I WONDER what the Taliban or Iran’s “morality police” would make of Scotland’s Gender Recognition debate of the last few days? I’m not being facetious when I ask this, given that both regimes are after all perhaps the most notorious perpetrators of gender apartheid anywhere in the world right now.

Whatever side of the gender recognition debate you lie on here in Scotland, and to whatever extent it exercises your views for or against, it’s always worth reminding ourselves that at least we have the luxury of being able to have such a debate.

I say this too at the end of a year that saw a crackdown and roll back of girls and women’s rights worldwide, be it through outright violent attacks or passive enforcement.

It perhaps puts Holyrood’s debate of the last few days in a slightly different perspective when you stop to consider that at precisely the moment on Tuesday when MSPs were voting on scores of amendments or engaging in “blatant” filibustering over the bill, the Taliban were banning women from universities in Afghanistan.

With girls having already been excluded from secondary schools since the extremists returned to power last year, this was just the latest step in the process of what the UN’s special rapporteur to Afghanistan described as the “erasure of women from Afghan society.”

Across the country an albeit imperfect system, painstakingly negotiated before the Taliban came to power and aimed at enhancing protection for women from gender-based violence, has been decimated. Those lawyers, activists, shelter workers and others who worked for years to enable that system to operate effectively are now at risk of attack themselves.

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Gender-based violence too has been a persistent feature of the armed conflicts that have continued and expanded across the globe over the past 12 months and constitute war crimes from as far afield as Ethiopia to Ukraine.

In Iran a country with an abysmal record on human rights generally, it’s hardly surprising that it’s women that are at the forefront of the Women, Life, Freedom movement that has so courageously challenged the regime there these past months.

This young generation of Iranian girls and women have learned about the values, beliefs and challenges that women are facing all over the world and the ways these challenges can be highlighted and addressed, whether through online platforms or by taking to the streets.

In extremis as their own struggle is, look across the world right now and the picture on women’s rights generally is little better.

Everywhere it would seem hard won gains over decades are either stalled or being clawed back. Just this past week activists warned of a stark deterioration of women’s rights in Tunisia under increasingly authoritarian president Kais Saied.

The abandonment of gender parity commitments by Saied comes at a worrying time for women in a country that had long prided itself as the most feminist in the region.

Tunisia is just the latest example in this troubling bigger picture showing the erosion of women rights almost wherever you look.

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Take for example the fact that women still only have three quarters of the legal rights afforded to men. Around 2.4 billion women of working age, too, are not afforded equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.

And before anyone thinks that such shortcomings and setbacks for women’s rights are somehow restricted to countries with repressive regimes, the US in 2022 became one of just four countries to roll back abortion rights in the past 25 years.

In some cases, this pushback against women’s rights has come about in countries where populism had led to the rise of “a macho-type strongman” leaders, places like Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey.

In the case of the latter, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan now rules over a country that last year announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which aims to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

Since then, femicide and male violence have become what some have described as a form of “terrorism” in the country.

So, what then has to be done to face down this global assault on women’s rights?

The first of course is recognising that they are indeed under threat and shaking off the growing complacency that has allowed such setbacks to take root. Then there is the need to see the bigger picture at play here, understanding that this is a global problem and cannot be dealt with simply by local initiatives or legislation, well-meaning and vital as they are.

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There needs also to be a doubling down on governments who at best play fast and loose with women’s rights or at worst almost entirely ignore them.

Iran’s ousting last week from the UN body tasked with empowering women is one such example. Tehran’s role in the 45-member commission on the status of women was a farce, considering the regime’s forces have beaten and killed women peacefully calling for gender equality.

Then there are so many practical measures that need both reassessment and reinforced application like the repealing of regressive laws. We must push harder globally for girls and women to have equal access to education and employment and gender-based violence must be condemned and protections from it be strengthened, not weakened.

Not everything in the picture of course is bleak with many examples of progress on women’s rights coming about because of the dedicated and tireless work of activists whose campaigning and mobilisation helped bring forward key progress for abortion rights in challenging places like Colombia and Mexico. That said, things at the end of 2022 are far from good.

Where the debate and legislation these past days on gender recognition in Scotland sits in all of this some will argue is insignificant. Others, meanwhile, will attest to it being a vital part of what at heart is a wider human rights issue.

Whatever your individual take, none of us should let it obscure the bigger uglier picture that confronts us internationally. A picture that shows women’s rights eroded and far from safe let alone being progressed in our world today. That, to put it simply, is something that should be of concern to all of us.