Inter Press ServicePortia Crowe – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 21 Sep 2018 13:36:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Riding Towards Sustainable Development, on Bamboohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/riding-towards-sustainable-development-on-bamboo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riding-towards-sustainable-development-on-bamboo http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/riding-towards-sustainable-development-on-bamboo/#comments Thu, 23 Aug 2012 15:36:40 +0000 Portia Crowe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=111940 In Ghana, a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, making frames of bicycles out of bamboo could be the key to promoting sustainable development. It also makes stronger, longer-lasting bikes. This is according to Bernice Dapaah, the executive director of Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which trains young Ghanaians to […]

The post Riding Towards Sustainable Development, on Bamboo appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Ghana’s bamboo frames for bicycles are being exported to Austria. Credit: Portia Crowe/IPS

By Portia Crowe
KUMASI, Ghana, Aug 23 2012 (IPS)

In Ghana, a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, making frames of bicycles out of bamboo could be the key to promoting sustainable development. It also makes stronger, longer-lasting bikes.

This is according to Bernice Dapaah, the executive director of Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which trains young Ghanaians to build, fix, and market bamboo-framed bicycles.

“We are into women, children, and youth’s empowerment. And the project reduces carbon emissions and contributes to traffic decongestion, so using it is also a form of reducing climate change,” she said in an interview with IPS.

Bamboo Bikes works in partnership with Ibrahim Djan Nyampong, the owner of Africa Items Co Ltd in Accra, and the frames are sold abroad for 350 dollars each. They cost nearly 200 dollars to build, and Nyampong — also Bamboo Bikes’ technical advisor — pays the young apprentices an additional 30 dollars per frame for their labour.

Nyampong described some of the technical advantages that bamboo frames hold over their carbon fibre or metal counterparts.

“It lasts longer than the metal frame,” he said. “You know a bamboo bike doesn’t break – it’s very durable.”

He said a control test run in Germany proved bamboo frames to be 10 times lighter than metal frames, and noted their heavy load-bearing capacity. Indeed bamboo’s tensile strength — meaning the maximum stress it can withstand while being stretched — is much higher than that of steel.

Bamboo is fibrous, and therefore shock-absorbent. It naturally dampens vibrations, so the frames do not require steel or titanium springs.

“The bamboo has also been treated against splitting and termites, so it’s very strong,” Nyampong explained.

He said the bamboo is treated for three to six months before being used for production. It is then coated in a clear lacquer to protect it against rain and other damage.

These elements have enhanced the frames’ international marketability, and BambooRide, an Austrian company, has begun importing them for sale in Europe.

“At first, we were developing the frames together with (Nyampong), because they were good, but they had to fit a certain European standard,” said Matthias Schmidt, BambooRide’s sales manager.

“So it was like a partnership, a knowledge transfer in both directions,” he told IPS.

The Austrian importers also provided Nyampong’s team with new equipment, including their first jig, to improve precision and reduce the margin of error.

Now, the Austrian company imports up to 10 frames per month, and Schmidt said he looks forward to the initiative’s continued expansion.

“Their capacity is limited… and in the case that we need more frames… we’ll need other sources. So we’re supporting Dapaah’s efforts to improve the equipment and technology,” he said.

Ensuring Environmental Sustainability 

Using bamboo rather than metal to build bicycle frames also holds several advantages for producers – and for the environment.

According to Dapaah, bamboo’s availability as a local material not only enables producers to avoid expensive import costs, but also eliminates the carbon emissions that would arise from the transport of imported materials into the country.

Bamboo is also organic and recyclable, and, unlike metal materials, does not require high levels of energy during extraction and manufacturing.

“The bamboo bicycle is environmentally friendly… because we are also fighting against climate change,” explained Dapaah.

She said the initiative also commits to ecological sustainability by working with bamboo farmers in rural communities to harvest new bamboo crops, and conserve already existent ones.

“If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more,” she said.

In addition, bamboo bicycle frames promote sustainable transportation as an alternative to motor vehicles and fossil fuels.

According to Isaac Osei, the regional director for Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, this is important.

“The traffic situation in the country in general is increasing, and when traffic increases it has its associated environmental issues,” he told IPS.

There are 30 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people in Ghana, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority registers hundreds more each day. Data suggests that vehicle ownership will continue to rise, as the country hits record levels of GDP growth per capita. Ghana has the largest GDP per capita in West Africa at 402.3 dollars in 2011.

Osei noted some of the harmful impacts of increased vehicle use, including carbon dioxide emissions and pollution from dust particles on dirt roads.

“To actually educate people to use bicycles rather than vehicles, I think it is good for the country and the world as a whole,” he said.

By employing and providing young people with technical skills, the initiative is designed to reduce unemployment and, consequently, rural poverty.

“So far I’ve trained about 10 boys,” Nyampong said. “They can build the bikes, but it’s not up to the quality control level, so we are still training them.”

In addition, Bamboo Bikes will help graduated trainees establish their own workshops, and begin to train more young people.

In 2009, Bamboo Bikes won the Clinton Global Initiative Award, and in 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme Seed Initiative award. It also garnered international attention in June when it received a World Business and Development Award at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

 

The post Riding Towards Sustainable Development, on Bamboo appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/riding-towards-sustainable-development-on-bamboo/feed/ 3
President’s Death Could Drive National Unity in Ghanahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/presidents-death-could-drive-national-unity-in-ghana/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presidents-death-could-drive-national-unity-in-ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/presidents-death-could-drive-national-unity-in-ghana/#comments Fri, 27 Jul 2012 07:22:38 +0000 Portia Crowe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=111294 The death of President John Atta Mills will have a sobering effect on national politics in the months leading up to Ghana’s December 2012 election, according to the Executive Secretary of the West Africa Network for Peace, Emmanuel Bombandey. He said the event will likely quell the inter-party aggression characteristic of Ghanaian politics, and will […]

The post President’s Death Could Drive National Unity in Ghana appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
KUMASI, Ghana, Jul 27 2012 (IPS)

The death of President John Atta Mills will have a sobering effect on national politics in the months leading up to Ghana’s December 2012 election, according to the Executive Secretary of the West Africa Network for Peace, Emmanuel Bombandey.

