Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:20:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CORRECTION/Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138277 Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*The story that moved on Dec. 15 misstated the matter of statutory rape in the Philippines. Child rights advocates are recommending that the age be raised from 12. The government has responded positively to it and legislation on the matter is ongoing. Likewise, the advocates would also like to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised higher than the current 15.

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Want Economic Growth? Lessen Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 00:37:56 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138233 Inequality out in the open. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Inequality out in the open. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

For years, many policy makers, including economists, have clung to the belief that if states do nothing to boost income equality, market forces will cause wealth to trickle down to the poorest citizens and contribute to overall growth.

That theory is now being increasingly debunked as experts affirm that the broadening gap in income is creating far-ranging problems for many societies.

In a new report  published on Dec. 9, researchers at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argue that “reducing income inequality would boost economic growth”.

Their research shows that countries where income inequality is decreasing actually “grow faster than those with rising inequality,” and the analysts would like to see governments take stronger action to reduce inequity.“Today, the richest 10 percent of the population in the OECD area earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in the 1980s, this ratio stood at 7:1 and has been rising continuously ever since” – OECD

“The single biggest impact on growth is the widening gap between the lower middle class and poor households compared with the rest of society,” says the report titled ‘Trends in income inequality and its impact on economic growth’, and “education is the key: a lack of investment in education by the poor is the main factor behind inequality hurting growth.”

According to Michael Förster, a senior analyst in the OECD’s Social Policy division, one reason “the poor and lower middle classes are being left behind in unequal societies” is that they do not have the resources to spend on their own or their children’s education, compared with wealthier citizens,.

He said that governments needed to revise strategies that are based on outdated economic theories.

“The common assumption used to be that the more you did to enhance equality, the more you would hinder growth,” he argued. “So the idea was that if you take too much from the top earners, through taxes, you will have less growth. We haven’t found evidence for that. What we have found is that increasing inequality is bad for growth.”

For example, rising inequality is estimated “to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand over the past two decades up to the Great Recession,” says the OECD.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States, the “cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened.”

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said that this “compelling evidence” proves that addressing high and growing inequality is “critical to promote strong and sustained growth” and needs to be at the centre of global policy discussions.

“Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age are those that will grow and prosper,” he added.

However, some scholars maintain that the consequences of inequality are hard to prove. American economist Jared Bernstein and others have pointed out that it is difficult to establish a firm connection between the inequities in education and economic growth.

These analysts acknowledge that wealthier parents do spend more overall on educational tools and “goods”, and that children from rich families often study at elite institutions in contrast to children from poor backgrounds who may attend lower-quality schools, but they have disagreed on the social or economic effects.

With the “new evidence”, OECD researchers say that the main means through which inequality affects growth is by “undermining education opportunities for children from poor socio-economic backgrounds, lowering social mobility and hampering skills development.”

“People whose parents have low levels of education see their educational outcomes deteriorate as income inequality rises. By contrast, there is little or no effect on people with middle or high levels of parental educational background,” the OECD said in a statement.

According to researchers, anti-poverty programmes will not be enough to create greater equality of opportunities in the long term.  Essential measures will include “cash transfers and increasing access to public services, such as high-quality education, training and healthcare”, the OECD says.

Förster stressed that the inequality study focused on income and not wealth. But recent discussions have centred on both, particularly in France since the election of Socialist President François Hollande in May 2012.

Soon after his election, Hollande announced plans for a 75 percent tax on all income over one million euro, and a watered-down version of the plan was approved by French courts a year ago, even as many wealthy families fled to Belgium and elsewhere.

Economists of different political colours have argued about whether the increased taxation is good for the economy, and the debate has grown more heated with last year’s publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by renowned French economist Thomas Piketty.

A lecturer in Paris and internationally, Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth. He has carried out studies showing that income inequality has grown in many countries, alongside 30 years of declining tax levels.

The gap is particularly marked in the United States, but even in “egalitarian” France, the top one percent earned an average of 30,000 euro monthly in 2010, compared with 1,500 euro per adult of the poorest 50 percent.

According to the OECD, a similar situation exists in many of its 34 member countries, which include European nations and others such as Mexico, Chile and the United States.

“Today, the richest 10 percent of the population in the OECD area earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in the 1980s, this ratio stood at 7:1 and has been rising continuously ever since.”

Bucking the trend, income inequality has been falling in Chile and Mexico, but the incomes of the richest are still more than 25 times those of the poorest in these two countries.

The OECD’s Latin American Economic Outlook 2015, produced with regional partners and also launched on Dec. 9, focuses on the role of education and skills, and experts said more needed to be done to “raise educational standards and address persistent and substantial socioeconomic inequalities.”

Förster told IPS that the organisation hoped governments would consider the findings as a basis to change policy, “otherwise we won’t get out of the current situation.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Latin America Faces the Novelty and Challenge of Ageinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:58:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138179 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/feed/ 0 OPINION: Women Must Be Partners and Drivers of Climate Change Decision-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:03:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138154 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

As leaders from around the world gather in Lima, Peru this week to discuss global cooperation in addressing climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season.

A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult choice to take her daughter out of school to help in the task of gathering water, which requires more and more time with each passing year.Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.

These women, and millions of women around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways.

For many, these impacts are felt so strongly because of gender roles – women are responsible for gathering water, food and fuel for the household. And for too many, a lack of access to information and decision-making exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Our leaders in Lima this week will meet to lay the critical foundations for a new global agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They seek to resolve important questions about collective action to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, to build resilience in communities to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid, and to provide the finance needed for climate-smart development around the world. It is critical that in all of these efforts, our leaders recognise the importance of ensuring that climate change solutions are gender-responsive.

What does it mean for climate change solutions to be gender-responsive? It means, for example, that in formulating strategies for renewable energy women are engaged in all stages and that these strategies take into consideration how women access and use fuel and electricity in their homes.

It means that vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans take into account women’s lives and capabilities. And critically, it means women are included at decision-making tables internationally, nationally, and locally when strategies and action plans are developed.

Going beyond the acknowledgment that men and women are impacted differently by climate change and thus, the need for climate policies and actions to be gender-responsive, we must also examine and support pathways to greater empowerment for women.

When women are empowered, their families, communities, and nations benefit. Responding to climate change offers opportunities to enhance pathways to empowerment. This requires addressing the underlying root causes such as gender stereotypes and social norms that perpetuate and compound inequality and discrimination.

Examples abound and these include removing restrictions to women’s mobility, providing full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, ensuring access to education and employment opportunities as well as access to economic resources, such as land and financial services.

