Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Activists Protest Denial of Condoms to Africa’s High-Risk Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139919 Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

Tatenda Chivata, a 16-year old from Zimbabwe’s Mutoko rural district, was suspended from school for an entire three-month academic term after he was found with a used condom stashed in his schoolbag.

Regerai Chigodora, a 34-year-old prisoner at a jail in Harare, had his 36-year sentence stretched to 45 years after he was caught with used condoms in prison early this year.

With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered,

“It will be hard for Africa to win the war against HIV/AIDS if certain groups of people like students and prisoners are being skipped from preventive measures,” Tamasha Nyerere, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor based in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, told IPS.

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe say more cases of youths like Chivata and prisoners like Chigodora may be going unreported in countries where condom use in jails and schools is anathema.With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered.

“It’s indeed disturbing how hard we have worked as Africa to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS yet we have not been so pragmatic in our bid to institute preventive measures in schools and jails, where most of our African governments have vehemently refused to allow condoms to be distributed with the common excuse that they promote homosexuality in jails and sexual immorality in schools,” Elvis Chuma, a gay activist in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, told IPS.

Zimbabwean prisoner Chigodora agreed, telling IPS that “whether or not authorities here like it, homosexuality is rife in jails and even if we may smuggle in condoms to use secretly, if you get caught like in my case, you will be in for serious trouble.”

Schoolchildren in Africa like Zimbabwe’s Chivata have to contend with secret use of condoms in school. Their only crime is that they are underage, said Chivata.

“I’m serving a suspension from school because I was caught with a condom I used during sex with my girlfriend, but the same teachers teach us about use of protection if we get tempted to engage in sex. Now I’m wondering if I was wrong using a condom. Perhaps I could have gone undetected if I had opted to have unprotected sex,” he told IPS.

Under Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, any Zimbabwean under the age of 18 years is a minor, while a person between the age of 16 years and 18 years is defined as a young person under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

Sodomy is also a punishable offence in Zimbabwe, which rights activists say, makes it difficult for this Southern African nation and other African nations to distribute condoms in prisons.

“African countries like Zimbabwe are being cornered by their own laws which bar them from dishing out condoms to prisoners and school children,” Tonderai Zivhu, chairperson of the Open Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a lobby group in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, told IPS.

South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails.

In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, giving children 12 years and older the right to obtain contraceptives. The country’s Department of Correctional Services also provides condoms to inmates.

In Namibia, the country’s policy on HIV/AIDS states that all convicted prisoners awaiting trial and inmates are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing, means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

Other African countries, however, seem unclear about their position on condoms use in jails and schools.

Last year, the government of Rwanda confirmed the prevalence of homosexuality in prisons, but was non-committal on whether or not it would start distributing condoms in its correctional facilities.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told parliament that parents were free to pack condoms for their children in their schoolbags, but that the government would not allow them to be openly distributed at schools.

“We must say children are in school to learn and be initiated for certain life skills, and when it comes to condoms, you are the guardian of your child and you must have an intimate connection with your child so that when you pack their school luggage and prepare their books you can also pack condoms,” Dokora had said.

This laissez-faire approach has incensed certain African indigenous pro-culture activists who have been vocal in their calls against condom distribution in prisons and schools.

“Distributing condoms in prisons and in schools will render African governments accomplices to the commission of the crime of sodomy and sexual immorality among school-going children, which is against our cultural values and norms as Africans,” Bupe Mwansa, head of the Culture and Traditions Conservation Association in Zambia, an indigenous pro-culture lobby group, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 3.2 million children lived with HIV at the end of 2013, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 145,000 HIV-positive children from Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) states that Zimbabwe has a total of 18,000 prisoners, with 28 percent of these living with HIV and AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 41.4 percent of that country’s 166,267 prisoners are also living with HIV/AIDS, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health there, despite the country being the only African nation that does not outlaw homosexuality.

Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them.

“School children engage in premarital and often unprotected sex, yes we know, and prisoners also have unprotected anal sex, but presently there is nothing we can do as government to address these challenges because our laws do not allow underage children to engage in sex while homosexual, now rife in our jails, is also unlawful,” a top Zimbabwean government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told PS.

But for human rights doctors like Nomalanga Zwane in Johannesburg, fighting HIV/AIDS in schools and jails requires drastic measures.

“If school kids are left on their own with the belief that they are not engaging in sex because they are barred by being underage, we are fighting a losing battle against HIV/AIDS because the same school pupils will spread the disease even outside school while prison inmates with no access to condoms will also one day come out of jail and further spread the disease,” Zwane told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s ex-convicts like 37-year-old Jimson Gwatidzo, now an ardent campaigner for the distribution of condoms in jails after he contracted HIV in jail, sees no credible reason why some African governments forbid condoms in prisons “in the face of rampant rape-induced HIV/AIDS infections behind prison walls.”

“It is time for governments across Africa to scrap anti-sodomy laws to allow for the distribution of condoms in prisons and be able to fight HIV/AIDS spread in jails without legal barriers,” Gwatidzo told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

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

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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U.N. Security Council Focuses on Children as Victims of Armed Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 02:41:10 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139876 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

24 hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.

In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”

In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.

“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.

U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.

“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.

Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.

“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.

Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.

Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Education as a Cornerstone for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 22:32:24 +0000 Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139871 Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, the Barack Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to improve girls’ education around the world. Dubbed “Let Girls Learn,” the programme builds on current progress made, such as ensuring girls are enrolled in primary school at the same rates as boys, and is looking to expand opportunities for girls to complete their education.

The Obama administration’s leadership on this issue is commendable and incredibly important for moving global momentum on girls’ education forward.Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls - and indeed entire communities - will be deprived of future leaders.

We know that keeping girls in school and providing them with a quality education that can prepare them for their future continues to pay dividends down the line, including better health outcomes and better financial stability for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities.

Research shows that girls with secondary school education are six times less likely to marry early compared to girls who have very little or no education. Additionally, each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10 per cent and each extra year of secondary schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by 10 to 20 per cent.

But around the world, far too many girls face insurmountable barriers that often cause girls to drop out of school, ultimately preventing them from getting the quality education they deserve.

Recently, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted research to assess the main causes of school drop out for girls in two districts of the West Nile sub-region of Uganda where only six girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school, a ratio far below the national average.

