Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 31 Aug 2015 07:33:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142165 In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142079

Nora Happel interviews H.E. Alexandru Cujba, Secretary-General of the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD) and Director-General of the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC).

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

Next month, the South-South Awards will be taking place for the fifth time, honouring the achievements and contributions of heads of state and government, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society in promoting sustainable development in the Global South.

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

2015 is a special year in many respects, with the U.N. celebrating its 70th anniversary and U.N. member states concluding their work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The South-South Awards, on Sep. 26, are going to be held in support of these major events that will shape the new development agenda for the next 15 years.

The South-South Awards are perhaps the most prominent example of the many development programmes designed and implemented by the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) to support U.N. development efforts, exchange knowledge and best practices in the area of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation and build partnerships between governments from developing countries and private sector companies.

Launched in 2010 during the 16th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation against the backdrop of chronic under-coverage of the Global South, IOSSC has started with the news programme “South-South News” and since moved into project development to expand its practice areas into the fields of business development and social development.

Last year, the organisation launched the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD), an umbrella structure supporting its different activities and also, in particular, the South-South Awards.

In an interview with IPS, SS-SCSD Secretary-General and IOSSC Director-General H.E. Alexander Cujba, former Permanent Representative of Moldova to the United Nations and former Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, shared some insights on the 2015 South-South Awards."We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements... but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development."

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: This year, the MDGs will be replaced by the SDGs. This process has been reflected in the theme for the 2015 South-South Awards, which is “From MDGs to SDGs: Supporting poverty reduction, education, and humanitarian efforts.”

Will the 2015 South-South Awards be different from previous ones due to the important events happening this year such as the adoption of the SDGs, first of all, but also for instance the 70th anniversary of the U.N.?

A: This is the fifth year that we organise the South-South Awards and I would say that this year will be both a continuation of our previous ceremonies as well as a different event because, as you rightly mention, we conclude the MDGs and we are moving to a new agenda, the post-2015 development agenda.

So while previously we were recognising achievements of the member states in specific areas that were linked to specific MDGs, this year we want to emphasise the achievements of member states in implementing all eight MDGs.

Of course, results differ and not only results of the different countries and regions, but also results in different MDGs. I think that undoubtedly, MDG no. 1, combating poverty and hunger, was a major MDG. So therefore, this year, we partner with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and our traditional supporter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in order to emphasise the achievements of U.N. member states and developing countries specifically with regard to MDG no. 1.

Apart from that, we also use this opportunity – because it is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. – to highlight the role that the U.N. had over the last 70 years not only in the area of preserving peace and security but also in promoting development. At a time when many scholars, politicians, experts discuss the creation and the need for the United Nations in 1945, we see that now the U.N. has to bring a new impulse to the development of member states, not only preserving security and peace, but also supporting the sustainable development of its member states.

Q: What are the main objectives of the South-South Awards? Can you tell me about some of the results of previous South-South Awards?

A: Working with different missions here at the U.N., we learn that small countries, particularly least developed countries, have their own positive results and achievements that frequently are not known except by the diplomatic world, except by the U.N.

Therefore, in previous years, we wanted to highlight specifically these small but extremely important results for those developing countries. That’s why every year we were working with our co-organisers in order to identify the best practices and achievements of those developing states in different specific areas.

This year, however, we want to emphasise the overall implementation of the MDGs. It is a good opportunity for us to highlight the congregation of efforts in order to achieve those noble goals that were adopted in 2000.

Q: How are the winners of the South-South Awards selected and which criteria have been most relevant this year in choosing the winners?

A: We have learned from other awards that were presented by different U.N. agencies. They have some specific criteria that are linked to the work, mission and goals of the U.N. agencies and structures that co-organise the respective events.

In our case we want to emphasise the results of the implementation of the MDGs but also the positive examples of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. As countries from different continents differ by size, resources and achievements, it is hard to compare the results achieved by these different countries.

On the other hand, we put emphasis on both the difference and unity of these countries. As I said, sometimes we don’t know what was achieved in for example Lesotho or Costa Rica or Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world. So therefore we use the database and the statistics of major U.N. organisations.

This year we used in particular the MDG report that was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat and especially the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). We used the Food Insecurity Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other related agencies and of course we referred to the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organisation.

We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements by number of population raised from hunger or by number of children going to school, but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development.

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

A: The South-South Awards ceremony is traditionally organised prior to the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. We invite heads of delegations that attend the General Debate and also the heads of the diplomatic missions, permanent missions to the U.N. and consulates in New York.

Amongst our participants are also high-level officials from the U.N. and from inter-governmental organisations that are part of the U.N. system. We also have CEOs of major corporations that are collaborating and working in the developing world. We have celebrities and civil society leaders. Our mission is to bring together all stakeholders that are part of development.

Right now, we have received confirmation from numerous heads of state and government that are coming to New York to attend the Summit on the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the General Debate. This year, we will therefore have a very diverse high-level participation with a total of around 800 guests expected.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the 2015 South-South Awards?

A: We hope that we will be able to emphasise the achievements, big and small, but important for the developing countries in implementing the MDGs and moving towards a new post-2015 development agenda. We want these lessons to be shared as widely as possible and be transferred to other countries.