Enhancing women’s agency is key to a human rights-based and equitable climate change agenda. In September during the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York, UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice brought together more than 130 women leaders for a forum on “Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action.”

We heard remarkable stories of women’s leadership in addressing all aspects of the climate crisis.

Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Women leaders mobilise communities, promote green investments, and develop energy efficient technologies. Indeed, if we are serious about tackling climate change, our leaders in Lima this week must ensure that women are equal partners and drivers of climate change decision-making.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Chilean Activists Change the Rules of the Gamehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 16:07:36 +0000 Sebastian Rosemont http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138137 Michele Bachelet (left) and student leader Camilla Vallejo. Credit: Wikipedia

Michele Bachelet (left) and student leader Camilla Vallejo. Credit: Wikipedia

By Sebastian Rosemont
SANTIAGO, Dec 6 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, students in Chile made headlines when they launched a nationwide strike lasting almost eight months.

The trigger was high tuition costs that drove students and their families into debt. There were coordinated marches in all major cities. At some universities students took over buildings. The marches took on almost a carnival atmosphere with students engaging in “kiss-ins” and pillow fights.More than two thirds of the population supported the student movement and its demands for education reform. The students consistently rejected the government’s attempts to appease the protesters as grossly insufficient.

Before long, the marches became multifaceted. Opponents of the massive HidroAysén dam project in Patagonia joined in. Students and trade unions joined forces when workers staged strikes and marched in Santiago and other major cities.

Tasha Fairfield, an assistant professor for the London School of Economics’ Department of International Development, said the strikes were pivotal. “The student movement played a critical role in creating political space,” Fairfield said. It “dramatically changed the political context in Chile and helped to place the issues of Chile’s extreme inequalities centrally on the national agenda.”

Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful, some protestors wanted more direct confrontation with the police. Masked protesters armed with stones clashed with police forces equipped with riot gear, tear gas, and armoured vehicles with water cannons. The harshness of the government crackdown drew international criticism.

More than two thirds of the population supported the student movement and its demands for education reform. The students consistently rejected the government’s attempts to appease the protesters as grossly insufficient. Their goal was free university tuition.

President Sebastian Piñera, the first conservative president since the 1988 plebiscite that ended General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, saw his ratings plummet to the lowest of any leader in the post-authoritarian era. Ordinary Chileans had made clear that they wanted to see changes in their society.

This set the stage for Michelle Bachelet to run for election in 2013. She was previously president from 2006-2010, but Chile’s laws prevented her from running for a second consecutive term.

This time around, her platform was much more radical. Bachelet pledged to reform the tax system and, with the increased revenue, reform the education system. She won the election and immediately took the first step. She raised the corporate tax rate and closed significant loopholes.

The 2013 elections

Bachelet was backed by the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), a center-left coalition made up of her own Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Party for Democracy, among others. After falling just short of an absolute majority in the first round of elections, Bachelet won handily in the runoff, taking home over 62 percent of the vote.

The elections remade the legislature. Isabel Allende (from the Socialist Party), daughter of Salvador Allende, became the first woman president of the senate. Several student leaders, including Camila Vallejo (of the Communist Party) and Gabriel Boric (an Independent), launched political careers by winning their bids to join the Chamber of Deputies. The left was swept into power by a wave of public support and gained strong majorities in both houses of the National Congress.

Bachelet had been given a clear mandate. The government put together a package that would raise corporate income taxes from 20 percent to at least 25 percent and close tax loopholes for companies and wealthy business owners. The changes promised to bring in an estimated 8.3 billion dollars each year.

The government pledged to put half of these funds toward providing free education for all Chileans by the year 2020 and to roll back the for-profit schools that emerged during Pinochet’s dictatorship. The remainder would be used to improve the health care system and other social programs.

The bill easily passed through the Chamber of Deputies. When it moved over to the senate it ultimately secured a 33-1 victory, although some changes were made to placate some of the more moderate and conservative doubters of the reform.

“The government negotiated various compromises on the bill in the Senate in order to secure votes from the Christian Democrats,” Fairfield said.

On Sep. 28, Bachelet signed the bill into law.

Debate over tax reform

In a key tactical move, the corporate tax hikes touched only the largest firms. An estimated 95.5 percent of businesses will not face higher taxes. This expanded the measure’s base of support and somewhat insulated the reformers against the charge that the bill was anti-business.

Beyond raising the corporate tax rate, the reform targets the profits of large businesses and their owners in other ways. The law eliminates the FUT (Taxable Profit Fund), a provision that allowed businesses to set profits aside without paying taxes on them— funds that at last count held 270 billion dollars.

The reform also addresses the owners of these businesses. In years past, wealthy business owners enjoyed incentives to avoid withdrawing all of their income from the company’s profits so that they would pay the more favourable corporate tax rate of 17-20 percent compared to nearly 40 percent, the highest personal income tax bracket.

However, the owners would then find ways for the profits to make their way back into their own pockets, either legally or illegally. The tax reform therefore opened up a new range of taxable income, money previously out of the government’s reach.

There is some concern that the tax reform will drag down the already faltering Chilean economy. Opposition groups claim the new rules will hurt future investments, and this seems to resonate with the public — Bachelet’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent.

However, Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez insists that on the contrary, with more than 50 percent of the 8.3 billion dollars going toward implementing free, quality education, it will in turn result in increased productivity.

Even if productivity fails to rise immediately, the political support of thousands of households with college students who see their tuition bills cut in half or more is likely to create a broad constituency to keep core elements of the tax and spending package in place.

It is unlikely that any significant changes will be made affecting the new law before the next presidential election in 2018 because senators are elected for eight-year terms and deputies serve four years (half the Senate and the entire Chamber of Deputies are selected every presidential election). This allows time for the law to be fully integrated into the system without being derailed by detractors focusing on immediate concerns.

Although many of the protests of 2011 — the year of Occupy Wall Street — have faded, Chilean students and workers managed to win many of their demands. This experience offers important lessons for popular movements struggling for similar goals around the world. By focusing on tangible demands, making broad partnerships, and linking to the larger platform of economic inequality, Chilean protesters changed the rules of the game.

Edited by Kitty Stapp. This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals Remain Intacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 22:07:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138105 Pakistani fishermen perform multiple tasks on their boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch. Critics are demanding far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change from the U.N. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani fishermen perform multiple tasks on their boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch. Critics are demanding far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change from the U.N. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has refused to jettison any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by an Open Working Group of member states: goals aimed at launching the U.N.’s new post-2015 development agenda through 2030.

