U.S. agency says Walmart likely discriminated against female workers: WSJ

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc likely discriminated against 178 female workers by paying less or denying promotions or both because of their gender, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in memos reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper said on Tuesday.

The agency urged Walmart and the women who filed complaints to come to a “just resolution,” which could include a settlement and changes to Walmart’s employment practices, after finding “reasonable cause” to believe there was gender discrimination, the newspaper said.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, and according to the newspaper has 1.5 million U.S. employees.

Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, said Walmart told the EEOC it was willing to engage in a “conciliatory process,” though in most cases the agency’s reasonable cause findings were “vague and non-specific.”

He also said the cases involved allegations that were more than 15 years old and were “not representative of the positive experiences millions of women have had working at Walmart.”

A lawyer who has acted as a co-counsel for women who filed complaints could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2011, Walmart convinced the U.S. Supreme Court not to let roughly 1.5 million female workers complaining about pay and promotions sue in a class action, with a majority of justices concluding the women had too little in common to sue as a group.

More than 1,900 women have since pursued cases and filed charges with the EEOC accusing the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer of gender discrimination, the Journal said.

The charges involving the 178 women come from more than 30 states, and it is rare for the EEOC to pursue that many cases against one employer over such a wide geographic area, the newspaper added, citing labor lawyers.

An EEOC spokesman told the newspaper that the agency cannot discuss investigations or the administrative process until litigation is filed.

(Reporting by New York Newsroom; Editing by David Gregorio)

Saudi Arabia implements end to travel restrictions for Saudi women: agency

A Saudi woman walks with her luggage as she arrives at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has begun allowing adult women to travel without permission and to exercise more control over family matters, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday, following a flurry of royal decrees approving the changes.

Riyadh has long faced international criticism over the status of Saudi women. Rights groups say women are often treated as second-class citizens under rules requiring them to get the consent of a male guardian for important decisions throughout their entire lives, regardless of age.

The authorities have steadily chipped away at those restrictions in recent years, including ending a ban on women driving cars last year. A series of royal decrees published earlier this month further eroded that system as the kingdom comes under increased scrutiny over its human rights record.

The regulatory changes stipulated that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen who applies for it and that any person above the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.

They also granted women for the first time the right to register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.

“The passports and civil status departments and their branches in all regions of the kingdom have started to implement the amendments stipulated in the royal decree,” the SPA report said, citing an interior ministry source.

A Saudi newspaper reported that more than 1,000 women in the country’s Eastern Province had left Saudi Arabia on Monday without their guardian’s permission, in what appeared to be an early implementation of the new rules.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Graphic: America’s economy and wages are cooling but not its female workforce

A female construction worker stands outside a construction site in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Data released on Friday showed a return to strong job growth in the United States, allaying some fears the U.S. economy is on a short path to recession. But the data also reinforced the view that economic growth is slowing.

Here are five take-aways from a report by the U.S. Labor Department on U.S. employment during June.

SLOWING GROWTH

Every month the Labor Department surveys payrolls in the private sector to calculate how many hours employees across the nation worked. Seen as a proxy for economic growth, this index of the national work effort grew 0.2% in June, a rate near the muted gains clocked in recent months. That suggests the U.S. economy, which grew at a 3.1% annual rate in the first quarter of this year, could be cooling.

COOLER WAGE GROWTH?

Growth in private sector average hourly earnings accelerated throughout 2018 and through February of this year, when year-over-year growth hit the strongest rate since 2009 at 3.4%. June’s growth rate, however, was a more modest 3.1%. It is probably too early to tell if there has been a break in the upward trend.

Average earnings graphic

WAGE LAGGARDS

The manufacturing sector added 17,000 jobs in June after several months of weak growth or outright decline. Wage growth in the factory sector, however, has underperformed the national average. Wage growth has also been lower in the education and health jobs category tracked by the Labor Department.

leaders_laggards: https://tmsnrt.rs/2FUH8hw

LABOR FORCE INCREASE

A bright spot for the U.S. economy over the last few years has been the increase in the share of the population that either has a job or is looking for one. This so-called labor force participation rate ticked slightly higher in June, both for a key demographic of people of prime working age and for the general population. But the rate for prime-age workers has been mostly falling since January. This suggests the economy might be running lower on its supply of people available to work, which could depress future job growth.

participation rate graphic

WOMEN LEAD

In June, the participation rate fell for men of prime working age, while it rose for women. This is in line with the trend over the last few years. Indeed, the share of men who have jobs or are looking for one was slightly lower in June than it was in January 2017.