He said the event will likely quell the inter-party aggression characteristic of Ghanaian politics, and will not lead to instability or violence.

That, according to some experts, is a success story in itself.

“In the last couple of years, transitions have been a problem in many African countries, and they still are,” the executive director of Ghana’s Institute for Democratic Governance, Emmanual Akwetey, told IPS.

He noted examples from Rwanda, Malawi, and Nigeria, where the deaths of political leaders have lead to violence.

“For a country that has a past in military interventions and political instability … there is nothing like a power vacuum, especially at the very top,” he said.

“Somebody might act – out of nervousness or opportunism.”

Flags fly at half-mast in Kumasi. President John Dramani Mahama has declared one week of mourning to commemorate the death of President John Atta Mills. Credit: Portia Crowe/IPS

In Ghana, however, Vice President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as president within several hours of Mills’ passing on Jul. 24.  While some questions have been raised as to who will become the flag bearer of the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and how the selection will be made, Professor Kwame Ninsin, a political science lecturer at the University of Ghana, said this would not create a power vacuum.

“I don’t think it’s insurmountable… This is a situation which I’m sure the leadership of the party is capable of handling effectively,” he said.

He added that the party’s success rests on more than the face of its leadership.

“Elections are made or unmade also by the organisational capacity of the party concerned, and I would like to believe that the NDC is adequately prepared to support its presidential candidate to win an election.”

Stability Rooted in Successful Institutions

For the most part, said WANEP’s Bombandey, Ghana’s transition has been considered a success story, attributable mainly to the strength of its institutions.

“I do not expect any form of instability and this should attest to the governance of the country and constitution – that it is working and working very well,” he told IPS

“We are going to go on to peaceful presidential elections,” he added.

According to Ninsin, even the military has been “professionalised” in the years since Ghana’s 1981 uprising, and poses no threat to the nation’s stability.

“If there were to be any security threat, that would have come up in the early hours of the announcement of the death of the president. But, the transition process occurred smoothly.”

Akwetey also attributed the relatively smooth political transition to the stability of the country’s emerging democratic institutions.

“We have matured out of our struggles – the military, the authoritarian governments, the political fights,” he said.

“Solemn and sad as the occasion was, it was also gratifying to know that we… know how to go forward and get on with life.”

He added: “We were able to demonstrate to the world that we take our constitution seriously.”

According to Akwetey, the importance of procedure and order is deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture.

“Even in traditional systems, we are a people who procedure is deeply engrained in. It’s like a genetic code,” he told IPS.

Kofi Owusu, an award-winning journalist and head of Kumasi’s Ultimate Radio station, said that such traditional institutions, as well as more recent democratic ones, could contribute to a peaceful transition period.

“By custom, Ghanaians respect the dead. They want to pay homage to the dead person and that’s why Akufo Addo, the opposition (New Patriotic Party) leader, suspended his campaign to mourn along with Ghanaians,” he told IPS.

He said this has created a “lull” in the usual squabbling, and added, “Ghanaians being who they are, they’re going to observe that out of respect.”

He was unsure how long the lull would last.

A Hiatus from Hostilities

Owusu described the state of political discourse in Ghana prior to Mill’s demise.

“The debate was just vicious,” he said. “The stakes were so high, people seemed to hang their entire livelihood on who emerged as president.”

But Bombandey said that the president’s passing will serve as a reminder to Ghanaians of their common identity, and deter political parties from resuming their hostile discourse after the period of mourning.

“As the elections get closer, we will fall back into intense political activity, once the president is laid to rest. But my assessment is that people will be reminded that we need not go back to the high level of political rhetoric that we were experiencing previously,” he told IPS.

Owusu also predicted a shift in the nature of political discourse in the months following Mills’ death.

“Now the man who was at the receiving end of the political criticism is gone,” he said.

“Suddenly you can’t attack him anymore, so what do you do? It’s believed that it will tone down the hot exchanges; the acerbic tone will be considerably reduced towards elections,” he added.

He also noted that some leaders have begun to view the tragedy as an occasion to strengthen national unity.

“Some are even calling it an opportunity to unite the country ahead of elections,” he said.

Bombandey said members of parliament have already demonstrated a considerable sense of unity. Each party has expressed solidarity with the government and with the grieving family, and, he predicted, this unity could persist in the days leading up to the national election.

“I think there will be a new sense of decency in the political discourse and more concretely, this will be good in the sense that we might see more issues being talked about, and less political insults and bickering,” he told IPS.

He said he would welcome such a change of focus.

 

The post President’s Death Could Drive National Unity in Ghana appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/presidents-death-could-drive-national-unity-in-ghana/feed/ 2
Understanding the Roots of Ghana’s Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/111064/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=111064 http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/111064/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 08:22:08 +0000 Portia Crowe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=111064 At eleven years old, Thema, a native of Kumasi, hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. Currently, however, she is employed wandering between taxis and tro-tros or minibus taxis at rush hour, carrying packs of ice water on her head and selling them for 10 pesewas apiece. She manoeuvres through traffic in Ghana’s […]

The post Understanding the Roots of Ghana’s Child Labour appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
KUMASI, Ghana, Jul 18 2012 (IPS)

At eleven years old, Thema, a native of Kumasi, hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. Currently, however, she is employed wandering between taxis and tro-tros or minibus taxis at rush hour, carrying packs of ice water on her head and selling them for 10 pesewas apiece. She manoeuvres through traffic in Ghana’s second-largest city with practiced ease; she has been doing this for four years.

Child labour is on the rise in Ghana, particularly in urban areas. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) 2012 State of the World’s Children Report, 34 percent of Ghanaian children aged between five and 14 years are engaged in child labour – up from 23 percent in 2003. Emilia Allan, a Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Ghana, noted that Kumasi alone makes up eight percent of that figure.

She described some of the harmful impacts of child labour.

A young boy carries ice water on his head in Amakom, Kumasi. Any work that is detrimental to a child’s development is considered child labour in Ghana. Credit: Portia Crowe/IPS

“It infringes on the rights of children, it affects their health, and it may result in injury,” she said. “It prevents and interferes with their education, and it leads to other protection concerns such as sexual exploitation, violence, and child trafficking.”

