Well Done, World: 5 Times Something Cruel Happened to a Woman and Justice Was Actually Served

Recent landmark cases could lead to women having greater agency over their bodies and their identity.

Female protestors in Cairo. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jan 30, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

It seems no matter where we look, women’s rights are under attack. In the U.S., more and more states are ratcheting up the number of antiabortion laws. Around the world, women in conservative countries often live under draconian rules; miscarriages can mean prison time, and young girls are subject to female genital mutilation.

The sheer number of rights violations can be downright daunting, but occasionally we get some news worth cheering for. In the past few months, we’ve noticed some major progress taking shape abroad—and we’re here to give a shout-out to five momentous cases that have the potential to increase the health, safety, and well-being of women worldwide.

1. Egypt Enforces Laws Against Female Genital Mutilation

In the first case of its kind, Egyptian courts this week upheld a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) by convicting a doctor of performing the traditional practice meant to suppress a woman’s libido. Raslan Fad will serve three months for FGM and two years for manslaughter, as the botched procedure resulted in the death of 13-year-old Sohair el-Batea in 2013. El-Batea’s father also received a three-month suspended sentence for his complicity in forcing his teenage daughter to undergo the circumcision, the Associated Press reports. Although FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008, more than 90 percent of women in the country have undergone the procedure, according to UNICEF. While male circumcision can help stem the spread of HIV, there is no health benefit to female circumcision.

2. Woman Imprisoned for Having a Miscarriage Is Pardoned in El Salvador

Abortion under any circumstance is illegal in El Salvador, including when the mother’s life is in danger. But even women who experience complications during pregnancy or suffer miscarriage can be accused of committing the illegal act and placed in jail as a result. Such was the case for a woman known as Guadalupe, who was accused of attempting to abort her pregnancy after giving birth to a stillborn. She served seven years of a 30-year sentence before El Salvador’s Congress granted her a pardon last week, The Guardian reported. The decision still needs to be ratified by the country’s president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, but this rights victory could lead to the release of an additional 16 women who are currently in prison on similar charges.

Salvadorean women marched to ask the government to legalize abortion as a right for women. (Photo: Jose Cabezas/Getty Images)

3. Loosening Antiabortion Laws in Mozambique

Approximately 29,000 African women die annually due to complications from unsafe abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Unable to seek help from a skilled professional, women often put their own health on the line by inserting sharp objects into their uterus, drinking bleach, or consuming dozens of malaria pills. Hoping to curb high maternal death rates, Mozambique President Armando Guebuza amended antiabortion laws there last month, Al Jazeera reported. Under the new law, women in this southern African country can legally abort a pregnancy up to the 12th week, or even the 16th week in cases of sexual assault or high-risk pregnancy.

4. Harsher Sentencing for Rape Case in Tunisia

Sexual assault in Tunisia’s largely patriarchal society is common, but reporting instances of rape is not. Although the Tunisian government amended the constitution to protect women from violence last year, the North African country has little experience handling cases of sexual assault. Meriem Ben Mohammed (a pseudonym) was raped by two police officers in 2012 while a third forced her boyfriend to withdraw money from a nearby ATM. After reporting her assault, Mohammed was accused of public indecency and propositioning the officers, and she was subject to forensic reports proving she was not a virgin before the attack, the BBC reported. But Mohammed persevered, and in the end, she was successful. Not only were the two officers convicted, but the prosecutor successfully won a harsher sentencing of 15 years of jail time for the officers instead of seven.

Tunisian women shout slogans during a demonstration to protest against violence against women in March 2014. (Photo: Fethi Belaid/Getty Images)

5. A Triumph for Transgender Rights in Kenya

Transgender people face harsh discrimination all over the world, often exacerbated by not having identification cards that recognize their true gender identity. In Kenya’s conservative climate, transgender people often struggle to find work due to the discrepancy between their gender expression and the gender listed on official documentation. But activist Audrey Mbugua is working to change that by winning her case against the Kenya National Examinations Council in October. The council was ordered to change Mbugua’s academic records from male to female, Reuters reported. The win, a personal victory for Mbugua, also brought public attention to discrimination and human rights violations suffered by marginalized groups in the East African country.