Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:36:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

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Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

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World Bank, IMF Urged to Act on New Inequality Focus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-bank-imf-urged-act-new-inequality-focus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-imf-urged-act-new-inequality-focus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-bank-imf-urged-act-new-inequality-focus/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 21:37:31 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133571 Global income inequality threatens economic and social viability, according to a World Bank report released Thursday, reiterating a new but increasingly forceful narrative from both the bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet as the two Washington-based institutions gather here this week for semi-annual meetings, anti-poverty campaigners are calling on the bank and IMF to translate […]

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Residents of Nairobi's Mathare slum, one of the largest in Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Residents of Nairobi's Mathare slum, one of the largest in Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Global income inequality threatens economic and social viability, according to a World Bank report released Thursday, reiterating a new but increasingly forceful narrative from both the bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Yet as the two Washington-based institutions gather here this week for semi-annual meetings, anti-poverty campaigners are calling on the bank and IMF to translate such rhetoric into practice.“Fewer than 100 people control as much of the world’s wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion combined.” -- World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

“World Bank President Jim Kim and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde have been vocal about the dangers of skyrocketing inequality, but there is still a long way to go,” Max Lawson, the head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam GB, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“There’s no trade-off between growth and inequality,” concurred his colleague, Nicolas Mombrial, of Oxfam America. “There will be no inclusive growth if economic inequality remains out of control.”

Oxfam and other groups are now calling on the World Bank and IMF to take concrete action to address issues associated with wealth inequality worldwide. IMF policies in particular have been criticised in the past for particularly negative impacts on poor and marginalised communities.

“We are pleased to see the IMF recognise that drastic fiscal consolidation policies have been a drag on growth, something that unions have been saying since the inappropriate shift to austerity made in 2010,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said Thursday.

“The IMF’s undermining of labour standards and collective bargaining institutions in several European countries, for example, has already had important impacts on income distribution that are likely to intensify in the future. We urgently call for a review and major changes in the Fund’s labour market policies.”

Oxfam’s Lawson lists at least three areas that he would like to see receive serious consideration by the IMF and the World Bank.

“First of all, it is necessary to develop a more adequate measurement of income inequality,” he says. “This needs to look at not only the income of the bottom 40 percent of the world’s income earners are measured but also the income flows of the world’s top 10 percent.”

Lawson suggested that the IMF, given its constant and influential interaction with the world’s governments, would be particularly well placed to advance a stronger measurement of inequality.

“Secondly, it is necessary to reform taxation schemes,” Lawson continued. “It is not fair that a billionaire pays a lower percentage in tax than a bus driver. And thirdly, it is essential to provide access to universal health care and education.”

Oxfam is also calling on governments to address inequality by focusing more robustly on tax dodging and related financial secrecy. Along with others, the group is calling for a global goal to end extreme inequality as part of the discussion around the post-2015 international development goals.

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality,” Oxfam says. “Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.”

Widening gap

Inequality has become a particularly prominent topic in international policy discussions over the past two years. In part this is because, in the aftermath of the global economic downturn of 2008, the rich have bounced back much more quickly than the poor – thus widening the inequality gap.

A recent list of global billionaires published by Forbes underscored the scope of the problem. According to that data, just 67 people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people.

“Fewer than 100 people control as much of the world’s wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion combined,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said Thursday at the start of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. At similar meetings last year, Kim announced a new bank goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

Yet on Thursday he warned that economic growth is not enough to reach that goal.

“Even if all countries grow at the same rates as over the past 20 years, and if the income distribution remains unchanged, world poverty will only fall by 10 percent by 2030, from 17.7 percent in 2010,” he said.

“We need a laser-like focus on making growth more inclusive and targeting more programmes to assist the poor directly if we’re going to end extreme poverty.”

Kim’s warning is underscored in a press release published on Thursday by the bank.

“Rising inequality of income can dampen the impact of growth on poverty,” the paper says.

“In countries where inequality was falling, the decline in poverty for a given growth rate was greater. Even if there is no change in inequality, the ‘poverty-reducing power’ of economic growth is less in coun­tries that are initially more unequal.”

The paper emphasises that the governments and donors can’t aim only to lift people out of extreme poverty, but also have to ensure that people aren’t “stuck just above the extreme poverty line due to a lack of opportunities that might impede progress toward better livelihoods.”

“Persistent inequality, where the rich are continuously advantaged and the rest struggle to catch up, makes people frustrated with the system,” Carol Graham, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“Such inequality pre-programmes the public perception downward. And even in countries where there is a progress with regard to inequality, and social frustration impacts political instability.”

In a blog post, Carol Graham and another researcher tie recent protests in Chile, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Ukraine and even the Arab Spring to widening income differential or inequality.

“The protesters are not a nothing-to-lose risk taker, but middle-aged, middle income, and more educated than average people who are unhappy about an unfair advantage of the rich and a lack of opportunities for the poor,” they write, calling the “prototypical” protestors “frustrated achievers”.

“Extreme inequality is particularly dangerous in countries in political and economic transition,” they note.

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Obama Says Gender Pay Gap Is No Myth, It’s Math http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-says-gender-pay-gap-myth-math/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-says-gender-pay-gap-myth-math http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-says-gender-pay-gap-myth-math/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:32:42 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133553 Since his re-election in 2012, President Barack Obama has stepped up his rhetoric around gender equality issues in the United States, but he has yet to get a partisan U.S. Congress to go along with a series of legislative proposals he put forward. On Tuesday, Obama bypassed Republican opposition by signing two executive orders aimed […]

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President Barack Obama signs executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women, at an event marking Equal Pay Day, in the East Room of the White House, Apr. 8, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama signs executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women, at an event marking Equal Pay Day, in the East Room of the White House, Apr. 8, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Since his re-election in 2012, President Barack Obama has stepped up his rhetoric around gender equality issues in the United States, but he has yet to get a partisan U.S. Congress to go along with a series of legislative proposals he put forward.

On Tuesday, Obama bypassed Republican opposition by signing two executive orders aimed at addressing wage disparities between men and women in the United States.

While the non-legislative executive orders he unveiled on Tuesday deal only with narrow issues, supporters say they offer an important initial attempt on Obama’s part to address stubborn disparities between how much money U.S. men versus women take home.

“Women make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce and are the primary breadwinners in 4 in 10 American households with children under age 18,” the president stated Tuesday in a speech at the White House. And yet “women still make only 77 cents to every man’s dollar. For African American women, Latinas, it’s even less.”

Obama said such statistics are an “embarrassment”. He is now calling on lawmakers and the public to recognise that it is the time for a valuation of individual’s contribution to the economy based solely on merit – and that this should not be constrained by gender.

Obama’s mandate will affect federal contractors, requiring that they publish wage data by both gender and race in order to ensure they’re complying with laws on wage equality that are already on the books. A second order prohibits those contractors from taking actions against employees who compare their salaries.

Tuesday is marked in the United States as Equal Pay Day.

“These orders … will help erase Equal Pay Day from the calendar,” the National Organisation for Women (NOW), and advocacy group, said Tuesday. “NOW applauds the executive orders President Obama is signing today, and what it represents — a step towards equality for women. It’s about recognising women’s work as equal to their male peers – and above all else, fairness.”

Some researchers suggest the wage-gap problem in the United States could be even greater than Obama indicates.

“Most studies I have seen that include many other characteristics of workers and the jobs using the same data tend to leave about 30 percent of the gender gap unexplained,” Jeffrey Hayes, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a think tank, told IPS.

