Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 28 May 2015 22:22:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:40:44 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140833 The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to government ministries, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 20:35:44 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140799 An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

"We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody." -- Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read other articles in the series here.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Insteadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:45:53 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140739 In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Asia-Pacific Region Is ‘Growing’, but Millions Are Living in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:11:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140635 If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Home to an estimated 3.74 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region holds over half the global population, determining to a great extent the level of economic stability, or chaos, in the world.

This year’s edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, the flagship publication of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has mostly good news for the region – lauding growth achievement “albeit in a somewhat uneven manner.”

Average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990. -- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Growth has remained steady – with developing nations in the region showing a slight increase to 5.9 percent growth, up from 5.8 percent last year.

The survey also states that average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990, and Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam seeing their own real incomes triple in the same time period.

Although China’s growth is expected to fall to seven percent in 2015, India’s growth of 8.1 percent – an increase from 7.4 percent last year – could offset any impacts of its neighbor’s “planned moderation”, while Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation is projected to see growth rise from five to 5.6 percent this year.

But the spoils of growth have not been evenly shared.

According to the report, “income inequality has increased […] especially in the major developing countries, particularly in urban areas.” Overall, since the 1990s, the Gini index – a measure of income inequality on a scale of 0-100 – has risen from 33.5 to 37.5 percent for the region as a whole.

And while experts praised the region for halving the number of people living on 1.25 dollars a day, ahead of the 2015 deadline laid out at the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, a closer look at poverty in the region suggests that there is less to celebrate and far more to tackle.

Poverty: How much has changed since 1990?

Estimates prepared by ESCAP in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific reveal that the number of people in the region living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2011 – a reduction from 1.7 billion to 772 million people.

While this is a tremendous improvement, it does not change the fact that too many millions are still eking out an existent on practically nothing, while a further 40 percent of the region’s population, some 933 million people – although not classified as the “poorest of the poor” – are in similarly dire straits, earning less than two dollars a day.

The 2014 annual statistical publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) takes an even deeper look at poverty statistics in the region, suggesting that the gains made in the past two decades may not be as bright as they seem.

According to the Bank’s sub-regional overview of declining extreme poverty, East Asia drove the drop in numbers with a 48.6-percent decline, followed by a 39-percent drop in Central and West Asia, 31 percent in Southeast Asia and 19 percent in South Asia.

However, the Bank highlighted three reasons for why the conventional 1.25-dollar poverty line is an inadequate measure of the costs required to maintain a minimum living standard by the poor: “Updated consumption data specific to Asia’s poor; the impact of volatile and rising costs associated with food insecurity; and the region’s increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.”

By increasing the base poverty line to 1.51 dollars per person per day, as well as factoring in the impacts of food insecurity and vulnerability to natural disasters and other shocks, Asia’s extreme poverty rate shoots up to 49.5 percent of the population, or roughly 1.7 billion people.

Inclusive growth

In addition to poverty, the ESCAP survey broke down major challenges facing each particular sub-region, including “excessive dependence on natural resources and worker remittances for economic growth in North and Central Asia […]; employment and climate-related challenges in Pacific island developing countries […]; macroeconomic imbalances and severe power shortages in South and South-West Asia […]; and weaknesses in infrastructure and skilled labour shortages in South-East Asia.”

Since the financial crisis of 1997, for instance, infrastructure investment in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam fell from 38 billion during the year of the crash to 25 billion in 2010.

Infrastructure is desperately needed to improve basic services for the poor, including better transport networks and energy grids.

According to some estimates the sub-regions of South and South-West Asia need an estimated 400 billion dollars annually for power generation. Only 71 percent of South Asians have access to electricity, compared to 92 percent of those living in East and North-East Asia.

Financing for infrastructure is also desperately needed to improve access to water and sanitation, a huge problem in the region where 41 percent of the population does not have access to toilets and 75 percent do not have access to piped water, according to ESCAP.

Further demands for infrastructure are driven by the rapid rate of urbanisation, with ESCAP suggesting that the region will need upwards of 11 trillion dollars over the next 15 years to deal with the stresses of urbanisation and prepare for huge population shifts.

The year 2012 saw 46 percent of the Asia-Pacific population dwelling in urban areas, but current growth rates indicate that by 2020, that number could rise to 50 percent, meaning an additional 500 million people will reside in the region’s cities by the end of the decade.

The title of this year’s survey, ‘Making Growth More Inclusive for Sustainable Development’, begs a review of the region’s level of inclusivity, particularly of women and young people in the labour force and political ranks.

Sadly the results are disappointing: in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, women constitute just 18 percent of national parliamentarians, while one-third of countries in the ESCAP region have less than 10 percent female representation in parliament.

For youth, too, the situation is bleak, with seven out of 13 countries surveyed showing youth unemployment rates higher than 10 percent – including a 19.5-percent youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka.

“To enhance well-being, countries need to go beyond just focusing on ‘inequality of income’ and instead promote ‘equality of opportunities’,” ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said Thursday.

