Inter Press ServiceGender – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 16 Feb 2018 23:35:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Oxfam’s Sexual Abuse Episode Must Inspire a Culture Shifthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:44:53 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154353 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi. The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 16 2018 (IPS)

Sexual abuse allegations against Oxfam staff, and failings in the charity’s response to them, delivered a body blow to an organisation renowned for years of humanitarian and development work. At the very least the accusations will leave a stain on the reputation of a charity that works in some of the toughest environments in the world, and has made a positive difference in the lives of the most vulnerable.

The Oxfam reports come in the wake of a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct that spans churches to faith based organizations to children being abused in orphanages and schools in some of the most developed countries in the world.

What started as a Weinstein story in Hollywood, has spread to become an almost-daily parade of politicians, CEOs and celebrities facing allegations, sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue. It is a crisis on an epic scale.

Under the hashtag #MeToo, thousands of women who had long bottled-up their pain have come forward with their stories, lifting the lid on decades of simmering frustration and repression.

But there is nothing new about the sexual abuse and exploitation of women.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

Sadly, throughout history women have been raped or sexually exploited by armed combatants. But even where force is not used, women in conflict or post-conflict environments often live in poverty, and the power imbalance between them and humanitarian workers or peacekeepers has often led to ugly sexual transactions in return for basic necessities.

When the United Nations (UN) faced similar scandals, the organization quickly resorted to policies and procedures around sexual harassment. The UN Secretary-General is obliged to regularly report to the UN Security Council on the issue of women and peace and security. Another resolution reinforced the Secretary-General’s authority to repatriate and replace peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation. Last year, 600 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo were repatriated from CAR as a consequence.

While calling for solidarity in condemnation of sexual exploitation and abuse, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the UN will not “let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag. … Let us make zero tolerance a reality”.

But it is time to look beyond policies and procedures. It is time for a candid look in the mirror and for society to make an overdue cultural shift on what has often been considered normal. The fact is that perpetrators are aware of the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, but in most cases they just do not think it is as ‘a big deal’. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls.

Deeply embedded cultures have continued to revere men in power and to protect them from facing consequences of their actions, even when they know that those actions cross the boundaries of decent behaviour. We have let authority, money and influence bestow on men the right to treat women as lesser beings.

Evidence abounds that misogyny and society’s structure continue to give men carte blanche to diminish women. Power and masculinity are tightly knit and sexualized, and find expression in sexual impunity or entitlement.

A comprehensive cultural shift must go beyond sexual abuse, and upend other expressions of patriarchy such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, and denial of sexual and reproductive healthcare. It is time to create gender parity in management positions to halt the patriarchal notion that power is generally a masculine characteristic.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken.

Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

This must be seen as an opportunity to enforce zero tolerance to sexual harassment and to create a culture in which women are no longer seen as the sexually available yet socially invisible half of humanity.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Till Her Last Breath- Remembering Asma Jahangirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:22:40 +0000 Rangita de Silva de Alwis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154343 Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund

 

“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)

 

“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

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Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund
 
“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)
 
“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

By Rangita de Silva de Alwis
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

I first met Asma Jahangir, the champion of human rights in Pakistan, who died Sunday, as a teenager in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. In a friendship that spanned political upheavals and turbulent transitions in Pakistan and in Sri Lanka, to the War on Terror in the US, Asma remained my mentor and muse.

Asma Jahangir. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

At age 18, Asma had already become the stuff of legend in South Asia. She had burnished her name in Pakistan’s Supreme Court by challenging the house arrest of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, a well- known liberal politician, who had been placed under “preventive detention” during the military rule of General Yahya Khan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In a landmark petition, Jahangir challenged the legitimacy not just of her father’s detention but of Khan’s rule as well. In a watershed moment for Pakistan and South Asia, the Supreme Court ruled that Khan was an “usurper.” Asma learned to fight tyranny both in court and on the street. As a student, she was suspended from her convent school for scaling the walls of the Governor of Punjab to hoist a black flag to protest authoritarianism.

When the principal of her law school told her that as a married woman she could register in law school but would not be able to attend classes, she interpreted that to mean that she could still take the law exams. She had her unmarried friend enroll in law school and take notes for her.

Flouting conventions of the time that forbade women to work, Asma founded the first ever woman’s legal aid office with her sister Hina and two women friends. Her office in Lahore was pock marked with bullets from those who threatened to kill Asma and Hina for defending women from so called “ honor crimes,” women trying to divorce violent husbands, women trying to escape forced marriage, bonded laborers seeking freedom from their abusive landlords, child laborers, religious minorities facing death sentences under the blasphemy laws, and relatives of the forcibly disappeared. When President Amy Gutmann, President of Penn invited Asma to receive a honorary doctorate in law, it was a way of celebrating Asma’s courage, but also a way of using the university’s significant soft power diplomacy and moral authority to signal a strong message against authoritarian regimes and political tyrants who seek to muffle a hero’s voice. When Asma spoke that enchanted early summer evening before commencement, in President Gutmann’s garden, she did not speak of the battles or the bullets, the politics or the power, but rather the sheer exhilarating spirit- soaring joy of her work in the frontlines of a women’s movement in an age of change.

Asma often spoke of Humaira Kakha and Samia Sarwar to show us that there was a human story behind the lawyering, a story of forced marriage and honor crimes, where women are sacrificed at the altar of their family’s so-called honor.

During General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s 11-year rule, which ended in 1988, Jahangir organized the first women’s movement in Pakistan– the Women’s Action Forum to challenge the military dictatorship and the Islamization of the law. The group protested in the streets against the Hudood Ordinance that saw women as second class citizens.

One of the first cases that Asma protested was that of Safia Bibi, a young blind woman who had been raped by her master’s son. Safia failed to fulfil the evidentiary requirements under the ordinance which called for four adult men of honorable character to serve as witnesses to the crime of Zina (rape ) in court.

Instead, Safia’s pregnancy due to the rape was considered proof of the crime of fornication under the Hudood Ordinance, and was sentenced to public lashing, imprisonment and fine.

Asma was not without critics, detractors and attackers. She faced death threats, assassination attempts, imprisonment, house arrest, police brutality and most of all ignorance, with stoic courage, puckish humor, and unflinching grace.

My students at Penn Law analyze an article from the Harvard Women’s Law Journal on the story of Muktharan Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang raped as part of an honor crimes attack. In the article, the author quotes critics who liken Asma and her sister Hina to “Jeans wearing women” who are agents of the West.

Neither woman has ever worn a pair of jeans and both are critics of American exceptionalism and the sometimes perilous double standards of Western powers.

During the Mushraff years, Asma led women in a mixed gender marathon, jogging all the way in a salwar kameez.

The New York Times reported about the marathon in 2005: “The police beat the woman with batons in the full glare of the news media, tore her shirt off and, though they failed to take off her baggy trousers, certainly tried their best. The ritual public humiliation over, she and others – some bloodied – were dragged screaming and protesting to police vans and taken away to police stations. This didn’t happen to some unknown student or impoverished villager. This happened to Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s largest such nongovernmental group. The setting: a glitzy thoroughfare in Lahore’s upmarket Gulberg neighborhood. The crime: attempting to organize a symbolic mixed-gender mini-marathon on May 14. The stated aim of the marathon was to highlight violence against women.”

When the Mullah’s criticized the TV coverage of the “unsightly spectacle” of women running a marathon, Asma promptly advised them to shut off their TVs.

In the mid-1990s, when no one else would, Asma took up the case of Salamat Masih, a Christian teenager sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly scribbling grafiitii on a mosque’s wall. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have become a trap for religious minorities. An accusation can be made on the basis of little or non-existent evidence.

Despite a campaign by extremist forces, Masih was ultimately acquitted on appeal. However, the decision ignited factional violence. Following the verdict, an armed gang charged into Asma’s brother’s house threatening the entire family. In 1997, two years after the acquittal, the judge was killed.

Much is written about Asma the lawyer, and international human rights defender, but Asma was first and foremost a friend, a friend of the powerless. In my visits to her elegant home in Lahore, my most vivid remembrance is of the throng of little children, the barefoot children of the small surrounding tenements, who would rush to her, hugging her, shyly murmuring words of endearment, hanging on to her with their tiny arms, and rubbing their dusty faces on her soft cotton shawl.

I worked with Asma in those liminal spaces between her endless missions at the highest levels of the United Nations, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Execution, Special Representative on Darfur, Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion, and her final UN assignment as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, but Pakistan always was her constant passion and focus. A love so fierce for country and her people, I have yet to witness in another.

A few days before her death, she spoke at Oxford in honor of her friend Benazir Bhutto’s tenth death anniversary. She was a champion of Bhutto, but told me that she refused Bhutto’s offers of high political office in order to remain independent of government patronage, to retain the right to challenge the politics of her friend.

As her mentee, I often feared her criticism, even when it was softened with tenderness, because she always spoke the truth. “Those who pursue perfection never do anything brave,” she would tell me. Asma on the other hand, relished the tumult of her work, the political miasma of the fight for democracy, the brave battles against injustice and impunity, and most of all, the relentless pursuit of the truth, until her last breath.

The Atlantic wrote a few days after her death that “Presidents and prime ministers decorated her with their highest civilian honors” and that Asma “was awarded three honorary doctorates.” One of the doctorates was from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016.

When President Amy Gutmann, President of Penn invited Asma to receive a honorary doctorate in law, it was a way of celebrating Asma’s courage, but also a way of using the university’s significant soft power diplomacy and moral authority to signal a strong message against authoritarian regimes and political tyrants who seek to muffle a hero’s voice.

When Asma spoke that enchanted early summer evening before commencement, in President Gutmann’s garden, she did not speak of the battles or the bullets, the politics or the power, but rather the sheer exhilarating spirit- soaring joy of her work in the frontlines of a women’s movement in an age of change.

A senior US diplomat in Pakistan once told me, “I shudder to think what would happen to Pakistan if something were to happen to Asma and her sister, Hina.” I replied, “But what would the world look like?”

While I continue to cherish Hina, who taught last year at Penn Law, the outpouring of tributes show that Asma has inspired a new generation of lawyers, policymakers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
As a Penn Law student wrote to me on the evening of Asma’s death, “from Peshawar to Penn Law, women will fight to defend the marginalized because we were touched by Asma.”

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Excerpt:

Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund

 

“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)

 

“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

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Turning Promise into Action: Working Towards Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 07:54:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154332 Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency. In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens. Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve […]

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

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency.

In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens.

Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve gender equality, the report points to worrisome trends in the implementation of all 17 SDGs and calls on the international community to accelerate its efforts.