In a new report synthesising the 17 goals, Ban said he was “rearranging them in a focused and concise manner that enables us to communicate them to our partners and the global public”.

The report, titled The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, presents an integrated “set of six essential elements: dignity, people, prosperity, our planet, justice and partnership.”

“These are not intended to cluster or replace the SDGs. Rather, they are meant to offer some conceptual guidance for the work ahead,” Ban told reporters Thursday.

The 17 post-2015 goals, negotiated over a period of nine months, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, industrialisation, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

The Goals

The 17 proposed goals, to be attained by 2030, include the following: End poverty everywhere; End hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Attain healthy lives for all; Provide quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all; Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere; Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all and Ensure sustainable energy for all.

Additionally, the goals were aimed at promoting sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all ; sustainable infrastructure and industrialisation; reducing inequality within and between countries; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable and promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Also included were goals to tackle climate change and its impacts; Conserve and promote sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources; Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss; achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and effective and capable institutions and strengthen the means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development.

Most of these were already part of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with some of them expected to miss their achievable targets by the 2015 deadline.

The secretary-general said the 17 SDGs are a clear expression of the vision of the member states and their wish to have an agenda that can end poverty, achieve shared prosperity and peace, protect the planet and leave no one behind.

Still, he stressed the need for a renewed global partnership for development – between the rich and poor nations – in the context of the post-2015 agenda.

Resources, technology and political will are crucial not only for implementing the agenda once it is adopted, but even now, to build trust as member states negotiate its final parameters, he added.

The SDGs, which will continue to undergo a review, is expected to be finalised next year and will be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly in September 2015.

Meanwhile the synthesised report drew mixed reviews from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Stephen Hale, deputy advocacy and campaigns director at the London-based Oxfam, said his organisation was disappointed that the United Nations has not made far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change in its new report.

The under-emphasis of both issues is a grave missed opportunity, he added.

Whilst the first draft recognises the need to leave no-one behind and address climate change, dedicated goals are required to do this, Hale said.

“These are two major injustices that are guaranteed to undermine the efforts of millions of people seeking to escape poverty and hunger over the next 15 years,” he said.

The fact is that just 85 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity and this inequality is getting worse, he noted.

Climate change could increase the number of people at risk of hunger currently over 800 million by between 10 to 20 per cent by 2050, Hale declared.

In a statement released Thursday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International said some of the recommendations in the secretary-general’s report include a call for countries to agree to a set of goals containing environmental themes: addressing climate change, promoting sustainable industrialisation, and conserving biodiversity.

“These are the goals we need in order to win a sustainable future for people and the planet,” said Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International.

“We congratulate the secretary-general and governments for providing us with such a strong package of measures to take forward,” he added.

WWF said a series of overarching topics called ‘elements’ in the report names the planet alongside people, dignity, prosperity, justice and partnership.

The planet element specifically states the need to establish ecosystem protection for all societies and children.

The environment can no longer be seen as a separate factor when discussing development and poverty, WWF said.

The secretary-general has made it clear that you cannot have true economic development that does not recognise the importance of the Earth’s natural systems.

He has also made it clear that this should be a development deal that applies to all countries, said Lambertini.

Asked about the struggle for a cleaner global environment, Ban told reporters: “I think the European Union decision to cut 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions was a major breakthrough.”

And most dramatically, he said, the positive news was the recent U.S.-China joint statement and commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions – in the case of the United States, 26 to 28 percent, and China peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

He said German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also joined this process of commitments to cut further emissions in accordance with the European Union decision, 78 million tonnes of gas emissions.

Ban said he was also encouraged by the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund, with a target of 10 billion dollars.

“I think we are very close to 10 billion dollars. I am sure this will be operationalised soon,” he said.

All these encouraging developments and demonstration of political will and commitment, he said, is very encouraging.

Looking further ahead, he said, the financing conference in Addis Ababa in July next year, the Special Summit in New York in September, and the climate change conference in Paris in December, are major opportunities for world leaders to show “they are serious about safeguarding our planet and future well-being”.

“I continue to urge member states to keep ambition high,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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HIV Prevention is Failing Young South African Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 13:07:39 +0000 Nqabomzi Bikitsha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138030 Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Nqabomzi Bikitsha
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

When she found out that she had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Thabisile Mkhize (not her real name) was scared.

She knew little about the virus that had been living in her body since birth and did not know whom to ask. Her mother had just died and she lived with her grandmother in rural KwaZulu Natal, where the HIV prevalence is the highest in South Africa, at 17 percent.

Today, at the age of 16,  Mkhize is an enthusiastic peer educator at her school,  discussing HIV prevention, safe sex and sexual rights. “I want young women to be safe, to make healthy sexual choices,“ she told IPS.South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection

South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection.

They account for one-quarter of new HIV infections and 14 percent of the country’s 6.4 million people living with HIV, according to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’.

Alarmingly, HIV incidence – the number of new  infections per year – among women aged between 15 and 24 is more than four times higher than among their male peers.

Professor Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, director for research at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) in Johannesburg, describes the factors that put young women at higher risk.

“Structural drivers – gender, social and economic inequalities – interact in a number of ways and influence behaviour such as choice of sexual partner and condom use,” she said.

Explaining that young women find it difficult to protect themselves against HIV, she noted that they “end up with controlling partners and fail to negotiate condom use or are forced to have sex.”

Tumi Molebatse, a 20-year-old student from Soweto, is an example. Years ago she had an HIV test and would like to have another with her boyfriend of two years, or at least to have safe sex.  “But my boyfriend will think I am cheating on him if I ask for condoms,” she told IPS.  “He supports me financially so it’s better to not bring it up.”

FAST FACTS ABOUT HIV IN SOUTH AFRICA

• 6.3 million people live with HIV
• 469,000 total new HIV infections per year
• 113,000 new HIV infections per year among women 15-24
• 11% HIV prevalence among girls aged 15-24
• 32% HIV prevalence among black African women aged 20-34
• 72% of women aged 25-49 have tested for HIV

Source: South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.
Molebatse’s dilemma is one familiar to many young women who feel powerless to request the use of condoms or for their partner to test for HIV.

In South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world, relationships with older men often pen the way for young women’s social mobility and material comfort.

According to Kerry Mangold from the South African National AIDS Council, inter-generational and transactional sex increase the risk of infection because older men have higher HIV rates than young men.

“It’s not rare to see a young girl sleep with an older man for food or a little bit of money,“ said Mkhize. “Young women aspire to have nice things in life but they don’t have money, they don’t have jobs, and they go for partners who can provide those things.”

According to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’, one-third of girls aged between 15 and 19 reported a partner five years or more their senior.