She also said the survey underscores the need for countries to adopt policies that will foster inclusive growth, both to ensure outstanding MDG commitments are met and pave the way for an ambitious post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesia Still a Long Way from Closing the Wealth Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:30:43 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140617 Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Every afternoon, Wahyu sets up his wooden food cart by the side of a busy road in Central Jakarta to sell sweet buns, known as ‘bakpao’, to people passing by. In a good month, the street vendor can make around 800,000 rupiah, which amounts to roughly 62 dollars.

Across the road from where Wahyu hawks his wares stands one of the many malls that dot Indonesia’s capital city, home to 9.6 million people, filled with high-end designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

"We [...] need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected." -- Said Iqbal, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)
Despite Wahyu’s position literally opposite the entrance to the plaza, it’s unlikely he will ever step foot inside it, let alone shop there.

Indonesia’s wealth gap has widened over the years, with the nation’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) revealing that the country’s Gini index – a ratio measuring wealth distribution on a scale of 0-1 – increased from approximately 0.36 in 2012 to 0.41 in 2014.

While some are making their fortunes in this Southeast Asian nation of 250 million people, scores are languishing in destitution.

An estimated 28 million people live below the poverty line, and half of all households are grouped at or below the poverty line, set at 292,951 rupiah (24.4 dollars) per month, according to the World Bank.

When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo came into office last October, he pledged to work towards minimising the country’s income inequality.

At the same time, the president, who is fondly known as Jokowi, emphasised that he was keen to boost the investment appeal of the world’s fourth most populous country, a plan that has some trade unions on edge, fearing the impact of unchecked foreign investment on a vulnerable workforce.

“We agree with the government’s plan to invite investors as we need investment for economic growth in the country. We support him,” explains Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI).

“But we also need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected,” he tells IPS.

The nation’s average minimum wage is around 1.5 million rupiah, the equivalent of 115 dollars, according to data from BPS.

Each province or district sets their own minimum wage in line with the amount needed for workers to achieve a decent standard of living. The current rate for the capital city is 2.7 million rupiah per month, about 206 dollars, a figure that labour unions argue is not in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

“Thailand has a minimum wage equivalent to 3.2 million rupiah (244 dollars), Philippines at an equivalent of 3.6 million rupiah (274 dollars) and in Malaysia it’s more than three million rupiah (228 dollars),” explains Iqbal, who joined thousands of workers in Jakarta this past May Day to demand higher wages.

“We [labour unions] have met with Jokowi and we welcome his vision. But we haven’t seen any action; we need him to implement policies. We need to see wages increased to reflect the increase in oil prices and consumer goods.”

As pointed out in a January 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in three regular employees – or 33.6 percent of the total workforce engaged in full-time work – receives a low wage.

While low wages in some emerging economies can symbolise a workforce about to move into a higher income bracket, “for many Indonesian workers low-wage employment tends to be the norm, rather than a springboard,” the ILO found.

The report also found that 45.9 percent of regular wage employees were “receiving wages below the lowest wage that is permissible by law in August 2014.”

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), tells IPS that Indonesia is not doing enough to tackle the country’s rising inequality or its growing informal economy – two things she says pose economic and social risks.

“The unions here have fought the low-wage culture for many years […]; it is still not a wage on which people can live with dignity against rising costs for basic needs,” Burrow, who was in Jakarta for the May Day celebrations, explains.

“Likewise, social protection is still not deep enough and is not universal.”

According to the World Bank, employment growth has been slower than population growth, while “public services remain inadequate by middle-income standards.”

Health and infrastructure indicators are also poor, and the country is a ways off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nation’s poverty-reduction blueprint that is set to expire at the end of the year.

For instance, the country continues to be plagued by high infant and maternal mortality ratios, with 228 infant deaths and 190 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Meanwhile, only 68 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, far short of the MDG target of 86 percent.

With 153.2 million people – or 62 percent of the total population – living in rural areas without easy access to medical, educational and financial institutions, experts say there is an urgent need for the country to devise schemes that will allow a more equitable sharing of wealth among its people.

While some analysts say Indonesia’s low wages act as a magnet for investment, business insiders disagree.

“The business community is aware that low wages are no longer the attraction they used to be,” says Keith Loveard, a senior risk analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, adding that increased inequity over the past decade has seen the bottom 50 percent of the population make very few gains.

The government could reverse this tide by tackling bureaucratic bottlenecks in various sectors.

According to Loveard, “Indonesia’s logistics costs make up more than a quarter of production costs and the only way companies can deal with that is to squeeze workers. So realistically, until you lower logistics costs with better infrastructure and cut the red tape, it’s very difficult to do business in areas such as manufacturing that create lots of jobs.”

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector is the second largest contributor, after the service sector, to regular wage employment and a strong factor for economic and employment growth in the country, according to the ILO.

