Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:55:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Family Planning in India is Still Deeply Sexisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:11:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143833 Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The tragic death of 12 women after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh went horribly wrong in 2014 made global headlines. The episode saw about 80 women “herded like cattle” into makeshift camps without being properly examined before the laparoscopic tubectomies that snuffed out their lives. In another incident in 2013, police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar arrested three men after they performed a botched sterilisation surgery without anaesthesia on 53 women over two hours in a field.

Deaths due to sterilisation are hardly new in India. According to records, over four million such operations were performed in 2013-14 resulting in a total of 1,434 deaths between 2003 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation according to health ministry data.

Health activists point out that the primary reason for this mess is an overt focus on female
sterilisation in the government’s family planning programme and a woeful lack of birth-control choices for women. Other forms of contraception are not available on an adequate basis because of the lack of health-care facilities. Injectable and Progestin-only pills are on offer only in private hospitals which severely inhibits their usage by poor women.

Worse, male sterilisation is still frowned upon socially. This places the onus of birth control on women with limited participation from men. According to latest research by the global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), female sterilisation accounts for 74.4 per cent of the modern contraceptive methods used in India.

As against this, male sterilisation is merely 2.3 per cent, while use of condoms is 11.4 per cent. The use of pills constitutes just 7.5 per cent of modern methods, whereas injectables and implants are almost absent. In the southern state of Karnataka, for instance, women account for 95 per cent of sterilisations conducted at family welfare centres.

Family planning experts attribute this sharp gender disparity to an entrenched patriarchal mindset and ingrained societal attitudes. This is the main reason, say activists, why despite vasectomy being a far less invasive and less complicated procedure as compared to tubectomy, more women are forced to undergo sterilisation. Doctors reckon that tubectomies are about 10 times more common in India.

“In male sterilisation, surgeons cut and seal the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This is far less painful than female sterilisation that involves cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which requires the entire abdomen of a woman to be cut open,” explains Dr. Pratibha Mittal, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bengaluru chapter says it receives requests from 70 to 80 women for tubectomy every month. “Rarely, if ever, does a man enquire about vasectomy,” stated a doctor.

According to health activists, rural women are under enormous pressure from husbands and in-laws to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections. Hence, they’re left with no option but to opt for surgery. The women are also offered all kinds of petty inducements to undergo sterilisation surgery highlighting the risks women face in reproductive health in a country battling high rates of poverty. Everything from washing machines to blenders to cash incentives are used to lure women to opt for sterilisation.

Health workers say sterilisation targets set by the government also push women into surgery. It is due to regressive societal attitudes that even the government’s marketing and advertising campaigns for family planning programme emphasise promotion of contraceptive pills that are used by women, instead of condoms used by men to tackle the issue of population control. “The government’s overemphasis on female sterilisation is following the easy way out thereby avoiding the difficult task of educating a vast population about other options. Teaching poorly educated women in remote communities how to use pills or contraceptives is more expensive than mass sterilisation campaigns,” says Neha Kakkar, a volunteer for non-profit Family Planning Association of India that promotes sexual health and family planning in India.

What is worrisome, say experts, is that the number of men seeking sterilisation has plummeted in the last five years. Statistics released by Delhi government show that in 2009-10 men accounted for 20 per cent of all sterilisations. It reduced to 14 per cent in 2010-11, 13 per cent in 2011-12, 8 per cent in 2012-13, 7 per cent in 2013-14 and
5 per cent in 2014-15.

Sterilisation camps were started in 1970 under the family planning programme in India with the help of the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. However, they acquired infamy during the 22-month-old Emergency in the mid-1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended democratic rule and state-funded organisations unleashed a draconian campaign to sterilise poor men through coercive means. Hundreds of men — some as young as 16 or 17, some even unmarried — were herded into trucks and taken to operating theatres in makeshift camps. Those who refused had to face police atrocities.

Health activists say such coercion never works. “There needs to be a concerted campaign to educate men about sterilisation. Most men believe that they become sexually weak after getting sterilised which isn’t true. Wives, under pressure, then take on the onus of family planning on themselves forgetting the fact that their husbands are equally responsible for this,” explains Dr. Mittal.

Experts emphasise that a paradigm shift in attitudes is what’s needed to change sterilisation trends in the country. More so as India is all set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030 with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. Worse, 11 per cent more male children are born every year as compared to
females, as against a benchmark of 5 per cent shows UN data deepening an already skewed sex ratio.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices. But there is little evidence that this has been implemented.

Be that as it may, there’s succour to be derived from the fact India’s population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 per cent in 1991-2000 to 17.64 per cent in 2001-11. According to government data, India’s total fertility rate has also plunged from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013.

With constant media pressure, besides sterilisation, the government is also trying to increase the basket of contraceptives and making them available under the national family planning programme. India has recently introduced injectable contraceptive as part of national family planning programme.

“Providing greater choice and improved access to modern contraceptives should become an inextricable part of India’s health and gender-equality programme,” advises Kakkar. “Public sensitisation campaigns about the benefits of family planning, and replacing coercive surgeries with access to a range of modern reproductive health choices, should form the bedrock of our health strategy.”

(End)

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Microcephaly Revives Battle for Legal Abortion in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:16:47 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143829 “Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

“Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

The Zika virus epidemic and a rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns have revived the debate on legalising abortion in Brazil. However, the timing is difficult as conservative and religious groups are growing in strength, especially in parliament.

“We are issuing a call to society to hold a rational, generous debate towards a review of the law that criminalises abortion,” lawyer Silvia Pimentel told IPS.

Pimentel, one of the 23 independent experts who oversee compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defends the right to abortion in cases of “severe and irreversible birth defects”.

In Brazil, a 1940 law makes abortion illegal with two exceptions: when it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

A third exception, in cases of anencephalic fetuses -which have no brain – was legalised in 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling based on the fact that they cannot survive outside the womb.

“This is different – microcephaly is not like anencephaly, in terms of surviving outside the womb; for the anencephalic fetus, the uterus serves as an intensive care unit; many even die before they are born,” said Clair Castilhos, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Microcephalic children, who are born with abnormally small heads, often have some degree of mental retardation, but they can survive.

“In these cases, we should discuss a woman’s right to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy, once she and her partner have been informed that their child could be born with serious difficulties,” said Castilhos, a pharmacist and biochemist who specialises in public health.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to abortion in cases of microcephaly, as women’s rights activists are seeking, “it would be a fourth exception,” she said.

“Although it wouldn’t be what we’re working for, which is the right for all women to decide whether to continue with a pregnancy, in any circumstances, rather than have an abortion as a ‘permissible crime’ in some cases,” she said in an interview with IPS.

But the approval of this “fourth exception” is unlikely.

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception.

In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions.

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Diniz forms part of a group of legal experts, feminists and other activists who plan to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on abortion in the case of microcephaly, in a repeat of the process they followed in the case of anencephaly, which began in 2004 and finally led to a verdict in 2012.

On Feb. 5, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Latin American governments to boost access to “reproductive health services,” including emergency contraception and abortion, given the spread of Zika virus in several countries of the region.

Between October – when the outbreak of microcephaly was identified as possibly linked to the Zika virus – and Jan. 30, there were 404 proven cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Another 3,670 cases are still being studied.

There have also been 76 infant deaths due to small brain size or central nervous system problems since October, but only five cases were confirmed as Zika-related while 56 are still under investigation.

Seventeen children were born with brain malformations proven to be linked to a mother’s infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Zika virus, like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease, which makes it difficult to assess the actual number of cases.

The government does not even have estimates of the number of victims of the epidemic, and only recently gave instructions for mandatory reporting of the disease.

There were 1,649,008 cases of dengue registered by the Health Ministry in 2015, with 863 deaths, 82.5 percent more than in 2014. This virus is more widespread and more lethal, but it does not seem to have caused such alarm among Brazilians as Zika virus.

Microcephaly, which is only a threat in the case of pregnant women, has had a much bigger public impact.

Its link to Zika was established by Brazilian researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a causal relationship between the virus and microcephaly has not yet been fully established.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 1 it declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

In Brazil, only when unborn babies began to be affected was a decision reached to combat the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In late January, the government launched a campaign that mobilised 220,000 military troops and thousands of health ministry and other public employees, as well as the public at large.

Brazil will have “a generation of people who have been impaired” if the mosquito is not eliminated, said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who has been criticised for making contradictory statements about the epidemic.

But a leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, complained to IPS that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighing the Aedes aegypti mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere,” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

He said that in the renewed debate on the right to abortion, it would be important to have a bioethics council, such as the ones that operate in Europe and in a few countries of Latin America, where abortion remains illegal except in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City, or under extremely limited circumstances (fetal malformation, rape, risk to the mother’s life) in most other countries.

Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving – even gradually – in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible.

“Congress is no longer ‘national’, it is an inquisition tribunal, where religious beliefs prevail,” said Castilhos.

Proposals in parliament, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

In the past few decades, the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on complex issues such as biosafety and stem cell research, where experts in jointly evaluating biological and ethical questions would help overcome or mitigate controversies, said Garrafa, the founder of several Brazilian and Latin American bioethics institutions.

In the current political context, the Supreme Court represents the hope for progress on sexual and reproductive rights, Pimentel, Castilhos and Garrafa all told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the outbreak of microcephaly is traumatic, but it also represents an opportunity for debate on abortion and the need for universal access to sanitation, they added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143793 Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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2 Billion Couples and 10 Relationship Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/2-billion-couples-and-10-relationship-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2-billion-couples-and-10-relationship-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/2-billion-couples-and-10-relationship-challenges/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 19:48:47 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143776 Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division. ]]>

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

The relationship challenges that the world’s 2 billion couples confront vary considerably by circumstances, including age, sex, education, income, marital status, family size, length of relationship, urban-rural residence, customs, religion and region of the world. Nevertheless, 10 major challenges among married and cohabiting couples may be identified across countries.

First, despite international agreements, government policies and public information campaigns, forced and child-bride marriages unfortunately continue to take place in many less developed countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For example, no less than two-thirds of the women aged 20-24 years old in Niger, Central African Republic, Chad and Bangladesh were married or in union before they were 18 years old (Figure 1).

Source: UNICEF. * The percent of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

Source: UNICEF.
* The percent of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

Typically the family coerces the girl or young woman into a marriage or union to an older man. In many instances, the family fears unwanted behavior, sexuality and undesired relationships with men outside their ethnic, cultural, religious or caste group.

Also, parents may have made a marital promise regarding their daughter, wish to strengthen family links, desire to protect and enhance their daughter’s standing, reduce household expenditures or ensure land, property and wealth remains within the family.

A daughter who is perceived to have violated the honor of her family or has an unintended pregnancy may be forced into marriage or in extreme instances killed by a family member. Forced marriages may be abusive and intended to be a punishment to as well as a means of restoring honor to the family.

Second, spousal abuse is not limited to forced marriages and constitutes a serious challenge to a couple’s relationship. Domestic disputes, including confinement, intimidation, psychological abuse and partner violence, is a worldwide problem happening among many both married and cohabitating couples.

Globally, nearly one out of three women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Although some 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, it’s estimated that more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.

Third, sexual relations, intimacy and love/affection constitute another area that is often challenging for couples. Dissatisfaction with sexual relations in many instances leads to emotional infidelity, extra-marital affairs, erosion of trust and separation or divorce.

One often-noted difficulty in a couple’s relationship is the woman complaining that her partner seems to want sex all the time with little attention to her wishes and the man being frustrated that his partner uses sexual intimacy strictly on a reward and punishment basis.

Those issues take on added salience as some contend that marriage implies automatic conjugal rights with a husband entitled to be intimate with his wife any time he wants and a wife duty-bound to oblige.

