Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 OPINION: Looking Two Steps Ahead into Saudi Arabia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:08:41 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138838 King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

*By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Much has been written about King Abdullah’s legacy and what Saudi Arabia accomplished or failed to accomplish during his reign in terms of reform and human rights. Very little has been written about the role that Muhammad bin Nayef, the newly appointed deputy to the crown prince, could play in the new Saudi Arabia under King Salman.

King Salman is 79 years old and has reportedly suffered one stroke in the past that has affected his left arm. The next in succession, Crown Prince Muqrin, is 69 years old.The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family.

Muhammad bin Nayef—or MBN as he is often referred to in some Western capitals—is only 55. As age and ill health incapacitate his elders, MBN could play a pivotal role as a future crown prince and a potential king in the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia, but more importantly in the kingdom’s regional politics.

The uncomfortable truth is that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia maintained a terrible human rights record, undermined the democratic ideals of Arab Spring, and supported dictatorships in Egypt and Bahrain. It also promoted ugly sectarianism, preaching an ideology that gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other terrorist organisations. The kingdom supposedly did all of these things in the name of fighting Iran.

The equally inconvenient truth is that the Obama administration in the past four years has barely objected to Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive policies. The Saudi noose around the American neck should no longer be tolerated. MBN, two kings down the line after Salman and Muqrin, could reset Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional policies and free Washington of Riyadh’s burden.

As king, MBN would be the first such monarch of the second generation of al-Saud. As a relatively young ruler, he would be comfortable in entertaining new ideas and communicating credibly to Saudi youth. I base this analysis on interactions I had with him during my government service several years back.

I discerned several characteristics in MBN that could help him as a future king of Saudi Arabia to nudge the country forward and perhaps usher in a period of real reform. He has a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation and how to combat them. He also has a pragmatic approach to regional politics, especially Iran’s role as a regional power, and the linkage between regional stability and Saudi security.

Counterterrorism and deradicalisation

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalised. Despite the relative success of his programme, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

MBN must have realised by now that the roots of radical Sunni ideology come from the mosque sermons and religious fatwas of Salafi-Wahhabi Saudi clerics. Even as he receives hundreds of thousands of dollars to get settled in a home as a married man with a job, a young Saudi continues to be exposed to the poisonous ideology spewed by some religious leaders just outside the walls of the deradicalisation “school.”

Lacking a position of national authority beyond his counterterrorism portfolio, MBN could not really address the source of radical ideology without bringing the wrath of the Saudi religious establishment down on his head. As king, however, he might be able to tackle this sensitive issue.

MBN will face huge obstacles if he decides to address this issue—politically, historically, and culturally. Conservative, intolerant radical Sunni ideology has existed in Saudi Arabia for a long time and can be traced back to the 18th-century teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then Saudi culture has been imbued with this interpretation of Islam.

However, as a king representing a younger, Western-educated generation of royals and cognizant of the growing desires of Arab youth for freedom, MBN might feel more empowered to face down the religious establishment in the country.

Furthermore, he might feel less bound by the generations-old agreement between the founder of Saudi Arabia and the al-Shaykh family, which gave al-Saud greater leeway to rule and reserved to the Salafi religious establishment the authority to act as the moral guardian of Saudi society.

Domestic and regional politics

Significant segments of the Saudi people want economic and political reform. They have expressed these views in petitions, on social media, and in action. Shia activists have protested systemic regime discrimination for years. The Saudi government has illegally jailed these activists, convicted them in sham trials, tortured them with impunity, and even killed them.

The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family. In order to avoid a “Saudi Spring,” which is destined to erupt if current policies continue, MBN will have to inject large amounts of money into job creation projects.

He will also have to provide a new kind of education, which would allow Saudi job seekers to compete for employment in the technology-driven, 21st-century global economy. Despite the astronomical wealth Saudi Arabia has accumulated in the past half-century, Saudi education still produces school graduates unqualified to compete in the global economy. As a modernising king, MBN will have to change that.

Regionally, MBN realises that Gulf stability is integral to Saudi security. For Gulf security to endure, he will have to accept Iran as a significant Gulf power and search for ways to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with his Persian neighbour. Iran could be a helpful partner in helping settle the conflicts in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other spots in the region.

If the P5+1 bloc concludes a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States and Iran would embark on a new relationship, with which Saudi Arabia will have to come to terms.

MBN will also realise, for example, that continued conflict in Bahrain will ultimately destabilise the Gulf region, which will harm Saudi interests. As such, he would have to push al-Khalifa to institute genuine political reform in Bahrain, end systemic discrimination against the Shia majority, and include them in the economic and political process. As a first step, he would have to withdraw Saudi troops from Bahrain, where they have failed to quell anti-regime protests.

Will MBN be able to do it?

Based on MBN’s knowledge of the region and of the terrorist threat to his country, the chances of instituting real political and religious reform during his future reign are 60-40 at best. As a prerequisite for success, he will have to consolidate his power vis a vis the conservative and powerful elements within the royal family. Most importantly, he will have to overcome the opposition of the religious establishment.

His success could be historic. But his failure would be catastrophic for the future of Saudi Arabia. Al-Saud and other Gulf ruling families would not be able to maintain control forever over a population that is increasingly alienated, unemployed, and constantly yearning for a more hopeful future.

The United States should also pay close attention to MBN’s chances of success and should tacitly encourage him to move forward with courage. Regardless of the party controlling the White House, Washington can’t remain oblivious to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

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 Kitty Stapp

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

*By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

*By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

*By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Fighting Extremism with Schools, Not Gunshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:23:15 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138760 The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

*By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

As a wave of outrage, crossing Pakistan’s national borders, continues a month after the Dec. 16 attack on a school in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some citizens are turning away from collective expressions of anger, and beginning the hard work of building grassroots alternatives to terrorism and militancy.

While many millions of people are lashing out at the Taliban for going on a bloody rampage in a school in the province’s capital, Peshawar, killing 141 people including 132 uniformed children in what is being billed as the group’s single deadliest attack to date, The Citizens Foundation (TFC), a local non-profit, has reacted quite differently.

"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani." -- Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)
Rather than join the chorus calling for stiff penalties for the attackers, it busied itself with a pledge to build 141 Schools for Peace, one in the name of each person who lost their life on that terrible day.

“We dedicate this effort to the children of Pakistan, their right to education and their dreams of a peaceful future,” Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of TCF, said in an email launching the campaign.

“With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani,” he added.

In their war against western, secular education, which the group has denounced as “un-Islamic”, the Pakistan Taliban have destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012, claimed responsibility for the near-fatal shooting of teenaged education advocate Malala Yousafzai and issued numerous edicts against the right of women and girls to receive proper schooling.

In their latest assault on education, nine militants went on an eight-hour-long killing spree, throwing hand grenades into the teeming school premises and firing indiscriminately at any moving target. They claim the attack was a response to the military operation aimed at rooting out the Taliban currently underway in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

While armed groups and government forces answer violence with more of the same, the active citizens who comprise TCF want to shift focus away from bloodshed and onto longer-term solutions for the future of this deeply troubled country.

The charity, which began in 1995, has completed 1,000 school ‘units’, typically a primary or secondary institution capable of accommodating up to 180 pupils, all built from scratch in the most impoverished areas of some 100 towns and cities across Pakistan.

The 7,700 teachers employed by the NGO go through a rigorous training programme before placement, and the organisation maintains a strict 50:50 male-female ratio for the 145,000 students who are now benefitting from a free education, according to TCF Vice President Zia Akhter Abbas.

In a country where 25.02 million school-aged children – of which 13.7 million (55 percent) are girls – do not receive any form of education, experts say TCF’s initiative may well act as a game changer in the years to come, especially given that the government spends just 2.1 percent of its GDP on education.