We have all these good examples. We now have to learn from those positive experiences of developing and least developed states. I sincerely hope that our participants will have a good experience, enjoy the awards and that we will be able to continue our cooperation and our mission which is to bring together different stakeholders with the goal of supporting developing states and development initiatives.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zoneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142076 Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Relief Agency Pledges to Open Schools ‘On Time’ for Half a Million Palestinian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142054 Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming a serious funding shortfall, and caught between numerous regional conflicts, the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees announced on Aug. 19 that it would nevertheless open schools on time for the roughly half-a-million children who rely on the international community for their education.

In a statement released today, the cash-strapped U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) promised to start the school year on schedule, allowing over 500,000 kids in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to return to their classrooms between Aug. 24 and Sept. 13.

Established in 1949 to address the needs of some five million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs 685 schools across Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday.

For months both UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have stressed the importance of uninterrupted schooling for Palestinian refugees, and warned of the risks of allowing a generation of young people to be forgotten.

Congratulating UNRWA on its tireless efforts, Ban said in a statement Wednesday, “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions”, adding: “[For Palestine refugees] education is a passport to dignity. We must stand by them and the agency that serves them.”

Ban thanked member states for their contributions to UNRWA’s coffers, which include a 19-million-dollar contribution from Saudi Arabia and 15 million dollars each from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

To date, the agency has received contributions amounting to 78.9 billion dollars, or just over 75 percent of the 101-million-dollar deficit. The money will go towards fulfilling UNRWA’s mandate of providing health care, relief and social services, camp improvement and education.

Numerous obstacles stand between Palestinian children and their classrooms. In documenting some of these challenges, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lists such issues as military incursions; demolitions of schools buildings; restrictions on movement or limited access to school premises; and damage and destruction of school property.

A 2013 UNICEF report entitled Education Under Occupation revealed that 38 schools serving approximately 3,000 children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “have been issued either verbal and/or written stop-work or demolition orders by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).”

In the 2011-2012 period, UNICEF recorded 63 instances of “denial of access” to education in the Occupied Territories, which affected over 34,000 Palestinian students.

During the seven-week-long conflict in Gaza last summer some 327 schools were partially or completely obliterated, according to a 2015 UNICEF update, stripping thousands of kids of their only protective environment.

The situation is even more precarious for Palestinian refugees, who are often closer to the frontlines of conflict and thereby face greater risks in their quest to gain a decent education.

For instance in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, home to an estimated 16,000 Palestinians, all 28 schools have been closed and the only education opportunities exist in the form of informal classes conducted by volunteer teachers in 10 “safe spaces”, according to a report by the Guardian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141961 The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Widowhood in Papua New Guinea Brings an Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 23:23:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141956 Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

It has only been six months since Iveti, 37, lost her husband of 18 years, but already she is facing hardship and worry about the future.

Similar to many married women in the rural highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state of seven million people, she stayed at home to look after their two children, a daughter aged 11 and a son now in his early twenties, while her husband’s income paid for the family’s needs.

“There was always food to serve to my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market for 20 or 30 kina [seven to 10 dollars]." -- Iveti, a 37-year-old widow
“I worry about food; I worry about bills and the children. I worry about the relatives who come and visit to mourn with us, because we have to kill a pig [for a feast] or give them something. Who is going to come and say they have the money for all this?” Iveti frets as she sits in her modest home on the outskirts of Goroka, a town in Eastern Highlands Province.

She is surrounded by her children, and her husband’s mother and sister who also live with her.

“There was always food there to serve my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market. We get 20 kina (seven dollars) or 30 kina (10 dollars). Every two days we pay about 20 kina for the power and with the 10 kina (about 3.60 dollars) which is left, we buy a tin of fish.

“My daughter goes to school and we budget 4 kina (just over a dollar) for her lunch,” she continued.

There is a diversity of widows’ experiences in Papua New Guinea. Those who have completed secondary or tertiary education and have an independent source of income are in a strong socio-economic position to look after themselves and their children.

However, more than 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas where many women have limited access to education and employment.

Female literacy in the Eastern Highlands, for example, is about 36.5 percent. Gender inequality in the country is exacerbated by social practices, such as early and forced marriage, bride price and widespread domestic and sexual violence experienced by two-thirds of women in the country.

While there are no accurate statistics available about widows in Papua New Guinea, the national Widows Association claims that most have been in widowhood for between five and 30 years.

For women in the highlands, the risk of losing a husband is increased due to the prevalence of tribal warfare. Outbreaks of fighting between different clan groups can be triggered by disputes over landownership or pigs, the most prized livestock, or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed against a community.

And, in most cases, the death of a male warrior plunges the wife and children into a precarious existence.

Families are also being impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2010, 31,609 cases of the virus had been reported with the highest prevalence of 0.91 percent recorded in the Highlands, slightly higher than the national rate of 0.8 percent, which is estimated to have decreased to about 0.7 percent last year.

When a husband dies, the widow and children usually have the right to remain on the husband’s land and property. But this is often not the case if AIDS, which is accompanied by social stigma, has been the cause of death.

Agatha Omanefa, Women’s Project Officer at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to counselling and supporting families, told IPS that while extended families were traditionally very protective of vulnerable members, she had witnessed rising cases of brothers of the deceased husband making moves to claim the land.

