Inter Press Service » Education News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Radio rage in India Sat, 13 Feb 2016 07:45:59 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 The New Normal in Fata Thu, 11 Feb 2016 07:16:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

A military operation by Pakistan’s army has been proving fatal for Taliban militants who held sway over vast swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a decade. They crossed over the border from Afghanistan and took refuge in Fata after their government was toppled by US-led forces towards the end of 2001. After a few years, when they got a toe-hold in the region, they extended their wings to all seven districts of Fata. Not any more.

During those fateful years, schools were targetted as the militants are opposed to education. “Taliban destroyed more than 750 schools, mostly for girls, in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between to 2005 to 2012,” Jaffar Ahmed, an official of Fata’s education department said. Fortunately, there was no incident of bombing of schools by the Taliban because the army campaign forced them to empty out of Fata. They have now lost the capability to operate freely due to the military offensive launched in early 2015.

Pakistan army launched operations against militants after the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014, killing 150 mostly pupils, This campaign was part of the National Action Plan approved by all political parties, which has now cleared 95 per cent of Fata of insurgents. Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary security Fata, told IPS about the benefits of military action: “Taliban’s ruthlessness forced people to leave for safety. Now, the displaced have started returning to their ancestral areas.”

About 3 million had taken temporary refuge in adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces, out of which 500,000 people have returned as normalcy has returned to Fata. “We sighed with relief from the end of Taliban’s ruthlessness. We are overwhelmed by government’s announcement about our return,” said Muhammad Shabbir, a resident of Khyber Agency, one of Fata’s districts. “We left our native home when local Taliban destroyed schools and banned oral polio vaccine, he explained, adding that “Taliban are opposed to polio drops due to which they disallowed vaccinators in Fata. Likewise, they considered education against Islam and banned it.” He now hopes that children will get into schools very soon. Kids have also started receiving vaccination which was earlier completely banned by the Taliban.

On Feb. 5, shopkeepers resumed business activities in Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency after seven long years. The bazaar was shut due to increasing militancy, which forced the people to stay away from businesses and take refuge somewhere else. “We have cleared the area of militants and have made elaborate arrangement for the security of the bazaar,” political agent Shahab Ali Shah informed IPS. Everyone entering the bazaar is thoroughly searched at the entry and exit points to ensure that militants don’t carry out acts of terrorism, he added. The bazaar would open at 8 am and close at 6pm. The government has installed closed-circuit television cameras at six points to monitor the people’s movements and ensure security, he added.

Shopkeepers are overwhelmed by the resumption of work. “We have suffered heavy economic losses due to terrorism and want complete peace. All the traders have given an undertaking to the government that the shopkeepers wouldn’t give donations to militants,” Abdul Jabbar, a trade leader said. We have also requested the government to give us soft loans to resume our businesses, he said. We desperately need financial assistance to be able to repair our damaged shops and start our businesses afresh, he said. “About 70 per cent of shops in the bazaar are in bad conditions for which we demand assistance to rebuild them,” he stated.

The government has also started repair work and reconstruction of the Taliban-damaged schools. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has rebuilt 200 of the total 250 schools destroyed by Taliban,” Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. We have allocated $10m for rebuilding schools in the province, he said. “Committees at the community level have been set-up to safeguard the schools,” he said. About 15,000 watchmen have been trained in security-related matters to cope with the situation, he said.

According to Director Education Fata, Muhammad Nadeem, “about 40,000 students have missed their studies and efforts were being made to enable those who remained out of schools to get back. “There would be no summer vacation in schools opened after military action so students could catch up with studies,” he elaborated. Students aren’t only back in schools but they are also playing different kinds of sports. “We appeal to the army to continue the campaign till the Taliban militants are eliminated so that durable peace is established,” felt Jawad Shah, a student of grade 10 at a school in the North Waziristan Agency, which was hitherto the headquarters of the Taliban in Fata.


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Women and Girls Imperative to Science & Technology Agenda Mon, 08 Feb 2016 12:14:12 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women]]> Lakshmi Puri

By Lakshmi Puri

Can you imagine an entire day without access to your mobile phone, laptop, or even to the internet? In our rapidly changing world, could you function without having technology at your fingertips?

Unfathomable for most of us, but across the world—especially for many in developing countries–using and accessing technology is not readily available, and certainly not a privileged choice. This is particularly true for women and girls.

In low- to middle-income countries, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, and the divide is similar for Internet access. The possibilities of scientific and technological progress is almost limitless, yet women and girls are sorely missing in these fields, particularly as a creators and decision-makers in spheres that are transforming our everyday world.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly declared 11 February the International Day for Women in Science. Coinciding with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, or Agenda 2030, which are underpinned by science, technology and innovation (STI) and call for gender equality throughout, including under the standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, this Day has the potential to reverberate across the world.

Science and technology is not inherently elite, or about gadgets or toys. It is about our everyday. STI has the power to disrupt and shift trajectories as it increasingly influences all aspects of life today – from economic opportunity in STI sectors and the application of STI solutions within other productive sectors, including to help women grow business and social enterprise, to opportunity for greatly improving health outcomes (including sexual and reproductive health), energy, environment and natural resource management, and infrastructure development.

We see opportunity, particularly through information and communication technology, to enhance education, learning opportunities and skill development, for engagement with youth, for political participation and for women and girls to advocate for their interests, rights and social transformation.

Economic opportunities are abundant. The economic forecast in just a few STI sectors reveal staggering numbers. Estimates have shown that the value of climate change and clean technology sectors in the next decade amount to 6.4 trillion dollars, while the value of the digital economy in the G20 alone is 4.2 trillion dollars.

There is a huge opportunity gap in digitally skilled workers, amounting to 200 million workers, with estimates showing that up to 90% of formal sector jobs will require ICT skills. In energy and agriculture, 2.5 million engineers and technicians will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone to achieve improved access to clean water and sanitation.

Science and technology squarely underlie the enjoyment of human – and women’s – rights and are intrinsic to sustainable development, citizenship and personal empowerment. The SDG Gender Goal recognizes this reality by including a means of implementation indicator which directs the global community to “Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.” (5b).

