Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 25 May 2017 13:17:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Menstrual Health and Vitality: Breaking the Silence, Stemming the Floodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:17:36 +0000 Archana Patkar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150541 Archana Patkar is Programme Manager on Equality & Non-Discrimination at the UN Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)]]> Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Archana Patkarv
GENEVA, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. But it still matters so much more to women and girls, who have historically been asked to bleed in stoic silence so that no one even knows they have their period.

It is slowly but surely becoming socially acceptable to start talking about periods, a biological fact as old as womankind itself— even as the United Nations commemorates Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.

Society is finally coming of age and suddenly everyone is coming out about their vaginas.

At the Women Deliver conference in 2016, Jessica Biel bemoaned the world’s reluctance to talk openly about women’s bodies. “[Body talk is] very shameful, and that’s the problem — why is it so shameful?” she asked. “I feel completely embarrassed talking about this stuff, even with my gynecologist, and why is that? It makes no sense. I am here because I want to pull the stigmas off female reproductive everything.”

For every celebrity willing to break the silence, slow and steady web chatter is successfully whittling down those deep prejudices and walls that we have built at the intersection of multiple biases. Take male sexual identity and preference and add a monthly period to it, and what do you get? Even transgender guys have to deal with their periods at some point or another. And yet, it’s not something we talk about — most of us are ashamed. This shows that silence and shame are not the prerogative of the feminine. Stigma and shame also creep into men’s worlds all the time and everywhere.

In order to truly break the silence and ensure that periods are moved from the shameful to the shared, we must do more than stem the flow, we can actually run with it, red with glory. Musician and activist Kiran Gandhi recently ran the London Marathon in 2015 while bleeding freely .

Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer who finished fourth in the women’s 4X100 metres medley relay at the Rio Olympics, made headlines for telling the world she was on her period. The more we are open about it, the more normal it will be, but it will take more than a handful of celebrities to spread the word.

So why this personal blood rush? In 2004, perplexed by the reluctance and deep resistance to speaking the ‘M’ word, I thought long and hard of a practical, action oriented entry point to simply take stock of who was finally talking about menstruation in their day to day work? What was preventing us from doing something about this shocking silence and injustice? How could we continue to see girls stay away from school, just because they had their monthly period?

I coined the term Menstrual Hygiene and Management as a practical mix of information and practices that would together could ensure a safe and dignified menstrual period. Fast forward to a fabulous confluence of evidence and action, champions, policies and practices, media, and businesses that have joined in to break the silence and stigma on periods.

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore reminds us that the denial of rights is a learned behavior, and therefore can just as easily all be unlearned. This won’t be easy. Centuries of silence, shame, restriction, coercion and injustice will need to be banished from our psyches. Is every teacher, parent and peer listening? Can we make sure that we unlearn these stereotypes without building new silos in their stead?

The development community is used to working in strict boxes – some ‘do’ HIV; some do ‘gender’ and others ‘do’ WASH, health, education, jobs, or sexual reproductive rights. Instead, let’s do away with all prejudice, amnesia and blindness.

Human beings come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Coming out of the ‘bloody closet’ is a pathway for us all to talk more about our bodies in all their glory and therefore with all the intendant travails. Maybe we can better acknowledge the leaky closet, together with the wonders of stress incontinence during pregnancy or post-menopausal leakages?

Maybe we can add a healthy dose of fresh, clean mindsets at home, and have open conversations around the intimate and the personal. And maybe, since this requires no special funding, no projects, no extraordinary professional training or academic rigour and since it is so super simple—maybe, just maybe we can embrace humanity in its glorious diversity for generations to come.

Whether in sign language or braille, Wolof or Mandarin, it is not difficult to take the pledge, break the silence, and make sure that we replace the stigma and shame of menstruation with dignity and pride.

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No One is Left Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-one-is-left-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-one-is-left-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-one-is-left-behind/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:22:08 +0000 Kakoli Ghosh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150143 Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Coordinator, Academia and Research Organisations, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) ]]>

Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Coordinator, Academia and Research Organisations, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

By Kakoli Ghosh
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

In the context of global development, ‘no one is left behind’ brings with it a powerful message. It emphasizes progress- one that is inclusive, fair, integrated and empowering. The phrase ‘No one is left behind’ is mentioned some five times in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by all governments at the United Nations in 2015. The Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet, peace and prosperity. It has globally agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 ambitious targets, and should be achieved within the next decade ‘to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.’

Kakoli Ghosh

Kakoli Ghosh

To keep these commitments and uphold the values that underpin them, a necessary corollary is that ‘every one’, irrespective of geography and circumstances, participates in this collective journey. Is that the case? Consider women and girls for instance. Although they are 51 percent of the world, women and girls continue lag behind on most counts. Women are often patronized or objectified and have far fewer possibilities for accessing and climbing the economic, professional or political ladder. Despite years of dedicated programs by governments, the UN and the civil societies, gender inequality is acute in rural settings, although their pivotal contribution to farming and rural economy is widely acknowledged. The Agenda recognises this, and Goal 5 is to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls’. Furthermore, Goals 2, 3 and 4 also have specific targets with indicators to measure progress on women’s participation, income and education. However, almost 80 percent of the indicators for gender equality across the Goals lack data- a severe limitation- that policy and governance has to overcome to create bottom–up solutions. Another necessary step has to be a better and greater convergence of all the big and small efforts being undertaken to tackle gender inequality in development.

Another important group that must not be left behind are the teenagers. Currently there are some 1.2 billion young people, of which 88 percent live in developing countries. Should the Goals be achieved by 2030, the youth of today could be the biggest beneficiaries. Much will depend on policy environment in a country, but in my view, the academic community can play a critical role. Science, technology, analytical data and multidisciplinary approaches are required for almost all the goals. Therefore, teachers- as the custodians of future generations – could lead by promoting a systems-based approach, revising outdated curricula, applying the indicators in their own settings as well as participating in monitoring progress at the national level. Creating awareness among the students can encourage their buy-in early on, which in turn can lead to quicker solutions and new possibilities. In fact, Goal 4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ focuses on youth; this focus is also in Goals 8 and 13. There needs to be a strategy in place to mobilise academia to support the implementation of these Goals. Strengthening education quality and increasing investment in universities today, particularly in developing countries, can position youth to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.

Women and youth may not be the only groups falling behind when one considers the status of migrants. As Agenda was being adopted in 2015, a number of countries were dealing with an unprecedented migration including in Europe, the Near East and Sub-Sahara Africa. Immediate attention had to be given to the availability of food, shelter and safety of the new refugees. It is estimated that there are some 244 million international migrants today, of which a third are young adults leaving their countries due to conflicts, climate change and political instability. Their education, aspirations, prospects are being left behind. For the first time the issues of migration are recognized with the Goals 10 calling for ‘well-managed migration policies’ and Goal 8 focuses on the situation of migrant workers.

Looking ahead, there is a lot to do. What will it take for each of us to step up, to achieve gender equality in our own sphere? How can young adults benefit from the Goals? How to promote integration of diverse communities in a sustainable way? It is not possible to do it alone. Perhaps it is time to revive ‘partnerships’ as a fundamental tool for delivery. Partnerships not as an association for the few but as a mechanism for collective achievements. As Swami Vivekananda said ‘There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humans, nay the whole of life within its scope’.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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New Education Model Can “Achieve Much More,” Says Education Envoyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 13:01:22 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150058 About 518,000 primary school students have been unable to go to school in the last decade as due to Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: IPS

About 518,000 primary school students have been unable to go to school in the last decade as due to Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

UN’s education envoy has unveiled a new model that could provide every child with access to education by 2030.

Citing concerns about the neglect of children’s rights, the Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown urged for more and better finance to ensure every child is in school and learning.

“We’re concerned that millions of children are out of school—some because of child labor, some because of child marriage, some because of child trafficking, some because of sheer discrimination against girls,” Brown told IPS.

The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom particularly noted that girls’ education is one of the most “important civil rights struggle in our generation.”

Globally, over 250 million children and young people in the world are out of school, and the number of primary-aged children not in school is increasing. For children who are in school, many are not actually learning.

According to the Education Commission, over 800 million young people, or half of the world’s youth, will leave school lacking the basic and necessary skills for the labour market if current trends continue. Many of them will be from low and middle-income countries where only one in 10 young people will be on track to acquire basic secondary level skills.

Meanwhile, international donor contributions to education has decreased from $10 per child in 2010 to $8 per child in low and lower-middle-income countries which is insufficient to pay for textbooks, teachers or school infrastructure. The figures are even lower for education aid in conflict zones where countries like Chad and South Sudan received just 2 percent of their emergency request.

In its report, the Education Commission notes that the costs of such a “learning crisis” includes poverty, inequality, and instability which could be “irreparable.”

“When young people have no access to quality education, not only we deprive them of a right, but we also deprive society of their meaningful contributions,” they said.

In order to provide access and increase quality of education in low and middle-income countries, Brown proposed an International Finance Facility to help close the global funding gap for education.

The facility could create $10 billion for education investments through guarantees from donor countries which are leveraged by development banks. Guarantees, which help protect investors from the risk of non-payment, enables development banks such as the World Bank to mobilize more resources and transform them into affordable financing packages for developing countries who often cannot afford loans.

“By using the money more effectively, we can achieve much more,” Brown told IPS, adding that the mechanism could guarantee universal education within a generation.

In order to access the facility’s resources and further increase education aid, developing countries will have to raise their education outcomes to the level of the top 25 percent best performing countries. The proposal also requires developing countries to increase their own investments in education to 5.8 percent of their national income.

The proposed funding mechanism is similar to that of the International Finance Facility for Immunization which successfully turned government pledges into funding that provided vaccinations to millions of people.

Brown also stressed the need to better protect children against human rights violations more generally, pointing to the examples of the 2014 abduction of 270 girls from school in northern Nigeria and the recent suspected chemical gas attack in Syria which left almost 20 children dead.

He announced the creation of an inquiry that will assess existing international laws and enforcement mechanisms, including the case for an International Children’s Court to protect children’s rights.

“We have these abuses and these exploitations that show something more has got to be done to protect the rights of children,” Brown told IPS.

The Education Commission, headed by Gordon Brown, comprises of political, business, and civil society leaders from around the world who have joined to advocate for increased funding for global education efforts.