Fourth, decisions on whether and when to have a child, the number and spacing of children and how the children should be reared often present an important consequential challenge for many couples. Men and women may have differing views on having children, their respective roles and responsibilities in parenting and childcare and expectations and future goals for their children.

The use of contraception and abortion to limit as well as space childbearing remains a sensitive matter for couples in many parts of the world. While in many industrialized nations the woman typically has the final say in reproductive and pregnancy decisions, in many developing countries these issues remain a contentious issue for many couples.

Fifth, another major challenge encountered by couples is the broad issue of communication. Often it is not an inability or unwillingness to understand each other, but rather simply a stubborn refusal to allow or accept the existence of a partner’s positions or viewpoints.

The lack of effective communication frequently leads to recurrent arguments, habitual bickering, lack of appreciation, detachment, unwillingness to forgive, emotional stress, and in some cases physical violence. Two toxic forms of communication frequently reported are “nagging” – a widespread complaint of male partners – and “the silent treatment” – a common complaint of female partners.

Sixth, finances or money is an often-reported major challenge that couples face in their relationship. Many couples quarrel over budgeting expenses and savings, their partner’s income, differing spending styles and inheritance issues. Invariably, one person in the relationship, usually the male, tries to control the resources, restrict the spending of the other and make the major financial decisions.

Seventh, harmonizing employment, careers, togetherness and work-life balance is increasingly a difficult challenge for many couples. With the spread of the two-career couple and nuclear family, the roles and responsibilities of men and women in a marriage or relationship have changed, differing considerably from those even in the recent past.

The lack of equality in a relationship and mutual respect for each other’s work and career may lead to resentment, stress and unhappiness. While working wives reduce the financial burdens for spouses, their employment may weaken the husband’s traditional authority in the family.

Also, wives and female partners who work outside the home and have with husbands or partners who are frequently not around are likely to be dissatisfied with the usual division of labor in the household as they find themselves doing more than their fair share of domestic chores and familial responsibilities.

Eight, many couples are challenged by a partner’s personal shortcomings, misbehavior and dysfunctional habits. Addiction, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity, jealousy, domineering, lying, and narcissism are some of the serious issues that jeopardize and weaken a couple’s relationship.

When one partner feels the other is immature, irresponsible or untrustworthy, the relationship or marriage is likely to suffer, undermining affection, attraction, cooperation and fidelity. The difficulties become exacerbated when the partner resists seeking outside assistance or heeding needed remedial measures.

Ninth, unfulfilled and differing expectations of marriage or an intimate relationship are another major challenge for couples. Women and men typically have different understandings, needs and priorities regarding marriage, love, romance and the nature of intimate relationships.

Unrealistic expectations when entering marriage and relationships are not uncommon, especially among the young and immature women and men. Disappointments, unmet promises and boredom can arise in a couple’s relationship, especially after a number of tedious and uneventful years.

Tenth, for many couples and marriages dealing with in-laws can be a burdensome challenge. Achieving the right balance and rapport with the parents of ones partner can have significant consequences on the stability and well-being of a couple’s marriage or relationship.

Given individual histories and personal viewpoints, couples may find themselves strongly disagreeing about the appropriate amount of time, care and assistance to be provided to in-laws. Those issues become even more complex in cases of second marriages, blended families, ex-spouses and the rearing of children and grandchildren.

In many instances difficulties with in-laws originate between with the wife and her husband’s mother. This is frequently the case, especially in patrilocal communities, because both are competing for the husband’s attention, dedication and support in family and domestic matters. As one wife has tersely noted, “Our marriage has three people … me, my husband and his mother.”

No doubt some will disagree with the above-enumerated ten major relationship challenges facing the world’s two billion couples and may propose different key challenges. However, nearly all would agree that couples in virtually every part of the world encounter significant challenges and difficulties with their spouses or partner at various times in their relationships.

Those challenges, which may range from minor annoyances to serious offenses, have generally been viewed as personal matters to be worked out by the couple. Modern societies, however, have vital interests in promoting strong and harmonious relationships of couples and marriages, supporting family formation and childrearing, ensuring the basic human rights, dignity and security of both women and men, and protecting the welfare of children.

As one adage has discerningly affirmed, “Peaceful family, prosperous country”.

(End)

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Small-scale Fishing Is About Much More than Just Subsistence in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/small-scale-fishing-is-about-much-more-than-just-subsistence-in-chile/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:31:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143772 Pedro Pascual, who has been a fisherman for 50 of his 70 years of life, prepares bait in the installations used by some 70 small-scale fisherpersons in a bay in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, Chile. This son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen is worried because very few young people are fishing today. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Pedro Pascual, who has been a fisherman for 50 of his 70 years of life, prepares bait in the installations used by some 70 small-scale fisherpersons in a bay in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, Chile. This son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen is worried because very few young people are fishing today. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
ALGARROBO, Chile, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

“Fishing isn’t just for making a living, it’s also enjoyable,” said Pedro Pascual, a 70-year-old fisherman who has been taking his small boat out to sea off Chile’s Pacific coast in the early hours of the morning almost every day for the past 50 years, to support his family.

Impish and ebullient, he told IPS that he doesn’t like to eat much fish anymore, although he is aware of its excellent nutritional properties, which make it a key product in terms of boosting global food security. “The thing is, eating what you fish yourself is kind of boring,” he said.

“Sometimes my wife has to go out and buy fish, because I come home without a single fish – I sell all of them, so I don’t have to eat them,” he confessed, in a mischievous tone.

Pascual was born and raised in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, 100 km west of Santiago.“Artisanal fishers who used to have a quota, a share of extractive fishing activity, were left without rights, and many lost their work.” -- Juan Carlos Quezada

The son, grandson and great-grandson of fishermen, he stressed that fishing is everything for him and his family, as he prepared bait on counters built on the beach, which are used by some 70 local fishers.

He and the others will sell their catch in the same place the following day, at market installations built there by the municipal government.

“We used to catch a lot of meagre (Argyrosomus regius) in this area. Now we catch hake (Merluccius) in the winter and in the summer we catch crab and some red cusk-eel (Genypterus chilensis),” he said.

As he prepared the bait, tying fish heads with twine, Pascual explained that he and his fellow fishermen go out in the afternoon, lay their lines, return to land, and head out again at 6:00 AM to pull in the catch.

“I like crabs, because there are different ways to eat them. I love ‘chupe de jaiba’ (crab quiche). You can make it with different ingredients,” he said.

He repeated several times in the conversation with IPS how much he loved his work, and said he was very worried that there are fewer and fewer people working as small-scale fishers.

“At least around here, we’re all old men…young people aren’t interested in fishing anymore,” he said. “They should keep studying, this work is very difficult,” he said, adding that he is lucky if he makes 300 dollars a month.

In response to the question “what will happen when there are no more small-scale fishers?” he said sadly: “people will have to buy from the industrial-scale fisheries.”

This is not a minor question, especially since large-scale fishing has hurt artisanal fisheries in countries along the Pacific coast of South America, which have become leaders in the global seafood industry over the last decade.

Small-scale fisheries account for over 90 percent of the world’s capture fishers and fish workers, around half of whom are women, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Santiago.

Boats anchored in a small bay in the Chilean town of Algarrobo, waiting for the local fishermen to head out to sea in the evening to put out their lines. They go out the next day at dawn to haul in their catch, in a centuries-old activity that is now threatened by overfishing and laws in favour of industrial-scale fishing.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Boats anchored in a small bay in the Chilean town of Algarrobo, waiting for the local fishermen to head out to sea in the evening to put out their lines. They go out the next day at dawn to haul in their catch, in a centuries-old activity that is now threatened by overfishing and laws in favour of industrial-scale fishing. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In addition, they supply around 50 percent of all global fish catches, and fishing and aquaculture provide a livelihood for between 10 and 12 percent of the world’s population.

“Small-scale fishing makes key contributions to nutrition, food security, sustainable means of subsistence and poverty reduction, especially in developing countries,” FAO stated in response to questions from IPS.

Studies show that fish is highly nutritious, offering high-quality protein and a broad range of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium and selenium, while saltwater fish have a high content of iodine.

Its protein, like that of meat, is easily digestible and complements protein provided by cereals and legumes that are the foundation of the diet in many countries of the developing South.

Experts say that even in small quantities, fish improves the quality of dietary protein by complementing the essential amino acids that are often present in low quantities in vegetable-based diets.

Moreover, fish oils are the richest source of a kind of fat that is vital to normal brain development in unborn babies and infants.

Chile, a long, narrow country between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east, has 6,435 km of coast line and a broad diversity of marine resources.

Official figures indicate that 92 percent of fishing and fish farming activity involves fish capture, five percent seaweed harvesting, and the rest seafood harvesting.

The three main fish captured in Chile are the Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi), sardines and the anchoveta, which bring in more than 1.2 billion dollars a year in revenues on average, but are facing an overfishing crisis.

Extractive fishing provides work for more than 150,000 people in this country of 17.6 million and represents 0.4 percent of GDP. Of the industry’s workers, just over 94,000 are small-scale fishers and some 22,700 are women, according to the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service.

About three million tons of fish are caught every year in this South American country. But fish consumption is just 6.9 kilos per person per year – less than eight percent of the 84.7 kilos of meat consumed annually per capita.

The low level of fish consumption in Chile is attributed to two main reasons: availability and prices.

With regard to the former, a large proportion of the industrial-scale fish catch is exported.

A controversial law on fisheries and aquaculture in effect since 2013, promoted by the right-wing government of former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), has played a major role in this scenario.

The law grants fishing concessions for 20 years, renewable for another 20, and establishes that large companies can receive fishing rights in perpetuity, which can be passed from one generation to the next.

“Artisanal fishers who used to have a quota, a share of extractive fishing activity, were left without rights, and many lost their work,” Juan Carlos Quezada, spokesman for the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP), told IPS.

The representative of the union of small farmers added that “ninety percent of artisanal fishers have been left without fish catch quotas, because concessions and quotas were only assigned to industrial fisheries and shipowners.”

While small-scale fishers are fighting for the law to be repealed, the government continues to support the Development Fund for Artisanal Fishing which, contradictorily, is aimed at the sustainable development of Chile’s small-scale fishing industry, and backs the efforts of organisations of small fishers.

Pascual sees things clearly: “Fishing is my life and it will always be. The sea will always give us something, even if it offers us less and less.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil Wages War against Zika Virus on Several Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/brazil-wages-war-against-zika-virus-on-several-fronts/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:08:52 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143755 In the country’s capital, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff oversees one of the military operations against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito carried out at a national level in the last few days to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Credit: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

In the country’s capital, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff oversees one of the military operations against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito carried out at a national level in the last few days to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Credit: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

Brazil is deploying 220,000 troops to wage war against the Zika virus, in response to the alarm caused by the birth of thousands of children with abnormally small heads. But eradicating the Aedes aegypti mosquito requires battles on many fronts, including science and the pharmaceutical industry.

The Zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, like dengue and Chikungunya fever, is blamed for the current epidemic of microcephaly, which has frightened people in Brazil and could hurt attendance at the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It has also revived the debate on the right to abortion in Brazil, where the practice is illegal except in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, or when the mother’s life is in danger.

“Immediate measures to provide assistance to the mothers of newborns with microcephaly are indispensable,” said Silvia Camurça, a sociologist who heads SOS Body – Feminist Institute for Democracy. “Almost all of them are poor, and they are completely overwhelmed by this new burden, with no help in the household.

“Imagine a mother with more than one child, without a husband,” she told IPS. “Childcare centres are not prepared to receive children with microcephaly, who are now numerous and whose numbers will grow even more, with the children to be born in the next few months. It’s a desperate situation. Public assistance for these families is urgently needed.”

An increase in the number of unsafe back-alley abortions, which put women’s lives in danger, “is very likely, since many women know that there are no public policies to support them, and the situation is aggravated by the economic crisis and high unemployment,” said Camurça.