Organisations like the World Bank, which estimate that Indonesia has one of the fastest rising rates of income inequality in the Southeast Asian region, say that unless the country adopts social protection programmes for the poorest people, and invests in infrastructure that will enhance their productive capacity, Indonesia will find itself losing social, political and political cohesion in the years to come.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: South-South Cooperation Vital for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 12:54:12 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140497

Dr. Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Sustainable development is central to a range of key discussions at the United Nations and elsewhere at the moment.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The role of South-South cooperation in the context of sustainable development deserves greater recognition as significant numbers of developing countries begin to ascend the development ladder in a sustainable manner, causing fundamental changes to the development infrastructure the world has known up to now.

The steady expansion of South-South cooperation is causing a lasting impression on the existing order of things.

First, the best practices adopted by the more economically advanced developing countries could provide workable and relevant models for the others.

Some developing countries have recorded impressive economic successes and the policies they have successfully implemented could be shared. Contrary to existing practice, models of development will increasingly be borrowed from outside the developed world.

Secondly, some advanced developing countries have accumulated considerable international currency reserves and developed relevant technology which could be effectively deployed in the rest of the developing world. This is happening already.

Thirdly, the flow of funding and technology from other developing countries to the rest of the South will result in dramatic changes to relationships largely based on post-colonial and historical dependencies and the inevitable conditionalities. This would create an uncomfortable challenge for those used to the current relationship patterns.The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena.

Sustainable development was the underlying concept that inspired States as they painstakingly negotiated the Rio+20 outcomes document, The Future We Want.

The Member States are currently working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, essentially drawing on the report of the Open Working Group (OWG), to produce a master plan for progress, to be realised by 2030, that will ensure just, equitable and inclusive growth. The report of this exercise will be submitted for adoption to the U.N. High Level Summit to be held in September 2015 in New York.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda will seamlessly expand the significant achievements secured under the Millennium Development Goals which targeted eight specific areas. The new enterprise will touch upon many more aspects of our lives, including of women, youth, children, the disadvantaged and the marginalised, in a manner that the Millennium Development Goals did not.

A process culminating in a meeting of States Parties in Addis Ababa in July on Financing for Development will build on the accords of Monterrey and Doha and will adopt recommendations on the funding aspect for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger are at the core of this exercise. We live in a world where close to 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. It is estimated that ending poverty in the world will cost 66 billion dollars per year. Over one billion live on less than 1.25 dollars per day. Over 2.5 billion have no access to clean water and proper sanitation resulting in massive health issues, including the stunting of children.

The number of least developed countries has remained the same since the year 2000, the year the MDGs were adopted, although progress has been made towards making the world a better place over the last 15 years.

Along with addressing poverty and hunger, the international community is discussing the related challenges, inter alia, of providing better health care and education for all, creating better cities and communities, ensuring decent work, confronting the daunting challenges facing the oceans, the imminent threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, mainstreaming women and children’s issues, providing energy for all, ensuring sustainable industrialisation, and building global partnerships.

The way humanity will address the threats confronting the oceans, in particular, its riches valued at an estimated 24 trillion dollars, will have a major impact on the environment, climate change, the livelihoods of millions of people and the economies of many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States and the Less Developed Countries.

In the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, the international community failed specifically on Goal 8 which focused on partnerships. The commitments made on the delivery of assistance to the developing world by the traditional donor community, including technology transfer, failed to materialise to the extent anticipated despite the solemn accords reached at Monterrey, Doha and elsewhere.

The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow and the elimination of poverty in many developing countries remains an ever distant dream, affecting a huge proportion of the global population.

Against this challenging background, the advances made by some developing countries provide practical examples of useful best practices and provide possible opportunities for a new framework for development cooperation.

China has pulled out over 680 million from extreme poverty in a short period of 30 years. This is an unprecedented achievement in human history. Its economy, which was at the bottom end of the world in the 1950s, is second only to that of the United States today and is expected to grow further.

Despite its headlong rush towards development and the enormity of the attendant challenges, China is also making impressive gains in the harnessing of alternative energy such as hydro, solar, wind, bio mass and gassified coal, bringing in to question the defensive contention of those industrialised countries which have argued that such a comprehensive embrace of alternative energy would result in major job losses and negative effects on their economies.

The initially costly, but essential, shift to renewable energy will facilitate continuing development in a sustainable manner, and the experiences of countries such as China, India and Brazil may provide an attractive model for other developing countries.

Many countries in South East Asia are also making rapid economic progress with Indonesia expected to become the sixth largest economy of the world by 2030. Sri Lanka, despite its developing country status, has attained enviable targets in the delivery of education services, health care and the integration of women to the national economy.

UNICEF highlights Sri Lanka as a success story. State-sponsored agricultural extension services which increasingly emphasise sustainability have been a major factor in the impressive advances made in this sector by Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh has halved the number of people living in poverty. While the experiences of any one developing country, or the technical knowhow deployed, may not necessarily be duplicated in another, useful lessons can still be learnt.

