TIME World

These 8 World Leaders Are Taking Major Steps Towards Gender Equality

From closing the pay gap to implementing board quotas to requiring all soldiers to take violence prevention courses, here's how 8 world leaders are embracing HeforShe

UN Women’s “He for She” initiative is in full swing, and on Thursday nine world leaders announced major steps they are taking to bring their countries to full gender equality. Each has pledged to champion HeForShe in their individual nations, and has outlined specific actions they’ll take towards ensuring equal opportunities for women.

The announcements are part of UN Women’s IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, where 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs, and 10 university presidents commit to taking tangible steps to achieve gender equality, as part of the HeForShe movement that actress Emma Watson announced at the UN last year.

Here are some of the main commitments from 8 heads of state from around the world– the final two leaders will be announced at a later date.

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland, has vowed to decrease violence against women by 5% over the next five years, partly by requiring all soldiers in the Finnish Defense Forces to learn about aggression control and violence prevention. Since Finland has universal male conscription, that means that almost all young men in Finland will be required to complete an education program on violence against women.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Prime Minister of Iceland, has committed to eliminating the gender pay gap in Iceland by 2022: currently, women are paid 6-18% less than men. The government will achieve this by conducting major audits of all companies in Iceland, to ensure that women are being paid fairly. Gunnlaugsson’s administration will also sponsor major reports on the status of women in media in Iceland, in order to achieve parity by 2020, and has pledged to make 1 in 5 Icelandic men commit to supporting HeforShe principals by 2016.

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, is pushing a to make the Indonesian parliament 30% female (up from 17%.) The government plans to promote more women to senior leadership positions, mandate gender training for all government institutions, and study trends in female voting and women who run for political office. Widodo also pledges to extend national health insurance coverage to reproductive and maternal health care, and improve sexual health services around the country. He also wants to fight violence against women, by launching a nationwide survey in 2016 that could help the government make targeted interventions to help the 3-4 million Indonesian women who face violence ever year. And, providing women migrant workers with financial literacy training is just one way they help give them more independence.

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, is unrolling major reforms to support more women in the workforce. Abe is proposing a bill that would require all public sector institutions and companies with more than 301 employees to demonstrate concrete action plans to increase the representation of women. He’s also increasing nursery school capacity, and enhancing family leave policies. Japan is also leveraging $3 billion in international aid to enhance peace and security and ending sexual violence abroad.

Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi, is committing to fully ending child marriage in Malawi. Currently, about half of girls in Malawi are married before they turn 18– the government just passed a new law to address this problem, and Mutharika commits to fully implementing this law by creating new local marriage courts and improving marriage registration. Malawi is also making major steps towards economic empowerment of women, by requiring all commercial banks to develop lending options just for women by 2016, in order to increase the number of women accessing credit by 30%.

Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, is launching a new nationwide analysis of violence against women, to make sure agencies and public institutions have the data they need to inform policy that could protect victims. Based on the data they find, Iohannis plans to create emergency shelters in every region of the country. Romania is also creating two entirely new professions — Expert in Gender Equality and Gender Equality Technician — to implement gender equality strategies, and 70% of Romanian public institutions are required to employ one by 2020.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, is pledging to make sure women have equal access to technology and increase girls’ enrollment in tech fields. Currently, women represent only 20% of employees in the tech sector, and only 35% of women own mobile phones (compared to almost half of men.) Kagame also wants to get more girls enrolled in technical and vocational training programs by launching a national mentorship and career guidance program to encourage girls to take science and technology courses, aiming at 50% of eligible girls enrolled by 2020. Currently, only about 18% of eligible girls are enrolled. Rwanda is also rolling out an initiative to end gender-based violence, by building One Stop Centers all over the country to provide medical, legal, and psychological support to victims, part of what they call a “zero tolerance policy” towards sexual violence.

Stefan Löfvén, Prime Minister of Sweden, says Sweden already has a feminist government, but that more men need to stand up for gender equality. He promises to get more women into the workforce (64% of Swedish women are employed full time, compared to 69% of Swedish men) and close the wage gap– currently, Swedish women make only 87 cents for every dollar a man makes. Sweden has achieved a remarkable level of gender equality in government, but women are still under-represented in business and academia. The government has set a target that boards of top Swedish companies must be 40% female by 2017– if that goal isn’t met, the government will start implementing a quota.

