Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 The Peasant Farmer Who Has Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Aging, Depression and Disease in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:47:04 +0000 Manoj K. Pandey - and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149029 Manoj K. Pandey is Lecturer in Economics, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.]]> The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

By Manoj K. Pandey, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
Canberra, Philadelphia and Manchester, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Old age is often characterised by poor health due to isolation, morbidities and disabilities in carrying out activities of daily living (DADLs) leading to depression.

Mental disorders—in different forms and intensities— affect most of the population in their lifetime. In most cases, people experiencing mild episodes of depression or anxiety deal with them without disrupting their productive activities. A substantial minority of the population, however, experiences more disabling conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder type I, severe recurrent depression, and severe personality disorders. While common mild disorders are amenable to self-management and relatively simple educational or support measures, severe mental illness demands complex, multi-level care that involves a longer-term engagement with the individual, and with the family. Yet, despite the considerable burden and its associated adverse human, economic, and social effects, governments and donors have failed to prioritise treatment and care of people with mental illness. Indeed, pervasive stigma and discrimination contributes to the imbalance between the burden of disease due to mental disorders, and the attention these conditions receive.

The percentage of the population aged 60 years and above in South Africa rose from 7.1% in 1996 to 8 % in 2011, an increase from 2.8 million to 4.1 million individuals. The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 because of (i) a marked decline in fertility in the past few decades; (ii) the HIV and AIDS pandemic contributing to this change in the population structure, with a higher mortality of young adults, especially women of reproductive age; and (iii) a rise in life expectancy to 62 years in 2013-– a staggering increase of 8.5 years since the low in 2005.

Four in ten elderly persons in South Africa are poor. More than a third make an average living, and the rich constitute about 27%. Provincial variations show that rural provinces have higher proportions of poor elderly persons compared to those residing in the urban provinces. Racial differences show that elderly Whites and Indians/Asians occupied a higher socio-economic status than black Africans and Coloureds.

Ours is the first study that offers a comprehensive analysis of depression among the old (60+ years) in South Africa, using the four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).

A self-reported measure of depression is used. SA-NIDS gives data on not depressed in a week, depressed for 1-2 days, 3-4 days and 5-7 days. We focus on those depressed for ≥ 3 days in a week. Referring to this as a measure of severe depression, its prevalence reduced from 15.3 % among the old in 2008 to 14.5 % in 2014, with a dip to 12.6 % in 2012.

Aging is a major factor in depression. Those in early 60s are generally more depressed than older persons in their 70s and 80s.

Old women were consistently more depressed than old men, as they are subject to violence. It is associated with conflicts over the man’s drinking, the woman having more than one partner, and her not having post-school education. Another factor is that women are typically much more likely to be overweight and obese, leading to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and subsequently higher depression . A challenging aspect of obesity prevention among black South Africans is the positive perception that both women and men attach to a large body size.

Married men and women are less depressed than others. Marriage thus serves as a barrier to loneliness and a source of support during periods of stress for old persons. However, old persons in larger households without any other old person are more prone to depression. It is not clear whether larger households result in neglect of old persons or their abuse.

Ethnicity matters. The Africans are more prone to depression than the reference group of the Whites and Coloureds. There is limited evidence suggesting that Asians/Indians/Others are less likely to be depressed.

Pensioners are less likely to be depressed despite some evidence in the literature on pooling of pensions with other household resources and denying the pensioner any financial autonomy. Although this can’t be ruled out, it is evident that the favourable effect of pensions in preventing depression is robust.

Of particular significance are the results on multimorbidity (more than one disease at a time). Two combinations of NCDs (diabetes and high BP, and cancer and heart disease) are positively associated with depression. Equally important are the associations between disabilities in activities of daily living or DADLs (e.g. difficulties in dressing,bathing, eating, walking, climbing stairs) and depression. In many cases, both sets of DADLs are positively associated with depression. The relationship between depression and body mass index or BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) is not so robust except that in some cases overweight were less likely to be depressed than the reference category of obese.

Shock of a family member’s death (in the last 24 months) was robustly linked to higher incidence of depression. There is some evidence suggesting that this shock had stronger effects on women relative to men.

As loneliness and lack of support during a difficult situation can precipitate stress leading to depression, we experimented with measures of social capital and trust as barriers to depression, and the mediating role of preference for the same neighbourhood.

Although social capital doesn’t have a significant negative effect on depression, social trust does. Besides, the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood is confirmed in most cases. An exceptional case is that of the Africans for whom neither social capital nor social trust is of any consequence except the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood.

The burden of depression in terms of shares of depressed in total depressed has risen in the more affluent wealth quartiles-especially that of the most affluent. However, likelihood of depression remained lower among the third and fourth quartiles, implying that the likelihood of depression was higher in the poorest (or the least wealthy). It is somewhat surprising that despite marked inequalities even among the Africans, there is no wealth effect on depression.

Although older people are in worse health than those younger, older people use health services much less frequently. These patterns of utilization arise from barriers to access, a lack of appropriate services and the prioritization of services towards the acute needs of younger people.

A larger ethical issue is rationing of health care to older people on the notion that health services are scarce and must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. WHO 2015 rejects this view on two counter-arguments: older people have made the greatest contribution to socioeconomic development that created these services; and they are entitled to live a dignified and healthy life.

Mental health care continues to be under-funded and under-resourced compared to other health priorities in the country; despite the fact that neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the burden of disease in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In fact, mental health care is usually confined to management of medication for those with severe mental disorders, and does not include detection and treatment of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

From this perspective, the proposed National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is a bold and comprehensive initiative.

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Improved Cookstoves Boost Health and Forest Cover in the Himalayashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 11:13:23 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148986 Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
DARJEELING, India, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

Mountain communities in the Himalayan region are almost entirely dependent on forests for firewood even though this practice has been identified as one of the most significant causes of forest decline and a major source of indoor air pollution.

Improper burning of fuels such as firewood in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous  air pollutants, whereas collection of firewood and cooking on traditional stoves consumes a lot of time, especially for women.

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die globally each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution. Women and children are said to be at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows that 142 million rural households in the country depend entirely on fuels such as firewood and cow dung for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidies by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, which compels them to opt for traditional and more harmful substances.

This has prompted environmental organisations like Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) to help mountain communities minimise the health and environmental risks involved in using firewood for cooking in confined places.

IPS spoke with the Regional Director of ATREE for northeast India, Sarala Khaling, who oversees the Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) project being run by the organisation in Darjeeling, Himalayas. Excerpts from the interview follow.

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

IPS: What prompted you to start the ICS programme in the Darjeeling Himalayan region?    

Sarala Khaling: In many remote forest regions of Darjeeling we conducted a survey and found out that people rely on firewood because it is the only cheap source in comparison to LPG, kerosene and electricity. Our survey result found that around Singhalila National Park and Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, the mean fuel wood consumption was found to be 23.56 kgs per household per day.

Therefore, we thought of providing technological support to these people for minimizing forest degradation and indoor pollution which is hazardous to human health and contributes to global warming as well. That is how we started replacing the traditional cooking stoves with the improved cooking stoves, which consume far less fuel wood besides reducing the pollution.

IPS: How many ICS have you installed so far?  

SK: Till now ATREE has installed 668 units of ICS in different villages of Darjeeling. After the installation of ICS, we conducted another survey and the results showed reduction of fuel wood consumption by 40 to 50 per cent and also saved 10 to 15 minutes of time while cooking apart from keeping the kitchens free of smoke and air pollution.

We have trained more than 200 community members and have selected “ICS Promoters” from these so that we can set up a micro-enterprise on this. There are eight models of ICS for different target groups such as those cooking for family, cooking for livestock and commercial models that cater to hostels, hotels and schools.

IPS: When did the project begin? 