The lessons that can be shared are evident and South-South Cooperation has become a significant trove of experiences that can be accessed as the challenge of development is addressed. Interestingly, China studied the Greater Colombo Export Processing Zone of Sri Lanka before it established its spectacularly successful Shenzhen Zone.

Infrastructure projects could be and have been funded from public private partnerships, government to government arrangements or by the private sector. Africa’s current spurt of growth has been facilitated by a combination of these mechanisms, with much of the crucial funding and technology coming from China and a lesser amount from India, Brazil, etc..

Sri Lanka’s recent surge in economic expansion depended much on Chinese, and to a lesser extent on Indian, funding and technology. China’s initiative to establish an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was initially proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jingping, is attracting even traditional donor states in unexpected numbers (57 as of now), despite initial reservations.

It is clear that South-South cooperation is playing a crucial role, especially in developing countries, in adding zest to their economies. Important lessons are being learnt and fundamental changes to established frameworks in global cooperation are being introduced. It may even be argued that the catalyst that propelled many developing country economies to a different level was the recent expansion of cooperation from other developing countries.

The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena. The states negotiating the Post-2015 Development Agenda will be conscious of the need to reflect the changing nature of the global development framework in their work.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 124nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140421 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Watch What Happens When Tribal Women Manage India’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:46:51 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140401 Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her." -- Kama Pradhan, a tribal woman from the Gunduribadi village
Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India’s policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country’s bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country’s forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state’s heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

“We who stayed back had to sell our family’s brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre,” recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation’: each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours’ verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation’

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot’ project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

“When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests,” Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back,” she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities’ hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state’s 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

“But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze,” Nayak recounts.

“Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades,” she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

“When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women,” Nayak tells IPS.

“Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences,” she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

“Corporations’ officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use,” recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women’s protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use’, primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha’s women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha’s forests.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realising Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-progress-of-the-worlds-women-2015-2016-transforming-economies-realising-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-progress-of-the-worlds-women-2015-2016-transforming-economies-realising-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-progress-of-the-worlds-women-2015-2016-transforming-economies-realising-rights/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 22:55:51 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140350 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Our world is out of balance. It is both wealthier and more unequal today than at any time since the Second World War.

We are recovering from a global economic crisis – but that recovery has been jobless. We have the largest cohort ever of educated women, yet globally women are struggling to find work. Unemployment rates are at historic highs in many countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in southern Europe.Our globalised economy seems to be working at cross-purposes with our universal vision of women’s rights; it is limiting, rather than enabling them.

Where women do have jobs, globally they are paid 24 per cent less than men, on average. For the most part, the world’s women are in low-salaried, insecure occupations, like small-scale farming, or as domestic workers – a sector where they comprise 83 per cent of the workforce.

Why isn’t the global economy fit for women?

In our flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, we investigate what this failure means – and propose solutions.

We take a fresh, holistic look at both economic and social policies and their implications for the entire economy. We look particularly at the ‘invisible’ economy of unpaid care and domestic work that anchors all economies and societies.

Conventional measures like GDP have historically been blind to a large proportion of the work women and girls do, and unhearing of the voices of those who would wish to allocate public resources to their relief, for example through investments in accessible water and clean energy.

We suggest the need to apply a human rights lens to economic problem-solving. We propose specific, evidence-based solutions for action by both government and the private sector, to shape progress towards decent, equally paid jobs for women, free from sexual harassment and violence, and supported by good quality social services.

Our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed: for example to provide safe water and sanitation, quality health care, and decent child- and elderly-care services. Yet water is essential, families still have to be nourished, the sick still have to be tended, children brought up, and elderly parents cared for.

Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne primarily by women and girls. This is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in when the State does not provide resources and it affects billions of women the world over.

Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security, success and independence.

Our globalised economy seems to be working at cross-purposes with our universal vision of women’s rights; it is limiting, rather than enabling them. Where there is no choice, there are few rights.

But there are solutions. The report proposes a number of specific ways in which to mobilise resources to pay for public services and social transfers: for example by enforcing existing tax obligations, reprioritising expenditure and expanding the overall tax base, as well as through international borrowing and development assistance.

Global corporations also have a central role to play by being employers that offer equal pay and opportunities. Shareholders can and should ask corporations to act with responsibility to the countries in which they operate. Annual tax revenue lost to developing countries due to trade mispricing, just one strategy used by corporations to avoid tax, is estimated at between 98 and 106 billion dollars. This is nearly 20 billion more than the annual capital costs needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage.

With the right mix of economic and social policies, governments can make transformative change: they can generate decent jobs for women and men and ensure that their unpaid care work is recognised and supported. Well-designed measures such as family allowances and universal pensions can enhance women’s income security, and their ability to realise their potential and expand their life options.

Finally, macroeconomic policies can and should support the realisation of women’s rights, by creating dynamic and stable economies, by generating decent work and by mobilising resources to finance vital public services.

Ultimately, upholding women’s rights will not only make economies work for women, it will also benefit societies as a whole by creating a fairer and more sustainable future.