Women lead graphic 

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Afghan working women still face perils at home and office

Anisa Mangal holds a photo of her daughter Mena Mangal, an Afghan journalist and parliamentary adviser, who was recently killed in Kabul, Afghanistan May 14, 2019. Picture taken May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

By Orooj Hakimi Rupam Jain

KABUL (Reuters) – Minutes before Mena Mangal, a prominent Afghan journalist and parliamentary adviser, was shot dead by two men in Kabul, she had slammed the door of her parent’s home after reminding them to pay the neighborhood shopkeeper 15 Afghanis (20 cents).

“Mena never forgot her duty towards our home and work. After years of struggle she had achieved success and happiness,” said Anisa Mangal, Mena’s mother, told Reuters, as she sat surrounded by her husband, four daughters, a son, grandchildren at her two-story home in eastern Kabul.. “She did the right things … worked very hard to become a professional woman.”

No-one has been arrested over the broad daylight killing, but police officials said Mangal’s family had filed a case against four men, including her ex-husband. “These four people are on the run but the police are trying to arrest them,” said Kabul police spokesman Firdaws Faramarz.

Mangal’s mother believes it was her dedication to home and career that got her killed. She accuses her daughter’s ex-husband of involvement in the murder because Mangal would not give up her job and continued to appear on television.

Reuters was unable to contact Mangal’s former husband. Calls to family members went unanswered.

The brazen attack on Mangal has drawn widespread condemnation — including from U.S. officials and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — and highlighted what activists say is the continuing plight of Afghan women, who still suffer high levels of sexual and domestic violence and discrimination.

Educated Afghan women, the torchbearer’s of a drive to improve women’s rights since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, say they still face hostility, be it from conservative family members or hardline Islamist groups, for pursuing professional and financial independence.

Earlier this month, for example, the Taliban, launched a deadly attack on the head office of U.S.-funded aid group Counterpart International in Kabul, citing the “intermixing” of women and men working at the site and its promotion of “western activities”.

At least nine people were killed and 20 were wounded in a siege that lasted for more than seven hours.

“The Taliban want to kill women who work with men. If I die, there will be no one to feed my parents and siblings,” said an Afghan woman who has worked at Counterpart for more than three years, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If I sit at home will the Taliban come to pay the bills?”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said its fighters targeted Counterpart because it was funded by U.S. aid agencies.

Women could study and work, he said, but the intermingling of the genders ought to be kept in check in Afghanistan.

PRICE OF FREEDOM

Though many hardships remain, access to public life has improved for Afghan women since U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban, especially in cities such as Kabul, where tens of thousands now work outside the home.

But for many, concerns about the hazards of going out to a job extend beyond their own safety.

Until April, thousands of Afghan women now working for the government were happy to bring their children to the office. The daycare center attached to every government building provided reassurance their children were close by and safe.

The centers were originally established in 1945 to encourage women into the workforce but closed under the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001 and did not allow women to go to school or work, nor walk on the street without being accompanied by a male relative and wearing the all-enveloping burqa.

Now reopened, the government runs more than 370 creches where around 17,000 children aged from 3 months to 5 years are provided with milk, food, cots, toys and education at subsidized rates.

“Having a daycare center next to my office is a blessing, I feed my child after every two hours and get back to work without any stress,” said Sadia Seddiqi, an HR official at a government ministry.

But this sense of security changed in April after a suicide bomber and gunmen belonging to the Islamic State group attacked the Afghan communications ministry in central Kabul.

About a dozen people were killed during the attack. Police evacuated about 100 children along with 2,800 employees from the complex.

Harrowing TV pictures of children, teachers, and mothers screaming for hours after every gunshot inside the ministry building has forced hundreds of mothers to re-think their childcare.

Meena Ahmadi, who works at the communications ministry, said several of her colleagues do not bring their kids to daycare after the attack and some of them had chosen to resign.

“I am afraid of coming to the office,” she said. “I get upset when I remember my colleagues who were killed. The attack has impacted my child too.”

