10 Women’s Issues to Watch in 2014 [Lady Bits]

The new year is upon us. Personally, I’ve always found New Year’s Day to be both the most exciting and anticlimactic holiday. But whether or not the coming of a new year leads to the kind of dramatic transformation we associate with it, the end of one year and the beginning of the next is a natural time for reflection, particularly when it comes to major social and political events.

2013 was a tumultuous year filled with advancements and setbacks for women, debates about what it means to be a feminist, and discussions about the shortcomings of the mainstream feminist movement. Here are a few big 2013 issues to keep an eye on as they continue to develop in 2014.

1. Abortion. Abortion is always a contentious issue, but 2013 saw a record-breaking number of anti-abortion bills proposed and passed. Lawmakers proposed 600 reproduction-related measures in the first three months of 2013 alone, and more are already on the horizon for 2014. But for the first time, pro-choice advocates are going on the offensive with the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill defends a woman’s right to an abortion and would prevent politicians from imposing restrictions on abortion that don’t advance women’s health and safety.

2. Texas gubernatorial race. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis rose to national attention and became a feminist hero when she carried out an 11-hour filibuster to prevent the passage of an extremely restrictive anti-abortion bill. But then Governor Rick Perry called a special legislative session and pushed the bill through anyway. So Wendy decided to go for his job. She announced her run for governor in October, and early polls show her trailing just behind her Republican challenger. Over the past few decades, Texas has become a Republican stronghold. A liberal governor, and a woman no less, could shake things up there in the best possible way.

3. Sexual assault in the military. 2013 brought unprecedented criticism and discussion of the way the military handles sexual assault cases, revealing a terrifyingly bad track record of victim-blaming and rapes being swept under the rug. President Obama has just signed a bill that increases some protections for military victims of sexual assault. Under this bill, military commanders will no longer be able to overturn jury convictions for sexual assault, and the law requires that service members convicted on sexual assault charges be issued a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. But it doesn’t go far enough – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is still pushing for a bill that will take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command entirely, so that all victims have a truly fair shot at getting justice.

4. Women in combat. Speaking of the military, 2013 was the year the Pentagon finally decided that women could officially serve in combat positions, even though many had been doing so informally for some time. Women won’t technically begin serving in combat until 2016, but in the meantime, the debate over whether or not women are physically strong enough to do so will surely continue. Thus far, a class of 13 women has passed advanced combat training. The Marine Corps also recently announced that they would delay a new pullup requirement (a minimum of 3 pullups) because many female Marines can’t currently complete it. While some say that women simply aren’t strong enough, others argue that they just need more training (duh).

5. #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Started by Mikki Kendall of Hood Feminism, this hashtag trended worldwide and drew attention to the fact that voices of color have often been left out of the feminist movement, and are still constantly excluded. 2013 was full of facepalm-inducing instances of white feminists missing the point, like Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” video, and when Ani DiFranco scheduled and later cancelled a feminist songwriting retreat at a former plantation. This discussion is sure to continue into 2014, because white feminists still have a lot to learn.

6. Malala Yousafzai and women’s education. Education activist Malala Yousafzai, now 16, rose to international attention after being shot in the head by a Taliban assassin. Following her miraculous recovery, Malala used her platform to continue to advocate for women’s education and to speak out against drone strikes. She was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. While Malala is certainly not the only activist working to make sure all girls and women have access to education, her bravery and resilience, combined with her public platform, put her in an excellent position to drive reform.

7. Title IX. In 2013, survivors of sexual assault on college campuses began to speak out like never before. Many shared their stories online, and took action that led to dozens of federal investigations into various colleges’ handling of sexual assault cases. The investigations unfortunately aren’t new: colleges have long been ignoring their responsibilities under Title IX and the Clery Act. But growing attention has empowered survivors and put new pressure on colleges to be honest and fair. HuffPost recently debuted an entire section dedicated to sexual assault, and campaigns like Know Your IX have provided comprehensive support and resources to survivors and allies. There’s no doubt that sexual assault is a problem on college campuses. The question for 2014 is whether or not schools will start taking steps to end the epidemic.

8. Rape culture. Rape culture is by no means new, and unfortunately, it’s not going to go away any time soon. But this year, several high-profile rape cases in the U.S. and abroad sparked discussion about the social structures that lead to rape. The Steubenville and Maryville rape cases offered painful examples of how women are often blamed for their own assaults, and how willing school and law enforcement officials are to look the other way or even help cover up rape. Several brutal and highly publicized gang rapes in India led to change in the laws there, increasing penalties for rapists. And activists spoke out about the sexual violence faced daily by women on the streets in Egypt.

9. Marissa Alexander, domestic violence, and “stand your ground.” Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing one warning shot in self defense, has been released from prison and granted a new trial. Alexander was defending herself against her abusive husband, but the court refused to accept her “stand your ground” defense. Though she is free for the moment, she remains in limbo while she waits for her trail despite public pressure to let her go. Alexander’s case is just one of many that proves “stand your ground” laws are often inconsistently applied, and that survivors of domestic violence rarely receive the help they need.

10. Pussy Riot. Two members of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot were recently released from prison under a new amnesty bill. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were jailed after protesting the country’s president, Vladimir Putin. The two women have spoken out about the horrific treatment they received in prison, including forced gynecological examinations. This week, the announced that they will form a new nongovernmental human rights organization focusing on prisoners’ rights, called Justice Zone.

The Flyest New Year’s Eve Nails to Ring in 2014
The Flyest New Year’s Eve Nails to Ring in 2014
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