Inter Press Service » Labour News and Views from the Global South Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:55:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvador Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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The Robots are Coming, your Job is at Risk Wed, 15 Mar 2017 11:23:54 +0000 Martin Khor Credit: John Greenfield/Flickr

Credit: John Greenfield/Flickr

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

Last year Uber started testing driver-less cars, with humans inside to make corrections in case something goes wrong. If the tests go well, Uber will presumably replace their present army of drivers with fleets of the new cars.

Some personally owned cars can already do automatic parking.   Is it a matter of time before Uber, taxi and personal vehicles will all be smart enough to bring us from A to B without our having to do anything ourselves?

But in this application of “artificial intelligence”, in which machines can have human cognitive functions built into them, what will happen to jobs?   It is estimated that in the US alone, 4 to 5 million drivers of trucks and taxis could be rendered unemployed.

The driver-less vehicle is just one example of the technological revolution that is going to drastically transform the world of work and living.

The risk of automation to jobs in developing countries is estimated to range from 55 to 85 per cent, according to a study in 2016 by Oxford University’s Martin School and Citi. Major emerging economies will be at high risk, including China (77%) and India (69%), higher than the OECD developed countries’ average risk of 57%.
There is concern that the march of automation tied with digital technology will cause dislocation in many factories and offices, and eventually lead to mass unemployment.

Just a day before he left office, former US President Barrack Obama warned in a farewell interview that “jobs are going away because of automation and that’s going to accelerate,” pointing to “driverless Uber” and “displacement that’s going to take place in office buildings across the country.”

Also voicing concern about the social impact of automation, Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently proposed that governments should impose a tax on robots.  Companies using robots should have to pay taxes on the incomes attributed to the use of robotics.

That proposal has caused an uproar, with mainstream economists like Lawrence Summers, a former US treasury secretary, condemning it for putting brakes on technological advancement.  One critic suggested that the first company to pay taxes for causing automation should be Microsoft.

However, the tax on robots idea is one response to growing fears that the automation revolution will increase inequality as many lose their jobs while a few reap the benefits of increased productivity and profitability.

The new technologies will cause uncontrollable disruption and add to the social discontent and political upheaval in the West which had fuelled the anti-establishment votes for Brexit and Donald Trump.

Recent studies are showing that deepening use of automation will cause widespread disruption in many sectors and even whole economies.  Worse, it is the developing countries that are estimated to lose the most, and this will exacerbate the already great global inequalities.

The risk of automation to jobs in developing countries is estimated to range from 55 to 85 per cent, according to a study in 2016 by Oxford University’s Martin School and Citi.  Major emerging economies will be at high risk, including China (77%) and India (69%), higher than the OECD developed countries’ average risk of 57%.

The Oxford-Citi report, “The future is not what it used to be”, provides many reasons why the automation revolution will be particularly disruptive in the developing countries.

First, there is “premature deindustrialisation” taking place as manufacturing is becoming less labour-intensive and many developing countries have reached the peak of their manufacturing jobs.  Manufacturing processes are more automated today, also in low and middle income developing countries.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Second, while 20th century technologies allowed companies to shift production abroad to take advantage of cheap labour, recent developments in robotics and additive manufacturing now enable firms to locate production closer to domestic markets in automated factories.

Seventy per cent of clients surveyed believe automation and 3D printing developments will encourage companies to move their manufacturing close to home.  China, ASEAN and Latin America have the most to lose from this relocation, while North America, Europe and Japan are the main winners.

Thirdly, “the impact of automation may be more disruptive for developing countries, due to lower levels of consumer demand and limited social safety nets” as compared to the developed countries, according to a summary of the Oxford Martin School report.

The report warns that developing countries may even have to rethink their overall development models as the old ones that were successful in generating growth in the past will not work anymore.

“In the light of these technological developments, industrialization is likely to yield substantially less manufacturing employment in the next generation of emerging economies than in the countries preceding them.  Hence it will be increasingly difficult for African and South American manufacturing firms to create jobs in the same numbers that Asian countries have done.  In other words, today’s low-income countries will not have the same possibility of achieving rapid growth by shifting workers from farms to higher-paying factory jobs.”

Instead of export-led manufacturing growth, developing countries will need to search for new growth models, said the report.  “Service-led growth constitutes one option, but many low-skill services are now becoming equally automatable.”

It cites a World Bank report showing developing countries are highly susceptible to their workforce being affected by increasing automation, even relative to advanced economies where labour costs are high.

Moreover, countries with lower levels of GDP per capita typically have a higher share of their workforce “at risk”.   “Thus there are reasons to be concerned about the future of income convergence, as low income countries are relatively vulnerable to automation,” concludes the report.

Another series of reports, by McKinsey Global Institute, found that 49% of present work activities can be automated with currently demonstrated technology, and this translates into US$15.8 trillion in wages and 1.1 billion jobs globally.

About 60% of all occupations could see 30% or more of their activities automated and 5% of jobs can be entirely automated.  But more reassuringly an author of the report James Manyika says the changes will take decades.   How automation affects jobs will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible.   Other factors include economics, labour markets, regulations and social attitudes.

Which jobs are most susceptible to be affected?  While most people think they would be in manufacturing, in fact many jobs in services will also be disrupted.   The McKinsey study lists accommodations and food services as the most vulnerable sector in the US, followed by manufacturing and retail business.

In accommodations and food, 73% of activities workers perform can be automated, including preparing, cooking or serving food; cleaning food-preparation areas, preparing beverages and collecting dirty dishes.

In manufacturing, 59% of all activities can be automated, especially physical activities or operating machinery in a predictable environment.  Activities range from packaging products to loading materials on production equipment to welding to maintaining equipment.

For retailing, 53% of activities are automatable.  They include stock management, packing objects, maintaining sales records, gathering customer and product information, and accounting.

A technology specialist writer and consultant, Shelly Palmer, has also listed elite white-collar jobs that are at risk from “robots” which she defines as technologies, such as machine learning algorithms running on purpose-built computer platforms, that have been trained to perform tasks that currently require humans to perform.

Those she assessed would be displaced include middle managers, salespersons, report writers, journalists and announcers, accountants, bookkeepers and doctors.

While some analysts are enthusiastic about the positive effects of the automation revolution, others are alarmed by its adverse effects.

Certainly, the technological trend will improve productivity per worker that remains, and increase the profitability of companies that survive.

While there are benefits at the micro level for those companies and individuals that thrive in the new environment, there are adverse effects at macro level, especially retrenchment for those whose jobs are no longer needed.

What can be done to slow down automation or at least to cope with its adverse effects?

The Bill Gates proposal to tax robots is one of the most radical.   The tax could slow down the technological changes and the funds generated by the tax could be used to mitigate the social effects.

Another radical idea which is generating a lot of debate is to provide “universal income” to everyone irrespective of whether they are working.  The high productivity will allow everybody to be paid a comfortable income, and thus there is no need to worry that automation will displace jobs.

Governments can also take the attitude of “join them if you can’t beat them.”  For example, China is seeing major opportunities in joining the technological revolution and has drawn up plans to invest in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Other more conventional proposals include upgrading the education of students and present employees to take on the new jobs required in managing or working with the automated production process, and training workers to be made redundant with the new skills needed to work in the new environment.

Overall, however, there is likely to be a net loss of employment, at least in the short term, and thus the potential for social discontent.

As for the developing countries in general, there will have to be much thinking of the implications of the new technologies for their immediate and long-term economic prospects, and a major rethinking of economic and development strategies is also called for.

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A Structural Theory of Aging Tue, 14 Mar 2017 13:16:39 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including '50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,' published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including '50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,' published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

Wikipedia has much to offer under “aging”. Highly recommended are the 10 points by the world’s oldest living man, 114, Walter Breuning.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

However, older persons, like me at 86, know their own aging best. Less trouble with “oxidant stress” as a major cause, having used anti-oxidants based on blueberry skin–no chemicals–for decades. 20,000 blood stem em cells renew my blood, but they are dying. Problematic.

Rule no. 1: Keep mind and body active; maintain a good nutrition.

Obvious to counteract aging. However, equally important:

Rule no. 2: Be open to the positive sides and advantages of aging.

Bertrand Russell’s “On Being 90″ in the Observer dispenses with the disadvantages as obvious, in favor of his advantage: the overview. At the age of 5 he sat on the knee of a man who had fought Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815-=-. The longer the lives we have lived, the more events have impinged upon us. An “overview” identifies some link, a narrative, a common factor. That identification is often referred to as “wisdom”.

However: thigh muscles weaken, walking falters, fatigue, seeing and hearing impaired. Exercise helps, but aging is unavoidable.

Rule no. 3: At least do not fall; not breaking fragile bones, no ending up bedridden in a hospital, contracting new diseases. Equip the room, the home, the context with handles and handrails.

Then the mental aspects of aging: memories failing, not only of recent events, less ability to handle many and simultaneous stimuli. As a result, many and more mistakes reinforcing the sense of aging.

Rule no. 4: Simplify the context, contract the circle of living. Be realistic, change the structure of daily life, narrow the circle to what can be handled easily: the ward, the village, the context, the home, the room–but then equipped with a maximum of music, books, social media, as enriching as possible. If driving, then on known roads with little traffic, in small towns, villages.

Rule no. 5: Togetherness. A society with much loneliness for young or old is a bad society. Get old together, with a spouse, a cooperating partner. Much conversation will be about pains suffered. But cut it short. Focus on positives, beautiful landscapes, gardens, music, literature. Enjoyment together is more than double enjoyment.