(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Rupam Jain; Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Pope: Church should admit history of abuse of women, male domination

Pope Francis looks on as he addresses reporters aboard the plane bringing him back following a two-day trip to Morocco March 31, 2019. Alberto Pizzoli/Pool via REUTERS

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Tuesday the Catholic Church had to acknowledge a history of male domination and sexual abuse of women and children and repair its reputation among young people or risk becoming “a museum”.

But, in a major document in which he mentioned an array of scandals and again admitted significant failings by clergy, he also said the Church “could not agree with everything some feminist groups propose,” a clear reference to the Church’s ban on a female priesthood.

The pope is grappling with criticism over the Church’s response to a decades-long clerical sexual abuse crisis that has gravely damaged its standing around the globe and seen it pay out billions of dollars in compensation.

Francis made his comment in a 50-page “Apostolic Exhortation” about a month-long meeting of bishops in October on the role of young people in the 1.3 billion-member Church.

Francis, 82, urged young people not to be disillusioned by the sexual abuse scandal, but to work with the overwhelming majority of priests and other clergy faithful to their vocation.

He said clergy sexual abuse was “a tragedy” and asked young people to help the Church in “this dark moment”.

“A living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence,” the pontiff said.

“With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose,” he said.

Some women’s groups seek a female priesthood. The Church has ruled this out, arguing Jesus chose only men as his apostles.

WINNING BACK TRUST

In the final document of their synod last year, bishops recommended “that everyone be made more aware of the urgency of an inevitable change” in the role of women in the Church, but the pope did not directly address that on Tuesday.

His document also did not address demands by women participants at the synod that they be allowed to vote during such meetings in the future.

Francis acknowledged the Church had to win back many young people who see it as insignificant in their lives or a nuisance.

He said such a view of the Church can “have serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young.”

The Church had to keep and attract young people by better explaining its doctrine, he said.

“A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” he said.

And while he said the Church should be “attentive to the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality” and that young people had complained of a “lack of leading female role models,” he offered no new ideas. Only a handful of women hold positions of authority in the Vatican.

This month the all-female staff of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly magazine on women’s issues resigned, saying a new editor sought to put them “under direct male control”.

Recent stories in the magazine include one on sexual abuse of nuns by priests. The editor has denied their accusations.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)

Mass grave found in last Islamic State bastion: SDF

FILE PHOTO: Buses that carry civilians are seen parked near Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

By Ellen Francis

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – A mass grave containing the bodies of dozens of people killed by Islamic State, including many women, has been found in territory recently seized by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an SDF official said on Thursday.

The SDF is poised to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. But the operation has been held up as the SDF seeks to evacuate thousands of civilians.

“We will announce the complete victory over Daesh (Islamic State) in a week,” SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani said in a video released by the SDF on Thursday, speaking during a meeting with a group of SDF fighters freed from IS captivity.

It was not immediately clear when the video was filmed.

The SDF announced on Thursday it had freed 24 of its fighters from the jihadist group.

The Islamic State (IS) enclave at Baghouz, a tiny area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, is the last populated territory held by the jihadists who have been steadily driven by an array of enemies from swathes of land they once held.

Though the fall of Baghouz will mark a milestone in the campaign against IS, the group is still seen as a security threat, using guerrilla tactics and still holding some territory in a remote area west of the Euphrates River.

The mass grave was found around one week ago in an area of Baghouz already seized from IS and is still being excavated, SDF commander Adnan Afrin told Reuters. It was not clear when the people had been killed.

The SDF was seeking to confirm whether the bodies, most of them decapitated, were those of Yazidi sect members enslaved by IS, he said, adding: “They were slaughtered.”

Thousands of members of the minority Yazidi sect from Iraq were forced into sexual slavery by IS when they surged across the border in 2014 and seized swathes of territory.

More than 3,000 other Yazidis were killed in an onslaught the United Nations later described as genocidal, which prompted the first U.S. air strikes against IS. Thousands more fled on foot and many remain displaced more than four years later.

CAVES AND TUNNELS

Some 40,000 people have crossed from the jihadists’ diminishing territory in the last three months as the U.S.-backed SDF sought to finish off the group. The numbers of people, who are still pouring out of Baghouz, have surpassed initial estimates.

Afrin said many of the people coming out of Baghouz had been underground in caves and tunnels.

The SDF has said it wants to evacuate civilians inside Baghouz before storming it or forcing the surrender of the remaining jihadists, who the SDF has said are mostly foreigners.

The U.S.-led coalition said Baghouz had been “more crowded with both civilians and fighters than expected”.