SK: We have been working on efficient energy since 2012. This technology was adopted from the adjacent area of Nepal, from the Ilam district. All the models we have adopted are from the Nepalese organization Namsaling Community Development Centre, Ilam. This is because of the cultural as well as climatic similarities of the region. Kitchen and adoption of the type of “chulah” or stove has a lot to do with culture. And unless the models are made appropriate to the local culture, communities will not accept such technologies.

IPS: Who are the beneficiaries?

SK: Beneficiaries are local communities from 30 villages we work in as these people are entirely dependent on the fuel wood and live in the forest fringes.

IPS: What are the health benefits of using ICS? For example, what can be the health benefits for women and children? 

SK: Women spend the most time in the kitchen, which means young children who are dependent on the mothers also spend a large part of their time in the kitchen. The smokeless environment in the kitchen definitely must be having a positive effect on health, especially respiratory conditions. Also the kitchen is cleaner and so are the utensils. And then using less fuel wood means women spend lesser time collecting them thus saving themselves the drudgery.

IPS: What is the feedback from the beneficiaries? 

SK: The feedback has been positive from people who have adopted this technology. They say that ICS takes less fuel wood and it gives them a lot of comfort to cook in a smoke free environment. Women told us that their kitchens are looking cleaner as so also the utensils.

IPS: How much it costs to have a clean stove? And can a household get it on its own? 

SK:  It costs around INR 2500 (37 dollars) to make a stove. ATREE supports only the labour charges for making a unit. Of course we support all the training, mobilising, monitoring and outreach and extension. Yes, there are many houses outside of our project sites who have also adopted this technology. The material used for making the clean stove is made locally like bricks, cow dung, salt, molasses and some pieces of iron.

IPS: Since you say that you are training local people to make these stoves, do you have any target how many households you want to cover in a certain time-period? 

SK:  We are looking to provide 1200 units to as many households. But, depending on the uptake, we will scale up. Our main objective is to make this sustainable and not something that is handed out as free. Our model is to select community members and train them.

We want these trained community members become resource persons and organise themselves into a micro-enterprise of ICS promoters. We want these people to sell their skills to more and more villages because we believe people will pay to make and adopt this technology. We are noticing that this has already started happening.

IPS: Have you provided this technology to any hostels, hotels etc?

SK: Yes, government schools who have the midday meal systems have also adopted this. There are about half a dozen schools which are using ICS and we are mobilizing more to adopt this technology.

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St Valentine’s Day: Celebrating Healthy Relationships; Challenging Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 12:57:48 +0000 Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148940 Bethan Cansfield, Head of Enough Campaign, (Oxfam International) & Lourdes Montero, Gender Justice Manager, Oxfam Bolivia]]> Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

By Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

Today, many couples, in many countries will be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day – or ‘El día de los enamorados’ (‘Day of Lovers’) in some Latin American countries.

Whilst a chance to celebrate the spectrum of healthy loving relationships; it is also an important opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting women and girls in every corner of the world – 30% of women will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner or husband.

This figure of 30% does not take into account coercive control – a pattern of domination through intimidation, isolation, degradation and deprivation, including psychological and economic control. So whilst the figure of 30% is shockingly – we know it is just the tip of the iceberg.

No single factor alone causes partner violence, however evidence shows that one of the strongest factors that predicts this form of abuse is discriminatory shared beliefs (social norms) about what is normal and appropriate in relationships. These can include that a man has a right to assert power over a woman or that a man has a right to discipline women. Societies across the world promote masculine jealously and control as a desirable way to demonstrate love. Films, music, soap operas reinforce these ideas, as can parents and friends.

Unhealthy relationships often start early – with young men and women thinking behaviors such as teasing and name calling are normal parts of relationships. The Government of Australia has just released a powerful advert demonstrating how these early notions of relationships between boys and girls can lead to other more serious forms of violence. In one scene, a young boy slams a door on a young girl, causing her to fall over. “He just did it because he likes you,” the mother explains.

Other identities can intersect with gender to influence what is considered normal and appropriate within a relationship. For instance, in Latin American cultures, ‘concepts of machismo dictate that boys and men should be tough, sexually assertive, and dominating, whereas marianismo stresses that girls and women should be submissive and passive in their relationships with boys and men.’

To address this the Colectivo Rebeldía, Oxfam Bolivia and the Women’s Coordinator are today launching a new campaign ‘ACTÚA, detén la violencia’ to tackle violence in young people’s relationships.

Bolivia has the highest rates of physical violence against women in Latin America and the Carribean – 53.3% of Bolivian women have experienced physical or sexual partner violence and every three days a woman dies because of femicide.

Oxfam Bolivia’s research has found that nearly half of urban youth (men and women) promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence. This includes “the way you dress provokes rape”, “jealousy is part of love” or “if you really love, you forgive violence”. The study also found that 9 out of 10 youths know a friend is suffering from violence from her partner and that the majority state it is better not to intervene – 33% said that if their friend beats their partner, they do not get in because it’s their private life.

Despite this apparent indifference, 43% of young people consider that violence can decrease if the whole society gets involved, 54% believe that the fight against violence is a priority for the development of the country and 85% of young people would be willing to act to stop the violence.

In its first stage, the ACTÚA campaign aims to tackle the indifference of the friend of someone in a violent relationship or perpetrating violence in a relationship. It will develop circles of friends that socially sanction violent behaviors and develop support networks for young women facing violence. Using public and peer pressure, the campaign hopes to decrease violence in young relationships.

Whether in Bolivia or anywhere else in the world, we all need to take a stand against notions of harmful love and instead promote positive and healthy relationships with our family, friends and colleagues.

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New Mandate for LGBTI Rights at the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 18:05:34 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148892 Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

The first-ever independent UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Thai lawyer Vivit Muntarbhorn, has already begun the process of open and transparent consultations with individuals, social organizations and States, although some of them still object to the mandate.

Muntarbhorn, an international law Professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, has the mission of helping protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), who are victims of violence, hatred and discrimination in many countries.The new U.N. expert hopes to "invite a broader understanding of human diversity."

The Thai jurist, a graduate from English University of Oxford and a collaborator of several UN agencies since 1990, is now part of the special procedures system of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which safeguards the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and is made up of 57 experts, 43 thematic and 17 mandated by country.

Muntarbhorn began his work at the end of January, following a contentious vote in June 2016 at the UN Human Rights Council to set the mandate that world forum agencies and social organisations have been demanding for decades. Of the 47 States that make up the Council, 21 voted in favour, 18 against and six abstained.

The approved text “was watered down by a series of amendments led by regressive countries like Russia and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation such as Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Pooja Patel, researcher at the Geneva-based International Human Rights Service.

At the end of 2016, the independent expert’s mandate overcame other obstacles posed by African countries before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

On the other hand, Muntarbhorn received a strong support from social organisations as well as States, mainly from Latin America and Western Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

The European Union’s representative, Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan, emphasised the attitude of the seven Latin American countries -Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay– which presented the original resolution to create the mandate and defended it throughout harsh debates.

Following these discussions in the Council and in the General Assembly “the numbers and support for this mandate around the world has only grown,” said André du Plessis, an Advocacy Manager of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

Muntarbhorn acknowledged that the dissent among countries is important, but said he intends to establish consultations with all. “We are trying to strengthen and reinforce implementation of existing standards effectively,” he said in an interview with IPS.

The expert pointed out that the term “sexual orientation” is about “how we feel towards others and it’s an external dimension of what we are, while gender identity is the internal dimension of what we are, which may be different in terms of identity from the gender or sex assigned at birth. And this is very much to do with transgender persons.”

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

All people have sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), he reminded, “But SOGI are part of everyone. And the sad fact is that everybody has SOGI, but those who have a different SOGI are persecuted for being different from the perceived rather strict heterosexual male/female binary norm,” Muntarbhorn noted.

“And that’s inviting a broader understanding of human diversity, which has to come from a young age. And this is one way of preventing misunderstandings and misconceptions which ultimately may lead to violence and discrimination,” he added.