“Our job is to ensure that wherever we have our schools, there are no out-of-school children, especially girls,” Abbas told IPS. “We believe the change in society will come automatically once these educated and enlightened children grow up into responsible adults.”

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

He added that the schools are designed to “serve as a beacon of light restricting the advance of extremism in our society.”

The project has received widespread support from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Twenty-four-year-old Usman Riaz, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston who recently donated the proceeds of his jam-packed concerts in Karachi to TCF’s efforts, says the Schools for Peace are a “wonderful way to honor the innocent victims”.

But it will take more than one-off charitable donations to make the scheme a reality. It costs about 15 million rupees (148,000 dollars) to build and equip each new school, so the total bill for all 141 institutions stands at some 21 million dollars.

With a track record of building 40-50 schools a year, however, the NGO is confident that it will honor its pledge within three years.

Combating extremism

Besides immortalizing the victims of the Taliban’s attack, experts here say that shifting the focus away from terrorism and onto education will help combat a growing pulse of religious extremism.

The prominent Pakistani educationist and rights activist A.H. Nayyar told IPS that it is crucial for the country to begin educating children who would otherwise be turned into “fodder for extremists”.

In fact, part of the government’s 20-point National Action Plan – agreed upon by all political parties dedicated to completely eradicating terrorism – includes plans to register and regulate all seminaries, known here as madrassas, in a bid to combat extremism at its root.

With thousands of such religious institutions springing up across the country to fill a void in the school systems, policy-makers are concerned about the indoctrination of children at a young age, with distorted interpretations of religious texts and the teaching of intolerance playing a major role in these schools.

Some sources say that between two and three million students are enrolled at the nearly 20,000 madrassas spread across Pakistan; others say this is a conservative estimate.

While there is some talk about bringing these institutions under the umbrella of the public school system, experts like Nayyar believe this will do little to combat the “forcible teaching of […] false and distorted history, excessive emphasis on Islamic teachings to the extent of including them in textbooks of all the subjects, explicit teaching of jihad and militancy, hate material against other nations, peoples of other faiths, etc, [and] excessive glorification of the military and wars.”

Nayyar and other independent scholars have been at the forefront of calling for an overhaul of the public school curriculum, which they believe is at odds with the goals of a modern, progressive nation.

But until policy-makers and politicians jump on the bandwagon, independent efforts like the work of TCF will lead the way.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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From Bullets to Ballots: The Face of Sri Lanka’s Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:17:06 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138736 Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

*By Amantha Perera
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka , Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

In four months’ time, Sri Lanka will mark the sixth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil conflict. Ever since government armed forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009, the country has savored peace after a generation of war.

Suffocating security measures have given way to a sense of normalcy in most parts of the country, while steady growth has replaced patchy economic progress – averaging above six percent since 2009.

But these changes have largely eluded the area where the war was at its worst: the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the Northern Province that the LTTE ruled as a de facto state, together with the Jaffna Peninsular, for over a quarter of a century.

Home to over a million people, one-fourth of whom are war returnees, the Vanni has been in the doldrums since ballots replaced bullets.

“Peace should mean prosperity, but that is what we don’t have. What we have is a struggle to survive from one day to another,” Kajitha Shanmugadasan, an 18-year-old girl from the northern town of Pooneryn, told IPS.

She said youth her age were frustrated that multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects have failed to deliver decent jobs. “Look around, we have new highways, new railway lines, but no jobs, for five years people have been suffering, and it should not be [so] when there is peace,” she asserted.

Youth from the Northern Province have historically performed well at national exams, even during conflict times. That trend has held true: at the 2013 university entrance exam, 63.8 percent of those who sat their papers gained the scores required to enter the country’s top universities, a national high.

But with unemployment also at record levels here, and hardly any jobs for university graduates, those like Shanmugadasan are either staying out of universities or leaving the province in search of better prospects.

A new government, the result of presidential elections just a week into the New Year, and the Papal visit to the heart of the former battle zone on Jan. 14, have given rise to new hopes in the Vanni that life will improve for the ordinary people, who suffered during the war and have had little respite since the guns fell silent.

The 72-percent voter turnout in the Northern Province at the Jan. 8 presidential poll – an all-time high for the region – is a reminder to the new regime how desperate the people here are for real change.

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

*By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

*By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanity’s Future: Below Replacement Fertility?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:51:42 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138669 A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

*By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Is below replacement level fertility the future for humanity? The answer to this seemingly simple question regarding human reproduction is not only of considerable demographic concern, but also has enormous social, economic and environmental consequences for the planet.

Aside from a global mortality catastrophe, the future size of the world’s population is determined basically by the number of children women bear. If the average number of births per woman remains more than about two, world population continues to increase.

However, if women on average have less than two births, then world population eventually decreases. A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman under low mortality conditions is the replacement level, which over time results in population stabilisation.

Throughout most of human history women bore many children. In addition to offsetting high rates of infant and child mortality, a large number of children provided valuable assistance, needed labour and personal meaning to rural households as well as old-age support to parents.

At the beginning of the 20th century average global fertility was still about six births per woman. By 1950 world fertility had declined slightly to five births per woman, with less than a handful of countries having rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

At that time, most of the largest countries, such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey, had rates of six or more births per woman. In addition, 29 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Rwanda, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, had average fertility rates of seven or more births per woman.

As a result of the high fertility rates and comparatively low death rates, world population grew very rapidly during the 20th century, especially in the second half. World population nearly quadrupled during the past century, an unprecedented demographic phenomenon, increasing from 1.6 to 6.1 billion.

Also during the past 50 years, historic declines in fertility rates occurred, resulting in a halving of the world’s average rate to 2.5 births per woman. Those remarkable fertility declines are unequivocal and widespread, with lower rates in virtually every country.

In 1950, 101 countries, or 44 percent of world population, had a fertility rate of six or more births per woman. Today 12 countries – with all but two in sub-Saharan Africa, representing five percent of world population – have a fertility rate of six or more births per woman.

In addition, the transition from high fertility to below replacement levels took place in all European countries as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. The transition to below replacement fertility also occurred across a broad and diverse range of developing countries, including Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Iran, Lebanon, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Tunisia and Vietnam. In sum, 75 countries, or close to half of the world’s population, are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

With regard to future fertility levels, two key questions stand out. First, will countries with below replacement fertility remain at those levels? And second, in the coming decades will the remaining 126 countries also end up with below replacement fertility?

While future fertility rebounds cannot be ruled out, the general pattern over the last five decades has been unmistakable: once fertility falls below the replacement level, it tends to stay there. That trend has especially been the case for the many countries where fertility has fallen below 1.6 births per woman, such as Canada, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Some countries consider sustained below replacement fertility as a threat to their economies and societies and have attempted to return to at least the replacement level through various pro-natalist policies, programmes and incentives, including reduced taxes, subsidised care for children and bonuses. However, such government attempts have by and large not achieved their objectives.

The forces that brought about declines in fertility to historic lows are widely recognised and include lower mortality rates, increased urbanisation, widespread education, improvements in the status of women, availability of modern contraceptives and delayed marriage and childbearing.

Other important factors include the costs of childrearing, employment and economic independence of women, divorce and separation, the decline of marriage, co-habitation, childless lifestyles and the need to save for longer years of retirement and elder care. Those forces and factors are likely to continue and become increasingly widespread globally.

According to United Nations medium-variant population projections, by mid-century the number of countries with below replacement fertility is expected to nearly double, reaching 139 countries (Figure 1). Together those countries will account for 75 percent of the world’s population at that time.

Some of the populous countries expected to fall below the replacement fertility level by 2050 include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. Looking further into the future, below replacement fertility is expected in 184 countries by the end of the century, with the global fertility rate falling below two births per woman (Figure 1).