“The overflow during the lull in battle has been difficult for the SDF and they have responded to everything well …,” said Colonel Sean Ryan, the coalition spokesman.

Afrin said the 24 fighters who were announced freed on Thursday were mostly captured by IS during the Deir al-Zor campaign and were rescued by its special forces based on intelligence.

The SDF has said several hundred jihadists are believed to be holed up in Baghouz, a cluster of hamlets surrounded by farmland on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

Afrin said there had been no negotiations with IS but “in the future it is possible they will request negotiations to surrender”. He said IS was still holding hostages inside Baghouz, both civilians and SDF fighters.

(Additional reporting by Rodi Said in Deir al-Zor, Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Stephen Kalin/Tom Perry; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Gareth Jones)

‘I was like a prisoner’: Saudi sisters trapped in Hong Kong recall beatings

Sisters from Saudi Arabia, who go by aliases Reem and Rawan, are pictured at an office in Hong Kong, China February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksander Solum

By Anne Marie Roantree

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two sisters from Saudi Arabia who fled the conservative kingdom and have been hiding out in Hong Kong for nearly six months said they did so to escape beatings at the hands of their brothers and father.

The pair, who say they have renounced their Muslim faith, arrived in the Chinese territory from Sri Lanka in September. They say they were prevented from boarding a connecting flight to Australia and were intercepted at the airport by diplomats from Saudi Arabia.

Reuters could not independently verify their story.

Asked about the case, Hong Kong police said they had received a report from “two expatriate women” in September and were investigating, but did not elaborate.

The Saudi consulate in Hong Kong has not responded to repeated requests from Reuters for comment.

The case is the second high-profile example this year of Saudi women seeking to escape their country and spotlights the kingdom’s strict social rules, including a requirement that females seek permission from a male “guardian” to travel.

The sisters, aged 18 and 20, managed to leave Hong Kong airport but consular officials have since revoked their passports, leaving them stranded in the city for nearly six months, their lawyer, Michael Vidler, said.

Vidler, one of the leading activist lawyers in the territory, also confirmed the authenticity of a Twitter account written by the two women describing their plight.

On Saturday, dressed in jeans and wearing sneakers, the softly spoken women described what they said was a repressive and unhappy life at their home in the Saudi capital Riyadh. They said they had adopted the aliases Reem and Rawan, because they fear using their real names could lead to their being traced if granted asylum in a third country.

They posed for pictures but asked their features not be revealed.

Every decision had to be approved by the men in their house, from the clothes they wore to the hairstyle they chose – even the times when they woke and went to sleep, the sisters told Reuters.

“They were like my jailer, like my prison officer. I was like a prisoner,” said the younger sister, Rawan, referring to two brothers aged 24 and 25 as well as her father.

“It was basically modern day slavery. You can’t go out of the house unless someone is with us. Sometimes we will stay for months without even seeing the sun,” the elder sister, Reem, said.

In January, a Saudi woman made global headlines by barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel to avoid being sent home to her family. She was later granted asylum in Canada.

“BROTHER BRAINWASHED”

Reem and Rawan said their 10-year-old brother was also encouraged to beat them.

“They brainwashed him,” Rawan said, referring to her older brothers. Although he was only a child, she said she feared her younger brother would become like her older siblings.

The family includes two other sisters, aged five and 12. Reem said she and her sister feel terrible about leaving them, although they “hope their family will get a lesson from this and it might help to change their lives for the better.”

Reem and Rawan decided to escape while on a family holiday in Sri Lanka in September. They had secretly saved around $5,000 since 2016, some of it accumulated by scrimping on items they were given money to buy.

The timing of their escape was carefully planned to coincide with Rawan’s 18th birthday so she could apply for a visitor’s visa to Australia without her parents’ approval.

But what was supposed to be a two-hour stopover in Hong Kong has turned into nearly six months and the sisters are now living in fear that they will be forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia.

They have said they have renounced Islam – a crime punishable by death under the Saudi system of sharia, or Islamic law, although the punishment has not been carried out in recent memory.

The pair say they have changed locations 13 times in Hong Kong, living in hotels, shelters and with individuals who are helping, sometimes staying just one night in a place before moving on to ensure their safety.

Vidler said the Hong Kong Immigration Department told the women their Saudi passports had been invalidated and they could only stay in the city until February 28.

The department has said it does not comment on individual cases.