Risk and choices

“At its most extreme, gender inequality manifests as gender-based violence,” says Delany-Moretlwe.

In South Africa, young women who experienced intimate partner violence were 50 percent more likely to have acquired HIV than women who had not suffered violence, according to the UNAIDS Gap Report.

Despite decades of awareness campaigns, less than one-third of young women know how to prevent HIV.

Mkhize says that many girls hear about sex and HIV from friends and teachers, and often  the information is wrong. “I know girls who believe you cannot get HIV if you boyfriend has just come back from circumcision school and so they have sex without a condom,” she told IPS.

Mangold would like to see “an enabling environment for young women to make their own choices and reduce their risk.”

Since last year, the ZAZI initiative has been trying to do just that. A sassy campaign, ZAZI (from the Nguni words for “know yourself”) builds knowledge around sexual health through social media, video clips, poetry readings, street murals, music and fun activities that boost girls’ sense of self-worth.

“We hope to discourage them from opting for relationships with older men for material gain and give them confidence to negotiate condom use,” ZAZI advocacy manager Sara Chitambo told IPS.

ZAZI’s motto is “finding your inner strength”. On its website, girls can look up practical advice on what to do if they are raped, where to find contraception and how to prevent HIV.

(Edited by Mercedes Sayagues and Phil Harris)

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Citizens of the World, Unite!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/citizens-of-the-world-unite/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=citizens-of-the-world-unite http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/citizens-of-the-world-unite/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 01:25:55 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138009 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 2014 (IPS)

As politics, economies, conflicts and cultures become increasingly intertwined, will individual identities also begin to transcend national boundaries?

The elusive nature of “global citizenship” was noted by Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona, at an IPS Forum on Global Citizenship last week at the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York."We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities." -- Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

“The concept of global citizenship has challenged the minds of humans for a very long time although its exact definition has never really crystallised,” Kohona said.

The idea was famously put forth by Tony Blair during a speech in Chicago in 1999. “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not. We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper. We cannot ignore new political ideas in other countries if we want to innovate,” Blair said.

Ambassador Kohona said that even after the collapse of the empires spawned by the Westphalian system, the growth of powerful individual states has not encouraged the development of a genuinely global system.

Kohona stressed the importance of the United Nations as an institution in which to hold up the principle of global citizenship.

“The establishment of the United Nations has created the forum for humanity to make an effort to address common issues together from a global perspective. It is the most effective forum available to all nation states. The United Nations and its agencies have been successful in generating sympathy for the usefulness of approaching many of today’s challenges together.”

The Forum was chaired by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former representative for Bangladesh and the prime mover of the 1999 General Assembly resolution that adopted the U.N. Declaration and the Programme of Action (PoA) on the Culture of Peace.

“When we speak of global citizenship, certain thoughts come to mind,” he said. “The first thing to understand is spirituality. What are our values, what are our commitments as human beings? The second is the belief in the oneness of humanity. We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities.”

Despite challenges, many of the panellists agreed that the promotion of global citizenship is advancing against the headwinds of the purported clash of civilisations, declining resources, and cultural cynicism.

IPS Chair Ambassador Walther Lichem noted that, “Almost to the day 200 years after the initiation of multilateral diplomacy at the Congress of Vienna, we become aware that multilateral diplomacy is increasingly giving way to global governance.”

Lichem noted that global citizenship needs to be seen in the context of a system that espouses norms such as the “responsibility to protect,” a principle that puts the international community above the nation state when it comes to protecting its own citizens.

“Global citizenship is to be understood as a citizenship with human rights as a way of life,” Lichem said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has identified global citizenship as the third priority area in his Global Education First initiative, seeing it as important that students don’t simply learn how to pass exams and get jobs in their own countries, but are instilled with an understanding of the importance of respect and responsibility across cultures, countries and regions.

“Global citizenship is a fight against limbo,” said Erol Avdovic, vice president of the United Nations Correspondents Association. “It is the fight against misconception and against ignoring – or even worse, manipulating – simple facts.”

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, an entity that explores the roots of polarisation between societies and cultures was in attendance at the Forum, with spokesperson for the High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Nihal Saad noting that education for global citizenship “has the power to shape a sustainable future and better world.

“Educational policies should promote peace, mutual respect and environmental care. It does not suffice for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education should and must bring shared values to life.”

Saad’s sentiments were shared by Monte Joffee, Soka Gakkai International’s USA representative, who said, “Our curriculum needs to include more topics of a global nature so our students can develop empathetic resonance with ‘the other’.

“This does not reach to the core of today’s educational crisis. Speaking only of American education, I must say that the inequalities of educational funding, the levels of despair and hopelessness in too many of our communities… are numbing realities and ‘add-ons’ to the curriculum about global citizenship are not the solution.”

Joffee related the story of Anand Kumar, an Indian mathematician who is well known for his “Super 30” programme in Patna, Bihar. It prepares economically disadvantaged students for the entrance examination for the renowned Indian Institutes of Technology (ITT) engineering schools, with great success.

His programme selects 30 talented candidates from disadvantaged, tutors them, and provides study materials and lodging for a year.

Joffee noted that this story provides a great model for Global Citizenship Education. “Educators must say, ‘I will start right here, with the student right in front of me.’”

Ramu Damodaran from United Nations Department of Public Information Outreach Division also spoke of the importance of academics being given more opportunities to have a voice at the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137986

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-undead-rise-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137856 Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:51:01 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137790 Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women’s Safety Schemes Go Mobile in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 16:49:44 +0000 Sujoy Dhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137760 Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Sujoy Dhar
NEW DELHI, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

It was 9:45 pm when 23-year-old Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi, who was traveling home in a rickshaw, pressed a button on her smart phone that sent out emergency alerts to two of her closest friends.

Immediately, two frantic calls followed.

“I am safe,” Chaudhury assured her distressed friends. “I was just checking that the app works.”

She uses VithU, a mobile phone app developed by Channel V, which was launched in November last year in India in the aftermath of the horrific rape-murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus in the Indian capital on Dec. 16, 2012.

The smart phone app is activated by tapping twice on an icon on the screen, which instantly sends the following message to pre-loaded emergency contacts: ‘I am in danger. I need help. Please follow my location’, along with details of the sender’s whereabouts.

“Fortunately I have never faced a situation where I felt the need to use it,” Chaudhury tells IPS. “But I think it is important to have it. I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial.

“We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions,” she explains.