Read more: Twitter, Vodafone and Georgetown University All Commit to Gender Equality

TIME Ireland

This is How Ireland’s Abortion Laws Affect Women and Families

Ireland abortion report
Eugene Langan —Amnesty International Gaye and Gerry Edwards at home in Wicklow, Ireland.

Ireland's current laws force women to leave the country if they need an abortion because the foetus is dead or the mother has been raped

It’s estimated that around 160,000 Irish women have travelled to the U.K. for an abortion in the last 33 years. The actual figure is likely to be much higher – this number includes only women who gave Irish addresses. Many are unwilling to do so for fear of their families or friends finding out.

Amnesty International published a report on Tuesday slamming Ireland’s abortion laws and calling for them to be brought in line with the rest of the developed world.

Almost all women who left Ireland for an abortion and were interviewed say they felt lonely, afraid, ashamed and abandoned after having been forced to leave the country to have an abortion for medical or other reasons. As Irish legislation imposes an almost total prohibition of abortion, the reasons that 4,000 Irish women a year travel to terminate pregnancies involve a wide range of difficult and tragic circumstances.

Read More: Ireland’s Abortion Laws Treat Women Like Criminals Says New Report

In 2001, newly married couple Gerry and Gaye Edwards were devastated when 20 weeks into their first pregnancy they were told there was no prospect of survival for their baby after birth, and that the only solution open to them “in this jurisdiction” was to continue with the pregnancy and regular scans until birth occurred at the end of gestation. The baby would die almost immediately.

In Ireland healthcare providers who refer women to abortion services can be fined up to $4,000. Now, it’s much easier to receive information through the Internet yet the threat of criminal sanctions remains a significant “chilling factor” for women and medical personnel who fear criminal and professional recrimination.

Gerry Edwards said he felt angry and abandoned, “not just by the medical profession but by my own country.” He says: “We got the worst news we could possibly have in the middle of a much-wanted pregnancy, and it was like the whole country just washed its hands of us and left us on the street, literally. We just felt totally and utterly alone; we were given absolutely nothing. We were told there was no help in Ireland. I got a phone book and started ringing abortion clinics in London; they told us that we should go to a hospital. It felt like we were criminals in a black market operation – even though we had the right to travel and we had the right to information. We were still doing something abroad that is illegal here,” says Edwards.

In the end, the Edwards were able to travel to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the U.K. “Nobody in Ireland could tell us what was in store for us – even the obstetrician or my GP couldn’t tell me,” says Gaye Edwards. “But thankfully we managed to be seen in a hospital in Belfast and they were so kind. I took tablets to induce labour and my mother and husband came with me.”

Mary (not her real name) had a similar experience on her second pregnancy in 2012. “My obstetrician was doing the scan and she thought something looked amiss. She said the baby’s eyes were quite prominent on the screen and she referred me to her colleague who did another scan. Within a few seconds into it, she looked at me and said “I’m so sorry.” She explained that the baby had anencephaly – the absence of a major part of the skull and portion of the brain that occurs during embryonic development, and that I was effectively a life-support for the baby – there was no hope for any life outside the womb. “The obstetrician told me that there was no option for us to have an induced labour in Ireland, but that there were options in the U.K. I could sense the frustration among the doctors that they couldn’t help us in any way – they couldn’t assist us with making arrangements to go to the U.K. – it was prohibited to do so.”

Mary had to travel to Liverpool in England to get medical treatment. “It was such a horrible journey – going to the airport at night time, setting your alarm for the morning to go to a strange place. I had to take medication to bring on premature labor, and then go back to the hospital later on – it felt awful walking around a city I don’t know – at least if we were at home, I could go to my own bed for a few hours.”

The baby, Rian, was born weighing 140 grams, under 5 ounces, and Mary was able to spend the night with him before he died. “The following morning it was so hard to leave him alone but there was no option to bring him home to bury him. We had to get him cremated which was organised by the hospital. A month later, we received him – delivered by courier. I had a tracking number and I could see he spent one night in a warehouse in Dublin; all alone. It was just so undignified – arriving in a scruffy courier bag. My son.”

