Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139383 Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Mobile Technology a Lever for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:49 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139367 For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Providing women with greater access to mobile technology could increase literacy, advance development and open up much-needed educational and employment opportunities, according to experts at the fourth United Nations’ Mobile Learning Week conference here.

“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The agency, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women, joined forces with its “sister” organisation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to host the Feb. 23-27 conference this year.“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

The aim, UNESCO said, was to give participants a venue “to learn about and discuss technology programmes, initiatives and content that are alleviating gender deficits in education.”

Participants from more than 70 countries shared so-called best practices and presented a range of initiatives to address the issue, including reducing the costs of access to mobile services in some developing countries, and providing training and free laptops to women teachers in countries such as Israel.

“There is still a persistent gender gap in access to mobile technology,” said keynote speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In an interview on the side-lines of the conference, she told IPS that “anything that encourages the education of girls is important” and that it was “particularly significant” that UNESCO and UN Women had joined forces to work together in this area to achieve results.

“We need to encourage women to use technology and we also need to involve men to provide support,” Blair said. She cited research showing that a woman in a low- or middle-income country is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In Africa, the figure is 23 percent less likely, and in the Middle East and South Asia 24 percent and 37 percent respectively.

“The reasons women cite for not owning a mobile phone include the costs of handsets and data plans, lack of need and fear of not being able to master the technology,” Blair said.

Yet, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile phones are the “most pervasive and rapidly adopted technology in history”, with six billion of the world’s seven billion people now having access.

If there existed gender parity in this access, women could benefit from the technology in a number of ways, including getting information about healthcare and other services, experts said.

They could also potentially follow massive open online courses (MOOCS) such as those offered by an increasing number of universities and other institutions, despite on-going controversy about their benefits. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in MOOCs are men, and often from wealthy backgrounds, surveys suggest.

Whether women live in low-income or rich countries, learning how to use technology could have future benefits especially regarding employment, said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer.

“Ninety percent of jobs in the future are going to require ICT skills,” he told IPS in an interview. “So any idea that it’s not socially or culturally acceptable for women to use technology is extremely dangerous.”

He said the fact that 25 percent fewer women than men currently access the Internet “was alarming” and that changes needed to occur early in education so that girls were not left out of future jobs.

“We don’t often realise how gendered our perceptions of technology are,” he added. “Women are taught from a young age to not like technology, taught that maths and science are not for them, and this is a big problem.”

At university level, only about 20 percent of female students are pursuing careers in computer science, and in the technology sector, only six percent of CEOs are women, according to the ITU.

“We should do more to get women in STEM fields,” said Doreen Bogdan, ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some participants highlighted current programmes to keep girls interested in science, such as camps run by the California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm, which brings sixth-grade female students together to learn coding and tech skills, and does follow-up work with them as they continue their education.

“All of the tech companies are fighting for the same talent pool and there are not enough females in that talent pool because not enough girls are studying it,” said Angela Baker, a senior manager at Qualcomm.

“There’s a ton of research that shows that when you have more women in the industry, companies tend to do better … so we have a vested interest in building that pipeline of girls and women,” she told IPS.

Apart from the STEM fields, girls have made great strides in education over the past 30 years, but there is “still a long way to go,” said experts, who cited U.N. figures showing that globally there are seven girls to every 10 boys in school.

Both UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and Cherie Blair described education as a “human rights imperative” as well as a development and security imperative.

They stressed that the goal of achieving gender equality in education will continue for the post-2015 development agenda, and that technology has an important role to play.

“Empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative,” Blair said.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Analysis: Collaboration Key for a Clean Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 19:07:32 +0000 Neeraj Jain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139323 Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums remains a massive challenge. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums remains a massive challenge. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeraj Jain
NEW DELHI, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to action for a 100 percent Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2019 was announced as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) or Clean India Campaign last year.

With 60 percent of all those practising open defecation globally residing in India, this task is particularly crucial, yet also challenging.We need to think how we are going to engage and influence the behaviour of such a massive audience. It probably requires the most ambitious behaviour change campaign ever attempted in the history of any nation.

Inadequate waste management leads to the contamination of water sources, contributing to diarrhoeal diseases that claim the lives of 186,000 children every single year.

With nowhere safe to go to the toilet, women and girls are often put in a vulnerable position as they seek somewhere private to relieve themselves.

