world affairs

Vive La Révolution: Making Sense of the French Pension Reform Protests

For three months now, millions of French citizens have been taking part in the largest mass demonstrations seen in the country since the Crisis of ‘68. In France’s largest cities, rioters are shouting “increase salaries, not the retirement age” and “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” surrounded by torched government buildings and looted stores. The focus of these protests? A controversial pension reform act, including, among other things, legislation that would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. The Macron government, one of the most unpopular in France in living memory, argues that the reforms are necessary to keep France’s struggling pension system afloat, though the French citizenry, grappling with one of the most pressing cost of living crises in living memory feel that with this reform, another piece of their economic liberty is being taken away. 

Most controversially, the Macron government decided to enact Article 49.3 to allow the reform to go into effect without the need of a vote by the National Assembly. Effectively, pushing through the reform without a democratically elected vote, and without the consent of the French people. To the French, this blatant disregard for France’s democratic institutions emphasizes the unpopularity of the current government, and has invalidated the French government as a representation of the French people. The wave of discontent shown across the nation, culminating in labor demonstrations like the publicized Parisian city maintenance workers strikes and acts of violence like the torching of the city hall in Bordeaux, emphasize the discontent already pervasive within France even before this series of unpopular reforms. 

Interpreted socially, we can see how these reforms emphasize the growing rift between the Macron government and working/middle class French. Those who have increasingly felt the pinch of first the COVID-19 pandemic, second, the resulting cost of living crisis, and now the social unrest of these pension reforms are increasingly feeling that the current government sways too much in favor of the rich. Additionally, the police crackdown on protests in numerous French cities has not only escalated the violence, but also called into question the brutality of the French police force. The wide push back to this set of reforms constitutes one of the most substantial mass demonstrations in France since the May ‘68 Crisis. As we examine them from a wider perspective, they form part of a larger wave of unrest around the world in reaction to the economic crisis left after the COVID-19 pandemic. This wave of unrest calls into question the sustainability of growth as many nations in the Global North not only recover from the pandemic, but also mature economically and demographically. Surely, more mass demonstrations like these shall follow in the coming years.

Written by Research & Development Intern, Andrew Martin

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Las Patronas

With Women’s History Month coming up in March, we wanted to take a moment to honor the women making the world go round. Las Patronas is a group of women who come together to support and give food to Central American migrants making the journey north in search of jobs and a better life. The group began in La Patrona, Veracruz, where the founders say that after purchasing food from a local store, they saw a train known as La Bestia (“The Beast”) with migrants on board who asked them for food. The women gave them the food they were carrying, and returned home, where they spoke about the experience. They decided to continue the work, now preparing between fifteen and twenty kilograms of rice and beans daily, which amounts to about 300 lunches. When passing the Beast, they have approximately 15 minutes to throw the bags, laden with food as well as water, to migrants on the train who catch them. The group has been working since 1995 to provide food and assistance to these migrants, earning several awards for their work, such as the National Human Rights Award in 2013. The group was also nominated for the Princess of Asturias Award in 2015, after a campaign from collected more than 50,000 signatures in support of their mission.

Latin America is structured by colonial, capitalist, and imperial domination. Migrants are forced to leave their homes as a result of revolutionary struggle, civil war, and U.S. imperialism changing the landscape of their countries. Hundreds of thousands of migrants make the journey north through dangerous terrain into countries where they continue to face persecution and an exhausting immigration process. Though these circumstances are rampant throughout many parts of the world, affecting millions of refugees who seek asylum, groups like Las Patronas continue their life-changing work, making their journey a little easier. Las Patronas took their name from the village of their origin, but it has a wider religious connotation too: patrona means “patron saint” in Spanish. For the migrants, who grab a potentially life-saving donation from a woman they may never see again, the name could not be more apt.

Written by Cindy Castro, Programs Management Intern

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The Taliban’s Enforced Restrictions: A Society of Gender Violence

The return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan has again threatened the international human rights paradigm. In August 2021, the monopolized control of the Taliban replaced the United States-backed government as they withdrew troops after twenty years. With a vision for an ultra-conservative Afghanistan through the leader Mullah Haibutullah Akhandzada, the country witnessed the obliteration of women’s rights and freedoms through harsh interpretations of Islamic Law or Shar’ia.  

The latest news in December 2022 faced significant international backlash. The Minister of Higher Education of the Taliban government banned women’s and girls’ education. This includes education after the 6th grade for girls and tertiary education in private or public institutions. The enforced restrictions are based on the belief that some subjects being taught, such as engineering and agriculture, violate the principles of Islam. As a result of a group of two dozen women protesting for their rights in Kabul, they faced brutal violence including beating and whippings by police forces. 

While gender violence is globally present, the recent rise to power of the Taliban is associated with increased violations against women’s security and rights. The implications of the ban further exacerbate women’s repression in Afghanistan. In religious-dominated societies, the violations against women are not viewed as criminal offenses but rather as a justification that men are entitled to. The patriarchal structure of power disregards human rights principles and worsens women’s vulnerabilities. UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender empowerment and equality, Sima Bahous says, “a society based on exclusion and repression could never flourish.” While barriers remain, the international community urges to take a position to protect women’s rights, especially access to education, globally. 

Written by Kiana Flak, Community Outreach Intern

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Where’s the Money?: Holidays and COVID Bailouts

Written by Fundraising and Technology Intern, Norbu Kangchen

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Civil Unrest and Violent Suppression in Iran

Written by Fundraising and Technology Intern, Norbu Kangchen

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Russian-Ukrainian War: Zelensky Calls for ‘Open Diplomacy’

As the Russian-Ukrainian War continues to stretch on into its ninth month, negotiations between each sides’ respective leaders have continued to struggle. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has been issuing daily updates to his citizens as the war continues on, and in his November 7th address, recently stated his terms for open diplomacy which included respect for the UN Charter, territorial integrity of Ukraine, and prosecution of war criminals. This has been a change from his previous stance that peace talks with Russia were an “impossibility” if done under Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s current situation is complicated by its reliance on assistance from the United States, which recently underwent its midterm elections.The potential shift in political climate may alter the level of aid provided.

November marks an important time globally, with meetings such as the G20 summit and the ASEAN summit both taking place this month. Russian forces have retreated from the Kherson region, Though it appears the conflict will continue at this time, the recent turn of events have raised hopes that Russia is losing steam in its campaign. The Biden administration has not established a strong position on how Ukraine should proceed, but expresses hope that more fruitful peace talks can occur now that the winter months are closing in, posing a danger for troops and civilians still caught in the conflict.

Program Management Intern, Cindy Tse

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