Here’s a look at some of the ways women’s lives have changed around the globe in the past year.
Women protest in Iran
In September, a young Kurdish woman was detained in Tehran after allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code. Days later, the 22-year-old died in custody — allegedly after being beaten by police.
Mahsa Amini’s death unleashed a wave of protests under the slogan “Women, life, freedom,” which came to express decades of discontent not only with the country’s veiling laws but with the ruling system itself. Not for the first time in Iran’s history, women have taken an active role in the protests.
But the protesters have paid a high price: According to the activist news agency HRANA, at least 530 people had been killed and more than 19,000 arrested through Feb. 21. Although the demonstrations have continued for months, they have so far not brought any concrete changes, while the government has intensified its crackdown against protesters.
More recently, there have been reports of hundreds of students — the vast majority of them girls — falling ill from suspected poisonings at schools across Iran. It’s unclear who is behind the suspected poisonings, or if they’re connected to the protests, but authorities have ordered an investigation. Iran’s supreme leader said this week that if the poisonings are deliberate, it would be an “unforgivable crime” deserving the death penalty.
The Taliban cracks down on women’s rights
There has been fear about the fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan ever since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021. However, the situation has deteriorated significantly over the past year, with a U.N. official warning this week that the group’s treatment of women and girls “may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity.”
When the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan, its leaders — keen to gain international recognition — promised to respect women’s rights.
However, by late March 2022, the Taliban’s promises to allow girls to return to secondary school had failed to materialize. Then, in May, the Taliban ordered that Muslim women be covered head-to-toe in public.
In recent months, restrictions on the role of women in public life have tightened still further, with women banned from attending all universities and then prevented from working for international organizations.
The latter ban has heightened the pressure on a country already desperately struggling with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. At least four major international aid groups almost immediately announced they would halt their work in Afghanistan, noting the vital role of women in providing humanitarian aid as well as the ban’s impact on women’s lives during a major economic crisis.
U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade
More than a dozen states have banned most abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — either by prohibiting them completely, with limited exceptions, or after six weeks of pregnancy. Courts have blocked bans in several other states while legal challenges proceed.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, there have been stories of the impact on girls and women across the country: from a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who had to travel to another state to get an abortion, to the Indianapolis doctor who helped her and came under investigation by the state’s attorney general, to other people whose doctors have refused abortions even when they were legal.
The United Nations’ human rights chief has described the ruling as a “major setback” and “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”
Rights groups are also awaiting a decision in a federal court in Texas on Americans’ access to the federally approved abortion drug mifepristone. The decision could have sweeping implications for abortion access across the country, including in Democratic-led states where abortion rights are protected.
Prominent female leaders step down
Women remain underrepresented in government — as of January, just 31 countries have a woman serving as a head of state or government, according to U.N. Women, which said the data showed that women “are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and that achieving gender parity in political life is far off.”
The recent resignations of two high-profile female leaders in particular have sparked discussion about the sexism and personal attacks female leaders often face.
In January, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern — who was the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years when she was elected and later became only the second elected world leader in modern history to give birth while in office — announced she was stepping down after five years as prime minister. “I know what this job takes,” Ardern said. “And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”
Ardern had faced sexism during her tenure, including prejudiced remarks from reporters, online commentators and fellow politicians. One journalist asked about her child’s conception, and police once investigated a strip club for using a doctored image of Ardern to promote itself.
“The pressures on prime ministers are always great, but in this era of social media, clickbait, and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country,” former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said in a statement.
Similar themes emerged the following month when Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation after more than eight years in the role. She said she felt she could no longer give the job “absolutely everything,” which is the “only way to do it,” but also spoke of the impact of the political atmosphere, “dare I say brutality,” on her and those around her.
Both leaders were under pressure on domestic issues — and commentators pointed out that the timing of their resignations was also probably influenced by political considerations. However, neither was facing a major scandal, either. Instead, both spoke of their wish to return to a more normal life — and their resignations marked the stepping away of two prominent female leaders from the world stage, at a time when female leaders are still very much in the minority.
Adela Suliman contributed to this report.