A predominantly rural and impoverished region, West Nile, Uganda’s recent past has been characterized by war and conflict.

As such, poverty plays a huge role in girls’ inability to continue school. Of the girls who dropped out of school nearly 50 per cent listed financial reasons as the main reason they dropped out of school. Pregnancy was the second most common reason girls gave for leaving school.

While these factors are indeed eye-opening, our research found, however, that gender norms and beliefs about the roles of women as compared to men, were among the most significant determinants of school dropout for girls in West Nile.

Traditionally in West Nile, girls were taught to be subservient to the men to whom they ‘belonged’, first to their fathers and then later in life to their husbands. Despite significant social change that has taken place over the past number of decades,  deeply-rooted gender norms and expectations are carried from one generation to the next and have a profound impact on girls’ and their families’ expectations and hopes for girls futures, and girls’ determination and ability to finish – or drop out of –school.

For example, while most parents surveyed said they value girls’ and boys’ schooling equally, they acknowledge burdens at home, like chores and housework, fall on the girls in the family, rather than the boys. Consequently, girls who reported their domestic chores had interfered with their schooling in the past were three times more likely to drop out.

The domestic sphere remains solely a woman’s domain in the West Nile, and in the face of high adult mortality due to poverty, war, and HIV, girls who lost a parent were even more likely to have to take on a high household chore burden. This set of burdens often includes caring for younger siblings, which likely contributes to girls in the study reporting only starting school on average at the age of 8.25 years, more than two years past the intended starting age of six.

For girls who become pregnant while in school, dropout is almost inevitable. Only 4 per cent of girls who reported they had ever been pregnant were still enrolled in school. Pregnancy is often followed by a forced marriage and the accompanying expectation that a girl’s responsibilities should now shift from her education to caring for her child.

These data highlight just how many barriers girls face in continuing their education, with so many of those barriers finding deep roots in cultural norms that simply don’t value girls the way they value boys. And while this study was conducted in the West Nile region of Uganda, gender norms that continue to hold girls back are certainly not rare around the world.

In order to succeed in letting girls learn, governments, schools, communities and families must dismantle barriers for girls where they exist. Local governments and communities must ensure girls get off to a good start with their education, by disseminating information about existing policies for the age at start of school, because we know that when girls are enrolled in school on time and progress through each grade on schedule, they’re more likely to continue their education.

The education and health sectors must also work with local governments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health services to help prevent pregnancy, which currently marks the end of a girl’s education in Uganda.

Additionally, we know that eight of ten girls who dropped out of school in West Nile, Uganda are eager to return to school if given the opportunity, but for the girls who dropped out due to pregnancy this is a near impossibility.

Re-entry and retention policies for pregnant girls and mothers who gave birth as children must be strengthened so that these girls do not miss out on the opportunity to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is all the more likely for an adolescent single mother without a secondary education.

Education is, simply put, a cornerstone for women’s empowerment and subsequently for local and national development.

Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls – and indeed entire communities – will be deprived of future leaders that could be instrumental in helping to combat poverty in the community, which could empower more girls for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Citizenship Essential for Gender Equality: Ambassador Chowdhuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:34:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139860 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

At a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the lone male voice.

"Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world," Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

“Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world,” Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

In front of an audience of every creed, colour and culture, the decorated diplomat and former president of the United Nations Security Council tied the advancement of women’s causes to one of his pet causes: the idea of ‘global citizenship,’ of humans growing and learning and acting and working with consideration of their place in the global community.

“Being globally connected, emerging as global citizens, will help women achieve equality and help them show leadership,” Chowdhury told the packed room on Mar. 17.

“Each one of us needs to be globally connected. The days of staying in our national boundaries are gone. It is necessary to see women’s rights and equality as human issues, not women’s issues,” he said. “Men and women together, we have the power to empower.”

Through decades in diplomacy, the Bangladesh-born Chowdhury has served in some of the U.N’s highest posts, including under-secretary-general and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, president of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vice-president of the Economic and Social Council, as well as serving two terms as Security Council president.

This idea of global citizenship is one he has proudly championed, pushing for greater education for young people to know and appreciate their place in the world, and how they can understand global challenges.

Chowdhury said the concept had existed for some time, but gained international prominence when it was enshrined – alongside increasing school enrolment and improving quality of education – as one of three priorities on the Secretary-General’s ‘Global Education First Initiative’ (GEFI) in 2012.

“Global citizenship is your ability and capacity to think as part one broad humanity. It is believing in ‘oneness’ of humanity, that we are all connected and interconnected, all interdependent,” Chowdhury told IPS.

“Humanity cannot make progress without all of us feeling that way. Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world. Nothing and no one can feel independent of connection with the world.”

Placing global citizenship alongside such foundational educational aspirations as increasing numbers of children attending school, and raising the quality of those schools, illustrates the extent to which the U.N. supports the concept.

In contrast to the concrete, empirical first and second goal, a brochure produced in conjunction with the launch of the GEFI outlined global citizenship as a more esoteric, ethereal concept; concerned not so much with achieving a certain statistic or milestone, but with bringing about a more fundamental shift in how education itself is delivered.

“Interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life,” the brochure stated.

“It must cultivate an active care for the world… education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day… it must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world.

Chowdhury cited economic development, climate change and peace as the three major challenges that require advanced global citizenship to find a solution.

“Nobody can just get a normal degree from a university and think that knowledge will carry them through. They have to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. We have a better world if we feel for others in need who are impoverished and going through challenges,” he said.

“The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world. Being born a human has some responsibility, and that entails being aware of the challenges and how best you can contribute to resolving them.”

In his presentation to the CSW panel, Chowdhury invoked women in Africa – who he said “faced the heaviest odds in the world on many fronts” – as a source of inspiration for women worldwide fighting for gender equality.

“I am personally encouraged to see the leadership of African women. They face heavy odds, but come up with enormous amounts of energy, creativity and leadership to make their presence felt,” he said.

In speaking with IPS, he invoked global citizenship as a basic cornerstone for effective leadership moving toward a sustainable international future – but said that some foundational aspects of current education would need to be remoulded to achieve the ideal learning system to craft successful global citizens.

“Sometimes people in industrialised countries think they know everything, that their education is the best, but in many cases those students have the least knowledge of the challenges in other parts of the world. The majority of the world’s population are going through concerns not even known to people in other parts of the world,” Chowdhury said.

