Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:28:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139478 Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

But alongside the stories of extraordinary atrocity and everyday violence lies another reality, one where more girls are in school and more are earning qualifications than ever before; where maternal mortality is at an all-time low; where more women are in leadership positions, and where women are increasingly standing up, speaking out and demanding action.How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained!

Twenty years ago this September, thousands of delegates left the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on a high. The overwhelming feeling was that women had won a great victory. We had indeed – 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there.

If countries had lived up to all those promises, we would be seeing a lot more progress in equality today than the modest gains in some areas we are currently celebrating. We would be talking about equality for women across the board – and we might be talking about a saner, more evenly prosperous, more sustainably peaceful world.

Looking today at the slow and patchy progress towards equality, it seems that we were madly ambitious to expect to wipe out in 20 years a regime of gender inequality and outright oppression that had lasted in some cases for thousands of years.

Then again – was it really so much to ask? What sort of world is it that condemns half its population to second-class status at best and outright slavery at worst? How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained! If world leaders really saw the Beijing Platform for Action as an investment in their countries’ future, why didn’t they follow through?

Some women are taking a seat at the top table. There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. But the rest are men. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality has fallen by 45 per cent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 per cent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 per cent of women were in waged and salaried employment.  Today that proportion has grown to some 50 per cent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

This year marks a great opportunity for the world’s leaders, and a great challenge. When they meet at the United Nations in New York in September, they will have the opportunity to revisit and re-commit to the goals of Beijing.

Today, we call on those leaders to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development. We call on them to show an example in their own lives of how equality benefits everyone: man, woman and child. And we call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level to address the gender equality gaps that we know still persist.

We must have an end point in sight. Our aim is substantial action now, urgently frontloaded for the first five years, and equality before 2030. There is an urgent need to change the current trajectories. The poor representation of women in political and economic decision-making poses a threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality that men can and must be part of addressing.

If the world’s leaders join the world’s women this September; if they genuinely step up their action for equality, building on the foundation laid in the last 20 years; if they can make the necessary investments, build partnerships with business and civil society, and hold themselves accountable for results, it could be sooner.

Women will get to equality in the end. The only question is, why should we wait? So we’re celebrating International Women’s Day now, confident in the expectation that we will have still more to celebrate next year, and the years to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139423 Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

By Josh Butler
NEW YORK, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children – and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market."It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.” -- Kathy Spahn

Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.

“The area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,” Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.

“We’re teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.”

The programme, ‘Making Markets Work For Women,’ or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.

Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.

Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist – traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.

“HKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,” Spahn told IPS.

“We call the programme ‘enhanced homestead food production.’ With that, comes nutrition information. It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.”

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. While each household may only produce an amount too small to make market sale effective, joining forces with other women means each collective has a larger volume to sell.

“We want to build their capacity in business and marketing. We give them training on market research, demand, book-keeping, and organise the households into groups so they can aggregate their products,” Spahn said.

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

A group savings scheme is also offered, whereby women can place some of their income into a shared pool that any member can access for large expenses such as hospitalisation or replacement of packaging machinery.

“If something breaks down, we can’t replace it because that’s not sustainable. This is about development, not charity,” Spahn said.

M2W2 was originally a three-year pilot programme from 2009 to 2012, but received an extra injection of funds from the British government to continue until January.

“We are looking for more support to keep going,” Spahn said.

The programme’s outcomes are resounding. Spahn said of the 2,500 households involved, “nearly all” saw a 30 percent increase in income.

“When we started, everybody had a poor diet. Three years later, nobody did,” she said.

Eggs, a rich source of Vitamin A, helped address deficiency of that vitamin and vision problems associated with such deficiencies, but Spahn said the most powerful benefit was social, rather than physical.

“We found 90 percent of women had the sole decision over the money their raised. They were bargaining more efficiently, and feeling more empowered,” she said.

Empowerment and financial independence for women is one of the ideological pillars of Women Advancing Microfinancing New York. WAMNY board member Danielle LeBlanc said the microfinancing and social entrepreneurship can be among the simplest and most effective ways to advance the economic prospects of disenfranchised women in poorer countries.

“With an opportunity to earn income on their own, it helps women gain some independence and increase the financial sustainability of their families,” LeBlanc told IPS.

“When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their kids to school, improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family.”

LeBlanc said the term ‘microfinancing’ was a broad concept, viewed differently by many parties. She said governments consider it to be grants of under 50,000 dollars and that banks consider the threshold to be closer to 250,000, but LeBlanc said vast progress can be made with an initial outlay of as little as a few hundred dollars.

“In the U.S., microfinancing might help out street vendors like in New York City, or to fund home daycare centres, or even small businesses with shopfronts. Overseas, we can be talking about the very poor, like women selling goods by the roadside, farmers, or craft makers,” she said.

“To us, the increase in income for a family in poor countries might seem very small, but it makes a huge difference in their lives. It helps increase the nutrition of children, increases the standing of the woman in the family, or can put a tin roof on a thatched house.”

LeBlanc said the increase standing of women in the eyes of their husbands and their community is one of the most important benefits that such projects can offer.

“It changes from community to community, but when women start bringing income into their family, it increases their confidence and they move from being totally dependant on their husband to someone bringing income into the house,” she said.

“There is more respect there for the woman. It makes a huge difference.”

She said the M2W2 programme was selected for presentation at the WAMNY event on Tuesday because of its “holistic” approach to empowering women, benefiting families, and changing communities.

“It is working with various women’s issues, from joint savings programmes to technical assistance and increasing farming output,” she said. “It is getting women working together, to co-operate as a community. Projects like this encourage our members to think outside the box for how to work.”

At its core, M2W2 is a simple one – give seeds and tools to women, show them how to farm, and teach them how to sell their produce. But both Spahn and LeBlanc said that, in the field of microfinance, often the simplest ideas can have the most impressive outcomes.

“The key to whether a programme is successful isn’t necessarily the budget, it’s about whether it is based on a need. It needs clear communication with the community, if it is a programme they like and can use,” LeBlanc said.

Spahn said HKI is currently working on a project in African countries including Mozambique and Burkina Faso, helping women there to grow sweet potatoes to make into chips, bread and cookies – again, both to sell and to feed to their own families.

“We’ve always said, we should aim for complex problems and simple solutions. We want to take a problem apart, and find a solution that isn’t overwhelming,” Spahn said.

“The problem is in scaling things up, from one community to a nationwide programme. Once you have the solution, how do you reach the people hardest to reach? How do you take it past the village?”

Spahn said HKI hopes to institute the M2W2 programme in other other countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tobacco Workers in Cuba Dubious About Opening of U.S. Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:57:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139419 Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba , Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

“We have to wait and see,” “There isn’t a lot of talk about it,” are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.

“If the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,” said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y Martínez in the province of Pinar del Río, 180 km west of Havana.

The region of Vuelta Abajo, and the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez, San Luis, Guane and Pinar del Río in particular, combine ideal climate and soil conditions with a centuries-old farming culture to produce the world’s best premium hand-rolled cigars.

In this area alone, 15,940 hectares are planted every year in tobacco, Cuba’s fourth top export.

While continuing to hang tobacco leaves on the Rosario plantation, Borrego told IPS that “there is little talk” among the workers about how they might benefit if the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, is eased, as part of the current process of normalisation of bilateral ties.

Borrego said “it would be good” to break into the U.S. market, off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. And she said that raising the pay of day workers and growers would be an incentive for workers, “because there is a shortage of both female and male workers since people don’t like the countryside.”

Cuban habanos, rum and coffee represent a trade and investment opportunity for Havana and Washington, if bilateral ties are renewed in the process that on Friday Feb. 27 reached the second round of talks between representatives of the two countries.

Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a Dec. 17 reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties.

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Among the first measures approved by Washington to boost trade and ties between the two countries was the granting of permission to U.S. tourists to bring back 100 dollars worth of cigars and rum from Cuba.

But the sale of habanos in U.S. shops, where Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars reign, is still banned, and U.S. businesses are not allowed to invest in the local tobacco industry here.

Furthermore, the lifting of the U.S. embargo depends on the U.S. Congress, not the Obama administration.

In 2014, Tabacuba adopted a plan to double the production of tobacco leaves in the next five years, in the 15 Cuban provinces where over 16,000 producers, mainly private farmers or members of cooperative, produce tobacco.

Experts say that while Cuba stands out for the quality of its tobacco, it is not among the world’s biggest producers – which are China, the United States, Brazil, India and Turkey, in that order – nor is it among the countries with the highest yields –which are Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.

In fact, due to armed conflicts in different parts of the world, high import tariffs in Europe, and climate change in Cuba, the sales of the country’s cigar company, Habanos SA, fell one percent from 2013 to 2014, to 439 million dollars.

But when it happens, annual sales of habanos in the U.S. market are expected to climb to at least 250 million dollars, according to estimates by the only company that sells Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, a joint venture between the state-run Tabacuba and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

The corporation estimates that 150 million cigars from the 27 Cuban brands could be sold, once the U.S. market opens up.

The new permission for visitors to take home 100 dollars worth of cigars was called “symbolic” by Jorge Luis Fernández Maique, vice president of the Anglo-Cuban company, during the 17th Habanos Festival, which drew 1,650 participants from 60 nations Feb. 23-27 in Havana.

“The increase in sales in Cuba won’t be big,” the businessman forecast during the annual festival, which includes tours to tobacco plantations and factories, visits to auctions for humidors – a specially designed box for holding cigars – and art exhibits, and combined cigar, wine, rum and food tastings.

In its more than 140 locations worldwide, La Casa del Habano, an international franchise, sells a pack of 20 Cohiba Mini cigarrillos for 12 dollars, while a single habano cigar costs 50 dollars.

Premium cigars are the end result of a meticulous planting, selection, drying, curing, rolling and ageing process that involves thousands of humble, weathered hands like those of day worker Luis Camejo, who has dedicated eight of his 33 years to the tobacco harvest.

During the October to March harvest, Camejo picks tobacco leaves and hangs them in the shed on the Rosario plantation. Like the others, he is reticent when asked how he and his fellow workers could benefit from increased trade with the United States. “I wouldn’t know,” he told IPS.

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

He said he earns 1,200 Cuban pesos (50 dollars) a month during harvest season, and a bonus in convertible pesos after the plantation owner sells the tobacco to the state-run companies.

That is more than the average of 19 dollars a month earned by employees of the state, by far the largest employer in this Caribbean island nation. But it is not enough to cover people’s needs, given that food absorbs 59 to 75 percent of the family budget, according to the Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

“To reach a dominant position in markets, we have to grow from below, that is, in quality and yield, because Vuelta Abajo isn’t growing,” said Iván Máximo Pérez, the owner of the 5.4-hectare Rosario plantation, which produces 2.5 tons of tobacco leaves per hectare. “In terms of production, the sky is our limit,” he told IPS with a smile.

In his view, “tobacco is profitable to the extent that the producer is efficient.”

“The current harvests even allow me to afford some luxuries,” he admitted.

He said he continues to plant tobacco because “it’s a sure thing, since the state buys everything we produce, at fixed prices based on quality.”

