Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

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

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/feed/ 0
Decent Employment Opportunities for Young People in Rural Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:46:18 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139897 Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

Over half of the African continent’s population is below the age of 25 and approximately 11 million young Africans are expected to enter the labour market every year for the next decade, say experts. 

Despite strong economic growth in many African countries, wage employment is limited and agriculture and agri-business continue to provide income and employment for over 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population.

However, laborious, subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young people.

In an effort to reap this demographic dividend and attract young people into the agri-food sector, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have launched a four-year project to create decent employment opportunities for young women and men in rural areas.

The four million dollar project, funded by the African Solidarity Trust Fund, aims to develop rural enterprises in sustainable agriculture and agri-business along strategic value chains.

Speaking at the project signing ceremony on Mar. 25, NEPAD’s chief executive officer, Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, said: “The collaboration between NEPAD and FAO will go a long way in ensuring that the youth, Africa’s future, are not forgotten.

“It is by creating an economic environment that stimulates initiatives – particularly by conducting transparent and foreseeable policies – and at the same time by regulating the market in order to deal with market failures that we will attain results and impact through the new thrust given to our farmers, entrepreneurs and youth.”

The project – which is expected to see over 100, 000 young men and women benefit in rural Benin, Cameroon, Malawi and Niger – is anchored in the Rural Futures Programme of NEPAD, which is centred on rural transformation in which equity and inclusiveness allow rural men and women to develop their potential.

FAO Assistant Director General for Africa Bukar Tijani said that the project “marks an important milestone in moving forward and upward in terms of empowering youth in these four countries – especially women, as 2015 is the African Union’s Year of Women’s Empowerment.”

The project is seen as part of a drive to stimulate the agriculture and agri-business sectors into becoming more modern, profitable and efficient, and capable of providing decent employment opportunities for Africa’s young labour force.

In 2012, the African Union Commission, NEPAD Agency, the Lula Institute and FAO formed a partnership aimed at ending hunger on the continent. A year later, the four partners organised a high-level meeting of ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leading to a declaration to end hunger and a road map for implementation.

This declaration was subsequently endorsed at the 2014 African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and incorporated into the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods as the “Commitment to Ending Hunger in Africa by 2025”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa/feed/ 0
Opinion: Education as a Cornerstone for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 22:32:24 +0000 Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139871 Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Girls who report that their domestic chores interfere with their schooling are three times more likely to drop out. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, the Barack Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to improve girls’ education around the world. Dubbed “Let Girls Learn,” the programme builds on current progress made, such as ensuring girls are enrolled in primary school at the same rates as boys, and is looking to expand opportunities for girls to complete their education.

The Obama administration’s leadership on this issue is commendable and incredibly important for moving global momentum on girls’ education forward.Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls - and indeed entire communities - will be deprived of future leaders.

We know that keeping girls in school and providing them with a quality education that can prepare them for their future continues to pay dividends down the line, including better health outcomes and better financial stability for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities.

Research shows that girls with secondary school education are six times less likely to marry early compared to girls who have very little or no education. Additionally, each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the probability of infant mortality by as much as 10 per cent and each extra year of secondary schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by 10 to 20 per cent.

But around the world, far too many girls face insurmountable barriers that often cause girls to drop out of school, ultimately preventing them from getting the quality education they deserve.

Recently, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted research to assess the main causes of school drop out for girls in two districts of the West Nile sub-region of Uganda where only six girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school, a ratio far below the national average.

A predominantly rural and impoverished region, West Nile, Uganda’s recent past has been characterized by war and conflict.

As such, poverty plays a huge role in girls’ inability to continue school. Of the girls who dropped out of school nearly 50 per cent listed financial reasons as the main reason they dropped out of school. Pregnancy was the second most common reason girls gave for leaving school.

While these factors are indeed eye-opening, our research found, however, that gender norms and beliefs about the roles of women as compared to men, were among the most significant determinants of school dropout for girls in West Nile.

Traditionally in West Nile, girls were taught to be subservient to the men to whom they ‘belonged’, first to their fathers and then later in life to their husbands. Despite significant social change that has taken place over the past number of decades,  deeply-rooted gender norms and expectations are carried from one generation to the next and have a profound impact on girls’ and their families’ expectations and hopes for girls futures, and girls’ determination and ability to finish – or drop out of –school.

For example, while most parents surveyed said they value girls’ and boys’ schooling equally, they acknowledge burdens at home, like chores and housework, fall on the girls in the family, rather than the boys. Consequently, girls who reported their domestic chores had interfered with their schooling in the past were three times more likely to drop out.

The domestic sphere remains solely a woman’s domain in the West Nile, and in the face of high adult mortality due to poverty, war, and HIV, girls who lost a parent were even more likely to have to take on a high household chore burden. This set of burdens often includes caring for younger siblings, which likely contributes to girls in the study reporting only starting school on average at the age of 8.25 years, more than two years past the intended starting age of six.

For girls who become pregnant while in school, dropout is almost inevitable. Only 4 per cent of girls who reported they had ever been pregnant were still enrolled in school. Pregnancy is often followed by a forced marriage and the accompanying expectation that a girl’s responsibilities should now shift from her education to caring for her child.

These data highlight just how many barriers girls face in continuing their education, with so many of those barriers finding deep roots in cultural norms that simply don’t value girls the way they value boys. And while this study was conducted in the West Nile region of Uganda, gender norms that continue to hold girls back are certainly not rare around the world.

In order to succeed in letting girls learn, governments, schools, communities and families must dismantle barriers for girls where they exist. Local governments and communities must ensure girls get off to a good start with their education, by disseminating information about existing policies for the age at start of school, because we know that when girls are enrolled in school on time and progress through each grade on schedule, they’re more likely to continue their education.

The education and health sectors must also work with local governments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health services to help prevent pregnancy, which currently marks the end of a girl’s education in Uganda.

Additionally, we know that eight of ten girls who dropped out of school in West Nile, Uganda are eager to return to school if given the opportunity, but for the girls who dropped out due to pregnancy this is a near impossibility.

Re-entry and retention policies for pregnant girls and mothers who gave birth as children must be strengthened so that these girls do not miss out on the opportunity to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is all the more likely for an adolescent single mother without a secondary education.

Education is, simply put, a cornerstone for women’s empowerment and subsequently for local and national development.

Without transforming gender norms that hold too many girls back and holding schools accountable for ensuring girls stay in school and can return to school, girls – and indeed entire communities – will be deprived of future leaders that could be instrumental in helping to combat poverty in the community, which could empower more girls for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-education-as-a-cornerstone-for-womens-empowerment/feed/ 0
Acting Tough to Earn Respect as Policewomen in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 19:49:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139867 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/acting-tough-to-earn-respect-as-policewomen-in-argentina/feed/ 0 Hold the Rich Accountable in New U.N. Development Goals, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:55:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139844 A man lives in the makeshift house behind him, Slovak Republic. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

A man lives in the makeshift house behind him in the Slovak Republic, a member of the EU. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met last January in Switzerland, attended mostly by the rich and the super-rich, the London-based charity Oxfam unveiled a report with an alarming statistic: if current trends continue, the world’s richest one percent would own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

And just 80 of the world’s richest will control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people: half the world’s population.The post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes.

So, when the World Social Forum (WSF), created in response to WEF, holds its annual meeting in Tunis later this week, the primary focus will be on the growing inequalities in present day society.

The Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) on Global Development Perspectives will be releasing a new study which calls for both goals and commitments – this time particularly by the rich – if the U.N.’s 17 proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-2015 development agenda are to succeed.

