March 2020


  1. How Bolsonaro's behavior runs counter to fighting gender violence
  2. Women's Day: Pakistani women demand bodily rights, gender equality
  3. Afghan and Burmese Women: Sisters in the Universal Struggle for Human Rights
  4. How the law still restricts women’s economic opportunities
  5. Viewing history through the lens of gender

How Bolsonaro's behavior runs counter to fighting gender violence


In 2019, 1,310 women were killed in Brazil, a 7.2% increase from the previous year. The escalation must be analyzed in the context of the president's misogynistic rhetoric


By                            :               Lena Lavinas and Sonia Correa

Date                         :               March 6, 2020

Source                     :               Open Democracy


Latin America is known globally for high rankings in homicide rates. Our region leads in the murder of nature defenders, many of them indigenous, black youth, and now in the number of femicides, spreading to a scale unheard of in other regions. Far from being a novel phenomenon, femicide has been unveiled thanks to intense feminist activism at work since the 1980s that contested long-lasting and deeply rooted seals of patriarchy and new legislations adopted in the 2000s under this ongoing political pressure.

Brazil runs high in the pack. Strangely, however, femicide is escalating whereas the number of overall homicides has slightly decreased over the last two years. In 2019, 1,310 women were killed, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security a 7.2% increase vis à vis 2018, when 1,222 cases were reported and typified as femicide. Data released by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice for January-August 2019 alone report 3,257 female murders. Defining a crime as femicide remains technically contentious, making it difficult to accurately characterize widespread forms of domestic and gender violence that reap women’s lives.

An article recently published by The Guardian informs that, in the UK, despite more than 50 years of feminist campaigning against male violence, the number of women and girls dying at the hands of men is also hiking. Although the magnitude of femicide rates in Brazil and in the UK are not comparable, in the UK, as it also happens in Brazil, women are most often assassinated with sharp instruments and as a quasi-general rule by a partner or ex. Killers are usually someone who is very close to the victim and whose primary and senseless motive is to rebuffing a “no”, “not anymore”.

In 2019, 1,310 women were killed in Brazil, a 7.2% increase vis à vis 2018

A well-designed number of legal instruments are available in Brazil to punish various forms of gender violence. The law Maria da Penha created in 2006 was followed by the tightening of sentences for rape (2009) and sexual misconduct (2018). A Femicide Law was also sanctioned in 2015, but so far these legislative reforms haven’t proved effective to consistently curtail female killings for no other reason than being a woman.

Multiple lenses are needed to better understand that growing Brazilian femicide rates and the ineffectiveness of existing laws are also intertwined with the country's overall political environment after president Bolsonaro took power in January 2019. To begin with, as observed by Careaga, Pecheny and Corrêa, across Latin America, gender and sexuality-based violence deeply intersects with war on drugs, high levels of violence perpetrated by both narco-dealers and state actors and the criminalization of poverty. In that regard, it is worth noting that the anti-crime policy package of the new administration implies measures that can potentially increase the incidence of femicide. The law has been changed to facilitate access to arms possession and included a provision to diminish or even waive criminal penalties when homicides are committed “under stress”. Though this latter provision was not approved, it may come back through other means, accounting for a major risk for women because femicide perpetrators often argue to have killed because they were under severe emotional strain.

Another key element to be taken into account is that, across Latin America, expanding levels of gender-based violence cannot be fully grasped if the reactiveness of dominant masculinities to feminism and greater women autonomy are not taken into account. In the case of Brazil, this means that the mounting numbers of female homicides registered since 2019 must be connected with the repugnant climate of anti-feminism and misogyny installed since the election of president Jair Bolsonaro. How can we expect a decline in femicide rates, rape and sexual harassment when the president systematically and proudly portrays himself as the forerunner in the matter?

The mounting numbers of female homicides registered since 2019 must be connected with the repugnant climate of anti-feminism and misogyny installed since the election of president Jair Bolsonaro

The president is notorious for his rudeness, disrespect and vulgarity when addressing his critics or opponents, be them journalists, artists or scholars. His virulence is especially harsh when his targets are women. A week ago, president Bolsonaro publicly slandered journalist Patricia Campos Mello, from Folha de São Paulo, with allegations that she tried to get a scoop by sexually insinuating herself to one of his informers. The truth is that Patricia Campos Mello has investigated and released robust evidence on the unregulated use of WhatsApp communication strategies by Jair Bolsonaro´s electoral campaign in 2018.

