Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:11:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 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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Children of the ‘Others’, Sons of Minor Godshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:23:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147885 UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

In December 1946, “faced with the reality of millions of children suffering daily deprivation in Europe after World War II,” the General Assembly of the United Nations created the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to mount urgent relief programmes.

In keeping with the ethos of the United Nations, UNICEF’s mandate was—and still is, to provide aid “without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.”

It is so that the sole condition made by Maurice Pate upon his appointment as the organisation’s first Executive Director was “that it include all children” from both Allied and “ex-enemy countries.”

Seventy years later, as Europe copes with a refugee crisis not seen since it was founded, the organisation remains an ever-present advocate for children’s rights, UNICEF reminds.

“It is uniquely positioned among humanitarian and development agencies to respond not only to the needs of children displaced by disaster and armed conflict, but also to work for a better future for all children.”

And in spite of the growing shortages of funds to the United Nations system at large, this New York-based organisation strives to alleviate the huge suffering of hundreds of millions of children trapped in wars, violence, abuse, exploitation, smuggling, sexual violations, trade of vital organs and death.

UNICEF believes that there is hope for every child. “The conviction that every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy, safe childhood is a constant threat through the history of the organisation. Its continued viability depends on applying past lessons learned to the challenges ahead, and harnessing the power of innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems. “

As envisioned by current executive director Anthony Lake, this will require a “willingness to adapt and find new ways to realise the rights and brighten the futures of the most disadvantaged children around the world.” “UNICEF understands that the spiral of poverty, disease and hunger stifles global development and leads to violations of children’s human rights.”

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

So far, so good. But not enough. Recent facts show the increasingly dramatic situation children face worldwide. UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report mentioned in July this year, some key findings:

16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

• The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.

• Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.

• Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

• Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.

Marking this year’s UN Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF Executive Director said “When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future.”

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Established on 20 November 1954, UN Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

20 November also marked the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

“[Children’s rights are] being violated around the world, in every country, wherever children are the victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, violated wherever they are deprived of an education.”

“[Their rights are violated] wherever they are denied the chance to make the most of their potential simply because of their race, their religion, their gender, their ethnic group, or because they are living with a disability,” he added.

Lake cautioned on the long-term impact of these violations in how children may view the world when they grow up and how they will perceive others’ rights when their own rights are violated.

“These children are the future leaders of their societies […] the future parents and protectors of the next generation.”

UNICEF’s total resources for the period 2014–2017 amount to 26,700.7 million dollars. Please consider that the world spends 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons.

In either case, these amounts come out of citizens’ pockets. Should they not choose whether their money should be spent to saving children or producing death machines that kill children, women and men?

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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Q&A: Bangladesh’s ‘Higher Trajectory of Development’ Not Easy but Achievablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:16:25 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147564 Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Oct 31 2016 (IPS)

Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, has made significant progress in its efforts to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty and promote social development, but it now faces certain challenges in consolidating these achievements and marching forward on the higher trajectory of development, says one of its leading economists.

The areas of challenge include inequality of various types (economic, social, rural-urban, gender), governance deficits, lack of effective focus on human dignity, rather sticky private investment, and ineffective coordination among agencies working on implementation of policies and plans."This is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life."

In an interview with IPS, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a public-sector apex development body working with over 200 Partner Organisations (POs) across Bangladesh, implementing programmes with focus on human development of the downtrodden, said the country has been able to reduce poverty by almost 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so.

But, the economist says, it will be harder for Bangladesh to address the remaining part of poverty, particularly hardcore poverty. Hence, more focused and coordinated efforts are needed to achieve the goal of eradicating extreme poverty within a reasonable time period.

He stressed the importance of pursuing an inclusive approach to promoting human development and human dignity instead of focusing too much on GDP. Dr Kholiquzzaman also says more committed actions are needed to check corruption and wastage to further accelerate development.

Pointing out that microcredit is an ‘ineffective formula’, he says the PKSF has shifted its focus from microcredit to the human being, providing both financial and non-financial services, including education and healthcare, training, managing climate change effects, social capital formation, skill development training, assistance in accessing appropriate technologies, market information, and assistance in marketing of products.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: These days, Bangladesh is acclaimed for its success on the socio-economic front. What role is PKSF playing in the country’s poverty alleviation process?

A. In recent years, Bangladesh has been making major strides in it socio-economic progress, which is recognised internationally. The PKSF makes its contribution to the process, given its mandate and abilities. The PKSF, established in 1990 by the government of Bangladesh as a not-for-profit organisation, works through Partner Organisations (POs) which are carefully selected non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It has now over 200 POs.

