Every day we consume a mixed bag of news stories from around the world. Like any year, negative and sad news made up the majority of 2018, consisting of wars and conflicts, murders, rapes, crime, bomb blasts, the plight of refugees, diseases and deaths. But as we bid farewell to 2018, let us look back at one of the positive aspects of 2018. It is safe to presume that 2018 was the Year of the Woman, and also of sexual minorities.
Women in Iceland began the year on a positive note. In January, the country became the first in the world to legalize equal pay for women and men. Under the new law, employers need to pay all their employees the same, irrespective of gender, for work in the same category.
Not surprisingly, Iceland ranks first in the European Institute for Gender Equality's global gender equality index, which is measured across four key variables, namely educational attainment, economic opportunity, political empowerment, and health and survival.
Saudi Arabia has been restructuring the country and social and cultural change sweeping through as part of its "Vision 2030." In January, the leadership drove change by letting their women behind the wheel. The country also abolished a 35-year ban on cinemas.
As well, the Saudis amused the world by organizing their first-ever fashion show in Riyadh. In the US, there will soon be for the first time more than a hundred women in the two houses of Congress. The midterm elections in November helped paint the House of Representatives pink.
In the UK's Parliament, 2018 marked 100 years since it gained its first female member. The Representation of the People Act 1918 allowed women to vote for the very first time in the United Kingdom. In the same year, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was enacted, which allowed women to contest and be elected as members of Parliament. These two laws changed the United Kingdom's politics forever as the House of Commons rolled out the red carpet to the first elected female MPs, Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor.
In January 2018, Ninong Ering, a member of India's Parliament, moved a private members' bill, "The Menstruation Benefit Bill," which aims for granting paid menstruation leave to working women and better facilities at the workplace during menstruation. Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and many other Asian countries and territories have amended laws to facilitate menstrual paid leaves.
Ninong Ering, a crusader for human uplifting, introduced three more private bills in December: the Prevention of Custodial Torture Bill, the Social Media Accountability Bill and the Railways Safety Bill.
The government of India and various state governments have been allocating considerable budgets toward various programs for education of girls and women's safety, uplifting and empowerment so that they can be part of the nation-building and economic growth and development of India.
In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court of India in September ruled that consensual adult gay sex is no longer a crime. The judgment instills a sense of hope for the safeguarding of the rights of homosexual communities across the 29 states in India.
More than 50% of LGBTQ candidates were victorious in November when the US went to midterm polls. Meanwhile in India, Chandramukhi Muvvala, a transgender woman, contested in the recently concluded Telangana State Assembly polls. Two decades ago, in 1998, Indians elected Shabnam Mausi, the country's first transgender member of a state legislative assembly, in Madhya Pradesh.
In order to support member countries' achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has conceived a strategy for technical and vocational education and training and dedicated the period 2016-2021 for the cause, which highlights the right to education and the principles of equity, inclusiveness, and quality and the importance of continuous learning.
The UN along with the European Union vowed to end violence against women in Latin American countries and created a US$58 million fund under the joint Spotlight Initiative for the cause. The government of India is seeking to make "triple talaq" (under which Muslim men can divorce their wives by merely uttering talaq - "divorce" - three times) a criminal offense, with a jail term of up to three years for the husband and the aggrieved woman's entitlement to financial assistance from the husband.
The lower house of Parliament, Lok Sabha, has cleared The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill and awaits clearance by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. The bill may be passed if it safeguards and protects the interests of minority women. Its fate was to be decided on Monday.
Last year the Supreme Court declared "triple talaq" unconstitutional. The apex court in its judgment referred to other countries and highlighted the fact that 19 countries have already amended laws or abolished this form of divorce. The Supreme Court of India inducted its first female judge in 1989. Only eight women have made it to the Supreme Court since its establishment. However, the good news is that the apex court, for the first time, houses three female judges at present.
In October, the International Monetary Fund appointed Gita Gopinath, an India-born woman, as its first female chief economist. Flight direction is, of course, a rocket science, but it is not a gender-specific. So it is not surprising that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration got it right and appointed its first female chief flight director, Holly Ridings, in September.
Meanwhile in India, Russian-made MiGs are no stranger to the skies and they were built to fly regardless the gender of the pilot. In February, Avani Chaturvedi, a female flying officer, made history by piloting a MiG-21 Bison.
Historically, there have been restrictions on women's freedom and rights, and every country has its share of barriers, suppression and holding women back by cultural, economic, legal or social means. However, every country, religion, community and citizen across the globe has been awakening to the laws of Mother Nature. The world has been making efforts to close the gender gap and has achieved some progress in the last few years.
Glass ceilings are meant to be broken, and women are on a glass-breaking spree and busy breaking free. The change that has erupted around the globe may sustain its momentum. Let us hope and wish that 2019 improves the outlook and sustains that progress and positivity.
The author is a media entrepreneur. He has held leadership roles at National Geographic Channel, Fox Broadcasting, Radio Television Luxembourg, STAR TV and WPP Group. He is also an author, motivational speaker and panelist.
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