It is certainly difficult to imagine rapid transitions to low fertility in today’s high-fertility countries, such as Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where average rates are more than six births per woman. However, rapid transitions from high to low fertility levels have happened in diverse social, economic and political settings.

With social and economic development, including those forces favouring low fertility, and the changing lifestyles of women and men, the transition to below replacement fertility in nearly all the remaining countries with high birth rates may well occur in the coming decades of the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

*By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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OPINION: Islamic Reformation, the Antidote to Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:02:55 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138639

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

*By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the question about violence and Islam. Why is it, some ask, that so much terrorism has been committed in the name of Islam, and why do violent jihadists seek justification of their actions in their religion?

Regardless of whether or not Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, were pious or engaged in un-Islamic behavior in their personal lives, the fact remains they used Islamic idioms, such as “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” to celebrate their bloody violence. Other Islamic terrorists have invoked similar idioms during previous terrorist operations.“Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

Although many Muslim leaders and theologians worldwide have denounced the assault on the Paris-based magazine, many Muslim autocrats continue to exploit Islam for selfish reasons. For example, during the same week of the attacks in France, Saudi Arabia convicted one of its citizen bloggers and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term, a huge fine, and one thousand floggings. His “crime:” calling for liberal reforms of the Saudi regime.

Since Sep. 11, 2001, scholars of Islam have explored the factors that drive Islamic radicalism and the reasons why radical activists have “hijacked” or “stolen” mainstream Islam. Based on public opinion polls and expert analysis, most observers assess that two key factors have contributed to radicalisation and terrorism: a regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and the conservative, intolerant Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic ideology coming mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

For the past decade and half, reasoned analysis has suggested that Arab Islamic states, Muslim scholars, and Western countries could take specific steps in order to neutralise these factors. This analysis concedes, however, that the desired results would require time, resources, courage, and above all, vision and commitment.

What drives domestic terrorism?

In the domestic policy arena, economic, political, and social issues have framed the radical narrative and empowered extremist activists. These include: dictatorship, repression, corruption, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, scarcity of clean water, food, and electricity, and poor sanitary conditions.

High unemployment, which ranges from 25-50 percent among the 15-29 cohort in most Arab and Muslim countries, has created a poor, alienated, angry, and inadequately educated youthful generation that does not identify with the state.  Many turn to violence and terrorism and end up serving as foot soldier “jihadists” in terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and others.

Autocratic regimes in several Arab and Islamic countries have ignored these conditions and the ensuing grievances for years while maintaining their hold on power. “Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

In the foreign policy arena, public opinion polls in Arab and Muslim countries have shown that specific American policies toward Arabs and Muslims have created a serious rift between the United States and the Islamic world.

These include a perceived U.S. war on Islam, the continued detention of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, unwavering support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, on-going violations of Muslims’ human rights in the name of the war on terrorism, and the coddling of Arab Muslim dictators.

Islamic radicals have propagated the claim, which has resonated with many Muslims, that their rulers, or the “near enemy,” are propped up, financed, and armed by the United States and other Western powers or the “far enemy.” Therefore, “jihad” becomes a “duty” against both of these “enemies.”

Although many mainstream Muslims saw some validity in the radicals’ argument that domestic and foreign policy often underpin and justify jihad, they attribute much of the violence and terrorism to radical, intolerant ideological interpretations of Sunni Islam, mostly found in the teachings of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Saudi state and religious establishment.

Some contemporary Islamic thinkers have accordingly argued that Islam must undergo a process of reformation. The basic premise of such reformation is to transport Islam from 7th Century Arabia, where the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, to a globalised 21st century world that transcends Arabia and the traditional “abode of Islam.”

Calls for Islamic Reformation

Reformist Islamic thinkers—including Syrian Muhammad Shahrur, Iranians Abdul Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar, Swiss-Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian-American Khaled Abu El Fadl, Sudanese-American Abdullahi Ahmad An-Naim, Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, and Malaysians Anwar Ibrahim and Farish Noor—have advocated taking a new look at Islam.

Although their work is based on different religious and cultural narratives, these thinkers generally agree on four key fundamental points:

1. Islam was revealed at a specific time in a specific place and in a response to specific conditions and situations. For example, certain chapters or suras were revealed to Muhammad in Medina while he was fighting several battles and struggling to create his umma-based “Islamic State.”

2. If Islam desires to be accepted as a global religion with universal principles, Muslim theologians should adapt Islam to the modern world where millions of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries—from India and China to the Americas and Europe. The communal theological concept of the umma that was central to Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina is no longer valid in a complex, multicultural and multi-religious world.

3. If the millions of Muslims living outside the “heartland” of Islam aspire to become productive citizens in their adopted countries, they would need to view their religion as a personal connection between them and their God, not a communal body of belief that dictates their social interaction with non-Muslims or with their status as a minority. If they want to live in peace with fellow citizens in secular Western countries, they must abide by the principles of tolerance of the “other,” compromise, and peaceful co-existence with other religions.

4. Radical and intolerant Islamic ideology does not represent the mainstream body of Muslim theology. Whereas radicals and terrorists, from Osama Bin Ladin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have often quoted the war-like Medina Koranic suras, Islamic reformation should focus on the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, which advocate universalist principles akin to those of Christianity and Judaism. These suras also recognise Moses and Jesus as prophets and messengers of God.

Reformist thinkers also agree that Muslim theologians and scholars all over the world should preach to radicals in particular that Islam does not condone terrorism and should not be invoked to justify violence. Although in recent years would-be terrorists invariably sought a religious justification or a fatwa from a religious cleric to justify their terrorist operation, a “reformed” Islam would ban the issuance of such fatwas.

Failed reformation attempts

Regimes have yet to address the domestic policies that have fueled radicalism and terrorism.

In terms of the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia continues to teach the Hanbali driven doctrine in its schools and export it to other countries. It’s not therefore surprising that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) bases its government and social “philosophy” on the Saudi religious ideology. According to media reports, some Saudi textbooks are currently being taught in schools in Iraqi and Syrian territory controlled by IS.

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the "jihad" in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the “jihad” in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Calls for reformation have not taken root in the Sunni Muslim world because once the four schools jurisprudence—Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi—were accepted in the 10th century as representing the complete doctrine of Sunni Islam, the door of reasoning or ijtihad was closed shut. Muslim theologians and leaders would not allow any new doctrinal thinking and would readily brand any such thought or thinkers as seditious.

An important reason why the calls for reformation have fallen on deaf ears is because in the past two decades, many of the reformist thinkers have lived outside the Muslim heartland, taught in Western universities, and wrote in foreign languages. Their academic arguments were rarely translated into Arabic and other “Islamic” languages.

Even if some of the articles advocating reformation were translated, the average Muslim in Muslim countries with a high school or college education barely understood or comprehended the reformists’ theological arguments renouncing violence and terrorism.

How to defeat Islamic terrorism

If Arab Islamic rulers are sincere in their fight against terrorism, they need to implement drastically different economic, political, and social policies. They must reform their educational systems, fund massive entrepreneurial projects that aim at job creation, institute transitions to democracy, and empower their people to become creative citizens.

Dictatorship, autocracy, and family rule without popular support or legitimacy will not survive for long in the 21st century. Arab and Muslim youth are connected to the outside world and wired into massive global networks of social media. Many of them believe that their regimes are anachronistic and ossified. To gain their rights and freedoms, these youth, men and women have come to believe their political systems must be replaced and their 7th century religion must be reformed.

Until this happens, terrorism in the name of Islam, whether in Paris or Baghdad, will remain a menace for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women ‘Sewing’ a Bright Future in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:27:29 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138592 Afghan widows and orphans in Pakistan have few livelihood options, but a women’s charity is teaching them basic embroidery and sewing to help them start home-based businesses. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

Afghan widows and orphans in Pakistan have few livelihood options, but a women’s charity is teaching them basic embroidery and sewing to help them start home-based businesses. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

*By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

At 46, Naseema Nashad is starting her life over, not out of choice but out of necessity. The Afghan woman was just 25 years old when Taliban militants stormed Kabul and her family was forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan to escape what they knew would be a brutal regime.