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Malala Yousafzai Becomes UN’s Youngest Messenger of Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/#comments Mon, 10 Apr 2017 20:51:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149896 Malala Yousafszai with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Malala Yousafszai with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2017 (IPS)

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai has become the youngest UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education.

During a designation ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres selected and honoured Yousafzai as the organisation’s Messenger of Peace.

“You are the symbol of one of the most important causes of the world…and that is education for all,” said Guterres.

“Admiring your courageous defense of the rights of all people including women and girls to education and equality [and] honoring the fact that you have shown, even in the face of grave danger, the unwavering commitment to peace…it takes great pride and pleasure in proclaiming Malala Yousafzai a United Nations Messenger of Peace,” he continued.
"I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” -- Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, 19, became a symbol for the fight for girls’ education after being shot in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2012 for opposing Taliban restrictions on female education. She has since become a global human rights leader, becoming the the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founding the Malala Fund to raise awareness of the millions of girls without access to formal education.

“I stood here on this stage almost three and a half years ago…and I told the world that education is a basic human right of every girl…I stand here again today and say the same thing: education is the right of every child and especially for girls, this right should not be neglected,” Yousafzai said upon accepting the role.

Over 130 million girls are out of school today. Girls often lack access to education because they have to work, care for younger siblings, or are married early. Many also face violence, posing additional barriers for school attendance.

Beyond issues of education, Yousafzai has also been an outspoken advocate on issues of conflict and refugees.

On the escalation of violence in Syria, she stated: “To the children under siege in Aleppo, I pray that you will get out safely. I pray that you will grow up strong, go to school and see peace in your country some day. But prayers are not enough. We must act. The international community must do everything they can to end to this inhumane war.”

Most recently, Yousafzai condemned the U.S. executive order banning people from several Muslim-majority countries, writing that she is “heartbroken” and asking President Donald Trump to not turn his back on families fleeing violence and war.

“I’m a Muslim and I’m proud to be a Muslim… I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” she said during the designation ceremony.

Both Yousafzai and Guterres noted the challenges that refugee families face in camps.

Worldwide, approximately 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education. The gap widens as children grow older with 22 percent having access to secondary education and less than 1 percent with access to universities. In Lebanon alone, only half of Syrian refugee children can go to school.

“This shows how little the international community is doing to educate refugee children,” said Guterres.

“It is our responsibility, especially in the richest countries, to express our solidarity to all those who unfortunately cannot provide to their children the education they have the right to receive,” he continude.

The Malala Fund helps fund schools around the world, including education programs in the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan.

Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from various fields by the Secretary-General, to help raise awareness on the work of the UN. Others Messengers of Peace include U.S. actor Leonardo Di Caprio, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and U.S. singer Stevie Wonder.

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How a Devastating Hurricane Led to St. Vincent’s First Sustainability Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school/#comments Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:02:08 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149709 Director of Richmond Vale Academy in St. Vincent Stina Herberg explains how compost is produced using vegetation, cardboard, and animal droppings. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Director of Richmond Vale Academy in St. Vincent Stina Herberg explains how compost is produced using vegetation, cardboard, and animal droppings. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 30 2017 (IPS)

In the 1980s, an institution for troubled Danish youth and a vocational school for Vincentians was built in Richmond Vale, an agricultural district on the northwestern tip of St. Vincent.

It was hoped that spending time at Richmond Vale Academy would help the Danish youth to see the world from a different perspective. However, for a number of reasons, the concept didn’t pan out, the school closed and a farm was developed in its place.“It was both emotional and scary to hear these huge trees drop...That was a very big eye-opener for me.” --Stina Herberg, director of Richmond Vale Academy

In 2000, the first attempts were made to re-start the academy, which has been in full operation since 2007. Today, Richmond Vale Academy attracts young people from around the world who are troubled by poverty and what is going on with the Earth’s climate and want to do something about it.

The not-for-profit institution had previously focused mainly on poverty alleviation, with an emphasis on service in Africa. However, in 2010, Hurricane Tomas — the latest recorded tropical cyclone on a calendar year to strike the Windward Islands — passed to the north of St. Vincent, where the academy is located, and St. Lucia.

“That was a very big eye-opener for me,” Stina Herberg, director of Richmond Vale Academy, told IPS. “We were, of course, very worried but that was my very first meeting with climate change, I would say.”

The storm, which impacted St. Vincent on Oct. 30, left hundreds of homes without roofs, and, in addition to significant damage to homes and public infrastructure, destroyed about 90 per cent of banana cultivation, then an important crop for the local economy.

At Richmond Vale Academy, Herberg, her staff and their students listened as the tropical cyclone destroyed huge, decades-old trees. “It was both emotional and scary to hear these huge trees drop: you would hear it, like you put matches up and they just came down.”

The academy’s banana cultivation, which had taken three years to get to the point where it met the standards necessary for exportation to England, was also ruined.

“Three years of work was destroyed in seven hours,” Herberg said of the impact on the academy, adding, “but for other farmers, it was their lifetime’s work.

“So that caused us to ask a lot of questions. Yes, there were always hurricanes, but why are they more frequent? So it set us off to do a lot more research about climate change, about pollution, and we got a lot of eye-opening experiences.”

The research led to the St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference 2012-2021, which aims to make St. Vincent and the Grenadines one of the first nations to become “climate compliant”.

The programme brings together local students as well as students from Europe, North America, South America, other parts of the Caribbean and Asia for programmes of one, three or six months duration, in which they learn about global warming, its causes and consequences.

The programme offers firsthand knowledge, as students can go directly into the nearby communities such as the village of Fitz Hughes or the town of Chateaubelair to see the impact on housing, public infrastructure, and the physical environment of severe weather events resulting from climate change.

However, the major focus of the programme is on “climate compliance”, which might be more frequently referred to as adaptation measures.

“Because if you going to talk about getting ready for climate change, if you are not doing it yourself, if you are going to tell people ‘I think it is a good idea to go organic. It is good for the soil, to plant trees’ — if you are not doing it for yourself, when you are speaking to other people it will be less effective,” Herberg said.

The academy has developed models and used its own farm to demonstrate ways in which the population can move away from carbon-based fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.

For example, the academy set up a bio-gas facility that shows that mixing 1.5 kilogrammes of kitchen waste with 50 litres of water can produce fuel for five hours a day in a country where liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is the main fuel used for cooking.

“It is suitable as a model that can be used by families in villages,” Herberg said of the academy’s biogas facility.

“We cannot make hydropower plants, we cannot build geothermal power plants. Governments have a variety of plans for that, so we have to see what can we do. We are promoting solar, and also the biogas,” she said, adding that Richmond Vale Academy has secured funding to set up five biogas facilities in western St. Vincent.

“So, it mitigates because it is a renewable gas and you can produce it yourself. You don’t need transport from China or Venezuela or from the United States or wherever.”

The biogas production process results in slurry that can be used as fertilizer. “The important thing is that people know there are alternatives. I don’t think we can get everybody on biogas. I doubt that. But what is important is that we open up and say these are the options,” Herberg explains.

While potable water is almost always available on St. Vincent Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a water-stressed country as there are no rivers and no municipal supply of water in the Grenadines, an archipelago.

However, even on St. Vincent Island, with its rivers, streams, and springs, the dry season, which runs from December to May, can be especially punishing for farmers, only 7 per cent of whom have irrigation.

Richmond Vale Academy has developed a system for collecting rainwater for washing, showers, and toilets. The excess water from this system collects in a reservoir and is used for irrigation. Small fish are placed in the catchment to prevent mosquitos from breeding in it.

Further, the academy has, over the years, phased out chemical fertilizers from its farm. In explaining the link between organic farming and mitigating against climate change, Herberg tells IPS that as the climate changes, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is expected to have more periods without rain, and when the rains come, they are expected to be heavier over shorter periods.

Most of the nation’s farmers are still engaged in mono-cropping and use chemical fertilizer in their production. “The chemicals break down the soil structure, so it gets sandy, it gets dry, so then when you get some rain and the rain is heavier, it just washes away the soil,” Herberg said, adding that this leads to flooding and landslides.

“So, the way that we are farming, it is very dangerous for the future. If you look at the big picture of biodiversity, the planet’s biodiversity is what’s keeping the temperature [stable]. If you take away the biodiversity by making cities, chopping down the rainforest, whatever we decide to do to change the balance of nature, we cannot maintain a stable temperature,” she said.

She also spoke about deforestation to convert lands to agricultural and houses use. “We need to have trees that will give us shade, we need to have trees to shelter us from the heavy rains, so the farming has to change for us to get ready to live with climate change. We have to change the way we farm. Monocropping has no future.”

An important part of any discussion about adapting to climate change is the extent to which actions that have proven successful can be multiplied and scaled up.

“I’m quite optimistic and I think that St. Vincent, as it is a small country, it is easy to get around. There is consensus that we need to be more sustainable and go organic and focus on renewable energy. And I actually think that it is going to happen: that we are going to get geothermal energy, improve our hydro stations and then more people will get on to solar. So we will be one of the first countries in the Caribbean that will be nearly everything on renewable energy within a very reasonable time – maybe 10 years,” Herberg predicted.

She added that while Costa Rica is ahead of the region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a good example in the 15-member Caribbean Community of what can be done to adapt to and mitigate against climate change. “We are not ahead in organic agriculture yet,” she said, but added that there are “some outstanding examples”.

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A Special Learning Journey Cut Shorthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-special-learning-journey-cut-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-special-learning-journey-cut-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-special-learning-journey-cut-short/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 20:08:14 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149706

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds issued by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, Malawi, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

When building a house, it’s critical to lay a strong foundation. The same applies to education, with studies showing that children who attend early learning centers perform better in school than those who do not.

In Malawi, a 2003 national survey found that only 18.8 percent of school-age children with disabilities were attending class. More than twice as many of the same age group without disabilities (41.1 percent) attended school. This was mainly attributed to the lack of a disability-friendly environment."Since many children come from poor families, parents are often faced with the dilemma of choosing which child to send to secondary school, bearing in mind that the one with difficulties needs special care." --teacher Miriam Chimtengo

More parents are now sending their young ones to such special preschools, some as little as two years old. This kind of early intervention is especially critical for children with learning disabilities such as autism.