Asked if the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will reach their targeted deadlines in December, had spelled out goals for the rich, Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum in Bonn, told IPS MDG 8 on global partnership for development was indeed a goal for the rich.

“But this goal remained vague and did not include any binding commitments for rich countries,” he pointed out.

This is the reason why the proposed SDG 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, he added.

In addition, Martens said, governments agreed to include targets on the means of implementation under each of the remaining 16 SDGs. However, many of these targets, again, are not “smart”, i.e. neither specific nor measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

“What we need are ‘smart’ targets to hold rich countries accountable,” he added.

Martens said goals without the means to achieve them are meaningless. And the post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes, he added.

Goals for the rich are indispensable for the post-2015 agenda, stressed Barbara Adams, senior policy advisor for Global Policy Forum and a member of the coordinating committee of Social Watch.

The eight MDGs, which will be replaced by the proposed new 17 SDGs, to be finalised before world leaders meet at a summit in September, were largely for developing nations with specific targets, including the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, reducing infant mortality and fighting environmental degradation.

Beginning Monday, a new round of inter-governmental negotiations will continue through Mar. 23 to finalise the SDGs.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities, perhaps by 2030.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator for Social Watch, said three specific “goals for the rich” are particularly important for sustainable development worldwide:

The goal to reduce inequality within and among countries; the goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and the goal to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development

He said the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) must be applied rigorously.

Coupled with the human rights principle of equal rights for all and the need to respect the planetary boundaries, this must necessarily translate into different obligations for different categories of countries, Bissio added.

Henning Melber, director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, said for Dag Hammarskjöld, the former U.N. Secretary-General, the United Nations was an organisation guided by solidarity. If solidarity is with the poor, the rich have to realise that less is more in terms of stability, sustainability, equality and the future of humanity, he said.

In its new study, the Civil Society Reflection Group said all of the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group are relevant for rich, poor and emerging economies, in North and South alike.

All governments that subscribe to the post-2015 agenda must deliver on all goals.

On the face of it, for rich countries, many of the goals and targets seem to be quite easy to fulfill or have already been achieved, especially those related to social accomplishments (e.g. targets related to absolute poverty, primary education or primary health care), the Group noted.

“Unfortunately, social achievements in reality are often fragile particularly for the socially excluded and can easily be rolled back as a result of conflict (as in the case of Ukraine), of capitalism in crisis (in many countries after 2008) or as a result of wrong-headed, economically foolish and socially destructive policies, as in the case of austerity policies in many regions, from Latin America to Asia to Southern Europe. “

In the name of debt reduction and improved competitiveness, these policies brought about large-scale unemployment and widespread impoverishment, often coupled with the loss of basic income support or access to basic primary health care. More often than not, this perversely increased sovereign debt instead of decreasing it (“Paradox of thrift”), the study said.

But also under ‘normal’ circumstances some of the “MDG-plus” targets relating to poverty eradication and other social development issues may prove to be a real challenge in many parts of the rich world, where poverty has been rising.

In the United States, the study said, poverty increased steadily in the last two decades and currently affects some 50 million people, measured by the official threshold of 23,850 dollars a year for a family of four.

In Germany, 20.3 percent of the population – a total of 16.2 million people – were affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013.

In the European Union as a whole, the proportion of poor or socially excluded people was 24.5 percent, the Group said.

To address this and similar situations, target 1.2 in the Open Working Group’s proposal requests countries to “by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”.

How one looks at ‘goals for the rich’ depends on whether one takes a narrow national or inward-looking view, or whether one takes into account the international responsibilities and extraterritorial obligations of countries for past, present and future actions and omissions affecting others beyond a country’s borders; whether one accepts and honors the CBDR principle for the future of humankind and planet earth, the study said.

In addition, this depends on whether one accepts home country responsibilities for actions and omissions of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations and their international supply chains. Contemporary international soft law (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) is based on this assumption, as are other accords such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Last, but not least, rich countries tend to be more powerful in terms of their influence on international and global policymaking and standard setting, the study declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/feed/ 0
Salvadoran Maquila Plants Use Gang Members to Break Unionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:01:05 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139836 Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Textile companies that make clothing for transnational brands in El Salvador are accused of forging alliances with gang members to make death threats against workers and break up their unions, according to employees who talked to IPS and to international organisations.

Workers at maquila or maquiladora plants – which import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export – speaking on condition of anonymity said that since 2012 the threats have escalated, as part of the generalised climate of violence in this Central American country.

“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker,” one worker at the LD El Salvador company in the San Marcos free trade zone, a complex of factories to the south of the Salvadoran capital, told IPS.

She has worked as a sewing machine operator since 2004 and belongs to the Sindicato de la Industria Textil Salvadoreña (SITS) textile industry union. Some 780 people work for LD El Salvador, a Korean company that produces garments for the firms Náutica and Walmart.

“They told me they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” she said.“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker. They said they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” -- A worker at the LD El Salvador company

She added that LD executives hired gang members to make sure the threats directly reached the workers who belong to SITS, on the factory premises.

The warnings have had a chilling effect, because only 60 of the 155 workers affiliated with the union are still members, she said. Many quit, scared of falling victim to the young gangs, organised crime groups known in Central America as “maras”, which are responsible for a large part of the murders every day in this impoverished country.

El Salvador, population 6.3 million, is one of the most violent countries in the world. In 2014 there were 3,912 murders – a rate of 63 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to a Latin American average of 29 and a global average of 6.2.

“They would call me and say my body would be found in a black bag if I didn’t leave the union….since these were the first calls that we were receiving, I was really nervous and worried,” another worker who is still in SITS told IPS.

The textile maquiladora plants operate in the country’s 17 free trade zones, where companies are given tax breaks and other incentives, and do not pay tariffs on imported inputs. The clients are international brands like Nike, Puma or Adidas.

In 2014, the industry employed over 74,000 people, the great majority of them women, who represent 12 percent of the 636,000 jobs in the private sector. Its exports amounted to 2.4 billion dollars, half of El Salvador’s total sales abroad, according to industry statistics.

Since the maquiladora boom began in the 1990s, the factories have been criticised for inhumane treatment and violations of the labour rights of workers.

“One of the most widely violated rights is the right to unionise,” the secretary of organisation of the Federación Sindical de El Salvador trade union federation, Reynaldo Ortiz, told IPS.

“And now they’re using death threats to try to break up the unions,” he said.

In January, two U.S. groups, the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State University and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), published “Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights”.

The report cited specific cases of intimidation of trade unionists by gang members.

“These threats pose particular concern and have an especially chilling effect on freedom of association, both because of the country’s long history of murders of union activists and because Salvadoran society generally is plagued by gang violence,” says the 46-page document.

According to the report, several incidents occurred in January 2013 to workers at F&D, a company from Taiwan, which is also in the San Marcos free trade zone.

On one occasion two F&D managers, accompanied by a gang member, approached a number of workers who were talking outside the factory and visibly identified to the gang member the employees who were union leaders.

One of the LD workers said the participation of the maras is so blatant that during a November 2013 meeting of trade unionists with gang members, held to explain the workers’ struggles and problems, some of the gang members showed up with company managers.

In January 2014 Juan Carlos Sánchez, one of the employees who took part in that meeting, was killed in murky circumstances, the LD worker said.

She added that although they filed reports with the attorney general’s office, the investigation went nowhere.

