Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 No Medals for Sanitation at Rio Olympicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146273 Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats”  collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití river is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Cleaning up Guanabara bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery subproducts and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisherfolk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.

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El Salvador Faces Dilemma over the Prosecution of War Criminalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/#comments Sat, 23 Jul 2016 20:12:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146188 Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 23 2016 (IPS)

The ruling of the highest court to repeal the amnesty law places El Salvador in the dilemma of deciding whether the country should prosecute those who committed serious violations to human rights during the civil war.

It also evidences that, more than two decades after the end of the conflict in 1992, reconciliation is proving elusive in this Central American country with 6.3 million inhabitants.

At the heart of the matter is the pressing need to bring justice to the victims of war crimes while, on the other hand, it implies a huge as well as difficult task, since it will entail opening cases that are more than two decades old, involving evidence that has been tampered or lost, if at all available, and witnesses who have already died.“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians...And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”-- Engracia Echeverría.

Those who oppose opening such cases highlight the precarious condition of the judiciary, which has important inadequacies and is cluttered with a plethora of unsentenced cases.

“I believe Salvadorans as a whole, the population and the political forces are not in favour of this (initiating prosecution), they have turned the page”, pointed out left-wing analyst Salvador Samayoa, one of the signatory parties of the Peace Agreements that put an end to 12 years of civil war.

The 12 years of conflict left a toll of 70,000 casualties and more than 8,000 people missing.

Samayoa added that right now El Salvador has too many problems and should not waste its energy on problems pertaining to the past.

For human rights organizations, finding the truth, serving justice and providing redress prevail over the present circumstances and needs.

“Human rights violators can no longer hide behind the amnesty law, so they should be investigated once and for all”, said Miguel Montenegro, director of the El Salvador Commission of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, told IPS.

The Supreme Court of Justice, in what is deemed to be a historical ruling, on 13 July ruled that the General Amnesty Act for the Consolidation of, passed in 1993, is unconstitutional, thus opening the door to prosecuting those accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict.

In its ruling, the Court considered that Articles 2 and 144 of said amnesty law are unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate the rights of the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity to resort to justice and seek redress.

It further ruled that said crimes are not subject to the statute of limitations and can be tried regardless of the date on which they were perpetrated.

“We have been waiting for this for many years; without this ruling no justice could have been done”, told IPS activist Engracia Echeverría, from the Madeleine Lagadec Center for the Promotion of Defence of Human Rights.

This organization is named after the French nun who was raped and murdered by government troops in April 1989, when they attacked a hospital belonging to the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The activist stressed that, even though it is true that a lot of information relevant to the cases has been lost, some data can still be obtained by the investigators in the District Attorney’s General Office in charge of criminal prosecution, in case some people wish to instigate an investigation.

The law has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations within and outside the country, since its enactment in March 1993.

Its critics have claimed that it promoted impunity by protecting Army and guerrilla members who committed human rights crimes during the conflict.

However, its advocates have been both retired and active Army members, as well as right-wing politicians and businessmen in the country, since it precisely prevented justice being served to these officers –who are seen as responsible for frustrating the victory of the FMLN.

“All the crimes committed were motivated by an attack by the guerrilla”, claimed retired general Humberto Corado, former Defence Minister between 1993 and 1995.

The now repealed act was passed only five days after the Truth Commission, mandated by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses during the civil war, had published its report with 32 specific cases, 20 of which were perpetrated by the Army and 12 by insurgents.

Among those cases were the murders of archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in March 1980; four American nuns in December of the same year, and hundreds of peasants who were shot in several massacres, like those which took place in El Mozote in December 1981 and in Sumpul in May 1980.

Also, six Jesuit priests and a woman and her daughter were murdered in November 1989, a case already being investigated by a Spanish court.

The Truth Commission has also pointed to some FMLN commanders, holding them accountable for the death of several mayors who were targeted for being considered part of the government’s counter-insurgent strategy.

Some of those insurgents are now government officials, as is the case with director of Civil Protection Jorge Meléndez.

Before taking office in 2009, the FMLN, now turned into a political party, strongly criticized the amnesty law and advocated in favour of its repeal, on the grounds that it promoted impunity.

But, after winning the presidential elections that year with Mauricio Funes, it changed its stance and no longer favoured the repeal of the law. Since 2014, the country has been governed by former FMLN commander Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

In fact, the governing party has deemed the repeal as “reckless”, with the President stating on July 15 that Court magistrates “were not considering the effects it could have on the already fragile coexistence” and urging to take the ruling “with responsibility and maturity while taking into account the best interests of the country”.

After the law was ruled unconstitutional, the media were saturated with opinions and analyses on the subject, most of them pointing out the risk of the country being destabilized and on the verge of chaos due to the countless number of lawsuits that could pile up in the courts dealing with war cases.

“To those people who fiercely claim that magistrates have turned the country into a hell we must respond that hell is what the victims and their families have gone –and continue to go- through”, reads the release written on July 15 by the officials of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University, where the murdered Jesuits lived and worked in 1989.

Furthermore, the release states that most of the victims demand to be listened to, in order to find out the truth and be able to put a face on those they need to forgive.

In fact, at the heart of the debate lies the idea of restorative justice as a mechanism to find out the truth and heal the victims’ wounds, without necessarily implying taking perpetrators to jail.

“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians”, stressed Echeverría.

“And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”, she added.

In the case of Montenegro, himself a victim of illegal arrest and tortures in 1986, he said that it is necessary to investigate those who committed war crimes in order to find out the truth but, even more importantly, as a way for the country to find the most suitable mechanisms to forgive and provide redress”.

However, general Corado said that restorative justice was “hypocritical, its only aim being to seek revenge”.

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What can Development Banks do to Protect Human Rights?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 01:39:09 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146090 Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2016 (IPS)

In a petition signed by 150 NGOs, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development have called for development banks to make sure that human rights are respected by their beneficiaries.

Multilateral development banks like the World Bank or the European Investment Bank (EIB) often work with governments and corporations planning mega projects in developing countries. For example, Dutch, Finnish and Central American banks had all funded the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, the same dam environmental activist Berta Cáceres, was murdered for protesting against.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Oxfam say that the financiers also bear responsibilities when local peoples’ rights are abused to help facilitate projects. The petitioners want the development banks to stand up for human rights in the regions where they fund projects.

The new petition states that “Global Witness identified 2015 as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, with 185 killings across 16 countries.”

The prominent case of Berta Cáceres is no exception. Soleyana Gebremichael, Ethiopian blogger talked about the situation in her home country at a press conference on Thursday:

“For the last 10 years, the civil society space had been shrinking. Ethiopia enacted two laws in 2009: The first one is the civil society proclamation and the second one was the anti-terrorism proclamation. The civil society proclamation… basically limits the activities of civil society organisations by limiting their resources.”

Gebremichael, who received the International Press Freedom Award with her co-bloggers from Zone 9 in 2015, said that the development banks should work together with civil society organizations on the issues, as a way to work with governments without pressuring them directly.

Often, the banks argue that they do what they can,said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“In the case of Uzbekistan, we have been told by World Bank officials that they have behind those doors raised concerns with the government of Uzbekistan about the attacks against the independent human rights defenders that are monitoring forced labor and other human rights abuses linked to the agriculture sector. This had no impact whatsoever,” she said.

How does such a constellation emerge? Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at Civicus, blames entanglements between politics and the economy:

“States are increasingly outsourcing their responsibilities… This leads to an increased avenue to corruption due to collusion among elites. Civil society organizations, when they try to expose these corrupt links between elites, are attacked.”

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.” -- Jessica Evans, HRW.

The development banks, Tiwana argues, support growth-oriented development programs as in Ethiopia and therefore ignore other issues. He sees a neoliberal paradigm at the bottom of the problem.

More than the historical and political causes, the practical solution is what international NGOs are now interested in. The petition addressing all major multilateral development banks suggests seven steps:

First, the banks “should systematically analyze the environment for freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the realization of other human rights critical for development. Once they have undertaken this analysis they should build it into their country development strategies,” said Evans.

Then, the Coalition emphasizes, policies to increase accountability and secure human rights considerations in every project must be implemented.

The agenda is quite ambitious. But according to Tiwana, it is essential to target the links between financial institutions and governments together with local civil society organizations.

“Development banks often work with large state-entities and state-entities often enable the participation of several private actors, some of them could be linked to very influential people.”

“So the public has a very important role to play in ensuring that the deals that are made… have gone through the constitutional and lawful discourse. And that’s why civil society is extremely important to shine a spotlight on these contracts and on these activities,” he says.

In many ways, the issued statement appeals to the conscience of Western bank managers and policy-makers. New conflict is likely to occur with multilateral banks from the East like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) entering the big stage of development financing. The AIIB is also addressed in the petition.

Months ago, Amnesty International and others pointed out that human rights standards are not the AIIB’s priority. A race to the bottom regarding human rights in development projects is a huge danger in the eyes of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development.

There is a “broader pattern which is emerging as the result of multilateral development banks failing to prioritize public participation in the work that they do and refusing to meaningfully work to prevent reprisals,” says Evans.

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.”