Most autistic children are diagnosed late in Malawi due to the lack of specialist doctors and caregivers, but also failure by their parents, guardians and teachers to recognize that the child has learning difficulties.

James Botolo* lives in one of the suburbs of Blantyre and has a 10-year-old autistic son named Chikondi*.

“For so long, we never could figure out what was wrong with our son. Of course he didn’t like to play with his siblings at home and times he could talk to himself but we never thought it was anything. But what mainly bothered us was that he never did well in school, so we kept moving him from one private school to another. One day I met someone who alerted me that my son could have a learning problem,” he said.

Autistic children often lack socialization skills, are hyperactive, struggle to pay attention and sometimes react to things by crying or hurting themselves.

Chikondi is now in standard two at the St. Pius X Resource Centre, a school for children with physical and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, dyslexia, epilepsy, hearing impairment, and blindness.

Currently in Malawi, there are over 40 resource learning centers for children with various disabilities.

Miriam Chimtengo, 41, is a specialist teacher at St. Pius X, where she teaches a class of about 27 students (16 full time).

Chimtengo, who holds a diploma in Special Needs Education, told IPS that there are major gaps in the social support system for the families of children with learning challenges.

Even though we’re laying this good foundation for the children, for most of them their education does not go further. The parents bring the children to us here at primary school where they will start noticing the changes, but after the child finishes standard 8, they just keep them at home…so all this work at the grassroots level is not sustained.”

According to Chimtengo, there are limited resources for a child with learning difficulties to further their education.

“Since many children come from poor families, parents are often faced with the dilemma of choosing which child to send to secondary school, bearing in mind that the one with difficulties needs special care, special learning materials, full supervision and assistance, which might be hard to provide,” she said.

“Some parents also believe they can better take care of their child alone at home than at school where they will not be around to protect their child.”

Chimtengo said that those with physical disabilities such as visual impairments, deafness and limited limb mobility are more likely to go further in school than children with mental/emotional issues such as autism.

The other contributing factor is that there are no free services for poor families who wish to send their mentally challenged children to behavioral therapy. Only physiotherapy is free in government hospitals and at SOS Villages.

“For example, here in my class I have children whom upon assessment we recommended that they go for therapy, but only those parents who are financially better off have put up their kids in therapy…we have been lobbying with the government to make links with such specialists so that they are available for all children regardless of their financial standing,”

This scenario automatically puts a child with a learning disability at a disadvantage to later further their education or secure a job.

There are limited spaces offered to youth with disabilities in national vocational training schools in Malawi. They only take in a certain number, which is far below the actual population in need.

In other private vocational training facilities, the prerequisite for entry is a Malawi School Certificate of Education-MSCE (equivalent to a high school diploma), which many children with mental disabilities find hard to earn.

The Living Conditions study of 2013 found that many youths with various disabilities were frustrated with the large gap in the provision of vocational training services, as well as some other services such as welfare, assistive devices and counseling.

In 2015, the government launched a program called Community Technical Colleges aimed at helping poor children, including those with disabilities and lacking high school diplomas, gain access to tertiary education.

International experts on autism advise parents with learning difficulties to take a leading role to ensure that their child secures some form of employment.

The website Autism Speaks says it is important to encourage the child to network at community and family events to meet potential employers.

“Encourage your son or daughter to think about their hopes, dreams, interests and strengths as a way to start planning for employment. One of the most valuable resources for adults with autism is peer support and mentoring.”

The other challenge in educating children with special needs in Malawi is lack of specialists both in the education and health sectors. For the whole of the commercial capital Blantyre, there is only one neurological doctor who sees patients twice a week at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

There are many special education teachers, but are scattered across the country.

“Literature says that one special needs teacher should attend to five kids. But because of the increase of children, we’re teaching more than that. This is challenging because different disabilities have different needs,” said Chimtengo, the special needs teacher at St Pius X.

“It means in one lesson I should try to capture all the needs of every student, which takes a lot of time and effort. Our colleagues in the normal classes teach a class, but for us we teach individuals who need to be taught the things repetitively. We call it repetition and drilling,” she said.

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France Hosts Major Exhibition on Jamaican Musichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/france-hosts-major-exhibition-on-jamaican-music/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=france-hosts-major-exhibition-on-jamaican-music http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/france-hosts-major-exhibition-on-jamaican-music/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:26:16 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149695 Danny Coxson (left) and Sébastien Carayol. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Danny Coxson (left) and Sébastien Carayol. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

It’s one of those movie-like spring days in Paris, where blue skies and brilliant sunshine lift spirits after a long, wet, grey winter. Many people are outdoors trying to catch the rays, but Jamaican artist Danny Coxson is not among them.  He’s inside a museum in a northeastern neighbourhood of the French capital, with a brush in his hand and tubs of vivid paint beside him, focusing on finishing a portrait of a deejay named Big Youth.

Coxson’s artwork – colourful and precise renditions of Jamaica’s best known musicians – is the “common thread” that links the vast range of items on display in Jamaica Jamaica!, France’s first major exhibition on the history and impact of Jamaican music.

Raised in Trench Town, like Bob Marley, 55-year-old Coxson has been painting since he was a young man, but he says he didn’t take it seriously until he was in his early thirties, when he lost three fingers through a machete incident in 1991. Since then, he has devoted his career to painting murals of Jamaica’s singers, producers and sound engineers, holding his paintbrush in the remaining fingers of his right hand.

Through a grant from the Institut français cultural agency, Coxson has been artist-in-residence in Paris since February, painting murals and portraits for the massive exhibition. On this day, he’s an island of calm in the museum, as workers rush around, finalizing the display for the public opening on April 4.

“This exhibition is a good thing for us Jamaicans,” Coxson tells IPS. “But we have to wake up about our own culture because sometimes we don’t value it enough. And look at how people come from so far and take it up.”

Jamaica Jamaica!, France’s first major exhibition on the history and impact of Jamaican music. Credit:  A.D. McKenzie

Jamaica Jamaica! is France’s first major exhibition on the history and impact of Jamaican music. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Jamaican music and artistic production have contributed greatly to the island’s cultural and economic development, but this is sometimes overlooked, Coxson says. Artists like him don’t receive enough official support, but perhaps the international spotlight will lead to greater local recognition of the role the arts play in development.

The Jamaica Jamaica! show is being held at the Philharmonie de Paris, a cultural institution at Paris’ immense Cité de la Musique complex. The Philharmonie focuses on music in all its forms and comprises state-of-the-art auditoriums, exhibition spaces, and practise rooms. It had long wanted to host an exhibition about Jamaican music, says Marion Challier, exhibition project manager.

“But we wanted to show the culture as well as the music and to show that Jamaican music is an important part of the history of the Black Atlantic,” she tells IPS. “There are so many stereotypes about the music and so many stigmas attached and we wanted to go beyond that.”

For the organizers, including curator Sébastien Carayol, it was important to show the African roots of the music and to shine a spotlight on its early forms, such as kumina and mento, as well as on ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall. “It was essential for us that the exhibition wasn’t just about Bob Marley,” Challier says.

Items about Jamaica’s most famous musician and his band The Wailers naturally form a significant part of the exhibition, but the show delves into the island’s “complex history” and the role that music has played throughout.

According to the organizers, “The branches of Jamaican music reach as widely as those of jazz or blues, and its roots dig deep into the days of slavery, tracing back to traditional forms of song and dance inherited from the colonisation of the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Still, “what many people don’t know is that since the 1950s, inventions in Jamaican music – born out of the ‘do-it-yourself’ ingenuity pulsing through the ghettos of Kingston – have laid the foundations for most modern-day urban musical genres, giving rise to such fixtures of todayʼs musical lingo as ‘DJ’, ‘sound system’, ‘remix’, ‘dub’, etc.”

The Philharmonie adds that: “Jamaican music is anything but one-dimensional. Often placed under the heading ‘World Music’, it is so popular around the globe that it could be called the ‘World’s Music’”.

Carayol, the curator, says that a particular interest for him was to show the “legendary sound systems” that have been an intrinsic part of 20th-century Jamaican culture. The exhibition has assembled original “sound-system” speakers dating from the 1950s and 1960s, for instance. Many of these had been discarded, and it was thanks to collectors who “rescued” them that they can now be displayed.

In fact, one huge speaker box was being used as a bench in somebody’s yard when a collector from the United Kingdom spotted it and managed to get it renovated, according to Carayol. It’s currently back in working order.

These sound systems lend themselves to the interactive nature of parts of the exhibition. Visitors are invited, for instance, to take a stint as the “selector”, to spin records, “turn up the volume and feel” their own sound “delivered by a world-class sound system custom built by sonic master Paul Axis”.

In other spaces, visitors get to learn about the famed Alpha Boys School, where orphans or other disadvantaged youth were groomed to become musicians at an institution run by Roman Catholic nuns in Kingston.

“This exhibition is a good thing for us Jamaicans but we have to wake up about our own culture because sometimes we don’t value it enough. And look at how people come from so far and take it up.”
The School has had its own band since the 1890s, and its alumni have influenced the development of both ska and reggae, according to historians. The four founding members of the Skatalites group (Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore and Lester Sterling) were “Alpha boys”, and the exhibition includes a vibrant mural of the group – painted by Coxson.

“These young men overcame their beginnings and became truly proficient musicians,” says Carayol. “That story is very important to me. It’s a universal story.”

The School will have tee-shirts on sale to raise funds for its continued operation, following fears that it would have to be closed in the future.

Jamaica Jamaica! also includes paintings of personalities often mentioned in reggae lyrics, such as Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, and visitors can listen to records that mention these political figures.

“Through installation, artwork, recordings, film – we’re trying to explain who everyone is,” says Carayol.

Asked why he, a Frenchman, was the curator of the exhibition, Carayol said the “simple” reason was: “You spend three years writing a project and it has to be written in French.”

Beyond that he has the “interest and the expertise,” he said, having spent years researching and directing films about the music. “The last thing I want is to be an outsider looking in and telling Jamaican people about themselves. I’m here for them to teach us and not the other way around. That’s my main focus,” he told IPS.

For Jamaicans who lived through the turbulent 1970s, an aspect of the exhibition that will strike a particular chord is the connection between the music and politics, and this is presented in a number of ways. There are the songs that came out of that period, the film footage, and iconic photographs of the famed One Love Peace Concert, when Marley tried to bring together warring factions aligned with politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.