But working children are generally accepted in Ghana, and the definition of child labour is hotly debated. Though the minimum legal age of employment is 15 years, the 1998 Children’s Act stipulates that children aged 13 and older may engage in some forms of light work. And the recent National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, based on the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, recognises the challenges to completely eradicating child labour; it is designed, instead, to protect children from work that might harm their physical or educational development.

One area of contention is household work, such as cooking, cleaning, running errands, and caring for younger siblings. Prince Ohene-Koranteng, the director of communications at Defense for Children International Ghana, explained that such chores are sometimes acceptable.

“Those things are possible, and they must not be stopped, as long as they don’t prevent the child from accessing quality education,” he said. “But it should end somewhere, because at a certain point the child should be able to take care of his or her school assignments,” he added.

UNICEF’s Allan said that some household tasks can contribute to a child’s socialisation or training, but she specified when even light work infringes on children’s rights.

“In Ghana, children help their families,” she explained. “Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour,” she said, adding that every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education, or development.

Many children also help their families by working part-time, and attending school on a shift system. They might go school in the mornings and work afternoons, or work certain days and study others. But this too can inhibit their development and be deemed child labour, according to Allan.

“If a child is . . . going to sell and then going on the shift system, the it goes to school tired and sleepy. That is affecting the child’s education, because it is not performing,” she said, adding that they do not have time to do their homework.

She also noted that when a child is given a load to carry on her head, though considered light labour, it could affect their physical growth and pose a threat to development.

Allan’s understanding of the national legislation mirrors that of Ohene-Koranteng. He said that any form of harmful work, whether “light” or “hazardous,” is child labour – and therefore illegal. But, he said, the legislation is rarely implemented.

“Even though the law is there in our books, the implementing agencies should do more to be able to protect the children,” he said.

“If we have to leave this to the parents alone to do, they will say that because their children are helping them to make ends meet, they will continue to put them on the street.”

According to Jacob Achulu, the Ashanti regional director with the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, such implementation problems stem from financial insecurity.

“The legal framework is there,” he said. “The problem is the enforcement – and I think it’s because poverty is widespread in most parts of our country.”

Financial insecurity prevents Aku from going to school. She is 10 years old, and attends school when she can, but when her parents cannot afford her school feels she sells hot peppers, locally known as pepe, in Kejetia Market.

“She went to school today, but the teacher sacked them because they are not paying their school fees,” explained a woman in the market.

“They want to go tomorrow, but because of money—school fees—the mother said they will go into service instead,” she translated.

Achulu called for more concrete action on the ground.

“The ILO interventions and NGO interventions are welcome, but there is the need to have sustainable activities that will make sure the families are able to keep their children in school,” he explained.

The Ghana Children’s Rights Protection Foundation, or GCRPF, is an organisation that aims to do this by addressing child labour at its root. Its members provide school supplies and funding to low-income families, and help parents to earn additional income through hands-on projects. The secretary, Osborn Kwasi-Sarpong, noted the importance of supplementing family earnings.

“How must a child go to school tomorrow if he stops selling water today?” he asked. “The basic thing we have to do first is to see to the welfare of the mother, the parent, to be able to find something to do with her hands,” he explained.

And ultimately, said the GCRPF’s director, Reverend Christian Antwi-Boasiako, getting more children out of the streets and into schools will have a positive impact not only on the child, but also on the nation as a whole.

“A child is supposed to have good education, and good health care,” he said, “and then when he or she grows, he would also contribute to the development of the nation.”

The post Understanding the Roots of Ghana’s Child Labour appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/111064/feed/ 4
Q&A: “UN Women Is Creating a New Energy”http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/qa-un-women-is-creating-a-new-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-un-women-is-creating-a-new-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/qa-un-women-is-creating-a-new-energy/#respond Mon, 11 Jul 2011 06:51:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=47486 Portia Crowe interviews lawyer and activist UNITY DOW

The post Q&A: “UN Women Is Creating a New Energy” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Portia Crowe interviews lawyer and activist UNITY DOW

By Portia Crowe
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2011 (IPS)

While in New York to celebrate the launch of UN Women’s flagship biennium publication, “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice”, Botswana’s Unity Dow sat down with IPS to discuss the United Nations’ newest entity, its landmark report, and the road ahead for women.

Unity Dow Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Unity Dow Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Dow is a lawyer, human rights activist, and formerly Botswana’s first female judge. She has studied both within Africa and abroad, and has authored five books. She is serving her second term as commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, and is chairperson of their Executive Committee.

In 1992, she made headlines by refusing to sit back when Botswana’s Citizenship Act prohibited her from passing the rights and privileges of citizenship to her children because she had married a foreign man. She fought and won a landmark court case and, in the process, extended the legal clout of all Batswana women.

Q: Your story was featured prominently in the first ever UN Women’s report. What do you think is the significance of your story to women around the world? What message does it hold for those who read it? A: I think it’s important for people who read it to see that I’m not unique or special, at the end of the day. And also, I guess, to realise that the reason why I was able to do it has to do with my family. It has to do with a strong, supportive family – my parents, my siblings – who were always there for every court appearance, who were there when I was crying and bothered, who were there when I was happy about any outcome.

It wasn’t an individual journey, you know? You need family to succeed. You can cut a path for yourself but if you don’t have people supporting around you… They made it lighter for me.

Q: You’ve worked in partnership with UN Women. What do you expect to see from the agency over the next several years, or decades? A: I think first of all, just the creation of this new agency, in itself, I don’t think we can underestimate this really – the push that it does for women, the strength and the power it gives to women. Even before we talk about how much money it has, even before we talk about who’s in leadership – and I think it’s very, very lucky to have the leader that it has.

In terms of what we expect from it, it’s really to create a new energy around issues of women. The kind of energy we got around Beijing [1995 World Conference on Women], which kind of began to die down, it’s really giving some more power to that again. And also it’s forcing governments to have specific programmes on women, because now you have an agency of that level being responsible, and it’s going to ask questions and it’s going to engage with governments – so that’s good.

To have UN Women, just the power of that in itself I think is fantastic. If you remember, within governments, originally we had maybe children and women’s units, and later they become departments, and over time some become ministries. So it’s really that process of saying, “Women are too important to be in little units somewhere without any power.”

