Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:20:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 No Woman, No Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-woman-no-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 22:00:12 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140347 By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Almost exactly two years ago, on the morning of Apr. 24, over 3,600 workers – 80 percent of them young women between the ages of 18 and 20 – refused to enter the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, because there were large ominous cracks in the walls. They were beaten with sticks and forced to enter.

Forty-five minutes later, the building collapsed, leaving 1,137 dead and over 2,500 injured – most of them women.

The Rana Plaza collapse is just one of a long series of workplace incidents around the world in which women have paid a high toll.

It is also one of the stories featured in the UN Women report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, launched on Apr. 27.

All too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.
Coming 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, which drew up an agenda to advance gender equality, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 notes that while progress has since been made, “in an era of unprecedented global wealth, millions of women are trapped in low paid, poor quality jobs, denied even basic levels of health care, and water and sanitation.”

At the same time, notes the report, financial globalisation, trade liberalisation, the ongoing privatisation of public services and the ever-expanding role of corporate interests in the development process have shifted power relations in ways that undermine the enjoyment of human rights and the building of sustainable livelihoods.

Against this backdrop, all too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.

What this means in real terms is that, for example, at global level women are paid on average 24 percent less than men, and for women with children the gaps are even wider. Women are clustered into a limited set of under-valued occupations – such as domestic work – and almost half of them are not entitled to the minimum wage.

Even when women succeed in the workplace, they encounter obstacles not generally faced by their male counterparts. For example, in the European Union, 75 percent of women in management and higher professional positions and 61 percent of women in service sector occupations have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetimes.

The report makes the link between economic policy-making and human rights, calling for a far-reaching new policy agenda that can transform economies and make women’s rights a reality by moving forward towards “an economy that truly works for women, for the benefit of all.”

The ultimate aim is to create a virtuous cycle through the generation of decent work and gender-responsive social protection and social services, alongside enabling macroeconomic policies that prioritise investment in human beings and the fulfilment of social objectives.

Today, “our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed: for example, to provide safe water and sanitation, quality health care, and decent child and elderly care services,” says UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls.”

According to Mlambo-Ngcuka, “this is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in when the State does not provide resources and it affects billions of women the world over. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security and independence,” she added.

The report agrees that paid work can be a foundation for substantive equality for women, but only when it is compatible with women’s and men’s shared responsibility for unpaid care work; when it gives women enough time for leisure and learning; when it provides earnings that are sufficient to maintain an adequate standard of living; and when women are treated with respect and dignity at work.

Yet, this type of employment remains scarce, and economic policies in all regions are struggling to generate enough decent jobs for those who need them. On top of that, the range of opportunities available to women is limited by pervasive gender stereotypes and discriminatory practices within both households and labour markets. As a result, the vast majority of women still work in insecure, informal employment.

The reality is that women also still carry the burden of unpaid work in the home, which has been aggravated in recent years by austerity policies and cut-backs. To build more equitable and sustainable economies which work for both women and men, warns the report, “more of the same will not do.”

At a time when the global community is defining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post-2015 era, the message from UN Women is that economic and social policies can contribute to the creation of stronger economies, and to more sustainable and more gender-equal societies, provided that they are designed and implemented with women’s rights at their centre.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Want to Help Nepal Recover from the Quake? Cancel its Debt, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 20:05:10 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140345 School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The death toll has now passed 3,300, and there is no telling how much farther it will climb. Search and rescue operations in Nepal entered their third day Monday, as the government and international aid agencies scramble to cope with the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck this South Asian nation on Apr. 25.

Severe aftershocks have this land-locked country of 27.8 million people on edge, with scores missing and countless others feared dead, buried under the rubble.

“Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.” -- Jubilee USA Network
With its epicenter in Lamjung District, located northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, and south of the China border, the massive quake rippled out over the entire country, causing several avalanches in the Himalayas including one that killed over 15 people and injured dozens more at the base camp of Mt. Everest, 200 km away.

The United Nations says Dhading, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Nuwakot, Dolakha, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Ramechhap are the worst affected areas. In total, 35 out of 75 districts in the Western and Central regions of the country are suffering the impacts of the quake and its severe aftershocks.

Questions abound as to how this impoverished nation, ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – making it one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – will recover from the disaster, considered the worst in Nepal in over 80 years.

One possible solution has come from the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, which said in a press release Monday that Nepal could qualify for debt relief under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR).

The IMF created the CCR this past February in order to assist poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or health crises by providing grants for debt service relief. Already, the fund has eased some of the financial woes of Ebola-impacted countries by agreeing to cancel nearly 100 million dollars of debt.

Quoting World Bank figures, Jubilee USA said in a statement, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.”

Nepal owes some 1.5 billion dollars each to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as 54 million dollars to the IMF, 133 million dollars to Japan and 101 million dollars to China.

“In order for Nepal to receive relief from the IMF’s fund, the disaster must destroy more than 25 percent of the country’s ‘productive capacity’, impact one-third of its people or cause damage greater than the size of the country’s economy,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Network’s executive director, told IPS. “It seems clear that Nepal will qualify for immediate assistance from the IMF.”

According to Jubilee USA Network, Nepal is scheduled to pay back 10 million dollars worth of loans to the IMF in 2015 and nearly 13 million dollars in 2016. Relieving the country of this burden will free up valuable and limited funds that can be redirect into the rescue and relief effort.

Strong emergency response – but is it enough?

“Time is of the essence for the search and rescue operations,” Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Monday.

“The actions of the Government of Nepal and local communities themselves have already saved many lives. Teams from India, Pakistan, China and Israel have started work, and more are on their way from the U.S., the UK, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and elsewhere.”

Early on Sunday morning the United States’ department of defense confirmed it had dispatched an aircraft to Nepal carrying 70 personnel and 700,000 dollars worth of supplies.

But it is unclear whether or not the immediate response will prove equal to the mammoth task ahead.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 940,000 children from areas severely affected by the quake are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been supplying emergency food rations, while the World Health Organisation has sent in enough medical supplies to meet the needs of 40,000 affected people, yet experts say much more will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

Tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the open air in makeshift tents; almost all are in need of better accommodation, clean water, sanitation, tents and blankets, and improved medical supplies.

A situation report released over the weekend by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revealed, “In Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded, running out of space for storing dead bodies and lack medical supplies and capacity. BIR hospital [one of the country’s leading medical facilities] is treating people in the streets.”

Scenes of devastation all around the country highlight the need for emergency relief, but do not do justice to the massive reconstruction effort that will be needed in the months and years to come.

“Nepal’s rebuilding efforts will take years and debt cancellation is a recipe for long-term financial stability,” LeCompte stressed.

“Since the IMF has clear rules in place and the financing available with their trust, aid [to Nepal] should come relatively quickly,” he added. “Unfortunately, with the bulk of the debt owed to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the rules for debt relief are less clear.

“It’s unfortunate that the World Bank, as a development institution, still has not yet released a plan similar to the IMF to respond rapidly to humanitarian crises. In the short term, the World Bank must offer a plan for grants and debt relief. I hope this crisis also motivates the World Bank to release their plans for a rapid response mechanism,” LeCompte concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Push to Privatise Education in Global South Challengedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:22:57 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140312 By Kwame Buist
LONDON, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

The multinational education and publishing company Pearson PLC was challenged during its annual general meeting on Apr. 24 by representatives of civil society and trade union groups over various profit-driven programmes aimed at expanding private education in numerous countries in the global South. 

As people arrived at the AGM, they were greeted by protesters with placards saying ‘Education is a right, not a commodity’ and ‘Stop cashing in on kids’.

In an open letter to the Pearson board published Apr. 24, civil society groups and trade unions including Global Justice Now, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) wrote that the company’s “activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels.

“From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the ‘test and punish’ efforts in the global North, to supporting the predatory, “low-fee” for-profit private schools in the global South, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “Pearson’s profit-driven agenda of pushing private education in the global south is at odds with the universal right of education that all children have.