TIME Ireland

Ireland’s Abortion Laws Treat Women Like Criminals Says New Report

Abortion rights rally in Dublin in 2014.
Amnesty International Abortion rights rally in Dublin in 2014.

Irish women can not get an abortion in cases of rape, severe or fatal fetal impairment or a risk to their health and even giving them abortion information is a crime

Ireland’s restrictive abortion regime puts women in danger and treats them like criminals if they need to terminate a pregnancy, according to a new report published by Amnesty International on Tuesday.

Since 1983, Irish law has priotitized the life of the foetus over the mother, banning abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances and forcing thousands of women to leave the country in search of medical treatement.

Amnesty believes that Ireland’s abortion laws violates the fundamental human rights of women and girls, including their right to life, freedom from discrimination and freedom from torture and cruel or degrading treatment.

Colm O’Gorman, the CEO of Amnesty International Ireland says Irish law has to change to bring it into line with other developed countries. “We need to decrimalize abortion in Ireland … Any woman or girl in Ireland who accesses an abortion outside of the very narrow legal framework can face up to 14 years in prison – the same goes for the medical practitioner. Yet, our constitution permits women and girls to travel overseas to do something that if they did in Ireland they could go to prison for 14 years.”

Last year, at a meeting at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nigel Rodley said Irish law on abortion treats women like “vessels and nothing more.”

The Amnesty report She is not a Criminal: The impact of Ireland’s abortion law outlines the religious, social and political influences that have shaped Irish legislation which criminalizes abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. It examines the limited and sketchy legal boundaries that doctors and healthcare practitioners work within, and also describes the climate of intimidation and aggression faced by pro-choice advocates.

Procuring or administering an abortion is a criminal offence in Ireland except when a “real and substantial risk” to a woman’s life exists. Under new laws introduced in 2013, anyone found guilty of “intentionally destroying unborn human life” is liable to a 14 year prison sentence.

In cases where a woman’s life is in danger and the appropriate medical response required is the termination of her pregnancy, Irish doctors face huge difficulty in determining at what point they are permitted to intervene. The report documents many examples of the Irish state prioritizing the rights of the unborn over the rights of women. One such case is that of 31 year-old Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 after being admitted to hospital with pregnancy-related back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she was denied an abortion even though doctors confirmed that the foetus was unviable and she would certainly miscarry. Intervention to save her life came too late and she died from septicaemia one week after presenting with her symptoms.

Dr. Peter Boylan, former Master of Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital determined in a subsequent review of the case that it was “highly likely she would not have died”, had she been given a termination when she requested one.

“Sometimes we’re not sure what the risk of death is” says Rhona Mahony, current Master of National Maternity Hospital. “How do you define the difference between serious health deterioration and the risk of death – there’s such an overlap between the two. And what about the woman’s right to have a view on what the risk is to her?”

Ireland’s constitution was amended to recognize the right to life of the unborn as “equal” to that of a pregnant woman, following a bitterly fought referendum in 1983. Observers say the so-called pro-life amendment was expedited in response to the passage of abortion rights after Roe v Wade abortion case in the U.S.Supreme Court ten years earlier. Other European countries were also liberalising their abortion laws, and fear grew among the Catholic hierarchy and conservative establishment that demands for abortion legislation might erupt in Ireland.

Amnesty International is calling for the amendment to be repealed: “There are probably no women of child bearing age that voted for that amendment, so the notion that this reflects the will of the Irish people or Irish child-bearing women has to be challenged”, says O’Gorman.

Under Irish law, women whose health is at risk as a result of a continuing pregnancy, as is often the case for some cancer patients, or women who have been raped or are victims of incest, are forced to continue their pregnancy to full term unless it can be proven that their actual lives are in danger, including the threat of death as a result of suicide.

TIME Italy

Thousands More Migrants Have Been Rescued From the Mediterranean During the Last Two Days

Italy Migrants
Sascha Jonack— Bundeswehr/AP Soldiers of the German Navy ship Hessen rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on June 6, 2015

More than 1,800 migrants have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year alone

A new wave of boats is attempting to cross from Libya to Italy, the International Organization for Migration warned Sunday, citing balmy weather and tranquil seas as the reasons behind the surge of migrants risking their lives in the Mediterranean.