“Unless progress on gender equality is accelerated, the global community will fail to achieve the SDGs,” UN Women Research and Data Specialist and author of the report Ginette Azcona told IPS.

1 in 5 Say #MeToo

Among the issues highlighted in the report is sexual harassment and violence.

UN Women found that approximately one in five women and girls aged 15 to 49 from around the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months.

However, 49 countries still do not have laws that protect women from such violence.

The issue has gained international spotlight in recent months with millions rallying behind the #MeToo campaign which aims to reveal the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women all over the world experience every day.

Though the original #MeToo movement was launched ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, the recent viral campaign has inspired many to come forward with their stories, including those who have exposed celebrities and public officials.

“The women’s movement has been working for many years to raise awareness of the different forms of violence ad abuse faced by women and girls. The current spotlight is therefore a welcomed insertion of energy to this important but too often neglected area,” Azcona told IPS.

Such attention will help advance a number of SDGs such as access to safe public spaces, she added.

Intersectional-Issue Lives

UN Women particularly pointed to the the report’s figures on poverty which reveal a persistent gap between women and men.

In 89 countries, 4.4 million more women than men live on less than 1.90 dollars a day.

This is partially due to the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work that women face, especially during their reproductive years.

Poverty often does not stand alone in the lives of women and girls as different dimensions of well-being, deprivation, and even racial identity often intersect.

For instance, a girl who is born into a poor household is more likely to be forced into early marriage and thus more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer complications during childbirth, and experience violence than a girl from a higher-income household.

“It is the intersection of gender with other forms of discrimination that pushes women and girls from poor and marginalized groups even further behind,” Azcona said.

In the United States, race and income are deeply intertwined.

UN Women found that Black, Hispanic, and Native American or Alaska Native women are more likely to live in poverty. The rates of poverty are highest for Black women at almost 24 percent.

Women who find themselves in the bottom of the income distribution are least likely to be employed and thus lack access to health insurance.

As the range of deprivations that women face span all 17 SDGs, the report highlights the need to make progress on more than the goal to achieve gender equality.

“Progress on some fronts may be undermined by regression and stagnation on others, and potential synergies may be lost if siloed approaches to implementation take precedence over integrated, multi-sectoral strategies,” it states.

Among the report’s recommendations for action is for governments to create and implement integrated policies.

For instance, providing free and universal child care to women would allow them to access employment and income and improve the family’s health and well-being.

Universal childcare can also create generate new jobs and revenue.

Azcona also highlighted the need for spaces for democratic debate in order to hold governments accountable on their promises, including a sustained involvement of women’s organizations.

“Addressing violence and inequality after all is key to greater social and political stability,” she said.

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Bangladesh’s Garment Industry Boom Leaving Workers Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:08:37 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154234 Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to […]

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Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world.

While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to survive on wages barely above the poverty line.According to Oxfam, a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

Meanwhile, annual export earnings in Bangladesh from the industry grew from about 9.3 billion dollars in 2007 to 28.6 billion in 2016.

Encouraged by the growth, Bangladesh has set a target of exporting 50 billion dollars’ worth of apparel annually by 2021, yet the vision mentions no plans to improve workers’ living conditions.

Out of Bangladesh’s 166 million people, 31 percent live below the national poverty line of two dollars per day. The current minimum wage for a factory worker is 5,300 Taka (about 64 dollars), up from 3,000 Taka in 2013.

As the world’s second largest ready-made garments producer, Bangladesh attracts top labels and companies like Pierre Cardin, Hugo Boss, Wal-Mart, GAP and Levi Strauss, mostly from North America, Europe and very recently Australia, seeking cheap labour.

After the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which took 1,134 lives, top buyers gradually increased investment in infrastructure to as much as 400 million dollars in the 2015-16 fiscal year alone to ensure safer working conditions. However, local industry owners have failed to make corresponding improvements to their workers’ quality of life, 85 percent of whom are women.

Research by the international aid group Oxfam shows that only two percent of the price of an item of clothing sold in Australia, for example, goes to pay the factory workers who made it.

The picture is even worse when it comes to living, food, transport, healthcare and education for the 4.5 million workers employed in about 4,600 vibrant factories. The Oxfam report revealed grim poverty conditions and calculated that a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

There are a number of issues at play, including lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by the industry owners, loopholes in the national labour laws and misunderstanding about practical living wages and theoretical minimum wages.

Nazma Aktar, President of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation fighting for women’s rights in the garment industry for over three decades, told IPS, “Most buyers have a business perspective on the ready-made garments industry here in Bangladesh. Their interests are widely on exploiting cheap labour.

“The wages should be fixed on the basis of human rights and not negotiate with what the entrepreneurs can offer. Wages are not part of a business, which is why globally it has set obligatory fees like covering cost of basics – living, food, healthcare, education and transport.”

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

The garment  workers’ organisations are demanding Taka 16,000 (about 192 dollars) as the minimum monthly wage, citing rising costs of living. In January, the government formed a panel to initiate what it says will be a permanent wage board and promised to issue recommendations in six months. The unions also plan to seek pay grades depending on the category of worker.

Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Project Director, RMG Study Project and Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told IPS, “The disturbing low wages still paid to the RMG (Ready-Made Garments) industry workers is largely due to lack of clear definition of wages in the labour laws. As a result, it is very difficult to negotiate raise in wages for the workers.”

Moazzem, who also led a team of researchers in conducting a detailed study titled New Dynamics in Bangladesh’s Apparels Enterprises: Perspectives on Restructuring, Up-gradation and Compliance Assurance, says, “There are nine indicators of wages as defined in the labour law. Unfortunately, except two, the rest are not made public. So it seems that the laws are themselves very complex and misleading on how to define what is low and what is high income. In such a situation we suggest following International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) set definition of wages.”

Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told IPS, “Wages in Bangladesh are still the lowest of major garment manufacturing countries. A large proportion of the RMG products of Bangladesh still can be categorized as low-end products and so the brands continue seeking low-cost labour, though they are unskilled.”

Ahmed, who carried out a detailed study on improving wages and working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment sector, explained that while a higher wage for workers is desirable, they would lead to gradual loss of the RMG market in the days of global competition. A sudden increase in wages would also trigger other industries to seek wage hikes.

“I suggest a separate pay scale for the RMG sector workers which would have a separate wage board to suggest the increases. But most effective would be to have a regular system of yearly wage increases according to rate of inflation. At the same time, we should also look at increasing production of the factory units by enhancing the skills of the workers who will be paid higher wages.

“Therefore I refer to as having a technology advancement plan. If the ‘skilled’ workers are capacitated through regular skill development training programmes, the entrepreneurs would then be able to make more profit and so in such situation I believe the industry owners would not hesitate to pay a higher salary.”

Towhidur Rahman, General Secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, Bangladesh Chapter (IBC), told IPS, “The minimum wages fixed for any worker at entry level is absolutely unacceptable. I don’t blame the [industry] owners for this. I rather hold the union leaders responsible for their lack of unity and one voice for this situation. The demand for minimum wages should be realistic for survival of any human being.”

Rahman says, “Sadly, today we have 16 RMG workers’ organizations that have separate voices and ideologies. For such reason the entrepreneurs take advantages of lack of understanding among the workers representatives.”

Rahman explains that they proposed Tk 16,000 as minimum wage to the newly formed wage board based on a number of surveys which suggest that a worker requires a minimum of Tk 19,000 for food, shelter, transport, healthcare and other basic needs.

“I believe this is very practical and fair proposal as it is merited with evidence on a minimum living standard,” says Rahman.

Dr Zahid Hussain, a lead economist in the South Asia Finance and Poverty group of the World Bank, told IPS, “Most people naturally focus on wages as a cost of production for business.  The significance of wages as a cost is one component of what economists call ‘real unit labour cost”’. This is the cost of employing a person in terms of the value of the goods and services a business would produce. It depends on two things. The first is the real wage – the purchasing power of the worker’s pay packet, which brings into play prices of goods and services.

“The second is the productivity of the worker – how much the worker produces over a given time,” he explained. “The real cost of employing a person over time depends on how these two things change. If productivity is growing, then the real wage can grow without an increase in the real cost of labor for business. But productivity also depends on investment. Changes in technology that allow for greater productivity are often embodied in the new plant and equipment that firms invest in.

“What governs investment? A simple answer points to the expected rate of return on the investment relative to the cost of capital. So the bottom line is the following:  just increasing minimum wage without addressing the constraints on investment and its financing will most likely kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  The whole issue of ensuring a better quality of life for the workers needs to be approached holistically such that productivity increases in tandem with wages.”

Siddiqur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that the industry has been offering minimum wages to factory workers considering inflation and efficiency of the workers.

“We do not do any injustice to any of our workers,” Rahman insisted.

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Inequality also Relates to Education, Health & Illiteracy, not Wealth Alonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 17:02:32 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154222 Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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A health worker marks a boy’s finger with ink to show that he has been vaccinated against measles in India’s Gujarat State. Credit: UNICEF/UNI133530/Pietrasik

By Bjorn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

Antipoverty group Oxfam International got a lot of attention for claiming that there’s a global “inequality crisis,” but a far more important point is entirely neglected: globally, income distribution is less unequal than it has been for 100 years.

The best data on this comes from Professor Branko Milanovic, formerly of the World Bank, now at City University of New York. His research shows that, mostly because of Asia’s incredible growth, global inequality has declined sharply for several decades, reducing so much that the world hasn’t been this equal for more than a century.

Moreover, the conversation on inequality sparked by Oxfam fails to acknowledge that equality is about much more than money. Look at education and health. In 1870, more than three-quarters of the world was illiterate. Today, more than four out of every five people can read.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.
Half of all of humanity’s welfare gains from the past 40 years come from the fact that we’re living longer, healthier lives. In 1900, people lived to be 30 on average; today, it’s 71. Over the past half-century, the difference in life expectancy between the world’s wealthiest and poorest countries has dropped from 28 to 18 years.

Oxfam almost entirely glosses over this reality, and instead points to wealth levels within individual countries. It’s true inequality on this measure has increased. But Oxfam overstates the case when it claims that the wealth of the world’s 42 richest people is greater than the bottom 50 percent of the planet (3.7 billion).

A little less than one-fifth of the “bottom half” are actually people with a collective debt of $1.2 trillion: likely mostly rich world citizens, like students with loans or people with negative equity in their houses. It is quite a stretch to classify such people among the world’s poor.

It would be fairer, then, to say that the wealth of the poorest 40 percent of the planet (excluding those with negative wealth) is equal to the wealth of the top 128 billionaires. But this wouldn’t be as catchy as claiming that just 42 people own as much as half the planet.