The expert’s immediate agenda includes a presentation to the Human Rights Council during its next session, from Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, as well as his first evaluation visit to a country, Argentina, from Mar. 1 to 10.

In his work plan, Muntarbhorn will emphasise “five areas interrelated and mutually reinforcing that are instrumental in the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“These linchpins are: decriminalisation, destigmatization, legal recognition of gender Identity, cultural inclusion with gender and sexual diversity and empathization.”

On decriminalisation, the expert said, “I think that there are 70 countries now that still criminalize and five to seven that still give the death penalty. This is a major concern. We need to dialogue well with these countries. ”

A 2015 ILGA report shows “Same-sex sexual acts – death penalty (13 States [or parts of]), six per cent of United Nation States.”

“Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia (Islamic law) and implemented countrywide (4): Africa: Sudan. Asia: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and implemented provincially (2): 12 northern states in Nigeria and the southern parts of Somalia,” the report details.

The death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia but not known to be implemented for same-sex behaviour specifically (5): Africa: Mauritania. Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE.

Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia implemented by local courts/vigilantes/non-State actors (2): Asia: Iraq and Daesh (ISIS / ISIL)-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Muntarbhorn noted that “there are also cases of countries where there may be a law criminalizing same sex relationships, affecting particularly gays. The very same countries are also very open about transgender people. And this is the reality at local level.”

“It’s very important not to generalize too much, but to look at the specifics and to try to improve across the board with fully human rights guarantees comply with international standards,” he said.

Since the 1980s nearly 15 countries have decriminalized, “so it’s really possible. And even 10 years ago or two years ago I wouldn’t have thought that an independent expert on SOGI would be here,” Muntarbhorn said.

Regarding the destigmatization, the expert recalled that “until 1990s, even at the international level gays were classified as mentally ill, when in reality they are only part of the human biodiversity.” That year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.

“But we still have this classification particularly as regards transgender persons and intersex persons. We want to find a way of moving forward respectful of people’s identity without stigmatizing them, without medicalizing the issue, without pathologizing the situation and classifying someone as mentally ill,” he said.

The legal recognition and gender identity is very much linked with trans persons as well as intersex persons to some extent, because trans persons want to have their identity recognized legally even though it may be a different identity from their sex at birth.

“So this also is very much linked to the compulsory surgery which is imposed on them if they wish to change their identity in several countries. But in other countries even the possibility of gender identity change is none at all,” Muntarbhorn said.

“Trans are being classified as males when they feel that they are female, they dress as female and encounter a lot of problems, including bullying, including stereotyping, including problems in bathrooms, problems going to immigration, and ultimately torture,” he said.

“A lot of transgender persons are killed even in countries that recognize transgender identity change,” he noted.

On cultural inclusion, “in the specific case of LGBTI, we have positive elements such as in some communities, transgender people are protected and valued, almost as gods and goddesses, in history,” the Thai jurist said. “But in other situations we have the negative traditional practices that kill, that harm, that persecute people who are different in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Muntarbhor found “that happens in many communities, including some application of certain interpretation of religious laws, as well as the remnants of colonial laws that used to criminalize these relationships.”

About the term of the “empathization,” the expert explained that he uses it “meaning nurturing empathy, a certain understanding, self-understanding, for other people so that we are humans.”

“And this means attitude, it means knowledge, it means mindset, and it’s to do with education, but more than education. It’s to do with socialization, it’s to do with linking up with families, communities, from a young age, so that we feel empathy, a certain understanding of those who are different from us in terms of gender and sexual diversity,” Muntarbhor concluded.

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No Hidden Figures: Success Stories Can Help Girls’ STEM Careershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 06:24:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148885 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women]]>

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

What makes a young girl believe she is less intelligent and capable than a boy? And what happens when those children face the ‘hard’ subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? A recent study, ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’ showed that by the age of 6, girls were already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Research tells us repeatedly that girls and boys are strongly influenced in the development of their thinking and sense of themselves by narratives and stereotypes that start to be learnt at home and continue at school and through life, reinforced by the images and the roles they see in advertising, in films, books and news stories. 

So, how do we change this, and what should girls learn now that sets them up to thrive in a transformed labour market of the future? The answer is not simply more and better STEM subject teaching. They must also learn that girls have an equal place in that future. This isn’t a given. A major and underestimated obstacle for girls in STEM is the stereotype that has been created and perpetuated that boys are better at these subjects and careers.

Not only do we have to ensure that children enter and stay in education, we must equally pay close attention to what they are learning. The changing future of jobs means that fields of study for children now in school should include equipping them for ‘new collar’ jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Jobs that do not exist today may be common within the next 20 years, in the green economy, or areas like robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genomics.

The media plays a powerful role in biases, with the power through effective storytelling to reinforce negative perceptions and norms or to set the record straight and create new role models. ‘Hidden Figures’, Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, that tells the ‘untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race’ is now released as a film and brings recognition to those who were doubly invisible at NASA—as women and as black women. Making accomplished women scientists visible is important for the accuracy of news and of history. It is also an essential part of building further scientific success.

Census data in the United States of America shows that women comprise 39 per cent of chemists and material scientists, and 28 per cent of environmental scientists and geoscientists. These are not the equal proportions that we ultimately want—but they are far higher levels of success in science than fiction tells us. Alarmingly, best-selling movies have tended to significantly underrepresent the facts. A 2015 global study supported by UN Women showed that, of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12 per cent were women.  This tells us that women are still hidden figures in science—and it has a chilling effect on girls’ ambitions.

According to a 2016 Girl-guiding survey, fewer than one in ten girls aged 7 to 10 in the UK said they would choose a career as an engineer or scientist. Un-learning this bias and changing the stereotypes is not a simple matter, yet it’s essential if we are to see boys and girls able to compete on a more equal footing for the jobs of the future. This goes hand in hand with the practical programmes that teach immediately relevant skills.

UN Women is working with partners around the world to close the gender digital gap. For example, in Moldova, GirlsGoIT teaches girls digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and specifically promotes positive role models through video; similarly in Kenya and South Africa, 20 Mozilla Clubs for women and girls teach basic coding and digital literacy skills in safe spaces.

We need to deliberately and urgently un-stereotype the ecosystems in which children play, learn and grow up. Across the world, in schools, at home, in the work place and through the stories we tell—we all need to reflect and enable a world where girls can thrive in science, so that their success becomes as probable as they are capable.

*This article is being published in advance of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, 11 February

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Indigenous Peoples Lands Guard 80 Per Cent of World’s Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 11:15:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148868 In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil.  ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil. ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

They are more than 370 million self-identified peoples in some 70 countries around the world. In Latin America alone there are over 400 groups, each with a distinct language and culture, though the biggest concentration is in Asia and the Pacific– with an estimated 70 per cent. And their traditional lands guard over 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity.

They are the indigenous peoples.

They have rich and ancient cultures and view their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems as interdependent. And they make valuable contributions to the world’s heritage thanks to their traditional knowledge and their understanding of ecosystem management.

“But they are also among the world’s most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged groups. And they have in-depth, varied and locally rooted knowledge of the natural world, “says the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“Unfortunately, indigenous peoples too often pay a price for being different and far too frequently face discrimination,” the Fund, which hosts on Feb 10 and 13 on Rome the Global Meeting of the Indigenous People Forum in the Italian capital.

During this biennial meeting, the United Nations specialised agency will bring together representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations from across the world, as well as leaders of partner bodies to engage in a direct dialogue and improve participation of indigenous peoples in the Fund’s country programmes.

Credit: IFAD

Credit: IFAD

Over the centuries, the Indigenous peoples “have been dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and, as a consequence, have often lost control over their own way of life. Worldwide, they account for 5 per cent of the population, but represent 15 per cent of those living in poverty.”

One of the most effective ways to enable indigenous peoples to overcome poverty, it adds, is to support their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies, and to ensure that they are the co-creators and co-managers of development initiatives.

