Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 World Misses Its Potential by Excluding 50 Per Cent of Its Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:08:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139526 A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

The meeting is billed as one of the biggest single gatherings of women activists under one roof.

According to the United Nations, over 1,100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and more than 8,600 representatives have registered to participate in this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).“This is a reality check on the part of the member states." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Described as the primary intergovernmental body mandated to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, the 45-member CSW will hold its 59th sessions Mar. 9-20.

About 200 side events, hosted by governments and U.N. agencies, are planned alongside official meetings of the CSW, plus an additional 450 parallel events by civil society organisations (CSOs), both in and outside the United Nations.

Their primary mission: to take stock of the successes and failures of the 20-year Platform for Action adopted at the historic 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. The achievements are limited, say CSOs and U.N. officials, but the unfulfilled promises are countless.

The reason is simple, warns Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “We cannot fulfill 100 percent of the world’s potential by excluding 50 percent (read: women) of the world’s people.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the U.N.’s 193 member states have to go beyond “paying lip service” towards gender equality.

They should “genuinely challenge and dismantle the power structures and dynamics which perpetuate discrimination against women.”

But will they?

Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, told IPS in the Beijing Platform for Action, 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex”.

Twenty years later, just over half of the sex discriminatory laws highlighted in three successive Equality Now reports have been revised, appealed or amended, she said.

“Although we applaud the governments that took positive action, we are concerned that so many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books around the world,” Hassan noted.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil Society Action Network, told IPS she was happy to see the latest draft of the Beijing + 20 Political Declaration, presented by the Bureau of the CSW, expressing “concern that progress has been slow and uneven and that major gaps and obstacles remain in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action.”

“And it [has] recognized that 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women [in Beijing], no country has achieved equality for women and girls; and that significant levels of inequality between women and men persist, and that some women and girls experience increased vulnerability and marginalization due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

“This is a reality check on the part of the member states, which is welcomed by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and the rest of civil society,” she added.

Speaking specifically on reproductive health, Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. Population Division, told IPS the work of the CSW is important and it has contributed to improving women’s lives.

Pointing out the important areas of health and mortality, he said, when the CSW was established seven decades ago, the average life expectancy at birth for a baby girl was about 45 years; today it is 72 years, which, by any standards, is a remarkable achievement.

With respect to reproductive health, he said, great strides have been achieved.

In addition to improved overall health and lower maternal mortality rates, most women today can decide on the number, timing and spacing of their children.

“Simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women and girls encounter, while largely ignoring those facing men and boys, will obstruct and delay efforts to attain true gender equality and the needed socio-economic development for everyone,” Chamie warned.

According to U.N. Women, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman.

Approximately 50 per cent of women worldwide are in paid employment, an increase from 40 per cent more than 20 years ago, with wage inequality persistent.

At the present rate of progress, said U.N. Women, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.

In 2000, the groundbreaking Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised the need to increase women’s role in peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. Yet, from 1992 to 2011 only 4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements and nine per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

Hassan told IPS there are still laws that restrict women’s rights in marriage (women not allowed to enter and exist marriages on the same basis as men; appointing men as the head of a household; requiring wife obedience; allowing polygamy; setting different ages of marriage for girls and boys).

There are also laws that give women a lower personal status and less rights as citizens (women not being able to transmit their nationality to husbands and children; women’s evidence not equal to that of a man; restriction on women traveling).

And women being treated as economically unequal to men (less rights to inheritance or property ownership; restrictions on employment); and laws that promote violence against women (giving men the right to rape their wives; exempting rapists from punishment for marrying their victims; allowing men to chastise their wives).

“The fact that these laws continue to exist shows that many governments do not consider women to be full citizens and as such it is not possible to make progress on the goals set 20 years ago,” Hassan said.

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the CSW political declaration also states that member states reaffirm their “political will and firmly commit to tackle critical remaining gaps and challenges and pledge to take concrete further actions to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes,” among other very good promises.

This is where the crux of the matter lies, she said.

“We’ve heard these promises many times before from past CSW sessions and yet recent data, such as those from the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicate the following:

– 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime;

– on average, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.”

Globally, she said, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

She predicted that issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights will remain contentious in this CSW, as in previous years.

“It also worries me that while thousands of women have died and many more continue to suffer because of ongoing conflicts as well as violent extremism around the world, none of this is addressed in the political declaration.”

Sadly, the U.N. continues to operate in silos, she said. The Security Council remains disconnected with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) under which the CSW functions.

“Having said all of this, I want us, in civil society, to push the envelope as far as possible in this 59th CSW session,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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By Girls, For Girls – Nepal’s Teenagers Say No to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/by-girls-for-girls-nepals-teenagers-say-no-to-child-marriage/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 18:58:49 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139501 Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BAJURA, Nepal, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

If not for a group of her school friends coming to her rescue, Shradha Nepali would have become a bride at the tender age of 14.

Hailing from the remote village of Pinalekh in the Bajura District of Nepal’s Far-Western Region, 900 km from the capital, Kathmandu, the teenager was a likely candidate for child marriage.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages." -- 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the all-girls Jyalpa Child Club in Far-West Nepal
Her family of six survive on an income of less than a dollar a day – subsisting largely off the produce grown on their tiny farm and scraping together a few extra coins working as underpaid daily labourers.

Mahesh Joshi, coordinator of the local non-governmental organisation PeaceWin, tells IPS that such abject poverty is one of the primary drivers of early marriage in Nepal, a choice taken by many adolescent girls with few prospects beyond a lifetime of hard work, and hunger.

Nepali herself tells IPS she was “unaware of the consequences” of her decision at the time.

Had her friends not intervened, she would have joined the already swollen ranks of Nepal’s child brides – according to a 2013 study by Plan Asia and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), 41 percent of Nepali women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the legal age of 18.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has classified Nepal as one of the world’s top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. But now, thanks to an all-girls-led initiative around the country, the tide may be about to turn.

Poverty turning kids into brides

South Asia is home to an estimated 42 percent of the world’s child brides, with Nepal ranked third – behind Bangladesh and India – according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A myriad of causes fuels child marriage in Nepal, home to an estimated 27.8 million people, of whom 24 percent live below the poverty line, says the World Bank.

Nepal’s National Women’s Commission believes economic, social and religious factors all play a role. In the country’s southern Tarai belt, for instance, continuation of the dowry system keeps the practice of child marriage alive. The younger the girl, the less her parents are expected to pay the groom, forcing many to part with their daughters at an ever-younger age.

Others simply choose to marry off their daughters so they have one less mouth to feed.

And while girls’ education is gaining more importance, it is still not considered a priority among rural, impoverished communities – UNICEF says the basic literacy rate among women aged 15-24 is 77.5 percent, a number that falls to 66 percent for secondary school enrolment.

Early marriages have been recognised, internationally and domestically in Nepal, as a violation of girls’ basic human rights, and a practice that has hugely negative repercussions across the board.

“Young girls who are underage when they marry are likely to suffer from a series of health and psychological problems,” explains UNFPA Nepal Deputy Representative Kristine Blokhus.

“There is a real risk of death during delivery, and even if a young girl survives, she may face life-long health problems,” the official tells IPS.

Child marriage severely limits a girl’s future prospects, often sealing her access to labour markets and condemning her to a lifetime of dependence on her husband or his family.

Experts say this is the beginning of a cycle of disempowerment, wherein a girl with few choices becomes trapped in a situation where limited options dwindle ever further.

By girls, for girls: A grassroots approach

When initiatives to fight against the practice gain ground, it is cause for celebration among activists, policy-makers, and families who opt for child marriage as a last resort in the face of extreme hardship.

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The district of Bajura, where Shradha Nepali and her friends live, is leading the way on these efforts, with communities across the district competing to declare their respective villages ‘child marriage-free zones’: a bold statement against an age-old practice.

Bajura is located in the Far-Western Region of Nepal, home to some of the country’s most remote and developmentally challenged villages; incomes here are low and child marriages are correspondingly high.

Changing attitudes here is not easy, but that hasn’t stopped girls like 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the Jyalpa Child Club in the remote Badi Mallika Municipality, from trying.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages,” Hamal tells IPS.

She is one of 10 girls who came together in 2014 with the help of PeaceWin and a youth-led agency called Restless Development, with support from UNICEF, to strategise on how best to stem the practice once and for all.

“These girls are local heroes; they have really proven themselves [in their] persistent educational campaigns, and by inspiring their parents to join their cause,” says Hira Karki, a local social mobiliser from PeaceWin.

It was this club that rescued Nepali from her marriage, shortly after she ran away from home. Although the girl’s mother doesn’t fault her for wanting to flee, she is visibly relieved to have her daughter back, and determined to make her stay.

“I cannot blame her [for running away] because she wanted to escape hardship at home. I [now] hope to support her in every way possible,” the 35-year-old mother tells IPS.

Today, Nepali is one of the club’s most active campaigners against child brides. Their success is tangible: over 84 schools in Bajura and the neighbouring districts of Kalikot, Accham and Mugu have launched similar initiatives in the last year.

“The best part of anti-child marriage activism here is that we have campaigners from our own community who live here and get the chance to educate their own adult members without antagonising them,” a local school principal, Jahar Sing Thapa, tells IPS.

Though small, each club is contributing to the country’s overall efforts to stem the practice. In the past five years, UNFPA says the rate of child marriage has declined by 20 percent.

Beyond activism: towards a policy of ‘zero prevalence’

While independent, local efforts are praiseworthy, they alone will not be adequate to tackle the problem at a national scale.

