The impact of the US Equality Act on LGBTQ rights; an Irish perspective

The impact of the US Equality Act on LGBTQ rights; an Irish perspective

A historic Equality Act, passed by the US House of Representatives in May, could protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public accommodations, and other settings. While, several States already have such laws in place, more than half don’t explicitly prohibit discriminations based on sexual orientation. It is hoped that the Equality Act, which would be implemented at a federal level, would extend penalisation of such discrimination to the entire country. However, the legislation faces opposition on the grounds of the longstanding debate between the US Federal and State governments, as many politicians across parties feel LGBTQ rights should be dealt with on the more localised state government scale.

The Equality Act is facing additional opposition by the Senate where many Republican Senators have framed the issue in “religious rights terms”, arguing that banning discrimination against LGBTQ people would prevent people from expressing their religious views about sexuality and gender. 

Over the past decade, Ireland has attracted global attention as a country paving the way for civil rights protections for members of the LGBTQ community, with reforms such as the Civil Partnership Act 2010, the same-sex marriage referendum, Equal Status Acts 2000-2015 (ESA), and the Gender Recognition Act.

It is questionable however whether these reforms have fully vindicated these rights. For instance, the “Rainbow Report” (2019) cited Ireland as being 17th out of the 49 European countries on LGBT rights. Additionally, the report noted that in two biased motivated acts, which occurred in the Dublin area in 2018, there was no charges incurred by the culprits. 

Ireland, as a country with deep Catholic roots, faced religious arguments undermining the efforts of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. In the US, the ‘compromise bill’ proposed a middle ground between LGBTQ rights and religious rights. Moreover, it could be argued that LGBTQ rights could be recognized through the courts: the constitutional case of Norris v. Ireland recognised the unconstitutionality of the criminalisation of homosexual acts.

The domino-effect of the Irish reforms in the UK, namely legal gender recognition and the very recent vote to legalize same-same marriage in Northern Ireland, indicates that Ireland is taking a leadership role in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

Photo courtesy of Jasmin Sessler via Unsplash

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Nelson Mandela Day: how his legacy lives on

Nelson Mandela Day: how his legacy lives on

As the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s determination and resilience helped overcome an apartheid regime and cement his status as an international peacemaker. Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly began to commemorate this special person on his birthday, 18 July. Since then, World Nelson Mandela Day has been celebrated using special hashtags #ActionAgainstPoverty and #MandelaDay. 

Mandela left office in 1999, but his policies and legacies continue to shape the social landscape of South Africa beyond a dismantling of an oppressive apartheid regime. In 2000, a quarter of 15-45 year old South Africans tested positive for HIV/AIDS, which amounted to over four million people. Nelson Mandela advocated for treatment and future prevention in a groundbreaking agenda. Today, while HIV+ rates remain high at 18.9%, South Africa has a fully funded HIV programme with 90-90-90 targets, the first of which was reached in 2017 – 90% of the population are now aware of their HIV status. Nelson Mandela’s determination to tackle this issue in governmental policy began this long road to a manageable epidemic. 

The clause with World Nelson Mandela Day is to honour Mandela’s sixty-seven years of public service with sixty-seven minutes of selfless acts to help others in your community. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 1999, an organisation which works as “a committed facilitator of his living legacy … to promote his lifelong vision of freedom and equality for all”. The Foundation organises World Nelson Mandela Day alongside the UN, working to honour the statesman while encouraging international positive difference. This 18 July, it is worth remembering the impact that a single person can have in securing a brighter future for our world – and to carry that inspiration forward. 

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr

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The impact of the US Equality Act on LGBTQ rights; an Irish perspective

After the Equality Act in the US, our contributor Kathryn compares how LGBTQ civil rights have evolved in Ireland and in the US

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Hedy Lamarr: not just a pretty face!

On International Women in Engineering Day, our Women’s Section Editor Cassie tells the story of Hedy Lamarr, a woman who should be celebrated in engineering history books, and not just on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! 