The ability of women to access, benefit from, develop and influence these sectors will directly impact whether we achieve our goals of Planet 50:50 by 2030. If women are left out of these 21st century revolutions, we will not achieve substantive gender equality.

The Financing for Development framework makes additional linkages between gender equality, women’s empowerment and science and technology. In establishing the Technology Mechanism – which will be guided by a High Level Panel, half of which are women – we have the opportunity to operationalize and promote learning and investment around these critical intersections.

The Commission on the Status of Women (2011, 2014) and the 20-year Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (2015) addressed this complex issue of girls and women in science and technology, and resulted in a series of recommendations on a path forward and needed investments. New, as well as established good practices were identified, but we face the urgent need to scale these success stories from all stakeholders and to connect ad hoc good approaches to each other to build more comprehensive pathways and solutions.

The 10 year review of the World Summit on the Information Society also resulted in increased commitments around gender equality and a role for UN Women. An Action Plan that synthesized priority gender and ICT commitments across a multitude of normative frameworks, including WSIS, was also presented to catalyze engagement of stakeholders. The urgent need for accelerated implementation of all of these commitments and recommendations cannot be understated.

Evidence shows, including in the recent World Bank Report on Digital Dividends, gains are not automatic. The number of women in STEM falls continuously from secondary school to university, laboratories, teaching, policy making and decision-making. There are great divides in women’s access to, participation and leadership within STI sectors, despite being on the frontlines of energy use, climate change adaptation, economic production, and holders of extensive traditional knowledge. In the formal sector of STI, women globally make up under 10 percent of those in innovation hubs and those receiving funding by venture capitalists, and only 5 percent of membership in national academies in science and technology disciplines.

There are similar low figures around women in research and development, publication, leadership in government and the private sector, and so on. The disconnect between women’s practical and regular interface with STI and their formal ability to take advantage of these sectors and in having their knowledge, perspectives and leadership valued is stark indeed.

The reasons for this disconnect are many, ranging from access to technology, to education and investment gaps, to unsupportive work environments, to cultural beliefs and stereotypes. Globally, girls start to self-select out of STEM courses in early secondary school. Societal attitudes and bias hinder girls’ participation, with science and technology often considered male domains.

But change is coming, slowly but steadily. On the ground, UN Women is working to further women and girl’s engagement in the field, with many programmes focused on leveraging the power of ICTs. We are running digital literacy and ICT skill development initiatives in countries including Jordan, Guatemala and Afghanistan, and we are supporting mobile payment and information systems for farmers and women in small business in Papua New Guinea and East Africa.

UN Women has also been supporting the development of mobile apps and games to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors in Brazil and South Africa. We have partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch a new global technology award that recognizes outstanding contributions from women and men in leveraging the potential of information technology to promote gender equality. At the policy level, we are engaged globally and nationally to promote girls and women in STEM.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we must not only celebrate women’s incredible achievements in science, technology and innovation, but also galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in the formal sector is not the exception but becomes the rule, while in the informal sector where women’s ingenuity is the rule, that they are given recognition and support.

The International Day for Women in Science serves as an annual reminder and hold us to account on how we are advancing women in science, technology and innovation more broadly and critically for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.


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Activists Accuse India of Violating UN Convention on Child Rights Tue, 26 Jan 2016 07:03:28 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
NEW DELHI, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

Civil rights groups and child welfare activists have strongly protested against the enactment of a new Juvenile Justice Act by the Indian parliament, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile for trial from 18 to 16- years old in heinous crimes cases.

Human rights activists and people working for child welfare say reducing the age would be against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.

According to the existing law in India, formed in 2000, the accused under the age of 18 cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and sent to an adult jail. The new law also treats all children under the age of 18 similarly, except for one difference. It states that any one between 16 and 18 who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult.

The ongoing heated debates and protests started against the backdrop of the higher appeal courts’ permission to release one of the main accused in the high profile 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The boy was a juvenile, from a reform home at the end of his three-year remand period.

The case relates to a horrific incident on 16 December 2012, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and gang raped in a moving private transport bus in which she was travelling with a male friend at night.

Dr. Pushkar Raj, well-known human rights leader and former General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said that the move of the government to pass tougher laws on juveniles was ill-conceived and would not achieve the intended purpose of reducing crimes amongst juveniles.

“Though juvenile crime has slightly risen in India in last few years, it stands half as compared to US and Australia. While in India it hovers under 1500 per 100,000 of juvenile population, in the US and Australia it is well above 3000 per 100,000,” he told IPS.

The National Crime Records Bureau data says that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16 to 18 age group during the period 2003 to 2013.

The data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes has increased from one per cent in 2003 to 1.2 per cent in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54 per cent to 66 per cent.

Experts, however, say that the new law would go against the global commitment of India to child rights.

Shoba Koshy, Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told IPS that whatever may be the logic behind the lowering of age, it is not acceptable as seen from a child rights perspective. She expressed the apprehension that the new law would be counterproductive until and unless correct remedial measures are taken.

“We have committed ourselves both nationally and internationally to protect child rights up to the age of 18 years.
Therefore, the new amended law is not suitable to this norm. Even if you reduce the age to 16 and then a 15-year old commits a similar crime, would you again reduce the age,” she asked.

“There are several unattended issues concerning children which need to be looked into. We should help our children to grow up to be good individuals by providing systems that will give them the care and protection they deserve in their childhood and by imparting proper education and moral values. The government should allocate more funds for strengthening infrastructure facility to develop reformative and rehabilitative mechanisms under the Juvenile Justice Law, “she said.

The National Human Rights Commission also disagreed with the government move and sent its disagreement in writing to the government.

Media reported that the rights panel opined that every boy at 16 years would be treated as juvenile. “If he is sent to jail, there is no likelihood of any reformation and he will come out a hardened criminal. “

However, participating in the debate in Parliament, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said that under the new law any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years will stay in an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders till the age of 21 years, whatever the sentence.

