Points of Progress: Personal freedoms increase in UAE, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Nov. 30, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

A record number of Native American women are joining the House of Representatives after at least 18 ran for congressional office. Historically underrepresented in politics, only two Native American women ran for office in the 2016 elections. Three won this month: Laguna Pueblo member Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Ho-Chunk Nation member Sharice Davids, D-Kan., both elected to second terms; and Cherokee Nation citizen Yvette Herrell, R-N.M.

Democratic National Convention/AP
New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member, speaks during the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20, 2020.

Although there has still never been a Native American woman elected to the Senate, the 117th Congress will have more members of Indigenous heritage than any previous cohort, as the women will join Oklahoma Republican Reps. Tom Cole, who is Chickasaw, and Markwayne Mullin, who is Cherokee; and Democratic Rep.-elect Kai Kahele, who is Native Hawaiian. (The 19th News, The Associated Press)

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.

2. United States

The launch of a satellite marks a major step forward for monitoring the effects of rising sea levels. Around the world, sea levels are expected to rise by up to 4 feet by 2100, or 30% in some parts of the American coastline. This could result in trillions of dollars in damage to personal property and critical infrastructure. But experts see a path to solutions: NASA’s new Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which has the ability to measure sea level changes with unparalleled accuracy, launched on Nov. 10.

Mike Blake/Reuters
Waves at high tide crash onto the road in Oceanside, California, on Nov. 27, 2019. Rising sea levels could mean more flooding.

This U.S.-European partnership will offer crucial insight on how climate change is affecting global sea levels. Over its 5 1/2-year mission, the satellite will also collect more precise data on humidity and atmospheric temperature, improving weather forecasts and long-term climate models. (The Hill, NASA)

3. Mexico

Mexico’s Senate unanimously approved legislation banning “revenge porn,” or the sharing of sexual photos or videos without consent, joining a growing number of countries trying to curb online violence against women. Under the new measure, called Olimpia’s law, perpetrators would face up to six years in jail and fines. It is named after Olimpia Coral Melo, who became an advocate after discovering explicit videos of herself online when she was 18. Similar measures have been adopted by several states in Mexico, and the Nov. 5 vote is the first move toward a federal ban. Olimpia’s law has drawn some criticism for its emphasis on criminal punishment, but victims and activists say the Senate support is a major victory. “This was one of the debts that we had with all women, girls, and teenagers,” said Sen. Martha Lucia Micher, from the government’s Gender Equality Commission. The bill moves to the lower chamber of Congress as women continue to protest high rates of femicide and gender-based violence in the country. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

4. United Arab Emirates

A series of legal reforms now allows greater personal freedom in the United Arab Emirates, including the right for foreign residents to follow their home country’s rules on divorce and inheritance, and an ability for unmarried couples to cohabitate. In a country that runs on migrants – who make up nearly 90% of the population – and markets itself as a hub of international business, the amendments remove some legal ambiguity for many seeking to live and work there. Also under the new laws, Emirati judges are no longer allowed to give lenient sentences for so-called honor killings. “I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” Abdallah Al Kaabi, an Emirati filmmaker, told The Associated Press. “2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE.” Dubai is preparing to host millions of visitors at its World Expo next year. (The Guardian)

5. Bangladesh

An Islamic charity has opened Bangladesh’s first school for hijras, a transgender community that faces widespread poverty and discrimination. Human rights groups say there could be as many as 1.5 million hijras in Bangladesh, and although the government has recognized hijras as a third gender since 2013, the population remains largely ostracized. At the Islamic Third Gender School in Dhaka, students of any age will receive lessons on the basic principles of Islam, as well as Bengali, English, math, and some vocational training. “We have a plan to open schools for them across the country so that no one is deprived of education,” said a cleric who helped establish the school. “I’m so thrilled. This school is a beacon of hope,” said student Sona Solani. “I want to show the society that we can stand as equals and prove that we’re not limited to begging, that our lives are much bigger than that.” (Reuters)


A UNESCO report shows that the global school enrollment rate for girls increased from 73% to 89% since 1995, as more countries achieve gender parity in education. Today, there are 180 million more girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools than there were a generation ago, and those girls are performing better in reading and mathematics. In postsecondary education, the progress is even more striking: Women’s enrollment in colleges, universities, and trade schools has tripled to 116 million since 1995. Morocco, which had one of the worst higher education ratios in the early 1990s with 30 women enrolled for every 100 men, achieved gender parity in 2017.

Facundo Arrizabalaga/Reuters/File
Students in Asni, Morocco, watch as Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, visit their secondary school on Feb. 24, 2019.

The report, titled “A New Generation: 25 Years of Efforts for Gender Equality in Education,” warns that the pandemic will likely exacerbate remaining gender gaps and governments must remain vigilant. “This [research] shows that the fulfillment of women’s rights is intrinsically linked to their education opportunities,” said David Moinina Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s education minister and chair of the advisory board for the report. (UNESCO)

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