Make shared meals as much of a feast as possible. The ability to enjoy good food lasts; our senses of smell and taste are more solid. No smoking of course and moderation with alcohol, sugar and cereals. Let good food and drinks stay a while in the mouth where the taste buds are, tied to the smell; do not just swallow and “wash it down”.

Rule no. 6: Live both real and virtual lives. Postmodern life has two realities; not only what we sense but also a virtual, IT, reality with friendship and enriching exchanges activating the mind. IT offers all of that–with no risks of falling!–in the simple context of a ca computer. Particularly when adding Skype, and even free!

Rule no. 7: no retirement. Go for a job where the older can share experiences with the younger, even if no longer showing up at work. A work place closed to the older is a bad work place. In post-modernity this is possible in ways unthought-of, for mutual benefit. How much, paid or unpaid, can be negotiated. Being productive is what matters.

Negate this. Retire, cut all links, live only one reality, alone/lonely, in a complex world with physical and mental risks, nothing positive, passively, no exercise, bad nutrition. Brutish, nasty, and short.

Better contract from the macro-society of country-region-world to a rich micro-society of a circle around oneself and the partner(s), relating to other circles. But it does not have to be that micro.

We can argue: high time. To be born into micro-society, then the macro-society of education and work, and then a poor micro-society of retirement is not good enough. Traditionally, women continue working longer than men, living more human lives. Is this why women live longer?

Due to better health, and family planning favoring 2 children, we now have aging populations and even more return into micro-society in old age homes.

Some time ago, huge macro-society growth swallowed such micro-societies as villages; now there is a return to villages and a return to childhood at old age. And macro becomes even more macro, regional, global, marginalizing the old even more. Inhuman; a far cry from retired farmers still living on the farm for care and experience.

Major structural changes, hence this structural theory of aging.

In those micro-societies of the aged, with nurses and others for “assisted living”, all know that the purpose of still living is dying. And before that there may be physical and mental suffering. Inhuman!

Fight it; practice Rules 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Aging is nothing to be afraid of, but foresight and planning are indispensable. Some macro can be created. A married couple here and an unmarried there, each managing in their ways, can relate, exchange experiences, also to old-age homes that may be the longer term answer to the aging. Virtually this micro to micro can even cross borders. Reconquering macro life.

Let me end on a subjective note. Having lived an eventful rich life, including meeting many people “high up”, I remember thinking “how can I live without this when I get older”? I find myself, older, thinking “how could I live without the wonderful life I now have”? Deluding myself, in both cases, closing the eye to all the negatives? Maybe. But then, maybe some selection is part of a good life.

I find myself floating, navigating through time and life, trying, not always successfully, to do more good and less harm. Not concluding that the present is the best period although it often feels like that. It is different, and very good. One positive aspect is obvious: with less work in the sense of a job there is more time for work in the sense of being creative. With hands and the mind. On the computer.

Thanks, Life, the best of all gifts. For every day.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 March 2017: TMS: A Structural Theory of Aging

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Ecco Subcontractor in Breach of the Law Thu, 09 Mar 2017 15:54:35 +0000 Linda Flood Credit: Dietrich Weinbrenner

Credit: Dietrich Weinbrenner

By Linda Flood
Mar 9 2017 (IPS/Arbetet Global)

Low wages, precarious employment, and lots of overtime. A recent report from the EU project ”Change Your Shoes” show that Indonesian subcontractors for several European footwear companies, including Ecco and Deichmann, are not in compliance with the law.

Employees within the Indonesian footwear industry have difficulties in organizing themselves in trade unions in order to demand their rights concerning wage levels and work hours. This is due to the precarious nature of employment with temporary hiring and contracts without standard protections.

In 2015 Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of shoes in the world after China, India and Vietnam. Around one billion pairs of shoes are produced annually in Indonesia, which is 5% of the total global production.

The Change your Shoes campaign is a partnership between 18 European and Asian NGOs. Their recent report No Excuses for Homework is based on interviews with 117 laborers at four factories, and 37 homeworkers.

In 2015 Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of shoes in the world after China, India and Vietnam. Around one billion pairs of shoes are produced annually in Indonesia, which is 5% of the total global production.
Of the four factories, three are contractors and one is a subcontractor to the European footwear industry. The situation is worst at the subcontractor for the Danish Ecco, factory PT Prima Dinamaka Sentosa. But the German chain Deichmann is also mentioned repeatedly in the report.

– These two companies state that they have good supervision of their supply chain. But when you dig below the surface into these chains, that supervision fails, says Charlie Aronsson, project manager and assistant head of administation at Fairaction, one of the networked partners of the Change your Shoes campaign.

In the interviews with factory workers, employment conditions were described. At Ecco’s subcontractor it was expected that each laborer works three to four hours overtime every day.

Søren Kragh Pedersen, Head of External Communication at Ecco, says the company is surprised to see what is stated in the report about the working conditions at the factory PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa.

”The conditions described at this factory does not correspond with what Ecco auditors found when checking the conditions at the factory in 2015 for the about 50 persons, who work with the production of some minor shoe components”, Mr Pedersen writes in an email to Arbetet Global.

Ecco emphasize it runs its production and business in general in accordance with its Code of Conduct.
”In relation to PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa, Ecco has only had access to the part of the factory where a small group of workers were producing components for Ecco, and is thus not familiar with the details in relation to the employment facts related to the rest of the about 2000 persons working in this factory.”

Mr Pedersen also adds: 
”Ecco has for some time phased out the cooperation with PT Prima Dinamika Sentosa and from the end of this month the cooperation ends, so Ecco is no longer fully up to date on facts related to this factory.”

At one of Deichmann’s subcontractors, labor contracts were limited to six months of employment at which time the laborer would have to re-apply for the job, despite the fact that temporary contracts are only permitted for short time periods according to Indonesian law. Employees at three factories also claim that the wages they earn do not even cover their costs for basic needs.

– There is a continuing problem with these companies’ sustainability work as they still do not seek out where the risks are greatest but rather choose to only look at the nearest link in the supply chain. It is an outdated method. You need to make a proper analysis of risks to see where the problems are most prevalent, says Charlie Aronsson at Fairaction.

In a statement to Arbetet Global, Deichmann, who have over 20 stores in Sweden, state that they have responded to allegations by reviewing all terms of contract for the laborers at subcontractor PT Mekar Abadi Sentosa.

”It’s fixed-term contracts are now in line with the pertinent statutes. And it has also much reduced it’s staff’s overtime.”

Deichmann add that they have made their own visits at the factory on several occasions, sometimes unannounced.

”We always seek continuous improvement in cooperation with our suppliers. As far as we can tell, this benefits the entire industry’s standards in the respective country of origin. Our work is based upon our Code of Conduct, which, in turn, is based upon the ILO’s conditions of work and employment.”

Charlie Aronsson points to the much lower degree of transparency in the global footwear industry compared to that of other sections of the fashion industry, and also that it is difficult to place all ethical responsibilities on consumer behavior

He does though suggest shoppers to ask ‘stupid’ questions to employees in the footwear industry as well as shoe store staff.

– Without consumer pressure, unfortunately, nothing will happen. There are though companies that are more transparent, and can show where their shoes are made. For example, Eurosko are the only Scandinavian chain that have made their list of suppliers available on their homepage. This is something we are encouraging more chains to do.

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

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At 60, Ghana Looks to a Future Beyond Aid Thu, 09 Mar 2017 02:00:08 +0000 Kwaku Botwe A graffiti artist in Accra creates an image of the leader of Ghana’s struggle for independence, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

A graffiti artist in Accra creates an image of the leader of Ghana’s struggle for independence, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Mar 9 2017 (IPS)

Ghana turned 60 years old this week. The West African country gained independence from Britain on Mar. 6, 1957, and remains a study in contradictions.

At 60, Ghana is viewed by many as a beacon of democracy and stability. But its current growth rate is just 3.6 percent — the lowest in 20 years — and its tax revenue to GDP ratio is 18 percent, which is one of the lowest among middle income economies.

At 60, it has a debt to GDP ratio of over 73 percent, one of the highest in the sub-region; the country is bedeviled with an erratic power supply, which has caused many businesses to collapse; and its informal sector is still not formalized enough to be able to widen the tax net.

At 60, Ghana still has schoolchildren who study under trees. 

Some of these economic indicators have sparked a national debate about whether it was prudent for the country to set aside 4.3 million dollars to celebrate the day. Many are of the view that such an amount could be better spent on projects that would bring some economic dividend than, as they describe it, to waste it on pomp and pageantry, parade and fanfare.

These criticisms may have informed President Nana Akufo-Addo when he announced that the budget for the commemoration would not be borne by the taxpayer but by corporate Ghana. The chairman of the 30-member committee planning the anniversary was quick to add that committee members would be doing their work on voluntary basis.

But there are some who take all this with a pinch of salt, perhaps taking a cue from what many perceive to be misappropriation of funds and plain corruption during the organization of the event ten years ago (the Ghana at 50 commemoration committee spent over 60 million dollars).

The head of the Centre for Economic Governance and Political Affairs at the policy think tank Imani-Ghana wants government to make public the names of all companies who committed and how much they committed, to ensure accountability and transparency. Patrick Stephenson believes this is “the only way we can ensure that a corporate body is not getting some undue advantage in the award of contracts just because of their affiliation to this event”.

The independence event is always commemorated with marching parades performed by security personnel, workers unions, traders and school children among others. The event, which typically starts with the lighting of a flame, also sees the president inspecting a guard mounted in his honour.