A lack of adequate sanitation also has a substantial impact on economic development, with money repeatedly being lost due to workers being sick or taking time off to care for sick family members, not to mention the cost of medical treatment.

So is the 2019 target actually achievable?

It may sound like a tall order but we won’t know until we try. We need to look at the ways to make it work – implement this seemingly ambitious plan in an effective manner to make the target achievable. Not just admit defeat before we start.

The recent pace of the activities under the SBM suggests that India would become clean by 2070. To achieve the target around 50,000 toilets need to be built every day, without compromising on quality.

So it’s high time that we stop focussing on the problems and start discussing possible solutions.

With this in mind, WaterAid India organised an India WASH Summit in New Delhi last week. It was the first of its kind and was aimed at devising solutions to India’s sanitation crisis and shaping future collaboration to achieve Swachh Bharat’s ambitious target of a toilet for every household by Oct. 2, 2019. 

This landmark event, organised in partnership with the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation and Ministry of Urban Development, brought together the government, the private sector and civil society groups working to make clean India a reality.

The summit concluded with the creation of a concrete set of recommendations to be shared with the government of India to help in the effective implementation of the SBM across a number of themes including behaviour, equity and inclusion, gender, water security, institutional transformation, technology, research, and convergence of nutrition, health and education.

Collaboration emerged as a key theme at the summit, both within the sector as well as with organisations focussing on nutrition, health and education. Participants at the summit stressed the importance of capacity building and the need for effective monitoring.

It was agreed that sanitation should be acknowledged as a basic human right. To ensure success in getting sanitation for all, programmes need to be equitable and inclusive and should include behaviour change at its core.

Previous initiatives have taught us that just building toilets is not enough. To stimulate demand for toilets, hygiene education and collective initiatives are key.

We need to think how we are going to engage and influence the behaviour of such a massive audience. It probably requires the most ambitious behaviour change campaign ever attempted in the history of any nation.

The overall budget of the programme (rural as well as urban) as estimated by the government is almost Rs. 3 lakh crores (50 billion dollars).

I believe that answers to all hurdles identified above do exist but the entire WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector need to come together to find the most suitable answers as well as the most effective ways to implement it, in record time.

WaterAid has been working in the WASH sector in India since 1986 and is committed to supporting the government of India in realising the ambitious but much needed goal of making India open defecation free by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up and down the poverty line

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

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

Exclusion beyond income

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indigenous Food Systems Should Be on the Development Menuhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:08:39 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139295 Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century no longer means simply increasing the quantity of available food but also the quality.

Despite numerous achievements in the world’s food systems, approximately 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger and roughly two billion peoples suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies while, at the same time, over 2.8 billion people are obese.

Unfortunately, the debate over how to address this challenge has polarised, pitting agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and traditional ecological knowledge, land-based ways of life and a holistic, interdependent relationship between people and the Earth.“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless” – Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement

Organised to reflect on this, among other issues, the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) from Feb. 12-13 in Rome, discussed solutions that combine the need to ensure food security and a balanced diet for all with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development.

According to IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, “indigenous peoples’ lands are some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse places on earth … It is only now, in the 21st century, that the rest of the world is starting to value the biodiversity that is a core value of indigenous societies.” Occupying nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s land area, indigenous groups act as custodians of biodiversity.

Participants at the Forum debated the potential of indigenous livelihood systems and practices – thanks to an age-old tradition of inter-generational knowledge transmission – to contribute to and inspire new transformative approaches of sustainable development, synthesising culture and identity, firmly anchored in respect for individual and collective rights.

However, the Forum described how many indigenous communities and ecosystems are at risk due to the lack of recognition of their rights and fair treatment by governments and corporations, population growth, climate change, migration and conflict. According to participants, the on-going exclusion of indigenous people devalues not only the importance of their communities but also the traditional ecological and agricultural knowledge they possess.

“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless,” Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement, said at a Forum side event focused on the interconnections among nutrition, food security and sustainable development.

“The march towards this idea of progress has left women, youth and elderly people and indigenous populations at the end of the line with no one left to give a voice to them,” he continued. “All the drama of modern reality is now revealing itself: the ‘glorious march’ of progress is now on the edge of a precipice, the present crisis the fruit of greed and ignorance.”

Largely addressing the so-called developed world, the Forum described how many of the good practices and traditional empirical wisdom of indigenous peoples deserve to be studied with care and attention. For example, boosting local economies and agriculture, along with respect for small communities, are ways of reconciling man with the earth and nature.