Pernambuco, the Northeast Brazilian state where her non-governmental organisation is based, has the highest number of suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect.

As of Jan. 23, the Health Ministry had registered 1,373 suspected cases in the state, of which 138 have been confirmed, 110 were ruled out, and 1,125 are still being examined.

A total of 270 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed in Brazil and 3,448 suspected cases still need to be investigated. There have also been 68 infant deaths due to congenital malformations since October, 12 of which were confirmed as Zika-related and five of which were not, while the rest are still under investigation.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease.

Brazil is at the centre of the debate on the virus because it is experiencing the largest-known outbreak of the disease, and because the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly was identified by the Professor Joaquim Amorim Neto Research Institute (IPESQ) in the city of Campina Grande in the Northeast – the poorest region of Brazil and the hardest-hit by this and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Explosive spread

On Monday Feb. 1, the World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

The WHO said the rise in the disease in the Americas is “explosive”, and predicted up to 1.5 million cases in Brazil and between three and four million cases in the Americas this year.

Spraying against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus and other diseases, has been stepped up in cities around Brazil. Credit: Cristina Rochol/PMPA

Spraying against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus and other diseases, has been stepped up in cities around Brazil. Credit: Cristina Rochol/PMPA

Although WHO Director General Margaret Chan said “A causal relationship between Zika virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established,” in Brazil there are no doubts that the Aedes aegypti is the transmitter of the new national tragedy.

The government has mobilised the army, navy and air force against the epidemic, and is trying to mobilise the local population as well as state employees who make door-to-door visits as part of their job, such as electric and water utility meter readers.

The aim is to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds – any water-holding containers (tin cans, plastic jugs, or used tires) lying around the country’s 49.2 million households.

Mosquito repellent has been distributed to pregnant women. “But there are already shortages of repellent, and the ones that are safe for pregnant women are more expensive,” and less affordable for poor women, said Camurça.

The activist said another big problem is the lack of information and knowledge about epidemics. In Pernambuco, dengue fever – also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – was under control, according to health officials, “but all of a sudden we’re the champions of Zika,” a contradiction that has yet to be explained, she complained.

The first confirmed case of Zika virus in Brazil came to light in April 2015, after which the disease began to spread like wildfire. It is now present in 23 countries of the Americas, according to the WHO.

Epidemiologists say the statistics available on diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti are insufficient because reporting the diseases was not mandatory, which led to under-reporting.

Now microcephaly, but not its causes, are reported, and the lack of reliable statistics from the past, and on related infections, make it more difficult to obtain clear data.

Microcephaly has a number of other causes, such as syphilis, toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes and different infections.

Science is, however, another battlefront that could be decisive in this medium to long-term war. The hope is that efforts to develop a vaccine will be successful, at least to prevent the Zika virus’s most severe effect: microcephaly in unborn infants.

Research forges ahead

The Health Ministry’s Secretariat of Science, Technology and Strategic Inputs has played a key role in research on the Zika virus, encouraging studies in Brazil’s leading health research centres.

The head of the Secretariat, epidemiologist Eduardo Costa, believes Brazil could develop a vaccine, “despite the bureaucratic hurdles to the import of biological material and other inputs necessary to research, delaying it and driving up the costs.”

“It’s Brazil’s responsibility to produce a vaccine, and it’s something we owe Africa,” he told IPS.

Progress has been made in specialised centres, such as the Butantan Institute in the southern city of São Paulo, which is working on a vaccine that offers 80 percent protection against the four strains of dengue and could extend to the Zika virus. “Clinical tests are needed,” which are costly and take time, Costa said.

The Evandro Chagas Institute, of the northern Amazon state of Pará, is also making progress towards a medication that mitigates the effects of the Zika virus. And a University of São Paulo laboratory is researching possibilities offered by genetic engineering.

These Brazilian research centres have ties to universities or pharmaceutical companies abroad, and the resulting medications could be wholly produced in Brazil, in Bio-Manguinhos, the technical scientific unit that produces and develops immunobiologicals for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a leading Health Ministry research centre, said Costa.

Other technologies being tested in Brazil are aimed at curbing the breeding of the Aedes aegypti. One example is the Wolbachia bacterium, which can stop the dengue virus from replicating in its mosquito host. Fiocruz is releasing mosquitos with the bacterium in a Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood to infect other Aedes aegypti mosquitos.

Another initiative involves the release of genetically modified male mosquitos which produce offspring that die before they are old enough to start reproducing. Other studies have involved an insect growth regulator, pyriproxyfen, which disrupts the growth and reproduction of mosquitos.

In addition, new tests are needed to diagnose women with the Zika virus. The tests currently available must be carried out in the few days that the infection is active.

“A post-infection test is needed, to identify the lingering antibodies and offer more information about what the virus does,” Costa said.

Brazil eradicated the Aedes aegypti mosquito in 1954, in a campaign against yellow fever, the disease it spread back then, Costa pointed out. But the mosquito returned in intermittent outbreaks in the following decades, when it began to transmit dengue.

Now eradicating the mosquito is impossible, even for 220,000 soldiers, with the expanded repertoir of viruses it transmits, and today’s much more populous cities, with limited sanitation, endless amounts of garbage and containers of all kinds strewn everywhere. But technology and social mobilisation could at least help curb the mosquito population.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

The Mexican government’s decision to grant humanitarian visas to Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica contrasts sharply with the poor treatment received by the tens of thousands of Central American migrants who face myriad risks as they make their way through this country on their long journey to the United States, social organisations and activists complain.

Although migrant rights activists put the greatest blame on the United States, complaining that Cuban immigrants are given privileged treatment across the border, they also accuse Mexico of fomenting the differences.

Washington “promotes the irregular migration of Cubans,” activist Danilo Rivera told IPS from Guatemala City. “They have double standards, and Mexico plays into their interests. It contradicts the goal of achieving orderly, safe migration flows.”

“Mexico isn’t coherent, because it’s a country that produces migrants itself,” said Rivera, with the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Studies and Development (INCEDES).

INCEDES belongs to the Regional Network of Civil Organisations for Migration (RROCM), which studies these issues and works with governments on immigration policies.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, known as the “wet foot-dry foot policy”, grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after they reach the country, regardless of whether their entry was legal or illegal.

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican migrants also head to the United States. The Mexican authorities bitterly complain about the poor treatment this country’s citizens are given across the border, while they provide similar treatment to Central American immigrants here, human rights activists argue.

In a study published Jan. 20, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.

Six million of the undocumented immigrants in the country are from Mexico. But CMS Executive Director Donald Kerwin said the Mexican-born undocumented population was about 600,000 smaller in 2014 than in 2010.

The report also said that between 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican-born legal residents grew faster than the number of undocumented Mexicans.

The previously little-known route taken by Cubans from Ecuador to the United States drew international attention in November, when nearly 8,000 Cubans found themselves stuck at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, after the government in Managua refused to let them in the country.

A solution to the crisis was negotiated and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed to put an initial group of 180 of the migrants on a charter flight from Costa Rica to Guatemala – thus avoiding Nicaragua – as part of a pilot plan that got underway on Jan. 12.

The next day, the 139 men and 41 women were taken by bus to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala.

With the special humanitarian visas issued by the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the Cubans were able to cross the country on their own, without being stopped by the migration authorities.

After the success of the test flight, the four governments involved in the negotiations agreed in a meeting in Guatemala to carry out more flights, after Feb. 4.

The possibility of issuing humanitarian visas is provided for in Mexico’s 2011 National Migration Law. The permits can be granted for a duration of 72 hours to 30 days, in cases where migrants are victims of a natural catastrophe, face danger in their country of origin, or require special treatment due to health problems.

In November, the last month for which official data is available, Mexico granted 1,084 humanitarian visas: 524 to Hondurans, 370 to Salvadorans, 146 to Guatemalans, 43 to Nicaraguans, and one to a Costa Rican.

That same month, the authorities in Mexico detained 73,710 Guatemalans, 53,648 Hondurans, 31,997 Salvadorans and 1,427 Nicaraguans, and deported 64,844 Guatemalans, 47,779 Hondurans, 27,481 Salvadorans and 1,188 Nicaraguans.

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to cross the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

“No one cares about Central Americans migrants; they’re rejects from poor, violence-stricken countries,” Catholic priest Pedro Pantoja told IPS.

“Political negotiations, and a state of servitude to the United States, were behind the way the Cuban migrants issue was handled. The Cubans have everything in their favour; the Central Americans have nothing,” said Pantoja, the director of the Belén Posada del Migrante migrants’ shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeast Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders the United States.

The activist also complained about the “unequal response” by the Central American governments, which showed solidarity with the Cuban migrants while being “so insensitive, distant and utilitarian” towards migrants from Central America itself.

On their way across Mexico, Central American migrants face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and people trafficking networks, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

Defenders of migrant rights have asked Mexico to issue humanitarian visas to minimise these risks.

And in an August report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants also urged the government to issue humanitarian permits.

“We have called for a stop to the deportations. Mexico needs to make progress towards protecting migrants in transit, using safe-conduct passes to keep them from going through dangerous areas and to help them to avoid criminal groups. But the United States does not want the border area to become the impact zone,” Rivera said.

Activists blame the Southern Border Plan, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with U.S. support, for the offensive against undocumented immigrants. The plan included the installation of 12 naval bases on rivers in the area, and three security cordons using electronic sensors and other security measures to the north of Mexico’s southern border.

So far, the United States has provided 15 million dollars in equipment and assistance, and an additional 75 million dollars in aid are in the pipeline.

The flow of Cubans without visas through Central America and Mexico to the United States is not likely to let up, even though in December the Ecuadorean government once again began to require a letter of invitation and other requisites to enter the country, after giving Cubans free access since 2014.

In September, the Costa Rican government reported that it had detained 12,000 undocumented Cubans in the previous 12 months.

Migrant rights activists plan to demand a response from Mexico regarding its double standards towards immigrants.

“We are not going to sit still. We’re going to demand that the INM (National Migration Institute) be held to account,” said Pantoja, a member of the INM’s Citizen Council, made up of representatives of civil society and academia.

Immigrant rights organisations will meet Jan. 25-28 in Chiapas and the neighbouring state of Tabasco to study the phenomenon and monitor migration flows and the performance of the local authorities.

They will also question the INM during the Citizen Council’s March session.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Precarious Nature of Public Employment Facilitated Mass Lay-offs in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/precarious-nature-of-public-employment-facilitated-mass-lay-offs-in-argentina/#comments Sat, 23 Jan 2016 00:34:57 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143678 A group of demonstrators protest in the Argentine city of Rosario against the wave of lay-offs of public employees since President Mauricio Macri took office. Credit: Courtesy of Indymedia.org

A group of demonstrators protest in the Argentine city of Rosario against the wave of lay-offs of public employees since President Mauricio Macri took office. Credit: Courtesy of Indymedia.org

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 23 2016 (IPS)

Argentina’s new conservative government has already laid off 20,000 public employees since early December. Analysts have described the phenomenon as a “purge” of “militants” who supported the last administration, facilitated by the precarious employment conditions in the public sector, despite the steps taken to provide greater job stability over the last decade.

“What we have encountered is a state at the service of political activism,” said centre-right President Mauricio Macri, who took office on Dec. 10 after eight years of government by centre-left President Cristina Fernández and the four-year administration of her late husband Néstor Kirchner, both of whom belonged to the Front for Victory, now in the opposition.

The new minister of finance, Alfonso Prat Gay, said the state needed to shed some “militant fat” – an allusion to the supposed hiring of “Kirchnerist militants”.

A majority of employees of government ministries, state enterprises, and municipal and provincial administrations whose short-term contracts came up for renewal on Dec. 31 were laid off, according to the Social Law Observatory of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA).