Stephenson wants organisers to think outside the box and use innovative means to project and develop certain aspects of the country’s economy and culture. “For instance, cocoa, one of our biggest cash crops, could be the year-long theme of one of the commemorations in which we will look at the history, the challenges, the current situation and set targets be achieved as to how to improve on its production,” he said.

It is a view shared by communications academic Dr Ete Skanku. He writes: “The parades are exciting but you don’t need to stand and take a salute. Spare the kids the unnecessary dehydration. Engage them in another way. They can be out there promoting a major nationals initiative practically or give a meaning/breathing life to a national project.”

The day is observed as a national holiday but most people within the informal sector, especially traders, couldn’t afford to stay at home. At the central business district in the capital, Accra traders were busily going about their business. But the traders believe that the day is worth celebrating as the budget statement given by the finance minister some four days ago seems to give some hope.

The Government has already abolished nine taxes, including a duty on importation of spare parts and the excise duty on petroleum, saying these are nuisance taxes that have “low revenue yielding potential and at the same time impose significant burden on the private sector and on the average Ghanaian”.

“These measures introduced by the government will help businesses a lot and the one-district-one-factory policy by the new administration, if implemented, will enable some of us to go back home for jobs because in Accra here we use a good part of our incomes on rent. If I were in my hometown I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I can use that rent money for something else,” says Francis Agyei, a 32-year-old second-hand clothing seller at Accra.

But a lecturer at the economics department of the University of Ghana, Owusu Adu Sarkodie, says Francis’s hopes and aspirations can only be achieved if managers of the economy and resources do things differently. He believes politicians should increase the revenue tax net to cover majority of people and move away from the borrowing mindset.

“We don’t have to keep borrowing for borrowing sake. Even if we have to borrow we need to use the money prudently. If you look at the public debt right now, the greater part of it was for consumption. For example, last year we borrowed 17 billion cedis, we only invested 7 billion, where did the rest go? Consumption,” he added.

If words were action then these words uttered by the President Nana Akufo-Addo in his maiden State of Nation address to parliament some two weeks ago should offer some hope to Ghanaians:

“We will put in place policies that will deliver sustainable growth and cut out corruption. We will set upon the path to build a Ghana that is not dependent on charity; a Ghana that is able to look after its people through intelligent management of the resources with which it has been endowed.

“This Ghana will be defined by integrity, sovereignty, a common ethos, discipline, and shared values. It is one where we aim to be masters of our own destiny, where we mobilise our own resources for the future, breaking the shackles of the “Guggisberg” colonial economy and a mind-set of dependency, bailouts and extraction.

“It is an economy where we look past commodities to position ourselves in a global marketplace. It is a country where we focus on trade, not aid, a hand-up, not a hand-out. It is a country with a strong private sector.

It is a Ghana beyond aid.”

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Women’s Progress Uneven, Facing Backlash – UN Rights Chief Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:20:07 +0000 IPS World Desk Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO/A. Khemka

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

“The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognise that progress has been slow and extremely uneven and that it also brought its own challenges,” warned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, Zeid said that in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all. “We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted.“

The United Nations Human Rights Office on March 7 launched a joint report with the African Union and UN Women detailing the progress and challenges to women’s struggle for human rights in Africa, while the UN rights chief warned that the women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.

Zeid added that it is “extremely troubling” to see recent roll-back of fundamental legislation in many parts of the world.

“Such roll-backs are “underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

While such pushbacks are carried out in the name of tradition, Zeid noted that they are often a response to segments of society calling for change. Among examples he gave, he pointed to recent legislation in Bangladesh, Burundi and the Russian Federation, which weakens women’s rights to fight against child marriage, marital rape and domestic violence, respectively.

He noted also the “fierce resistance” in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to political and civil society efforts to open up access to sexual and reproductive rights.

“With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services will have a devastating effect,” Zeid said, noting more maternal deaths, more unintended pregnancies, fewer girls finishing school and the economic impact of failing to fully include women in the workforce.

“In short, a generation without choices and a collective failure to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added, referring to the internationally agreed action plan for eradicating poverty while assisting all people and maintain the health of the planet. “The women’s movement around the world is facing a backlash that hurts both men and women.” – UN Human Rights Chief

Meanwhile, Zeid praised women’s movements in countries such as Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia, where women and men took to the streets to demand change, but warned that “it is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum.”

Women as Active Agents of Change

In Africa, women continue to be denied full enjoyment of their rights in every country, according to a new report released on Mach 7 entitled Women’s Rights in Africa. Statistics show that some African countries have no legal protection for women against domestic violence, and they are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, and to marry while still children.

According to the report, however, in Africa – as around the globe – when women exercise their rights to access to education, skills, and jobs, there is a surge in prosperity, positive health outcomes, and greater freedom and well-being, not only of women but of the whole society.

“Human rights are not a utopian fairy-tale -they are a recipe for sound institutions, more sustainable development and greater peace,” Zeid wrote in the foreword to the report.

“When all women are empowered to make their own choices and share resources, opportunities and decisions as equal partners, every society in Africa will be transformed.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls on African governments to encourage women’s full and productive employment, to recognize the importance of unpaid care and domestic work, and to ensure women can access and control their own economic and financial resources.

The report stresses that women should not be seen only as victims but, for example, as active agents in formal and informal peace building processes. (Read the Full Report).

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Gender Disparity at UN: Three Out of 71, Zero out of Nine Wed, 08 Mar 2017 08:51:43 +0000 Thalif Deen stepitup_

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has frequently been accused of vociferously preaching gender empowerment and women’s rights to the outside world — but failing miserably to practice what it preaches in its own political backyard.

The charge is usually made against the 193-member General Assembly, which has elected only three women as presidents – Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

And that’s three out of 71 Presidents, 68 of whom were men.

The 15-member Security Council’s track record is probably worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly, and most recently late last year– despite several outstanding women candidates.

And that’s zero out of nine male UN chiefs (Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal).

The two highest ranking political positions at the UN– one of them with the status of a head of state in terms of diplomatic protocol– have long been identified as the intellectual birth right of men.

The General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the United Nations, and the Security Council, the most powerful veto-wielding body in the Organization, have continued to overwhelmingly opt for men over women during the 71-year existence of the world body.

And still, both UN organs continue to relentlessly—and hypocritically– pay lip service to the cause of women’s rights and gender empowerment in the endless debates on life’s inequalities.

On the other hand, the UN Secretariat and 35 of its affiliated agencies worldwide have been labouring, with limited success, to implement a longstanding UN resolution which has called for 50:50 gender parity between men and women – and specifically on senior high-ranking, decision-making jobs.

As the UN commemorated its annual International Women’s Day on March 8, a recently-released 36-page study on the “Status of Women in the UN System” focuses on where the 50:50 gender parity stands – and where it falters.

Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, points out that the study not only profiles the status of women at the UN but also singles out “the challenges to the achievement of the 50:50 culture”

“There is some encouraging progress towards gender parity throughout the UN system, although it is not uniform, and insufficiently rapid. The change we need will not happen without a committed, multi-pronged approach.”

“Equality is not a statistic,” she rightly declares, “It is a mindset” – even as the UN has launched a campaign to achieve 50:50 gender party in all walks of life worldwide by the year 2030.

On the UN’s current payroll are a staggering 94,000 staffers and 78,000 consultants worldwide.

The UN staff is largely divided into two categories: the General Service, which includes mostly the clerical staff and secretaries, and the Professional Service (equivalent to an executive staff in the private sector).

The Professionals move up the ladder as P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4 and P-5 rising to “Director” levels D-1 and D-2 and theoretically vying for the posts of Assistant-Secretary-General (rarely achievable), Under-Secretary-General (very rarely achievable) and Deputy Secretary-General (never).

The three most senior positions in the UN hierarchy — ASGs, USGs, and DSGs– are mostly appointments made by the Secretary-General, primarily caving into political pressure by the big powers at the UN.

As laid down in the UN staff regulations and staff rules, the authority for the selection of staff members at D-2 level and above rests with the Secretary-General, including the retention of staff members beyond the retirement age, should the need arise.

According to the study, only five out of 35 UN “entities” have reached the 50:50 parity and beyond: UN Women (78.9 percent), International Court of Justice (57.1 percent), UNAIDS (50.8 percent), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (50.6 percent) and the UN World Tourism Organisation (50 percent).

Listed on a scale are 17 other UN entities with 40-49 percent parities, including the Secretariat, and 13 UN entities with 40 percent parities.

“As the largest entity in the UN System, the UN Secretariat (in New York) has the potential to greatly impact overall system progress towards 50:50 gender balance. However, the UN Secretariat has a lower representation of women at every level than the overall UN System,” says the study.

“A negative correlation exists between the representation of women and seniority – as grade levels increase, the proportion of women decreases. The sharpest declines occur between the P-2 and P-3, and P-4 and P-5 levels, with drops of 12.2 and 5.9 percentage points, respectively. Such decreases indicate there are blockages in the pipeline hindering the career advancement of women within the UN,” the study notes.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, told IPS: “We may recall that Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly promoted women’s rights; and Ban Ki-moon championed gender equality. Yet, as current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres himself said, the initial target for equal representation of women and men in the UN was in the year 2000.”

While Guterres would have a pivotal role in achieving gender parity, she said, “we cannot rely on him alone”.

The Member States have a key role to pay in nominating women candidates to key UN positions. Civil society has an equally critical role in proposing criteria for selection; or recommending individuals who have the expertise and track record on women’s empowerment, women’s rights and gender equality, she added.