Progress for women is progress for all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Swelling Ethiopian Migration Casts Doubt on its Economic Miraclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:20:36 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140322 By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

The 28 Ethiopian migrants of Christian faith murdered by the Islamic State (IS) on Apr. 19 in Libya had planned to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of work in Europe.

Commenting on the killings to Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), Ethiopian government spokesperson Redwan Hussien urged potential migrants not to risk their lives by using dangerous exit routes.

Hussein’s call sparked anger among hundreds of Ethiopian youths and relatives of the deceased, who took to the streets in the capital Addis Ababa this week before the demonstration was disbanded by the police, local media reported.

Protestors cited the government’s lukewarm response to the massacre of Orthodox Christians for their outrage, the Addis Standard reported. Later in the week, during a public rally organised by the government in the capital, violence again broke out between security forces and protesters resulting in injuries and the detention of over a hundred protesters, local and international media reported.“Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth” – Yared Hailemariam, former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (now Human Rights Council)

Almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, the majority of those Orthodox Copts – who say that they have been in the Horn of Africa nation since the first century AD — as well as large numbers of Protestants.

In the widely-reported incident in Libya, IS militants beheaded 16 Ethiopian migrants in one group on a beach and shot 12 in the head in another group in a desert area. Eyasu Yikunoamilak and Balcha Belete, residents of the impoverished Cherkos neighbourhood in Addis Ababa, were among the victims, it was learnt, along with three other victims from Cherkos.

Seyoum Yikunoamilak, elder brother of Eyasu Yikunoamilak, told FBC that Eyasu and Balcha left their country for Sudan two months ago en route to reach the United Kingdom for work to help themselves and their families, but this was not meant to be.

“I used to talk to them on phone while they were in the Sudan,” Seyoum said in grief. “But I never heard from them since they entered Libya one month ago.” Eyasu had previously been a migrant worker in Qatar and had covered his friend’s expenses with his savings to reach Europe, said Seyoum.

In defiance of the warning of the government spokesperson, Meshesa Mitiku, a long-time friend of Eyasu and Balcha living in Cherkos, told the Associated Press on Apr. 20: “I will try my luck too but not through Libya. Here there is no chance to improve yourself.” Meshesha’s intentions came even after learning about the fate of his friends.

Ethiopian lawmakers declared a three-day national mourning on Apr. 21. The government also expressed its readiness to repatriate all migrants in dangerous foreign countries, the Washington-based VOA Amharic radio reported.

The rally earlier in the week came one month before Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, the first since the death of long-time leader Meles Zenawi, and current prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to face little if any opposition challenge.

“We will redouble efforts to fight terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesman Tewolde Mulugeta said in response to demands for action from protesters.

Ethiopia is trying to create jobs so that people do not feel the need to leave to find work, he added. “We’re trying to create opportunities here for our young people. We encourage them to exploit those opportunities at home.”

Nevertheless, disenchantment marked by asserted claims of repression, inequality and unemployment has spurred a series of protests against the regime over the last few years.

These and other issues have prompted the exodus of Ethiopian migrants to Europe, according to several observers. “The idea that the majority of Ethiopian migrants relocate due to economic reasons appears flawed,” contends Tom Rhodes, East Africa Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an email interview with IPS. Rhodes also maintained that the violation of fundamental freedoms is closely tied with poverty and economic inequality.

In an email interview with IPS, Yared Hailemariam, a former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, agreed. “Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth.”

“Citizens have the right to peacefully protest,” said Felix Horne, East Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch. “It’s no surprise given the steps government takes to restrict peaceful protests that disenfranchised youth would use the rare opportunity of an officially sanctioned public demonstration to express their frustrations. That’s the inevitable outcome when there are no other means for them to express their opinions.”

The main opposition parties say that the government has failed to create job opportunities, making migration inevitable. The regime, they charge, favours members of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and creates economic inequality.

Recently dubbed an “African tiger”, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous nations with 94 million people (Nigeria has 173.6 million). It has been celebrated for its modest economic growth over the last years. But the average unemployment rate (the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force) was stuck at 20.26 percent from 1999 to 2014.

“The regime allocates state resources and job opportunities to members of the ruling party who are organised in small-scale and micro enterprises,” noted Horne. The CPJ representative agreed. “Ethiopian government authorities tend to reward their political supporters and ethnic relations with lucrative political and business positions” at the expense of ingenuity in the business sector.

In its 2015 report, the World Bank shared this discouraging view. Some 37 million Ethiopians – one-third of the country’s population – are still “either poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty”, the World Bank said, adding that the “very poorest in Ethiopia have become even poorer” over the last decade or so.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has estimated that about 29 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. This explains Ethiopia’s rank at 174 out of 187 countries on the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.

The Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation that spotlights land grabs, was recently denounced by Ethiopian officials for its latest reportWe Say the Land is Not Yours’. According to the government, the institute used “unverified and unverifiable information”.

