genoa."

A poster in Milan against the RU486 abortion pill

A billboard against the Ru 486 pill in Milan, Italy, 2020. — Photo: Alberico Massimo/Abaca/ZUMA

Last word goes to who has to carry pregnancy forward

Merlo says she suffered no physical or psychological malady — and that this reality is not accepted by society. "When we talk about abortion we say that there is the 194 law, but that it's always a tragedy, a pain, a scar. Instead it is not always like that, and we shouldn't impose a sense of guilt in the people who do talk about it. There are different ways of telling stories."

When people ask why she didn't carry through with her pregnancy, Merlo responds simply: "I didn't feel like it, it wasn't the right time and I didn't want this embryo to become a baby boy or girl. I did it during the seventh week and I never felt guilt or tormented myself. I made my own choice."

She never told the man with whom she had sex. "We didn't have a stable relationship," she explains. "There was no need to burden him with my choice. In any case, even in a stable relationship the last word goes to who has to carry the pregnancy forward."

Despite her determination, and the availability of the gynecologist, abortion is still presented as an obstacle course, semi-clandestine and guilt-ridden, Merlo says. "You can only go in the morning and without having booked a specific appointment. You are treated like a person performing an act they should be ashamed; of and no medical authority indicates where the abortions are performed. There is a climate of omertà and shadows." And yet the law is simply being respected.

Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

"We Won't Be Silenced" - Afghan Women Vow To Resist Taliban

Angered at the return of the Islamist rule of the Taliban, many Afghan women are refusing to keep quiet, covered and at home as they did in the 1990s.

The Afghan struggle against the Taliban's sectarian rule has begun, and does not look as if it will be deterred by threats from the "Islamic Emirate." After forming its provisional government — which shares a trait with the cabinet of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi for including ministers subject to sanctions and sought by international justice — the Taliban regime immediately banned all demonstrations. Protests, it declared, must seek permits 24 hours beforehand and even submit the slogans to be chanted to the interior and justice ministries for approval.

One woman who took part in recent anti-state protests in Kabul was Fahimeh Sadat, a rights activist who used to work with the Afghan government. Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London by phone, "We won't be silenced with these threats, and will defend the rights we won in the past 20 years as far as we can."

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INTERNAZIONALE

San Marino, Tiny Nation-State May Be Next To End Abortion Ban

After Ireland, another once Catholic stronghold in Europe is challenging a longstanding law that makes abortion a crime, for both women and doctors.

Some of the last remaining European countries that enforce bans on abortions have sparked massive social movements in recent years: from Poland where 150,000 demonstrated last October in Warsaw after a court ruled in favor of an almost total abortion ban to the outpouring of support in Ireland for a 2018 referendum that repealed an age-old ban —even the miniature-sized British territory of Gibraltar made international headlines after a campaign recently forced a referendum that successfully scrapped the local law that punished abortions with life imprisonment.

But hidden from view, a much quieter battle is unfolding in the sloping, sleepy streets of a medieval city-state tucked inside central Italy. San Marino, population 33,000, is one of the last places in Europe where getting an abortion on request is illegal (The others are: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Poland.)

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Egypt
Yasmin El-Rifae

Honor Killings, #MeToo And The Future For Egyptian Women

Women in Egypt have definitively broken the silence around sexual violence — but what comes next?

CAIRO — About two weeks ago, Dalia's doorman, landlord, and neighbors — at least three men in total — suspecting her of having sex or some kind of sexual interaction with a guest, forced their way into her apartment in the Cairo neighborhood of Salam, beat her and either threw her out of the window or terrified her so much that she jumped. The National Council for Women, missing the point, said in its press release that Dalia's body was found "fully clothed." Newspapers reported that the prosecution had ordered a vaginal examination of her corpse.

Two weeks earlier, a draft of a long-awaited personal status law was shown to the public. The draft does nothing that women hoped it might to advance their legal standing — it in fact regresses it in several areas. The bill further diminishes women's already embattled legal and financial guardianship rights over themselves and their children: Being of legal age is not enough to legally consent to marriage — a woman's male relatives can object to the marriage within a year. Being the mother of a child is not enough for a woman to issue their birth certificate, open a bank account for him/her, or consent to their surgery — a power of attorney granted by the child's father or court document is necessary.

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Egypt
Hadeer El-Mahdawy

The Limits Of #MeToo Even In Egypt's Most Progressive Circles

Public denouncements have pressured some Egyptian institutions to establish anti-harassment policies. But without 'collective responsibility,' policies alone can only go so far.

CAIRO — In June 2019, Eman was a senior engineering student at Ain Shams University, in Cairo. While working on her senior project with a teaching assistant, the TA standing in front of her took out his penis.


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Geopolitics
Florence Miettaux

The Slow March To Emancipation For Women In South Sudan

More than half of girls in South Sudan are married before they turn 18, and only 1.3% still attend school at age 16.

JUBA — In the studio of Advance Youth Radio, in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Eva Lopa concludes her weekly program. Outside, night is falling.

Focused, Lopa thanks her guests — a high school poet and a representative of the Okay Africa Foundation — who have just spent an hour talking with listeners. Unaffordable feminine hygiene products and the lack of sanitary facilities in schools were on that evening's agenda for the show, Gender Talk 211, which discusses the place of women in society, their contribution to the struggle for liberation in South Sudan, and menstruation.

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Society
Ahmed Eljechtimi

A Female Voice Busts Into 'Man's World' Of Moroccan Rap

With edgy lyrics and an attitude that's too legit to quit, rapper Houda Abouz — aka Khtek — is pushing against the grain and gaining a substantial following.

RABAT — In a rap scene dominated my men, women's voices are starting to make waves in Morocco.

Houda Abouz, a 24-year-old who majors in film studies at a university in the northern city of Tetouan, has long been fascinated by hip-hop. Encouraged by friends, she finally decided to picked up a mic, and from there began to perform.

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LA STAMPA
Flavia Perina

Patriarchy Strikes Back? What's Behind Italy's 'Male Rights' Movement

Former center-right politician Flavia Perina says Italy won't easily move backwards when it comes to women's rights, because the female electorate is watchful.

-OpEd-

After a period of progress in women's rights, it seems the time has come for the ebb, for a push-back of a certain type of male rights we thought history had left behind.

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