It has its presence in all the upazilas (sub-districts) of the country, with the number of families served being over 10 million (45-50 million people). The PKSF provides support not only in terms of credit, but also provides necessary non-financial services. In its Memorandum of Association, microcredit is not even mentioned. Education, health services, livelihood improvement, and employment generation are listed as the purposes of the PKSF.

Credit is mentioned, but that need not only be microcredit. Actually, we interpret it as being appropriate credit. The upper limit is now 12,800 dollars and the minimum is an amount for an ultra-poor family that it can purposefully use. Moreover, credit is now provided as part of a package that also includes skill training, access to technologies, and marketing assistance.

Q:  Some 20-22 lakh (2 to 2.2 million) young people are now entering the country’s job market every year. What role the PKSF is playing in creating jobs?

A: Bangladesh has before it a huge demographic dividend to realise as a large part of its population is young. To realise these dividends means that the huge young population should be educated and trained and enabled to participate effectively in the socio-economic transformation processes. So, the PKSF focuses on skill training and employment generation for youths.

The PKSF implements programmes of total household development, which include education, health services, skill training, sports for children, youth development, and caring for old-age people. In fact, this is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life.

Q: What are the major challenges Bangladesh faces in eliminating poverty further? How can it move fast to close the urban-rural divide in development?

A: Bangladesh has reduced poverty very significantly, reducing it by about 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so. It is now down to about 22 percent. Extreme poverty is now down to about 11.5 percent. In terms of numbers, still the poor account for over 36 million and extreme poor over 18 million. It may not be easy to eradicate the remaining part of extreme poverty as the circumstances of the people involved are highly constrained and different groups have different specific problems.

Among the extreme poor, there are certain groups which have been, by and large, bypassed by the significant socio-economic progress achieved: the dalit (so-called untouchables) and street cleaners, street children, female agricultural workers, hijras (transgender group), baggers, physically-challenged people, people living in haors and baors (wetlands), on riverbanks and in hills. These people have been left out; and it is not easy to address their problems as each group has different problems.

The government is evolving policies and programmes for these groups. The PKSF is also focusing on them, taking into account the needs of these various groups separately to address their specific problems.

Let me make a particular point here. Be it within the government or outside, there is a widespread concern about GDP growth in Bangladesh. In fact, this is very fashionable. International agencies such as the World Bank and ADB also join in. This conventional focus on GDP is not very useful from the point of view of inclusive development. Of course, growth of income is necessary. But, its distribution is crucial for inclusive and sustainable development. From this point of view, it is more useful to focus on the human being.

Q: Income inequality is now touted as a big challenge. How can Bangladesh address it?

A: The market economy has an inherent divisiveness as those who have money and access to technology and administration get more and more, depriving others of their legitimate shares, and accentuating disparity in the process. Disparity is measured in relation to income, consumption, and also wealth. In Bangladesh, income and consumption disparities are glaring; but these are not too bad here, considering that globally the richest one percent control half the world’s wealth and richest one percent of the population controls 40 percent of wealth in the USA.

We should focus, in particular, on people in rural Bangladesh. The rural economy is not only agricultural, but also non-agricultural sectors. And outside agriculture, there are lots of manufacturing and trading activities that are now emerging. If appropriate support is given to them, these will flourish.

Q: What needs to be done so women’s contributions are measured as economic activity and they feel that they are economic partners in the family and the community?

A: Women’s contributions to household economy and national economy come from their participation in formal and informal sectors, and performing household chores. Even those, who work outside home in formal or informal sectors, also take care of household chores. And women are also responsible for child rearing. The huge contribution made to the household economy in terms of not only housekeeping but also performing most of the post-harvest activities and often also agricultural field activities by women of farming families is not recognised as economic activity and, therefore, not valued in money terms.

This, I think, amounts to belittling women and their status. In fact, this is similar in the developing world in general. If women’s household level activities and their work in informal sectors are economically evaluated and added to national income, Bangladesh may already be a middle-income country.

Q: How do you look at discrimination against female workers in the RMG (readymade garment) sector?

A: As I said, they do double the work as they look after children, manage the kitchen, and perform other household chores and then work in offices, factories and other workplaces. Those women who work in RMG factories face many difficulties like unpleasant office and factory environments as, in many cases, there is no separate toilet and no separate common room for them.

When it comes to wages, there is discrimination as well. Even when they do the same work as their male counterparts, they are paid less. And at the decision-making level across the sectors, the number of women is still very small. Sexual harassment is another difficulty they face at workplaces. Media can play an important role in helping resolve the issues by highlighting them again and again.

Q: Has there been any international replication of the PKSF model?