“People are told they learn to get a degree, to get a job, to get money. That is the central focus in many countries. Really, the most important thing is to learn about the world, its diversity, that there are many languages and cultures and ethnicities.”

Both Chowdhury and the GEFI cited numerous barriers to implementing better systems to teach global citizenship, including outdated teaching methods and equipment, insufficient teacher capacity to teach such concepts, and the costs of updating or reforming such systems.

“Reviews from around the world find that today’s curricula and textbooks often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Rarely are curricula developed through a participatory process that embraces excluded and marginalized groups,” the GEFI brochure stated.

Chowdhury, however, stressed that the costs of inaction far outweighed the costs and difficulty of reforming educational systems.

“We have ignored global citizenship and interconnectedness, valued independence of our countries, and conflict is happening. Economic development, trade regimes, all these things are are seriously affected if we don’t [change],” he said.

“This is why we are stepping up our concern and interest in promoting global citizenship as a value to be added to humanity’s opportunities.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Hold the Rich Accountable in New U.N. Development Goals, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:55:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139844 A man lives in the makeshift house behind him, Slovak Republic. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

A man lives in the makeshift house behind him in the Slovak Republic, a member of the EU. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met last January in Switzerland, attended mostly by the rich and the super-rich, the London-based charity Oxfam unveiled a report with an alarming statistic: if current trends continue, the world’s richest one percent would own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

And just 80 of the world’s richest will control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people: half the world’s population.The post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes.

So, when the World Social Forum (WSF), created in response to WEF, holds its annual meeting in Tunis later this week, the primary focus will be on the growing inequalities in present day society.

The Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) on Global Development Perspectives will be releasing a new study which calls for both goals and commitments – this time particularly by the rich – if the U.N.’s 17 proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-2015 development agenda are to succeed.

Asked if the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will reach their targeted deadlines in December, had spelled out goals for the rich, Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum in Bonn, told IPS MDG 8 on global partnership for development was indeed a goal for the rich.

“But this goal remained vague and did not include any binding commitments for rich countries,” he pointed out.

This is the reason why the proposed SDG 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, he added.

In addition, Martens said, governments agreed to include targets on the means of implementation under each of the remaining 16 SDGs. However, many of these targets, again, are not “smart”, i.e. neither specific nor measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

“What we need are ‘smart’ targets to hold rich countries accountable,” he added.

Martens said goals without the means to achieve them are meaningless. And the post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes, he added.

Goals for the rich are indispensable for the post-2015 agenda, stressed Barbara Adams, senior policy advisor for Global Policy Forum and a member of the coordinating committee of Social Watch.

The eight MDGs, which will be replaced by the proposed new 17 SDGs, to be finalised before world leaders meet at a summit in September, were largely for developing nations with specific targets, including the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, reducing infant mortality and fighting environmental degradation.

Beginning Monday, a new round of inter-governmental negotiations will continue through Mar. 23 to finalise the SDGs.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities, perhaps by 2030.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator for Social Watch, said three specific “goals for the rich” are particularly important for sustainable development worldwide:

The goal to reduce inequality within and among countries; the goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and the goal to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development

He said the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) must be applied rigorously.

Coupled with the human rights principle of equal rights for all and the need to respect the planetary boundaries, this must necessarily translate into different obligations for different categories of countries, Bissio added.

Henning Melber, director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, said for Dag Hammarskjöld, the former U.N. Secretary-General, the United Nations was an organisation guided by solidarity. If solidarity is with the poor, the rich have to realise that less is more in terms of stability, sustainability, equality and the future of humanity, he said.

In its new study, the Civil Society Reflection Group said all of the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group are relevant for rich, poor and emerging economies, in North and South alike.

All governments that subscribe to the post-2015 agenda must deliver on all goals.

On the face of it, for rich countries, many of the goals and targets seem to be quite easy to fulfill or have already been achieved, especially those related to social accomplishments (e.g. targets related to absolute poverty, primary education or primary health care), the Group noted.

“Unfortunately, social achievements in reality are often fragile particularly for the socially excluded and can easily be rolled back as a result of conflict (as in the case of Ukraine), of capitalism in crisis (in many countries after 2008) or as a result of wrong-headed, economically foolish and socially destructive policies, as in the case of austerity policies in many regions, from Latin America to Asia to Southern Europe. “

In the name of debt reduction and improved competitiveness, these policies brought about large-scale unemployment and widespread impoverishment, often coupled with the loss of basic income support or access to basic primary health care. More often than not, this perversely increased sovereign debt instead of decreasing it (“Paradox of thrift”), the study said.

But also under ‘normal’ circumstances some of the “MDG-plus” targets relating to poverty eradication and other social development issues may prove to be a real challenge in many parts of the rich world, where poverty has been rising.

In the United States, the study said, poverty increased steadily in the last two decades and currently affects some 50 million people, measured by the official threshold of 23,850 dollars a year for a family of four.

In Germany, 20.3 percent of the population – a total of 16.2 million people – were affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013.

In the European Union as a whole, the proportion of poor or socially excluded people was 24.5 percent, the Group said.

To address this and similar situations, target 1.2 in the Open Working Group’s proposal requests countries to “by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”.

How one looks at ‘goals for the rich’ depends on whether one takes a narrow national or inward-looking view, or whether one takes into account the international responsibilities and extraterritorial obligations of countries for past, present and future actions and omissions affecting others beyond a country’s borders; whether one accepts and honors the CBDR principle for the future of humankind and planet earth, the study said.

In addition, this depends on whether one accepts home country responsibilities for actions and omissions of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations and their international supply chains. Contemporary international soft law (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) is based on this assumption, as are other accords such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Last, but not least, rich countries tend to be more powerful in terms of their influence on international and global policymaking and standard setting, the study declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women in the Philippines at the Forefront of the Health Food Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:25:47 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139784 In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

When Tinay Alterado’s team from ARUGAAN, an organisation of women healthcare advocates, visited Eastern Visayas, a region of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, they noticed that the relief and rescue sites were flooded with donated milk formula, which nursing mothers were feeding to their babies in vast quantities.

Milk formula was one of the hundreds of relief items that streamed into the affected region in the aftermath of the strongest recorded storm to ever hit land.