Rights of Indigenous People
s

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on Sep. 13, 2007, establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

Key facts

• There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous people in the world, living in at least 70 countries
• Most of the worlds' indigenous peoples live in Asia
• Indigenous peoples form about 5,000 distinct groups and occupy about 20 per cent of the earth's territory
• Although indigenous peoples make up less than 6 per cent of the global population, they speak more than 4,000 of the world's 7,000 languages
• One of the root causes of the poverty and marginalization of indigenous peoples is loss of control over their traditional lands, territories and natural resources
• Indigenous peoples have a concept of poverty and development that reflects their own values, needs and priorities; they do not see poverty solely as the lack of income
• A growing number of indigenous peoples live in urban areas, as a result of the degradation of land, dispossession, forced evictions and lack of employment opportunities

Source: IFAD


The Declaration addresses individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; and rights to education, health, employment and language. And it outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.

It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on Aug. 9 every year.

Announcing the Forum, IFAD noted that it has more than 30 years of experience working with indigenous peoples. In fact, since 2003, an average of about 22 per cent of the Fund’s annual lending has supported initiatives for indigenous peoples, mainly in Asia and Latin America.

Since 2007, it has administered the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF). Through small grants of up to 50,000 dollars, it supports the aspirations of indigenous peoples by funding micro-projects that strengthen their culture, identity, knowledge, natural resources, and intellectual-property and human rights.

To help translate policy commitments into action, it has established an Indigenous Peoples’ Forum that promotes a process of dialogue and consultation among indigenous peoples’ organisations, IFAD staff and member states.

The Fund empowers communities to participate fully in determining strategies for their development and to pursue their own goals and visions by strengthening grass-roots organisations and local governance.

Land is not only crucial to the survival of indigenous peoples, as it is for most poor rural people – it is central to their identities, the Fund reports. “They have a deep spiritual relationship to their ancestral territories. Moreover, when they have secure access to land, they also have a firm base from which to improve their livelihoods.”

According to this international Fund, indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems have a special role to play in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano


Indigenous Women’s Untapped Potential

The also named “bank of the poorest” as it provides grants and low-interest credits to the poorest rural communities, recognises indigenous women’s untapped potential as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, as guardians of cultural diversity, and as peace brokers in conflict mitigation.

Nonetheless, it says, indigenous women are often the most disadvantaged members of their communities because of their limited access to education, assets and credit, and their exclusion from decision-making processes.

This ‘bank of the poorest’ is a specialised agency of the United Nations, which was established as an international financial institution in 1977, being one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference, which was organised in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that primarily affected the Sahelian countries of Africa.

That world conference resolved that “an International Fund for Agricultural Development should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in the developing countries.”

One of the most important insights emerging from the Conference was that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not so much failures in food production but structural problems relating to poverty, and to the fact that the majority of the developing world’s poor populations were concentrated in rural areas.

Since its creation, IFAD invested 18.4 billion dollars to help 464 million rural poor people.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Female Genital Mutilation is a Gruesome Impediment to the Empowerment of Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/female-genital-mutilation-is-a-gruesome-impediment-to-the-empowerment-of-women/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 12:10:12 +0000 Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148836 In a significant shift from tradition, Maasai elders in Loitoktok, in Kenya’s Kajiado County, girls are choosingto forgo traditional FGM as a rite of initiation into womanhood. Photo Credit: Amref Africa

In a significant shift from tradition, Maasai elders in Loitoktok, in Kenya’s Kajiado County, girls are choosingto forgo traditional FGM as a rite of initiation into womanhood. Photo Credit: Amref Africa

By Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

On 06 February 2017, the world marks the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  

Consider this, approximately 200 million girls and women alive today globally, have undergone some form of FGM.

One cannot but despair at the indolent pace towards elimination of one of the most brutal cultural norms, a practice that continues to hold women and a Nation’s development back.

While Kenya must be applauded for having brought down the national FGM prevalence from 32 percent to 21 percent in the last 12 years, there are still some communities where about nine in ten girls are mutilated, often forced to leave school and into early marriage.

An often-unnoticed reality is that the effects of FGM go far beyond the negative physical and psychosocial consequences. The social and economic damage done to entire countries has only started to be realised.

The origins of practices such as FGM and their continuation over millennia are traced to man’s objective of subjugating women.  Alas, the dire consequences of such practices are affecting the entire population, including those in non-practicing communities.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognized the close connection between FGM, gender inequality and development, urging global action to end FGM by 2030.

FGM ranks as one of the worst manifestation of gender inequality. Last year, UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report estimated that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa six percent of its GDP leading to around US$ 95 billion in lost revenue.

The Government of Kenya is demonstrating commendable determination to eliminate the practice. Increased resources to the national Anti-FGM Board have resulted in good progress towards implementing the Prohibition of the FGM Act and tangible strides are being made to find alternative rites of passage.

Approximately 200 million girls and women alive today globally, have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
From a medical point of view, FGM causes severe health problems as well as complications in childbirth increasing risks of newborn deaths. Adolescent girls are far more likely to die from childbirth-related complications and face greater risks of getting obstetric fistula, which is the most devastating of all childbirth related injuries. They are also at higher risk of contracting HIV.

While education is arguably the best solution for ensuring women and girls gain equal access to political and socio-economic power in society, FGM makes this impossible because very often for the girls, post-mutilation, is end of schooling, early marriage, and denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  This is a sure recipe for perpetuation of poverty, misery and inequality in society. We therefore must seek alternative rites of passage to broaden opportunities for girls while recognizing this important milestone.

For the thousands of girls to whom every school holiday comes as a choice between running from home and facing a gruesome, dream-crushing ritual, the country must accelerate the search for lasting solutions.

To make real progress, this battle must not be seen as just a confrontation against a harmful cultural practice, but as an all-encompassing effort to address the political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement.

Programmes must include addressing the gaps between legal provisions and practice in gender laws; transforming discriminatory institutional settings and securing women’s economic, social and political participation.

Gains in reducing gender inequality will be defined by more women finishing secondary school, more of them in the formal workplace, more women entrepreneurs accessing credit and more of them contributing in political as well as social decision-making processes.

During a visit to Kenya, former US President Barack Obama observed, just because something is part of our past doesn’t mean it defines our future.  The progress towards Kenya’s Vision 2030 and beyond must include dealing with harmful traditional practices and other scourges that have held back women from progressing.

The UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres has said, “Sustainable development demands full human rights for all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to an end to this practice by 2030.”

In the countdown to the realisation of SDGs and Vision 2030, Kenya must decide that FGM and gender related discrimination practices cannot stand in the way of progress any longer. The good news is; Kenya is making remarkable progress.

Ruth Kagia is a senior advisor in the office of the President of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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IFAD 2017 – It’s Women’s Turn in Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:04:47 +0000 Mario Osava and Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148827 Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

By Mario Osava and Baher Kamal
BRASILIA, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

Josefina Stubbs, from the Dominican Republic, may become the first woman to preside over the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty.

IFAD is a United Nations agency created in 1977 to invest in poor farmers in developing countries, who represent three-quarters of the world’s poor and undernourished.

Stubbs has accumulated 35 years of rural development experience, most recently in IFAD, as Regional Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division (2008-2014) and later as Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, before being nominated for president of IFAD by her country.

She holds a BA in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Sociology, Political Science and International Development, and has also worked for Oxfam and the World Bank.

The elections will take place on Feb. 14-15 during the IFAD annual meeting at the agency’s Rome headquarters. In her favour, Stubbs led, as vice president, the process of designing the agency’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025, besides her in-depth knowledge of how IFAD functions.

In its 40 years of experience, IFAD has earmarked 18.4 billion dollars for rural development projects that have benefited a total of 464 million persons. And the Fund’s soft loans and donations mobilised far greater sums contributed by governments and other national sources, as co-financing.