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Teachers and Students: Tip of Iceberg of Mexico’s Human Rights Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 19:07:01 +0000 Ines M Pousadela http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146063 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/feed/ 0 Civil Society Organizations Worried About Declining Involvementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:48:29 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/feed/ 0 Girls in Rural Bangladesh Take Back Their Futureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2016 12:08:12 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145984 A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
BHOLA, Bangladesh, Jul 9 2016 (IPS)

Four years ago, Farzana Aktar Ruma, now 18, was almost married off without her consent.

Her parents had settled on someone they considered a reasonably wealthy young man with a good family background, and did not want to miss the opportunity to wed their eldest daughter.

Farzana’s father, Mohammad Yusuf Ali, told IPS, “I thought it was a blessing when the proposal came to me from a family friend who said that the talented groom-to-be has his own business and ready home in the heart of a busy district town in Barisal, not far from where we live.”

No one defies Yusuf, an influential man in Char Nurul Amin village in Bhola, an island district in coastal Bangladesh, where most people depend on agriculture and fishing to make a living.

So, without consulting his daughter, Yusuf promised her as a bride and asked the family to prepare for the wedding."The power of knowledge is the key to success." -- Priyanka Rani Das, who quit school in 2012 due to extreme poverty but has since re-enrolled.

Farzana was only 14 years old and did not want to get married, but she didn’t know where to turn. Then Selina Aktar, who lives nearby, offered to help.

Aktar told IPS, “It was not surprising, but I was [still] shocked at how parents readily accept such marriage proposals without considering the age of their daughters.”

On the eve of the wedding, Aktar arranged a meeting with Farzana’s parents and asked them to call it off and let her stay in high school until she graduated.

Aktar is the facilitator of a seven-member Community Legal Services (CLS) organisation that advises students, parents and others on legal rights, including rights of adolescents.

“After several hours of discussions, we were able to convince Farzana’s parents that an educated girl was more precious than a girl thought to be a burden for her family at her early age,” Aktar said.

Abul Kaiser, a legal aid adviser with COAST, a leading NGO operating in the coastal regions of Bangladesh for more than three decades now, and whose work focuses mostly on social inequalities, told IPS, “The society is cursed with myths and most parents still biased on such medieval beliefs favour early marriage. A girl soon after her puberty is considered a burden to the family and parents look for opportunities to get rid her as soon as possible for so-called ‘protection’ of their daughters.”

To challenge the traditional beliefs that still haunt many communities in this modern age, COAST promotes informal learning through various programmes which they believe make a positive impact.

Executive Director Rezaul Karim Chowdhury told IPS, “The society needs to be empowered with information on the rights of such adolescent girls, and that is what we are facilitating. Most parents who may not have had opportunities of going to schools are expected to behave this way but our approach is to change this mindset so that a sense of acceptance exists.”

At Radio Meghna in south Bhola, Bangladesh, teenaged girls broadcast a programme aimed at preventing early marriage and staying in school. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

At Radio Meghna in south Bhola, Bangladesh, teenaged girls broadcast a programme aimed at preventing early marriage and staying in school. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Radio Meghna, a community radio with limited broadcast frequency operating since February 2015 in south Bhola’s Char Fassion, has been at the forefront of such advocacy programmes.

The station broadcasts targeted programmes focused on dispelling myths through informal learning programmes.

Fatema Aktar Champa, a producer at the radio station, told IPS, “We have a large audience and so we take the opportunity to educate adolescents and also their parents on merits and demerits of early marriage. On various occasions we invite experts almost every day to talk about reproductive health, adolescents’ legal rights, need for education and the values, social injustices and many more allied issues linked to challenges of adolescents.”

Unlike other community radio stations, Radio Meghna is completely run by a team of about 20 adolescent girls.

Khadiza Banu, one of the producers, told IPS, “There is a general feeling that the radio team at Meghna has a wide range of acceptance in the society. On many occasions we broadcast programmes just to build trust on parents’ decisions to prevent early marriage and allow continuing education.”

Education is key to development, and girl’s education is especially important since it is undermined by patriarchal cultural norms.

In Cox’s Bazar district, COAST has taken a different approach to empowering adolescent girls to demand their rights and offering livelihood opportunities.

Despite traditional beliefs that devalue girls’ education, especially in poor, rural areas, adolescent girls in many regions of Bangladesh are getting help from a programme called Shonglap – dialogue that calls for capacity building and developing occupational skills for marginalised groups in society.

Priyanka Rani Das, who quit school in 2012 due to extreme poverty, has joined Shonglap in South Delpara of Khurushkul in coastal Cox’s Bazar district.

Part of a group of 35 adolescent girls, Das, who lost her father in 2009, has been playing a leading role among the girls who meet six days a week in the Shonglap session held at a rented thatched home in a suburb of Delpara.

Shy and soft-spoken, Das told IPS, “I had to drop out of school because I was required to work as a domestic worker and support my family of six.”

A neighbour, Jahanara Begum, who had been attending informal classes at a Shonglap session nearby, convinced Das that completing her education would help her earn a much better living in the long run.

Das told IPS, “I realized that girls are behind and neglected in the man-dominated society because of our lack of knowledge. So I left the job and joined Shonglap where they have demonstrated that the power of knowledge is the key to success.”

Das is one of about 3,000 teenagers in Cox’s Bazaar who returned to school after taking basic refresher classes and life skills training like sewing, repairing electronic goods, rearing domestic animals, running small tea shops, pottery, wood works and other activities that generate income.

Jahangir Alam, programme manager of the Shonglap Programme of COAST that runs the programme in Cox’s Bazar told IPS, “Those who graduate are also supported with interest-free loans to start a business – and so far over 1,600 such girls are regular earning members supporting their families.”

Ruksana Aktar, peer leader of the group in Delpara, said, “Shonglap is basically a platform for less privileged adolescent girls to unite and gather strength through common dialogues. Such chemistry for 12 months gives them the moral strength to regain lost hopes.”

Mosammet Deena Islam, 17, comes from a family of cobblers and had never been to school. Islam always dreamt of pursuing an education but poverty prevented her from going to school, even though schooling is free in Bangladesh.

She joined Shonglap in Delpara and after a few months in the group, she enrolled in a state-run school where she now attends grade 9 classes.

Rashed K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Bangladesh’s leading think-tank advocating for children’s education told IPS, “Educational exclusion for girls is a major problem, especially in socio-cultural context in Bangladesh. Girls are still married early despite stringent laws against such punishable acts.

“Adolescent girls are encouraged to stay home after puberty to ensure ‘security’ and the most common reason is girls are used as earning members to supplement family income.”

Chowdhury said, “I believe such an approach of building opportunities for youth entrepreneurship to poor girls (for income generating activities) who wish to continue education, can considerably change their lives.”

Shonglap, spread over 33 districts in Bangladesh through a network of over 4,600 such groups, aims to give voices to these neglected girls and enable them to negotiate their own rights for life.

The Shonglap programme is being implemented by COAST and other NGOs with funding from Stromme Foundation of Norway.

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Talking Openly – The Way to Prevent Teenage Pregnancyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2016 18:39:09 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145981 A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 8 2016 (IPS)

In plain and simple language, an Argentine video aimed at teenagers explains how to get sexual pleasure while being careful. Its freedom from taboos is very necessary in Latin American countries where one in five girls becomes a mother by the time she is 19 years old.

“For good sex to happen, both partners have to want it and this is as much about being sure they want it, as about being in the mood or ‘hot’ with desire,” said psychologist Cecilia Saia who made the video “Let’s talk About Sex” (Hablemos de sexo), aimed at adolescents and preadolescents and posted on social networks.

The video was produced by Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM – Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research) as part of a Take the Non-Pregnancy Test campaign. It was also distributed to teenagers so they “would be able to take free and informed decisions about becoming mothers and fathers.” “Keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact” - Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner.

During the campaign, teenagers of both sexes were given boxes similar in appearance to pregnancy test kits, containing information about teenage pregnancy and the myths surrounding how it is caused, as well as condoms and instructions on how to use them, Mabel Bianco, the president of FEIM, told IPS.

The campaign was broadcast on YouTube and other social networks, with candid messages in the language used by adolescents. “This meant we could reach a large numbers of 14-to-18-year-olds, an age group that such campaigns usually find hard to reach,” she said.

According to FEIM, in Argentina 300 babies a day, or 15 percent of the total, are born to mothers aged under 19.

“This percentage has shown a sustained increase over the last 10 to 15 years, and the proportion of births to girls under 15 years of age has also risen,” Bianco said.

Argentina exemplifies what is happening in the rest of Latin America, which is the world region with the second highest teenage fertility rate, after sub-Saharan Africa. The national rate in Argentina is 76 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, according to United Nations’ demographic statistics.

In order to call attention to this problem and to the general need to promote the equal development of women, Investing in Teenage Girls is the theme of this year’s World Population Day, to be celebrated July 11.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that one in five women in the Southern Cone of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) will become a teenage mother, in an area where over 1.2 million babies a year are born to adolescents.

“Early pregnancy and motherhood can bring about health complications for mother and baby, as well as negative impacts over the course of the lives of adolescents,” says a UNFPA report about fertility and teenage motherhood in the Southern Cone.

The report says that “when pregnancy is unplanned, it is a clear indication of the infringement of teenagers’ sexual and reproductive rights and hence of their human rights.”

Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner, UNFPA sexual and reproductive health adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that teenage pregnancy has implications for individual patients, such as maternal morbidity and mortality associated with the risks involved with unsafe abortions, among other factors.

Prematurity rates and low birthweights are also several-fold higher, especially among mothers younger than 15.