IPS was unable to obtain comments from representatives of F&D or LD with regard to these issues. Nor did anyone at the Labour Ministry respond to requests for interviews on the matter.

Another case of threats involved activists with the Sindicato de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras, Sastres, Costureras y Similares (Sitrasacosi) textile workers union, active in companies that include the Nemtex textile plant on the west side of San Salvador.

“Armed men would wait in cars outside the factory when people were going off shift; they never said anything, it was more like intimidation, psychological pressure,” said a member of the union.

She said that in February a leader of the union, who works in Nemtex, received death threats from gang members who visited his home. In late February he fled to the United States.

The Sitrasacosi activist said the management and business owners dislike the unions and are trying to avoid collective bargaining agreements.

She said the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Confecciones Gama, another textile workers union, had been negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the company, which would have been the first reached in the maquila textile industry.

But the company suddenly shut down in June 2011, leaving more than 270 workers without jobs.

“They preferred to close the factory rather than sign a collective bargaining agreement…in their view it would have set a bad precedent,” the Sitrasacosi member added.

She said that thanks to the efforts of the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, which lobbies for the labour rights of workers who make products for multinational brands around the world, in December 2012 the owners of Gama paid indemnification for the closure.

Other labour and human rights continue to be violated by maquila textile plants, Carmen Urquilla, with the Concertación por un Empleo Digno para las Mujeres women’s labour rights organisation, told IPS.

For example, there are companies that keep the social security payments they dock from the workers’ pay – a phenomenon that continues to occur, she said, although on a smaller scale than in years past.

Forced labour is also widespread in the maquilas, added Urquilla, where the women have to work 12 hours a day to meet the high production targets set for them.

They are not paid for the extra hours they work, but merely receive a 10-dollar bonus for meeting their target, she said. Minimum wage in the maquila textile plants is 210 dollars a month.

“It’s heavy work, a lot of women suffer disabilities for life, because of skeletal and muscle injuries in the shoulders or legs; some people can’t even dress themselves on their own,” Urquilla said.

A maquila worker who asked that the company she works for not be named told IPS that her target is 1,110 pairs of shirt sleeves in 10 hours.

“It’s really exhausting work,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/feed/ 1
Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:34:01 +0000 Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139827 With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman
PARIS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

We are lucky to live in a country that has long since abandoned the image of the damsel in distress. Even Disney princesses now save themselves and send unsuitable “saviours” packing. But despite the great strides being made in gender equality, we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers.

We are failing them by using incomplete and inadequate data to describe their situation, and neglecting to empower them to improve it. As a consequence, we are all losing out on the wealth of knowledge this demographic can bring to boosting food supplies in a changing climate, which is a major concern for everyone on this planet.The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Whilst it is true that women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts, we need to debunk a few myths that have long been cited as fact, that are a bad basis for policy decision-making.

New research, drawing on work done by IFPRI and others, presented in Paris this week by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will start this process – here are four fast facts that can serve food for thought.

  1. Rural women have more access to land than we think

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

Therefore a better question to ask, and a new set of data now being collected is, how much control does the woman have over how land is used and the resultant income? How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making? There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that women play a significant role in agricultural production. This role needs to be recognised so that women receive better access to agricultural resources, inputs and services

  1. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth can leave people at risk.

Are more women falling into this trap because they don’t have control over important resources and can’t make advantageous choices when they farm? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

Yet in East Africa, research has shown women were more likely than, or just as likely as men to adopt climate-smart practices. Why is this? Because women do not have a single, unified interest. Decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, whether they are made by women or men. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

  1. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

A key to successful innovation is understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product.

In Nicaragua, women have been found to have completely different concerns from men when it comes to adapting to climate change, as they manage household food production, rather than growing cash crops like male farmers. Hearing these concerns and responding to them will result in more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition.

We hope that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women and learning about their perspectives. By getting a clearer picture of their situation, we can equip them with what they need to farm successfully under climate change, not just for themselves, and their families, but to benefit us all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/feed/ 0
Opinion: ‘We Owe It to More Than Half of the Global Population to Do a Better Job’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:29:10 +0000 Josephine Ojiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139802 Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

Courtesy of Josephine Ojiambo

By Josephine Ojiambo
LONDON, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Undoubtedly, we are at a crucial time in the advancement of gender equality.

As we move towards consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must ensure the rights of women and girls are firmly embedded in the post-2015 development framework.It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

Twenty years ago, leaders and global activists met in Beijing and created what was the most progressive roadmap to champion the rights of women – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark declaration, we must also caution against complacency as countries renew efforts to remove barriers that block women’s full and equal participation in all sectors of society.

An issue of serious concern remains the under-representation of women in politics. Until women are adequately represented at the highest level of policy making and decision making, we cannot hope to achieve the development aspirations of half the population.

We must accelerate efforts to reach the internationally agreed targets of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making roles.

The Commonwealth has made significant progress towards increasing women’s political participation. Out of 43 countries globally that have reached or exceeded the 30 per cent target, more than a third are Commonwealth countries.

We have seen the introduction of important measures to redress the lack of women in political leadership, such as quotas and national gender policies.

In India and Bangladesh, for example, constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women have led to the election of over one million women.

These achievements are good but not good enough. Women continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and subjected to violence and cruelty – female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, trafficking, slavery and sexual violence.

A culture of impunity prevails when it comes to prosecuting and preventing such violations. Under these current conditions, is it any wonder that only 22 out of 193 countries have a woman as head of state or government?

I recall my own formative political experience in Kenya: my mother became the country’s first female cabinet minister in the early seventies, and remains a formidable politician even today. I witnessed the hardships she endured to rise through the ranks, and the adversity she faced when in office, as well as her successes and achievement.

I too had a similar experience when I joined the oldest political party in Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as a volunteer and youth activist.

Over a period of 24 years, I rose through the ranks as a professional volunteer. This role granted me presence and agency; it ushered me forward to eventually be voted in as the first female secretary-general of the party.

It was during my first electoral campaign that I came face-to-face with a patriarchal political system fuelled by corruption and violence, including sexual violence against women campaigners, candidates and the electorate.

I learned many lessons during my experience in grassroots electoral politics – the sharing of good practices, the solidarity of sisterhood within the women’s movement, and the true support of key male champions.

Globally, however, women’s political participation continues to be thwarted by innumerable obstacles. Discrimination against women is rife.

Financial resources available to women to run political campaigns are scant or non-existent. Conflicts between work and family can be overwhelming.

We are all familiar with the tired saying, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’; it is exactly this type of regressive narrative that sets women back. Challenging gender-based stereotypes is still an ongoing, uphill battle.

Therefore, we must find ways to create inclusive and enabling environments where women are able to realise their full political, economic and social potential.

We must turn our attention to paving the way for future generations. Creating pathways that enable more young women to enter the ranks of political leadership is fundamental.

Education is the single most important tool to achieve this. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Statistics show, overwhelmingly, that countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Nevertheless, patriarchal systems continue to downgrade the value women offer society as a whole.

Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

To this end, we will work closely with member governments to fulfil international commitments in line with the stand-alone goal agreed at the 58th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Going forward, we seek to increase women’s participation in the political and corporate sectors through electoral and legislative reforms. We continue to push for the elimination of violence against women and girls in all Commonwealth countries.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment is another priority area. It is the social responsibility of governments to improve women’s enterprise and encourage business activity, thereby strengthening women’s economic power – one of the measures of overcoming poverty.