Boosting the crop yields of small farmers, protecting the environment, training poor peasant farmers, and empowering young people and women will be her priorities if she is elected president of IFAD.

She described her ideas and plans in this interview with IPS during her visit to Brasilia in the first week of February.

IPS: What direction and priorities will you adopt as president of IFAD if you are elected?

JOSEFINA STUBBS: I will dedicate myself to working with the governments of the IFAD member countries, in particular with low- and middle- income countries, so they can advance towards fulfilling the Agenda 2030 in the rural sector and achieving Sustainable Development, with two goals: food security and poverty reduction. Implementing the Agenda 2030 in the countryside, supporting women and young people, and protecting the environment will be vital for the future of the rural sector.

This requires increasing agricultural and non-farm productivity, to produce more and better, in order to supply a continually growing population, while stimulating small-scale farming to create more employment, services and income. A vibrant rural sector is needed to keep people in the countryside, especially the young.

We have to support women more strongly in the productive area, and in the processing of agricultural products as well, encouraging the creation of companies to amplify the benefits. This way new inclusive production chains are generated, and their active involvement in the market is bolstered. Organising farmers is key to boosting the volumes of production and trade, and to improving the quality standards of the products which reach increasingly demanding consumers.

Public policies are the umbrella under which IFAD can work more closely with governments. One example is Brazil, where we work with the national, state and municipal governments in policies to expand markets and transfer technologies. IFAD’s activities in Brazil were limited eight years ago, but now we have agreements with all nine states of Brazil’s Northeast region, providing financial support and technical assistance. This is an experience that should be strengthened and taken to other countries.

IPS: And is any region going to be given priority, Africa for example?

JS: IFAD’s priority lies where the rural poor are, training them and governments in the search for solutions. In Africa we have provided many resources and we have to keep doing so. The African economy is strongly tied to the rural sector, both because of the employment and because the urban and peri-urban markets demand more quality food. Africa has IFAD’s support because of its poverty rate, but so do Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

IPS: For the first time, three women are running for the presidency of IFAD. Researchers say that resources achieve more efficient results against poverty and hunger if they are given to women. What should IFAD do for rural women, who make up over 60 per cent of the agricultural workforce in regions of the South and are victims of inequality?

JS: Governments must be encouraged to ensure a greater presence of women in all of the activities financed by the Fund. But we must do it in an innovative way, breaking down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology and the markets. We need to create new instruments specifically adapted to women’s lives, their needs, so that they can be useful to them. It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process about the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments.

IPS: But technical and scientific development has gone into large-scale agricultural production. Would it be suitable for poor women in rural areas?

JS: In agriculture, Brazil has demonstrated coexistence between large-scale and small-scale farmers. It already has new machinery for small-scale producers, such as tractors and harvesters, as well as irrigation. The progress made by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in improving the crops of small farmers is extraordinary. Brazil has developed important technologies for other countries. It has also made headway with productive infrastructure in communities. An example is machinery and refrigerated trucks for goat’s milk, suited for narrow roads. We need technologies adapted to small farms.

Food security depends on small-scale producers. In Africa 60 per cent of the basic food basket of the middle-class comes from local small-scale farmers. If we don’t increase this production, we lose the opportunity to promote food security in these countries. This has been proven. In the Dominican Republic, 80 per cent of basic products come from small-scale producers.

Increasing national productive capacity brings more benefits than spending on imports. It is a battle won which we have to make visible.

IPS: Does the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) share this view?

JS: The work of the three agencies based in Rome – IFAD, FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) – must create synergy. They have a key role in supporting governments in meeting the goals of Agenda 2030 in the rural sector. With the specific mission of each agency, we must increase our impact – in investment for the rural poor through IFAD, by strengthening national and global policies that facilitate the achievement of food security and poverty reduction with the work carried out by FAO, and by reinforcinge the humanitarian responses in the rural sector, with the WPF has been doing for decades.

IPS: With regard to the environment, how can IFAD and small-scale farmers contribute to protecting nature and the climate?

JS: Climate change issues and the adequate management of environmental resources have to be seen in a broader perspective in the rural sector. I will keep defending ‘climate-smart agriculture’ with eco-friendly practices that also generate income. But in addition, we have to pay attention to the management of environmental resources such as water, energy, tourism, or agro-forestry, which also generate economic and environmental benefits for the rural and urban sectors. We must seek to empower communities, particularly indigenous communities, so they become effective and efficient managers of natural resources.

IPS: Water is another growing environmental problem.

JS: First of all, we have to safeguard our basins, reforest, preserve. Then we have to change the irrigation systems, replace flood irrigation with new techniques. Sometimes the solution is simple. Rainwater collection, such as in the Northeast of Brazil, is an example. Coming up with solutions implies listening to the local population, not imposing approaches to development that are not what people need.

IPS: How will IFAD keep up or accelerate poverty reduction, with the goal of eradicating it by 2030?

JS: By the deadline set for the Millennium Development Goals, one billion people had been lifted out of poverty. Now the challenge is to keep them afloat, but we still have one billion poor people in the world. We have to sustain our achievements and expand the results. We have to combine conditional cash transfer programmes with an increase in productivity, support for small-scale producers in their production and services companies, support for the expansion of access to technologies as an instrument to expand the benefits of development. We have to create a rural sector where the youth see a future and want to stay.

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Pakistan Moves to End Impunity for Rapistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:06:20 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148795 Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

Amid a wave of reforms to tighten the country’s laws on honour killings and sexual assault, on Feb. 2, the Sindh Assembly passed a law making DNA testing in rape cases mandatory in the province.

It follows on the heels of a unanimous vote by Pakistan’s Parliament last October to plug gaps in the criminal justice system and boost the rate of conviction in rape cases.The conviction rate for rape in Pakistan has been less than four percent, prompting protests and legal reforms.

For long, the sole reliance on eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence has benefitted the accused in rape cases and conviction rates have remained negligible in the country.

The new national law, called The Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, also makes DNA evidence admissible, calls for verdicts in rape cases to be announced within three months, and allows filing of appeals within six months.

It also gives approval to holding of in-camera trials and use of technological aids to record testimony of victims and witnesses in order to save victims from humiliation. In the past, many victims and their families would not pursue cases for this very reason.

Another important feature of the law is that it tries to ensure protection of victims’ identity in the media. Those who violate victims’ privacy face jail terms of up to three years and fines. Mass media in the past has been criticised for disclosing names and sometimes even publishing the pictures of rape victims.

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), told IPS that the law will require police to collect evidence from rape victims in the presence of a female officer.

She added that stringent action has also been recommended in cases of custodial rape by police officers. Furthermore, the past conduct of a rape victim and her acquaintance with the alleged rapist will not imply that the sexual act was done with the former’s consent, as it would often happen in the past.

Cases “mishandled from the very start”

Amina Bibi, an 18-year-old from Pakistan’s Punjab province, was allegedly raped by four men on Jan. 5, 2014. All the accused were granted bail. A desperate Amina set herself on fire outside a police station on Mar. 13 that year and succumbed to her burn injuries the next day.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case and sought a report from police. The report was presented Apr. 21, 2014, only to be dismissed by the court. The report claimed that Amina had not been raped – something the court was not ready to believe, especially when it could find no other reason for her suicide.

Amina’s case trained the spotlight on the plight of thousands of rape victims in Pakistan who suffer due to flaws in the criminal justice system, socio-cultural inhibitions, the negative attitudes of investigators, police failure to collect evidence and the humiliation of victims in trial courts.

According to the National Police Bureau (NPB) of Pakistan, around 3,000 cases of rape are reported every year – 3,173 cases were reported in 2012 and 3,164 in 2013. The conviction rate, however, is less than four percent, according to a report released by the NGO War Against Rape (WAR).

“One of the foremost reasons for the poor conviction rate is rape cases are mishandled from the very start,” Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer who has represented several rape victims, told IPS.