“There is significant evidence to show that private education, even when ‘low cost’, ultimately increases segregation and marginalisation in society because access and quality depend on ability to pay. It’s even more disturbing that Pearson is getting U.K. taxpayers’ money in the form of aid from DfID to subsidise them in this process.”

According to Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, “Pearson’s activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels.  Pearson needs to end its involvement with fee-paying private schools in the global South; stops all practices that promote and support the obsession with high-stakes testing; and negotiates with teachers’ unions and others to secure agreement on the appropriate role of edu-business in education.

“Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society not private profit.”

Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL, said: “No one should forget that education is a human right which should not be perverted by the profit motive.  School curricula should not be patented and charged for.  Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed.

“Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people”.

The Pearson AGM took place on the same day that Global Justice Now published a report titled Profiting from poverty, again: DfID’s support for privatising education and health that accused the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfiD) of using aid money to set up private healthcare and education in Africa and Asia which has benefited British and American companies, including Pearson.

The report uses numerous examples to show DfID’s support for private education and healthcare in the global South including the Girls Education Challenge which claims to aim at helping “up to a million of the world’s poorest girls improve their lives through education and to find better ways of getting girls in school and ensuring they receive a quality of education to transform their future.”

DfiD is said to be spending the equivalent of 540 million dollars on the Girls Education Challenge during 2011-2017 and has devolved management of the project to Price Waterhouse Coopers, with the project portfolio showing private sector involvement in education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda.

Under the Girls Education Challenge, DfID is funding a project in Tanzania that also involves Pearson.

Meanwhile, says the report, DfID has chosen to partner with Coca-Cola, which claims it will promote “the economic empowerment of 5 million female entrepreneurs across the global Coca-Cola value chain.”

“Aid should be used to support human needs by building up public services in countries that don’t have the same levels of economic privilege as the United Kingdom,” said Dearden. “So it’s shocking that DfID is dogmatically promoting private health and education when it’s been shown that this approach actually entrenches inequality and endangers access.”

According to the Global Justice Now director, “aid is being used as a tool to convince, cajole and compel the majority of the world to undertake policies which help big corporations like Pearson, but which detract from the real need to promote publicly funded services that are universally accessible.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: To Solve Hunger, Start with Soilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:44:03 +0000 Anne-Marie Steyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140293 Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

By Anne-Marie Steyn
NAIROBI, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Peter looked confused as he recounted how he’d painstakingly planted potatoes to sell and to feed his family of eight, only to find that when harvest time rolled around he had been greeted with tiny tubers not much bigger than golf balls.

A young farmer living in Bomet County in Kenya, Peter had recently been ‘shaped up’ on film, as part of our farming reality TV show Shamba Shape Up. The show is aired as a six-month-long (one growing season) series of 30-minute television programmes on leading channels in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda 2012 to audiences across Kenya.Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

It is Africa’s first makeover reality television programme using real experts to show small-scale farmers how to improve pest management, irrigation, cattle rearing, poultry keeping, financial education and crop management techniques, in an engaging yet informative way.

Peter’s story is discouraging, yet it’s happening to farmers all over Africa, not just with potatoes but all manner of crops that just don’t grow like they should.

One reason for this is that the very soil in sub-Saharan Africa that should be a fertile home for helping crops thrive, is degraded, acidic, and simply won’t support crop growth. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 65 per cent of Africa’s arable land is depleted of vital nutrients, which have been taken from the soil through continuous farming, and never replaced.  Sub-Saharan Africa represents 10 per cent of the total global population yet only 0.8 per cent of total fertiliser use.

In a region that is struggling to feed itself, addressing soil health is already a critical issue. But we need to start by showing the farmers themselves why it is so important, and why investing in soil health will pay off. Most farmers simply do not understand the importance of looking after the soil to their farm, and apply the same fertiliser, without knowing if it is the right one, season after season for their whole farming lives.

Of the 180 farms Shamba Shape Up has worked with, only one had ever conducted a soil test, to find out what kind of nutrients they needed to boost productivity. Yet when we survey farmers, or review requests coming in through our SMS information service, the topics of fertiliser, soil fertility and soil testing are among the most requested.

It is clear that there is a great knowledge gap. Bridging this gap, and educating farmers on soil health is going to be critical, if we are to meet the proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end hunger by 2030. And monitoring farmer outreach that takes place on effective soil management practices could be an effective way to track this progress.

Peter got some advice for his potatoes. An expert recommended the Viazi Power Programme, which uses a combination of nutrients that are applied to the potato crop at various stages of growth. This treatment has helped farmers on one acre of land to reach yields of 50 to 80 sacks of potatoes, that are large and of a good quality.

But Peter had actually tried to use the Viazi Power Programme in the past, and failed. His downfall was using recycled seeds from his farm that were not certified, and carried Bacterial Wilt. Sending three children to school, Peter couldn’t afford the higher price of the clean seed.

Lack of access to finance is a key obstacle to farmers taking on soil health techniques. But here is where education once again plays a vital role: if farmers are shown the return they can have on their investment and how to realise this gain, more will be encouraged to adopt more costly practices.

Shamba Shape Up now includes a soil health element in every episode we produce, and our method of farmer education is proving successful. Of the 50 per cent of the audience who adopt new practices every year from the show, 97 per cent say that the change caused an increase in money or food production from their farm.

A recent study by Reading University estimated that farmers who adopted a soil-related improvement in their maize as a result of Shamba Shape Up shows in Nakuru doubled their production. In Muranga, yields were quadrupled. For families living on 30 to 150 dollars per month, doubled production can mean school fees or surviving an illness.

As negotiators finalise the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations later this year, we urge them to consider farmers like Peter, and the life changing transformation that better education on soil health could bring to families like his.

Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

The world cannot accept defeat on such an important issue; instead we must empower farmers like Peter to win these battles, for his family, his country and his continent.

Explore Farming First’s new online essay “The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals” for more on this topic.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The World Has Reached Peak Plutocracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:11:01 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140276 The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

Parents in despair because they can’t pay the fees at the privatised neighbourhood school…

Families left without healthcare because the mining company that pollutes their river also dodges the taxes that could pay for their treatment…

Women getting four hours of sleep a night as they try to balance caring for their families and homes with earning income…

Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose

Whole communities thrown off their land to make way for a foreign company…

Workers paid so little by employers that they’re suffering malnutrition.

These are just a few of the reports I’ve heard from my colleagues in recent months.

We see people frustrated by the surge in the power of the plutocrats.

Plutocracy is a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest. The rich have always been powerful; some element of plutocracy has been present in all societies.

But the degree of control being exercised now; the number of the ultra-rich essentially buying political power; the nearly impossible persistence required to overcome the legal, public relations, and technical resources controlled by corporations and the richest individuals; the much denser concentration of wealth in even the largest countries; and the global nature of the resources, power, and connections being accumulated have combined to foreclose meaningful democratic options and space for a life independent of the materialistic values of the plutocracy.The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy.

The logic that undergirds all of this – the greed for money, power, and control – is antithetical to preserving an environment in which living things can thrive. Through most of human history we have endured various unbalanced political and social systems.

Today’s market economy has roots going back centuries, but only in this one has it become so monolithic, with virtually the entire world under its spell.

We are living in an age of hyper-capitalism: we have gone beyond industrialisation and value-addition to a point where the rules are written by the financiers, and the finance industry, rather than a sector that actually makes something, has become arguably the most politically powerful industry in history.

A brief period of relative equality in the richer countries after World War II gave way from the late 1970s to a powerful ideology of competition, unending growth, and unhindered profit. This ideology was charted deliberately by institutes lavishly funded by aspiring plutocrats.

The denial of limits, the privileging of competition and profit over cooperation and public goods, and the capitulation of governments to the power of money has made the modern plutocracy a dominant reality, and one that must be reversed.

Commentators now routinely speak of how people can “contribute to the economy.” The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy. “Freedom” has been reconfigured to refer to consumer choice rather than the ability to determine how to order one’s life.

A few years ago there was considerable debate about the concept of “peak oil” – the possibility we were reaching the beginning of the end of usable petroleum supplies. We may be reaching a more dangerous point: peak plutocracy, where society and the environment can sustain no more concentration of power and resources.