Oxfam’s repeated claim that the top 1 percent own more than half the planet’s wealth lacks historical context. Thomas Piketty looked at wealth for select countries and found a dramatic decline in the wealth of the top 1 percent from 1900 to about 1970-80, and a smaller increase since then. Thus, it’s likely that the world is more equal today in terms of wealth than it has been historically, apart from over the past three or four decades.

Looking at the United Kingdom for example, the top 1 percent of wealth has increased, yet the data show that the country was still more unequal every year before 1977.

More relevant than wealth, though, is the measure of income inequality, since this determines our lives from one year to the next. Inequality has indeed risen recently. But what of the bigger picture? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most diagrams used by Oxfam start in around 1980, at the historic low-point for income inequality.

The data show that the top 1 percent of income in English-speaking countries has returned to levels akin to those in the early 1900s, while in non-English countries it has declined dramatically.

Oxfam’s core purpose is “to end the injustice of poverty,” so it’s unfortunate that its simplistic narrative points to a need for redistribution within countries while overlooking the many things — like global free trade lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, and vaccination campaigns that have nearly eradicated diseases like polio — that need to be maintained to continue recent dramatic global progress.

Too much inequality can reduce growth and stifle social mobility, so it should be kept in check. But it is wrong to ignore the bigger story of humanity’s progress against poverty and inequality.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.

All of these challenges have cheap and effective solutions. And it’s on these solutions that we need to focus.

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Excerpt:

Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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How It Feels to Survive Slavery: Ira’s storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/feels-survive-slavery-iras-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feels-survive-slavery-iras-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/feels-survive-slavery-iras-story/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:41:48 +0000 Olga Borzenkova http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154219 “A client called at night and ordered a girl. I was sleeping when suddenly I was told to go to the client. He was already drunk and aggressive. I was scared to stay with him. He made me drink and I had to obey. You feel neither pain nor shame when you are drunk. Everything […]

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By Olga Borzenkova
Feb 7 2018 (IOM)

“A client called at night and ordered a girl. I was sleeping when suddenly I was told to go to the client. He was already drunk and aggressive. I was scared to stay with him. He made me drink and I had to obey. You feel neither pain nor shame when you are drunk. Everything goes easier. I woke up in the morning and got ready to leave when he told me to stay. He told that he had paid for the whole day and I must work it off. The door was closed. He hid the door keys and my phone. He claimed that he had paid for my services and could do with me whatever he wanted… He fell asleep soon again. I didn’t find the keys. I thought I could exit through the window. It was the third floor and there was a fire escape ladder nearby. I decided to climb over the balcony to the ladder. And fell down… Everything happened very quickly. I felt no pain… I remember that I tried to stand up but couldn’t and saw my bones sticking out of my arms. I passed out. I came round in the ambulance. Later – only in the intensive care unit. There I told my name and where I came from. Doctors called my relatives. Later my family moved me back to Belarus. It was super expensive.”

Ira is a victim of trafficking in human beings. She survived sexual slavery.

It is hard to believe that slavery still exists in the modern world. Today this phenomenon is referred to as “Trafficking in Human Beings” and “traffickers” are subject to criminal liability for the recruitment, detention and exploitation of victims of trafficking. Victims are often psychologically and/or physically injured for the rest of their lives. Hardly ever do they tell their stories to others because most likely they will be criticized and blamed for what has happened to them.

Ira agreed to tell her story for other girls to be aware of a hidden danger. She tells that no matter how difficult one’s situation in life is, one should always doubt and check what one is offered. There is always a right and opportunity to refuse and leave. The important thing is to stay in touch with relatives before making a decision to accept an offer, and even after, if the decision is already made.

Ira is a person in a wheelchair. She has a daughter, work, a dacha where she likes to go in summer, and plans for the future.

We were a little bit nervous before meeting with Ira because we knew that her life was not easy. We expected to see a young depressed woman and didn’t know what questions we should ask and what to avoid.

When we met Ira, we saw a young woman with a strong will, because only such a person can pluck up all her courage and tell us her story, which she thinks about every day. We saw a brave woman who overcame pain and lives a normal life, works, raises a daughter. Ira is from a small town in the Vitebsk region. She says that she’s never had warm family relationships: her mother spent a lot of time at work due to her high and responsible position. Ira didn’t have close relationships with her sister either, because of a big age difference.

“Neither my mother nor my sister was a close friend to me. It seemed to me that my mother didn’t care a lot about us. She got married for the third time; her husband was a few years younger. But she always performed her mother’s responsibilities to ‘dress and feed’ us, and we never struggled to make ends meet,” Ira recalls.

Life with Ira’s mother and her new husband went wrong from the very beginning. Ira was a teenager when he moved to their place. The mother was jealous of him. On any occasion he tried either to pinch Ira or to hug her or to pat her hips. He constantly provoked her.

Ira ran away from home many times. But she was too young and didn’t have an opportunity to earn money to live on her own. Ira got married very early. Her husband seemed to be a like-minded person, a perfect candidate for her. Soon she gave birth to a daughter and in the beginning everything was quite fine. But years passed and relations became worse. Ira’s young husband didn’t want to work. The family lacked money and didn’t have proper accommodation to live in. They were all the time moving from her mother’s-in-law place to the rented flat and back.

“We were too young and fed up with the daily routine,” Ira explains.

Ira left her husband and returned to her mother’s place, taking the child with her. But it didn’t make her life easier. Ira’s stepfather turned his spouse against her own daughter, and got irritated if Ira’s mother helped her with the child. As a result, Ira’s mother stopped supporting her although she could. Neither husband nor mother supported and helped Ira.

Since the town was tiny and Ira didn’t have a high level of education, it was difficult to find a job. She got a job in a small company but then the company faced economic problems and Ira ended up with nothing. She was desperate about her life when her neighbor introduced her to a female friend from Saint Petersburg who earned her living by providing escort services.

“She wasn’t ashamed to talk about it openly. She assured me that it was always possible to choose a client and turn him down if you didn’t like him. She also emphasized that being an escort was not always about sex; it could be accompanying a client to a restaurant. The friend pointed out that it was possible to come back home any time and bring gifts for a child, for example. ‘This work means you always have money.’ She advised me that I try and said: ‘Look at the poverty around, you will be able to earn one salary at a time. In case you don’t like it you are always free to come back.’”

“I was puzzled. At first, I couldn’t bear any talk about it. What if people know what I do for a living? Later I made up my mind. I asked my sister to take care of my daughter. Nobody knew where I was going because I wasn’t used to sharing my plans and, frankly speaking, not many were eager to know about them.”

As Ira had no money, the neighbor’s friend paid for her tickets and joined her. Upon arrival she explained the working schedule and how to meet with clients. She didn’t work herself. Ira shared a two-room apartment with a few more girls.

“What was my job like? It was far from what I had been promised. It was difficult to admit that you were deceived. Everything was not the way I’d expected.”

“The clients were totally different, several clients per day. It was impossible to refuse a client otherwise you could be fined. There was always a lot of alcohol. You had to drink because if you were drunk it was possible to stay out of work. A lot of wealthy clients sought only a heart-to-heart conversation…”

Ira pauses. These memories are hard to recall and unpleasant to share with someone else.

“How did you leave?” we ask.

“A client called at night and ordered a girl. I was sleeping when suddenly I was told to go to the client. He was already drunk and aggressive. I was scared to stay with him. He made me drink and I had to obey. You feel neither pain nor shame when you are drunk. Everything goes easier. I woke up in the morning and got ready to leave when he told me to stay. He told that he had paid for the whole day and I must work it off. The door was closed. He hid the door keys and my phone. He claimed that he had paid for my services and could do with me whatever he wanted… He fell asleep soon again. I didn’t find the keys. I thought I could exit through the window. It was the third floor and there was a fire escape ladder nearby. I decided to climb over the balcony to the ladder. And fell down… Everything happened very quickly. I felt no pain… I remember that I tried to stand up but couldn’t and saw my bones sticking out of my arms. I passed out. I came round in the ambulance. Later – only in the intensive care unit. There I told my name and where I came from. Doctors called my relatives. Later my family moved me back to Belarus. It was super expensive.”

It took Ira two years to finally recover and feel the desire to live. She wanted to see and talk neither to her relatives nor her daughter.

“When asked about my life I had to lie. There was a lot of gossiping but relatives didn’t bother me. They understood my condition. Only acquaintances could ask me questions. For sure, I avoided answering, made something up. I have only one person to talk to about it,” Ira says.

We continued with our interview:

What helped you start a new life?

“Probably, it was my daughter. I picked myself up and changes happened. I don’t remember what I started with. I learnt how to get out of bed and sit into the wheelchair myself. To put on clothes myself. It took me an hour to get dressed in the morning. I ordered a Balkan crossbar. I learnt to be independent. Every day I discovered something new. Slowly did I realize that I didn’t have to ask for help any more. I remember my daughter’s surprise when I put her on my knees and brought her to the bathroom to brush her teeth. Now I even mop up the floors myself. My daughter sees me as a typical Mom.”

How did you find a job?

“At one of the events for the disabled people I met a lot of people like me. They advised me that I could work remotely on the Internet. I took a risk and it was a success. After having started as an assistant on the probation period I got a job with a fixed contract. Now I know everything about my job and even train new specialists.

What advice would you give to the people reading your story?

Ira keeps silent. It seems she is going to burst into tears. After a deep breath, we see a strong Ira again.

“I think about it every day. I shouldn’t have taken the offer to go. It was very hard. Having made such a silly decision, I ruined my life.

“Every person changes every day. And it’s natural. Changes influence the way how we see life. What seems acceptable now may become unbearable later and one will have to live with this for the rest of his life.”

“It’s also necessary to take care of your loved ones. Wonder what happens with them and what their lives look like. Don’t stay indifferent. If you have an opportunity to influence a person in a positive way – don’t miss it, help and guide a person.

“Such a foolish decision negatively affects your life. Yes, it may be a short-term solution, but later… you will regret it. It may seem that now and then your decision may help to solve current financial problems. But you can’t make an agreement with your conscience. Moreover, in the society we live in, you won’t avoid judgements…

“It seems to me that people may have some prejudices towards me or they may not, but I don’t care about it.”

Ira, is there any hope that you’ll walk again?

“I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to walk again. I’ve gotten used to myself. I’m independent.”

What are your next goals in life?

“There is always room for improvement. I don’t have any ambitious plans. My daughter is the centre of my life. I would like to become a real friend to her and support her as much as I can. I wish I could have an education. Perhaps, it wouldn’t open up new prospects but nevertheless… I like my job. I like being busy. At work, time flies. Now I know all the details of my work. And I would like to improve my professional skills. Perhaps I’ll decide to continue my education.”

