With laws against rape and child marriage, 2017 was a momentous year for women’s rights

In India, lawmakers ruled that having sex with a wife aged 15-18 is punishable as rape, while Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan scrapped laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims.

Beginning with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who swiftly moved to restrict abortions around the world, 2017 brought a reminder to many that women’s rights have a long road ahead.

But the trials ushered in a new era of resistance in the United States and elsewhere, while countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America made strides toward ending gender discrimination, campaigners said.

“It was a year for tackling discriminatory laws,” UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan all scrapped laws this year that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims, a move activists hope will spread to other Arab states.

In a string of victories against child marriage, Malawi, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador and Guatemala all amended national laws to ban the practice, Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

And in India, where child marriage is illegal but common, lawmakers ruled that having sex with a wife aged 15 to 18 is punishable as rape.

Trump’s expansion of the global gag rule – which withholds US funding from foreign clinics or groups that provide information about abortion – dealt a blow to family planning services and women’s health worldwide, charities said.

But in a victory for campaigners, Chile ruled to legalise abortion in certain circumstances, leaving only a handful of countries in the world where it is banned outright.

“We continue to see progress in advancing reproductive human rights in a hostile global climate,” said Lilian Sepulveda of the global legal programme at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Other women’s rights leaders said it was the resistance to sexism that made 2017 noteworthy.

“This year has also been about changing the narrative – from one that blames, disbelieves and stigmatizes victims, to one that holds abusers to account,” said the UN’s Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Millions of women around the world marched in protest to Trump the day after his inauguration, many wearing pink “pussyhats” in reference to his boast in a 2005 video about grabbing women’s genitals.

Months later, millions again joined a popular protest movement by sharing stories of sexual abuse and harassment on social media using the hashtag #MeToo, or in France, #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”).

“I think this is just the beginning of a new awakening for women,” said Bob Bland, one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington.

“Going into 2018, we are galvanized for the fight ahead,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.



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