There is much work to be done. We must now deliver on promises to secure women’s equal participation in all echelons of society. We owe it to more than half of the global population to do a better job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-we-owe-it-to-more-than-half-of-the-global-population-to-do-a-better-job/feed/ 0
World’s Richest One Percent Undermine Fight Against Economic Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:34:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139765 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 Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The growing economic inequalities between rich and poor – and the lopsided concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s one percent – are undermining international efforts to fight global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice, according to a civil society alliance.

Comprising ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus, the group of widely-known non-governmental organisations (NGO) and global charities warn about the widening gap and imbalance of power between the world’s richest and the rest of the population, which they say, is “warping the rules and policies that affect society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence.”"Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. " -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The group identifies a list of key concerns – including tax avoidance, wealth inequality and lack of access to healthcare – as being unduly influenced by the world’s wealthiest one percent.

In a statement released Thursday, on the eve of the World Social Forum (WSF) scheduled to take place in Tunis Mar. 24-28, the group argues the concentration of wealth and power is now a critical and binding factor that must be challenged “if we are to create lasting solutions to poverty and climate change.”

The statement – signed by the chief executives of the four organisations – says: “We cannot rely on technological fixes. We cannot rely on the market. And we cannot rely on the global elites. We need to help strengthen the power of the people to challenge the people with power.”

“Securing a just and sustainable world means challenging the power of the one percent,” the group says.

The signatories include Adriano Campolina of ActionAid, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Civicus, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam.

Asked about the impact of economic inequalities on the implementation of the U.N.’s highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ben Phillips, campaigns and policy director at ActionAid International, told IPS economic inequalities have meant that in many countries progress on poverty reduction has been much slower than it would have been if growth had been more equal.

For example, he said, Zambia has moved from being a poor country (officially) to being (officially) middle income. Yet during that time the absolute number of poor people has increased.

India’s persistently high child malnutrition rate and South Africa’s persistently high mortality rate are functions of an insufficient focus on inequality, he added.

Papua New Guinea has the highest growth in the world this year and won’t meet any MDG, because the proceeds of growth are so unequally shared, he pointed out.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society alliance, Phillips said inequality has also been the great blind spot of the MDGs – even when countries have met the MDGs they have often done so in a way that has left behind the poorest people – so goals like reducing maternal and infant mortality have been met in several countries in ways that have left those at the bottom of the pile with little or no improvement.

The four signatories say: “We will work together with others to tackle the root causes of inequality. We will press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The statement also says that global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights, and promote fair and dignified employment are all being undermined as a consequence of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

“Decisions are being shaped in the narrow interests of the richest, at the expense of the people as a whole,” it says.

“The economic, ecological and human rights crises we face are intertwined and reinforcing. The influence of the one percent has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,” the group warns.

“Faced with this challenge, we need to go beyond tinkering, and address the structural causes of inequality: we cannot rely on technological fixes – there is no app for this; we cannot rely on the market – unchecked it will worsen inequality and climate change; and we cannot rely on the global elites – left alone they will continue to reinforce the structures and approaches that have led to where we are”.

People’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial to change the power inequalities that are leading to worsening rights violations and inequality, the group says.

However, in all regions of the world, the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being curtailed by repressive action defending the privileged.

“We therefore pledge to work together locally, nationally and internationally, alongside others, to uphold and defend universal human rights and protect civil society space. A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account.”

Phillips told IPS even the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September, will not be achievable if economic inequalities continue.

As leading economist Andy Sumner of King’s College, London has demonstrated, “we find in our number-crunching that poverty can only be ended if inequality falls.” Additionally, healthy, liveable societies depend on government action to limit inequality.

It is also a question of voice, and power. In the words of Harry Belafonte, a Hollywood celebrity and political activist: “The concentration of money in the hands of a small group is the most dangerous thing that happened to civilization.”

Or as Jeff Sachs, a widely respected development expert and professor at Columbia University, has noted: “Corporations write the rules, pay the politicians, sometimes illegally and sometimes, via what is called legal, which is financing their campaigns or massive lobbying. This has got completely out of control and is leading to the breakdown of modern democracy.”

Phillips said tackling inequality is core to progress on tackling poverty – both because extreme and growing economic inequality will undermine poverty reduction and because the warping of power towards the one percent is shifting the focus of governments away from their citizens and towards corporations.

“Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. We need to shift power away from the one percent and towards the rest of society, to prevent all decisions being made in the narrow interests of a privileged few,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/feed/ 2
In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139762 A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/feed/ 0
Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Global Human Compassion to Combat Child Slaveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:38:26 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139760 By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has called for globalised human compassion to combat the global and persistent problems of child labour and child slavery.

“We live in a globalised world, let us globalise human compassion, ” Satyarthi told an audience at the United Nations Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Satyarthi, a tireless activist against child labour, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 together with Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Satyarthi said that he was confident that he would see the end of child servitude in his lifetime but emphasised that everybody had a moral responsibility to address the issue.

Child labour still remains a truly global problem hurting millions of children worldwide.

In South Asia 250,000 children, some as young as four, work up to eighteen hours a day tying knots for rugs that are exported to the U.S. and Europe.

In Haiti, UNICEF estimates that 225,000 children, mostly girls, between the ages of five and 17 live as ‘restaveks’, live-in domestic servants with wealthier families.

In the Central African Republic, the U.N. reports there are some 6,000 child soldiers, including young girls used as sex slaves.

Worldwide more than half of all child labourers work in agriculture, including in the United States where Human Rights Watch reports children working on tobacco farms are exposed to nicotine poisoning.

In total, the International Labor Organization reports that there are 168 million children in child labour, and that more than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.

Satyarthi said that behind every single statistic there is a cry for freedom from a child that we are not listening to.

“That is the cry to be a child, a child who can play, a child who can love, a child who can be a child,” he said.

Satyarthi contrasted the number of children in full time work with the 200 million adults who are jobless worldwide. He explained that addressing this imbalance was a complex issue, in part because in vulnerable populations children were seen as easier to exploit than adults.

Satyarthi also expressed concern that while progress has been made on child labour, the more heinous crime of child slavery has stagnated.

“The number of child slaves, the children in forced labour has not reduced at all”

He said the number of child slaves worldwide had stagnated at 5.5 million for the past fifteen years.

Satyarthi said that the United Nations played a key role in addressing child labour. He emphasised that there needed to be clear language on tackling child labour in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He also called for greater cooperation between organisations working to protect children to ensure a holistic strategy.

Also speaking at the event, Susan Bissell, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection said, “The first line of defense against falling victim to slavery is the child and his or her family.”

“By empowering families socially and economically and building their resilience to recognise child slavery, and being aware of their rights and how to exercise them, we can deliver a first strong blow against slavery,” she said.

Bissell also called on the private sector to stamp out child slavery, saying that children’s rights should be seen as a relevant business mandate.

Satyarthi concluded his speech with a strong call to action.

“If one single child anywhere in the world is in danger the world is not safe. If one single girl is sold like an animal and sexually abused and raped, we cannot call ourselves a cultured society.

“I refuse to accept that some children are born to live without human dignity,” he added. “Each one of you has some moral responsibility. It cannot go on me alone.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/feed/ 0
Banana Workers’ Strike Highlights Abuses by Corporations in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:00:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139738 Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte . Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene.

More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Fresh Del Monte, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.

“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama, told Tierramérica by phone from the area.

Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work.

Between 70 and 90 percent of Panama’s 417,000 indigenous people live in poverty, according to a 2014 United Nations report.