“We have learnt from our own experience that simply raising awareness against underage marriages is not enough,” UNICEF Nepal’s Deputy Representative Rownak Khan tells IPS in Kathmandu, adding that a multi-sector approach involving financial literacy, life-skills training and income-generation support for adolescent girls will all need to become part of the country’s arsenal against early marriages.

All these services are now core components of the government’s national level ‘Adolescent Development Program’, initiated in 1998.

Kiran Rupakhetee, chief of the government’s Child Protection Section, tells IPS that a variety of government ministries are now working together, resulting in the drafting of the government’s first national strategy document against child marriage.

Combined with some 20,000 child-run clubs across the country, this multi-pronged approach promises to bring real changes across the country, and move Nepal closer to the day when it can call child marriage a thing of the past.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139478 Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

But alongside the stories of extraordinary atrocity and everyday violence lies another reality, one where more girls are in school and more are earning qualifications than ever before; where maternal mortality is at an all-time low; where more women are in leadership positions, and where women are increasingly standing up, speaking out and demanding action.How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained!

Twenty years ago this September, thousands of delegates left the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on a high. The overwhelming feeling was that women had won a great victory. We had indeed – 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there.

If countries had lived up to all those promises, we would be seeing a lot more progress in equality today than the modest gains in some areas we are currently celebrating. We would be talking about equality for women across the board – and we might be talking about a saner, more evenly prosperous, more sustainably peaceful world.

Looking today at the slow and patchy progress towards equality, it seems that we were madly ambitious to expect to wipe out in 20 years a regime of gender inequality and outright oppression that had lasted in some cases for thousands of years.

Then again – was it really so much to ask? What sort of world is it that condemns half its population to second-class status at best and outright slavery at worst? How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained! If world leaders really saw the Beijing Platform for Action as an investment in their countries’ future, why didn’t they follow through?

Some women are taking a seat at the top table. There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. But the rest are men. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality has fallen by 45 per cent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 per cent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 per cent of women were in waged and salaried employment.  Today that proportion has grown to some 50 per cent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

This year marks a great opportunity for the world’s leaders, and a great challenge. When they meet at the United Nations in New York in September, they will have the opportunity to revisit and re-commit to the goals of Beijing.

Today, we call on those leaders to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development. We call on them to show an example in their own lives of how equality benefits everyone: man, woman and child. And we call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level to address the gender equality gaps that we know still persist.

We must have an end point in sight. Our aim is substantial action now, urgently frontloaded for the first five years, and equality before 2030. There is an urgent need to change the current trajectories. The poor representation of women in political and economic decision-making poses a threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality that men can and must be part of addressing.

If the world’s leaders join the world’s women this September; if they genuinely step up their action for equality, building on the foundation laid in the last 20 years; if they can make the necessary investments, build partnerships with business and civil society, and hold themselves accountable for results, it could be sooner.

Women will get to equality in the end. The only question is, why should we wait? So we’re celebrating International Women’s Day now, confident in the expectation that we will have still more to celebrate next year, and the years to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139452 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139423 Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

By Josh Butler
NEW YORK, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children – and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market."It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.” -- Kathy Spahn

Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.

“The area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,” Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.

“We’re teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.”

The programme, ‘Making Markets Work For Women,’ or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.

Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.

Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist – traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.

“HKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,” Spahn told IPS.

“We call the programme ‘enhanced homestead food production.’ With that, comes nutrition information. It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.”

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. While each household may only produce an amount too small to make market sale effective, joining forces with other women means each collective has a larger volume to sell.

“We want to build their capacity in business and marketing. We give them training on market research, demand, book-keeping, and organise the households into groups so they can aggregate their products,” Spahn said.

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

A group savings scheme is also offered, whereby women can place some of their income into a shared pool that any member can access for large expenses such as hospitalisation or replacement of packaging machinery.

“If something breaks down, we can’t replace it because that’s not sustainable. This is about development, not charity,” Spahn said.

M2W2 was originally a three-year pilot programme from 2009 to 2012, but received an extra injection of funds from the British government to continue until January.

“We are looking for more support to keep going,” Spahn said.

The programme’s outcomes are resounding. Spahn said of the 2,500 households involved, “nearly all” saw a 30 percent increase in income.

“When we started, everybody had a poor diet. Three years later, nobody did,” she said.

Eggs, a rich source of Vitamin A, helped address deficiency of that vitamin and vision problems associated with such deficiencies, but Spahn said the most powerful benefit was social, rather than physical.

“We found 90 percent of women had the sole decision over the money their raised. They were bargaining more efficiently, and feeling more empowered,” she said.

Empowerment and financial independence for women is one of the ideological pillars of Women Advancing Microfinancing New York. WAMNY board member Danielle LeBlanc said the microfinancing and social entrepreneurship can be among the simplest and most effective ways to advance the economic prospects of disenfranchised women in poorer countries.

“With an opportunity to earn income on their own, it helps women gain some independence and increase the financial sustainability of their families,” LeBlanc told IPS.

“When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their kids to school, improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family.”

LeBlanc said the term ‘microfinancing’ was a broad concept, viewed differently by many parties. She said governments consider it to be grants of under 50,000 dollars and that banks consider the threshold to be closer to 250,000, but LeBlanc said vast progress can be made with an initial outlay of as little as a few hundred dollars.

“In the U.S., microfinancing might help out street vendors like in New York City, or to fund home daycare centres, or even small businesses with shopfronts. Overseas, we can be talking about the very poor, like women selling goods by the roadside, farmers, or craft makers,” she said.

“To us, the increase in income for a family in poor countries might seem very small, but it makes a huge difference in their lives. It helps increase the nutrition of children, increases the standing of the woman in the family, or can put a tin roof on a thatched house.”

LeBlanc said the increase standing of women in the eyes of their husbands and their community is one of the most important benefits that such projects can offer.

“It changes from community to community, but when women start bringing income into their family, it increases their confidence and they move from being totally dependant on their husband to someone bringing income into the house,” she said.

“There is more respect there for the woman. It makes a huge difference.”

She said the M2W2 programme was selected for presentation at the WAMNY event on Tuesday because of its “holistic” approach to empowering women, benefiting families, and changing communities.

“It is working with various women’s issues, from joint savings programmes to technical assistance and increasing farming output,” she said. “It is getting women working together, to co-operate as a community. Projects like this encourage our members to think outside the box for how to work.”

At its core, M2W2 is a simple one – give seeds and tools to women, show them how to farm, and teach them how to sell their produce. But both Spahn and LeBlanc said that, in the field of microfinance, often the simplest ideas can have the most impressive outcomes.

“The key to whether a programme is successful isn’t necessarily the budget, it’s about whether it is based on a need. It needs clear communication with the community, if it is a programme they like and can use,” LeBlanc said.

Spahn said HKI is currently working on a project in African countries including Mozambique and Burkina Faso, helping women there to grow sweet potatoes to make into chips, bread and cookies – again, both to sell and to feed to their own families.

“We’ve always said, we should aim for complex problems and simple solutions. We want to take a problem apart, and find a solution that isn’t overwhelming,” Spahn said.

“The problem is in scaling things up, from one community to a nationwide programme. Once you have the solution, how do you reach the people hardest to reach? How do you take it past the village?”

Spahn said HKI hopes to institute the M2W2 programme in other other countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mobile Technology a Lever for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:49 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139367 For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Providing women with greater access to mobile technology could increase literacy, advance development and open up much-needed educational and employment opportunities, according to experts at the fourth United Nations’ Mobile Learning Week conference here.

“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The agency, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women, joined forces with its “sister” organisation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to host the Feb. 23-27 conference this year.“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

The aim, UNESCO said, was to give participants a venue “to learn about and discuss technology programmes, initiatives and content that are alleviating gender deficits in education.”

Participants from more than 70 countries shared so-called best practices and presented a range of initiatives to address the issue, including reducing the costs of access to mobile services in some developing countries, and providing training and free laptops to women teachers in countries such as Israel.

“There is still a persistent gender gap in access to mobile technology,” said keynote speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In an interview on the side-lines of the conference, she told IPS that “anything that encourages the education of girls is important” and that it was “particularly significant” that UNESCO and UN Women had joined forces to work together in this area to achieve results.

“We need to encourage women to use technology and we also need to involve men to provide support,” Blair said. She cited research showing that a woman in a low- or middle-income country is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In Africa, the figure is 23 percent less likely, and in the Middle East and South Asia 24 percent and 37 percent respectively.

“The reasons women cite for not owning a mobile phone include the costs of handsets and data plans, lack of need and fear of not being able to master the technology,” Blair said.

Yet, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile phones are the “most pervasive and rapidly adopted technology in history”, with six billion of the world’s seven billion people now having access.

If there existed gender parity in this access, women could benefit from the technology in a number of ways, including getting information about healthcare and other services, experts said.

They could also potentially follow massive open online courses (MOOCS) such as those offered by an increasing number of universities and other institutions, despite on-going controversy about their benefits. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in MOOCs are men, and often from wealthy backgrounds, surveys suggest.

Whether women live in low-income or rich countries, learning how to use technology could have future benefits especially regarding employment, said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer.

“Ninety percent of jobs in the future are going to require ICT skills,” he told IPS in an interview. “So any idea that it’s not socially or culturally acceptable for women to use technology is extremely dangerous.”

He said the fact that 25 percent fewer women than men currently access the Internet “was alarming” and that changes needed to occur early in education so that girls were not left out of future jobs.

“We don’t often realise how gendered our perceptions of technology are,” he added. “Women are taught from a young age to not like technology, taught that maths and science are not for them, and this is a big problem.”

