Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:29 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137238 Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, a Nobel Prize Is a ‘Ray of Hope’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 14:03:19 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137125 The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 12 2014 (IPS)

For girls living in northern Pakistan’s sprawling tribal regions, the struggle for education began long before that fateful day when members of the Taliban shot a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.

Still, the news that Malala Yousafzai – a former resident of the Swat Valley in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province – had received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 10, brought renewed vigor to those battling the Taliban’s hard-line attitude towards girls’ education.

Residents here told IPS that when she survived an attempt on her life on Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai became an icon, a representative of the state of terror that has become a part of everyday existence here.

“We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA." -- Yasmeen Bibi, a 13-year-old refugee who is not attending school.
By awarding her the world’s most prestigious peace prize, experts say, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to all who remain trapped in zones where the sanctity of education has been subordinated to the perils of conflict.

Muhammad Shafique, a professor at the University of Peshawar, the KP province’s capital, told IPS that Yousafzai’s prize has turned a “spotlight onto the importance of education.”

“It will be a motivational force for parents to send their daughters back to school,” he added.

Since militants began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2001, following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, residents of these mountainous areas have endured the full force of extremist campaigns to impose strict Islamic rule over the population.

At the height of the Taliban’s rule over the Swat Valley, between 2007 and 2009, approximately 224 schools were destroyed, stripping over 100,000 children of a decent education.

It was during this period that Yousafzai, just 12 years old at the time, began recording the hardships she faced as a young girl in search of an education, writing regular reports for the Urdu service of the BBC from her hometown of Swat.

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Her struggle found echo all around northern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of young people like herself were living in constant fear of reprisals for daring to pursue their studies.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), for instance, Taliban edicts banning secular schools as a “ploy” by the West to undermine Islam have kept 50 percent of school aged children out of the classroom.

Since the decade beginning in 2004, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, according to a source within the FATA directorate for education.

FATA has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children receiving an education. In total, about 518,000 children in FATA are sitting idle, as per government records.

The dropout rate touched 73 percent between 2007 and 2013, as families fled from one district to another to escape the Taliban. The latest wave of displacement has seen close to one million people from North Waziristan Agency evacuating their homes since Jun. 15 and taking refuge in Bannu, an ancient city in KP.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A rapid assessment report released by the United Nations in August found that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys were not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

Already nursing a miserable primary school enrollment rate of 37 percent, Bannu is on the verge of a full-blown educational crisis, with 80 percent of its school buildings now occupied by refugees.

Thus the honour bestowed upon Yousafzai has touched many thousands of people, and breathed new life into the campaign for the right to education. Since October 2012, enrollment in the Swat Valley has increased by two percent, according to Swat Education Officer Maskeen Khan.

“Now, we are expecting a huge boost after the award,” the official told IPS.

Naila Ahmed, a 10th-grader originally hailing from North Waziristan Agency who now lives in a refugee camp in Bannu, feels her generation has been “unlucky”, forced to grow up without an education.

The situation is so dire that she views her displacement as a “blessing in disguise”, since the move to Bannu has enabled her to enroll in a private school for the first time in many years.

She is one of the fortunate ones; few parents in this militancy-infested region can afford the cost of private schooling, she says.

Thirteen-year-old Yasmeen Bibi is one of those whose parents cannot shoulder the bill for an education. “We hope that the government will make arrangements for our education,” she told IPS from her makeshift home in a refugee camp in Bannu, adding, “We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA.”

Her words hearken back to the time immediately following Yousafzai’s decision to flee the country, when many from the Swat Valley and its surrounding provinces felt let down by the rising star, left behind to face the Taliban’s wrath stemming from the teenager’s newfound fame.

Some agreed with the Taliban’s claim that she had “abandoned Islam for secularism” by accepting an offer to live and study in the UK.

In the last few days, however, any ill feeling towards Yousafzai, now the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, appears to have dissipated, replaced by a kind of collective euphoria at the global acknowledgement of her courage.

All throughout Swat, girls’ schools distributed free sweets on Oct. 10 and celebrated in the streets.

Yousafzai’s former classmate, Mushatari Bibi, explained that the news has been like “a ray of hope” to other girls, who take a big risk each time they leave their homes to head to school.

Some even say that the Nobel Prize, and the hope it has instilled in the population, represents a challenge to the very foundations of the Taliban’s power, since more people now feel compelled to stand up to the militants that have plagued the lives of millions for well over a decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Youth Employment Critical to Sustainable Development in Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 05:54:01 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137077 In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

The size of the youth population in the Pacific Islands is double the global average with 54 percent aged below 24 years, creating enormous challenges for slow-growing small island economies unable to create jobs fast enough.

Generating employment opportunities for tens of thousands of school leavers is now an urgent issue on the Pacific’s post-2015 development agenda. Otherwise a poor landscape of opportunity could jeopardise the potential of a generation whose public and economic participation is vital to progressing sustainable development in the region.

Youth unemployment is estimated at 23 percent in the Pacific Islands region, rising to 46 percent in the Solomon Islands and 62 percent in the Marshall Islands, compared to the global average of 12.6 percent.

"[Institutions] are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled." -- Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa
“Youth unemployment in this country is critical and one of our highest priorities,” Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa, a South Pacific Island developing state located northeast of Fiji, told IPS.

Approximately one quarter of Samoa’s population of 190,372 is employed and economically active and youth account for about half of the remaining unemployed, according to government statistics.

“In the villages, I think that is where most of the youth are static, but there is also a very noticeable shift with urbanisation that is causing a number of youth to come to Apia and they are becoming idle,” she continued.

Lack of sufficient job creation is affecting both young people who lack adequate education, as well as those who possess qualifications and experience. The only route for many of the latter is emigration to larger economies, such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

With 76 percent of those with a tertiary education leaving, the country is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ and 44.7 percent of private sector employers are experiencing skills shortages, reports the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, fisheries, tourism and remittances, has been severely impacted in the last 20 years by natural disasters. In 2012 Cyclone Evan devastated infrastructure and crops resulting in economic losses equal to 30 percent of GDP.

The global financial crisis also led to widespread formal sector job cuts in Samoa with waged employment declining from 28,179 in 2006 to 23,365 in 2011 and private sector jobs falling from 16,921 in 2007 to 12,711 in 2010.

Only one-quarter to one-third of Pacific Islanders finishing school are likely to secure formal sector employment, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This leaves a high proportion of an estimated more than 5,000 school leavers each year vulnerable to exclusion in Samoa, where formal sector employment is around 30 percent.

The social impacts of high teenage pregnancies and a low secondary school completion rate, with an estimated 35 percent of this age group in Samoa not in education, are also aggravating factors.

Fruean believes the main reason is the inability of families to pay school fees and suggests the government’s introduction last year of fee-free secondary education will help improve the final year retention rate of 48 percent.

But there are also questions about the quality and relevance of education for employment demand.

Institutions “are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled,” Fruean explained.

Somaya Moll, business, investment and technology expert with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), advocates private sector development, which “basically enables people to take charge of their own lives [by giving] them the tools to do so.”

“Self-sufficiency, ownership and accountability are important and it is proven to work,” she told IPS during the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) recently held in Samoa’s capital, Apia.

The small size of Pacific islands and their populations is a drawback for ‘economies of scale’, keeping costs of production high. But Moll said introducing entrepreneurship awareness into school curriculums and encouraging financial institutions to consider the creditworthiness of young people could improve the business environment.

The informal economy, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean regions, is a potential growth area, say regional experts.

“It has always been an important source of sustainability [in the Caribbean],” Dessima Williams from Grenada and UNIDO Senior Policy Advisor said during an interview at the U.N. SIDS conference.

“And what has happened recently is that as the formal sector has crashed, more and more other people are entering the informal sector” as are “young people coming out of college who are finding no jobs in the formal sector,” Williams added.

Fruean sees the same potential in Samoa where two-thirds of young people are making a living through informal activities.

“There is so much potential in the informal and agricultural sectors and we encourage the unemployed youth to become economically active in these sectors”, for example, through organic farming or creative production. The cultural and creative industries in the Pacific are reportedly growing at about seven percent per year.

Also “the solution of co-operatives is coming back because the cost of production is so high. A lot of young people [in the Caribbean] are producing music all together, or somebody is writing it and somebody is mixing it, so it is sustainable,” Williams said.