The sisters have applied for asylum in a third country which they declined to name in a bid keep the information from Saudi authorities and their family.

“We believe that we have the right to live like any other human being,” said Reem, who said she studied English literature in Riyadh and dreams of becoming a writer one day.

Asked what would happen on Feb 28, after which they can no longer legally stay in Hong Kong, the sisters said they had no idea.

“I hope this doesn’t last any longer,” Rawan said.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Islamic State pinned in tiny eastern Syria enclave with families, U.S. backed force says

FILE PHOTO: Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrate the first anniversary of Raqqa province liberation from ISIS, in Raqqa, Syria Ocotber 27, 2018. REUTERS/Aboud Hamam/File Photo

By Rodi Said

QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State fighters in eastern Syria are pinned down in a final tiny pocket with their wives and children, forcing a U.S.-backed militia to slow its advance to protect civilians, the militia said on Tuesday.

An aid agency said separately that 10,000 civilians had fled the enclave since last week and were arriving hungry and desperate at a camp.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been backed by 2,000 U.S. troops and air support, are preparing for a final showdown with Islamic State in eastern Syria after helping to drive the fighters from the towns and cities that once formed the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Islamic State fighters were now confined to a pocket of just 5-6 square km (around 2 square miles) by the Euphrates River. The presence of their wives and children meant the U.S.-backed militia could not launch an all-out storm of it, and was using slower, more precise tactics instead.

“There are thousands of Daesh families there. They are civilians at the end of the day,” Bali told Reuters, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We cannot storm the area or put any child’s life in danger.”

The SDF had refused an offer from the jihadists via mediators to surrender the territory in return for safe passage out, Bali said.

Clashes had slowed because of the presence of the civilians, and “precise operations” were taking more time. “Calm prevails on the frontlines but there’s a state of caution and waiting.”

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity said it was helping tend to a sudden influx of more than 10,000 people, almost all women, children and elderly, who had arrived at a camp in northeast Syria since last week.

Most were exhausted, extremely hungry, and thirsty as they fled Islamic State territory, the global aid agency said. Many arrived barefoot. The United Nations confirmed that 12 young children had died after reaching the al-Hol camp or on the dangerous journey there, the IRC added on Tuesday.

The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has seized much of north and east Syria with U.S. help. It has been battling Islamic State remnants near the Iraqi border for months.

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that Islamic State had been defeated and announced the abrupt withdrawal of the U.S. troops, over objections of top advisors including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in protest.

The SDF vowed to escalate its operations against Islamic State this month after a bomb attack killed several people including two U.S. soldiers in northern Syria. SDF officials have warned of an Islamic State revival if Washington withdraws.

Kurdish leaders also fear a U.S. pullout would give Turkey, which sees the YPG as a threat on its border, the chance to mount a new assault. Washington has since said it will make sure its allies are protected when it leaves.

(Reporting by Rodi Said in Syria and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Peter Graff)

Handguns and corsets: Firearms industry strikes gold marketing to women

Claudia Chisholm, CEO of Gun Tote'n Mamas, and Carrie Lightfoot, founder of The Well Armed Woman, pose in the Gun Tote'n Mamas booth during the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

By Daniel Trotta

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Entrepreneur and fashion designer Anna Taylor is trying to bring back the corset — not to revive Victorian lingerie but to give women a place to carry their handguns.

Cindy Pelletier of Alpharetta, Georgia, looks over a semi-automatic handgun Kimber Micro Bel Air, a .380 ACP caliber, during the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Cindy Pelletier of Alpharetta, Georgia, looks over a semi-automatic handgun Kimber Micro Bel Air, a .380 ACP caliber, during the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

“I don’t know that the corset’s ever been out of fashion, but it’s never been so useful,” Taylor said in Las Vegas at this year’s SHOT Show, the largest trade show for the firearms industry.

After overlooking the women’s market for years, the firearms industry now sees women as the drivers of growth. Gun sales have declined since peaking in 2016, with companies like Remington Outdoor Company Inc going through bankruptcy reorganization last year, but the women’s share of the market has been growing.

Women have led the change, both as consumers and as entrepreneurs in the world of accessories, forcing gun-makers to follow their lead.

Retailers estimate women accounted for 23 percent of the $44 billion retail market for firearms and accessories in 2016, up 7 percentage points from 2010, according to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which runs the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show.