In some of his initial appointments last January, Guterres named several women to senior UN positions, including Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria as his Deputy; Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil as his Chef de Cabinet; Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea as his Transition Team Chief; Melissa Fleming of the United States as his Senior Advisor/Spokesperson; and Michelle Gyles-McDonnough of Jamaica as Senior Advisor.

Ban Ki-moon did break many glass ceilings during his 10 year tenure ending December 2016. In his annual report to the General Assembly last December, he pointedly said: “When I took office, there were no women heading peacekeeping operations in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of UN missions are headed by women. I also appointed the first woman Legal Counsel, the first woman Police Adviser, the first woman Force Commander and more than 100 women at the ASG or USG levels.”

Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder and Executive Director of International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS that in a world with an increasing number of women in tertiary education and in the workplace, it seems inconceivable that the UN has not or cannot reach parity between women and men in all levels across the system.

“If the policies and rhetoric we hear are correct, then it is not a problem of demand. Is it then a supply problem? Not really, not if we look at the hard numbers: to get parity at the USG level — the SG needs to recruit an additional 67.5 women — for D2s — he needs another 109 women; and for D1s another 848.5 women.”

“These may sound like large numbers but look around the world of civil society, the private sector, and many governments — the women are present, ready and willing,” she pointed out.

But the question is how would the system deal with the very human realities?

In this case, she argued, today’s generation of men in existing posts, with hopes and expectations of moving up the ladder – will have to experience the glass ceiling that generations of women have faced in the past.

If parity is to be a reality, many of today’s male P4s, P5s, D1s, D2s, USGs will be paying the price for the many earlier generations of men who advanced and filled those posts — often regardless of their abilities, said Naraghi-Anderlini, the first Senior Expert on Gender and Inclusion on the UN’s Mediation Standby Team.

Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations described the study as “a comprehensive report” on the status of women in the UN system.

“And we can certainly take heart from the finding that 82.4% of the workforce that completed the Exit Survey indicated that gender did not have an impact on their career.”

However, he said, “We believe much more needs to be done in terms of facilitating the careers of women at the UN. The organization is in the dark ages when it comes to flexible working arrangements, few of its offices provide or wish to provide assistance with childcare, and the promotion system lacks objectivity thereby entrenching unconscious biases and preferences.”

Richards said one area the report doesn’t examine but should, is the 30 percent of the UN workforce that is made up of consultants. He said their fees are negotiated individually with managers, instead of being set by a salary scale, and there has been no study of whether women and men are paid the same for equivalent work.

Finally it’s interesting to note that in the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which sets conditions of service and decides against providing assistance for childcare, only two of its 15 members are women, he pointed out.

Cabrera-Balleza said she was pleased about Guterres’ appointment of women in top level UN positions.

“I am also happy to see that on the call for nomination of candidates for Under Secretary-General positions, the UN Secretariat stated that it would especially welcome nomination of women candidates”.

“However, I am disappointed that the qualifications for those positions do not include track record on gender equality. The call only states “high commitment to the values and guiding principles of the UN and familiarity with the UN system…” Track record on gender equality should be explicit. It should be explicit during recruitment and hiring; and it should be explicit in Terms of Reference for all UN officials. It cannot and should not be assumed,” she declared.

“We should also bear in mind that advancing the status of women and achieving gender equality in the UN system is not just a numbers game. We need to have women and men who represent women’s interests; who fight for women’s rights–not just their own self interest or self advancement. Hence, we need track record; and not just commitment. Anyone can claim commitment to women’s rights and gender equality but only few have track record,” she added.

Naraghi-Anderlini said to be perfectly fair, it would seem the UN needs to up its recruitment of junior men in P1 and P2 positions to ensure parity at the base too. So parity will also benefit a younger generation of men, alongside the multi-generations of women who could fill the more senior posts.

In an ideal world, she said, the Secretary-General would take on this challenge and focus on ensuring that the very best of women and men enter, remain and advance in the system across all levels.

“They must all adhere to the core UN values – of equal human rights, pluralism and peace. But the skills and knowledge required, should be as varied and diverse as the societies in which the UN seeks to be present and effective,” said Naraghi-Anderlini.

“Imagine what a UN that would be? Probably the best place in the world to work in,” she added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030 Tue, 07 Mar 2017 21:42:31 +0000 Zebib Kavuma 2 A lady mechanic student poses with male classmates during a practical session at the Lodwar Vocational Training Centre in Turkana County, Kenya. With empowerment, more women are making the decision to take up jobs and careers previously believed to be preserves of men. Photo courtesy of UN RCO Kenya.

A lady mechanic student poses with male classmates during a practical session at the Lodwar Vocational Training Centre in Turkana County, Kenya. With empowerment, more women are making the decision to take up jobs and careers previously believed to be preserves of men. Photo courtesy of UN RCO Kenya.

By Zebib Kavuma
NAIROBI, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

This year as the world commemorates International Women’s Day it is a time for all of us to celebrate and reflect on the progress made on Women’s rights globally. But more importantly, a day to call for an end to gender inequality in all its forms especially in the work spaces. Appropriately themed “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” the commemoration comes against a backdrop of a world that is undergoing major changes with significant implications for women.

Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb.
On the one hand, we have globalization and the rapid technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring. On the other hand, are the growing informality of labor, the growth of corporate influence, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which have an impact on women’s economic options and their interaction with the world of work. But within this dynamic environment we must do everything possible to provide decent work for all women, ensure that women are treated fairly in law, ensure equal pay for women, teach everyone that any job is a women’s job and organize the women to ask for their rights.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, placing gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Achievement of these goals rests upon unlocking the full potential of women in the world of work.

On this International Women’s Day, UN Women calls upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030. Through the Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 initiative, we envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap through laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, several African countries including Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, South Sudan, South Africa, Mozambique, have committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030 and have announced concrete and measurable actions to kick-start rapid change in their countries.

In addition to governments, Step It Up also works with key stakeholders to commit to Step It Up for gender equality and the empowerment of women. With the support of the partners, the initiative focuses on gender equality and women’s rights issues on two fronts – in their reporting, disrupting stereotypes and biases; and in increasing the number of women in the media, including in leadership and decision-making functions.

By 2030 we want to see a world where women in the workplace receive equal pay for equal work relative to their male counterparts and are not hampered in pursuing their economic option by unpaid care and domestic work.

A woman transporting a stack of reeds in rural Kenya. Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is yet to be recognized as labour in many parts of the developing world. Photo courtesy of UNDP Kenya.

A woman transporting a stack of reeds in rural Kenya. Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is yet to be recognized as labour in many parts of the developing world. Photo courtesy of UNDP Kenya.

Measures that are key to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work must include bridging the gender pay gap, which stands at 24% globally; recognizing women’s unpaid care and domestic work and addressing the disproportionate burden of care work on women; as well as addressing the low representation of women in leadership, entrepreneurship; access to social protection; and ensuring gender-responsive economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth.

Additionally, policies must cater for the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy by providing them with job safety and protection from harm. We must also promote women’s access to innovative technologies and practices, decent work and climate-resilient jobs as well as protect them from violence in the work place.

Kenya’s women and youth make a significant economic contribution, mainly in agriculture and informal business sector. Women make up nearly half of all micro and small enterprises. The recent affirmative action procurement legislation for women, youth and persons living with disabilities has created excellent opportunities for women to participate in the public procurement market.

Interestingly, in the private sector, Africa has more women in executive committees, CEO, and board roles than the average worldwide. Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb. Only 5%of women make it to the top as reported by Africa Women Matter McKinsey Report 2016.

Actions including creating programmes to eradicate violence against women and girls, encouraging women’s participation in decision-making, investing in national action plans or policies for gender equality, creating public education campaigns to promote gender equality, and many more are essential. Empowering women and girls is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Everyone has a role to play by making gender equality a lived reality by 2030.



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Let Women Speak and Give Them a Hearing Tue, 07 Mar 2017 16:31:32 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Basic rights always need champions, and that’s truer today than it ought to be as around the world we see an unwelcome pattern of reaction to modern complexities ranging from globalization and automation to austerity and dwindling wages. One alarming example is how the agenda of promoting women’s rights, so far from completion, is being pushed back rather than forward.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

IPS has long strived for gender equality and reported from every corner of the world on women’s conditions and their desire for equality on multiple fronts. Expected progress risks reversal, at times due to implicit bias in access to emerging technologies and at times due to outright political reaction.

Things cannot be taken for granted. Protectionism and populism are not going to contribute to the world we all need, one that rises to respond to the threats posed by climate change and to the pledge to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger once and for all. Women’s rights are key to progress on all fronts.

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017, IPS has invited people from all quarters, from policy makers and political and cultural influencers to ordinary people with challenging daily lives, to offer their opinions, news and views on how the women of the world – able as we’ve seen to take to the streets and argue their own case – should navigate a time of such uncertainty.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Time to Champion Women’s Empowerment: Implementation of SDGs in Bangladesh Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:13:41 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad is Chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, an apex development institution established by the Government of Bangladesh]]> Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

The year 2015 was highly significant in relation to global convergence on ways forward towards achieving sustainable development at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Global leaders reached four groundbreaking agreements that year, the first of which was the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the first major agreement crucially important in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Then in July came the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, which has dealt with how finances can be mobilised for global sustainable development. In September, the world leaders adopted the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ with 17 goals, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

The other momentous development was the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December that year. Not that everyone will agree with the contents of these agreements and certainly there are deficits in each in relation to what needs to be achieved, but these documents provide a strong basis to moving forward.