A study report in 2013 on ‘Factors Underlying Juvenile Delinquency and Positive Youth Development Programs’, prepared by Kavita Sahney of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology at Rourkela in Odisha, revealed that offences committed by delinquents were primarily due to the combination of various individual and environmental variables, individual risk factors of the delinquents, negligence and ignorance of the parents, peer influence, poor socio-economic status, family pressure and lack of proper socialization.

A section of women activists and members of parliament believe that the new law neither gives safety to women from crimes against them nor gives protection to the children involved in such cases.

Dr. T.N. Seema, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and parliament member in the Upper House, expressed deep anguish over the “encroachment” by the government on the rights of children.

“Most of the juvenile homes in the country do not have a good atmosphere and enough physical facilities to reside delinquent children. In such a situation, how can we reform juveniles?” she told IPS.

T. P. Lakshmi, an activist at Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu, said that the government succumbed to the “pressure tactics” of a section of women’s groups “taking mileage from the Delhi rape case.” “It is unfortunate that one or two rape cases determine the fate of all the boys accused in juvenile cases in the country,” she said.


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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women


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One Fish Two Fish, No Fish: Rebuilding of Fish Stocks Urgently Needed Thu, 21 Jan 2016 15:22:27 +0000 Christopher Pala 0 Tanzania: Girls Struggle to Avoid Forced Marriage, Yearn to Learn Thu, 21 Jan 2016 07:18:54 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Fire a Hot Topic in Youth Employment in South Africa Wed, 20 Jan 2016 15:51:05 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni Fire fighters from Working on Fire on fire line at recent Muizenberg fires. Credit: IPS-WoF1

Fire fighters from Working on Fire on fire line at recent Muizenberg fires. Credit: IPS-WoF1

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

Nolukhanyo Babalaza finished her final year of high school and received her diploma in 2000, but this was not an immediate passport to a good life. She was frustrated to see some people making it while she struggled to afford basic things like everyday food.

“It gives one negative thoughts. One ends up doing things you regret,” she said.

A breakthrough came three years later. Babalaza became a fire fighter. She joined the South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affair’s Working on Fire Programme (WoF).

Fires are considered a persistent problem in South Africa, a merciless destroyer of life, property and environment.

Either in the dry summer months in the Western Cape, or in the dry winter months in the rest of the country, wildland fires are started by lightning or, in mountainous regions, by falling rocks or accidentaly from careless individuals. Millions of properties are lost annually. Lives and the environment are wasted.

Good things have, however, emerged from this perennial problem.

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affair’s Working on Fire Programme started in 2003 has become a means to fight unemployment and poverty.

Youths have been drawn from the ranks of the unemployed and poor.

“These young people are trained to help fight unwanted veld and forest fires across the country and often they use their skills as a stepping stone into the formal job market,” says Linton Rensburg, WoF National Communications Manager.

The youths are trained as drivers, brush cutters, dispatchers, helicopter safety leaders and in environmental education. It isn’t big money but it offers a gateway to the future.

The jobless rate in South Africa increased to 25.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2015 from 25 per cent in the previous period, according to Trading Economics. The unemployment rate rose 3.6 per cent while employment went up 1.1 per cent and more people joined the labour force. The unemployment rate in South Africa averaged 25.27 per cent from 2000 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 31.20 per cent in the first quarter of 2003 and a record low of 21.50 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The unemployment rate data in South Africa is reported by Statistics South Africa.

Fire employees

Babalaza has grown with the programme. From her start as an ordinary fire fighter she became a crew leader, and then moved to become an administration assistant. Today she is a finance control officer in the programme in the Western Cape.

She admits the programme has greatly improved her life.

“Things are much better. I am able to at least support my family and I can pay my bills,” she said.

Babalaza’s story is one of many involved in the programme, Rensburg told IPS.

“Thousands of young people first found meaningful work opportunities in the programme and later on through the training and skills development aspects of WoF they were able to progress from being a fire fighter earning a stipend to being a salaried employee in WoF,” he said.

Take Justine Lekalakala’s story, for instance. Lekalakala, a former fire fighter at the Dinokeng Base in Hammanskraal North of Pretoria, now works in the South African National Defence Force.

“I was able to use the stipend I earned at WoF to apply for other jobs and educate myself by doing computer courses. It was easier for me to be absorbed into the military as I had the self-discipline and fitness which I acquired in WoF,” he said.

Christalene De Kella was clueless about what she wanted out of life after completing her secondary school in 2004. She grabbed the opportunity to become a fire fighter in her hometown, Uniondale. The single mother of a seven-year old daughter, she has since established a career path for development.

Starting as an entry level fire fighter, she attended several intensive fire management training courses and even participated in opening a new base. In 2005 she was promoted to a stock control officer for WoF.

In 2009 Kella became the media and community liaison officer in the Southern Cape Region and in 2013 she was given the opportunity of becoming a video journalist for the WoF video unit.

“Working on Fire has had a positive impact on my life,” she said, adding she currently travels across the country to interview and record stories for the WoF TV news as featured on You Tube.

The progression could not be sweeter for two former fire fighters who started two-year training in May last year to become spotter pilots at the Kishugu Aviation Academy in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.

Themba Maebela, 27, from Mpumalanga and Siyabonga Varasha, 26, from the Eastern Cape are employed as helicopter personal assistants.

“It was like I was dreaming, my family did not believe me when I told them that I will train to become a pilot,” said Maebela, who joined working for the fire unit in 2010.

South African youth who do not have this necessary diploma must excel in their work and employers will then recognise their talents and skills, he advised.

As Naome Nkoana patrols the streets as a metro police officer in Pretoria. She recalls how participation in the WoF programme, where she underwent advanced driver training in Nelspruit, helped her to not only pass the metro police fitness tests, but her advanced driving skills and made it easier to become a metro police officer.

Rensburg says since the Working on Fire Programme started, it has changed the lives of the 5,000 participants and indirectly benefited 25,000 other dependents.

A 2012 Social Impact Study on participants said that the training presented by WoF boosted beneficiaries’ knowledge and self-worth.