At the same time, many indigenous communities have certain foods – including corn, taro and wild rice – that are considered sacred and are cultivated through sustainable land and water practices.  This contrasts with the global production, distribution and consumption of food which pays little attention to loss of water and soil fertility, genetic plant and animal erosion and unprecedented food waste.

The Forum also heard how issues related to the paramount role of indigenous peoples’ food systems are central to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects managed by the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at Montreal’s McGill University in Canada.

“Years of work have documented the traditional food systems of indigenous peoples and their dietary habits to understand matriarchy and the role of women in food security and community peace in Canada,” said Harriet V. Kuhnlein, Professor Emerita of Human Nutrition and founding Director of CINE.

Kuhnlein described one of CINE’s projects, the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, a three-year community-based project focused on a primary prevention programme for non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in a Mohawk community near Montreal.

Among others, the project organised community-based activities promoting healthy lifestyles and demonstrated that “a native community-based diabetes prevention programme is feasible through participatory research that incorporates native culture and local expertise,” said Kuhnlein.

According to Forum participants, the reintroduction of local food products is essential for feeding the planet – “here we see real democracy in action,” said one speaker – and a major effort is needed to avoid practices that exacerbate the negative impacts of food production and consumption on climate, water and ecosystems.

There was also a call for the post-Millennium Development Goal (MDG) agenda to ensure a healthy environment as an internationally guaranteed human right, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the MDGS at the end of 2015, encouraging governments to work towards agricultural policies that are compatible with environmental sustainability and trade rules that are consistent with food security.

It was agreed that none of this will be easy to implement and will require both a strong accountability framework and the will to enforce it, including through recognition of corporate responsibility in the private sector.

As the world prepares for the post-2015 scenario, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum in Rome said that it was crucial to incorporate food security, environmental issues, poverty reduction and indigenous peoples’ rights into discussions around the new goals of sustainable development involving citizens, governments, academic institutions, private corporations and international organisations worldwide.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139284 No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 

“No.”

“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Biogas Eases Women’s Household Burden in Rural Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:34:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139281 Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

By Ivet González
LOS ARABOS, Cuba, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

On the blue flame of her biogas stove, it takes half as long for rural doctor Arianna Toledo to heat bath water and cook dinner as it did four years ago, when she still used electric power or firewood.

The installation of a biodigester, which uses pig manure to produce biogas for use in cooking food, cut the expenses and the time spent on food preparation for Toledo’s five-member family, who live in the town of Cuatro Esquinas, Los Arabos municipality in the western Cuban province of Matanzas.

“The main savings is in time, because the gas stove cooks faster,” Toledo told Tierramérica. She and the rest of the women in the family shoulder the burden of the household tasks, as in the great majority of Cuban homes.

Another 20 small biogas plants operate in homes in this town located 150 km from Havana, and over 300 more in the entire province of Matanzas, installed with support from a project run by the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD-C), based in Cárdenas, a city in the same province.“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden. That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.” -- Rita María García

The ecumenical institution seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas by fomenting ecological practices, which mitigate environmental damage, soil degradation and poor use of water.

Another key aim of the biodigester project is also to ease the work burden and household expenses of rural women.

“Our monthly power bill has been reduced, and we spend less on cooking gas cylinders, while at the same time we’re protecting the environment by using a renewable natural resource,” Toledo said.

In Cuba, 69 percent of families depend on electricity for cooking.

Toledo’s husband, Carlos Alberto Tamayo, explained to Tierramérica that using the biodigester, the four pigs they raise for family consumption guarantee the fuel needed for their home.

“And the organic material left over is used as natural fertiliser for our garden, where we grow fruit and vegetables,” said Tamayo, an Episcopal pastor in Cuatro Esquinas, which has a population of just over 2,300.

He said the biodigester prevents bad smells and the spread of disease vectors, while the gas is safer because it is non-toxic and there is a lower risk of accidents or explosions.

With the support of international development funds from several countries, for 15 years the CCRD-C has been promoting household use of these systems, reforestation and renewable energies, which are a priority for this Caribbean island nation, where only 4.3 percent of the energy consumed comes from clean sources.

The biodigesters, which are homemade in this case, will mushroom throughout Cuba over the next five years.

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The Swine Research Institute’s Biogas Promotion and Development Centre is designing a national plan to promote the use of biodigesters in state companies and agricultural cooperatives.