This was not the first time that president Bolsonaro openly aggressed the journalist but never before so brutally and viciously, crossing the line of misdemeanor. Given the unusual outcry that shook the national public debate, his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, who is a Congress member, came to his father’s aid in a House debate yet again assaulting women. He replicated the gesture president Bolsonaro uses against journalists every time he dislikes their questions, giving female parliamentarian the finger.

This regrettable episode is just another block in a long and cumulative series of disgusting speech acts performed by president Bolsonaro that started even before he took office. However, more clearly than it has happened before, the vicious attack on Patricia Campos Mello quite evidently violates explicit rules of how a president should behave making him potentially subject to judicial action for presidential misconduct. The question to be asked is why this is not happening as it would have been expected?

In the course of last two weeks, multiple voices from the academic world, the press and civil society called for Bolsonaro´s repugnant speech act to be judicially legally interrogated. On the other hand, quite regrettably, key leaders from across the political spectrum either remained silent or made appeals for political restraint and historical patience.

In contrast, as it is well known, in 2016, president Dilma Rousseff was ousted from office despite insufficient and truncated evidence of misconduct. Her impeachment was a spectacle of aggressiveness, sexism and prejudice that compels us to also eventually conclude that in Brazil, the rule of law is deeply gender biased in favor of male dominance in all spheres, most notably in politics.

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Women's Day: Pakistani women demand bodily rights, gender equality


Thousands of Pakistani women took part in the Women's Day march, defying threats by Islamist groups. Ahead of the March 8 demonstrations, conservative sections orchestrated a smear campaign against feminist activists.


By                            :               Umer Ali

Date                         :               March 8, 2020

Source                     :               DW


Thousands of Pakistani women took to the streets on Sunday in the largest-ever women's rights demonstrations in the country.

The marchers, who were commemorating the International Women's Day, demanded gender equality, minimum wages for the working class and bodily rights, as they raised slogans against sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

The World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan 151 out of 153 countries in its 2020 Global Gender Gap Index Report. Violence against women, including rape, domestic abuse and harassment, remains a major issue in Pakistan, according to human rights watchdogs.

A manifesto released by "Aurat March" (women's march) organizers demands economic and environmental justice, reproductive rights and better access to public spaces for women. Additionally, the manifesto seeks an end to enforced disappearances and militarization, as well as protection of religious minorities in the country.

"Every day, women in Pakistan are bullied, discriminated against and arrested, physically attacked and killed, simply for making choices about their bodies and the way they live their lives," said Amnesty International in a statement ahead of the rallies. "The people who commit these crimes are the ones who must be stopped, not the protestors," the statement added.

Harassment and attacks

The first "Aurat March" in Pakistan was held on International Women's Day in 2018. It has since become a major event for the women's rights movement in the South Asian country. This year, the main rallies were held in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, as well as several smaller cities.    

As the women's rights movement is gaining momentum, the opposition from conservative groups and Islamist organizations has also increased manifold in the past few years. Fundamentalists label the movement as a "Western campaign" to promote "vulgarity" in the country.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, Islamist groups held a counterrally to "Aurat March," hurling stones at liberal activists and attacking them with sticks. Several participants of the women's march were reportedly injured as a result.

Sonya Rehman, a writer who participated in the rally, told DW that the Islamist protesters "wielded batons and had every intention of attacking and harming us."

"It was horrific," she added.

Ahead of Sunday's rallies, two separate petitions were filed in Lahore and Islamabad courts to stop "Aurat March," arguing that they were against Pakistan's culture and Islamic teachings. One of the petitioners accused the organizers of receiving funds from "anti-state forces." The court, however, dismissed both petitions and allowed the women's march to go ahead.

Leena Ghani, one of the march organizers in Lahore, told DW that a smear campaign was initiated against women's rights activists after the success of the first "Aurat March."