“Through the WoF programme, they were able to get to know their own weaknesses and strengths better,” the study concludes.


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Science: Not Just a Western Sector, It Can Help Africa Too Wed, 20 Jan 2016 07:51:31 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Maternal and Child Health Key to Kenya’s Economic Growth Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:08:18 +0000 Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms Mette Knudsen is Denmark’s Ambassador to Kenya. Follow her on twitter: @metknu. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1]]> Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

By Ambassador Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Jan 18 2016 (IPS)

On Friday, 06 November 2015, we had the honor of meeting the First Lady of Kenya Ms Margaret Kenyatta, a tireless advocate for “every woman and every child”, during the launch of the Beyond Zero campaign in Mandera County, North-Eastern Kenya, a place which has often been described as ‘the worst place on earth to give birth’.

Mandera’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 3 795 deaths per 100 000 live births, almost double that of wartime Sierra Leone at 2 000 deaths per 100 000 live births.

Two out of every three cases of maternal deaths occur in areas affected by a humanitarian crisis or in volatile onditions, such as the North-Eastern region of Kenya where increasing focus is being put on giving pregnant mothers a real chance of surviving childbirth.

Some 6 out of every ten maternal deaths occur in this region. Poor education, little use of contraceptives, traditions such as marriage, that tend to derail women’s self-determination, together with inadequate health services have kept led to these very poor health indicators.

What we realized was that almost every child born in the region is really a throw of the dice, a hit-or-miss proposition that local communities face with stoicism, but a situation that development agencies are increasingly determined not accept.

For just over a year now, UNFPA has worked with the H4+ partners (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN Women and UNAIDS), to find ways not only to save lives at childbirth but also to meet related challenges of reproductive health in the six counties of Kenya that have the most maternal deaths.

The government of Denmark supports UNFPA’s programmes globally and in Kenya this support is based on a Denmark-Kenya Country Programme 2016-2020 that seeks to give momentum to Kenya’s Vision 2030.

The policy’s thematic programme on health specifically identifies operational support for primary health care facilities at county and national government levels as well as support for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Danish government is committed to supporting UNFPA to further ongoing work in Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, Lamu and Migori counties to deliver a comprehensive package of services in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

Denmark has pledged US$ 6 million to help the six counties give greater focus to adolescent girls and young women, through targeted and evidence-based interventions in multiple sectors. Of key concern will be addressing drivers for early sexual activity among adolescent girls and boys, early childbearing and early marriage, and advocating for keeping girls in schools.

In a demonstration of how collaboration in development work can be done effectively, various private sectors partners have joined these efforts in the six counties, that are already showing positive results.

There is reason for optimism that we can expand the supply of quality services; that we can innovate for delivering cost effective interventions for family planning, emergency obstetric care, postnatal and newborn care.

Though it is the right thing to do, this partnership is not driven by morality but concrete evidence that reducing maternal and newborn deaths is the smartest investment for changing the fortunes of poor economies.

Our observations show that complex operations are not required to make a real difference; simple interventions such as ensuring more women give birth through a skilled attendant greatly increase chances of survival for mother and baby.

It is about convincing communities to eschew practices such as early marriage and others that invariably occur without girls’ consent, robbing them of their childhood, forcing them out of school, trapping them in poverty, and putting them at a higher risk of potentially dangerous pregnancies and childbirth.

It is about empowering women to plan whether and when to have children, thereby giving them a better chance to complete their education, increase their earning power and reducing poverty.

It is also about exploiting local resources, working with structures that local communities are comfortable with. In Wajir County for instance, local community health volunteers have been trained to identify pregnant women within clusters of some 10 000 people, linking them to local health facilities to receive antenatal care.

The volunteers provide health education to pregnant mothers on the importance of antenatal care, the importance of recognizing danger signs during pregnancy, during delivery and in post-delivery.

Already, deliveries under skilled care are increasing, assisted also the Kenyan government’s free maternity care scheme.

Global data indicates that the highest benefits from reducing unintended pregnancies would be seen in the poorest countries, with GDP increases ranging from one to eight percent by 2035. There are few interventions that would result in such wide-ranging impacts.

Sure as we are about the steps needed to move forward, it is, however a window that will not remain open forever and the urgency of the moment cannot be over-emphasized.


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Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Teen Mother Fights the Odds and Wants to be a Nurse Fri, 15 Jan 2016 07:03:42 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri 0 India’s Children: Plagued by Preventable Diseases from Poor Sanitation Thu, 14 Jan 2016 05:46:32 +0000 Malini Shankar 0 TAIWAN: Polls Harken End of Nuclear Power Wed, 13 Jan 2016 13:51:11 +0000 Dennis Engbarth 0 Jamaica’s Drought Tool Could Turn the Table on Climate Change Wed, 13 Jan 2016 07:33:35 +0000 Zadie Neufville Drought-map_

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jan 13 2016 (IPS)

On a very dry November 2013, Jamaica’s Meteorological Service made its first official drought forecast when the newly developed Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) was used to predict a high probability of below average rainfall in the coming three months.

By February, the agency had officially declared a drought in the eastern and central parishes of the island based on the forecasts. July’s predictions indicated that drought conditions would continue until at least September.

Said to be the island’s worst in 30 years, the 2014 drought saw Jamaica’s eastern parishes averaging rainfall of between 2 and 12 per cent, well below normal levels. Agricultural data for the period shows that production fell by more than 30 per cent over 2013 and estimates are that losses due to crop failures and wild fires amounted to one billion dollars.

Jamaica’s agricultural sector accounts for roughly seven per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 20 per cent of its workforce.

The Met Service’s, Glenroy Brown told IPS, “The CPT was the main tool used by our Minister (of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change) Robert Pickersgill throughout 2015 to advise the nation on the status of drought across the island .”

It was also used but the National Water Commission (NWC) to guide its implementation of island-wide water restrictions.

A technician with Jamaica’s Met Service, Brown designed and implemented the tool in collaboration with Simon Mason, a climate scientist from Columbia University’s International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The tool provides a Windows package for constructing a seasonal climate drought forecast model, producing forecasts with updated rainfall and sea surface temperature data,” he explained.