Pérez, known as “El Gallego” (the Galician) among his people, because of his northern Spanish ancestry, is using new technologies on his farm, where he employs 10 men and eight women and belongs to one of the credit and services cooperatives that produce for the tobacco companies.

He has his own modern seedbed, is getting involved in conservation agriculture, plants different varieties of tobacco, uses organic fertiliser, and has cut insecticide use to 30 percent.

“I never thought I’d reach the yields I’m obtaining now,” he said. “Applying science and different techniques has made me see tobacco in a different light.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Rousseff’s Brazil – No Country for the Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139404 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, some 200,000 peasant farmers still have no plot of their own to farm – a problem that the first administration of President Dilma Rousseff did little to resolve.

In its assessment of the situation in the 2011-2014 period, the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found the worst progress in that period in terms of agrarian reform in the last 20 years, one of the church-based organisation’s coordinators, Isolete Wichinieski, told IPS.

“Historically, there has been a high concentration of land in Brazil,” she said. But what is worrisome, she added, is that during the first presidency of Rousseff, whose second term started on Jan. 1, 2015, “land ownership has become even more concentrated.”

“There was a fall in the numbers of new rural settlements and of land titling in indigenous territories and ‘quilombos’ (communities of the descendants of African slaves), while on the other hand, investment in agribusiness and agro-industry grew,” said Wichinieski.

Social movements had hoped that Rousseff, who belongs to the left-wing Workers’ Party like her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), would take up the banner of democratisation of land ownership.

But her government’s economic policies have focused on incentives for agribusiness and agro-industry, mining and major infrastructure projects.

According to the CPT report, during the first Rousseff administration (2011-2014), 103,746 families were granted land under the government’s agrarian reform programme. But that figure is actually misleading, because in 73 percent of the cases, the land settlement process was already in progress before the president took office, and the families had already been counted in previous years.

If only the new families settled on plots of their own during Rousseff’s first administration are counted, the total shrinks to 28,000.

The government reported that in 2014 it regularised the situation of just 6,289 families – a number considered insignificant by the CPT.

Since 1995 agrarian reform was given a new boost, with the creation of a special ministry answering directly to the president, and other legal instruments, largely due to the intense lobbying and protests throughout the country by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

As a result, during the presidency of Luis Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), 540,704 families were given land, and 614,088 were settled on farms during Lula’s two terms (2003-2011), according to the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which reported that 9,128 rural settlements have been created since 2000.

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

In order for land reform to be effective, the CPT argues, more settlements must be created and the concentration of rural property ownership must be reduced in this country of 202 million people. But the organisation does not believe Rousseff is moving in that direction, Wichinieski said.

Agrarian reform was not on the agenda of the campaign that led to the president’s reelection in October, and the new government includes names from the powerful rural caucus in Congress, which represents agribusiness and agro-industry.

The agriculture minister is former senator Kátia Abreu, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture. She surprised people when she stated in a Feb. 5 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that there are no “latifundium” or large landed estates in Brazil.

“Abreu has backwards, outdated views of agriculture,” complained Wichinieski. “She denies that there is forced labour in the countryside, she isn’t worried about preserving the environment, and she argues in favour of the intensive use of agrochemicals in food production.”

The conflict over land has intensified, according to the CPT, with the expansion of livestock-raising and monoculture farming of soy, sugarcane, maize and cotton, and growing speculation by large landowners with close ties to politicians.

A typical case

One example is the case of the 20,000-hectare Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from the national capital, Brasilia, in the state of Goiás, part of which has been occupied by families belonging to the MST.

The property belongs to Senator Eunício Oliveira, considered the wealthiest candidate for governor in Brazil in the last elections.

In the Senate, Oliveira heads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Rousseff’s main ally in Congress. He served as communications minister under Lula in 2004-2005 and last year lost the elections for governor of the state of Ceará.

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Valdir Misnerovicz, one of the leaders of the MST, told IPS that the estate is unproductive and that its only purpose at this time is land speculation.

Strategically located between the municipalities of Alexânia, Abadiânia and Corumbá, Santa Mônica represents the largest land occupation by the MST in the last 15 years.

It all started on Aug. 31, when 3,000 families marched on foot and in 1,800 vehicles to the estate, part of which they occupied.

Since then, more than 2,000 men, women, children and elderly persons have been living in a camp and control 400 hectares of the estate. They are determined to win a portion of the land to farm.

This is one of the MST’s strategies, said Misnerovicz. “We occupy large areas of unproductive land. In the camp we grow a variety of food like green leafy vegetables, manioc, maize, rice, beans and squash. All of the families plant healthy food in chemical-free agroecological community gardens,” he said.

The tents in the Dom Tomás Balduíno camp were set up on the bank of a river that cuts across the estate, which comprises 90 different properties that the senator purchased over the last two decades.

“The day we got there, they tried to keep us out but there were thousands of us. We are never armed. Our strength is in the number of peasants who accompany us,” said Misnerovicz.

In November, a court ruled that Oliveira has the right to recover the property. But the MST leader is confident that despite the risk that the families will be evicted, they will be successful in their bid for the Santa Mônica estate to be expropriated under the land reform programme.

Misnerovicz said the government itself has encouraged the families occupying the land to continue negotiating.

“Then it would be possible, after a year, to make the biggest rural settlement in recent times in Brazil. We were with the president in January, who committed to a plan with targets for settling (MST) families camped around the country,” he said.

INCRA has avoided taking a public position on this specific case. But it pointed out that, by law, “all of the occupied properties are off-limits for inspections to evaluate the situation with a view to agrarian reform.”

The administrator of Santa Mônica, Ricardo Augusto, told IPS that the occupied area is productive agricultural property where soy, maize and beans are grown.

“The purchase of the property was notarised. The MST is not telling the truth. We advocate a negotiated, peaceful solution. Productive, occupied land can’t be expropriated, and there is no interest in selling the property,” he said.

But João Pedro, who was granted a plot of land in a municipality near Santa Mônica, sees things very differently.

During a Feb. 21 demonstration in favour of the occupation, near the camp, the farmer said the families camping there were merely seeking the enforcement of Brazil’s laws: “the land has a social function, and that’s all we want – for the constitution to be applied.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Better to Die at Sea, than Languish in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:31:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139349 For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.

The Sri Lankan youth in his early twenties was not too worried that the arrangement meant he had to make a clandestine journey in the middle of the night to a beach, board a two-decade-old trawler with dozens of others and be ready to spend up to three weeks on the high seas in a vessel designed to carry loads of fish.

“Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities." -- Human Rights Watch
He and his fellow commuters prayed that the boat would not crack in two before it reached Australian waters, where they all expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

Rangana told IPS that most of the roughly three-dozen people on board were leaving in search of better economic prospects, though members of the minority Tamil community are known to take the same journey to escape political persecution.

The boat ride was the relatively easy part. After reaching Australia, Rangana would have to seek asylum, land a job and secure an income, before beginning the process of bringing his family there to join him.

“At least, that was the plan,” said the young man who was a contract employee of the state-owned Ceylon Transport Board in the remote village of Angunakolapelessa in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota District earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees (about 90 dollars) when he took the boat ride.

Half of the plan – the life-threatening part – worked. The other part – the life-changing one – did not.

Despite a leaking hull, the vessel did reach Australian waters, but was apprehended by the Australian Navy, newly emboldened by a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers after fast-tracked processing at sea, sometimes reportedly involving no more than a single phone call with a border official.

By mid-September Rangana was back in Sri Lanka, at the southern port city of Galle where he and dozens of others who were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities were facing court action.

Thankfully he did not have to spend days inside a police cell or weeks in prison. He was bailed out on 5,000 rupees (about 45 dollars), a stiff sum for his family who barely make 40,000 rupees (about 300 dollars) a month.

Now he sits at home with no job and no savings – having sunk about 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) into his spot on the rickety fishing boat – and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.

“Life is hard, but maybe I can get to Australia some day. I did get to the territorial waters; does that mean I have some kind of legal right to seek citizenship there?” he asks, oblivious to the tough policies of the Australian administration towards immigrants like himself.

Clamping down on ‘illegal’ entry

Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 following the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea, including the one on which Rangana was traveling, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Last year only one boat reached Australia, according to the government.

The programme has resulted in a significant drop in the number of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Compared to the one boat that reached Australia in 2014, the 2012-2013 period saw 25,173 persons reaching the country safely.

In the 10 months prior to the controversial military programme, 281 unauthorized boats arrived with a total of 19,578 people on board, according to the Australian Department of Immigration.

Just this past week, Australian authorities interviewed four Sri Lankans at sea, and sent them back to the island. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused.

“The Coalition government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme. Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement this week.

As of end-January, there were 2,298 persons in immigration detention facilities in Australia, of whom 8.1 percent were Sri Lankans.

The policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, including by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“UNHCR’s position is that they (asylum seekers) must be swiftly and individually screened, in a process which they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs. Such screening is best carried out on land, given safety concerns and other limitations of doing so at sea,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month.

According to the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, “Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities.

“The government has muted its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in recent years, apparently in hopes of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies,” the rights group added in a statement released last month.

The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil conflict and the election of a new, possibly more democratic government in January this year add to Canberra’s justification for turning away those who seek shelter within its borders.

In reality, the risk for asylum seekers is still high. Newly appointed Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told IPS that the government was yet to discuss any changes to accepting returnees. “They will face legal action; change in such a policy is not a priority right now,” he added.

Lawyers working with asylum seekers say their clients are unlikely to face extended jail terms, but could be slapped with fines of up to 100,000 rupees (750 dollars), still a lot of money for poor families.

Even if the legal process is swift, and those impounded are able to post bail, their reasons for wanting to leave remain the same.

Take the case of Kanan*, a young man from the war-torn northern town of Kilinochchi. He took a boat in August 2013 after paying a 750-dollar fee, agreeing to pay the remaining 6,750 dollars once he reached Australia.

He never even made it halfway. Six days into the journey, the boat broke down and was towed ashore by the Sri Lankan Navy.

He was fleeing poverty – his home district boasts unemployment rates over twice the national figure of four percent – and possible political persecution, not an unusual occurrence among the Tamil community both during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war.

He knows that very few have gotten to the Australian mainland and that even those whose cases have been deemed legitimate could end up in the Pacific islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

But Kanan still hopes to give his ‘boat dream’ another try. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says the unemployed youth.

*Name changed on request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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UN at 70: Mega-Cities, Mortality and Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:43:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139346 The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

As the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, one question worthy of some reflection is: Is world population better or worse off demographically since the establishment of the U.N.?

Some contend that the demography of today’s world population is markedly better than it was seven decades ago. Others argue that humanity is definitely worse off demographically and still others – often sceptics and cynics – feel it is neither better nor worse, but just different.This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

To consider the merits of those various perspectives and distinguish between personal opinions and measurable facts, it is useful and appropriate to dispassionately examine some fundamental demographic changes that have occurred to world population since the middle of the 20th century.