"We march peacefully, and it is our constitutional right," she underlined.

Read more: Imran Khan's ex-wife and activist Reham Khan: 'Sexual coercion rife in Pakistani politics'

'My body, my choice'

One of the main slogans of the women's march, "mera jism, meri marzi" (my body, my choice), has been a subject of a heated debate on social media for days. Recently, when Marvi Sirmed, a prominent human rights activist, tried to explain the meaning of the slogan on a live TV show, she was abused by Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, a conservative playwright.

Nida Kirmani, a professor of sociology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), says that "my body, my choice" is being interpreted as a promiscuous demand, however, it is about women's rights to have autonomy over their lives.

Shehzil Malik, an artist, says the slogan is about bodily autonomy. "It means that it is my body and no one can violate it, abuse it, harass it, grope it, or do anything with it without  my consent."

These explanations, however, have failed to convince many Pakistanis. A parliamentarian linked with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) lashed out at women's march participants. "My body, my choice is aimed at spreading vulgarity," he said. "They want to destroy this country's social structures."

Similarly, Fazlur Rehman, head of an Islamist political party, decried the slogan, asking his followers to stop the rallies.

Kirmani says there is only one reason behind the backlash against the women's march: the audacity of young women. "Men don't like that women are claiming public spaces by marching on the roads for their rights," she said.

"I fully support the march because it demands economic and social justice for the working-class women," she added.

Marching forward

"'Aurat March' takes a stand against the injustices women face across different classes in Pakistan," said Shehzil Malik.

"It gives me the space to tell the stories [of injustices that we face] and not feel alone," she added.

Ahead of the International Women's Day demonstrations, Malik's promotional posters for "Aurat March" were torn apart by some men. In Islamabad, a group belonging to a radical mosque stopped activists from finishing a mural, which was later defaced.

"Does my presence offend you so much that something that looks like me is un-Islamic to you?” Malik asked.

Despite the hurdles, march organizer Leena Ghani sees a silver lining: "The public debate that 'Aurat March' has triggered is groundbreaking," she said.

"Men, for centuries, believed they owned women's bodies, so a placard asserting a woman's right to her own body is not going down well with them."

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Afghan and Burmese Women: Sisters in the Universal Struggle for Human Rights


It is essential that the international community continue to invest in women and girls around the world.


By                            :               Kamal Ahmad and Farhat Popal

Date                         :               March 7, 2020

Source                     :               The Diplomat


On the surface, Nasiba from Afghanistan and Formin from Myanmar have little in common. Nasiba grew up in the city of Kabul, while Formin is from a remote village in the Maungdaw district of Rakhine state. But take a closer look, and they become sisters in the universal struggle for women’s rights and equal participation in the social, political, and economic life of their countries. And that struggle requires continued investment and support from the United States and the international community.

The worlds they must navigate are not easy. Women and girls in Afghanistan face lack of equal access to educational opportunities due to threats of violence and harassment, poverty, and long distances to the closest school. While women in Myanmar, on average, have much higher literacy rates than Afghan women, there are immense economic, regional, and urban-rural disparities.

When it comes to economic participation, violence affects Afghans’ attitudes toward women’s inclusion, which in turn impacts Afghanistan’s ability to grow its economy. For women in Myanmar, their participation in the economy is concentrated in the informal sector, with concerns about poor pay and working conditions, long hours, sustainability, and lack of protection under the law.

Supporting women’s education and economic empowerment — and gender equality overall  — is important for the future of both countries.

We know that when women are educated, they are more likely to become gainfully employed, raising the income of the entire household. We also know that gender equality is critical to a country’s economic growth and stability.  And perhaps most importantly, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment have strong ties to prosperity and peace.

Organizations like the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh and the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas are committed to providing women and girls with the tools they need to tackle these challenges and more.

Founded in 2008, AUW has developed a unique model for educating and empowering the next generation of women leaders across Asia and the Middle East. In its admissions and scholarship programs, AUW prioritizes women who are first in their family to enter university. It particularly targets marginalized communities and provides two years of on-campus college preparatory classes prior to their entry into the undergraduate program. As a regional institution with 100 percent of its graduates returning to their home countries, AUW exemplifies a model of cultivating knowledge, skills, and empowerment within the region and retaining these future leaders.