But if the informal sector is to play a role in sustainable and decent job creation, training, skills, working conditions, value addition and production standards need to be improved, she continued. Low productive subsistence activities also need to be up-scaled and developed with greater market orientation and potential for export explored, where feasible. In the agricultural sector alone, which accounts for two thirds of the workforce, only one quarter of production is for the market with the remainder for domestic consumption.

Many young people in the informal sector don’t have experience of budgeting and managing their money, and this is an important area of awareness that needs to be addressed, too, according to the Samoan National Youth Council.

Efforts to galvanise the potential of Pacific Islander youth must be expanded to prevent increased poverty and inequality in the next generation and the social fallout of disaffection when aspirations for productive lives are not fulfilled.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Most Nations Reducing Worst Forms of Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:27:27 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137061 Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labour, according to a major report released here Tuesday by the U.S. Labour Department.

In its annual assessment of progress toward eliminating that kind of exploitation, the 958-page report found that roughly half of the 140-some countries and foreign territories covered by the report had made what it called “moderate” advances in the field.“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts." -- U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez

Thirteen countries – most of them in Latin America — were found to have made “significant” progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labour during 2013 compared to the year before.

But another 13 nations and territories, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, were found to have made none at all.

“This report shines a light on children around the globe who are being robbed of their futures, who spend their days and often their nights engaged in some of the most gruelling work imaginable,” said U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez, at the release of the ‘2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor’.

“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts searching for precious minerals from which someone else will profit,” he said. “Children with munitions strapped to their bodies, pressed into service as combatants in armed conflicts; children who are victims of trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The report, which consists mainly of specific profiles of the child labour situation and what national governments are doing about it in specific countries and territories that benefit under the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) or other trade-boosting programmes, such as the Andean Trade Preference Act or the African Growth and Opportunities Act, has been mandated by Congress since 2002. The report also recommends steps governments can take to improve the situation.

It gains widespread praise from labour and child-welfare activist groups that use it as a way to raise public consciousness and as a source of pressure on foreign governments to do more to eliminate it.

While the Labour Department itself cannot take punitive action against unresponsive governments, the report can influence actions by other U.S. agencies, such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that can, for example, reduce or eliminate trade benefits in cases of serious violations of international labour conventions.

“Overall, this report has been a fantastic tool for the advocacy community,” said Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which includes more than two dozen labour, church, consumer, and human rights groups. “It gives us something to measure progress each year and allows countries to compare their performance with others.”

“I think the report is a tremendous achievement,” Brian Campbell of the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) told IPS. He praised, in particular, its treatment of Uzbekistan, whose government has long been criticised for forcing school students to take part in the cotton harvest.

“They demonstrated a lot of courage …by making very clear that not only have children been taken out of school, but also that the whole system is based on forced labour by the government,” he said. “The challenge will be for the other U.S. government agencies to take on this analysis – including the Customs Service which is required to ban imports produced by forced labour.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the “worst forms of child labour” as all forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, child trafficking, and forced recruitment of children in armed conflicts; the use of children for prostitution or pornography; their use of illicit activities, such as the production or trafficking of drugs; and “hazardous work” which, in turn is defined as any that “jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being” of a child.

According to ILO statistics, the number of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour or whose age is below the minimum prescribed by national law has fallen from about 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012. The latter figure still accounts for roughly one in every 10 children from five to 18 years old worldwide.

The number of children engaged in “hazardous work” halved – from 170 million to 85 million – over the same period, according to the ILO.

The report divided countries into those where advances in eliminating the worst forms of child labour were “significant”, “moderate”, “minimal”, and none. Progress was assessed according to a number of criteria, including the enactment of laws, efforts at enforcement and co-ordination, the adoption of specific policies, and the implementation of social programmes designed to eliminate the problem, and encourage children to remain in school.

The 13 countries whose progress was deemed “significant” included Albania, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda.

The CLC’s Maki, who also serves as the director of child labour advocacy at the National Consumers League, called the list “very encouraging.” “Most of these countries have had a lot of child labour problems in the past,” he told IPS.

He noted that “steady progress” had been made over the last several years, in particular. Since 2011, he said, the number of countries that had made “significant” progress had grown from two to 13, while the number with “moderate” advances had likewise increased from 47 to 72.

Conversely, the number of countries and territories with “minimal” or “no” progress has fallen from 82 to 50 – 20 of which were small islands, such as Anguilla, Barbados, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands with small populations, Maki pointed out.

Besides the DRC, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, the more-significant laggards in the “minimal” category included Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Serbia, South Sudan, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

One weakness of the report, according to ILRF’s Campbell was its failure to address how the private sector – including powerful multinational corporations — contributes to the worst forms of child labour.

“In the Malawi section, for example, the reports focuses at length what the government has done, but it doesn’t address the contract system of production of tobacco, as implemented by U.S. tobacco companies and their subsidiaries, which is a root cause of the child labour problem there,” he said.

“It’s largely because the Labour Department views its Congressional mandate as very limited; i.e., only what the governments are doing,” he said. “I think they could interpret the scope of the report to include other issues, such as the business practices of companies and how they also contribute to the problem.”

But Maki was more reserved. “If you expand the scope of the report to the business world,” he said, “you might muddy things enough to let the governments off the hook.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanity Failing the Earth’s Ecosystemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 11:31:42 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137008 A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

In pure numbers, the past few decades have been marked by destruction: over the last 40 years, Earth has lost 52 percent of its wild animals; nearly 17 percent of the world’s forests have been felled in the last half-century; freshwater ecosystems have witnessed a 75-percent decline in animal populations since 1970; and nearly 95 percent of coral reefs are today threatened by pollution, coastal development and overfishing.

A slew of international conferences and agreements over the years have attempted to pull the brakes on what appears to be a runaway train, setting targets and passing legislation aimed at protecting and conserving the remaining slivers of land and sea as yet untainted by humanity’s massive carbon footprint.

In 2010, building on the foundation laid by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), scores of experts and activists gathered in Nagoya, Japan, drafted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which included 20 points known as the Aichi Targets, encompassing everything from land preservation to sustainable fishing practices.

Though the goals were subsequently re-affirmed by the U.N. general assembly, and reiterated yet again at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, scientists say losses continue to outpace gains, as forests are chopped down, garbage emptied into oceans and animal habitats razed to the ground to make way for human development and industry.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 12), a United Nations progress report on the state of global biodiversity released Monday in Pyeongchang, Korea, called urgent attention to unmet targets and challenges ahead.

Coming exactly a year before the halfway point of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan and the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4) called for a “dismantling of the drivers of biodiversity loss, which are often embedded deep within our systems of policy-making, financial accounting, and patterns of production and consumption.”

For instance, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report, humans are “using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal.”

The organisation’s Living Planet Index (LPI), based on studies of over 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, found that exploitation of natural resources by humans accounted for the vast majority of wildlife losses in the last four decades (37 percent), followed by habitat degradation (31 percent), climate change (seven percent) and habitat loss (13 percent).

The same report found that human impacts such as increased pollution and construction projects were largely responsible for the steep decline of wildlife in freshwater systems, with 45,000 large dams (over 15 metres) preventing the free flow of some of the world’s major rivers, at a huge cost to biodiversity.

Marine animal populations have also plummeted by 40 percent, making a strong case for the rapid designation of adequate marine protected areas. However, according to the GBO-4 released today, “more than half of marine regions have less than five percent of their area protected.”

Of the five Strategic Goals (A-E) of the 10-year biodiversity plan, GBO-4 highlighted numerous challenges, including threats to natural resources provoked by greatly increased total global consumption levels (Target 4), rising nutrient pollution impacting aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, compounded by increased pollution from chemicals, fertilisers and plastics (Target 8), a rising extinction risk for birds, mammals and amphibians (Target 12), and a lack of capacity to mobilise concerned citizens worldwide (Target 19).

According to David Ainsworth, information officer for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “The question of agriculture and food security is probably one of the biggest challenges we are facing.”

“Given that we know we’re looking at a substantial population increase by the end of the decade, which is likely going to be matched with a change in dietary patterns such as the consumption of more meat, we are probably going to experience tremendous pressures on biodiversity just in trying to deal with the agricultural situation alone,” he told IPS.

A lot of this could be solved, he added, by dealing with food production systems, by promoting a different model to the typical, rich, North American diet and by tackling food waste at all stages of the production cycle, from wastage in fields and transportation chains to food distribution centers and even in the home.

Asia-Pacific: under tremendous pressure

With a population of just over 4.2 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region faces a unique set of challenges to preserving its biodiversity.