For health services, the costs of prenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care and care of the newborn are far higher than the cost of interventions to prevent pregnancy and promote health education.

“For society as a whole, from a strictly economic point of view, in countries that enjoy a demographic dividend, early motherhood represents an accelerated loss of that demographic dividend,” Camacho-Hübner said from the UNFPA regional headquarters in Panama City.

This is because “instead of increasing economic productivity by having a larger economically active proportion of the population, a rise in early motherhood causes a rapid rise in the dependency ratio, that is the proportion of the population that is not economically active and requires support from family or society,”she said.

The Southern Cone study found that dropping out of school usually preceded getting pregnant.

“Therefore, keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact,” Camacho-Hübner said.

In her view, teen pregnancy and motherhood are an issue of inequality which mainly affects women in lower socio-economic strata.

“It is teenagers from the poorest families and with the least education, living in underprivileged geographical regions, that are most prone to becoming adolescent mothers,” she said.

“Becoming mothers at an early age reinforces conditioning and the inequalities in the process by which teenagers who are, and who are not, mothers, effect the transition into adulthood,” she said.

“The main consequence of pregnancy is the interruption of schooling, although in many cases they have already dropped out by the time they become pregnant. But they do not go back to school afterwards because they have to look after the baby,” Bianco said.

“This makes for a poorer future, as these girls will have access to lower-paid jobs and will be able to contribute less to the country’s development. On the personal level, they will have to postpone their adolescence, they cannot go out with friends, go dancing and other typical teen activities,” she said.

Federico Tobar, another UNFPA regional adviser, said that “in addition to strengthening health, education and social services, there must be investment to promote demand, with interventions to motivate young people to build a sustained life project.”

“This involves incorporating economic incentives as well as symbolic remuneration, and also concrete childcare support for teenage mothers so that they can finish school and avoid repeated childbearing, which is frequently seen in these countries,” he told IPS.

Among other positive experiences, Tobar mentioned the Uruguayan initiative “Jóvenes en red” (Young People’s Network) which includes returning to school and work, and promotion of sexual and reproductive health.

“I believe it is important to invest in the education of teenage women, including comprehensive sex education and the capacity to decide whether or not they wish to have children. It is not a question of eliminating all pregnancy in adolescence, but of making it a conscious choice rather than an accident,” Bianco said. 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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Crisis of the Lefthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/crisis-of-the-left/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-of-the-left http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/crisis-of-the-left/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2016 20:20:11 +0000 Umair Javed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145941 By Umair Javed
Jul 5 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Over the last few years, quite a few countries have witnessed the rise of social movements against inequality, xenophobia, and fiscal austerity. The most notable of these are the Occupy movement and Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the US, Syriza and Podemos in continental Europe, and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum campaign in Britain’s Labour party.

humairy_Amongst those opposing the established political order, some are insurgent movements within an existing party structure, like Corbyn and Sanders, while others are new parties cobbled together by grassroots activists, rookie politicians, and disgruntled progressives from existing organisations. At their heart is the assertion that contemporary centre-left and social democratic parties have failed to address fundamental problems of inequality, social stagnation, and working class despair in their societies. In quite a few instances, there is the added allegation (often true) that established parties and their leaderships are vehicles for elite interests, and represent no divergence from conservative politics.

The success rate of the ‘new left’, as it is often called, is patchy. Sanders had a remarkable run but fell short of the presidential nomination. Corbyn’s popularity amongst activists is strong but his position as head of the Labour party is under extreme pressure from elected MPs and the party establishment. Syriza’s anti-austerity agenda stands diluted after confronting the realities of an entangled economy and a rigid EU leadership. Podemos and its allied progressive groups seemed strong but only managed third place in recently concluded general elections in Spain.

Whichever way one looks at the new left, it is impossible to deny that mainstream progressive politics is facing a crisis of legitimacy.

Their success or failure notwithstanding, these movements and campaigns are part of a political reality because of a confluence of factors. Most wealth and income data shows rising inequality across much of the developed (and parts of the developing) world.

While poverty may have gone down, and those classified as ‘poor’ are objectively much better off today than at other points in the past, both the actual gap within society and perceptions of deprivation are rising. The ensuing anger and despair amongst those less fortunate shows that existing, pro-market government policy is partly (if not wholly) unsuccessful in addressing a key problem. This anger and despair is thus largely directed towards the political mainstream.

Secondly, the profession of mainstream politics is both highly exclusive, in terms of who can be a politician and who can’t, and heavily contingent on private funding. The first condition means mainstream politicians are now increasingly a separate ‘political class’, reliant on elite social networks and far removed from society and the constituents they claim to represent.

The second factor afflicts all corners of the world as party financing, campaign funding, and the general cost of being in politics makes it far more responsive to wealth than to deprivation. Therefore, a new generation of activists is keen on challenging this status quo.

Thirdly, over the past decade the internet and higher education institutions have become hubs for alternative ideas of liberal varieties. This has given rise to a new liberal middle-class segment that broadly ascribes to notions of cosmopolitanism, identity politics, social democracy, and environmental sustainability. East and West Coast liberals in the US and their counterparts in London and other metropolitan cities thus serve as core constituents for new progressive social movements.

Whichever way one looks at the new left, it is impossible to deny that mainstream progressive politics is facing a crisis of legitimacy and capability. Parties elected on social democratic platforms, such as Dilma Rouseff’s PT in Brazil, find themselves caught between their patronage-based reality on one hand and their lofty ideas of redistribution and welfare on the other.

The Blairite Labour party in the UK, long reliant on the liberal middle-class and working-class vote, is caught between a commitment to cosmopolitanism and neoliberalism versus a rising tide of anger against globalisation and cultural change. As a result, conservative and racially charged forces, such as Le Pen, Trump, and the ‘leave’ camp in the Brexit referendum, have positioned themselves as the ‘real representatives’ of the disenfranchised.

The final outcome is a fracturing of politics into many pieces. You have the new social movements that are successful in attracting some support but are alien in language and form to large swathes of the underprivileged. Both Sanders’ lack of resonance in the Deep South and the ‘remain’ camp’s loss in working-class towns in England capture this reality.

On the other hand, you have established ‘moderates’ who are trying to hold together a coalition of elites and the disadvantaged by promising something for everyone. Hillary Clinton and the Blairite camp in Labour represent this reformist tendency, which is splitting at the seams and is increasingly vulnerable to populist outsiders.

Writing presciently in the early 20th century, Italian activist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci looked at turmoil in his country and remarked: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

There is no doubt that the old consensus of social democracy, established by mainstream centre-left and liberal parties, is dying. Globalisation, the wholesale adoption of neoliberalism, and an onslaught from conservative forces has made long-term survival impossible. There is also little doubt that its supposed replacement, the new progressive order represented by new social movements and leaders like Sanders and Corbyn, is not yet born. They may be likeable and popular amongst the ideologically committed, but their organisational base is weak and the system of inequality they’re confronting is designed to keep them irrelevant.

In this period of vacuum, we are left with the morbid symptoms of populist right-wing rage, xenophobia and cultural backlash. And barring some remarkable organising efforts and creative thinking amongst progressive forces, it seems the morbidity will persist for the foreseeable future.

The writer is a freelance columnist. umairjaved@lumsalumni.pk
Twitter: @umairjav

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Post-War Truth and Justice Still Elusive in Bougainvillehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 13:24:25 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145886 Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
ARAWA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

Almost every family in the islands of Bougainville, an autonomous region of about 300,000 people in the Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has a story to tell of death and suffering during the decade long civil war (1989-1998), known as ‘the Crisis.’

Yet fifteen years after the 2001 peace agreement, there is no accurate information about the scale of atrocities which occurred to inform ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts being supported by the government and international donors. Now members of civil society and grassroots communities are concerned that lack of truth telling and transitional justice is hindering durable reconciliation.

“I believe there should be a truth telling program here and I think the timing is right,” Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-government organisation, told IPS.

“It is nearly twenty years [since the conflict] and some people have moved on with their lives, while there are others who have just cut off all sense of belonging because they are still hurting.”

Bernard Unabali, Catholic Bishop of Bougainville, concurs. “Truth is absolutely necessary, there is no doubt it is an absolutely necessary thing for peace and justice,” he declared.“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings." -- Rosemary Dekaung

In these tropical rainforest covered islands it is estimated that around 20,000 people, or 10 percent of the population at the time, lost their lives and 60,000 were displaced as the Papua New Guinean military and armed revolutionary groups fought for territorial control. The conflict erupted in 1989 after indigenous landowners, outraged at loss of customary land, environmental devastation and socioeconomic inequality associated with the Rio Tinto majority-owned Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville, launched a successful campaign to shut it down.

“There is a lot to be done on truth telling. When we talk about the Crisis-related problems our ideas are all mangled together and we are just talking on the surface, not really uprooting what is beneath, what really happened,” said Barbara Tanne, Executive Officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation in the capital, Buka.

Judicial and non-judicial forms of truth and justice are widely perceived by experts as essential for post-war reconciliation. The wisdom is that if a violent past is left unaddressed, trauma, social divisions and mistrust will remain and fester into further forms of conflict.

Failure to address wartime abuses in Bougainville is considered a factor in resurgent payback and sorcery-related violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports. A study of 1,743 people in Bougainville published last year by the UNDP revealed that one in five men had engaged in sorcery-related violence, while one in two men and one in four women had been witnesses.