So it is worrying to hear so consistently from colleagues around the world the extent to which the power of people is being curtailed by the people with power.

We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:

• the so far largely successful efforts of business interests to prevent meaningful action on climate change;

• the push for high-input, high-tech, restricted-ownership agriculture that excludes smallholder farmers – a great portion of them women — who feed most of the world’s people;

• the collusion of governments and companies in taking control of land and natural resources from communities in order to generate profits for privileged outsiders;

• the “race to the bottom” among governments to sacrifice revenues through blanket “tax holidays” in order to lure foreign investment, even when the benefits are unclear or negligible;

• the failure of governments to establish laws that protect workers from abuses ranging from trafficking to unlivable wages to unacceptably risky working conditions, with women workers in the most precarious, low-paid and inhumane jobs;

• the failure to recognise the systematic abuse of women’s rights in many areas – but in particular the deep uncompensated subsidies women provide to all economies with their unpaid and low-paid care work that keep families and societies functioning;

• the pressure put on countries – and more recently the collusion between governments and companies – to change commercial and consumer-protection laws so that foreign companies can dominate markets;

• the use of coercion, including violence, by powerful elites in private enterprises, fundamentalist movements, and repressive regimes to control women’s bodies and sexual and reproductive choices, their labour, mobility and political voice;

• the pressure to privatize schools at the expense of decent public education, despite the complete absence of evidence that the results will be beneficial to anyone beside the owners;

• the unwarranted scorn directed at the public sector, and the pervasive recourse to the notion of “private sector led development” by most donor countries and inter-governmental institutions, even in the absence of positive models

• the fetishization of foreign direct investment in low-income countries despite compelling evidence that no country has achieved sustainable development with foreign capital;

• the increasing congruence of interests among governments, corporations, and elites in limiting the freedom of action of social movements and public interest groups, constricting political space in all parts of the world;

• the increasing domination of wealthy corporations and individuals in United Nations debates and processes.

• the brazen ideological defense of inequality and massive concentration of power and resources by wealthy individuals and the institutes they fund;

• the increasing number of disasters and emergencies are turned into profit opportunities, as affected areas are remade according to the plutocrats’ rules.

• the refusal of governments to combat the global youth unemployment crisis with public jobs programs to address the widely-acknowledged looming crisis of deteriorating infrastructure;

• the fallacy of scarcity revealed by the capacity of governments to find massive public financial resources for war and bank bailouts, but seldom for programs that would employ people, combat hunger and disease, and foster renewable energy.

The hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has corrupted democratic systems, in rich countries as well as in poor ones.

We need to democratise power. But that doesn’t mean just better monitoring of elections. It means making power more horizontal, more accessible to more people, the people who are affected by the decisions made.

There is no one-off recipe for making this happen. It has to happen over and over again, every day, everywhere, with increasing connections so that we won’t be crowded out by those with money and influence. We have to occupy space and not leave it, and then occupy some more.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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East African Environmental Activist Wins Major Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:17:45 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140262 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On Earth Day, Apr. 22, Kenyan activist Phyllis Omido takes the stage in Washington DC to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to defend her community from lead poisoning and force the closure of a lead smelting plant that was emitting fumes and spewing untreated acid wastewater into streams, poisoning the neighbourhood – including her own baby.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

“At first we thought he had malaria or typhoid, but doctors found he was suffering from lead poisoning,” Omido recalled. The lead was traced to a smelter where Phyllis had recently started work as a community liaison officer.

“The doctors said the lead reached my baby through my breast milk,” Phyllis said in London last week as she made the trip to the U.S. to receive the Africa award of the prestigious Goldman prize.

The smelter – built in the heart of Owino Uhuru, a densely-packed slum in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city – extracted lead from used car batteries. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It damages the development of children, targeting the brain and nervous system.

The smelter began operations in 2009 without any environmental impact assessment (EIA). One of Phyllis’s first jobs was to commission one. The findings revealed that the smelter was poisoning the neighbourhood, but the company was unwilling to move.

“I went to the company’s directors and the government’s environment agency, which had licensed the smelter. I showed them reports from lead experts. But nobody wanted to listen,” she says. Meanwhile, children were getting sick; women were having miscarriages; even the neighbourhood chickens were dying.

She claims that the company routinely sacked workers after a few months because it knew their exposure to lead was unsafe. But after a worker died, the community held a demonstration. A local MP, who was also a minister for the environment, came. “We hoped he would help. But he said we should keep quiet because the company brought jobs. He accused me of being in league with his political opponents.”

After a long struggle, with help from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic waste, she was able to see the company close the plant in 2014.

Since then, she has set up a local NGO, the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, to fight other causes like salt miners who are damaging Kenya’s nearby coastal fisheries. And she has more work to do in Owino Uhuru.

Omido and the other prize recipients – from Myanmar, Canada, Haiti, Scotland and Honduras – will each receive 175,000 dollars for their ongoing work. Dana King and conservation scientist Dr. M Sanjayan will be Masters of Ceremonies. For more information about the prize, visit the website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:19:07 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140247 BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.

The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.

But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.

Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.

Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.

From the temple to the open-pit mine

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.

“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”

While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.

The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.

While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.

Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.

Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.

She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.

After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.

It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.

For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.

She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.

All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.

In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.

In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.

Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.

Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.

Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.

Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.

Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.

The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.

For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.

Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.

She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.

Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.

Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.

With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.

Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.

Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.

Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.

From servitude to self-reliance

Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.

Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.

BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.

She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.

It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.

Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.

“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: Realising Unfinished Business of MDGs : A Call for Greater Action and Investment for Malariahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:45:30 +0000 Fatoumata Nafo Traore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140233 Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré

By Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

Later this week, communities around the world will commemorate World Malaria Day for the last time in the context of the global development priorities set in 2000.

Aspiring for a world free from hunger, poverty and disease, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were endorsed by the largest gathering of world leaders in history.Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.

Most of those world leaders have since moved on, but the goals they determined galvanised the planet to work together toward a better future for humanity and spawned health and development partnerships which continue to this day.

These unique alliances have evolved over time to meet the changing environment, and, in the case of malaria control and elimination, succeeded exponentially where other development efforts have stalled.

Since 2000 and the dawn of the new millennium, over four million lives have been saved by mass distribution of insecticide treated nets, insecticide spraying of interiors, improved malaria treatments and rapid, on the spot, diagnosis of malaria. Over the past 15 years, malaria mortality has decreased by 47 percent worldwide and by 55 percent in Africa alone.

In fact, 64 countries have achieved the malaria-specific Millennium Development Goal – to have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015. This means less newborn, infant and maternal deaths, fewer days missed at school and work, more productive communities, stronger health systems and more vibrant economies.

But these gains are fragile and their impact unevenly distributed. As we shift gears – from the Millennium Development Goals to the broader Sustainable Development Goals – we must not forget the unfinished business of the MDGs, the unmet targets – the populations still at risk and the continuing unnecessary deaths, suffering and loss of livelihood caused by malaria.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) has come a long way in the last 15 years – but we still have some distance to go.

Universal coverage with insecticide treated nets, effective treatments, rapid diagnostics and indoor spraying has not yet been achieved. Too often, migrant workers, mobile communities and other remote populations do not yet receive adequate malaria services.

In Africa today, 10,000 women and between 75,000 and 200,000 infants are estimated to die annually, with many millions suffering worldwide, as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy. It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable in our society remain the least protected.

Greater investment in future generations, in the protection of mothers and their unborn babies from malaria, is a moral imperative. We can and must do better.

In this critical transition year, the RBM Partnership will launch its second generation global malaria action plan called “Action and Investment to defeat Malaria (AIM) 2016-2030: for a Malaria-Free World.”

It makes the global case for eliminating the scourge of malaria over the next 15 years and avoiding the resurgence of the disease, with its associated crippling economic cost and devastating suffering and death.

The AIM calls for heightened investment within the new Sustainable Development framework and emphasises a people-centred approach, which leaves no one behind. It also shows clearly how engaging all sectors of society will boost global efforts and generate the much needed human and financial resources to win the race against malaria.