Q: Now, the report itself has the central theme of “justice”, and you yourself have dedicated your life to the justice system. Why do you think that justice and the legal system are so important in women’s empowerment? A: Because, I mean, the legal system is about not just creating frameworks, it’s also about providing resolutions to dismiss. So let’s talk about, first of all, the framework. You need laws because once you have laws, attitudes change, and again, that’s very important.

If you have a law that says you cannot discriminate against women, it won’t change over time, but the fact that the law exists over time changes attitudes, because it creates a norm and destroys, maybe, a negative norm that was in place.

And secondly, if we talk about violence against women, if you talk about economic empowerment, if you talk about anything, you need a justice system that women can go to to enforce their rights. So it’s primary.

Q: You were formerly a High Court judge, but you’ve retired from the bench and started your own law practice. Do you think that’s a more effective way of reaching women, or was it a personal decision? A: I was a judge for 11 and a half years and I learned a lot on that bench. But I also felt that I was not in control of my life, because you sit there waiting for cases to come to you. But I also felt that – when I was appointed I was the first female judge and the argument was, ‘Look, we need women in decision-making powers; you cannot not take this job.’ I understood that, and I think it was good that I did that.

But after a while you realise that you still do need people to bring the right cases to court. You need good judges, well-trained judges, but also you need good lawyers – well-trained lawyers, gender- sensitive lawyers – who can bring the right cases to court. And I didn’t feel that that was happening, so that’s why I quit to do the kind of work I was doing before.

Q: You’re also a novelist – you were just showing me your most recent book, “Saturday is for Funerals”. That’s about AIDS, which is a very serious problem in Botswana. Do you think that it’s a women’s issue, specifically? How do you think that increased women’s empowerment would affect the AIDS situation? A: It’s not just a women’s issue, but it is a gender issue. When parents die, leaving young children, some woman is going to have to show up and take care of them – that’s just the way things are. So, women become caregivers to other people’s children who died in the family. It’s also a gender issue because if women do not have economic power, they’re more likely to engage in risky behaviour, and therefore get HIV.

It’s a gender issue because when people die young, leaving children, there are all kinds of inheritance issues, all kinds of laws that come to play as to who has the right to inherit what. So it is a gender issue. Professional caregivers almost all over the world, including Botswana – nurses, social workers – are women. So you find that in particular those professions are burdened because of HIV/AIDS and it becomes a gender issue.

If you are more empowered, if you earn a good living, if you have capacity to make decisions about your own life, you are less likely to enter marriage just for money, you are less likely to engage in such activities just for money, or so that he doesn’t leave you, and takes care of the children.

Education of women gives them more power; they are more able to negotiate a relationship, to get out of relations that are hurtful, or harming them, and not to compromise. So education is very important from that point of view.

The post Q&A: “UN Women Is Creating a New Energy” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Portia Crowe interviews lawyer and activist UNITY DOW

The post Q&A: “UN Women Is Creating a New Energy” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/qa-un-women-is-creating-a-new-energy/feed/ 0
Sisters in the Struggle for Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/sisters-in-the-struggle-for-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sisters-in-the-struggle-for-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/sisters-in-the-struggle-for-justice/#respond Thu, 07 Jul 2011 04:30:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=47441 As UN Women, the new United Nations agency dedicated to enhancing gender equality, releases its first major report following the organisation’s launch early this year, its most significant finding may be the shared challenges faced by women across the globe. “Despite the fact that women’s lives all over the world are very different in many […]

The post Sisters in the Struggle for Justice appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2011 (IPS)

As UN Women, the new United Nations agency dedicated to enhancing gender equality, releases its first major report following the organisation’s launch early this year, its most significant finding may be the shared challenges faced by women across the globe.

Botswana’s first female judge, launch “Progress of the World’s Women”. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz”]UN Women's Michele Bachelet and Unity Dow [left], Botswana's first female judge, launch "Progress of the World's Women". Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz“Despite the fact that women’s lives all over the world are very different in many ways, a lot of the challenges that women face in very different countries are actually quite similar,” said the report’s lead author, Laura Turquet, in an interview with IPS.

She noted similarities between Europe and South Africa, Rwanda and Nepal. “So it’s not particularly about level of income,” she said, “it’s actually about approaches that governments take to address these problems.”

And the premier edition of the “Progress of the World’s Women” report, released Wednesday, highlights the importance of the justice system in conquering these challenges.

“We chose justice for the theme of our first report because, really, we think it’s an issue that underpins all of the things that UN Women cares about,” explained Turquet. “It really underpins gender equality.”

Women in the United Nations System

"Where we see women better represented in political decision-making, we also see the policies that reflect women's lives," Laura Turquet, lead author of the UN Women report, told IPS.

She said that women's representation is still a major challenge to achieving gender equality - both in developing and developed countries.

"I think there's always going to be resistance where you're challenging entrenched power imbalances," she said.

However, she noted one sphere in which some progress could easily be made: "It would be wonderful to have a woman Secretary-General of the UN," she conceded.

The recent re-election of Ban Ki-moon's to another 5-year term left some wondering when a female leader would get her turn.

But, while the United Nations system has not reached equal gender parity, UN Women chief Michelle Bachelet said, "It's not bad at all."

"We have more women in decision-making positions than ever in the history," Bachelet told IPS, "and we have a lot of women as principles of agencies, we have a lot of special envoys, and special representatives."

Turquet added that, while it is essential to have women in those positions, it is equally important that men in high-level posts are supportive of women's rights as well.

"We need women role models and leaders, but I think we also need to make sure that we're holding our male leaders to account for gender equality and women's empowerment," she told IPS.

She acknowledged the "instrumental" role that Ban Ki-moon has played in forming UN Women.

Bachelet said that one of the biggest tasks in ensuring gender equality within the United Nations is to increase the accountability inside the system – "so that we can ensure a bigger female presence, not only at high, top level, but also at the different levels of the U.N."

According to the report, laws and justice systems are what shape social attitudes.

“We know that laws can change societies,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN Women’s executive director and the former president of Chile. But she noted that “laws are made by people, and they have to represent the evolution of situations.”

That is why the report aims to highlight key actions that governments and civil society can take to legally and judicially enhance gender equality. It also demonstrates the possibilities for women to advance their own rights, noting, for example, the dramatic increase in sexual assault reporting when police forces are comprised of female officers.

