New Greek austerity measures

Yesterday, the Greek government announced a spate of emergency austerity measures, designed to help the country close its yawning budget gap. Half are new taxes, and half are spending cuts, including:

  • Hiking the VAT from 19 percent to 21 percent (worth 1.3 billion euros)
  • One-off corporate tax (1 billion)
  • Cutting "holiday bonuses" by 30 percent (740 million)
  • 2 percent supplemental gas tax (450 million)
  • Freeze on state pensions (450 million)
  • Reducing bonuses and pay by 7  percent for public sector employees (360 million)
  • 2 percent supplemental cigarette tax (300 million)
  • Supplemental electricity tax (250 million)
  • One-off tax on vacation homes and oversized properties (200 million)
  • Cuts to pension subsidies (150 million)
  • Supplemental tax on luxury goods, e.g. yachts and cars worth more than 35,000 euros (100 million)

Other measures include: an additional 1 percent tax on income over 100,000 euros, reducing government overtime hours by 30 percent, cutting public-sector benefits 10 percent, and taxing the commercial activities of churches. And it's still not quite enough -- Greece needs an additional bailout to help it pay off debt due this spring. 



Report: Women's rights make uneven advance in Middle East

The status of Middle Eastern women has improved over the last five years, contradicting common perceptions of veiled, powerless individuals, according to Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, a study released today by Freedom House. Nonetheless, significant resistance to the advancement of women's rights remains across the region, and many roadblocks have yet to be removed.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, highlighted the encouraging signs across the 18 countries surveyed:

There are more women entrepreneurs, more women doctors, more women Ph.Ds, and more women in universities, than ever before.

Progress was made in fifteen countries, with Kuwait, Algeria, and Jordan making the greatest leaps, while only Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories saw reversals in women's rights. Women are increasingly able to vote and run for office (Kuwait, in particular, is a noted example, having elected four women to parliament in 2009 despite only receiving the franchise four years earlier), family laws were modified in several countries to make women more equal partners with their husbands (but some provisions remain unenforced), and the number of women in universities continued its steady climb -- in some countries, significantly more women are enrolled in higher education institutions than men.

The advancements are a marked improvement, yet on the whole women are often deprived of basic human rights and subject to indiscriminate violence. Honor killings, in particular, remain a major problem: Only two countries, Jordan and Tunisia, offer protection under the law against domestic violence. None of the 18 countries surveyed had any legal recourse for women who were victims of spousal rape.

Given the mixed trends, the question of women's rights in the Middle East has become increasingly complex. Windsor sums it up nicely, with a quintessentially uneven example:

Women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to earn law degrees, but not to appear in court on behalf of their clients.