AUW students Nasiba and Formin exemplify how powerful access to quality education can be in creating opportunities for young women. Nasiba intends to study economics at university and hopes to provide economic opportunities to her community as an entrepreneur. Formin aspires to become a lawyer, focusing on the plight of her people, the Rohingya minority of Myanmar. Since 2017, over 730,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh to flee atrocities committed against them by the military.

As young women like them build on their education and move forward in their careers, continued training and mentorship is essential to ensuring access to quality jobs and leadership positions.

At the George W. Bush Institute, the model for advancing women’s leadership and human rights is based on shared learning and mutual exchange, safe spaces to have conversations about their country’s and/or region’s challenges and successes, and exposure to inspirational leaders and different methods of tackling pressing challenges. The Institute implements this vision through its Liberty & Leadership program (LLP) for young scholars leading change during Myanmar’s democratic transition, and the WE Lead program for mid-career women advancing economic opportunity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan.

LLP scholar, Evelyn, saw that women in her community did not have agency to work outside the home, and those who did were paid a very low wage. To address this challenge, she is working to provide jobs to women producing traditional clothing. Afghan WE Lead scholar, Homa, identified a similar challenge for women in her province. In addition to serving as director of a local NGO focused on women’s economic empowerment, she started her own embroidery and clothing business to empower women in rural areas.

Despite facing immense challenges in their countries, Afghan and Burmese women are incredible leaders with a thirst for knowledge, and the persistence and courage to make a positive impact in their communities and countries. The United States and the international community must continue to invest in women and girls like Nasiba, Formin, Evelyn, and Homa through targeted scholarship programs and funding for training and mentorship, for example. On International Women’s Day and beyond, this is essential – for the advancement of women, for the advancement of society, and for advancement of the world.


Kamal Ahmad is the founder of the Asian University for Women (AUW).

Farhat Popal is senior program manager of the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative.

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How the law still restricts women’s economic opportunities


By                            :               Nisha Arekapudi

Date                         :               February 25, 2020

Source                     :               The London School of Economics and Political Science Blog



All over the world, discriminatory laws continue to threaten women’s economic security, career growth, and work–life balance, writes Nisha Arekapudi. She draws on World Bank Group research to explain how barriers to employment and entrepreneurship at every stage of life limit equality of opportunity, creating a business environment that does not adequately support working women.


All over the world, discriminatory laws continue to threaten women’s economic security, career growth, and work–life balance, writes Nisha Arekapudi. She draws on World Bank Group research to explain how barriers to employment and entrepreneurship at every stage of life limit equality of opportunity, creating a business environment that does not adequately support working women.

It was just 50 years ago that women’s role in the economy began to drastically change. Reflecting striking social and industrial movements during the 20th century, women increasingly entered the formal labour force as both employees and entrepreneurs. As the number of working women grew, it became clear that global prosperity and women’s economic participation are inextricably linked. Their empowerment is directly correlated with countries’ ability to grow sustainably, govern effectively, and reduce poverty.

But as the world of work evolved, the law did not always evolve with it. In many places, the legal environment continues to limit women’s economic decision-making and employment prospects. This is the subject of Women, Business and the Law 2020, a new study from the World Bank Group. In its sixth edition, the project presents an index structured around the economic decisions women make as they experience various milestones. From the basics of movement to the challenges of working, parenting, and retiring, it highlights how the law restricts women’s economic opportunities. It also explores the relationship between legal reform and economic outcomes.

Scores at the country and topic levels give us both a global picture of progress toward gender equality and a starting point for where change is needed most. They show us that legal barriers all over the world are hindering women’s economic participation. In fact, in the 190 countries measured, the average woman has just three-fourths of the legal rights afforded to men. In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s only half. This has real effects on societies’ ability to boost economic growth. Our research shows that better performance in the areas measured by Women, Business and the Law is associated with more women in the labour force and a smaller wage gap. Where women and men are given equality of opportunity, improved development outcomes also ensue. This includes greater investments in health and education for both women themselves and future generations.