Ira received psychological and reintegration assistance within the counter-trafficking programme implemented by the IOM office in Belarus and financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Olga Borzenkova is a Public Information Assistant at IOM Belarus.

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“No Time to Waste” in Ending FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-time-waste-ending-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/#comments Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:17:11 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154216 More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said. Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further […]

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FGM is a taboo and complicated topic in Liberia and it is dangerous for women to speak out about it. Credit: Travis Lupick / IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said.

Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further 68 million girls face the risk of FGM by 2030.

The statistics from the UN were unveiled today as the world marks the 15th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“The new figures mean that this practice is threatening the life and wellbeing of more girls and women than initially estimated,” the Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on FGM, Nafissatou Diop, told IPS.

“You and I and everybody and the girl next door can be affected,” she continued.

FGM – sometimes called female circumcision or being ‘cut’ — is often practiced for religious, personal, cultural, and coming of age purposes. According to the UN, most cases are inflicted upon girls from infancy to the age of 15.

The increase in ‘at risk of FGM’ cases is partly due to population growth in countries where FGM is common – namely in parts of northern and western Africa, the Middle East and pockets of Asia.

In Egypt alone, more than 90 parent of women have undergone the practice.

Both UNICEF and UNFPA denounce FGM, calling it a “violation of human rights’ and a “cruel practice” that inflicts emotional harm and preys on the most vulnerable in society.

“It is unconscionable that 68 million girls should be added to the 200 million women and girls in the world today who have already endured female genital mutilation,” they said.

Life-Changing Harm

FGM can cause lifelong trauma, including urinary and vaginal problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, and psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Right Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS that the predicted 68 million FGM cases was “unacceptable”.

“It’s a fundamental human rights violation that can ruin girls’ lives,” she said. “So often these girls don’t have a say – at infancy and childhood, how can you?

“There is no health benefit to women being cut, so you tend to see it in those societies that don’t have high levels of gender equality…This practice is rooted in gender inequality,” she added.

FGM = Gender Inequality

Gerntholtz highlighted that in order to tackle the practice, the international community needs to look at not just the specific act of FGM, but at the broader issue of entrenched gender inequality.

“As an international community, we can fight FGM not only by supporting FGM-specific initiatives, but also by looking holistically at the gender inequality in these regions, so investing in programs that support girl’s rights, girls’ education, community education on these things – that’s also key.”

UNFPA’s Executive Director Natalia Kanem echoed similar sentiments, saying that the world already knows what it needs to do to overcome FGM.

“We know what works, targeted investments that changing social norms, practices and lives,” Kanem said

“Where social norms are confronted villages by village…when there is access to health, education and legal services…where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard.”

Change has particularly come from the community level.

Fourteen-year-old Latifatou Compaoré became an advocate for ending the practice after learning of her mother’s experience with FGM.

“She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” Compaoré told UNFPA.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them. And she kept her word,” she continued.

In countries where UNICEF and UNFPA work, some 18,000 communities have publicly disavowed the practice and many African countries have moved to implement legislation outlawing it.

For instance, in 2016 after Kenya banned FGM, FGM rates fell from 32 percent to 21 percent.

Accelerated Action Needed

But legislation and verbal commitments are not enough, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Without concerted, accelerated action, we could see a further 68 million girls could be subjected to this harmful practice,” he cautioned.

Diop similarly called for more efforts in allocating financial and human resources.

The goal of curbing FGM is highlighted in the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its inclusion was praised because it was seen as an acknowledgement of the far-reaching consequences that FGM has – consequences that go beyond the individual to include social and economic repercussions for entire communities.

“Sustainable development cannot be achieved without full respect for the human rights of women and girls,” Guterres said in a statement.

The Secretary-General called upon governments to enact and enforce laws that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM.

He also announced a new UN global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative which aims to create strong partnerships to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

“With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste,” he said. “Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.”

*Marked annually on 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation aims to strengthen momentum towards ending the practice which is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women as well as perpetuates deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.

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Gaza Health Sector on Verge of Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 07:21:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154213 UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages. UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days. In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres […]

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GAZA, Gaza City. Queuing in hope of fuel. Credit: Mohammed Omer / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages.

UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days.

In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Gaza is a “constant humanitarian emergency.”

“Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures…two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services,” he said.

Fuel shortages are threatening Gaza’s hospitals and sanitation services that rely on backup generators to maintain operations.

If the energy supply is not replenished, at risk are emergency and diagnostic services such as x-rays, intensive care units, and operating theaters. Over 100 sewage pools, desalination plants, and solid waste collection capacity are also in jeopardy, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Hospitals have already begun to close. Without funding, more service providers will be forced to suspend operations over the coming weeks, and the situation will deteriorate dramatically, with potential impacts on the entire population,” said OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Roberto Valent.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” he added.

So far, 16 hospitals and health centers have suspended operations.

Hospitals such as the al-Durra children’s hospital were forced to drastically reduce services due to the lack of fuel.

WHO said that Best Hanoun hospital only has its Emergency Department functioning at minimal capacity and estimates its reserve fuel will only last until mid-March.

In 2018, approximately 6.5 million dollars is required to provide 7.7 million liters of emer-gency fuel.

“This is the bare minimum needed to save off a collapse of services,” OCHA said in its ap-peal.

For the full functioning of basic facilities, 10 million dollars is needed per year.

Meanwhile, hospitals continue to face challenges in coping with the influx of trauma pa-tients.

According to WHO, 40 percent of the supply of essential drugs has been depleted, including drugs used in emergency departments and other critical units.

The UN Country Team in Palestine has predicted that Gaza will become unlivable by 2020 unless action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure.

“Immediate donor support is urgent to ensure that vulnerable Palestinians in Gaza can access life-saving health, water, and sanitation services,” Valent said.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is occurring in the wake of the United States funding cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Approximately 65 million dollars has been withheld from the agency which serves over five million refugees with healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

Guterres expressed concern over the move, stating: “At stake is the human security, rights, and dignity of the five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East. But also at stake is the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services.”

Though it began in 2006, the energy crisis worsened in 2017 following a dispute between Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza over the funding and taxation of fuel and Israel’s subsequent move to reduce its electricity supply to the territories.

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UN Refugee Agency Calls for Aid and Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 15:35:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154190 As South Sudan quickly becomes Africa’s largest refugee and humanitarian crisis, the world must come to its aid, said the UN refugee agency. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has launched a global appeal to support displaced persons amid South Sudan’s rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation. “The human cost of the South Sudan conflict has reached epic […]

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South Sudanese refugee new arrivals wait in the registration tent at the Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Arua, northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 5 2018 (IPS)

As South Sudan quickly becomes Africa’s largest refugee and humanitarian crisis, the world must come to its aid, said the UN refugee agency.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has launched a global appeal to support displaced persons amid South Sudan’s rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“The human cost of the South Sudan conflict has reached epic proportions,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“The conflict is purging South Sudan of the people who should be the greatest resource of a young nation. They should be building the country, not fleeing it,” he continued.

Now in its fifth year, the conflict in South Sudan has displaced 1 in 3 of the country’s population with over 2 million fleeing the nation.

The number of refugees is projected to surpass the 3 million mark by the end of 2018, making South Sudan Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide.

On Jan. 30, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also launched an appeal for 103.7 million dollars this year to provide lifesaving relief assistance, support recovery and migration of people affected by conflict in South Sudan.

The insecurity and violence, which erupted in 2013, has also fueled famine conditions and a humanitarian crisis which has left seven million people in need of assistance.

“As civilians continue to bear the brunt of the crisis, experiencing violence and displacement, timely and effective humanitarian assistance is critical,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission William Barriga.

“IOM remains committed to responding to these needs and reaching the most vulnerable, wherever they are,” he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR launched a 3.2-billion-dollar appeal to help both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who have fled to neighboring countries such as Uganda.

South Sudanese twins, Jacob and Simon, meet UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, at Kakuma, Kenya. The boys walked for 21 days to reach the camp and are traumatised by the killing of their father and eldest brother. Credit: UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

Grandi lauded Uganda’s “open border” policy which has welcomed almost 500 refugees per day.

“Uganda has the most progressive refugee policies in Africa, if not the world,” he said.

Uganda is now home to the largest refugee population in Africa, many of whom are from South Sudan.

Grandi noted that refugees often received portions of land to grow food, were allowed to work and access education, health, and judicial services.

However, if the conflict continues unabated, Uganda could end up hosting another quarter million refugees more and further strain on already limited resources.

“Please make peace,” Grandi appealed to warring parties while visiting refugee camps in Uganda.

“We can’t subject these people once again to exile, to suffering. We can’t always take for granted the generosity of the Ugandan people…everybody told me this morning, as in the past, ‘If there is peace I will go back, because this is where I belong. It’s my country.’”

Almost 90 percent of those displaced are women and children and nearly 65 percent are under the age of 18. Women have reported cases of sexual violence and other forms of violence including the abduction of children.

However, the South Sudanese refugee response program only received 33 percent of required funds in 2017.

“For as long as the people of South Sudan await peace, the world must come to their aid,” Grandi said.

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Business Unusual will Drive Africa’s Quest to achieve Health Care for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/business-unusual-will-drive-africas-quest-achieve-health-care/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=business-unusual-will-drive-africas-quest-achieve-health-care http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/business-unusual-will-drive-africas-quest-achieve-health-care/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 08:33:11 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Radhika Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154176 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Kenya. Radhika Shah, is Co-President Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) pledged his full support for the delivery of universal healthcare within the next five years, one of the pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Action plan. Credit: State House

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Radhika Shah
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 5 2018 (IPS)

Africa’s quest for health continues to be held back by a combination of factors such as natural disasters and pandemics, prevailing high rates of communicable and rising incidence of non-communicable diseases, sedentary lifestyles, road accidents and greater population mobility.

With the region accounting for approximately a quarter of the world’s disease burden and just 3 percent of its doctors, it is difficult to be optimistic about the future.

Every year for example one million people in Kenya, fall into poverty and stay poor due to a catastrophic health shock. Nearly 11 million Africans fall into poverty due to high out-of-pocket payments for healthcare, even as the continent is expected to provide access to essential health services, medicines and vaccines for all its citizens by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed on globally.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has prioritised universal health coverage (UHC) for all in his second term.

It is obvious that to achieve UHC, more resources will not only have to be mobilized for the health sector, new partnerships must also be forged, such as the one between United Nations, Government of Kenya and technology company Philips, to improve access to health care in hard to reach communities. New models of blended financing and impact investing need to take up the slack to address the scarce resources, which must also be used more efficiently and effectively.