Observers say the latest conflict between workers and Fresh Del Monte in the Caribbean municipality of Talamanca, 250 km southeast of San José, is the result of decades of accumulation of land on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, mainly by large foreign banana producers, but in recent years by pineapple growers as well.

Talamanca is in the second-to-last place among the country’s 81 municipalities in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index. Most of Talamanca’s population is indigenous, and banana and plantain plantations cover 37 percent of the territory.

“The plantations that are on strike belong to Corbana (Corporación Bananera Nacional) and are leased to Fresh Del Monte,” lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, who represents the Caribbean coastal province of Limón, told Tierramérica. “Two years ago there was a big strike over the subhuman conditions, poor wages and immigration problems and a union was founded.”

“In December the contract with Corbana expired, and when they renewed it, the company did something that infringed the rules: they set up a new union, dismissed all of the workers, and only hired back those who were in the new union. The new conflict broke out as a result,” said Vargas, of the left-wing Broad Front coalition.

Corbana was created by the government and the owners of banana plantations to bolster production and trade. In the past it also produced bananas on land that it now leases to companies that basically use the property as their own.

“The concentration of land in Limón is getting dangerous,” warned the legislator from the banana-producing province. “Today hundreds and hundreds of families have to sell their land to become hired labour.”

Abrego is a classic example of these plantation workers. The 53-year-old Gnöbe Indian has been working on banana plantations in Costa Rica since 1993. He now lives with his wife and eight children, half of whom are still of school age, in a house that belongs to the Banana Development Corporation (Bandeco), a branch of Fresh Del Monte.

“My fellow strikers ask me about the food and tell me the same thing my family tells me at home: that they don’t have anything to eat while we’re waiting to be rehired,” said Abrego, the leader of the trade union at the Sixaola 3 plantation.

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

“I’m trying to get by without an income, with what I can scrounge up. But there are guys with small children who are having a harder time,” he said with a heavy heart, before explaining that the striking workers prepared communal meals to survive.

An estimated 95 percent of the strikers are indigenous people from Panama. “We’re on this side (of the border) for work,” said Abrego, a legal resident in Costa Rica. “We didn’t come here to steal or to take the bread out of anyone’s mouth. It’s rare to see a Costa Rican working on a banana plantation.”

The strike escalated when banana workers from Panama blocked traffic for a number of hours on the bridge over the Sixaola river, which connects Costa Rica and Panama, on Feb. 20-21.

The roadblock and the fact that the strike is being held by Panamanians on a Costa Rican plantation forced both governments to establish a negotiating table after an agreement reached on Feb. 27, which is to deliver its recommendations in a month.

Taking part in the talks are representatives of Bandeco, the local branch of the Sitepp (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Pública y Privada) trade union, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and Panama’s Ministry of Labour.

Besides the creation of the binational commission and its report, the agreement included “the company’s promise to immediately rehire 64 workers and to not evict the dismissed workers from their homes,” Costa Rica’s Deputy Minister of Labour Harold Villegas told Tierramérica.

The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. In 2013, Sitepp held a strike to protest poor working conditions and the complaints are piling up in the Ministry of Labour.

In May 2014, an inspection by the ministry revealed a number of violations of the country’s labour laws and ordered the companies to redress them.

For example, according to the report by the national inspection office, “on occasion, company officials use different forms of intimidation against the workers, either through verbal abuse or shouting or practices of labour harassment.”

“After these denunciations were made, they set up a union, tailored to the needs of the company,” the president of Sitepp, Luis Serrano, told Tierramérica. “Through that union they were trying to take over the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement that expired in December. They launched a campaign against us and started to give benefits to the union in alliance with the company, which they created.”

The union leaders complain that despite the binational agreement, they have not yet received food support from the institutions, although the 64 workers covered by the accord were rehired.

A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Fresh Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company.

The banana industry carries a heavy weight in the country, especially the Caribbean coastal region. According to statistics from Corbana, it employs 6.2 percent of Costa Rica’s workforce and 77 percent of all workers in the Caribbean region.

The industry represents seven percent of the country’s exports, and last year it brought in 900 million dollars.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/feed/ 0
Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/feed/ 0
Caribbean Community Climate-Smarting Fisheries, But Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 14:08:07 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139705 Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean nations have begun work on a plan to ‘climate smart’ the region’s fisheries as part of overall efforts to secure food supplies.

The concept is in keeping with plans by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to improve the “integration of agriculture and climate readiness” as the region prepares to deal with the impacts of climate change and the increasing demand for food.“With the projections, we're looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries." -- Dr. Orville Grey

Olu Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator, told IPS in an email that climate-smarting the region’s aquatic resources will “enable the sector to continue to contribute to sustainable development, while reducing the vulnerability associated with the negative impacts of climate change”.

“Climate-smart fisheries require improving efficiency in the use of natural resources to produce fish, maintaining the resilience of aquatic systems and the communities that rely on them,” he noted.

The fisheries sector of the Caribbean Community is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance for the estimated 182,000 people who directly depend on these resources. In recent years, fishermen across the region have reported fewer and smaller fish in their nets and scientists believe these are signs of the times, not just the result of over-exploitation and habitat degradation.

“We believe the signs of climate change are already affecting our vital fisheries sector in the increase in seaweed events causing the loss of access to fishing grounds and increased frequency of coral bleaching events,” Peter A. Murray, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Secretariat’s Programme Manager, Fisheries Management and Development, told IPS.

Listing some of the predicted changes, including climatic variations that promote the spread of invasive species, as well as increased salination, Murray noted that climate change is also expected to impact traditional species and contribute to coastal erosion due to more frequent and devastating hurricanes.

In fact, the secretariat’s Deputy Executive Director Susan Singh Renton told reporters at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture last November that warmer seas could also push larger species to the north, making them less available to regional fishers. CRFM is the Caricom organisation charged with the promotion of responsible use of regional fisheries.

Two weeks after launching its Climate Smart Agriculture project at the 13th celebration of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname in November 2014, the CTA began development of several initiatives. The programmes, they said would help the region to “tackle the impact of agriculture on small-scale producers” – among them small-scale fishers and fish farmers – in a way that will facilitate the construction of “resilient agricultural systems”.

The project came on the heels of the announcement of a Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFP) and the CRFM Climate Change Action Plan. These are two of several proposals by Community organisations to monitor and regulate capture fisheries as well as implement common goals and rules on the adaptation, management, and conservation of the resources.

Ajayi pointed out that since 2010, the CTA has been working closely with regional agencies including the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and the CRFM to implement the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change.

Timely, since some of the species most fished and traded by the region’s fishermen are already under pressure from over-exploitation, degraded habitats and pollution. The Queen Conch, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, the Nassau Grouper and the Parrotfish are among a growing list of species under closer scrutiny for tougher regulations on their capture and trade. Climate change is expected to make the problems worse.

“The support is aimed at developing common regional policy platforms and advocating regional policy initiatives in regional and global forums; strengthening national capacities through training and other supports and conducting comparative analyses of issues on a regional and sub-regional basis,” Ajayi said.

Scientists agree that there is need for immediate action. Technical officer in Jamaica’s Climate Change Division, Dr. Orville Grey, told reporters recently at the Jamaica Observer’s weekly exchange: “If you look at what is happening with sea surface temperatures, you’ll see that we are losing our corals through the warming of the oceans.”

He continued, “With the projections, we’re looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries”.

Murray pointed out that because the marine resources are shared, it is important that the Caribbean Community work together to implement supporting policies and agreements.