Nearly 3,500 migrants were rescued on Saturday alone, with 1,000 more (including at least 10 pregnant women) on board relief vessels by mid-afternoon Sunday, CNN reports.

A team of ships from several European nations cooperated on a rescue effort, including the British, Irish, Spanish, and German navies and the Italian coast guard, which alone received 14 distress calls Sunday, many from wooden fishing boats and rubber dinghies. One of the biggest rescued vessels held 563 migrants.

Rescue ships planned to bring the migrants to various ports in Italy, including Palermo and Trapani in Sicily, Taranto in Italy, and the island of Lampedusa, a spokesman for Germany’s Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operation Command told CNN.

As of the end of May, the United Nations estimated that 90,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015; of those, more than 1800 have died or are missing at sea.


TIME Ireland

FIFA Is Being Asked to Explain Why it Paid $5.5 Million to the Irish Soccer Association

Ireland say they received the money to stop them taking legal action against FIFA

FIFA paid Ireland’s soccer association(FAI) $5.5 million to avoid legal action after Ireland were knocked out of a World Cup qualifying playoff by a goal that involved a blatant handball.

Ireland were beaten by France, who qualified for the 2010 South Africa tournament, but the decisive goal in the second leg came after a handball by the French player Thierry Henry.

There was an international outcry but FIFA insisted the result would stand.

John Delaney, the chief executive of the FAI speaking about the payment, told Irish TV:”It was a payment to the association… not to proceed with a legal case.”

FIFA said on Thursday the payment was actually a loan.


TIME Vatican

The Vatican Calls Ireland’s Vote for Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Defeat for Humanity’

Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin on May 23, 2015
Brian Lawless—;PA Wire/Press Association Images Drag queen and gay-rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name Panti Bliss, arrives at the central count center at Dublin Castle, in Dublin on May 23, 2015

The remark is the most critical made by the church so far

Ireland’s recent referendum approving same-sex marriages has drawn sharp condemnation from a senior Vatican official, who described it as “a defeat for humanity,” the Guardian reports.

“I was deeply saddened by the result,” said the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on Tuesday. “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”

Parolin is regarded as the highest official in the church hierarchy after the Pope. His hard-line stance will be greeted with dismay by Catholics hoping for a softening in the church’s position on homosexuality. They come after the Vatican’s recent refusal to accept a gay Catholic, Laurent Stefanini, as France’s ambassador to the Holy See because of his sexuality, the Guardian reports, citing French and Italian media.

This month’s Irish referendum saw 62% of voters coming out in favor of marriage equality for gays and lesbians.


TIME Ireland

This Woman Proposed to Her Girlfriend Just Moments After Ireland’s Gay Marriage Vote

It's the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote

One Irish couple wasted no time after the country became the first in the world to legalize gay marriage through popular vote.

Billie, 41, proposed to her girlfriend of six years, Kate Stoica, 26, in Limerick, Western Ireland on Saturday, just minutes after the referendum was passed, Mashable reported. Watch the video of the proposal below:

Read next: 20 Other Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Nationwide


TIME Ireland

Dublin Celebrates Through Tears as Same-Sex Marriage Vote Makes History

“This is the first time I’ve felt like an equal citizen"

Ireland made global history on Saturday by becoming the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage through popular vote—sending thousands of people out into the streets of Dublin to celebrate as a sea of emotion engulfed the city.

Bearing rainbow flags and smiling through tears, gay and straight Dubliners joined together to hail the news that an overwhelming 62.1 percent of voters had said “yes” to gay marriage, in a referendum that many in Ireland called a “test of equality” and the “test of a true republic.”

Robert Stevenson, 62, who is from Dublin but now lives in the U.K., spoke through a convulsion of tears as he recalled how he was “suicidal” as a teenager and lost several friends to suicide because they were “filled with self-loathing” because of their sexuality.

“This is the first time I’ve felt like an equal citizen; I just can’t talk,” Stevenson said.