Perhaps the most visible demographic change is the increased size of world population, which now at 7.3 billion is five billion larger than at the time of the U.N.’s founding.

While world population has more than tripled in size, considerable variation has taken place across regions. Some populations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, have increased 500 percent or more over the past seven decades.

In contrast, other populations, such as those in Europe, increased by 40 percent or less over that time span.

The growth of world population, around 1.8 percent per year at mid 20th century, peaked at 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. The current annual rate of global population growth is 1.1 percent, the lowest since the U.N.’s founding.

In terms of absolute numbers, world population was adding approximately 47 million per year in 1950. The annual increase nearly doubled to a peak of 91 million in the late 1980s and then began declining to its current level of 81 million.

An important consequence of the differential rates of demographic growth globally has been the shift in the geographic distribution of world population. Whereas 70 years ago about one-third of world population resided in more developed regions, today that proportion is about half that level or 17 percent.

Also noteworthy are the regional demographic shifts that have occurred. For example, while Europe and Africa at mid 20th century accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent of world population, respectively, their current proportions are 10 percent for Europe and 16 percent for Africa.

Perhaps the most welcomed demographic change in world population that has taken place is the decline in mortality levels, including infant, child and maternal death rates.

During the past 70 years, the global infant mortality rate fell from approximately 140 to 40 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The improvements in mortality across all age groups have resulted in an average life expectancy at birth for the world of 70 years, a gain of some 25 years since 1950.

Another remarkable transformation in world population over the past seven decades is the decline in fertility.

As a result of men and women gaining unprecedented control over the number, spacing and timing of their children, global fertility has decreased significantly from an average of about 5 births per woman at mid-20th century to 2.5 births per woman today.

Due to the declines in fertility as well as mortality, the age structure of world population has aged markedly. Over the past seven decades, the median age of world population has increased by six years, i.e., from 24 to 30 years.

In addition, the elderly proportion aged 80 years or older has tripled during this time period, increasing from about 0.5 to 1.6 percent.

The sex composition of world population has been relatively balanced and stable over the recent past, with a global sex ratio of around 100 -102 males for every 100 females.

Although slightly more boys are born than girls, many countries, especially the more developed, have more females than males due to lower female mortality rates.

Notable exceptions to that general pattern are China and India, whose population sex ratios are approximately 107 males per 100 females due in part to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses.

Whereas the sex ratio at birth of most countries is around 105 males per 100 females, it is 117 in China and 111 in India, markedly higher than their ratios in the past.

Increased urbanisation is another significant demographic transformation in world population. A literal revolution in urban living has occurred across the planet during the past seven decades.

Whereas a minority of world population, 30 percent, lived in urban areas in 1950, today the majority of the world, 54 percent, consists of urban dwellers. The migration to urban places took place across all regions, with many historically rural, less developed countries, such as China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey, rapidly transformed to predominantly urban societies.

Another striking demographic change in world population is the emergence of mega-cities — agglomerations of 10 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, there was a single city in this category: New York, with 12.3 million inhabitants.

Today there are 28 mega-cities, with Tokyo being the largest at 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million and Mexico City, Mumbai and San Paulo each with approximately 21 million.

In addition to internal movements within nations, international migration across countries and regions has also increased markedly over the past decades. A half-century ago 77 million or nearly 3 percent of world population were immigrants, meaning they live in a place different from their place of birth. That figure has tripled to 232 million, representing slightly more than 3 percent of world population.

While most of the international migration is lawful, increasing numbers of men, women and children are choosing due to circumstance and desire to immigrate outside legal channels.

And while precise figures of migrants unlawfully resident are difficult to establish, the total number worldwide is estimated at least 50 million.

The numbers of refugees have also increased substantially during the recent past. At mid-20th century, an estimated one million people remained uprooted following the world war.

In the early 1990s the number of refugees peaked at around 18 million. Latest estimates put the global number of refugees at 16.7 million and growing.

Also, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict, which includes refugees, asylum seekers and internal displaced persons, has reached 51.2 million, the first time it has exceeded 50 million since the World War II.

From the above discussion, most would probably agree that while some aspects of world population are clearly better today than 70 years ago, others are not necessarily better and still others are decidedly worse.

Lower mortality rates and people living longer lives are certainly welcomed improvements. Men and women having the ability to decide more easily and freely the number, spacing and timing of births has also been an advance.

The logical consequence of lower mortality and fertility is population aging, a remarkable achievement that will, however, require major societal adjustments.

The scale of refugees and internally displaced person is plainly worse than a half century ago. The growing numbers and difficult circumstances of those fleeing their homes are unlikely to improve in the near future given the increasing political upheaval, ongoing civil conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions in many parts of the world.

Finally, the unprecedented growth of world population – the most rapid in human history –added about 5 billion more people since the mid 20th century.

This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

The recent declines in world population growth provide some indication of future demographic stabilisation or peaking, perhaps as early as the close of the 21st century.

At that time, would population is expected to be about 10 billion, 2.5 billion more than today or four times as many people as were living on the planet when the United Nations was founded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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At the Margins of a Hot War, Somalis Are ‘Hanging on by a Thread’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 11:14:14 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139313 Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

After twin suicide bombings at a popular Mogadishu hotel last week that killed 25 and wounded 40, news reporters were seen swarming through the city, spotlighting the victims, the assassins, the motives and the official response.

This left actor Barkhad Abdi, who played opposite Tom Hanks in the movie Captain Phillip and was making his first visit to Somalia since age seven, unlikely to have the usual paparazzi following his every move.Ordinary Somalis have been facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

Yet Abdi, a Goodwill Ambassador for Adeso, a Kenya-based development charity, was there to bring attention to the plight of ordinary Somalis, facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

The money – over a quarter of a billion dollars from the U.S. alone – comes from families in the diaspora, the charity Oxfam America reports.

“The small amounts of money that members of the Somali diaspora send their loved ones comprise Somalia’s most important source of revenue,” wrote OxfamAmerica on its website. “Remittances to Somalia represent between 25 and 45 percent of its economy and are greater than humanitarian aid, development aid, and foreign direct investment combined.

“Remittances empower women and help give young men alternatives to fighting in armed groups. The money is the country’s lifeline.”

Because Somalia lacks a formal banking system, small companies were established, run by money transfer operators who could safely and legally deliver money to relatives and friends in Somalia. These companies used bank accounts to wire the money but most of those banks have shut down including the California-based Merchants Bank just last month.

According to the banks, around one percent of money transfer firms could not be properly investigated and pass due diligence checks by the federal currency control office. Yet this decision ignored the 99 percent of money transfer businesses which have been operating in this sector for decades.

Most money wired to Somalia originates in the U.S.

The move by Merchants Bank to pull the plug on the money transfer network could force law-abiding U.S.-based Somalis to choose between three options, according to Professor Laura Hammond of the UK School of Oriental and African Studies.

“They can stop sending money to their relatives living in the Horn of Africa. They can try to find alternative legal channels, but as a result are likely to be charged much higher transfer rates, reducing the amount of money their relatives receive. Or they can use unregulated and illegal ways to send money.”

Opinion writer George Monbiot put it more strongly. The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which triggered the bank closings, is, he charged: “The world’s most powerful terrorist recruiting sergeant… Its decision to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the poorest, most troubled places on Earth could resonate around the world for decades.

“During the 2011 famine in Somalia, British Somalis saved hundreds of thousands of lives by remitting money … reaching family members before aid agencies could mobilise,” he wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

“Government aid agencies then used the same informal banking system – the hawala – to send money to 1.5 million people, saving hundreds of thousands more. Today, roughly 3 million of Somalia’s 7 million people are short of food. Shut off the funds and the results are likely to be terrible.

“Money transfers from abroad also pay for schooling, housing, business start-ups and all the means by which a country can lift itself out of dependency and chaos,” he continued. “Yes, banking has its uses, as well as its abuses. Compare this pointless destruction with the US government’s continued licensing of HSBC.”

Alternative, if more expensive, means of sending money legally, for instance through Western Union, are possible for some but not for people sending money to smaller towns and rural areas in Somalia and other parts of the Horn, where Western Union and smaller companies that still send remittances do not have a presence.

Instead, according to Oxfam, a large proportion of the 200 million dollars sent from the U.S. to Somalia each year will be forced underground. People will send money the way they did before Somali money transfer companies were formed: in cash, stashed in bags and pockets, or in other ways that will be impossible to track.

Meanwhile, as Abdi made a tour of his country of birth to see the impact of the diaspora dollars, he came in for a shock.

“Based on what you hear on the news, I expected to see a shattered country,” Abdi recalled from his visit. “But what I saw instead was a place full of resilience, entrepreneurship and hope.”

Accompanied by his sponsor, the Nairobi-based Adeso service agency, he said he met with young men who were learning how to become electricians to take part of the rebuilding of their country, and with women who were using newly acquired skills to come together and open successful businesses.

“When I was in Somalia I didn’t just see conflict, drought, and hunger,” Abdi said. “I saw people building a better future for themselves. And part of the reason why they’ve been able to do so is because of the remittances they receive from overseas. Let’s not threaten that lifeline and risk reversing all the gains that are being made.”

Hawala is one of Africa’s great success stories, wrote Monbiot. “But it can’t work unless banks in donor nations are permitted to transfer funds to Somalia.”

The report, “Hanging on by a Thread,” by Oxfam, Adeso and the Global Center on Cooperative Security, can be found on the Oxfam website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Analysis: Economic Growth Is Not Enoughhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-economic-growth-is-not-enough/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:39:21 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139299 A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

A shantytown in Guatemala. UNDP estimates suggest that more than 1.5 million people in the Latin American region will fall into poverty by the end of 2015. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
NEW YORK, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Recent new data show a worrying picture of Latin America and the Caribbean. Income poverty reduction has stagnated and the number of poor has risen — for the first time in a decade — according to recent figures from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This means that three million women and men in the region fell into poverty between 2013 and 2014. Given the projected economic growth for this year, at 1.3 percent according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures, our U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates suggest that in 2015, more than 1.5 million people will also fall into poverty by the end of this year.We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

They could be coming from the nearly 200 million vulnerable people in the region — those who are neither poor (living on less than four dollars a day) nor have risen to the middle classes (living on 10-50 dollars a day). Their incomes are right above the poverty line but still too prone to falling into poverty as soon as a major crisis hits, as another recent UNDP study showed.

Up and down the poverty line

Our analysis shows a clear pattern: what determines people to be “lifted from poverty” (quality education and employment) is different from what “avoids their fallback into poverty” (existence of social safety nets and household assets).

This gap suggests that, alone, more economic growth is not enough to build “resilience”, or the ability to absorb external shocks, such as financial crisis or natural disasters, without major social and economic losses. We need to invest in the skills and assets of the poor and vulnerable — tasks that may take years, and in many cases, an entire generation.

Exclusion beyond income

We simulated what would happen if the region grew during 2017-2020 at the same rate as it did during the last decade — that is 3.9 percent annually — yet our estimates show that fewer people in Latin America and the Caribbean would be lifted from poverty than in the previous decade.