“My father stayed back to run his small business there and he would send us money on a monthly basis,” she told IPS. “We used it to feed our seven-member family, and pay rent on our house in Peshawar [capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province].”

“The worst victims of the three-decade-long conflict are women, who have lost their fathers, husbands and male family members [and] are finding it hard to earn a living." -- Ahmed Rasool, professor of international relations at Kabul University
But in 1999, “for no reason” she says, the Taliban killed Nashad’s father. Since then, it has been a daily struggle for the family to survive. Aged 12, 14 and 15, her three brothers quickly found work in local hotels, though they were paid paltry salaries for their labour.

Nashad, on the other hand, could never land anything but odd jobs, which barely gave her enough to survive. What she needed was something fulltime, ideally work she could do from home, that would bring her a regular income.

It was a pipe dream at first, but thanks to the efforts of a vocational centre established by the Afghan Women Organisation, an NGO based in this border city, she is close to making it a reality.

“Now, I have learnt stitching and embroidery and will open a home-based shop very soon. Some of the women who have previously been trained at the centre are helping me,” she added.

She is one of thousands of women, all from war-affected families, who have acquired embroidery and sewing skills over the past five years.

Each woman has her own unique story. Fourteen-year-old Gul Pari, for instance, migrated to Peshawar from Afghanistan seven years ago. As a daily wage-labourer, her father could scarcely make ends meet. There was little choice but for his young daughters to go out in search of work.

Today, Gul and her younger sister Jamila are the owners of a small home-based business, where they take on clients who need garments stitched or altered. They still in a simple mud hut, but at least they now make enough money to comfortably feed the entire family.

Safoora Stanikzai, who heads the Afghan Women Organisation, says she has imparted skills to about 4,000 women since establishing the centre in 2010.

“A majority of the trained women were either widows or orphaned children who had lost their male family members in Afghanistan and were facing severe economic problems here,” Stanikzai tells IPS.

The organisation lacks space and sufficient resources but soldiers on with the little it has. After the women complete their training, they even receive a sewing machine from the centre to facilitate home-based enterprises.

Stanikzai also recruits women found begging on the streets and in marketplaces, and offers them the chance to start their lives afresh – a rare opportunity in this war-torn region, where civilians are often caught between militants and the military, and a massive number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) jostle for space with a resident population already battling a scarcity of homes, jobs and food.

Female Afghan refugees face double-dependency

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Pakistan is home to 1.6 million ‘legal’ Afghan residents, while an estimated two to three million undocumented refugees are also believed to have crossed the 2,700-km-long border since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Passing easily through various unguarded or unchecked entry points in the mountains that form a rocky border between the two nations, Afghans fleeing the war were once welcomed by their brethren in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and what was formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, now called KP.

But when the U.S.-invasion of Afghanistan pushed former Taliban militants into the mountains, leading to a rise in armed groups operating with impunity in the tribal belt, the hand of friendship was snatched away and many Afghans now live on the margins, blamed for the rise in militancy and soaring crime in Pakistan’s northern regions.

According to Ahmed Rasool, a professor of international relations at Kabul University, poverty-stricken Afghan refugees have no choice but to remain in Pakistan since they have little to no economic opportunity back home.

“The worst victims of the three-decade-long conflict are women, who have lost their fathers, husbands and male family members [and] are finding it hard to earn a living,” he told IPS.

Some of these widows and orphans are new arrivals, joining the wave that fled Afghanistan in 2001. Others have lived here much longer, and consider Pakistan their home.

But aid that was once was abundant has dwindled. International NGOs and aid agencies followed closely on the heels of departing foreign troops, leaving Afghan refugees in the lurch.

Barely able to meet the needs of its own impoverished population in the north, the Pakistan government has offered little assistance to visitors who are now being told they have outstayed their welcome.

So initiatives like Stanikzai’s vocational centre represent a welcome oasis in an increasingly hostile desert.

Some Afghan women earn as much as 150 dollars per month by altering or stitching women’s garments. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Some Afghan women earn as much as 150 dollars per month by altering or stitching women’s garments. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women like 49-year-old Shamin Ara, who received training at the centre five years ago, is just one of the organisation’s many success stories.

She arrived in Pakistan in 1992, and lost her father to tuberculosis six years ago. His death left the family no choice but to seek alms from their rich relatives, she tells IPS.

Now she earns about 150 dollars a month by practicing the skills she learned at the centre. It is a decent wage in a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars.

She says she has not yet been able to find a husband, since she still lives in abject poverty. But at least now she can feed her four siblings, and harbours dreams of expanding her business further.

Already she has helped five other Afghan women set up their own shops, and hopes to do more for those like herself, who just need a helping hand.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Illiteracy Wears a Woman’s Face in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/illiteracy-wears-a-womans-face-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 20:43:33 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138563 Maximina Velasco reviews a reading and writing lesson in her home, as part of the literacy programme that made the town of Tapalhuaca, El Salvador, an illiteracy-free zone. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Maximina Velasco reviews a reading and writing lesson in her home, as part of the literacy programme that made the town of Tapalhuaca, El Salvador, an illiteracy-free zone. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

*By Edgardo Ayala
TAPALHUACA, El Salvador, Jan 8 2015 (IPS)

At the age of 74, Carmen López has proven that it’s never too late to learn. She is one of the 412 people in this small town in central El Salvador who recently learned to read and write.

“I was sad that I couldn’t write a letter or a receipt. But now I’m happy because I can,” she told IPS at the ceremony where Education Ministry authorities declared Tapalhuaca, population 4,000, an illiteracy-free zone.

A place is declared free of illiteracy when 96 percent of the inhabitants have learned to read and write. In the case of this small town in the department or province of La Paz, the proportion is even higher: 97.7 percent.

Like López, Maximina Velasco, 61, feels she broke through the barrier of ignorance when she signed up for the literacy course.“It’s a historic debt; for a long time, a majority of the population has been marginalised from education.” -- Maydé Recinos

“When I was a little girl, I started school. But I didn’t finish first grade because the teacher would hit me, and made me feel terrible,” she said, while writing out vowels and consonants during one of the classes she takes in her home, as part of a system that provides both group and one-on-one teaching.

She was forced to cut the class short because she had to cook lunch for her family – a problem shared by many of the women taking part in the literacy programme.

The literacy worker, 16-year-old Yanci Cubías, is one of the 130 volunteers teaching in this farming town. She spends two hours a day, a total of 10 a week, helping adults learn to read and write.

“At first it was hard to gain the trust of the people I was teaching, but in time everything went well, and it has become an unforgettable experience,” Cubías said.

Illiteracy became a serious problem in this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million due to decades of social injustice that deprived a majority of the population of an education, especially in the countryside, where they worked as hired labour on coffee and cotton plantations belonging to the rural elite.

“It’s a historic debt; for a long time, a majority of the population has been marginalised from education,” activist Maydé Recinos, with the Salvadoran Foundation for Social Promotion and Economic Development (Funsalprodese), told IPS.

Her organisation forms part of the Salvadoran chapter of the Latin American and Caribbean Council for Popular Education (CEAAL).

Both López and Velasco, who have dedicated themselves to raising their children and helping their husbands in rural activities, have managed to overcome a hurdle still faced by many women in the country: for decades illiteracy has affected women more than men, because of a sexist culture.

The Salvadoran government’s National Literacy Programme has taught 200,000 people to read and write since 2009. That has brought the illiteracy rate among people over the age of 10 down from 17.9 percent in 2009 to 11.8 percent in 2013, according to the 2013 multi-purpose household survey.