The vote was all the more striking because Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country. Many citizens have rejected the church’s influence in recent years, following a spate of revelations about child sexual abuse as well as the church’s history of cold treatment of gay people and women who got pregnant out of wedlock. Some saw the “yes” vote as a dismantling of Catholic rule in the country.

“It was the Catholic Church that rejected me, I didn’t reject it,” Stevenson said. “My mother is still part of it but I can’t be.”

He added that he would never forget “living in fear” in the ’60s and ’70s.

“I remember in this country people being beaten to death for being gay back then,” he said, “and I think of people being beaten to death in other countries now. After this moment, I have the privilege of being an equal citizen in my own country…and that is just wonderful.”

For several months, the Irish have been debating whether to bestow full equality on all citizens regardless of sexual orientation by changing the constitution to allow couples of the same sex marry. The overwhelming sentiment and emphatic vote in favor—over 70 pecent in some Dublin constituencies—reflects how Ireland has come a very long way from the country it once was.

In the middle of the cheers and impromptu renditions of the Irish national anthem on Saturday, 28-year-old Edward Smith, fought back tears.

“It’s about equality—it’s not just about the LGBT community; this is a huge leap forward for a tiny country in becoming a secular state,” he said.

“I always wanted to get married, and thought I’d have to go away,” he continued. “I never thought this would happen for me. The church in this country had no right to interfere in this referendum and people realized this; their campaign was ludicrous and hypocritical.

“After all, the church was responsible for so much that went wrong here; priests in this country were allowed to rape children, the Catholic Church sold babies belonging to unmarried mothers. I think the revelations about the church helped the ‘Yes’ side.”

Smith’s partner, 24-year-old Muiris O’Connell from rural Limerick, was also deeply moved by the vote.

“I hated myself all through my teens,” O’Connell said. “I’m from the middle of the country where being gay was almost unheard of and I never felt comfortable being myself. This referendum brought back so many memories; I always tried to neglect the truth and when I did think about myself, I always said, ‘I’m never going to have a normal life.’

“Today just proves that I can,” O’Connell continued. “Today is the definition of what a republic is; it’s Irish men and Irish women right around the country saying, ‘we love you.'”

Many in the Dublin crowd on Saturday were straight supporters of the law change who were thrilled by the vote.

“I raised generation who made this happen; I’m so proud of them” said 64 year old Breda Griffin from Dublin, who was with her husband and their 25-year-old daughter. “For over 20 years I’ve always fought for equality and rights for people outside the fold—whether they were gay, unmarried mothers or illegitimate children—anyone that wasn’t seen as normal

“But it’s this generation that has delivered and I couldn’t be prouder; I just couldn’t be happier.”

As the vote tallies came in and a “yes” vote became a foregone conclusion, 24-year-old Conor Galvin was at work at his computer, “trying not to cry,” he said.

“It was incredible; I have three siblings and one of my sisters is also gay. My Mum tagged us all in her Facebook status, saying “now I get to wear four hats.”

“There are just no words,” he said.

TIME Ireland

Chris O’Dowd Had No Doubt Ireland Would Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

He said a "yes" vote is a sign Ireland "is escaping the clutches of the Catholic Church, finally"

Before Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday, TIME asked the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd how he thought the country would vote in the historic referendum. “I think it’ll pass pretty easily, which is great,” he replied.

He also said that if same-sex marriage was approved, then “it’s a sign that Ireland is progressing with the rest of the world and is escaping the clutches of the Catholic Church, finally.”

Read the rest of the interview in the May 18, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ireland

20 Other Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Nationwide

In light of Ireland voting to legalize same-sex marriage, here is a list of other countries where same-sex couples can marry

Ireland just became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a national vote—rather than through legislation or the courts.

Here is a list of 20 other countries where same-sex marriage is legal nationwide and the year it was approved (Mexico and the United States are not included, since they only allow same-sex marriage in certain jurisdictions):

The Netherlands (2000)

Belgium (2003)

Canada (2005)

Spain (2005)

South Africa (2006)

Norway (2009)

Sweden (2009)

Argentina (2010)

Iceland (2010)

Portugal (2010)

Denmark (2012)

Brazil (2013)

England and Wales (2013)

France (2013)

New Zealand (2013)

Uruguay (2013)

Luxembourg (2014)

Scotland (2014)

Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017)

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