At university level, only about 20 percent of female students are pursuing careers in computer science, and in the technology sector, only six percent of CEOs are women, according to the ITU.

“We should do more to get women in STEM fields,” said Doreen Bogdan, ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some participants highlighted current programmes to keep girls interested in science, such as camps run by the California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm, which brings sixth-grade female students together to learn coding and tech skills, and does follow-up work with them as they continue their education.

“All of the tech companies are fighting for the same talent pool and there are not enough females in that talent pool because not enough girls are studying it,” said Angela Baker, a senior manager at Qualcomm.

“There’s a ton of research that shows that when you have more women in the industry, companies tend to do better … so we have a vested interest in building that pipeline of girls and women,” she told IPS.

Apart from the STEM fields, girls have made great strides in education over the past 30 years, but there is “still a long way to go,” said experts, who cited U.N. figures showing that globally there are seven girls to every 10 boys in school.

Both UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and Cherie Blair described education as a “human rights imperative” as well as a development and security imperative.

They stressed that the goal of achieving gender equality in education will continue for the post-2015 development agenda, and that technology has an important role to play.

“Empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative,” Blair said.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Analysis: Economic Growth Is Not Enoughhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:39:21 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139299 A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
NEW YORK, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Recent new data show a worrying picture of Latin America and the Caribbean. Income poverty reduction has stagnated and the number of poor has risen — for the first time in a decade — according to recent figures from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This means that three million women and men in the region fell into poverty between 2013 and 2014. Given the projected economic growth for this year, at 1.3 percent according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures, our U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates suggest that in 2015, more than 1.5 million people will also fall into poverty by the end of this year.We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

They could be coming from the nearly 200 million vulnerable people in the region — those who are neither poor (living on less than four dollars a day) nor have risen to the middle classes (living on 10-50 dollars a day). Their incomes are right above the poverty line but still too prone to falling into poverty as soon as a major crisis hits, as another recent UNDP study showed.

Up and down the poverty line

Our analysis shows a clear pattern: what determines people to be “lifted from poverty” (quality education and employment) is different from what “avoids their fallback into poverty” (existence of social safety nets and household assets).

This gap suggests that, alone, more economic growth is not enough to build “resilience”, or the ability to absorb external shocks, such as financial crisis or natural disasters, without major social and economic losses. We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

Exclusion beyond income

We simulated what would happen if the region grew during 2017-2020 at the same rate as it did during the last decade — that is 3.9 percent annually — yet our estimates show that fewer people in Latin America and the Caribbean would be lifted from poverty than in the previous decade.

While an average of 6.5 million women and men in the region left poverty every year during 2003 and 2012, only about 2.6 million a year would leave poverty behind (earning more than four dollars a day) between 2017 and 2020.

Clearly, ‘more of the same’ in terms of growth — and public policies — will no longer yield ‘more of the same’ in poverty and inequality reduction, according to our analysis. There are two reasons: easy sources of increased wages are declining and fiscal resources, crucial to expand social safety nets, have shrunk.

What lies ahead are harder challenges: addressing exclusion, discrimination and historical inequalities that are not explained by income alone.

Fundamentally, progress is a multidimensional concept and cannot simply reflect the idea of living with less or more than four or 10 dollars a day. Wellbeing means more than income, not a consumerist standard of what a “good life” entails.

These are central elements to our next Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, which we are now preparing. It will also include policy recommendations that help decision makers lead an agenda that not only focuses on growth recovery and structural adjustment, but also redefines what is progress, development and social change in a region of massive inequalities and emerging and vulnerable middle classes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“HeForShe” Campaign Moves to the Next Stagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 23:25:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139228 Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

It launched in a blaze of social media glory with a viral speech that rocketed around the world, and five months on from the launch of U.N. Women’s groundbreaking HeForShe campaign, the real work is well underway.

The campaign, designed to recruit men and boys as key players in the gender equality movement, burst into life in September 2014 with a passionate speech from British actress Emma Watson on the floor of the United Nations in New York City.

The Harry Potter star’s speech has since been seen by millions around the globe, as the HeForShe launch and Watson’s remarks went viral worldwide.

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said at the U.N.

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals… How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

HeForShe asks men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality, to address inequality and discrimination faced by women worldwide. The overarching goal is gender equality by 2030.

U.N. Women presented a campaign update to the U.N. on February 9, outlining its accomplishments so far: billions of media impressions; millions of dollars donated; over 200,000 men pledging their support to the movement; and the new “Impact 10x10x10” program to bring on governments, universities and corporations as partners, recently launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.” -- Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women

“Once men start questioning the dynamics of gender inequality, men take responsibility for changing them, alongside women,” the U.N. Women briefing heard.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor at U.N. Women and head of the HeForShe campaign, called it a “rallying call” and “solidarity movement for gender equality.”

“We need to shift the way things have been done. A new approach was needed, there is a need for men to be part of this dialogue,” she told IPS.

“This is something that can’t just be for women alone to solve. It’s about men recognizing this is their struggle too.”

Just five months old, HeForShe is arguably already one of the most well recognised gender equality campaigns to ever exist, but women’s groups hold mixed opinions on the goals, ideology and value of the movement.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS she was concerned that, ironically, men were seemingly being valued more than women in this gender equality campaign.

“The concern is that it is very easy for women’s voices to be usurped. That in shifting the focus to men, you run the risk of making women invisible again,” Gerntholtz said.

“There needs to be a conscious effort to keep women’s voices front and centre of these campaigns.”

She spoke of attending women’s rights conferences and summits where the entire panel of speakers were men, without a single female voice.

“Even in the U.N., with explicit decisions to look for gender parity in a discussion, I’ve been to events and panels that are all men. [HeForShe] might run the risk of replicating these risks of inequality and disempowerment,” Gerntholtz said.

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women, said HeForShe was a good starting point but was not the miracle cure for gender equality.

“The campaign does not address all the aspects of equality that need to be addressed. It simply says, feminism is good for men and for women, and that’s indisputable,” she told IPS.

“I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.”

Gerntholtz was skeptical of HeForShe’s broad goal “to end gender inequality by 2030,” as outlined by said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“What are the indicators of gender equality that we are talking about? Is it access to education, participation in government and the corporate sector, a reduction in the number of women experiencing violence? The difficulty in an aim like that is it is very vague,” Gerntholtz said.

“It is important, what we use as markers on the road. It is an ambitious goal.”

When asked by IPS what indicators HeForShe would measure when assessing gender equality, Nyamayaro did not point to any specific examples.

“We’re looking for parity across every single level of society, whether in the home, workplace or community,” she said.

“We’re looking for lasting, concrete change… action from the grassroots, bottom up.”

Nyamayaro pointed out the Impact 10x10x10 project as HeForShe’s next substantial action, where she hoped meaningful change could be accomplished.

A one-year pilot initiative, the project will “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” according to a release from U.N. Women.

“Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions,” the release continues.

Nyamayaro said 10x10x10 would be a key part of HeForShe’s upcoming agenda, with further plans to be unveiled on International Women’s Day in March and a big one-year anniversary celebration in September.

“A lot needs to be done at the government and corporate level, and in terms of universities, with half the world’s population under 30 and the amount of violence on college campuses, we thought we could really do something there,” she said.

While Gerntholtz made clear her reservations over HeForShe, she said she generally supported the campaign’s goals.

“The women’s movement has been moving towards understanding that we need to include men and boys in the solution. We can’t just see them as perpetrators of violence, but as partners in eradicating violence,” she said.

“Using Emma Watson helps popularise feminism and makes it a legitimate choice for young men. It’s important she reaches the next generation, who will hopefully take leadership roles.”

O’Neill said the National Organisation for Women looked forward to tracking the progress of HeForShe.

“It’s really all hands on deck. We need all the help we can get,” she said.

“We need the U.N. to be loud and strong for women’s equality. HeForShe is one part of what’s needed, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshbutler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Getting Bang for the Buck on New Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 13:57:21 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139148 Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Bjørn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Right now, the United Nations is negotiating one of the world’s potentially most powerful policy documents. It can influence trillions of dollars, pull hundreds of millions out of poverty and hunger, reduce violence and improve education — essentially make the world a better place. But much depends on this being done well.

In the year 2000, the U.N. laid the foundation for the Millennium Development Goals, which comprised 21 mostly sharp and achievable targets in eight areas, including poverty and hunger, gender equality, education, and child and maternal health.Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

These goals have been hugely successful, not only in driving more development funding but also in making the world better. For instance, the world promised to halve the proportion of people hungry counting from 1990. And the progress has been remarkable.

In 1990, almost 24 percent of all people in the developing world were starving. In 2012, ‘only’ 14.5 percent were starving, and if current trends continue, the world will reach 12.2 percent in 2015, just shy of the halving at 11.9 percent.

Likewise, we promised to cut by half the proportion of poor. In 1990, 43 percent of the developing world lived below a dollar a day. In 2010, the proportion had already been more than halved at 20.6 percent – on current trends the proportion will drop below 15 percent by 2015, showing spectacular progress.

With the MDGs ending this year, we have to ask what’s next. The U.N. has started an inclusive process from the 2012 Rio Earth summit to define so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030.

So, over the coming months, countries, missions, U.N. organisations and NGOs will perform a complex dance to determine – and hopefully whittle down – the next set of targets. But that’s easier said than done. Last summer, 70 U.N. ambassadors in the open working group proposed a vertiginous 169 targets. Clearly we need priorities.

The SDGs will determine a large part of the 2.5 trillion dollars in development aid the world will spend until 2030. In order to spend the money most effectively and help as many people as possible, negotiators now need to zero in on the targets that promise the biggest benefit for the investment.