When “the husband’s relatives come in to share the properties the widow becomes a loser with her children […]. Sometimes they come up with stories, history, such as: ‘you are from there, your husband is from here’ and then she [the widow] needs someone to support her to secure the land,” she explained.

“It is having a big impact on widows’ lives, especially when they have small children. So they often keep little food gardens to try and maintain the children’s welfare as well as themselves.”

Families in Papua New Guinea are traditionally large with up to eight or 10 offspring, and the struggle includes paying for children to complete education, especially to secondary level. Female headed households are several times more likely to be below the absolute poverty line, according to government reports.

But one of the greatest threats to a widow’s welfare is the risk of being accused of sorcery. In nearby Simbu Province, women aged 40-65 years are six times more likely than men to be blamed for using witchcraft to cause a death or misfortune in the community, reports Oxfam, and the consequences, including torture and murder, can be tragic.

“There is growing concern that sorcery accusations that lead to killings, injuries or exile are often economically or personally motivated and used to deprive women of their land or property,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, reported in 2013.

Widows with sons, however, have a source of protection.

“In our culture in the Highlands, when you have a son, no-one will chase you out, because you will gain strength from your son, but if a woman does not bear any child then she is more vulnerable,” Irish Kokara, treasurer of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Council of Women, explained.

President Jenny Gunure added that there was also a lack of awareness about women’s rights and the law at the village level, a situation the women’s council is working to rectify through a bottom-up education programme aimed at rural women, which was begun last year.

However, Kokara believes that the risk of violence will not diminish until the behaviour of young men, who often perpetrate such crimes as part of vigilante gangs, is addressed.

“It is the youths who take drugs, like marijuana, who are the ones burning the women and hanging them on trees. So we need to change the youths first, then we can change the community,” she declared.

In recent weeks widows across the country have called through the local media for the government to introduce legislation to better support recognition of their rights.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Opinion: Time for the World to Protect and Value its Young Human Rights Defendershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 16:50:42 +0000 Clara Fok and Vida Coumans http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141947 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Clara Fok and Sara Vida Coumans
NEW YORK, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

There’s a deep irony that as people around the world mark International Youth Day on Aug. 12, hardly any attention will be paid to the shrinking space for young human rights defenders who increasingly find themselves on the receiving end of government repression. 
In recent years, helped by the connective power of social media, the world has witnessed the growing force of young people fighting for and defending their rights and shaping their communities. Young people are mobilising the masses to hold governments accountable by calling on them to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments.

Of course, young people have always played a key role in social movements where they have a huge stake. But now they are increasingly taking on leadership roles in peaceful protest movements and driving change.

Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments. They are not waiting to be told what to do.

This has come at a price. Unfortunately – and too frequently – states respond to young people’s peaceful civic engagement by beating and locking up youth activists.

Take Myanmar, for example. More than 100 student leaders, including human rights defenders and activists, are facing jail time for protesting against the new National Education Law. Among them is Phyoe Phyoe Aung, the 26-year-old leader of one of Myanmar’s largest student movements.

On Aug. 25, she’ll turn 27, but it looks likely she will spend her birthday behind bars as part of an unjust and lengthy prison sentence after she was arrested in March following a violent police crackdown on largely peaceful protests.

Many more across the country continue to be harassed and intimidated in what appears to be a systematic clampdown on the student movement.

This should come as no surprise – the Myanmar authorities have a long history of repressing student-led movements, which they fear will trigger wider calls for political change and threaten their grip on power.

On the other side of the world, things are no different. In June, the security forces in Angola arbitrarily arrested 15 youth activists for participating in a meeting where they peacefully discussed politics and some of the concerns they have regarding the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for the past 36 years.

They have been accused of planning to disrupt public order and posing a threat to national security. Even young activists who were not in the meeting were accused of being part of it. They are all being held in solitary confinement far away from their homes, making it very hard for their loved ones to visit. 

Efforts to secure the release of the activists were severely punished. On July 22, five people who tried to visit them were detained for nine hours and a few days later a peaceful protest calling for the release of the 15 was violently repressed.

Such heavy-handed responses are not unique to Myanmar and Angola. Everywhere – from Turkey to Venezuela, the United States to Egypt – young human rights defenders have been thrown behind bars for fighting for their rights.

Society does not always welcome the acts of resistance by young human rights defenders. As noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “general perception of youth in society, also conveyed by established media outlets, often point to their young age and lack of maturity as grounds for not giving them a say in public affairs. Youth and student movements are seen as troublemakers rather than serious actors that can fruitfully contribute to public debate”.

But denying young people a seat at the table limits opportunities to engage in debates about the progressive realisation of human rights. Even when young people are allowed to participate, it is often meaningless or tokenistic, because it is widely assumed that they are there to learn and develop, rather than to equally contribute to solutions.

This age-centric approach becomes a vicious cycle – very little room is given for young people to actively participate and shape the agenda, while policy makers fail to effectively address the barriers young people face to accessing basic human rights.

We need to take a step back and reflect on what this means for how states react to young people when they are peacefully engaging with society in a bid to create a space for them to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

If governments are serious about the lives of young people, they must ensure that young human rights defenders can claim and exercise their rights freely and without fear.

It is true that meaningful youth civic engagement will not happen overnight and it takes time to create productive inter-generational partnerships that are based on trust. But governments can take the first step by immediately and unconditionally releasing all the human rights defenders detained for peacefully exercising their rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Partnerships Critical to the SDGs, Reducing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:26:19 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141851 South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September.