Of these, the SDG 2030-Agenda essentially integrates the core objectives of the other three agreements along with other relevant issues, and focuses on the inclusion of everyone in the development process, with particular emphasis on gender equality (Goal-5) that men and women must be equally endowed with opportunities and facilities. This is a key Goal that catalyses actions to carve out an appropriate forward movement of society, overcoming gender discriminations and other hurdles.

Despite the fact that women’s empowerment takes the centre stage of sustainable development, they face discrimination in different aspects of their lives, one of which is wage discrimination.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF

Even in the United States, women working full time in 2015 typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. The same can be found in Bangladesh where women get 21.1 percent less hourly wages than men, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.

Bangladesh has come a long way in empowering women and closing the gender gap. Women are joining and making their mark in all branches of the development and society including education, health services, administration, banks, entrepreneurship, military and law enforcement forces, and politics.

In terms of political empowerment, Bangladesh not only leads the region but also beats many developed countries in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum testifies to the significant progress women have achieved in Bangladesh.

The Report that covers 144 countries ranks Bangladesh 72nd with an overall score of 0.698 (1 means parity), well above the average global score. The country leads the South Asian region in all four indicators – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Bangladesh’s closest performer in the region is India, lagging 15 spots behind.

What is notable is the progress made in Bangladesh in reducing gender gap over the past one decade. Ranked 91st among 114 countries, Bangladesh jumped 19 spots ahead in just 10 years, even though 30 more countries were included in the exercise this time.

This noteworthy progress, along with the very significant socio-economic advancement achieved by the country in recent years, has been possible mainly because of a conducive policy environment provided by the government, and the indomitable spirits of the people of this country to move ahead against all odds and achieve changes for the better. It is also to be recognised that facilitating support at the local spaces has been provided by many civil society and non-government entities.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF

The Constitution of Bangladesh clearly states that “the State Shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity and participation of women in all spheres of national life” and “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life”. The country also has the National Women Development Policy 2011 and a set of laws to prevent violence and discrimination against women and to ensure empowerment of women, and their equal rights and opportunities.

In conformity with the constitutional dictates as well as the policy and legal obligations and the political will to ensure women’s legitimate progress, the Sheikh Hasina-led government introduced the Gender Budget in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Seven fiscal years later, the Gender Budget now has jumped almost 3.5 times. This amount is allocated directly to promote women’s progress in relation to various issues faced by them. But, the issue of improvement of women’s status also features directly or indirectly in various other programmes.

Despite the advancements women in Bangladesh have made, they still are paid less than men for equal work, as mentioned above, and are facing violence both inside and outside their homes. A 2015 study of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that 80.2 percent women in Bangladesh suffer domestic violence at some point of their lives.

Girl students account for over 50 percent of the number of students at primary and secondary levels, but their proportion at the tertiary level is now around 40 percent. Though more women are joining the mainstream workforces in the government and corporate sectors, their presence in the top echelons is not yet very encouraging. Harassment of women and girl students in their workplaces and educational institutions respectively, and child marriage, remain major challenges.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), which is a government-established foundation, has been trying to empower women in terms of human capability as well as economic and social opportunities. It currently offers financial and non-financial services to over 10 million households or about 45 million people throughout the country.

An intensive and integrated multidimensional poverty eradication and beyond-poverty sustainable development action programme is being implemented in 150 unions (the lowest administrative unit) across the country, covering around 4.5 million people, half of whom are women.

Previously, women were often used as conduits for borrowing money from microfinance institutions. But, now the PKSF ensures that women play important roles in the management of financial and non-financial services they avail from the PKSF-POs (Partner Organisations of the PKSF, NGOs through which the PKSF implements its action programmes) under strict PKSF supervision and monitoring. These women are thus getting increasingly empowered in their families and in society.

The PKSF also focuses on education of girls and campaigns against and actions within its capacity to reduce child marriage, harassment of girls and women, and violence against women, and also for the recognition of women’s household chores as economic activities.

Since empowerment of women is at the heart of the SDGs, it is of paramount importance that Bangladesh makes bolder moves to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girl children. ‘Be Bold For Change’ thus seems to be an appropriate slogan that has been picked for the International Women’s Day 2017, a day the world observes on March 8th every year.

On this occasion, Bangladesh must renew its pledge to step up efforts to make this country a better place for women, take bolder stances to effectively address the persistant bias, inequality, and violence faced by women, and forge women’s advancement, celebrate their achievements, and champion women’s education.

I firmly believe that men and women in Bangladesh together will lead the country towards sustainable development in a balanced manner with no one left behind, where everyone will live in human dignity, overcoming all odds.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Why a Feminist Foreign Policy Is Needed More than Ever Tue, 07 Mar 2017 06:06:23 +0000 Margot Wallstrom Margot Wallström, is Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden]]> Margot Wallström

Margot Wallström

By Margot Wallström
STOCKHOLM, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Lately, the world has tended to present itself in increasingly darker shades. In many places, democracy is questioned, women’s rights are threatened, and the multilateral system that has taken decades to build is undermined.

No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.

That is why I – when I assumed office as Foreign Minister over two years ago – announced that Sweden would pursue a feminist foreign policy. Today, this policy is more needed than ever.

The world is torn by conflicts that are perhaps more complex and more difficult to solve than ever before. Almost half of all conflicts reoccur within five years. Over 1.5 billion people live in fragile states and conflict zones.

In order to respond to these global challenges, we need to connect the dots and see what drives peace. We need to change our policies from reactive to proactive, focusing on preventing rather than responding. And prevention can never be successful without the full picture of how certain situations affect men, women, boys and girls differently. Applying gender analysis, strengthening the collection of gender disaggregated data, improving accountability and bringing women into peace negotiations and peacebuilding will be key in moving forward.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue
Studies show that conflict analyses that include gender aspects and women’s experiences are more efficient. Rise in sexual and gender based violence can for example be an early indicator of conflict. We also need to take into account the studies that show a correlation between gender equal societies and peace.

Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice. But overwhelming evidence shows that it is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security. Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

With Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, we bring all our foreign policy tools into play for gender equality and apply a systematic gender perspective in everything we do. It is an analytical tool for making informed decisions.

The feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change which aims to increase the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls, based on the reality where they live.

Representation is at the core of the policy, since it is such a powerful vehicle for both the enjoyment of rights and access to resources. Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or any other place in the world, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. Non-representative decision-making is more likely to yield discriminatory and suboptimal outcomes. Put women at the table from the start and you will notice that more issues and perspectives are brought to light.

Despite facing discouraging times for world politics, it is important to remember that change is possible. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy makes a tangible difference. Every day, embassies, agencies and departments implement context- and knowledge-based policy around the world. And more countries are realising that gender equality simply makes sense.

To mention some examples of how we work, Sweden has provided extensive support for the involvement of women in the Colombian peace process, ensuring that significant perspectives were lifted in the peace agreement. We have also established a Swedish network of women peace mediators, co-established a Nordic equivalent and reached out to other countries and regions to encourage them to form their own networks.

Together with the ICC and partner countries, we counter impunity for sexual and gender based violence in conflicts. We also make sure that humanitarian actors only receive funding if their work is based on gender disaggregated data. Governmental guidelines have been given to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, contributing to making gender equality the main objective in an increasing amount of Sida’s specific sector issues.

These are just some examples of how our feminist foreign policy translates into practice, making a difference for women and girls around the world.

Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

]]> 1 Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Change Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:05:19 +0000 Stella Paul Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama - a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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16-Hour Days for Zimbabwe’s Women Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:00:20 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Constance Huku, 29, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries a pile of wood on her head. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

As the cock crows, Tambudzai Zimbudzana, 32, is suddenly awakened from sleep. She quickly folds her blankets and strides outside her three-room, sheet iron-roofed house in rural Masvingo.

Picking up a few logs of firewood from a huge pile, Zimbudzana sets a fire to boil water and prepare food for her husband to bathe and eat before cycling to work.“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large.” --Kelvin Hazangwi

“Shorai! Shorai! Shorai!” Zimbudzana calls her 14 year-old daughter who is fast asleep to assist her with other duties.

“My day begins at 4 am, cooking, setting a fire, fetching water and spending the rest of the day in the field or garden depending on the season. My day often ends at ten in the evening as I have to ensure all household work is done, including attending to the demands of my six children, before I put my body to rest,” Zimbudzana told IPS.

She said she rarely attends community activities because of time and work that demands her presence.

Many women and girls carry the heavy, unequal and seemingly natural burden of care work, which is rarely appreciated, not financially beneficial and deeply rooted in culture.

“In recent years, significant evidence and research findings demonstrate that investments in addressing unpaid care burden– by governments, civil society and employers – improve wellbeing, women’s enjoyment of their rights, economic development and reduce inequality,” says Anna Giolitto, Oxfam Programs Manager on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) program.

Since 2014, Oxfam in Zimbabwe has been working to strengthen women’s economic rights by building data on unpaid care, innovate on interventions and influence policy and practice to address care as part of women’s empowerment.

Oxfam has carried out programmes in three districts since 2014 and developed two tools to assess unpaid household work and care of people in the communities: The Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey.

“The key aim is to reduce the time or labour required for daily housework and caring for people, and thus increase women’s participation, empowerment, leadership and representation in both the public and private spheres,” Giolitto told IPS.

Results of the survey showed that women do 3–6 times more hours of care work than men.

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Charity Ncube, 30, of the rural town of Masvingo in southeastern Zimbabwe, carries her child and a 20-litre container of water. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

On Mar. 8, countries around the world will come together to commemorate International Women’s Day, under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work”.

According to UN Women, the world of work is evolving, with significant implications for women. There is globalization, technological and digital revolutions and opportunities for women.

However, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies, and environmental impacts have a negative effect on the well-being of many women in Zimbabwe and the world. As such, they must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.

Women in the informal economy in Zimbabwe grapple with a hostile economic environment, security and customs officials on a daily basis.

Lorraine Sibanda, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), says, “Our goods are confiscated at border posts due to the limited amount of goods one is allowed to bring into the country. We end up paying more money to transporters in order to get reasonable stock across the border.”

Sibanda added that the transporters’ charges are not consistent and one may pay several times for the same goods.  Further, they have to carry heavy loads of goods over a long period of time, which can have health implications for these women involved with cross-border trading.

“Little or lack of knowledge of customs and exercise procedures such as declaration of goods also contributes traders falling prey to predatory transporters, immigration personnel and other elements who prowl the border post for a living,” Sibanda told IPS.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Office (ZimStats) has noted that 84 percent of the country’s working class are in the informal sector, with 11 percent in formal employment. Further, ZCIEA told IPS that 65 percent of its members are women.

Though Oxfam does not work with women cross-border traders in Zimbabwe, it has used the “four R’s” approach for change.

  • Recognize care work at policy, community and household level, make it visible and value it. Change the idea that it’s just natural activity of women, it’s work.
  • Reduce care work through using time labour saving technologies and services;
  • Redistribute responsibility for care more equitably – from women to men, and from families to the State/employers.
  • Represent carers in decision making.

“Women will be able to do more when there are men sharing the responsibility at home as well as playing a key role in decisions at their households,” Giolitto said.

Kelvin Hazangwi from Padare (Men’s Forum on Gender) also emphasized the need to share unpaid care work.

“Men should take the lead to lessen the care burden of women as this has a positive effect on the whole household, community and country at large,” says Hazangwi.

Padare is a men’s forum advocating for gender equality in Zimbabwe.

ZCIEA believes the informal sector is the future, thus gender-inclusive economic policies, formalization of informal trading, decent infrastructure, provision of social protection, healthcare services, recognition of informal traders as key economic players will result in sustainable, inclusive growth.

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Be Bold for Change–Empower Women, Empower Humanity Mon, 06 Mar 2017 09:30:52 +0000 Robert Watkins Robert Watkins, is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh]]>

Robert Watkins, is United Nations Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh

By Robert Watkins
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The world of work is changing for women across the globe and Bangladesh is no exception. Factors such as globalization, advancement in technology, and the digital revolution have ushered in new ways for women to enter into work. The theme for the International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2017, focuses on “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” under which gender parity in the workforce is the critical prerequisite for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Robert Watkins

Robert Watkins

A McKinsey Global Institute report in 2015 found that $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women, who make up half of the word’s work-age population, were to achieve their economic potential. Gender parity at work is a global economic challenge but efforts at a national level can make a significant difference. While there is a general consensus regarding the urgent need to increase women’s participation in the workforce and acknowledge their contributions to the global economy, we are still far from creating an economy that allows all women to realize their potential free from discrimination or threat of violence and sexual harassment.

Bangladesh has made great strides in improving the lives of women and girls. In the last decade, poverty has been slashed by half; nearly 90 percent of girl children are enrolled in schools; child mortality has reduced by 60 percent. Moreover, Bangladesh’s commitment to the global 2030 roadmap and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has placed gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of its gender-responsive agenda. The Government’s Vision 2021 as well as the Seventh Five-Year Plan prioritizes this agenda and we must applaud their bold leadership in pursuing progress, persistently and creatively, for inclusive economic growth. However, challenges such as poor working conditions, rising incidences of gender-based violence, rapid and unchecked urbanization, limited access to basic social services, and climate change continue to disrupt the progress made towards women’s economic empowerment.

In Bangladesh, the ready-made garment sector remains one of the most important drivers of women’s ability to engage in paid work. Earlier studies have shown that women make up approximately 80 percent of their workforce, but more recent trends suggest that female participation may actually be less than 60 percent. The 2016 National Labor Survey results should shed important light on the overall status of women in the economy. The survey results, upon release, will hopefully initiate a widespread debate around the necessary gender-responsive action required to increase the participation of women across all sectors.

In spite of encouraging signs of improvement in the formal economy, women continue to face enormous challenges in building sustainable and empowering livelihoods. Women migrant workers from Bangladesh – over 169,000 in the last three years alone, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – are commonly subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and exploitation due to inadequate standards for accountability and vigilance, legal channels and compact focusing on their rights, voice, and leadership. Similarly, in the RMG sector women earn, on average, 45 percent less than their male counterparts and usually do not have the knowledge, skills or opportunities to grow their incomes or savings. In addition, the constant threat of gender-based violence both at home and at work creates barriers that prevent women garment workers from influencing or changing working conditions for the better.

One of the key measures to ensuring women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is bridging the persistent gender pay gap. According to one estimate, this gap for women in waged labor in Bangladesh stands at 48 percent –almost double of the global 24 percent average. Closing this gap will require national-level policies and regulations, complimented by financial incentives, capability building, advocacy and awareness. We must also recognize women’s unpaid contributions to the ‘invisible’ economy in the form of care and domestic work, as well as address the gender gap in leadership and entrepreneurship. National policies must address the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy, promote access to innovative technologies and practices, introduce climate-resilient jobs, and create safe working environments for women.

Working alongside the Government and other partners invested in economic growth — the private sector, civil society organizations, and media — the United Nations is committed to improving and increasing women’s representation and access to decent work. We are committed to enabling and facilitating access to services that level the playing field and increase the odds for women to fully and meaningfully enter, stay, and grow in their workplace.

In a world where women’s prospects are blighted by regressive norms and attitudes, both men and women have to take a stand for meaningful change. If we are to reach Planet 50-50 by 2030, we have to collectively devise accelerators and implement both short and long-term measures that are viable and effective. The private sector, in partnership with government and non-governmental organization, can do a lot more to improve working conditions for women. There is ample evidence from around the world that companies stand to benefit both directly and indirectly by introducing measures that value and promote gender parity.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we call upon all actors to step forward and work towards achieving Planet 50-50 by 2030. Let’s commit publicly through platforms like the UN Women’s He for She campaign (visit to set ambitious yet achievable gender goals over the next five years. The Government of Bangladesh’s Seventh Five-Year plan coincides with the first phase of the UN’s SDGs and the timing couldn’t be any better to collectively drive inclusive economic progress, emboldened by bold thinking and courageous leadership.

Join the movement, Be Bold For Change.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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For Societies to Thrive, We Must Ensure Gender Equality Mon, 06 Mar 2017 08:33:40 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]>

Ambassador Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

Consider this: gender inequality is costing sub Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. In a corporate setting, that extent of losses would call for a serious reset of the business’s operational approach.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Despite stupendous advancements in science and technology, it has taken mankind two millennia to fully realize the critical role of women in the global social and economic transformation.

For any country to realize its full economic and democratic potential, the quest for women’s participation in leadership and decision making must be embraced, understood, appreciated and prioritized.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a key international legal instrument that provides a framework for advancement of the right of women. Yet decades after its ratification, women in Africa continue to face significant barriers that restrict their economic and political participation, as well as cultural norms that compromise their sexual and reproductive health.

As we observe this year’s International Women’s Day, it is time to interrogate opportunities for the women of Africa in enhancing the growth trajectory already being seen. The Day must not pass as just another day in the calendar of carnivals; we must use it to cross-examine the impact of our actions on increasing women’s access to economic opportunity, giving women an equal voice in households and societies and closing gender gaps in education.

On the economic front, the deck has always been stacked against women. This is especially unfortunate because women are more active as economic agents in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The continent’s economy is anchored on agriculture where 70% of the population finds its upkeep. In this sector, two-thirds of the labour force comprises women.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Siddharth Chatterjee

Unfortunately however, women farmers have less access to essential inputs—land, credit, fertilizers, new technologies and extension services. As a result, their yields tend to be less than optimum.

In addition, while African women are highly entrepreneurial and own about a third of all businesses across Africa, they are more likely to be running microenterprises in the informal sector, engaging in low-value-added activities that reap marginal returns.

Their prospects of generating larger earnings are limited by lack of basic skills, a lack of access to financial services and the challenges of balancing business and domestic obligations. The result is that women remain only at the margins of formal economies.

Where women lack a reasonable income, society misses out on the multiplier effect that has been so well documented regarding women’s income. Women reinvest a much higher part of their earnings in their families and communities than men, spreading wealth and creating a positive impact on future development.

In a study done in Kenya for instance, the World Bank notes that the health outcome of a child is better when the mother has an income, with the child growing about 17% taller due to more investment in health and nutrition.

The other major reason the continent continues to miss out on the potential of half its population is the gender gap in education. While in some areas gender gaps have narrowed noticeably, as in primary schools, where nearly as many girls as boys are now enrolled. But completion rates remain low, and many girls still are unable to go on to secondary or tertiary education.

Because they are less prepared for the formal sector, the result is a vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health and dependency.

That dependency manifests itself not only in the household where the woman has little or no say but also in little voice in the social and political space. The different experiences of men and women, are best articulated where both are represented in decision making spaces.

Having women in leadership, ought to translate to laws, policies, programmes and practices that takes into account their daily experiences. Having women and men around the decision making table further ensures that their different interests which often speak to their peculiar needs are accounted for.

Economic opportunities, access to education and participation in socio-political processes hold the key to opening up a cornucopia of opportunities not just for women but for the entire society.

The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres has said that gender equality will be a focus area of his work as the UN chief. “I have long been aware of the hurdles women face in society, in the family and in the workplace just because of their gender. I have witnessed the violence they are subject to during conflict, or while fleeing it, just because they are women.”