My think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 60 teams of top economists, including several Nobel laureates, to identify which targets will do the most good for each dollar spent. Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

This is where the U.N. is today – lots of well-intentioned targets with no prices or sizes. Our economists have taken the 169 targets and evaluated the social costs and benefits of each.

The best ones – the targets that have economic, social and environmental benefits 15 times or higher their costs – are painted bright green. Less good ones are light green, mediocre ones yellow and the poor targets – the ones that cost more than the good they do – red. Backed by thousands of pages of peer reviewed economic research, such a simple colour scheme will hopefully help the world’s busy decision makers focus on picking the most effective targets.

Reducing malaria and tuberculosis, for example, is a phenomenal target. Its costs are small because solutions are simple, cheap and well-documented. Its benefits are large, not only because it avoids death and prolonged, agonizing sickness, but also improves societal productivity and initiates a virtuous circle.

Similarly, we should focus on at least halving malnutrition, because there is robust evidence that proper nutrition for young children leads to a lifetime of large benefits – better brain development, improved academic performance, and ultimately higher productivity as adults. For every dollar spent, future generations will receive at least 45 dollars in benefits.

But at what point do goals simply become aspirations? While many ambitious goals are commendable, they may be unrealistic in practice – and could hinder instead of help progress.

For example, setting an absolute goal of ending global malnutrition, warn the economists, may sound alluring, but is implausibly optimistic and inefficient. We cannot achieve it, and even if we could, the resources to help the last hungry person would be better spent elsewhere.

At the other end of the scale, some proposed targets are ineffective. The doubling of the renewable energy share by 2030, for example, sounds great in theory but practically is an expensive way to cut just a little CO₂. Instead, the focus should be on providing more energy to poor people, a proven way of inclusive growth and poverty alleviation.

And in order to reduce carbon emissions, removing fossil fuel subsidies in third world countries promises much higher benefits. Reducing these subsidies in countries where gasoline is sometimes sold for a few cents per liter would stop wasting resources, send the right price signals, and reduce the strain on government budgets, while also cutting emissions.

Of course, the ultimate decision for the Sustainable Development Goals is a political one. No doubt, economics is not the only measure of what the global society should ultimately choose as its development priorities, but costs and benefits do play an important role.

But if well-documented economic arguments can help even just to swap a few poor targets for a few phenomenal ones, leveraging trillions of dollars in development aid and government budgets in the right direction, even small adjustments can make a world of difference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nepali Children in Dire Need of Mental Health Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/nepali-children-in-dire-need-of-mental-health-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepali-children-in-dire-need-of-mental-health-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/nepali-children-in-dire-need-of-mental-health-services/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 11:23:46 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139143 Kids work side by side at a temporary school for those displaced by floods in eastern Nepal. Many children experience trauma, fear or other psychological impacts of natural disasters, but few receive the necessary treatment. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Kids work side by side at a temporary school for those displaced by floods in eastern Nepal. Many children experience trauma, fear or other psychological impacts of natural disasters, but few receive the necessary treatment. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
SURKHET, Nepal, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

On the night of Aug. 14, 2014, 10-year-old Hari Karki woke up to his grandfather’s loud yelling in the family’s home in Paagma, a small village in east Nepal.

He was warning Hari’s family to move out of the house immediately because they were getting flooded. It had been raining non-stop for a couple of days. Hari could hear the water gushing. He grabbed his sister’s and grandfather’s hands, waded through knee-deep water in his living room, and ran as fast as he could.

“Advocating for mental health itself is such a big challenge in Nepal. We are not even close to getting specialised services such as mental health programmes that focus entirely on children." -- Shristee Lamichhane, mental health advisor with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN)
On the other side of the village, on much higher ground, is a primary school. They took shelter there for the night as heavy rains devastated the village, washed away Hari’s school and his neighbours, and inundated his house.

“Life changed forever for us that night,” says Hari’s father, Dhan Bahadur Karki. The floods and landslides that took place in Surkhet district in mid August last year affected more than 24,000 people, according to the District Disaster Relief Committee, a Nepal government-led coalition of international aid organisations and local NGOs.

The disaster displaced 12,000 people and killed 24; 90 still remain missing. More than 40 percent of those affected were children. For them, experts say, the horror of surviving such a disaster does not simply fade away; often, it lingers for a lifetime.

“Children lose their homes, school, friends and family members,” says Manoj Bist, a child protection officer with Save the Children, Nepal, which has been working in the flood affected areas of mid-west Nepal. “When their support system is lost, children become vulnerable to violence, disease and abuse.”

Five months since the disaster, those displaced by floods are still living in tents. Karki’s family has pitched their tent across the river from where their home used to be. “I see what used to be my house from my tent everyday, but I can’t get myself to go back there and try to rebuild,” says Dhan Bahadur Karki.

Along with their belongings, the flood washed away the little saving they had in the house. So money is tight for the Karki family and Dhan Bahadur is planning to leave for Malaysia to work in a mobile phone factory as soon as he gets a visa.

Even as Dhan Bahadur plans his departure, he is most worried about his two children and the state of their mental health.

Hari complains about not being able to concentrate at school. A good student before the floods, his grades have slipped. “I can’t fall asleep at night and when I do, I have nightmares,” says Hari as he comes out of his temporary classroom in a bamboo trailer. Last month, Hari could not be found on his bed at night. When his relatives went looking for him, they found him near the woods, sleepwalking.

“The kind of psychological stress a child goes through after a natural disaster is profound, and has to be dealt with early on in life so it doesn’t have a long-term consequence ” Saroj Prasad Ojha, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

In Nepal, there is a near-total absence of official data on the number of children in need of mental health care, from young victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, to children affected by natural disasters, to kids suffering from conflict-related stress and trauma.

Still, health professionals and social activists here say it is a major issue that calls for swift government action.

Stigma scuppers progress on mental health

The World Health Organisation estimates that 450 million people worldwide have a mental disorder, and mental illnesses account for 13 percent of the global disease burden.

There are no official numbers for the 28 million in Nepal, but the Christian charity United Mission to Nepal (UMN) that works on mental health issues estimates that approximately 20-25 percent of all out-patients attending primary health care services show some kind mental or behavioral disorder often presented with multiple physical complaints.

“The problem lies in the fact that mental illness is not seen as a health issue,” says Sailu Rajbhandari, clinical psychologist with Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO)-Nepal.

Nepal spends less than two percent of its 334-million-dollar health budget on mental health services. The 50-bed, Kathmandu-based Mental Hospital is the only one in the country that exclusively provides mental health and psychiatric services. There are 70 psychiatrists in Nepal, one for every 380,000 people, and only one child psychiatrist.

Other mental health-care providers such as clinical psychologists, social workers and nurses are even more scarce.

“Advocating for mental health itself is such a big challenge in Nepal. We are not even close to getting specialised services such as mental health programmes that focus entirely on children,” says Shristee Lamichhane, mental health advisor with UMN.

Arun Raj Kunwar, Nepal’s only child psychiatrist, faces this challenge every day at work.

“Our society and health system cannot even grasp the concept that children can have mental health issues,” says Kunwar. He says children’s trauma may be disguised and could manifest in the form of physical ailments because children cannot clearly express grief or fear.

Kunwar says that children need extra attention and trained specialists to deal with mental trauma.

A crucial link in the developmental chain

Experts say that mental health should be prioritised along with the other developmental goals of the country.

“It is surprising that children’s mental health is often left out from our development plans, considering children are the future, the next productive generation of the country,” explains Ojha of the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.

Ojha says there’s a need to properly train professionals so that they know how to deal with various types of mental health issues. “Counseling children who have gone through the trauma of natural disasters is different from those who have gone through the trauma of war – we need specialised focus.”

Official data on the number of children affected by Nepal’s decade-long ‘People’s War’ that ended in 2006 is missing. However, a 2008 National Human Rights Commission report states the war orphaned over 8,000 children and displaced over 40,000 children.

Few, if any, of them are receiving necessary mental health services.

There is also an urgent need to prioritise mental health at the local level. Lamichane of UMN recommends stationing trained mental health professionals at the 30 public hospitals across Nepal.

“But mental health has to be integrated at the primary health care level because that is where patients first come with their problems,” says Lamichhane.

Nepal is a party to the United Nation’s global commitment to prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. In 2014, the country formulated the Multi Sectoral Action Plan for Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases 2014-2020, which positioned mental health as one of the country’s priority areas.

Psychiatrists and mental health professionals are hopeful that this move will encourage the government to pay attention.

“It may be slow, but mental health issues are getting a little more attention than they were a few years ago,” says Lamichhane “This is the time to make a case for children, really hammer the issue home so that the issue of children’s mental health is not forgotten,” adds Lamichhane.

In Paagma village, local psychosocial counselor Santoshi Singh has begun working with Hari and his sister. “Depending on what his case is like, there are a few things I can do to help Hari as a counselor,” says Singh, “But if the case is severe, I am really unsure where I can send him so he can get the kind of help that he needs.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Diabetes Epidemic Threatens Development Gains in Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/diabetes-epidemic-threatens-development-gains-in-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=diabetes-epidemic-threatens-development-gains-in-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/diabetes-epidemic-threatens-development-gains-in-pacific-islands/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 11:56:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139096 Increasing people's consumption of fresh produce and daily exercise are part of preventing a non-communicable disease crisis in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Increasing people's consumption of fresh produce and daily exercise are part of preventing a non-communicable disease crisis in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

The rapid rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Pacific Islands, which now cause 75 percent of all deaths, is one of the greatest impediments to post-2015 development, health ministers in the region claim.