With the drug and insecticide resistance eroding effective tools, malaria control and elimination efforts will need smart investments and increased international and domestic spending as endemic countries move from low to middle income status and shift their sights to ambitious elimination targets.

An investment in malaria control and elimination is an investment in the future, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best buys in global health. The tools are cost-effective and the return on investment high. If we can eliminate the disease in sub-Saharan Africa alone by 2030, the world stands to gain an estimated 270 billion dollars.

If we are to make malaria history we will need new tools – innovations that will help us realise our ambition towards a malaria-free world, particularly those that can accelerate elimination in the near future and tackle the challenges we face today, like drug and insecticide resistance.

We will also need transformative technologies – effective vaccines and rapid malaria tests that can be used in remote areas and can detect cases that have no visible symptoms.

Going forward, the malaria fight will need new focus: strengthening country ownership, empowering communities, enhancing data quality for decision making, engaging multiple sectors outside health and exploring ways to do things better at all levels, with maximum value for money.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership will be ready to adapt strategies and approaches, amplify political will and country readiness, so that together we can win the race against malaria.

Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.

Winning the fight against malaria means that families, communities, and countries will thrive as never before.

By working together we can put an end to this needless suffering and strengthen the potential of individuals, communities and countries to achieve our ultimate goal – a world free from malaria.

Note: World Malaria Day was instituted by WHO Member States during the 2007 World Health Assembly and is celebrated on 25 April each year to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria control and elimination. The theme for the 2013-2015 campaign is “Invest in the Future. Defeat malaria”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sexual Violence in Conflict “The Contemporary Moral Issue” Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:54:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140190 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in war must end, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who presented to the U.N. Security Council the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the issue on April 15.

Speaking to the Council, Bangura said, “The history of war zone rape has been a history of denial. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny.”

Calling on Council member states, Bangura remarked that sexual abuse is used in war as a tool to terrorise, displace victims and establish power, by state and non-state actors, as well as militia rebel groups.

Hamsatu Allamin, from the “Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”, a Nigerian NGO, urged the Council to find concrete solutions.

“Women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes must be a core component of any effort to effectively reduce and address incidents of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.

The U.N. report acknowledges for the first time the impacts of the “use of sexual rape as a war tactic upon women, girls, but also men and boys, by extremist armed groups – providing a list of 45 suspected parties – in countries such as Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.”

The study, which analysed the situation in 19 war torn countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Middle East, described sexual violence as a “truly global crime”, coming in the form of abuse, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and nudity.

Sexual violence is also used as an instrument of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the report noted. It highlighted the risks for LGBT individuals, which are targeted by armed groups which seek to impose social control and “morality”.

In a previous talk at the U.N. earlier in the week, Bangura told the press that including women into the peacebuilding and peacemaking framework would be a strong step forward in offering them the possibility to increase their power and role in conflict societies.

Progress is being made, Bangura explained, as in the past two years the international community has cooperated with the African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and will soon with the League of Arab States. Also a number of regional organizations have appointed envoys on women, peace and security.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

 

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1.7 Billion Dollars Needed to Improve Ebola-hit Countries’ Health Care, Says Oxfamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/1-7-billion-dollars-needed-to-improve-ebola-hit-countries-health-care-says-oxfam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=1-7-billion-dollars-needed-to-improve-ebola-hit-countries-health-care-says-oxfam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/1-7-billion-dollars-needed-to-improve-ebola-hit-countries-health-care-says-oxfam/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:51:17 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140175 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), on Nov. 1, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), on Nov. 1, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

The international humanitarian charity Oxfam is calling on the World Bank and major donors to raise 1.7 billion dollars to improve poor health systems in Ebola-affected countries and strengthen community networks for preventing another epidemic.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said, “Communities pulling together has been vital to cutting Ebola infection rates […] But in order to be effective these networks need to work within a strong national healthcare service that is freely available to all people.”

In light of the World Bank’s talks on Ebola, set for Apr. 17 as part of the bank’s annual spring meetings in Washington DC, the focus is on the need to create a 10-year investment plan for free universal health care to ensure that countries are able tackle future disease outbreaks.

More than 10,000 people have died during the Ebola epidemic due to public health failures, remarked Byanyima. Oxfam has trained community volunteers and 1.3 million workers to visit houses and raise awareness about symptoms, good hygiene and risky behaviours, as well as supporting clinics, schools and people in quarantine with water and sanitation.

According to Oxfam, 420 million dollars is required to train more than 9,000 doctors and approximately 37,060 healthcare workers, and 297 million dollars is needed to pay their salaries.

The money is the minimum amount needed to assure health care assistance for all in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, according to Oxfam, and it would be invested in well-equipped facilities, sufficient trained staff, medical supplies and a systems of health information to strengthen community networks.

Byanyima said that, “The rise of stronger new community networks offer greater space for local people to be involved in decision making, but they have been excluded from recovery planning,” adding that this attitude should change, and donors should insist on engaging more with communities.

Building community networks is also vital to hold governments accountable for the money they spent, and if they spent it well, she remarked.

In Sierra Leone, around 12,000 children are orphans, and 180,000 people are jobless. In December 2014, in Liberia, 73 percent of people in three counties, Montserrado, Nimba and Grand Gedeh, reported dramatic economic impacts, in lost income and harvests, Oxfam researchers reported.

Oxfam urges the international community to invest in stronger public services, and to help local people to recover from the immediate psychological, social, and economic impacts left by the disease.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clean Cookstoves Could Change the Lives of Millions in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:28:18 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140163 In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
PHARPING, Nepal, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

When 26-year-old Laxmi married into the Archaya household in Chhaimale village, Pharping, south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she didn’t think she would be spending half the day in the kitchen inhaling smoke from the stove.

“The smoke made me cough so much I couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to cook,” the young woman tells IPS.

“[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems.” -- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
At the time, the family was using a rudimentary cookstove, the kind that has been found to be inefficient, unsafe and unhealthy. These stoves release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrous oxide, cause burns and sometimes disfigurement and put million of people – particularly women – at risk of severe health problems.

The toxic gases are known to create respiratory problems, pneumonia, blindness, heart diseases, cancer and even low birth rates. Every year 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by it.

Six months ago, Laxmi and her father-in-law realised that the women in their neighbourhood, a village of about 4,000 people, were getting their housework done faster and had free time to do other things.

When Laxmi’s father-in-law went to investigate, he found that they were using improved cookstoves and the family immediately decided to upgrade.

“I wanted to install improved cookstoves before, but I didn’t have an idea of how to go about it, or what organisations I could approach to ask for help,” Damodar Acharya, Laxmi’s father-in-law, tells IPS.

Fortunately for the Acharya family, the U.S.-based organisation Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had been working in the village and helping communities build mud-brick clean stoves with locally available materials.

Unlike traditional stoves, clean cookstoves have airtight chambers that prevent smoke from escaping into cramped kitchens. They also have small chimneys through which poisonous exhausts can exit the house.

“The [organisation] took 500 rupees [about five dollars] from us, but they did everything, including mixing raw materials, building the stove and teaching us how to clean them every few weeks,” Damodar Acharya explains.

According to Khila Ghale, of GPF-Nepal, the five-dollar fee includes “the labour charges of the stove master to build the stove, the cost of bricks, three or four types of rods, and the materials that make up the chimney.”

The entire cost of a two-hole mud brick stove ranges between 12 and 15 dollars. There is no government subsidy on improved cookstoves, so organisations like GPF help financially whenever they can.

However, the amount is still too much for most families in Nepal, where more than 75 percent of the population earns less than 1.25 dollars per day.

Ghale, who works directly with communities in raising awareness about the benefits of improved cookstoves, says in order to make them sustainable, it is important to monitor their use, talk to the communities about the benefits and challenges and make them aware that the stoves have to be properly maintained.

“The stove is sustainable but it has to be cleaned [and] repaired properly for long term use. It is unreasonable to expect it to work forever, but if maintained properly, it can be sustainable,” he says.