Hayes warns that it is possible to “overcontrol” such models.

“For example, you can statistically control for the occupations and industries in which women and men work and this would explain some of the gap,” he says. “But if access to the good-paying jobs is one of the mechanisms that could be discriminatory, the researcher could be underestimating discrimination if only the unexplained part is considered as potential discrimination.”

Despite long understanding of the issue of gender-based wage gap in the United States, the situation appears to have stayed roughly the same for at least the past decade.

According to a comprehensive 2013 IWPR study, the earnings gap – measured as the ratio of women’s median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers – was 76.5 in 2012, thus corroborating Obama’s figure. Further, that study indicates this number remained unchained since 2004.

The gender wage gap is “not a myth”, Obama said Tuesday. The IWPR study concurs, stating this disparity is “a reality for women across racial and ethnic groups”.

Political tactic?

President Obama has previously signed a bill that should help bridge the wage disparity between male and female. In fact, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009, named after a retired tire plant supervisor who discovered she was paid far less than her male counterparts, was the first bill signed by the president upon taking the office.

“From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to establishing the Equal Pay Task Force, I have strengthened pay discrimination protections and cracked down on violations of equal pay laws,” Obama said Tuesday.

“And I will continue to push the Congress to step up and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, because this fight will not be over until our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”

Yet according to some estimates, the gender wage gap continues to extend right into the White House. A recent analysis by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank, found that female White House staff members on average earn 88 cents for every dollar that male staffers make.

Yet the National Organisation for Women is urging quick passage of the PFA.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act helps women fight the wage gap by requiring greater transparency from employers – who would have to show that wage differences are job-related and not gender-based – and protects employees from retaliation when they share information about compensation,” the group said Tuesday.

“NOW urges the Senate to pass this bill immediately. If equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $447.6 billion gain nationally for women and their families. Over fifteen years, a typical woman loses $499,101 because she is paid less than a man. It’s unacceptable.”

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

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Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Political Web Spun for ‘Youngistan’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youngistan-weaves-political-web http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 08:24:31 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133446 As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise. India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named […]

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A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named this huge segment ‘Youngistan’, or the nation of the youth.

Not only have election promises been tailored to woo this segment, but for the first time campaign engagement with voters is taking the internet route, especially over social media platforms."Politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media."

“There’s more participation and what’s more, politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media,” Sunil Abraham of the Bangalore-based non-profit Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) told IPS.

Mobile phone texting, which was used to reach out to voters in the last election in 2009, has made way for a tech-basket of mobile phones, e-mail campaigns, know-your-leader and political party websites, messages via smart phones, interactive Facebook and Twitter accounts, Google hangouts and YouTube videos.

Social media practitioners say at least 10 percent of the 664 million dollars projected to be spent on advertisements and publicity by political parties is likely to go to social media companies.

India’s internet user base has been estimated at 205 million, Facebook users number 65 million, Google+ 36 million, and Twitter 16 million.

In a document titled ‘Social Media and Law Enforcement’, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) projects user strength galloping to 243 million by June 2014, of which 192 million would be active users, 56 million of them rural. Active users are categorised as those who use the internet at least once a month.

Fifty to sixty percent of current internet users are in the 18-35 age group, according to Abraham. Politicians are tapping into this huge and growing youth voter base not only to boost their reach but also to monitor engagement and run more effective campaigns.

“Politicians contract us to find out what ‘influencers’ on Twitter are saying about them, and we segregate the positive and negative tweets for a sentiment analysis,” Jwalant Patel, 30-year-old co-founder of social media analytics startup Meruki Analytics and Reporting Services told IPS. ‘Influencers’ are those with at least 10,000 Twitter followers, Patel said.

Of the 70,000 ‘influencers’ that the tech company has identified for its 11 clients within weeks of starting operations, 90 percent are in the 18-40 age group.

Patel claims that 160 of the 543 constituencies that go to the polls will be ‘social media constituencies’ where results will be impacted by politicians’ internet engagement.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, 63, has a Twitter following of 3.66 million, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, 45, whose anti-corruption plank is widely believed to have got Indian youth interested in politics, has 1.58 million. The Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, 43, does not have an official Twitter account.

Sustained youth participation in protests in the Delhi rape case of December 2012 and in favour of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill are other major catalysts in the politically proactive approach of youth in these elections, say analysts.

The dynamics of electioneering has changed in India, with its 1.2 billion people.

Abraham agrees that the internet in general and social media in particular have had a democratising effect on the voter-voted relationship, but he warns that once the competition gets tougher, political leaders may resort to ‘astro-turf’ battles where they manipulate e-campaigns, as opposed to the more transparent, physical ‘grass turf’ campaigns.

“How can you bet that all the Facebook ‘likes’ are from genuine supporters?” said Abraham.

Many of the youth seem clear on issues of concern to them.

“Most leading parties are promising jobs for graduates, but when a party that has been in power for several years says ‘we will give jobs’, we ask what were you doing all these years? If a new party makes the same promise, give them a chance, we say,” 20-year-old student Siddhant Sadangi told IPS in Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha state in eastern India.

According to India’s National Sample Survey, one in four graduates is unemployed. The figures are worse for women.

More and more village men are preferring higher education to agricultural work, and this means there will be more demand for higher quality jobs in the near future.

In conflict-hit states, cynicism is apparent among the youth.

Manipur Talks, a vibrant internet forum that connects the widespread diaspora of northeast India’s Manipur state, lampoons pre-election promises. The site calls the election ‘Magic Wand Expo 2014 – the biggest expo for wiz-crafts in the world’ – a spoof on Harry Potter.

Northeastern communities have been protesting discrimination against them in the rest of India. “Politicians have lost credibility here and what’s more, nothing is done to help the Manipur youth diaspora vote,” Manipur-based social activist Chitra Ahanthem told IPS.

Campaigns by India’s Election Commission to enlist young voters through online registration have succeeded in a nationally high 70 percent turnout expectation, according to Election Commissioner Harishankar Brahma. But many of the 30 percent who will not exercise their franchise will be the young from troubled states.

“The youth of Jammu and Kashmir are isolated, alienated, angry,” Bashir Ahmad Dabla, heading the University of Kashmir’s sociology and social work department told IPS from Srinagar.

“Here, unlike elsewhere, the need for political stability takes precedence over economic issues,” said Dabla. “Jobs, education, water, electricity, roads are important but not the priority in Kashmir.”

The last elections in Kashmir saw only 31 percent voting. Around 50 percent of voters in Kashmir are in the 18-35 age group.

Saba Firdous, a 25-year-old graduate in the state, is not voting this time, and it’s not because of a poll boycott campaign by Kashmiri separatists.

“The major issues for youth here are repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir valley, stopping civilian harassment and killings, resolving the unending conflict,” Firdous told IPS. “Mainstream political parties who go to Parliament will do nothing about these issues, we know.”

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the […]

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Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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The Lady’s Allure Is Challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ladys-spell-challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 07:29:16 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133302 For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi. His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late […]

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Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi.

His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late eighties to rid Myanmar of military rule.

Min, now 75, has vivid memories of listening to Suu Kyi speak at the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in capital Yangon, and of running from soldiers chasing down street protestors. He lost his government job because of his support for the NLD.She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

Min was jailed in July 1989 when Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. The next 25 years their lives took parallel paths. Suu Kyi would be confined to her house in Yangon under house arrest, Min would be in and out of jail. He was tortured, like many other NLD activists.

