The 21st Century Fight for Women’s Rights

Emma C

Are women’s rights still under attack? In 2021, over 100 years since the birth of the suffrage movement and the fight for women’s rights began, it remains an ongoing battle especially in the area of reproductive rights.

Some European countries such as Ireland, are moving forwards in terms of woman’s healthcare.  On May 25, 2018, a referendum was held, and the people voted to repeal the 8th amendment and legalize abortion.  Unfortunately, even as recently as 2021, some countries are moving backwards in terms of women’s rights to govern their own bodies.  In Poland, a new law that came into effect on January 27, 2021 that bans all abortions unless it is a case of rape or incest, or, if mothers life is at risk.

Abortion laws in Poland were already strict, but the court ruled that a 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional, thus tightening restrictions even more. The current government in office in Poland is Law and Justice, which is a conservative type of party.

It can be frightening to see countries start to move backwards in the realm of women’s health. Poland, a predominantly Catholic country was governed by religious undertones for many years and was slowly starting to move away from a strong religious base. With the Law and Justice party in power, there is a push to move back to more traditional values, where the government has more control over what people can do based on values rooted in religion and traditionalism, restricting people’s actions so they conform to the Party’s base values.

The Law and Justice party campaigned for re-election in 2019 and won on the platform of bettering the Polish economy, and putting Polish needs first. Old-traditional ideas is what the government advocated for, similar to Trumps slogan “make America great again,”.  There was fear that Poland was losing their identity due to foreign influence and that the country was being taken away from the Polish people. The Law and Justice Party took this fear and ran with it when building their platform appealing to people’s want to strengthen the Polish economy, while not clearly outlining their other restrictive views that may not be as supported by the population.

Jaroslaw Kaczyński and his twin brother founded the Law and Justice Party in 2001 on the basis of strong nationalistic ideas, radical viewpoints and the belief that they would save the nation. These ideas are reminiscent of ideas of past fascist and authoritarian regimes that believed they were going to save the nation. Their beliefs were built from the idea that the regime had the best interests of the country and its “native” population in mind and that they were saving its Polish citizens from being invaded by foreigners. While these ideas may seem nationalistic and harmless in theory, in practice they can be quite harmful.

In today’s political climate with many progressive movements gaining popularity worldwide advocating for equal rights and access, many feel that they are slipping away from traditional ways that have served their country up until today. In Poland, the current attack on a woman’s right to choose what happens to their own body stems from a concern, manufactured from a political party, that the country has strayed too far from its Catholic roots. In order to win back the public’s trust and vote, this new stricter abortion ban that passed is a signal that Poland is not going to stray from its Catholic roots. I think a point needs to be made to more clearly delineate religion from politics. The promotion of religion as a basis of governing law has long been a popular method to encourage people to align with political parties.  It provides the illusion of credibility for some of the more restrictive laws, but also certainly excludes a portion of the population. It is unfortunate that Poland, like Texas, has based their political platform on religious grounds that are rooted in historical interpretation of a different time with little relevance in the world today.

Women should not be restricted by laws based on archaic religious principles but have the freedom to choose what happens to their bodies, no matter what religion their leaders choose to follow. Religion itself has had a very turbulent history and it seems that the quest for women’s reproductive rights to be a self-managed decision will be just as tumultuous.

International Competition is Not a Right

Declan Da Barp

A shower of beer cups, racist chants, and monkey gestures rained down on Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham as England trounced Hungary 4-0 in a World Cup qualifying match in September. In response, FIFA fined the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) 200,000 Swiss Francs and banned fans for Hungary’s next home match.

The MLSZ is all too familiar with this punishment, marking Hungary’s fourth ban in eight years. The Hungarian’s are already serving a stadium ban handed down by UEFA following racist and homophobic chants and banners at Euro 2020.  

The Hungarian hardcore fans or Ultras, referred to as the Carpathian Brigade, stoked by the Hungarian government’s populist policies have a long history of racist and bigoted incidents four stadium bans in the past eight years. (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Homophobia and racism are not unique to Hungarian fans. At Euro 2020, three black English players received a torrent of racial abuse for missing penalties that could have made England the champion. But what makes Hungary so troubling is the frequency of the events and the explicit government approval. Where in England, arrests for racial abuse follow instances of prejudice, the Hungarian Government provides mere excuses, diversion, and even outright support. Following the previous international break, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn said he “agree[s] with the fans” who decried taking a knee as a “provocation”.