The so-called “rod of correction” used by then prime minister Manley is on display too. Manley gained support from the island’s Rastafarian community partly by claiming that Haile Selassie had given him this rod, or walking stick. And though that claim was later debunked, the “rod” remains the stuff of legend.

Both Manley and Marley are depicted in artwork throughout the exhibition, in paintings by some of Jamaica’s most celebrated artists, including the late Barrington Watson. Many pieces are on loan from the National Gallery of Jamaica and from private collectors on the island and in the United States and Britain.

“One of the big surprises was learning about the art,” Carayol says. “It’s an evocation of the music, and I want to show these artists to people who don’t know about them.”

The expected 150,000 visitors probably won’t forget Coxson, as his paintings of the island’s musicians and of renowned Jamaican poet Louise Bennett put these personalities resolutely centre stage. (ENDS)

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Free Education Helps Combat Child Labour in Fijihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji/#comments Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:02:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149603 Many Pacific Island states, including Papua New Guinea, have introduced free education policies resulting in primary school enrolments surging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many Pacific Island states, including Papua New Guinea, have introduced free education policies resulting in primary school enrolments surging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

In the South Pacific nation of Fiji, free and compulsory education, introduced three years ago, in association with better awareness and child protection measures, is helping to reduce children’s vulnerability to harmful and hazardous forms of work.

But eliminating child labour, which is also prevalent in other Pacific Island states, such as Papua New Guinea and Samoa, is dependent on growing decent remunerated work and reducing inequality as well.“Because of the level of poverty, particularly in settlement areas, there are a ton of children on the streets who are not engaged in education, they are not in school.” --Reverend Ronald Brown

“The introduction of free education in Fiji has dramatically reduced the problem of child labour,” a spokesperson for Fiji’s Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, told IPS, with the number of reported child labour cases falling from 64 in 2011 to five last year.

The government’s education initiative is supported by other measures, such as increased staff capacity in the Ministry of Employment to carry out thousands of inspections for child labour and enforce labour regulation compliance. And in 2015 a toll free helpline was set up for members of the public, including children, to report any form of child labour, abuse or neglect.

However, Fay Volatabu, General Secretary of Fiji’s National Council of Women, told IPS that, while she recognized the government’s good initiatives, “children still sell pastries and doormats when we go shopping at night and that should be rest or homework time. Yet no-one is sending them home or checking up on their parents and taking them to task for still making their children work.”

Studies conducted in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) by the International Labour Organization (ILO) during the past decade identified poverty and financial difficulties as the major driving factors of child labour with children engaged in street vending, begging and scavenging and young girls vulnerable to prostitution and domestic servitude.

More than 60 percent of children surveyed on the streets in both countries were involved in hazardous work, such as carrying heavy loads and handling scrap metal, while 6.8 percent in Fiji and 43 percent in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital, were trapped in commercial sexual exploitation. A study of 1,611 children in Fiji in 2009 drew a correlation between students dropping out of school and the prevalence of child workers, with 65 percent of the latter not in education.

Lack of economic growth, high unemployment and low wages are major factors contributing to poverty in the region with only two of 14 Pacific Island Forum countries, Cook Islands and Niue, achieving MDG 1, the reduction of poverty. The size of households is also a factor with the hardship rate rising in Fiji from zero for a family with one child to 44 percent for a family of three or more children, reports the World Bank. For many poorer families the costs of schooling are prohibitive and sending children out to work is a way of surviving and meeting basic needs.

The value of education to human and economic development, well understood by Pacific Island governments, has been the impetus for free education being implemented in numerous countries, such as Fiji, PNG, Tonga, Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands, and compulsory education in some.

In 2012 the PNG Government removed tuition fees for students in Elementary Prep to Grade 10 and subsidized education for those in late secondary years 11-12. However, while enrolment figures have surged, Reverend Ronald Brown, Chief Executive Officer of City Mission PNG, a Christian non-profit social welfare organization, told IPS that children were still highly visible in the capital selling small goods, such as betelnut and cigarettes, particularly near informal settlements.

“Because of the level of poverty, particularly in settlement areas, there are a ton of children on the streets who are not engaged in education, they are not in school,” Reverend Brown said.

He continued that “the issue is also that there are hidden costs in every school. Many schools charge project fees, which can amount to K50 (15 dollars) per child and up. There is also the purchase of uniforms, which are extremely expensive.”

Both PNG and Fiji have ratified the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182). Yet City Mission PNG is seeing increasing numbers of trafficked minors.

“We are dealing with more and more children, young girls who are being internally trafficked into prostitution. In 2012, we had about 20-25 women and children in our Crisis Support Centre, now there are 50,” Reverend Brown said. Although he acknowledged it was unclear if the rise in statistics was due to a real increase in cases or wider awareness of the issue.

Fiji, which, together with PNG, participated in the TACKLE project, a joint program by the European Union, ACP Secretariat and ILO to combat child labour through education-related initiatives from 2008-2013, has been rolling out awareness in urban and rural communities in a bid to grapple with the issue at the grassroots.

“So far a total of 200 teachers and 50 police officers together with 150 community leaders and farmers have been trained in the area of child labour and the importance of sending children to school through the free education program,” the Ministry of Employment spokesperson said.

But, even with increased numbers of children accessing primary education, the retention of students to the completion of secondary school remains low in some Pacific Island countries, while many are unable to provide adequate jobs for those who graduate.

An estimated 57 percent of enrolled primary students in PNG complete the last grade, while only 12.5 percent of the estimated 80,000 annual school leavers secure formal employment. In Fiji up to 94 percent of primary level students make the transition to secondary level, but unemployment among youth remains a challenge at 18.2 percent in 2015, according to ILO data.

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New Recipe for School Meals Programmes in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-recipe-for-school-meals-programmes-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:51:52 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149606 Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, speaks as a panelist during the Mar. 20-22 “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” meeting in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/ IPS

Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, speaks as a panelist during the Mar. 20-22 “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” meeting in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/ IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Sunita Daniel remembers what the school lunch programmes were like in her Caribbean island nation, Saint Lucía, until a couple of years ago: meals made of processed foods and imported products, and little integration with the surrounding communities.

This changed after Daniel, then head of planning in the Agriculture Ministry, visited Brazil in 2014 and learned about that country’s school meals system, which prioritises a balanced, healthy diet and the participation of family famers in each town.

“I went back to the government and said: This is a good example of what we can do,” said Daniel.

Today, the small island state puts a priority on purchasing from local producers, especially family farmers, and is working on improving the diet offered to schoolchildren.

Saint Lucia is not unique. A new generation of school meals programme that combine healthy diets, public purchases of products from local farmers, and social integration with local communities is transforming school lunchrooms and communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The model followed by these projects is Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme, which has taken shape over recent years and is now at the heart of a regional project, supported by the Brazilian government.

Currently, the regional initiative is seeking to strengthen school meal programmes in 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries, through triangular South-South cooperation that receives the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Delegates from the countries participating in the project, and representatives of the FAO and the Brazilian government, met Mar. 20-22 in the Costa Rican capital to take part in the “School feeding as a strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, and share their experiences.

“This kind of workshop strengthens everyone – the Brazilian programme itself, countries and governments,” said Najla Veloso, regional coordinator of the project for Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin American and the Caribbean. “It works as a feedback system, to inspire change.”

Brazil’s system focuses on guaranteeing continuous school feeding coverage with quality food. The menus are based on food produced by local farmers and school gardens.

In Brazil, “we’re talking about offering healthy food every day of the school year, in combination with dietary and nutritional education and purchases from family farmers,” Veloso told IPS during the three-day meeting.

In Brazil, a country of 208 million people, more than 41 million students eat at least one meal a day at school, said Veloso, thanks to coordination between the federal government and state and municipal authorities.

“This does not exist in any other country in the world,” said the Brazilian expert.

Students at a school in an indigenous village in western Honduras work in the school garden, where they learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Since 2016 Honduras has a law regulating a new generation oschool meals programme, which focuses on a healthy diet and serves fresh food from local family farmers and school gardens. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students at a school in an indigenous village in western Honduras work in the school garden, where they learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Since 2016 Honduras has a law regulating a new generation oschool meals programme, which focuses on a healthy diet and serves fresh food from local family farmers and school gardens. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Taking Brazil’s successful programme as a model, the regional technical cooperation project was launched in 2009 in five countries, a number that climbed to 17. At the present time, 13 new-generation projects are receiving support as part of the regional initiative, which is to end this year.

According to Veloso, more than 68 million schoolchildren in the region, besides the children in Brazil, have benefited from the innovative feeding programmes, which have also boosted ties between communities and local farmers.

Today, the project is operating in Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucía, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The project has had varied results and has followed different formats in each country, as shown by the delegates who shared their experiences in San José.

In the case of Saint Lucía, for example, the authorities forged an alliance with the private sector to raise funds and provide food to between 8,000 and 9,000 schoolchildren aged five to 12, said Daniel.

In Honduras, grassroots participation enabled cooperation between the communities, the municipal authorities and the schools, Joselino Pacheco, the head of the School Lunch programme, described during the meeting.

“We didn’t have a law on school feeding until last year, but that didn’t stop us because our work comes from the grassroots,” the Honduran delegate said.

The law, which went into effect in September 2016, built on the experience of a government programme founded in 1998, and is backed up by social organisations that support the process and which are in turn supported by the regional project, Pacheco told IPS.

Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, like Honduras, have specific laws to regulate school feeding programmes.

In the case of Costa Rica, the country already had a broad school meals programme, so the authorities decided to focus on expanding its capacities by including innovative elements of the new generation of initiatives aimed at achieving food security.

“A programme has been in place since 2015 to open school lunchrooms during the mid-term break and at the beginning and the end of the school year,” said Costa Rica’s first lady, Mercedes Peñas, a renowned expert in municipal development.

A pilot plan in 2015 was carried out in 121 school lunchrooms in the 75 most vulnerable districts. By 2016 the number of participating schools had expanded and 200,000 meals were served in the first 40 days of the school year.

