Points of Progress: UK elects record number of women, and more

Phil Noble/Reuters
Angela Rayner

United Kingdom

December’s election saw a record number of women – 220 – elected to the House of Commons. That number tops the previous high of 208 women elected in 2017. Women now fill just over a third of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. Female candidates in the Conservative Party won 86 seats, the highest number in the party’s history. More than half of the members of Parliament in the Labour Party are women. Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary and member of the Labour Party, is being mentioned as a candidate for the party’s leadership. (CNN)

Bougainville

Seraphina Aupong/UN in PNG/AP
Residents of the Bougainville islands cheer for the vote for independence on Dec. 11, 2019, in Buka, Papua New Guinea.

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.

The collection of islands in the South Pacific, which passed a vote to become independent from Papua New Guinea, could become the world’s newest country. Almost 98% of those who voted in the referendum supported independence. “Now, at least psychologically, we feel liberated,” said John Momis, president of the regional autonomous government. The referendum was linked to a peace agreement, which ended a civil war between security forces in Papua New Guinea and separatists in 1998. The Bougainville islands have a total population of 300,000. With such a high percentage of the residents choosing to separate, Papua New Guinea will be under pressure to make the transition to independence happen. (The New York Times, BBC)

Sierra Leone

West Africa’s top court, the Economic Community of West African States, ruled girls who are pregnant can attend regular school, revoking a ban adopted by Sierra Leone in 2015. The African continent has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world, and 18 countries have similar bans against pregnant girls attending school. “This is a great victory and will set a strong precedent across Africa,” said Judy Gitau, whose group Equality Now, a women’s rights organization, brought the case. The ruling also stated that separate, part-time learning centers for pregnant girls are “discriminatory and a violation of the right to equal education.” (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia

Ahmed Yosri/Reuters
A man and woman dine at the same table in a restaurant in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 9, 2019.

Men, women, and children will now be able to dine in the same section of restaurants, according to new rules introduced by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. Until the rule change, restaurant patrons were generally separated by screens according to gender. “It’s a waste of money to open two sections for males and families because this segregation will do nothing when both sides meet outside the restaurant’s doors,” said Ruba Al-Harbi, a restaurant manager. The amendment was a part of 103 sweeping changes to various rules and regulations governing social behavior. The mayor of Mecca told Arab News the updated policy for restaurants will make life easier for both citizens and entrepreneurs. (Arab News, BBC)

India

A project run by the human rights group ActionAid India to secure land rights for indigenous people in India has won a gold prize from World Habitat, an international charity focused on ensuring safe housing for all. Lower-caste tribal communities in India have faced repeated discrimination when claiming rights to land, despite existing laws to aid their efforts. The Koraga tribe and nine other indigenous communities in southern Karnataka state have been helped by ActionAid India, which began in 2000. In addition to securing land, the project has assisted almost 20,000 people in getting state grants to build homes. (Reuters)

Iceland

Scientists have found a way to trap carbon dioxide in stone, an encouraging development for climate scientists looking to reduce emissions in the atmosphere. Sandra Ósk Snæbjörnsdóttir, a geoscientist at Carbfix, says porous basalt rock is the gold standard for CO2 injection. The process captures harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and injects it into basalt, which contains metals that react with the C02 and essentially turn it into stone, enabling the embedded pollutants to be stored underground. The scientists at Carbfix are trying to scale up their processes to make a greater global impact. “We have the know-how,” says Ms. Snæbjörnsdóttir. “We can find big fields of basalt all over the world.” (NPR)

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