While an average of 6.5 million women and men in the region left poverty every year during 2003 and 2012, only about 2.6 million a year would leave poverty behind (earning more than four dollars a day) between 2017 and 2020.

Clearly, ‘more of the same’ in terms of growth — and public policies — will no longer yield ‘more of the same’ in poverty and inequality reduction, according to our analysis. There are two reasons: easy sources of increased wages are declining and fiscal resources, crucial to expand social safety nets, have shrunk.

What lies ahead are harder challenges: addressing exclusion, discrimination and historical inequalities that are not explained by income alone.

Fundamentally, progress is a multidimensional concept and cannot simply reflect the idea of living with less or more than four or 10 dollars a day. Wellbeing means more than income, not a consumerist standard of what a “good life” entails.

These are central elements to our next Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, which we are now preparing. It will also include policy recommendations that help decision makers lead an agenda that not only focuses on growth recovery and structural adjustment, but also redefines what is progress, development and social change in a region of massive inequalities and emerging and vulnerable middle classes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Deadly Asbestos Still Costing Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:36:48 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139223 Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

“I would get asbestos in my mouth, spit it out and carry on working,” said 52-year-old Francisco Padilla. Exposure to this deadly mineral fibre over most of his working life has resulted in cancer and the removal of his left lung, the lung lining and part of his diaphragm.

Sitting on the sofa in his home in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, Padilla told Tierramérica with watering eyes that he has always looked after his health and has never smoked.

He used to cycle to and from the workshop where he has worked since the age of 18, until in May 2014 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive malignant tumor linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, and had to undergo radical surgery three months ago.“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos....its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced.” -- Activist Francisco Puche

The use of asbestos, a low-cost fire retardant and insulating material, was banned in Spain in 2002. Previously, however, it was widely used in construction, shipbuilding, and the steel, automotive and railway industries, among others.

Workers in these industries were at risk of contracting mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, whose symptoms could take 20 to 40 years to develop.

“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos. It is the great unknown factor, and its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced,” activist Francisco Puche of Málaga Amianto Cero, an anti-asbestos alliance, told Tierramérica.

Puche believes Europe should have “a plan for safe asbestos removal,” because the risk continues in spite of the bans.

He pointed out several water tanks made of cement containing asbestos fibres on the rooftop of a building in a central Málaga square, and warned that in their everyday lives, people are caught in a hazardous “spiderweb” of asbestos.

It is present in thousands of kilometres of water pipes, public and private buildings, warehouses, tunnels, machinery, ships and trains, although it is being progressively replaced by other materials.

Puche warned of the dangers involved in the deterioration and modification of structures containing asbestos, which breaks down into rigid microscopic fibrils that accumulate in the body by inhalation or ingestion.

TA Spain 2

Asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the 28 members of the European Union, Argentina, Chile, Honduras and Uruguay. But more than two million tonnes a year are still being extracted worldwide, mainly in China, India, Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.

Every year 107,000 people worldwide die of lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO estimates that 125 million people are in contact with asbestos in the workplace, and attributes thousands of other deaths a year to indirect contact with the material in the home.

“The asbestos issue shows the true face of a system that is only interested in profits,” said Puche, who is critical of “big business,” powerful lobbies linked to asbestos mining, and the “impunity” surrounding the illness and death of workers in Europe and around the world.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former CEO of Eternit, a family business that set up asbestos factories across the globe in the 20th century, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison and payment of nearly one million euros (1.14 million dollars) in damages to thousands of victims. However his sentence was overturned by Italy’s highest court on Nov. 19, on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

“The other day I heard that a retired workmate of mine had died of mesothelioma,” José Antonio Martínez, the head of the Málaga Asbestos Victims’ Association (AVIDA Málaga), told Tierramérica.

Many workers die before the occupational nature of their ailment is recognised, and they are deprived of their right to disability pensions and compensation for damages.

Francisco González , a worker with the state railway company RENFE, died in 2005 at the age of 55 from mesothelioma. His daughter Anabel told Tierramérica that she and her mother finally achieved an indemnity payment after “a long struggle, without any help and against many obstacles.”

Being vindicated was more important than the money,” she said, even though it took five years after her father’s death.

In Spain and other countries, asbestos victims and their families are forming associations for information, mutual support and justice. AVIDA Málaga was created in June 2014; it has nearly 200 members, and is part of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Asbestos Victims.

Victims are demanding the creation of a compensation fund for those affected, like ones that have been set up in Belgium and France, paid for by the state and the companies concerned, which often refuse to shoulder responsibility retroactively.

Asbestos was used for decades in more than 3,000 products, so even today plumbers, electricians, building demolition and maintenance workers and car mechanics may come across this hazardous material in the course of their jobs, facing health risks if they fail to take precautions.

Padilla, who has a 29-year-old son, is still waiting for confirmation of his occupational injury pension and plans to claim compensation. By law, he has up to one year to do so from May 2014, when he was diagnosed with an ailment on the list of occupational diseases.

His company recognised his cancer as a work-related illness without his having to resort to litigation. This made legal history in Spain, where many people die without getting justice.

Padilla had chemotherapy before his major surgery, and is now undergoing radiotherapy. His wife, Pepi Reyes, who attends these sessions with him, has been advised by the doctor to have medical tests herself, because she handled her husband’s work clothes for years.

A study by the European Union reports that half a million people are expected to die of mesothelioma and lung cancer by 2030, due to occupational exposure to asbestos in the 1980s and 1990s. The study analyses mortality in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Francisco Báez, a former worker for the transnational company Uralita in the southern Spanish city of Seville, is the author of the book “Amianto: un genocidio impune” (Asbestos: an unpunished genocide). He complained to Tierramérica about the double standards applied by countries that prohibit the material within their borders, yet abroad “they promote its use and profit financially from the installation and maintenance of asbestos sector industries.”

Padilla opened a window in his home and pointed out the corrugated asbestos cement roofs of the warehouses opposite. Afterwards he brought out his mobile phone and showed a photo of his long operation scar, all along his left side, and said he feels lucky to be alive.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Maimed by Conflict, Forgotten by Peace: Life Through the Eyes of the War-Disabledhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/maimed-by-conflict-forgotten-by-peace-life-through-the-eyes-of-the-war-disabled/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maimed-by-conflict-forgotten-by-peace-life-through-the-eyes-of-the-war-disabled http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/maimed-by-conflict-forgotten-by-peace-life-through-the-eyes-of-the-war-disabled/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:22:08 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139203 A woman on crutches walks past a row of shops in northern Sri Lanka, where over 110,000 people disabled by war struggle along with very little official assistance. Credit: Amantha Perera

A woman on crutches walks past a row of shops in northern Sri Lanka, where over 110,000 people disabled by war struggle along with very little official assistance. Credit: Amantha Perera

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Sri Lanka, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

It is a hot, steamy day in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District. Mid-day temperatures are reaching 34 degrees Celsius, and the tarred road is practically melting under the sun.

Sarojini Tangarasa is finding it hard to walk on her one bare foot. Her hands constantly shake and she has to balance on a crutch. “I am just trying to get to my daughter’s house,” she says.

Her destination is just two km away, but it feels like a lifetime to Tangarasa, who cannot afford any form of transport, or even shoes.

“It has been hard and it will be the same till I die." -- Sarojini Tangarasa, a war-disabled resident of Sri Lanka's Northern Province
The last 25 years of this 58-year-old grandmother’s life have been ones of daily struggle. A resident of Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged Northern Province, Tangarasa’s left leg was amputated in 2001 after she was injured in a skirmish.

Worse was to follow in 2008 when she, her husband and her four children fled the fighting that erupted in the Mannar District between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a guerilla army fighting to carve out a separate state in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

The family would be on the run for almost a year and a half, before spending an equal length of time in a centre for the displaced after the 26-year-long civil war finally ended in May 2009.

Tangarasa was injured in a shell attack in 2008. The head injuries have left her with trembling hands and a slur when she speaks. “It has been hard and it will be the same till I die,” Tangarasa contends, as she slowly recommences her journey, the sun beating mercilessly down on her.

Thousands of miles away, the story of 33-year-old Chandra Bahadur Pun Magar, a former Maoist fighter from the Dang District in southwest Nepal, follows a similar trajectory.

This father of three, including a two-and-a-half-year-old baby girl, lost a leg in a landmine blast in 2002 when he was just 20, four years before the end of the country’s two-decade-long civil war between government armed forces and Maoist guerillas.

Now his biggest worries are how he will replace his miserable prosthetic leg, nearly a decade old, and provide for his family.

He chose a life as a dairy farmer after the war and now struggles every day. “I need to walk a lot and it is tearing my artificial leg apart. I heard a new leg costs 40,000 [Nepali] rupees (about 400 dollars).

“I don’t have the money, but my limb hurts during summer and winter, morning and night. Both cold and hot weather are bad for my injured leg,” he tells IPS.

Nepal’s Peace and Reconstruction Ministry estimates that there are 4,305 war disabled in the country, but some experts suspect that the figure could be closer to 6,000. Even at the highest estimate, the number seems manageable compared to Sri Lanka’s post-war burden.

The Sri Lanka Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled estimates that over 110,000 were left disabled by three decades of civil conflict. The bulk of the war-disabled lives in the northern and eastern provinces, which bore the brunt of nearly 30 years of fighting.

In both countries, generations of war have piled hundreds of problems on top of one another; in both places, the war-disabled have been relegated to the bottom of the pile.

For those like Magar peace has not brought much respite.

Soon after his debilitating injury, the young man received treatment in India, funded by his party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Afterwards, he lived in a commune where support for the Maoists was strong.

Soon after the signing of the 2006 Peace Accords, which marked the PLA’s transition to mainstream politics, Magar received a prosthetic leg from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the option of a retirement package of between 500,000 and 800,000 Nepali rupees (5,000 to 8,000 dollars).

He chose to buy a plot of land and attempt to make a living as a farmer, but this was easier said than done.

He gets an allowance of about 6,000 rupees (roughly 60 dollars) each month, and supplements it by selling dairy products, but the joint income is scarcely enough to put food on the table.

“It is not enough to support my family; everything is expensive these days and I am the only breadwinner. It would have been different if I had been an able-bodied person,” he laments.

He also accuses his former party of neglecting those like him who have been injured. Indeed, the disabled here are disproportionately represented within the 30-40 percent of Nepal’s population living in poverty.

The same refrain of neglect and misery can be heard all across northern Sri Lanka. The tale of Rasalingam Sivakumar, a 33-year-old former fighter with the separatist LTTE, is almost identical to that of Magar.

Sivakumar was injured in the eye in January 2009, as the war drew near to its bloody climax, and is partially blind now. He cycles miles everyday to sell poultry produce in his native town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the northern Mullaithivu District.

The father of two kids aged one and seven years old, Sivakumar did receive some assistance – amounting to about 50,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (roughly 450 dollars) – through a programme run by the ICRC, which also served some 350 other disabled persons across Sri Lanka last year.

The sum is barely enough for a family of four to survive on for two months in Sri Lanka. Since then, he says, it has been a constant struggle to make ends meet.

