TIME India

Mother Posts India’s First Gay Marriage Advert to Seek Groom for Her Son

A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade in New Delhi
Adnan Abidi—Reuters A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi on Nov. 30, 2014

Homosexuality is illegal in the South Asian nation

On the face of it, the matrimonial ad placed by 57-year-old Mumbai resident Padma Iyer in an Indian tabloid on Tuesday followed the usual form of such notices in a country where many marriages are still arranged by parents: seeking a suitable partner for her son, she listed his age, height and occupation in the ad in the city’s Mid-Day newspaper.

But instead of a girl, Iyer sought a suitable boy for her gay son — a 25-to-50 year old “well-placed, animal-loving GROOM,” according to the ad, the first such notice in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

The ad soon went viral on Facebook and Twitter, generating accolades for Iyer for challenging a widespread social taboo against homosexuality.

Writing on the website of a local news channel, her son — the prospective groom, Harish — said that the ad only made it into Mid-Day after being rejected by other newspapers, including the country’s leading English-language daily, The Times of India, which reportedly turned down the ad on legal grounds.

“I think it’s absolutely normal for any mother to wish for her son to settle down. My mother is no different. She’s 57, and fears I’ll be alone after she’s gone,” Harish, who is a leading LGBT rights activist, wrote, saying he had already received six responses to the ad.

“Last week, she asked me a question any mom would ask her 36-year-old son: ‘Are you dating someone? Are you fond of someone?’ And when my answer was in the negative, my mom did what any Indian mother would do — she decided to place an ad in a newspaper.”

India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in late 2013, when it upheld a British colonial-era law that punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with up to 10 years in prison. The judgement was widely criticized by human-rights groups, with the then U.N. human-rights chief Navi Pillay saying the ruling by India’s top court represented a “significant step backwards” for the country. “The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition,” Pillay added.

TIME North Korea

Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

Remember, the status quo sure ain't working

There’s a lot written about North Korea: reports on the country’s nuclear program, speculation about its leadership, and gossip about its dictator’s hair, height and weight. But parse the streams of text the country generates each week and you’ll notice a word conspicuously missing: peace.

Though the 1950–53 Korean War ended without a treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula divided, the question of peace has faded from view. Exasperated by Pyongyang’s intransigence on nuclear issues, tired of its propagandists’ vitriol, the international community has, for the most part, disengaged. Young South Koreans are less and less interested in their hermit neighbor. The U.S. is all about isolation — and sanctions galore.

The deepening standoff is what inspired a group of 30 female activists, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, to plan a walk for peace at the border. The plan is to set out on May 24 across the demilitarized zone, or DMZ (which, despite its name, is among the most militarized places on earth). They will walk from the north side to the south, they hope, a gesture meant to break the standoff — symbolically at least.

There are still questions as to whether the women will make it through. They say they’ve been granted permission from authorities on both sides to walk across on May 24, although they are not sure which crossing they will use. They told Reuters that they had yet to hear back from U.N. Command, which runs the Panmunjom crossing. (There are two others.)

While in North Korea, the group’s itinerary includes meeting North Korean women and touring a maternity ward and a factory. The point is to be present, listen and engage, Steinem told the Washington Post in a pre-departure interview. “There is no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are,” she said.

Not everybody agrees. In a Post editorial headlined “Empty Marching in North Korea,” Abraham Cooper of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, blast Steinem and her colleagues for giving North Korea a chance to engage in “human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.”

Responding to an item in TIME about the march, North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk (more on him here) also blasted the women for “smiling” at Kim Jong Un’s “evil” face. “How can they so easily find the ability to be comfortable with smiles on their faces to this dictator when so many are suffering at his hands?” we writes on his Facebook page. He wonders, he says, “if these people know the meaning of peace.”

While Cooper, Scarlatoiu and Shin are right to put the spotlight on North Korea’s appalling rights record, it’s quite the leap to say these veteran activists are ignoring it. “We have no illusions that our walk can basically erase the conflict that has endured for seven decades,” Christine Ahn, the Korean-American coordinator, told the press.