He noted, “The region has an action plan to address climate change in fisheries, but to be fully ready it has to be taken aboard by all stakeholders.”

There are also efforts to empower fisherfolk to access and share information that will enable them to participate in policy development at the local and regional levels. But fisherfolk are still not ready.

Mitchell Lay, coordinator of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO), said, however, climate smarting is on the group’s agenda for 2015

Both governments and NGOs have upped their activities to protect the resources. But while the former has been slow to act at the national and regional levels, environmentalists are upping the ante by seeking protection for several species that are seen to be in need of protection.

Two years ago, U.S.-based WildEarth Guardian petitioned to have the Queen Conch listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law. For Caribbean nations like the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize that depend on economically important species like conch and lobster, the ability to trade is critical to the local economies.

On Nov. 3, 2014 the NOAA denied the petition, but many believe regional trade of these species is on borrowed time, particularly as the effects of climate change grows.

“The CRFM Action Plan seeks to work towards a regional society and economy that is resilient to a changing climate and enhanced through comprehensive disaster management and sustainable use of aquatic resources,” Murray said.

He pointed to the five objectives of the plan, which among other things include actions to mainstream climate change adaptation into the sustainable development agendas of member states, and promoting actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and employing renewable and clean energy sources. Historically, however, the region has been slow to enact Community policies.

Key to successful climate smarting is the participation of the fisherfolk who have been the beneficiaries of several CTA-sponsored programmes to help them access information; assist them to become more efficient; and to enable them to engage in policy development at the local and regional levels.

The next steps are dependent on the implementation of relevant and necessary policies and the strengthening the legislation. Until then, fisherfolk and supporting institutions continue to wait.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/feed/ 1
Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry in Need of a Makeoverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:50:33 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139681 Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Over the past three decades, 50 percent of the 544,150 square kilometres that comprise Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, has been taken over by the palm oil industry.

“It will expand until it pushes us all into the ocean,” prophesies Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), who has fought for years to preserve an ancient way of life from being bulldozed to make way for mono-crop plantations.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life." -- Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)
For her, the business of producing the oil, a favourite of consumers around the world, needs to fall in line with the principles of sustainability. On its current growth spurt, the industry threatens to undermine local economies, indigenous communities and Indonesia’s delicate network of biodiversity.

Consumption of palm oil has risen steadily at seven percent per annum over the last 20 years, according to new data from a report published by the Dublin-based consultancy Research and Markets.

Globally, more people consume palm oil than soybean oil, and Indonesia is the largest producer of the stuff, churning out 31 million tonnes of palm oil in 2014. Malaysia and Indonesia together account for 85 percent of palm oil produced globally each year.

While output is predicted to be lower in 2015, the industry continues to expand rapidly, swallowing up millions of hectares of forestland to make space for palm plantations.

Indonesian government officials and industrialists insist that the sector boosts employment, and benefits local communities, but people like Setra disagree, arguing instead that the highly unsustainable business model is wreaking havoc on the environment and indigenous people, who number between 50 and 70 million in a country with a population of 249 million.

Busting the myth of equality and employment

A recent study by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found that the main benefactors of the palm oil industry are the big investors and companies that control 80 percent of the global palm oil trade.

The report found, “[The] palm oil sector has added little real value to the Indonesian economy. The average contribution of estate crops, including oil palm and rubber, to GDP [gross domestic product] was only 2.2 percent per year […].”

On the other hand, “food production is the main source of rural employment and income, engaging two-thirds of the rural workforce, or some 61 million people. Oil palm production only occupies the eighth rank in rural employment, engaging some 1.4 million people.”

About half of those engaged in palm oil production are smallholders, earning higher wages than their counterparts employed by palm oil companies (about 75 dollars a month compared to 57 dollars a month).

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The industry witnessed a 15-percent drop in profits last year, but this year profits are expected to rise, with prices settling between 500 and 600 dollars per tonne. Still, many producers in Indonesia and Malaysia openly advocate lower wages to keep profit levels high.

Experts also believe the sector does a poor job of redirecting profits into the communities because of a model that relies on eating up land and falling back on a system of patronage.

“This patronage system serves as the basic structure for the production, marketing, and distribution of palm oil. It connects significant actors in order to facilitate their businesses through legitimate mechanisms such as palm oil consortia, which usually consist of local strongmen, senior bureaucrats, and influential businessmen with close links to top national leaders,” the RRI report concluded.

Grassroots activists like Setra say that industrialists are also skilled at manipulating legal loopholes to continue expanding their plantations.

For instance, the Indonesian government has imposed a moratorium on land clearing for new plantations, a bid to appease scientists, Western nations and citizens concerned about the gobbling up of rainforests for monocultures.

However, the ban only applies to new licenses, not existing ones, allowing companies with longstanding licenses to violate the law without question.

Even when the central government cracks down, activists say, companies use local connections with powerful politicians to undercut regulations.

“It is a vicious system that feeds on itself,” the indigenous activist tells IPS.

Unjust, unsustainable

According to Bryson Ogden, RRI’s private sector analyst, “The structure of the industry is such that it leaves out local communities.”

“The biggest losers in this process were locals who lost their lands and livelihoods but have not been incorporated in the new economy on advantageous terms,” the RRI report said. “Indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, and women were the most vulnerable groups, as well as smallholders owning and managing their own oil palm plots.”

But when locals try to take a stand for their rights, such campaigns result in the alienation of whole communities or, worse, the criminalisation of their activities.

In July 2014, a protestor was shot dead by police in south Kalimantan while taking part in a protest against palm oil expansion. Another such killing was reported on Feb. 28 in Jambi, located on the east coast of the island of Sumatra.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life,” Setra laments.

She believes that as long as there is global demand for the oil without an accompanying international campaign to highlight the product’s impact on local people, companies are unlikely to change their mode of operation.

Others say the problem is a lack of data. Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust (TFT), an international environmental NGO, tells IPS that there is inadequate information on the socio-economic impacts of oil operations.

He says the focus on deforestation – in Indonesia and elsewhere – is a result of the tireless work of NGOs dedicated to the issue, combined with “easy-to-use tools like the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch”, a mapping system that allow people to quickly and cheaply identify deforestation.

He says similar resources must be made available to those like Setra – grassroots leaders on the ground, who are able to monitor and report on social degradation caused by the palm oil sector.

As the United Nations and its member states move closer to finalising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the international community’s blueprint for development and poverty-reduction in the coming decades – Indonesia and the palm oil sector will be forced to reckon with the unsustainable nature of the mono-crop corporate model, and move towards a practice of inclusivity.

One of the primary topics informing the knowledge platform on the SDGs is the promise of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources […] so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations.

Statistics like these suggest that nothing short of sweeping changes will be required to put indigenous people like Setra at the centre of the debate, and build a sustainable future for palm oil production.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/feed/ 1
Opinion: Gender Equality, the Last Big Poverty Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 12:50:40 +0000 Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139675 Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Young girls in the village of Sonu Khan Almani in Pakistan's Sindh province perform most of the household chores, like making bread. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Preethi Sundaram and Fiona Salter
NEW YORK, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is estimated that women account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. They also make up 60 per cent of the world’s 572 million working poor.

Rapid global change has undoubtedly opened doors for women to participate in social, economic and political life but gender inequality still holds women back.If you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

Around the globe, women and girls continue to have subordinate status, fewer opportunities and lower income, less control over resources, and less power than men and boys.

Son preference continues to deny girls the education they have a right to. And the burden of care work that women face impinges and intrudes on their opportunities in terms of education and career.