“Jail was an endless horror, we were beaten till we fainted,” Min, now chairman of the organising committee at the NLD headquarters in Yangon tells IPS.

Like many others in jail facing a bleak future, Min had one hope. “We all new that The Lady was with us, she was like that small beacon of hope in that very dark place we found ourselves in.”

The allure of The Lady has not diminished for him, and for many others. Earlier this month, Zaw Linn Oo, programme director for the Sopyay Myanmar Development Organisation, a non-governmental organisation working on development issues, sat transfixed in a hotel lobby where Suu Kyi launched her new Suu Foundation.

He had not heard her speak in person for more than a decade. “I am so excited,” Oo said after listening to the icon of democracy in the country.

Oo’s associations with the NLD were peripheral. He remembers the big meetings in 1988 and then again in 2008. “I was never a full time activist,” says Oo. But, he said, he knows that “she is the only one who has been true to us.”

At the NLD office U Thein, a young woman in her late twenties, shares the same sentiment. She became an NLD volunteer 10 years back, soon after she left school. Her family was against the move. “They felt it was dangerous, and it was. People were being arrested and put in jail just for speaking her name in public,” U Thein tells IPS.

She said that Suu Kyi appealed to her because she was taking on a corrupt and violent leadership without resorting to violence herself. “Every time I saw her picture or heard her voice, I felt so much peace.”

She joined Suu Kyi’s then underground party, and dropped earlier thoughts of seeking a government job.

This enduring image of The Lady, as the champion of rights in the Gandhian mold, is  now being challenged by the more practical image of Suu Kyi the politician.

After she was released from house arrest in November 2011, and Myanmar opened up under the leadership of President Thein Sein, Suu Kyi has embarked on a campaign to wrest control from the Sein government that is backed by the army. The challenge will be the next elections due in 2015.

She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

“She is faced with a tough decision here,” says a western diplomat. “There is no one as charismatic as her who can lead the party, there is no one with her star power. But by getting into street politics she has allowed her image of the unsullied democracy icon to be open to attack.”

Suu Kyi has been criticised for not taking a tougher stance on raging racial violence in Myanmar. And some of her party supporters now say that years of isolation have made her uncompromising.

She also faces constitutional challenges that prevent her from assuming leadership of the country. Article 59 of the 2008 Constitution states that national leadership is not permitted to anyone whose spouse or children are citizens of another country. This effectively bars Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Suu Kyi has called for amendments to the constitution. But she has been ambiguous whether she would push for an all-out campaign ahead of the next elections.

“A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation,” she said at the launch of her foundation. “We all have to remember that the 2015 election is just a stepping stone, and a long journey lies ahead of this country.”

Reacting to criticism that she has been too quiet on racial violence, Suu Kyi said the answer to most problems facing Myanmar would be establishment of the rule of law.

Min has no doubt that Suu Kyi, if elected president, would inherit a monumental mess. “This is a divided country ruled by the military for over 50 years, she cannot make it right overnight.”

The next few months will be pivotal to how future generations remember her, he says.

“No matter what happens, for us she has always been and will always be pure.”

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The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 08:37:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133294 The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation. This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political […]

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Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Mar 30 2014 (IPS)

The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation.

This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political reforms to ensure the effective participation of women in all positions of political leadership.

“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well,” Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, tells IPS. The NGO has received support for the campaign from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. non-profit that supports freedom across the world.“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well.” -- Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap

“What we’re doing has nothing to do with partisan politics,” says Touray. “It’s not about disempowering men. It’s about development, and it’s about gender politics.

“When we talk about gender politics, we’re talking about women from different political parties coming together to look at their issues and promote it, under one umbrella.”

The preliminary results of this tiny West African nation’s 2013 census show that women constitute more than 51 percent of the country’s almost 1.8 million people.

As of 2011, women represent 58 percent of national voters. Their numerical strength is not, however, reflected in the number of women in governance and leadership positions at both national and local level.

This is despite the fact that the Gambia has a female vice-president, Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, who has held the post since 1997.

“Out of 53 National Assembly members, we have only four who are elected and one nominated female deputy. That’s nine percent,” Amie Sillah, a gender activist and politician, tells IPS.

“Also, out of 1,873 village heads, only five are women. There’s no female governor, no female district chief. So is that impressive?”

The structures within various political parties, at best, relegate women to being permanent deputies of male propagandists. Women mostly only hold leadership positions in the female wings of their political parties.

And the majority of politically-active women here spend their time campaigning for votes and financial donations for their male counterparts.

“In the selection committees of parties, even if a woman is made chair, as our proverb goes: ‘They [men] give you the head and take out the tongue’, so that the woman is not able to speak out. Men give you just a nominal power. In a nutshell, you propagate what they want you to,” Sillah says.

The Constitution guarantees women’s right to participate in politics and criminalises any form of gender-based discrimination.

Over the past four years, at least three pro-women laws have been passed: the Women’s Act of 2010, the Domestic Violence of Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, both of 2013.

Yet, women remain politically marginalised.

Activists say that because men dominate the political scene, the pro-women’s legislation has been watered down.

“Most of [women’s] issues have not been passed into law…and if passed, critical clauses are removed,” Touray says

Sillah explains: “They took out all the good things, all the crucial provisions in the Women’s Act dealing with marriage, inheritance … Also, they’ve refused to pass the provision on female genital mutilation. They took it out and this is about the reproductive health rights of women.”

Sillah called for an affirmative action quota system for the National Assembly that will allott at least 30 percent of seats to women.

“It’s time for women to be where the laws are made. So that when laws come that protect women’s rights, they can effectively engage to allow the bills to be passed.”

Haddy Nyang-Jagne is one of the four female members in the National Assembly from the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). She thinks that the government has done a lot to ensure women’s participation in politics and that one of the reasons for the low number of women in parliament is the existing cultural barriers.

“The government has created the enabling environment, sensitised women. Now, is it stigmatisation? Women are afraid to come out because people speak ill of them.”

“Is it lack of funding? In APRC, money is given to candidates…Sometimes, it’s about religious and cultural barriers. Some people would tell you our religion of Islam does not accept women taking part in politics and we know that proposition is unfounded,” Haddy, who is serving her second term in the National Assembly, says.

However, women from the opposition say that the democratic space for vibrant multi-party politics has shrunk as arbitrary arrests and detention of opponents have become the norm.

Mariama B. Secka, the secretary-general in the opposition United Democratic Party’s female wing, explains that it is hard to be part of the opposition in the Gambia. The country has been a one-party dominant state since 1996 when army leader and now President, Yahya Jammeh, formed the APRC after he took power in a 1994 coup.

“I was invited to a forum by the women’s federation. When I started introducing myself as a member of opposition party, I was heckled. I was totally harassed. It’s not easy at all. We need a more level playing ground,” she tells IPS.

And the only people who can change this are the country’s majority female voters.

“We’ve observed that most of the educated women don’t even vote. We want to remain in our comfort zones,” says Touray. “And until the educated woman goes to the grassroots, we may not be able to achieve what we want.”

But Touray is optimistic and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a female presidential candidate for as early as the 2016 presidential elections.

“Of course yes! Why not! It’s possible,” she says. “The political landscape is for everybody. Women are saying that they have a right to be there and we’re going for elective positions rather than being nominated.”