“No one knows if GMOs are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health." -- Angelina Galang, head of Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF)
“We intervened because we knew from what we saw that we had to teach women how to breastfeed and how important it is for them, their babies and their families,” Alterado told IPS.

ARUGAAN, which in Filipino means to nurture or take care of someone, is a home centre organised by mostly poor, urban working mothers who care for babies up to three-and-a-half months old and advocate for healthy lifestyles, especially exclusive breastfeeding.

“We informed the women that they can and must breastfeed, and it should be for [up to] six months or even longer,” Alterado said.

Her group’s emergency response in the typhoon-affected areas took more time than planned, as they had to teach women how to induce milk from their breasts through a process called ‘lactation massage’ and how to store the milk for their babies’ next meal.

Alterado said her colleagues have doubled their efforts to spread awareness on this crucial aspect of motherhood, which is not ingrained in the country’s culture. Few people connect the act of breastfeeding with its associated economic and environmental benefits, such as reducing trash or easing a family’s financial woes.

In a country where 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted, women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition cannot be underestimated.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “An overreliance on rice, low levels of breastfeeding and […] recurring natural hazards, connected to and amplified by […] poverty, means that children do not eat enough” in this archipelago nation of just over 100 million people.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the Philippines is devastated by an average of 20 typhoons every year that severely damage crops and farmlands, adding another layer to the thorny question of how to solve the country’s food issues.

Last year, the Philippines joined a list of some 63 developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of hungry people ahead of the 2015 deadline. Still, the country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, contributing to Asia-Pacific’s dubious distinction of being home to 553 million malnourished people as of 2014.

As government officials and international development organisations struggle to come to terms with these numbers against the backdrop of impending natural disasters, women across the Philippines are already leading the way on efforts to combat hunger and ease the burden of malnutrition.

Ancient wisdom to tackle modern lifestyles

Alterado’s crusade is no different from that of Angelina Galang who heads Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF), a coalition of organisations pushing for consumers’ right to know, choose, and have access to safe and healthy food.

For Galang, the struggle starts at home. When her grandchildren visit every weekend, she doesn’t serve them the usual soda, junk food or take-out pizza favored by so many young people. Instead, she gives them fruits and healthy, home-cooked snacks like boiled bananas.

She said the children didn’t like it at first but after many months, they have become used to weekend visits with their grandma that do not feature Coke and hot dogs. “Hopefully, they will learn and adopt that kind of lifestyle as they grow up,” she told IPS.

Galang said teaching the ‘fast food generation’ about the right kinds and quantities of food is a challenge, especially since many young people are taken in by corporations’ attractive marketing tactics.

But the problems do not end there. CRSF is also challenging the Philippine government to conduct better research on genetically modified crops and to label food products that are known to have genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which alter the genetic makeup of crops to enhance their appearance, nutrient content and growth.

“No one knows if GMO foods are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health,” Galang asserted.

“Consumers are the guinea pigs of GMOs,” she said, adding that eight GMO crops have been approved by the Philippine government for propagation and 63 for importation.

The movement against genetically modified crops recently coalesced around the government’s attempts to plant the genetically engineered ‘golden rice’, a strand fortified with beta-carotene that the body converts to Vitamin A.

The government claimed its experiment was designed to address the country’s massive Vitamin A deficiency, which affects 1.7 million children under the age of five and roughly 500,000 pregnant and nursing mothers, according to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Activists and concerned citizens say that GMOs will worsen hunger, kill diversification and possibly contaminate other crops. Women like Galang also contend that until long-term, comprehensive studies are done, “It is better to eat and buy local, unprocessed and organic foods.”

Educating the youth

Experts say the first step in the health food movement is to educate children on the importance of eating local and organic.

Camille Genuino, a member of the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation based in Bacolod City, is witnessing this first hand. Her four-year-old child, who attends a daycare centre, is learning how to plant herbs and make pasta and pizza from the fresh produce harvested from their little plot.

“Educating children and exposing them to the benefits of farming is good parenting,” said Genuino, whose non-governmental advocacy group produces the nutritious Mingo powder – an instant formula that turns into a rich porridge when mixed with water – which is distributed in disaster-stricken areas.

Her child’s daycare centre is based in Quezon City, a poor, urban area located close to a waste disposal facility where residents have installed farms on their roofs so they can grow their own food. The centre conducts regular feeding programmes for 80 to 100 children in the area.

It is a humble effort in the greater scheme of things, but similar initiatives across the Philippines suggest a growing movement, led largely by women, is at the forefront of sparking changes in the food and nutrition sector.

Monina Geaga, who heads Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (SARILAYA), a group of grassroots women’s organisations, believes that independent efforts to ensure a family’s nutrition can go a long way.

“People should know how to plant vegetables – like tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and string beans – in pots, and recycle containers for planting,” she said. “This would at least ensure where your food comes from because you source your meals from your own garden.”

More than 200 farmer-members of SARILAYA – mostly across Luzon, one of the three major islands in the Philippines – practice organic agriculture, believing it to be the best guarantee of their families’ health in the era of processed foods, GMOs and synthetic products.

Geaga said Filipino women, including the ones staying at home and raising their children, are at the forefront of these consumer and environment advocacy efforts.

Citing studies by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute and the University of the Philippines, she pointed out that poor families spend 70 percent more on purchasing infant formulas than other needs in the household and that youth in the 16-20 age-group consume fast food products heavy in fat, cholesterol and sodium on a daily basis.

Such statistics are not just numbers on a page – they are the reason scores of women across the Philippines are doubling up as scientists, farmers and activists so that they and their families can be a little healthier, and perhaps live a little longer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Envoy Pushes for Safer Schools Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 19:30:19 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139771 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

Speaking from the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, defined 2015 as the year to end violations of the rights of the children worldwide.

“It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarization of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace”, Brown said.

The British ex-Prime Minister highlighted the case of South Sudan, saying “The tragedy in South Sudan with schools being militarized and over 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers must be stopped.”

Having recently visited Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, Brown said that the international community should focus on several steps to change the status quo.

Firstly, Brown called for the international community to reach an agreement on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies, to be set before the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July.

Brown also announced his call for a conference in Washington on April 16, on educating the half-million Syrian child refugees in Lebanon. Following an agreement reached with the Lebanese minister of education, the aim is to raise $163m for Lebanese schools to operate on a double-shift system to sustain Syrian children’s schooling.