“If we can make families aware of the benefits, especially about the health benefits for women and children, the stoves [could] become an essential part of the household.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, over 80 percent of Nepali people use solid fuels such as wood and cow dung for cooking. In this country of 28 million, over 75 percent of households cook indoors, and 90 percent cook on open fires.

In January 2013 the government of Nepal announced clean cooking solutions for all by 2017. This initiative is in line with the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves project, which aims to adopt clean cooking solutions for 100 million households worldwide by 2020.

The Global Alliance claims, “[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems.”

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the three billion people worldwide who rely on solid fuels and indoor open fires for cooking suffer severe health impacts from the pollution. More men, women and children die each day as a result of exposure to indoor air pollution than die from malaria and tuberculosis.

A few weeks after the Acharya family built their clean cookstove, Laxmi’s neighbour Durga and her husband decided they also wanted one.

Durga Sharma tells IPS, “I have to cook early in the morning because I have two kids who go to school.” Using an improved cookstove has made her life easier, she says, and is keeping her family healthier.

Nepali women like Durga and Laxmi spend over five hours in the kitchen every day. Today, with improved cookstoves their cooking time is cut in half, and they have to use 50 percent less firewood.

In addition, they are much more environmentally-friendly than burning solid fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) black carbon, which traditional cookstoves produce, is the second biggest climate pollutant after carbon dioxide.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Asia says accounts for 40 percent of black carbon, which is responsible for altering monsoon patterns, adversely impacting agriculture and damaging water supplies. Thus, experts say, implementing cleaner cooking solutions for millions of households worldwide will feed automatically into global goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Back in Chhaimale village, around midday, Laxmi and Durga have already finished their housework for the day, and have even had the time to run errands.

Both women want to use the extra time they have to do what they love: Durga hopes to sell sundried vegetables in the local market and Laxmi is thinking about joining evening classes to complete her Masters degree programme, options they would simply not have had before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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First-Ever Training in Emergency Medicine Begins in Ghanahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/first-ever-training-in-emergency-medicine-begins-in-ghana/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-ever-training-in-emergency-medicine-begins-in-ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/first-ever-training-in-emergency-medicine-begins-in-ghana/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:02:07 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140146 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

In a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a teaching hospital and other medical groups, Ghana has launched its first-ever training programme in emergency medicine and nursing.

Some 15 specialist-emergency physicians, trained in the programme, are already working in hospitals in the Ashanti, Greater Accra and Northern regions. Some 35 trained nurses have been posted to facilities across eight regions in the country.

The project emerged in response to the Accra Sports Stadium disaster of May 9, 2001 at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium. Two popular teams were scheduled to play and trouble was anticipated. After the home side scored two late goals, the losing team’s fans began tossing plastic seats and bottles onto the pitch. Police responded by throwing tear gas into the crowd, sparking a stampede which led to the deaths from compressive asphyxia of 127 people.

Some gates were locked, preventing escape. The medical staff at the stadium had already gone home. “It was the longest and darkest night in Africa soccer history,” wrote Kent Mensah in goal.com

Authorities were blamed in an official inquiry with over-reacting, reckless behavior and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas. Six officers were accused of dishonesty and failure to take quick action.

A hearing on the incident failed to find any guilty parties but Ghanaians remember the disaster on May 9 each year. A monument “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”, mounted at the stadium, recalls the 127 lives that were lost.

In response to public pressure, a national Accident and Emergency Center was built in Kumasi. The Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons approached the Department of Emergency Medicine at Michigan University and a partnership was developed.

Prior to this new programme, most emergency care centers were staffed by medical officers with no formal training in Emergency Medicine. There were “casualty departments” in the larger hospitals but staffing was inadequate and relatively junior. Ambulance services are confined to regional capitals and are virtually non-existent in rural areas.

The training will “improve the provision of emergency medical care in Ghana through innovative and sustainable physician, nursing, and medical student training programs,” Michigan University wrote on its website. “These programs will increase the number of qualified emergency health care workers retained over time in areas where they are most needed. “

Funding for the project comes from the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center which is reported to be investing 130 million dollars in emergency medicine capacity across the continent.

Fifty 50 emergency nursing trainees are expected to complete their training by 2016, with 20 emergency medical technicians having been trained in triaging, resuscitation and acute care management.

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Opinion: Moment of Truth for the Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 05:22:23 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140067

In this column, Norwegian lawyer Fredrik S. Heffermehl* and Swedish civil servant Tomas Magnusson* argue that in recent years the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not reflected the hope of the award’s founder – Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) – that the world be freed of weapons, warriors and war, or promoted the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson
OSLO, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

The Nobel Peace Prize is about to bow out to critics. As of Jan. 1, the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winners has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who announced that “changes loom” in a recent interview.

However, Njølstad added, the changes “will not be dramatic”, making it unlikely that they will satisfy the full makeover demanded by The Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a newly-formed advocacy group wishing to reverse and undo international militarism.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In a letter sent in February to the Nobel Prize awarders, the group pointed to the purpose Alfred Nobel actually had in mind and presented a selection of candidates among the 276 nominated for the 2015 prize who are actually qualified to win. The Nobel Prize awarders have promised to respond to the letter, which, along with the valid candidates, is posted on the group´s website.

The group has chosen to ignore the wishes of the Nobel Committee that has a policy of strict secrecy around candidates and the selection process. By publishing, for the first time, the full nominations of the 25 “valid candidates”, the group has made it possible for everyone to see what types of peace work Nobel actually intended the prize to promote and its “imperative urgency” in the current period.

For over one hundred years, the secrecy rule has shielded the awarders from being held responsible for its neglect of the true Nobel “champions of peace” and they have been able to get away with assertions that the winners Nobel had in mind no longer exist.

According to the group this is untrue. It says that the committee ignores the simple, indisputable – and never disputed – evidence showing that when he designated his prize to the “champions of peace”, Nobel “meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarised world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.”

Tomas Magnusson

Tomas Magnusson

To make the prize comply with its actual purpose will require a dramatic change of the award policy. The Nobel Peace Prize Watch therefore doubts that the impending changes, described as “undramatic”, will be sufficient to satisfy the legislation on wills and foundations and the decisions of two public agencies in Sweden tasked with overseeing that foundations spend their funds in accordance with the law.

Even if the nominations are secret, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch was able to identify 24 names properly nominated for the 2015 prize. The list of valid candidates for 2015 is dominated by Americans and by people involved is nuclear disarmament, with nominees like Japanese hibakusha (nuclear survivors) Samiteru Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow; U.S. lawyer Peter Weiss and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Further candidates are David Swanson, the U.S. activist for full disarmament; whistleblowers Kathryn Bolkovac, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all from the United States; veteran organisers of a law-based world order, such as lawyers Benjamin Ferencz and Richard Falk, also from the United States; and the Womens´ International League for Peace and Freedom, formed during the First World War.

It seems as if Norwegian politicians, imbued in Western militarism and loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), are unable to understand Nobel´s idea of peace: to liberate the nations of the world from weapons, warriors and war. The idea to be supported by his will was that all nations must cooperate on disarmament.

Laureates like U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 and the European Union in 2012 both believe in military means and clearly are not the type of winners to whom Nobel dedicated his award.

If the world succeeded in realising the Nobel peace plan, this would release enormous funds to cater to human needs. It would cost only a tiny fraction of the world´s military expenditure to secure everyone access to food, clean water, housing, education, health care. It would become possible to secure decent circumstances for all people, all over the globe, poor and rich, East and West, North and South – and make them more secure in the bargain.

To a realist it must be obvious that a world filled with weapons and warriors, even nuclear weapons, is inherently an unsafe world.

In the letter requesting changes, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch refers to basic rules of law regarding wills and foundations and furthermore invokes decisions passed by two Swedish public agencies during the last few years.