The Better Business Better World Africa Report shows how challenges in the delivery of health care can be turned around into large business opportunities with a potential value of US$259 billion and could create over 16 million jobs in Africa by 2030.

More 21st century partnerships that connect the dots between innovators, health systems and patients are critical to the attainment of Universal Health Coverage by 2030. Credit: UNDP

Innovation Tech could be a game-changer in diagnostics, health information, supply chain management, health financing, and even remote tele-surgery performed by robotic arms.

Few frontiers provide greater potential for African countries to achieve UHC than information technology. “Just as mobile payments have transformed Kenyan markets, I think innovations in the health sector— from machine learning algorithms that help diagnose disorders, to digitized prescriptions that make drugs more affordable— could have a transformative impact on health, quality of life, and the efficiency of our investments in healthcare,” says Dr. Temina Madon Executive Director for the Center for Effective Global Action at U.C. Berkeley.

A crucial enabling factor is the continent’s impressive mobile penetration profile. Africa is getting more and more interconnected. With prices falling, smartphone penetration more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. By 2020, smartphone adoption on the continent is expected to surpass 50 percent, meaning that technology will be well placed to open up health systems to the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Increasing penetration and scaling of private, public-private and community insurance schemes could transform access to better healthcare, especially if the right insurance mechanisms, including forms of micro-insurance, are put in place. Digital solutions such as Kenya’s M-Tiba could play an important role in the realization of UHC.

Google researchers have trained image recognition algorithms to auto-detect signs of diabetes related eye disease by analysing retinas which could help prevent blindness.

Stanford University innovators are creating a cell phone based mosquito monitoring platform for anyone to submit a mosquito buzz – producing the most detailed global map of mosquito distribution that can help prevent mosquito borne diseases.

Drones, as those of Zipline, are revolutionizing supply chain management systems in Rwanda and Tanzania, drastically reducing the time of delivery of blood at the facility when patients are in need and at risk of dying.

With the ubiquity of smartphones and a shortage of specialist doctors, calling or texting a physician for a consultation and to obtain a prescription can be done in a flash, literally. With ICT prices dropping, telemedicine will be more than a niche application of cutting-edge tech; it could be the future norm of medicine.

Dashboard systems will help policy makers and implementing agencies monitor progress of programmes and identify areas in need of improvement. Likewise, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can provide geographically-referenced data to help in identifying relationships, patterns and trends in diseases.

Taken together, these innovations will ensure that each building block and therewith entire health systems can be strengthened and that resources mobilised in the health sector are used more efficiently and effectively.

Fortunately, these innovations are already in existence, albeit many of them at pilot-level implementation stages. Countries need to identify tools that are available in the market, especially those that are based on open source software that allow for adaptation, and take them to scale. The price of failing to take up such opportunities will be a slower march towards economic progress, as families continue to use up their life savings, sell assets, or borrow to meet the cost of health care.

A demographic dividend looms in Africa, and countries need to capitalize on the employment opportunities offered by the health sector while strengthening their health systems. A young army of community health workers who are tech savvy and can reach the last mile, could offset the chronic shortage of doctors and nurses through task-shifting.

One of the steps in the right direction is Kenya’s move to eliminate payments for primary and maternal health services in public facilities. Credit: Clinton Foundation

UNDP’s Administrator Mr. Achim Steiner has underscored the importance of multi-sectoral partnerships as a vehicle to attain UHC. Such partnerships he says, “are key in connecting players nationally and globally, across sectors and silos to drive progress on UHC”.

This is exactly what innovative Platforms such as the SDG partnership Platform in Kenya are beginning to catalyse – harnessing global tech innovations and intellectual firepower to serve the continent’s populations with public-private investments to achieve Universal Health Care for basic human dignity and as a springboard for greater economic growth.

And Kenya can lead the way in achieving Universal Health Coverage.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Kenya. Radhika Shah, is Co-President Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs

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Survival of Indigenous Tribes in Bangladesh Starts at Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 07:02:06 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154171 Just before sundown on Jan. 30, a group of women day labourers from the Shantal indigenous community are in a rush to wind up their work harvesting potatoes in a field in the village of Boldipukur, some 15 km away from Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh. One young girl looked indifferent and didn’t seem to […]

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Girls Taking up the Gauntlethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/girls-taking-gauntlet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=girls-taking-gauntlet http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/girls-taking-gauntlet/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 17:38:25 +0000 Editor Dailystar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154141 Laudable step in the fight against early marriage

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Laudable step in the fight against early marriage

By Editor, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Feb 2 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The commendable initiative of a group of girls combating early marriage in Trishal, as reported by The Daily Star on Thursday, shows how social problems like child marriage are best handled: through greater community involvement. The girls are working to raise awareness of the consequences of early marriage among local people and girls/women themselves so that they can resist any such attempts on their own, without recourse to administrative measures and other such interventions. In the last two months alone, encouraged by the local UNO and community leaders, they prevented 10 early marriages.

The fight against early marriage in Bangladesh is not an easy one, given the complex socioeconomic reality, lack of awareness, and loopholes in child marriage laws which allow for exceptions in “special” cases. The country has the highest rate of early marriage under the age of 15, yet its policy responses and administrative actions to stop the practice have been quite inadequate. There is a sense that the issue is not being dealt with enough urgency. But the initiatives taken by the girls in Trishal, and others in various other districts in the country, show that the fight against early marriage is not a losing battle and that there have been encouraging gains at the community level despite the dispiriting national figure.

That said, there is no alternative to a coordinated effort for a better outcome. The fight against child marriage will be a lot easier if the community initiatives are backed by sustained administrative support and legal intervention, especially in places that have proved to be resistant to such attempts.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Excerpt:

Laudable step in the fight against early marriage

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Iraq’s Toxic Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/iraqs-toxic-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqs-toxic-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/iraqs-toxic-conflict/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 08:33:08 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154135 In Iraq, thirty years of armed conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, wounded countless more, displaced millions and laid cities and towns to waste. Amongst all of this death and destruction, there is an often-overlooked victim whose harm has far reaching consequences: The environment. Whilst Iraq’s environment has suffered from degradation due to […]

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By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2018 (IPS)

In Iraq, thirty years of armed conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, wounded countless more, displaced millions and laid cities and towns to waste.

Amongst all of this death and destruction, there is an often-overlooked victim whose harm has far reaching consequences: The environment.

Whilst Iraq’s environment has suffered from degradation due to conflict for decades, in recent years it has been exacerbated due to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

“Wherever ISIS has been there has been huge environmental destruction and with that have come potentially major health threats to the public,” says Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at the dutch not-for profit, PAX.

Over the past two years, PAX has used public satellite images, social media and first-hand field research to track the environmental damage and the subsequent risk to public health in the northern parts of Iraq.

The findings are outlined in the report, ‘Living Under a Black Sky: Conflict Pollution and Environmental Health Concerns in Iraq.’

The report focuses heavily on ISIS’s destruction of oil refineries which were a signature move in their ‘scorched earth’ strategy.

In 2014, the group took control of the Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji Oil refinery, the latter being the nation’s largest, producing more than a third of Iraq’s domestic oil production. In both cases, Iraqi forces retook the facilities, but not before ISIS set fire to oil wells as they retreated.

“When we were there, there were burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells,” Zwijnenburg said about his visit to the Qayyarah region last year. “I wanted to walk around to see more but had to wear a gas mask, you could already feel how the smoke affected young lungs.”

“We saw lakes that were full of solidified crude oil, that had spilt form the wells, and there were white sheep covered in black soot. It was surreal and apocalyptic.”

In each of these attacks, the threat to public health is substantial.

“The fires (from these oil wells) have burnt for months, releasing huge amounts of toxic residue into the air that people in the area – some people haven’t left, some can’t leave, some are returning – those people are inhaling this toxic air,” Zwijnenburg told IPS.

In the case of the Qayyarah, the Iraqi oil ministry estimates that about 20,000 cubic meters may have been released into the environment and haven’t been cleaned up yet.

In April 2017, the PAX team in conjunction with the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) conducted a survey with over twenty women from affected local communities about their concerns over the oil pollution in Qayyarah.

One of the participants voiced her worry for inter-generational health consequences.

“Locals have been suffering from burns, deformations and countless disability cases. Human genes are also affected due to the use of chemical weapons and the burning of oil wells and military remnants. The gene mutations will result in having more birth defects.”

Aside from oil pollution, the PAX report also highlighted the human health risks from what it called ‘urban damage’. That is, the dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals realized from damaged industrial sites and abandoned weapons facilities.

There has been extensive PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl) contamination in Mosul, due to damage to the city’s electricity network. Similarly, the city has recorded extensive sulphur contamination, from when ISIS bombed a 50,000 ton stockpile of the toxin. That attack released some 6 million tons of the substance into the air, leaving 20 people dead and hundreds hospitalized.

These other pollutant concerns are not surprising, as even before the ISIS conflict, Iraq was named the world’s most contaminated country.

It continues to see high levels of radiation and other toxic substances flow into its environment – all left over from previous conflicts such as the Gulf War.

So the question now is, how to clean up the region?

In a statement to IPS, Dr. Zaid Noori, an ambassador of Iraq in Nairobi, admitted that “Iraq is an environmental disaster” and that the Iraqi government needs help in cleaning up affected areas.

“The Government is doing all it can to remedy the situation, but due to the great amount of damage, pollution and contamination Iraq is seeking support and assistance from the international community and UN agencies to ensure clean and habitable environment to civilians in the liberated areas,” the statement read.

The PAX report similarly noted that Iraq would not likely be able to clean up the pollution and manage health fallouts alone.

“It really needs to be an international effort,” says Zwijnenburg. “We should have States pledging and proving funding and expertise to relevant UN organizations such an UN Environment, UN Habitat and UNDP – all of who are working with the Iraqi government.”

Currently, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is concentrating much of its efforts in Mosul, cleaning up ‘urban damage’.

There is no current international effort to clean up the regions oil pollution.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, told IPS that it is regrettable that environmental recovery work is not taken more seriously in reconstruction efforts.

“If environmental recovery work is built into the wider reconstruction effort – which it should be – recovery can and will happen in Iraq,” he says. “Now is the time for donors to make that investment, because we can’t afford to push it to one side.”

Zwijnenburg agrees. “Environment disasters like this are not always the top priority in recovery,” he says.

“The people living here know that and they’re concerned that as the fires die down, as time passes, that that their cause will be forgotten.”

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Sexual Harassment: At Least 2 Billion Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/sexual-harassment-least-2-billion-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-harassment-least-2-billion-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/sexual-harassment-least-2-billion-women/#comments Thu, 01 Feb 2018 17:24:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154122 Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

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Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Feb 1 2018 (IPS)

Most of the world’s women have experienced sexual harassment. Based on available country surveys, it is estimated that no less than 75 percent of the world’s 2.7 billion women aged 18 years and older, or at least 2 billion women, have been sexually harassed (Figure 1).