In a reply to the Ethiopian Embassy in the United Kingdom on Apr. 22, Oakland Institute challenged the government’s claim that ongoing development was improving life standards in the country.

The institute maintained that the government’s development endeavours are “destroying the lives, culture, traditions, and livelihoods” of many indigenous and pastoralist populations, further warning that the strategy was “unsustainable and creating a fertile breeding ground for conflict.”

More than half of Ethiopia’s farmers are cultivating plots so small as to barely provide sustenance. These one hectare or less plots are further affected by drought, an ineffective and inefficient agricultural marketing system and underdeveloped production technologies, says FAO. Several studies indicate that this phenomenon has induced massive rural-urban migration.

According to Yared Hailemariam, state ownership of land has contributed to poverty and inequality. “People don’t have full rights over their properties so that they lack the motivation to invest,” he stressed. The ruling regime insists that land will remain in the hands of the state, and selling and buying land is prohibited in Ethiopia.

Yared also pointed out that the ruling party owns several huge businesses which has created unfair competition in the economy. “The party’s huge conglomerates have weakened other public and private businesses” he told IPS. “Only the ruling party’s political elites and their business cronies are benefitting at the expense of the majority of the people.”

The tragic news of the massacre in Libya came amid news of xenophobic attacks against Ethiopian migrants in South Africa last week including looting and burning of properties. Unknown numbers of Ethiopian economic migrants are also trapped in the Yemeni conflict, according to state media.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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

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

By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Rights Abuses Still Rampant in Bangladesh’s Garment Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:21:13 +0000 Naimul Haq and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140264 Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Naimul Haq and Kanya D'Almeida
DHAKA/NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Some say they were beaten with iron bars. Others confess their families have been threatened with death. One pregnant woman was assaulted with metal curtain rods.

These are not scenes typically associated with a place of work, but thousands of people employed in garment factories in Bangladesh have come to expect such brutality as a part of their daily lives.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times [...]. The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers." -- Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum
Even if they don’t suffer physical assault, workers at the roughly 4,500 factories that form the nucleus of Bangladesh’s enormous garments industry almost certainly confront other injustices: unpaid overtime, sexual or verbal abuse, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

Two years ago, when all the world’s eyes were trained on this South Asian nation of 156 million people, workers had hoped that the end of systematic labour abuse was nigh.

The event that prompted the international outcry – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the morning of Apr. 24, 2013, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 more – was deemed one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

Government officials, powerful trade bodies and major foreign buyers of Bangladesh-made apparel promised to fix the gaping flaws in this sector that employs four million people and exports 24 billion dollars worth of merchandise every year.

Promises were made at every point along the supply chain that such a senseless tragedy would never again occur.

But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster has found that, despite pledges made and some steps in the right direction, Bangladesh’s garments sector is still plagued with many ills that is making life for the 20 million people who depend directly or indirectly on the industry a waking nightmare.

Based on interviews with some 160 workers in 44 factories, predominantly dedicated to manufacturing garments sold by retailers in Australia, Europe and North America, the report found that safety standards are still low, workplace abuse is common, and union busting – as well as violence attacks and intimidation of union organisers – is the norm.

Violation of labour laws

Last December the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for factory workers from 39 dollars a month to 68 dollars. While this signified a sizable increase, it was still less than the 100-dollar wage workers themselves had demanded.

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Furthermore, implementation has been slow. According to Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum representing 80,000 workers, only 40 percent of employers comply with the minimum wage law.

She told IPS that women, who comprise the bulk of factory workers, form the “lifeblood” of this vital industry that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 10 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP); yet they have fallen victim to “exploitative wages” as a result of retailers demanding competitive prices.

Indeed, many factories owners concur that pressure from companies who place bulk orders to scale up production lines and improve profit margins contributes to the culture of cutting corners, since branded retailers seldom factor compliance of safety and labour regulations into their costing.

“[These] financial costs [are] heavy for the factory owners,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “They argue that a small compromise on the profit margin can go a long way in helping Bangladesh factories achieve compliance.”

Wherever the blame for non-compliance lies, the negative consequences for workers – especially the women – are undeniable: an April 2014 survey by Democracy International found that 37 percent of workers reported lack of paid sick leave, while 29 percent lacked paid maternity leave.

Workers who are unable to meet production targets have their salaries docked, while HRW’s research indicates that “workers in almost all of the factories” complained of not receiving wages or benefits in full, or on time.

Forced overtime is exceedingly common, as are poor sanitation facilities and unclean drinking water.

Collective bargaining – a risky business

Faced with such entrenched and systematic violations of their rights, many garment workers are aware that their best chance for securing decent working conditions lies in their collective bargaining power.

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

But union busting and other anti-union activity are rampant across the garments sector, with many organisers beaten into submission and scores of others terrorised into keeping their heads down.

Although Bangladesh has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, those who try to exercise these rights face harsh reprisals.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times but later released because they found no [evidence] against me,” Mishu, of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, told IPS. “The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers. Whenever we raise our voices against the garments factory owners, instead of negotiating with us they apply force to silence us.”