Records maintained by local government bodies in the north indicated that unemployment among the disabled was as high as 16 percent in 2014, four times the national figure of four percent. Activists suggest that the real figure is much higher, since only those persons who went through official rehabilitation programmes were surveyed.

Vellayan Subramaniyam, president of the Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Handicapped in Sri Lanka’s northern Vavuniya District, who has also toured Nepal, says that neglect of the disabled is a combination of a lack of policies, and discriminatory social attitudes.

“We live in cultures that treat the disabled as not differently-abled, but as a burden. And post-conflict policy makers work in that conundrum. The disabled are relegated to the sidelines until someone from [that same community] reaches a decision-making position,” the activist contends.

Until government policies take into account the disabled, arguably among the most marginalised members of society, those like Sarojini Tangarasa will continue to plod along a lonely road without much hope for a better future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Millennium Development Goals: A Mixed Report Card for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/millennium-development-goals-a-mixed-report-card-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millennium-development-goals-a-mixed-report-card-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/millennium-development-goals-a-mixed-report-card-for-india/#comments Sat, 14 Feb 2015 13:12:08 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139191 India is home to one-fourth of the world’s poor. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India is home to one-fourth of the world’s poor. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being one of the world’s fastest expanding economies, projected to clock seven-percent GDP growth in 2017, India – a nation of 1.2 billion – is trailing behind on many vital social development indices while also hosting one-fourth of the world’s poor.

While the United Nations prepares to wrap up a decade-and-a-half of poverty alleviation efforts, framed through the lens of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by the end of this year, the international community has its eyes on the future.

"A focus on accelerating sustainable, inclusive and balanced growth is key to poverty eradication." -- Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Social Research (CSR)
The coming development era will be centred on sustainability, driven by targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Home to one-sixth of the world’s population, India’s actions will determine to a great extent global efforts to lift millions out of destitution in the coming years.

Experts say its patchy progress on the MDGs offers some insights into how the country will both assist and hold back global development efforts in the post-2015 era.

Earlier this month the U.N. released a report lauding India’s efforts to half the number of poor people living within its borders to the current 270 million since the country joined hands with 189 U.N. member states to draft the MDGs 15 years ago.

While making strides in poverty reduction, India is also on track to achieve gender parity at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels on the education front by the year’s end though it lags significantly on the goal of empowering its women.

“The proportion of women working in decent jobs outside agriculture remains low; their participation in the overall labour force is also low and declining in rural areas; women in farming are constrained by lack of land ownership; and women are poorly represented in parliament,” the U.N. report stated.

The report recommends a continued emphasis on increasing both growth and social spending. However, experts point out this will be a significant challenge against the backdrop of India’s new Hindu nationalist government slashing social sector spending by about 30 percent in the supplementary budget.

Wretched poverty persists

The allocation for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), an initiative to provide employment to all adult members of poor Indian families for five dollars per day, is now the lowest it has been in five years.

Despite robust economic growth, scenes of destitution are visible all throughout India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Despite robust economic growth, scenes of destitution are visible all throughout India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By the end of last year, state governments had reported a drop of 45-percent in funds allocated by the Centre, from 240 billion to 130 billion rupees (3.8 million to 2.1 million dollars) – the sharpest decline since the scheme’s inception in 2005.

India needs to balance its economic growth while tackling poverty as the latter can considerably erode the progress achieved from high GDP numbers, say economists.

“Removing poverty is clearly the most important of the goals as it has clear linkages to the other MDGs,” Delhi-based economist Parvati Singhal, a visiting professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IPS.

“It needs to be central to the post-2015 development agenda. Higher income resulting from growth is the best panacea for poverty […],” Singhal elaborated.

According to Sabyasachi Kar, associate professor at the Institute of Economic Growth, with the University of Delhi, a major reason for continuing poverty in India is the country’s below-par industrial growth, which scuppers job creation.

“Programmes like NREGA and food-for-work programmes are at best safety nets that will keep people from starving. We need robust growth in the industrial and manufacturing sectors to generate employment and alleviate poverty while raising incomes permanently.

“Effective domestic resource mobilisation and incentivising the private sector to invest in sustainable green technologies will also help to tackle poverty,” the economist added.

Though Asia’s third largest economy has shown good progress in achieving its poverty reduction target, the malaise has ironically become more visible.

The sight of homeless construction workers, beggars, rag pickers, child labourers – the ensemble cast of India’s apparently prospering megacities – reflects its harsh underbelly.

According to a report entitled ‘Effects of Poverty in India: Between Injustice and Exclusion’, “The spectacular growth of cities has made poverty in India more visible and palpable through its famous slums.”

U.N. data shows that 93 million people in India live in slums, including 50 percent of the population in its capital, New Delhi.

Meanwhile, the megacity of Mumbai, home to 19 million, hosts nine millions slum-dwellers, up from six million just 10 years ago.

Dharavi, the second largest slum in Asia, is located in central Mumbai and is home to between 800,000 and one million people, crammed into just 2.39 square kilometres of space.

Investing in women and children: crucial for development

Public health in India is also an area of concern, with the country trailing in the realms of infant and child mortality as well as maternal health.

According to the World Bank India accounts for 21 percent of deaths among children below five years of age. Its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) – the number of women who die during pregnancy, delivery or in the first 42 hours of a termination per 100,000 live births – is 190. Countries like Ecuador and Guatemala fare better than India, with MMRs of 87 and 140 respectively.

Addressing these issues will be a considerable challenge as India is home to 472 million children or about 20 percent of the world’s child population, while nearly 50 percent of its population is comprised of women.

Health activists are advocating for greater capital investment in public health. India currently spends an abysmal one percent of its GDP on health, half the sum allocated by neighbouring China.

Even Russia and Brazil, two other nations in the BRICS association of emerging economies of which India is a part, invest 3.5 percent of their respective GDPs on health.

“A focus on accelerating sustainable, inclusive and balanced growth is key to poverty eradication,” Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Social Research (CSR), told IPS.

The activist feels that growth and development should not only be measured in GDP terms but also in terms of per capita income and per capita spending.

“Right now, there is inequitable distribution of wealth in India. Money is concentrated in the hands of a few while the masses struggle to get two square meals a day. This inequity needs to be addressed as there’s no conflict in the growth of social justice and GDP growth; both ought to work in tandem for success.”

Speaking at the launch of the U.N. report on India last week, Shamshad Akhtar, under-secretary-general of the U.N., advocated for a new sustainable agriculture-based green revolution, which could contribute to ending hunger not only in India but across South Asia at large.

With eight percent of India’s population engaged in agriculture, amounting to some 95.8 million people, sustainable development will be impossible without lifting India’s farmers out of poverty, researchers contend.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin American Migrants Suffer Prejudice in Their Own Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/latin-american-migrants-suffer-prejudice-in-their-own-region/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 21:21:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139183 Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

In the movie “A Day Without a Mexican“, the mysterious disappearance of all Mexicans brings the state of California to a halt. Would the same thing happen in some Latin American countries if immigrants from neighbouring countries, who suffer the same kind of discrimination, went missing?

The response is that the situation is not comparable. But a new report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), only available in Spanish, shows that intraregional migration flows intensified in the 2000-2010 period, growing at a rate of 3.5 percent a year, while migration to the rest of the world slowed down.

There are 28.5 million Latin Americans living outside their countries, 20.8 million of them in the United States.

And of the 7.6 million immigrants in Latin America, 63 percent are from other countries in this region.

Nor are the strict immigration policies of the United States or Europe comparable with those of Latin America, where regional integration accords have facilitated residency for citizens of neighbouring countries and where “the unilateral and restrictive measures of some developed countries” have been rejected, ECLAC says.“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media.” -- Pablo Ceriani

Nevertheless, Pablo Ceriani, an expert on immigration issues from Argentina, said the hypothetical plot of “A Day Without a Latin American in Latin America” could be based on something that this region shares with the United States, which has come in for so much criticism: expressions of xenophobia.

“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media,” Ceriani, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, told IPS.

“Our region isn’t much different from other regions in terms of the reproduction of myths and false ideas about migration that are not supported by the statistics and which generate an attitude of rejection that stands in the way of progress in creating new laws,” he added.

According to Ceriani, discrimination is notorious in immigration policies like those of Mexico, “which detained 21,500 children last year and deported them to their home countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala,” the main sources of intraregional migration to Mexico.

But there are also more subtle examples in countries that have migration agreements, such as the one in force in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), which in 2002 established the right to residency for citizens of any of the bloc’s member countries – all they have to do is present an identity document and prove they have no criminal record.

“They bring crime, they bring their customs, they take our jobs…,” said Ceriani, listing some of the xenophobic myths.

Emiliana Mamani, a Bolivian woman who has been living in Argentina for 30 years, knows all about prejudice.

“You always suffer discrimination for ‘having the wrong face’ – there’s this belief that Bolivians take work away from other people,” Mamani, the president of the Madres 27 de Mayo Association and the cooperative of the same name, the first one run here by Bolivian women, told IPS.

Bolivians are the second-most numerous group of intraregional immigrants in Argentina, after Paraguayans. They are followed by Chileans and Peruvians. In this country of 42 million people, there are 1.8 million foreign nationals, 4.5 percent of the population.

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

ECLAC reports that the Latin American countries with the largest numbers of immigrants from the rest of the region are Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, while Brazil and Mexico are the only countries that receive more immigrants from outside of the region – the former from Europe and the latter from the United States.

“Sometimes we have to hear ‘why don’t you go back to your country? Don’t come here to act all macho or to be a wise guy. Why don’t you go home, you dirty drunk Bolivian’,” said Mamani, whose cooperative obtained a soft loan from the Housing Institute, which they used to build an apartment building where 12 Bolivian families live.

Mamani has three children – one born in Bolivia and two in Argentina. The two younger ones are now university students, and say they suffered discrimination in primary school, such as questions about why they were taking part in patriotic events.

They have also experienced discrimination in hospitals, even though by law in Argentina all foreign nationals have the right to receive health care, regardless of their migration status.

“In the hospitals sometimes they say the doctor’s not taking any more patients, or they ask us for our documents when they’re not supposed to…but if a blond gringo goes there, like someone from the United States or Europe, they try hard to understand him, even using sign language,” Mamani said.

Immigrants complain of this situation even though Argentina has had a migration law that is very advanced in terms of protection of human rights for 10 years. And since 2006, the situation of 736,000 Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Uruguayan and Venezuelan immigrants has been regularised.

Mamani said that efforts to combat discrimination in society should start in the schools, hospitals and other public institutions, “which would seem to be unfamiliar with the migration laws.”

Another focus should be the media, which reproduce stereotypes, she said.

“For example in a robbery, if there’s one Bolivian or Peruvian in a group of Argentines, the media make it a point to say there was a Bolivian who was stealing,” she said.

These deeply-rooted prejudices based on primitive fears of what is “different take a long time to combat,” an official in the national migration office, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

Ceriani said that in Argentina, as in other Latin American countries, there is an idealised vision of European migration from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when compared to the Latin American migration of today.

But a perusal of the literature or press reports from that time period clearly shows that there was also discrimination against Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants.