World Refugee Day: UN urges wealthy countries to do more

This World Refugee Day, the UN reminds us that wealthy countries need to double their efforts to support refugees globally, as 86% of the refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries.

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women and girls are major targets of sexual violence in conflict, despite United Nations measures being put in place nearly 20 years ago.

When Afghan women take their education in their own hands

All-female groups in Afghanistan, such as Zohra and the Afghan Girls Robotic Team, are leading the way in the fight for women’s rights in their country.

Hedy Lamarr: not just a pretty face!

Hedy Lamarr: not just a pretty face!

“When I was a little girl I wished I was a boy
I tagged along behind the gang and wore my corduroys.
Everybody said I only did it to annoy
But I was gonna be an engineer”

Peggy Seeger Lyrics to “I’m gonna be an Engineer” – a women’s liberation song.


Meet Hedy, a brilliant engineer and inventor who was also a Hollywood actress deemed the most beautiful woman of her time. For International Women in Engineering Day, our Women’s Section Editor Cassie tells the story of a woman who should be celebrated in engineering history books, and not just on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! 

Born in Austria in 1914, Hedy Lamarr (pictured) was a glamorous Hollywood actress of the 1930s-1940s, frequently dubbed the most beautiful woman of her time. She starred in films such as “Samson and Delilah” and “Boom Town” alongside famous stars such as Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that Hedy was also a brilliant engineer and inventor. 

In 1933, aged just eighteen Hedy appeared nude in a controversial Czech film called Ecstasy, attracting much attention in the process. By the late 1930s, she was a true Hollywood star. 

During World War II, she supported the war effort, selling bonds and entertaining troops…but she helped her adopted country in other ways too. In 1942, she and composer George Antheil developed a guidance system for allied torpedoes which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology in order to resist enemy “jamming” (blocking of the torpedoe’s communication ability). Unfortunately, the US Navy failed to adopt the ahead-of-its-time technology until the 1960s. Today, the innovative principles involved are widely used in our Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi systems! In 2014, Hedy and George were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

As we celebrate annual International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), we must pay tribute to Hedy, and to all of the other brilliant women who have been and are forging careers and “engineering” change in what is still a traditionally male field. 

While gender parity in the life sciences has been achieved in many countries, women still trail behind men in engineering. According to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, only 8 percent of engineering students globally are women. UNESCO’s recent report, Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM finds education pathways for women and girls into engineering are extremely limited. 

In Europe and North America, the numbers of female engineers remain low (12% in the UK, for instance). Interestingly, in a number of developing countries (particularly in the Arab world) a significant proportion of engineers and engineering students are women. UNESCO details how, in the United Arab Emirates (where 31% of engineers are women), the government has recognized the need for a strong human resource base in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and has introduced policies promoting greater female participation in the labour force. However, women graduates still face barriers to employment including gender bias and a lack of female role models. 

Ensuring girls and women can equally access engineering careers is an important women’s rights issue as well as being imperative from an economic and development perspective. INWED is an annual day of awareness-raising and celebration for women working in engineering and the career opportunities available to women in the industry. To find out more visit



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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

World Refugee Day: UN urges wealthy countries to do more

World Refugee Day: UN urges wealthy countries to do more

On this year’s World Refugee Day, the UN puts the spotlight on helping refugees to become self-reliant in the new place they call home. At a time where 86% of refugees worldwide are hosted in developing countries, ensuring their self-reliance can lessen the stress put on local communities, that already face a lack of or reduced access to basic resources. Wealthy countries, the UN said, need to support this effort on a greater scale.

Every year on June 20th, World Refugee Day raises awareness about the unique perils which refugees face in their daily lives. By celebrating the courage which refugees harbour, as well as drawing attention to the plight which they face, this international day is an important event in the humanitarian calendar.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) describes a refugee as someone who has been “forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence”. Two-thirds of refugees worldwide come from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia – with the largest refugee camp in the world located in Dadaab, Kenya, hosting over 329,000 people. Refugees differ from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), who are forced to flee from their homes but do not (or can not) cross international borders.

