By Jessica Sutton.
Looking back on 2020 is a confronting and frequently painful experience. The year began with excitement and hope for feminist advancement through the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Then the pandemic took centre-stage and women’s rights receded even further. But it is important to remember that there were spots of light in the darkness of a uniquely difficult year. We found ten highlights for women’s rights, from New Zealand to Kuwait, from domestic violence protection to political firsts, that made the world a little bit brighter for women in 2020.
- MARCH 2020: Abortion is legalised in New Zealand.
The Abortion Legislation Act 2020 gives pregnant people in New Zealand the unfettered right to an abortion for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Later-term abortions are available subject to a statutory test. This legislation symbolises years of activism pushing for decriminalisation of abortion, and is a legislative recognition of the right to bodily autonomy.
- APRIL 2020: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is made a criminal offence in Sudan.
FGM is mutilation of female genitalia, typically performed to secure a girl’s purity for marriage. The practice has no health benefits, is often performed without anaesthesia, and may lead to chronic pain, infection, and death. Sudan joins other countries such as Egypt in banning the practice. The law imposes a punishment of three years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine on anyone who performs FGM.
- JUNE 2020: The US Supreme Court rules that the 1964 Civil Rights Act extends protection to LGBT+ people.
The Supreme Court held that the protections of the Civil Rights Act apply to gay and transgender employees. As of 2020, no person can be dismissed from employment on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This landmark decision followed smaller successes for LGBT+ rights throughout the states. Notable progress occurred in the South, with Virginia becoming the first Southern US State to prohibit discrimination against the LGBT+ community, and to ban conversion therapy.
- JULY 2020: The Equal Pay Amendment Bill is passed in New Zealand.
The Equal Pay Amendment Bill addresses the persistent gender pay gap by zeroing in on the issue of pay equity – where female dominated industries are historically and continually underpaid. The Bill states that an employer cannot pay anyone less than anyone else who does the same or “substantially similar” work based on their gender. The Bill also precludes employers from paying a workforce which is or was exclusively, or predominantly (60% or more), female less than they would a workforce of men who do the same or “substantially similar” work.
- SEPTEMBER 2020: A new domestic violence law is passed in Kuwait.
The Law on Protection from Domestic Violence creates specific protections against domestic violence in Kuwait, including creating women’s shelters and a domestic violence hotline. Before 2020, Kuwait had no legislative protection for domestic violence survivors, despite a shocking femicide rate. The law passed just weeks after pregnant woman Fatima al-Ajmi was shot to death. Despite its drafting issues, this law will increase protection for women experiencing domestic violence, a change that was desperately needed.
- SEPTEMBER 2020: Afghan mothers can be named on their children’s documentation for the first time.
In Afghanistan, mothers have historically not been listed on the birth certificates or other official documentation of their children. 2020 changed this, with a new law allowing women to be included on this documentation and therefore better able to assert legal guardianship over their children. The situation for women in Afghanistan remains dire, and the participation of women in public life is still seen as shameful. But this change, thanks to activists such as Laleh Osmany through the #WhereIsMyName movement, is a small step in the right direction.
- OCTOBER 2020: The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to two women for the first time.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for their pioneering work on the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tools. The work of Dr Charpentier and Dr Doudna may be used to eradicate genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia. This incredible achievement marks the first time two women have shared the award.
- OCTOBER 2020: New Zealand elects one of the most diverse Parliaments in the world.
The Labour Party, led by Jacinda Ardern, became the first political party to win an outright majority in the history of New Zealand’s current electoral system. Approximately 48% of parliamentarians are women, 10% are from the LGBT+ community, and several are people of colour. Nanaia Mahuta also became the first indigenous woman to be appointed to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- NOVEMBER 2020: Kamala Harris is elected Vice-President of the United States.
Kamala Harris’ election marks the first time a woman, woman of colour, or Asian-American woman has held the office of Vice-President. This achievement has inspired a new generation of young women to shatter the glass ceiling of America’s highest political positions. Vice-President Elect Harris recognises her duty to pave the way for future female excellence, stating, “while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last”.
- NOVEMBER 2020: Period products are made free in Scotland.
Scotland became the first country globally to make period products entirely free through the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was the culmination of Labour MSP Monica Lennon’s activism against period poverty, a widespread issue whereby people with periods are unable to afford necessary period products. Scotland’s assertive action and care for its citizens is a sterling example for leaders worldwide.
And there you have it – 2020 had its moments! And through continued activism and advocacy, we can all make 2021 the year where feminist issues get the spotlight they deserve. Take some time to think about what you can do for the cause this year. Volunteer. Get active on social media. Maybe even start an organisation. What’s your 2021 women’s rights resolution?