The innovation was one of the first steps in building resilience under Jamaica’s national climate policy. It provides drought-monitoring forecasts that allows farmers to plan their planting around dry periods and has been “tailored for producing seasonal climate forecasts from a general circulation model (GCM), or for producing forecasts using fields of sea-surface temperatures,” Brown said.

The tool combines a number of applications including Google Earth and localised GIS maps, to generate one to five day forecasts that are country and location specific. The information is broken down and further simplified by way of colour-coded information and text messages for the not so tech-savvy user.

The tool designed by Brown and Mason also incorporated IRI’s own CPT (designed by Mason) that was already being used by Caribbean countries with small meteorological services and limited resources, to produce their own up-to-date seasonal climate forecasts. The new tool combined data on recent rainfall and rainfall predictions to provide a forecast that focused specifically on drought.

“It was important for us to design a system that addressed Jamaica’s needs upfront, but that would also be suitable for the rest of the region,” Mason noted.

The scientists explained, “Because impact of a drought is based on the duration of the rainfall” and not only the amount of rainfall, looking forward is not enough to predict droughts because of factors related to accumulation and intensification.

“What we’re doing is essentially putting a standard three-month rainfall forecast in context with recent rainfall measurements,” Mason, told USAID’s publication Frontlines last May. He noted that if below-normal rainfall activity was recorded during an unusually dry period, indications were there was a “fairly serious drought” ahead.

Sheldon Scott from Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) told IPS that farmers who used the SMS information were able to avoid the worse effects of the drought.

“The impacts were visible in relation to farmers who used the information and others who didn’t, because those who did were able to manage the mitigating factors more effectively,” he said.

During the period, more than 500 farmers received text alerts and about 700,000 bulletins were sent to agricultural extension officers.

Among the farmers who signed up for text messaging service, Melonie Risden told Frontlines, “The information we received from the Met office gave us drought forecasts in terms of probabilities. We still decided to plant because we were fortunate to have access to the river and could fill up water drums ahead of time in anticipation of the drought.”

Risden lost the corn she planted on the 13-acre property in Crooked River, Clarendon, one of the parishes hardest hit by the drought with only two per cent of normal rainfall, but was able to save much of the peas, beans and hot peppers.

Six months after Jamaica’s Met Service made its ground-breaking forecast, the CIMH presented the first region-wide drought outlook at the Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum in Kingston. Now 23 other Caribbean and Central American countries are using the tool to encourage climate change resilience and inform decision-making.

“Regionally the tool is now a standard fixture across several countries within the region, including the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti. This regional effort is coordinated by the CIMH,” Brown said.

Back in Jamaica, the tool is being hailed “a game-changer” in the climate fight by Jeffery Spooner head of the Met Service, who described the CPT as “an extremely important tool in Climate Change forecasting and specifically for the agricultural – including fisheries- and water sectors for rainfall projection .”

The CPT is now also used to provide regular monthly bulletins that are published by the Meteorological Service on their web site RADA has also continued to use the CPT in its extension service, to enhance the ability of farmers’ and other agricultural interests to improve water harvesting, planting and other activities.

Since most of the island’s small farms depend on rainfall, more farmers – including those with large holdings – are using the information to better manage water use and guide their activities, Scott said.

Local and intentional scientists have linked the extreme atmospheric conditions related to the droughts affecting Jamaica and the region to the persistent high-pressure systems that has prevented the formation of tropical cyclones to global warming and climate change.

Across the agricultural sector, Jamaica continues to feel the impacts of drought and the challenges are expected to increase with the climate change. In a 2013 agricultural sector support analysis, the Inter-American Development Bank estimated, low impact on extreme climate events on Jamaica’s agriculture sector by 2025 could reach 3.4 per cent of “baseline GDP” annually.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report (AR5) pointed to tools like the CPT to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Its importance to Jamaica’s and the region’s food security and water sector cannot be overlooked.

In addition to adaptation for the water sector, the CPT is being modified to provide early warning indicators for wind speeds and coral bleaching among among other applications, said the report.

And as showers of blessings cooled the land and brought much relief in the closing months of the year, CPT shows the drought could well be over.


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Agroecology in Africa: Mitigation the Old New Way Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 Frederic Mousseau agroeocology project. ]]>

Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, coordinated the research for the Institute’s agroeocology project.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, California, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

Millions of African farmers don’t need to adapt to climate change. They have done that already.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

Like many others across the continent, indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Gamo Highlands are well prepared against climate variations. The high biodiversity, which forms the basis of their traditional enset-based agricultural systems, allows them to easily adjust their farming practices, including the crops they grow, to climate variations.

People in Gamo are also used to managing their environment and natural resources in sound and sustainable ways, rooted in ancestral knowledge and customs, which makes them resilient to floods or droughts. Although African indigenous systems are often perceived as backward by central governments, they have a lot of learning to offer to the rest of the world when contemplating the challenges of climate change and food insecurity.

Often building on such indigenous knowledge, farmers all over the African continent have assembled a tremendous mass of successful experiences and innovations in agriculture. These efforts have steadily been developed over the past few decades following the droughts that impacted many countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Kenya, the system of biointensive agriculture has been designed over the past thirty years to help smallholders grow the most food on the least land and with the least water. 200,000 Kenyan farmers, feeding over one million people, have now switched to biointensive agriculture, which allows them to use up to 90 per cent less water than in conventional agriculture and 50 to 100 per cent fewer purchased fertilizers, thanks to a set of agroecological practices that provide higher soil organic matter levels, near continuous crop soil coverage, and adequate fertility for root and plant health.

The Sahel region, bordering the Sahara Desert, is renowned for its harsh environment and the threat of desertification. What is less known is the tremendous success of the actions undertaken to curb desert encroachment, restore lands, and farmers’ livelihoods.

Started in the 1980s, the Keita Rural Development Project in Niger took some twenty years to restore ecological balance and drastically improve the agrarian economy of the area. During the period, 18 million trees were planted, the surface under woodlands increased by 300 per cent, whereas shrubby steppes and sand dunes decreased by 30 per cent. In the meantime, agricultural land was expanded by about 80 per cent.