U.S. firearms sales peaked at 15.7 million in 2016, according to NSSF data. Sales fell to 14 million in 2017 and are on pace to dip again in 2018. The trend reflects politics, with sales driven by fears that a Democratic president will limit gun rights.

and CEO of Dene Adams, displays a concealed-carry holster for women at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Anna Taylor, founder and CEO of Dene Adams, displays a concealed-carry holster for women at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

CORSETS AND YOGA PANTS

Taylor created her own company, Dene Adams, in 2013 upon growing frustrated over the lack of holsters for women.

She sewed a neoprene mouse pad into one of her corsets for her first prototype, and now has a lineup of 13 holsters for Dene Adams. Sales reached $250,000 in 2014 and grew to $1 million in 2018, she said.

Among the hot items this year are yoga pants with enough support in the waistband to carry the weight of a gun. Taylor also pulled up the hem of her skirt, showing off her compression shorts with a built-in thigh holster that allows a woman to pack a piece whether she is dressed for a night on the town or Monday morning at the office.

Men’s holsters have traditionally been designed around the belt, but because women wear a variety of outfits they need options in the bra, waist, belly, underarm, thigh, ankle and purse. That also means women need to practice their draw from multiple angles.

Firearms companies once engaged in what is derisively called “pink it and shrink it,” offering traditional guns in feminine colors and promoting smaller guns to fit a woman’s hand, which is not necessarily a solution as lighter guns have more recoil.

Carrie Lightfoot created the Well-Armed Woman in 2012 to give women easier access to information and products and now has 400 chapters across the United States.

Lightfoot said gun makers such as Glock Inc, Sturm Ruger & Company Inc and Walther have since developed more sophisticated products and design changes.

Carrie Lightfoot, the founder of The Well Armed Woman, demonstrates a gun draw from a purse’s holster compartment at the Gun Tote’n Mamas booth during the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Paul Spitale, a senior vice president at Colt’s Manufacturing Company, said the company made famous by the .45-caliber handgun offers a wider range of 9-millimeter options, in part because the 9 mm is by far the most popular choice for women.

The female dollar has also affected the traditionally macho culture of guns and hunting. Major gun and ammunition makers now sponsor female competitive shooters.

SHOT Shows used to feature gun-toting models in high heels and push-up bras but exhibition booths now are staffed by knowledgeable women dressed in polo shirts and tactical gear.

“When I walked into my first SHOT Show in 2009, I was stunned” at what she called the “booth babes,” said Claudia Chisholm, owner of Gun Tote’n Mamas, a company that makes purses for carrying handguns. “It hasn’t caught up yet with the rest of society, but it’s a lot better. Thank God.”

Sales of her handbags, designed to enable women to draw within two seconds, have grown 1,000 percent in the past five years, Chisholm said.

While the U.S. gun rights debate rages, women see their weapons as empowering. At a time when the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual assault, firearms are “the great equalizer,” said Dianna Muller, a retired police officer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is now a full-time professional shooter.

“Growing up, my generation of women have been told we can do anything that we want,” she said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Lisa Shumaker)

Not a baby factory: South Korea tries to fix demographic crisis with more gender equality

A volunteer takes care of a baby who was left in the baby box at Jusarang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Joori Roh

SEOUL (Reuters) – In just over a decade, South Korea has spent the equivalent of a small European economy trying to fix its demographic crisis, yet birthrates have dropped to the lowest in the world.

This year, President Moon Jae-In, who describes himself as a feminist president, is testing a new angle: showing women more respect.

At the end of last year, South Korea announced plans to remove some of the disincentives for employing women, allowing both parents to take parental leave at the same time and extending paid paternal leave. Employers also get incentives to allow either parent to work fewer hours.

“Efforts on gender equality are very timely,” said Shin Eun-kyung, an economist with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. South Korea is the worst place for women to work in the OECD, despite women being among the organization’s best educated, and more highly so than men.

But the measures go beyond the workplace: mothers can choose to give the baby their own last name and a tickbox on birth certificates showing whether a baby was born outside marriage will be removed.

Fertility treatments will be offered to single women and unmarried couples as well. Social campaigns will encourage men to participate more in child care and household chores.

Contrast that with a 2016 effort by the previous government, run by the country’s first woman president, Park Geun-hye, which launched a website carrying a real-time statistical heatmap of women of child-bearing age, marriages and births in the hope of spurring competition between cities and regions.