In many cases, the dismissed workers had been in their positions for five to 10 years, although they worked under temporary contracts.

In La Plata, capital of the eastern province of Buenos Aires, which is now governed by Macri’s Cambiemos coalition, 4,500 public employees were dismissed, and their protests were targeted by a police crackdown.

“The way we found out about the dismissals was traumatic,”one of the laid-off workers, Marcela López, told IPS. She worked for eight years for a municipal programme that helps the homeless, under a contract that was renewed every three months.

“When I got to my workplace one day, I discovered they had taken me off the payroll. They sent us to human resources, who told us we had been fired, although they didn’t say we were laid off – they said our contracts expired,” said López, who supports her family, including a disabled son.

The government argues that the laid-off workers were“ñoquis” – slang for employees who only show up for work on the 29th of every month, the day ñoquis (or gnocchis), classic Italian dumplings, are traditionally eaten in Argentina.

But Lópezand many other laid-off public employees say they can prove that they had good work attendance records.

“I think the ñoquis business is a longstanding phenomenon that has to do with the way politics work here,” she said. “I don’t think that trying to fix this problem is a bad idea. But they can’t just throw everyone into the same category. Especially not those of us who do work, and who turned a (social) programme into a public policy.”

Julio Fuentes, a leader of the ATE public employees union, said that if the government really wanted to root out those who “collect paychecks without working, no one would come out to defend these people.”

“But that would have to be done on the basis of a serious analysis, with the participation of the trade unions and guarantees that arbitrary measures will not be taken,” Fuentes, who is also the president of the Latin American and Caribbean Federation of Public Employees, told IPS.

In different government offices, employees have complained that they have been asked who recommended them for the job, and that they have been questioned about their professional and educational background. Some protested that their social network profiles were searched for signs of political activism.

Despite a 15 percentage point drop over the last decade, 35 percent of the population of Argentina still works in the informal economy, like Daniel Reynoso, who supports his family selling dusters on a busy street in central Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Despite a 15 percentage point drop over the last decade, 35 percent of the population of Argentina still works in the informal economy, like Daniel Reynoso, who supports his family selling dusters on a busy street in central Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Is the state in a position today to carry out an exhaustive, systematic assessment of the situation of public employees,when official statistics do not even exist, and there is no office dedicated exclusively to the systematic compilation of information?” Gonzalo Diéguez, director of the Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth’s (CIPPEC) public administration programme, remarked to IPS.

According to the ATE, the government’s argument is an excuse to justify indiscriminate dismissals and shrink the state, as part of its adjustment plan.

These arbitrary measures, Fuentes says, were made possible by the precarious nature of public employment, the result of neoliberal labour flexibility measures adopted in Argentina in the 1990s.

“For a long time we have been complaining in Latin America, and in Argentina in particular, about informal employment or so-called ‘junk contracts’, which are basically ways used by governments to get around the constitution, which guarantees job stability for public employees,” he said.

Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, has a total population of 43.4 million, an economically active population of 19 million,and an unemployment rate that according to official figures stood at six percent in the last quarter of 2015 – a figure considered unrealistically low by independent experts.

According to Fuentes, of the 3.9 million state employees, some 600,000 work under different kinds of temporary contracts, and many of these enjoy no social protection whatsoever.

Of these 600,000, 90,000 work in the national administration and 510,000 work for provincial or municipal governments, without counting outsourced services, “another way to get around guarantees for public employees,” he said.

To justify the lay-offs, the government also points to how much the state has grown.

An as-yet unpublished CIPPEC study reports that between 2003 and 2015, the number of public employees rose 55 percent, in the central administration, decentralised state bodies and public enterprises.

In that period, six ministries, 14 decentralised bodies, 10 new state-owned companies and 15 new universities were created.

“Public employment grew because the state also grew, along with its organisational structure. Today the state provides a number of goods and services that it did not previously offer,” Diéguez argued.

Fuentes said that despite this growth, the recovery in the number of public sector jobs was “absolutely insufficient” after the “dismantling” of the state that began with the broad privatisation process launched by former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

“The number of public employees is not excessive. There are shortages of public employees, such as nurses, or professionals in all areas,” the trade unionist said.

In his view, the new government thinks there are too many public workers because “it believes in a discourse that no one believes in anymore: that the market is going to regulate economic activities and run a country.”

Fuentes said that what were recovered in the last decade were “good quality jobs with poor quality contracts.”

The problem, he said, is that the public administration has increasingly depended on workers with flexible labour contracts, “who are easily fired, which turns them into political hostages.”

Over the last decade, some six million jobs have been created in Argentina, 19 percent of them in the public sector and the rest in the private sector, where roughly 10,000 people have been laid off as well, according to trade union sources.

Informal employment has also shrunk, from 50 to 35 percent, according to the latest figures. But four million people, especially the young, still work in the informal economy.

“Above and beyond the government’s political decision on whether or not to renew contracts, the underlying issue here is the informal nature of public employment,” said Diéguez.

This, he said, is aggravated by the state’s hiring practices, which are not based on public competitions but on contracts that depend on “changes of political stripe.”

He said the previous administration made strides in formalising public employment.

But the big pending challenge, he argued, is to avoid a repeat of cases such as the mass lay-offs that occur when there is a change in the party in power. And when a new administration takes office in 2019, “there shouldn’t be a review of contracts, or if there is, it shouldn’t look like a witch hunt,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tanzania: Girls Struggle to Avoid Forced Marriage, Yearn to Learnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/tanzania-girls-struggle-to-avoid-forced-marriage-yearn-to-learn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzania-girls-struggle-to-avoid-forced-marriage-yearn-to-learn http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/tanzania-girls-struggle-to-avoid-forced-marriage-yearn-to-learn/#comments Thu, 21 Jan 2016 07:18:54 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143648 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/tanzania-girls-struggle-to-avoid-forced-marriage-yearn-to-learn/feed/ 0 New Year, New Fight Against Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-year-new-fight-against-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 14:15:09 +0000 Jenny Ricks http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143640

Jenny Ricks is Head of Inequality Initiative, ActionAid International

By Jenny Ricks
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

With New Year’s resolutions already fading fast for most people, attention turns to what 2016 will really hold. And so it is for those wanting to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

This week in Davos politicians and business leaders meet at the World Economic Forum, where inequality is once again on the agenda. By common consensus we are living through an inequality crisis, with the gap between the richest and the rest at levels not seen for a century. So what will be different in 2016?

Well, inequality is already recognised as socially and economic harmful by a whole range of influential people such as the Pope, and institutions like the IMF and OECD. We have no shortage of acknowledgement of at least part of the problem. And all countries have pledged to tackle it through the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) and the Climate Accord agreed in Paris in December.

But the problem is far from being resolved. The stark reality in contrast to those commitments is that inequality isn’t being tackled and the status quo approaches that exacerbate inequality are still being followed by the countries and institutions that claim to be tackling it.

So what to do? The challenge now is to go from acknowledging the problem to fixing it. To do that we need three things: a shift in polices, a shift in power, and a shift in mind set and ideas about how change will happen.

Civil society is clear on the contradiction between rhetoric and the reality, as are poor people themselves facing the brunt of these inequalities that ActionAid works with around the world. They are not waiting for world leaders to change their ways, they are busy tackling inequality from its roots and creating a new reality.

Today, leaders from a range of environment, women’s rights, human rights, faith based and development groups and trade unions will spell out what it will really take to tackle inequality and commit to stepping up the fight. This is exciting news.

Why does this agenda matter to such a diverse range of groups? As the joint statement says: “Struggles for a better world are all threatened by the inequality crisis. Workers across the world are seeing their wages and conditions eroded as inequality increases. The rights of women are systematically worse in situations of greater economic inequality.”

The vast majority of the world’s richest people are men; those in the most precarious and poorly paid work are women. Young people are facing a crisis of unemployment. Other groups such as migrants, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI people, people with disability and indigenous people continue to be pushed to the margins, suffering systematic discrimination. The struggle to realise the human rights of the majority are continually undercut in the face of such disparities of wealth and power.

Extreme inequality is also frequently linked to rising restrictions on civic space and democratic rights as political and economic elites collude to protect their interests. The right to peaceful protest and the ability of citizens to challenge the prevailing economic discourse is being curtailed almost everywhere, for elites know that extreme inequality and participatory democracy cannot co-exist for long.

Even the future of our planet is dependent on ending this great divide, with the carbon consumption of the 1% as much as 175 times that of the poorest.”

Though it is going to be a difficult road, we know that change to forge a new economic system that puts people and the planet first will only be created by a people powered movement. 2016 is not a year of high profile summits and commitments. It’s a year of building power from below, of building a movement in many countries amongst these constituencies and others including social movements and young people.

There is reason for hope and experience to build on. We know this is possible because of what we see in our work with communities around the world, because of some positive current examples and past periods of reducing inequality in countries such as Brazil, and because people have won great struggles before. This new struggle against inequality has started in earnest.

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Q&A: Ensuring Food Security for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/qa-ensuring-food-security-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-ensuring-food-security-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/qa-ensuring-food-security-for-all/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2016 15:55:41 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143627

As the Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass, takes-up her role as Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), she shares her vision for the future of food security.

By Katherine Mackenzie
Rome, Italy, Jan 19 2016 (IPS)

Coming from a developing country where, in our generation, we have experienced the devastating effects of food insecurity and the complexity of its root causes, I take to heart the objective of ensuring that during my mandate, CFS will make a ‘real’ difference to people’s lives. Achieving results is something that we owe each and every undernourished person who today, in 2016 goes to bed hungry. There is still an unacceptable 793 million people in this condition worldwide! Ensuring food security for all is also something that we owe our children.

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

Today, in our inter-connected 21st century world, the persistence of hunger and malnutrition is both unacceptable, and complex to tackle. Root causes are many, they are interlinked, and they will only be addressed successfully if all actors involved, governments, civil society, the private sector, UN organisations and the international development community generally, including research organizations, come together and agree on the policy and actions that are necessary. This is why CFS, as the most inclusive platform for all stakeholders to work together on global food security and nutrition policies, has been called upon to play a major role in two crucial areas: implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the recommendations of the Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Both the review and follow-up to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and particularly of its second goal, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, as well as action to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms, will require platforms able to ensure inclusiveness, efficient science-policy interfaces, and an approach which breaks down silos.

Thanks to quality reports by its High Level Panel of Experts, and the participation of the different stakeholders around the table, CFS negotiates policy tools which are based on facts and evidence, and enjoy wide legitimacy and ownership. We can no longer argue that we lack the understanding or knowledge of the consequences of our actions, and today, we must all be held accountable for our actions and our choices.

Accountability is another priority that I have set myself for CFS in the coming biennium. Reality is fast changing, and CFS must be ready to evolve to stay inclusive, transparent, effective, and relevant. CFS must continue its constructive self-questioning, and examine whether its procedures are efficient, whether it is as inclusive as it should be, whether the science-based reports support policy negotiations as well as they could, and so forth. This year, we plan to carry out an independent evaluation of CFS, and we are looking forward to the results, in order to continue evolving and improving.


These new priorities represent a major turning point for CFS, and will no doubt involve challenges, as well as opportunities to prove that a participatory, inclusive model such as CFS is the future for sustainable development. I look forward to this biennium, and to achieving a lasting impact together with all CFS stakeholders!

The following is an exclusive interview with Ambassador Gornass conducted by IPS.

IPS: Please describe some of the toughest challenges we face today in trying to reach Zero Hunger.