According to Scott Perkin, head of the Natural Resources Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-Asia, the region “has taken some important steps towards the achievement of the Aichi Targets.

“A majority of countries in the region have revised and strengthened their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (Target 17), and a significant number have ratified the Nagoya Protocol (Target 16),” Perkin told IPS in an email.

But the region as a whole remains under tremendous pressure, he said, adding, “Population growth and rapid economic development continue to fuel the loss and degradation of natural habitats, and much greater efforts will be required if Target 5 on halving the rate of loss of forests and other habitats by 2020 is to be achieved.”

Indonesia alone experienced a deforestation rate of one million hectares a year between 2000 and 2003. A recent study indicates that in 2012 the country likely hacked away 840,000 hectares of primary forest, outstripping even Brazil, which cut down 460,000 hectares that same year.

Perkin said the illegal wildlife trade in Asia is yet another critical issue, one that will make achievement of Target 12 – preventing the extinction of known species – especially challenging.

The region also provides a stark example of the links between biodiversity and economic gains, a point also highlighted in the report released today. According to GBO-4, reducing deforestation rates have been estimated to result in an annual benefit of 183 million dollars in the form of ecosystem services.

The same pattern is evident throughout the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in places where governments have replaced marine resource exploitation with conservation efforts.

In the western Pacific Ocean nation of Palau, for instance, the banning of commercial fisheries has boosted the tiny island’s ecotourism potential, with visitors rushing to explore the country’s bustling coastal waters.

A single shark, which had hitherto brought the country a few hundred dollars for its fin, considered a delicacy in East Asia, now fetches 1.9 million dollars over its entire lifetime.

In Indonesia too, the creation of the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays has raised the sea-creature’s economic potential from some 500 dollars (when used for meat or medicine), to over one million dollars as a tourist attraction, according to Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP)’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Still, it will take more than piecemeal measures to bring about the scale of protection and conservation required to keep biodiversity levels at a safe threshold.

As Ainsworth pointed out, “The core of this issue goes beyond the questions of where we put our roads and highways – it goes to fundamental ways of how we organise ourselves socially and economically in relation to nature and biodiversity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sustaining the Future Through Culturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-the-future-through-culture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustaining-the-future-through-culture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-the-future-through-culture/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 21:18:14 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137005 Putting the spotlight on culture. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting the spotlight on culture. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
FLORENCE, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

International experts working in the creative sector are calling for governments to recognise the integral role that culture plays in development and to ensure that culture is a part of the post-2015 United Nations development goals, to be discussed next year.

At UNESCO’s Third World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, which took place Oct. 2-4 in Florence, Italy, representatives from a range of countries discussed the contributions that culture can make to a “sustainable future” through stimulating employment, economic growth and innovation.

The United Nations cultural agency pointed out that the global trade in cultural goods and services has doubled over the past decade and is now valued at more than 620 billion dollars, although there is some disagreement on this figure.

But, apart from the financial aspects, culture also contributes to social inclusion and justice, according to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who inaugurated the forum at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.“Countries must invest in culture with the same determination they bring to investing in energy resources, in new technologies … In a difficult economic environment, we must look for activities that reinforce social cohesion, and culture offers solutions in this regard” – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

“I believe countries must invest in culture with the same determination they bring to investing in energy resources, in new technologies,” she said. “In a difficult economic environment, we must look for activities that reinforce social cohesion, and culture offers solutions in this regard.”

Bokova told IPS that the forum wanted to show that culture contributes to the “attainment” of the various development goals, which include ending extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education and gender equality, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Many governments, however, are not investing enough in the cultural or creative sectors even when these industries have proven their worth. Some states prefer to build sports stadiums that are rarely used rather than to support the arts, said Lloyd Stanbury, a Jamaican lawyer in the music business who participated in the forum.

“In the case of Jamaica, we’ve shown that we can compete and win globally at the highest levels in culture,” he told IPS. “Reggae and Rastafari have put Jamaica on the world map and the debate is happening right now about what the government can do to invest more in culture.”

Stanbury said that arts education should have the same status as traditional curricula. “Students are sometimes told, ‘oh, you can’t do maths? Go and draw something’ but their drawings aren’t considered valuable,” he said.

In some developing countries, the arts are seen as a peripheral sector, not a “real” industry and that must change, he argued.

In addition, Stanbury said in his presentation to the forum, in many developing countries, “segments of the music and entertainment community do not enjoy harmonious relationships with government and government institutions, particularly where there is evidence of government corruption that artists speak out against in the creation and presentations of their work.”

For many governments, meanwhile, investing in culture naturally comes a long way behind providing proper health, sanitation and electricity services and developing transportation infrastructure. Yet, culture can help in poverty alleviation, job creation and peace building, experts said.

Peter N. Ives, Mayor pro tem of the U.S. city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, detailed how the city had invested in the arts, through allocating one percent of hotel-bed taxes (or lodger taxes) for cultural activities, among other measures.

“Santa Fe now has more cultural assets per capita than any other city in the United States,” he said, adding that “inclusion” of all groups was a key element of the policy, in which “everyone brings their creative gifts to the table”.

The city has an Arts Commission, appointed by the mayor, that “recommends programmes and policies to develop and promote artistic excellence in the community” and it has followed a multi-cultural route.

The result is that Santa Fe has increasingly drawn writers and visual artists, as well as tourists, because of its growing number of museums, performances and outdoor sculptures – also one of the reasons behind its designation as a UNESCO Creative City.

Such “success stories” may seem far-fetched for many poor or middle-income countries, faced with a variety of crises including conflict. But experts at the conference described grassroots schemes where intra-community violence, for instance, decreased when community members were actively encouraged to produce art about their lives.

Other representatives examined how creating film and literary festivals had contributed to a sense of national pride and cohesion. In the Caribbean and in parts of Africa and Asia, for example, the growth of festivals and cultural prizes has given a general boost to the arts in some countries, reflecting what wealthy countries have known for some time.

The forum, jointly organized by UNESCO, the Italian government, the Tuscany region and the Municipality of Florence, also examined how culture can be preserved in war-affected regions, with a focus on recent UNESCO cultural heritage preservation projects (funded by Italy) in Afghanistan, Mali and other states.

Denmark and Belgium, meanwhile, provided a look at how overseas development aid to cultural activities can promote employment, training and youth involvement in society, especially within a human rights context.

“We’re living in a very hostile environment for development cooperation and also for culture and development, but I’m launching an appeal for more cooperation in this area,” said Frédéric Jacquemin, director of Africalia, a Belgian organisation that sees culture as “a motor for sustainable human development”.

Participants in the forum produced a ‘Florence Declaration’ calling for the “full integration of culture into sustainable development policies and strategies at the international, regional and local levels.”

The Declaration said that this should be based on standards that “recognise fundamental principles of human rights, freedom of expression, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and openness and balance to other cultures and expressions of the world.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Youth Exodus’ Reveals Lack of Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 05:20:18 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136914 Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The small South Pacific island state of Samoa, located northeast of Fiji, attracts tourists with its beaches, natural beauty and relaxed pace of life, but similar to other small nations with constrained economies, it is experiencing an exodus of young people, who are unable to find jobs.

Samoa has a net migration rate of -13.4, while in neighbouring Tonga it is -15.4 and in the western Pacific island state of Micronesia it is -15.7, in contrast to the average in small island developing states (SIDS) of -1.4.

In Apia, Samoa’s capital, Siera Tifa Palemene, a fit, active woman in her late sixties, is one of many mothers to have watched her children migrate to larger economies in the region.

Palemene presides over an extensive family, with five sons and five daughters. Four of her married sons, now in their thirties, live in Australia and New Zealand, where they work in construction and building trades, such as welding.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them." -- Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society
“The salaries are too low here in Samoa and my children have large families,” Palemene told IPS, emphasising that one of her sons has seven children. “My sons want their children to get a better life because over here there are not that many opportunities.”

Contraceptive prevalence in Samoa is an estimated 29 percent and the total fertility rate is 4.2, one of the highest in the region. However, while the country has a high natural population increase rate of two percent, emigration reduces population growth to 0.8 percent. Emigrants residing predominantly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States number an estimated 120,400, which nearly matches Samoa’s population of 190,372.

Twenty years after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, many small island states are still striving for sustainable economic development, equality and employment growth to match bulging youth populations.

Despite stable governance, Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, tourism and international development assistance, suffers from geographic isolation from main markets. It was also impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009 and Cyclone Evan in 2012, which damaged infrastructure and crops.