This is spending that not only produces short-term results, improving nutrition among schoolchildren, but also has an impact on public health for decades, said Ricardo Rapallo, technical coordinator of FAO’s Hunger-Free Mesoamérica programme.

“If we don’t work on creating healthy eating habits among children, it is more difficult to change them later,” said Rapallo.

School meals programmes are essential in achieving economic, social and environmental development in Latin America, the speakers agreed, describing school feeding as a fundamental component for achieving several of the 17 SDGs, which have a 2030 deadline.

“The experience of a school feeding programme, together with a programme for public purchases from family farmers, makes the 2030 agenda possible,” said Tito Díaz, FAO subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica, during one of the meeting’s panels.

Daniel described one inspirational case. In Belle Vue, a town in southwestern Saint Lucía, the school lunchroom inspired women in the community to start their own garden.

“They came and said, what can we provide. And a lot of their children went to the school,” said Daniel, who is now director of the school meals programme in Saint Lucía and a liaison on the issue between FAO and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The school set up a daycare center for toddlers and preschoolers so the local mothers could work in the garden. As a result, some 30 mothers now earn a fixed income.

Veloso explained that although the programme is due to close this year, they are studying what needs and opportunities exist, to decide whether to launch a second phase.

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Menstrual Hygiene Project Keeps Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:06:09 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149583 Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Breaking taboos surrounding menstruation, a project to distribute sanitary napkins to girls in one district of Bangladesh has had a positive impact on school dropout rates – and should be replicated in other parts of the country, experts say.

“In Bangladesh, girls neither get enough support from their families nor their teachers in school during this difficult time, and their problems intensify and multiply as they cannot share anything out of shame,” Dr. Safura Khatun, a consultant at Mithapukur Health Complex in Bangladesh’s northern district of Rangpur, told the IPS on the sidelines of a five-day workshop.“There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.” --Dr Dilara Begum

Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency, in collaboration with News Network, a non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, organised the workshop titled ‘Empowering Girls and Young Women Through Healthcare and Hygiene Support’ in Mithapukur sub-district on March 12-16, 2017.

Fifty teachers and students from 50 schools, colleges and madrasahs in Mithapukur joined the workshop.

“This is simply indescribable what a traumatic situation girls in Bangladesh society undergo for lack of understanding and care by families and schools. A small support during their monthly period may make a big difference in their everyday life, including education. But sharing of this still prevails as a taboo in our society, affecting the girls’ natural flourishing of their bodies and minds,” said Dr. Safura.

She stressed the importance of incorporating healthcare and hygiene issues in school curricula so that girl students may be aware of the necessary actions at the right time and overcome the shyness in sharing those with parents.

“Girls are definitely reluctant to share their physical issues and problems with their parents …this has to be changed,” she said.

Echoing Dr. Safura, another consultant, Dr. Sabiha Nazneen Poppy of Badarganj Health Complex, also in Mithapukur, said prejudice and family-level restrictions complicate girls’ physical problems, which ultimately hamper their education. “So, we need to give  serious attention to the problems girls face during their menstruation.”

If the girls are left on their own at this stage, Dr Sabiha said, they might complicate their physical problems, causing infections and inviting diseases using unhygienic homemade sanitary pads. “Spreading awareness is essential. So is the support.”

Thus was born the organisation ‘Labonya’, which means ‘beautiful’. Launched in 1998, Labonya has been distributing free sanitary napkins among secondary school students in Mithapukur, an initiative that has proven very effective, thanks to Mithapukur parliament member HN Ashequr Rahman.

“I’ve been noticing since the early 1990s that many girls in Mithapukur skip their classes for nearly a week every month during their menstruation,” Rahman said. “This hampers their academic activities and leads to dropout in many cases.”

“In 1998, I collected data about girl students of the schools in my constituency and found an alarming picture that 90 percent female students have virtually no idea about menstrual hygiene and this is the underlying reason why so many girls drop out,” he told IPS.

The lawmaker said they were not only dropping out but also suffering from various diseases stemming from using dirty clothes and other unhealthy means to manage their menstruation.

Rahman said they started providing sanitary napkins among 25,000 students – from 7th to 12th grade – in all schools of Mithapukur. “Though we couldn’t provide the sanitary napkins every month for lack of funds, the project continued intermittently until 2001. It was suspended after the change of government following the national election in that year,” he explained.

When the current government took office in 2009, he said, he put the project back in place again, changing the scenario in Mithapukur, a sub-district which has about 500 educational institutions.

According to Rahman, the dropout rate of female students has been substantially reduced in the area with the growing awareness among students about the menstrual hygiene. “They now don’t skip classes during their menstruation. They’re also doing well in examinations.”

He said they will continue the project for another three years to make female students aware of how to manage menstrual hygiene with dignity.

Currently, ‘Labonno’ is providing around 28,500 students with a packet containing five sanitary napkins every month.

Rehana Ashequr Rahman, the head of ‘Labonya’ project, said, “If women remain sick, they cannot properly carry on their studies and they don’t have confidence to stand on their own feet. To help overcome lack of knowledge and awareness and change poor sanitary conditions prompted us to launch the project.

“Today’s girls are tomorrow’s mothers. If we can’t ensure their good health, the future generation will be at stake,” said Rehana, also the Vice-Chair of the Red Crescent Society. “This hands on and practical project should be scaled up all over Bangladesh.”

Mahmuda Nasrin, 40, a teacher of Balua High School in Mithapukur, impressed by the project, said, “It’s a very good project as it makes girls aware about their health and hygiene and explain how to share things overcoming all the prejudices.”

Mishrat Jahan Mim, 16, a tenth grader of Shalaipur High School, Nur-e-Jannat, 18, a twelfth grader of Balar Haat Adarsha Degree College and Irene Akhter, an eighth grader of Shalaipur High School said the project has changed their mindset about some taboos surrounding girl’s health and hygiene.

Speaking at one session of the workshop on March 15, Dr Dilara Begum, the librarian of East West University in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, told the girls: “There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.”

She urged the teachers to work together to break prejudices that a wife cannot sleep with her husband during her menstruation and touch anyone while praying. “We need to make people aware and share the realities of life and its cycle to build a beautiful society taking women along,” she told the audience.

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370 Million Children Eat Healthy Food at School, Every Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/370-million-children-eat-healthy-food-at-school-every-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=370-million-children-eat-healthy-food-at-school-every-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/370-million-children-eat-healthy-food-at-school-every-day/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2017 13:36:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149361 Every day around 370 million children around the world are fed at school through school meals programmes. Credit: FAO

Every day around 370 million children around the world are fed at school through school meals programmes. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 10 2017 (IPS)

Every day some 370 million children around the world are fed at school, while learning about healthy food and nutrition through school meals programmes that also help boost attendance, the United Nations reports.

Each programme is different: beans and rice in Madagascar, spicy lentils in the Philippines, vegetable pastries and fruit in Jordan. In some countries it may be a healthy snack, or it could include take-home food such as vitamin A-enriched oil for the whole family, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) informs.

“School meals have proved successful in providing educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children… they boost school attendance, and a full stomach can help students concentrate on their lessons.“

According to FAO, communities, particularly in rural areas, also benefit when family farmers and small and medium enterprises are the main source of healthy food for the schools.

Marking the International School Meals Day on March 9, the UN specialised agency believes that consistent global investments in school meals will lead to a generation of children who develop healthy eating habits and who benefit from a diverse diet.

Governments invest in school meals because they are a powerful tool in efforts to reach Zero Hunger, helping to ensure every child has access to education, health and nutrition. Credit: WFP

Governments invest in school meals because they are a powerful tool in efforts to reach Zero Hunger, helping to ensure every child has access to education, health and nutrition. Credit: WFP

The UN body promotes school meals in a range of ways including technical support to governments on sustainable agriculture, food safety and standards, support to family farmers to grow surplus harvests to sell to schools, public procurement regulations, nutritional and food guidelines and nutrition education activities.

This month, FAO jointly presented the Home-Grown School Feeding Resource Framework, together with partners including the World Food Programme (WFP).

The framework supports governments through the process of policy formulation, implementation and evaluation of school meals programmes.

It also brings together the technical expertise of different stakeholders in a programmatic and coherent way to be easily accessed by countries requesting technical assistance.

Purchase from Africa for Africa

In Africa, the Purchase from Africans for Africa (PAA Africa) programme is modelled on Brazil’s achievements in fighting hunger and poverty, and is helping promote local agricultural production and school meals.

During the programme’s second phase, around 16,000 family farmers were able to sell 2,700 tons of food for school meals for around 37,000 students, FAO reports.

The school is an ideal setting for teaching basic skills in food, nutrition and health, says the UN agency. In many communities, schools may be the only place where children acquire these important life skills.

Among many tools, growing and preparing garden food at school can be instrumental. Combined with diversified school meals and nutrition education, it increases children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables, it adds.

This food and nutrition education is an essential element in the prevention and control of diet-related health problems. FAO provides technical assistance for integrating food and nutrition education in the primary school curriculum.

Meals provide an added incentive for parents to send their children to school. Credit: FAO

Meals provide an added incentive for parents to send their children to school. Credit: FAO


It also supports schools to ensure that all foods, meals and snacks available at school are nutritionally adequate and appropriate for the school-age child.

The UN specialised body gives two examples of case studies.

Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2009, a school-feeding programme based on the National School Feeding Programme of Brazil was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Through inter-sectoral policy and legal mechanisms, it developed actions for food and nutrition education, and encouraged purchases for the programmes to be made from local farming families.

In 2013, a study conducted in eight of the participating countries, surveying a territory encompassing 18 million students, showed that the programmes not only promote school attendance and bolster the learning process, but also increase the income of the community’s farmers.

Cape Verde

In Cape Verde, the school meals programme was introduced by the UN in 1979, and the government took ownership in 2010.

Since then FAO has worked with the government and other UN agencies to diversify the school meals by linking local farmers to the procurement process to increase the supply of local fruit, vegetables, beans and fish to school canteens.

Around 9000 primary school students benefited from this initiative, as did local farmers and fishers who had an assured market.

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Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:05:19 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149284 Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama - a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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These Women Cannot Celebrate Their Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:18:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149132 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds that IPS is launching on the occasion of this year's International Women’s Day on March 8.]]> Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

This is a story that one would wish to never have to write—the story of hundreds of millions of life-givers whose production and productivity have systematically been ‘quantified’ in much detailed statistics, but whose abnegation, human suffering and denial of rights are subject to just words.