Rosemary Dekaung believes that recent witchcraft killings in her rural community of Domakungwida, Central Bougainville, have their origins in the Crisis.

“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings,” she said.

Stephanie Elizah, the Bougainville Government’s Acting Director of Peace, said that transitional justice is a sensitive topic with the ex-combatants due to the partial amnesty period which was agreed to apply only to the period of 1988 to 1995. However, she admits that many reconciliations taking place are not addressing the extent of grievances.

“From feedback from communities that have gone through reconciliation we know that it has not truly addressed a lot of the issues that individuals have….the victims, the perpetrators, those who have been involved in some form of injustice to the next human being; some of them have been allowed to just go and be forgotten,” Elizah said.

International law endorses the rights of any person who has suffered atrocities to know the truth of events, to know the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives and see justice done.

In 2014 the Bougainville Government introduced a new missing persons policy, which aims to assist families locate and retrieve the remains of loved ones who disappeared during the Crisis, but excludes compensation or bringing perpetrators to justice.

It is yet to be implemented with three years to go before Bougainville plans a referendum on Independence in 2019.

“A truth commission must be established so people can tell the truth before they make their choice for the political future of Bougainville. Because when we decide our choice, problems associated with the conflict must be addressed,” Alex Amon Jr, President of the Suir Youth Federation, North Bougainville, declared.

Hakena believes there are repercussions if transitional justice doesn’t occur.

“It is happening now. Elderly people are passing on their negative experiences to their sons, who have not experienced that, and who will continue to hate the perpetrator’s family. Years later some of these kids will not know why they hate those people and there will be repercussions,” she elaborated.

The government is planning a review of its peace and security framework this year during which there will be an opportunity to explore people’s views on transitional justice, Elizah said.

The benefits of establishing a truth commission include a state-endorsed public platform for everyone to have their stories heard, give testimony of human rights abuses for possible further investigation and for recommendations to be made on legal and institutional reforms.

At the grassroots, people also point to the immense potential of implementing more widely customary processes of truth telling that have been used for generations.

“We do have traditional ceremonies where everybody comes together, the perpetrators and the victims and all others who are affected and they will thrash and throw out everything. That is very much like a truth commission, where, in the end, they say this is what we did,” Rosemary Moses at the Bougainville Women’s Federation in Arawa said.

Unabali agreed that durable peace should be built first on traditional truth telling mechanisms, which had widespread legitimacy in the minds of individuals and communities, even if a truth commission was also considered.

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Why I Started SMART ALEC – Lobbying for the Public Goodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:19:24 +0000 Matthew Charles Cardinale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145854 Protest outside the ALEC Headquarters in Washington DC March 29, 2012. Against ALEC, the NRA, and "Stand Your Ground" laws. Credit: LaDawna Howard/cc by 2.0

Protest outside the ALEC Headquarters in Washington DC March 29, 2012. Against ALEC, the NRA, and "Stand Your Ground" laws. Credit: LaDawna Howard/cc by 2.0

By Matthew Charles Cardinale
PORTLAND, Oregon, Jun 28 2016 (IPS)

For many years, as a reporter, including for IPS, I wrote about the dominance of a giant, corporate-funded lobbying organization called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), on public policy in the United States.

In recent years, public uproar about the influence of ALEC resulted in campaigns for major corporations to divest from ALEC.  Several major corporations did pull out, although the wealthy Koch brothers and many corporations still provide ALEC with millions of dollars every year.

ALEC takes some of the most regressive, harmful ideas and puts them into the form of draft laws, or model bills, for Republican-led State Legislatures to adopt – one after another, after another.

Whether laws to make it harder to vote, or to privatize education and privatize prisons, or require U.S. families receiving food assistance to take drug tests, ALEC has provided the templates for one U.S. state after another to replicate these ideas into law.

Well, in 2013, I began to study law at Gonzaga University, and in 2014, I wrote a Model Bill for something called Affordable Housing Impact Statements.

Specifically, the bill requires cities and counties to prepare an “Impact Statement” every time they consider any decision that would have an impact on the amount of affordable housing in that city or county.

This Model Ordinance took an idea that had been successful in two cities–San Diego, California; and Austin, Texas–and added some new features, including a Scorecard to keep track of how many housing units would be added or subtracted at each income level.

I worked with the City of Atlanta, Georgia, which adopted it in November 2015, and am now working with four other cities–New Orleans, Louisiana; Los Angeles, California; Albany, New York; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–which are also considering it.

With the rapid success of the model bill in so many cities, it occurred to me that this was the work of a progressive alternative to ALEC – and wouldn’t it be funny if we called it SMART ALEC?

It is supposed to be a “smart” alternative to ALEC.  [In the U.S., the term “smart aleck” refers comically to someone who behaves as if they know everything – so the name SMART ALEC has a double meaning that amuses people.]

SMART ALEC stands for State and Municipal Action for Results Today / Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration.

So, in March 2016, I created the new nonprofit organization, and am serving as CEO.  The Board of Directors now includes Dr. Dwanda Farmer, one of the nation’s few PhDs in Community Development; Barbara Payne, former director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation; and Christian Seppa, an activist.

Not only do we intend to promote progressive policies around the environment and affordable housing–basically the opposite of what ALEC promotes–we intend to do it in a way that is completely transparent and participatory.

We want to take back “lobbying” as a positive word.

In the United States, where vast concentration of wealth and corporate power has caused the average citizen to feel disempowered, as if they cannot make a difference in democracy, the word “lobbyist” has become a synonym for “devil.”

But we cannot let them have this word!  Just because corporations have become so adept at pushing their regressive, conservative proposals using the democratic process, so must we citizens become adept as doing the same.

SMART ALEC’s goal is to empower low-income, homeless, and marginalized people to make a meaningful difference in shaping, and advocating for, policy solutions.

The urgency of our environmental crises and affordable housing crises require that we work quickly to take the best solutions at the local levels of cities and states, and quickly replicate them.

Every day we are looking at the solutions being produced by civil society from all regions of the country; and we are inspired also by the bold solutions being pursued by our fellow “smart alecks” on every continent.

There is great experimentation happening, but we cannot experiment forever – so, let’s copy; paste; repeat.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0 Women’s Cooperatives Ease Burden of HIV in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 10:52:16 +0000 Charles Karis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145829 Dorcus Auma weaving sisal fronds into a basket. Her Kenyan women's group has helped provide income to care for her grandchildren, orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

Dorcus Auma weaving sisal fronds into a basket. Her Kenyan women's group has helped provide income to care for her grandchildren, orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

By Charles Karis
NAIROBI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

Seventy-three-year-old Dorcus Auma effortlessly weaves sisal fronds into a beautiful basket as she walks the tiny path that snakes up a hill. She wound up her farm work early because today, Thursday, she is required to attend her women’s group gathering at the secretary’s homestead.

Except for their eye-catching light blue dresses and silky head scarfs, they would pass for ordinary village women. They are part of the Kagwa Women’s Group in the remotest part of Homa Bay County in Kenya’s lake region.

A recent county profile of HIV/AIDS prevalence by the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) revealed that Homa Bay County leads Kenya in HIV prevalence, standing at 25.7 percent.

Auma joined the group in 2008 when the care of her three grandchildren was thrust upon her shoulders.

“HIV/AIDS robbed me of my three children, leaving me with the burden of having to take care of three children left in a vulnerable condition,” says Auma.

With no steady income to provide for their basic needs, she joined other women who shared the same predicament.

UNAIDS says that microfinance can play a big role in helping households affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the women’s group at Homa Bay has proved this to be true.

Composed of 28 members, it started as a merry-go-round, which is a self-help group that helps women to save money. The group is supported by World Vision through an initiative to enhance target households through cooperatives.

“Within economic strengthening we are trying to help the families to get economically empowered through the locally available resources. This is a group of old women, they are all grandmas, and they had already started doing their own merry go-rounds. We came in with training on village savings and loaning, which is a simplified model of the savings at the rural level – it’s like a rural bank,” says Jedidah Mwendwa, a technical specialist with APHIA II Plus (pdf), one of the implementing organizations.

Most of the members are grandmothers whose children died from HIV/AIDS, and hence were left to fend for their grandchildren.

“Since the grannies cannot engage in vigorous economic activities, they were introduced into saving and loaning at their own level. They agreed to raise monies for saving and loaning among themselves through locally available resources like making ropes, baskets and mats,” says Mwendwa.

“When they meet on Thursdays, they collect all their material contributions. One of their members is sent to the nearby market, which is Oyugis, a distance of 61km, to go sell their products and the following week, the money that came from the market is what is saved for each specific member,” says Mwendwa.

The savings are rotated to individual members on an annual basis, and since they do not have a secure place to keep the money, they usually loan out the entire collected amount to members who return it with one percent interest.

“Since I joined this group, my life has changed. I have been able to engage in sustainable farming. My grandchildren have a reason to smile as they have nutritious food on the table,” says Auma, as she gives instructions to her eldest grandchild, a 16-year-old girl, on how to separate the sisal strands.

Initially, local people were a bit reluctant to attend the HIV caretaker training sessions because of the real stigma associated with the illness, but most have come around, and their efforts are paying off.

“We offer to the group and school clubs sensitization on adherence and nutrition,” says Rose Anyango, a social worker in the county. “The women and the children are responding well and the stigma no longer exists. Through village savings and loaning they are able to feed their children as well as educate them.”