After ‘Nirbhaya’

"I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial. We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions." -- Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi
While dime-a-dozen safety apps are now available in India, mostly launched by mobile phone companies and other private groups, the Government of India plans to launch a safety app of its own later this month, as an auxiliary service to the existing 181 helpline for women, which was started after the fatal Delhi bus rape.

“This new app will also facilitate pre-registering of crimes based on perceived threats,” says Khadijah Faruqui, a women’s rights activist and human rights lawyer who is heading the 181 Helpline.

Safety apps are just one of many responses to the 2012 gang rape, which sparked massive protests around this country of 1.2 billion, with scores of people taking to the streets to demand tougher laws, increased security measures, sensitization of the police force and stronger government action to tackle sexual violence against women.

Lawmakers and politicians responded to the tragedy by pushing out the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013, which incorporates various sexual crimes into the penal code, and promises stiffer penalties for offenses such as stalking, voyeurism or harassment.

The government also established six new fast-track courts to hear rape cases, and experts say there has been an explosion in public debate about women’s safety.

Still, millions of women continue to live in fear, while the frequency and brutality of rapes appears unchanged despite tougher laws.

The latest figures provided by India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2012 point to 24,923 rapes per year, while police reports from various cities show an alarming rise in assaults in 2013-2014.

India’s financial hub, Mumbai, which used to be considered a safe place for women, witnessed a 43-percent rise in the number of reported rapes this year compared to the previous year, according to the city’s police.

Meanwhile, the capital city saw an alarming five-fold rise in sexual assaults in 2013, police records say.

An abundance of apps

Against this backdrop, many women have welcomed the rise in innovative solutions to the constant threat of sexual violence.

For instance, Microsoft India recently released the safety application called ‘Guardian’ for Windows phones, which allows users to select a ‘track me’ feature that enables friends and family to follow the person in real-time using cloud services, among others.

The app also comes with an SOS alert function and a feature that allows the user to record evidence of an attack.

According to Microsoft-IT India Managing Director Raj Biyani, “It is a robust personal security app with more safety features and capabilities than any other comparable app available to Indian smart phone users today.”

Then there is Circle of 6, which won the 2011 Apps Against Abuse challenge sponsored by the Obama Administration and works by offering users a number of icons that send the user’s selected ‘circle’ messages for help, interruption, or advice.

Originally designed to guard against date rapes in the United States, the app’s developers saw a 1,000-percent rise in the number of downloads in India after the Nirbhaya tragedy, prompting them to translate the app into Hindi and tailor it to fit the Indian context.

According to Circle of 6–New Delhi, the app has been programmed in both English and Hindi and it has been designed in a gender-neutral manner.

Says Nancy Schwartzman, a representative of the team who created Circle of 6, “Administrations should make Circle of 6 a priority and should invest in the future of safety with this technology. Circle of 6 is […] a smart and efficient way to centralize both social and emergency communications.”

The app creators said the hotlines have been pre-programmed so that they are in sync with the 24/7 women’s hotline of New Delhi and the women counseling and support service run by the NGO Jagori.

A user of the app, who feels uneasy to contact the police, can also reach out to the Lawyer’s Collective, a leading public interest legal service provider.

Government gets on board

Taking its cue from private initiatives by IT firms and advocacy groups, the government is now pouring resources into the issue of women’s safety.

Under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the finance ministry approved proposals aimed at streamlining police, mobile and legal services in the country, resulting in the creation of a fund worth one trillion rupees (about 16 billion dollars) to be used exclusively on projects aimed at enhancing women’s safety.

For example, a proposal by the ministry of home affairs, designed in consultation with the ministry of information technology, calls for integration of the police administration with the mobile phone network to rapidly trace and respond to distress calls.

The ministry of information technology also plans to issue instructions to all mobile phone manufacturers to introduce a mandatory SOS alert button to all handsets.

The scheme will be launched in 157 cities in two phases.

Yet another project – known in its initial stage as ‘design and development of an affordable electronic personal safety device’ – being undertaken by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) aims to roll out a self-contained safety system in the form of a wristwatch.

India’s ministry of road transport and highways has proposed a scheme that will cover 32 towns, each with a population of over one million people, where public transportation vehicles will be fitted with GPS tracking devices to enhance law enforcement’s ability to respond to attacks.

Still, an app alone cannot solve the massive problem of violence against women in India, with an average of 57 cases of rape reported every day, according to an analysis of government data by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

According to Jasmeen Patheja, founder of a student-led project at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore known as Blank Noise, the “solution is not in the app itself, but its function and role and space for intervention.”

But Rimi B. Chatterjee, a writer and activist based in Kolkata who also teaches English in the prestigious Jadavpur University, which is leading a viral protest against the molestation of a girl student on campus in September this year, is skeptical about the effectiveness of the apps.

“I am personally not sure about their efficacy and I fear that they can actually be launched by companies to bank on the insecurity of women to make money. So I have never advised my students to use them,” says Chatterjee.

“The solution to women’s safety is in the counselling and training of men and not in development of apps. The problem is not with the women, it lies with men and their mindset, as young men are learning to disrespect women from their seniors,” she says.

However, according to Faruqui, an app like the one to be launched in connection with the 181 Helpline on Nov. 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the aim will be to address the gaps in the existing apps and ensure that a woman in distress can find timely assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137736 An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137720 Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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Massachussetts Schools Welcome New Students Who Fled Dangerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:45:45 +0000 Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137670 By Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan
SOMERVILLE, Massachussetts, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

Pedro sought a safer life. He traveled to Somerville from Chalantenango, El Salvador on foot, by bus, car, and in the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Now he’s one of 60 new students from Central America who have enrolled in Somerville Public Schools after making it to the Texas border on their own or with other children, part of a wave of 70,000 youth who crossed the border earlier this year. And the district is concentrating on when those students are going, not where they’ve been.“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message." -- Sarah Davila

“As soon as the student comes to Somerville, they are our students, period, and we don’t need to know, and we’re not interested in knowing about their residency status,” said Sarah Davila, the schools’ District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships.“We want them to be successful.”

Pedro – who, like other students in this article, is not being identified by his real name – had a perilous journey. He has a gash wound in his arm from an injury he got on the way. He ended up in a cell in Texas and then was bounced to an immigrant holding center in Florida before being reunited with his father, who works as a cook in Cambridge.

By the time he got to Somerville, he had a lung infection that landed him in the hospital.

But the hazards of his hometown justified the risky journey, he said.

“It’s really dangerous there,” Pedro said. “There are thugs who don’t leave you in peace.”

Maria, 15, lived with her grandparents, also in Chalantenango. She never remembers meeting her parents before arriving in Somerville.

“I told my parents that, since I was turning 15, I needed to be with them,” she said. “Living with your grandparents is not the same as living with your parents.”