Mishu’s testimony finds echoes in numerous incidents recorded in HRW’s report, including an attack in February last year on four activists with the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity (BFWS) that left one of their number so badly injured he had to spend 100 days in hospital.

Their only crime was helping employees at the Korean-owned Chunji Knit Ltd. Factory fill out union registrations forms.

Other incidents include a woman being hospitalised after an attack by men wielding cutting shears, activists threatened with death or the death of their families, and one organiser being accosted on his way home and slashed so badly with blades he had to be admitted to hospital.

“We find that factory owners […] use local thugs to intimidate and attack union organisers, often outside the factory premises,” HRW’s Ganguly explained. “And then they blithely disclaim responsibility by saying that the attacks had nothing to do with the factory.”

In one of the worst examples of anti-union activity, HRW reported that an activist named Aminul Islam was “abducted, tortured and killed in April 2012, and to date his killers have not been found.”

Although hard-won reforms have raised the number of unions formally registered at the labour department from just two in 2011-2012 to 416 in 2015, overall representation of workers remains low: union exist in just 10 percent of garment factories across Bangladesh.

Factory safety

Ganguly told IPS that because the Bangladesh garment industry grew very rapidly, “a lot of factories were set up bypassing safety and other compliance issues.”

Between 1983-4 and 2013-14, the sector mushroomed from just 120,000 employees working in 384 factories to four million workers churning out garments at a terrific rate in 4,536 factories, which run the gamut from state-of-the-art industrial operations to “backstreet workshops” and everything in-between.

Unchecked expansion in the 80s and 90s meant that many of these buildings were disasters waiting to happen. While incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 people, have largely taken the spotlight, a string of similar calamities both before and after suggest that Bangladesh has a long way to go to ensure worker safety.

Figures quoted by the Clean Clothes Campaign point out that between 2006 and 2010, 500 workers died in factory fires, 80 percent of which were caused by faulty wiring.

Since 2012, 68 factory fires have claimed 30 lives and left 800 workers injured, according to the Solidarity Center.

Atiqul Islam, president of the industry’s leading trade body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that factory owners are taking far more precautions now to ensure that preventable or ‘man-made’ disasters remain a thing of the past.

Before the Rana Plaze incident, he said, there were only 56 inspectors overseeing thousands of factories. Now, there are over 800 inspectors, trained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to keep a check on the many operations around the country.

Indeed, regulations like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an initiative carried out on behalf of 175 retailers based primarily in Europe, which is overseeing improvements in over 1,600 factors, as well as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that is looking into improvements in 587 factories at the behest of 26 North American retailers, indicate progress.

But as Ganguly said, “Much more needs to be done to ensure worker rights.”

For a start, experts say that proper compensation must be paid to survivors, or families of those who lost their lives due to negligence in the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions disasters.

As of March of this year, only 21 million dollars of the estimated 31 million dollars’ compensation has so far been pledged or disbursed. HRW also found that “15 companies whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza by journalists and labour activists have not paid anything into the trust fund established with the support of the ILO to manage the payments.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Backlash Follows South Africa’s Xenophobic Attacks on Africanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:37:04 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140255 By Lisa Vives
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Shocking images of South Africans beating foreign-born residents residing in Durban, Johannesburg and other parts stunned the continent which had taken a message of brotherhood from former president Nelson Mandela.

At least six people were killed, more than 5,000 displaced and shops were looted and razed in the attacks which have been building over weeks. Most of those affected were refugees and asylum seekers who were forced to leave their countries due to war and persecution, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said.

The riots forced President Jacob Zuma to cancel a state visit to Indonesia and visit one of the camps in the Durban suburb of Chatsworth, where more than a thousand foreign nationals were sleeping in tents and relying on volunteers for food. Many were boarding buses to return to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other home countries.

“It is not every South African who says go away, not at all. It is a very small number who say so,” Zuma said. “We want to live as sisters and brothers.”

The spark for the attacks was linked to comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at a traditional event north of KwaZulu Natal. At first he seemed to be criticising South Africans for being lazy and not wanting to plough their fields. “When foreigners look at (us), they say ‘let us exploit this nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops. They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere.”

He later denied the statement until media replayed a recording of it.

Retaliation against the attacks was seen in Mozambique after a national was seen murdered on TV. South African vehicles were pelted with stones. In Nigeria, South African companies were reportedly threatened with closure. Protests were seen at various South African embassies across the continent, and several South African musicians were forced to cancel concerts abroad.

Sasol, an energy and chemical giant, evacuated 340 South Africans from Mozambique over fears for their safety. In Zambia, a privately owned radio station stopped playing South African music in protest.

An anti-xenophobic peace march organised by South African local officials took place on Apr. 16 and was well attended. Some 5,000 people including religious leaders and politicians marched in solidarity with foreign nationals. The atmosphere was mostly calm, with protesters singing solidarity songs.

Still, Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, feared for the worst. “They are using us as scapegoats,” he said.