In his inaugural address, Oh laid out his agenda, saying, “The Council will lead the efforts to build an inclusive and engaging global partnership – one that welcomes the significant contribution that all stakeholders can provide.”"We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.” -- Hahn Choong-hee

He has made the problem of inequality among and within nations his priority and announced that he is convening a special meeting of ECOSOC on this subject early next year.

In an interview with IPS, Oh’s Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee said, “Inequality has in the past been a separate discussion, however, it is now being discussed much more in the context of development.”

Explaining its importance of dealing with both development and inequality in a troubled world, Hahn said, “We cannot achieve a really peaceful and inclusive society without addressing violent extremism. At the same time, without achieving economic growth there are always isolated and marginalised groups which are more prone to violence, which makes it really difficult to counter violent extremism.”

Hahn, a career diplomat who has held senior positions in South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and served in Africa, Europe and America, stressed the importance of global partnership in pursuing the SDGs.

This requires three steps which must be accomplished.

The first is communicating the SDGs, so everybody understands what they stand for and hope to accomplish. However, there should also be conceptual understanding of the underlying issues such as social justice, inequality, and the economic, social, and environmental aspects.

Second, he said, all stakeholders, including civil society, NGOs, youth, media and academia, should participate in the process.

Third, everybody has something to contribute to the SDGs. “Whether it is financing from the private sector or technology and knowledge from academia and universities, everybody can contribute,” Hahn said.

Hahn touched on a range of issues of importance for the post-2015 agenda.

“Throughout the next 12 months we have many different processes to invite global partnerships, in which youth particularly will be extremely engaged. Society is very vocal about youth being a major player in the outcomes of development, especially in the next 15 years, but this is not just an issue to be talked about, but an issue to be acted on,” said Hahn.

He said motivating people for development was key, especially in rural areas. “This is an important engine. We have resources and technology, however, we cannot overcome this poverty without people understanding that we have to work together diligently. We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.”

Hahn also stressed the importance of democracy for development, citing the experience of his own country.

“Democracy means developing democratic institutions and rule of law to ensure that money which individuals earn through hard work will be protected… In (the Republic of) Korea’s development narrative, economic growth was advancing while the democratic process was lagging behind. However, when people have a good revenue and increased salary, they begin to want better protection systems for this income. What democracy means is protection and transparency.”

On how to deal with extremism, he said that education, media, migration and youth are four key areas in tackling the problem.

“Although we are talking about ‘Nobody Left Behind’ in the post-2015 agenda, in reality we need to leave behind the groups perpetuating violent extremism, in order to indicate that their argument is not acceptable to the international society,” Hahn said. “We have to isolate these groups.”

He added: “We have to teach young students about global citizenship. Critical thinking is very important when it comes to handling issues of violent extremism, to teach the youth that violent extremism is not workable with a peaceful and inclusive society.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141754 Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Fear Stalks Students in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:50:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141601 A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya D'Almeida
PESHAWAR, Pakistan/UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

It has been seven months since a group of gunmen raided the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, killing 145 people, including 132 students.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home. Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.” -- Shahana Khan, the mother of one of the victims of the Peshawar school shootings in 2014
For the most part, the tragedy has faded off international headlines, but for the families of the victims and survivors, the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.

Speaking to IPS in her home in Peshawar, KP’s capital city and the site of last year’s attack, Shahana Khan cannot stop weeping.

Her 15-year-old son Asfand, a tenth grader at the public school, was one of too many children killed by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Dec. 16, 2014.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home,” she manages to say through her sadness. “Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.”

The boy’s father, Ajun Khan, chimes in: “He kept our home happy. Without him, we will pass Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan] in tears.”

His 11-year-old sister and seven-year-old brother share similar sentiments. Like other kids who lived through the tragedy, they have aged beyond their years.

They recount stories of their brother’s jokes and antics, as though momentarily forgetting that he is no longer with them. But then the tears start rolling again.

“I will recite the Holy Quran on his grave, and pray for his blessings,” the little bow vows solemnly.

Neither the kids nor their parents mention the school where the shootings took place, although it re-opened just a month after the incident.

For months, many families were too afraid to return to the scene. Though the students have gradually begun trickling back into their classrooms, fear is everywhere.

This lingering trauma is just one more obstacle standing between the Pakistan government and its ambitious education goals for this South Asian country of 182 million people.

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schools under attack

Throughout the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s landmark poverty-reduction plan launched in 2000, Pakistan has lagged behind most member states.

In March the ministry of federal education and professional training published education statistics for 2013-2014, which revealed that the government was unlikely to meet the target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015, despite many pledges and promises on paper.

Pakistan’s education sector is comprised of over 260,000 schools, both public and private, where 1.5 million teachers attend to an estimated 42.9 million students.

But according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published together with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are also 6.7 million out-of-school children in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

And while 21.4 million primary-school-aged children are currently enrolled in public and private institutions, research suggests that only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, and a further 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

Experts say that the dismal state of education in the restive northern provinces is largely to blame for these setbacks.

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Umar Farooq, an education official for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IPS that about 200,000 boys and girls in his region are out of school, largely due to the Taliban’s systematic attack on modern, secular education.