“Stereotypes of them as ‘poor’, ‘ignorant’ or ‘thieves’ gradually faded with time,” Ceriani pointed out.

Both then and now, the decision to move to another country was prompted by the aim of finding a better life.

“All we do is work, work, work. When we decide to pack our bags in our country, the idea is to find work. We don’t come for anything else but to work,” said Mamani, who decided to come to Argentina because a friend told her “that in just one year I would make a lot of money.”

With their work, Bolivians in Argentina add to the country’s wealth, said Ceriani, by bringing, for example, original techniques for planting fruits and vegetables.

And in the textile factories, where they often work in sweatshop conditions, they produce clothing for the most upscale brands.

Paraguayans are widely employed in the construction industry and as domestics. Peruvians often work caring for children, the elderly, and the ill. But many Latin American immigrants are skilled workers or professionals.

Examples in the region abound. In northern Brazil, Haitians are working on the construction of megainfrastructure like dams, or in the mining industry.

In Costa Rica, Nicaraguans form a large part of the workforce in the construction industry, agriculture and domestic service, just as Colombians do in Venezuela.

The increased integration will bring many more examples of unrestricted intraregional circulation of people. But economic growth in some countries and stagnation in others will continue to create discriminatory stereotypes.

Ceriani underscores that migration must be addressed in terms of its structural causes. And that is done, he said, by reducing the social and economic gaps between the countries of Latin America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Getting Bang for the Buck on New Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 13:57:21 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139148 Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Bjørn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Right now, the United Nations is negotiating one of the world’s potentially most powerful policy documents. It can influence trillions of dollars, pull hundreds of millions out of poverty and hunger, reduce violence and improve education — essentially make the world a better place. But much depends on this being done well.

In the year 2000, the U.N. laid the foundation for the Millennium Development Goals, which comprised 21 mostly sharp and achievable targets in eight areas, including poverty and hunger, gender equality, education, and child and maternal health.Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

These goals have been hugely successful, not only in driving more development funding but also in making the world better. For instance, the world promised to halve the proportion of people hungry counting from 1990. And the progress has been remarkable.

In 1990, almost 24 percent of all people in the developing world were starving. In 2012, ‘only’ 14.5 percent were starving, and if current trends continue, the world will reach 12.2 percent in 2015, just shy of the halving at 11.9 percent.

Likewise, we promised to cut by half the proportion of poor. In 1990, 43 percent of the developing world lived below a dollar a day. In 2010, the proportion had already been more than halved at 20.6 percent – on current trends the proportion will drop below 15 percent by 2015, showing spectacular progress.

With the MDGs ending this year, we have to ask what’s next. The U.N. has started an inclusive process from the 2012 Rio Earth summit to define so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030.

So, over the coming months, countries, missions, U.N. organisations and NGOs will perform a complex dance to determine – and hopefully whittle down – the next set of targets. But that’s easier said than done. Last summer, 70 U.N. ambassadors in the open working group proposed a vertiginous 169 targets. Clearly we need priorities.

The SDGs will determine a large part of the 2.5 trillion dollars in development aid the world will spend until 2030. In order to spend the money most effectively and help as many people as possible, negotiators now need to zero in on the targets that promise the biggest benefit for the investment.

My think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 60 teams of top economists, including several Nobel laureates, to identify which targets will do the most good for each dollar spent. Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

This is where the U.N. is today – lots of well-intentioned targets with no prices or sizes. Our economists have taken the 169 targets and evaluated the social costs and benefits of each.

The best ones – the targets that have economic, social and environmental benefits 15 times or higher their costs – are painted bright green. Less good ones are light green, mediocre ones yellow and the poor targets – the ones that cost more than the good they do – red. Backed by thousands of pages of peer reviewed economic research, such a simple colour scheme will hopefully help the world’s busy decision makers focus on picking the most effective targets.

Reducing malaria and tuberculosis, for example, is a phenomenal target. Its costs are small because solutions are simple, cheap and well-documented. Its benefits are large, not only because it avoids death and prolonged, agonizing sickness, but also improves societal productivity and initiates a virtuous circle.

Similarly, we should focus on at least halving malnutrition, because there is robust evidence that proper nutrition for young children leads to a lifetime of large benefits – better brain development, improved academic performance, and ultimately higher productivity as adults. For every dollar spent, future generations will receive at least 45 dollars in benefits.

But at what point do goals simply become aspirations? While many ambitious goals are commendable, they may be unrealistic in practice – and could hinder instead of help progress.

For example, setting an absolute goal of ending global malnutrition, warn the economists, may sound alluring, but is implausibly optimistic and inefficient. We cannot achieve it, and even if we could, the resources to help the last hungry person would be better spent elsewhere.

At the other end of the scale, some proposed targets are ineffective. The doubling of the renewable energy share by 2030, for example, sounds great in theory but practically is an expensive way to cut just a little CO₂. Instead, the focus should be on providing more energy to poor people, a proven way of inclusive growth and poverty alleviation.

And in order to reduce carbon emissions, removing fossil fuel subsidies in third world countries promises much higher benefits. Reducing these subsidies in countries where gasoline is sometimes sold for a few cents per liter would stop wasting resources, send the right price signals, and reduce the strain on government budgets, while also cutting emissions.

Of course, the ultimate decision for the Sustainable Development Goals is a political one. No doubt, economics is not the only measure of what the global society should ultimately choose as its development priorities, but costs and benefits do play an important role.

But if well-documented economic arguments can help even just to swap a few poor targets for a few phenomenal ones, leveraging trillions of dollars in development aid and government budgets in the right direction, even small adjustments can make a world of difference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warming, Wildfires and Worrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warming-wildfires-and-worries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:22:24 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139127 A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

World leaders from government, finance, business, science and civil society are attempting to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change at the upcoming 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference being convened in Paris in December.

If achieved, which appears uncertain at present, the agreement aimed at addressing global warming would begin to take effect some time in the future. In the meantime, local communities are being forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as the increasing incidence of wildfires.The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia.

As a result of the world’s warming the frequency and duration of large wildfires and the area burned have been increasing. Longer fire seasons, warmer temperatures, which are conducive to widespread insect infestations killing more trees, and drier conditions, including more droughts, are contributing to more severe wildfire risks and growing worries for local communities.

Worldwide it is estimated that somewhere between 75 million and 820 million hectares of land burn each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “climate variability is often the dominant factor affecting large wildfires” despite widespread management practices aimed at reducing flammable materials in forests.

Various climate models are forecasting higher temperatures and longer droughts, which in turn are expected to increase wildfire frequency. While more rainfall in some areas might reduce fire frequency, it may also foster more forest vegetation that provides more fuel for wildfires. Lightning strikes, often an ignition source for wildfires, are also expected to increase with global warming.

The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia. The costs of wildfires in terms of risks to human life and property damage are enormous and are expected to increase substantially in the coming years.

Wildfires also have serious environmental and health consequences. In addition to threats to humans and wildlife, wildfires contribute to local air pollution, which exacerbate lung diseases, and cause breathing problems even in healthy individuals.

Most wealthy industrialised nations have developed mechanisms and organisations and allocated human and financial resources to combat wildfires and mitigate their devastating consequences. Less developed countries, in contrast, often lack the resources and governmental organisations to tackle wildfires and handle their effects.

As might be expected, people’s vulnerability to global warming varies greatly by region, wealth and access to alternatives. Some less developed nations, in particular small island nations and low-lying territories, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These nations are seeking mitigation monies from the wealthy, industrialised countries to help them adapt to the impending catastrophes from climate change.

Based on the available statistical evidence, the overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that climate change is due to greenhouse-gas emissions. Some powerful voices, however, are in denial, disputing the causes of global warming often because of self-interest, resistance to change and fear of governmental and outside interventions and regulations.

Local communities, however, do not have the luxury of debating the causes and consequences of climate change. Communities are forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as increasing wildfires, rising sea levels, droughts, etc.

With a possible global agreement on climate change now being debated and negotiated by major world powers, one small community in the Bahamas decided that they needed to do something about the increased threat of large wildfires to life and property due to global warming.

On a plot of land leased from the Bahamian government, the community of Bahama Palm Shores consisting of some 100 households located in the Abacos Island financed and built their own firehouse.

The homeowners -men and women and young and old- donated their time, labour and limited financial resources to build their local firehouse. They were also able to collect 12,000 dollars in donations to purchase a used 1985 fire truck from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

In addition to an occasional bingo night, the community has organised a 30-mile Bike-a-Thon on Valentine’s Weekend of about three dozen riders to raise funds to maintain the firehouse and fire truck as well as support volunteer fire services.

Many communities recognise the need to organise and work together to ensure that local climate change adaptation measures are effective. Non-governmental organisations, especially environmental groups, are also encouraging and supporting citizens at various levels to due their part to reduce the impact of climate change.

However, the only long-term solution to global warming is a legally binding and international agreement on climate among all nations of the world, which is the overall objective of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December.

As witnessed at the recent U.N. Summit on Climate Change held in New York City, heads of state and government officials often announce impressive actions and ambitious goals intended to avert the worst consequences of global warming as well as address the vocal concerns of activist environmental groups. When it comes to adopting coordinated action at the global level for nearly 200 countries, things become enormously more complex and difficult.

Some observers consider the chances of achieving an international, binding climate agreement by the year’s end to be slim. They see powerful factors, including the industrial complexes reliance on fossil fuels, economic and business interests, and short-term, parochial nation-state interests, undermining the chances for an agreement.

In addition, even if an international climate convention were to be reached, they contend that it would be almost impossible to enforce.

Others, however, believe that a global climate convention is not only possible, but that it may lead to payoffs that will have meaningful impacts on confronting climate change. Not only will an international agreement buttress the abilities of individual nations to address climate change, it will also send a clear message to businesses and guide investments toward low carbon emission outcomes.

While communities around the world wait hopefully for the outcome of the U.N. Climate Change Conference to kick in, they have little choice but to do the best they can to deal with the consequences of global warming, including more bike-a-thons, bingo games and other fund raising events.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Climate Talks Advance Link Between Gender and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 17:21:24 +0000 Denise M. Fontanilla http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139119 Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

By Denise M. Fontanilla
GENEVA, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A week of climate negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland Feb. 8-13 are setting the stage for what promises to be a busy year. In order to reach an agreement in Paris by December, negotiators will have to climb a mountain of contentious issues which continue to overshadow the talks.

One such issue is the relevance of gender in the climate change negotiations.“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions, especially at the community level." -- Verona Collantes

While gender mainstreaming has become a standard practice within development circles and was a critical aspect of the Millennium Development Goals, it still remains on the fringes of the U.N. climate discussions.

Recent developments have forced gender back into the spotlight thanks to concise action this week from the representatives of a number of countries, including the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Sudan, Mexico, Chile and the EU.

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs under the Dominican Republic’s vice presidency, has been one of the most vocal proponents of gender equality in the negotiations. According to the Germanwatch Long-Term Climate Risk Index, the Dominican Republic was the eighth most affected country in terms of the impacts of climate change over the past two decades.