Thirdly, Brown highlighted the importance of schemes like the Safe Schools Initiative, which has just been launched in Pakistan after initial success in Nigeria. The Pakistani government, in partnership with UNICEF and the Global Business Coalition for Education, will launch safety-assessment technology in around 1000 pilot schools in the country. Soon, the initiative will be extended to countries like South Sudan, Lebanon and the DRC.

In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative has raised $30m, with a large contribution from the United States, said Brown. “Nearly 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures,” he added.

Brown invited all countries to sign the international Safe School Declaration (recognized now by 30 countries), which provides the same protection as Red Cross Hospitals.

In closing, Brown urged the international community to increase funding for education as a percentage of humanitarian aid, which is currently at 1 percent. “Insisting on a new fund for education in emergencies is necessary to prevent millions of children from falling through the cracks,” he said.

“We need to re-address aid funds for education and Sustainable Development Goals through partnership with the private sector, and the use of social impacts bonds.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Global Human Compassion to Combat Child Slaveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:38:26 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139760 By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has called for globalised human compassion to combat the global and persistent problems of child labour and child slavery.

“We live in a globalised world, let us globalise human compassion, ” Satyarthi told an audience at the United Nations Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Satyarthi, a tireless activist against child labour, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 together with Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Satyarthi said that he was confident that he would see the end of child servitude in his lifetime but emphasised that everybody had a moral responsibility to address the issue.

Child labour still remains a truly global problem hurting millions of children worldwide.

In South Asia 250,000 children, some as young as four, work up to eighteen hours a day tying knots for rugs that are exported to the U.S. and Europe.

In Haiti, UNICEF estimates that 225,000 children, mostly girls, between the ages of five and 17 live as ‘restaveks’, live-in domestic servants with wealthier families.

In the Central African Republic, the U.N. reports there are some 6,000 child soldiers, including young girls used as sex slaves.

Worldwide more than half of all child labourers work in agriculture, including in the United States where Human Rights Watch reports children working on tobacco farms are exposed to nicotine poisoning.

In total, the International Labor Organization reports that there are 168 million children in child labour, and that more than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.

Satyarthi said that behind every single statistic there is a cry for freedom from a child that we are not listening to.

“That is the cry to be a child, a child who can play, a child who can love, a child who can be a child,” he said.

Satyarthi contrasted the number of children in full time work with the 200 million adults who are jobless worldwide. He explained that addressing this imbalance was a complex issue, in part because in vulnerable populations children were seen as easier to exploit than adults.

Satyarthi also expressed concern that while progress has been made on child labour, the more heinous crime of child slavery has stagnated.

“The number of child slaves, the children in forced labour has not reduced at all”

He said the number of child slaves worldwide had stagnated at 5.5 million for the past fifteen years.

Satyarthi said that the United Nations played a key role in addressing child labour. He emphasised that there needed to be clear language on tackling child labour in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He also called for greater cooperation between organisations working to protect children to ensure a holistic strategy.

Also speaking at the event, Susan Bissell, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection said, “The first line of defense against falling victim to slavery is the child and his or her family.”

“By empowering families socially and economically and building their resilience to recognise child slavery, and being aware of their rights and how to exercise them, we can deliver a first strong blow against slavery,” she said.

Bissell also called on the private sector to stamp out child slavery, saying that children’s rights should be seen as a relevant business mandate.

Satyarthi concluded his speech with a strong call to action.

“If one single child anywhere in the world is in danger the world is not safe. If one single girl is sold like an animal and sexually abused and raped, we cannot call ourselves a cultured society.

“I refuse to accept that some children are born to live without human dignity,” he added. “Each one of you has some moral responsibility. It cannot go on me alone.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Millions of Children Impacted by Ebola Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 18:24:56 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139730 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nine million children live in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, while thousands have lost parents to the virus, according to a new report from The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

More than 24,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been infected with Ebola since the latest strain broke out in January 2014, eventually affecting large areas of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 10,000 people have died.

While reports of new cases have slowed to a trickle, UNICEF has warned Africa and the international community to not become complacent about the virus, and highlighted its devastating effect on children in affected countries.

The ‘Ebola: Getting to zero’ report, released Monday, states the mortality rate for children under age five is 80 per cent, while for children under one year, casualty rates are 95 per cent.

“These children have seen death and suffering beyond their comprehension, UNICEF said.

Up to nine million children live in areas severely affected by the outbreak, described as the most severe in the disease’s history. Five million were deprived of months of education after schools were shut down, while many children did not receive vaccinations.

Medical facilities had “inadequate staffing,” were “poorly equipped,” and “completely unprepared to deal with an outbreak of this nature and scale,” the report stated.

Many parents actually actively avoided healthcare facilities, for fear of contracting the disease.

The report claims children also did not receive vaccinations for other diseases including measles – leading to a confirmed outbreak in Guinea and suspected cases in Liberia – and also impacting the treatment of malaria, malnutrition, HIV and AIDS.

“In Guinea, consultations and hospitalizations were down by about 50 per cent in 2014… In Sierra Leone, the number of children receiving basic immunization fell by 21 per cent and the number of children treated for malaria was down 39 per cent,” UNICEF reported.

The report also stated more than 16,000 children “lost one or both parents, or their primary caregiver” to Ebola. More than 52,000 children also received psychosocial support in the wake of the outbreak.

While the World Health Organisation recently announced Liberia had reported no new cases of Ebola for two consecutive weeks, UNICEF warned complacency should not set in.

“This is definitely not the time to let our guard down,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“We need to get to zero cases, and to do this, we must track down every single case and anyone who may have had contact with an infected person.”

New health and preventative safety procedures have been established across the affected areas, with rapid response units ready to address further outbreaks, and greater education for citizens.

The UNICEF report also called for further funding of nutrition treatment centres to address rising malnutrition, support for vaccination programs, improving access to safe water and sanitation; and basic social services, particularly programs to “protect affected populations from stigma and discrimination.”

“Before the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, this country had enjoyed one of the fastest rates of decline in child mortality,” said Patrick Sijenyi, of UNICEF Liberia’s Child Survival and Development Section.