“Women can play a critical role in driving the change we need to see,” said Bachelet, and the report recommends putting women “on the front line of law enforcement.”

But while, according to Bachelet, “in too many countries the rule of law still rules women out,” Turquet described the vast improvements around the world in terms of women’s legal rights.

“Just a century ago, only two countries in the world allowed women to vote, and now that right is more or less universal,” she said, noting the number of constitutions that now guarantee gender equality (139) and the number of countries that have equal pay laws (117).

Despite this progress, however, “we are seeing these enormous implementation gaps between the laws that exist on paper and reality,” Turquet said.

Sometimes, monetary incentives can narrow these gaps. The report details women’s inheritance rights in Nepal, which were legislated in the early 1990s but rarely observed until a tax exemption for land transfers was introduced, motivating men to share land with their female counterparts.

In most cases, however, simply accessing the justice system is the greatest challenge to implementing gender equality laws.

First, there is the long and complicated justice chain that women must navigate before they can attain justice.

In a sexual assault case, for example, the process spans from reporting the incident to interviewing the victim, to identifying, interviewing, and charging the suspect, to the eventual trial, and then the possible conviction. Even in Europe only a fraction of reported rape cases result in conviction, according to the report.

The report highlights one South African solution to this process: the One-Stop Shop model, which brings services like health care, legal advice, the police, and forensic services together “under one roof”, according to Turquet.

“It cuts down on the number of steps that women have to take and helps to reduce the number of cases that drop out of the system,” she explained, noting a conviction rate of 89 percent – up from the seven percent national average – in some One-Stop Shop areas.

Another challenge is physically accessing courts for trial.

The Mobile Court model, used primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo, provides an effective solution. That country’s sheer vastness, as well as its citizens’ pervasive poverty, often prevents women from attaining justice, according to the report.

“This [Mobile Court] initiative, which is relatively small scale at the moment, has been incredibly successful at reaching women in remote rural areas,” Turquet told IPS.

“In countries with weak infrastructure, it’s probably much cheaper to use mobile courts than it is to build expensive courtrooms, which, then, people won’t be able to access,” she said.

She described a recent case, involving the rape of 40 women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was tried in a mobile court. It was the first ever crimes against humanity trial heard in a mobile court, and it successfully garnered a large number of high- level convictions, she said.

But, according to Turquet, there is however still a great need for investment in women’s access to justice. She said that 2009 saw 4.2 billion dollars in bilateral donations allocated to justice work, but of that, only five percent was spent specifically targeting women and girls.

“There needs to be greater investment in the kind of justice that women and girls need,” she said.

For now, tackling these challenges will be the main objective for UN Women, which held its first annual Executive Board meeting last week in New York.

“Legislating is only the first step,” according to Bachelet. She wants to work together with governments towards better implementation and delivery of justice.

But the six-month-old agency must do so with the minimal funding it has received. Its budget this year is 300 million dollars – of which 120 million dollars has not been earmarked for specific purposes.

At its commencement, then, “the key for UN Women will be to work with all our partners to drive forward those goals,” said Turquet.

The post Sisters in the Struggle for Justice appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/sisters-in-the-struggle-for-justice/feed/ 0
FILM: So Much More Than Just ‘Trafficked Women’http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/film-so-much-more-than-just-trafficked-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=film-so-much-more-than-just-trafficked-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/film-so-much-more-than-just-trafficked-women/#respond Sun, 03 Jul 2011 05:59:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=47372 Mimi Chakarova had one simple objective in filming ‘The Price of Sex,’ her award-winning documentary about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe: “I’m trying to reach millions of people,” she told IPS. “It’s kind of a big goal to have.” The film, which documents the trafficking of young girls to countries like Turkey, Greece, and Dubai, […]

The post FILM: So Much More Than Just ‘Trafficked Women’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
NEW YORK, Jul 3 2011 (IPS)

Mimi Chakarova had one simple objective in filming ‘The Price of Sex,’ her award-winning documentary about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe: “I’m trying to reach millions of people,” she told IPS. “It’s kind of a big goal to have.”

The film, which documents the trafficking of young girls to countries like Turkey, Greece, and Dubai, aired alongside 19 others at the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York, which wrapped up late this week.

Chakarova is a photojournalist by training and has followed the issue for nearly a decade.

“It was more of a personal reaction to what was being covered in the press at the time,” she said in an interview with IPS.

Having moved to the United States at a young age from Bulgaria, she was deeply moved by the stories, but found the coverage to be insufficient. Most journalists were men, posing as clients, who spent an hour with the women, photographing them in lingerie, covered in make-up, and high on drugs or alcohol.

Roots of Trafficking Run Deep

After spending eight years documenting sex trafficking, Chakarova has some ideas on how to solve the problem.

"Unless we tackle the discrepancy between rich and poor countries, the discrepancy in access to justice, the high level of corruption – none of these hotlines are going to make a difference," she said, repeating the counsel of NGO worker Ana Revenco. Revenco works at Le Strada, a hotline for women who have been offered jobs abroad that offers tips on how to avoid being trafficked.

"They make a difference, but it's so minimal that we're not even scratching the surface," Chakarova told IPS. Instead, she said, real progress will result only from tackling the broader societal problems.

"You see how people are pocketing money. You see how the pimps are profiting. You see cops who are using the women," she said. "Unless you tackle those issues, Ana is absolutely right."

According to Chakarova, as long as there is poverty in the world, there will be vulnerable women, and the rich will take advantage of that. These women will take risks to feed their children, they will go abroad to work. "We know that that supply is not decreasing," she said, And we know there will always be a demand side: men who are willing to pay for sex."

The root of the problem is that "it's the governments that are corrupt; it’s the cops that are corrupt," she said.

"If governments are not involved, if the political and social… systems are not in place to protect these people, and the justice system is not in place to punish people who are engaging in this, what are you left with? You’re in the dark," she concluded.

“Those were the images of Eastern European women sold into sex. It was very much problematic because [they] are so much more than that,” Chakarova said. “You have to understand how it happened in the first place.”

She decided to “do things differently”, and through her photography, intends to deconstruct stereotypes and desexualise Eastern European women.