 

Estimated Proportions and Numbers of Women Worldwide Aged 18 Years and Older Who Have Experienced Sexual and/or Physical Violence and Sexual Harassment: Around 2015

Source: WHO for violence and author’s estimate for harassment based on available country surveys.

 

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 35 percent of women, or approximately 930 million women, have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. WHO considers this level of violence against women a major public health problem as well as a serious violation of the human rights of women.

Although definitions of sexual harassment of women vary globally, they generally center on unwelcome behavior, unwanted conduct and coercion of a sexual nature that violates a woman’s dignity and personal wellbeing and creates an intimidating, humiliating or hostile environment. Sexual harassment includes many things, including sexual assault, unwanted pressure for sexual favors and dates, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, stalking, sexually lewd comments and unwanted communications of a sexual nature.

The estimated proportion of women who have experienced sexual harassment varies considerably across countries from lows of around 50 percent to highs above 90 percent  (Figure 1). In addition to shortcomings in statistical measurement, survey design and sample coverage, the broad range of sexual harassment among nations reflects to a large extent differences in interpretation, reporting, policies and culture.

 

Estimated Proportions of Women Aged 18 Years and Older Who Have Experienced Sexual Harassment for Selected Countries: 2012-2015

Source: Various country surveys, including EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

 

Some governments claim that sexual harassment is a Western problem and is virtually non-existent in their countries. In a number of instances, government censors are hobbling anti-sexual harassment campaigns, blocking the use of phrases about sexual harassment and warning activists against speaking out. However despite such efforts, it is widely recognized the sexual harassment of women is a global problem that exists in all societies and across classes.

It is important to note that sexual harassment can occur between persons of the opposite or same sex and both males and females can be either the victims or the offenders.  However, most sexual harassment victims are women and the overwhelming majority of the offenders are men.

It is often the case that women are reluctant and even afraid to report sexual harassment due to embarrassment, humiliation, social stigma, victim blaming, job loss and retaliation. Young women are frequently afraid of the consequences of a sexual harassment complaint on their education, jobs, careers, future promotions and personal lives, especially when it takes place at the workplace or an educational institution.

Most of the world’s women have experienced sexual harassment. Based on available country surveys, it is estimated that no less than 75 percent of the world’s 2.7 billion women aged 18 years and older, or at least 2 billion women, have been sexually harassed

Moreover, women generally recognize that by and large there are little or no consequences to the men who have sexually harassed them, particularly when it tends to be one person’s word against another. In many instances, the burden of proof placed on women is considered too high and the legal recourse is seen as too low as well as lengthy and entangling.

The impact of sexual harassment on women can be serious, depending on a variety of factors, in particular the nature and extent of harassment, the cultural setting, social support and the personal circumstances of the victim. In addition to feelings of anger and embarrassment, sexual harassment can result in serious health effects, including depression, distress, anxiety, muscle aches, headaches, negative self-esteem, sleeplessness and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). The toll on women can also result in quitting a job, losing a promotion, stigmatization, disrupting schooling, unemployment, less income and damaged careers.

Sexual harassment of women also has economic costs for employers and countries. Workplace harassment can result in absenteeism, increased turnover, lower job satisfaction, decreased productivity and a barrier to women’s labor force participation, retarding the growth of GDP. In addition, sexual harassment settlements and court damages awards can amount to substantial payouts for employers.

In many societies there is a general tolerance of sexual harassment, being viewed as part and parcel of daily life, with many shrugging it off just as another unpleasant fact of a woman’s life, especially at the work place. Also, some women have come to recognize the pervasiveness of quid pro quo sexual harassment and sadly concluded that in order get what you want, you need to give them what they want.

In Nigeria, for example, it has been reported that if women chose to call out sexual harassment, they would be quarreling with their male counterparts all day. A notable instance of sexual harassment tolerance was observed when a Russian judge threw out a woman’s harassment case, ruling, “If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children”.

Tolerance of sexual harassment is now being challenged more actively than the past, especially through the use of social media. Growing numbers of women from all walks of life are sharing their sexual harassment experiences and frustrations with others and calling for accountability.

The recent anti-sexual harassment campaign has spread rapidly worldwide to no less than 85 countries with the rallying expression:  Me Too, Я тоже, 我也是, BalanceTonPorc, Yo También, كمان  أنا . An important consequence of the campaign is more women are coming forward and speaking up about having been sexually harassed, resulting in a growing number of men resigning, stepping down, falling from power, paying hefty settlements or going to jail.

However, there has also been a backlash to the anti-sexual harassment campaign. In France, for example, 100 prominent French women wrote a letter accusing the recent anti-harassment campaign of censorship and intolerance. According to them the movement to tackle sexual harassment represents a “puritanical … wave of purification” and they draw a strong distinction between rape, which is a crime, and attempts to seduce a woman. They reject the image of women as “as poor little things, this Victorian idea that women are mere children who have to be protected”.

Some prominent men in the entertainment industry have also played down the media attention to the harassment campaign. The Russian film director Andrei Konchalovsky, for example, expressed a view popular among men who brush aside this issue, saying said that the whole world has been built on sexual harassment, with men making passes and women resisting. In light of all the accusations of sexual harassment, he joked,  “It turns out that all men must be taken to court”.

Countries have taken a variety of steps to address the sexual harassment of women. For example, 189 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Many national, regional and international legal systems have made sexual harassment illegal. Some 122 countries, including China, India, the United States, member countries of the European Union, and the entire United Nations system have laws and statutes prohibiting sexual harassment against women in the workplace with most providing mechanisms for victims to file a complaint with their employer and/or authorities. In contrast, 68 countries with 424 million working-age women, including 235 million who are employed, have no explicit legal prohibitions against sexual harassment at the workplace.

To avoid the sexual harassment of their female family members, some communities have gone to extremes with the practice of “purdah”, or the seclusion of women from public observation behind high-walled enclosures, screens and curtains within the home. Others have taken steps to segregate or separate the sexes in private and public places, including schools, offices, religious institutions, sport stadiums, social clubs and even public transportation.

Some societies have instituted concealing clothing or strict dress codes for women. However, conservative dress or authorized clothing, including the hijab, chador, the veil, burqa, and sleeved and long dresses, fails to protect women from unwanted attention and sexual harassment. Paradoxically, it seems that the more women cover their bodies, the more women are sexually harassed by men.

Some countries are taking additional steps to protect women from sexual harassment in public places. In France, for example, a parliamentary working group is preparing a proposal that will penalize men with fines who harass women on the street, including infringing on women’s freedom of movement. Mexico, which recently hosted a global forum in its capitol focusing on making urban public spaces safe for women and girls, has launched campaigns in its transit system and elsewhere aimed at changing the thinking and behavior of men about sexually harassing women.

In recent years businesses, offices and institutions have provided, and sometimes made mandatory, anti-sexual harassment training programs to their staff. However, the effectiveness of such programs has not been demonstrated and may even backfire.

In addition, the training programs coupled with anti-harassment policies seem more aimed at shielding employers from liability, litigation and costly jury awards than protecting female employees from sexual harassment. Aiming to limit the costs of sexual harassment claims and settlements, a growing number of businesses are purchasing employee practices liability insurance.

Based on available data, official reports and personal accounts of women, one cannot avoid concluding that the sexual harassment remains a major global problem impacting most of the world’s women. While laws, policies and programs against the sexual harassment of women are certainly necessary, they in themselves are insufficient.

Societies and cultures will need to change attitudes, norms and behavior of both men and women concerning the treatment of women at the work place and in public spaces. Women and men boldly speaking out, organizing support networks and taking effective action against the sexual harassment of women are critical ingredients for realizing the needed societal changes.

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Excerpt:

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

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Gender Empowerment: What Will You Do in 2018 to make a Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change/#comments Thu, 01 Feb 2018 14:39:18 +0000 Abigail Ruane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154117 Abigail Ruane, is Director, Women, Peace and Security Programme at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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Some of the participants of the 2018 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Credit: Marina Kumskova

By Abigail Ruane
NEW YORK, Feb 1 2018 (IPS)

In the last year, a women’s rights tidal wave flooded the world: over 4 million people marched in the first “Women’s March” in January 2017, and over a million marched a year later, from Washington DC to New York, from Sydney to Osaka, and from Rome to Nairobi.

Over 2 million people from 85 countries shared #MeToo stories of sexual violence on social media (#BalanceTonPorc #YoTambien #QuellaVoltaChe وأنا_كمان#); and powerful men across the tech, business, politics and media industries stepped down in the face of allegations.

Peace and conflict issues have not been immune from this women’s rights surge: Sweden and Canada have led the way with “feminist foreign policies” that included strengthened support for women peace civil society leaders.

Under Sweden’s guidance, the Security Council has made some normative progress: The percentage of the Security Council presidential statements referencing Women, Peace and Security (WPS) issues have increased from 69% in 2016 to 100% in 2017.

Women civil society took on a more prominent role in the Security Council on country-specific situations, with nine civil society speakers briefing the Council on the situations in Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others. This made gendered conflict analysis more available for political decision-makers at the highest levels.

Despite this tidal wave, the dinosaur of patriarchy continues to fight for life. The US restricted $8.8 billion of foreign aid connected to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in 2017, while pushing to increase military funding by multiple times that amount. Independent civil society voices, despite a rhetorical recognition as critical leaders on disarmament, environment and security, are slowly being choked through a lack of funding and a plethora of paperwork, with their lives often endangered.

Meanwhile, the women’s rights agenda is undermined by a check-the-box approach: initiatives on gender parity are moving ahead, but holistic action on gender equality are scrapped – just look at the proposed cut to gender advisers in peacekeeping missions, or efforts to “mainstream” rather than prioritise WPS.

As Martin Luther King once stated, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.

Around the world, women peace leaders are building alliances from the personal to the international to call for action to address the root causes of violence: they are demanding the prevention of arms transfers that promote gendered violence and calling for reconstruction that repairs gendered injustices and upholds women’s economic social and cultural rights.

This year, women peace leaders will continue their historical legacy to create a world of feminist peace based on demilitarisation, meaningful participation and gender justice for all people.

In Colombia, women will continue to demand the implementation of peace agreement commitments for zero tolerance on sexual and gender-based violence. In Nigeria, women will continue addressing gendered early warning signals with local authorities.

In Libya, women will continue to push for a civil society consultative mechanism for all activities, including conflict resolution, peacebuilding and counterterrorism efforts.