He says very few police officials know how to collect scientific evidence in rape cases or record the statements of traumatised rape victims. Citing the example of a case he is fighting right now, Jamal says the police investigator concerned even forgot to preserve the clothes that the victim was wearing at the time of the sexual assault.

In the case of Amina Bibi too, it was found that police had failed to conduct timely forensic and DNA tests. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suspended several senior police officers and ordered the arrest of others in connection with the case.

Jamal said sometimes police insist on including the names of fake witnesses to strengthen rape cases but such practices end up benefiting the accused, especially in appellate courts. “Ideally, scientific and DNA evidence should be enough to convict an accused, but unfortunately trial courts depend a lot on eyewitnesses for primary evidence,” he says.

Jamal pointed to another reality – rape victims often belong to disadvantaged sections of society while rapists are mostly powerful people.

He says crime data indicates that girls in the 9-19 age group from lower income families are most vulnerable to rape. “That’s why the number of domestic workers subjected to rape is on the rise,” he said.

Zia Awan, founder of the Madadgar National Helpline for women and children, told IPS, “The number of rape cases reported in Pakistan is only a fraction of the actual number.”

He receives a large number of calls from women who are undecided on whether to report the case or remain silent in order to avoid humiliation and life-long stigma. The impunity of rapists and the ordeal of rape victims deter the latter from seeking justice, he says.

“The shameful attitude of society, police and lawyers towards rape victims is the biggest hurdle in securing justice,” said Faisal Siddiqui, a Karachi-based lawyer.

His own client, a rape victim, had to seek psychological treatment for two years after appearing in court for cross-examination, he says. The defence lawyer, he says, asked her about the minutest details of the assault and made her recall the traumatic incident over and over again.

Unfortunately, he says, many lawyers deliberately confuse rape victims during cross-examination in order to get relief for the accused. “They ask shameful questions which no woman can answer.”

Sources privy to rape investigations reveal that due to socio-cultural mores police usually try to put the blame on complainants and prove that rape victims are women of loose morals. Their perception is that a woman who has really been raped would not dare to report the crime out of shame and fear of public humiliation.

If the victim has had any association with the alleged rapist or has been socially active or has a ‘modern’ lifestyle, police tend to believe that her allegations are fabricated.

In the past, legal provisions in Pakistan also made this possible. Shahid Ghani, a Lahore-based lawyer, cites such a provision: “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.”

He says this provision allowed for looking into a victim’s history to prove that she may not be innocent and may be sexually active.

Speaking to IPS in 2014, top police officials admitted that investigators needed to handle rape cases differently.

Inspector Amjad Naeem, master trainer at the Police Training College, Lahore, said there has to be an element of empathy in rape cases and special care must be shown by investigators in seeking information from victims.

“The victim has to be told not to change clothes, wash herself or go to the washroom before evidence is collected,” he told IPS. “In case it is necessary to go to the washroom, the urine and stool should be collected for later examination.”

Thanks to a project called Gender Responsive Policing (GRP), launched by the German development agency GIZ in collaboration with NBP, many policymakers have begun to believe that more women should join the police force and handle cases of violence against women.

Ali Mazhar, communication manager at GIZ, told IPS that a large number of policewomen have been trained under the programme to understand cases of violence against women.

Under the programme, he says, Ladies Complaint Units (LCUs) are being set up at police stations where women officers attend to women’s complainants in an environment that is free of harassment and fear.

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How a Spring Revival Scheme in India’s Sikkim Is Defeating Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:48:07 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148759 Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

By Athar Parvaiz
GANGTOK, India, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Bina Sharma, a member of the Melli Dhara Gram Panchayat Unit in the southern part of India’s northeastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, is a relieved woman.

For the past three years, Sharma said, she has received hardly any complaints from villagers about water disputes.Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Until a few years back, our springs were staying almost dry for five months from December to April. During those months I often used to get complaints from the villagers against their fellow villagers as they would fight for water,” Sharma told IPS.

People in most parts of the mountainous Sikkim, and those in other mountainous areas across the region, use spring water for their personal consumption, kitchen gardens, farms, cattle and poultry. According to Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 80 per cent of Sikkim’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation.

From experts in Gangtok to laymen in the far-off villages, everyone agrees that erratic rains and frequent droughts have resulted in the drying up of springs in many parts of the state, especially in south. Some say that the problem became worse after the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim.

Many studies, including the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, have reported changes in precipitation and temperature in the Himalayan region in recent years, but the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says there is a major need for more research on Himalayan precipitation processes, as most studies have excluded the Himalayan region due to the region’s extreme, complex topography and lack of adequate rain-gauge data.

Adapting to changes, the Sikkim way

Thankfully, Sharma said, the water security scheme of Sikkim’s rural development department for recharging the springs “seems to be working in our village” since it was started in 2012. “We get water all year round now,” she said.

According to the people and the government officials in Sikkim, hundreds of springs and the lakes in Sikkim have been drying up, especially from November to May in recent years. This has compelled the government to think of a scheme to revive the drying springs and lakes by artificially recharging the springs.

The brain behind devising this innovative scheme is Sandeep Thambe, an Indian Forest Service officer with a mechanical engineering background who has also carried out extensive research on water and environmental issues in Sikkim and is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIMF), Bhopal.

Hari Maya Pradhan, a woman who lives alone in her home in Melli Dhara, said that she had decided to give up rearing poultry and cattle as a livelihood option because she had to endure so many hardships to access water. “But now I feel a lot better after the villagers worked hard and dug up the ponds [which help in recharging the springs],” Pradhan, who has two cows and a small poultry unit, told IPS.

Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Many times we protested and were preparing to take all our students to Gangtok to stage a protest demonstration. But our woes got automatically addressed when our springs started producing water in the dry season as well,” said Norbhu Tshering, the school in-charge.

Connected to nature    

In almost all parts of Sikkim, people directly connect plastic pipes to the small springs spread above their habitations to avail the natural water supply. But in the south and western parts of Sikkim, getting water from the springs all through the season has become impossible for more than a decade.

In 2009, this prompted Tambe, who then served in the Sikkim government’s Rural Development Department, to start the Dhara Vikas (or Spring Development) programme for reviving and maintaining the drying springs and lakes particularly in southern and western parts of the state.

The scheme was later launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF (India) and People’s Science Institute Dehradun.

According to Tambe, the core thrust of Dhara Vikas is to catch the surface runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources after identifying the specific recharge areas of springs accurately through scientific methods by digging staggered contour trenches and percolation pits.

“With increasing population, degrading health of watersheds and impacts of climate change, the lean period discharge of these springs is rapidly declining,” Tambe said, adding that artificial recharging has thankfully shown encouraging results.

He said that less than 15 per cent of the rainwater, as has been estimated in various studies, is able to percolate down to recharge the springs, while the remaining flows down as runoff often causing floods.

“Hence, a need was felt to enhance the contribution of that rainwater in ground water recharge, thereby contributing to rural water security,” Tambe told IPS.

Women, Tambe said, are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Reduced access to water, he said, also impacts health, hygiene, and sanitation.

Sarika Pradhan of Sikkim’s Rural Development Department said that 51 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone Gram Panchayats of Sikkim have been revived so far as the rural development department has mapped 704 springs in the village spring atlas, which provides information about all the mapped springs.

Her colleague, Subash Dhakal, said that trenches and percolation pits have been dug over an area of 637 hectares under MGNREGA for reviving these springs and lakes with an average cost of 250,000 rupees (USD 3,787) per spring.

*Research for this story was supported by a grant through The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) in collaboration with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) Media Fellowships in Environmental Conservation, 2016.

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‘World Must Implement Pledges on Women’s Human Rights’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:30:46 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148739 Schoolchildren in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. Photo: UNICEF/Tapash Paul

Schoolchildren in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. Photo: UNICEF/Tapash Paul

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

“Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” will provide concrete, practical and action-oriented recommendations that will cover significant new ground, on overcoming structural barriers to gender equality, gender-based discrimination and violence against women at work, a senior United Nations official stressed.