“They’re regular girls,” she said. “You see where they come from, you see what their mothers look like, you see what their kids look like, and you see what, most importantly, they look like.”

In Chakarova’s work, the girls “are not in the shadow. Their faces are not anonymous,” she said.

Tanaz Eshaghian, an Iranian-American filmmaker, also aims to tap into the power of telling individual stories in her documentary, ‘Love Crimes of Kabul’.

She documents the young Afghan women of Badum Bagh jail who have been imprisoned for moral crimes – from running away from home to the intention to have premarital sex.

“I think that when people see this, they really have a different sense of the people over there, because now you see them as humans,” Eshaghian told IPS.

She hopes her film will change the viewer’s perception of Afghans, “so when you hear about Afghanistan, it’s not just this big mush – which is what most people unconsciously just do to that place,” she said.

Instead, Eshaghian sought to change Western perceptions by depicting regular young women. “As you see, girls are not meek, or shy. They’re giggly, cackley, kind of fun, and their spirit is not destroyed in the least,” she said.

She noted the reaction of some Afghan boys to her film: “Finally, a film that show’s that it’s not just this poor little victim sitting there, that shows the ballsy chicks that we have to deal with!”

But the girls in Eshaghian’s film are not necessarily the poster children of female liberation. They are not trying to make a statement or assert their self-determination.

“There’s not this awareness of empowering yourself,” Eshaghian told IPS. “Each person … has made some decision for whatever myriad of reasons, and there they are, and as a result they’re transgressing societal boundaries,” she said.

They do not perceive themselves as victims or their society as flawed. “They’re just surviving,” Eshaghian said, “and trying to get what they want, one way or another.”

If these two films provide factual accounts of ordinary women and girls’ lives, Mikael Wiström and Alberto Herskovits’ ‘Familia’ shows an ordinary family through a slightly rosier lens.

“It’s a love story,” Herskovits told IPS. “It’s a complicated love story, and like all love stories, it’s not an easy story,” he said.

The film follows a Peruvian family whose mother goes to Spain to work as a maid. It examines the broader phenomenon of global migration and its impact on the developing world by telling an individual story, and Herskovits hopes the audience will identify with the family.

“We have much more in common with them than we are apart from them,” he said.

“People usually believe that poor people, the only thing they do is run around the whole day to survive. But there’s such a richness in the social interaction between them,” he said, adding, “Many people can identify with that family, far away in Peru, [and] I think that is one of the main purposes of making the film.”

Wiström first happened upon the Barrientos family while working as journalist in the 1970s. At that time, Daniel and Nati were living and working in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Lima.

They have since made several documentaries together, and stayed in touch over the years as the family moved from landfill to shack to the small house where they live now.

But they knew they were still not earning enough to survive; that is why Nati went abroad.

“The demands are so much higher when it comes to women serving, women taking care, women educating,” Herskovits explained.

“This is an export of emotional energy that is, in a way, reflected in the migrant movement throughout the world,” he said, noting that it is equally true in areas like sex trafficking.

While North American and European women are busy with their own careers, migrant women move in to fill the void in the home. But their absence in the developing world can have grave social and economic impacts.

“It shows, I think, a big decrease of life quality for the families that are splitting up,” Herskovits said.

For the women like Nati who travel abroad, however, there is a silver lining.

“I’m convinced that each woman that is leaving for a migrant period in her life also is empowered,” Herskovits said. “It’s equally painful, but also empowering. . . [and] when they return home I think they are becoming agents of change too.”

These filmmakers cannot single-handedly change society; they can only tell stories and, according to Chakarova, “show you the bare truth.”

For her part, Chakarova hopes her work will inspire others to continue the battle – “even if it’s not on sex trafficking, it could be another issue that’s just as important,” she said.

She hopes that everyone who sees the film will take some sort of action. “I want this to also be in the viewer’s hands,” she said. “Each one of us can do something.”

The post FILM: So Much More Than Just ‘Trafficked Women’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/film-so-much-more-than-just-trafficked-women/feed/ 0
Poor Countries Host Vastly More Displaced People Than Wealthier Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/poor-countries-host-vastly-more-displaced-people-than-wealthier-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-countries-host-vastly-more-displaced-people-than-wealthier-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/poor-countries-host-vastly-more-displaced-people-than-wealthier-nations/#respond Wed, 22 Jun 2011 12:52:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=47192 The hardest part of Jan Egeland’s job is coming home at the end of the day. He is the Director of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs and the former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, and has travelled to the farthest reaches of the world to help protect refugees and displaced people. “It’s very hard to […]

The post Poor Countries Host Vastly More Displaced People Than Wealthier Nations appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2011 (IPS)

The hardest part of Jan Egeland’s job is coming home at the end of the day. He is the Director of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs and the former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, and has travelled to the farthest reaches of the world to help protect refugees and displaced people.

“It’s very hard to leave,” he told IPS, “because when you leave, you go back to your welfare, your safety, all your riches, and I’ve always felt in a way a bad conscience.”

On Monday, World Refugee Day, Egeland spoke in New York to commemorate the 150th birthday of Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s landmark 1951 Refugee Convention.

Egeland described his experiences in places like Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and noted the lack of international attention to the world’s most desperate migrants, despite their staggering numbers.

“The reason we’re not hearing more about it is it’s hurting very poor people, very far away,” he said, adding, “The most difficult thing in meetings like this, so far from the front lines, is to try to imagine how it is to be at the front lines.”

To shed some light on the situation on the ground the UNHCR annually releases a report on its work, spanning 120 countries. The 2010 edition, released last week, cites 43.7 million displaced people worldwide, including 15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) – those displaced within their own countries – and 850,000 asylum seekers.

These figures account only for migrants in 2010, and exclude any displacement caused by the Arab Spring or other recent conflicts – such as in Cote D’Ivoire.

Overall, the report finds an increasing protraction of the refugee experience, with millions of people in exile for 5 to 30 years.

Another primary challenge is the disproportionate pressure on developing countries to house increasing numbers of refugees and IDPs.

“Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier nations,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. “Anti-refugee sentiment is often hardest in industrialised nations, yet it is actually developing countries that host 80 percent of the world’s refugees,” he added, referring to new data from the 2010 UNHCR report.