The authorities expect the purpose of the Nobel testament to be respected and also that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm will keep its Norwegian sub-committee for the peace prize under strict and effective supervision and also refrain from paying the prize amount to a winner outside the purpose Nobel actually had in mind.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, elected by the Parliament of Norway, now has until Apr. 17 to decide whether it will serve the great mandate that Nobel entrusted to it, to illuminate and promote the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel in his will called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

Governments and citizens all over the world should unite in demanding that Norwegian parliamentarians respect Nobel and help liberate us all from the very dangerous common enemy called militarism. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer, former Vice President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and author of Peace is Possible and The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. Tomas Magnusson is a Swedish civil servant in immigration and integration issues, and former president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB). The two are founding members of the Lay Down Your Arms Association and organisers of The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

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“Food Safety Policies Are Globally Necessary” Says World Health Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 10:13:04 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140075 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

To mark World Health Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world and all sectors involved in the food business to introduce food safety policies into their political agendas.

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, WHO’s Executive Director, Jacob Kumaresan, said, “(Governments) should have comprehensive food safety policies which are matched with appropriate legislation. (This means) robust food safety strategies which include good storage, transportation, retail and good restaurant practices.”

Kumaresan also called for a “multi-sectoral collaboration, as food passes through multiple hands, from farm to plates. This is a test for governmental ability to foster dialogue and coordination between the health sectors, along with agriculture, trade, environment and tourism sectors.”

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, “Changes to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed, the emergence of resistant bacteria, and increases in travel and trade make it difficult to manage pathogens and contaminants once they are in our food supply.”

This year, WHO’s slogan “from farm to plate: make food safe” has been chosen because of its impact on public health and upon the global economy, explained Kumaresan.

Today access to direct food supply is widespread, said Kumaresan. “However, food also contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and sometimes chemicals substance, which are responsible for 200 diseases,” such as diarrhoea, heart diseases and cancer, he added.

“Unsafe food is a largely under-reported and an often overlooked global problem,” said Ban, adding that, “With the food supply chain stretching around the world, the need to strengthen food safety systems within and among countries is becoming more critical.”

According to WHO, food and waterborne diseases are linked to approximately 2 million deaths per year. The top offender bacteria are Salmonella Typhi and E.Coli, and the two most problematic areas for food safety are Africa and South Asia.

Environmental problems are a threat to food security, highlighted Kumaresan.

“Climate change offers difficulties in food production and distributions, biological and environmental contaminations, and anti-microbial resistance.”

Increases in travel and trade can pose challenges to food safety, as a local issue can easily become an international emergency, which requires a lot of money to contain, with consequences for the reputations of farms or countries where the food was produced, he added.

Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak, for example, caused 1.3 billion dollars in losses for farmers and industries, said Kumaresan.

“For the consumer, we need to handle food properly and we need to use basic hygiene,” concluded Kumaresan.

The WHO has developed five keys for people to handle food in a safer way. First, maintain hygiene practices – wash hands before eating, wash vegetable and fruits – second, separate raw food from cooked food. Thirdly, cook food thoroughly, so the heat can kill the germs. Fourthly, keep food in a safe temperature. Finally, use safe water while preparing food.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Women Still Struggling to Gain Equal Foothold in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:31:28 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140071 A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Kali Sunar, 25, a resident of the Dumpada village in the remote Humla District in Far-West Nepal, lives a life that mirrors millions of her contemporaries.

From the minute she rises early in the morning until she finally rests her head at night, this rural woman’s chief concern is how to meet her family’s basic, daily needs.

"Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference." -- Usha Kala Rai, a leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)
Her small plot of arable land scarcely produces enough food to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. With few other options open to them, her husband and her brother travel to neighbouring India to work as labourers, like scores of others in this landlocked country of 27.5 million people.

“The money they send is not enough because more than half of it is spent on their travel back and forth,” Sunar tells IPS. “If only I could get some kind of work, it would be a huge relief.”

Roughly 23 million people, accounting for 85 percent of Nepal’s population, live in rural areas. Some 7.4 million of them are women of reproductive age. Many are uneducated – the female literacy rate is 57.4 percent, compared to 75 percent for men – and while this represents progress, experts say that until women in Nepal gain equal footing with their male counterparts, the lives of women like Sunar will remain stuck in a rut.

Nepal has signed a string of international treaties that promise gender parity – but many of these pledges have remained confined to the paper on which they were written.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nepal ratified in 1991, specifies for instance that states parties must take all necessary steps to prevent the exclusion of, or violence towards, women; sadly, this has not been a reality.

According to the Kathmandu-based Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon, an initiative to provide support to victims of abuse, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death among Nepali women aged 19 to 44 years – more than war, cancer or car accidents.

The organisation further estimates: “22 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15; 43 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; [and] between 5,000 and 12,000 girls and women are trafficked every year.”

Some 75 percent of these girls are under 18; the majority of them are sold into forced prostitution.

Rights activists say that the country also routinely flouts its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, in legal matters, and in numerous other civic, economic and social spheres.

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Not only international treaties but domestic mechanisms, too, have failed to pull the brakes on sex discrimination and gender-based inequities.

A 2007 Interim Constitution, designed to ease Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, made provisions for women – as well as for other marginalised groups like Dalits (lower caste communities) Adivasis (indigenous and tribal groups), Madhesis (residents of the southern plains) and poor farmers and labourers – to be active political participants based on the principle of proportional inclusive representation.

These were all steps in the right direction, bolstered by the 2008 election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which saw women occupying 33 percent of all seats in the 601-member parliament.

However, that number fell to 30 percent in the second election, held in 2013, the first after the CA failed to draft a new constitution. With only 11.53 percent of women in the cabinet, experts say there is an urgent need to increase the number of women at the decision-making level.

According to a monitoring report by the non-governmental organisation Saathi, which tracked progress on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) relating to women, peace and security, women’s participation in Nepal’s judiciary stands at an average of 2.3 percent, with 5.6 percent of women in the Supreme Court, 3.7 percent in the appellate courts, none in the special courts and 0.89 in the district courts.

Women’s representation in security agencies is even more worrisome, according to a 2012 study entitled ‘Changes in Nepalese Civil Services after the Adoption of Inclusive Policy and Reform Measures’: there are only 1.6 percent women in Nepal’s army, 3.7 percent in the armed police force and 5.7 percent in the regular police force.

Dismal numbers of female civil servants across a broad spectrum of service groups also spell trouble: women account for just 9.3 percent of civil servants in the education sector, 4.4 percent in the economic planning and statistics division, 4.9 percent in agricultural affairs, 2.2 percent in engineering and two percent in forestry.

Only in the health sector do women come anywhere close to their male counterparts, with 4,887 out of 13,936 positions, roughly 36 percent, occupied by women.

Still, even this number is low, considering the health indicators for women that could be improved by boosting women’s representation at higher levels of politics and government: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nepal has a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. Only 15 percent of Nepali women have access to healthcare facilities.

Data from Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that only 19.71 percent of all families exercise female ownership of land or housing, another reason why women continue to languish on the lowest rung of the social ladder with little ability to exercise their own independence.

Although Nepal’s female labour force participation rate is higher than many of its South Asian neighbours – 80 percent, compared to 36 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India, 32 percent in Sri Lanka and 24 percent in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Oragnisation (ILO) – working women are burdened by social attitudes, which dictate that women undertake domestic labour as well as their other jobs.

“This makes it difficult for women to perform [in their chosen field] and have an impact,” explains Mahalaxmi Aryal, a member of the CA from the Nepali Congress.

Usha Kala Rai, a prominent women’s rights activist and politician, admits that the country has many legal grounds on which to address women’s issues, but says they are seldom utilised to their best effect.

“We completely lack the political will and the commitment to implement these legal provisions,” says Rai, a former member of the Constituent Assembly and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist).

She calls for increased numbers of women in decision-making roles, but acknowledges that those who make it to the top generally come from the elite class, with the added privilege of having received a good education – thus they are not necessarily representative of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

She tells IPS she favours a system of proportional representation for all state bodies on the basis of the female share of Nepal’s population – 52 percent.

“Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference,” she explains, citing the creation of the 2008 Women’s Caucus, comprised of all 197 women in the Constituent Assembly representing every major political party, to stand together for women’s rights irrespective of ideology.

However, pressure from male leaders meant that the second Constituent Assembly was unable to revive the Caucus, with the result that women no longer have a unified platform on which to voice their collective demands.