To achieve this, reform efforts could focus on those areas where change has been slow to occur. Under the Pay indicator, for example, the average score is just 66.1 out of 100. While most countries address wage discrimination in legislation, less than half of them mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value. This standard provides a broader framework than equal pay for equal work, as it allows a comparison between not only the same or similar jobs, but also between different jobs of equal value.

In order to close the gender pay gap, women must also be given the same choice of jobs as men. Legal restrictions on women’s employment remain on the books in 90 countries, barring them from working at night, limiting the work they can do in certain industries, or prohibiting them from working in jobs deemed too “dangerous.” In Lebanon, for example, women cannot skin animals. Colombian women cannot do industrial paint jobs. Azerbaijan even prevents women from driving buses with more than 14 seats.

Countries should also strive to better support women’s work after having children. The Parenthood indicator has the most room to improve, with a global average score of just 53.9. Ensuring job-protected leave of adequate length and pay for both parents is critical for a variety of health, economic, and social development outcomes. While 115 countries guarantee paid maternity leave of 14 weeks or more, the average length of paid paternity leave stands at just five days among countries that offer it. Only 43 countries have parental leave that can be shared by both mothers and fathers. Making sufficient leave available to both parents can help redistribute unpaid care work, sustaining women’s career progression and earnings trajectory. It can also lead to lower infant mortality rates, health benefits for the mother, and higher female labour force participation.

Fortunately, it is in these areas where we are seeing the most change. Fiji, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Zambia increased the duration of paid maternity leave to meet or exceed 14 weeks. With 16 countries total making positive strides, the Parenthood indicator was the most popular area of reform over the last two years. Similarly, 12 countries improved legislation relating to women’s pay. Among them, Germany mandated equal remuneration for work of equal value, and India eliminated restrictions on women’s ability to work in dangerous jobs.

Many also acted to protect women from violence, which can affect performance in the workforce, firm productivity, and ultimately economic development. Since 2017, eight countries have introduced legislation on domestic violence for the first time. An additional seven enacted new legal protections against sexual harassment in employment. Others strengthened already existing laws. In New Zealand, the progressive Family Violence Act introduced 10 days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence, giving them time to leave their partners, find new homes, and protect themselves and their children. Overall, reforms in every area measured by Women, Business and the Law took place in every region of the world, demonstrating that countries are committed to eliminating the inequalities that prevent women from contributing at their full potential.

And it was where it was most critical that the greatest number of reforms occurred. Of the top ten most improved countries, nine were from Africa and the Middle East. These traditionally low-scoring regions made the most progress toward gender equality in the last two years. Much work remains, however. In 1970, the global average Women, Business and the Law score was 46.5. Today, it is 75.2. At this pace, it will be another 50 years before we achieve legal gender equality at the global level. While the law is a foundational first step, it will take much longer to achieve its meaningful implementation.

By celebrating the progress made and emphasising the work still to be done, the Women, Business and the Law data serve as an important tool for those working toward reform. Gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is the engine that will drive the faster, more equitable economic growth that we all desire. When women are guaranteed the same freedoms, choice of employment, and treatment at work as men, the global economy stands to gain enormous dividends. I am hopeful it happens sooner rather than later.


Nisha Arekapudi has been with the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project for five years.

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Viewing history through the lens of gender


By                            :               Zhang Ruohan

Date                         :               March 10, 2020

Source                     :               The Japan Times


BANGKOK – At the age of 66, coal miner Sakubei Yamamoto started to paint the life of a Kyushu mine starting in the Meiji Era. He produced more than 500 artworks, some of the most valuable ethnological source material from Japan, with the intention of “telling future generations about true life and human feelings.” His work reflects the living situation of women at that time, but also shows that they were less productive and educated than men, burdened with family and even lacking basic sanitary conditions at work.

This is a familiar story. Across the world, women have consistently been subjected to discriminatory and often harmful conditions in the workplace and society. Men’s dominant roles in traditional activities has lasted for thousands of years, leading to the denial and neglect of women’s status and rights. Persisting to the present day, women have not been able to participate equally in social, political and economic life, while at the same time their achievements have often been deleted from received histories.