The Western Pacific has the world’s highest regional prevalence of diabetes, an NCD disease that is exacerbated by unhealthy eating habits, obesity and sedentary lifestyles, according to the International Diabetes Foundation. National prevalence rates have reached 25 percent in the Cook Islands, 29 percent in Tokelau and 37 percent in the Marshall Islands.

“Many amputations are done in our Pacific hospitals each day and people are losing their vision constantly due to diabetes." -- Spokesperson for Fiji-based Pacific Disability Forum (PDF)
Experts are increasingly concerned about the impact of the disease on the rate of disability, particularly the amputation of limbs and visual impairment, which threatens to undermine efforts to reduce poverty and inequality.

In Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state that is home to over seven million people, “diabetes is increasing its prevalence in the general population, including children 12 years and younger, and the amputation of limbs is known among adults as young as 23 years,” Gerard Saleu, senior nursing officer at the country’s Institute of Medical Research, told IPS.

“Diabetes is certainly having an impact on disability in the region where not everyone can afford wheelchairs or walking and visual aids,” he added.

There has been a marked rise in NCDs in the Pacific Islands since at least the 1970s, experts say.

The incidence of Type 2 diabetes in Apia, capital of the South Pacific Island state of Samoa, rose from 8.1 percent to 9.5 percent in men and 8.2 percent to 13.4 percent in women between 1978 and 1991.

Considerable blame has been placed on the lure of globalised consumer-based lifestyles in a region with a long history of subsistence living, and the increasing influx of imported processed foods, high in fat and sugar content.

Local diets originally based on fresh fish, vegetables and fruit now include a high intake of instant noodles, packaged biscuits and carbonated drinks. Less than 10 percent of adults in Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands eat a sufficiently nutritious diet, while more than 60 percent are obese in American Samoa, Tokelau, Cook Islands and Tonga, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Increasing urbanisation has accelerated people’s susceptibility to NCD risk factors, including decreased daily physical activity. In Fiji, one study revealed that diabetes afflicted an estimated 11.3 percent of women living in urban centres, compared to 0.9 percent in rural areas.

The onset of diabetes, when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, can lead to blood circulatory problems and damage to the nerves, heart, eyes and kidneys. This heightens the risk of blindness, stroke and amputation of limbs, commonly feet and lower legs.

Globally, NCDs, including diabetes, account for about 66.5 percent of all years lived with disability.

“Many amputations are done in our Pacific hospitals each day and people are losing their vision constantly due to diabetes,” a spokesperson for the Fiji-based Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) told IPS.

In the Pacific Islands, up to 47 percent of diabetes sufferers experience loss of sight and an estimated 17 percent require amputations, reports the Pacific Islands Forum.

From 2010-2012, the main referral hospital in Fiji, home to over 881,000 people, performed 938 diabetes-related lower limb amputations. Most amputees were aged 45 years and over, but more than 100 were in the 25-44 age group.

Meanwhile the main hospital in the South Pacific Island state of Tonga, home to some 103,000 people, witnessed a 400-percent increase in these amputations over the past decade.

The subsequent loss of mobility, decline in economic participation and increase in household medical expenses is entrenching hardship and inequality, especially for those families that are already economically disadvantaged.

For many islanders with disabilities, “most public buildings are not accessible, employers do not have reasonable accommodation in the workplace and many are unable to work, which is a lost income for the family,” said the spokesperson for the PDF.

While awareness of and political will to address the needs of disabled people, who comprise about 17 percent of the Pacific Islands population, is growing, they continue to be “among the poorest and most marginalised members of their communities…with limited access to education, employment and basic social services, which leads to social and economic exclusion and perpetuates poverty,” according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In Fiji, for instance, an estimated 89 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed.

There is also an absence of rehabilitation services to assist those with diabetes-related impairment to cope with new physical and psychological challenges in their daily lives, the PDF reports.

The devastating toll that NCDs are inflicting on the lives of Pacific Islanders, in turn denying them better human development outcomes, is matched by the unaffordable economic burden on public health services.

The cost of dialysis for diabetes-related kidney failure in Samoa was 38,686 dollars per patient per year in 2010-11, with the total cost to government equal to more than twelve times the nation’s gross national income, reports the World Bank.

With Pacific Island governments currently funding up to 90 percent of national health services, there is little, if any, capability for them to increase health expenditure to address an NCD epidemic.

Pacific health ministers are driving a focus on prevention and calling for a scale-up of actions and investment in prevention and control strategies with a ‘whole-of-government and whole-of-society’ approach.

That means scrutinizing food industry practices in the interests of better public health. Samoa, Nauru and the Cook Islands have now introduced taxes on food and drinks with high sugar content and eleven countries in the region have developed plans to reduce salt levels in foods.

Non-governmental organisations, such as the Pacific Network on Globalisation, have also expressed concern about the impact of international trade agreements, which, in the aim of liberalising trade, can increase the influx of cheap, imported, but unhealthy foods and beverages and disadvantage local food producers.

But lifestyle interventions are also needed to change consumer and exercise habits among people of all ages, including children.

Saleu, the nursing officer for Papua New Guinea’s Institute of Medical Research, said that in PNG, some awareness about NCDs and education for prevention is being done among the general population, but in line with the view of regional health authorities, current resources and preventive efforts still fall short of matching the scale of the crisis.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Youth Unemployment, Income Inequality Keep Risinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/youth-unemployment-income-inequality-keep-rising/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-unemployment-income-inequality-keep-rising http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/youth-unemployment-income-inequality-keep-rising/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 23:12:30 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139060 A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

Global youth unemployment may be “six or seven times” what the International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) latest figures state, due to what a youth advocacy group calls a flawed system of assessment.

The ILO recently released its 2015 World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) report, and presented the findings to the United Nations Friday.“In unequal societies, democracies are more likely to be corrupted, workers are more likely to be exploited and abused, and the safety net for the poor or vulnerable is weakened." -- Dr. Marjorie Wood

One of the report’s major findings is the worldwide unemployment rate among 15 to 24-year-olds of 13 percent, or 74 million youths, is set to rise.

William Reese, CEO of the International Youth Foundation, thinks that figure is significantly underestimated.

“I’m not surprised by that number, because it is probably much higher than they state. We’ve seen reports of over 70 million young people unemployed, but the real number is probably six or seven times that,” Reese said.

He said a flawed system of assessing unemployment led to employment figures far below the reality.

“Those statistics are typically assessing people who are looking for jobs, so if you’re not looking for work, you’re technically not unemployed. People in poor countries are often underemployed or underpaid,” Reese told IPS.

“Unemployment statistics don’t take that into consideration. People in poor countries do work; if they didn’t, they would die. But in poorer countries, data is even worse.”

The WESO report warns the effects of the 2008 global economic crisis are still heavily impacting nations worldwide, especially developing economies.

The report outlines a widening income and wealth inequality, as well as sluggish economic growth, but while overall global unemployment is steady, youth unemployment is tipped to increase in coming years.

“Youth, especially young women, continue to be disproportionately affected by unemployment,” the report states, saying the 2014 youth unemployment rate was almost three times higher than the overall unemployment rate.

The ILO predicts overall unemployment rates “to decline gradually in developed economies” while at the same time “many countries are projected to see a substantial increase in youth unemployment.”

Ekkehard Ernst, chief of the ILO’s Job Friendly Macroeconomic Policies Team, told IPS slow economic growth was to blame for expected spikes in youth jobless rates.

“Growth is too slow to make a difference in job creation,” Ernst said. “Economies take much longer to recover after a financial crisis than a normal recession. It makes a difference to growth acceleration.”

Global growth has risen slowly for the last two years, from 2.2 percent in 2012 to 2.3 percent in 2013 and 2.5 percent in 2014, but is still well below the pre-crisis levels of around four percent.

Reese said a mismatch of skills was also to blame for rising youth unemployment. He said more young people were gaining tertiary qualifications than ever before – backed up by ILO data saying tertiary education rates have increased in 26 of 30 countries surveyed – but that young people were not gaining qualifications relevant to a changing labor market.

“There are job openings, but companies can’t find people with the right skills. Schools are not asking what the business community needs today. They are teaching what businesses might have wanted five years ago,” Reese said.

“There are more college-educated unemployed in some parts of the world, than high school-educated unemployed. Sometimes, kids today don’t come in with the disposition to work hard or be a team player.”

The ILO reports youth unemployment was especially problematic in Europe, with rates of up to 52 percent in Greece and Spain. The ILO predicts between 2014 and 2019, youth unemployment will rise by up to eight percent in parts of Europe, South America and Africa.

Reese said education facilities needed to be more tuned-in to what the modern job force requires, and to encourage students to think and learn about what is expected from them in the labor market.

“We want young people to get and keep a job. When a middle-class flourishes, democracies flourish,” he said. “All levels of education need to be smarter, and teach academic skills through internships and apprenticeships, to help young people learn things about work that they can’t get in a classroom.”

In 2014, global unemployment stood at 201million people, 1.2 million higher than 2013. That number is expected to rise to 212 million by 2019.

“We’re seeing a huge number of unemployed. The global unemployment rate is around six percent and that won’t shrink any time soon,” Ernst said.

Ernst said, however, that rising unemployment was not necessarily a sign of a poor economic climate. He said rising unemployment in many Asian countries, especially in economies such as China and India, was a sign of a modernising economy, as workers move from stable yet low-paying jobs in rural areas to seek higher paying jobs in urban centres.

