Points of Progress: FIFA guarantees maternity leave, and more

Points of Progress: FIFA guarantees maternity leave, and more

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it’s where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.


Places where the world saw progress, for the Jan. 25, 2021 Monitor Weekly.


January 15, 2021

1. United States

Several U.S. cities are addressing voting rights violations for non-English speakers with new urgency, including Malden, Massachusetts, where people of Asian descent make up 23% of its residents. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 calls for translated voting materials in jurisdictions that meet certain criteria, such as having 10,000 eligible voters or 5% of the resident population who speak limited English, but many communities still struggle to accommodate multilingual populations. Malden, which has been covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act since 2016, has made significant strides in eliminating language barriers to voting. During the 2020 elections, city officials partnered with community organizations to host in-person and online information sessions, focusing efforts on senior centers. They professionally translated voting materials, rather than relying on Google software; recruited bilingual poll workers; and hired a full-time election worker fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. The government has also vowed to transliterate candidates’ names in 2021 – a strategy not required by law but used in nearby Boston to make ballots less confusing for Chinese speakers. Advocates hope Malden will serve as a role model for other communities. (The Guardian)

2. Peru

Alphabet’s Loon project is using cutting-edge artificial intelligence to keep its high-altitude balloons afloat, improving the aerial wireless networks that offer internet to isolated communities in Peru and other countries. Loon’s goal is to expand internet access by sending balloons to remote areas and disaster zones where ground internet is unavailable. Keeping those floating cellphone towers in the stratosphere is a complex – and potentially costly – process, but reinforcement learning can allow the flight systems to navigate without human intervention. Researchers explain how the Loon team dispatched a balloon to Peru, where it joined a cluster of balloons serving a community that lost connectivity in a 2019 earthquake, before moving south and spending the next seven months circumnavigating the globe. By the time it landed in Mexico, the balloon had been airborne for a record-breaking 312 days. “In essence, we have built a machine that is capable of building a better navigation system than we humans can,” said Sal Candido, Loon’s chief technology officer. (Digital Trends, Nature)

3. France

France has become the first country to roll out new repairability labels for consumer electronics, part of a widespread effort to reduce electronic waste. Consumers generate millions of tons of e-waste around the world annually, as they replace outdated or failing technology. But a recent survey found that 77% of European Union residents prefer to repair their devices rather than buy new ones. The European Parliament has since approved a landmark “right to repair” resolution, promising consumers clear information on the life span and repairability of products from smartphones to lawn mowers, and France is reportedly the first to introduce the tags. France’s new labeling system considers several product characteristics, including ease of disassembly and cost of parts, to rate the item on a repairability scale of 1 to 10. The labels are designed to help consumers shop with confidence, and other countries are expected to follow suit. (FR24 News, TIME)

4. Syria

Syrian women are working to lift the shame around reporting instances of “sextortion,” an illegal form of online harassment. Sextortion involves first convincing a person to share nude photographs or videos as a form of romantic seduction and then threatening to expose those images if sexual favors or money are not provided. In Syria, premarital sex is considered an immense cultural taboo, which often leads to sextortion victims suffering in silence. In 2019, Syrian doctor Zainab AlAassi launched the “It Is Your Right” campaign to encourage victims to ask for help by offering free legal consultations and emotional support. So far, the campaign says 1,100 women have come forward, and in most cases, the harassment ends when they file a formal lawsuit. Other groups are trying to intervene earlier. Started by four friends who faced online harassment themselves, the “No to Electronic Sexual Harassment” group has gained more than 2,000 members since it launched in September, including men and women. Members have worked together to shut down dozens of Facebook accounts that were harassing women. (DW)

5. China

China passed new laws strengthening protections of the Chang, or Yangtze, Asia’s longest river. Years of pollution have devastated the river, depleting fish populations and straining riverbank communities. Starting March 1, fishing on the river’s major tributaries, lakes, and other natural waterways will be banned.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters

The Chang flows through Wuhan, China. Hydropower projects will still be allowed, but comprehensive national laws will now better protect Asia’s longest river from waste dumping, fishing, and transport of toxic materials

Polluting industries face reforms or relocation, and no chemical projects can be built or expanded within a kilometer of the Chang. Anyone who uses the river to transport toxic material could receive fines up to $765,000. The legislation – the country’s first to defend a specific river basin’s resources – includes 96 provisions, aimed at integrating the economic development of cities along the 3,900-mile waterway with ecological protections. (Reuters, Sixth Tone)

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The highest governing soccer organization is introducing a new policy to safeguard the rights of female players, namely mandatory maternity leave. In December, the FIFA Council approved a measure that guarantees female players 14 weeks maternity leave, provides “adequate medical and physical support,” and secures their place on the team post-leave. Many players in Europe are already protected under their specific country’s labor laws, but FIFA hopes to establish “new global minimum standards” for clubs around the world. Under the new rules, clubs are obligated to reintegrate female players when they return.

Molly Darlington/Reuters

Bristol City’s Yana Daniels (left) and Manchester United’s Jackie Groenen play in the Women’s Super League, Dec. 20, 2020. FIFA’s new maternity leave policy provides rights to its players around the world.

“If we are serious about boosting the women’s game, we have to look at all these aspects,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters. “Female players need to have stability in their careers and if they take maternity leave, they should not have to worry about when they are ready to play again.” (Reuters)

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