The group is pushing for empathy — not for the regime but for those suffering under it. They want to make us care about North Korea by showing us that North Koreans are people, not Hollywood caricatures. Yes, Kim Jong Un could spin this as good press. But surely outside observers will realize that a visit by peace campaigners is not an endorsement of his death camps.

The world needs to stand up to North Korea. Its record on human rights is appalling, its leader cruel. But the current strategy — isolation, condemnation and mockery — is not working. As such, it’s hard to condemn a walk for peace.

TIME Thailand

Jungle Graves in Thailand Spotlight the Plight of the World’s Displaced Peoples

Rescue workers inspect a mass grave at an abandoned camp in a jungle in Thailand's southern Songkhla province
Surapan Boonthamon—Reuters Rescue workers inspect a mass grave at an abandoned camp in a jungle in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 5, 2015

Some 30,000 people fled their homes each day in 2014. Among them were many Rohingya

Just a stone’s throw from where Western tourists sip cocktails and bronze themselves on beaches in Thailand’s southern state of Songkhla, a macabre discovery has been made: skeletons buried in the jungle.

At least 26 of the human remains are believed to be those of Rohingya Muslims. They were murdered, it is assumed, by people smugglers after fleeing pogroms in western Burma (now officially known as Myanmar) for a new life in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

While thousands of members of this much persecuted community successfully make the perilous voyage on rickety boats, hundreds die en route and many more are held captive in jungle camps, often with the collusion of local law enforcement, until their friends or relatives cough up enough cash to buy their freedom.

As with the 18 mutilated bodies that washed up on Malaysia’s historic port island of Penang late last year, it seems likely that those recently exhumed didn’t have sufficiently affluent connections.

“Those who can pay the money are released within a few days, those who cannot pay must stay and every day they are beaten and traumatized,” Abdul Hamid, president of the Rohingya Society of Malaysia, told TIME in Kuala Lumpur last month. “Witnesses from the camps say that every week there are three or four people who die from the torture.”

The recent discovery comes as a new report reveals that a record-breaking 38 million people around the world today have been displaced within their own countries by conflict or violence. The number is the equivalent to the combined populations of London, New York City and Beijing, and signals “our complete failure to protect innocent civilians,” says Jan Egeland, secretary general at the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Among them are Burma’s 1.3 million Rohingya, described by the U.N. as “virtually friendless.” They are denied citizenship in both Burma and neighboring Bangladesh and consequently struggle on both sides of this shared frontier, many in squalid displacement camps, where food, shelter and medical care are in scandalously short supply.

Their plight has worsened since dozens were killed and thousands of homes destroyed in sectarian violence unleashed by Burma’s Buddhist majority, which first erupted in October 2012.

But the Rohingya’s problems do not end even if they are able to leave Burma. The supposedly lucky 100,000 who have reached Malaysia face a difficult time on arrival. Only around 45,000 have UNHCR cards, as registration has been closed for over six months to all but newborn babies or dependents of existing refugees and newly arrived children. They receive no government handouts nor are they allowed to work, and so must make do with irregular construction jobs, where they are liable to further exploitation.

While state-sponsored violence is an aggravating factor in the plight of the Rohingya, their real curse is a lack of citizenship and thus constitutional protection in the land of their birth. Burma may have shrugged off a half-century of brutal junta rule, but the military still maintains tight control, and the Rohingya remain pawns of a slew of generals, who see inculcating antipathy towards the Rohingya minority — they are portrayed as Bangladeshi interlopers — as their best hope of retaining power in elections slated for October.

Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the opposition National League for Democracy party, refuses to unequivocally speak up for the Rohingya, calling their plight an “immigration matter,” despite that fact that many Rohingya families have histories in Burma for longer or as long as hers.

And so, as the U.S. re-engages with the Burmese government, and hails this impoverished nation’s significant strides toward democracy, those anonymous jungle graves are a grim reminder of the formidable challenges that remain, as well as of the vulnerability of all those forced from their homes.