“For this positive trend to continue it is essential that we stop this outbreak, and invest in stronger health and other social services that are critical to a child’s survival and well-being.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Empower Rural Women for Their Dignity and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 12:57:26 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139657 A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Mar 14 2015 (IPS)

Rural women make major contributions to rural economies by producing and processing food, feeding and caring for families, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households – but, in many countries, they face discrimination in access to agricultural assets, education, healthcare and employment, among others, preventing them from fully enjoying their basic rights.

Gender equality is now widely recognised as an essential component for sustainable development goals in the post-2015 agenda, with empowerment of rural women vital to enabling poor people to improve their livelihoods and overcome poverty.“To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities” – IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze

This year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on Mar. 8, marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which called on governments, the international community and civil society from all over the world to empower women and girls by taking action in 12 critical areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child.

Despite that call, much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation.

“Too often, rural women are doing the backbreaking work,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said on the occasion. “To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities.”

This year, the three Rome-based U.N. agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and IFAD – along with journalists and students from Rome’s LUISS, John Cabot and La Sapienza universities met to share testimonials of innovative interventions aimed at empowering rural women in four key areas: nutrition, community mobilisation, livestock and land rights.

A large body of research indicates that putting more income into the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition health and education in all developing regions of the world.

Explaining why women and men need to be involved together to move forward on nutrition, Britta Schumacher, a WFP Programme Policy Officer, described how the Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition (REACH) programme had been able to tackle malnutrition and health problems using an approach based on positive gender-oriented objectives.

The REACH programme – a joint initiative of FAO, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is based on the human right to nutrition security and seeks to transform the way governments and donors approach investment in nutrition to leverage existing investments most effectively and systematically identify priorities for additional investments needed to scale up.

Noting that “the long girls stay at school, the better is their health” because “lack of awareness represents a concrete obstacle to good practices,” Schumacher said that in Bangladesh activities had been carried out under the REACH programme to transfer knowledge within and between members of communities and local authorities, boost rural women’s access to services and strengthen their self-esteem. 

Stressing the need for community mobilisation, Andrea Sanchez Enciso, Gender and Participatory Communication Specialist with FAO, illustrated one of the achievements of FAO’s Dimitra project, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, women in particular.

In Niger, she said, “the Dimitra project encouraged the inclusion of a gender perspective in communication for development initiatives in rural areas … taking greater account of the specificities, needs and aspirations of men and women” and “creating participatory spaces for discussion between men and women, access to information and collective actions in their communities.”

Leading a two-year small livestock project in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Antonio Riota, Lead Technical Specialist in IFAD’s Livestock, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, said that the project was developed and implemented in a context in which 90 percent of village chickens were managed by women and poultry was the only source of income for the entire community.

According to Riota, the project showed how small livestock can make a difference in rural women’s lives because one of its major results has been that “now women can walk all together” whereas previously they were accused of prostitution if they did so. “Some 75,000 women benefitted from the project and profitability increased by 91 percent,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mino Ramaroson, Africa Regional Coordinator at the International Land Coalition, described two African experiences of women’s networks – the National Federation of Rural Women in Madagascar and the Kilimanjaro Initiative – advocating for their rights to land and natural resources.

In Madagascar, the National Federation of Rural Women, which aims to promote rural women’s rights, improve members’ livelihoods and increase their resilience to external and internal shocks, has been joined by more than 450 rural women’s groups from the country’s six provinces.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative, initiated by rural women in 2012 and supported by the International Land Coalition, uses women’s rights to land and productive resources as an entry point for the mobilisation of rural women from across Africa to define the future they want, claim lives of dignity they deserve and identify and overcome the challenges that hold them back.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Radical Approach to Global Citizenship Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 17:42:37 +0000 Wayne Hudson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139641

Wayne Hudson is a professor at the University of Queensland, Charles Stuart University and the University of Tasmania, Australia.

By Wayne Hudson
BRISBANE, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Although global citizenship education has now received the recognition it deserves, much of the literature recycles old agendas under another name –  ‘education to promote peace and justice’, ‘sustainability’, ‘care for the environment’, ‘multi-faith’ and ‘multi-cultural understanding’  – and so forth.

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Another literature proposes that children learn specific global knowledge: world history, global ethics, global law etc. In my view these approaches do not grasp the revolution that global citizenship involves.

They do not rise to the level of the times and promote an approach to education which is radical enough to bring about the changes which are needed. There is also a problem about the tendency for some advocates of global citizenship education to promote political and social activism under another name.

Finally, there is a major problem about the way global citizenship education tends to be presented in Western terms, heavily indebted to the European Enlightenment. I propose an approach to global citizenship education which is much more radical and involves a new conceptuality of pedagogical practice.

Clearly I would not argue for a global citizenship education that ignores the achievements of the West or the rich heritage of the European Enlightenment. Equally, however, global citizenship education cannot be education in the Enlightenment ideology of the West.Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites.

It cannot ignore the substantive claims of Islam. It cannot pretend that Russian Orthodoxy is some sort of private option and that the Russian Federation is a secular nation state. And it must relate to the actual diversities – political, cultural and ethical – found around the world, if it is not to be yet another example of educational utopianism with only limited impact on the ground.

Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites. Many current forms of global citizenship education do not seem to address their needs.

Global citizenship education which goes beyond both Western ideology and utopian dreaming needs in my view to make two radical leaps:

First, it needs to make a post-secular leap and reconcile moderate secularity with a recognition of non-mundane performances in both public and private life. This represents a rejection of American ideology about ‘the public square’ or ‘the public sphere’.

It reconnects with real world realities, and involves a model of global citizenship education which takes different spiritual perspectives seriously at the level of religious citizenship, at the level of human rights, and at the level of the role of the state.

Pious declarations which simply recite Western Enlightenment mantras about these matters will fail in practice in the Islamic world and Russia. They may not even recommend themselves to Islamic minorities in Western Europe. In the longer term they may not be implemented in practice in much of Asia, including India, Burma and China.

To this extent, global citizenship needs to be more global than most writers on global citizenship education currently envisage. It needs to take cultural, religious and civilisational differences much more seriously than is currently the case.

What is at issue here is not particularism, or an irrational form of cultural relativism, but an approach that addresses actual heterogeneities and real world contexts and does not rely on Kantian moral philosophy, or on Anglo-American political philosophy.