“This type of unemployment is a rebalancing of the economy. Asian countries will see an increase in unemployment as they develop, which is a normal process of development,” Ernst said.

“New technology requires jobs be shuffled from one industry to another. China is so big, if they have a higher unemployment rate then that will affect world unemployment figures.

“People are moving from low-income agricultural jobs, to middle-income jobs in manufacturing, and then onto higher incomes in the service industry.”

Rising unemployment and sluggish economic growth is predicted to further widen income and wealth inequality worldwide; the richest 10 percent of the world will hold 30 to 40 percent of total income, while the poorest 10 percent will earn as little as two percent.

Dr. Marjorie Wood, senior global economy associate for the Institute for Policy Studies and managing editor of website Inequality.org, said a suite of socially regressive measures rolled out across the United States and the world had contributed greatly to the deepening income inequality.

“It’s important to look at how workers have been disempowered since the 1970s. Union strength was high at that time, and robust taxes on the wealthy and corporations funded public investments to allow opportunity and mobility for ordinary people,” Wood told IPS.

“We’ve seen a reversal of those, into a system what was much more unequal, with wealth concentrated at the top.”

She said a deepening income inequality would have profound impacts on all facets of life, from democracy and politics to social affairs.

“In unequal societies, democracies are more likely to be corrupted, workers are more likely to be exploited and abused, and the safety net for the poor or vulnerable is weakened,” she said.

The ILO report states social unrest and possible violence is linked to rising inequality and youth unemployment. Social unrest is said to have “shot up” during the financial crisis, and worldwide, currently sits at 10 percent higher than before the crisis.

However, Wood said she was encouraged by a growing call for a federally mandated minimum living wage in the U.S., and worldwide calls for a fairer distribution of income.

“People are not satisfied with rising inequality today, just as they weren’t satisfied 100 years ago in the USA’s first ‘gilded age.’ They addressed it then by fighting back, with a robust labour movement, and I think we will do it again,” she said.

“We’re seeing worker justice movements in many places, where people collectively organise to make change. That is where true political change comes from.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bangladesh Fighting Inequality at the Preschool Levelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bangladesh-fighting-inequality-at-the-preschool-level/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladesh-fighting-inequality-at-the-preschool-level http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bangladesh-fighting-inequality-at-the-preschool-level/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 19:47:32 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139008 In the remote Mohonpur village, home to just 140 families, children are benefitting from a free preschool founded by a development NGO that promotes early childhood education in rural Bangladesh. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

In the remote Mohonpur village, home to just 140 families, children are benefitting from a free preschool founded by a development NGO that promotes early childhood education in rural Bangladesh. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Naimul Haq
JAMALPUR, Bangladesh, Feb 4 2015 (IPS)

Shanta* is only four years old, but already she loves school. Every morning, her mother walks her to the small pre-primary facility in Mohonpur village, about 140 km away from Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, and leaves her in the care of a young female teacher, who oversees the day’s activities: storytelling, drama, reciting poetry.

The little girl’s mother, Mosammet Laily Begum, is a housewife of humble means. She and her husband, a rickshaw puller who earns about 100 dollars each month carting passengers back and forth, live in a thatched-roof home. They grow vegetables in the garden to supplement their income, and between them only just manage to scrape together the funds to feed and clothe their three kids.

Bangladesh has made huge strides in improving education in the last two decades. It currently has one of the largest primary schooling systems in the world, with an estimated 20 million pupils between the ages of six and 10 years old, along with some 365,000 teachers working in over 82,000 schools.
Education is a luxury, one that – in a different time and place – they would have had to forego in favour of life’s necessities.

But the preschool located close to their home is free. Before Shanta, Laily’s two older children also passed through these classrooms, where they learned the alphabet in both English and Bangla. They have gone on to do very well in elementary school. She credits their love of lessons to the foundation they received here in Mohonpur.

“My daughter now plays with nothing but her school books at home,” Laily tells IPS. “She would rather do that than play with other children in the neighbourhood.”

This family is lucky; unlike scores of others across rural Bangladesh who have no access to preschool facilities, they live within walking distance of one of the several thousand schools run by BRAC, one of the world’s largest development organisations that focuses on early education for kids between the ages of three and five.

Laily knows that her children could easily have fallen into the same category as the 3.3 million ‘out-of-school’ youth in Bangladesh. Until 2012, the government offered no options for families like hers, that couldn’t afford private preschooling.

This meant that the roughly 45 million Bangladeshis who subsist on less than 1.25 dollars a day had little chance of preparing their offspring for mainstream education.

This fueled a vicious cycle: poorer children who couldn’t get a head start lagged behind their more privileged peers, with inequities continuing on into the secondary and tertiary levels.

Many of these disadvantaged youth make up the bulk of Bangladesh’s unemployed, who constitute some 4.5 percent of the population of 156 million people.

Organisations like BRAC have attempted to level this uneven playing field.

With 12,450 pre-primary schools across the country, which provide schooling for nearly 360,000 students each year, the BRAC (Pre-Primary) Education Programme (BEP) is the largest free preschool programme in the country.

Altogether, over 5.2 million kids have benefited from these facilities since BRAC first rolled out the initiative in 1997.

Easing the transition into mainstream schooling

Standing inside the small tin shed that serves as her classroom, 27-year-old Rowshanara Begum is in her element. She handles a group of 30 kids, 18 of them girls – a 50-percent female enrolment rate being a top priority for BRAC – and she knows she is making a difference.

For two-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, she painstakingly takes her charges through the alphabet, peppering the tedious process with drawings, nursery rhyme recitals and games. The flexible, informal structure keeps families coming back for more.

“There is tremendous pressure from parents to open another such free school for the children here in Mohonpur village,” she tells IPS.

Poor families can seldom afford the cost of private preschooling. They rely on free education provided by NGOs like BRAC to give their children a leg-up in life. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

Poor families can seldom afford the cost of private preschooling. They rely on free education provided by NGOs like BRAC to give their children a leg-up in life. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

Teachers are trained to nurture a child’s creativity, which in turn encourages better communication, language and social skills. Equal emphasis is placed on improving motor ability, using exercises such as free-hand drawing and painting.

In short, the whole curriculum is geared towards easing the transition into the public education system.

This is no small undertaking in a country where the average child takes 8.6 years to complete the five-year primary school cycle. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) chalks this up to low standards in public institutions, and the fact that 24 percent of all teachers in government-run or registered non-government schools are untrained.

The NGO has a lot to show for its efforts. A senior BRAC official who did not wish to be named stated that they have achieved a “remarkable” transfer rate of students from preschool into primary school, touching 99.14 percent.

Still, this is only half the battle won.

Bangladesh has made huge strides in improving education in the last two decades. It currently has one of the largest primary schooling systems in the world, with an estimated 20 million pupils between the ages of six and 10 years old, along with some 365,000 teachers working in over 82,000 schools.

Since 1990, it has raised its enrolment rate from 72 to 97 percent and its completion rate from 40 to 79 percent. The number of primary schools receiving free textbooks has increased from 32 percent in 2010 to over 90 percent in 2014.

According to Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) – a network comprised of over 1,000 NGOs working on education issues – Bangladesh has also lowered the dropout rate from 33 percent just a few years ago to 20 percent in 2014.

“Improved teacher trainings, a narrower gap in the student-teacher ratio [which now averages 49:1, compared to 67:1 in 2005], and provisions for stipends for students are among the reasons for its success,” she told IPS.

But there are gaping holes that need to be filled. Policy makers insist that the current allocation of 2.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) on the education sector must be upped to at least four percent in order to truly provide high-quality education for all.

Much work also needs to be done to improve access for the 71 percent of the population living in rural areas, as well as for indigenous communities who dwell in the country’s remote hill districts and residents of ‘chars’ – little islands formed from sedimentation that dot the country’s largest rivers.

According to Johannes Zutt, the World Bank’s country director for Bangladesh, the government is reaching out to those left behind by educational reform, “including slum dwellers, working children, indigenous children and children with disabilities.”

But unless programmes’s like BRAC’s BEP are rolled out on a massive scale all around the country, Bangladesh will continue to nurse a patchy educational track record, and the goal of universal primary education will remain out of reach.

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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India Still Struggling to Combat Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/india-still-struggling-to-combat-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-still-struggling-to-combat-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/india-still-struggling-to-combat-child-labour/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 09:35:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138962 An estimated 4.35 million children between the ages of five and 14 are thought to be part of India’s workforce, working anywhere from brick kilns to carpet factories. Credit: Bigstock

An estimated 4.35 million children between the ages of five and 14 are thought to be part of India’s workforce, working anywhere from brick kilns to carpet factories. Credit: Bigstock

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 2 2015 (IPS)

Eleven-year-old Chottu* works 12 hours daily at a roadside tea joint near New Delhi’s bustling interstate bus terminus.

The moment fume-spewing buses halt here to disgorge groups of tired and hungry passengers, the frail boy has to push his way through the crowd to sell his wares – packets of potato crisps, biscuits and hot tea, which he pours into tiny plastic cups from a metallic tea pot.

“Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here." -- Indian Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi
As competition is fierce from other vendors, Chottu has to work swiftly to catch his customer’s eye. “I often burn my hands while pouring tea due to the rush. But I’ve no choice. Meagre sales mean no food for me that day,” says the boy who has been working since his mother died and his alcoholic father abandoned him two years ago.

His neighbour then took him under his wing and now employs him at his shop. Chottu’s salary? Two meals a day and an outhouse to sleep in.