In 2014, the Centre reported that there were 1,000 biodigesters in these two sectors, which benefited 4,000 people, in the case of the companies, and 8,000 people, in the case of the farming cooperatives.

The plan projects the construction of some 1,000 biodigesters a year by 2020, through nine projects implemented by the Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers, which will receive financing from the United Nations Small Grants Programme.

According to Rita María García, director of the CCRD-C, monitoring of the project has shown that replacing the use of firewood, kerosene and petroleum-based products with biogas makes household work more humane.

Women gain in safety and time – important in a country where unpaid domestic work absorbs 71 percent of the working hours of women, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden,” said García. “That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.”

The methodology followed by the CCRD-C projects first involves training for the beneficiaries in construction and maintenance of the biodigesters, and in ecological farming techniques using organic fertiliser, said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the organisation’s general coordinator.

The CCRD-C also promotes reforestation by small farmers and the use of windmills, to reduce the use of electricity in a country that imports 53 percent of the fuel it consumes.

An additional benefit of the biodigesters is that they offer an alternative for the disposal of pig manure, which contaminates the environment.

In 2013 there were 16.7 million pigs in Cuba, 65 percent of which were in private hands in this highly-centralised, socialist economy.

Because pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, and many private farmers and families raise pigs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are fomenting the installation of biodigesters, to help boost production.

The authorities require those who raise pigs to guarantee adequate disposal of their waste.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used for cooking food, lighting, refrigeration and power generation.

Biodigesters help reduce soil and groundwater pollution, and curb the cutting of trees for firewood.

Cuba introduced their use in the 1980s, with U.N. support. But they began to take off a decade later, thanks to the National Biogas Movement.

Studies reported by the local press say the annual national potential for biogas production is over 400 million cubic metres, which would generate 700 gigawatt-hours per year.

That would reduce the release of carbon dioxide by more than three million tons, and would reduce oil imports by 190,000 tons a year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

 

 

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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LGBTI Community in Central America Fights Stigma and Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 20:10:41 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139250 Daniela Alfaro standing in front of the University of El Salvador med school, where the complaints she has filed about the harassment and aggression she has suffered as a transgender student of health education have gone nowhere. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Daniela Alfaro standing in front of the University of El Salvador med school, where the complaints she has filed about the harassment and aggression she has suffered as a transgender student of health education have gone nowhere. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

Despite the aggression and abuse she has suffered at the University of El Salvador because she is a trans woman, Daniela Alfaro is determined to graduate with a degree in health education.

“There is very little tolerance of us at the university. I thought it would be different from high school, but it isn’t,” Alfaro, a third year student of health education at the University of El Salvador med school, in the capital, told IPS.

Rejected by the rest of her family, Alfaro only has the emotional and financial support of her mother, “the only one who didn’t turn her back on me,” she said.

Like her, many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community suffer harassment, mistreatment and even attacks on a daily basis in Central America because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, said activists from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua interviewed by IPS.

The discrimination, aggression and harassment that Alfaro has experienced at the university have come from her own classmates, as well as professors and university staff and authorities.“We don’t exist for the state in the areas of health, education, work or social matters, there is no protocol for how public employees should treat us.” -- Carlos Valdés

Since 2010 she has been filing reports and complaints with the university authorities for the aggression she has suffered in the men’s bathroom, which she is forced to use. “But they don’t take my complaints seriously because I’m trans,” said the 27-year-old student.

Alfaro has also experienced the invisibility of LGBTI persons when they receive no response from institutions or officials because their complaints or reports are dismissed or ignored simply because of prejudice against non-heterosexuals, said Carlos Valdés, with the Lambda Organisation in Guatemala.

“We don’t exist for the state in the areas of health, education, work or social matters, there is no protocol for how public employees should treat us,” Valdés told IPS by phone from Guatemala City.

Lambda and three other organisations in Central America are carrying out the regional programme “Centroamérica Diferente” (Different Central America), aimed at securing respect for the human rights of people with different sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Basically we want to improve the quality of life of the LGBTI community, so we are no longer discriminated against by sectors and institutions of the government,” said Eduardo Vásquez, with the Salvadoran Asociación Entreamigos, which is involved in the initiative.