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Ugandans Fight for the Right to Access Their Own Medical Records http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ugandans-fight-right-access-medical-records/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandans-fight-right-access-medical-records http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ugandans-fight-right-access-medical-records/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:56:58 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133255 Dressed in a white dress with black polka dots and pink and red carnations, white knee-high socks and matching patent shoes, Babirye recently celebrated her second birthday.  “She’s doing well, eating well,” Jennifer Musimenta told IPS in Uganda’s local Luganda language as her husband, Michael Mubangizi, acted as a translator.  “But I’m always thinking about […]

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Michael Mubangizi (l) and his wife Jennifer Musimenta (r) with their daughter Babirye. They do not know what happened to Babirye’s twin whose body disappeared after Musimenta gave birth in Uganda’s national referral hospital. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Michael Mubangizi (l) and his wife Jennifer Musimenta (r) with their daughter Babirye. They do not know what happened to Babirye’s twin whose body disappeared after Musimenta gave birth in Uganda’s national referral hospital. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 27 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a white dress with black polka dots and pink and red carnations, white knee-high socks and matching patent shoes, Babirye recently celebrated her second birthday. 

“She’s doing well, eating well,” Jennifer Musimenta told IPS in Uganda’s local Luganda language as her husband, Michael Mubangizi, acted as a translator. It is an unwritten policy in Ugandan health facilities that patients were never given access to their own medical records.

“But I’m always thinking about the second child, whether she’s alive or not alive, because I don’t know the truth. I’m always worried.”

The child she’s referring to is Babirye’s sister. In Luganda, Babirye means the first-born of female twins.

Twins are seen as a special blessing among Ugandan families. Mubangizi had a set on his father’s side before his wife gave birth to two girls on Mar. 14, 2012, at Mulago Hospital.

The couple did not know they were expecting twins until Musimenta delivered at Mulago, which is Uganda’s national referral hospital and the country’s largest health facility based in the capital, Kampala.

But within minutes of Musimenta giving birth to the second child, whom they named Nakato, which means second female twin in Luganda, they were told she had died.

The pair were then denied access to their baby’s body. Despite pleading for her own medical records, Musimenta was refused a copy of these too.

“We looked for that dead body for three days,” Mubangizi, who immediately reported the case to the police, told IPS.

“We checked in the mortuary, in the maternity ward, everywhere in the hospital. There was no dead child,” the 30-year-old mechanic said.

Three long days later, the couple were handed the body of a dead baby.

“It was very fresh, as if it had been delivered at that moment,” said Mubangizi. “We said that is not our baby.”

A DNA test, which the desperate pair resorted to, revealed the child was not theirs. And now they don’t know for sure if their daughter is alive or dead.

Nakibuuka Noor Musisi, the programme manager for strategic litigation at advocacy group Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), said that cases of missing and stolen babies were shockingly all too common in Ugandan hospitals.

“There’s so many cases of mothers who have gone to hospitals [to give birth], especially this particular hospital, and their babies are not given to them,” she told IPS.

“These cases are just reported by the media but their parents don’t take them up [with the courts] because maybe they don’t know where to go.”

She added that it was an unwritten policy in health facilities that patients were never given access to their own medical records in this East African nation.

Grieving, and seeking the truth about their daughter, Mubangizi and  Musimenta, with backing from CEHURD, sued the executive director of Mulago Hospital and the Ugandan attorney general in July 2013.

“When we were faced with this particular case we were forced to go to court to show that actually this is a problem that is happening in the country,” Musisi explained.

The couple argued their constitutional rights had been violated through being denied the access to their medical records, the opportunity to nurture and bring up their child and in the hospital taking her away without permission.

All of this has been coupled with the daily mental anguish and agony they have endured, and are continuing to endure, through not having access to her or her body.

On Wednesday, Mar. 26 the High Court of Uganda ordered Mulago Hospital to furnish the couple with outstanding medical documents, a registry of children delivered on the same day as Babirye and her sister, a list of health workers then on duty and a copy of the DNA test.

Musisi said the ruling set a significant precedent for the rights of Ugandan patients to access their medical records.

“The constitution says that everyone shall have the right to access information, which is in the hands of the state as long as it does not put the state or the security of the state at risk,” she said.

Wednesday’s ruling also has implications for Uganda’s stunningly high maternal morality rate – 438 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the world’s highest.

“Imagine if you’re a mother who has had a caesarean section and no [medical record] is given to you. As soon as you’re discharged from the hospital, you get home and probably you have a [complication],” said Musisi, speaking at the high court.

“That would mean that you have to go back to that particular health facility. What happens if the facility is very far from your home? These are the reasons we see mothers die.”

The case puts the spotlight on the reason why so many Ugandan women are terrified to give birth in hospitals.

“I won’t go back to deliver in that hospital because what happened two years ago could happen again,” said Musimenta.

Mulago Hospital, however, has showed interest in an out of court settlement with Musimenta and Mubangizi. Mulago’s legal team declined to comment.

But what Musimenta and Mubangizi ultimately want is the truth about their daughter.

“I’m always thinking about what happened to her. I don’t know whether she was kidnapped,” said Mubangizi.

“There are some people overseas who can’t conceive and they give money to the nurses [to buy the babies].”

According to local reports babies are allegedly stolen from hospitals but there are also claims that some health workers have been mixing up babies, with parents been given the wrong newborns or dead bodies.

The couple say they’ll use the settlement from the hospital towards getting closure. They are unable to afford the services of an investigator to probe the details of their missing child.

“When someone has twins it’s an honorary thing in our tradition, we do dancing and singing to welcome the twins,” said Mubangizi.

“So we’ll go to our village and have a traditional ceremony. If the baby is alive, she will reveal herself.”

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Look Who’s Helping Olive Ridley http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/look-whos-helping-olive-ridley/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=look-whos-helping-olive-ridley http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/look-whos-helping-olive-ridley/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 08:36:11 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133251 When Olive Ridley sea turtles nest on the beach in his village, little Warthy Raju can barely wait for the millions of hatchlings, with their three-inch shells and thumb-sized heads, to scramble out. Instead of heading for the sea, many disoriented baby turtles move landwards. Raju, all of 12 years old, plays knight in shining […]

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Disoriented by land illuminations, landward straying Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings are collected by the community and released safely into the sea. Credit: Bivash Pandav/IPS.

Disoriented by land illuminations, landward straying Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings are collected by the community and released safely into the sea. Credit: Bivash Pandav/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
GANJAM, India, Mar 27 2014 (IPS)

When Olive Ridley sea turtles nest on the beach in his village, little Warthy Raju can barely wait for the millions of hatchlings, with their three-inch shells and thumb-sized heads, to scramble out.

Instead of heading for the sea, many disoriented baby turtles move landwards. Raju, all of 12 years old, plays knight in shining armour, snatching them away from the clutches of death in bucketfuls – at least 30 buckets each day – and gently pours them into the receding waves.

Despite cheek-by-jowl proximity with over 6,000 people in three fishing villages, the 4.5-kilometre-long Rushikulya river mouth rookery in eastern India’s Odisha state has become a steady favourite of the nesting Ridley.Despite their own livelihoods being at stake, local communities still favour turtle conservation.

Rushikulya hosted about 300,000 of the total 694,000 Olive Ridley turtles that nested in Odisha in 2013. In February this year, though nesting unexpectedly halted after just two days, 25,000 turtles nested here and none at the other two rookeries in the state.

Community conservation efforts are being credited for the increasing mass nesting at Rushikulya.

“Community presence, instead of becoming a major deterrent, has emerged as the Ridley’s strongest support over the last 10 years,” Mangaraj Panda of the United Artists’ Association, which is involved in community conservation efforts, told IPS.