“Women politicians have been handpicked by their parties under the proportional representation (PR) [system], which makes them vulnerable to partisan politics,” political science professor Mukta Singh Lama tells IPS.

Until such a system is replaced with one that prioritises genuine inclusion of women at every level of the state, experts fear that Nepal’s women will not have an equal hand in the shaping of this country.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Child Labour on U.S. Tobacco Farms: A Stubborn Problem in a Billion-Dollar Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:36:49 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140054 Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

For many young people, the summer is synonymous with free time, relaxation, or family vacations. For less fortunate kids the summer means labour, with scores of youths taking on part-time work to support their families.

In the U.S., not only is this work not optional, it is also unhealthy – especially for those unfortunate enough to seek employment on the country’s tobacco farms.

“The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.” -- Dario, a child labourer interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW)
A recent string of policies aimed at addressing child labour in this major industry signals a turning point – but activists say the uphill battle is not yet over.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report detailing conditions of child labour in four of the country’s main tobacco-producing states – North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia – which together account for 90 percent of domestic tobacco production. In 2012, the total value of tobacco leaves produced in the U.S. touched 1.5 billion dollars.

According to the report, most of these children, sometimes as young as 12 years old, come from Hispanic immigrants families, and work on tobacco farms to help their families to pay rent and bills, and buy food and school supplies.

Margaret Wurth, co-author of the report and children’s rights researcher at HRW, told IPS that many children “chose to do this difficult job because there are no other job opportunities in the communities where they live […].”

Out of the 141 children interviewed by HRW, two-thirds suffered from acute nicotine poisoning, or Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) while working on plantations. GTS happens when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants, especially when the leaves are wet.

Sixteen-year-old Dario, who has worked on farms in Kentucky, said in an interview with HRW, “The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.”

Typical symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and headaches. Some children also reported that employers did not guarantee training courses or safety equipment. Some had to work barefoot; others wore only socks as they worked in fields thick with mud, according to HRW research.

Fabiana, 14, said to HRW, “I wore plastic bags because our clothes got wet in the morning. They put holes in the bag so our hands could go through them […]. Then the sun comes out and you feel suffocated in the bags. You want to take them off.”

A giant industry in need of reform

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 the U.S. produced nearly 800 million pounds of tobacco. The U.S. is the fourth leading tobacco producer in the world, after China, Brazil and India but unlike its competitors, the U.S. does not regulate the age of its employees on the tobacco fields, according to Alfonso Lopez, Democratic representative of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Recently, Virginia had the chance to become the first U.S. state to enact a law on child labour in tobacco plantations, in order to set a standard for all tobacco growers to protect children. But the proposed bill was defeated.

“My bill would prohibit hiring children under 18 to work in direct contact with tobacco leaves, or dried tobacco, with the exception of children who received parental consent to work in family farms,” Lopez explained to IPS.

Pressure from advocates, and studies like the one produced last year by HRW are slowly bearing fruit, with two large associations of tobacco farmers – the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina (TGANC) and the Council for Burley Tobacco in Kentucky – adopting new policies that prevent the hiring of children under the age of 16, and requiring parental consent for children aged 16-17.

This, in turn, led to two major U.S. tobacco companies – the Virginia-based Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) – adopting similar policies, for the safety of children working along the tobacco supply chain, Wurth said.

In 2014, three companies – Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard – accounted for 85 percent of U.S. cigarettes sales.

An Altria Group spokesperson, Jeff Caldwell, told IPS that in 2014, Altria signed the global pledge of commitment to eliminate any form of child labour in the tobacco supply chain worldwide, promoted by the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT).

In 2015, Altria started buy tobacco directly from growers, instead of buying it from third parties, in order to ensure that growers were not hiring children under 18, Caldwell added.

“We also have a very robust programme to train our growers and communicate to all of them the standardised U.S. tobacco good agricultural practices, to ensure that all of these growers are aware of, trained on, and in compliance with policies and laws that govern tobacco growing in order to protect children,” he added.

However, these measures only apply to farms that are part of large corporate supply chains, said Lopez.

“Most of the major buyers of U.S.-grown tobacco have adopted child labour standards more protective than U.S. law. But I think that without a stronger [federal] regulatory framework, dozens of children will inevitably be left out,” he remarked.

Last week the U.S. Department of Labour released a recommended practices bulletin, issued jointly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A Department of Labour Spokesperson told IPS that the bulletin focuses on the hazards of working in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. The guidelines are designed to educate tobacco companies, farmers, and workers on preventing the effects of GTS, through appropriate training and working equipment.

The guidelines recommend the use of gloves, long sleeve shirts, long pants and water-resistant clothing when handling tobacco leaves to prevent exposure to nicotine, while recognising that children may suffer worse consequences than adults if these regulations aren’t met, the spokesperson added.

However, the bulletin made no explicit mention of child labour, nor did it specify ways to tackle the problem through more concrete regulation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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U.N.’s Next Stop: Humanitarian Summit to Resolve Exploding Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:14:16 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140002 Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response." -- Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
The flow of millions of refugees is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5 million refugees coming to Germany and 88 million arriving in the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the 8.4 billion-dollar target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 billion more than last year’s appeal.”

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

Amanda Pitt, chief, media relations and spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS the requirements for the Syria crisis are 8.4 billion dollars for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region).

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge 3.8 billion dollars,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the United Nations said it didn’t expect the target of 8.4 billion dollars to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, U.N. deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as 3.8 billion dollars.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to 8.4 billion, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised 2.4 billion dollars.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9 million people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Curbing Tobacco Use – One Step Forward, Two Steps Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:30:13 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139988 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
ABU DHABI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The numbers are in, and there’s not much to celebrate: every year, about six million people die as a result of tobacco use, including 600,000 who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke.

Whether consumed by smoking or through other means, tobacco is a deadly business, and while usage statistics vary drastically across countries, time periods and age-groups, one thing is plain to policy makers all over the world: tobacco is going to be a huge development challenge in the coming decade.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace." -- Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.” Smoking in particular, and other forms of tobacco use to a lesser degree, has been found to increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including chronic respiratory conditions, cardiovascular illnesses, and cancers of all stripes.

Already the global burden of NCDs is tremendous, accounting for the most number of deaths worldwide. Some 36 million die annually from NCDs, representing 63 percent of global deaths. Of these, more than 14 million people die prematurely, before the age of 70.

In a bid to stem this rampant loss of life, governments all over the world have signed numerous treaties and protocols, including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which presently boasts 180 states parties covering 90 percent of the world’s population.

One of the convention’s goals is to achieve a 30-percent reduction in tobacco use among people aged 15 years and older by 2025.

By some calculations, the international community is moving slowly but surely towards this target. For instance, a new WHO study released last month found that in 2010 there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member states (or 78 percent of the population of 5.1 billion people over the age of 15).

The number of non-smokers is projected to rise to five billion (or 81 percent of the projected population of 6.1 billion people aged 15 and up) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, the report said.

According to a study published last month by the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, the prevalence of tobacco smoking among men fell in 125 out of 173 countries surveyed, and the smoking rate among women fell in 156 countries out of 178, in the 2000-2010 period.

But while these trends are positive, a closer look at the data shows that at current levels of progress, only 37 countries worldwide, or just 21 percent of all member states, stand ready to meet the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.

In fact, according to the WHO, there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025, representing a potential health crisis of severe proportions.

Catching them young – killing them young?

Last month some 3,000 tobacco control advocates closed the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH) here in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with appeals to world leaders to crack down on the tobacco industry’s campaign to lure young people into the habit.

Among other demands, activists and experts pressed governments to enforce bans on massive advertising campaigns, which many see as a gateway to what could become a lifetime of smoking.

In 2008, the WHO reported that 30 percent of young teens worldwide aged 13 to 16 smoke cigarettes, with between 80,000 and 100,000 children taking up the habit each day.

The organisation estimates that half of those who start smoking in their adolescent years will continue smoking for the next 15 to 20 years of their life, lending credibility to the widely held fear that when tobacco use starts young, life might also end young.