The group has seen immediate successes in behavior, attitudes and practices regarding cultural dictates and inclusion of people living with HIV/AIDS in development activities. Women are now actively taking the lead in economic empowerment, enabling them to support their families.

The group now plans to increase to increase its impact by involving more members from the surrounding community, which will go a long way in not only empowering of locals but also reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

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Can Better Technology Lure Asia’s Youth Back to Farming?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:38:29 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145811 ADB president Takehiko Nakao speak at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

ADB president Takehiko Nakao speaks at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jun 25 2016 (IPS)

Farming and agriculture may not seem cool to young people, but if they can learn the thrill of nurturing plants to produce food, and are provided with their favorite apps and communications software on agriculture, food insecurity will not be an issue, food and agriculture experts said during the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Food Security Forum from June 22 to 24 at the ADB headquarters here.

The prospect of attracting youth and tapping technology were raised by Hoonae Kim, director for Asia and the Pacific Region of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Nichola Dyer, program manager of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), two of many forum panelists who shared ideas on how to feed 3.74 billion people in the region while taking care of the environment.

“There are 700 million young people in Asia Pacific. If we empower them, give them voice and provide them access to credit, they can be interested in all areas related to agriculture,” Kim said. “Many young people today are educated and if they continue to be so, they will appreciate the future of food as that of safe, affordable and nutritious produce that, during growth and production, reduces if not eliminate harm to the environment.”

Dyer, citing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year worldwide, said, “We have to look at scaling up the involvement of the private sector and civil societies to ensure that the policy gaps are given the best technologies that can be applied.”

Dyer also said using technology includes the attendant issues of gathering and using data related to agriculture policies of individual countries, especially those that have recognized the need to lessen harm to the environment while looking for ways to ensure that there is enough food for everyone.

“There is a strong need to support countries that promote climate-smart agriculture, both financially and technically as a way to introduce new technologies,” she said.

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. - Credit: ADB

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. – Credit: ADB

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific estimated in 2014 that the region has 750 million young people aged 15 to 24, comprising 60 percent of the world’s youth. Large proportions live in socially and economically developed areas, with 78 percent of them achieving secondary education and 40 percent reaching tertiary education.

A regional paper prepared by the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) in 2015, titled “A Viable Future: Attracting the Youth Back to Agriculture,” noted that many young people in Asia choose to migrate to seek better lives and are reluctant to go into farming, as they prefer the cities where life is more convenient.

“In the Philippines, most rural families want their children to pursue more gainful jobs in the cities or overseas, as farming is largely associated with poverty,” the paper stated.

Along with the recognition of the role of young people in agriculture, the forum also resonated with calls to look at the plight of farmers, who are mostly older in age, dwindling in numbers and with little hope of finding their replacement from among the younger generations, even from among their children. Farmers, especially those who do not own land but work only for landowners or are small-scale tillers, also remain one of the most marginalised sectors in every society.

Estrella Penunia, secretary-general of the AFA, said that while it is essential to rethink how to better produce, distribute and consume food, she said it is also crucial to “consider small-scale farmers as real partners for sustainable technologies. They must be granted incentives and be given improved rental conditions.” Globally, she said “farmers have been neglected, and in the Asia Pacific region, they are the poorest.”

The AFA paper noted that lack of youth policies in most countries as detrimental to the engagement of young people. They also have limited role in decision-making processes due to a lack of structured and institutionalized opportunities.

But the paper noted a silver lining through social media. Through “access to information and other new networking tools, young people across the region can have better opportunities to become more politically active and find space for the realization of their aspirations.”

Calls for nonstop innovation in communications software development in the field of agriculture, continuing instruction on agriculture and agriculture research to educate young people, improving research and technology development, adopting measures such as ecological agriculture and innovative irrigation and fertilisation techniques were echoed by panelists from agriculture-related organizations and academicians.

Professor David Morrison of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia said now is the time to focus on what data and technology can bring to agriculture. “Technology is used to develop data and data is a great way of changing behaviors. Data needs to be analyzed,” he said, adding that political leaders also have to understand data to help them implement evidence-based policies that will benefit farmers and consumers.

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao - Credit: ADB

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao – Credit: ADB

ADB president Takehiko Nakao said the ADB is heartened to see that “the world is again paying attention to food.” While the institution sees continuing efforts in improving food-related technologies in other fields such as forestry and fisheries, he said it is agriculture that needs urgent improvements, citing such technologies as remote sensing, diversifying fertilisers and using insecticides that are of organic or natural-made substances.

Nakao said the ADB has provided loans and assistance since two years after its establishment in 1966 to the agriculture sector, where 30 percent of loans and grants were given out. The ADB will mark its 50th year of development partnership in the region in December 2016. Headquartered in Manila, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled 27.2 billion dollars, including cofinancing of 10.7 billion dollars.

In its newest partnership is with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is based in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines, Nakao and IRRI director general Matthew Morell signed an agreement during the food security forum to promote food security in Asia Pacific by increasing collaboration on disseminating research and other knowledge on the role of advanced agricultural technologies in providing affordable food for all.

The partnership agreement will entail the two institutions to undertake annual consultations to review and ensure alignment of ongoing collaborative activities, and to develop a joint work program that will expand the use of climate-smart agriculture and water-saving technologies to increase productivity and boost the resilience of rice cultivation systems, and to minimize the carbon footprint of rice production.

Nakao said the ADB collaboration with IRRI is another step toward ensuring good food and nutrition for all citizens of the region. “We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation in this area to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, as well as to combat climate change.” Morell of the IRRI said the institution “looks forward to deepening our already strong partnership as we jointly develop and disseminate useful agricultural technologies throughout Asia.”

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman - Credit: ADB

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman – Credit: ADB

The ADB’s earlier agreements on agriculture was with Cambodia in 2013 with a 70-million-dollar climate-smart agriculture initiative called the Climate-Resilient Rice Commercialization Sector Development Program that will include generating seeds that are better adapted to Cambodia’s climate.

ADB has committed two billion dollars annually to meet the rising demand for nutritious, safe, and affordable food in Asia and the Pacific, with future support to agriculture and natural resources to emphasize investing in innovative and high-level technologies.

By 2025, the institution said Asia Pacific will have a population of 4.4 billion, and with the rest of Asia experiencing unabated rising populations and migration from countryside to urban areas, the trends will also be shifting towards better food and nutritional options while confronting a changing environment of rising temperatures and increasing disasters that are harmful to agricultural yields.

ADB president Nakao said Asia will face climate change and calamity risks in trying to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals. The institution has reported that post-harvest losses have accounted for 30 percent of total harvests in Asia Pacific; 42 percent of fruits and vegetables and up to 30 percent of grains produced across the region are lost between the farm and the market caused by inadequate infrastructure such as roads, water, power, market facilities and transport systems.

Gathering about 250 participants from governments and intergovernmental bodies in the region that include multilateral and bilateral development institutions, private firms engaged in the agriculture and food business, research and development centers, think tanks, centers of excellence and civil society and advocacy organizations, the ADB held the food security summit with inclusiveness in mind and future directions from food production to consumption.

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Bringing Back Our Girls Is Not The End of The Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 21:08:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145779 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/feed/ 0 The Environment: Latin America’s Battleground for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 00:12:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145737 Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2016 (IPS)

2015 was the deadliest year on record for the killings of environmental activists around the world, according to a new Global Witness report.

The report, On Dangerous Ground, found that in 2015, 185 people were killed defending the environment across 16 countries, a 59 percent increase from 2014.

“The environment is becoming a new battleground for human rights,” Global Witness’ Campaign Leader for Environmental and Land Defenders Billy Kyte told IPS.

“Many of these activists are being treated as enemies of the state when they should be treated as heroes,” he continued.

The rise in attacks is partially due to the increased demand for natural resources which have sparked conflicts between residents in remote, resource-rich areas and industries such as mining, logging and agribusinesses.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world." -- Billy Kyte.

Among the most dangerous regions for environmental activists is Latin America, where over 60 percent of killings in 2015 occurred. In Brazil, 50 environmental defenders were killed, the world’s highest death toll.

A majority of the murders in Brazil took place in the biodiverse Amazon states where the encroachment of ranches, agricultural plantations and illegal loggers has led to a surge in violence.

The report stated that criminal gangs often “terrorise” local communities at the behest of “timber companies and the officials they have corrupted.”

The most recent murder was of Antônio Isídio Pereira da Silva, the leader of a small farming community in the Amazonian Maranhão state. Isídio suffered years of assassination attempts and death threats for defending his land from illegal loggers and other land grabbers. Despite appeals, he never received protection and police have never investigated his murder.

Indigenous communities, who depend on the forests for their livelihood, particularly bear the brunt of the violence. Almost 40 percent of environmental activists killed were from indigenous groups.

Eusebio Ka’apor, member of the Ka’apor indigenous tribe living in Maranhão state, was shot and killed by two hooded men on a motorbike. He led patrols to monitor and shutdown illegal logging on the Ka’apor ancestral lands.

One Ka’apor leader told Survival International, an indigenous human rights organisation, that loggers have said to them that it is better to surrender the wood than let “more people die.”

“We don’t know what to do, because we have no protection. The state does nothing,” the leader said.