All over the region, a multitude of projects have used agroecological solutions to restore degraded land and spare scarce water resources while at the same time increasing food production, and improving farmers’ livelihoods and resilience. In Timbuktu, Mali, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has reached impressive results, with yields of 9 tons of rice per hectare, more than double of conventional methods, while saving water and other inputs. In Burkina Faso, soil and water conservation techniques, including a modernized version of traditional planting pits­zai­ have been highly successful to rehabilitate degraded soils and boost food production and incomes.

Southern African countries have been struggling with recurrent droughts resulting in major failures in corn crops, the main staple cereal in the region. Over the years, farmers and governments have developed a wide variety of agroecological solutions to prevent food crises and foster their resilience to climatic shocks. The common approach in all these responses has been to depart from the conventional monocropping of corn, which is highly vulnerable to climate shocks while it is also very costly and demanding in purchased inputs such as hybrid seeds and fertilizers. Successful sustainable and affordable solutions include managing and harvesting rain water, expanding conservation and regenerative farming, promoting the production and consumption of cassava and other tuber crops, diversifying production, and integrating crops with fertilizer trees and nitrogen fixating leguminous plants.

The enumeration could go on. The few examples cited above all come from a series of 33 case studies released recently by the Oakland Institute. The series sheds light on the tremendous success of agroecological agriculture across the African continent in the face of climate change, hunger, and poverty.

These success stories are just a sample of what Africans are already doing to adapt to climate variations while preserving their natural resources, improving their livelihoods and their food supply. One thing they have in common is that they have farmers, including many women farmers, in the driver’s seat of their own development. Millions of farmers who practice agroecology across the continent are local innovators who experiment to find the best solutions in relation to water availability, soil characteristics, landscapes, cultures, food habits, and biodiversity.

Another common feature is that they depart from the reliance on external agricultural inputs such as commercial seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and chemical pesticides, on which is based the so-called conventional agriculture. The main inputs required for agroecology are people’s own energy and common sense, shared knowledge, and of course respect for and a sound use of natural resources.

Why are these success stories mostly untold, is a fair question to ask. They are largely buried under the rhetoric of a development discourse based on a destructive cocktail of ignorance, greed, and neocolonialism. Since the 2008 food price crisis, we have been told over and over that Africa needs foreign investors in agriculture to ‘develop’ the continent; that Africa needs a Green Revolution, more synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified crops in order to meet the challenges of hunger and poverty. The agroecology case studies debunk these myths.

Evidence is there, with irrefutable facts and figures, that millions of Africans have already designed their own solutions, for their own benefits. They have successfully adapted to both the unsustainable agricultural systems inherited from the colonial times, and to the present challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, a majority of African governments, with encouragement from donor countries, focus most of their efforts and resources to subsidize and encourage a model of agriculture, largely reliant on the expensive commercial agricultural inputs, in particular synthetic fertilizers mainly sold by a handful of Western corporations.

The good news is that an agroecological transition is affordable for African governments. They spend billions of dollars every year to subsidize fertilizers and pesticides for their farmers. In Malawi, the government’s subsidies to agricultural inputs, mostly fertilizers, amount to close to 10 percent of the national budget every year. The evidence that exists, based on the experience of millions of farmers, should prompt African governments to make the only reasonable choice: to give the continent a leading role in the way out of world hunger and corporate exploitation and move to a sustainable and climate-friendly way to produce food or all.


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India Needs to “Save its Daughters” Through Education and Gender Equality Fri, 08 Jan 2016 07:42:22 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 Wrong Time of the Month: a Rights Gap for Developing Countries’ Girls Thu, 07 Jan 2016 10:23:11 +0000 Gina Din and Siddharth Chatterjee Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> 0 Hail to the Cowpea: a Blue Ribbon for the Black-Eyed Pea Tue, 05 Jan 2016 14:48:42 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga

Nteranya Sanginga is the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

By Nteranya Sanginga
IBADAN, Nigeria, Jan 5 2016 (IPS)

2016 is the International Year of Pulses, and we at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture are proud to be organizing what promises to be the landmark event, the Joint World Cowpea and Pan-African Grain Legume Research Conference.

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

The March event in Zambia should draw experts from around the continent and beyond and offer an opportunity to share ideas into the edible seeds – cowpeas, common bean, lentils, chickpeas, faba and lima beans and other varieties – now enjoying their well-deserved 15 minutes of fame as nutritional superstars.

Pulses may look small, but they are a big deal.

Nutritionists consistently find that their low glycemic profiles and hefty fiber content help prevent and manage the so-called diseases of affluence, such as obesity and diabetes. And the protein they pack holds great potential to assist the world in managing its livestock practices in a more sustainable way, so that more people can enjoy better and more varied middle-income diets without placing excess strains on natural resources.

First and foremost, we must make more pulses available. Global per capita availability of pulses declined by more than a third in the four decades following the 1960s. But production has been growing sharply since 2005, especially in developing countries. Cowpeas have been one of the specific leaders of this trend, which has been marked by very welcome increases in yield as well as more hectares being planted.

Importantly, almost a fifth of all pulses today are traded, up almost three-fold from the 1980s, a pace that vastly outstrips the growing trade in cereals. Moreover, while North America is an exporting powerhouse, so is East Africa and Myanmar; more than half of all pulses exports now come from developing countries.

There is a serious opportunity to scale up these protean protein sources.

The good news for the millions of small family farmers is that this may be more about reclaiming a traditional virtue than revolution. After all, the prolific Arab traveler Ibn Battuta wrote about Bambara nuts fried in shea oil while on a trip to Mali and the Sahel back in 1352. The cowpea fritters, known as akara in Nigeria and often seen at roadside stands around West Africa, are their direct descendants, and the elder siblings of acarajés, declared part of the cultural heritage of Brazil – where they are eaten with shrimp – and where their Yoruba name survived the dreadful middle passage of the slave trade.