World Refugee Day began in 2001 after the United Nations General Assembly passed a Resolution 55/76 and declared the annual event. This initial day commemorated fifty years since the 1951 Refugee Convention in Geneva, which defined what a refugee is, their legal protection and social rights. While the convention was mainly limited to European refugees in the wake of World War II, the convention remains the basis for global humanitarian definitions of refugeedom.

In Ireland, the situation of asylum-seekers have brought international attention. According to the Refugee Council of Ireland, in 2018, 70.3% of applications for protection status were rejected. These asylum-seekers who wait for this decision are housed in Direct Provision system, given basic accommodation and pittance living allowance. The system has been criticised widely in both public discourse and international media (including the New Yorker).

World Refugee Day is a stark and important reminder of the responsibility of wealthier countries to provide answers to the global refugee crisis, by hosting refugees or by providing humanitarian and development support in host countries to help refugee communities become self-reliant.




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Image courtesy of EU/ECHO Pierre Prakash.

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls”. Ahead of the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative highlighted that although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain the major targets of sexual violence in conflicts worldwide.

The United Nation’s landmark Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) called on member states and parties to armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict”.

But almost twenty years later, much progress is still needed to prevent and reduce cases of sexual violence in conflicts. A new resolution adopted earlier this year, Resolution 2467, introduces a new survivor-centered approach to help combat this type of violence.

The terms of the resolution include guaranteed justice for survivors and their children and the ending of impunity for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. In this resolution, the UN also called for “greater attention to the physical and economic security of survivors, which includes mental, physical, and sexual health.”

However, the United States vetoed part of the draft language contained in the resolution – which had said that wartime rape victims should have access to sexual and reproductive health services – on the basis that this implied access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without this language. Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch said that the veto can be seen as a threat to women’s rights: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight in recent years as a widespread critical issue that needs to be addressed. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who work on ending violence against women in conflict situations, was a testament to that. More broadly, the different forms of violence against women and girls were also brought into sharp focus through the recent #MeToo campaign.

More than a third of women living today have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives and there is evidence that conflict situations increase women’s vulnerability to violence.

It is imperative not to become complacent about these issues or to assume that things will only get better for women – the recent negotiations over the language of Resolution 2467 highlight the need to remain vigilant. International Days like this one are important tools for fostering awareness and mobilising political will. As such, it is very important that these days are marked and that we, as global citizens, stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence everywhere.




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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo

When Afghan women take their education in their own hands

When Afghan women take their education in their own hands

Afghanistan is one of the world’s most challenging places for female education and because of that, all-female groups such as Zohra and the Afghan Girls Robotic Team are leading the way for women’s rights there.

In the summer of 2017, the Afghan Girls Robotic Team travelled to Washington D.C. to take part in a robotics competition at international level.

Their invention, a robot that can tell if water is clean or contaminated, earned them a silver medal for “courageous achievement” – but the real courage came in getting to the competition.

After the girls had set off on their 500 mile journey from their home in Herat to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, they were denied U.S. visas when they got there – no reason was given.

After international outcry, the girls were granted special status by the U.S. government and allowed in.

They later went on to win out the biggest robotics festival in Europe and have gained huge support internationally by inspiring many girls to pursue their dreams in the face of hardship.

Zohra, named after a Persian goddess of music, are a group of 30 women who together form an orchestra that have played at prestigious events like the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

However, back in Afghanistan, their talent isn’t recognised, and could even be life-threatening.

Afghanistan was once an epicentre of creativity and had a musical history of over 1000 years – this changed dramatically after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Strict Taliban policies, which included a ban on music, saw the deaths of several musicians while others migrated to escape the cruel treatment.

Although the ban was lifted after the Taliban rule ended, large parts of Afghan society still frown on music.  The Zohra girls, like the Afghan Girls Robotic Team, have then become models and leaders for women’s rights and human rights worldwide.




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Image courtesy of All Jazeera  via Twitter.