Livelihoods for most people centre on fishing, subsistence and smallholder agriculture, as well as small commercial and informal trading, with an estimated 27 percent of households striving to meet basic needs.

International migration, therefore, is an important avenue to economic fulfilment for young educated people with increased lifestyle aspirations and there are benefits for family members living in Samoa, such as remittances.

“My sons send money to help out the family; this helps pay all the household bills, such as electricity, and to send the grandchildren here to school,” Palemene said. According to the World Bank, remittances to Samoa in 2012 were an estimated 142 million dollars, or about 23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

As Palemene’s offspring face more expenses with their own families, remittances are becoming infrequent.

“I know they have their families to support and that life overseas is very expensive with so much to pay for, but when I need it, I call them and they give me money,” she said.

Still, Palemene, who receives a state pension of 135 tala (about 57 dollars) per month, works as a housekeeper at a guesthouse in Apia for extra income.

She supports the decision of her sons to emigrate and is keen for them to “have their own good future,” but added, “The only thing is that I worry that something might happen to them when they are so far away.”

Elderly relatives who remain in Samoa also face vulnerabilities when the social safety net traditionally provided by the younger generation in extended families is diminished.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them,” Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society, observed. So, in times of natural disaster, for example, they need extra forms of community or state assistance.

There are other losses for high emigration countries such as the outward flow of educated professionals, known as the ‘brain drain’, due to the lure of higher salaries in the developed world, making it more difficult to progress much needed infrastructure and public service development. In Samoa the emigration rate of those with a tertiary education is 76.4 percent.

According to UNESCO, remittances are also primarily spent on consumption, rather than contributing to productivity, and the state’s trade deficit has grown as families in Samoa with additional disposable cash demand more imported goods.

Palemene sees her children when they pay her airfare to visit them or when they attend family events, such as weddings, in Samoa, but she doubts they will return to live permanently in the beautiful Polynesian country.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Comprehensive Sex Education: A Pending Task in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:52:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136879 By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

In most Latin American countries schools now provide sex education, but with a focus that is generally restricted to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases – an approach that has not brought about significant modifications in the behaviour of adolescents, especially among the poor.

The international community made the commitment to offer comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“Although some advances have been made in the inclusion of sexual and reproductive education in school curriculums in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have found that not all countries or their different jurisdictions have managed to fully incorporate these concepts in classroom activities,” Elba Núñez, the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

The 2010 CLADEM study ‘Systematisation of sexuality education in Latin America’ reports that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries that have come the closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education, and they are also the countries that have passed legislation in that respect.

Others, like Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, continue to focus on abstinence and birth control methods, while emphasising spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity.

But programmes in the region still generally have problems “with respect to the enjoyment and exercise of this right,” especially among ethnic minorities and rural populations, said Núñez from Paraguay.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have also run into difficulties in implementing sex education programmes outside the main cities.

These shortcomings are part of the reason that Latin America is the region with the second highest teen pregnancy rate – 38 percent of girls and women get pregnant before the age of 20 – after sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a steep school dropout rate.

In Argentina, a law on comprehensive sex education, which created a National Programme of Comprehensive Sex Education, was approved in 2006.

Ana Lía Kornblit, a researcher at the Gino Germani Research Institute, described the programme as “an important achievement because it makes it possible to exercise a right that didn’t previously exist.”

But in some provinces the teaching material, “which is high quality, is not used on the argument that [schools] do not agree with some of the content and they plan to design material in line with local cultural and religious values,” she said.

“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex,” Mabel Bianco, president of the Foundation for the Education and Study of Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“But in the media everything is eroticised, which incites them to engage in sexual behaviour. And the worst thing is they don’t have the tools to resist the pressure from their peers and from society to become sexually active,” she said. “CSE would enable them to say no to sexual relations that they don’t want to have.”“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex.” -- Mabel Bianco

Lourdes Ramírez, 18, just finished her secondary studies at a public school in Mendiolaza in the central Argentine province of Córdoba. She told IPS that in her school, many parents of students in the first years of high school “kick up a fuss” when sex education classes are given “because they say their kids are young and those classes will make them start having sex sooner.”

“It’s absurd that you see everything on TV, programmes with girls in tiny thongs, but then in school they can’t teach how to use a condom or that people should only have sex when they really want to,” Ramírez said.

In her school, the Education Ministry textbooks and materials arrived, but they were not distributed to the students “and were only kept in the library, for people to come and look at.”

Carmen Dueñas, a high school biology teacher in Berazategui, 23 km southeast of Buenos Aires, said it was surprising that even when available birth control methods are explained to the students, “many girls want to get pregnant anyway.”

“They think that when they get pregnant they will have someone to love, that they’ll have a role to play in life if they have a family of their own,” said the teacher, who forms part of a municipal-national CSE project.

“There are conflicts and violence in a significant proportion of families, and teenagers don’t feel they have support; families are torn apart, and there is domestic abuse, violence, alcohol and drug use,” said Marité Gowland, a specialist in preschool education in Florencio Varela, 38 km from the Argentine capital.

“All of this leads to adolescents falling into the same cycle, and it is difficult for them to put into practice what they learn in school,” she said. “Many schools provide the possibility for kids to talk about their problems, but the school alone can’t solve them.”

A project in Berazategui is aimed at breaking the mould. Students are shown a film where a girl gets pregnant when she is sexually abused by her stepfather, but manages to stay in school after talking to her teacher.
“We chose this scenario because sometimes we have clues that there are cases like this in our schools,” Dueñas said.

Through games, the project teaches students how to use condoms. In addition, students can place anonymous questions in a box. “There are girls who comment that although they haven’t even gotten their first period, they have sex, because they have older boyfriends. Then the group discusses the case,” Dueñas said, to illustrate how the project works.

Another member of CLADEM, Zobeyda Cepeda from the Dominican Republic, said that what prevails in most of the region is a “biological approach, or a religious focus, looking at sexuality only as part of marriage.”

Until the focus shifts to a rights-based approach, experts say, Latin America will not meet its international obligations to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted [...] and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Changing Face of Caribbean Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:21:35 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136874 Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Osman is attractive and well-groomed in tailored slacks and a patterned blouse, topped by a soft jacket worn open. Her demeanour and polished accent belie the stereotypical view that most Caribbean nationals have of Guyanese migrants.

As a Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad, the 35-year-old is one of thousands of Guyanese to have taken the plunge over the past decade, since the free movement clause of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime granted skilled persons the right to move and work freely throughout the region.

According to a recent report, Trinidad and Tobago hosts 35.4 percent of migrants in the region. The United Nations’ ‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision’ states that Latin America and the Caribbean host a total migrant stock of 8.5 million people.

“Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.” -- CARICOM Secretariat Report, 2010
Women make up 51.6 percent of migrants in the Caribbean, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2013 figures.

For many Guyanese, the decision to move on the strength of promises made by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to facilitate free movement of skilled labour within the region has met with mixed degrees of success and, in some cases, outright harassment and even threats of deportation from the Caribbean countries to which they have migrated.

A 2013 report by the ACP Observatory on Migration states, “Guyanese migrants in Trinidad and Tobago faced unfavourable opinions in the social psyche and this could translate into tacit and other forms of discrimination.”

The report, prepared by the regional consulting firm Kairi Consultants, goes on to state that migrants from Guyana were “assumed to be menial labourers or undocumented workers.”

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the CARICOM region, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 6,053 dollars in 2011. This stands in contrast to Trinidad and Tobago’s per-capita GDP of 29,000 dollars, according to the 2010-2011 U.N. Human Development Report (HDR).

But Osman’s background is not one of destitution. She applied for a CARICOM skills certificate in 2005, having completed a postgraduate diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management (ACEM) at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.

“I considered myself an artist, which is why I came to study here [for the ACEM] and I thought it a great stepping stone in my realising that dream of being a singer, songwriter, performer […]. Trinidad seems to be, in relation to where I came from, a more fertile ground for [what] I wanted to do,” she said.

Osman has her own band and performs as a jazz singer at nightspots in Trinidad and Tobago. During the day, she works as a speechwriter for Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Public Utilities.

Still, she misses the support network that her parents’ substantial contacts would have provided her in Guyana, and she acknowledges that her standard of living is also probably lower than it would have been if she were back home. But, she said, the move was necessary.

Osman’s story is in line with the findings of a 2010 CARICOM Secretariat report to “assess the impact of free movement of persons and other forms of migration on member states”, which found: “Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.”