In the past 12 years, the Taliban have destroyed 850 schools, including 500 schools dedicated exclusively to girls, he said.

“FATA has the lowest primary school enrollment rate in the whole country – only 35 percent,” he added.

Prior to the December 2014 public school shooting, a report published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack listed Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a student or teacher, on par with states like Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Between the review period starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, armed groups in Pakistan attacked some 838 schools, mostly by blowing up buildings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 30 students and 20 teachers were killed in those attacks, while 97 students and eight teachers were injured and 138 students and staff kidnapped.

Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education, told IPS that school enrollment and dropout rates have fluctuated according to ebbs and flows in the insurgency.

The period 2007-2013, for instance, when the Taliban was stepping up its activities in the region, saw the dropout rate touching 73 percent.

Citing government records, Khan said that some 550,000 kids in FATA have sat idle over the last decade. The numbers are no better in other provinces in the north.

Back in the summer of 2014, when a government military operation aimed at destroying armed groups drove nearly half a million people from their homes in the North Waziristan Agency, scores of children found their education interrupted as they languished in refugee camps in the city of Bannu, part of the KP province.

A rapid assessment report carried out by the United Nations in July 2014 revealed that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys from North Waziristan were not receiving any kind of schooling in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that an already weak primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent in KP (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) would worsen as a result of the massive displacement, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs were occupying school buildings.

Director of education for KP, Ghulam Sarwar, told IPS the Taliban had destroyed 467 schools in the province in the last decade, and reduced the schooling system to dust in the Swat District where the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai shocked the entire world.

Already traumatized from years of attacks on education, the lingering ghosts of the Dec. 16 tragedy have only added to the burden of students and parents alike.

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Overcoming trauma

Khadim Hussain, head of the Peshawar-based Bacha Khan Education Trust, told IPS that the Taliban “thrive on illiteracy”, preying on ignorant sectors of the population to “toe their line”.

For this very reason, he stressed, education in Pakistan is more important now than ever before, as the most sustainable weapon with which to fight militancy.

In October 2014, the Pakistan office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that school supplies worth 14.4 million dollars, donated by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), had been handed over to KP’s education department.

The funds were aimed at improving facilities in over 1,000 schools across KP and FATA, serving 128,000 students.

It was a promising moment – shadowed barely two months later by the daylong siege and massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

With the bloodshed still fresh in everyone’s minds, Hussain’s suggestions are easier said than done.

Fourteen-year-old Jihad Ahmed, who survived the attack, is still afraid to go back to school. A sixth grader named Raees Shah, who saw his best friends die in front of him, has similarly had a hard time concentrating on his studies.

While some want desperately to forgot and move on, others – like ninth-grader Amir Mian – keep the memories of that day burning bright. When the attack began, Mian’s older brother had managed to escape the school premises unscathed, but came back to fetch the younger boy. When he did, he took a bullet and died shortly after.

“We will never forgive his killer,” the teenager told IPS. “We hope that God Almighty will punish his killers on the Day of Judgment.”

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In a bid to restore the public’s confidence in the education system, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February signed onto the 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative launched by A World At School, a global campaign working to get all school-aged kids into a classroom.

The 15 ‘best practices’ outlined in the agreement include community-based interventions such as involving religious leaders in the promotion of education as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, and improving infrastructure and safety mechanisms like constructing and reinforcing boundary walls.

Currently, only 61 percent of government schools and 27 percent of primary schools in rural areas have boundary walls, while scores of others lack protective razor wire atop their fortifications.

The programme’s donors and supporters hope it serves as a first step towards healing, and, ideally, to a more educated and resilient Pakistan.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Census Paints Grim Picture of Inequality in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 19:55:45 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141579 An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being Asia’s third-largest economy, positioning itself as a major geopolitical player under a new nationalist government, India’s first ever Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) paints a grim picture of poverty and deprivation despite billions of dollars being funneled into state-sponsored welfare schemes.

The survey, carried out in 640 districts under the aegis of the Rural Development Ministry, provides comprehensive data on a raft of socio-economic indicators like occupation, education, religion, caste/tribe status, employment, income, assets, housing and land owned in individual as well as household categories.

"This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long." -- Dalit activist Paul Divakar
Of the 179 million households covered, nearly half are rural.

Of these rural households, over 21.53 percent belong to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST), the traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests.

More than 60 percent of the surveyed rural households qualified as “deprived” on 14 parameters. In over 51.8 percent of rural families, the main income earners barely manage to keep their kitchen fires burning by working as manual or casual labourers making less than 80 dollars per month (four dollars a day).

Further, just 20 percent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 percent own something as basic as a refrigerator.

The census also gives a glimpse of rural India weighed down by landlessness and a lack of non-farm jobs.

Across the country, 56 percent of households don’t own any land. Few households have a regular job and an insignificant number are taxpayers. Only 7.3 percent of households who fall into the scheduled castes category, and only 9.7 percent of all rural households in total, have a family member with a salaried job.

About 30 percent of those surveyed list themselves as cultivators, and manual casual labour is the primary source of income for 51.14 percent of households. Just about 14 percent have non-farm jobs, with the government, public or private sector.

The statistics are even bleaker for scheduled castes and tribal households: despite decades of affirmative action, only 3.96 percent of rural SC households and 4.38 percent of ST households are employed in the government sector.