India’s eastern coastal state of Odisha each year hosts nearly half of the world’s and 90 percent of India’s nesting Olive Ridley turtles, categorised as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The only other major mass nesting beaches in the world are in Pacific Mexico and Costa Rica.

In Odisha, the Ridley nests in three major groups off the Indian Ocean – on the Rushikulya, Gahirmatha and Devi coasts. The last two are inside protected wildlife sanctuaries.

“By November, our men sight turtles congregating five kilometres offshore. By peak winter, pregnant females approach closer. We know it’s time to clean their nesting site,” 45-year-old Pari Behera, a fisherwoman, told IPS in Purunabandh village.

Rushikulya’s fisherwomen’s collectives lead turtle conservation efforts. With the help of local school students, they clear the site of discarded fishnets, glass, hard plastic pieces, branches and polythene bags.

Over six nights in mid-February, thousands of the reptilians, two feet long, weighing 50 kg, crowd ashore to dig their earthen-pot shaped nests, laying 110 to 180 eggs each.

Mesh nettings are embedded along 2.3 km to protect the hatchlings from straying landward as they are disoriented by illumination.

“Round-the-clock vigil inside the barricade keeps wild dogs, cats, hyenas and jackals from digging up eggs,” said 27-year-old Madu Shankar Rao in Gokharakuda village. Volunteers of the international non-profit World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and forest guards help.

The IUCN indicates a globally declining population trend for the Olive Ridley due to trawl fishing, destruction of habitat and global warming. However, India’s environment and forests ministry reports no such decline.

Nesting numbers in Odisha have in fact been rising over the last 10 years, according to an extensive 2013 survey by WWF. Nesting surged from 35,000 in 2002 to 460,000 in 2006, and to its highest ever at 720,000 in 2011.

Since 2004, the Odisha government’s annual fishing ban from November to May to protect the Olive Ridley has reduced their incidental mortality by half. This ban is for traditional fishermen as well as trawlers.

But threats persist.

“Even today, late in the night, the sea in the no-fishing zone looks like a mini township; trawlers are on business as usual,” Panda said.

Bivash Pandav, acknowledged as a global authority on Odisha’s Olive Ridley and a senior researcher at the Wildlife Institute of India, the environment ministry’s key conservation advisory institute, told IPS: “That Rushikulya hosts an extremely large number of turtles does not mean all is well here.”

Discontent has been simmering among fishermen ever since the seven-month ban was imposed.

“This remains a most tangled issue confronting fishermen and the state fisheries administration,” a key fisheries official told IPS, requesting anonymity. In early January, coastguards shot dead a fisherman who was flouting the ban.

In Podampeta, the richest of rookery villages, fisherman Babaji Ramaya told IPS, “Our kitchen fires don’t burn if we do not go fishing. The sea is our farmland and the fish our grain; what will our children eat?”

Podampeta’s brick houses sport bright glazed tile exteriors. Young fishermen flaunt smart phones. “Without an equivalent income, how can we give up fishing?” asked Ramaya.

Fishing families have up to three men each earning 200 dollars a month. Women earn 100 dollars preparing and selling dried fish.

While they have traditionally used wooden boats and nets that do not harm the turtles, with fierce competition from trawlers and a growing fishing population, they are increasingly switching to motor boats with propellers and advanced fishing gear. Besides, many do not observe the ban.

“All we request them to do is not use nets for 15 days annually – when gravid females come near the shore, nest and depart, and again when millions of hatchlings are outbound,” said Michael Peters, who heads WWF-Odisha.

Many admit that traditional methods of fishing do not harm the Olive Ridley. “The fishing ban should explicitly be for trawling, mechanised gill netting and long lining,” Pandav told IPS.

Despite their own livelihoods being at stake, local communities still favour turtle conservation.

“Proper resource mobilisation can make Rushikulya an ideal community reserve in India,” Pandav said, reiterating a decade-old community demand.

Community reserves, corresponding to IUCN’s Category VI protected areas, are granted when wildlife habitats are in private hands, making closed area protection unfeasible. It’s the community that administers the ecology and sustains livelihoods.

The Odisha government has tentatively explored the area’s ecotourism potential, webcasting Rushikulya’s nesting this year. But conservationists believe this could pose another threat.

“Bottom trawlers, unplanned beach development, including ports, lighting from coastal and defence infrastructure, erosion-control casuarina plantations and tourism can become major hurdles to turtle safe nesting,” Pandav cautioned.

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A Call for Universal Access to Safe, Legal Abortion http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/call-universal-access-safe-legal-abortion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=call-universal-access-safe-legal-abortion http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/call-universal-access-safe-legal-abortion/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 22:48:18 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133248 Lawmakers and civil society leaders from over 30 countries are calling for universal access to safe, legal abortion. The declaration, released in Washington on Wednesday, comes in the context of a 20-year review by the United Nations of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. That landmark conference called for safe access […]

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Women march against the Dominican Republic's anti-abortion law in 2009. Credit: Elizabeth Eames Roebling/IPS

Women march against the Dominican Republic's anti-abortion law in 2009. Credit: Elizabeth Eames Roebling/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

Lawmakers and civil society leaders from over 30 countries are calling for universal access to safe, legal abortion.

The declaration, released in Washington on Wednesday, comes in the context of a 20-year review by the United Nations of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. That landmark conference called for safe access to abortions in countries where the procedure was legal, while Wednesday’s declaration calls for the decriminalisation of abortion in all countries.“What we know now is that law changes social attitudes.” -- Nepali MP Arzu Rana Deuba

The declaration also anticipates the post-2015 development agenda. Advocates are calling to expand the discussion on women’s health to include abortion rights when determining the next round of global development goals, following the expiration of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

“True gender equality cannot be achieved without access to safe, legal abortion,” it says. “In the last two decades, roughly 1 million women and girls have died and more than 100 million have suffered injuries – many of them lifelong – due to complications from unsafe abortion.”

One of the MDGs, number five, does aim to reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio and to achieve universal access to reproductive health. However, it does not include access to safe abortions in its definition of access to reproductive health.

Advocates are now planning to formally offer these recommendations at a 20-year anniversary summit of the original ICPD. That event will take place in Addis Ababa next month.

“Looking ahead to ICPD+20 and the review of the Millennium Development Goals, the one goal they would not take was reproductive and sexual health for all,” Nafis Sadik, the special advisor to the executive director of UNAIDS and the former executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, told IPS.

The new declaration targets not just the international development agenda but also U.S. policymakers.

Four-decade-old legislation here has restricted foreign assistance programmes from funding abortion-related procedures. Critics say the result is a disconnect between the work done by USAID, the country’s main foreign assistance arm, and the women’s health services offered.

“Regarding the problem of U.S. policy – it’s not just the financial support, but the moral leadership,” Sadik says. “It makes a big difference if the U.S. becomes restrictive in areas of support, if they restrict funding for any NGO that provides abortion.”

Cost-effective and feasible

The Airlie Declaration was composed following a two-day conference near Washington. It was written by representatives from over 30 countries, including health ministers, members of parliament, and medical leaders as well as advocates from the United Nations lawmakers and civil society.

“Our goal is to bring this message forward and build a broader coalition,” Elizabeth Maguire, the president of Ipas, an international NGO dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortions, told IPS. “Every participant is committed to pursuing action.”

Maguire led the recent conference as convenor.

One such participant is John Paul Bagala, president of the Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations. Bagala works in a hospital in northern Uganda that treated 480 women from cases of unsafe abortions in 2011-12 and another 500 in 2012-13.