Thousands of illegal logging camps have been set up across the Amazon to cut down valuable timber such as mahogany, ebony and teak. It is estimated that 80 percent of timber from Brazil is illegal and accounts for 25 percent of illegal wood on global markets, most of which is sold to buyers in the United States, United Kingdom and China.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world,” Kyte stated.

Kyte also pointed to a “growing collusion” between corporate and state interests and high levels of corruption as reasons for the attacks on environmental defenders.

This is reflected through the ongoing corruption case involving the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam which continued despite concerns over the project’s environmental and community impact and was used to generate over $40 million for political parties.

Even in the face of a public scandal, Kyte noted that environmental legislation has continued to weaken in the country.

The new interim Brazilian government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has proposed an amendment that would diminish its environmental licensing process for infrastructure and development mega-projects in order to revive Brazil’s faltering economy.

Currently, Brazil has a three-phase procedure where at each step, a project can be halted due to environmental concerns.

Known as PEC 65, the amendment proposes that industries only submit a preliminary environmental impact statement. Once that requirement is met, projects cannot be delayed or cancelled for environmental reasons.

The weakening of key human rights institutions also poses a threat to the environment and its defenders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose goal is to address and investigate human rights issues in Latin America, is currently facing a severe funding deficit that could lead to the loss of 40 percent of its personnel by the end of July, impacting the ability to continue its work. It has already suspended its country visits and may be forced to halt its investigations.

Many countries in Latin America have halted financial support to the commission due to disputes over investigations and findings.

In 2011, IACHR requested that Brazil “immediately suspend the licensing” for the Belo Monte project in order to consult with and protect indigenous groups. In response, the Brazilian government broke off ties with IACHR by withdrawing its funding and recalling its ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which implements IACHR.

“It’s a huge crisis,” Kyte told IPS.

While speaking to the Human Rights Council in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also expressed concern over budget cuts to IACHR, stating: “When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court…then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?”

He called on member states to defend and financially support the commission, which he noted was an “important strategic partner and inspiration for the UN system.”

In its report, Global Witness urged Brazil and other Latin American governments to protect environmental activists, investigate crimes against activists, expose corporate and political interests that lie behind the persecution of land defenders, and formally recognize land and indigenous rights.

Kyte particularly highlighted the need for international investigations to expose the killings of environmental activists and those responsible for them.

He pointed to the murder of Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous leader in Honduras, which gained international attention and outrage.

“It’s a positive step that because of international outrage, the Honduran government was compelled to arrest these killers,” he said.

“If we can push for an international investigation into her death, which I think is the only way that the real criminal masterminds behind her death will be held to account, then that could act as an example for future cases,” Kyte concluded.

In March, Cáceres, who campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot in her home by two armed men from the Honduras’ military.

A whistleblower alleges that Cáceres was on a hit list given to U.S.-trained units of the Honduran military.

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Civil Society in Latin America Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:22:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145699 Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Civil society organisations from Chile, Mexico and Peru are pressing their legislatures and those of other countries not to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The free trade agreement, which was signed in New Zealand on Feb. 4, is now pending parliamentary approval in the 12 countries of the bloc, in a process led by Malaysia. Chile, Mexico and Peru are the three Latin American partners.

The treaty will enter into effect two months after it has been ratified by all the signatories, or if six or more countries, which together represent at least 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 partners, have ratified it within two years.

“We are seeking a dialogue with like-minded parliamentary groups that defend national interests, and we provide them with information. We want to use the parliaments as hubs, and we also want dialogues with organisations from the United States, Canada and the Asian countries,” Carlos Bedoya, a Peruvian activist with the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights (LATINDADD), told IPS.

Civil society groups in Peru created the “Our Rights Are Not Negotiable” coalition, to reject the most controversial parts of the agreement.

With similar initiatives, “A Better Chile without TPP” and “A Better Mexico without TPP”, non-governmental organisations and civil society figures are protesting the negative effects that the treaty would have on their societies.

The activists complain that the intellectual property chapter of the agreement stipulates a minimum of five years of data protection for clinical trials for Mexico and Peru. And in the case of biologics, the period is three years for Mexico and 10 years for Peru.

In Chile, in both cases it will be five years of protection, in line with its other free trade agreements.

These barriers delay cheaper, generic versions of drugs from entering the market for a longer period of time.

Another aspect criticised by activists is that the member countries must submit disputes over investments to extraterritorial bodies, like the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The alliances against the TPP also criticise the provisions for Internet service providers to oversee content on the web in order to control the distribution of material that violates copyright laws.

Latin American activists complain as well about the U.S. demand that the partners reform domestic laws and regulations to bring them into line with the TPP, in a process separate from or parallel to ratification by the legislature.

In addition, they protest that Washington was given the role of certifying that each partner has faithfully implemented the agreement.

The TPP emerged from the expansion of an alliance signed in 2006 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. These countries were later joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of "A Better Chile without TPP"

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of “A Better Chile without TPP”

The agreement encompasses areas like customs, textiles, investment, telecommunications, e-commerce, dispute settlement, and labour and environmental issues.

The economies in the bloc represent 40 percent of global GDP and 20 of world trade.

The TPP “has negative effects on health and economic development. It won’t benefit our countries. But there will be a lengthy debate, because it contains issues that generate conflict,” Carlos Figueroa, a Chilean activist with his country’s coalition against the treaty, which encompasses 99 organisations, prominent individuals and five parliamentarians, told IPS.

Among its actions, the “A Better Chile without TPP” organises mass email campaigns to petition the government against the accord, promotes campaigns over the social networks, holds public demonstrations and is lobbying in parliament to block approval of the treaty.

In Mexico, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto has enough votes in the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying international accords, to approve the treaty, with the votes from the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, its ally the Green Party, and the opposition right-wing National Action Party.

In Chile, socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s centre-left alliance will be able to count on enough votes from the right to ratify the agreement.

And in Peru, the party of President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist and Wall Street banker in favour of free trade, has only a small number of seats in Congress. But a rival right-wing party, Fuerza Popular, which has a broad majority in the legislature, will approve the TPP, after the new government takes office in July and the new lawmakers are sworn in.

But furthermore, in Peru, the content of any free trade agreement does not require legislative approval unless it goes beyond what was agreed in 2009 with the United States.

Despite attempts by governments of the countries in the bloc to promote the positive impacts of the TPP, recent reports call the supposed benefits into question.

“Global Economic Prospects; Potential Macroeconomic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, a report published in January by the World Bank, projected that the treaty could boost the GDP of its members by 1.1 percent and their trade by 11 percent a year on average by 2030.

In the case of Canada, Mexico and the United States, which have their own free trade agreement, NAFTA, since 1994, the benefit is just 0.6 percent of GDP.

And for Mexico, the positive impact would be even more reduced, because the cuts in import duties give other members of the TPP greater access to the U.S. market, the document says.

Economists from Tufts University in the U.S. state of Massachusetts had a more negative view of the trade deal, predicting “increasing inequality and job losses in all participating economies.”

“Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”, a study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, estimates that the TPP would lead to employment loss in all member countries, with a total loss of 771,000 jobs, including 448,000 in the United States alone.

In Mexico, 78,000 jobs would be lost, and in Chile and Peru, 14,000.

The authors estimate that by 2025, Mexican exports will grow 6.2 percent and GDP one percent; Peru’s exports will grow 7.1 percent and GDP 1.4 percent; and Chile’s exports will grow 2.5 percent and GDP 0.9 percent.

For its part, the U.S. International Trade Commission stated May 18, in its report “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors”, that by 2032 the TPP would boost the U.S. economy by an average of 0.01 percent a year and employment by 0.07 percent.

Enrique Dussel, coordinator of the China/Mexico Studies Center at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, questions Mexico’s involvement in the TPP without evaluating the consequences of further freeing up trade.

“There has been a 20-year learning process to know what works and what doesn’t,” he told IPS. “TPP partners without free trade agreements represent one percent of trade with Mexico and one percent of investment. The question is what do I do with the remaining 99 percent, what focus do I give trade and investment.”

NGOs in Latin America are hoping the U.S. election campaign will limit the debate on the TPP to Congress until the winner of the November elections takes office.

“That gives us a little time to fight against ratification. It will be a long battle,” said Bedoya.

Dussel anticipated three possible scenarios. “In two years it goes into effect; there will be no TPP; or in the United States the new president will call for substantial changes.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Children of a Lesser God: Trafficking Soars in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 11:57:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145678 Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Sunita Pal, a frail 17-year-old, lies in a tiny bed in the women’s ward of New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Her face and head swathed in bandages, with only a bruised eye and swollen lips visible, the girl recounts her ordeal to a TV channel propped up by a pillow. She talks of her employers beating her with a stick every day, depriving her of food and threatening to kill her if she dared report her misery to anybody.

“I worked from 6am until midnight. I had to cook, clean, take care of the children and massage the legs of my employers,” Sunita recounts to the journalist, pain writ large on her face. “In exchange, I got only two meals and wasn’t even paid for the six months I worked at the house. When I expressed a desire to leave, I was beaten up.”

Sunita is one of the fortunate few who got rescued from her hell by an anti-slavery activist and is now being rehabilitated at a woman’s home in Delhi. But there are millions of Sunitas across India who continue to toil in Dickensian misery for years without any succour. Trafficked from remote villages to large cities, they are and sold as domestic workers to placement agencies or worse, at brothels. Their crime? Extreme poverty and illiteracy.