Amb. Gornass: Our planet, however big and plentiful, has physical boundaries, and limited natural resources, which in today’s populated and globalised world, are getting scarce. This leads to competing demand for land, water, nutrients among others. Soils are depleted. This impacts upon agricultural productivity, and further affects our environment. Climate change is probably the most worrying of these changes which will affect all of us, with no exception. Political and governance factors also come into play; worldwide, protracted crises are multiplying. These conflicts affect food production from planting and harvesting to processing, distribution and the final consumer. Policy coordination and coherence is a major issue for food security and nutrition worldwide. For instance, different ministries within a government may not share the same views or may have different and sometimes competing approaches to an issue, which makes the implementation of policies such as those targeting the food insecure difficult, or may even jeopardize their impact. Countries within a region should also improve their coordination of policies. Better communication is something we need to achieve.

In general terms, there has to be an acknowledgement by all actors of their shared responsibility: each stakeholder has an interest, and responsibilities, in achieving global food security and improved nutrition.

IPS: Where have we succeeded so far and what might work better? Is SDG2 an aspirational goal or can we really reach it by 2030?

Amb. Gornass: There are examples of major advances in the fight against hunger. Globally, numbers are going down and overall, regions have made good progress, some regions having achieved both the 2015 international hunger targets. However, others have in fact gone backwards due to new factors such as political crises.

SDG2 can certainly be reached by 2030. We already know how to produce enough to feed the planet. It’s now about understanding how food systems can work better so that we no longer lose or wastefood, that it is more equally distributed, is available at a fair price that enables food producers to improve their livelihoods and encourages vocations, and that is both nutritious and adequate. As a result populations will be better off and countries will be enabled to grow. Increasing the production of smallholder farmers is key to achieving this. These are the people who will make the difference in nutrition and in the quality of food, overall.

IPS: Can you give us some specific success stories that show the way ahead for other countries as well?

Amb. Gornass: Brazil is an excellent example. Former President Lula’s Zero Hunger is a Brazilian government program introduced in 2003 by the then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with the goal of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by combining an array of social protection policies and safety net measures, aimed at increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers.

India also has success stories to share! For example, India launched a very successful social media campaign aimed at educating the entire population – and targeting women in particular – about the symptoms and consequences of malnutrition, as well as on the benefits of a varied diet, especially for infants and children under the age of five. The campaign was launched thanks to the support of a telephone company, which gave to people who watched the video extra telephone minutes. As a result of this campaign, malnutrition dropped from 51 percent to 37 percent!

IPS: Attaining food security could solve so many things, including for example decreasing health issues which at the national level cause a strain on a country’s economy, to say nothing of the personal suffering due to food insecurity and malnutrition. Do you think world leaders understand the importance of food security?

Amb. Gornass: They do! This is the message that they sent last September by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: development issues are strongly interrelated, and we need to work on these simultaneously, in a holistic and integrated manner, bringing together: developing, and developed countries; governments, and all other stakeholders.

The challenge is that, while food security and good nutrition achieve benefits that affect many sectors, such as health, economic growth as you mentioned, but also the environment, and populations’ overall well-being, achieving this also requires simultaneously moving things across many different sectors. For instance, “nutrition sensitive policies” should be included in health plans, agricultural development programmes, water management, education, etc. This is why food security and nutrition will only be achieved if all stakeholders realise this and work together. This is also why the 2030 Agenda, and enhanced nutrition, will be placed at the centre of the CFS agenda from now on; CFS multistakeholder members will meet this year in Open-Ended Working Groups to discuss how to implement concretely the decisions taken at the Committee’s Plenary meeting in October 2015.

IPS: Isn’t Climate change a huge problem for attaining food security and zero hunger by 2030? If we don’t get climate change right, how can we move ahead on food security? What role is CFS playing and couldn’t it play a greater role?

Amb. Gornass: Indeed, it is, especially in developing countries. A two degree increase will have a dramatic impact on crop yields and their nutritional content in many regions of the world and it will also affect climate variability, which in turn has adverse effects on harvests and food availability.

Climate change may also lead to important flows of displaced people, “climate refugees,” which has important food security implications. Small changes in a situation of fragile balance could have huge political and humanitarian repercussions. All countries have to work together to adapt to and mitigate climate change; we need to work on providing more funding and technical help. We need to enable farmers to sustain these changes. We need to find and adopt globally more sustainable agricultural production methods, and fast. But the solutions are in reach, thanks to the huge technology and innovation potential, as well as to traditional local knowledge on how to produce good quality food using available resources to their full potential and in a sustainable manner.

On this topic, CFS has commissioned a High Level Panel of Experts’ report on “Sustainable Agricultural Development Including the Role of Livestock”, to be launched in July 2016. In 2012, the CFS published a report on “Climate Change and Food Security” which was a game changer. The report introduced the idea of “Climate-Smart Agriculture”, with climate negotiators realizing that agriculture must needs be included in any negotiations on climate – that it was not only part of the problem but also has enormous potential for solutions! The policy recommendations which were negotiated based on this report are still very topical.

In the run-up to COP 21, CFS openly and actively advocated for a common narrative to be developed for sustainable development in the next 15 years – between the Sustainable Development Goals, Financing for Development, and quick action to check climate change – ensuring that all stakeholders take their full responsibility and contribute to a better world.

CFS will continue using its model, work, and convening power to support joint action, making sure that the implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals that fall under its mandate take into account the need for climate action.

CFS is fully committed to supporting all its stakeholders in building a world where in 2030, not one individual will be left behind.

(End)

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Maternal and Child Health Key to Kenya’s Economic Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/maternal-and-child-health-key-to-kenyas-economic-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maternal-and-child-health-key-to-kenyas-economic-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/maternal-and-child-health-key-to-kenyas-economic-growth/#comments Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:08:18 +0000 Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143617 Ms Mette Knudsen is Denmark’s Ambassador to Kenya. Follow her on twitter: @metknu. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1]]> Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

By Ambassador Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Jan 18 2016 (IPS)

On Friday, 06 November 2015, we had the honor of meeting the First Lady of Kenya Ms Margaret Kenyatta, a tireless advocate for “every woman and every child”, during the launch of the Beyond Zero campaign in Mandera County, North-Eastern Kenya, a place which has often been described as ‘the worst place on earth to give birth’.

Mandera’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 3 795 deaths per 100 000 live births, almost double that of wartime Sierra Leone at 2 000 deaths per 100 000 live births.

Two out of every three cases of maternal deaths occur in areas affected by a humanitarian crisis or in volatile onditions, such as the North-Eastern region of Kenya where increasing focus is being put on giving pregnant mothers a real chance of surviving childbirth.

Some 6 out of every ten maternal deaths occur in this region. Poor education, little use of contraceptives, traditions such as marriage, that tend to derail women’s self-determination, together with inadequate health services have kept led to these very poor health indicators.

What we realized was that almost every child born in the region is really a throw of the dice, a hit-or-miss proposition that local communities face with stoicism, but a situation that development agencies are increasingly determined not accept.

For just over a year now, UNFPA has worked with the H4+ partners (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN Women and UNAIDS), to find ways not only to save lives at childbirth but also to meet related challenges of reproductive health in the six counties of Kenya that have the most maternal deaths.

The government of Denmark supports UNFPA’s programmes globally and in Kenya this support is based on a Denmark-Kenya Country Programme 2016-2020 that seeks to give momentum to Kenya’s Vision 2030.

The policy’s thematic programme on health specifically identifies operational support for primary health care facilities at county and national government levels as well as support for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Danish government is committed to supporting UNFPA to further ongoing work in Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, Lamu and Migori counties to deliver a comprehensive package of services in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

Denmark has pledged US$ 6 million to help the six counties give greater focus to adolescent girls and young women, through targeted and evidence-based interventions in multiple sectors. Of key concern will be addressing drivers for early sexual activity among adolescent girls and boys, early childbearing and early marriage, and advocating for keeping girls in schools.

In a demonstration of how collaboration in development work can be done effectively, various private sectors partners have joined these efforts in the six counties, that are already showing positive results.

There is reason for optimism that we can expand the supply of quality services; that we can innovate for delivering cost effective interventions for family planning, emergency obstetric care, postnatal and newborn care.

Though it is the right thing to do, this partnership is not driven by morality but concrete evidence that reducing maternal and newborn deaths is the smartest investment for changing the fortunes of poor economies.

Our observations show that complex operations are not required to make a real difference; simple interventions such as ensuring more women give birth through a skilled attendant greatly increase chances of survival for mother and baby.

It is about convincing communities to eschew practices such as early marriage and others that invariably occur without girls’ consent, robbing them of their childhood, forcing them out of school, trapping them in poverty, and putting them at a higher risk of potentially dangerous pregnancies and childbirth.

It is about empowering women to plan whether and when to have children, thereby giving them a better chance to complete their education, increase their earning power and reducing poverty.

It is also about exploiting local resources, working with structures that local communities are comfortable with. In Wajir County for instance, local community health volunteers have been trained to identify pregnant women within clusters of some 10 000 people, linking them to local health facilities to receive antenatal care.

The volunteers provide health education to pregnant mothers on the importance of antenatal care, the importance of recognizing danger signs during pregnancy, during delivery and in post-delivery.

Already, deliveries under skilled care are increasing, assisted also the Kenyan government’s free maternity care scheme.

Global data indicates that the highest benefits from reducing unintended pregnancies would be seen in the poorest countries, with GDP increases ranging from one to eight percent by 2035. There are few interventions that would result in such wide-ranging impacts.

Sure as we are about the steps needed to move forward, it is, however a window that will not remain open forever and the urgency of the moment cannot be over-emphasized.

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57 Million Deaths in Perspectivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/57-million-deaths-in-perspective/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=57-million-deaths-in-perspective http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/57-million-deaths-in-perspective/#comments Thu, 14 Jan 2016 21:38:49 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143596

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Jan 14 2016 (IPS)

The number of deaths worldwide in 2015 was approximately 57 million. Those deaths represent 0.78 percent of the world’s population of 7.3 billion. In comparison, 140 million births occurred in 2015, resulting in a global population increase of 83 million people.

The major causes of death worldwide are ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive lung disease (Figure 1). Those four key diseases have remained the world’s top killers during the past decade.

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

Two-thirds of all deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. As has been the case throughout recent years, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in the world, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths.

The critical behavioral risk factors for heart disease, stroke and lung diseases are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco usage. The use of tobacco, in particular smoking, is responsible for the death of about 1 in 10 adults worldwide.

Communicable diseases together with maternal, neonatal and nutrition conditions account for close to one-quarter of all deaths. The deadly infectious diseases include lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, malaria and tuberculosis.

While progress has been achieved in reducing maternal deaths, maternal mortality rates continue to be high. Nearly 830 women die daily due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Rates are especially high in some African countries, such as Chad, Mali and Somalia, where a quarter or more of the deaths among women of reproductive ages are from maternal causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth.

For children under age 5, the major causes of death are prematurity, pneumonia, birth asphyxia and birth trauma, and diarrheal diseases. In 2012 approximately 4 in 10 deaths of children under age 5 years took place within 28 days of birth, with prematurity responsible for 35 percent of those deaths.

Injuries are responsible for nearly one-tenth of all deaths. Road traffic injuries in particular take approximately 3,500 lives each day, placing it among the ten leading causes of death. Among people aged 15 to 29 years the major cause of death is road traffic injuries. And approximately 75 percent of all road traffic deaths are among males. One of the most important risk factors in road traffic fatalities is alcohol consumption.

While more than half of deaths worldwide occur after age 65, the age distributions of deaths vary greatly by development level. In Japan, for example, 60 percent of deaths occur after age 80. Child mortality under age 5 years claims 0.26 percent of all deaths and the chances of a Japanese child not reaching age 5 is about 1 in 333.

In contrast, in Nigeria nearly 60 percent of deaths occur below age 30. Child mortality under age 5 years accounts for 37 percent of all deaths and the chances of a Nigerian child not reaching their fifth birthday is approximately 1 in 8.