The success of the current Hungarian National team is the success of Orbán. Since his party surged into power in 2010, he has created what he dubs an “illiberal democracy.” Judges, ministers, tax authorities, and, most importantly in this context, sporting organizations executives have been taken over by members of Fidesz – Orbán’s ruling party.

The racism that is seen repetitively at Hungarian soccer matches is representative of the same malice within the ruling party. With no action being taken to curb the prejudice internally, the only way to keep the game innocent is by banning the Hungarian National Team from international competition entirely.

Orbán himself has a long history with the game and has used his past as a semi-professional player to connect with the everyday man. This photo was taken of Orbán at a tournament in Felcsút in 2012 while he was playing in the Hungarian fourth-tier.  (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Hungary is one of the most repressive countries in the European Union with xenophobia, racism, and homophobia commonplace. The countless examples of bigotry inside Hungarian stadiums are a reflection of the country’s lurch to the authoritarian right.

In recent years Orbán has tightened his grip over local media, in passing the “Stop-Soros Laws” cracked down on NGOs who aid migrants, and recent legislation enacted to limit the exposure of minor to “homosexual content” connecting homosexuality to paedophilia. This populist backsliding has led many experts to conclude that if Hungary applied today, they would be rejected from the EU.

And yet, no one has acted against Orbán or his regime.

FIFA and UEFA declare that they allow no room for racism and bigotry in football but allowing the continued participation of the MLSZ has permitted and encouraged these kinds of behaviours.

Ejecting MLSZ from international competition would not be without precedent. 

Referred to as the Wonder-team, the Yugoslav National Team had their chance at the Euros taken away from them due to UN sanctions placed on the country. The Yugoslav National Team made the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup and Red Star Belgrade won the 1991 Champions League. The team that replaced them, Denmark, went on to win the Euros.

In 1992, Yugoslavia was engulfed in a viscous conflict with the states of the once unified Slavic Republic declaring independence. Despite the bloodshed, the Yugoslav national team was preparing for the Euros in which they had a real shot at the trophy. The team was jettisoned from the competition mere weeks before the start due to human rights abuses by Serbian paramilitary forces in Sarajevo. FIFA and UEFA removed all the former Slavic republic from international competitions, in accordance with UN sanctions.

In the case of Hungary, the governing bodies of the sport stand alone. The EU and UN have previously been inactive in combatting the threat of authoritarianism and populism throughout the world. F IFA and UEFA now have an opportunity to defend the beliefs that they claim to hold. If the football associations are serious about rooting out prejudice within the sport, they must bar the MLSZ from a cycle of international competition; all lighter attempts at rectifying the situation have been disregarded. If the governing bodies of the sport choose to turn a blind eye, they are being hypocritical to their own values and are ultimately allowing Orbán to continue his populist appeal through international sport and are complicit in his actions.

Russian Elections- Authoritarianism or a Limited Democracy? 

Kathleen McKinnon

In light of the recent Russian elections, the democratic nature of this country comes to mind. Russia has been long criticized for the democracy it says it has but lacks. It has been called a “guided” or “managed” democracy by many in academic and political circles. The question is whether a “managed” democracy is democracy at all or authoritarianism by another name here the answer will simply be both.

In Russia, which is one of the most obvious cases of this “managed” democracy, there are many elements at play that make it an excellent example of where strong nation and state-building collide with democracy and stunt its growth. Russia displays elements of authoritarianism and questionable tactics to quell party opposition but that does not make it far removed from the beginnings of democracy that can grow in the future (see here a New York Times article on the recent elections and some democratic deficits https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/world/europe/russia-election-vote-putin.html ). Anti-democratic elements can exist strongly in a country such as Russia, but they do in every country even if in small amounts considering there are many flaws to most electoral systems including voter turnout and the popular vote vs. who gets voted in which means that democratic deficits do not make or break which countries become a fully-fledged democracy (see here a CBC article on how the winning party in the Canadian Federal 2021 election did not win the popular vote, which means more Canadians did not vote for who formed government than those who did https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-votes-2021-election-night-highlights-1.6177106). 

In Russia, there is such a vast territory and identities that uniting the people creates a very difficult task and it is this nation-building and state-building that brings out the authoritarian aspect in this country. In building a national identity the goal is to have a stronger state that is not under threat of fragmentation through bids for succession or feelings of marginalization and vocalized dissent. With such a vast region and diverse identities in Russia, the name of Vladimir V. Putin’s party being “United Russia” should say it all (see here for an interactive map of Russian regions https://usrbc.org/site/resources/russianmap).