This plummets to 2.42 percent for scheduled castes and 1.48 per cent for tribal communities in the private sector. Fewer than five percent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five percent mark.

“The census is an eye-opener. It clearly demonstrates that the benefits of high economic growth have not percolated down to large sections of the population despite billions being funneled into schemes for poverty-alleviation, ‘education for all’ and job-generation,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research

What is most disconcerting, according to Kumari, is that the census figures not only highlight rampant poverty but also generational poverty.

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policy makers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered,” she added.

Activists point out that despite state-mentored flagship schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the education for all movement aimed at achieving universal elementary education, 23.52 percent rural families have no literate adult above 25 years.

Fewer than 10 percent in India advance beyond the higher secondary level in school and just 3.41 percent of rural households have a family member who is at least a graduate.

A state-by-state breakdown of the latest census shows that nearly every second rural resident (47.5 percent of the rural population) in the northwest state of Rajasthan – the largest in the country by land area – is illiterate.

Meanwhile, states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh account for over 180 million of the over 300 million illiterate people in rural India.

Similarly, housing for all remains a chimera despite the existence of Indira Awaas Yojana, one of the biggest and most comprehensive rural housing programmes ever taken up in the country, which has been in operation since 1985.

The scheme aims to provide subsidies and cash-assistance to the poor to construct their own houses. Yet three out of 10 families, according to the SECC, live in one-room houses, while 22 million households (roughly 100 million persons or four times the population of Australia) live in homes constructed from grass, bamboo, plastic or polythene, with nothing but thatched or tin roofs standing between them and the elements.

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The eastern and central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have the poorest indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but even in more developed southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, family incomes are low and dependence on casual manual labour is high.

The countryside remains unable to find jobs that can pull families out of poverty while agriculture remains at subsistence levels, with low mechanisation, limited irrigation facilities and little access to credit.

The alarming and all-pervasive poverty, say activists, should alert policy makers to framing more inclusive policies effectively implemented on ground zero.

“This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long,” Dalit activist Paul Divakar told IPS.

“The SECC demonstrates that economic development of this demographic is not the government’s priority. These sections continue to lag behind on most human development indices because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development related to their social identity.

“A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Economists opine that for a country like India, which holds the paradoxical distinction of being a rising economy as well as hosting the largest number of the world’s poor, policies need to be especially nuanced for growth to be equitable.

“Of India’s 1.2-billion-strong population, a whopping 60 percent are of working age,” according to Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. “Yet only a small percentage has been absorbed into the formal workforce. Rural poverty is an outcome of low productivity, which leads to low incomes.

“We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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South Sudanese Girls Given Away As ‘Blood Money’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:26:38 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141530 By Miriam Gathigah
TORIT, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan , Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

So extreme are gender inequalities in South Sudan that a young girl is three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to reach the eighth grade – the last grade before high school – according to Plan International, one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world.

A vast majority of South Sudanese girls will have been victims of at least one form of gender-based violence in their young lives, but those living in Eastern Equatoria State face a particularly abhorrent practice which is a tradition among at least five of the state’s 12 tribes – being given away as ‘blood money’.

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women and Youth Organisation, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit:  Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“When a person kills another person, the bereaved family expects to be given ‘blood money’ as compensation,” Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, told IPS.

Most tribes demand compensation when a life has been taken in one of the regular conflicts over cattle and pasture, revenge killings and other inter-village conflicts, and although 20 to 30 goats is what many tribes demand in form of compensation, Olweny explained that “most families can either not afford or are unwilling to pay so much, and prefer to give away one of their girls as compensation.”

According to child protection specialist, Shanti Risal Kaphle, “a young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace.”

Kaphle explained that the girl’s life is negotiated “without her information and consent and is subject to violence, abuse and exploitation.”

The practice of girl child compensation has not escaped the eye of the government, which set an estimated 500 dollars as the amount for compensation for a life, but tribe people still prefer to be given a girl, saying that the figure set by the government is too little.“A young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace” – child protection specialist Shanti Risal Kaphle

Experts say that a girl is also preferred as compensation by a bereaved family because she can either be married to one of their own without having to pay a bride price, or she can be married off when she turns 12 and attract a herd of goats.

Many of the girls handed over as compensation are often as young as five years. They are expected to forget their birth families and start afresh, severing all contacts with their natural families once the exchange has been concluded.

At this point their lives can take a dramatic turn for the worse through multiple abuse. These girls may be “subjected to child labour, and to sexual, physical and emotional abuse – to escape this hell, more of them now prefer to commit suicide,” said Olweny.

Residents here say that customary laws which perpetuate and rubber stamp these forms of abuse are seen to play a vital role in conflict resolution because they are considered cheap, accessible and the decisions are made on the basis of customs they are familiar with.

Kaphle said that customary laws and decisions are also perceived as more amicable and less time-consuming.

However, girl child compensation is just one of a multitude of abuses that the girl child in South Sudan faces.

The state of Western Bahr El Ghazal, for example, has a notorious tradition of widow compensation which has seen many young girls denied an opportunity to go to school because they are forced into early marriages.

Linda Ferdinand Hussein, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Women’s Organisation for Training and Promotion, explained how this tradition works.

“When a man’s wife dies for whatever reasons, the man can demand to be given back the bride price that he had paid.” This price varies from one family to the next “but most families are unwilling to pay back the bride price so they give the man one of the deceased wife’s younger sisters as compensation.”