Major causes of death also vary considerably by socio-economic conditions. The top four causes of death in low-income countries in 2012 were lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDs, diarrheal diseases and stroke. In high-income countries, in contrast, the top four killers were ischemic heart disease, stroke, trachea bronchus/lung cancers, and Alzheimer’s and other dementia (Figure 2).

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

Suicide, another important cause of death, was responsible for over 800,000 deaths in 2012 or about 1.4 percent of all deaths worldwide. Due to religious, social and legal pressures, the incidence of suicide tends to be under-reported or not reported at all in some cases.

In 2012 three-fourths of all reported suicides took place in low- and middle-income countries. The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana, North Korea, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Suriname and Mozambique.

Males are nearly twice as likely as women to take their own lives. Suicide rates were highest among those aged 70 years and over. However, among young people aged 15 to 29 years suicide is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

Intentional homicide accounts for almost half a million deaths annually, or 0.8 percent of all deaths. In 2012 no less than 437 thousand people were murdered with men making up about 80 percent of homicide victims and 95 per cent of perpetrators.

More than half of all homicide victims are under 30 years of age, with children under the age of 15 accounting for 8 per cent of all homicides. Close to 15 per cent of all homicides is the result of domestic violence with women making up 70 per cent of those fatalities.

Some of the highest homicide rates are in Central and South American countries, such as Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela, where rates range from 40 to 90 deaths per 100,000 population. Among the high-income countries, such as Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States, homicide rates are comparatively low, less than 5 deaths per 100,000 population.

The number of deaths in war and civil conflict account for approximately 0.3 percent of all deaths globally. The body count from the top twenty deadliest wars in 2014, according to the Project for the Study of the 21st Century, was 164 thousand.

The four deadliest conflicts in 2014 were Syria (76 thousand), Iraq (21 thousand), Afghanistan (15 thousand) and Nigeria (12 thousand). Those and other conflicts experienced significant increases in casualties over the previous year.

The proportion of all deaths due to terrorism is about 0.06 percent. In 2014 the death toll from terrorism was approximately 33 thousand, compared to about 18 thousand in 2013. Nigeria had the largest increase in terrorist fatalities with about 7,500 deaths in 2014, an increase of more than 300 percent over 2013.

Terrorist attacks and deaths are highly concentrated geographically. Five countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria – accounted for nearly 80 percent of terrorism fatalities in 2014.

Iraq stands out as the worst affected country from terrorism, having the highest number of terrorism incidents and fatalities ever recorded by a single country. Approximately 30 per cent of all deaths in 2014 were the result of terrorist attacks.

The number of deaths due to executions in 2014 was no less than 607. While 22 countries carried out executions in 2014, three of them − Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – were responsible for more than 70 percent of recorded executions.

The number of executions is an underestimate as some countries underreport or do not report executions. In particular, the number does not include China, where statistics on the death penalty are a state secret.

Finally, as death is the inevitable outcome for everyone, the issue of the preferred or best ways to die often arises. People typically report that they prefer to die peacefully at an old age, at home in bed. Most wish to avoid a painful, lengthy and burdensome end of life.

Many would like to pass away quietly, comfortably and unbothered at an advanced age, preferably in their sleep. Others desire to die suddenly and painlessly after living an active, disability-free life. The Japanese have referred to this as “Pin Pin Korori” (ピンピンコロリ), the wish to live a long and happy life followed by sudden death rather than prolonged frailty or illness.

Some, perhaps even many, choose not to reflect upon death and end of life decisions. As one American comedian glibly remarked, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Ignoring one’s unavoidable demise, however, is unwise and unhelpful. Talking about the end of life, writing down one’s wishes and sharing those decisions with others makes one’s passing away less difficult, stressful and unsettling for family, friends and caregivers.

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Plan to Overcome Costa Rica’s Cuban Migrant Crisis Takes Offhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/plan-to-overcome-costa-ricas-cuban-migrant-crisis-takes-off/#comments Wed, 13 Jan 2016 21:17:44 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143582 Some of the 180 Cuban immigrants who departed Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber aiport in northern Costa Rica, as they line up for the test flight, the start of a possible solution to the crisis that broke out in November 2014. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

Some of the 180 Cuban immigrants who departed Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber aiport in northern Costa Rica, as they line up for the test flight, the start of a possible solution to the crisis that broke out in November 2014. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
Jan 13 2016 (IPS)

After a nearly two-month wait, a group of 180 Cuban migrants, of the roughly 8,000 stranded in Costa Rica in their attempt to reach the United States, continued on their way as a result of a complex logistical process that emerged from diplomatic negotiations involving several countries in the region.

The first pilot flight took off late Tuesday Jan. 12 from the Daniel Oduber airport in the northwest Costa Rican city of Liberia, headed for the capital of El Salvador. From there they continued by bus to Guatemala and on to the Mexican border.

“What the countries agreed to was a pilot flight….we are convinced that this will be successful, thanks to the meticulous efforts put into it,” said Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Manuel González.

The minister explained that officials from the countries in the region will meet again before Jan. 18 to evaluate the success of the first charter flight and decide whether to use the same system with the rest of the migrants trapped along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua since November.

The migrants clapped and cheered when the 180 passengers to take the first charter flight were called by megaphone in the shelter. When the group, wearing light clothing and carrying small suitcases, arrived at the airport, some of them carried U.S. flags while others wore t-shirts with the Costa Rican slogan “Pura vida” – literally “pure life” but meaning anything from “full of life” to “this is living!”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) helped with the logistics in order for a commercial airline to offer a charter flight, after a diplomatic effort involving Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama.

González said IOM support was sought because the countries of Central America have little experience in this kind of operation.

Officially, 7,802 Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica, some of them since Nov. 14. Their aim is to get to the United States to take advantage of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

“I’m looking for the American dream,” said one of the travellers, Yumiley Díaz.

“I left a one-year-old baby behind in Cuba; I can’t wait to get to the United States and apply to bring him over,” said the young secretary, who is travelling with her husband to Tampa, Florida. “The United States offers me that possibility. Once I’m legal there, I can ask to bring him in.”

After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance from Nicaragua, which closed its border and refused to let them through.

One of the 180 Cubans on the Jan. 12 charter flight which took the first group of migrants from Costa Rica to San Salvador. From there they are heading on to their final destination: the United States. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

One of the 180 Cubans on the Jan. 12 charter flight which took the first group of migrants from Costa Rica to San Salvador. From there they are heading on to their final destination: the United States. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Costa Rica

The air bridge was set up so they could get around Nicaragua.

Most of the stranded Cubans are in northern Costa Rica, in shelters set up by the local authorities, who report that they are assisting 5,298 migrants. On Dec. 18, the country stopped issuing special visas allowing Cubans safe passage through the country, which is why some of the Cubans were not registered and cannot be located.

The migrants now have the possibility of continuing their northward journey by air, as part of a “forced solution,” said Carlos Cascante, director of the School of International Relations at the National University of Costa Rica.

The crisis revealed limits to the Central American Integration System, which failed to come up with a solution. “This reflects poorly on the regional integration process,” Cascante told IPS. To push for bilateral accords, Costa Rica suspended its political participation in the regional integration body.

The academic said the measures taken by the Nicaraguan government were aimed at “drawing attention away from” internal criticism and complications plaguing its plan to build a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, in a year when general elections are scheduled for November.

With regard to the negotiated solution, Costa Rica’s foreign minister said: “This isn’t just an airplane ticket; it’s a package that includes getting from the shelter to the border between Guatemala and Mexico.”

All of the countries along the way to the United States require visas for Cubans, which makes it impossible for them to take a commercial flight. Guatemala opened a special consular office to serve the migrants arriving from Liberia, Costa Rica.

The Cubans themselves paid the 555-dollar air fare, as well as the bus tickets, departure tax, meals, and health insurance, said the IOM chief of mission in Costa Rica, Roeland de Wilde.

Children under 13 will get a discount, although only adults were on the pilot flight.

“These Cubans who are in Costa Rica with their documents in order are economic migrants here voluntarily. They began this long journey by paying their own way and they will continue to do so,” said the IOM representative.

Once they make it to Mexico, the authorities there will adopt their own measures to facilitate the migrants’ passage north.

“Mexico will process their information, and will give them a note granting them 20 days to regularise their situation or to leave the country. That is enough time to get to the U.S. border,” said de Wilde.

This convoluted route to the United States begins with a flight from Cuba to Ecuador, which in late 2015 adopted stricter new visa requirements for Cubans, changing what had been an exceptional openness to citizens from the socialist Caribbean island nation who face an otherwise restrictive international context.

From Ecuador, Cubans make a journey of several thousand kilometres by land and sea to reach the southern U.S. border, often paying people trafficking rings, a phenomenon that kept their passage through Central America largely invisible.

But things changed when the authorities in Costa Rica dismantled one of these networks on Nov. 10, shedding light on the true dimensions of the flow of Cubans through Central America.

Despite the first test flight, a full solution is not yet in sight. More than 7,600 migrants still remain on Costa Rican soil, according to the visa registry in the country’s migration office.

Use of the so-called Ecuador route has stepped up because of worries that the “wet foot, dry foot” policy may be eliminated or restricted as a result of the thaw between Cuba and the United States, which began in December 2014 and has included the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations.

From October 2014 to Dec. 1, 2015, Ecuador allowed Cubans to enter the country without a special letter of invitation. But this requisite was put back in place after the migration crisis broke out along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe: Poverty Stunting Minds and Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/zimbabwe-poverty-stunting-minds-and-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-poverty-stunting-minds-and-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/zimbabwe-poverty-stunting-minds-and-growth/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 06:10:55 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143557 A small boy plays with his toys. Poor nutrition in Zimbabwe is exposing vulnerable children nutrition to mental health challenges according to humanitarian agencies. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

A small boy plays with his toys. Poor nutrition in Zimbabwe is exposing vulnerable children nutrition to mental health challenges according to humanitarian agencies. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Mildren Ndlovu* knows the mental toll of Zimbabwe’s long-drawn economic hardships in a country where a long rehashed statistic by labour unions puts unemployment at 90 per cent.

Ndlovu, a 27-year-old single mother is raising two children, both under 5-years old, and survives on menial jobs such as doing laundry and dishes in neighbouring homes, says she has watched their health deteriorate and not just physically.

“I know they are not growing up the way other children are,” Ndlovu said, as she changed the underwear of her four-year who had just soiled himself.

“At his age, he should be able to visit the toilet by himself, yet I still have to change him,” she said from her one roomed shack in one of Bulawayo’s poor townships that litter the city’s north.

Ndlovu’s concerns about the slow development of her children point to the broader effects of Zimbabwe’s economic decline on vulnerable groups, with the UNICEF early this month releasing the Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas 2015 (http://unicef.org/zimbabwe/resources_17478.html) showing high poverty levels across the country that are affecting children’s mental health.

At the launch of the report, UNICEF, the World Bank and government officials said the poverty atlas is an attempt recognise that “Children are rarely recognised in poverty alleviation efforts and their needs are not properly addressed.”

According to the report, no child from the poorest health quintile reaches higher education, with eight of the country’s ten provinces registering poverty levels between 65 and 75 per cent.

“Child poverty has reduced (their) mental health and is reponsible for poverty when they are adults,” said Dr. Jane Muita, UNICEF’s deputy resident representative in Zimbabwe.

“It (child poverty) results in lower skills and productivity, lower levels of health and educational achievement,” Dr. Muita said.

According Zimbabwe’s health and child welfare, the country has witnessed an increase in mental health diagnoses, and has put in place a Mental Health Strategy 2014-18 to deal with the crisis.

The ministry blames the tough economic conditions that have thrown millions into the streets of unemployment.

There are no available figures of how mental health has affected children, but concerns by parents such as Ndlovu are giving a human face to a crisis that has been highlighted by the UNICEF report on child poverty and their mental health.