We must change this narrative with resolve and commitment.

To recover the US$ 95 billion lost annually in Sub-Saharan Africa, we have to ensure women’s full empowerment and every girl has an opportunity to achieve her full human potential.

As long as these continue to be neglected, our chances of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals will be greatly diminished.

We must therefore empower women so they can play a full role in sustainable development.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Unemployment and the Informal Economy – Key Challenges for Women in Latin America Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:54:57 +0000 Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

By Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs
LIMA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The participation of women in the labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean has steadily grown over the last few decades. But in 2017, as unemployment and informal work are on the rise, there is a continued need to push hard for gender equality in order to create more and better employment for the 255 million women of working age in this region.

Almost half of these women, 126 million, are already part of the labour force – a very important achievement that took many years to reach. Once more, however, it must be stressed that we cannot let down our guard.

Over the past year, as the wave of slow growth and in some cases of economic contraction which struck the region impacted on the labour market, generating a sharp rise in unemployment and also a decline in the quality of employment with respect to some indicators, it has become evident that this situation affects women to a larger extent.

The regional average unemployment rate for women shot up to levels not seen for over a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 9.8 per cent – on the brink of two digits. If projections of slow economic growth for this year prove correct, the average rate could climb above 10 per cent in 2017.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

The unemployment rate for women grew 1.6 percentage points, compared to 1.3 percentage points for men. Of the five million people who joined the ranks of the unemployed, 2.3 million were women. This means that about 12 million women are actively looking for work, without success..

The participation of women in the labour force has continued to expand over the last year. At a national level (rural+urban), women’s participation has gone from 49.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. An increase is always good news. However, it still remains well below the participation of men, which is 74.6 per cent.

The downside was that the demand for labour fell from 45.2 to 44.9 per cent in the case of women. It also dropped in the case of men, although the level remains much higher, at 69.3 per cent.
The latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean also noted that the decline in economic activity has been reflected in a drop in the number of wage-earners, a rise in the number of self-employed workers, and a decrease in formal sector wages, all of which are signs of an increase in labour informality.

The most recent estimates available regarding informality among women indicate that almost half of the female labour force works under these conditions, which generally mean labour instability, low incomes, and a lack of protection and rights.

Several aspects to be taken into account when analysing women’s labour participation have been identified, such as the fact that about 70 per cent of women who work do so in the retail trade and services sector, often in precarious conditions, for example, without contracts.

In addition, 17 million women in the region work as domestics. Women make up 90 per cent of domestic workers. In this sector, the levels of informality are still very high, around 70 per cent.

This description of the characteristics of women’s insertion in the labour market would not be complete without pointing out a notable aspect mentioned by the regional report on “Decent work and gender equality” by several United Nations agencies presented in 2013: in this region, 53.7 per cent of female workers have more than ten years of formal education, in contrast to just 40.4 per cent of men.

Moreover, 22.8 per cent of women in the labour force have tertiary education (complete or incomplete), by comparison to 16.2 per cent of men.

However, this does not prevent the persistence of a significant wage gap. A report by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) noted that in 2016, according to available data, women earned 83.9 per cent of what men earned in similar jobs. The gap is still wider among men and women with higher educational levels.

These figures should serve as a wake-up call.

This issue is already part of the sustainable development goals set for all countries in the 2030 Agenda. Particularly, in Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and is key for Goal #8 on economic growth and decent work. For the ILO, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective, present in all its activities.

We are facing a structural challenge, which must involve economic, social, and, as we know, cultural changes as well. It is necessary for governments as well as social actors to make the achievement of greater equality between men and women a top priority.

Formulas have to be sought to improve women’s productivity, stimulating their participation in more dynamic sectors, of medium to high productivity, while at the same time identifying the causes of labour market segregation.

To continue advancing towards equality in the labour market, it is necessary to resort to a combination of actions aiming at gender equality, including: active employment policies; network and infrastructure for caregiving and new policies for services for child care and care of dependent persons; strategies to promote the division of household responsibilities; improved education and vocational training; incentives for women entrepreneurs; increased social security coverage; and determined action to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the workplace.
Equality in employment remains one of the most important challenges for achieving a better future for workers in the region.

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New land rights are changing women’s world of work Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:36:28 +0000 Monique Barbut Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification]]>

Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day this year focuses on economic empowerment in the changing world of work. The vision is to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by 2030. Girls’ aged three will become adults with a legal right to work in 2030. Together, with those aged up to 10, these girls are the prime target for gender equality by 2030.

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

But the persistence of the obstacles women have faced throughout history and the neglect of poor rural women in the Millennium Development Goals era, cautions us to focus on two fronts. First, the front-end mechanisms, such as education, that prepare young women and girls for their careers. But we must not forget the back-end mechanisms linked to the land, which dictate the livelihoods of a majority of women in the rural areas. Women will likely still fall back on them in 2030. They are equally vital.

Women’s land rights, one of the 2030 targets for gender equality, is a key mechanism that will shape women’s progress in agriculture. But is change possible?

By 2011, women made up 43 percent of the labor in agriculture in the developing countries. In Africa and Asia respectively, 60 and 70 percent of the adult women worked the land. But in many of these countries, women farmers can only use, not own the land they farm. Worse, in some cases, the surplus they produce or its earnings are seized by their husbands, based on their claim to land ownership. Left in a bind, many rural women, whose primary source of livelihood is the land, farm unsecured or marginal land or end up using the family land unsustainably.

Some experiments coming out of Africa show there are innovative ways for women to get land rights and ownership over their produce, which then create wealth and food security for families. They show that political will is a critical lever for change.

In the Mboula region of Senegal, the regional government allocated tracks of land to women’s groups to farm together to meet household food needs. Women self-organized into groups that work one day a week. The benefits are more than the government expected. Women spend less time working the land but consistently produce surplus food, meeting both family and market needs. The results, combined with the security of tenure they enjoy over the land they use, have motivated the women to seek training to cultivate a traditional tree, at scale. They intend to produce its oil commercially, harvest its leaves for food and improve the land’s productivity through agroforestry.

In Eastern Uganda, the government has taken a similar initiative one step further. It targets women who only possess user rights to family land. Previously food insecure, they have rehabilitated degraded land and are producing a surplus. The environment and trade ministries jointly developed a program to train the women on how set up, run and manage a cooperative. The women are close to joining the formal food supply chain. They are entrepreneurs and job creators in their community.

Small changes can be transformational.

Preparing every girl to become economically empowered is a top priority for achieving gender equality by 2030. The rear view of history cautions that innovating on women’s land rights as we advance towards 2030 will also be vital.

There are many routes to that objective. Rural women can obtain land rights as individuals or groups. When women only have user and access rights to land, enabling them to own and market what they produce is another option. The denial of land rights by culture is not inescapable trap. Where the leadership is enlightened and progressive, it is possible to create new land rights models.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Time to Close the Gender Gap in Africa with Bold Actions Mon, 06 Mar 2017 06:34:14 +0000 Akinwumi Adesina Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank]]>

Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank

By Akinwumi Adesina
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and to be bold in promoting gender parity.

Akinwumi Adesina

Akinwumi Adesina

Our world would be a much better place with gender parity in all spheres. We need more women as CEOs, in parliaments, as engineers, computer scientists, astronauts, and as heads of state, traditional areas dominated by men.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 by the World Economic Forum estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will achieve gender parity in 79 years. We cannot afford to wait so long. Africa would have lost all the benefits of developing faster with several generations of women and girls.

It’s time to close the gender gap in Africa with bold actions.

Women can play a huge role in societies undergoing conflicts, as peace makers, reconciling communities, building peace and building societal resilience. In Sudan, where conflicts abound, the African Development Bank is providing support of close to $5 million for women to help in conflict resolution.

We are doing more: we are taking decisive action to level the playing field for women’s access to finance. Women dominate the small and medium scale enterprises across Africa. They dominate farming but lack access to secure land and property rights. Yet they pay back loans better than men. When Africa gets the issues of women right, it will finally get agriculture right.

The African Development Bank has launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women (AFAWA), a bold effort to help leverage $3 billion for women owned businesses, including women farmers.

At the Bank, we are working hard internally to close the gender gap. Of the recent senior management appointments I have made to run the business of the Bank in our 5 regional offices, 50% are women.

The recruitment of young professionals within the Bank is also more gender balanced, and the 2015 cohort shows that 60% are female.

Another positive move within the Bank is the introduction of a women’s mentorship pilot “Crossing Thresholds,” which provides women with an opportunity to develop their career in a structured and supportive environment.

One young participant commented, “It has provided networking opportunities, professional development and most importantly I feel part of a group; it has created solidarity and given women more confidence.”

We are doing better in mainstreaming gender into our Bank operations. When comparing the years 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, the Bank has improved its performance in gender parity in job creation and gender-specific training for jobs. Gender specific impacts of a Bank’s operations by sector are becoming more equal between females and males, and is even higher at 60% in favor of women in education.

The Bank is fully committed to speeding up gender parity within the institution and across its Regional Member Countries. To help with this, we have created a new Department of Gender, Women and Civil Society within the Bank.

We will take a page from the International Women’s Day 2017 campaign and commit to being “bold for change”. We will be bold in our support for women and inclusiveness of women and girls. Africa’s economic growth will be faster and development outcomes better when we ensure gender equality.

After all, no bird can fly with just one wing. Africa needs to fly with two wings in balance. And that is exactly what gender parity does.

