Gender equality saw an unprecedented reversal in the past 12 months. Reproductive rights were dismantled in one of the world’s largest democracies; the Covid-19 pandemic lowered protections and upped threats to women’s health in developing nations; and human rights defenders across the globe continued to face gendered assaults.
Still, women continued to spearhead new laws and lead movements to protect women’s rights globally. As 2022 comes to a close, a look at some important milestones of the past year:
1. Colombia legalized abortion
In February, Colombia’s constitutional court decriminalized abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, the country only allowed abortion in life-threatening situations such as fetal malformations; when the pregnant mother’s health was at risk; or when the pregnancy was the result of rape or non-consensual insemination. The five-against-four vote from the high court judges added to a string of legal victories for reproductive rights in Latin American countries such as Mexico and Argentina, which in recent years have also improved access to abortion.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement: “We celebrate this ruling as a historic victory for the women’s movement in Colombia that has fought for decades for the recognition of their rights.”
2. Spain pioneered a sexual and reproductive health law for women
In May, Spain’s parliament presented a bill that put consent at the center of measures to prevent, protect and prosecute sexual violence and rape. Introduced by the minority Socialist-led government, it was approved in the Spanish parliament in December.
The bill defines consent as an explicit expression of a person’s will—making clear that silence or passivity do not equal consent—and adds prison terms of up to 15 years for those who engage in non-consensual sex. It also eliminates parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds who wish to terminate their pregnancy, and makes access to abortion easier for women. The wide-ranging measures under the bill also make Spain the first country in Europe to offer state-funded paid leave for women suffering from period pain in an attempt to de-stigmatize menstrual health.
“Today we send an international message of support to all women who are fighting for their sexual and reproductive rights,” Equality Minister Irene Montero told the media.
3. Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention
In June, Ukrainian members of parliament voted to ratify the Istanbul Convention, globally recognized as the most far-reaching international treaty to address violence against women by setting legally-binding minimum standards for governments in Europe for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of domestic and sexual violence. The ratification was hailed as a historic win for women’s rights in Ukraine and marked another step in the country’s integration into Europe, despite the huge challenges posed by the ongoing war with Russia—which has also led to disturbing reports and allegations of sexual violence against Ukrainian women in Russian-occupied territories.
“Prompt implementation should equip the Ukrainian authorities to deal with these atrocities, and serve to reassure the survivors and give them the confidence to seek justice,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
A protester yells after cutting her hair with scissors as an act of solidarity with women in Iran during a demonstration on September 23, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup-Getty Images
4. India’s Supreme Court granted all women access to abortion
In September, a landmark ruling by India’s Supreme Court stated that all women, regardless of marital status, have the right to safe and legal access to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, a stigma against unmarried women limited single women’s access to abortion for up to 20 weeks. It also led to a chilling effect on the provision of and access to essential reproductive health services for women by abetting intimate partner violence and marital rape. The court codified a woman’s right to choose, saying that bodily autonomy was part of “personal liberty” and emphasized that criminal law was not the appropriate tool to “interfere with the domain of personal autonomy.”
5. In Iran, women and girls led protests to fight for their freedoms
Since September, Iranian women and girls have been leading protests against the Iranian regime following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police after she was detained for “improper hijab.” Now in their fourth month, the protests have transformed into a national movement against the government’s mandatory, often brutal, enforcement of Islamic law. The protests have spread worldwide, and have been remarkable for their unprecedented size and speed and for centering the voices of women who are demanding their freedoms. The Iranian protestors also won TIME’s 2022 Person of the Year reader poll and were named TIME’s 2022 Heroes of the Year.
Read More: Women of Iran: Heroes of the Year 2022
6. Countries established their first female leaders
Numerous countries made history in 2022 by electing or inaugurating their first-ever female political leaders. The year began with Honduras’ first female president, Xiomara Castro, assuming office in January. The 62-year-old leftist leader, whose husband ruled the country from 2006 to 2009, took the lead in her election by promising to tackle powerful drug-trafficking gangs and legalizing abortion laws, marking the end of a 12-year reign by the rightwing National party.
Also among the trailblazers was Hungary’s 44-year-old Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who became the country’s first woman president and youngest president ever. She assumed office in May. Novak, who previously served as a minister for family policy, portrayed her election as a victory for women: “It is because I am a woman, and not despite it, that I want to be a good president of Hungary,” she said in Parliament.
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