Speaking at a consultation in preparation for the Commission on the Status of Women, a body exclusively dedicated to promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), on Jan. 30 called for sustained commitment and leadership to ensure a successful outcome of the Commission.

“We are at an important [juncture] in the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment and women’s human rights,” she said.

Recalling the recent adoption of a number of far-reaching global commitments, such as Beijing+20 (the 20-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the New Urban Agenda, and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, Puri added:

“Now it is about the normative of implementation – how do we implement different parts of the compact and how do we follow up and monitor the implementation.”

Puri was speaking at a multi-stakeholder forum, which has been organised to contribute to the preparations for the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women – a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council – that will meet on March 13 to 24 this year at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

In particular, the Jan. 30 forum sought to raise awareness on existing commitments as well as to identify key areas and issues that should be considered by the Commission in the context of its priority theme, and to strengthen dialogue and galvanise partnerships to accelerate the implementation of the outcomes of the Commission.

“There is a dynamic new element of assessing how the world of work is changing due to technology, migration, and other factors and whether women can be enabled to leapfrog beneficially into this new context and not be adversely affected and left behind,” she added.

Puri also underlined important commitments such as those under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on gender equality and women’s empowerment and spoke of processes underway in different regions of the world to prepare for the session.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Farmer Field Schools Help Women Lead on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 11:35:15 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148696 Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

By Sally Nyakanyanga
KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan 27 2017 (IPS)

Discussions around climate change have largely ignored how men and women are affected by climate change differently, instead choosing to highlight the extreme and unpredictable weather patterns or decreases in agricultural productivity.

Women constitute 56 percent of Ugandan farmers and provide more than 70 percent of agricultural production, nutrition and food security at the household level, according to the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). However, despite the fact that women do most of the farm work, they only own 16 percent of the arable land in the country.Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory.

Stella Tereka, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focal person on gender and climate change, says that discriminatory cultural practices that tend to favor men have limited women’s ownership and control over key productive resources in the country — a factor also exacerbating women’s vulnerability to climate change.

“The intensive labour burdens on women, especially the unpaid care work in the household, has resulted in women having less time to practice the learning, knowledge and skills gained from groups in their farming activities,” Tereka told IPS.

Winnie Masiko, the gender and climate change negotiator for Uganda at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), noted the lack of clear guidelines to incorporate gender in climate change projects.

“We need to develop a Gender and Climate Change Strategic Plan,” says Masiko.

The Ugandan Land Policy of 2013 grants women and men equal rights to own and co-own land, but this is not always the reality on the ground. Masiko says initiatives should focus on addressing embedded structural imbalances in order to bridge the gender gap, understand women and men’s varying needs, and pave the way for effective adaptation to climate change.

Edidah Ampaire, coordinator for Uganda’s Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation project, says that women’s rights and contributions are extremely constrained, especially in rural areas, and that little is being done by government particularly through policy to address the imbalance.

“Gender inequalities are rife in farming communities, putting women at a disadvantage,” says Ampaire.

Tereka stressed that promoting gender equality is at the core of FAO programmes and the U.N. agency has made deliberate efforts to ensure the inclusion of women in all their programs.

“It’s imperative that women get empowered and take part in decision-making at all levels – this way we can see them contributing effectively to the development of their family and nations,” Tereka said.

Through the Farmer’s Field School (FFS) methodology, “commonly known as schools without walls”, FAO has enabled both men and women with a common goal to receive training, share ideas, learn from each other through observation and experimentation in their own context. On average the FFS have about 60 percent women farmers participating.

Proscovia Nakibuye, a cattle farmer in Nakasongola district, said the FFS has taught her effective strategies to cope with climate change. “We have been taught good livestock keeping and to plant pastures,” says Nakibuye.

“Farmer Field School offers space for hands-on group learning, enhancing skills for critical analysis and improved decision making by local people,” Tereka explained. “FFS activities are field-based, and include experimentation to solve problems, reflecting a specific local context.

“Participants learn how to improve their agronomic skills through experimenting, observing, analysing and replicating on their own fields, contributing to improved production and livelihoods, The FFS process enhances individual, household and community empowerment and social cohesion.”

Nakibuye and her husband are seeing major changes both in their household and farming activities. “Before, my children were not going to school but now through increased sales of milk, I can afford a decent education for my children,” she said.

FAO has also utilized the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) – a community based tool that enables women and men to plan the future they want and take action against barriers, including societal norms that inhibit gender equality and justice.

Mercy Ssekide, a farmer in Mubende District, joined the Balyejjusa FFS. “If you don’t cooperate with your family, the farming won’t be successful – that’s why I had to encourage my husband to join the FFS in order for us to work as a team,” she says.

“We are trained and encouraged to work hard to handle climate change and in order to meet our household needs. During off season we grow tomatoes and earn some money as locals and traders come and buy from us,” says Mercy’s husband.

Together, as a family, they have diversified and ventured into poultry, goat and pig rearing, and kitchen gardening. The Ssekide family are now deciding as a team on the use of their income — and are able to afford giving their two children a university education.

FAO, with funding from European Union, is implementing the Global Climate Change Project in the central cattle corridor in the districts of Luwero, Nakasangola, Nakaseke, Mubende , Sembabule and Kiboga.

Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory – particularly adjusting meeting/learning time to ensure women are involved and benefit from the skills and knowledge on climate smart agriculture.

Tereka believes that with an increasingly unpredictable climate, skills development in climate smart agriculture is critical. She urged the Ugandan government to revamp its agricultural extension system to be more gender-responsive, in order for farmers – especially women to – effectively put to good use the inputs being distributed by government under Operation Wealth Creation.

The FFS methodology is now being implemented in 90 countries with 4 million farmers across the globe having improved their skills and adjusted positively to the effects of climate change.

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Protecting the Rights of Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:33:45 +0000 Prasad Kariyawasam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148689 Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam is a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers]]> Women migrant workers. - UN photo

Women migrant workers. - UN photo

By Prasad Kariyawasam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

International migration is a complex phenomenon dealing with overlapping issues relating to the human rights of migrants, mixed migration flows, international protection, smuggling and trafficking, as well as other push and pull factors affecting migration.

But, the need of the hour is a rights-based comprehensive approach placing the human rights of migrants at the center of the discussion to halt and roll back overall deterioration of treatment of migrant workers, worldwide, in particular, women migrant workers and children.

Evidence suggests that the world is on the eve of far greater international mobility largely due to work force decline and population ageing, coupled with low birth rates in many industrialized countries. Migrants will be even more essential to address labour market needs and the sustainability of economic development in many countries.

But as we all know, migrants move due to a number of reasons. Migration is not only due to economic factors, but man-made disasters and conflicts can drive them in large number as we observe now.

And migration can be engendered due to poverty and lack of human development; gender inequalities; discrimination; abuse and neglect; gang violence; political instability; socio-ethnic tensions; bad governance; food insecurity; environmental degradation and climate change.

As underscored by many Human Rights defenders, human rights abuses play a crucial role in decisions to migrate, in particular by women.

Out of more than 244 million migrants throughout the world, half are women, and an estimated 20 percent are in an irregular situation. In some countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines, female migrant workers leaving for work abroad are much more than half of those leaving.

And in overall, international migration is becoming increasingly feminized as more women are migrating on their own volition, seeking economic and social opportunities and empowerment through migration.

Most women contribute more than men in destination countries in professions, such as care-givers while contributing even more to the well-being of their families in their countries of origin. But, women migrant workers are particularly at risk of discrimination, abuse and exploitations.

They receive wages that are under the minimum baseline, and are victims of fraudulent practices, excessive working hours and even illegal confinement by their employers. Sexual harassment, threats and intimidation against them are rampant.