As the 2018 women’s march slogan recognised, “we are the leaders we have been waiting for”.

2017 pulled back the veil and mobilised conversations about women’s participation and security. 2018 is an opportunity to take concrete action that makes a difference.

What will you do in 2018 to make a change?

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Excerpt:

Abigail Ruane, is Director, Women, Peace and Security Programme at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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Women on the Front Lines of Halting Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/women-front-lines-halting-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-front-lines-halting-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/women-front-lines-halting-deforestation/#respond Mon, 29 Jan 2018 23:41:49 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154051 In Zimbabwe, the bulk of rural communities and urban poor still get their energy supplies from the forests, leading to deforestation and land degradation. The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) 2016 review on forest policies in the country found that fuel wood accounted for over 60 percent of the total energy supply, whilst 96 percent […]

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Judith Ncube, the chairperson of the Vusanani Cooperative in Plumtree, Zimbabwe. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga

By Sally Nyakanyanga
PLUMTREE, Zimbabwe, Jan 29 2018 (IPS)

In Zimbabwe, the bulk of rural communities and urban poor still get their energy supplies from the forests, leading to deforestation and land degradation.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) 2016 review on forest policies in the country found that fuel wood accounted for over 60 percent of the total energy supply, whilst 96 percent of rural communities rely on wood for cooking and heating.

At the same time, livelihoods are shaped by the availability of forest resources, especially in rural areas.

In Mlomwe village, Plumtree, Judith Ncube (54), along with nine other women, derives her livelihood from the marula tree through processing the nuts into oil, butter and skin care ingredients or cosmetic products.

Plumtree is in ecological region 5 in Zimbabwe, one of the areas at risk of desertification if the situation is not curbed. It is among the country’s drylands, receiving little rainfall and experiencing periodic drought.

But members of the Vusanani women’s group now support their families while in turn helping to protect the forests.

“Our livelihoods as women in this community have improved greatly, and we no longer depend on our husbands for our daily survival,” says Ncube, who is the chairperson of the cooperative.

Women are at the forefront of conserving forestry as their husbands have long gone to South Africa seeking greener pastures. Zimbabwe’s high unemployment rate forced many to flee the country, leaving women with the double burden of meeting the daily needs of their families. Some husbands don’t return, whilst some return after a year or two. Currently, most people are pinning their hopes on the new administration led by President Emerson Mnangagwa, who has promised to revive the economy following the ouster of Robert Mugabe.

Ncube and her team formed Vusanani Cooperative in 2010 through support from various development partners. They now have processing equipment to grind marula nuts into different products.

The Vusanani Cooperative, which process 40 litres of oil every week, buys the raw marula nuts from the Mlomwe community. They buy the kernels at a dollar a cup, with 20 cups producing a litre of oil. They then sell a litre of marula oil for 26 dollars, with marula butter going for a dollar.

The Marula tree is found in hot, dry land areas, an excellent source of supplementary nutrition and provides income for rural people living in this region.

Former Practical Action Officer Reckson Mutengarufu, who is based in the area, said people in the community used to cut down the marula tree to make stools, pestle and pestle stick for use in their homes.

“Things have improved now as villagers can only cut down the marula tree after consulting the village head. We have since trained people on sustainable forest management and the benefits of planting trees in their homes and fields,” Mutengarufu said.

Some members have undergone a capacity building training in South Africa through the Forest Forces project sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Practical Action, an international development charity.

Margaret Ndhlovu (57), a founding member of the group and mother of ten children, managed to travel to South Africa to undergo training under the program. This enabled her to meet and interact with South African farmers in the marula processing trade.

“This was an experience of a lifetime, as I learnt during the trip in South Africa how other female farmers are processing marula fruit into various end products such bicarbonate of soda, okra or marula beer,” Ndhlovu told IPS.

The Sustainable Development Goal 15 provides for combating of desertification, reverse of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Agricultural expansion and tobacco curing, inadequate land use planning, infrastructural development and human settlements in both urban and rural areas, uncontrolled veld fires, illegal gold panning, elephant damage and climate change have all been cited as major factors that impede sustainable forestry management.

According to the United Nations, about 12 million hectares of land are lost globally to desertification every year, with land degradation posing a significant threat to food security.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, has helped the country’s Environmental Management Agency (EMA) work with various stakeholders to address the situation especially in dry regions. EMA is a government body that oversees environmental issues in the country.

David Phiri, the FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, told IPS how FAO is implementing other projects such as beekeeping and extraction of oil from trees including the baobab.

“FAO is promoting sustainable harvesting and value addition of non-timber forest products and use of appropriate post-harvest technologies which include metallic silos, improved granaries and hermetically sealed bags so as to minimize losses,” Phiri said.

For the women of Vusanani Cooperative, they have long-term plans. By 2020, they want to expand their small marula processing business into a large manufacturing plant. They have since registered a company to enable them to operate as a formal business entity.

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For Millions of Indian Women, Marriage Means Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/#respond Sun, 28 Jan 2018 13:00:23 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154031 Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with […]

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A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 28 2018 (IPS)

Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with her new family.

But problems began soon after. Used to Chennai’s hot and balmy weather, Rekha hated Delhi’s severe cold in winter. The stress played on her mind; her periods became erratic. She also missed her younger sister and confidant Sumathi and her mother’s food.Marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas.

“It was a big cultural shock for me to shift to Delhi,” Rekha told IPS. “I love my husband, but it’s tough to cope with the pressure of living in a city so far away from my parental home. The cuisine, the language, the weather, everything seems so alien. It’s almost like living on a different planet.”

Nor is Rekha alone. As per the last census in 2011, over 217. 9 million Indian women had to migrate from their natal homes across the country due to marriage. These numbers reflect a significant surge from the year 2001 when 154 million of them shifted to a new city or town post marriage. In contrast, the corresponding numbers for men are staggeringly lower — 7.4 million and six million for those same years respectively.

Women’s migration across India is driven primarily by marriage, as pointed out by IndiaSpend, a public interest journalism website. In absolute numbers, a whopping 97 percent of Indians migrating for marriage were women in Census 2011, a marginal drop from 98.6 percent in Census 2001.

In fact surveys point out that women — whose place of residence is dictated by their marriage — form the single-largest category of migrants in the country. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage – either to shift to their husband’s place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Employment and education overall constituted 10 percent and 2 percent of migration movement respectively.

Unfortunately, despite the colossal number of women who have had to migrate because of marriage, the implications of female migration have not been sufficiently studied.

“The lack of attention to marriage migration means that very little is known about its extent, geographical distribution, how it has changed over time, and its relationship with age, distance, caste, household consumption, and geography,” says Scott L. Fulford in a 2015 research paper titled “Marriage migration in India: Vast, Varied, and Misunderstood”.

Fulford writes that marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas. It also varies substantially across India, and little appears to have changed over the decades. But rather than an independent phenomenon, this type of migration is part of a “larger puzzle of low workforce participation, education, and bargaining power of women in India.”

“Although there are significant regional differences, most of India practices some form of patrilocal village exogamy in which women are married outside of their natal village, joining their husband’s family in his village or town. Across India three quarters of women older than 21 have left their place of birth, almost all on marriage,” writes the author.

Experts opine that apart from testing a woman’s capability to overcome daunting challenges in a new environment, marriage migration also triggers a sense of being uprooted and displaced from usual habituated places and established homes to new locations, which requires considerable reorientation and adjustment.

Demographer K. Laxmi Narayan from the University of Hyderabad, who has tracked the levels of rural-urban migration in India, says in the essay “India’s urban migration crisis” that the reason for marriage migration across India is mostly cultural and social. “In north India, women are not supposed to marry a man from the same village. So invariably marriage means migration,” he says.

However, as traditionally feared, marriage migration doesn’t necessarily result in women falling off the workforce map. Many of the women who migrate for marriage do join the labour force, says a January 2017 housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry report on migration. Migration for work usually results in relief from poverty even if it means a rough life in India’s cities, IndiaSpend reported on June 13, 2016. A migrant from Maharashtra’s drought-stricken Marathwada region, for example, triples her income temporarily after moving to Mumbai, according to the report.

Women’s gainful employment, however, doesn’t discount the fact that displacement extracts its own pound of flesh. According to Kavita Krishnan, social activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the condition of women who migrate for marriage is analogous to migrant labourers.

“Such women feel vulnerable and socially isolated as they are not native to the place they shift to. They are often exploited by the husband and his family, not allowed to contact their natal families and their mobility is restricted. Domestic violence or abuse isn’t uncommon in this demographic either,” she says.

What emboldens the perpetrators of such abuse is the fact that the victim’s proximity to her family has been eliminated. Krishnan explains that the rampant cultural phenomenon of “bride purchase” — when women are bought from other regions to marry men in places where women are scarce (due to a skewed sex ration) — only makes the situation worse.

“These women are brought in from remote corners of the country and are mostly illiterate. With their near and dear ones living far away, their situation in an alien land is especially precarious.”

Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, believes  that an out-of-whack sex ratio in India exacerbates the problem of women’s marriage migration.

“In states like Haryana, which have one of the world’s worst sex ratios (914 girls to 1,000 boys), brides are forcibly brought in from other states, which leads to their cultural isolation and maladjustment. We’ve seen cases of illiterate women in Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh) being sold to men in other states for as little as 500 dollars,” she says. “This practice comes under the phenomenon of forced migration and is prevalent across many states.”

Such women, adds the activist, are also more likely to stay in abusive marriages as compared to those who live near natal homes and feel empowered to walk out due to emotional and monetary support extended by friends and natal families.

“If the women seek a divorce, which is rare, the prospect of courts taking several years to settle a case breaks them. Often these women cannot afford the several rounds of litigation involved and are dependent on others for sustenance. So she ends up compromising and living with her abusive families, especially if there are children involved.”

Where does the solution lie? Experts agree that due to lack of detailed studies on the subject, and not enough debates and discussions in public forums on it, no policies are in place to fix specific problems arising out of marriage migration.

“Normal divorce rules apply in such cases,” says Abha Rastogi, a senior High Court lawyer. “But often there are nuances involved which get overlooked due to lack of data and research on the subject. We need to address this lacuna promptly.”

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Thoughts on the Alcohol Ban for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thoughts-alcohol-ban-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thoughts-alcohol-ban-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thoughts-alcohol-ban-women/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 18:52:13 +0000 Tharusha Deegala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154050 “A majority of the country has criticised the decision to lift the ban arguing it would destroy family culture by getting more women addicted to alcohol” Oh yes, this country is a perfect mould of ethics and morality. This was only the cherry on top. What’s destroying the family culture is not women going out […]

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By Tharusha Deegala
Jan 25 2018 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

“A majority of the country has criticised the decision to lift the ban arguing it would destroy family culture by getting more women addicted to alcohol”

Oh yes, this country is a perfect mould of ethics and morality. This was only the cherry on top. What’s destroying the family culture is not women going out for a drink to cope up with the stress this country throws at them on a daily basis but the 70% cases of domestic violence and cases of marital rape that go unheard of, where the women have no say because alas, Sri Lanka is so morally and ethically articulate that we didn’t have laws against domestic violence until 2005 and we still don’t have laws against marital rape.