Pakistan currently houses the greatest number of displaced people worldwide, with 1.9 million as of 2010. It is followed by Iran and Syria, with 1.1 million and 1 million migrants, respectively.

Tanzanian Ambassador Ombeni Sefue pointed out that, as a continent, Africa holds the greatest concentration of displaced people. “If a poor country like Tanzania, like others in Africa, can host so many refugees and try to help them,” he said, “it should be possible for others to do.”

Refugee living has also become largely a women’s issue. “The majority of refugees are women or children,” Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, told IPS. “It’s incredibly important that their needs are addressed,” she said, “and their needs are quite different.”

The unique concerns of female refugees range from accessing reproductive healthcare to finding employment – and, of course, avoiding sexual harassment and exploitation.

“We know that rape is a weapon of war,” said Costa, “but we also know that in these kinds of settings, when women are fleeing, they’re incredibly vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. And then when they do finally land in an urban area to work, they’re also vulnerable,” she said. “They get exploited and they live in the shadows of their city.”

That is what happened to Nour al-Kahl, an Iraqi woman who was kidnapped while working as a translator for ‘New York Times’ journalist Steven Vincent. They were both shot, but she survived and fled to Jordan, where she spent 18 months in exile.

In Jordan, however, Iraqi refugees are recognised only as visitors. As such, she had no access to health care or employment. When she did find a job, she learned that most women are sexually harassed in the workplace and forced to have sex before they are paid, she said.

Al-Kahl, however, was eventually assisted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), gained refugee status, and moved to the U.S.

“I said, there’s no way I would go back where there is violence and my life is endangered. I must hold on to my dreams and hopes,” she said in an interview with IPS. “And I want them to do the same thing,” she added, referring to the increasing number of refugees, including many women, who are fleeing to countries like Jordan in the wake of the Arab Spring. “I’m just asking them to hold on, not to give up, not to compromise.”

She also finds the international community too light-hearted in their refugee protection efforts.

“They are optimistic – I don’t know why, because more and more people… get displaced and have to flee their countries,” she said. “I’m not as optimistic as they are,” she added.

Al-Kahl asked the international community “to act quickly and take the issue seriously – not just for media or propaganda.”

And she is not the only one calling for more than ‘band-aid’ solutions and fleeting media coverage.

According to Egeland, all too often, refugee efforts result only in “keeping people alive, but giving them no life – giving them no protection.”

Sefue agreed. “We have to invest in making sure that we don’t impress only the short-term humanitarian needs, but we also need to feed the foundations of growing economies, inclusive economies,” he said. “We have to save lives today, but we must also make those lives worth saving.”

According to Costa, party of the answer is talking with the victims themselves. “They can tell you on the ground what should be in place to help them be better protected,” she said. “Listening to them is key.”

The post Poor Countries Host Vastly More Displaced People Than Wealthier Nations appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/poor-countries-host-vastly-more-displaced-people-than-wealthier-nations/feed/ 0
Decriminalising Drugs Moves into the Mainstreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/decriminalising-drugs-moves-into-the-mainstream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decriminalising-drugs-moves-into-the-mainstream http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/decriminalising-drugs-moves-into-the-mainstream/#respond Thu, 02 Jun 2011 16:54:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=46834 Several years ago, anyone calling for an end to Washington’s “war on drugs” would be considered a heretic. Today, high- level politicians and business people, backed by thousands of regular citizens, are doing just that. “The idea that there could be a mass public campaign for decriminalisation, because I didn’t know anything about the issue, […]

The post Decriminalising Drugs Moves into the Mainstream appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
NEW YORK, Jun 2 2011 (IPS)

Several years ago, anyone calling for an end to Washington’s “war on drugs” would be considered a heretic. Today, high- level politicians and business people, backed by thousands of regular citizens, are doing just that.

“The idea that there could be a mass public campaign for decriminalisation, because I didn’t know anything about the issue, I thought that was a fringe perspective,” Ricken Patel, co-founder and executive director of the global web movement Avaaz.org, told IPS.

He presented a global petition calling for an end to the drug war to the Global Commission on Drug Policy Thursday. On Friday, he will meet with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present him with the same petition.

The Global Commission, whose members include former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, and the former presidents of Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, and Switzerland, released a groundbreaking report Thursday calling for a paradigm shift in international drug policy.

“The war on drugs has claimed countless lives, it’s cost hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, it’s funneling trillions of dollars into organised crime – which poses a profound threat to our governments, to our societies. It’s a brutal and senseless war and it needs to stop,” Patel told IPS.

In its 2011 report, the Global Commission endorses approaching drug use as a public health problem as well as examining alternatives to the incarceration of drug users, farmers, and petty sellers. But it also recommends more revolutionary approaches like decriminalisation of drug use and the possibility of legal regulation.

“Now is the time to break the taboo on discussion of all drug policy options, including alternatives to drug prohibition,” said former Colombian president César Gaviria.

The report also calls on governments to offer health and treatment services to drug users, to increase harm reduction measures like syringe access, and to ensure a variety of treatment methods, including methadone and heroin-assisted treatment.

The world must “respect the human rights of people who use drugs”, says the report.

“We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organised crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals,” said Richard Branson, a Global Commission member and founder of the Virgin Group.

“We need our leaders, including business people, looking at alternative, fact-based approaches,” he added.

Former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso said that the commission is not calling for an end to the fight against drugs. “It’s not peace instead of war,” he clarified, “it’s a more intelligent way to fight.”

Ruth Dreifuss, the former president of Switzerland and minister of home affairs, highlighted the plight of farmers in the developing world. For many of them, producing poppy seeds and coca leaves is “the only way out of misery”.

Currently, the only solution for these farmers is to switch to alternative crops. “But there are not a lot of alternatives,” Dreifuss told IPS, adding, “a regulated market for these people would be the best way.”

Regulating, rather than criminalising, drug production in the developing world would provide safer environments for farmers, “independent of crime, of Taliban, and so on,” Dreifuss said.

Critics of this new position fear that decriminalisation will lead to a rise in drug consumption, but Cardoso and Dreifuss pointed to Europe’s success stories.

Portugal was the first European country to decriminalise illicit drug use and possession. According to the Commission’s report, that country saw a fall in the use of heroin, which was the government’s main concern, and no variation in the use of other drugs compared to the rest of Europe.