Four years after South Sudan won its independence and became the world’s youngest nation, child protection specialists like Hussein are raising the alarm. “Gender-based violence against young girls continues to be perpetrated in a variety of ways in both peacetime and during conflict,” she said.

A report released Jun. 30 by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) revealed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups recently carried out a campaign of violence against the population of South Sudan, which was marked by a “new brutality and intensity” and included the raping and then burning alive of girls inside their homes.

A report released last year by leading humanitarian organisation CARE, titled ‘The Girl Has No Rights’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan, highlighted the extreme injustices faced by young girls in the country.

These injustices continue to serve as obstacles towards accessing education and later exploiting the opportunities that life presents for those who have gone through school.

According to Plan International, 7.3 percent of girls are married before they reach the age of 15 years and another 42.2 percent will have been married between the ages of 15 and 18. And, although 37 percent of girls enrol in primary school, only around seven percent complete the curriculum and only two percent of them proceed to secondary school.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Science and Technology a Game Changer for Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 21:01:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141513 Solar cells on the wings of the Solar Impulse plane. Credit: Solar Impulse

Solar cells on the wings of the Solar Impulse plane. Credit: Solar Impulse

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

A group of international scientists, designated as advisers to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has conveyed a significantly timely message to him: science, technology and innovation (STI) can be “the game changer” for the U.N.’s future development efforts.

Closing the gap between developed and developing countries depends on first closing investment gaps in international science, technology and innovation, says a report released Thursday.The Board calls for an annual Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) - a flagship UN publication, like the Human Development Report - that monitors progress, identifies critical issues and root causes of challenges, and offers potential ways forward.

The Secretary-General’s 26-member Scientific Advisory Board says while a target of one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for research and development (R&D) is perceived as high by many governments, countries with strong and effective STI systems invest up to 3.5 percent of their GPD in R&D.

“If countries wish to break the poverty cycle and achieve (post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals), they will have to set up ambitious national minimum target investments for STI, including special allotments for the promotion of basic science and science education and literacy.”

These investments “can contribute to alleviating poverty, creating jobs, reducing inequalities, increasing income and enhancing health and well-being.”

It can assist in solving critical problems such as access to energy, food and water security, climate change and biodiversity loss, according to the report.

The Board recommends specific investment areas, including “novel alternative energy solutions, water filters that remove pathogens at the point-of-use, new robust building materials from locally available materials, nanotechnology for health and agriculture, and biological approaches to industrial production, environmental remediation and management.”

Created by the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on behalf of the Secretary-General, the Board is comprised of experts from a range of scientific disciplines relevant to sustainable development, including its social and ethical dimensions.

Dr Salvatore Arico, senior programme specialist and team leader, Science-Policy Interface and Assessments Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building Natural Sciences Sector at UNESCO, told IPS STI can be found in all of the four main elements of the post-2015 development agenda: Declaration; SDGs/Targets/indicators; Means of Implementation; and Accountability Frameworks for monitoring & evaluation – in different degrees and in relation to specific systems and sectors.

He pointed out that STI contributes to the knowledge basis, and can and should play an important role for data gathering and analysis, in relation to the several of the proposed 17 SDGs and, particularly, those on water (SDG 6), the food-energy-water nexus (SDGs 2, 6 and 7), and the crosscutting contribution of STI inter alia in relation to ensuring access to energy for all, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, building resilient infrastructures, including of cities and human settlements, combating climate change, and promoting inclusive societies (SDGs 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13 and 16, respectively).

Among its recommendations, the Board calls for an annual Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) – a flagship U.N. publication, like the Human Development Report – that monitors progress, identifies critical issues and root causes of challenges, and offers potential ways forward.

The GSDR would synthesise and integrate findings from a wide range of scientific fields and institutions, developed with strong inter-agency support involving a suggested consortium of U.N. agencies working on sustainable development.

Asked how this should be implemented, Dr Arico told IPS there are indications, especially on the Scientific Advisory Board, that the GDSR should be ‘elevated’ and be designed and conducted so as to become the equivalent of the Human Development Report, which is one of the best known publications in the U.N. system.

“This would require resources and a great level of U.N. inter-agency coordination,” he added.

Additionally, the Board also calls for a dedicated seat for science at an influential new world leaders’ forum created to promote and monitor sustainable development – the U.N. High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development – since science needs to be engaged “formally in the HLPF as an advisor rather than an observer.”

“This could be accomplished by creating a formal seat for science on the HLPF, and/or by involving the Scientific Advisory Board and organisations such as the National Academies of Sciences, UNESCO, International Council for Science (ICSU), Future Earth, regional scientific bodies, and others,” says the report.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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“Why Hire a Lawyer When You Can Buy a Judge?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 21:16:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141490 Women and children hold up signs at a rally against corruption in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women and children hold up signs at a rally against corruption in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

A woman is stopped at a checkpoint; she gives birth, and dies. Another is sold in a slave market. A boy is killed by a tank. A young man drowns at sea, trying to reach a haven safe from oppression and poverty.

These were just some of the examples that Rima Khalaf, executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), touched on during a panel discussion on the importance of the rule of law held at the U.N. headquarters on Jul. 7.