TIME China

Yushu: A Tibetan Town Rebuilt in Beijing’s Image

A Tiben woman teaches her son to ride a
AFP/Getty Images A Tiben woman teaches her son to ride a bike beside their new house in Yushu, northwest China's Qinghai province on Nov. 13, 2011

After a massive earthquake destroyed 90% of Yushu's buildings and claimed more than 2,000 lives, the price of recovery has been sacrificing identity

The monk leans forward and flips through the pictures. They were taken in the autumn of 2009, before the earth shook and the city fell, when we met at his monastery on an ordinary October day. Former students. Old classrooms. A friend that moved away. He lingers on a close-up of his face, as it was that day, sunlit and smiling. He shakes his head in disbelief. “Do I look so different?”

Everything does. It’s now been five years since a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit this county — known as Yushu in Chinese and Jyekundo in Tibetan — high on the Qinghai plateau. The county seat was then a small, Tibetan city, a place of dusty markets, monasteries, and low-slung courtyard homes. The tremor toppled almost every structure and trapped thousands in the wreckage. When the valley stopped shaking, the monk and his students emerged from their still-standing school to dig, barehanded, for what remained.

Owing to distance, bad roads and altitude, it took days for rescue workers to make it to the town. But when they did, they arrived in force. Convoys of green army trucks rolled south from the provincial capital, Xining, bearing tents and blankets, cement and soldiers. Before local and foreign press, the central government promised to rebuild the city — and they did, though it is difficult, at times, to recognize the city that they built.

Beijing has poured more than $7 billion into transforming this county. Visitors no longer arrive exhausted from a 17-hour ordeal on the overnight bus. There is an airport and miles of fresh-paved roads. The main street has a brand new school with a spacious, spotless playground. And every family was given enough money to build a new, 80 sq m home.

There are also, at every turn, reminders of this. There are signs thanking the People’s Liberation Army, state-owned enterprises, and Communist Party officials. “Gratitude. Self-strengthening. Innovation. Harmony,” reads one banner. “Develop activities to promote national unity,” reads another. On the road into town, Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic, waves at motorists from a massive red billboard: “Unite all Chinese. Realize the China Dream.”

The ruling party’s dream for this region is, and has always been, at odds with what many ethnic Tibetans want. This is the edge of Chinese empire, a contested space where everything has two names and two histories. What Tibetans call colonization, the ruling CCP calls “serf liberation.” Even as monks burn themselves alive to protest Chinese rule, state media trumpet campaigns to improve Tibetan livelihoods through road building and water treatment.

In this sense, the story of Yushu/Jyekundo feels like the story of contemporary Tibet told in fast-forward. The earthquake’s destruction sped the influx of non-Tibetans to the once isolated town. These CCP-backed soldiers, officials and fortune seekers brought money and resources — first shovels and water, and then scaffolding and cranes. But the help was not offered without condition and has resulted in heightened state control.

Take housing. With almost all the city destroyed, the Party vowed to help every family build a new home. Generous. But they did so according to their own logic, and their own plans. Over the last five years, local residents have taken to the streets to protest what they call widespread land confiscation. After losing their homes in the quake, they said, they were evicted to make way for the new, grand city plan.

There are questions, too, about whether this construction boom benefits Tibetans. The locals had little experience in airport building, highway paving or the rapid construction of imposing government offices. The government and state-owned enterprises are experts. In the past, visitors stayed at family-owned inns. Today, there is Gesar Palace, “a boutique five star hotel” run, according to the brochure, by the Hong Kong Evergreen Hotel Group. It has “18 private Chinese dining rooms,” 13 Karaoke machines, and very few guests.

For all the talk of unity, for the shiny new buildings and smooth roads, the gap between China’s avowedly atheist government and ordinary Tibetans seems as wide as ever. You can see it in the monk’s face. The trauma of the earthquake, the influx of outsiders, and the wholesale reimagining of the town where he’s lived for 26 years have aged him, as he knows well. Though he has just entered middle age he is walking more slowly, and talking more cautiously, than he did before.

He asked that I not use his name and I will not post his pictures. This is a sensitive time for his school. The trouble started when he offered free religious education to local students on winter break. Five hundred showed up, spooking local authorities taught to see crowds of Tibetans as a threat. He spent seven days in jail, but plans to keep teaching.