Now a new report to be launched by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Mar. 16 in New York examines the links between SRHR and three core aspects of gender equality: social development, economic participation and participation in political and public life.

The report, Sexual and reproductive health and rights – the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment, provides specific recommendations to governments and to United Nations agencies to make sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality become a reality.

The reason for the report is to assess objectively what we have long suspected, namely that sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to achieving equality.

Why? Because when women are able to maintain good health the trajectory of their lives can be transformed.

There are fewer maternal deaths and less reproductive illness; women and girls can realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are free to participate in social, economic and political life.

Stark figures show that the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights is a cause and consequence of deeply entrenched ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Gender norms leave women and girls at risk and unable to reach their full potential. In some extreme cases, they can kill.

Women die because they cannot access the abortion services they need. Women die of preventable causes in childbirth. Women die at the hands of their violent partners. We see examples of this in all corners of the world.

Globally, one in three women experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lifetime. And, shockingly, women how have experienced intimate partner violence are 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a major public health concern in all corners of the world. It’s a barrier to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and a constraint on development, with high economic costs.

And then there’s work. The percentage of women working in formal wage employment has increased over the last half century but a striking number of women are still likely to work in the informal economy due to gender inequality.

Across cultures and in all economies, women continue to do the bulk of unpaid care work. Women make up the majority of workers in the informal economy – 83 per cent of domestic workers worldwide are women.

Work in the informal economy can be more insecure and precarious, and can have specific impacts on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. For example, lack of regulations can make women more vulnerable to lower wages, limited access to health care, maternity leave or child care and workplace discrimination, including sexual assault.

In virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

Globally, female labour force participation decreases 10-15 per cent with each additional child for women aged 25-39.

Women also tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms. While 55 per cent of men report have an account at a formal financial institution, the figure is just 47 per cent for women .

Here, too, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are key – true economic empowerment and stability comes from ensuring that regulatory frameworks across both the formal and informal economies take into consideration women’s reproductive lives.

In the political realm gender norms limit women’s opportunities to participate in decision making. As a result, women’s domestic roles are over-emphasised, they have less time to engage in activities outside of the home. This then restricts their influence to informal decision making, which tends to be hidden, or not respected.

Hardly surprising, then, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians is female.

One reason for women’s low participation in public and political life is because party politics and strategic resources are dominated by men.

In addition, women also have to overcome barriers that men don’t, such as poor networking, limits on whether they can travel.

Women voters are four times as likely as men to be targeted for intimidation in elections in fragile states. After all, would you vote if you faced threats on your way to the polling station?

What this report shows is that gender inequality prevents girls and women from reaping benefits and contributing to social, economic and political life.

So what’s the answer? Truth be told, no single approach will work. We have to look at solutions that work for women’s varied and complex lives.

But there is something that we can change – something that goes to the very heart of poverty eradication and development goals. We can uphold sexual and reproductive rights.

Because if you can decide who you live with, what happens to your body and the size of your family, if you are free to make decision about these fundamental rights – only then are you able to participate fully in social, economic and political life.

It’s the freedom from which all other freedoms flow.

Women and girls should have the right and ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives and sexuality, free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

That’s what equality is all about.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-gender-equality-the-last-big-poverty-challenge/feed/ 0
Empower Rural Women for Their Dignity and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 12:57:26 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139657 A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Mar 14 2015 (IPS)

Rural women make major contributions to rural economies by producing and processing food, feeding and caring for families, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households – but, in many countries, they face discrimination in access to agricultural assets, education, healthcare and employment, among others, preventing them from fully enjoying their basic rights.

Gender equality is now widely recognised as an essential component for sustainable development goals in the post-2015 agenda, with empowerment of rural women vital to enabling poor people to improve their livelihoods and overcome poverty.“To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities” – IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze

This year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on Mar. 8, marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which called on governments, the international community and civil society from all over the world to empower women and girls by taking action in 12 critical areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child.

Despite that call, much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation.

“Too often, rural women are doing the backbreaking work,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said on the occasion. “To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities.”

This year, the three Rome-based U.N. agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and IFAD – along with journalists and students from Rome’s LUISS, John Cabot and La Sapienza universities met to share testimonials of innovative interventions aimed at empowering rural women in four key areas: nutrition, community mobilisation, livestock and land rights.

A large body of research indicates that putting more income into the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition health and education in all developing regions of the world.

Explaining why women and men need to be involved together to move forward on nutrition, Britta Schumacher, a WFP Programme Policy Officer, described how the Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition (REACH) programme had been able to tackle malnutrition and health problems using an approach based on positive gender-oriented objectives.

The REACH programme – a joint initiative of FAO, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is based on the human right to nutrition security and seeks to transform the way governments and donors approach investment in nutrition to leverage existing investments most effectively and systematically identify priorities for additional investments needed to scale up.

Noting that “the long girls stay at school, the better is their health” because “lack of awareness represents a concrete obstacle to good practices,” Schumacher said that in Bangladesh activities had been carried out under the REACH programme to transfer knowledge within and between members of communities and local authorities, boost rural women’s access to services and strengthen their self-esteem. 

Stressing the need for community mobilisation, Andrea Sanchez Enciso, Gender and Participatory Communication Specialist with FAO, illustrated one of the achievements of FAO’s Dimitra project, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, women in particular.

In Niger, she said, “the Dimitra project encouraged the inclusion of a gender perspective in communication for development initiatives in rural areas … taking greater account of the specificities, needs and aspirations of men and women” and “creating participatory spaces for discussion between men and women, access to information and collective actions in their communities.”

Leading a two-year small livestock project in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Antonio Riota, Lead Technical Specialist in IFAD’s Livestock, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, said that the project was developed and implemented in a context in which 90 percent of village chickens were managed by women and poultry was the only source of income for the entire community.

According to Riota, the project showed how small livestock can make a difference in rural women’s lives because one of its major results has been that “now women can walk all together” whereas previously they were accused of prostitution if they did so. “Some 75,000 women benefitted from the project and profitability increased by 91 percent,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mino Ramaroson, Africa Regional Coordinator at the International Land Coalition, described two African experiences of women’s networks – the National Federation of Rural Women in Madagascar and the Kilimanjaro Initiative – advocating for their rights to land and natural resources.

In Madagascar, the National Federation of Rural Women, which aims to promote rural women’s rights, improve members’ livelihoods and increase their resilience to external and internal shocks, has been joined by more than 450 rural women’s groups from the country’s six provinces.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative, initiated by rural women in 2012 and supported by the International Land Coalition, uses women’s rights to land and productive resources as an entry point for the mobilisation of rural women from across Africa to define the future they want, claim lives of dignity they deserve and identify and overcome the challenges that hold them back.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/feed/ 0
Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/feed/ 0
Anger Seethes in Gabon after Wood Company Sacks Protesting Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 20:03:58 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139648 By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MBOMAO, Gabon, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

There is rising anger among trade unionists, environmentalists and civil society groups in Gabon after a wood company, Rain Forest Management (RFM), sacked 38 fixed-term workers last month in Mbomao, Ogooué-Ivindo province.

RFM, a Gabonese wood processing company with Malaysian investment, is one of several exploiting the rich natural forests in Gabon. The forestry sector is the country’s second source of foreign exchange after oil.

RFM and the woodworkers had been locked in a lengthy dispute over working conditions, lack of contacts and legal working hours, among other complaints.