A: Our current model is not properly replicated yet by any country. Earlier, the concept of an apex body for microfinance was replicated in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and some other countries to channel funds for microfinance. Now, some countries and organisations are showing interest in the new PKSF approach.

The OIC Secretary General, in one of his visits to Bangladesh, was briefed about the PKSF and its people-focused, multidimensional integrated approach to poverty eradication and sustainable development. He showed interest in our approach. Some African countries also want to replicate it. The PKSF also has collaborative activities with Vietnam and China.

Q: How do you asses IFAD’s poverty alleviation strategy in Bangladesh and PKSF’s partnership with it?

A: The PKSF is working with IFAD for enterprise development through value and supply chain interventions. The main focus of a project with IFAD that the PKSF is implementing is on agricultural commercialization. The outcomes are income generating and poverty alleviating ones. These interventions are boosting productivity and production as well as employment in such activities as milch cow fattening, quality shoe production in rural setting, improved method of prawn production, dragon fruit production, and crab hatchery.

It may be pointed out that the PKSF, being a government-established Foundation, cannot receive money directly from any source, including UN agencies such as IFAD. Projects like this one with IFAD comes to PKSF via the government of Bangladesh. Of course, the PKSF participates in the negotiations.

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Student Struggle in South Africa Gains Momentumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/student-struggle-in-south-africa-gains-momentum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=student-struggle-in-south-africa-gains-momentum http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/student-struggle-in-south-africa-gains-momentum/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:45 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147453 Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

By Desmond Latham
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

When #FeesMustFall began to trend on social media platforms in South Africa in October 2015, government shrugged it off as an example of isolated hotheads, while political pundits predicted the student campaign wouldn’t last.

But a year later and the protest movement has gained traction across the country, with all major tertiary institutions partly shut down or barely functioning, and civil society warning that the effect on various sectors of the economy will carry over to 2017.Black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

In the latest action, hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday, Oct. 20, and called on government to take their complaints about the high cost of education seriously.

The University of the Witwatersrand student movement began in 2015 when students shut down the campus on the eve of exams after it was announced that fees would increase by 10.5 percent in 2016, citing the weak rand which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015 as one of the main reasons.

Since then protestors have taken aim at government as well as their local institutions and have called for action against the ruling African National Congress after its leaders told the country’s parliament this week that education could not be “a free for all”.

Posters emerged of students calling for the ruling party to “Fxxx Off” and the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be fired. Speaking to media on Oct. 14, Nzimande said government could not afford free education demands.

“In South Africa it is the taxpayers who give you money up-front and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others,” he said. “Somebody is paying… So we must understand these slogans properly.”

Students have rejected this view and mediation between the students and state by church and other NGO’s has failed so far. South Africa spends 5.4 percent of its 100-billion-dollar budget on education, and earlier in 2016 allocated an additional 1.1 billion for higher education over the next three years, with 400 million specifically aimed at keeping fees for tertiary institutions as low as possible. However, this has failed to address the students’ demands.

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

The call for education to be free comes as South Africa’s economy flounders and its currency, the rand, lost a third of its value against the U.S. dollar. The country’s high youth unemployment rate of over 45 percent has exacerbated the problem, while South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world in terms of the rich/poor divide.

The Wits Student Representative Council warned that its members can no longer afford the tuition fees and early memoranda included the demand for free education, the scrapping of registration fees and for all security forces to vacate the university campus.

But arson has been reported at the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, Cape Town University and a host of other small campus around South Africa. End of year exams have been affected and the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences has suspended its academic year.

An impasse has now developed, with government saying it can’t allow unruly elements to destroy property and stepping up the number of police patrolling these venues.

Students have long led the struggle for change in the country. The most famous example is the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid linked to Afrikaans being used in education. Twenty-two years after democracy, students once again are making themselves heard and are focusing on higher education.

While making up around 80 percent of the population, black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

But the protest movement has gained impetus in recent months and government has been largely unable to cope with the increased violence associated with the uprising. South African police officers have also claimed that criminals have infiltrated the protest movement, with a few to cashing in on the chaos.

‘‘It is evident that criminality has taken advantage of young people in the universities under the disguise of the #FeesMustFall initiative,” said police chief Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Oct. 6, although he provided no substantive proof to back up this view.

The state has also hardened its attitude toward the students, and succeeded in having former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamimi denied bail during a court hearing on Oct. 19 in Johannesburg. He’s charged with malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after footage emerged of Dlamini allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He’s also accused of ignoring a previous court order obtained by Wits University to restrain students from disrupting normal activity.

The protest has turned more violent with a security guard battling for his life after being beaten by youths in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg the head of the local Fees Must Fall organisation, Shaeera Kalla, was rushed to hospital on Oct. 20 after being shot numerous times with rubber bullets.