Of that 11.8 percent, women represent 7.3 percentage points and men 4.5 points.

But in rural areas, the illiteracy rate stands at 18.9 percent, with women accounting for 11 percentage points and men 7.9.

The gender disparity “is due to the ‘machista’ culture. Dads used to say: boys should go to school and girls should do the housework,” the head of the Education Ministry’s literacy department, Angélica Paniagua, told IPS.

López remembers how, when she was a girl, her parents enrolled her in school, but she often missed class because they forced her to do housework.

“I liked school, but they left me at home alone to do the housework,” she said, “so I missed a lot of classes, and they finally pulled me out.”

Things will improve for women as the government puts a higher priority on education, especially in terms of expanding access to primary school and ensuring that children complete it, said Mirna Lemus with the Intersectoral Association for Economic Development and Social Progress (Cidep).

In its third and last report on compliance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of global anti-poverty and development targets to be met by 2015, the government reported in early 2014 that primary school coverage increased from 86 percent in 2000 to 93.1 percent in 2012.

But the school dropout rate, especially in rural areas, remains higher among girls than among boys, according to the 2013 household survey.

The reduction of illiteracy is considered significant, but still insufficient to reach the MDG education targets.

The second MDG, achieving universal primary education, sets the specific targets of universal primary school enrollment and completion of sixth grade, and 100 percent literacy among 15 to 24 year olds.

“We still have a ways to go to reach the goals, but with the efforts we are making, we think the country is going to make more progress in the next five years,” said Paniagua.

The education authorities project that El Salvador will be declared free of illiteracy in 2019, the last year of the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former left-wing guerrilla commander and former teacher who became president in June.

Civil society organisations agree that reducing illiteracy by seven percentage points is an important achievement. But they say a bigger effort is needed, especially in terms of funding.

The spokespersons for Cidep and Funsalprodese said seven percent of GDP should be spent on education, but the proportion remains stuck at 3.3 percent as a result of the government’s tough financial straits.

“That is still insufficient to cover the country’s huge education needs,” said Funsalprodese’s Recinos.

Meanwhile, Maximina Velasco told IPS, with her face lit up by a big smile, that she is sure she will keep alive her interest in reading and writing, and that she will never return to the illiteracy that kept her so blind for most of her life.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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India’s ‘Manual Scavengers’ Rise Up Against Caste Discriminationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 10:15:30 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138529 A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

*By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Watching Bittal Devi deftly weave threads of different colours into a vibrant patchwork quilt, it’s hard to imagine that this 46-year-old’s hands have spent the better part of their life cleaning toilets.

Born in Sava, a village in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, Devi is from a community that, down the centuries, has worked as ‘manual scavengers’.

A caste-based profession, it condemns mostly women, but also men, to clean human excreta out of dry latrines with their hands, and carry it on their heads to disposal dumps. Many also clean sewers, septic tanks and open drains with no protective gear.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.” -- Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, an NGO working to end the practice of 'manual scavenging'.
They are derogatorily referred to as bhangis, which translates into ‘broken identity’. Most of those employed are Dalits, who occupy the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy and are condemned to tasks that are regarded as beneath the dignity of the upper castes.

“I started doing this job when I was 12 years old,” Devi recalls. “I would accompany my mother when she went to the homes of the thakurs (upper castes) in our village everyday to clean their toilets.

“We would go to every home to pick up their faeces. We would gather it with a broom and plate into a cane basket. Later we would take the basket to the outskirts of the village and dispose [of] it.”

They cleaned 15 toilets each day, which earned them 375 rupees (a little over six dollars) per month, plus a set of old clothes from the homes they worked in, gifted once a year during the Diwali festival.

Devi remembers that she was unable to eat during the first week. “I would throw up every time my mother placed food in front of me”. Harder still to bear, were the taunts of her upper caste classmates.

“They would cover their noses and tell me that I smelled. I, along with the other children from my caste, was made to sit away from the rest of the students.” She eventually dropped out of school.

There was no question of refusing to do the work. “From birth I, like the other children from my community, was told that this was our history and our destiny,” says Devi. “This was the custom followed by our forefathers which we had to continue with.”

Caste-based discrimination or untouchability was banned in India in 1955 and several legislative and policy measures have been announced over the decades to end the cruel and inhumane custom of manual scavenging.

As recently as September 2013, the government outlawed employing anyone to clean human faeces.

On the ground, however, these measures have proved ineffective, the main reasons being that policies are not properly implemented, people are unaware that they can refuse to work as manual scavengers, and those who do resist face violence and the threat of eviction.

Women unite for change

According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which works towards the elimination of caste-based discrimination, there are an estimated 1.3 million ‘manual scavengers’ in India, most of them women.

Civil rights groups say that often women are victims twice over. Not only are they are looked down upon by the upper castes, they are also forced to do the work by their husbands who find it degrading, but expect the wives to continue with the custom.

Bittal Devi’s neighbour, Rani Devi Dhela, also started working as a manual scavenger at the age of 12, an occupation she continued with in her marital home, as her husband was unemployed.

She enrolled her four children in the village school, hopeful that education would change their future. Reality dawned when her 11- year-old daughter came back home in the middle of the day, sobbing.

“She had worn a new set of clothes to school and the upper caste children and teachers taunted her for showing off,” Dhela tells IPS.

Her daughter was told to clean up another child’s vomit and the school toilets. “When she refused they told her that this was her future as she was a bhangi’s daughter and that by attending school she should not entertain any illusions about herself.

“A teacher even threatened to pour acid into her mouth. That was the day I realised nothing would change unless I challenged these people. I put the cane basket down for good and decided that I would rather starve to death,” she adds.

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

It was a battle that Dhela found herself all alone in. The upper castes ganged up on her and her community failed to extend support. Worse still was the reaction from her husband and in-laws, who beat her up.

“The thakurs burned down our hut and told my husband they would throw us out. But my children supported me,” says Dhela.

Eventually so did a few other women, including Bittal Devi. Together, they travelled to a nearby town, to the office of the NGO Jan Sahas, which has been campaigning against manual scavenging for over 17 years.

“We had been trying to get the community in this village to stop manual scavenging but they were too scared to resist,” Sanjay Dumane, associate convenor of Jan Sahas, tells IPS. “After what happened to Rani Devi [Dhela], some of them decided to fight back.”

But there was fierce resistance from the village police who not only refused to register a complaint, but also advised the women to accept their place in society.

It was only after they approached police authorities at the district level that action was taken.

“A platoon of police vans came into the village with senior officers who warned the upper castes that they would be jailed if they were found violating the law on manual scavengers,” says Dumane.

An uphill battle

As of early February 2014, manual scavenging is no longer practiced in Sava village. “Some of the upper castes have chosen to boycott us,” says Dhela. “They don’t invite us to their weddings or for festivals. But my children and husband are proud of me and that makes me happy.”

“A lot of people tell me ‘You had no right to leave the profession’,” adds Archana Balnik, 28, who campaigned to put an end to manual scavenging in her village of Digambar in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. “But I want to change my future and that of the children in my village.”

Most of the women who have quit have found work in road and bridge construction projects. A few have enrolled in Dignity and Design, a low-cost, community based initiative launched by Jan Sahas in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh for the rehabilitation of women liberated from manual scavenging.

“We provide training in basic skills like tailoring and embroidery and have set up units for manufacturing bags, purses and other products,” Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, tells IPS.

“We hope to set this up across India with the support of the government and private sector.”

Women like Bittal Devi and Rani Devi Dhela are the ambassadors of Jan Sahas, which claims to have liberated over 17,000 women from manual scavenging across different parts of India.