‘Global’ cannot mean Anglo-Saxon or even European. A global approach must both respect, and to a degree explain, differences, and this implies the need for more powerful concepts than individual traditions traditionally provided. This leads on to the second leap.

In my view, global citizenship education also needs to make a leap towards a new conceptuality: one that can encompass historical and historical particularities, while also creating portability across cultures and nation states.

This is a strong claim, and one with which educationists around the world are relatively unfamiliar, even though it is possible that nothing less will adequately traverse the world of electronic media, especially social media, or allow an integration of the sciences with the humanities and the fine arts.

A new global conceptuality is not on offer in educational institutions at present, and it does not inform most thinking on educational development. This is partly because the type of thinking involved is more commonly found among mathematicians, physicists and philosophers than among professors of education.

However, it may not be that difficult to produce and exemplify such a conceptuality in pedagogic practice. Indeed, I think that it will be easier to establish this conceptuality in pedagogic practice than to explicate the new concepts in philosophical or other theoretical terms.

Here my position is substantially alternativist and obviously requires considerable exemplification. The approach I commend differs from many dominant strategies in education, which often assume that curricula should implement pre-existing educational concepts and strategies.

My approach to global citizenship education implies a very different conception of pedagogy and learning, one which paradoxically has links both with strong cognitivism of a type educationists tend not to favour and with strong pragmatism of a type they favour, but do not always practice.

It has particular links with the pragmatism of the American philosopher and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce, as opposed to the weaker pragmatism of John Dewey, William James or Richard Rorty.

My claim is that such an unusual approach to philosophy and practice has benefits for global citizenship education. Pedagogy based on this approach has the advantage of being suited to delivery using new technologies.

It is also inexpensive, practical and easy to implement in local communities around the world. Of course, such an innovative approach may be controversial, at least until the foundations for the approach in contemporary philosophy, mathematics and cognitive science are better understood. However, this is the approach I am working on. It is one that I think can make a real contribution to the current debates.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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‘Cli-Fi’ Reaches into Literature Classrooms Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cli-fi-reaches-into-literature-classrooms-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cli-fi-reaches-into-literature-classrooms-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cli-fi-reaches-into-literature-classrooms-worldwide/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 17:53:22 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139578 2015 is shaping up to be ''The Year of Cli-Fi'' in academia, and not just in North America, but in Britain and Australia as well. Credit: Tulane Public Relations/cc by 2.0

2015 is shaping up to be ''The Year of Cli-Fi'' in academia, and not just in North America, but in Britain and Australia as well. Credit: Tulane Public Relations/cc by 2.0

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

From Columbia University in New York to the University of Cambridge in Britain, college classrooms are picking up on the “cli-fi” genre of fiction, and cinema and academia is right behind them.

While authors are penning cli-fi novels — with movie scriptwriters creating cli-fi screenplays to try to sell to Hollywood — classrooms worldwide are now focusing attention of the rising genre of literature and cinema."Literary fiction has dreamed up many versions of the end of the world, but how is contemporary fiction dealing with the threat of climate change?" -- Prof. Jenny Bavidge

Jenny Bavidge at the University of Cambridge taught a class on cli-fi last summer at the Institute of Continuing Education there, and Darragh Martin is teaching a cli-fi class at Columbia University in Manhattan this summer, too.

Cli-fi is a catchy abbreviation for the genre of “climate fiction,” much in the same way that “sci-fi” is a nickname for “science fiction.” With news articles about the rise of cli-fi appearing in the New York Times and Time magazine last year, literature professors saw an opportune time to introduce cli-fi classes into the curriculum.

“Literary fiction has dreamed up many versions of the end of the world, but how is contemporary fiction dealing with the threat of climate change?” Bavidge asked students in her introduction to the class last summer. “This course will focus on works by contemporary authors, including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, and ask whether ‘cli-fi’ imagines solutions as well as ends.

“As people living through this particular historical moment, we may want to ask how far [cli-fi] novels contribute to efforts to better understand our relationship with the planet and its ecosystems,” she wrote

One of my mentors in the world of sci-fi literature is the novelist David Brin.

I once asked him about how climate change themes have been influencing sci-fi novels and movies, and he told me by email: “Global warming and flooding were important in my 1989 novel ‘Earth,’ but they were earlier featured in the film ‘Soylent Green’ based on Harry Harrison’s novel ‘Make Room, Make Room!’”

Six U.S. colleges have set up cli-fi classes this year, with both undergrad and graduate level courses involved. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This year, 2015, is shaping up to be ”The Year of Cli-Fi” in academia, and not just in North America, but in Britain and Australia as well.

Several non-English speaking countries are also looking at cli-fi and how it impacts their own literary circles, including Brazil, Spain, Germany and France.

While six universities and colleges in the United States have taken up the call and are part of the new trend in higher education in 2015, the genre is reaching out worldwide to writers (and readers) across the globe. Cli-fi is not an American or British genre; it has become a global genre.

The Chronicle of Higher Education newspaper in Washington, D.C., which covers academic issues in a variety of subject areas, has assigned a staff reporter to look into the rise of cli fi in the academy as well, according to sources.

In addition to Martin’s summer class at Columbia, which starts on May 27, professors at Temple University in Philadelphia, the University of Oregon, Holyoke Community College, the State University of New York in Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) and The University of Delaware are currently teaching cli-fi classes this semester, with a total of about 200 students nationwide enrolled.

It’s a beginning. And there’s more to come.

Academics writing in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, among other world languages are putting out papers about cli-fi and planning classes in the genre at the universities where they teach.

There is, of course, a long and storied history of teaching sci-fi at colleges in North America and Britain, with several universities even setting up literature departments that specialise in sci-fi research. Now cli-fi is joining the global academic world and finding a room of its own there as well.

Elizabeth Trobaugh and Steve Winters at Holyoke Community College are team-teaching a climate-themed literature class this semester titled “Cli Fi: Stories and Science from the Coming Climate Apocalypse.”

When I told Trobaugh that I planned to write an oped about her course, she replied: “Thank you for your interest in what we are doing this semester. Professor Winters and I thought we were onto something, and your email confirms our conviction that cli-fi is indeed on the rise, and this is the moment (as Macklemore says in the song) to catch the wave.”