Soon after, Kalla thanked supporters on her Facebook page and vowed: “Even as we sit in hospital beds and others languish in prisons, I take strength from students across the country who are continuing the fight. Onwards and Upwards. Towards the immediate realisation of free, quality and decolonized education now.”

In a statement earlier in the week, the Wits SRC warned that “as the days go on, the brutality against students and repression at our universities continues to increase. Since Friday night, the levels of violence at Wits University have increased. Students, regardless of their involvement in the protest action, are being violated in ways we thought were unimaginable in a post-apartheid South Africa.”

The students have called on members of the public to denounce “the apartheid tactics that are being used, to speak out against the violations and brutality” while reiterating that their call for “free, quality, equal and decolonized education” was a legitimate one.

Civil society leaders, including the Council of Churches, have been mediating between the two sides and continue to try to solve what is now being called an impasse.

An inter-ministerial committee on university fees was set up by government but it initially only included the Higher Education Minister and leaders of the security cluster managed by President Jacob Zuma.

Finally, on Thursday, following the upsurge in violence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was added to the list, which is regarded as a crucial step in order for the state to approach international donors of the bond market in order to find cash to cover student demands.

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Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Strawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147205 Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unsg-sab/

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Community Conversations in Ethiopia Prevents Exploitative Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:30:44 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147048 Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.]]>

Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.

By UN Women
Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Five years ago, when Meliya Gumi’s two daughters, Gifty* and Chaltu,* aged 16 and 18, migrated to Dubai and Qatar respectively, as domestic workers, everyone thought they were moving towards a better future. As a widowed mother of eight with little resources, living in the village of Haro Kunta in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Gumi had a difficult time making ends meet.

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Gumi’s daughters made it to their destination countries through illegal brokers, but found themselves trapped in poor working conditions with no benefits or protection. They send some money to Gumi every now and then, which supplements her meagre income.

“My wish is to see my daughters come back home safe and I would never want them to leave again, as long as they have some income to survive on,” says Gumi, who is now one of the 22 active participants of the “Community Conversations” initiative in her village, supported by UN Women and International Labour Organization (ILO). The Community Conversations aim to prevent “irregular migration”—exploitative or illegal migration, including smuggling and trafficking of workers, mainly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries [1]—by providing information and making the community aware of the risks. The initiative also raises awareness about the ILO Convention 189, namely the Domestic Workers Convention, which went into force globally in 2013 and has 22 ratifications to date. Ethiopia has yet to ratify the Convention and raising awareness about protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers is a critical step forward.

Among the nine administrative regional states in Ethiopia, the Oromia region, where Gumi’s village is located, is most prone to migration and a popular source for illegal brokers. Some 161,490 domestic workers from this region have migrated overseas between 2009 and 2014, of which an estimated 155,860—96 per cent—were women [2].

“One of the key interventions of the Project is to also address safe migration for women,” says UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Funmi Balogun. “UN Women recognizes the rights of women to safe migration to seek better opportunities and to improve their livelihoods. To enable this, the project strengthens the capacities of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and its affiliates to provide gender-sensitive information as part of pre-departure training for potential migrant women domestic workers, so that they understand their rights, know how to access support and how to save and protect their earnings. This training and support were designed to assist potential female migrants understand their rights, whether in Ethiopia or in their receiving countries, know where support systems for them are located and strengthen their ability to effectively save and protect their earnings. The institutions were also supported to understand the rights of migrant workers as stated in ILO Convention 189, and to institutionalize processes and systems for reintegrating returnee women migrant workers into their communities.”

Coordinated by trained facilitators, the Community Conversations take place twice a month and engage men and women of different age groups, returnee migrant workers, families of migrant workers and prospective migrants, religious leaders and community influencers. The initiative is active in three regions of Ethiopia—Amhara, Oromia and Tigray—and in the Addis Ababa city administration since 2015, and have been successful in changing attitudes and practices of the communities regarding irregular migration. For example, in the Adaba district alone, within four months of implementation, the conversations led to significant reduction of irregular migration. The Government of Ethiopia is now institutionalizing the practice of Community Conversations at the village level throughout the country.

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha, Adaba district’s Head of the Labour and Social Affairs Office, notes that the initiative is not only helping the villagers in making informed decisions about migration, it is also empowering them to identify the root causes of migration and take their ideas for solutions to policy makers. “In past four months, we have prevented 19 individuals—13 women and 6 men— from taking up irregular migration, and enabled 31 school drop outs who were preparing to migrate illegally, to get back to school in this community,” he added.