In some parts of Zimbabwe in the south-west districts such as Nkayi were found to have up to 95.6 per cent of poverty, while Lupane poverty levels stood at 93 per cent according to the UNICEF’s Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas.

There are concerns that this will slow the country’s march towards realising its Sustainable Development Goals to reduce child poverty by 2030.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee found that up to 36 per cent of children in Zimbabwe have stunted growth which experts say has not only affected them physically, but has also slowed their mental growth because of poor diets.

“The problem with children’s health and their mental development is that the attitude of both parents and some health workers is that these children will soon grow out of these challenges,” said Obias Nsamala, a Bulawayo pediatrician.

“But what I have seen with many children under 5 years is that these mental deficits can be detected when they come for treatment but only become an issue by the time they have began school. I think that is why for a long time this country had something like special classes for children not intellectually gifted,” Nsamala told IPS.

“I believe its been a wrong approach because some of these children may be slow learners or intellectually challenged not because of some genetic deficit but because all the signs were ignored earlier on based on their backgrounds and access to adequate meals,” he said.

As the country seeks to improve the lives of vulnerable groups such as children with government officials saying the country needs to grow the economy in order to reduce poverty, there is no consensus on how exactly this will be achieved to attract investment, with the country continuing to rely on international development partners to create safety nets for the poor.

From 2014 to June last year, UNICEF says it spent 363 million dollars on social services, this at time the country’s critical social services ministries are facing budget cuts which officials have admitted made it impossible to provide adequate assistance such as health care.

Under the 2016 national budget, the health and child welfare ministry received 330 million dollars which will largely be funded by donor countries, leaving a huge deficit which Minister David Parirenyatwa said is not enough to meet such such sectors as the poorly funded psychiatric clinics.

Perhaps to highlight these funding challenges, officials at the country’s largest psychiatric institution which caters for adults, Ingutsheni Hospital in Bulawayo early this year told Minister Parirenyatwa that the mental health hospital requires 23 doctors but only had six.

The social welfare ministry, also previously offering financial support for vulnerable group’s such Ndlovu’s children, has complained of poor funding from government.

Aid agencies say millions will require food assistance in 2016, further pushing Ndlovu and many others on the edge of what UNICEF’s Poverty Atlas says are their mental needs.

*name changed to protect her identity

(End)

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Drought Boosts Science in Dominican Republichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/drought-boosts-science-in-dominican-republic/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 23:01:11 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143553 Leaks in city water pipes, like this one in the Pequeño Haití (Little Haiti) market in Santo Domingo, aggravated the water shortages during the lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Leaks in city water pipes, like this one in the Pequeño Haití (Little Haiti) market in Santo Domingo, aggravated the water shortages during the lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

The recent lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic, which began to ease in late 2015, caused serious losses in agriculture and prompted national water rationing measures and educational campaigns.

But the most severe December-April dry season in the last 20 years helped convince the authorities to listen to the local scientific community in this Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“The National Meteorology Office (ONAMET) actually benefited because the authorities and key sectors like agriculture and water paid more attention to us,” said Juana Sille, an expert on drought, which was a major problem in the Caribbean and Central America in 2015.

The cause was the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world. Forecasts indicate that its effects will be felt until early spring 2016, and devastating impacts have already been seen in South American countries like Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

As a result of this record El Niño and its extreme climatic events, the international humanitarian organisation Oxfam predicted in October that at least 10 million of the world’s poorest people would go hungry in 2015 and 2016 due to failing crops.

“The most severe droughts reported in the Dominican Republic are associated with the ENSO phenomenon,” Sille told IPS, based on ONAMET’s studies.

But the meteorologist said that unlike in past years, “there is now awareness among decision-makers about climate change and the tendency towards reduced rainfall.”

The gardens and fruit trees kept by many women in their yards to help feed their families, like this one in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, were hit hard by drought in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The gardens and fruit trees kept by many women in their yards to help feed their families, like this one in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, were hit hard by drought in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“The authorities are learning to follow the early warning system and to implement prevention and adaptation plans,” she stated.

Sille pointed out that, in an unusual move, a government minister asked ONAMET in 2015 to carry out a study to assess the causes and likely duration of the drought that has been plaguing the country since 2014.

One quarter of the world’s population faces economic water shortage (when a population cannot afford to make use of an adequate water source).

Effects of drought in the Caribbean

• In Cuba, 45 percent of the national territory suffered rainfall shortages, in the most severe dry season in 115 years.
• In Jamaica, people found to be wasting water can be fined or even put into jail for up to 30 days.
• Barbados, Dominica and the Virgin Islands adopted water rationing measures in the residential sector.
• St. Lucia declared a national emergency after several months of water shortages.
• Puerto Rico suffered serious shortages due to poor maintenance of reservoirs.
• Antigua and Barbuda depended on wells and desalination plants to alleviate water shortages.
• In Central America, more than 3.5 million people have been affected by drought.

This is true mainly in the developing South, where the local scientific communities have a hard time raising awareness regarding the management of drought, whose impacts are less obvious than the damage caused by hurricanes and earthquakes.

Experts in the Dominican Republic and other developing countries call for the creation of risk management plans to ward off the consequences of water scarcity crises.

“We have a National Plan Against Desertification and Drought, but some institutions apply it while others don’t,” lamented the meteorologist. “This drought demonstrated the urgent need for everyone to implement the programme, which we have been working on for a long time.”

She said 2015 highlighted the importance of educational campaigns on water rationing measures, drought-resistant crops, more frequent technical advice and orientation for farmers, more wells, and the maintenance of available water sources.

The Dominican Republic’s 10 reservoirs, located in six of the country’s 31 provinces, are insufficient, according to experts. Another one will be created when the Monte Grande dam is completed in the southern province of Barahona.

Along with rivers and other sources, the reservoirs must meet the demands of the country’s 9.3 million people and the local economy, where tourism plays a key role.

Water from the reservoirs is used first for household consumption, then irrigation of crops in the reservoir’s area of influence and the generation of electric power. But every sector was affected by water scarcity in 2015.

“The dry season was really bad. The worst of all, because it killed the crops,” Luisa Echeverry, a 48-year-old homemaker, told IPS. Her backyard garden in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón, in the municipality of Santo Domingo Norte, to the north of the capital, helps feed her family.

But her garden, where she grows beans and corn, as well as peppers and other vegetables, to complement the diet of her three children, was hit hard by the scant rainfall.

“When things were toughest, we would try to manage using our water tank, which we sometimes even used to provide our neighbours with water,” said Echeverry.

“Our concern was for the crops, in our houses we always had water,” said Ocrida de la Rosa, another woman from this rural town of small farmers in the province of Santo Domingo, where many women keep gardens and fruit trees to help feed their families.

All but two of the country’s reservoirs were operating at minimum capacity, which meant the authorities had to give priority to residential users over agriculture and power generation.

Yields went down, and many crops were lost, especially in rice paddies, which require huge quantities of water. Production in the rice-growing region in the northwest of the country fell 80 percent due to the scarce rainfall and the reduced flow in the Yaque del Norte River.

And the Dominican Agribusiness Council reported a 25 to 30 percent drop in dairy production due to the drought, while hundreds of heads of beef cattle died in the south of the country.

Production in the hydropower dams fell 60 percent, in a country where hydroelectricity accounts for 13 percent of the renewable energy supply.

The daily water supply in Greater Santo Domingo went down by 25 percent, and thousands of people in hundreds of neighbourhoods, and in the interior of the country, suffered water rationing measures. Some neighbourhoods depended on tanker trucks for water.

And in the face of rationing measures, residents of Greater Santo Domingo protested the wasteful use of water in less essential activities, as well as the many unrepaired leaks in the residential sector.

The authorities closed down local car wash businesses, which abound in the city, and people could be fined or even arrested for wasting water to wash cars, clean sidewalks and water gardens.

“Integrated water management has advanced in this country,” another ONAMET meteorologist, Bolívar Ledesma, told IPS.

To illustrate, he pointed to the National Water Observatory, which adopts water management decisions together with institutions like the Santo Domingo water and sewage company (CAASD), the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewage (INAP) and the National Water Resources Institute (INDRHI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Wrong Time of the Month: a Rights Gap for Developing Countries’ Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2016 10:23:11 +0000 Gina Din and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143529 Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/wrong-time-of-the-month-a-rights-gap-for-developing-countries-girls/feed/ 0 Floods Pose Challenge for South American Integrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/floods-pose-challenge-to-south-american-integration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-pose-challenge-to-south-american-integration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/floods-pose-challenge-to-south-american-integration/#comments Mon, 04 Jan 2016 22:53:34 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143511 In Uruguay 22,414 people have been displaced by the floods that have affected the countries of the Mercosur trade bloc. Credit: Sistema Nacional de Emergencias (Sinae)

In Uruguay 22,414 people have been displaced by the floods that have affected the countries of the Mercosur trade bloc. Credit: Sistema Nacional de Emergencias (Sinae)

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 4 2016 (IPS)

The flooding that has affected four South American countries has underscored the need for an integrated approach to addressing the causes and effects of climate change.

Above and beyond joint emergency response plans, global warming poses common problems like deforestation and the management of shared rivers.

Some 180,000 people have been evacuated since the worst flooding in years hit the region over the year-end holidays.

The floods caused when the Paraná, Paraguay and Uruguay rivers overflowed their banks did not respect the borders between the nations of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) bloc, and have brought them together in a shared environmental catastrophe.

The same scenes of flooded streets, rescue teams and evacuation centres have filled the news from the provinces of northeast Argentina, cities in northern Uruguay and southern Brazil, and riverbank communities near the capital of Paraguay.“There is indifference towards environmental problems in the Mercosur. So much so that a Mercosur summit was held just recently, and this issue, which was a tragedy foretold, was not even addressed.” -- Enrique Viale

“It is difficult to avoid associating the severity of the floods with the modifications that have to do with climate change,” said Jorge Taiana, vice president of Parlasur, the parliamentary institution of the Mercosur bloc, which is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

“A serious joint response by the region is absolutely essential with respect to the two major strategies for confronting climate change, mitigation and adaptation to its effects,” Taiana, a lawmaker from Argentina’s “Front for Victory”, the left-leaning faction of the Justicialista (Peronist) Party, now in the opposition, told IPS.

“There is indifference towards environmental problems in the Mercosur,” Enrique Viale, president of the Argentine Association of Environmentalist Lawyers, told IPS. “So much so that a Mercosur summit was held just recently, and this issue, which was a tragedy foretold, was not even addressed.”

A number of experts have blamed the heavy rainfall on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a specialised United Nations agency, had forecast that its effects would be among the strongest seen since 1950.

On Dec. 24 the U.N. General Assembly urged member states to draw up national and regional strategies to address El Niño’s socioeconomic and environmental impacts, suggesting the implementation of early warning systems and the adoption of prevention, mitigation and damage control measures.

Viale, however, said: “The El Niño phenomenon was announced, but it isn’t the only cause.”

“The four countries (affected by the severe flooding) are the world’s biggest soy producers, along with the United States. It is not just by chance that the map of deforestation caused by soy production coincides with the map of the flooding,” he said.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina were among the 10 countries with the highest levels of deforestation in the last 25 years. Between 1990 and 2015, Argentina lost more than 7.6 million hectares of forest.

In the Misionera or Paranaense jungle, also known as the Mata Atlantica, through which the Uruguay, Paraná and Iguazú rivers run, only seven percent of the original forest cover remains in Argentina, while this ecosystem in Paraguay and Brazil has been almost completely destroyed.

Greenpeace campaign coordinator in Argentina Hernán Giardini said in a statement that “Forests and jungles, besides concentrating considerable biodiversity, play a critical role in climate regulation, maintenance of water sources and flows and soil conservation.