Changing attitudes across the country, however, is an uphill battle. The recent India Human Development Survey report highlighted how deeply entrenched notions of caste purity are in contemporary Indian society, with a fourth of Indians practicing untouchability.

“There are signs of change especially in the younger generation, which is more educated,” says Shaikh, whose NGO conducts awareness campaigns in colleges and schools.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Child Sex Crimes: Uruguay’s Ugly Hidden Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 15:38:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138522 A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

*By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

Karina Núñez Rodríguez was only 12 when she was forced into prostitution. Now age 50 and a mother of six, she is an outspoken fighter against sexual exploitation of children and teenagers in Uruguay, a country reluctant to recognise this growing scourge.

Her mother’s surname, Rodríguez, “has everything to do with what I am,” she says, explaining that her grandmother was also an exploited child. Karina proudly says she broke this family burden when her youngest daughter turned 12 as a smiling girl ready to go to high school.“There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime." -- Karina Núñez Rodríguez

It was an assurance that her own children have a bright future, even though Karina still makes a living selling her body.

In Uruguay, a countless number of children, mostly girls, have their childhoods stolen, to be sold for a pack of cigarettes, a cell phone card, food, clothes, shelter or plain cash. Some are exploited by their own relatives, others by by neighbours or organised criminal networks.

One grocer threw dance parties in her shop on the paydays of local rural workers and lured the men with 12 year-old-girls from the neighbourhood. The girls would spend the night drinking alcohol and having sexual relations with adults on the premises of a nearby chapel.

A 74-year-old owner of a hotel in a beach resort paid for the travel of a 15-year-old girl, who lives hundreds of kilometres away, to have sex. Afterwards, despite sending money to her pimps, the man avoided punishment by claiming he didn’t know she was underage.

A provincial high-ranking public official organised a party with teenagers, alcohol and cocaine in a government facility, and was caught drunk while driving away with one of the girls.

And a network of lorry drivers and the fathers of two victims forced girls into sexual encounters with drivers in three different towns.

These types of cases hit the news almost twice a week. Authorities established Dec. 7 as the national day against sexual exploitation of children. But they still have no accurate statistics on this crime, punishable by up to 12 years in prison under a 2004 law. Adult prostitution is legal and state-regulated.

There are as many as 1.8 million children exploited in prostitution or pornography worldwide, according to Ecpat. Nearly 80 per cent of trafficking is for sexual exploitation and over 20 percent of the victims are children.

From 2010 to September this year, the judiciary heard 79 cases involving 127 defendants. Only 43 were convicted, according to a report published by the judicial branch.

But police reports are increasing. In 2007, there were just 20. In 2011, the number jumped to 40, in 2013 there were 70, and last year there were more than 80.

“Each case is not just one boy or girl. It can involve four or five,” says Luis Purtscher, president of the National Committee for the Eradication of Commercial and non-Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teenagers (Conapees). Perpetrators outnumber victims. “In a single night, a girl can have five or 10 sexual partners,” he says.

“Being a problem whose underlying causes are the power of capitalism to seize territories and the male workforce migrations, we could hypothesise that when both the economy and the mobility grow, child sex crimes also rise in places colonised by investors,” says Purtscher.

In the last five years, Conapees has trained 1,500 public servants, including teachers, social workers, police officers and prosecutors. “We have 3,000 extra ears and eyes skilled somehow to detect and report,” he adds.

Gender violence plays a role. On a list of 12 Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal, Uruguay has the highest rate of killings of women by a former or current partner, states a recently released report by the regional Gender Equality Observatory.

To graphically illustrate the depth of the problem, Conapees published an advert in the press: ‘Very young girls’, followed by a phone number. It received 100 calls the first day and 500 the first weekend.

Karina became an activist after witnessing the suffering of girls subjected to “breaking-down practices” in brothel-bars: torture, forced and collective penetrations and beatings, “aimed to create such a bond of fear between the victim and her exploiter that she can stand night after night in a corner in Europe without even thinking to go to the police.”

Her record includes 27 crime reports to authorities. “I was instrumental in nine indictments, and I’m honoured by people who trust me and give me more evidence.” She checks the facts and relies on a network of eight friends in different cities. “Thank God we have WhatsApp,” she says with a smile.

In 2007, she and other colleagues created Grupo Visión Nocturna (Night vision group) to promote an independent stance on health-related issues and demand respect for sex workers.

Shortly after reporting to a small city’s police station that three girls were about to be trafficked in 2009, a supposed client picked her up. They travelled 20 kilometres away from town. “There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime,” she recalls. Karina has been threatened and fears she could be killed at any time.

Making public accusations is dangerous, yet the crime and the victims are not hidden. Belgian photographer Susette Kok visited many sites in an exhibition and book and portrayed 27 adults –24 women, two transgender women and a young man— who were child victims and now, invariably, are sex workers.

“I found the exploitation easily. It is all over the place,” says Kok, who was assisted by Karina’s knowledge and web of contacts.

The “little house of love”, a group of dilapidated and unroofed walls, the floor covered with used condoms, is just next door to a church in Fray Bentos, in the southwest of Uruguay. An oxidized “container of passions” – situated in a sports field and, again, next to a church at the entrance of the western city of Young— has the door open when it is vacant.

Dozens of places like it are scattered through the area: a bench in a communal football field, a huge tree by a bridge, ironically known as “ecological sex”, shacks, clubs and “waitress bars”.

In west Montevideo, bus stations, parks, canteens and even private houses are sites of child sex offences, according to the survey “An open secret”, authored by Purtscher and other seven experts who interviewed more than 50 sources.

The area is attracting major investment and a predominantly male workforce, which could worsen the situation, but it does not have mechanisms to assist the victims. Nor does the country as a whole. A governmental programme established in 2013 is underfunded and counts just two teams.

This slow official response exasperates Karina. “When a child is exploited,” she says, “we cannot wait.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138402 A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

*By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

A new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) beginning on Dec. 24 represents a historic moment in global efforts to keep weapons proliferation in check.

Nounou Booto Meeti, programme director at the Centre for Peace, Security and Armed Violence Prevention, told IPS that in her own home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the uncontrolled trade of arms has contributed to human rights violations including rape and the recruitment of child soldiers."We’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it." -- Allison Pytlak from Control Arms

Meeti has actively campaigned for a global ATT, including advocating for the inclusion of a gender-based violence criterion.

The criterion is especially important for countries like the DRC where rape and sexual slavery has been used to systematically terrorise village after village.

Meeti emphasised that women, men and children are all affected by gender-based violence. In the DRC, when a village is attacked the men are often killed so that the women who are alive will not be able to defend themselves, she explained.

The Arms Trade Treaty, if implemented properly, will require states selling weapons to not only consider if the weapons are going to a country where there are systematic violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, but also how likely it is that those weapons will end up there through diversion from another country.

Meeti urged all countries to do their best to put the ATT into practice “so that we can see the reduction of armed violence, the reduction of armed conflict and the end of gender-based violence.”

She said that it has taken a long time to get to this point because there are a lot of interests in the global arms trade, which is an industry that earns billions and billions of dollars primarily for a small group of arms producing countries.

She added that “the transparency within the ATT will influence the reduction of military expenses in favour of development.”

The proliferation of weapons in countries like the DRC and the free flow of weapons into the ‘wrong hands’ has been allowed to continue because of an almost complete lack of international regulation of the arms trade.

According to Amnesty International, there are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons.

Meeti said that they had shown that there was no management of government stockpiles of weapons in the DRC, making it easy for arms to be diverted to the wrong hands. Porous borders meant that weapons could easily be brought in from any of the nine countries that share borders with the DRC.

She said that non-state actors also had ready unregulated access to arms, funded by the DRC’s vast resource wealth and international actors with interests in exploiting those resources.