The programme began in May 2014 and will run through June 2016 in the four participating countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

With funds from the European Union, it aims to get 40 organisations and more than 200 human rights activists involved, and to reach 3,550 members of the LGBTI community, 160 communicators, 600 public employees, 8,000 adolescents and 10 percent of the population of the four countries.

The programme provides legal support in cases of abuse and violence, and training for sexual diversity rights activists, and it carries out national and regional campaigns against homophobia.

The activists coordinate the activities with government institutions that provide public services to the LGBTI community, and exercise oversight to prevent abuses and discrimination, for example in health centres, schools and the workplace, or in police procedures.

“We are sad to see that some police continue to use poor procedures during searches, or refer in a disrespectful manner to gay or transgender persons,” Norman Gutiérrez, with the Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua, another group taking part in the initiative, told IPS by telephone.

The programme will also set up a regional LGBTI human rights observatory to monitor cases of abuse, attacks and violence, and will conduct a study to gauge the magnitude of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or identity.

Hate crimes

The observatory and the study will play a key role in detecting, for example, how severe is the phenomenon of homophobic murders, especially against transgender persons, since official statistics do not recognise hate crimes and merely classify them as homicides, the activists explained.

“In Guatemala the right to life is one of the rights that is most violated, and these murders often target trans persons,” Valdés said.

Given the lack of clear official figures, the organisations compile information as best they can, without the necessary systematisation. Based on this information, the groups participating in the programme estimate that in the last five years, at least 300 members of the LGBTI community, mainly transgender women, were murdered in hate crimes.

These murders occur in a context of generalised violence in the region. The so-called Northern Triangle, made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, is one of the most violent regions in the world.

The murder rate in Honduras in the last few years has stood at around 70 per 100,000 population, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – far above the Latin American average of 29 and the global average of 6.2.

In Honduras, LGBTI activists have reported at least 190 homophobic murders in the last five years, some of which were included in a report published Dec. 17 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The document reports human rights violations against the LGBTI community committed between January 2013 and March 2014 in 25 Organisation of American States member countries. In that period, at least 594 people perceived to be LGBTI were killed, while another 176 were victims of serious physical assaults.

The IACHR “urges States to adopt urgent and effective measures to prevent and respond to these human rights violations and to ensure that LGBTI persons can effectively enjoy their right to a life free from violence and discrimination.”

Among the cases compiled by the IACHR is the murder of a trans woman in Honduras who was stoned to death on Mar. 4, 2013 in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. She was identified as José Natanael Ramos, age 35.

Unlike other programmes that are implemented only in the capital cities, Centroamérica Diferente plans to reach small cities and towns as well, where the violence, discrimination and vulnerability are generally worse.

“In small towns there is much more ‘machismo’, more violence and more homophobia. Some hate crimes and murders aren’t even reported,” added Gutiérrez, the Nicaraguan activist.

There is also a high level of discrimination in the workplace against the LGBTI community in Central America, said Valdés, with the Lambda Organisation from Guatemala.

“For example, gays have to hide their identity in order to get a job, and if their sexual orientation is discovered, they are harassed until they quit,” he said.

Alfaro, meanwhile, said in front of the med school where she studies that she will not stop denouncing the discrimination and harassment she suffers, until she finally sees justice done.

“I just hope that someday they will respect my identity as a woman,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“HeForShe” Campaign Moves to the Next Stagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 23:25:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139228 Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

It launched in a blaze of social media glory with a viral speech that rocketed around the world, and five months on from the launch of U.N. Women’s groundbreaking HeForShe campaign, the real work is well underway.

The campaign, designed to recruit men and boys as key players in the gender equality movement, burst into life in September 2014 with a passionate speech from British actress Emma Watson on the floor of the United Nations in New York City.

The Harry Potter star’s speech has since been seen by millions around the globe, as the HeForShe launch and Watson’s remarks went viral worldwide.

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said at the U.N.

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals… How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

HeForShe asks men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality, to address inequality and discrimination faced by women worldwide. The overarching goal is gender equality by 2030.

U.N. Women presented a campaign update to the U.N. on February 9, outlining its accomplishments so far: billions of media impressions; millions of dollars donated; over 200,000 men pledging their support to the movement; and the new “Impact 10x10x10” program to bring on governments, universities and corporations as partners, recently launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.” -- Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women

“Once men start questioning the dynamics of gender inequality, men take responsibility for changing them, alongside women,” the U.N. Women briefing heard.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor at U.N. Women and head of the HeForShe campaign, called it a “rallying call” and “solidarity movement for gender equality.”