The website was taken down after one day, with women complaining it made them feel like “reproductive organs”.

“The country sees women as baby factories,” says Hong Sook-young, who produces the country’s most popular children TV show. Asked about the latest measures, Hong said “at least pretending to hear what people really want is a start toward change”.

 

TEMPLE BONDING

South Korea’s demographic time bomb is ticking louder. The government’s latest forecast sees its population declining from 2027, and a presidential committee said the country’s economic growth potential could fall to below 1 percent.

Birth rates have long been a policy priority: since 2006, the government has spent 152.9 trillion won ($135.65 billion) – about the size of an economy like Hungary or Nevada – on perks for families and subsidies for children from birth through university and beyond. Last year’s 26.3 trillion low birth policy budget was more than half the defense spending of a country technically still at war with its northern neighbor.

But demographic experts say money is not the main issue: the experience of advanced countries with higher birth rates, such as France or Sweden, shows gender equality plays a crucial role.

The previous allocation of resources drew criticism as well.

The government went far beyond child allowances and subsidizing care and education. For instance, it funded temple stays for family bonding and financed youth seeking brief jobs abroad.

Many such programs will end, with the 2019 birth-support budget cut by a quarter, to 20.5 trillion won.

“It should have been cut a long time ago,” said Jung Jae-hoon, social welfare professor at Seoul Women’s University.

Jung cautioned, however, the signal the government was finally sending will take a long time to filter through the conservative East Asian society.

Births outside marriage, for instance, are so widely frowned upon that they amount to only 1.9 percent of the total, the lowest anywhere. Experts compare that to France, where the ratio is over 50 percent and the birth rate is 1.9 versus South Korea’s 1.05. Abortion is illegal and adoption rules very strict.

The stigma of out-of-wedlock babies has seen Seoul’s Jusarang Community Church build an oven-sized “baby box”, with cushions and a heating system into its outside wall.

Last year, 261 children were abandoned across the country, according to Statistics Korea.

JOBS FOR MEN

About 56 percent of women aged 15-64 work in South Korea, below the OECD average of almost 60 percent, and 72-75 percent in Denmark and Sweden, where birth rates are among the highest of advanced economies.

Recruiters say married young women are less likely to get job opportunities due to discrimination.

In November, the Supreme Court upheld a four-year jail sentence against a former CEO of state-run Korea Gas Safety Corp over manipulating interview scores to knock women out of the hiring process.

While Samsung Electronics has a more balanced gender ratio than Apple globally, with women accounting for 45 percent of the staff versus a third at its U.S. rival, only one in four staff at its Korea headquarters are women. None of the nine board members at Hyundai Motor Co are women, versus six out of 12 at General Motors.

“The whole period of before, during and after childbirth weighs on our career,” said a female assistant manager at Hyundai Motor. The pay gap between sexes only makes it harder, she added.

South Korea’s gender wage gap is highest among advanced countries at 34.6 percent, above OECD average of 13.8 percent.

A Hyundai Motor spokeswoman said the firm was committed to providing equal opportunities to all employees and opposes discrimination. A Samsung Electronics spokeswoman said the company has been recruiting more females, including in managerial positions, and that most staff return to work after parental leave and its daycare centers can look after 3,000 children.

WEAK ECONOMY

Still, critics say while Moon’s approach to birth rates is an improvement, his job and housing policies discourage parenthood. Minimum wage hikes have led to higher unemployment, while larger downpayment requirements have made homes unaffordable for many.

“Creating a structure that enables us to have our own house is mostly needed,” said Lee Kyoung-min, a store manager at Lotte Mart, a father of three.

Some also argue work-life balance could be better: Moon in July cut the working week to 52 hours from 68, but South Koreans still work 15 percent longer than the OECD average.

If birth rates don’t improve, South Korea’s economy could be 5 percent smaller by 2060, as productivity falls and higher spending for elderly care leaves less room for investment, the National Assembly Budget Office estimates.

Industries catering for babies are struggling. Seoul has lost one in four maternity wards and in 2018 the capital sacked more than half its teachers.

Ryu Won-woo, manager of baby fair organizer BeFe, praised the government’s measures, especially those encouraging more responsibilities for dads. But he does not expect quick results.

“More local baby-product companies may disappear before Korea sees more babies,” Ryu said.

(Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Marius Zaharia and Lincoln Feast.)