According to Bagala, providing access to safe abortion is cost-effective. Treating injuries resulting from an illegal abortion in Uganda can cost more than 100 dollars, he says, while the cost of a safe abortion would be less than 10 dollars.

“As a medical student in Africa, we are taking a stand to disseminate the declaration in our respective institutions,” Bagala told IPS.

“To drive [out] stigma from our health workers when they are still in the training system, to ensure that the women, when they come for service, get the best service they need in terms of safety and quality. We are driving towards integrating the aspects of this declaration in terms of reproductive health rights into the curriculum of training health workers in Africa.”

Ipas’s Maguire likewise emphasises that providing universal access to reproductive health care is not just critical but “feasible.” In the case of Nepal, for instance, decriminalising abortion greatly increased women’s health and maternal mortality ratio.

“Nepal is one of the few countries that will be meeting MDG 5, and what the experts say is that it’s increased access to family planning, emergency obstetric care, and increased access to emergency abortion care,” Arzu Rana Deuba, a member of the Nepali Parliament, told IPS.

Deuba recounted the story of a young girl in Nepal who was jailed for 12 years after she was raped and unsuccessfully attempted an illegal abortion. The girl’s story gained international attention, and Nepal eventually decriminalised abortion in 2002.

“It’s a story of hope,” said Deuba. “After 2004, we had 1,500 skilled providers and 75 hospitals doing medical abortion services. As of 2014, 500,000 women have access to safe abortions, and that’s quite a lot for we are not a big country.”

She says Nepal’s success comes not just in the growth of medical services but in the country’s changing cultural attitudes toward abortion.

“What we know now is that law changes social attitudes,” Deuba said.

“I work at the community level and workers tell me there is no more stigma, that abortion is seen as part of women’s rights, that women are more vocal about abortion … it’s seen as part of the continuum of care. Now women don’t have to die anymore and there is a feeling of confidence and security among women.”

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A Honduran Paradise that Doesn’t Want to Anger the Sea Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:17:57 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133238 At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change. “We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what […]

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One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
SANTA ROSA DE AGUÁN, Honduras , Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change.

“We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Mitch, which destroyed so many houses in the town – nearly all of the ones along the seashore,” community leader Claudina Gamboa, 35, told IPS.

Around the coastal town of Santa Rosa de Aguán, the stunning landscape is almost as pristine as when the first Garífunas came to Honduras in the 18th century.

The people who came from the sea

The Garífunas make up 10 percent of the population of 8.5 million of Honduras, which they reached over two centuries ago.

The Garífunas are descendants of Africans captured and brought to the region by European slave ships that sank in the 17th century off the island of Yarumei – now St. Vincent – where they settled and intermarried with native Carib and Arawak people.

From St. Vincent, which was under British dominion, they were expelled in 1797 to the Honduran island of Roatán. Later, the Spanish colonialists allowed them to move to the mainland, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and other Central American countries.

To reach Santa Rosa de Aguán, founded in 1886 and home to just over 3,000 people, IPS drove by car for 12 hours from Tegucigalpa through five of this Central American country’s 18 departments or provinces, until reaching the village of Dos Bocas, 567 km northeast of the capital.

From this village on the mainland, a small boat runs to Santa Rosa de Aguán, located on the sand in the delta of the Aguán river, whose name in the Garífuna language means “abundant waters.”

Half of the trip is on roads in terrible conditions, which become unnerving when it gets dark. But after crossing the river late at night, under a starry sky with a sea breeze caressing the skin, the journey finally comes to a peaceful end.

A three-year project to help the sand dunes recover, which was completed in 2013, was carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, with additional support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The project sought to generate conditions that would enable the local community to adapt to the risks of climate change and protect the natural ecosystem of the dunes.

The initiative enlisted 40 local volunteers, almost all of them women, who went door to door to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment and to educate people about the risks posed by climate change.

“They called them crazy, and thought the people working on that were stupid, but I asked them ‘don’t stop, just keep doing it.’ Now there is greater awareness and people have seen the winds aren’t hitting so hard,” Atanasia Ruíz, a former deputy mayor of the town (2008-2014) and a survivor of Hurricane Mitch, told IPS.

She and Gamboa said the women played an essential role in raising awareness on climate change, and added that thanks to their efforts, the project left an imprint on the white sand and the local inhabitants.

People in the community now understand the importance of protecting the coastal system and preserving the dunes, and have learned to organise behind that goal, Gamboa said. “It’s really touching to see the old women from our town picking up garbage for recycling,” she said.

The sand dunes act as natural protective barriers that keep the wind or waves from smashing into the town during storms.

“When the sea got mad, it made us pay. When Mitch hit, everything here was flattened, it was just horrible,” Gamboa said.

Some people left town, she said, “because we were told that we couldn’t live here, that it was too vulnerable and that the sea would always flood us because there was no way to keep it out.

“But many of us stayed, and with the knowledge they gave us, we know how to protect ourselves and our town,” she said, proudly pointing out how the vegetation has begun to grow in the dunes.

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras, while causing enormous economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

Santa Rosa de Aguán was hit especially hard, with storm surges up to five metres high. The bodies of more than 40 people from the town were found, while others went missing.

The effort to recover the sand dunes along the coast included the construction of wide wooden walkways to protect the sand.

In addition, the remains of cinder block houses destroyed by Mitch were finally removed, to prevent them from inhibiting the natural formation of dunes.

The project also introduced recycling, to clear garbage from the beach and the sandy unpaved streets of this town, where visitors are greeted with “buiti achuluruni”, which means “welcome” in the Garífuna language.

Lícida Nicolasa Gómez is an 18-year-old member of the Garífuna community who prefers to be called “Alondra”, her nickname since childhood.

“I loved it when they invited me to the dunes and recycling project, because we were deforesting the dunes, hurting them, destroying the vegetation, but we’re not doing that anymore,” she said.

“We even made a mural on one of the walls of the community centre, to remember what kind of town we wanted,” she added, with a broad smile.

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural includes scraps of plastic, metal, tiles and bottle tops. It reflects the beauty of the Garífunas, showing people fishing, crops of mandioc and plantain, and the sea and bright sun, while reflecting the desire to live in harmony with the environment.

The sand dunes are up to five metres high in this small town at the mouth of a river that runs through the country’s tropical rainforest.

Hugo Galeano, from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, told IPS that Santa Rosa de Aguán became even more vulnerable after Hurricane Mitch, which affected the local livelihoods based on fishing, farming and livestock.

For this community built between the river and the sea, flooding is one of the main threats to survival, said the representative of the GEF programme.

Ricardo Norales, 80, told IPS that, although the sand dunes and vegetation are growing, “the location of our community means we are still exposed to inclement weather.

“With the project, we saw how the wind and the sea don’t penetrate our homes as much anymore. But we need this kind of aid to be more sustainable,” he said.

The history of Santa Rosa de Aguán is marked by the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, which have hit the town directly or indirectly many times since it was founded.

But the sand dunes are once again taking shape along the shoreline, where the community has built walkways to the sea.

Local inhabitants want their town to be seen as an example of adaptation to climate change and the construction of alternatives making survival possible. Several of them said they did not want an “ayó” – good-bye in Garífuna – for their community.

