Points of Progress: Thai social media helps free speech, and more

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to end your week.

Reuters
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Future Forward, a new Thai progressive party, takes a selfie with supporters during a campaign rally in Bangkok on Feb. 20.

Thailand

Social media is enabling a resurgence of free speech in the country. In 2014, Thailand’s military took over the country in a coup, and since then, the junta has tightly controlled the media landscape and prosecuted critics under computer crime laws. However, during that time, social media use by Thai citizens has soared to about 74 percent of the country’s population. And those networks are full of voices that criticize the regime – even, in some cases, creating enough online backlash to cause the military to rescind planned orders that meet with strong disapproval. Thailand’s first democratic elections since 2011 are scheduled for March 24, although they have been delayed in the past. (The Guardian)

South Sudan

A solar business started by Eritrean brothers is holding its own. There’s a booming market for solar power in East Africa, and many companies in the area are connected to foreign investors. But the solar company Aptech Africa is an exception. Not only is it spreading clean energy sources, but it’s using local networks to do it. When it first began, the company even operated through a civil war in South Sudan, picking up business dropped by companies with foreign investors. Today Aptech operates in seven African countries. (Quartz)

England

Virgin Atlantic will no longer require women flight attendants to wear makeup and skirts. The company joins other airlines – including Southwest, Delta, and JetBlue – in updating their dress code to treat men and women equally. According to former flight attendants and union leaders, airlines have a long history of objectifying women attendants to draw customers and publicity. Some, such as Emirates and Korean Air, still require women attendants to wear makeup. (NBC)

VIRGIN AMERICA/PRNEWSFOTO

Iran

In 2018, the worldwide rate of executions for nonviolent drug offenses was more than halved after Iran reformed its drug legislation. The nongovernmental organization Harm Reduction International reported that only Saudi Arabia, Iran, Singapore, and China enacted capital punishment for nonviolent drug crimes in 2018. And the world’s rate of those executions dropped by 68 percent from 2017 after Iran changed its drug possession laws, meaning one would need to be in possession of a higher quantity of drugs before being placed on death row. (Al Jazeera)

Mexico

The country’s government is taking steps to address gendered violence. In a rare admission, officials said the government had not done enough to protect women and girls from violence. The administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which came into power in 2018, presented a plan to strengthen active murder investigations and aid prosecutors and health services, codify femicide as a crime across the country, and to immediately search for missing women and girls. Women’s advocacy groups welcomed the policy shift but want to ensure concrete action is taken. (The Star)

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