It is the story of those women who witness their children die while fleeing wars, or are kidnapped to sell their organs, or recruited as child soldiers.

It is the story of those women who fall prey to human traffickers and are sold as sexual slaves. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.)

And it is the story of those women and girls who become victims of abhorrent violence by their male relatives; whose rights as workers are routinely abused by their employers, and are even killed by their partners. (In some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes, according to UN Women).

It is the story of millions of young girls who are forced into inhumane early marriage and pregnancy; of those who are subjected to female genital mutilation. (The UN recognises this practice as a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence–Female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that endure for a lifetime and can even be fatal, reminds the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.)

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

Africa and the Arab region are among those areas where FGM is commonly practised. (The African Union concludes that it is an excruciatingly painful practice that violates basic human rights).

Its impact on young girls and women is multi-faceted and touches various aspects of their lives, including their physical, psychological and social well-being, with scars lingering on for the rest of their lives.

It is the story of millions of girls who have no access to education, and when they have it, most of them flee school because of the lack of sanitary services. (A study by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) covering the years spanning 2009 to 2014 reports thousands of attacks against schools in at least 70 different countries, many of which were targeted for advocating girls’ education.)

It is the story of nearly two-thirds of world’s inhabitants who suffer from lack of proper access to reproductive and maternity health care services. (The UN Population Fund stresses that universal access to reproductive health affects and is affected by many aspects of life. It involves individuals’ most intimate relationships, including negotiation and decision-making within these relationships, and interactions with health providers regarding contraceptive methods and options.)

Credit: UNODC

Credit: UNODC

It is also the story of very young girls who are abducted by terror groups to brutally satiate their sexual appetites and blackmailing, such as has been the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

And it is the story of those indigenous women who care for whatever remains of their lands, which guard 80 per cent of world’s biodiversity, but whose rights and ancestral knowledge are ignored and even disdained.

It is the story of those women farmers who produce up to 80 per cent of food but have no right to own their land, to agricultural inputs, resources or small credits.

And of those millions of domestic workers whose rights were lately acknowledged – though not sufficiently applied.

And it is the story of a flagrant growing inequality. (OXFAM estimates that, at current trend, it will take women 170 years to be paid the same as men are…Let alone the fact that half of world’s health is in the pockets of just eight individuals—all of them men).

This year’s International Women’s Day will be marked on March 8 under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50by 2030”.

The United Nations says that it will be “a time to reflect on progress made, to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the long awaited goals of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”

The world body has set some key targets of that 2030 Agenda:

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

• End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

• Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

• Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The United Nations also notes that the world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. “We have globalisation, technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring, and on the other hand, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.”

All these words and good wishes sound great.

Yet International Women’s Day will represent, above all, another slap in the face of humankind who is still unable (unwilling?) to duly, effectively honour those who gave them life.

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No Hidden Figures: Success Stories Can Help Girls’ STEM Careershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 06:24:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148885 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women]]>

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

What makes a young girl believe she is less intelligent and capable than a boy? And what happens when those children face the ‘hard’ subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? A recent study, ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’ showed that by the age of 6, girls were already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Research tells us repeatedly that girls and boys are strongly influenced in the development of their thinking and sense of themselves by narratives and stereotypes that start to be learnt at home and continue at school and through life, reinforced by the images and the roles they see in advertising, in films, books and news stories. 

So, how do we change this, and what should girls learn now that sets them up to thrive in a transformed labour market of the future? The answer is not simply more and better STEM subject teaching. They must also learn that girls have an equal place in that future. This isn’t a given. A major and underestimated obstacle for girls in STEM is the stereotype that has been created and perpetuated that boys are better at these subjects and careers.

Not only do we have to ensure that children enter and stay in education, we must equally pay close attention to what they are learning. The changing future of jobs means that fields of study for children now in school should include equipping them for ‘new collar’ jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Jobs that do not exist today may be common within the next 20 years, in the green economy, or areas like robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genomics.

The media plays a powerful role in biases, with the power through effective storytelling to reinforce negative perceptions and norms or to set the record straight and create new role models. ‘Hidden Figures’, Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, that tells the ‘untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race’ is now released as a film and brings recognition to those who were doubly invisible at NASA—as women and as black women. Making accomplished women scientists visible is important for the accuracy of news and of history. It is also an essential part of building further scientific success.

Census data in the United States of America shows that women comprise 39 per cent of chemists and material scientists, and 28 per cent of environmental scientists and geoscientists. These are not the equal proportions that we ultimately want—but they are far higher levels of success in science than fiction tells us. Alarmingly, best-selling movies have tended to significantly underrepresent the facts. A 2015 global study supported by UN Women showed that, of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12 per cent were women.  This tells us that women are still hidden figures in science—and it has a chilling effect on girls’ ambitions.

According to a 2016 Girl-guiding survey, fewer than one in ten girls aged 7 to 10 in the UK said they would choose a career as an engineer or scientist. Un-learning this bias and changing the stereotypes is not a simple matter, yet it’s essential if we are to see boys and girls able to compete on a more equal footing for the jobs of the future. This goes hand in hand with the practical programmes that teach immediately relevant skills.

UN Women is working with partners around the world to close the gender digital gap. For example, in Moldova, GirlsGoIT teaches girls digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and specifically promotes positive role models through video; similarly in Kenya and South Africa, 20 Mozilla Clubs for women and girls teach basic coding and digital literacy skills in safe spaces.

We need to deliberately and urgently un-stereotype the ecosystems in which children play, learn and grow up. Across the world, in schools, at home, in the work place and through the stories we tell—we all need to reflect and enable a world where girls can thrive in science, so that their success becomes as probable as they are capable.

*This article is being published in advance of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, 11 February

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Stop worrying about ‘Doing Business’ rankinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 12:28:49 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148273 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking?  Credit: IPS

Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Without any hint of irony, the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business Report 2017 promises ‘Equal Opportunity for All’. Bangladesh ranked 176th among 190 economies, below civil war-ravaged Iraq and Syria! Bangladesh even slipped two places from 174 in the 2016 ranking and is three places below its 2015 ranking.

Malaysia, too, slipped five places. The Doing Business Report (DBR) 2017 ranked Malaysia at 23, down from 18 in the previous two reports for 2015 and 2016. Incredibly, this had nothing to do with news of the biggest scandal ever in the country’s history.

Malaysia seems to have slipped because, it had “made starting a business more difficult by requiring that companies with an annual revenue of more than MYR 500,000 register as a GST payer,” and made tax payments more complex “by replacing sales tax with GST”.

Previously, Malaysia was recognized in DBR 2016 for reducing the property tax rate from 12% to 10% of the annual rental value for commercial properties in 2014, even though this contributed negatively to overall government revenue or public finance.

Thus, ‘be damned if you do, and be damned if you don’t’. Countries are asked to raise domestic revenue, but stand to slip in their rankings if they act to raise tax revenues. Taxation may reduce the incentive to invest, but low tax revenue would also hurt the business environment if it reduces government revenue needed to finance public infrastructure, education, healthcare and business services.

Rankings

Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Should those doing better be elated about their elevation in the rankings? The simple answer is ‘no’, but it really depends.

What do the rankings imply? How does the World Bank compare countries with very different economic structures at different stages of development and with varied capabilities address very diverse problems? By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale.

This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel. It concluded that “The Doing Business report has the potential to be misinterpreted…. It should not be viewed as providing a one-size-fits-all template for development…. The evidence in favour of specific country reforms is contingent on many auxiliary factors not captured by Doing Business report topics.”

By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale. This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
The panel also noted that “the act of ranking countries may appear devoid of value judgement, but it is, in reality, an arbitrary method of summarising vast amounts of complex information as a single number.” It recommended dropping the overall aggregate ranking from the report.

The independent panel had been set up by the Bank in response to heavy criticism of the DBR. Yet, the Bank has chosen to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations, especially to drop overall country rankings.

In response to criticisms of overall country ranking, the Bank added a ‘distance to frontier’ measure. Thus, instead of the ordinal measures used for ranking, the ostensible (cardinal) ‘distance’ from the best performance measure for each indicator became the new basis for ranking.

Yet, it does not address the main concern – heterogeneous countries cannot be ranked mechanically. Thus, not surprisingly, the best performers are rich, developed countries.

Ignoring criticisms

Besides the external panel, the World Bank also ignored much of its own internal review. For example, its legal unit has been uneasy about the DBR process and findings.

The unit’s September 2012 internal review of the 2013 DBR questioned the ranking’s ‘manipulation’ and noted the ‘embedded policy preferences’ underlying some indicators. It went so far as to accuse the DBR of bias as it ‘tends to ignore the positive effects of regulation’.

For example, the ‘starting a business’ indicator uses the limited liability corporate form as the only ‘proxy’ for business creation. The legal unit considered this approach ‘deceptive’ as there is no evidence that easing “company formation rules leads to increases in business creation”.

The Bank’s legal unit also argued that the DBR methodology is seriously flawed, highlighting ‘black box’ data gaps, ‘cherry picking’ background papers, and ‘double counting’. The legal team even asked, “are high income the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries placed higher in the Doing Business rankings because they have implemented the (types of) reforms advocated by the report?” In its 26 September 2015 issue, The Economist, usually a cheerleader for pro-business reforms, argued that the DBR ranking did not provide a reliable guide to investors.

Countries have perversely amended regulations to try to improve their ranking in order to impress donors or prospective foreign investors, rather than to actually increase investments and growth. Countries are also likely to do more to favour foreign investments, rather than domestic investments, which are generally more likely to contribute to sustainable development.

Biases

The DBR survey is generally biased against regulations and taxes. Following earlier criticisms, ease of hiring and firing workers and flexibility of working hours are no longer used in the overall ranking, but nonetheless remain in the report, highlighting the authors’ appreciation of such regulations. Conversely, the DBR continues to look unfavourably on a country which seeks to enhance workplace regulations by improving wages, working conditions or occupational safety, or by allowing workers in export processing zones to unionize.