So let’s get on it much faster.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s

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Breaking Barriers for Women Is a Short Cut to Economic Growth and Development Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:32:34 +0000 Lilianne Ploumen Lilianne Ploumen is Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands]]> Lilianne Ploumen

Lilianne Ploumen

By Lilianne Ploumen
The Hague, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

In South Asian societies, as elsewhere, it is all too common for women to be held back, time and again Women’s potential remains largely untapped – which is not only morally wrong, but also economically unwise. According to recent projections, harnessing women’s full potential throughout South Asia would increase GNP by more than half by 2025. In absolute terms, women could earn countries in South Asia an additional 400 billion dollars in the next ten years! clearly, women hold the key to economic success for South Asia: their empowerment can fuel further development. The Netherlands has invested substantially in the economic empowerment of women in this region. Our successes, achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders, show what can be achieved if we keep up these efforts.

It is important to know, firsts what barriers are holding women back. There are several, but all come down to women’s subordinate role in society. Women’s potential cannot be fully exploited until we break down these barriers, in various sphere of life. They need access to equitable and safe employment, education and training. As well as access to and control over economic resources and opportunities. Their voices must be heard and their influence on policy felt. They must have freedom from violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over reproductive health and family planning, and social protection and child care. All these may seem like formidable tasks, but the good news is that many of the investments needed, by public and private actors, yield positive returns on investment.

I can illustrate this using our experience in the garment industry. The growth of the garment industry in South Asia has greatly increased access to employment for women. These jobs offer enormous new opportunities for the economic empowerment of women and girls, who often come from poor rural communities where they are confined to the domestic sphere. The benefits of work extend beyond the economic. These young women gain a greater say in their households, more autonomy in decision-making and more self-esteem.

All’s well that ends well? No. We must not turn away from the violations of basic women’s rights that often occur in the garment industry. Women generally earn less than men, and they often face harassment and gender-based violence. lmproving their working conditions is the right thing to do. And, as independent research confirms, it makes economic sense too.

Through various programmes, the Netherlands helps strengthen the position of female workers in the garment industry. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds a strategic partnership made up of the Fair Wear Foundation. CNV International and Mondiaal FNV to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the garment industry. It runs projects in India, Bangladesh and other producing countries. In Bangladesh for example, the partnership is working to increase women’s participation in dialogue between workers and factory management. Works councils at the factories and trade unions receive support, enabling them to effectively address gender-based violence.

The Netherlands also provides core funding to the Better Work programme, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization(ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better Work aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains, and focuses especially on strengthening the position of women in these supply chains. The impact of the interventions is backed up by sound research. An independent evaluation by Tufts University, for example, found that training supervisors through the Better Work programme increased productivity by up to 22%, and traced this in particular to the training of female supervisors. These are important findings, as they demonstrate that promoting women to management positions not only has positive effect on their empowerment but also makes good business sense.

The same approach is followed in a project in Bangladesh that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through inclusive business practices for female workers in the ready-made garment sector. Funded by our embassy in Dhaka and implemented by SNV, the project supports female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and good-quality. SRHR services and products. The project is running at 19 factories and uses 10 selected SRHR service providers and private sector partners to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers.

Part and parcel of our approach to increase women’s economic empowerment is to ensure that women have full control over family planning. In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy – the decision by the new US administration to suspend funding for organisations that provide access to safe abortion or information about abortion – I have established She Decides, an initiative that aims to leverage financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide, mitigating the impact of the US funding cuts.

In conclusion, women hold an important key to economic success in South Asia. By empowering women, we improve both their welfare and their economic contribution. We have made progress in improving women’s conditions in the garment industry and beyond. If South Asia is to reap the full potential of the female half of its population, it is vital to sustain the gains made so far and scale them up fast. For its part, the Netherlands will continue— with renewed vigour – to work with governments, brands, factories and civil societies so as to give women the opportunities they deserve.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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“Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030.” Fri, 03 Mar 2017 15:26:08 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women]]> Women are working in construction in Rio de Janeiro. Credit:Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Women are working in construction in Rio de Janeiro. Credit:Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri

Yayi Bayam Diouf became the first woman to fish in her small rural fishing village in Senegal despite initially being told by the men in her community that the fish wouldn’t take bait from a menstruating woman. When she started practicing law, Ann Green, CEO of ANZ Lao, was asked to make coffee or pick up dry cleaning (by men and women), simply because she was a young woman. The difficulties faced by Yayi and Ann in entering the labour force and at the workplace are not only unique to them, but sadly is the reality for many women across the globe.

These difficulties represent violations of women’s human rights to work and their rights at work with gender-discriminatory laws still in existence in 155 countries, resulting in the gender wage gap of 23 percent globally. Also, women represent 75 percent of informal employment, in low-paid and undervalued jobs that are usually unprotected by labour laws, and lack social protection.

Lakshmi-Puri1-300x200Only half of women participate in the labour force compared to three quarters of men, and in most developing countries it is as low as 25 percent. Women spend 2.5 times more time and effort than men on unpaid care work and household responsibilities. All of this results in women taking home 1/10 of the global income, while accounting for 2/3 of global working hours. These inequalities have devastating immediate and long-terms negative impacts on women who have a lower lifetime income, have saved less, and yet face higher overall retirement and healthcare costs due to a longer life expectancy.

Women’s economic empowerment is about transforming the world of work, which is still very patriarchal and treats the equal voice, participation and leadership of women as an anomaly, tokenism, compartment or add on. Despite recognizing progress, structural barriers continue to hinder progress towards women’s economic empowerment globally.

Women in all professions face what we call sticky floors, leaking pipelines and broken ladders, glass ceilings and glass walls! At the current pace, it may take 170 years to achieve economic equality among men and women – according to estimates from the World Economic Forum’s latest Gender Gap Report. This is simply unacceptable.

To accelerate the move to a planet 50/50 in women’s economic empowerment and work will require a transformation of both the public and private sector environments and world of work they create for women and also how they change it to make it a women’s space of productive and fulfilling work.

It will mean adopting necessary laws, policies and special measures by governments. It means their actively regulating and providing incentives to companies and enterprises to become gender equal employers, supply chains and incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, together with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (on financing for development), position gender equality and the empowerment of women as critical and essential drivers for sustainable development. There is a Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality (Goal 5) which seeks to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and sets out global targets to address many of the remaining obstacles to gender inequality.

The framework recognizes women’s economic empowerment as essential enabler and beneficiary of gender equality and sustainable development and a means of implementation of all the six targets of SDG 5, including ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls; ending all forms of violence and harmful practices like child marriage: recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family; ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life; and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Achieving these targets would have a multiplier effect across all other development areas, including ensuring equal access to decent work and full and productive employment (SDG 8), ending poverty (SDG-1), food security (SDG-2), universal health (SDG-3), quality education (SDG-4) and reducing inequalities (SDG-10).

The upcoming 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) will consider “Women’s Economic Empowerment in The Changing World of Work”, as its priority theme providing the international community the opportunity to define concrete, practical and action-oriented recommendations to overcome the structural barriers to gender equality, gender-based discrimination and violence against women at work.

We live in a world where change is happening constantly, presenting new challenges and opportunities to the realization of women’s economic empowerment. The innovations – especially in digital and information and communications technologies, mobility and informality are also increasing rapidly. Emerging areas, such as the green economy and climate change mitigation and adaptation offer new opportunities for decent work for women.

Also, in the context of new digital and information technologies, it is estimated that women will lose five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained in the fourth industrial revolution. Successful harnessing of technological innovations is an imperative as is women’s STEM education and capability building, financial and digital inclusion for the realization of women’s economic empowerment.

Achievement of women’s economic empowerment, as well its related benefits, requires transformative and structural change. In his report on the priority theme of CSW61, the Secretary-General of the United Nations identifies are four concrete action areas in achieving women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, including strengthening normative and legal frameworks for full employment and decent work for all women at all levels; implementing economic and social policies for women’s economic empowerment; addressing the growing informality of work and mobility of women workers and technology driven changes; and strengthening private sector role in women’s economic empowerment.

Progress must be provided from both the demand and supply sides of the labour market. From the demand side, the enhancement of capacity building and the creation of a value chain of education skills and training for women is key to accelerating change.

This will in turn lead to decent work opportunities as well as productive employment for women. From the supply side, there must be a creation of an enabling environment for women to be recruited, retained and promoted in the work place, including through promoting policies to manage trade and financial globalization.

These forces, profoundly altering the world of work should come as a benefit to women and the working poor in rural and urban areas; and macroeconomic and labour market policies must create decent jobs, protect worker rights, and generate living wages, including for informal and migrant women workers.

Enhanced interventions to tackle persistent gender inequalities and gaps in the world of work, and stepped-up attention to technological and digital changes to ensure they become vehicles for women’s economic empowerment are needed. The creation of quality paid care economy is also pivotal in employment creation and in empowering at least a billion women- directly and indirectly as well as providing much needed jobs for all!

Transformative change is not only possible but it would generate tremendous dividends for the economy. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, if women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

Moreover, the total value of unpaid care and domestic work, dominated by women, is estimated to be between 10 and 39 per cent of national GDPs, and can surpass that of manufacturing, commerce, transportation and other key sectors. With women’s economic empowerment the global economy can therefore yield inclusive growth that generates decent work for all and reduces poverty ensuring that no one is left behind.

With the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the tectonic shift in the way that gender equality and women’s economic empowerment has been prioritized and valued in the international development agenda and express the resolve that we will all do everything it takes including transformative financing to achieve the ambitious goal of Planet 50/50 in the world of work by 2030.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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