He continues to live as he always has, frugally, in monk’s robes. Asked about the future, of the city and his school, he seems less concerned with matters of politics than questions of faith. The person he loves more than any other, the Dalai Lama, recently conceded that he may be the last to fill the role, a sentiment that many here are still struggling to understand. Looking down at his rebuilt city, the monk ponders somberly, “My only wish is that he’s reborn someplace free.”

—with reporting by Gu Yongqiang

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Has Replaced Martial Law With an Equally Draconian Security Order

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gets in his car after the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok
Damir Sagolj—Reuters Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gets in his car after the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on April 2, 2015

The Land of Smiles appears to be sinking further into dictatorship

Martial law has been lifted in Thailand, but replaced with a sweeping new security decree that grants virtually identical powers to the junta.

On Wednesday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave his much-expected rubber stamp to General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s decision to invoke Article 44 of the nation’s interim constitution, by which “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability” may be curbed.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams decried the Southeast Asian nation’s “deepening descent into dictatorship” since the May 22 coup d’état.

“Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers,” he said in a statement.

The new order grants powers to the military to arrest anyone for suspected crimes against Thailand’s powerful royal family, as well as those who are deemed to be jeopardizing national stability or violating the orders of the junta. The military has also been granted powers to seize assets, censor the media, and detain suspects for up to seven days without charge.

Anyone found guilty of flouting the order faces a year imprisonment.

Since seizing power, the military has also used — under the guise of protecting the royal family — the nation’s draconian lèse majesté law to target critics and political opponents.

On Tuesday, businessman Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, was jailed for 25 years for allegedly posting defamatory comments on Facebook concerning the monarchy.

“Thailand’s return to democracy remains uncertain as the junta retains tight grip amid the unending climate of fear,” says Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained Thai lawyer and visiting scholar at the University of London. “Martial law may be lifted today, but Thailand remains deeply sunk in unchecked military rule.”

TIME China

Five Feminists Remain Jailed in China for Activities the Government Supports

India China Activists Detained
Altaf Qadri—AP Indian women's rights activists wearing masks of five women's rights activists formally detained in China after Women's Day crackdown, hold placards with their names, to express their solidarity and demand their immediate release, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The line between dissidence and social activism grows ever murkier

It was supposed to be a celebration. This year marks two decades since the world came together in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Participants in that event — including keynote speaker Hillary Clinton — set an ambitious global blueprint for gender equality and women’s rights. It was a landmark moment for the women’s movement, and a point of pride for China as it stepped, gingerly, toward post-Mao reforms.

But as meetings to mark the “Beijing+20” anniversary close Friday in New York, things are looking bleak. In the run up to International Women’s Day and the Beijing+20-themed conclave, China detained 10 women for planning activities to celebrate the occasion. Five of those women — Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Li Tingting — are still in detention. Their lawyers worry they will be charged with “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance,” an Orwellian turn of phrase used to jail government critics.

The ruling Communist Party has long taken aggressive measures to silence opposition voices, censoring the Internet, banning books, and jailing dissidents. For much of the past decade, though, the line between “dissident” and “critical voice” — that is between prison and the freedom to live your life — was, with exceptions, relatively clear: Do not openly oppose one-party rule. Avoid the “three T’s” (Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen). Don’t take to the street.

However, since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping’s regime has taken an even harder line, jailing those who speak out on matters not related to party control or the three T’s. (See, for example, the case of Professor Ilham Tohti, or jailed lawyer Xu Zhiyong.) There are new no-go areas, including the politics of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and calls for government transparency that do not originate from the government itself. Until this month, if you kept a low profile and did not plan protests, you could speak publicly on issues like gender equality and LGBT rights.

Now, advocates fear that too has changed. The women arrested in Beijing this month were not advocating for the overthrow of the Communist Party. In fact, they were, separately, and in their respective cities, simply planning to distribute pamphlets and raise awareness about issues the Chinese government supports: gender equality and combatting sexual harassment. These activists did not organize political rallies, but rather used performance art to challenge societal views.

Their arrest in coordinated raids ahead of International Women’s Day “suggests an escalation of Chinese government paranoia,” says Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. “I don’t see how they would have posed any threat to the government in any way — and they did not even carry out the activities. Even under Chinese law, I do not see what they are guilty of.”