We at IITA have been cowpea champions for decades. Just this month Swaziland’s Ministry of Agriculture released to local farmers five new cowpea varieties we developed – seeds that mature up to 20 percent faster and yield up to four times more. That latest success comes in great measure, thanks to IITA’s gene bank, which holds, for the world community, 15,112 unique samples of cowpea hailing from 88 countries.

Why so many cowpeas? Our question is why aren’t more being grown!

After all, cowpea contains 25 percent protein, is an excellent conveyor of vitamins and minerals, adapts to a broad range of soil types, tolerates drought as well as shade, grows fast to combat erosion, and as a legume pumps nitrogen back into the soil. We can eat its main product – sometimes known as black-eyed peas – and animals enjoy the residual stems and leaves.

So why don’t we hear more about it? Well, perhaps the world wasn’t listening, but it’s about to have another chance.

Seriously, though, cowpeas come with problems. First of all, the plant is subject to assault at every point in its life cycle, be it from aphids, mosaic virus, pod borers, rival weeds, or the dreaded weevils that fight with fungi and bacteria to consume the seeds while in storage. These are things IITA scientists try to combat, through seed breeding or spreading innovative technologies such as the PICS bags that keep the weevils out.

There is much more to learn, about the plant, how to grow it, and how to bolster its role in the food system. I’lll wager that in the Year of Pulses much will be learned about processing, a critical phase, and one that is already allowing many Nigerian businesses to prosper. Perhaps big global food manufacturers will find new ways to grind pulses into their grain products to produce healthier foods with more complete proteins.

As for farming cowpea, the plant can serve to reduce weeds and fertilizer for the cash crops. It is also harvested before the cereal crops, offering food security and also flexibility, as farmers can choose to let the plants grow, reducing bean yields but increasing that of fodder.

The plant’s epicenter – genetically and today – is West Africa. Nigeria is the big producer, but is also the main importer from neighboring countries. Niger is the world’s biggest exporter. But its ability to deal with dry weather and help combat soil erosion might be of interest elsewhere, such as in Central America’s dry corridor.


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2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 2) Mon, 04 Jan 2016 10:34:41 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

Against the backdrop of escalating extremism and conflict globally, 2015 also marked the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security (WPS ) with a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their essential role in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peace building. The landmark UNSC resolution 2242 (October 2015) calls for effective and accelerated implementation of the WPS Agenda by all actors.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It resolves to systematically integrate resolution 1325 and its implementation in its own work, to dedicate periodic Council consultations on country situations to WPS implementation review to ensure Security Council missions take into account gender considerations and women’s rights.

It also reinforces the UN’s WPS Architecture and emphasizes UNWOMEN’s coordination and accountability building role. In the light of violent terrorism’s targeting and impact on women and girls human rights, WPS will be a cross-cutting subject in all thematic areas of work of the Council including on countering terrorism.

The Climate Agreement adopted at the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris 2015 was a breakthrough. It specifically commits all Parties when taking climate action to respect, promote and consider their obligations on human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment and to ensure that their adaptation and capacity building policies and actions are gender responsive.

This, and the fact that there are 50 COP decisions on gender responsive climate action to implement, signals commitment that all aspects of climate action including mitigation, finance and technology development and transfer, data and monitoring and the implementation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) will be gender responsive.

UNWOMEN organized a number of Global Thematic Beijing plus 20 and 2030 Agenda events and carried out a Step it up for Planet 50/50 by 2030 Advocacy Campaign. The climactic event was on 27 September in New York. Alongside the Agenda 2030 Summit, UN Women convened with the Government of China—the first ever—Global Leaders’ Commitment Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

It was co-chaired by President Xi Jinping of China and the UN Secretary-General, and later by UNWOMEN Executive Director with other heads of state. 140 countries participated and nearly 70 Heads of State and Government vowed to “step it up” by taking concrete actions to implement the Beijing Platform and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women and girls. Since then, other heads of state and governments have made commitments, which are now reflected on the UNWOMEN website and in a Book of Commitments and being tracked and followed up.

UN Women convened a Forum of private and Philanthropy leaders to galvanize support for implementation of Beijing and SDGs especially SDG5 and raise resources. Three major Civil Society meetings were convened in 2015 – Intergenerational Dialogue, Thought Leaders Meeting and the Global Dialogue to strategize on translating the enormous normative and advocacy gains made into impact on the ground and on dealing with challenges they face. Both civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector are critical actors and partners in the journey towards achieving the SDGs.

Beyond these milestone events, three other intergovernmental fora evoked highest level political commitment to gender equality with consistent advocacy and substantive support by UNWOMEN. The G7 Summit in Elmau under the Presidency of Germany and Chancellor Merkel committed to focus on expanding and supporting economic empowerment opportunities for women in developing countries, the G20 under the presidency of President Erdogan of Turkey launched the Women 20 Engagement Group, held a W20 Summit and the G20 Antalya Summit adopted a comprehensive action plan for women’s economic empowerment participation and leadership.

At the initiative of President Coleiro Preca of Malta, the first ever Women’s Forum was launched at the Commonwealth Summit to foster cooperation in implementing gender equality commitments. 2015 was a pivotal year for global resolve to act for the unqualified normative success of the Gender Equality Project, with member states, civil society, and private sector making profound commitments at the highest level.

Looking ahead, it is imperative that we “localize” the SDGs, and other normative commitments. Localization demands that all development strategies, policies and programs, constitutions and laws of all countries be aligned with the gender equality commitments in the SDGs and they be made central to all aspects of decision-making, and implementation. UNWOMEN’s Flagship Programme Initiatives seek to support this localization.

Member states will need to remain faithful to the prioritization of gender equality in 2030 Agenda and follow an ‘all of government’ and ” all of society ” approach, including a strong role for gender equality mechanisms to help drive evidence-based implementation and gender responsive monitoring of the SDGs and transparent consultative mechanisms, which include the women’s movement and civil society. Also gender data requirements will require significant investments and capacity-building of statistical systems. Transformative Financing for gender equality must be deployed.