However, as Cohn-Lois explained, her passion for Gender rights here in Geneva has been inspired by a particularly localised experience of marginalised women in Jimani, on the southern border with Haiti.

“The area that has been the most affected by climate change is actually the poorest. Of the people living there, the most heavily impacted by climate change are women, many of which are actually heads of their families,” she said.

Cohn-Lois added that many of the women in this area are single mothers, with some taking care of both elderly relatives and children. These women are some of the most vulnerable to climate change in the Dominican Republic and face several challenges, including gaining access to clean water.

“Since the southern side is such an arid part, access to water is still an issue. They can only afford to buy water weekly or even biweekly and find a way to [store] it,” she said.

She also noted that they have a wind farm in the area which provides electricity to most of the houses there.

Cohn-Lois is aware that women face similar challenges all over the world. Through her diplomatic post, she has markedly advanced the awareness of the importance of gender equality within the U.N. climate negotiations.

This week, she has called not only for gender equality in relation to climate change, but also gender-sensitivity, particularly and the value of community-based approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation programmes.

However, as Verona Collantes of UN Women argues, the task is not only to recognise that women are more affected by climate change, but to ensure they are a large part of the solution.

“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions especially at the community level,” the Filipina said.

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people the most, and according to U.N. figures, women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor.

Collantes also noted that women, especially indigenous women, make up the majority of those involved in agriculture and sustainable forest management, which is why it is critical they be represented in discussions on reducing forest-related emissions, here at the U.N. climate negotiations.

“When the man goes to earn a living, it’s the woman who becomes the chief of the household. It’s tied to the management of natural resources and livelihood, using fuel to warm their houses or cook their food, and fetching water – all of those have implications on climate change which, more and more, the parties to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] are increasingly recognizing,” she added.

A history of gender in the climate talks

While the U.N climate convention itself did not originally have a reference to gender, it began to be integrated into the talks at the 2001 conference in Marrakech, Morocco. There, negotiators agreed to improve women’s participation in all decision-making processes under the talks.

Following this milestone, the issue became dormant. For the next 12 years, gender was barely mentioned within the negotiations. Then, at the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar, it was finally revived, thanks largely to a new wave of gender-sensitive negotiators such as Anniete Cohn-Lois.

According to Collantes, the issue then became dormant for almost 10 years. It was not until 2010 in Cancun, Mexico that gender equality once again came under consideration. And it was in Doha that the agreement began to shift from merely a recognition of gender balance towards ensuring women’s capacities are enhanced and formally recognised within the U.N. climate negotiations.

In 2013, a further workshop was held on gender, climate change, and the negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. At that stage, countries and observer organisations submitted ideas on how to advance the gender balance goal.

Last December, a two-year work programme to further explore gender issues was established in Lima, Peru. UN Women is also continuing this work, and currently preparing for another workshop in June on gender-responsive mitigation, technology development and transfer.

“We look at it from the aspect of women’s participation in the development of technology, women’s access to those technologies. Are they part of the beneficiaries? Were they even thought of as beneficiaries in the beginning?” Collantes said.

However, in Warsaw, the U.N. reported that less than 30 per cent of negotiators representing their countries were women. Since then, there have been small representational improvements, but we are still very far from achieving gender equality within the U.N. representatives, let alone in their decisions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Denise Fontanilla is a Filipina climate activist currently tracking the U.N. climate negotiations in Geneva. This article was made possible through a collaboration with adoptanegotiator.org.

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Women Pick Up the Slack as Fishing Declines on India’s Southern Coastshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/women-pick-up-the-slack-as-fishing-declines-on-indias-southern-coasts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-pick-up-the-slack-as-fishing-declines-on-indias-southern-coasts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/women-pick-up-the-slack-as-fishing-declines-on-indias-southern-coasts/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 04:55:30 +0000 Nachammai Raman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139113 On average, women in self-help groups in a small fishing town in Tamil Nadu make about 80 dollars each month; it is just about enough to sustain fisher families, who receive free housing from the Indian government. Credit: Nachammai Raman/IPS

On average, women in self-help groups in a small fishing town in Tamil Nadu make about 80 dollars each month; it is just about enough to sustain fisher families, who receive free housing from the Indian government. Credit: Nachammai Raman/IPS

By Nachammai Raman
NAGAPATTINAM, India, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

Geeta Selvaraj and a few other women take turns to prepare meals with just one large gas cooker in a tiny shop.

The piquant smell of masala wafts out to the crowded street to mix with plumes of vehicle exhaust and tantalize customers, who are mostly from the surrounding area of Nagapattinam, a predominantly fishing town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“We want self-help groups to be a tool to transform women into individual entrepreneurs. We want to build self-reliant communities." -- Senthil Kumar, reporting and monitoring officer for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Selvaraj’s income from her catering business has doubled over the last few years as her fisherman husband’s shrinks. “The men are not going out to sea like before,” she tells IPS, but she seems to have come to terms with this reality. “Because we [women] work, we don’t have to ask anyone for money and it helps with the household expenses.”

India is a major supplier of fish in the world and the industry employs an estimated 14.5 million people. The sector contributes about one percent of the country’s total GDP. Nagapattinam’s long coastline makes fishing its second most important industry after agriculture. According to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, there are roughly 90,000 fishermen in what it calls the ‘fisheries capital’ of Tamil Nadu.

Traditionally, the women in the fishing community in this region stay at home or sell the fish their husbands bring back. But over the past few years, fishermen have been putting out to sea less often because of the scarcity of fish near the Indian coast and the fear of being caught by the Sri Lankan navy if they stray into the island’s territorial waters.

So, women in the community have stepped into the breach to provide for their families. They’re doing this by starting micro-enterprises and they’re the happier for it.

“Besides an income, it gives me a chance to get out of the house and interact with other people and know a little bit about what’s going on in the world,” says Selvaraj.

Micro-enterprises bring big changes

Nagapattinam district has a population of some 1.6 million people and a sex ratio of 1,025 women to 1,000 men. So, women form an important part of all development strategies in the district.

In a bid to weave women into the economic fabric of the region, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is assisting a Post-tsunami Sustainable Livelihood Programme that has given rise to thousands of micro-enterprises in the region, known locally as self-help groups.

IFAD, which is a specialised agency of the United Nations, is working with the local government. The goal is to establish at least 12,000 micro-enterprises in six coastal areas in Tamil Nadu by 2016.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 are already in operation now.

“We want self-help groups to be a tool to transform women into individual entrepreneurs. We want to build self-reliant communities,” says Senthil Kumar, who is the IFAD Reporting and Monitoring Officer for the programme in Tamil Nadu.

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, fishing in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu has taken a big hit. The damage to the fishing industry was about 4.8 billion rupees (about 65 million dollars).

Prior to the disastrous tsunami, fishing was considered a lucrative activity by the standards here. Fishermen on average could make about 300 dollars per month. Now, they say it’s whittled down to half of that.

Firstly, it was because the fishermen had lost their boats and nets. The government offered compensation to about 17,672 affected fishermen, but even after all the equipment was repaired or replaced, the industry did not rally to its pre-tsunami days.

Then, fishermen claim, there’s less fish near the Indian coast since the tsunami, which makes them sail into Sri Lankan waters for a better catch. But the Sri Lankan Navy impounds their boats and detains the fishermen. In the past few months, this has turned into a contentious issue between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments.

“More than 80 boats have been caught by the Sri Lankan navy,” says Govindaswamy Vijayan, a fisherman who owns two fishing boats. “Today we need bigger boats to avoid crossing the international border into Sri Lankan waters and sail out to deep sea. But most fishermen can’t afford them.”

Sustainable plans to sustain fisher communities

With fewer men putting out to sea in the primarily fishing town of Nagapattinam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, women are stepping into the breach through micro-enterprises. Credit: Nachammai Raman/IPS

With fewer men putting out to sea in the primarily fishing town of Nagapattinam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, women are stepping into the breach through micro-enterprises. Credit: Nachammai Raman/IPS

The IFAD programme was created with a view to making coastal communities less dependent on fishing. However, as the men in the community refused to consider other trades, the prime beneficiaries of the programme have turned out to be women.

Women’s self-help groups were already burgeoning in the district after the tsunami as a means of income generation.

“When there’s a disaster, women are expected to care for the family. Feeding the children or other family members becomes their first concern and they immediately start getting involved in various activities,” says Vasudha Gokhale, a Pune-based professor at the BN College of Architecture who has studied how women in Tamil Nadu’s coastal areas coped with the tsunami.

But not all these self-help groups were successful because government officials chose their core activities. “Many of the women started micro-enterprises that they had little affinity for,” says Madhavan Krishnakumar, who works for a non-governmental organisation called Avvai Village Welfare Society.

Some of the micro-enterprises that fizzled out were involved in making plastic doors, bricks and candles. Their products were initially sold under the ‘Alaimagal’ brand.

“The government gave them funding incentives, but their entrepreneurial skills were not properly developed. They were not able to do the marketing or face professional competition, so they failed,” Krishnakumar explains.

A few NGOs such as the People’s Development Association were also involved in developing micro-enterprises in the district earlier on, but have now limited themselves to skills training for youth, according to its director, Joe Velu.

“There were too many people doing it. There was a lot of duplication and overlap. We felt it was becoming too much like moneylending.”

When IFAD came into the picture six years ago, the first thing they did was to conduct a survey. “We wanted to stabilise the movement,” says Kumar. “We graded self-help groups based on their performance and found the weaknesses that needed to be addressed to make the groups viable. Then we restructured the weak ones.”

Sufficient earnings, big savings

On average, the women in these self-help groups can take home about 5,000 rupees (about 80 dollars) per month, which a family of four can just about manage on thanks to the provision of free housing for fisher folk affected by the tsunami.

Revathi Kanakaraj belonged to a self-help group that was formed as far back as 2000, but it disintegrated after the tsunami. Then three years ago, she joined a new one under the IFAD umbrella. She finds it rewarding. “I’ve learned about micro-credit and I’ve learned about savings,” she tells IPS.

Financial literacy is one of the key components of the IFAD-assisted livelihood programme because its ultimate aim is to enable women to access credit on their own and encourage the habit of saving. “Previously, women in self-help groups didn’t know about interest rates and banking. But they’re managing their money very well now.”

The Tamil Nadu government reports that self-help groups across the state had a total savings of around 34 billion rupees (543 million dollars) as of 2012. Most of the women interviewed say they contribute between 20 and 120 rupees (0.32-1.92 dollars) per month.

Kasturi Ravi used to look forward to her husband’s return to shore and a nice income from the sale of the fish he had caught. But on Boxing Day ten years ago, her husband was washed back to shore dead in the devastating tidal waves that killed more than 6,000 people here, the worst affected district in India.

As she cleans dried fish for packing in a small salty-smelling shed with other members of her self-help group, she remembers how difficult it was to eke out a living after her husband’s death. She’s proud of where she is now.