It’s a country where only 1% of domestic abuse cases go reported due to the encouraging pat-on- the-backs women receive when trying to be open about the abuse, telling them “gedara gini eliyata daana epa” a country where a woman can’t walk outdoors without getting cat called or worse, a country where women are silenced and portrayed as the dutiful submissive role in this family role-play while men are given the privilege to use alcohol and substance abuse as an excuse for their unruly and violent behaviour with their spouse.

A country where women are constantly judged, criticised, hated and judged again for every single miniscule thing they do be it wearing what they feel comfortable in or sitting in a particular position. All this discrimination and hatred against women amidst the hypocritical movements of encouraging female empowerment and employment while at the end of the day even their right to decide whether or not they trust themselves enough to take a pint is taken away.

Imposing this law 40 years ago may have been justifiable due to the fact that old times were careers of old fashioned, women oppressing and discriminatory notions anyway. However re-imposing the law in the name of prevention of the destruction of family culture is such a disappointing joke which screams the fact that the Sri Lankan government is a sexist old man that encourages women to remain sober in their homes, cooking and looking after the children while having no regard for whatever men do. People may believe that women have more rights to win before the right to drink a swig of beer but the truth is, if we don’t stand up against such deliberate, unashamed acts which continue to discriminate women, we have little to say when it comes to large scale problems.

On a different note, this is not about the alcohol ban at all. No, this is about the blatant sexism displayed by the leaders of our nation which should not be tolerated. We can live without liquor but we refuse to live with that. If you’re honestly concerned about the ethical and moral state of the country, dear government, you might as well ban alcohol for everyone, men and women alike because, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all human desperately trying to find a spot of freedom at the end of the day after all the bad businesses life puts all of us through. This being a major one, excuse me while I go ahead and drink my worries out because if men are allowed to do that, what do I lack or have more for you to say I can’t?

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Thoughts on the Alcohol Ban for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thoughts-alcohol-ban-women-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thoughts-alcohol-ban-women-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thoughts-alcohol-ban-women-2/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 18:15:57 +0000 Tharusha Deegala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154146 “A majority of the country has criticised the decision to lift the ban arguing it would destroy family culture by getting more women addicted to alcohol” Oh yes, this country is a perfect mould of ethics and morality. This was only the cherry on top. What’s destroying the family culture is not women going out […]

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By Tharusha Deegala
Jan 25 2018 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

“A majority of the country has criticised the decision to lift the ban arguing it would destroy family culture by getting more women addicted to alcohol”

Oh yes, this country is a perfect mould of ethics and morality. This was only the cherry on top. What’s destroying the family culture is not women going out for a drink to cope up with the stress this country throws at them on a daily basis but the 70% cases of domestic violence and cases of marital rape that go unheard of, where the women have no say because alas, Sri Lanka is so morally and ethically articulate that we didn’t have laws against domestic violence until 2005 and we still don’t have laws against marital rape.

It’s a country where only 1% of domestic abuse cases go reported due to the encouraging pat-on- the-backs women receive when trying to be open about the abuse, telling them “gedara gini eliyata daana epa” a country where a woman can’t walk outdoors without getting cat called or worse, a country where women are silenced and portrayed as the dutiful submissive role in this family role-play while men are given the privilege to use alcohol and substance abuse as an excuse for their unruly and violent behaviour with their spouse.

A country where women are constantly judged, criticised, hated and judged again for every single miniscule thing they do be it wearing what they feel comfortable in or sitting in a particular position. All this discrimination and hatred against women amidst the hypocritical movements of encouraging female empowerment and employment while at the end of the day even their right to decide whether or not they trust themselves enough to take a pint is taken away.

Imposing this law 40 years ago may have been justifiable due to the fact that old times were careers of old fashioned, women oppressing and discriminatory notions anyway. However re-imposing the law in the name of prevention of the destruction of family culture is such a disappointing joke which screams the fact that the Sri Lankan government is a sexist old man that encourages women to remain sober in their homes, cooking and looking after the children while having no regard for whatever men do. People may believe that women have more rights to win before the right to drink a swig of beer but the truth is, if we don’t stand up against such deliberate, unashamed acts which continue to discriminate women, we have little to say when it comes to large scale problems.

On a different note, this is not about the alcohol ban at all. No, this is about the blatant sexism displayed by the leaders of our nation which should not be tolerated. We can live without liquor but we refuse to live with that. If you’re honestly concerned about the ethical and moral state of the country, dear government, you might as well ban alcohol for everyone, men and women alike because, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all human desperately trying to find a spot of freedom at the end of the day after all the bad businesses life puts all of us through. This being a major one, excuse me while I go ahead and drink my worries out because if men are allowed to do that, what do I lack or have more for you to say I can’t?

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Breaking Barriers in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 11:52:52 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153998 It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area […]

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Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NILPHAMARI, Bangladesh, Jan 25 2018 (IPS)

It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area is known for creating job opportunities for the local population.

The female and male workers all seem fully engrossed in what they are doing and the atmosphere in the factory is a clear contrast to the noisy hubbub of trucks, buses, three wheelers and motorcycles outside.

While the country’s garment industry is widely known internationally, the tragic deadly collapse of Rana Plaza a few years ago, which left over a thousand workers dead, remains etched in many people’s minds both at home and abroad.

Less known is that the sector has opened up new income opportunities for Bangladeshi women. They have made enormous strides in the past decade, demonstrating how with even a small opportunity to gain skills, they can improve their own lives and those of their families.

The production of thousands of designer bags that end up in the collections of affluent women worldwide and on catwalks internationally is taking place in some countries of the South, and Bangladesh is a prime producer. Several high-end brands are produced in one of many factories in the Nilphamari area that this IPS correspondent visited.

One factory has 4,000 employees, of whom 70 are expatriates appointed by the foreign proprietors who are Hong Kong-based. Over 30,000 people are employed in such factories in the Nilphamari area, and 61 percent are women.

A colourful spectacle unfolds each morning when almost 20 percent of the female employees ride bikes to work in the factories. This is considered quite a big change in a society where women were once relegated to work within their households.

Amena Khatun, 35, who works for a leather factory, told IPS, “I was once unemployed. Now at least 2,000 women from my village of Balapara and two of its adjoining villages located some 10 to 15 km to the north of the EPZ are employed in 10 companies here.

“Twenty years back, women in the villages had no job opportunities and were were hardly allowed to go outside their homes, let alone ride bikes,” she added.
Afrina Begum, 32, a worker at a factory producing wigs and hair products, told IPS that even though the custom of dowry is still prevalent in the villages in Nilphamari, her husband had not demanded a dowry from her parents. Her husband had learned beforehand that she had an income every month as she was employed at a factory. Afrina added that women’s employment in the EPZ has played a major role in changing the outlook of men in a male-dominated society.

The EPZ, defined as a territorial or economic enclave in which goods may be imported and manufactured and then exported without any duties and minimal oversight by customs officials, has factories producing a variety of products for export, including bags, wigs and toys with imported raw materials from China.

The average wage for each worker in the factory producing designer bags is Taka 5600 per month (about 75 dollars) for both men and women. When asked, a couple of women workers said that their income has helped improve the quality of life of their families.

Sahara Khatun, 26, said her husband left for Malaysia to work on a construction site. She lived with her parents and decided to ask them to help to look after her five-year-old daughter while she took on a job in the factory. Sahara said she has acquired skills and is now aware that only high-quality products have a market abroad. Most importantly, she is earning her own money and has a sense of independence and confidence.

The factory has modern equipment with a design and technical centre. Young men and women work side by a side – a major breakthrough for conservative Bangladeshi society.

One of the managers, Pijush Bandhopadhya, explained that all workers have know-how of each stage of production. There are close to 80 steps to be followed and implemented before a bag is ready. The leather, processed beforehand, comes from Italy and the cutting, glueing, and binding of the final product is handled by the factory workers under the supervision of a few expatriate experts.

While the minimum age for employment in the factory is 18, a local government official conceded that many girls lie about their real age to qualify for a job. This has led to underage girls meeting a male coworker and ending up marrying. While child marriage is discouraged by the government, there are no mechanisms in place to prevent it.

The EPZ, popularly known as Uttara (northern), was initiated in 2001 by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), an official organ of Bangladesh Government to increase employment opportunities in northern Bangladesh.

Pijush said the unemployment rate was previously high in Nilphamari district. Many people, mostly women, used to migrate to the capital city, Dhaka, or to other southern districts of the country in search of work in the garment sector. But now with the EPZ investment in the district, migration to the capital has fallen significantly.

“This is only because jobs are now available in Uttara EPZ,” said Dewan Kamal Ahmed, the chair of Nilphamari municipality.

Khaleda Akter, 37, of Kazirhat village adjoining Uttara EPZ in Nilphamari district, once worked in the Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka. She escaped a disastrous fire in November 2012 that erupted in the factory, as she had gone to visit her native village a week before. After the Ashulia fire incident, she did not want to go back and began looking for a job in the Uttara EPZ.

“Luckily I got a job in Section Seven International Ltd. (Bangladesh) and since then I have been working here. Now I earn about Taka 10,000 (128.20 dollars) a month,” Khaleda said.

“At least 5 percent of the female workers of Uttara EPZ used to work in different garment factories in Dhaka,” said Kazi Mostafizar Rahman, chair of Shangalshi Union Parishad (Union Council). “They are permanent residents of Nilphamari area. Since they had job opportunities nearby their house, they quit Dhaka and availed of the job opportunity close to home.”

An official of the Uttara EPZ who asked to remain anonymous told IPS that garment workers held a demonstration in 2010 to press their demands for implementation of new pay scale. But the protests only lasted a day because the government negotiated and met their demands.

Since then, the EPZ has been calm. Shahid Latif (fictitious name) added that “while the wages compared to richer countries are not good enough, it is the beginning of women’s economic empowerment. Women are benefitting from EPZ and learning skills which with time will help them to claim higher pay.”

To remain a competitive supplier, production costs are low and most entrepreneurs, especially after the disastrous fire in the garment sector of 2012, are more conscious of the working conditions in factories, which have improved quite a lot, thanks also to regulations brought in by the government, stated Latif.

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