Miguel, 16, came from San Vincente, El Salvador. Back home he lived with an aunt. His mother works for a local bakery here. Miguel said he had been harassed but never hurt by the local toughs. However, one of his friends was regularly ransomed, Miguel said, because he wore nice clothing. Local gang members assumed he had money. They demanded higher and higher payments. Then one day, the friend’s cousin disappeared.

“He suspected that the gang was responsible,” Miguel said. “So he and his family started to save up money and now he lives up here.”

Almost 70,000 young people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the U.S. border during fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sep. 30, 2014), up 77 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of them come from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.

Young migrants from those and all non-contiguous countries have the right to apply for asylum once they arrive. If their application is accepted, they get a court date and are then sent to a shelter or to the home of a family member, if one can be identified.

Those three countries are among the most dangerous in the world, according to 2012 United Nations statistics. Honduras had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012: 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador came in fourth, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000, and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.

Adapting to the classroom

The youth who make it to the border and arrive in Somerville face tough odds, according to school counselors and teachers, but the district is ready to take them in. All children in Massachusetts have the right to free public education, regardless of immigrant status or national origin.

All children in Massachusetts have the right to a free public education, regardless of immigration status or national origin. Somerville takes that right seriously, said Sarah Davila, District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships for the Somerville Public Schools.

“Unaccompanied youth is a particular profile,” Davila added. “They come with particular needs and we need to respond to their needs.

“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message,” she said.

The Somerville Public School system calculates that about 60 new students will arrive each school year, but this year the numbers will be much higher. While some students who crossed the border enrolled during the previous school year, in just the first two months of this academic year 48 new students – some unaccompanied minors, others who came to the community with their families – have enrolled, Davila reported. Some of them are high school age but have only a third or fourth grade level.

“Knowing that we have an increase in beginner students…  we’ve shifted our cluster of courses,” Davila said.

Even beginning students take all their courses in English, but now there are more entry-level math and sciences courses. In addition to regular courses, all English language learners take English as a Second Language, many of them from Sarah Sandager.

On a recent morning, a classroom of ninth graders chanted, “Today is October 28, 2014!” before getting back their corrected homework – vocabulary worksheets. Sandager moved up and down the rows, cajoling one student to do a re-write, praising another.

“They have so many challenges,” Sandager explained in an interview. Some have left behind parents or siblings, others have to work 40 hours a week, she said.

“You’re dealing with more than just them learning a language. You have to think about their whole self. The social and emotional component,” she said.

Pedro misses his mother but talks to her on the telephone every day. His dream is to graduate and get a good job “so my family and I can live a better life.”

In the meantime, he hopes the Somerville community will make an effort to understand the immigrant wave from Central America.

“I hope they… look how things are in our countries,” Pedro said. “I just ask people to understand us and give us a little support that we might need and that they don’t discriminate against us.”

A version of this story appeared in the Somerville Journal and Somerville Neighborhood News.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Children in Aleppo Forced Underground to Go to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 11:05:25 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137618 Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

Winter has not yet hit this nearly besieged city, but children are already attending classes in winter coats and stocking hats.

Cold, damp underground education facilities are less exposed to regime barrel bombs and airstrikes but necessitate greater bundling to prevent common seasonal viruses from taking hold in a city from which most doctors have fled or been killed.

Only one perilous route leads out of the city and northwards to the Turkish border and better medical care, if required.A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces.

On the way to an underground school IPS visited in late October, the children must necessarily pass by shop fronts blown out by airstrikes, a few remaining signs advertising what used to be clothing, hairdressers’ or wedding apparel shops with the ‘idolatrous’ images spray-painted black by the Islamic State (IS) when they briefly controlled the area, before being pushed out by rebel groups.

The jihadist group is still battling to retake terrain in the area, with the closest frontline against them being in Marea, an estimated 30 kilometres away from opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo.

They must also witness the destruction wrought by the regime, which is trying to impose a total siege on opposition areas and which would need to take only a few kilometres more of terrain to do so.

Even if they only live a block away, the children are forced to walk by buildings entirely defaced by barrel bombs, floors hanging down precariously above the heads of fruit, vegetable and sweets street vendors. A pink toilet and part of a couch are still visibly wedged between the upper, mutilated and dangling levels of one such building on their way.

A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces. Two boys at the front of one of the rooms sway back and forth with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing boisterously.

Some of the rough walls have been painted sky blue or festooned with holiday-type decorations to ‘’brighten the children’s spirits’’, one of teachers says. A few comic-strip posters have been pasted in the corridor.

Children signing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children singing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

The classes run from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during the week, one of the instructors – Zakra, a former fifth-year university student in engineering – told IPS.

Zakra, who now teaches mathematics, English and science at the school, said that she gets paid about 50 dollars a month. All of the school’s 15 teachers are women wearing all-covering black garments. Some cover their faces as well, some do not. IPS was told not to photograph them in any case, because many still have family members in regime areas.

‘’The school opened last year,’’ Zakra said, ‘’but then stopped between October 2013 and July 2014, as the barrel-bombing campaign made it too dangerous for parents to send their children to school,’’ even to underground ones.

The young teacher said that she plans on leaving at some point to continue her studies in Turkey but was not sure when, primarily due to economic reasons.

Older students are mostly left to their own devices, because this school and others like it only provide for those ages 6 to 13.

The head of the education department of the Aleppo City Council – who goes by the name of Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – told IPS that some 115 schools were still operating in the area, but that most of them were former ground-level flats, basements or other structures.

Only about 20 original school buildings were still operating, he said, from some 750 in the area prior to the uprising.

Syrian government forces have targeted educational and medical facilities in opposition areas throughout the conflict, and efforts are made to keep the locations secret.

Those preparing for the baccalaureate – the Syrian secondary school diploma – study at home, he said. They then come to centres on established dates to actually take the exams in late June and early July. Word is spread of where they will be held via the Aleppo Today television channel, which broadcasts out of Gaziantep, and posters are put up around the city to announce the times and places.

Turkey, Libya and France currently recognise the baccalaureate exams, Qudsi noted, but ‘’French universities only accepted five of our students last year.’’

Most of the curriculum remains that approved by the regime, but ‘nationalistic’ parts praising the Assad family have been cut and religion classes now teach that ‘’fighting against the Assad regime is a religious duty.’’

‘’We also want to change the curricula, but we can’t right now. We want it to be a Syrian-chosen one – one designed and wanted by all Syrians – but we can’t do that now, given the situation,’’ said Qudsi, ‘’and we obviously don’t have the money to print new books.’’

