Rise in populism eroding women's rights, global leaders warn

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 4 March 2019 15:52 GMT

Participants listen to speakers outside City Hall during the Women's March in a -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) wind chill snow storm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

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Resurgence in nationalist-populist sentiment in many countries around the world has led to a deliberate rolling back of rights gained through the "sacrifices and struggles" of generations of women

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, March 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From access to abortion to equal work opportunities, women's rights are being eroded by a rise in global populism, a group of female leaders warned on Monday.

There has been a resurgence in nationalist-populist sentiment in many countries around the world, from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines, Russia and the United States.

That has led to a deliberate rolling back of rights gained through the "sacrifices and struggles" of generations of women, the newly-formed Group of Women Leaders for Change and Inclusion said in an open letter ahead of International Women's Day.

"More and more nationalistic, populist regimes are starting to suggest that women's empowerment is a challenge to power," said Argentina's former foreign minister Susana Malcorra, a founder member.

"There are number of places where we see this happening as a trend. And in our view, if we don't speak up loudly about it, it will be hard to reverse," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Madrid.

U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017 imposed a gag rule that banned U.S.-funded groups globally from discussing abortion, forcing them to accept the restriction or reject it and lose funding.

The gag rule has forced the closure of health clinics and outreach programs by charities that fear non-compliance could lead to the loss of their U.S. healthcare aid, which totals about $8 billion a year.

This comes at a time when abortion rights are under scrutiny in other countries around the globe.

Last year Ireland ended its strict abortion ban, while the conservative government in Poland pushed to tighten its already restrictive abortion laws.

Argentina rejected a measure to legalise abortion, and the election of a far-right president in Brazil was expected to slow efforts to legalise abortion there.

The World Economic Forum said in a 2018 global report that there were fewer women working last year than men, mostly because a lack of childcare kept them from jobs or from progressing to senior roles.

It will be 202 years before women can earn the same as men and have equal job opportunities, it said.

Meanwhile, Kenyan lawmakers last November blocked a push to give one in three parliamentary seats to women.

"We need to make policies that make sure women don't derail from their careers because they become mothers, that also allows for partners to share the responsibilities," said Malcorra.

The letter signed by nearly 40 women leaders, from Irina Bokova, ex-head of U.N. cultural agency UNESCO to Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, urged action to protect basic women's rights before it was too late.

"We are losing something and we're not even conscious of it," said Malcorra.

"We want to make to make sure that people understand that the situation is serious and could become critical."

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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