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Pacific Islands At Sea Over Land Rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/pacific-islands-sea-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-sea-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/pacific-islands-sea-land-rights/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 08:26:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133220 For many Pacific Islanders, customary land is the source of life, identity and social security. However, most island states are developing countries, and governments claim land reform is needed to improve infrastructure and economic development. Registration of customary land, the predominant tenure system, with more options for leasing to the state and developers is being […]

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By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

For many Pacific Islanders, customary land is the source of life, identity and social security. However, most island states are developing countries, and governments claim land reform is needed to improve infrastructure and economic development. Registration of customary land, the predominant tenure system, with more options for leasing to the state and developers is being promoted as the way forward.

“Customary ownership is often considered a barrier to land development,” Inoke Ratukalou, director of the Land Resources Division at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Suva, Fiji, told IPS. “Uncertainties about ownership and difficulties reaching consensual agreement can discourage investment and the development of land-based resources.”“Land in most Pacific countries is for public access for survival and not fenced off by the legal system.”

Customary tenure applies to 80-90 percent of land in Pacific Island states. Unwritten customary law determines land and inheritance rights for members of clans or extended families. Traditional tenure plays a vital role in Southwest Pacific nations where the formal sector provides as little as 15 percent of employment, and most people are reliant on subsistence and smallholder agriculture for livelihoods and income.

Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) in Vanuatu claims that customary tenure is a “system of sharing” that “caters for everyone’s needs.”

“In many instances development can take place on customary land without any land registration,” he said. “Land in most Pacific countries is for public access for survival and not fenced off by the legal system.”

However, in the 21st century land is subject to increasing global economic pressures, islanders’ greater dependence on the cash economy, rapid population growth and urbanisation. Poor state infrastructure, such as road networks, is also hindering growth of local livelihoods and access to education and health services. Only five to 30 percent of roads in Tonga, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands are sealed.

According to the SPC, the challenge is for countries to improve links between land governance and tenure with formal protection of customary land ownership through recording or registration and facilitation of dealings in customary land. Those occupying unregistered land, for example, are often unable to secure financing to establish enterprises.

Land registration exists in Fiji and Palau, but very little land is recorded in PNG, the Solomon Islands and Marshall Islands.

Recent state land management schemes, such as the “Lease-Lease Back” in PNG, whereby customary owners lease their land to the state for a title which can be used for leasing to a third party, and Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs), have failed rural communities.

Maria Linibi, president of the PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation, agrees that better land administration is required, but rejects easier options for foreign investors or the state to acquire customary land.

Factors in landowner distrust of state land reform include state corruption and failure of large export oriented projects to raise human development or living standards for the majority of Pacific Islanders.

“People can register their land and still remain poor,” Simo said.

MILDA’s commitment to protect Melanesian values, which promote long-term sustainable land use, includes opposition to customary land registration or leasing, perceived as serving the interests of foreign and local elite.

“The prevalence of fraud and corruption within the land administration system [of PNG] means that titles can be easily issued, tampered with or destroyed,” Aidwatch reported in 2010.

Last year the California-based Oakland Institute revealed the escalation of land grabs in PNG over the past decade, amounting to 5.5 million hectares, or 12 percent of the country, due to fraudulent manipulation of SABLs. Rather than generating agricultural development projects of benefit to rural communities, SABLs have been exploited by international logging companies, aided by corrupt state officials, resulting in rising deforestation, and many customary owners losing control of their traditional lands.

Official catch-phrases of “freeing up land for development” have masked “daylight robbery, the betrayal of people’s constitutional protections and the loss of heritage and land for millions of Papua New Guineans,” says the institute’s report, “On Our Land”.

Aidwatch adds that formal land titles are “a recipe for failure” in nations where local landowners are not empowered with education and legal knowledge. Thus, in PNG, where rural illiteracy is as high as 85 percent, “top-down” land leasing programmes have the potential to exacerbate inequality.

Last year the Vanuatu government introduced new laws that place decision-making powers over land leasing in the hands of an independently chaired Land Management and Planning Committee and customary authorities, removing approval discretion from the state lands minister. The strategy is aimed at reducing corruption and making land tenure serve indigenous people and the domestic agriculture-based economy.

Evidence suggests that, in PNG, smallholder fresh food producers can earn more substantial incomes than people in formal employment. A 2008 study of women roadside sellers in Madang province concluded that 50 percent earned more than three times the minimum wage.

“Customary land ownership to our livelihoods, income and food security is very important because without it we would not survive,” Linibi declared.

But although land registration is not a barrier to increased local economic activity, many Pacific Island states are grappling with identifying effective land dispute resolution mechanisms. Reconciling tenure security under informal customary law and modern judicial legal systems presents ongoing challenges. Proliferating disputes between customary groups, and with external parties, over rightful land ownership, development benefits and environmental damage remain a factor in continued rural impoverishment.

There is also an urgent need for better urban planning in rapidly growing cities in the region. Informal settlements are home to 35 percent of residents in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, and 45 percent of dwellers in Suva, Fiji. As settlements expand, as they do in Port Moresby, PNG, at 7.8 percent per year, encroaching on surrounding customary land, council authorities will need formal agreements to progress public services, such as roads, water and sanitation.

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Anger Rises Over Racism in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-rises-racist-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:14:24 +0000 Bijoyeta Das http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133195 L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears. Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so […]

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A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

By Bijoyeta Das
NEW DELHI, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears.

Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so excited. But suddenly a group of men surrounded me. ‘How much do you charge for a night?’ they asked. I yelled, ‘Get away,’ but they pinched my cheek and touched my back,” she tells IPS."We want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists.”

Others giggled, some laughed aloud. A few snapped photos with their cell phones. “Chinki, chinki,” they kept teasing as she fled into a metro station. ‘Chinki’ is an offensive reference to the East Asian features of many people from India’s northeast.

Khino is one of thousands of youngsters who migrate each year from the eight northeastern states to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other cities in their quest for “higher education and better opportunities.” She works at a business process outsourcing centre in the capital’s satellite city Gurgaon.

“Enough is enough. They call us ‘chinki’ everyday, assault and harass us. What is this? Just discrimination or racism?” she asks.

According to activists and student groups, people from the northeast have harrowing experiences across India. They are regularly subjected to verbal taunts, slurs, jokes, physical and sexual assaults as well as cheating by landlords and employers.

For years, complaints have been piling up and the fury has been simmering. Matters came to a head this January when Nido Taniam, the 19-year-old son of a legislator from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, was killed.

A student in Punjab state, Taniam was visiting Delhi. He had stopped at a store to ask for directions when shopkeepers made fun of his dyed blonde hair. This led to a brawl, and he was seriously assaulted. The next day he succumbed to his injuries.

Taniam’s death led to widespread protests across India. Many from the northeastern community are now campaigning for an anti-racism law to deal with apparent hate crimes. The North East India Forum against Racism (NEIFAR) was formed in February.

Phurpa Tsering, spokesperson for NEIFAR, tells IPS that their short-term demand for fast-tracking all pending cases of hate crime has been accepted.

“In the long run we want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists,” says Tsering, who is from Arunachal Pradesh and is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A spate of recent attacks on people from India’s northeast has stirred disconcerting questions.

Protesters point out that the identity of mainland India often excludes the northeast, a region often described as far-flung, remote and conflict-ridden. They say northeasterners are frequently stereotyped as morally loose women in skimpy skirts who are sexually available, or good-for-nothing men who are drug addicts or insurgents.

About 86 percent of people from northeast living in Delhi have faced discrimination, according to research by the North East Helpline and Support Centre based in New Delhi. Alana Golmei, the founder, says they receive 20-30 calls a month, and most complain about non-payment of salaries and assaults.