She makes an average of four dollars per day. Although not a lot, it’s enough for subsistence. “I’m grateful for this because I can stand on my own feet,” she tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cuban Agriculture Needs Better Roadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cuban-agriculture-needs-better-roads/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:41:46 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139106 One of the main streets in the town of Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana. Cuba’s rural road problems are another hurdle to the development of agriculture in this Caribbean island nation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

One of the main streets in the town of Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana. Cuba’s rural road problems are another hurdle to the development of agriculture in this Caribbean island nation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
CAUTO CRISTO, Cuba, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

When it rains, trucks get stuck in the mud on the poor roads in this rural municipality in eastern Cuba. The local population needs more and better roads to improve their lives and help give a much-needed boost to the country’s farming industry.

“When the roads are fixed, living conditions and opportunities will be bolstered in the lowlands, where most of our agricultural production is concentrated,” the deputy mayor of Cauto Cristo, Alberto López, told IPS.

Most of the 21,000 inhabitants of this rural municipality, located on a broad plain prone to flooding during the May-October rainy season, are scattered around the countryside on individual or state-run farms or in farming cooperatives. The municipality also has a small urban centre and two people’s councils (organs of local government).

The bad state of the roads in Cauto Cristo is just part of a nationwide problem that takes its toll on the country’s ageing vehicle fleet, poses a safety threat, and undermines communication on the island, especially between outlying areas and the cities where services like hospitals and businesses are concentrated.

In rural areas, the deterioration of the roads compounds other factors, such as limited investment in agriculture and the shortage of labour power, all of which have stood in the way of the aim of boosting agricultural production, one of the priorities of the economic reforms introduced by the government of Raúl Castro.

The economic crisis that has plagued Cuba for over 20 years has hindered ambitious plans for expanding and repairing the country’s network of roads, which currently includes 68,395 km of paved and unpaved roads.

Of that total, 17,814 km are paved rural roads (including 655 km of freeway), 16,193 km are urban roads, and 34,387 km are dirt roads.“Sometimes we send a truck to pick up the output and later we have to send two tractors to pull the truck out of the mud. That doubles or even triples the expense in fuel.” -- Reinaldo Naranjo

Thanks to a 40 million dollar investment, state companies acquired machines to pave roads, four new asphalt plants were built, and specialised workers were trained, as part of a road expansion programme that should be completed in 2016.

The project began by putting a priority on roads of national and provincial interest.

Approximately 70 percent of the country’s road network falls under municipal authority, where and maintenance and expansion are the responsibility of local governments.

“Local governments today enjoy greater openness and flexibility for resolving their most pressing problems, which in our case are roads and transportation,” said López, referring to the first decentralising measures of the current reforms, which have slightly expanded the reduced economic autonomy and decision-making power of the municipalities.

“We hope that this year national companies will contribute a percentage of funds to the budget of the municipality where they are located; we hope this will be put into practice,” he said. “That would offer a greater chance to make the costly investment in roads, which involves hauling in materials from quarries that are over 60 km away.”

Farmers on a rural road in the municipality of Cauto Cristo, which becomes impassable in the rainy season, like many other roads in the eastern province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Farmers on a rural road in the municipality of Cauto Cristo, which becomes impassable in the rainy season, like many other roads in the eastern province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cauto Cristo, 730 km east of Havana, is a big producer of meat, dairy products and various crops. It consumes around 10 percent of the food it produces, and the rest is distributed to other areas of the province of Granma, where it is located.

“Agriculture is our main activity because we have no industrial development,” the official pointed out.

“Sometimes we send a truck to pick up the output and later we have to send two tractors to pull the truck out of the mud. That doubles or even triples the expense in fuel,” said Reinaldo Naranjo, president of the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cauto Cristo.

Of the 151 state companies that in 2014 suffered losses – a combined total of around 18 million dollars – in Cuba, 71 were managed by the Agriculture Ministry.

Naranjo said that milk production is highest precisely during the rainy season, when the roads are impassable and it is difficult to pick up the milk from the farms.

Milk is scarce in the Cuban diet and the agriculture sector has failed to increase production.

From 2007 to 2013, the production of cow’s milk grew 21 percent. But this only represented 52 percent of what was produced in 1989, when demand was met by domestic production.

However last year, Cauto Cristo managed to meet the planned volumes of milk, meat and tubers that are staples of the Cuban diet.

Food production in Cuba must increase to meet internal demand and ease the unsustainable burden of food imports, expected to total 2.25 billion dollars this year.

One illustration: the Empresa de Productos Lácteos Bayamo, a state dairy company – Granma’s flagship company and the biggest of its kind in the country – is producing at one-quarter of capacity due to a lack of raw materials.

“Our peak capacity is processing 80 million litres of milk a year, and we are taking in 20 million,” the director of the company, Rauel Medina, told IPS.

The factory produces different kinds of milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and diet products, with a workforce of 1,810, 20 percent of whom are women.

The poor state of the roads is also affecting agricultural production in the municipality of Jesús Menéndez, in the neighbouring province of Las Tunas. “When it rained and it was impossible to reach the most isolated farms and cooperatives, the milk would go sour,” said Nilian Rodríguez, vice president of the local government.

“The temporary solution that we are applying is placing electric dairy refrigeration units on the farms to make it possible to pick up the milk every two days,” he told IPS.

More and better roads and transportation would improve the quality of life in communities in the countryside, where there is untapped agricultural potential: of the country’s 6.34 million hectares of arable land, 1.46 million are lying fallow.

In late November, the ANAP branch in Cauto Cristo had 1,976 members, Naranjo told IPS – more than double the 898 members registered in 2008, the year the authorities began to distribute idle land in usufruct to those interested in working it.

These and other problems prompted Daniel Soto, a 48-year-old farmer, to swap the land he inherited from his father, 18 km away, twice for land closer to his home in town.

“I’m going to stay here now, because I’m close to home,” he said on the 4.7-hectare Villa María farm, where he grows mainly vegetables. “The tense situation we have been experiencing over the last few years in terms of transportation made it hard for me to go to work. My kids are also sickly and can’t live far from town.”

“Now I pay more attention to the land and I’m reaping better economic benefits,” said Soto, who likes to innovate when it comes to farming. With his hands, he made a smaller plow, pulled by a single ox, to obtain better yields.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Inequality Fuels HIV Epidemic in the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/inequality-fuels-hiv-epidemic-in-the-caribbean/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 18:57:24 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139092 Outspoken artist Edison Liburd, in St. John's, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Outspoken artist Edison Liburd, in St. John's, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

At 49 years old, Edison Liburd has established himself as one of Antigua and Barbuda’s most recognisable artists. But Liburd was not always in the spotlight. In fact, you could say he was a man in hiding.

“I have been infected with the HIV virus for about 24 years. I got my first HIV test done in February of 1993 at the Allen Pavilion Hospital in Manhattan New York,” Liburd told IPS."Equity and social justice are very important as we respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV is as much a social and developmental disease as a medical one." -- Eleanor Frederick

“I can remember that day vividly. I felt like the earth had been removed from beneath me when I was handed the results of the test.”

HIV/AIDS first emerged in the 1980s, and now, more than three decades later, stigma associated with the disease has persisted. Liburd pointed to that sigma as the main reason why he concealed his HIV status for as long as he did.

“I hid my status for years from family. I told a few friends, but most people who I knew did not know anything about my health condition. It was fear of being ostracised that kept me from disclosing my status,” he said.

“In Antigua, HIV infected individuals still have to face job insecurity – first to be fired and last to be hired. Stigma and discrimination is still high because many still think themselves superior to individuals who are infected.

“Somehow they think themselves better than, but I believe that it is when infected individuals become empowered by taking hold of their health and indispensable to nation building that this will take a huge bite out of discrimination. People will begin to see you differently,” Liburd said.

The Caribbean is one of the most heavily affected regions in the world, with adult HIV prevalence about one percent higher than in any other region outside sub-Saharan Africa.

The HIV pandemic in the Caribbean is fuelled by a range of social and economic inequalities and is sustained by high levels of stigma, discrimination against the most at-risk and marginalised populations and persistent gender inequality, violence and homophobia.

HIV in the Caribbean is mostly concentrated in and around networks of men who have sex with men. Social stigma, however, has kept the epidemic among men who have sex with men hidden and unacknowledged. There is also a notable burden of infection among injecting drug users, sex workers and the clients of sex workers.

The main mode of transmission in the Caribbean is unprotected heterosexual intercourse – paid or otherwise. Sex between men is also thought to be a significant factor in several countries, although due to social stigma, this is mainly denied.

The level of stigma and discrimination suffered by those infected and affected by the virus in the Caribbean helps drive the epidemic underground. This makes it difficult to reach many groups.

After facing the worst of his fears, being hospitalised and getting close to death’s door, Liburd has “resolved to fight back against the discrimination by increasing my capacity to help others in every way through my gift of art and my voice on and in the media, in church and otherwise.

“This has really been a powerhouse for me. I have become more confident and bold when faced with opposition. It has and is still more than ever being a source of inspiration and encouragement for many who hear my story, both infected and non-infected alike.”

Executive director of the Antigua and Barbuda HIV/AIDS Network (ABHAN), Eleanor Frederick, said individuals living with HIV face many challenges such as unemployment, homelessness, and in some cases, they are abandoned by their families.

She said there are also other issues that are faced by some individuals “such as stigma, discrimination, resource shortage and social marginalisation” depending on the community with which they identify such as sexuality, gender, commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, drug users and prisoners.

“Many individuals are reluctant to start treatment because of the myths and stories about HIV and AIDS,” Frederick told IPS. “Healthcare providers, peers and treatment navigators can help individuals to understand, the barriers and how to overcome them.”

ABHAN has a Peer/Buddy HIV Treatment Adherence Programmme which recruits, monitors and retains patients into treatment and care and ensures that they adhere to their treatment regimen. It also delivers a comprehensive package of services, including case management, leading to decreased risky sexual behaviour, improved immune system functioning, and general health improvement.

“The programme provides direct support services by specially trained ABHAN and American University of Antigua Medical School (AUA) student volunteers, in the form of social interaction, emotional support, monitoring of medication adherence, and facilitation of health care concerns to persons living with HIV and AIDS, and to members of their families,” Frederick told IPS.

At the country level, she said while there is legislation which specifically addresses the treatment of employees living with HIV/AIDS, it is not always followed.

“A pilot programme was undertaken in 2012. The intention was to encourage the implementation and observance of the standards set out in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, the ILO Recommendation No. 200 as well as the National Tripartite Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS in Antigua and Barbuda; based on the universal human rights standards applicable to HIV and the world of work,” Frederick explained.

“Individuals have lost their jobs because of their HIV status and others have been asked to take an HIV test when it was suspected that they were possibly infected.”

The ABHAN executive director said HIV should be everyone’s concern, because “HIV does not discriminate, and knows no borders.”

She added that “equity and social justice are very important as we respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV is as much a social and developmental disease as a medical one.

“Therefore, I would like to encourage everyone to help improve the quality of life for people with HIV and AIDS and increase compassion for them and their loved ones by providing vital human services for those in need of it based on a philosophy of non-judgmental support as practiced by ABHAN.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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