Allison Pytlak from Control Arms told IPS that the ATT is “about introducing responsibility into the arms trade, not about trying to stop the trade of arms.”

The treaty also asks “all parties involved, especially the arms dealers, to think twice about where their weapons are going,” Pytlak said.

She said that the ATT aims to fix problems like states receiving weapons after they had stopped acting responsibly.

“Syria is a good example, we’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it,” Pytlak said.

Pytlak also said that weapons often end up in the ‘wrong hands’ through diversion, corrupt officials and theft from insecure government stockpiles.

“A lot of guns start out on the legal market and then end up on the illegal market,” she noted.

“By having export licensing officials who have a second thought about, where are these weapons really going to go? It looks a little bit unstable there, or there’s a history of diversion there, if they start thinking twice about that, the source might dry up and diversion will cease,” she said.

Only the first step

The Arms Trade Treaty covers everything from small arms and light weapons to warships, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles and missile launchers. The treaty also covers ammunition and parts and components.

Millions of new weapons and 12 billion bullets are produced each year, while over 800 million guns already exist in the world.

The entering into force of the ATT on Wednesday with 61 ratifications and 130 signatures is only a small, albeit notable, step in the right direction.

Two thousand people die from armed violence every day. Armed violence is also fuelling the global refugee crisis, with over 26 million people around the world displaced due to conflict.

Arms affected countries are predominantly also lower income countries, and may struggle to implement the treaty.

Pytlak says that one current option being explored is the possibility of using Official Development Assistance (aid) to help lower income countries with the costs of implementing the treaty.

A new report from Chatham House says that the indirect impact of the arms trade on development includes the diversion of funds from healthcare to defence, increased unemployment and decreased educational opportunities.

In a statement Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as historic.

“Ultimately, it attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations,” Ban said.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “The Economy Needs to Serve Us and Not the Other Way Around”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 12:49:44 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138385

Peter Costantini interviews economist JOHN SCHMITT

*By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

Since his college days, John Schmitt says, he’s been “very interested in questions of economic justice, economic inequality.”

john-schmitt-web-photo-credit-dean-manis resized

Photo courtesy of John Schmitt

He served a nuts-and-bolts apprenticeship in the engine room of the labour movement, doing research for several unions’ organising campaigns. Today, he’s an influential proponent of new approaches to low-wage work that have reoriented how many economists and policy-makers understand the issue.

Schmitt is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He also serves as visiting professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and was a Fulbright scholar at the Universidad Centroamericana “Jose Simeon Cañas” in San Salvador, El Salvador. He holds degrees are from Princeton and the London School of Economics.

IPS correspondent Peter Costantini interviewed him by telephone and e-mail between August and December 2014.

Q: Among policy prescriptions for reducing income inequality and lifting the floor of the labour market, where do you see minimum wages fitting in?

A: I think the minimum wage is very important. It concretely raises wages for a lot of low and middle-income workers, and it also establishes the principle that we as a society can demand that the economy be responsive to social needs.

It’s a legal, almost palpable statement that we have the right to demand of the economy that it serve us and not that we serve the economy. It’s not the solution, in and of itself, to economic inequality. But it’s an important first step.Two of the last three increases in the minimum wage were signed by Republican presidents, with substantial support from Republicans in Congress. So it’s a very American institution that has had a long history of bipartisan support.

And it’s an easy first step. It’s something that we’ve had in this country since the 1930s, and it has broad political support. It regularly polls way above 50 percent, even among Republicans. And in the population as a whole, 65 to 75 percent of voters support it.

Two of the last three increases in the minimum wage were signed by Republican presidents, with substantial support from Republicans in Congress. So it’s a very American institution that has had a long history of bipartisan support.

And it’s effective in doing what it’s supposed to do, which is raise wages of workers at the bottom. It does exactly what a lot of people think our social policy should do: reward people who work. Almost everybody agrees that if you’re working hard, you should get paid a decent amount of money for that.

Also, it doesn’t involve any government bureaucracy other than a relatively minor enforcement mechanism. Because everybody knows what the minimum wage is. There’s a social norm and expectation that people who work should get at least the minimum wage. [More]

Q: Beginning in the early 1990s, a new approach surfaced that challenged the old contention that minimum wage increases reduce employment among low-wage workers.

A: It was called the New Minimum Wage research. A lot of economists at the time were looking at the experience of states that had increased the minimum wage, and were finding that state increases seemed to have little or no effect on employment.

It caused a lot of controversy, which is still raging. I think the profession has moved a lot towards the belief that moderate increases in the minimum wage, like the ones that we historically have done, have little or no impact on employment.

I think what most economists are persuaded by is that the empirical evidence is not that supportive of large job losses. There’s just a lot of good research out there that consistently finds little or no negative employment effects.

The textbook model for how the labour market works is just a vast oversimplification. It can be useful in some contexts, but it’s not useful to understand a pretty complicated thing, which is what happens when the minimum wage goes up.

One of the key insights is that employers aren’t operating in a competitive labour market nor are employees. There’s the possibility that employers make adjustments in other dimensions besides laying workers off: they raise their prices somewhat, or they cut back on hours [without layoffs].

And from a worker’s point of view, if they raise your salary by 20 percent and they cut your hours by five or 10 percent you’re still better off, right? Because you’re getting paid more money and you’re working fewer hours. So there are a lot of ways that firms can adjust to minimum wage increases other than laying people off. [More]

Q: So from a worker’s point of view, I still come out ahead. Low-income work is already very unstable.

A: An important ingredient here is labour turnover. There’s a new paper that looks very carefully at what happens to labour turnover rates before and after minimum wage increases, and finds substantial declines in turnover for different kinds of workers.

A different analysis looks at a living wage law that was passed at the San Francisco airport a few years back. They found something like an 80 percent decline in turnover of baggage handlers after the minimum wage went up, the living wage.

People who don’t work in business don’t fully appreciate that turnover is extremely expensive, even for low-wage workers. Filling a vacancy can be 15, up to 20 percent, of the annual cost of that job. The people who have to fill it are managers, using their more expensive time. And meanwhile, you’re losing customers.

So if the minimum wage reduces turnover, which evidence is increasing for, then it can go a long way towards explaining why we see so little employment impact of minimum wage increases. [More]

Q: What happens when cities increase the minimum wage?

A: I have a lot of faith in the democratic process. So when a city focuses on where to set the wage, a lot of people weigh in: business people, workers, unions, community organisations, low-wage workers, local academics.

There’s a city-wide conversation. And I think this is one reason why we consistently don’t see big employment effects: that process usually arrives at some wage that’s a vast improvement over what we currently have and within the realm of what the local economy can afford.

I think we probably consistently err on the side of caution rather than on the side of going too far. [More]

Q: How do you see the 15Now movement, the fast-food workers movement, changing the labour movement?

A: There’s a lot of dynamism behind the fast food and 15 folks and what’s happening in Seattle, a lot of city and state campaigns to increase the minimum wage. They’re putting a focus on wages and wage inequality, and the need to reward people for working hard.

They’re also focusing attention on other issues that are going to be really important in the future: for example, scheduling questions. One of the recurring problems for fast-food and retail workers is not just that their wages are so low, but also that they have little or no control over their schedules.

I think any time you have people agitating for economic and social justice and getting national attention, it’s encouraging for the possibility of turning around three going on four decades of rising economic inequality.

The single most important thing is to keep some oxygen flowing here so that this conversation can continue: the media cover it, people talk about it when they’re having a beer with friends, or when they’re downtown and they see a bunch of McDonald’s workers out making noise. That’s not something we’ve seen a lot of in the last 35 years. [More]

Edited for length and clarity. For full interview, see version on IPS blog. Edited by Kitty Stapp.