Most of the low salaries the teachers receive are necessarily funded by various international and private associations because the city council just does not have the funds, he noted.

The council, ‘’was only able to pay the equivalent of 70 dollars each for the entire academic year but the teachers were happy about it nonetheless, since it shows that we appreciate what they are doing.’’

Qudsi was also adamant that even the most fundamentalist parents had not interfered with their teaching.  ‘’We are all in this together. Their children attend our schools, too.’’

The barrel bombs stopped entirely for a number of days earlier this autumn after rebel forces closed in on the Aleppo air defence factories where the crude bombs made of scrap metal and explosives are assembled by regime forces. The bombing has since resumed following regime gains.

On arriving at the scene of one such attack in late October, IPS saw a body pulled from the rubble by the civil defence forces before they rushed with flashlights around the block to get to the other side of the collapsed building, where three young children had been trapped underneath the rubble. All were later found dead.

Families were crowded on the steps outside of other buildings down the street, and flashlight beams illuminated the faces of clutches of frightened children, an adult or two nearby in the dust raised by the concrete slabs brought down in the impact.

The schools at least give the children a chance to focus on something other than the destruction and death surrounding them, Qudsi told IPS, and ‘’are the only chance of Syria having any future at all.’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Learning, Dating and Hooking Up: Sex Education Goes Online in Cambodiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 18:15:41 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137604 Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
KOH KONG PROVINCE, Cambodia, Nov 5 2014 (IPS)

The transition to puberty can be an awkward experience for youth to navigate. In Cambodia, sex education is moving increasingly into the virtual realm, with the Internet and mobile phones providing welcome spaces for young people to learn, seek help and stay safe.

Cambodia is classified as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), with 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while another 20 percent are just 0.30 dollars a day above the poverty line, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Illiteracy has been linked with poverty and only 74 percent of rural communities are literate. Cambodia has been heavily influenced by the NGO culture, which has helped bring about some improvements, yet when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), these organisations have tended to focus on addressing poor maternal health or at-risk groups, such as entertainment workers.

"This is the difficulty that we experience [in Cambodia: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.” -- Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia
Youth, on the other hand, particularly those from poorer families and in rural areas, have not received much attention, particularly those who engage in romantic relationships outside of marriage.

Now, a wave of online learning is filling crucial gaps in the knowledge system.

One such initiative is a major E-learning platform being rolled out with support from the ministry of education, youth and sport (MoEYS), aimed at improving young people’s access to vital information.

“NGOs focus on the population in general, birth spacing, maternal health, but not sweetheart relationships that youth have,” Kuth Sovanno, administrative officer in the school health department of the MoEYS said recently to a roomful of teachers at Koh Kong High School during the launch of the E-learning initiative.

It is being piloted in 24 secondary schools in the provinces of Bantey Meanchey, Battambong, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Kampot, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville (Kampong Som province) and Phnom Penh. At present, the plan is to expand the programme to reach 100 schools.

Sovanno tells IPS that tapping into social media is a way to get the information out to youth who flock to Facebook to socialise. Youth are beginning to see online access as an important source of information, so the MoEYS maintains an up-to-date website, which is not always the case with the other ministries.

Cambodia’s mobile phone sales have mushroomed, resulting in an estimated 134-percent mobile phone penetration, with cell phones being cheaper than land lines, while social media – accessed through Internet cafes and mobile devices – was believed to have played a major role in the 2013 elections.

In this same way, youth are breaking away from traditional restrictions on sexual and reproductive health education, says Srun Srorn, advisor to One World UK, partnering with the MoEYS to launch the E-learning programme.

Srorn is an activist who uses social media to reach marginalised youth, including the LGBT community, drug users, sex workers and migrant workers. His volunteer-led organisation, CamASEAN, reaches 2,000 members through social media.

Chheon Rachana, a 28-year-old female activist for LGBT issues who teaches about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression for Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and CamASEAN, tells IPS that many girls do not talk to their parents or female teachers for advice on seemingly basic topics like menstruation; instead, most reach out to friends.

While some schools make use of NGO support to supply poor rural students with feminine products at school, many girls continue to face challenges in acquiring the most essential products and services.

“Poor girls ask for money from their parents or from someone close to them in their family,” explains Rachana. She herself did not tell her parents when she started menstruating, but had a sympathetic relative help buy her monthly feminine products.

Things become even more challenging for teens learning about safer sex, abortions and sexual orientation.

“The traditional Cambodian style of reproductive and sexual health education means that most youth have to find out by themselves by book, [and] share [this information] with their friends because they don’t learn this at school,” Rachana says.

She thinkx the Internet is changing this, though she maintains the importance of accurate information – something that is not always possible given the very nature of the Web.

NGOs such as the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), which also supports the E-learning initiative, trains peer educators to provide accurate information and emotional support in several provinces but adolescents without access to this especially benefit from mobile, SMS and online counseling.

Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia, which, along with Inthanou, provides counselors for the new website www.youthchhlat.org, tells IPS, “Online and phone counseling is a new concept in Cambodia. Many people often refer [to] counseling as giving advice or instructing people to do certain thing. This is the difficulty that we experience: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.”

He describes the service as “pro-poor” and especially helpful for youth in rural areas, as one-on-one counseling can be expensive, while this service is free. The use of mobile phones allows for privacy to talk about these topics either online, by calling or through SMS.

The MoEYS recently published a life skills book for youth that tackles changes in adolescents’ bodies, but also social issues such as drug use and learning about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is paired with the E-learning project that has its own curriculum as well.

“Each student has time at the computer already so it will be easier because they are shy to learn [about sexual reproductive health],” Theary, a high school teacher who has taught grades 7-9 at Koh Kong High for the past seven years, tells IPS.

Computer labs, such as the one in Koh Kong High School, will introduce the website’s lessons to students offline first because of the school’s slow Internet connection but they can also access the lessons online at Internet cafes or through mobile phones.

The new website was launched in March of this year.

“Many youth have sex before marriage now, compared to traditional times,” adds Srorn of One World UK, who trains teachers on how to use the E-learning platform.

“Girls already learn by themselves and use porn videos for this. Internet cafes are not expensive, just 1000 riels [0.24 dollars] an hour so poor girls can learn this way. Males use karaoke bars, beer gardens, massage parlors.”

Koh Kong town, situated close to the Thai border, has many massage parlors and some casinos.

“Middle-class and [upper]-class girls can walk or take a moto bike along the riverside in cities [to meet potential sex partners], while high-class girls go to hip-hop clubs where they can meet a guy. But youth also use the Internet for this. They can use Skype, Facebook messenger and phone sex to hook up.”