Limited educational opportunities also explain the wave of migration out of Guyana, a finding borne out by the experience of Miranda La Rose, a senior reporter with one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading newspapers, ‘Newsday’, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science.

“I came here with the intention of working to help fund [my daughter’s] studies,” La Rose told IPS. “I was working for a fairly good salary in Guyana. My objective [in moving to Trinidad] was to improve my children’s education.”

She said the move to Trinidad was painless, since she was granted her CARICOM skills certificate within three weeks of applying, and she has amassed a circle of friends in Trinidad that compensates for the family she left behind in Guyana.

But not all stories of migration are happy ones. Some, like Alisa Collymore, represent the pains experienced by those with limited skills and qualifications.

Collymore, who now works as a nursing assistant with a family in Trinidad, applied for a CARICOM skills certificate under the entertainer category, because she had experience in songwriting and performing in Guyana.

However, she holds no tertiary qualifications in the field and only completed her secondary school education after she became an adult.

The Trinidadian authorities declined to grant her the CARICOM skills certificate and she has to apply for a renewal of her work permit every six months.

She said, “The treatment you get [is not what you] expected […] and the hand of brotherhood is not really extended. You feel like you are an outsider.”

Nevertheless, she said, the move has brought economic benefits. As a single, divorced, mother of three, she had struggled financially in Guyana. Since moving to Trinidad, her financial situation has improved, she said.

Though some studies have found negative impacts of the free skills movement on source countries, many are finding in the CARICOM scheme a chance to start a new – and often better – life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Where Women Don’t Workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-women-dont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136871 Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.

“I wanted to get a government job, but my family wanted me to get married instead,” Bibi tells IPS. Now she is a housewife, with “strict in-laws” who are opposed to the idea of women working.

“I know the province is short of female doctors,” she adds. “And the salaries and other benefits for people in the medical profession are lucrative, but social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.”

"Social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.” -- Saleema Bibi, a medical school graduate.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gender disparities in labour force participation rates are severe in Pakistan, with male employment approaching 80 percent compared to a female employment rate of less than 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In the country’s northern, tribal belt, the situation is even worse, with religious mores keeping women confined to the home, and unable to stray beyond the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper.

What Saleema Bibi discovered in her late-20s was something most women who dream of a career will eventually encounter: endless hurdles to equal participation in the economy.

For instance, the health sector in KP, which has a population of 22 million people, employs just 40,000 women, while maintaining a male labour force of some 700,000, according to Abdul Basit, a public health specialist based in Peshawar.

He says the “shortage of women employees in the health sector is [detrimental] to the female population” and is the “result of male dominance and an environment shaped by the belief that women should stay at home instead of venturing out in public.”

Even though one-fifth of the country’s doctors are female, few of them are engaged in paid work. Hundreds of female students are enrolled in the public sector’s medical colleges, but KP only has 600 female doctors, compared to 6,000 male doctors, Noorul Iman, a professor of medicine at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, tells IPS.

Experts also say the proportion of women workers occupying white-collar jobs is very limited, since even educated women are discouraged from entering the public service.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2012-2013, women have traditionally populated the informal sector, taking up jobs as domestic workers and other low-paid, daily-wage professions as cooks or cleaners, where affluent families typically pay them paltry sums of money.

In contrast, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts has been less than two percent.

Research indicates that only 19 percent of working women had jobs in the government sector, while the economic survey reports that some 200,000 women in KP were actively seeking jobs in the 2010-2011 period.

The most popular jobs were found to be in medicine, banking, law, engineering and especially education.

“Because women can work in all-girls’ schools, without interacting with male students or colleagues, their families allow them to take up these posts,” Pervez Khan, KP’s deputy director of education, tells IPS, adding that the female-only environment provided by gender-segregated schools explains why women are attracted to the profession of teaching.

The provision of three months’ paid leave, as well as 40 days of maternity leave is yet another incentive to enter the education sector, he states.

Still, the disparity between men and women is high. Although KP has a total of 119,274 teachers, only 41,102 are female.

The manufacturing sector does not fair any better. Muhammad Mushtaq, a leading industrialist in the province, says only three percent of the workforce in 200 industrial units around KP is comprised of women.

“Many people do not want women to mix with men in offices, and prefer for them to stay away from public places,” he tells IPS. This is a particularly disheartening reality in light of the fact that the number of girls in Pakistani universities, including in the northern regions, is almost equal to that of boys; despite their competitive qualifications, however, women are marginalised.

Mushtaq also believes that sexual harassment of women in their workplaces conspires with other forces to keep women from the payroll. About 11 percent of working women reported incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2006 study by the Peshawar-based Women’s Development Organisation.

“The research, conducted on women working in multinational companies, banks, government-owned departments, schools and private agencies, found a prevailing sense of insecurity,” says Shakira Ali, a social worker with the organisation.

Faced with mounting poverty in a country where 55 percent of the population of about 182 million earn below two dollars a day, while a full 43 percent earn between two and six dollars daily, many women are growing desperate for work, taking up positions in garment and food processing units, or entering the manufacturing sector where their embroidery skills are in high demand.

But this too, experts say, is predominantly temporary, contractual employment.

There is a kind of vicious cycle in which a lack of experience results in inadequate skills, which in turn fuels unemployment among women.

The situation is made worse by a nationwide female literacy rate of just 33 percent. While the female primary school enrollment rate is 70 percent, that number falls to just 33 percent for secondary-level education.

Muhammad Darwaish at the KP Employment Exchange Department says that only those women who head their households – either due to the death or debilitation of their husbands – are free to actively seek employment.

They too, however, fall victim to low wages and informal working conditions.

KP Information Minister Shah Farman tells IPS the government is committed to creating a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“We are bringing in a law on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he asserts.

Farman claims the KP government has launched a 10-million-dollar interest-free microcredit programme for women to enable them to start their own businesses.

“The programme, started in December 2013, seeks to reduce poverty through creation of self-employment and job opportunities for women,” he says.

Under the scheme, small loans worth anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars are being given to women who want to start embroidery, sewing and other home-based businesses.

It will continue for the next five years to bring women into the economic mainstream.

Pakistan is also bound to work towards gender equality by the targets set out in the internationally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire next year.

The government has taken steps towards the goal of empowering women through a series of national-level initiatives including the establishment of crisis centres for women, the National Plan of Action, gender reform programmes and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Still, women on average continue to earn less than men, while women only hold 60 seats compared to 241 seats occupied by men in the National Assembly.

Until women are allowed to fully contribute to the national economy, experts fear that Pakistan will not reach the goal of achieving gender equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mission Midwife: The Case for Trained Birth Attendants in Senegalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 04:48:54 +0000 Doreen Akiyo Yomoah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136842 Only 65 percent of Senegalese women give birth in the presence of a skilled attendant. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

Only 65 percent of Senegalese women give birth in the presence of a skilled attendant. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Doreen Akiyo Yomoah
DAKAR, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Diouma Tine is a 50-year-old vegetable seller and a mother of six boys. In her native Senegal, she tells IPS, motherhood isn’t a choice. “If you’re married, then you must have children. If you don’t, then you don’t get to stay in your husband’s house, and no one will respect you.”

Despite this prevailing cultural outlook, becoming a mother here is neither easy, nor safe, with only 65 percent of Senegalese women giving birth in the presence of a skilled attendant.

According to available data, 54 percent of Senegal’s 13.7 million people live in rural areas. Of these, some 3.3 million are women of reproductive age, an estimated 85 percent of who live about 45 minutes from a health facility.

The country has a worryingly high maternal mortality rate (MMR). The last government survey taken in 2005 found that 41 women died per 1,000 live births, giving the country a ranking of 144 out of 181.

“In some regions, like the Kolda and Tamba Regions, you can find up to 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births [since] some women are denied the ability to make decisions about when to go to hospital, [and] sometimes when roads are bad it’s difficult for them to get to a health centre.” -- Gacko Ndèye Ndiaye, coordinator of the gender cell at the Ministère de la Santé et Action Sociale (Ministry of Health and Social Action)
Between 2005 and 2010, the MMR in Senegal fell from 401 to 392 deaths per 100,000 live births, representing some progress but hinting at the scale of unmet need around the country.

One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015, but it is increasingly clear to health workers and policy makers that Senegal will not reach this target.

This year’s State of the World’s Midwifery Report produced by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projected that Senegal’s population was set to increase by 59 percent to 21.9 million by 2030.