“We need to shift the way things have been done. A new approach was needed, there is a need for men to be part of this dialogue,” she told IPS.

“This is something that can’t just be for women alone to solve. It’s about men recognizing this is their struggle too.”

Just five months old, HeForShe is arguably already one of the most well recognised gender equality campaigns to ever exist, but women’s groups hold mixed opinions on the goals, ideology and value of the movement.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS she was concerned that, ironically, men were seemingly being valued more than women in this gender equality campaign.

“The concern is that it is very easy for women’s voices to be usurped. That in shifting the focus to men, you run the risk of making women invisible again,” Gerntholtz said.

“There needs to be a conscious effort to keep women’s voices front and centre of these campaigns.”

She spoke of attending women’s rights conferences and summits where the entire panel of speakers were men, without a single female voice.

“Even in the U.N., with explicit decisions to look for gender parity in a discussion, I’ve been to events and panels that are all men. [HeForShe] might run the risk of replicating these risks of inequality and disempowerment,” Gerntholtz said.

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women, said HeForShe was a good starting point but was not the miracle cure for gender equality.

“The campaign does not address all the aspects of equality that need to be addressed. It simply says, feminism is good for men and for women, and that’s indisputable,” she told IPS.

“I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.”

Gerntholtz was skeptical of HeForShe’s broad goal “to end gender inequality by 2030,” as outlined by said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“What are the indicators of gender equality that we are talking about? Is it access to education, participation in government and the corporate sector, a reduction in the number of women experiencing violence? The difficulty in an aim like that is it is very vague,” Gerntholtz said.

“It is important, what we use as markers on the road. It is an ambitious goal.”

When asked by IPS what indicators HeForShe would measure when assessing gender equality, Nyamayaro did not point to any specific examples.

“We’re looking for parity across every single level of society, whether in the home, workplace or community,” she said.

“We’re looking for lasting, concrete change… action from the grassroots, bottom up.”

Nyamayaro pointed out the Impact 10x10x10 project as HeForShe’s next substantial action, where she hoped meaningful change could be accomplished.

A one-year pilot initiative, the project will “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” according to a release from U.N. Women.

“Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions,” the release continues.

Nyamayaro said 10x10x10 would be a key part of HeForShe’s upcoming agenda, with further plans to be unveiled on International Women’s Day in March and a big one-year anniversary celebration in September.

“A lot needs to be done at the government and corporate level, and in terms of universities, with half the world’s population under 30 and the amount of violence on college campuses, we thought we could really do something there,” she said.

While Gerntholtz made clear her reservations over HeForShe, she said she generally supported the campaign’s goals.

“The women’s movement has been moving towards understanding that we need to include men and boys in the solution. We can’t just see them as perpetrators of violence, but as partners in eradicating violence,” she said.

“Using Emma Watson helps popularise feminism and makes it a legitimate choice for young men. It’s important she reaches the next generation, who will hopefully take leadership roles.”

O’Neill said the National Organisation for Women looked forward to tracking the progress of HeForShe.

“It’s really all hands on deck. We need all the help we can get,” she said.

“We need the U.N. to be loud and strong for women’s equality. HeForShe is one part of what’s needed, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshbutler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Indigenous Peoples – Architects of the Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 18:31:39 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139220 IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe (centre) joins in a traditional Fijian dance at the opening ceremony of the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, February 2015. Credit: IFAD

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe (centre) joins in a traditional Fijian dance at the opening ceremony of the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, February 2015. Credit: IFAD

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” – an ancient Indian saying that encapsulates the essence of sustainability as seen by the world’s indigenous people.

With their deep and locally-rooted knowledge of the natural world, indigenous peoples have much to share with the rest of the world about how to live, work and cultivate in a sustainable manner that does not jeopardise future generations.

This was the main message brought to the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, organised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) last week in Rome.“We have learned the relevance of the diversity and distinctiveness of peoples and rural communities and of valuing and building on their cultural identity as an asset and economic potential. The ancient voice of the natives can be the solution to many crises” – Antonella Cordone, IFAD

The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum represents a unique initiative within the U.N. system. It is a concrete expression of IFAD’s recognition of the role that indigenous peoples play in economic and social development through traditional sustainable practices and provides IFAD with an institutional mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the agency’s engagement with indigenous peoples.

