2017’s Biggest International Stories – Part 2

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2017 has undoubtedly been a tumultuous year for world news. Here’s the second part of Wessex Scene’s look into some of the biggest international stories this year. 

The Worsening Situation in Venezuela

2017 saw both the humanitarian situation and political crisis in Venezuela deteriorate substantially. Once it was one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America, yet the oil-rich nation is now estimated to have a poverty rate of around 80%. Hyperinflation of around 800% has caused the Bolivar (Venezuela’s currency) to depreciate massively and the price of everyday goods to skyrocket – a dozen eggs cost around US$150 in 2016 according to the LA Times. A shortage of basic medical supplies and a huge increase in the price of drugs means many are dying from illnesses and injuries which would be preventable with the proper equipment.

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In the political arena, the Socialist Party (PSUV) of President Nicolás Maduro has been accused of turning the country into a dictatorship after establishing a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) to rewrite the country’s constitution. The body has the power to bypass the country’s National Assembly (AN), which is under opposition control. It’s sought to prevent the most popular opposition parties from running for office and restrict their political activities, culminating in Maduro’s statement on December 11th that the main opposition parties will be barred from running in the 2018 Presidential election. Protests sparked by both poverty and the political situation continue, and although new talks are taking place between the opposition and the PSUV government, there appears to be no solution in sight.

A New Face In France

The election of 40 year old Emmanuel Macron as France’s youngest ever president on 7th May 2017 brought an end to decades of two-party politics in France. Representing En Marche!, the centrist political movement that he founded in 2016, Macron has set out to transform both French politics and the international stage since taking office. Domestically, he’s introduced reforms in numerous areas, including the labour market and the economy, while on the world scene he’s established himself as a keen proponent of environmental causes – most notably when declaring France’s support for the Paris climate agreement and climate change research following Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would abandon the accord.

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Macron’s new brand of centrist politics hasn’t always found favour at home. In September and October, the Macron government faced major street protests by workers and trade unions demonstrating against his proposals to loosen labour laws and reform the country’ budget. Macron’s approval ratings have also varied dramatically – ranging from 36% (lower than his predecessor Francois Hollande) after his first 100 days in office to a rebound nearer the year’s end.

Mixed opinions about Macron’s presidency remain. Another poll conducted by the BVA institute in November found that 57% of French voters were unhappy with his first six months in office. Expect a similarly testing environment heading into 2018 as voters continue to adapt to Macron’s new brand of politics.

Australia approves same-sex marriage

In a landmark vote at the start of December, Australia voted to become the 24th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage following years of discussion and debate.  After a postal survey conducted over a two month period found that 61% of more than 12 million respondents were in favour of the bill, lawmakers approved the bill legalising same-sex unions. However, the first same-sex marriages won’t be officiated until January 2018 since all Australian couples are legally required to provide a month’s notice of their intention to marry.

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A number of conservative politicians, including the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, proposed amendments to the law to add further religious protections, none of which were passed. While conservatives argued the amendments would protect the rights of faith-based organisations, opponents contended that they would legitimise discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

One marriage taking place in the new year will be that of Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, who will marry her partner Virginia Edwards. The former prime minister, who became one of the key faces of the “no” campaign in the postal vote, has said he will attend the ceremony despite his personal beliefs on the issue. Another MP, Tim Wilson, surprised colleagues by proposing to his longtime partner Ryan Bolger during a legislative session the week following the bill’s approval.

The vote also helped change the views of a number of Australian politicians. Liberal MP Andrew Wallace, a Catholic previously opposed to gay marriage, revealed that his daughter had influenced him to change his stance:

She said: Dad, in the years to come, my generation will look back and judge your generation about how you deal with the issue of homosexuality in the same way that your generation considered your parents’ generation in the way that they dealt with our indigenous people

Sarah Henderson, another Liberal MP, movingly revealed how a close friend of hers, who died months before the bill approving same-sex marriage was passed, asked her to continue to push for the legislation.

 

#MeToo

After the revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated by prominent figures in Hollywood including Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo, which originated from a tweet by actor and singer Alyssa Milano, sparked an outpouring of revelations around the world. The ‘Silence Breakers’ – some of the most notable figures who shared their stories and encouraged many other women to do likewise, were chosen as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017. The phrase ‘Me, Too’ was originally coined by Tarana Burke, who launched a campaign on MySpace in 2007 to support poor and underrepresented survivors of sexual violence.

The hashtag gained worldwide traction – soon after Milano’s original tweet it was active in 85 different countries and had been posted 85 million times on Facebook in the previous 45 days. Although it’s already changed the dynamics of discussion on sexual abuse, the movement looks set to further increase in prominence. In co-operation with UNICEF, Milano has started the #HerToo campaign, aiming to support children suffering from violence and sexual abuse around the world.

In her own words, the new campaign is about telling the stories of women who ‘can’t tell their stories themselves’.

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Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages student adjusting to being back in the UK after a year in Chile. Interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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