From the posh homes of Delhi to Monsanto’s cotton fields in southern Andhra Pradesh, the sandstone quarries of Rajasthan to the firecracker factories in Sivakasi in southern Tamil Nadu, millions of ‘Chottus’ toil in restaurants, agricultural fields, hazardous glass and fireworks factories, brick kilns and construction and carpet-making industries across swathes of India.

The little ones can also be found vending food, repairing vehicles and tyres, scavenging, rag picking, shoe shining, car-washing and begging. Small factories and businesses are often guilty of employing these kids and depriving millions of them of their childhood, freedom and education. The children are usually poorly paid, underfed and are often beaten, say studies.

India has the dubious distinction of hosting the largest number of child labourers in the world. The 2011 census puts the number at 4.35 million working children in the five to 14 age-bracket.

With an estimated 23 percent of its 1.2 billion people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day, it is perhaps only natural that parents will send their children out to earn in a desperate bid to keep the family alive.

Still, a range of civil society actors are calling for a change in this status quo, claiming that unless India finds a way to interrupt the practice of child labour, it will face multiplied challenges in social, economic and political arenas.

Child slavery: A “crime against humanity”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as “a violation of fundamental human rights”, a menace that impairs children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage. An ILO study has also demonstrated that eliminating child labour could help developing economies generate economic benefits nearly seven times greater than the costs incurred in better schooling and social services.

According to the annual report of the Department of Labour, Indian children are exploited in the worst possible way. Those in the agriculture sector are made to carry heavy loads and sprinkle harmful pesticides on crops.

Last October, a blast at a firecracker-manufacturing unit at East Godavari district of the southeast Andhra Pradesh state left almost a dozen people dead including many children.

Indian Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights activist who was honoured in 2014, has been demanding a complete ban on every kind of child labour in India for kids up to 14 years.

The activist says that the state and society have failed children, making them give up their childhood and education.

Children all across India can be found vending food, repairing vehicles, scavenging, rag picking, shoe shining, and cleaning the homes of rich urban families. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi /IPS

Children all across India can be found vending food, repairing vehicles, scavenging, rag picking, shoe shining, and cleaning the homes of rich urban families. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi /IPS

“Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here,” Satyarthi says. To remedy the situation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), a non-profit which Satyarthi helms, helps parents access government funds so that they are not forced to take their children out of schools to earn extra money.

BBA has also created hundreds of child-friendly villages, where kids are freed from exploitation and enrolled in schools instead.

The Indian government banned child labour in 2012, but the ban’s implementation has been patchy, leading activists to pressure governments to strengthen legislation. Satyarthi is seeking the early passage of the pending legislation against child labour, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, which could make employment of children below 14 years in any occupation illegal.

The bill is also in sync with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009, which guarantees free education to kids up to 14 years.

According to a recent UNESCO report, India has an estimated 1.4 million out-of-school children between the ages of six and 11 years, a staggering number that experts say could be reduced by strengthening child labour laws.

Others say the issue is not just a social problem but could have ramifications for the national economy too.

Studies suggest a strong link between household poverty and child labour with the latter perpetuating poverty across generations by keeping children of the poor out of school and limiting their prospects for upward social mobility.

This lowering of human capital has been linked to a deceleration of economic growth and retarded social development.

One report, ‘Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labour in India’s Hand-made Carpet Sector’, documents over 3,200 cases across nine states in India and quotes several hundred cases each of forced labour at carpet factories run by exporters who ship these rugs to retail stores in the U.S.

According to a sample survey conducted in 16 factories across Sivakasi covering 4,181 children, 3,323 (79.48 percent) were found to be illiterate; 474 children (11.34 percent) were educated up to primary school level. Dropouts were 384 (9.2 percrent).

Asthma and tuberculosis were prevalent among 90 percent of those involved in gunpowder filling and directly in contact with the chemical ingredients of crackers and matches. These workers, says the survey, are usually not given any protective gear and work with hazardous chemicals such as sulphur, aluminium powder and gun powder

Civil society steps in

Many Indian non-profits have come up to fight against child labour but they admit that until the government takes real initiative, the situation will remain dismal.

“While the passage of the new law will give children’s rights a huge boost, child labour cannot be successfully uprooted without focussing on the socio-economic condition of the kids’ families, which force them to send their children out to work,” Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, told IPS.

A multi-pronged approach involving multiple stakeholders, say experts, is the key to addressing the child labour problem in India.

“Elimination of poverty, free and compulsory education, proper and strict implementation of the labour laws and abolishment of child trafficking can help solve this problem to a large extent. Statistics show that education has helped in reducing child labour in western countries to a large extent,” Dr. Vinita Shroff, a visiting professor of sociology at Delhi University, told IPS.

After the 86th Amendment of the Indian Constitution in 2002, the provision for free and compulsory education for the age group of six to 14 years has been included as a fundamental right under Article 21A. Activists say this needs to be implemented stringently by the government.

Amod Kanth, founder of the non-profit organisation Prayas, which works in the area of children’s welfare, believes the relationship between government and civil society is vital to eliminate child labour.

“The Child Labour Act is an outdated law, which recognises only those under 14 as children and covers only hazardous work. We need legislation that’s more nuanced as well as more rigorous and comprehensive.”

According to the erstwhile commissioner of police, India needs a focused nationwide program to protect kids from trafficking and forced labour. “Banning child labour is the first step. Providing those children who are rescued out of illegal employment with education, rehabilitation and safety is equally imperative,” Kanth told IPS.

*Not his real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Dumped, Abandoned, Abused: Women in India’s Mental Health Institutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:08:44 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138927 Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

Following the birth of her third child, Delhi-based entrepreneur Smita* found herself feeling “disconnected and depressed”, often for days at a stretch. “Much later I was told it was severe post-partum depression but at the time it wasn’t properly diagnosed,” she told IPS.

“My marriage was in trouble and after my symptoms showed no signs of going away, my husband was keen on a divorce, which I was resisting.”

“The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.” -- Smita, a former resident of an Indian mental health institution
After a therapy session, Smita was diagnosed as bi-polar, a mental disorder characterised by periods of elevated highs and lows. “No one suggested seeking a second opinion and my parents and husband stuck to that label.”

One day after she suffered a particularly severe panic attack, Smita found 10 policemen outside her door. “I was taken to a prominent mental hospital in Delhi where doctors sedated me without examination. When I surfaced after a week I found that my wallet and phone had been taken away.”

All pleas to speak to her husband and parents went unheeded.

It was the beginning of a nightmare that lasted nearly two months, much of it spent in solitary confinement. “The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.”

On one occasion, when she stopped eating in protest after she was refused a phone call, she was dragged around the ward. “There were women there who told me they had been abused and molested by the staff.”

Not all the women languishing in these institutions even qualified as having mental health problems; some had simply been put there because they were having affairs, or were embroiled in property disputes with their families.

Days after she was discharged her husband filed for a divorce on the grounds that Smita was mentally unstable.

“I realised then that my husband was building up his case so he would get custody of the kids.”

Isolated and afraid, Smita did not find the strength or support to fight back. Her husband won full custody and left India with the children soon after. “My doctor says I am fine and I am not on any medication but I still carry the stigma. I have no access to my kids and I no longer trust my parents,” she told IPS.

Smita’s story points to the extent of violence women face inside mental health institutions in India. The scale was highlighted in a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, ‘Treated Worse than Animals’, which said women often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence.

Ratnaboli Ray, who has been active in the field of mental health rights in the state of West Bengal for nearly 20 years, says on average one in three women are admitted into such institutions for no reason at all. Ray is the founder of Anjali, a group that is active in three mental institutions in the state.

“Under the law all you need is a psychiatrist who is willing to certify someone as mentally ill for the person to be institutionalised,” Ray told IPS. “Many families use this as a ploy to deprive women of money, property or family life. Once they are inside those walls they become citizen-less, they lose their rights.“

Ray points to the story of Neeti who was in her early 20s when she was admitted because she said she heard voices. “When we met her she was close to 40 and fully recovered, but her family did not want her back because there were property interests involved.”

With the help of the NGO Anjali, Neeti fought for and won access to her share of family property and was able to leave the institution.

Those on the inside endure conditions that are inhumane.

“There is hardly any air or light. Unlike the male patients who are allowed some mobility within the premises, women are herded together like cattle,” says Ray. In many hospitals women are not given underclothes or sanitary pads.

Sexual abuse is rampant. “Because it is away from public space and there is an assumed lack of legitimacy in what they say, such complaints are nullified as they are ‘mad’,” adds Ray.

Unwanted pregnancies and forced abortions impact their mental or physical health. They languish for years, uncared for and unattended.

“One can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the male and female wards,” points out Vaishnavi Jaikumar, founder of The Banyan, an NGO that offers support services to the mentally ill in Chennai, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“You will find wives and mothers coming to visit male patients with food and fresh sets of clothes, while the women’s wards are empty.” Experts also say discharge rates are much lower when it comes to women.

The indifference towards patients is evident not just in institutions, but also at the policy level, with mental health occupying a low rung on the ladder of India’s public health system.

According to a WHO report the government spends just 0.06 percent of its health budget on mental health. Health ministry figures claim that six to seven percent of Indians suffer from psychosocial disabilities, but there is just one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people.

That ratio falls even further for psychologists, with just one trained professional for every million people in India.

Furthermore, the country has just 43 state-run mental hospitals, representing a massive deficit for a population of 1.2 billion people. With the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) present in just 123 of India’s 650 districts, according to HRW, the forecast for those living with mental conditions is bleak.

“Behind that lack of priority is the story of how policymakers themselves stigmatise,” contends Ray. “The government itself thinks [the cause] is not worthy enough to invest money in. Unless mental health is mainstreamed with the public health system it will remain in a ghetto.”