“To achieve universal access to sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn care, midwifery services must respond to one million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 53 percent of these in rural settings,” the report stated, adding that the health system must be configured to cover some 66 million antenatal visits, 11.7 million births, and 46.7 million post-partum and postnatal visit from 2012 to 2030.

This past May, on the International Day of the Midwife, former Prime Minister Aminata Touré called attention to a gap of 1,336 midwives in the country, setting in motion a government-sponsored recruitment drive to rapidly increase the number of trained birth attendants.

The midwife shortage is felt most severely in rural areas: the Matam region in eastern Senegal, for instance, has only 14 midwives for a population of nearly 590,000, while Tambacounda, to the south of Matam, has only 38 for a population of about 670,000.

Senegal has both ‘sage-femmes’ (fully trained midwives), and ‘matrones’, direct-entry midwives who deliver the vast majority of babies in Senegal but lack proper education, and often learn their trade on site, sometimes spending less than six months in a clinical training setting before being taking up posts in rural areas.

“There is kind of a crisis in education,” Kaya Skye, executive director of the African Birth Collective, tells IPS.

“Matrones learn how to take blood pressure, but they don’t understand what that means. [With matrones] there is an urgency to get the baby out as soon as possible [and] an overuse of drugs, which is […] another cause of mortality,” she explained.

In fact, Touré stated during a speech on May 12 that 60 percent of maternal deaths in the country could have been avoided with “sufficient personnel, a suitable medical platform, [and] democratic access to women’s health services, notably the disadvantaged in remote areas.”

Gacko Ndèye Ndiaye, coordinator of the gender cell at the Ministère de la Santé et Action Sociale (Ministry of Health and Social Action), and a midwife by trade, tells IPS that numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

“There are disparities between different areas,” she asserted. “In some regions, like the Kolda and Tamba Regions, you can find up to 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births [since] some women are denied the ability to make decisions about when to go to hospital, [and] sometimes when roads are bad it’s difficult for them to get to a health centre.”

The National Agency of Statistics and Demography’s 2011 health indicators report found that over 90 percent of urban births are assisted by a trained assistant, but that number falls to just half for rural births.

Skye’s African Birth Collective works to fill these gaps, and recently built the Kassoumai Birth Centre in the Kabar village of the southern Casamance region to meet the needs of mothers and midwives.

According to Skye, “Traditional midwives said they wanted their own place to practice; that they didn’t feel welcome in government clinics. There was nothing in Kabar for women – they were giving birth in the showers behind their houses.”

Although the government does provide training for midwives, building this centre was “about creating infrastructure that is outside of government protocols and facilitating that dialogue where the traditional midwives can say ‘We do it this way’,” Skye says.

A long colonial history and post-colonial education in Senegal has meant that the Western obstetric model has been dominant.

Grassroots efforts, including the work of ENDA Santé, the health division of an international NGO called Environmental Development Action in the Third World, are helping to foster a better balance between Westernised birthing techniques and traditional methods.

The African Birth Collective and ENDA Santé have translated the educational manual ‘A Book for Midwives’ into French, giving birth attendants in Francophone West Africa access to crucial information, such as the case for non-supine positions, and inverted resuscitation methods.

For women like Tine, the pride that comes from being a mother will always outweigh the dangers and complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

But if the government of Senegal scales up its efforts to improve health services, it can remove the fear factor altogether, and make a strong contribution towards global efforts to ensure the health and safety of every mother.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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On Sri Lanka’s Tea Estates, Maternal Health Leaves a Lot to Be Desiredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:08:53 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136823 A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A mud path winds its up way uphill, offering views on either side of row after row of dense bushes and eventually giving way to a cluster of humble homes, surrounded by ragged, playful children.

Their mothers either look far too young, barely adults themselves, or old beyond their years, weathered by decades of backbreaking labour on the enormous tea estates of Sri Lanka.

Rani* is a 65-year-old mother of six, working eight-hour shifts on an estate in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Her white hair, a hunched back and fallen teeth make her appear about 15 years older than she is, a result of many decades spent toiling under the hot sun.

She tells IPS that after her fifth child, overwhelmed with the number of mouths she had to feed, she visited the local hospital to have her tubes tied, but gave birth to a son five years later.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority." -- Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California
Though she is exhausted at the end of the day, and plagued by the aches and pains that signal the coming of old age, she is determined to keep her job, so her children can go to school.

“I work in the estates so that they won’t have to,” she says with a hopeful smile.

Her story is poignant, but not unique among workers in Sri Lanka’s vast tea sector, comprised of some 450 plantations spread across the country.

Women account for over 60 percent of the workforce of abut 250,000 people, all of them descendants of indentured servants brought from India by the British over a century ago to pluck the lucrative leaves.

But while Sri Lankan tea itself is of the highest quality, raking in some 1.4 billion dollars in export earnings in 2012 according to the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the health of the labourers, especially the women, leaves a lot to be desired.

Priyanka Jayawardena, research officer for the Colombo-based Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, tells IPS that “deep-rooted socio-economic factors” have led to health indicators among women and children on plantations that are consistently lower than the national average.

The national malnutrition rate for reproductive-age mothers, for instance, is 16 percent, rising to 33 percent for female estate workers. And while 16 percent of newborn babies nationwide have low birth weight, on estates that number rises significantly, to one in every three newborns.

A higher prevalence of poverty on estates partly accounts for these discrepancies in health, with 61 percent of households on estates falling into the lowest socio-economic group (20 percent of wealth quintile), compared to eight percent and 20 percent respectively for urban and rural households.

Other experts say that cultural differences also play a role, since estate populations, and especially tea workers, have been relatively isolated from broader society.

“Many women are uneducated, and tend to be careless about their own health, and the health of their children,” a field worker with the Centre for Social Concern (CSC), an NGO based in the Nuwara Eliya district in central Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

“They have a very taxing job and so spend less time thinking about food and nutrition,” she states.

In fact, as Jayawardena points out, only 15 percent of under-five children on estates have a daily intake of animal protein, compared to 40-50 percent among rural and urban populations.

The same is true for daily consumption of yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as infant cereals – in both cases the average intake among children on estates is 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in rural and urban areas.

Breastfeeding patterns are also inadequate, with just 63 percent of estate workers engaging in exclusive breastfeeding for the first four months of a child’s life, compared to 77 percent in urban areas and 86 percent in rural areas, according to research conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies.

The situation is made worse by the demands of the industry. Since many women are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day, few can afford to take the required maternity leave.

But even when alternatives are provided by the estate management, experts say, a lack of awareness and education leaves children without proper attention and care.

Jayawardena tells IPS that almost half of all women on estates drop out of school after the primary level, compared to a national dropout rate of 15 percent. Literacy levels are low, and so even awareness campaigns often fail to reach the targeted audience.

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

“Women on the estates do not believe they have many options in life beyond working on the plantations,” the CSC field officer says.

“Most are extremely poor, and from childhood they are exposed to very little – there are hardly any playgrounds, libraries, gathering places or social activities on the estates. So they tend to get married early and become mothers at a very young age.”

Though the national average for teenage pregnancies stands at roughly 6.4 percent, it shoots up to ten percent among estate workers, resulting in a cycle in which malnourished mothers give birth to unhealthy babies, who will also likely become mothers at a young age.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority,” Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California, tells IPS.

“Any form of agricultural labour is hard on the body, and many of the estate workers in Sri Lanka work until they are seven or eight months pregnant. They need to be acknowledged, and more attention given to their wellbeing and health,” she adds.

Several NGOs and civil society organisations have been working diligently alongside the government and the private sector to boost women’s health outcomes.

According to Chaaminda Jayasinghe, senior project manager of the plantation programme for CARE International-Sri Lanka, the situation is changing positively.

The emergence of the Community Development Forum (CDF) introduced by CARE in selected tea estates is providing space and a successful model for inclusive development for estate communities, he tells IPS.

This has already resulted in better living conditions and health outcomes among estate communities while mainstreaming plantation communities into the larger society.

*Not her real name.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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U.N. High-Level Summits Ignore World’s Political Criseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 23:56:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136814 A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

As the 69th session of the General Assembly took off with the usual political pageantry, the United Nations will be hosting as many as seven “high-level meetings”, “summits” and “special sessions” compressed into a single week – the largest number in living memory.