The Global Slavery Index released recently by the human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation states that globally, India has the largest population of modern slaves. Over 18 million people are trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers across the country. They constitute 1.4 percent of India’s total population, the fourth highest among 167 countries with the largest proportion of slaves. The survey estimates that 45.8 million people are living in modern slavery globally, of which 58 percent are concentrated in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states.

Grace Forrest, co-founder of the Australia-based foundation, told an Indian newspaper that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), trafficking of minor girls — the second-most prevalent trafficking crime in India – has surged 14 times over the last decade. It increased 65 percent in 2014 alone. Girls and women are the primary targets of immoral trafficking in India, comprising 76 percent of all human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveals NCRB.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014. Selling or buying girls for prostitution, importing them from a foreign country are the most common forms of trafficking in India, say experts. Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

Last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation unearthed a pan-India human trafficking racket that had transported around 8,000 Indian women to Dubai. Another report about a man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids from the poor tribal state of Jharkhand also caught the public eye.

Equally disconcerting are thousands of children which go missing from some of India’s hinterlands. Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states. They were trafficked into domestic work or other forms of child labour in cities. Overall , an estimated 135,000 children are believed to be trafficked in India every year.

Experts point to the exponentially growing demand for domestic servants in burgeoning Indian cities as the main catalyst for trafficking. A 2013 report by Geneva-based International Labour Organization found that India hosts anywhere from 2.5 million to 90 million domestic workers. Yet, despite being the largest workforce in the country, these workers remain unrecognized and unprotected by law.

This is a lacuna that a national policy in the pipeline hopes to address. Experts say the idea is to give domestic workers the benefits of regulated hours of work with weekly rest, paid annual and sick leave, and maternity benefits as well entitlement of minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948.

“Once these workers come under the ambit of law,” explains New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Kirit Patel, “it will be a big deterrent for criminals. But till then, domestic workers remain easy targets for exploitation.”

Despite growing awareness and media sensitization, however, registered human trafficking cases have spiralled up by 38.3 percent over five years from 2,848 in 2009 to 3,940 in 2013 as per NCRB. Worse, the conviction rate for such cases has plummeted 45 percent, from 1,279 in 2009 to 702 in 2013.

Not that human trafficking is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The menace is the third-largest source of profit for organised crime, after arms and drugs trafficking involving billions of dollars annually worldwide, say surveys. Every year, thousands of children go missing in South Asia, the second-largest and fastest-growing region in the world for human trafficking after East Asia, according to the UN Office for Drugs & Crime.

To address the issue of this modern-day slavery, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation recently held a conference on child protection in New Delhi. Ministers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and the Maldives agreed to jointly combat child exploitation, share best practices and common, uniform standards to address all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

One of the pioneering strategies adopted at the conference was to set up a toll-free helpline and online platform to report and track missing children. “We need to spread the message to support rescue efforts and rehabilitate victims. With the rapid advance of technology and a fast-changing, globalized economy, new threats to children’s safety are emerging every day,” said India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the conference.

Rishi Kant, one of India’s leading anti-trafficking activists, says it all boils down to prioritizing the issue. “For poor Indian states, providing food, shelter and housing assume far greater importance than chasing traffickers. Besides, many people don’t even see trafficking as a crime. They feel it’s an opportunity for impoverished children to migrate to cities, live in rich homes and better their lives!”

Initiatives like anti-trafficking nodal cells — like the one under the Ministry of Home Affairs — can be effective deterrents, say experts. The ministry has also launched a web portal on anti-human trafficking, while the Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing a programme that focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation of victims.

But the best antidote to the menace of human trafficking, say experts, is a stringent law. India’s first anti-trafficking law — whose draft was unveiled by the Centre recently — recommends tough action against domestic servant placement agencies who hustle poor children into bonded labour and prostitution. It also suggests the formation of an anti-trafficking fund.

The bill also makes giving hormone shots such as oxytocin to trafficked girls (to accelerate their sexual maturity) and pushing them into prostitution a crime punishable with 10 years in jail and a fine of about 1,500 dollars. Addressing new forms of bondage — such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour — are also part of the bill’s suggestions.

Once the law is passed, hopefully, girls like Sunita will be able to breathe a little easier.

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Combating Rape Requires Cultural Change in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 17:22:16 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145671 “No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

“No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 2016 (IPS)

The outrage in Brazil over the gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl by more than 30 men prompted mass protests by thousands of women on the streets of cities around the country, while activists complain that the response to the case by politicians has been misfocused.

The first reaction by the government, in the face of the national outcry, was to create a new women’s protection unit to support the public security forces. Critics say the policy is completely police-oriented and merely focused on stepping up law enforcement.

Rio de Janeiro state Governor Francisco Dornelles said he was in favour of executing rapists, even though capital punishment is actually prohibited by the Brazilian constitution.

The Senate rushed through a proposal to stiffen prison sentences for sexual assault, increasing them by one- or two-thirds when the rape is committed by two or more people. It is now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

But Sonia Correa, one of the heads of the global organisation Sexuality Policy Watch, said stiffer sentences are not the solution, as shown in India which adopted the death penalty in 2013 for gang rapes or rapes that lead to death.The low rape reporting rates “are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing.” -- Marisa Sanematsu

It is a cultural issue, she said. “Society itself has always fomented violence against women,” and a large part of the population blames the victims themselves, Correa added.

There is a perception that violence against women has increased, as a result of the publicity surrounding the rape of the teenage girl, who believes she was drugged at her boyfriend’s house in a Rio de Janeiro favela or slum on Saturday May 21 and woke up in a different house on Sunday May 22, surrounded by the men who apparently raped her.

She said she counted 33 attackers, some of whom were armed, when she regained consciousness. She only went to the police days later, after several of the men posted a video and photos of the rape on the social networks.

The police officer put in charge of the case was replaced for not taking her account seriously.

As a result of the public uproar and the evidence, a new lead investigator was named and the case was put in the hands of a police unit that specialises in crimes against children and adolescents, which accepted the video as proof of the rape. Using the video, several suspects were identified, and two have been arrested so far.

“The culture of rape has deep roots, nearly geological, and not only in Brazil, where its deepest layers lie in colonisation and slavery, with their male-oriented traditions of controlling the bodies of other people, not only women, but also slaves,” said Correa, an architect with a graduate degree in anthropology.

Brazil’s penal code, which dates to 1940 with subsequent amendments, included sexual assault among crimes against public morals; in other words, rape was an attack against society and the family, not against the woman and her body, she pointed out to IPS.

Not until 2009 was a reform adopted to correct that distortion and include male victims. Before that, only females were considered victims of rape.

The penalties, which range from six to 30 years in prison and are driven up by aggravating factors like physical injuries, death or the young age of the victim, have failed to curb the apparent rise in sexual assaults in this country of 205 million people.

Officially, 50,600 rapes were committed in 2011: 138 a day or one every 10 minutes, according to statistics from the governmental Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

But this is estimated to represent just 10 percent of the real number of rapes, which could exceed half a million cases a year. Most victims do not go to the police out of shame, fear of sexist police officers, or ignorance about how to report rape or about the crime itself.

A large part of the cases involve underage victims abused in their own homes by relatives or friends of the family – another major barrier standing in the way of reporting the incidents.

“It’s a tragedy that affects largely black people, who account for 51 percent of rape victims,” although this proportion is probably underestimated, according to Jurema Werneck, a medical doctor who is the coordinator of Criola, a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of Afro-Brazilian women.

The large number of rapes “has its origin in sexism, but also in patriarchal racism,” because it is “an act of power against those who they see as inferior and powerless, like black women,” she told IPS.

The culture of rape is “a contradiction in the population, which mobilises to protest against an appalling crime, and even wants to lynch the suspects when children are raped, but shows a certain level of tolerance towards sexual violence against women,” said Marisa Sanematsu, contents director at the Patricia Galvão Institute, a local feminist organisation.

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The apparent general condemnation is not reflected in the low rape reporting rates “which are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing,” she said.

“A large part of the population thinks there are ‘rapable’ women, who know the risks they’re running and should know how to protect themselves, and shouldn’t expose themselves,” said Sanematsu, who added that society accepts the unequal social roles assigned to males and females.

Gender education, she said, is the best way to prevent and reduce all kinds of violence. But the current trend is to ban it in schools, as the state government did in São Paulo, Brazil’s richest, most populated state.

“Nothing will be achieved unless we attack the roots of the culture of trivialized violence,” which isn’t associated with poverty, but affects all social classes, she said.

To change the culture of rape “the central issue is a new construction of masculinity,” which is now based on “sexual predation,” said Correa.

The growth of conservative forces in Brazilian society, and especially in Congress, worries women’s rights activists.

Congress is studying several bills that would further restrict abortion, which is already illegal, and would restrict the rights gained by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community and unconventional families.

The wave of conservativism was accentuated with the new government of Vice President Michel Temer, who is now acting president due to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

The old Ministry of Policies for Women, now demoted to a secretariat under the Ministry of Justice, is headed by an evangelical member of the lower house of Congress who has already publicly stated that she is opposed to abortion in case of pregnancy caused by rape, one of the few circumstances in which “therapeutic abortion” is currently allowed.

Temer’s cabinet is the first in years to not include a single woman or black person.