This engagement includes achievement of the objectives of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Despite major improvements in recent decades, indigenous and tribal peoples – as well as ethnic minorities – continue to be among the poorest and most marginalised people in the world.

There are over 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries worldwide, with the majority living in Asia. They account for an estimated five percent of the world’s population, with 15 percent of these peoples living in poverty.  Various recent studies show that the poverty gap between indigenous peoples and other rural populations is increasing in some parts of the world.

“IFAD is making all efforts to ensure that the indigenous peoples’ voice is being heard, rights are respected and well-being is improving at the global level,” said Antonella Cordone, IFAD’s Senior Technical Specialist for Indigenous peoples and Tribal Issues.

“We have learned the relevance of the diversity and distinctiveness of peoples and rural communities and of valuing and building on their cultural identity as an asset and economic potential,” she continued. “The ancient voice of the natives can be the solution to many crises.”

As guardians of the world’s natural resources and vehicles of traditions over the years, indigenous peoples developed a holistic approach to sustainable development and, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, highlighted during an Asia-Pacific working group session, “indigenous peoples’ livelihoods are closely interlinked with cultural heritage and identities, spirituality and governance systems.”

These livelihoods have traditionally been based on handing down lands and territories to new generations without exploiting them for maximum profit. Today, these livelihoods are threatened by climate change and third party exploitation, among others.

Climate change, to which indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable, is posing a dramatic threat through melting glaciers, advancing desertification, floods and hurricanes in coastal areas.

Long-standing pressure from logging, mining and advancing agricultural frontiers have intensified the exploitation of new energy sources, construction of roads and other infrastructures, such as dams, and have raised concerns about large-scale acquisition of land for commercial or industrial purposes, commonly known as land grabbing.

In this context, the Forum stressed the need for the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples whenever development projects affect their access to land and resources, a requirement which IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe said should be respected by any organisation engaging with indigenous peoples.

Poverty and loss of territories and resources by indigenous peoples due to policies or regulations adverse to traditional land use practices are compounded by frequent discrimination in labour markets, where segmentation, poor regulatory frameworks and cultural and linguistic obstacles allow very few indigenous peoples to access quality jobs and social and health services.

Moreover, indigenous peoples suffer from marginalisation from political processes and gender-based discrimination.

These are among the issues that participants at the Forum said should be taken into account in the post-2015 development agenda. They said that this agenda should be designed to encourage governments and other actors to facilitate the economic and social empowerment of poor rural people, in particular, marginalized rural groups, such as women, children and indigenous peoples.

A starting point for the architecture of the agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of this year was seen as the recommendations adopted during the two-day Forum (Feb. 12-13).

These included the need for a holistic approach to supporting and strengthening indigenous peoples’ food systems, recognition of traditional tenure, conservation of biodiversity,  respect for and revitalisation of cultural and spiritual values, and ensuring that projects be designed with the FPIC of indigenous peoples.

Participants said that it is important to emphasise the increasing need to strengthen the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in discussions at the political and operational level, because targets in at these levels can have a catalytic effect on their social and economic empowerment.

The Forum agreed that giving the voice to indigenous people and their concerns and priorities in the post-2015 agenda represents an invaluable window of opportunity for development.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 11:28:59 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139195 Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian  youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS)

Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.

Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.

The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation."[Palestinian] children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member" – UNICEF

Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).

According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.

However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.

In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.

IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.

One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.

“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.

Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.

The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.

Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.

“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.

Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.

Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.

“Two children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who are accused of committing the same act, such as stone throwing, will receive substantially different treatment from two separate legal systems,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a recently released report titled ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank’.

“The Israeli child will be afforded the extensive rights and protections granted to minors under Israeli law. His Palestinian counterpart will be entitled to limited rights and protections, which are not sufficient to ensure his physical and mental wellbeing and which do not sufficiently meet his unique needs as a minor,” said the report.

Moreover, in many cases, the criminal law applying to Palestinian minors is stricter and even more severe than the one applied to Israeli adults.

“If Malak al Khatib had been arrested for violent activity as an Israeli child she would have received certain rights. These were denied to her for being Palestinian,” ACRI spokesperson Nuri Moskovich told IPS.

Decades of ‘temporary’ Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.

“A series of military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers,” said ACRI.

“By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military legal law – military orders that have been issued by Israeli generals since 1967.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wretched poverty persists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investing in women and children: crucial for development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Bjørn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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