For Russia to stay a world power it needs to stay united and if regionalism and politics get too far then the country could face more turmoil than it is already in (for example economic issues see chart here for an example of Russia’s economic “highs and lows” https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/11/russias-economy-under-president-putin-in-charts.html). Creating a shared history, memory, identity and goals are all important factors used in authoritarian regimes to keep salience and are used in Russia for the same reason, to build a national myth of unity and to keep the country together. In fact, Putin’s approval rate went up in Russia when his government annexed Crimea https://www.theguardian.com/world/datablog/2015/jul/23/vladimir-putins-approval-rating-at-record-levels. This shows that the identity and nation-building attempts are working and that there is indeed on some level a “United Russia” with very clear boundaries of who should be “in” whether they are already or not. 

The regional political interests in Russia, and the fight to keep a unified identity, especially after the Soviet Union with the past unified Soviet identity/legacy despite the extensive territory it had, Russia will never get there unless there is some “top-down” approach in keeping things together. There are elections, there are opposition parties and these are the seeds that democracies need to develop even if now there are suspicious circumstances surrounding how the opposition leaders leave the race for presidency and possible ballot stuffing. For now, things are working out for President Putin, it has evolved this way and Russia will continue to evolve even after Putin is gone because there will come a day where this will happen and Russia will face what it has and where it can go with where it is.

So in the end, Russia is a “managed democracy,” democratic in that it does have features that can grow into a fully established democracy but “managed” in that the leader, Vladimir Putin, is trying to keep the country united despite its intricate regional differences. To have everyone be “Russian” means that the country can be one strong force in the world instead of being divided and fragmented, losing its voice and image of the Soviet power it once was. 

The European Green Deal: A Solution for Post-Pandemic Recovery?

By Jackie Howell

2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, sparking a need to address climate change. The European Union (EU) aims to combine climate efforts with a post-COVID recovery plan. However, can member-states overcome their political differences and come to a consensus?

COVID-19 highlights the relationship between health, the economy, and the environment. The European Green Deal, introduced in December 2019, seems like the perfect opportunity to address the effects of COVID-19 and climate change. Local and regional leaders are prioritizing a green recovery from COVID-19, as outlined in the ENVE Commission of the European Committee of the Regions’ 2021 work program. Over the next decade, the EU will mobilize €1 trillion of investments to create a clean circular economy, restore biodiversity, and reduce pollution.

Responses to the Climate Crisis

Climate change has already been on most governments’ agendas. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the impacts of global warming, arriving at the conclusion: Earth is experiencing a climate emergency.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has prioritized greening the EU economy. In 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency and committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 50% of 1990’s levels.

However, ongoing divisions between the East and West and the North and South pose additional hurdles for EU consensus. Dissenters such as the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) warned against giving this impression of panic, downplaying the urgency of climate change. A few right-wing political groups even advocated to postpone the European Green Deal and refocus on economic recovery.

The 2008 Financial Crisis vs. the COVID-19 Recession

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of green measures, such as renewable energy investments, reductions in fossil fuels consumption, support for electric vehicles, and investments in infrastructure. These green recovery packages are reminiscent of the green stimulus packages launched after the 2008 financial crisis. Can lessons from the past help governments from repeating past mistakes?          

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the 2008 European Economic Recovery Plan introduced a budget of €200 billion, investing some of the funds in energy efficiency, low-carbon or clean technologies, and green infrastructure. Investments in clean energy helped countries build up competitive industries after the 2008 Recession. For the EU, each $1 in green investment boosted GDP by up to $1.50 across the region. However, the 2008 financial crisis led to a new wave of support for far-right populist parties due to the rise in unemployment and a decline in trust in institutions.

In the case of COVID-19, populist parties are now losing support as the bloc finds it more integrated than before. Even coal-dependent Poland shifted its tone on the Green Deal. However, clashing interests can still constrain the EU’s ambitious climate goals, leading to stalemates and a disintegrated EU.    

Challenges to the Green Deal

The EU recognizes that environmental pollution, climate change, and issues of inequality are linked, so the EU is committed to making a “just and inclusive transition for all.” However, public backlash presents a challenge for the EU Green Deal. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from automakers as German car brands faced plummeting sales due to COVID-19.  An overwhelming majority of Europeans and companies support climate action, but their desire to change their own behaviour is quite limited.