Depression is twice as common in woman as compared to men and experts say that factors like poverty, gender discrimination and sexual violence make women far more vulnerable to mental health issues and subsequent ill-treatment in poorly run institutions.

Gopikumar of The Banyan advocates for creative solutions that are scientific and humane like Housing First in Canada, which reaches out to both the homeless and mentally ill. The Banyan is presently experimenting with community-based care models funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian government.

“Our model looks at housing and inclusivity as a tool for community integration,” says Gopikumar. “The poorest in the world are people with disabilities and most of them are women. They are victims of poverty on account of both caste and gender discrimination and its time we open our eyes to the problem.”

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Missing Students Case Also Highlights Racism in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:16:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138922 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/feed/ 0 Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Brazil Can Help Steer SDGs Towards Ambitious Targetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 08:45:16 +0000 Daniel Balaban http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138883 Children having a daily lunch meal at a kindergarten in a poor community in Salvador, Bahia. Brazil's National School Feeding Programme is an example of one of the far-reaching programmes implemented in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

Children having a daily lunch meal at a kindergarten in a poor community in Salvador, Bahia. Brazil's National School Feeding Programme is an example of one of the far-reaching programmes implemented in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

By Daniel Balaban
BRASILIA, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

With the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring at the end of this year to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will set priorities for the next fifteen years, 2015 will be a crucial year for the future of global development.

As a country with an outstanding performance in reaching the MDGs, Brazil can play an important role in shaping and achieving the SDGs.

Extensive consultations with governments and civil society have been held in recent years, and consensus around many issues has been established and channelled into a series of documents that will now guide the final deliberations on the exact content of the SDGs. September 2015 has been set as deadline for their endorsement by U.N. member states.

Daniel Balaban, Director of WFP's Centre of Excellence against Hunger.   Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

Daniel Balaban, Director of WFP’s Centre of Excellence against Hunger. Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

A Working Group has identified 17 goals encompassing issues such as poverty, hunger, education, climate change and access to justice. While some of these topics were already covered by the MDG framework, there is a new set of goals with emphasis on the preservation of natural resources and more sustainable living conditions, meant to reverse contemporary trends of overuse of resources and destruction of ecosystems.

As governments quickly move to adopt the SDGs, they must capitalise on what has been achieved with the MDGs to secure new targets that will go beyond the lowest common denominator.

Brazil has a compelling track record in achieving the current MDGs, and it can use its experience to influence the final negotiations of the SDGs towards ambitious targets.

The country has already reached four of the eight targets – eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and combating HIV – and it is likely to achieve the remaining targets by the end of the MDG deadline.“As governments quickly move to adopt the SDGs, they must capitalise on what has been achieved with the MDGs to secure new targets that will go beyond the lowest common denominator”

Through a set of innovative and coordinated policies, Brazil has tackled these different areas and demonstrated that it is possible to radically decrease poverty and hunger within a decade, giving special attention to the most vulnerable groups.

The National School Feeding Programme, for example, is one of the far-reaching programmes implemented so far. In 2009, the existing policy was upgraded to recognise school feeding as a right, whereby all students of public schools are entitled to adequate and healthy meals, prepared by nutritionists and in accordance with local traditions.

At least 30 percent of the food used to prepare these meals must be procured from local producers, with incentives to the purchase of organic produce.

The programme also devotes additional resources to schools with students of traditional populations, often exposed to food insecurity.

Another feature of the policy is the participation of civil society through local school feeding councils, which oversee the implementation of the programme, as well as financial reports produced by municipalities.

Altogether, the programme tackles a wide range of issues, combining action to combat hunger, ensure adequate nutrition (including of the most vulnerable groups), support local farmers and involve civil society, in line with principles of inclusion, equity and sustainability, which are also guiding principles of the future SDGs.

It is a good example of how the incorporation of innovative features to existing policies can result in more inclusion and sustainability while optimising resources.

As it occupies a more prominent role on the world stage, Brazil has been active in promoting such policies in multilateral fora, in addition to investing in South-South cooperation to assist countries to achieve similar advances.

The WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger is the result of such engagement. In the past three years, the Centre been supporting over 30 countries to learn from the Brazilian experience in combating hunger and poverty.

Brazil is now in a position to showcase tangible initiatives during the SDGs negotiations to prove that through strong political commitment it is possible to build programmes with impact on a range of areas.

Such multi-sectorial action and articulation will be required if countries around the globe are determined to tackle humanity’s most urgent needs related to hunger, adequate living standards for excluded populations, and development, while reversing the trend of climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources.

The world is at a crossroads for ensuring sustainability. If the right choices are not made now, future generations will pay the price. However daunting the task may be, this is the moment to do it.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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. 

* Daniel Balaban, an economist, is the Director of World Food Programme’s (WFP) Centre of Excellence against Hunger. He has also led the Brazilian national school feeding programme as President of the National Fund for Education Development (FNDE), which feeds 47 million children in school each year. In 2003, he served as the Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Council of Economic and Social Development under the Presidency of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

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OPINION: Russia’s Friendship University, Educating the Developing World for 55 Yearshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:07:20 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138892

Somar Wijayadasa, a former Representative of UNAIDS, and a former delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly, is a PFUR educated international lawyer.

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR), which celebrates its 55th anniversary on Feb. 5, is known worldwide as a major academic and research centre. During the last five decades, PFUR has educated 80,000 students from 145 countries.

In keeping with its socialist tradition of helping developing countries, Premier Nikita Khrushchev opened the Friendship University, in February 1960, just three years after he opened the former Soviet Union to the world with the 1957 Youth festival in Moscow which was attended by 30,000 foreign guests from 130 countries.The landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

On Feb. 22, 1961, the university was named after Patrice Lumumba – the Congolese independence leader and the first democratically-elected prime minister of the Republic of Congo. In 1992, following a major reorganisation of the university, the Russian government reverted to its original name – People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR).

1960 was ideal time for the Soviet Union not only to show the world its radical transformation of the country that was ravaged by the World War II with a loss of over 20 million of its people, but also to display its many scientific and technological advances including its Space Programme – already ahead of the United States.

But the landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

This mass decolonisation began after World War II when the principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was enshrined in the United Nations Charter (Chapter XI, Articles 73 and 74), and the United Nations began to fight for the liberation of these countries.

In 1945, the U.N. consisted of 51 member states and by 1965, the number had more than doubled to 117, as the newly independent nations joined the organisation.

These newly independent states, having suffered under foreign rule and exploitation for centuries, embarked on the arduous struggle to win economic independence, develop their national economies, raise their cultural levels and identities and achieve social progress.

Thus, the strategy behind opening PFUR was to educate hundreds of young people from developing countries by providing higher education in medicine, engineering and other sciences that was most needed for the development of these nations.

Among its prominent graduates are: Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO; Michel Djotodia, President, Central African Republic; Hifikepunye Pohamba, President, Namibia; Bharrat Jagdeo, Former President of Guyana; Yousuf Saleh Abbas, Former Prime Minister of Chad, many ministers, judges, professors, ambassadors, doctors, and engineers who make a dedicated commitment to the development of their communities.

This magnanimous and unprecedented assistance continued while Western universities gave only a few one-year scholarships such as Rhodes or Fulbright scholarships to a selected few from developing countries. PFUR gave several hundred five-year scholarships including tuition, a stipend, hostel accommodation, plus passage to and from Moscow which was a bonanza for poor students from developing countries.

The biggest beneficiaries of Russian higher education have been graduates from African and Latin American countries. Since their literacy rates in the 1960’s were very low, graduates of PFUR went back to occupy top positions in their countries.

Today, the University is administered by its Rector, Prof Vladimir Filippov (1973 alumni of PFUR), member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Education, who was Russia’s Minister of Education from 1998 to 2004.

In 1960, PFUR had 539 students from 59 countries. Today, it has over 29,000 graduate and post graduate students – including 6,000 international students from 145 countries.

PFUR occupies 125 acres and hosts 27 buildings, enrolls students on fee payment and on scholarship basis, and offers a variety of Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D degrees in 76 disciplines.

While education worldwide is expensive, a four-year Bachelors Degree at PFUR costs about 4,000 dollars a year which is heavily subsidised by the Russian government. Education at PFUR is indubitably a quality higher education at a comparatively affordable price.

An added bonus is the opportunity to obtain fluency in Russian and a double-degree from an affiliated university.

In 2014, a four-year course of undergraduate study in an American University ranged from 18,950 dollars a year in a state university to 42,500 dollars a year in an Ivy league university.

However, both Russian and American universities offer many need-based and merit-based financial aid – making it possible for poor students to obtain a higher education.

Details of PFUR can be found in its website. Interested students from any country should apply directly to the university.

PFUR maintains inter-university cooperation with foreign universities, and is associated with many international educational institutions and organisations such as UNESCO and UNHCR.

In 2009, when PFUR established a joint Master’s Degree Programme on Human Rights with UNHCR, its High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that, “The Friendship University is probably the only place where real multicultural atmosphere exists and human rights are fully respected. The PFUR graduates will for sure occupy the leading positions and it’ll be not only because of the education received, but also because of their life in this multicultural environment.”

According to Rector Filippov, “More than 80,000 graduates, and more than 5,500 doctoral (PhD) holders of the University work in 170 countries worldwide.” They not only obtained a university degree to fulfill their professional ambitions, Filippov said, but also gained invaluable experience in dealing with different cultures, and broaden their social and cultural horizons.

Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

People’s Friendship University has provided higher education to thousands of children from developing countries who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to receive a higher education – especially in a foreign country.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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