“Every day, migrants are living in this fire. It’s not just attacks. It’s institutionalised xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren’t just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, they want water.”

Lukamba said he’s part of an organisation trying to negotiate between the two sides. “They don’t understand the history of Africa; if they do, they would know each of us, we are one,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the temple to the open-pit mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From servitude to self-reliance

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

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

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

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

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

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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781 Million People Can’t Read this Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=781-million-people-cant-read-this-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 03:16:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140114 A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

If you are reading this article, consider yourself one of the lucky ones; lucky enough to have received an education, or to be secure in the knowledge that your child will receive one. Lucky enough to be literate in a world where – more often than not – the ability to read and write can mean the difference between a decent life and abject poverty.

In the 15 years since the landmark World Education Forum in Senegal’s capital Dakar laid out six ambitious education targets agreed upon by 164 governments, a lot has changed.

“There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education." -- UNESCO
For one thing, 34 million more children have attended school as a result of policies rolled out under the Education for All (EFA) initiative; the number of children out of school has been halved since the year 2000; and many countries have made great strides towards bringing as many girls into classrooms as boys.

But dig a little deeper and the good news gives way to a bleak reality. According to the most recent EFA Global Monitoring Report released Thursday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education. Inequality in education has increased, with the poorest and most disadvantaged shouldering the heaviest burden.

“The world’s poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the world’s richest children, and five times more likely not to complete primary school,” the report stated, adding, “Despite all efforts by governments, civil society and the international community, the world has not achieved Education for All.”

Six goals: A mixed report card

Given the vast spectrum of cultures, economies and political ideologies represented by the 164 governments in Dakar in 2000, the six targets agreed upon reflected some of the most urgent and universal challenges facing the world today: early childhood education and care; universal primary education; youth and adult skills; adult literacy; gender equality; and the quality of education.

Although the pre-primary school enrolment rate has improved by two-thirds since 1999, and the primary net enrolment rate is set to reach 93 percent by the end of the year, the fact remains that one in six children in low or middle-income countries – roughly one million kids in total – will not be in school at the time of the 2015 deadline.

Only 69 percent of countries studied will have achieved gender parity at the primary level by 2015, a number that falls to just 48 percent for secondary education. Although governments agreed in 2000 to halve the global illiteracy rate by 2015, a four-percent reduction is all that has so far been achieved.

Katie Malouf Bous, a policy advisor for Oxfam International based in Washington DC, told IPS the results of the monitoring report showed “a mixed bag, very uneven across different countries.”

She stressed that the widening of inequalities in education access and outcomes was a worrying trend, adding that there is an urgent need to “redouble investments in public education and make sure those investments are being targeted at the right communities and children.”

According to a March 2015 UNESCO policy paper, “The annual total cost of achieving universal pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in low and lower-middle income countries is projected to increase from 100 billion dollars in 2012 to 239 billion dollars, on average, between 2015 and 2030.”

The policy brief went on to say that “the total annual financing gap between available domestic resources and the amount necessary to reach the new education targets is projected to average 22 billion dollars between 2015 and 2030.”

This funding gap proves that most governments are failing to allocate the required 20 percent of national budgets, or four percent of annual gross national product (GNP), on education.

Asia-Pacific: Is the region pulling its weight?

According to Oxfam’s Bous, “One of the things we’re really worried about is the trend we see of the state pushing some of its responsibilities on to the private sector, and focusing on low-cost private schools or public-private partnerships to deliver education.”

“We believe this is only deepening educational inequalities, particularly in the Asia region, where a lot of donor-driven initiatives are supporting low-cost private schools, which are basically profit-making schools that charge fees from poorer families […],” she explained.

Home to four of the world’s six billion people, the Asia-Pacific region is rife with inequality, a situation that will only worsen unless governments take the necessary steps to educate this massive population. Currently, one-third of all students between six and 18 years of age in South Asia attend private rather than public schools.

A 2015 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

In a 2014 regional report tracking progress on Education for All, UNESCO noted that five of the so-called E-9 countries, defined as the world’s most populous developing nations, were in Asia: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Together, they accounted for some 45 percent of the total global enrolment in primary education and 80 percent of the Asia-Pacific region’s total enrolment in 2009, according to UNCEF.

While these states have made great strides in bringing children into the classrooms, they account for millions of out-of-school youth, most of whom will never receive a proper education.

This has major implications for the economic health of the entire region, which already hosts 64 percent of the world’s illiterate adults – roughly 497 million people as of 2014.

While 10 countries in the region have achieved universal (99 percent or more) participation in primary education, with nine countries on track to achieve the goal by the end of the year according to UNESCO, survival rates remain a challenge, with nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands experiencing difficulty in retaining students up until the last year of primary school, let alone ensuring that they will enroll in – or complete – a secondary education.

As the U.N. moves closer to finalising its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education experts around the world are pushing urgently for policies that direct all necessary funds, energy and action into the classrooms – where the futures of many developing nations will either be made or broken in the coming decade.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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