While climate change is a less polarized topic in Europe than in the United States, opposition can quickly grow. Far-right parties are increasingly taking a stand on climate change, spreading messages of denialism, inaction, or apathy. The European Green Deal presents far-right populists with the perfect target to divide voters.

COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for governments to create policy that reduces exposure of environmental, social, and economic risks in crises. Lessons from the 2008 economic packages can guide European policymakers in designing green stimulus packages that work for the environment and for all workers. Now is the time for the EU to convince Europeans that climate inaction will only lead to more health and economic crises before it becomes too late.

Women of the far right and the historic appeal of fascism

Michaela Bax-Leaney

Two women gathered at a rally in support of former President Donald Trump. “2017.03.04 Pro-Trump Rallies Washington, DC USA 00401” by tedeytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of the infamous images of insurrection from January 6th feature men – Podium Guy Adam Johnston, Viking Guy Jake Angeli, and the man with his feet propped up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk Richard Barnett all come to mind as the obvious examples. Yet there were also plenty of women there that day.

There was Gina Bisignano, who, to quote HuffPost reporter Ryan Reilly, “stormed the Capitol in a Louis Vuitton sweater.” There was Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, who as NBC News reported, were arrested in connection with a video in which they claimed to have been in search of Pelosi in order “to shoot her in the friggin’ brain.” Ashli Babbitt, the first reported casualty of the day, was a virulent QAnon conspiracy theorist, the New York Times reported

Following the 2020 U.S. election, a New York Times exit poll found that 55 per cent of white women voters cast their ballots for Trump, compared to 44 per cent for Biden. While there is plenty of discourse back and forth over what exactly to make of that number, and semantic debates about its accuracy, there is a simpler truth that the number tells us: the alt-right appeals to white women, and not just a few of them. 

In looking to the historic participation of women in fascist regimes, we see that there is precedent for the appeal of fascism and the far right to white women in particular, despite these being causes that, some would argue, are detrimental to their interests.

As historians Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez note, in seeking to understand the motives of women, too often that understanding relegates women to “merely supportive roles,” when the reality is that women were active and enthusiastic contributors to their causes. And those causes, as López and Sánchez explain, included active and enthusiastic support of fascist regimes such as in Francoist Spain.

Led by Pilar Primo de Rivera (center left), a group of Spanish women Falangist leaders, representing the Nationalists, were welcomed in Berlin by members of the Nazi Women’s Workers’ Division.

And yet while there are documented instances of this participation, López and Sánchez argue that these remain understudied. This is in large part due to the fact that the study of ordinary conservative women tends to exist in opposition to the values of gender-focussed historians. While the actions of women in leadership may be reviled, they can still be understood as some form of feminism.

Analogous to today might be someone like Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. While not a fascist, Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the highest court in the U.S. sparked many discussions about the dichotomy she embodies. She is only the fifth woman to serve on the court, out of the 114 justices in U.S. history, and yet for many women she represents a powerful threat to the rights of women, particularly around reproductive rights. But a degree of understanding is extended to her because, despite all of that, she is still a woman seizing power in a male-dominated arena; there’s an air of feminism to it.

Yet as the historian of Nazi Germany, Claudia Koonz, showed us in her book, Mothers of the Fatherland, ordinary women were both drawn to and complicit in fascism.

Feminist scholar Catharine R. Simpson writes that although “many societies deprive women of power over themselves, women still have power to exercise. Women, though Other to men, have their Others too.” She calls to mind the ownership of Black slaves, both men and women, by white women in the U.S., as well as Koonz’ point that women in Nazi Germany did participate in genocide, both actively and passively.

Italian historian Daniella Rossini describes how, in Italy from 1911 to 1912, there was a marked shift within the Italian feminist movement to more closely align themselves with Italian nationalism, throwing their support behind the colonization of Libya. Rossini argues that the war, and the promise of a new Italy, strengthened those bonds, and soon Italian women found themselves part of a regime which in turn sought to stifle them.

In shifting focus to the present day, many have theorized what appeal 21st century iterations of the far right hold for women, and notably white women. Annie Kelly argued that QAnon held a natural appeal for mothers, given the rhetoric within QAnon advocating “Freedom for the Children.” In the Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connolly, and Angela Giuffrida found that these allegiances are attributable to financial hardship, which disproportionately affects women, and populist messaging warning feminists that immigration will result in a women’s rights backslide.

But what is certain is that it is not a new phenomenon, and when seeking to ascertain motive and understanding, we should be reminded of the wide range of experiences and circumstances which have historically brought women into the fold of the far right.