“We have become immune to people calling us chinki, momo, Bahadur, Nepali, chow-chow, king-kong [terms alluding to their physical appearance],” she says. When she calls to negotiate with employers and landlords, she is told she is an outsider. “A strict anti-racism law will give us more negotiating power.”

But can a piece of legislation battle racism?

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive to punish anyone who calls a northeasterner ‘chinki’ with up to five years in prison under the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The SCs and STs comprise some of India’s most socially marginalised people.

Golmei calls this an “emotional, stray reaction” with little effect – there have been no convictions so far. Many in the northeast are not categorised as SC or ST.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, wants an amendment and expansion of this Act. “New laws are difficult to make and difficult to push through,” he tells IPS.

Support for anti-racism law depends on a crucial question: if a man from northern or eastern India is beaten up in western India, it is called regionalism; so is it racism when someone from the northeast is attacked?

Hazarika, who is from Assam in the northeast, tells IPS, “We want it to include everybody in the country and all cases of discrimination on the basis of appearance, language, gender, food and attire. Only face is not enough.”

But opinion is divided.

Senti Longchar, assistant professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, points out that people from states like Bihar or Assam look the same as anyone from northern India. “Discrimination against them is regionalism but name-calling and attacks on those with a Mongoloid face is racism.”

India signed the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1967. But Longchar cites a Washington Post infographic that uses World Values Survey data to show India and Jordan are the most racially intolerant countries.

Racist hate crimes are only one end of the spectrum of discrimination that people from the northeast encounter, says Kadambari Gladding, spokesperson for Amnesty International, India. She says they are also denied goods and services. “Non-discrimination is not a concession, but a right,” she adds.

Instead of a pan-India law, NEIFAR is advocating legislation specific to the northeast that will deter racist attacks on those with East Asian features, and include positive aspects such as preferential treatment, awareness campaigns, sensitisation of police and inclusion of the northeast’s history in textbooks.

NEIFAR is researching anti-racism laws in other countries, particularly Bolivia, to push for a model that suits India, says Id Gil, a Manipur native who studies in Delhi and works for the forum.

He tells IPS, “Every racial remark has the potential to kill somebody, as we have seen in Nido’s case.”

The post Anger Rises Over Racism in India appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Women Seek Stand-Alone Goal for Gender in Post-2015 Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:10:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133186 The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called […]

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Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called for a “stand-alone goal” on gender equality – a longstanding demand by women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Still, the primary inter-governmental policy-making body on gender empowerment did not weigh in on a key proposal being kicked around in the corridors of the world body: a proposal for a woman to be the next U.N. secretary-general (SG), come January 2017.

"A Striking Gap"

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former U.N. under-secretary-general who is credited with initiating the conceptual and political breakthrough resulting in the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, told IPS the annual CSW session is the largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women, and thereby humanity as a whole.

"It attracts hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations and organisations. After the very late night consensus adoption, the agreed conclusions of its 58th session, which focused on the post-2015 development agenda, show a striking gap in firmly establishing the linkage between peace and development in the document," he said.

"The mainstream discussions in this context have always been highlighting the point that MDGs lacked the energy of women's equal participation at all decision making levels and the overall and essential link between peace and development. So, in UN's work on the new set of development goals need to overcome this inadequacy. Somehow this still remains in the outcome of CSW-58.

"Adoption of the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 boosted the essential value of women's participation. Its focus relates to each of the issues on every agenda of the U.N. There is a need for holistic thinking and not to compartmentalise development, peace, environment in the context of women's equality and empowerment," Ambassador Chowdhury said.

"It is necessary that women's role in peace and security is considered as an essential element in post-2015 development agenda."
“I did not hear it, but it’s a good question to raise given that a major section of the CSW’s ‘Agreed Conclusions’ were on ensuring women’s participation and leadership at all levels and strengthening accountability,” Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), told IPS.

She said that in pre-CSW conversations, she heard the names of two possible candidates from Europe – whose turn it is to field candidates on the basis of geographical rotation – but both were men.

“The question is: Is the United Nations ready for a woman SG?” she asked.

Dr. Abigail E. Ruane, PeaceWomen Programme Manager at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the biggest thing at the CSW session was support for a gender equality goal in the post-2015 development agenda and the integration of gender throughout the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs).

She said the recognition of the link between conflict and development was also important because it is not one that is usually recognised.

Asked about the proposal for a woman SG, she said: “I didn’t hear any discussion of a woman SG in the sessions I participated in.”

Harriette Williams Bright, advocacy director of Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS), also told IPS the various civil society and CSW sessions she attended did not bring up the discussion of a woman as the next SG.

Still, she said the commitment of the CSW to a stand-alone goal on gender equality is welcomed and “we are hopeful that member states will honour this commitment in the post-2015 development framework and allocate the resources and political will needed for concrete progress in the lives of women, particularly in situations of conflict.”

Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor at Equality Now, told IPS her organisation was heartened that U.N. member states were able to reach consensus endorsing the idea that gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls must be addressed in any post-2015 development framework following the expiration of MDGs in 2015.

“Throughout the process there has been broad agreement that freedom from violence against women and girls and the elimination of child marriage and FGM must be achieved,” she said.

“Equality Now believes sex discriminatory laws, including those that actually promote violence against women and girls, should be repealed as soon as possible to really change harmful practices and social norms,” Kirkland added.

Cabrera-Balleza of GNWP said the call for a stand-alone goal on gender equality; women’s empowerment and human rights of women and girls; the elimination of FGM and honour crimes, child, early and forced marriages; protection of women and girls from violence; the protection of women human rights defenders; the integration of a gender perspective in environmental and climate change policies and humanitarian response to natural disasters; “are all reasons to celebrate.”

She regretted the CSW conclusions did not make a link between peace, development and the post-2015 agenda.

The earlier drafts of the Agreed Conclusions were much stronger in terms of defining this intersection, she noted.

“I hate to think delegates see peace and development and gender equality and women’s empowerment as disconnected issues or that peace is an easy bargaining chip. …that there is no text on the intersection of peace, security and development defies logic,” she said. “How can we have development without peace and how can we have peace without development?”

Cabrera-Balleza pointed out that “even as we hold governments accountable to respond to this gap, we need to have a serious dialogue among ourselves too as civil society actors – across issues, across different thematic agendas.”

Dr. Ruane of WILPF told IPS that despite longstanding commitments to strengthen financing to move words to action, including through arms reduction, such as included both in the plan of action at the Earth Summit in Rio (1992) and the Beijing women’s conference (1995), “governments gave in to pressure to weaken commitments and ended up reiterating only support for voluntary innovative financing mechanisms, as appropriate.”

In a statement released Monday, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) said that while the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls – particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health.

Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the agreement represents a milestone toward a transformative global development agenda that puts the empowerment of women and girls at its centre.

She said member states have stressed that while the MDGs have advanced progress in many areas, they remain unfinished business as long as gender inequality persists.

As the Commission rightly points out, she said, funding in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment remains inadequate.

Investments in women and girls will have to be significantly stepped up. As member states underline, this will have a multiplier effect on sustained economic growth, she declared.

At the conclusion of the session, CSW Chair Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines said “it is critical, important and urgent to appreciate every tree in the forest, and have an agreement on how big, how tall or how fat each tree.

“At the same time, we need to be mindful of the entire forest,” she added, pointing out that “the absence of peace and security in the discourse on post-2015 agenda does not make a whole forest.”

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