Stephen Siperstein, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon, is also teaching a cli-fi literature class this semester, with his undergrad students posting weekly class blogs about what they are reading and how they are reacting to the new genre of fiction.

At Temple University, Ted Howell is teaching an undergraduate class titled “Cli-fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and Apocalypse” with about 30 students enrolled. They are also keeping weekly blogs about the course, using them to interact online outside of class with their professor and fellow students.

At SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York, Professor Ken Cooper is teaching a class this semester titled “Reader and Text: Cli-Fi.”

”Representative works will include Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The Windup Girl,’ Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Flight Behavior,’ and other novels,” Cooper told his students by way of introduction, adding mischievously: “There will be at least one zombie apocalypse, too.”

Siohban Carroll at the University of Delaware is a specialist in 19th century British literature, and told me in a recent Tweet: “I’m teaching a 19th Century ‘cli-fi’ class right now at the graduate level. One segment is on Mary Shelley and the Anthropocene.”

So there you have it. Cli-fi has reached into academia and found partners on college campuses. It’s a worldwide trend because global warming impacts us all, and literature and cinema always respond to the things that matter.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The World Sees Progress Against Undernutrition, but it’s Unevenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-world-sees-progress-against-undernutrition-but-its-uneven/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-world-sees-progress-against-undernutrition-but-its-uneven http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-world-sees-progress-against-undernutrition-but-its-uneven/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 17:19:32 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139558 Nepal has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Over 41 percent of the country’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition, predominantly in rural areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Over 41 percent of the country’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition, predominantly in rural areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Mar 9 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, an estimated 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – were estimated to be chronically hungry. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, i.e., 791 million are in developing countries, where the share of the hungry has declined by less than half – from 23.4 per cent (1990-1992) to 13.5 per cent (2012-2014).

Progress uneven

Overall progress has been highly uneven. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions.Nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – where the target of halving the proportion of the hungry has been reached, or nearly reached.

Progress in sub-Saharan Africa has been more limited, and the region now has the highest prevalence of undernourishment. West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1990-1992, while progress in South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight (low weight-for-age) and stunting (inadequate length or height for age) persist among children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

One in seven children under five are underweight

An estimated 99 million children under five years of age were underweight in 2012. This represents a fall of 38 per cent from an estimated 160 million underweight children in 1990. Yet, 15 per cent, or about one in seven, of all children under five worldwide are underweight.

East Asia has led all regions with the largest decrease of underweight children between 1990 and 2012, followed by the Caucasus and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia. While the proportion of underweight children was highest in South Asia, the region has also experienced the largest absolute decrease since 1990, contributing significantly to the global decrease over the period.

Despite a modest reduction in the proportion of underweight children, Sub-Saharan Africa was the only region where the number of undernourished children increased, rising from 27 million in 1990 to 32 million in 2012.

In 2013, about 17 per cent, or 98 million children under five years of age in developing countries were underweight. Underweight is most widespread in South Asia (30 per cent), followed by West Africa (21 per cent), Oceania and East Africa (both 19 per cent) and South-East Asia and Central Africa (both 16 per cent) and Southern Africa (12 per cent).

Underweight prevalence was below 10 per cent in 2013 in East, Central and West Asia, North Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Globally, the proportion of underweight children under five years of age declined from 25 per cent to 15 per cent between 1990 and 2013. Africa experienced the smallest decrease, with underweight prevalence declining from 23 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2013, while in Asia, it fell from 32 per cent to 18 per cent, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, from 8 per cent to 3 per cent.

This means Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are likely to meet the MDG target for underweight, while Africa is likely to fall short, achieving only about half of the reduction target. And although Asia as a whole is likely to meet the MDG target, underweight rates remain very high in South Asia (30 per cent). With its large, growing population, South Asia will be home to 53 million underweight children in 2013.

One in four children under five are stunted

Stunting is a better indicator than underweight for capturing the cumulative effects of child undernutrition and infection during the critical thousand day period from conception through the first two years of a child’s life. Stunting is also more common than underweight, with one in four children globally affected in 2012.

Stunting is caused by long-term inadequate dietary intake and continuing bouts of infection and disease, often beginning with maternal malnutrition, which leads to poor fetal growth, low birth weight and poor growth. Stunting causes permanent impairment to cognitive and physical development that can lower educational attainment and reduce adult incomes.

Although the prevalence of stunting in children under five fell from about 40 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2012, an estimated 161 million children under five in 2014 remained at risk of diminished cognitive and physical development due to chronic undernutrition.

Nearly all regions in the world have seen declines in the number of children affected by stunting. The exception is sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of stunted children increased by a third, from 44 million to 58 million between 1990 and 2012.

Lessons

In countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting. Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water, sanitation and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination as well as adequate resources are needed.

The Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome in November 2014 articulated coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome all types of malnutrition (undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity) and defined pathways to international cooperation and support for integrated national nutrition efforts.

The international community, including those in the U.N. system, must come together to improve coordination for a sustained effort against malnutrition over the next decade.

But with high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world for the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without the extension of universal social protection to all in need.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bolivia’s School Meals All About Good Habits and Eating Localhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/#comments Sat, 07 Mar 2015 01:24:30 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139545 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/feed/ 0 The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Pagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-15-journalists-putting-womens-rights-on-the-front-page/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:11:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139536 ‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.

Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India.

Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence.

Paul is herself a survivor of infanticide.

She told Women Deliver, “When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy.

“Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother – and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”

Among others, Paul’s story on bonded labour in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad has had a tangible impact on the lives of those she interviewed.

In July she blogged about how one woman featured in the article ‘No Choice but to Work Without Pay‘, Sri Lakshmi, was released from bonded labour by her employer after a local citizen read the article on IPS and took action.

Lakshmi’s daughter Amlu, who once performed domestic labour while her parents went off to work, is now enrolled in a local elementary school.

Women’s issues aren’t ‘soft news’

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia.

Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work.

“For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom.

“One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a major obstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline.

“Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men.

Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Online Vote

Readers have the opportunity to vote for their favourite journalists from the fifteen journalists selected by Women Deliver.

The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Voting is open until 20 March 2015.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Misses Its Potential by Excluding 50 Percent of Its Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:08:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139526 A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But will they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poverty turning kids into brides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By girls, for girls: A grassroots approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond activism: towards a policy of ‘zero prevalence’

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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