 

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School Dropout Rate Soars for Afghan Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:10:54 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138370 Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

*By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

“Our children quitting school is the greatest pain we have suffered during our troublesome lives here,” says Multan Shah, a vegetable-seller in a shantytown of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

Once a resident of the capital Kabul, war drove Shah to relocate to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 1985, where he settled in the Jallozai refugee camp. He lived hand-to-mouth but was able to send his two sons and daughter to a free school run by a foreign-funded NGO."My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning." -- Noorullah Ahmedzai

Thousands of children have benefitted from such schools in some Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade – after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can’t afford to pay for private school.

“My two sons graduated from sixth grade this March but we couldn’t enroll them in the next grade because we don’t have money to pay the fee,” Shah says.

Gaffer Ahmed, principal of the Mirwais Public School in Peshawar, says they used to get assistance from local NGOs and individuals for free education of students up to tenth grade, but that ended in 2010.

“Many students aren’t able to continue their education as they can’t bear the cost now,” he confirms.

Ahmed says his school had provided free education to a few gifted students, but that most Afghan refugees in Pakistan faced harsh economic conditions and a majority of parents couldn’t pay the expenses. He himself is unable to afford it.

“Private schools charge about 10 dollars per month. I earn 60, which is too little to pay for my children’s tuition,” he laments.

Mastoora Stanikzai, director of the Abu Ali Senna Afghan Teachers’ Training Institute in Peshawar, is worried about the growing number of dropouts.

“Only 7,000 students reached grade 12, out of 230,000 students admitted every year to Afghan schools in Pakistan,” she says, fearing what the future holds for these children.

Private schools number about 270, while the free primary-level schools run by NGOs number about 100, she says.

Stanikzai says some schools also offer two-year diploma courses in midwifery and business administration to refugee students in collaboration with the Afghanistan government.

Her institute has trained 1,350 teachers, half of them women. About 125 teach at the Afghan schools.

Pakistan has 1.9 million legally registered Afghan refugees and an equal number who are unregistered, according to U.N. figures. The free schools require refugees to show a Proof of Registration card to enroll their children.

“Non-availability of funding has affected the female students the most,” says Stanikzai, who also heads the Refugee Women’s Organisation. “People wanting to admit their daughters to school are finding it hard in view of the cost.

“As a result, we see young girls and boys wandering the streets, collecting garbage,” she says.

Farkhanda Maiwandi, 11, tells IPS that she used to go to a school in the Khazana refugee camp in Peshawar, where she passed grade six.

“After that I sat home because my father, a daily labourer, cannot spare the money to enroll me at a private school. It is painful to be out of school but we don’t have a choice,” she says.

Maiwandi says that she knows at least 10 girls who quit school. “Only a few girls managed to get admitted to grade seven because their parents could afford it,” she says.

Noorullah Ahmedzai, an Afghan refugee in the Haripure district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is extremely upset over the lack of education for his two children.

“My one son and one daughter studied at a refugees’ school in a camp. Last year, they completed grade six and were told that they wouldn’t be given further education because they have to get admitted to a private school,” he says.

“We have enrolled my son at school but my daughter is staying home because I don’t have money to pay the fees for both,” he says.

“My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning. She now takes lessons at home from her brother. I have a dream to see my children educated,” he says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Seeking Closure, Bougainville Confronts Ghosts of Civil Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:10:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138361 Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

*By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Australia, Dec 21 2014 (IPS)

Thirteen years after the peace agreement which ended a decade-long civil war in Bougainville, an autonomous island region of 300,000 people located east of the Papua New Guinean (PNG) mainland in the southwest Pacific Islands, trauma and grief continue to affect families and communities where the fate of the many missing remains unresolved.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government, identifying this as a barrier to progressing post-conflict reconciliation and development, introduced a policy in September to begin helping families answer questions and find closure.“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified." -- Nick Peniai

“This is very important for reconciliation,” Nick Peniai, head of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Department of Peace and Reconciliation, told IPS.

“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified” and “reconstruction will become meaningful to families after they have reunited with their loved ones.”

Patricia Tapakau, a community leader in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, agreed, saying that the new policy received her full support.

There is no accurate data about the human loss which occurred during hostilities between the PNG military and indigenous militia groups involved in a local uprising in 1989 that succeeded in shutting down the Panguna copper mine, formerly operated by the Australian company, Bougainville Copper Ltd.  But some estimates of the death toll run as high as 20,000.

The mine, a major revenue earner at the time for the PNG government, was at the centre of local grievances about loss of customary land, environmental devastation and increasing inequality. The conflict continued following a government blockade of the islands in 1990 until a permanent ceasefire in 1998.

Today many families on the islands continue to search for their missing loved ones, reports the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The endless uncertainty about their fate is keeping the memory and suffering of the war alive in communities and inhibiting people’s confidence in a better future.

“We need reconciliation from one end of the island to the other….we need to restore the relationship with the bodies that have rotted in the jungle by bringing them back to their villages and giving them dignity by doing a proper burial,” a community leader from Guava village near the mine was quoted in a report by Jubilee Australia.

But, according to Peniai, it has only recently become feasible to publicly address this sensitive issue.

“It could not have been possible to get information on missing persons soon after the brokering of peace 13 years ago due to fear for the lives of those with the information, and the same on the part of those who were responsible for the killings in the event of being exposed.  The families of missing people were also not attempting to investigate for the same reason of fear,” he explained.

Conditions are more conducive to this occurring now, Peniai believes, with people willing to freely discuss the issue and some improvements to the law enforcement sector, which is supporting public confidence.

The United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance supports international human rights laws that place an obligation on warring parties, including governments, military forces and armed groups, to take all possible measures to search for and return missing persons, or their remains, to next of kin.

In Bougainville, the new policy will address the humanitarian needs of affected communities, but exclude bringing perpetrators to justice and claims for compensation.  Implementation will include seeking information about victims’ whereabouts, identifying burial sites, exhumation and forensic identification of remains before their return to relatives for burial.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will be on hand to assist the Bougainville Government and its partners with advice and expert support as the policy is rolled out.

Families of those who have disappeared “may have psycho-social needs which require medical attention, even years later, this is an important need in Bougainville,” Gauthier Lefèvre, Head of Mission for the ICRC in Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

“Many may also have difficulties making ends meet economically or be in a vulnerable position within society due to absence of their usual support networks.”

The humanitarian organisation supports similar efforts to reconcile families in other post-conflict zones, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Iran and Iraq.  It emphasises these measures are vital to helping people overcome anger and mistrust. If unaddressed, this burden can be passed on to a younger generation who are at risk of inheriting a sense of humiliation and injustice.

The Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-governmental organisation, claims that unaddressed trauma has been a direct factor in high levels of alcohol and domestic abuse and violence against women, including rape, on the islands since the end of the ‘Bougainville crisis.’

During the three months of April, July and August 2010 alone, local police received reports of 84 sexual offences, 261 cases of domestic violence and 16 of child abuse.

Returning the remains of loved ones “is unfinished business on the road to healing, forgiveness, rehabilitation and reconstruction of whole communities” in the autonomous region, claims the OHCHR.

It “will bring closure and even psychological healing to families of missing persons and in some cases resolve legal issues linked to landownership and inheritance,” Lefèvre said.  He added that such efforts “certainly have an impact on human and social development in post-conflict zones.”

Peniai believes there will be benefits for human development “in the sense of establishing national unity, as a truly reconciled society is likely to be more stable.”

The peace process in Bougainville since 2001 has been assisted by the United Nations and international aid donors, but the autonomous region still faces immense development challenges. Life expectancy is 59 years and the under-five mortality rate is 74 per 1,000 live births, compared to the global average of 46, reports the National Research Institute.

In Central Bougainville, where the conflict originated, 56 percent of people do not have access to safe drinking water and 95 percent lack access to sanitation, according to World Vision.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

*By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kanchipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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