“Dogmatic religious forces are expanding and aim to control the country,” said Correa. They hold a large number of seats in Congress and own media outlets, especially TV stations, where they further their conservative agenda.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville Women Turn Around Lives of ‘Lost Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:08:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145600 Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
HAKO, Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea , Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Finding a sense of identity and purpose, as well as employment are some of the challenges facing youths in post-conflict Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

They have been labelled the ‘lost generation’ due to their risk of being marginalised after missing out on education during the Bougainville civil war (1989-1998), known locally as the ‘Crisis’.

But in Hako constituency, where an estimated 30,000 people live in villages along the north coast of Buka Island, North Bougainville, a local women’s community services organisation refuses to see the younger generation as anything other than a source of optimism and hope.

“They are our future leaders and our future generation, so we really value the youths,” Dorcas Gano, president of the Hako Women’s Collective (HWC) told IPS.“There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened." -- Gregory Tagu, who was in fifth grade when the war broke out.

Youth comprise about 60 percent of Bougainville’s estimated population of 300,000, which has doubled since the 1990s. The women’s collective firmly believes that peace and prosperity in years to come depends on empowering young men and women in these rainforest-covered islands to cope with the challenges of today with a sense of direction.

One challenge, according to Gregory Tagu, a youth from Kohea village, is the psychological transition to a world without war.

“Nowadays, youths struggle to improve their lives and find a job because they are traumatised. During the Crisis, young people grew up with arms and knives and even today they go to school, church and walk around the village with knives,” Tagu explained.

Tens of thousands of children were affected by the decade-long conflict, which erupted after demands for compensation for environmental damage and inequity by landowners living in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the mountains of central Bougainville were unmet. The mine, majority-owned by Rio Tinto, a British-Australian multinational, opened in 1969 and was operated by its Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, until it was shut down in 1989 by revolutionary forces.

The conflict raged on for another eight years after the Papua New Guinea Government blockaded Bougainville in 1990 and the national armed forces and rebel groups battled for control of the region.

Many children were denied an education when schools were burnt down and teachers fled. They suffered when health services were decimated, some became child soldiers and many witnessed severe human rights abuses.

Tagu was in fifth grade when the war broke out. “There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened,” he recalled.

Trauma is believed to contribute to what women identify as a youth sub-culture today involving alcohol, substance abuse and petty crime, which is inhibiting some to participate in positive development.

They believe that one of the building blocks to integrating youths back into a peaceful society is making them aware of their human rights.

In a village meeting house about 20-30 young men and women, aged from early teens to late thirties, gather in a circle as local singer Tasha Kabano performs a song about violence against women. Then Anna Sapur, an experienced village court magistrate, takes the floor to speak about what constitutes human rights abuses and the entitlement of men, women and children to lives free of injustice and physical violations. Domestic violence, child abuse and neglect were key topics in the vigorous debate which followed.

But social integration for this age group also depends on economic participation. Despite 15 years of peace and better access to schools, completing education is still a challenge for many. An estimated 90 percent of students leave before the end of Grade 10 with reasons including exam failure and inability to meet costs.

“There are plenty of young people who cannot read and write, so we really need to train them in adult literacy,” Elizabeth Ngosi, an HWC member from Tuhus village declared, adding that currently they don’t have access to this training.

Similar to other small Pacific Island economies, only a few people secure formal sector jobs in Bougainville while the vast majority survive in the informal economy.

At the regional level, Justin Borgia, Secretary for the Department of Community Development, said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government is keen to see a long-term approach to integrating youths through formal education and informal life skills training. District Youth Councils with government assistance have identified development priorities including economic opportunities, improving local governance and rule of law.

In Hako, women are particularly concerned for the 70 percent of early school leavers who are unemployed and in 2007 the collective conducted their first skills training program. More than 400 youths were instructed in 30 different trade and technical skills, creative visual and music art, accountancy, leadership, health, sport, law and justice and public speaking.

Two-thirds of those who participated were successful in finding employment, Gano claims.

“Some of them have work and some have started their own small businesses….Some are carpenters now and have their own small contracts building houses back in the villages,” she said.

Tuition in public speaking was of particular value to Gregory Tagu.

“I have no CV or reference, but with my public speaking skills I was able to tell people about my experience and this helped me to get work,” Tagu said. Now he works as a truck driver for a commercial business and a technical officer for the Hako Media Unit, a village-based media resource set up after an Australian non-government organisation, Pacific Black Box, provided digital media training to local youths.

Equipping young people with skills and confidence is helping to shape a new future here and further afield. HWC’s president is particularly proud that some from the village have gone on to take up youth leadership positions in other parts of Bougainville, including the current President of the Bougainville Youth Federation.

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Youth Leaders Push for More Progressive Action to End HIV AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 23:26:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145592 Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet their concerns about sexual education, and discrimination of key populations were ignored at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS.

Although the overall number of AIDS-related deaths is down 35 percent since 2005, estimates suggest that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents are actually rising.

In fact, AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.

Young people’s vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by a lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services and by exclusion from decision making processes.

At the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS this week, Member States adopted a new political declatarion focusing on the Fast-Track approach to fighting HIV and ending AIDS by 2030. Fast-Track is driven by the 90–90–90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation."

But youth delegates say that issues of stigma, discrimination, and sexual education were not given the importance they should have in the declaration since youth were not included in the negotiations.

“The concept of 90-90-90 is amazing, but in practice without access to sexual education or participation of key populations and young people, the goals are unrealistic,” said Peter Mladenov, one youth representative from Youth Peer Educational Network.

At the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, there were 20 young people representing different organisations.

“Unfortunately, all youth representatives were excluded from the negotiations on the high level meeting on Aids political declaration,” said Mladenov.

“Our wishes were not heard and the rights were not promoted since in the final document we did not see any sexuality education, or mentioning of key populations.”

Mladenov is an expert on youth policies and has been a youth advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Rights  and Comprehensive Sexual Education for the past 10 years. At the age of 14, he was invited to join a class on sexual education in school which he says changed his life and began his journey with sexual health and reproductive rights advocacy.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV / AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation.”

“Sex ed is not only about the sex, it is about the informed choice of each young person, understanding the changes in your body, a young girl having the right to say no to marriage at age 15, an instrument to prevent child abuse or female genital mutilation.”

Mladenov says sexual education can help end stigma and discrimination.

“It is nice that we are progressing, same-sex marriage is approved in different countries and shows that the world is changing for the better. But there is still a long way to go, people with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. When someone discriminates against a person it is usually because they are afraid of something, which is why sexual education is so important.”

Another youth leader attending the meeting was Annah Sango from the HIV Young Leaders Fund Board:

“Sexual rights really are human rights, because when it comes to talking about my body and my health and well being, it is not an issue of a statistic, but what I live each and every day,” said Sango.

“It is every young person’s need and right to be in your own country, and be able to know you have access to health and to know that the justice system is working for you, not against you.”

Sango grew up seeing how disadvantaged young people are, and how sometimes culture, society and tradition play a very crucial role in the lives of young people as much as the economic aspects. When asked what she would have wanted in the declaration, she said it was important to ensure that countries aren’t allowed to hide behind culture and religion, and rather have an open mind to the issues in their countries. She also said that member states should have given clear-cut strategies to address some of the pertinent issues facing young people.

Sango is also Advocacy Officer for the African Network of Young People living with HIV (AY+) which heavily advocates for Comprehensive Sexual Education and supports young people to dispel disinformation which drive stigma and discrimination.

“We cannot talk about AIDS whilst excluding young people and key populations. At country level, the agreement needs to reflect the face of HIV: young people that face violence, the millions of young people that have died because of their sexuality, the reality of teenage pregnancies, and of adolescents who are dying because they cannot be identified.”

Sango also said the negotiations for the declaration were very exclusive of youth voices, however she is optimistic that in the future youth will be included at the national level.

“I am confident that whatever goals, whatever agendas we are working towards, we will be able to achieve them if we include the right people to lead and champion the agenda,” said Sango.

Mladenov was also optimistic that about young people’s participation.

“Many people say that young people are the future, but that is not correct – we are the present, and we should be the ones who drive the sustainable development agenda to its accomplishment.” Mladenov told IPS.

“Although we don’t have what we want in the political declaration, we have the will, the power, and motivation to do it. The youth working on the local and national level should not be afraid to take up the floor, to go to their ministries, to demand that they involve youth as equal partners in implementing the declaration.”

“We should not forget that these people were elected by us, they are accountable to us, not vice-versa. If we have more governments really involving young people, we can achieve sustainable development.”

“Young people should be the agents of change, they should be the ones who push their governments to do something for them because they already agreed to with this declaration.”

“I dream for a day when I will not hear about a person coming from an LGBT community who is harassed, or a young woman or girl who is somehow violated, or a young person is excluded.”

IPS also spoke to Sharonann Lynch, HIV/Tuberculosis (TB) policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign.

“In many countries where MSF works, young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, are most at risk of contracting HIV,” said Lynch. “For example, in Lesotho, the prevalence of HIV will multiply by 5 in the next 7 years among adolescent girls from the age of 15 to 22. So the question for the region is what can we put in place as soon as possible to provide life-saving treatment as well as prevention.” Lynch told IPS.

“Youth are critical to combat stigma by creating more visibility. Young people can combat stigma by being out about their HIV status, demanding not only a voice but also acceptance in their communities. But governments need to make sure they take steps to reduce stigma and discrimination as well.”

 

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