As Gumi shares the experiences of her daughters as a cautionary tale for others, she stresses, “If enough resources, including land and employment, is provided to the younger ones, there will be no need for them to migrate.” As a result of the discussions and with the support from the government, some parents have started investing in their children’s education and income generating activities, rather than financing irregular migration.

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

The Community Conversations in Adaba District are part of a joint project, ‘Development of a Tripartite Framework for the Support and Protection of Ethiopian and Somali Women Domestic Migrant Workers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Lebanon and Sudan’ by ILO and UN Women and funded by the European Union. Over 140,000 women and 85,000 men have participated in the Community Conversation initiative as part of the project.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals

Notes
[1] The GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
[2] UN Women (2015). Unpublished study on the Nature, Trend and Magnitude of Migration of Female Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) from Ethiopia to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, Lebanon and Sudan. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Jobs Are Crucial for Peace, Stem Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/jobs-are-crucial-for-peace-stem-radicalization-and-violent-extremism-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jobs-are-crucial-for-peace-stem-radicalization-and-violent-extremism-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/jobs-are-crucial-for-peace-stem-radicalization-and-violent-extremism-in-kenya/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:22:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147013 Ambassador Amina Mohamed (@AMB_A_Mohammed) is the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. ]]> Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

Today 21 September 2016 is the International Day of Peace.

Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa, putting a strain on the economy’s growth and also threatening peace and security when hopeless youth gravitate towards violent extremist groups.

Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed, with the ratio of youth unemployment to overall adult unemployment standing at 46 percent, according to the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census. At the same time, there are eight dependents for every ten working Kenyans, meaning that the average worker will very often have little left to save or invest for growth.

While this youth bulge may seem like a disaster in the making, investing in the sectors with highest potential can turn it into a gateway to rapid economic growth and development as we have seen among Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.

By all projections, agriculture presents this opportunity.

While the African Union has recognised agriculture as the driving force of social and economic transformation, the youth often feel that agriculture lacks the glamour, sophistication and allure of the professions they seek.

This is regrettable. Africa not only has the largest percentage of arable land in the globe, and untapped potential for irrigated agro-pastoralism on its vast arid and semi-arid lands, but it also has the highest ratio of young people with the necessary knowledge, innovative skills and physical strength.

Of particular interest are youth in hard to reach areas, such as the arid and semi-arid lands, who are increasingly disgruntled by dim prospects of good jobs and increasingly prone to the temptations of extremist groups. These groups sway them with blandishments and exploit their feelings of exclusion and hopelessness.

In northern Kenya, which has borne the brunt of extremism in the country, traditional livestock farming methods can be targeted for transformation into a quality-driven, export-targeting industry. This calls for investment in education, rural transport and electricity, and smart business and trade policies.

In these areas, formal education should provide young people with basic numeracy and literacy, managerial and business skills, and introduce them to agro-pastoralism. It has been shown that education is key to overcoming development challenges in rural areas, and that improved access to education also improves rural children’s food security.

The power of the internet also offers a great opportunity for attracting youth in far-flung areas to agriculture. Packaging and disseminating information on agri-business to the youth through social media platforms like blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook has proven effective in Kenya. Much more can be achieved with increased access to the internet especially in the remote parts of the country.

There is a great potential pay-off for the continent: according to the World Bank, African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. Clearly, this is the low hanging fruit that Kenya should aim to invest in to solve the myriad problems associated with youth unemployment.

Agro-pastoralism has great potential to improve livelihoods for youth and women and reduce food insecurity, create incomes and generally help youth to feel engaged and involved with the national development agenda. Those promoting entrepreneurship must therefore include agribusiness as a priority area of focus, particularly at the county level.

Acting on this, President Uhuru Kenyatta during this year’s African Green Revolution Forum held in Nairobi, announced that the government would invest US$200 million to enable 150,000 young agricultural entrepreneurs to gain access to markets, finance and insurance.

With their dynamism, enthusiasm and innovativeness, the youth are our greatest asset and a force for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors in Kenya.

To reap the dividends, Kenya’s priority focus needs to be on growth in sectors that can absorb them, particularly agriculture.

Policies must also ensure that women and girls, who do most of the actual work in farms across Africa, can achieve their potential. Lack of collateral and financial literacy often make them ineligible for financial assistance while cultural norms deny them land inheritance rights and, at times, restrict their movement and access to markets for their produce.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to turn the country into an industrialized, middle-income country and provide a high quality life in a safe and secure environment to all its citizens by 2030.

It is only when the current large group of youth has been given education and skills demanded by the sectors of greatest potential that we will turn the youth bulge into a force for good and transform Kenya into a peaceful and prosperous nation.

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