In each of scenarios laid out above, Khalaf said, had the person in question been of a different race, ethnic group, gender or religion, they might have been spared an untimely or violent death. In other words, they might have been under the protection of the law.

All too often, however, citizens are either unable or unaware of how to demand their legal rights – be it access to food, jobs or justice.

As the U.N. closes a 15-year chapter of poverty eradication efforts defined by the eight ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and moves towards a new, sustainable development agenda, legal experts came together Tuesday to discuss how the rule of law can help bolster the post-2015 blueprint for global change.

Organised by the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), an intergovernmental body devoted to empowering citizens and enabling governments to establish robust legal systems worldwide, the two-part event series revolved around Goal 16 of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to build inclusive societies by providing equal justice to all.

Promoting and strengthening the rule law in the realm of international development would seem, as IDLO Director-General Irene Khan pointed out, “a no-brainer”.

Fast Facts: 2015 Rule of Law Index

The 2015 Rule of Law Index, published annually by the World Justice Project (WJP) crunched data from 100,000 households and 2,400 expert surveys in 102 countries to present a portrait of how ordinary people around the world perceive and experience the rule of law in their everyday lives.

Countries are scored on a 0-1 scale based on eight factors:
- Constraints on government powers
- Absence of corruption
- Open government
- Fundamental rights
- Order and security
- Regulatory enforcement
- Civil justice and
- Criminal justice

Under these criteria, Denmark bagged the top spot on this year’s index with a score of 0.87, while countries like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe brought up the rear, scoring 0.35 and 0.37 respectively.

Other countries in the top 10 zone include Singapore, Finland and New Zealand, while states like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Uganda live closer to the bottom of the index.

Asian countries featured heavily at the mid-point of the index, with India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines occupying spots in the 50-60 range out of 102 surveyed states.

According to the WJP, “the Index is the world’s most comprehensive data set of its kind and the only to rely solely on primary data, measuring a nation’s adherence to the rule of law from the perspective of how ordinary people experience it.”
In reality, however, the SDGs mark the first time that the U.N. has explicitly written the rule of law into its development plans.

“There is a paradox here at the U.N. that bothers me deeply,” Khan said at a panel co-hosted by the IDLO and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Law) Tuesday. “You can almost think of it as parallel railway lines, with two trains hurtling down these tracks through the landscape of the U.N. since its inception.

“One is the train that is running the development agenda, and the other is the train running the human rights agenda. I only hope that the principle of the rule of law that has now been acknowledged as part of the development agenda will bring these two tracks together – and that the meeting won’t be a crash but a synergy.”

Since its inception in 1988, the IDLO has remained the only organisation dedicated entirely to promoting the rule of law, repeatedly pushing for effective and accountable legal systems around the world as the basis for eradicating poverty, fighting discrimination and ensuring access to basic services.

It also highlights the links between inequality and lawlessness, where good governance seeps through cracks in weak justice systems, eroding the public’s confidence in the very structures that are designed to ensure their well-being.

Recounting a conversation she had with a chief justice in one of the IDLO’s partner countries, Khan said, “I was told that in this particular country people often say, ‘Why hire a lawyer if you can buy a judge?’ It is these situations that the rule of law addresses.”

In short, she said, the rule of law regulates power, a crucial step in the realisation of the SDGs.

“Poverty is not a matter of income,” she stressed. “It is a matter of powerlessness.”

Consider the following example from Uganda, where three-quarters of the population are subsistence farmers and where land disputes can have a heavy impact on livelihood and food security.

For many years, inefficient and informal justice systems meant that farmers, and particularly women, had no recourse to resolutions over even the most minor discord.

With the introduction in 1995 of the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) – established to provide legal empowerment to rural communities through Land Rights Information Centres – fair land laws and policies, as well as swift access to justice, has become the norm, rather than the exception.

In Ecuador, an IDLO training programme on access to fair trade markets and the basic legal aspects of forming and running micro-enterprises has given local communities in predominantly rural areas significant leverage in tapping into new revenue streams.

And in Rwanda, where women held just 43 percent of seats in the lower parliament in 2003, a new constitution and the creation of women’s councils over the past decade pushed women’s political representation to 64 percent in 2013, resulting in stronger laws on violence against women and gender-based crimes.

Any number of similar examples, from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan to Kenya, stand as testimony to the sheer scope and significance of the rule of law for the global development agenda.

But while legal frameworks are vital to securing rights and enshrining the basic tenets of development in constitutions worldwide, they cannot and do not exist in a vacuum.

“Laws alone are not enough,” Khalid Malik, former director of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report noted during the panel discussion. “Many countries have all manner of statutes and conventions, but behaviors have not altered. If institutions are not pro-poor, change will not happen.”

He stressed that part of the problem lies in “institutions often being captured by the elites”, or other powerful interests, making them less accessible to marginalised groups.

What is needed, he says, is an approach to the rule of law that is rooted in justice, and the empowerment of ordinary people.

“When you have a universal approach to education and health,” he stated, “You empower people enormously. Think of the Arab Spring – it happened mostly in countries that were doing well on health and education. Why? Because once you’re educated, you become far more aware of your rights, you start expecting more from institutions, and the relationship between the citizen and the state starts to change.”

It is precisely this change that lawmakers hope to see as the U.N. finalizes its new development plans for a more just and sustainable world.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141462 Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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