Chheon agrees that meeting girlfriends and boyfriends online is common these days. But she says it is important that they meet in public places first and not away from other people for safety reasons.

According to a 2013 U.N. report, 20 percent of men in Cambodia said they had forced a woman to have sex, half of whom claimed to have done so as a teenager.

For those surviving an assault, phone and online counseling can be a lifesaver.

“A girl in a village [who has] been raped … will not only face discrimination, she will have a very difficult time in terms of trauma, stress, and feelings of suicide. Phone counseling, online and text message counseling is playing a role to create the means or opportunity for such a community,” points out Sok Phay from the Child Helpline.

But perhaps what is most urgently needed is information about practicing safer sex.

Monyl Loun, executive director of Inthanou, the other counseling service supporting the project, tells IPS that while love and relationships are “natural” at the age of puberty, the important thing is to learn about the “responsibilities of love, and information to prevent … unintended pregnancy, HIVs and STIs.”

Karaoke videos that play on televisions in buses and even the simplest cafes show romantic partners ending their lives over relationship problems.

“KTV songs and dances are about love, broken hearts and marriage,” explains Srun, adding that most music videos depict couples killing or hurting themselves as a solution to their problems.

But counselors working round the clock in Cambodia hope the new technology-savvy mode of sex education will remind youth that love does not have to end in tragedy.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kyrgyzstan’s Teachers Quitting to Take Better Paying, Unskilled Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 15:04:07 +0000 an EurasiaNet correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137547 Students play basketball outside a school in Barskoon, eastern Kyrgyzstan, in February 2013. Average teacher wages of less than 100 dollars is driving many teachers to quit the profession and instead take on better paying unskilled work. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Students play basketball outside a school in Barskoon, eastern Kyrgyzstan, in February 2013. Average teacher wages of less than 100 dollars is driving many teachers to quit the profession and instead take on better paying unskilled work. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By an EurasiaNet correspondent
BISHKEK, Nov 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Minovar Ruzieva, 38, was an English teacher in Osh until last summer. The mother of four now sells Chinese clothes at a local bazaar. Like many other teachers in Kyrgyzstan, she could not survive on her “scant salary,” so she took unskilled work to make ends meet.

“I quit working as a teacher because I was paid only 3,800 soms [68 dollars] per month,” Ruzieva told EurasiaNet.org, pointing out that a kilo of beef would cost 10 percent of her salary. “That salary is enough to buy one nice dress. I managed to tolerate such miserable pay thanks to my husband’s earnings, which support our family. But I am sure a single mother with a child or two would not be able to survive on such a salary.”If in the Soviet heyday schools had their pick among highly qualified teachers, “now we are forced to take anyone who comes, anyone available, regardless of their skills.” -- Oksana Kiseleva

Dismal pay, combined with low social status, is driving younger teachers to leave the profession. In addition, some older teachers who were trained during the Soviet era are retiring, and they are not being replaced. As they go, the quality of public education is plunging, especially outside of Bishkek, leaving a generation of Kyrgyz graduates lacking the skills needed to find well-paying jobs.

“We have 20-to-25-year-olds who cannot even correctly write their names!” said Gaisha Ibragimova, president of the Association of Educational Institutions in Kyrgyzstan, a Bishkek-based lobby group.

Lawmaker Kanybek Osmonaliev, chairman of parliament’s Education, Science, Culture and Sports Committee, says there are about 80,000 schoolteachers in the country, a shortage of at least 2,500.

“The main reason for the shortage of teachers is the low salaries,” Osmonaliev, a former physics teacher, told EurasiaNet.org. “Nowadays teachers get on average 5,500 soms [99 dollars] per month. We need to raise their salaries by at least 30 percent.”

That would cost the state budget 3.5 billion soms, approximately 63 million dollars, Osmonaliev calculates, noting that the impoverished government cannot afford the increase.

On Oct. 15, at a parliamentary hearing where lawmakers discussed teachers’ salaries, they failed to take action. After a heated debate, including threats to dismiss the entire Education Ministry staff, Erkin Sakebayev from the president’s governing Social Democratic Party concluded “there is no need to take a decision because the government will not fulfill it due to the lack of funds.”

Oksana Kiseleva, an administrator at the Olympus School, a public school in Osh, said the shortage of teachers is a “very serious problem.” If in the Soviet heyday schools had their pick among highly qualified teachers, “now we are forced to take anyone who comes, anyone available, regardless of their skills.”

Because of the low salaries, schools across the country lack teachers of geography, mathematics, biology and the Russian language, Kiseleva told EurasiaNet.org.

“Today many teachers work at local bazaars, and basically it is only pensioners who work at schools. A very large percentage of retired teachers still teach,” Kiseleva said. “First of all, they work because their pensions are small, but also because school administrators manage to persuade [teachers to postpone retirement] because we do not have enough.”

The teacher shortage is just one of the causes of the collapse of Kyrgyzstan’s education system. Schools are also crowded and poorly maintained. “Most children do not have textbooks,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in 2011. The curriculum is “outdated and overloaded […] irrelevant and incoherent.”

Corruption is also a problem, and not just with teachers frequently demanding informal payments from parents or requiring high school students to pay for good grades. Under the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a state tender for printing textbooks was handed to a company with ties to his son, Maxim, according to the ICG report. The price of textbooks rose, money disappeared, and when the ruling Bakiyev family was chased from the country in 2010, few of the textbooks had reached classrooms.

Local politicians look to foreign donors to fix the problems and are reluctant to accept responsibility, or even acknowledge shortcomings in the system. In 2005 and 2009, Kyrgyzstan scored last in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment exam, or PISA; over 80 percent of Kyrgyz 15-year-olds did not meet minimum expectations in literacy, mathematics and science. Rather than strive to make improvements, Kyrgyzstan simply stopped offering the exam.

But for many, the teacher shortage is the most visible problem.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Education and Science, Amantur Akmatov, maintained the ministry is succeeding in filling the teacher shortage, cutting it in half overall the last year, bringing the deficit to 1,200 teachers. But he deferred questions about how the salary gap was funded to the Finance Ministry.

Experts do not trust the Education Ministry’s numbers. Ibragimova, the educational association chief, asserted that Kyrgyzstan lacks 3,000 teachers, especially in science and the Russian language, which is critical since so many Kyrgyzstanis join the migrant exodus to Russia in search of work.

These days people “believe that only the biggest losers, people unable to do anything else with their lives, become teachers, and they think it is a shameful and disgraceful profession,” Ibragimova said.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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