From the music and fashion industries to food and sports, the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry is finding marketing and advertising opportunities to attract scores of potential young consumers, since their curiosity and tendency to experiment have long marked them as a key ‘target’ group.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading US-based tobacco control campaign organisation.

In a statement released back in January, Myers alleged, “The tobacco industry spends 8.8 billion dollars a year – one million dollars an hour – on marketing, much of it in ways that make these products appealing and accessible to children.”

“They also use all means – legal and illegal – to sell their deadly products, deceive the public and policy makers by attempting to appear credible and trustworthy, and use lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms to undermine good government and the will of the people,” Myers said during the WCOTH last month.

From rock concerts to sporting events and from cafes to nightclubs, where young people of a higher income bracket typically socialise, cigarettes are readily available, making it difficult to avoid the pull of peer pressure.

Experts say young women, especially those who are economically independent, also fall into the category of an emerging market for the tobacco industry, as they seek fresh outlets for expressing their newfound freedom.

Myers cited Russia, where 25 percent of young women between 18 and 30 years old have taken up the habit, and China, where the equating of cigarette smoking with high fashion is evident in the country’s major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Neither Russia nor China is expected to meet the smoking component of the global NCD target by 2025.

Although Russia could witness a decrease in the number of smokers from 46.9 million in 2010 to 36.6 million in 2025, and China is slated to slash its smokers from 303.9 million in 2010 to 291 million in 2025, the rate of decrease in both countries is too low.

The situation is particularly dire in China, where an estimated 740 million suffer from exposure to second-hand smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.3 million die here each year from lung cancer, accounting for one-third of lung cancer-related deaths globally.

Judith Mackay, senior adviser of the World Lung Foundation, said Asian women in particular are being targeted by the industry because of the number of developing countries and fast-growing economies in the region with large young female populations.

“For developing countries in this region, the style of advertising in the 50s has come back – portraying smoking among young women as cool and sexy,” she said during a press conference in Abu Dhabi.

A 2010 report by the George Institute of Global Health stated that Asia and the Pacific were home to 30 percent of all smokers in the world, with India and China contributing hugely to these numbers.

In a bid to help member countries meet the smoking component of the NCD target, the WHO introduced a set of measures called MPOWER, encapsulating efforts to monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to those seeking to quit the habit, warn about the dangers of tobacco use, enforce bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products.

Such measures will not be easily implemented but as WHO Director-General Margaret Chan pointed out, “It’s going to be a tough fight but we should not give up until […] the tobacco industry goes out of business.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Lesbians Receiving Unequal Treatment from Cuban Health Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 07:41:50 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139969 Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

In addition to other forms of discrimination, lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba face unequal treatment from public health services. Their specific sexual and reproductive health needs are ignored, and they are invisible in prevention and treatment campaigns for women.

Many lesbian and bisexual women are afraid of gynaecological instruments and procedures which they experience as particularly distasteful given their sexual orientation. Many are unaware of their risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) and postpone attending gynaecology appointments in order to avoid questions about their love life, activists and health experts told IPS.

Dayanis Tamayo, a 36-year-old education specialist who lives in Santiago de Cuba, 862 kilometres from Havana, feels that health professionals are judgmental when they discover that her partner is a woman. They make lesbophobic comments and give her disapproving looks.

“Sometimes I get by unnoticed because I don’t fit the stereotype of a butch lesbian, but otherwise I always feel judged,” said Tamayo, who is engaged in research at Universidad de Oriente.

Recent studies back up Tamayo’s statement, pointing to prejudice against lesbian and bisexual women among the country’s health personnel, and ignorance about their particular sexual health needs.

Cuban psychiatrist Ada Alfonso presented a report on “Salud, malestares y derechos sexuales de las lesbianas” (Lesbians’ sexual health, illnesses and rights) at the 2014 Cuban Day Against Homophobia. She said that when they go to see the doctor, these women are asked more about their sexual experiences than about their reason for seeking treatment.

“If we look at women’s health through the lenses of inequality, the gap between lesbians and heterosexuals in regard to health services has a lesbophobic subtext hidden behind the discourse on ‘social needs’,” said Alfonso, an expert with the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX).

In her view, social pressure on women who are not heterosexual, amounting to homophobia, causes various forms of psychological and sexual malaise.

Alfonso interviewed women in several of the island’s provinces. She found that ethical deficiencies in the system are leading women to postpone clinical tests until they can see a doctor who has been recommended, or a health professional sharing their own sexual orientation.

The women are particularly averse to gynaecological tests because of the instruments used and invasive procedures such as pelvic and vaginal examinations.

Gynaecology outpatient consultations total 925,549 a year, for a population of 4.7 million women aged over 15, according to the National Office of Statistics.

Personnel working in preventive screening services for cervical and uterine cancer told Alfonso that lesbian women tend to come forward for testing too late for any therapeutic action to be taken.

“We generally think that since we do not have sex with men, we are exempt from those risks, because the information campaigns in the media only portray heterosexual couples,” an accountant resident in the Diez de Octubre neighbourhood of Havana told IPS, requesting anonymity.

The 39-year-old accountant, who works in the state sector, has never had a Papanicolau (Pap) test, which involves collecting cells from the uterine cervix and checking them for abnormalities. The Pap test is recommended for women aged over 25 to prevent cervical and uterine cancer and in Cuba it is offered free to women every three years.

“Although I do know that it is important, I find it psychologically difficult to face this test because I feel so exposed, assaulted even, and I personally do not like penetration,” she said.

All Cubans enjoy health coverage by a local family clinic, which is responsible for reminding women when it is time for their next Pap test. However, many women put it off.

In 2013, a total of 765,822 Cuban women aged over 25 had a Pap test done, a take-up rate of 195.8 per 1,000 according to the most recent figures from the Cuban Annual Health Statistics.

All treatment in the Cuban health system is free of charge and is delivered without institutionalised discrimination. But prejudice against non heterosexual people continues to grow.

“Health personnel are part of society, and society rejects lesbians,” José Martínez, a medical doctor in the eastern province of Granma, told IPS.

According to Martínez, medical training in Cuba is too narrowly focused on a biological approach and makes hardly any reference to psychosocial determinants of health.

“When a lesbian woman goes to see a gynaecologist, the doctor will probably assume that she is at lower risk (of cervical or uterine cancer) because penetration is not involved in her relationship, because this is what they have been taught,” Martínez said.

Yenis Milanés, who has a degree in hygiene and epidemiology, told IPS that “medical students are not required to take a single course on sexuality” during their training.

Women who have intimate relations with women tend to have a low perception of their own risk, and seldom take protective measures during sex, Milanés and Martínez said.

They both collaborated in a 2013 study of 30 lesbian and bisexual women in the province of Granma, which found these women thought they were unlikely to acquire sexually transmitted infections.

Another study in 2014 by Martínez and Milanés confirmed that sexual and reproductive health programmes in Cuba generally do not include information about the risks of contracting STI and HIV/AIDS that specifically addresses lesbian women’s issues.

Lesbians receive less information about STI prevention than other population groups and they have fewer welcoming institutional spaces where they can socialise and discuss their problems, said the report, to which IPS had access.

The research study debunks the myth that engaging in lesbian sex avoids all infection risks, although these are indeed much lower than for other sexual behaviours.

Depending on the sexual practices of a same-sex lesbian couple, unprotected contact with exchange of vaginal secretions and menstrual blood can lead to infection with the HIV/AIDS and Herpes simplex viruses, bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhoea, syphilis, vaginal parasites and other diseases.

Women represented 18.5 percent of the 2,156 new HIV-positive cases diagnosed in Cuba in 2013, bringing the total number of people living with the virus to 16,400, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Training health professionals to be sensitive to sexual diversity has been a long-established demand by groups of lesbian women supported by CENESEX in the provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Cienfuegos, Granma, La Habana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Villa Clara.

Through community activism, these groups are struggling for their rights to responsible enjoyment of sexual health, including equality of treatment in the health services and access to assisted reproduction technology.

Editado por Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:20:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139976 More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. --Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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