That has other feminists worried. The five women are active on a variety of issues, including stopping sexual violence, ending street harassment and promoting gender equality and LGBT rights. Their detentions sent a broad cross section of people, including friends, acquaintances and allies, into hiding, terrified that the merest trifle might now see them caged.

That is not to say people are silent. Their ongoing detention has generated an unusual amount of public support from social groups, students and academics in China, as well as expressions of solidarity from nearly every corner of the earth, and spawned a social-media campaign to #FreeTheFive. Some feminists have floated the idea of a boycott of Beijing+20 events, though there are no firm plans as yet. From the sidelines of the meeting in New York City, Charlotte Bunch, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, filmed herself reading a statement in support of the jailed women. “We expect more from China,” she says. “The world is watching and waiting for an end to this injustice.”

Waiting, indeed. Though U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power tweeted her support for the activists, foreign governments and U.N. agencies are, for the most part, staying quiet. Perhaps they don’t want to politicize the matter in the off chance they could still be released. Or perhaps, 20 years after the historic Beijing conference on women, the world no longer expects more.

TIME Opinion

Politics Aside, the Data on Women Collected by the Clinton Foundation Is Worth a Look

Melinda Gates, Clinton Foundation Release Report On Status Of Women And Girls
Spencer Platt—Getty Images Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (right) joins Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton for the official release of the No Ceilings Full Participation Report (Spencer Platt--Getty Images)

The vast amount of data collected by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says women have taken two steps forward, one step back

The hubbub surrounding Hillary Clinton’s presumptive presidential run and the controversy over her use of a private email account while Secretary of State threaten to overshadow No Ceilings: Full Participation Project, a new report on women’s rights released on Monday by the Clinton Foundation in partnership with the Gates Foundation. That’s a shame, because while the information isn’t completely groundbreaking, it’s still one of the most comprehensive looks at the state of gender equality around the world in 2015, with over a million data points on women’s advancement across dozens of areas.

Here’s the takeaway: since the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (where Hillary Clinton famously said, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights), women have taken two steps forward, one step back. There have been major gains in education and women’s health, but less so in safety, economic opportunity, and leadership. “Progress is possible, and the data provides us a roadmap for the unfinished business that remains,” said Clinton when she took the stage in New York City on Monday. “We’re not there yet.”

In health, there’s been a lot of good news when it comes to maternal mortality and contraceptive use. The rate of women who die in childbirth has plummeted more than 40% in 76 countries, and by more than 60% in South Asia, and the rate of adolescent birth has dropped by a third since 1995. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of contraceptive use has doubled, from 11% to 23%.

But, as Chelsea Clinton said at the No Ceilings event, “we cannot mistake progress for success.” Worldwide, there are still 220 million women who don’t have access to modern family planning– a number that is virtually unchanged since 1995. And according to the WHO, 800 women a day still die from preventable pregnancy complications.

In education, too, there have been major steps forward. Overall female literacy rates reached 80% in 2012, and the global gender gap for primary education has closed everywhere except Sub Saharan Africa– and even there, the primary education rates have largely improved, to 93 girls for every 100 boys. But even if they’re getting a primary education, too few girls are making the leap to secondary school. In South Asia, fewer than half of girls are in secondary school– in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s fewer than one in three.

And despite the gains in women’s health and education since 1995, there are major areas where far too little has changed in 20 years. When it comes to women’s safety, we’ve barely moved the needle. 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly at the hands of a partner. In a survey of four African countries, 25% of first sex for girls was unwanted. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 62% of women and 48% of men think a man is entitled to sex even if a woman refuses.

Financially, women also remain at a stubborn disadvantage. Only about 55% of women worldwide work for pay, compared to 82% of men. That’s not just bad for women– it’s bad for economies. The GDP of the USA would rise by 5% of women were equally represented. In Egypt, women’s participation would boost the GDP by an whopping 34%.

The United States is also one of only nine countries in the world that does not have laws providing paid maternity leave–the others are the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and Tonga. On the bright side, 75% of other developed countries now provide up to 14 weeks of paid maternal leave. (The U.S. is the only developed country that provides none.)