To prevent the loss of collective memory, UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 to facilitate universal access and public preservation of precious documents in many media that reflect the cultures, traditions and values of their nations. Among the 426 inscriptions of documentary heritage in the international register, only five relate directly to women and women’s empowerment — and only one in the Asia-Pacific region. Yamamoto’s art is just one example of documentary heritage that documents crucial realities of women’s lives from history, yet which is not directly linked to them in the inscription.

“Women’s presence has been submerged in a generic consideration of the significance of documentary heritage under the criterion of ‘People’,” said Roslyn Russell, former chairperson of the International Advisory Committee of the Memory of the World Programme. “Unless nominators have specifically identified women’s presence in the documents, this has gone unremarked in general descriptions.”

Recognizing that historical deficit, we need to re-examine national documentary heritage from the perspective of gender equality. On International Women’s Day 2020 this past Sunday, UNESCO Bangkok launched the publication “Gender Equality Baseline Study of Memory of the World in Asia-Pacific,” reviewing 155 inscriptions from the Asia-Pacific region through a gender lens. The tool also enables readers to assess gender sensitivity of inscribed heritage and identify more historical documents linked to women in cultural, social or political arenas.

These narratives matter. Even in 2020, when the world has made substantial progress toward more just and equal societies, this worldwide gender imbalance is still changing very slowly. As just one example, thousands of women in Japan are protesting against being forced to wear high heels in workplaces, fighting for the right about how to represent themselves in society.

Related discrimination is readily apparent throughout the workplace. Globally, women hold only about one in four seats in national parliaments, and out of 500 chief executives leading the highest-grossing firms, fewer than 7 percent are women. The Nobel Prize has been awarded to more than 900 people in the course of its history from 1901 to 2019, but to only 53 women. In the sciences, journalism, entertainment, sport and culinary arts — with few exceptions, professional women are still suffering from stereotyped roles and significant under-representation.

While gender discrimination is common throughout, the form and representations in the historical record differ by culture and context. In Thailand, the Ram Khamhaeng Inscription is widely regarded as the single most important document in the nation’s history, recounting in one section “a host of sons of his city and realm to be in accord with righteousness.” In the few references to women, however, they are typically presented simply as “dedicated damsels.”

The representation bias extends to the documentary record up to the current day, although the picture is changing. “In Thailand’s film industry decades ago, the number of female directors was relatively small, most of them were only responsible for production, costume and make-up,” said Sanchai Chotirosseranee, secretary-general of the Southeast Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association. “But luckily now more and more Thai female directors appear, and they are representing the creative shooting themes and perspectives.”

The theme of the International Women’s Day this year was “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” Amid the many challenges the world faces today, from establishing peace and sustainable development to mitigating the climate crisis and environmental degradation, women’s roles are critical if humanity is not to fall further behind on these goals.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, “determined to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity … acknowledging the voices of all women everywhere and taking note of the diversity of women and their roles and circumstances.” These are not just statements made by U.N. agencies and policymakers — they are urgent calls to action, particularly to younger generations, calling for gender equality based on new ideas, technologies and media. The outcome will affect us all.

“Modern technology and digital media now make it possible to reach a worldwide audience and to raise awareness of women’s achievements,” said Russell. “Facebook and other social media platforms have brought stories of previously unheralded women, and information about social conditions that affect women, to light in ways that could not have been imagined decades ago.”

Across the region, international organizations, the government, private sector and NGOs are making efforts to promote the women’s visibility in society. The Asia-Pacific Nation’s Network of Women Engineers and Scientists has held an annual conferences since 2011; in Thailand, the Wiki4Women initiative is 2018 organized an edit-a-thon to document women’s lives and achievements on Wikipedia in an initiative meant to replicated in countries across the region.

More women need to be visible in historical narratives, but equally more girls and women need to be empowered with the technical skills to write their own narratives in the digital age. This not just about women’s history, but the history of us all.


Zhang Ruohan is a communications specialist at UNESCO Bangkok.

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