“They are our natural sponge and protective umbrella. When we lose forests we become more vulnerable to heavy rains and run a serious risk of flooding,” the statement by the global environmental watchdog added.

Viale said: “This, added to direct seeding, the method used to plant transgenic soy, has turned the fields into veritable green deserts without any capacity for absorbing water.”

Soy production, which has boomed since 1990, is seen as essential to these South American economies, as soy is one of their chief export products.

As it expanded, soy also replaced other traditional crops, while pushing stockbreeding into marginal areas like jungles and forests.

Argentine environmentalist Jorge Daneri said “The expansion of the agricultural frontier, driven in particular by the expansion of genetically modified soy monoculture, the enormous deforestation of the Paranaense jungle, and the construction of dams on a giant scale by Brazil on the Paraná, Iguazú and Uruguay rivers – with many more under construction or planned – has greatly aggravated the environmental crisis throughout (South America’s) Southern Cone region.”

To address what he described as “regional ecocide,” Daneri, with the Argentine organisation “M´Biguá, Ciudadanía y Justicia Ambiental” (M´Biguá, Citizenship and Environmental Justice), called for the river basin committees of the Paraná, Uruguay and Paraguay rivers to work together.

“There isn’t a single river basin committee that includes the three Argentine provinces in question and the national state, and there is only CARU (the Uruguay River Administrative Commission), which includes Argentina and Uruguay, but not Brazil,” he said.

“This is a serious problem, because of the total lack of coordination,” he said. “We see the river basin committee as the main institution that should be focused on here. It has been clearly demonstrated that Mercosur has failed to play a serious role coordinating proactive, sustainable policies.”

Daneri stressed the urgent need for “a new environmental management and zoning system, and the reestablishment of biological corridors, as well as a system to recuperate riverbank areas through reforestation using native species of trees, and to restore native forests.”

He also proposed a reorganisation of zoning plans in every province, together with the national authorities, as well as environmental assessments of every river basin, at a regional level.

In the short term, Taiana suggested the Parlasur help coordinate contingency plans for those affected by the flooding, and in the longer term, he said local governments should study together construction projects and other initiatives financed by Mercosur.

He pointed out that the bloc has a Structural Convergence Fund to finance projects to improve infrastructure and boost the competitiveness and social development of the member countries.

“The most important aspect of these non-reimbursable funds that facilitate integration is that they acknowledge the asymmetries between member countries,” he said.

Taiana said the fund, of some 100 million dollars a year, could be invested in projects financed in border areas to mitigate or prevent flooding, like dikes or diversion channels.

“It seems to me that there are many common issues that are urgent, where the Mercosur as a whole still has a lot to do,” he said.

Daneri said “The projects needed are not cement works, they are not megadams or megadikes. It’s not about channelising rivers. Only making efforts during an emergency, or for emergencies, is a mistake.”

“Part of meeting this challenge is working towards a transition to leave the current oversimplified model of monoculture behind and moving in the direction of agroecology. The causes need to be addressed,” he added.

“The causes lie in a productive model that does not depend on nature’s cycles but on the cycles of the market, which is devastating for ecosystems,” he said.

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Insecurity in Dominican Countryside Threatens Local Food Supplyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/insecurity-in-dominican-countryside-threatens-local-food-supply/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=insecurity-in-dominican-countryside-threatens-local-food-supply http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/insecurity-in-dominican-countryside-threatens-local-food-supply/#comments Mon, 28 Dec 2015 16:39:47 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143452 Cecilia Joseph is a small farmer in Mata Mamón who says she crossed the border from Haiti “when I was just a girl.” Credit: Dionny Matos

Cecilia Joseph is a small farmer in Mata Mamón who says she crossed the border from Haiti “when I was just a girl.” Credit: Dionny Matos

By Ivet González
MATA MAMÓN, Dominican Republic , Dec 28 2015 (IPS)

“Sometimes we have too much water, which washes everything away,” Cecilia Joseph, originally from Haiti, said in heavily accented Spanish while pulling up a ñame root (a kind of yam) on her farm in the municipality of Santo Domingo Norte in the Dominican Republic.

Joseph was referring to the frequent flooding caused when the Ozama, Cabón and Tosa rivers, which run through the rural area of Mata Mamón 30 km north of the Dominican capital, overflow their banks.

The heavy rains hurt her subsistence crops – corn, banana, papaya, avocado, ñame and mango – which sometimes produce a surplus that she sells, complained this small, thin, agile 70-year-old.Today, 1.5 million of the Dominican Republic’s 9.3 million inhabitants are still malnourished.

Cecé, as she is known here, depends completely on her one-hectare farm for a living, because her son and her husband are both dead.

This community of 1,714 inhabitants, where most people are small farmers like Joseph, is one of 1,100 that are registered by the civil defence agency in the province of Santo Domingo as vulnerable to flooding and landslides due to the overflowing of rivers and the lack of stormwater drainage systems.

The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community is that climate change and global warming are to blame for erratic weather patterns such as what is being seen in this country today.

Besides the threats posed to their health – and to their very lives – local farmers consulted by IPS say the environmental problem has reduced their production levels, and as a result they don’t have enough food anymore to feed their families.

“Five years ago I stopped planting rice and pumpkin on the land next to the river, because it overflowed its banks more and more frequently, to the point that it wasn’t worth investing there, just to lose everything,” said 56-year-old José Corcino, who also works as a skilled construction worker to support his family.

To feed his family, José Corcino plants crops and raises pigs in his backyard, which the floodwaters reach when the nearby river overflows its banks. Credit: Dionny Matos

To feed his family, José Corcino plants crops and raises pigs in his backyard, which the floodwaters reach when the nearby river overflows its banks. Credit: Dionny Matos

“We have made several requests through the United Hearts Association of Farmers of Mata Mamón for the state to dredge the rivers so they won’t overflow their banks. But everything has been in vain. We still can’t plant our crops,” complained Corcino, one of the more than 100 members of the organisation.

“We are going hungry because we don’t grow enough to be able to swap products with other local farmers,” he said. “And we don’t have markets here. Sometimes people come in trucks, selling vegetables and things, or we have to go and shop at La Victoria, which is six km away.”

Corcino, a father of three, grows banana, guava, soursop, avocado and mango to feed his family, on the one-hectare plot of land where his house is located. And farther away, on a 1.5-hectare plot where he used to grow rice, he grazes his 15 head of cattle, mainly dairy cows.

“Every afternoon I bring the cattle to my yard because the thieves take everything,” he said, referring to another factor that is a hindrance to agriculture. In his view, what the farmers in Mata Manón need is less vandalism and rustling, and more environmental services and investment, to boost local food production.

Today, 1.5 million of the Dominican Republic’s 9.3 million inhabitants are still malnourished, even though the country managed to reduce the number of people suffering from hunger in the last 20 years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FA0).

As they chat, local men point to the town, which is mainly populated by people originally from neighbouring Haiti or descendants of Haitians. Credit: Dionny Matos

As they chat, local men point to the town, which is mainly populated by people originally from neighbouring Haiti or descendants of Haitians. Credit: Dionny Matos

Food insecurity and poverty are largely rural phenomena in this Caribbean nation which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, according to the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Central America and Dominican Republic 2014, published for the first time this year by FAO.

In fields in the Dominican Republic, where food availability is determined, it is small farmers and blacks who suffer the most, according to the study.

“Peasant farmers have to feel security for themselves and their families in terms of labour, income, food, and access to school and healthcare. And environmental security is also important, because sometimes heavy rains fall and wipe away their crops,” said Manuel Rodríguez at the Labour Ministry’s Agriculture Office.

He said the office offers advice to help generate more secure jobs, as part of a larger government programme aimed at increasing employment in agriculture from the current 20 percent to 40 percent of the total workforce.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, only 609,197 people work in this sector: 559,428 men and 49,769 women.

“Peasants are abandoning their land today because there isn’t any money or work. But in the next few years, the Dominican countryside is going to undergo a radical change,” the official predicted.

The project will also involve technological modernisation projects like the expansion of greenhouse areas, initiatives for incorporating more women in farming, reduced interest payments to the agricultural bank, and more credit for farmers.

The Dominican Republic is a major exporter of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, while production of Chinese vegetables is growing, said Rodríguez. This country is also one of the world’s leading exporters of organic tropical products like bananas.

However, Dominican society is marked by a high level of inequality, and hunger and malnutrition are still top-priority problems, as recognised by the authorities when parliament approved a law on food and nutritional sovereignty and security in 2014.

Mata Mamón, a “batey” – a term that refers to rural shantytowns that originally sprung up on sugarcane plantations, as well as to urban slums surrounding cities and populated mainly by Haitians and Dominican-Haitians – is an area of potted roads lined by earth-floored wooden shacks and a few modest cinder-block dwellings.

“We have made some progress in education and among the youth, who have calmed down,” said Cornelio Guzmán, chairman of the Human Rights Committee for the last 15 years, with regard to the declining rates of juvenile delinquency and the construction of a local school.

“With respect to economic questions, the community has almost no income because the rivers destroy the crops and it’s impossible to fight the theft of cattle, goats and pigs, because we only have one policeman,” lamented the 44-year-old activist.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Saudi Women Make Huge Advances After Victory in Pollshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/saudi-women-make-huge-advances-after-victory-in-polls-2/#comments Thu, 24 Dec 2015 20:54:33 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143441 By Katherine Mackenzie
ABU DHABI, Dec 24 2015 (IPS)

The triumph of 19 women in what is being seen as a landmark and historical election in a largely traditional and conservative country is a massive gain for women. A United Arab Emirates (UAE) daily newspaper called this a right step in the Islamic spirit.

“It is a giant step forward for them, as they had previously been completely absent in elections. The exercise is the clearest implementation of former Saudi King Abdullah’s directive, who announced four years ago that women would take part in the 2015 municipal polls,” said ‘The Gulf Today’.

What is remarkable is that over a 100,000 women cast ballots, it added.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, were competing for 2,100 seats across the country. The councils are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens.

The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

While fewer than one per cent of the victorious candidates were women, this is a big moment for Saudi. Thirty women do sit in Saudi Arabia’s 150-member parliament, the Shura Council, but they are appointed directly by the king. So women elected by the public is a big advance.

The paper explained that many women candidates ran on platforms that dealt with social and civic issues, such as more nurseries to offer longer day-care hours for working mothers, the creation of youth centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

In October, the Saudi Gazette reported that tough road stretches and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in the village of Madrakah, where one female candidate was elected, to give birth in cars, the editorial said.

“It is precisely these kinds of community problems that female candidates hope to solve once elected to the municipal councils. The councils will advise authorities and help oversee local budgets,” it noted.

Some women were not expecting any of the female candidates to win.

“Saudi women are not allowed to do several things, such as driving, a prickly issue which has the sorority up in arms. They have to kowtow to dictates that give men the overriding power, particularly on issues such as marriage, work, travel and higher education,” the paper explained.

“Even those women contesting for public office had to surmount a number of challenges. However, many female candidates were chuffed that they were running for office, even if they didn’t think they would win. They said they were glad at finally being able to do something they had only seen on television or in movies,” it said.

Each step women take that provides visibility in public life, or sports, or culture, is another cultural norm developing. The youth in Saudi make up the vast majority of the kingdom’s population. They are growing up in a country where in a number of years women taking part in sport, business, and in the legal aspects of government writing legislation will be just normal.

From here there is no going back, and for a country that has hung onto traditions while the world around has adapted and made advances, this is a hard pill to swallow. But change is on its way, however slow.

In conclusion, the editorial said that given the gender disparity, it remains to be seen whether this translates into a more active role in politics for the women in the country. “In a male-dominated world, such a situation seems unlikely, unless men have a sea change in attitude. Happy women will make happy mothers and that will mean happy homes, where everything begins,” it said. (WAM) (END/2015)

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