According to the Entente Syndicale des Travailleurs du Gabon (ENSYTG) union, RFM refused to negotiate with them and workers who were planning to take part in trade union meetings were threatened and intimidated.“Although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity” – Forests Monitor

After numerous threats and charges of intimidation, on Feb. 17, as the employees were returning to work, RFM called on police to evict them from their company-supplied dormitories, claiming that the workers had violated company rules.

The dismissals were linked to worker protests over poor working conditions, unsanitary housing infested with rats, cockroaches and snakes, demands for legal working hours and payment of wages on time.

Léon Mébiame Evoung, president of ENSYTG, told IPS that the workers were simply calling on the company to respect basic rights and provide a pharmacy and an infirmary that should be managed by competent Gabonese health professionals.

RFM failed to meet any of these demands, said the union official. Instead, it decided to execute its earlier threat by firing all protesting workers.

The action has provoked the ire of civil society groups and syndicates, including Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWINT), which is circulating an online petition to help the strikers’ return to their jobs.

Marc Ona Essangui, founder of the environmental NGO Brainforest and president of Environment Gabon, a network of NGOs, told IPS in an online interview that he could not accept such “gross suppression” of workers’ rights. “I have signed up to the call to protect the workers,” he said.

“I strongly protest against the dismissal of these workers, which is clearly linked to their strike action,” he insisted. Such anti-union activities, he added, violate International Labour Office (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 (on freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively, respectively).

Along with other environmentalists in the region, Essangui – who once received a suspended sentence for accusing a presidential ally of exploiting timber, palm oil and rubber in Gabon’s “favourable agri-climate” – is troubled by risks to the region’s natural forests due to development activities.

The Gabonese government and international donors, however, regard the exploitation of timber as central to the country’s macroeconomic development.

According to Forests Monitor, an NGO that supports forest-dependent people, “although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity.”

The NGO notes that “production levels are already considerably above the official sustainable production estimates and are set to continue rising”, meaning that “the contribution which forestry sector revenues make to the country’s population as a whole and to people living in the locality of forestry operations is questionable.”

On its website, the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that “nowhere is the pressure (on resources) more intense than in Gabon, a nation with 80 percent of its territory covered by dense tropical forest. With resource use demands spiralling in recent years, Gabon urgently needs better forest management planning if the government is to achieve its goal of becoming an emerging economy while preserving the country’s natural resources.”

RFM’s woodworking factory lies at the centre of three national parks – Lope, Crystal Mountain, and Ivindo – and to the east of Libreville. The park area is a small fraction of the land marked for development on a WRI map. The wood used by RFM is locally sourced.

Established in 2008, RFM produces windows and doors for the Gabonese domestic market. It exports semi-finished products to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The company employs more than 700 workers, with a Gabonese majority.

Since November 2009, when log exports were banned, the formal economy production of processed wood has increased significantly.

According to a WRI report titled ‘A First Look at Logging in Gabon’, compiled by seven Gabonese environmental organisations, “Gabon has vast forest resources, but rapid growth of logging activity may threaten those resources. If managed properly, Gabon’s forests could offer long-term revenues without compromising the ecosystems’ natural functions.”

However, the authors continued, “(we) found information about forest development unreliable, inconsistent, and very difficult to obtain. We believe that more public information will promote accountability and transparency and favour the implementation of commitments made to manage and protect the world’s forests, which would significantly slow forest degradation around the world.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers/feed/ 0
Feeding a Warmer, Riskier Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:57:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139638

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Artificial meat. Indoor aquaculture. Vertical farms. Irrigation drones. Once the realm of science fiction, these things are now fact. Food production is going high tech – at least, in some places.

But the vast majority of the world’s farmers still face that old and fundamental fact: their crops, their very livelihoods, depend on how Mother Nature treats them. Over 80 percent of world agriculture today remains dependent on the rains, just as it did 10,000 years ago.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

At the Second International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome last November, Pope Francis said: “God forgives always; men, sometimes; the Earth, never. Mother Nature can be rough – and she’s getting rougher as our planet’s climate changes.”

When drought, floods, tsunamis or severe weather hit, the consequences for people’s food security and economic well-being can be profound. Beyond the disaster-provoked hunger crises that make newspapers headlines, the development trajectories of entire nations and regions can be seriously altered by extreme events.

Remember: In many developing countries farming remains a critical economic activity. The livelihoods of 2.5 billion family farmers depend on agriculture, and the sector accounts for as much 30 percent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Mozambique, among others.Losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

It is not only drought, floods, and storms the pose a threat to agriculture, by the way. Diseases and pests like Small Ruminants Plague (PPR), or desert locusts or wheat rusts do as well. Nor is harsh weather the only threat: wars, economic crises – the work of humans – frequently wreak havoc on agricultural communities and infrastructure.

Conflicts, natural hazards have always threatened food security. However today we are witnessing their aggravation. Economic losses due to natural disasters have tripled over the last decade – and continue to rise.

Initial results from a new FAO study show that losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

Small scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who generate more than half of global agricultural production, are particularly at risk. (By the way, these very same people make up 75 percent of the world’s poor, hungry and food insecure population.)

So how can we ensure food security in a world with ever more people, exposed to ever more intense and frequent hazards?

Agriculture itself can provide solutions. It is a main driver for land use changes and can therefore be instrumental in increasing vulnerabilities to natural hazards. At the same time, a more sustainable approach to food production would help us protect the environment and build the resilience of our communities in the face of disasters.

Over the past decade, good progress has been made in fleshing out the concept of disaster risk reduction and its vital contribution to inclusive and sustainable development. Yet more must be done to harness the potential of agriculture in reducing disaster-related risks and to factor agriculture, food security and nutrition into strategies for bolstering up the resilience of societies.

Next week, world leaders and the international development community will gather in Sendai, Japan, to chart a pathway for a broad-reaching and holistic global approach to disaster risk reduction.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will be taking the message to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Mar. 14-18) that risk-sensitive development in the agriculture-food-nutrition sector is an essential building block for enhancing overall global resilience to disasters.

Our vision for ensuring that agriculture both benefits from and contributes to disaster risk reduction rests on four mutually reinforcing pillars that are applicable at the local, national, regional and global levels.

First, we must manage risk. This includes developing legal and regulatory frameworks for risk reduction and crisis management and building capacities at all levels to implement them. Risk factors need to be systematically factored into agriculture, fisheries and forestry planning, from step one.

Second, we have to watch to safeguard, establishing better information-gathering and early warning systems to identify threats. Then we must be proactive and act before disaster hits. In the past, the global community received early warning of impeding crisis, but did not react. The 2011 famine in Somalia is a recent and sobering example.

Third, we need to reduce the underlying risk factors that make farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters vulnerable. This can be achieved by focusing on – and investing in – more sustainable models of food production and the use of improved agricultural technologies and practices which raise yields and boost resilience against shocks while protecting the natural resource base.

There is a rich tool kit of options already available, such as conservation agriculture and agroforestry, strengthening producer organisations, or establishing field schools to disseminate best practices, to name just a few.

Finally, maintaining a state of readiness to allow for rapid responses to the needs of the food production sector if disaster does hit is also key. Despite massive damage, agricultural livelihoods in the Philippines were rapidly restored after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan thanks to appropriate national-level preparedness and timely international community support.

Sendai – and July’s development financing conference in Addis Ababa and the Paris 2014 climate summit – give us a chance to hard-wire resilience into the post-2015 development agenda. Agriculture – and the many, diverse communities that make it up – can and should be the bedrock on which increased resilience for millions of people is built.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/feed/ 2