Surprisingly, the DBR does not cover security, corruption, market size, financial stability, infrastructure, skills and other important elements often deemed important for attracting business investments. Moreover, many DBR indicators are considered to be quite superficial. For example, the survey’s credit market indicator does not reflect how well credit is allocated. Similarly, the DBR survey focuses on how difficult it is to get electricity connected without taking into account the state of electricity generation or distribution, which often depends on a country’s level of development.

The DBR approach is very ‘legalistic’ as it mainly looks at formal regulations without considering how such regulations affect SMEs or other investors besides the stereotypical foreign investor. It also ignores, norms and other institutions including extra-legal processes. For example, Mary Hallward-Driemeier of the World Bank and Lant Pritchett of Harvard compared the DBR with the Bank’s firm surveys. They found large gaps between the DBR report and reality.

They also found ‘almost zero correlation’ between DB findings and other Bank surveys of business enterprises. For instance, the average amount of time that companies report spending on three tasks — obtaining construction permits, getting operating licenses and importing goods — is ‘much, much less’ than those cited in the DBR. [http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.121]

Pritchett, who once worked for the Bank, has argued that developing country policy makers focusing on improving their DBR rankings could divert scarce resources away from more important and urgent reforms, e.g., to help the government better administer, implement and enforce business regulations.

“The pretense that Doing Business measures the real rules, and that if we just modestly improve these Doing Business indicators, they would somehow become the reality of what the rules are and how business is really done — I think that’s a very dangerous fiction.” [http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/08/04/is-the-world-banks-doing-business-report-at-odds-with-how-business-is-done-in-the-developing-world/].

In sum, the DBR assumes that there are universally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ policies regardless of context. This approach clearly misses the need for concrete analysis in specific contexts. Not surprisingly, the DBR continues to promote deregulation as the best strategy for promoting economic growth. To be fair, the Bank acknowledges that the DBR should not be seen as advocating a one-size-fits-all model, but the Bank’s own promotion and coverage of the report suggests otherwise.

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More of the Same: World Bank Doing Business Report Continues to Misleadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 14:36:10 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148216 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including  Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017, subtitled ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, continues to mislead despite the many criticisms, including from within, levelled against the Bank’s most widely read publication, and Bank management promises of reform for many years.

Its Foreword claims, “Evidence from 175 economies reveals that economies with more stringent entry regulations often experience higher levels of income inequality as measured by the Gini index.” But what is the evidence base for its strong claims, e.g., that “economies with more business-friendly regulations tend to have lower levels of income inequality”?

Closer examination suggests that the “evidence” is actually quite weak, and heavily influenced by countries closer to the ‘frontier’, mainly developed countries, most of which have long introduced egalitarian redistributive reforms reflected in taxation, employment and social welfare measures, and where inequality remains lower than in many developing countries.

The report notes that relations between DB scores and inequality ‘differ by regulatory area’. But it only mentions two, for ‘starting a business’ and for ‘resolving insolvency’. For both, higher DB scores are associated with less inequality, but has nothing to say on other DB indicators.

Other studies — by the OECD, IMF, ADB and the United Nations — negatively correlate inequality and the tax/GDP ratio. Higher taxes enable governments to spend more on public health, education and social protection, and are associated with higher government social expenditure/GDP ratios and lower inequality. The DBR’s total tax rate indicator awards the highest scores to countries with the lowest tax rates and other contributions (such as for social security) required of businesses.

Bias
The DBR’s bias to deregulation is very clear. First, despite the weak empirical evidence and the fallacy of claiming causation from mere association, it makes a strong general claim that less regulation reduces inequality. Second, in its selective reporting, the DBR fails to report on many correlations not convenient for its purpose, namely advocacy of particular policies in line with its own ideology.

The World Bank had suspended the DBR’s labour indicator in 2009 after objections — by labour, governments and the ILO — to its deployment to pressure countries to weaken worker protections. But its push for labour market deregulation continues. For example, Tanzania’s score is cut in 2017 for introducing a workers’ compensation tariff to be paid by employers while Malta is penalized for increasing the maximum social security contribution to be paid by employers.

New Zealand beat Singapore to take first place in the latest DBR rankings following reforms reducing employers’ contributions to worker accident compensation. Nothing is said about how it has become a prime location for ‘money-laundering’ ‘shell’ companies.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Belarus, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — eight of DB 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ –– have recorded poor and, in some cases, worsening workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. A DBR 2017 annex claims that labour market regulation can ‘reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion’, but devotes far more space to promoting fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

In support of its claim of adverse impacts of labour regulations, DBR 2017 cites three World Bank studies from several years ago. Incredibly, it does not mention the extensive review of empirical studies in the Bank’s more recent flagship World Development Report 2013: Jobs, which found that “most estimates of the impacts [of labour regulations] on employment levels tend to be insignificant or modest”.

DBR 2017 adds gender components to its three indicator sets — starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts — concluding: “For the most part, the formal regulatory environment as measured by Doing Business does not differentiate procedures according to the gender of the business owner. The addition of gender components to three separate indicators has a small impact on each of them and therefore a small impact overall”.

Should anyone be surprised by the DBR’s conclusion? It ignores the fact that the policies promoted by the Bank especially adversely affect women workers who tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid, least unionized jobs, e.g., in garments and apparel production or electronics assembly. The DBR also discourages regulations improving working conditions, e.g., for equal pay and maternity benefits.

Despite its ostensible commitment to ‘equal opportunities for all’, the DBR cannot conceal its intent and bias, giving higher scores to countries that favour corporate profits over citizens’, especially workers’ interests, and national efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Sadly, many developing country governments still bend over backwards to impress the World Bank with reforms to improve their DBR rankings. This obsession with performing well in the Bank’s ‘beauty contest’ has taken a heavy toll on workers, farmers and the world’s poor — the majority of whom are women — who bear the burden of DBR-induced reforms, despite its proclaimed concerns for inequality, gender equity and ‘equal opportunities for all’.

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Why Achieving Sdg Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth Is Critical for Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:06:07 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148146 Ms. Mary Kawar is the Director of the ILO Office based in Tanzania and covering Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]> UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 9 2016 (IPS)

In Kenya the Gini coefficient of inequality is at around 0.45%. Therefore, the economic growth statistics present an unequivocal picture of a highly unequal society, whose development strategy is largely leading to accumulation of wealth by a few and worsening the poverty of the majority.

Consider just two statistics behind the picture: according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, individuals in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties. Also, a household in Nairobi is 36 times more likely to have electricity for lighting compared with those in Tana River.

Without doubt, Kenya’s race towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an agenda whose most notable tang of inclusivity is underscored by the now well-known phrase of ‘leaving no one behind’, is going to need the resilience of its world-beating athletes.

The global SDGs agenda is a platform that aims to meet the greatest challenges of our times, with a dedicated focus on every person and the planet and a noble vision of eradicating poverty by 2030.

With an increasing youthful population, Africa stands at a special place in the Agenda, considering that much of the rest of the world population is ageing. Today’s youth will be key to any sustainable development strategies, thus the need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate in the global economy.

It is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year. In Kenya, a million youth enter the job market each year, but only one-fifth are absorbed.

Unfortunately, among those who are ‘employed’ are millions who are working but not earning. It has been reported that about 43% of the country’s youth are either unemployed or working yet living in poverty

It is this phenomenon that has given rise to the agitation for “Decent Work”, which means opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and which delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families.

A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

This is why SDG Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth is of critical importance for Kenya. There is a need to ensure inclusive equitable economic growth hand in hand with the creation of decent and sustainable jobs. For several years now Kenya has been experiencing exceptional economic growth rates, even above the sub Saharan Africa average. Yet, not enough jobs have been created to absorb the new entrants and informality remains rampant rendering job quality as low.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is found more commonly in higher income countries – and Kenya is no longer a low income country but a middle income one with an annual per capita income of almost $3,000 at purchasing power parity.

Educated unemployment is also more commonly found in countries where advances in education exceed those in the economy. Production techniques change slower than the aspirations of the fast increasing Kenyan middle class fuelled by rising incomes (recently 6 percent annually) and increases in education attainment at all levels.

In other words, Kenya is at a crossroads with economic and employment patterns similar to middle and higher income countries. Yet remaining on the agenda are the high income and regional disparities which need to be addressed.

This attention is clearly called for in the country’s Constitution. For instance, clause 201 states that the public finance system is to promote an equitable society in that revenue raised nationally shall be shared equally between national and county governments, and expenditures will be oriented towards addressing the needs of marginalised groups and regions.

One way of ensuring the attainment of Decent Work for all is through improved labour market governance. Pertinent agenda include the laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour. Labour market governance goes hand in hand with fair working conditions as one of the essential requirements of decent work.

This includes decent wages, hours of work, rest and leave periods, adequate social security, freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, and an absence of discrimination, or child labour. While those in the formal economy may have access to this many in the informal still do not.

Kenya has the potential to be one of Africa’s great success stories for economic growth and the attainment of SDG 8 by 2030: it has a growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, a dynamic and progressive new constitution and a pivotal role in Africa.

President Kenyatta in an address to Kenya’s youth said. “You are my partners in remaking Kenya – and my Government’s programmes reflect my faith in you,”

Addressing challenges of poverty, inequality, labour market governance, labour productivity to achieve rapid, inclusive sustained growth with decent jobs will not only transform lives of ordinary citizens, but make Kenya an economic powerhouse.

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The United Nations Volunteer: From Global To Localhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:04:17 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148083 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya ]]> George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where  he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for  UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

Today 05 December is International Volunteer Day, and every year we recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to peace and development.

Consider this. George Gachie has been serving as a national United Nations Volunteer (UNV) with UN-Habitat for over three years. He grew up in the Kibera Slums – a challenging environment, where young people have very few opportunities and early pregnancy, school dropout, organized gangs, crime, diseases and drug abuse are common. In order to make it out of this situation one had to be smart. But as George himself put it during a recent UNV Blue-Room Talks event in Nairobi, ‘I am happy because it is volunteerism that got me out of the situation’.

In an acknowledgement of the expected role of the youth in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, volunteerism has now been recognized as a key driver in the development space. For Kenya, this is particularly apt given the large number of youth graduating every year but who find only limited employment opportunities.

Volunteerism is offering not only a chance to contribute to social development and a sense of self-worth, it also provides them with priceless lessons that sets them up for entering the job market and setting a foundation for their career.