The agenda includes a world conference on indigenous peoples; a special session on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; a climate summit; and a Security Council meeting of world leaders on counter-terrorism presided over by U.S. President Barack Obama."We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis." -- James Paul

Additionally, there will be a summit meeting on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; a high-level event on the U.N.’s Global Education First Initiative’s (GEFI); and a summit meeting of business leaders sponsored by the U.N.’s Global Compact.

All of this in a tightly-packed five-day political extravaganza ending Friday, which also includes an address by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama at the GEFI meeting.

At a press conference last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the upcoming events in superlatives.

“This is going to be one of the largest, biggest gatherings of world leaders, particularly when it comes to climate change,” he said.

Still, neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council has seen fit to summon a special session or a summit meeting of world leaders on the widespread crises that have resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and millions reduced to the status of refugees: in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps the easy way out was to focus merely on counter-terrorism instead of directly engaging Iraq or Syria.

The primary reason for avoiding these crises is the sharp division of opinion among the 193 member states in the General Assembly and a virtual Cold War confrontation between veto-wielding Russia and the United States in the 15-member Security Council, with China supporting the Russians.

James Paul, a former founding executive director of the New York based Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “The U.N.’s unprecedented number of global policy events in the coming days reflects the parlous state of the planet and the fear among those at the top that things are coming apart.”

He said terrorism, the climate crisis, Ebola outbreak, population pushing towards nine billion – these are signs the globalised society once so proudly announced is coming unstuck.

“Lurking in the background are other dangers: the persistent economic crisis, the problems of governability, and the rising tide of migration that are destabilising political regimes everywhere,” said Paul, who has been monitoring and writing extensively on the politics and policy-making at the United Nations since 1993.

Despite some star-studded attendees at the General Assembly sessions this year, there are a couple of high-profile world leaders who will be conspicuous by their absence.

Those skipping the sessions include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plans to address the General Assembly, is skipping the Climate Summit.

Asked about the non-starters, the secretary-general said: “But, in any event, we have other means of communications, ways and means of having their leadership demonstrated in the United Nations.”

And so it’s extremely difficult to have at one day at one time at one place 120 heads of state in government, he said, in an attempt to justify the absentee leaders.

“In that case,” said a Wall Street Journal editorial rather sarcastically, “why not do a conference call?” of all world leaders.

The editorial also pointed out “the Chinese economy has been the number one global producer of carbon dioxide since 2008, but President Xi Jinping won’t be gracing the U.N. with his presence.”

Paul told IPS since the problems facing the international community are global in scope, everyone realises they must be addressed globally, hence the turn towards the United Nations.

“But the powerful countries are uncomfortable with the U.N. even as they seek to impose their own global solutions,” he said.

So there is the paradox of global crises and global conversations, without effective global governance. Democracy is definitely off the table, said Paul, whose honours include the World Hunger Media Award and a “Peacemaker” award by Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis,” he said.

Above all, he said, the business leaders of the Global Compact, will be gathering to “bluewash” their companies and to declare their commitment to a better world while promoting a neoliberal society of weak governance and the invisible hand.

“They will be waltzing in dreamland. Please pour another champagne,” Paul declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Mongolia’s Poorest Turn Garbage into Goldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:28:51 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136793 Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Ulziikhutag Jigjid, 49, is a member of a 10-person group in the Khan-Uul district on the outskirts of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, which is producing brooms, chairs, containers, and other handmade products from discarded soda and juice containers.

“In the early morning we collect raw materials from the street, and then we spend the morning making products,” Jigjid told IPS. At four o’clock in the evening, she heads off to her regular job at a meat company.

The creation of her group’s business, and others like it, are part of an initiative called Turning Garbage Into Gold (TG2G), developed and supported by Tehnoj, an Ulaanbaatar-based non-governmental organisation.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day…This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages." -- Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia
Founded in 2007, this organisation supports the creation of small businesses based on the sale of handcrafted products.

Defining itself as a “business incubator centre” for small and medium-sized businesses, Tehnoj estimates that it has organised trainings for approximately 30,000 people across Mongolia, through various projects.

The TG2G project is currently operational in three of Ulaanbaatar’s outer districts: Khan-Uul, Chingeltei and Songino Khairkhan, and includes 20 production groups of around five to six people each.

“The goal of this project is to recycle products and reduce unemployment,” Galindev Galaariidii, director of Tehnoj, told IPS.

The NGO receives its funding from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Innovation Fund, a new U.N. initiative to support innovative programmes that “provide the creative space and discretionary resources to prototype innovative solutions and experiment with new ways of working to tackle complex development challenges outside the traditional business cycle,” Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia, explained to IPS.

The Innovation Fund is currently supporting the creation of programmes in 32 countries and helps promote environmental sustainability and inclusive economic and social development, key components of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Waste management and pollution are major problems in Mongolia, especially in the urban outskirts. With extremely limited infrastructure and a general lack of governmental resources, Galaariidii explains that 90 percent of garbage from these areas ends up on the street.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day… This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages,” said Eriksson.

According to UNDP, over 10,000 households move to Ulaanbaatar every year. “Unfortunately, the migrant population [find it difficult to gain employment] and obtain access to already strained social services,” Eriksson continued.

The TG2G programme aims to mitigate the waste management issues while also tackling social inequalities by empowering the less fortunate members of some of Mongolia’s poorest communities.

According to World Bank data for 2012-2013, Mongolia’s poverty rate stood at 27.4 percent of its population of 2.9 million people.

Finding jobs in the landlocked country, comprised of some 1.6 million square km, of which only 0.8 percent is arable land, is no easy task. While the mining sector has led rapid economic growth over the last decade, with growth touching 16 percent in the first quarter of 2012, not everyone has benefitted. In fact, the unemployment rate in 2012 was roughly 11 percent.

“We target Ulaanbaatar’s poorest areas with high unemployment,” Galaariidii explained to IPS. “We focus on two main groups: women [often mothers of disabled children], and the unemployed.”

The programme currently focuses on training groups in the creation of six main products: brooms, chairs, foot covers (often used for walking in temples or schools), picnic mats, waterproof ger (yurt) insulation sheets and containers of all sizes.

But new product designs are constantly being created. Oven mitts, bags, hats and aprons are just a few of the new forms of merchandise being developed.

“Our technology design is improving day by day,” said Galaariidii. For example, where zippers once secured the fabric covers of chairs, now elastic rings are used.

Presently, city cleaning teams are testing products with the potential for a government contract, and soda-bottle-broom orders are already coming in from hairdressers in Ulaanbaatar.

Communities involved in the TG2G programme seem to have a fresh sense optimism about the future.

Unrolling a large hand-drawn poster, Jigjid and two other group members – Baguraa Adiyabazar, 54, and Baasanjav Jamsranjav, 37 – explained how they plan to use the funds they earn from selling their products.

They want to build a kindergarten school, achieve full employment in their area, build a chicken farm, expand their ability to grow their own food and increase the availability of cars. There are even plans to allot a certain amount of the money towards a savings account, which can then be used to make small loans within the community.

“We plan to have more registration for the projects and more training programmes,” Jigjid explained. “[Eventually] we want to replace products that are imported from other countries.”

Beyond the material level, the programme is also having a positive impact on the mentality of the community.

“We have a mission to become more creative,” Jigjid continued. “Now as a group we have a goal.”

Next year Jigjid will retire from her job with the meat company and focus on building their product development into a successful business.

“I will have something to do,” she said happily. “I can see my future is secure.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Invest in Young People to Harness Africa’s Demographic Dividendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 22:09:25 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136771

Julitta Onabanjo is Regional Director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa. Benoit Kalasa is Regional Director, UNFPA West and Central Africa. Mohamed Abdel-Ahad is Regional Director, UNFPA North Africa and Arab States.

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Different issues will be competing for the attention of different African leaders attending the 69th United Nations General Assembly Special Session on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 in New York on Sep 22.

But the central question for Africa’s development today is this: How do we harness the dividend from the continent’s current youthful population?

Solving this issue has never been more fundamental to Africa’s development than it is today.

For decades many, African countries have come up with a variety of ‘development’ plans. But often missing in these documents is how best to harness the potential of the youthful population for the transformation of the continent.

Therefore, strategic investment to harness the potential of the youth population can no longer wait.“African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights”

The groundswell for change

Africa is undergoing important demographic changes, which provide immense economic opportunities. Currently, there are 251 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in Africa compared with 1.2 billion worldwide, which means that around one in five adolescents in the world comes from Africa.