It is unfortunate that patriarchy is too deep rooted and pervasive to be immediately vanquished by these normative resolves. Instances of horrific inhuman treatment, violence and denial of basic rights of women and girls – the mob lynching of Farkhunda and stoning to death of Rokhsahana, the kidnapping and enslavement of Chibok girls, the rapes and sexual assault of young women in schools, campuses, in public places, at work and behind domestic walls the brutal targeting and coerced coopting of women and girls in the refugee camps and conflict zones for sexual exploitation and violent extremism by terrorists, continue to sear our conscience.

All the more reason that we cannot fail to make this normative leap also a giant leap in changing the reality for 3.5 billion women and girls of the world. The remarkable normative unity of purpose and self-belief that a gender equal world is mission possible must now be translated into a giant leap of action in every country, city and village, in every community and household and within each of our minds and hearts.

There is now an unparalleled opportunity to finish what has been languishing for centuries – to end discrimination and violence against women and to acknowledge women’s equal right to dignity and humanity.


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2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 1) Fri, 01 Jan 2016 12:52:43 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

2015, the final year of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), heralds the beginning of the most critical fifteen years for the realization of the new Sustainable Development Agenda that the international community launched along with renewed Climate Change and Financing for Development (FfD) compacts.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It also marks a historic conjunction in the realization of the Gender Equality Project – perhaps the most important for humanity in the 21 century. The UN at 70 signaled that it is integrally and unequivocally committed to realizing it.

Great strides were made in the prioritization of women’s human rights through the encompassing lens of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all the UN’s defining normative endeavors in 2015. Women’s economic, social and political rights, their security and integrity, and their voice, participation and leadership were placed at the core of its ambition to ‘Transform the world” and “leave no one behind”.

Realizing gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only regarded as a moral imperative but also as “crucial” to achieving the first ever set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other related intergovernmental compacts including those on peace, security, and humanitarian action.

The 20 Year Review of Beijing Platform for Action on Women

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing with national, regional and global reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). UN Women mobilized Member States, UN System entities, private sector, civil society, youth and media through high impact knowledge generation, norm setting, advocacy campaigns, programmes on the ground, coordination and strategic partnerships to join this introspection and call for action.

The 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) undertook a global review of progress made in implementing BPA and based its report card on a record 168 national reports and regional reviews. The verdict – there has been progress, but it has been uneven and unacceptably slow. Change has not been deep and irreversible and a gender financing gap persists.

Despite significant advances – in laws to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls, in educational enrollment, labour force participation, women’s access to contraception, in declining rates of harmful practices, and gains in women’s representation in national parliaments – twenty years on, many of the same structural barriers remain in force globally. These barriers needed to be comprehensively addressed in Agenda 2030.

Violence against women is a global epidemic taking different forms. The majority of the world’s poor are women. Gaps persist in education, labour force participation, wages, income, social protection, unpaid care work and domestic work. Inequality in corporate, parliamentary and government participation and leadership is big. No country has achieved substantive gender equality.

The review also concluded that at current slow pace it will take another century to achieve gender equality. It underlined the need to fast forward change or ” hurry history ” as feminists would say, to overturn the patriarchal systems and structures that have undervalued women and girls for centuries, stripped them of equal rights, and denied them and humankind the opportunities to realize their full potential.

The Political Declaration adopted by Member States at the 59th session of CSW reaffirms their political will to tackle these challenges and remaining implementation gaps and structural barriers. They vowed full, accelerated and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform and to strengthen laws and policies and their implementation, to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes; to significantly increase investment to close the gender resource gap including through prioritization in official development assistance (ODA) and in domestic resource mobilization; to strengthen data, monitoring and accountability on implementation; and to strengthen national gender mechanisms.

The valuable role of civil society and women’s organizations was acknowledged and commitment made to support them including by providing a safe and enabling environment. These commitments are carried forward and reiterated in the 2030 Agenda and FfD outcomes.

Transformative Financing of gender equality Commitments

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, adopted this year at the World Conference on Financing for Development pledges to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment and to mainstream it including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of all financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It commits to sound policies, enforceable legislation and “transformative actions” at all levels.

UN Women’s “Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” involving significantly increased investment in gender equality from all sources and at all levels, and prioritized and targeted allocation as well as mainstreaming” garnered wide support. The urgency of these unprecedented resourcing commitments have now been framed against the 2030 deadline.

Agenda 2030 – gender equality at the Center

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with gender equality at its center represents a significant and hard-earned victory for advocates of gender equality including UNWOMEN. We welcome the recognition that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”.

The universal framework’s trifold and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development – the economic, environmental and social – and its strong references to human rights, ending discrimination, violence and inequality is important for all women and girls, individuals and countries – developed and developing.

The giant leap is that the 2030 Agenda positions the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational framework for sustainable development -“a normative motherboard” with all gender goals and targets transformed into sustainable development ones! There is an overarching commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap, to strengthen support for gender equality institutions at all levels, to systematically mainstream gender perspectives into the implementation of the Agenda, and determination to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence including through engagement of men and boys.

A strong stand-alone SDG 5 to achieve –not just promote –gender equality and empower all women and girls has been secured. Gender equality is also integrated across 11 other SDGs including on poverty, hunger, health, education, water and sanitation, employment, just and peaceful societies, sustainable cities, and economic growth. Data and follow up and review are to be gender sensitive.

SDG 5 itself has six transformative targets – on ending all forms of discrimination, on all forms of violence against women and harmful practices like child marriage , female genital mutilation (FGM), on equal participation and leadership in economic, political and public life, on valuing and reducing women’s unpaid care work and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection and shared responsibility within the household, and on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Economic empowerment through access, ownership and control over resources, legal reform and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are critical means of implementation.

As a desperate migration crisis rocked the world, the 2015 Global Forum on Migration and Development in Istanbul also focused on women’s concerns and role. It affirmed that the Addis Accord and SDGs enable the mainstreaming of migration into development–that SDG 5 fully apply to women migrants–constituting over 50 percent of all migrants–and that both source and destination countries should act to promote those rights at all ends of the migration spectrum.

(To be continued)

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