In leadership roles, women are still vastly underrepresented. Global legislatures remain only 22% female, and the number of countries led by women has risen from 12 in 1995 to only 18 in 2015. Still, there are glimmers of hope: in Rwanda, Bolivia, and Andorra, around 50% of the lower parliamentary seats are held by women.

So even if you’re skeptical of Hillary’s politics, the data from the project is still worth a look. You can check it out more in depth here.

 

TIME feminism

International Women’s Day Shows Awareness Is Not Enough

Here are four areas where women have made progress since 1995

Correction appended, March 9

Finally, feminism is growing some teeth. This year, International Women’s Day is themed “Make It Happen,” a much-needed call to get cracking on some of the biggest issues for women around the world. It’s a message echoed by Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who recently posted a video message urging countries to “step it up” for gender equality, so that the world will be 50/50 by 2030. In 2015, “awareness” is out — action is in.

And it’s about time. The “awareness”-based solutions for problems facing women generate a lot of Twitter activity, but little genuine change. The last year was full of online discussion of feminist issues, from #yesallwomen to #rapecultureiswhen to #whyistayed, which help inform the public and give voice to survivors. But raising awareness is only the first step — in order to create an equal world for women, we need real policy change, and lots of it. Legislative changes won’t be popular with everyone, not even with all women. But the international community is finally starting to see that awareness is simply not enough.

We will learn more about some of the tangible goals for the next few decades of women’s advancement later this week, at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which is celebrating 20 years since the famous Beijing Platform for Action. If you’re not up on your UN history, that was where Hillary Clinton famously said “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights” in 1995.

Here’s a brief look at some of the big improvements that have been made for women since Beijing. There are still major obstacles for women: violence against women is still a pandemic, too few women are in leadership roles and most workplaces don’t make enough accommodations for working mothers, especially in the United States. But there have been some brief glimmers of progress, evidence that when we commit to global action for women, we actually can move the needle toward greater gender equality. Here are some stats that will make your day (according to UN Women website):

1) Education: Since 1995, we’ve reached a point where girls and boys worldwide are enrolling in primary school at almost equal rates. That is a huge step forward. The next step is secondary school, where the gender gap widens again.

2) Maternal Mortality: In the last 25 years, maternal mortality has dropped by 45%. But there’s still more work to do — 800 women a day die from basic pregnancy complications, mostly in the developing world.

3) Water access: Water is an important issue for women, since in many developing countries girls are responsible for fetching water, a task so time-consuming and difficult that it can keep them out of school or put them in danger of being attacked. Between 1990 and 2010, 2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water, relieving the burden of water-fetching from girls. Still, in Sub-Saharan Africa, women spend 16 million hours per day getting water.

4) Leadership: Since 1995, the number of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled — but that still only translates to 22% of politicians worldwide.

There’s still a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to getting women into leadership roles and stopping violence against women. But the advances in health and education since 1995 have been striking. It means we should take heart — even if there’s a lot more work to do, progress is possible. It’s already happened, and we can make it happen again.

Correction: The original version of this story story misstated the implications of a statistic regarding maternal mortality. It has dropped 45% in the last 25 years.

TIME LGBT

The U.S. Has Appointed Its First Ever Special Envoy for LGBT Rights

The former U.S. consul general in the Netherlands has been named in the role

The U.S. appointed its first-ever special envoy on Monday to defend and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The State Department named Randy Berry, a gay senior diplomat who previously served as U.S. consul general in the Netherlands, to the role, reports Reuters.

In his new role, Berry will work to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world, including those in some 75 countries where homosexuality and same-sex relationships are criminalized.

“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally — the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To salvage democracy in Afghanistan, leaders must make the next election really work.

By Tabish Forugh in Foreign Policy

2. In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

By Noelle Swan in the Christian Science Monitor

3. As rich nations plan the next decade’s agenda for global development, they must bring human rights and accountability to the fore.

By the United Nations News Centre

4. Science and the media need each other. They just don’t know it yet.

By Louise Lief in the Wilson Quarterly

5. This simple Lego contraption allows scientists to safely handle insects.

By Emily Conover in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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