Africa’s working age population is growing and increasing the continent’s productive potential. If mortality continues to decline and fertility declines rapidly, the current high child dependency burden will reduce drastically. The result of such change is an opportunity for the active and employed youth to invest more.  With declining death rates, the working age population in Africa will increase from about 54 percent of the population in 2010 to a peak of about 64 percent in 2090.

This increase in the working age population will also create a window of opportunity  that, if properly harnessed, should translate into higher economic growth for Africa, yielding what is now termed a ‘demographic dividend’ – or accelerated economic growth spurred by a change in the age structure of the population.

Reaping the demographic dividend requires investments in job creation, health including sexual and reproductive health and family planning, education and skill and development, which would lead to increasing per capita income.

Due to low dependency ratio, individuals and families will be able to make savings, which translate into investment and boost economic growth. This is how East Asian countries (Asian Tigers) were able to capitalise on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

The impact of such a demographic transition on economic growth is no longer questionable – it is simply a fact.

But this transformation requires that appropriate policies, strategies, programs and projects are in place to ensure that a demographic dividend can be reaped from the youth bulge.

Seizing the moment

Without concerted action, many African countries could instead face a backlash from the growing numbers of disgruntled and unemployed youth that will emerge.

In the worst-case scenario, such a demographic transition could translate into an army of unemployed youth and significantly increase social risks and tensions.

To seize the opportunity, African states will need to focus their investments in a number of critical areas. A priority will be the education and training of their youth.

African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights.

If these efforts are to succeed, this will demand addressing gender disparities between today’s boys and girls especially, but more specifically, addressing the vulnerabilities of the adolescent girl.

Beyond rhetoric

As we move toward the post-2015 development agenda, unleashing the potential and power of Africa’s youth should be a critical component of the continent’s developmental strategies, as reflected in the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development – the regional outcome of ICPD beyond 2014 – and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

This can no longer be reduced to election or political polemics. It requires urgent action.

Young people are central to the realisation of the demographic dividend. It is therefore important to protect and fulfil the rights of adolescents and youth to accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education, and health services for sexual and reproductive well-being and lifelong health, to ensure a productive and competitive labour force.

Africa cannot afford to squander the potential gains of the 21st Century offered by such an important demographic asset:  its youthful population.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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U.N. Urged to Reaffirm Reproductive Rights in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136747 Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

The U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda has been described as the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the world body.

But where does population, family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) fit into the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an integral part of that development agenda?"We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life." -- Purnima Mane, head of Pathfinder International

Of the 17, Goal 3 is aimed at “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” while Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the “empowerment of all women and girls.”

But when the General Assembly adopts the final list of SDGs in September 2015, how many of the proposed goals will survive and how many will fall by the wayside?

Meanwhile, SRHR will also be a key item on the agenda of a special session of the General Assembly next week commemorating the 20-year-old Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) said, “Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girs and young people, including their reproductive rights.

“But the battle is not over,” he said.

“Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda, and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development,” he declared.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS, “We are delighted the final set of [proposed] SDGs contains four critical targets on SRHR: three under the health goal and one under the gender goal.”

The inclusion of a commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes, is necessary and long overdue, she said.

“But we have not reached the finish line yet,” cautioned Mane, who oversees an annual budget of over 100 million dollars for sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing countries.

The SDGs still need to be adopted by the General Assembly, “and we must all continue to raise our voices to ensure these SRHR targets are intact when the final version is approved,” she added.

Mane said civil society is disappointed these targets are not as ambitious or rights-based as they should be.

“And translating the written commitment into actionable steps remains a major challenge and is frequently met with resistance. We must retain our focus on these issues,” she said.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Malaysia-based Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) working across 17 countries in the region, told IPS it is ideal to have SRHR captured both under the gender goal as well as the health goal.

The advantages of being part of the gender goal is that the rights aspects can be more strategically addressed – because this is the area where universal commitment has been lagging – the issues of early marriage, gender-based violence, harmful practices – all of which have an impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women, she pointed out.

“The advantages of being part of the health goal is that interventions to reduce maternal mortality, increase access to contraception, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are part and parcel of sound national health policies,” Thanenthiran said.

It would be useful for governments to learn from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process and ensure that the new goals are not implemented in silos, she added. “Public health concerns should be addressed with a clear gender and rights framework.”

Maria Jose Alcala, director of the secretariat of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD, told IPS what so many governments and stakeholders around the world called for throughout the negotiations was simply to affirm all human rights for all individuals – and that includes SRHR.

The international community has an historic opportunity– and obligation — to move the global agenda forward, and go beyond just reaffirming agreements of 20 years ago as if the world hasn’t changed,and as if knowledge and society hasn’t evolved, she noted.

“We know, based on ample research and evidence, based on the experiences of countries around the world, as well as just plain common sense, that we will never achieve poverty eradication, equality, social justice, and sustainable development if these fundamental human rights and freedoms are sidelined or traded-off in U.N. negotiations,” Jose Alcala said.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a must and prerequisite for the post-2015 agenda “if we are to really leave nobody behind this time around,” she declared.

Mane told IPS, “As the head of Pathfinder, I will actively, passionately, and strongly advocate for SRHR and family planning to be recognised and aggressively pursued in the post-2015 development agenda.”

She said access to SRHR is a fundamental human right. “We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life. ”

Asked about the successes and failures of ICPD, Thanenthiran told IPS there is a need to recognise the progress so far: maternal mortality ratios and infant mortality rates have decreased, access to contraception has improved and life expectancy increased.

However, much remains to be accomplished, she added. “It is apparent from all recent reports and data that SRHR issues worldwide are issues of socio-economic inequality.”

In every country in the world, she noted, women who are poorer, less educated, or belong to marginalised groups (indigenous, disabled, ethnic minorities) suffer from undesirable sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Compared to their better educated and wealthier sister citizens, these women and girls are more likely to have less access to contraception, have pregnancies at younger ages, have more frequent pregnancies, have more unintended pregnancies, be less able to protect themselves from HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases, suffer from poor maternal health, die in childbirth and suffer from fistula and uterine prolapse.

Hence the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda is also the equality agenda of this century, she added.

“Governments must commit to reducing these inequalities and carry these learnings from ICPD at 20 into the post-2015 development agenda,” Thanenthiran said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: From Schools to Shelters in Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:59:24 +0000 Fred Abrahams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136558 The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

By Fred Abrahams
ERBIL, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Using schools for shelter was a natural. When the Islamic State drove waves of people from the Sinjar area of Iraq in early August, most of them members of the Yazidi minority group, they fled first to the mountains and then to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. They camped out in whatever unoccupied structures they could find.

Now more than 600 schools are filled with desperate families struggling to come to terms with the trauma of the mass killings, abductions, and sexual violence by the Islamic State that decimated their communities. They sleep in classrooms, hallways, and the courtyards of facilities intended for children’s education.The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The impact is double-edged. With no prospect for them to return home soon, these people need better shelter and care for the long term, including education for the tens of thousands of children among them. Yet the children of accommodating host communities also need access to their schools.

The school year under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is due to start on Sep. 10. But hundreds of schools will not be able to open that day.

According to the KRG Education Ministry, 653 schools in the Dohuk governorate, which has borne the brunt of the crisis, are being used to shelter displaced Yazidis and others, with schools playing a similar role in the cities of Sulaimaniya and Erbil. Across Iraq, around 2,000 schools are being used to shelter the displaced, the United Nations says.

The northwestern Duhok governorate, with its 1.3 million residents, has absorbed 520,000 displaced people, according to the U.N. That’s in addition to 220,000 refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria already in KRG areas. Around the country, 1.8 million people are internally displaced.

The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The immediate answer to the crisis gripping Duhok schools is to build camps, and that is happening. But it will take months before the 14 planned camps in KRG areas are up and running, and they will only serve half of the displaced. More funds are urgently needed to expedite and expand the work.

The United States and other countries can help the Yazidis and other Iraqis by increasing their financial support for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Compounding the problem is an ongoing budget dispute between the KRG and Iraq’s central government, which has blocked central government funding for displaced people in the Kurdish region and kept teachers there from getting regularly paid for months. Children should not be held hostage to the political crisis gripping Iraq.

The dispute includes differences in curriculum between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish-run region. To promote education and reduce tension, the Baghdad authorities and the KRG should rapidly find ways to deliver textbooks and administer exams.

The logistical and political hurdles are daunting. But the children here, both residents and the displaced, need all the help they can get to turn the shelters back to schools.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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