The World Today for December 15, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

SCOTLAND

No Girl Left Behind

Scotland is tackling women’s rights in a new way – aiming to make sure females don’t fall into “period poverty.”

As Politico recently reported, local lawmakers enacted a law that compels local authorities, schools and other institutions to provide the public with free tampons, sanitary towels and other feminine hygiene products in their bathrooms in the same manner as they might offer running water and toilet paper.

“Periods should never be a barrier to education or push anyone into poverty,” said Monica Lennon, a Labor Party member of the Scottish Parliament who led the push for the new law. “Women, girls and all people who menstruate deserve period dignity.”

Backing up advocates for the law was a Plan International UK study that found that, during the lockdown in Britain, almost a third of girls between 14 and 21 years old faced challenges finding access to sanitary products.

Scotland’s move led many to question whether similar legislation might pass elsewhere in the world.

While Scotland is the first jurisdiction in the world to make feminine hygiene products free, some countries have banned the “tampon tax” – the value-added tax imposed on sanitary products. In Europe, Ireland is the only country with no tampon tax. Meanwhile, Hungary imposes a 27 percent tax rate on tampons, the highest in the bloc. In the US, seven states exempt the products from local sales taxes, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

Still, for some Scots, the issue was emotional – it was a move that symbolically represented the public acceptance of a bodily function that traditionally has been regarded as taboo, the BBC explained. “It just feels as if you’re valued as a woman,” Inga Dale, a 30-year-old Edinburgh resident, told the Lily, a Washington Post publication. “You are free to have your period, and it’s not something you should be ashamed of.”

For others, the legislation prompted political humor, a common way to deal with a potentially sensitive subject. Critics of the measure within the Scottish National Party, which rules local government, warned that traders might take the free feminine products and sell them across the border to the south, in England, for example.

“Just wait till the cross-border tampon raids begin, just as the SNP foretold,” wrote Holyrood, a Scottish current affairs magazine, in a satirical flourish, referring to the raiding of centuries past of livestock. “Cheer the bill while you can because the tampon reivers [or raiders] are on their way up from England as we speak. Loading up their horses. You never thought you’d see the day, did you? Like a modern version of cattle rustling, except with sanitary pads.”

The raids haven’t occurred yet but the idea has spread fast. That’s because, as some say quoting Victor Hugo, it’s an idea whose time has come.

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WANT TO KNOW

SUDAN

A Big Carrot

The United States officially removed Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that allows the East African country to reenter the international fold after nearly 30 years of isolation, the New York Times reported Monday.

The whitelisting came nearly two months after President Donald Trump said he would remove Sudan from the list in exchange for $335 million in compensation payments to the victims of the 1998 al Qaeda attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.

Sudan also agreed to recognize Israel – although it appeared to stop short of agreeing to full diplomatic relations.

In 1993, Sudan was accused of being allied with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda, prompting then-President Bill Clinton to designate the country as a sponsor of terrorism: The designation effectively made Sudan a diplomatic pariah and cut it off from international financial aid.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hailed the move as a “new era” for the country, which is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis and grappling with the coronavirus pandemic even as it transitions to a democracy.

The decision was primarily motivated by economic need: Sudan seeks to access emergency funds from the International Monetary Fund.

IRAN

‘Corruption on Earth’

Iran accused the European Union of “unacceptable interference” in its domestic affairs after the bloc condemned Tehran for executing an Iranian journalist whose online work helped trigger anti-government protests in 2017, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

European officials called the execution of Ruhollah Zam a “barbaric and unacceptable act.” The execution was condemned internationally.

France, Germany and other EU nations protested his death by canceling the annual Europe-Iran Business Forum, an online event originally scheduled for Dec. 14-16. The event’s organizing committee did not provide a reason for the cancellation.

Zam was being held in Iran after Iranian intelligence services captured him while he was traveling in neighboring Iraq last year.

He was hanged in Iran over the weekend after being convicted of “corruption on Earth,” a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or alleged attempts to overthrow Iran’s government.

His website, Amad News, and a channel he created on the Telegram messaging app, had informed Iranians about the 2017 nationwide protests sparked over economic hardship.

More than 20 people died and thousands were arrested during the unrest.

NIGERIA

#BringBackOurBoys

Boko Haram claimed Tuesday that it was responsible for the abduction of more than 300 boys from a secondary school in northwestern Nigeria over the weekend, sparking fears that the group is expanding its operations in other parts of the country, Al Jazeera reported.

Attackers on motorbikes stormed a boarding school in Katsina state, prompting hundreds of children to flee. Nigerian officials said that many boys have reappeared after hiding in the woods but the search is on for hundreds more, the Washington Post reported.

The attack was initially blamed on local bandits: Katsina state has been plagued by bandits abducting people for ransom.

The Islamist militant group mostly operates hundreds of miles away in the northeast of the country and is thought to have a minor presence in the northwest.

The recent abduction has raised concerns that the group is making inroads in other territories, especially after fighters claiming to be in the northwest released a 2020 propaganda video pledging allegiance to Boko Haram’s leader.

Boko Haram believes “Western-style” education goes against Islamic teachings.

In 2014, the militants provoked international outrage when they abducted almost 300 girls in the town of Chibok, prompting a global awareness campaign with the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

More than 100 of those girls remain missing.

DISCOVERIES

Historical Reek

European historians and scientists are teaming up to discover what Europe smelled like hundreds of years ago, according to the Guardian.

The “Odeuropa” project will rely on the help of artificial intelligence to identify and recreate the continent’s myriad of scents between the 16th century the early 20th century.

Starting next month, researchers are planning to develop AI that will analyze historical texts with descriptions of odors – and their context – as well as to spot aromatic items within images, such as paintings.

The collected data will then be compiled into an online encyclopedia of European smells, which would include biographies of particular scents and the emotions they evoked.

William Tullet of Odeuropa said the project will also focus on how the meaning of different scents and their uses changed over time. For example, tobacco was initially very exotic when it reached European shores in the 16th century but later became “part of the normal smell-scape of lots of European towns.”

Tullet added that his team will also work with chemists and perfumers to recreate these scents to enhance the experience of visitors to museums and heritage sites.

“Where smell does get mentioned in museums, it is often the smells of toilets or wood-burning,” said Tullett. “We are trying to encourage people to consider both the foul and the fragrant elements of Europe’s olfactory past.”

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 16,519,628 (+1.62%)
  2. India: 9,906,165 (+0.22%)
  3. Brazil: 6,927,145 (+0.37%)
  4. Russia: 2,656,601 (+1.02%)
  5. France: 2,433,859 (+0.13%)
  6. UK: 1,874,867 (+1.10%)
  7. Turkey: 1,866,345 (+1.61%)
  8. Italy: 1,855,737 (+0.65%)
  9. Spain: 1,751,884 (+1.23%)
  10. Argentina: 1,503,222 (+0.34%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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