In Switzerland, officials have based drug policies on public health instead of criminalisation since the 1980s, and these policies – including controversial heroin substitution programmes – have led to an overall fall in heroin addiction in the country.

“Overwhelming evidence from Europe, Canada, and Australia now demonstrates the human and social benefits both of treating drug addiction as a health rather than criminal justice problem and of reducing reliance on prohibitionist polices,” said Dreifuss.

That is why the commission is calling on the United Nations to apply these policies worldwide.

“It’s not that we don’t want to obey the treaties,” Marion Caspers- Merk, former state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health, told IPS, referring to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

“We want to open the debate that our policy has proven better results than the policy we have implemented via the U.N. treaties right now,” she said, adding, “We would have a better result with a better policy.”

How likely is the commission to succeed in changing the current approach?

“I think it’s a good sign that Kofi Annan has joined the group,” Caspers-Merk told IPS, noting other high-level commission members like the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Michel Kazatchkine.

She also cited the World Health Organization. “They support our perspective,” she said, “and therefore I think we have a good chance to influence the process.”

And the commission has the backing of the nearly 600,000 people from every country in the world that have signed the Avaaz petition online.

“That is important,” said Cardoso, noting the international acceptance of the petition. “It’s not just America, or Brazil, or Columbia, but all of humanity,” he said.

The post Decriminalising Drugs Moves into the Mainstream appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/decriminalising-drugs-moves-into-the-mainstream/feed/ 0
Higher Tobacco Taxes Cure for Killer Addictionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/higher-tobacco-taxes-cure-for-killer-addiction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=higher-tobacco-taxes-cure-for-killer-addiction http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/higher-tobacco-taxes-cure-for-killer-addiction/#respond Wed, 01 Jun 2011 15:32:00 +0000 Portia Crowe http://ipsnews.net/?p=46813 The world is facing a “global epidemic in need of a global effort”, according to a panel of experts on tobacco control, who met at the United Nations Tuesday to commemorate World No Tobacco Day. Tobacco control cannot be left to national endeavors, said Haik Nikogosian, head of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Rather, […]

The post Higher Tobacco Taxes Cure for Killer Addiction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Portia Crowe
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2011 (IPS)

The world is facing a “global epidemic in need of a global effort”, according to a panel of experts on tobacco control, who met at the United Nations Tuesday to commemorate World No Tobacco Day.

Tobacco control cannot be left to national endeavors, said Haik Nikogosian, head of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Rather, what is needed is “global cooperation” – the best example of which is the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, which came into force in 2005.

Although the FCTC is the first United Nations treaty on public health, it is already one of the most widely embraced international treaties in existence, having been ratified by more than 170 countries to date.

The treaty calls on governments to ban tobacco advertising and promotion, create smoke-free public spaces, put prominent health warnings on tobacco packaging, combat illicit trade in tobacco products, and adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption.

“The single most important intervention is tobacco taxes,” said Prabhat Jha, the University of Toronto’s chair in disease control. He said a worldwide doubling of tobacco prices would reduce global consumption by a third.

Jha highlighted the success stories of Canada and, especially, France, where a combination of price hikes and smoking bans halved smoking within 15 years and saw a dramatic drop in lung cancer rates.

“A modest action could have substantial health gains,” he said.

Rather than hurt the poor, Jha believes that tobacco taxation will benefit them in the long run, as they are more price-responsive and will likely decrease their tobacco consumption if taxed.

“This is actually a win-win for the poor,” he said.

Joseph Deiss, president of the U.N. General Assembly, noted that smoking usually kills people in their economically productive years, thus adding to poverty as families lose their breadwinners.

And, he added, “It is the poor who now smoke the most.”

Increased tax revenue would have a particularly significant impact in the developing world, where tobacco consumption has been steadily rising.

By 2030, 70-80 percent of deaths from tobacco will occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to Patricia Lambert of the Framework Convention Alliance. “Africa fits squarely into that,” she added.

But according to Lambert, the FCTC has a special connection with Africa. Only five of the 47 countries in the WHO African region have not signed the treaty.

Representatives from across Africa meet at inter-sessional tobacco conferences, allowing the entire continent to negotiate with a single voice on the international stage.

“Often, Africa is seen as somewhere in rear of these kinds of movements,” Lambert said. “But when it comes to tobacco control, that is not true.”

Some countries, however, are encountering legal battles in their efforts to crack down on tobacco.

“The tobacco industry is not taking this lying down,” Lambert said, pointing to a lawsuit between British-American Tobacco and the South African government.

This year, tobacco giant Philip Morris sued the government of Uruguay for having “excessive” regulations (in Uruguay, health warnings must cover 80 percent of cigarette packages).

But many third world governments must face an additional challenge in their control efforts: tobacco production is an extremely important economic industry in some developing countries, which are heavily dependent on it for foreign revenue.

By boosting control measures and reducing tobacco consumption, governments are putting their own citizens out of work.

“[Farmers] are growing tobacco out of necessity. They want to pay for school fees, they want to pay for medications against malaria and other diseases,” Justin Seruhere, a minister with the Tanzanian Mission, told IPS.

The panel acknowledged that the best solution for these farmers is to transition to cultivating less harmful products.

Lambert said that it would be decades before a crop shift would affect farmers, and in that time, ministries of agriculture could help them make the switch.

She added that tobacco production often results in a poverty trap for individual farmers, who borrow loans and fall deeper and deeper into debt.

Jha pointed to the United States example, where, he said, “It’s not the case that tobacco farmers are going out of business. It’s that their sons and daughters aren’t staying in the tobacco industry.”

“The argument is,” he told IPS, to “focus on [cutting] demand, and eventually supply will adjust to it.”

But Seruhere is not satisfied. “Some of these countries are not so rich as to be able to change investment from tobacco growth to production of other crops,” he said.

He called for the support of the international community to assist countries in shifting from harmful to “useful” production.

“It’s possible. It’s doable. We’re going to need commitment, but it’s doable,” he told IPS.

The post Higher Tobacco Taxes Cure for Killer Addiction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/higher-tobacco-taxes-cure-for-killer-addiction/feed/ 0