Points of Progress: Moscow hires first female metro drivers since ’80s
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 Feb. 1, 2021 Monitor Weekly.
January 22, 2021
1. Vatican City
A new decree from Pope Francis allows women to be altar servers, distributors of Communion, and readers at liturgies – roles many women were already carrying out around the world but are now protected by the Code of Canon Law. Previously, a conservative bishop could bar women from serving in these roles. “This codifies that women are equal to men in these roles and is big because in some cultures women are still considered unclean and cannot be near the sacred,” said Phyllis Zagano, a religion professor at Hofstra University in New York.
Pope Francis, who recently codified rules expanding women’s roles in the Roman Catholic Church, speaks during the Angelus noon prayer from his window at the Vatican on Dec. 8, 2020.
The Vatican points out that these roles are distinct from ordained posts, and the move toward greater gender equality in the Roman Catholic Church does not mean women will be allowed to serve as priests. The pope, however, has also appointed several women to senior administrative positions and established commissions to study the early church’s history of female deacons – ordained ministers who do not celebrate Mass, but may preach, baptize, and even run their own parish – in response to calls from women who wish to fill this role today. (Reuters)
2. United States
The United States has toughened its ban on female genital mutilation, considered a form of child abuse and gender violence. Although the practice is outlawed across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says some 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. have already undergone or are at risk of FGM. A new law signed by the president Jan. 5 requires government agencies to report to Congress the estimated number of people affected and efforts to prevent FGM. It also expands the scope of punishable FGM-related offenses and closes legal loopholes that have previously hindered federal prosecution of such crimes. Under the new law, people who commit or conspire to commit FGM can face up to 10 years in prison. Campaigners say this legislation will also bolster efforts to end the abusive ritual worldwide, especially in countries that have yet to adopt any formal laws against FGM. “Ending FGM is part of U.S. foreign policy so it’s important for their credibility that they have a strong law themselves,” said Divya Srinivasan, a legal expert with human rights group Equality Now. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
African countries that subscribed to a free deforestation alert system experienced an 18% decline in forest loss over two years, sparking hope that the satellite-based tool can be used to mitigate climate change. A University of Maryland lab uses high-resolution images from NASA satellites to monitor forests, and when its algorithms detect deforestation occurring, the Global Land Analysis and Discovery system – also known as GLAD – delivers an alert to local authorities. “Before GLAD, government agencies and other groups in the business of deforestation prevention had to lean on reports from volunteers or forest rangers,” said Jennifer Alix-Garcia, an economist at Oregon State University and co-author of a recent study analyzing GLAD’s impact. But relying on human reports can significantly limit authorities’ ability to respond in time to prevent deforestation. “Reforestation is good, but avoiding deforestation is way better,” she added. “That’s part of why cost-effective reduction of deforestation ought to be part of the foundation of global climate change mitigation strategies.” (Oregon State University)
A court in Lahore, Pakistan, has banned the use of so-called virginity tests in sexual assault cases, and activists hope the widely hailed ruling will lead to a national prohibition. Justice Ayesha A. Malik wrote that virginity testing “is a humiliating practice, which is used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused.” Rape convictions in Pakistan are rare, and in a religiously conservative country where trust in law enforcement is low, advocates say virginity tests are yet another obstacle for victims seeking justice. Experts charged with implementing the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – which Pakistan has signed – also say virginity tests have no medical or scientific validity. Karachi-based rights activist Farieha Aziz was one of the petitioners in the Lahore case. “We hope that the judgment will be implemented by all government authorities across the country to ensure that such unlawful practices are immediately prohibited,” she said. (The New York Times)
Moscow has hired its first female metro drivers since the 1980s, following changes in nationwide legislation barring women from certain professions. First introduced in 1974 and updated in 2000, a controversial registry identified 456 jobs considered too physically dangerous for women, including train operator, auto mechanic, and sailor. Critics argued that most of the physically demanding tasks in these forbidden jobs have since been automated, and last year the Monitor reported that the labor ministry slashed the list to about 100 men-only positions. Occupational equality advocates are still working to scrap the list entirely, as well as fight subtler forms of workplace discrimination, but see this move as a positive first step, helping more women enter the workforce in popular and fulfilling roles – like working for the capital’s famous Soviet-era metro system. Moscow released a statement in January saying the first cohort of 12 women completed training and was ready to take passengers. Other transit authorities are expected to follow suit. (BBC, The Guardian, The Moscow Times, The Christian Science Monitor)
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Conservationists rescued several Philippine eagles last year and discovered new families in the wild, a sign that engaging local authorities and communities as partners is working. The national bird is considered critically endangered, with only 400 nesting pairs believed to exist in the wild. The pandemic curtailed research expeditions and slashed revenue of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, but amid one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, conservationists still managed to rescue seven birds with the help of concerned citizens and local authorities. Six birds have been released into the wild or reside at the PEF rehabilitation center. Experts say these rescues and the discovery of two new families – including breeding pairs and their offspring – leave the Philippine eagle in relatively good shape for 2021.
Philippine eagle Mindanao is seen inside the Philippine Eagle Foundation conservation center in Davao City in 2011.
The raptors are slow to reproduce, females typically laying only one egg every two years. “We are very happy every time we discover new pairs,” says PEF research and conservation director Jayson Ibañez. “It is important to locate the nesting sites so that we can put in place protective measures to ensure they will be out of harm’s way.” (Mongabay)