Meanwhile, number of women migrant workers committing suicide is on the increase. Abuses of women migrant workers are more intensified when their immigration status is irregular. They are often denied the most basic labour protections, personal security, due process guarantees, health care and, education for their children. They often face abuse and harassment at international borders based on race, identity and age. And often they risk being trafficked, enslaved or sexually assaulted.

Domestic female migrant workers are a most vulnerable group. According to the ILO, 53 million women and girls around the world are employed as domestic workers in private households. They clean, cook, care for children, look after elderly family members, and perform other care giving essential tasks for their employers.

Despite their important role, they are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. And their work is often not recognized as work under national labour codes.

Their work is not quantified in financial terms and therefore not adequately compensated. They may be locked within their workplace and subject to physical and sexual violence for lack of means for seeking formal protection normally available for other women in formal sectors of employment.

Therefore, policymakers and other stakeholders in every country must adopt a gender-sensitive and rights based approach in developing labour migration laws and policies in line with the core human rights treaties, and in particular CEDAW and CMW, as well as relevant ILO labour standards.

These human rights instruments relevant to migrants seek to achieve gender equality and protection for women and girls irrespective of age, sexuality, race, disability, migration status and other identity markers.

National and local laws and policies should be evolved to guarantee that human rights, including labour rights, are enjoyed equally by men and women migrant workers and that migration legislation, policies and programmes must promote equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupations with a view to eliminating any discrimination based on sex.

In this regard, female domestic workers must receive special attention, as they are most vulnerable group. The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a robust and agreed legal framework for the rights of all migrant workers and their families in countries of origin, transit and destination.

The Convention sets out the best strategy to prevent abuses and address challenges faced by female migrant workers. It provides guidance for elaborating of national migration policies for international co-operation based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In addition to setting minimum obligations for the protection of migrant workers and members of their families, the Convention is a helpful tool for governance of migration. The Convention explicitly provides a framework for human-rights based policy-making on migration, including irregular migration and female migrant workers.

The treaty body of the convention, the “Committee on Migrant Workers” (CMW) seeks to encourage its State parties and all stakeholders to work towards reaching standard enunciated in this convention and other relevant international instruments. And CMW in its general comments have elaborated guidance as to how States can implement their obligation with respect to migrant domestic workers, in particular, females.

CMW regularly advises States to ensure that they develop effective pre-departure and awareness-raising programmes for female workers who have made the decision to migrate, with briefings on their rights under the relevant human rights treaties in force, including CMW, as well as the conditions of their admission and employment and their rights and obligations under the law and practice of the receiving States.

Among other measures, CMW encourage countries of origin to enter into agreements with States of destination for the establishment of standard, unified and binding employment contracts with fair, full and clear conditions and labour standards that are enforceable by systems of law in countries of origin and employment; and to ensure that consular offices are trained to assist female migrant workers, and to provide counselling and guidance for submitting complaints; and encourage States to regulate and monitor recruitment agencies to ensure that they respect the human and labour rights of women migrant workers.

CMW also advises States to repeal sex-specific bans and discriminatory restrictions on women’s migration on the basis of age, marital status, pregnancy or maternity status, including restrictions that require women to get permission from their spouse or male guardian to obtain a passport or to travel or bans on women migrant workers.

The issue of detention of female migrant workers is yet another punitive measure that is often abused by authorities in many countries. The convention attempts to make migration for work as a positive and empowering experience for individuals and their societies, contributing to economic progress and human development both at home and in destination countries.

Today’s dramatic migration crisis underscores the urgent need to begin a more honest discussion about the obstacles to ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention. The Convention at present has only 50 State parties, and most are States of origin of migrant workers, and destination countries by not ratifying the Convention are conspicuously avoiding the human rights standards of the Convention.

A clear vision of the need for migrant labour in destination countries, with more channels for regular migration, as well as for family reunification, would assist greatly in preventing the exploitation and other dangers faced by female migrant workers and to enable them to live a life in dignity.

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Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/feed/ 1 A Crisis of Overweight and Obesity in Latin America and the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-crisis-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:41:44 +0000 Eve Crowley http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148626 The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

By Eve Crowley
SANTIAGO, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Obesity and overweight have spread like a wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, threatening the health, well-being and food and nutritional security of millions of people.

According to the new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security, close to 58 percent of the inhabitants of the region are overweight (360 million people) while obesity affects 140 million people, 23 percent of the regional population.

In almost all countries of the region, overweight affects at least half the population, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 percent), Mexico (64 percent) and Chile (63 percent).

Over the last 20 years there has been a rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity across the population, regardless of their economic, ethnic or place of residence, although the risk is higher in net food-importing regions and countries, which consume more ultra-processed foods.

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

This situation is particularly serious for women, since in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10  percentage points higher than that of men. The impact has also been considerable in children: 3.9 million children under 5 live with overweight in our region, 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200 000 in the Caribbean.

How did we get here? According to FAO and PAHO, a key factor has been the change in the region’s eating habits.

Economic growth in recent decades, increased urbanization, higher average income and the integration of the region into international markets reduced the consumption of traditional preparations based on cereals, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased consumption of ultra-processed products, with high amounts of sugars, salt and fats.

To curb the rise in overweight and obesity, countries in the region can draw on some of the valuable experiences they gained in their fight against hunger. Today, undernourishment affects only 5.5 percent of the regional population, while stunting in children has also dropped from 24.5 percent in 1990 to 11.3 percent in 2015, a reduction of 7.8 million children.

However, it should be noted that although hunger has declined, it has not been eradicated: there are still 34 million people unable to access the food they require for a healthy and active life, which means that the region faces a double burden of malnutrition.

According to the FAO / PAHO Panorama, combating both malnutrition and obesity requires a healthy diet that includes fresh, healthy, nutritious and sustainably produced foods. The key to progress is to promote sustainable food systems that link agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

In order to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, States should encourage the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods as well as ensuring their diversity, supply and access, especially for the most vulnerable in regions that are net importers of foods.

These measures should be complemented with policies to strengthen family farming, short production and food marketing circuits, public procurement systems linked to healthy school feeding programs and nutritional education programs.

Fiscal measures should also be implemented to discourage the consumption of junk food, improve food labeling and warnings with regard to high sugar, fat and salt content, and regulate the advertising of unhealthy foods to reduce their consumption.

These policies are more urgent than ever in light of the current signs of stagnation in regional economic growth, which pose a significant risk to food and nutrition security.

Governments should maintain and increase their support to the most vulnerable to avoid undoing their advances in the fight against hunger and to reverse the current rise in obesity and overweight, working together through initiatives such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’s Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication.

Although there are significant variations according to subregions and countries, Latin America and the Caribbean considered as a whole has a food availability that far surpasses the requirements of all its population, thanks to its great agricultural performance. However, in several countries, this process of agricultural development is currently unsustainable, due to the consequences it is having on the ecosystems of the region. The sustainability of food supply and its future diversity are under threat unless we change the way we do things.

The region must make more efficient and sustainable use of land and other natural resources. Countries must improve their techniques of food production, storage and processing, and put a stop to food losses and waste, as 127 million tons of food end up in the trash every year in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially SDG2 / Zero Hunger, which aims to eradicate undernourishment by 2030, the region needs to act on the complex interactions between food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health, to build a hunger and malnutrition free Latin America and the Caribbean.

The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is not a task that can be left to the indifferent hand of the market. On the contrary, governments must exercise their will and sovereignty to develop specific public policies that attack the conditions that perpetuate hunger, overweight and obesity, as well as their consequences on the health of adults and children. Only by turning the fight against malnutrition into State policy can we put a stop to the rise of malnutrition in the region.

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Harvesting Peace: How Rural Development Works for Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:18:59 +0000 Josefina Stubbs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148622 Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 to 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 and 2014.]]> Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.

Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.

In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.

This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.

Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.

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A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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