The United Nations Volunteer programme has for many years delivered social services across a range of sectors. Today, the UNV Kenya programme remains one of largest UNV operations in the world, with 148 national and 47 International serving UN Volunteers. Kenya also contributes the largest number of UN Volunteers serving abroad, a testimony to the country’s commitment to humanitarian action and development.

Studies show that engaging in volunteerism from a young age helps people take their first steps towards long-term involvement in development. It is thus a perfect avenue to address the oft-repeated lament by corporate employers that the education system does not prepare students for the job market.

In that sense, volunteering is not just a way to get more numbers to ‘get the job done’, but a transformative opportunity for people from all walks of life, and a two-way exchange between the volunteer and the people they work with. By creating a sense of cohesion, reciprocity and solidarity within society, volunteering builds social capital, because it converts individual action into collective response directed towards a social end.

Volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution globally. It’s generally estimated that volunteers contribute an average of $400 billion to the global economy annually.

UNDP’s Administrator Ms Helen Clark has spoken about “ the tremendous impact UN Volunteers are making within the UN system. In implementing the SDGs, UNDP will continue to see volunteers as catalysts for change who amplify citizens’ voices and facilitate participation so that development can be truly people-centred”.

The impact of a volunteerism programme must be felt at the local level by building the capacity of people, including the marginalized, and should make the governance process more participatory and inclusive.

UNV has a strong track record of getting development results. In Kenya, UNV supported a neighborhood volunteer scheme to help ensure peaceful elections in 2013.

UN volunteers, including data analysts, planners, legal assistants and communication experts are deployed in 35 out of the 47 counties in the country, bringing critical capacity to the devolution process in Kenya.

In addition, 25 national and international UN Volunteers are engaged to support the humanitarian challenges on refugees in the country and well over 50 volunteers support operations of the United Nations Environment Program at its headquarters in Nairobi.

Having seen the contribution of volunteers, we can confidently vouch for community-based volunteering structures in all counties, to not only provide gainful occupation for Kenya’s youth, but to give them greater voice and participation in decision-making.

On the occasion of this year’s International Volunteer Day, the UN is committed to working with the Kenyan Government to integrate the concepts of volunteerism into development programming.

This can be done through various modalities, including facilitating volunteer schemes that target the contributions or integration of particular groups. Another area that holds great potential in advancing the course of volunteerism includes documentation of the various dimensions of volunteer involvement including its impacts on marginalized groups.

Volunteerism can be a powerful wind in our sails as we seek to achieve the SDGs and advance human development in Kenya.

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Unleashing Africa Full Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unleashing-africas-full-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:22:37 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148058 Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.]]>

Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

Africa, the cradle of mankind and home to the youngest population in the world, has a historic opportunity to realise its full potential, in sharing our potential prosperity, by enhancing economic growth, promoting and entrenching democratic ideals. That is why I am so passionate to be running for the coveted African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

It is time for the African Union to provide leadership. Africans of all walks of life are looking up to it. I also strongly believe our continent is at a turning point, a defining moment, when we must drive an agenda that realises a common vision of integration, cooperation, collaboration and committed leadership. It is Africa’s time; we cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity to put it at the centre stage of world politics and economics while improving the lot of our people and countries.

We already have a sound blueprint going forward as envisaged in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – TThe Africa We Want.

This blueprint has a clear roadmap for implementation. One of the critical areas is achieving synergy of member States through collaboration among the eight regional economic groupings and AU’s strategic partners.

Africa’s markets must communicate with each other to harness trade and investment. Infrastructure deficit stands as an impediment towards this objective. We must secure seamless connectivity through people-to-people interactions, ICT and knowledge transfer throughout the Continent. Hard infrastructure development should also be reinforced by more intra-Africa rail, road, air and water linkages.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said: “Together, we the people of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states’. It is no longer tenable to keep talking of our great potential. It is time to make the African Continent; felt, heard and respected on the global scene. For this to happen, Africa must take greater responsibility of financing its development and programmes. Such has been the agreement by our Finance and Planning Ministers since March, 2015. Domestic resource mobilisation is the assured strategic complement to foreign investment and official development assistance. Focused leadership at the AUC will guarantee that this decision is fully implemented.

In order to increase the financial resources available internally, industrialisation and diversification remain pertinent. More specifically, we need to harness our blue economy and fast-track the mining industry.

Africa has to build the capacity of our youthful population. In 2015, African Youth aged 15 – 24 years accounted for 19 percent of the global youth poppulation and projected to increase by 42 percent by 2030. This is a demographic dividend to Africa’s prosperity. Women must also be fully enabled to play an inclusive role in all spheres of Africa’s development. Tapping into African talent will be the hallmark of my tenure. The collective success to Agenda 2063 lies in creating an indomitable human force to resolve Africa’s challenges.

Every African citizen deserves a life of dignity free from harm, in order to promote social justice and the realization of their potential. I am optimistic that together we can continue to create a Continent that not only embodies our pride and dignity, but also the hub for peace and stability.

Africa must also make its cultural diversity a cause for celebration. Cultural exchange across the continent through education, travel and symposia. This will renew our Pan-African ideals especially among younger Africans.

Our continent has made significant strides in expanding access to education and better health care. In order to shelter our population from extreme want, we ought to explore skills diversification and universal health coverage.

Investing in value-addition through agro-processing will increase Africa’s global market share and attain collective food security and comparative advantage.

Going forward, we must remain in partnership with the rest of the world. Global challenges such as climate change will only be resolved through cooperation. However, Africa remains most vulnerable from effects of global warming. As such, we need to; take serious mitigation and adaptation measures, utilise indigenous knowledge to generate local shared solutions and build resilient communities in addition to our continued demands for climate justice.

Thus, united by the vision of an independent Africa working for better lives of all her people, it is now time for the AUC to foster the realisation of Africa’s full potential through transformative leadership harnessed by the AUC Secretariat.

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Students Under Siege as Schools Burn in India’s Troubled Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:15:55 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147897 Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand in the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KULGAM, Kashmir, India, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

In the fading light of a November afternoon, 12-year-old Mariya Sareer bends over a textbook, trying to read as much as she can before it gets dark. It’s been nearly five months since the seventh grader from Shurat, a village 70 kms south of Srinagar city, last went to school, thanks to a raging political conflict.

“Studying like this is hard. I don’t know where to focus. My scores won’t be as good as before,” says the young student, who has always been top of her class. Her siblings Arjumand, 9, and Fazl, 6, both students at the same school, nod in agreement.Unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility.

Mariya is still luckier than many of her friends. Although her school – the Taleem-Ul-Islam Ahmadiyya Institute – has been closed for the past four and half months, the building is still standing. But for thousands of others, there will be no classrooms to return to when the shutdown ends because their schools have been destroyed in fires.

Burning down a generation’s future

Schools across Kashmir were closed for Eid ul Fitr, which was celebrated on July 6. They were expected to reopen soon after the festival. But violence erupted across the valley after Burhan Wani, a young militant, was gunned down by security forces on July 8. Amidst mass rallies, stone-throwing and renewed demands for “freedom” from India, the pro-separatist parties called for a total shutdown of the valley.

The shutdown effectively kept the valley’s 1.4 million students from returning to their classrooms.

A few weeks later, on Sep. 6, the first news of a school fire was reported in Mirhama village of Kulgam district. Soon, similar reports began to pour in from all over the valley. So far, nearly three dozen schools – both government-run and privately-owned – have been burnt down. A majority of these schools are in South Kashmir where Burhan Wani was killed.

One of them is the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam. The building was set on fire on the evening of Oct. 16 and although locals and police tried to douse the flames, the library, gymnasium, computers, laboratory and desks were destroyed. Locals allege that the arsonists wanted to prevent the school from reopening – a reason why they burnt the upper floor, instead of the ground floors that had little equipment.

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher at the school, says it was among the best in the district. “They are burning down the children’s future,” a visibly shaken Barkat told IPS.

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Surprisingly, unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility. Separatists and the government have both blamed each other, while some locals say they are the work of “fringe elements” in society who just want to cause disruptions. The police have made some arrests, but in each case, the accused has been identified as a “pro-separatist” without any clear link with any terror group.

With the increased cases of arson, the government has asked teachers to protect their schools during the nighttime hours. Accordingly, schools have created charts of teachers on “night duty”. Female teachers have been asked to send a male relative to patrol on their behalf.

Unease in a minority community

Basharat Ahmed Dar is the head of Asnoor, a village of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kulgam. In a state of long political turmoil, violence, murders and torture, this is a community campaigning for love, peace and harmony. Their unique principles have earned them global respect, as well as scorn from many, especially the radicals.

The community strongly advocates for education as a healthy path to progress and also runs five schools in South Kashmir. The schools – which admit both Ahmadiyya and non-Ahmadiyya students – are known for a high standard of education and superior infrastructure.

Since the shutdown began, the Ahmadiyya youths, including some of the teachers, have been guarding their schools to repel possible attacks and arson. The patrolling will continue until the snow begins to fall, says Dar.

“It has not rained here for several months, so everything is very dry and prone to catching fire. But once snowfall begins, setting fire will not be as easy,” he explained.

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

In Kashmir, a study year begins in April and ends in November- just before the three-month long winter vacation begins. The annual examinations are held in late October. However, this year, none of the schools could conduct the final examinations. With no signs of an end to the shutdown, government this week declared a mass promotion for students from first to ninth grade across the valley.

Private schools have decided to conduct examinations, even though they had completed only about 40 percent of the syllabus.

Farooq Ahmed Nengroo, a private school teacher, calls the mass promotions a “dangerous mistake.”

“In 2014 also, after a flood hit the valley, the students had a mass promotion although only two to three percent of all schools were affected. In future, we will definitely see a vacuum of knowledge and skills in the state’s labour force,” he warned.

High school students are also not pleased with the government decision. Ishfaq Ahmed, an eleventh grade student in Kulgam, says, “I had joined a coaching institute to prepare for the engineering college entrance test next year. But because of the shutdown, all the coaching institutes are closed. Unless those are allowed to function, nothing else is going to help.”

Meanwhile, Mariya Sareer is praying for an end to the shutdown and the burning of schools so she can get her life back. “I just want to return to school, study and play cricket,” she says.

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