Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142244

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, a group of artists, students, and individuals in the Philippines committed to working towards social change, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. Karunungan, who is also a climate tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator project, is in Bonn for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings currently taking place there.

By Renee Juliene Karunungan
BONN, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

After surviving the storm surge wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013, women in evacuation centres found themselves again fighting for survival … at times from rape. Many became victims of human trafficking while many more did anything they could to feed their families before themselves.

Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home.

At the Road to Sendai conference held in Manila in March, women’s leaders shared their traumatic experience. For many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

When typhoons come, women’s concerns rest with their children, but they remain uncertain of what to do and where to go. These are some of the crushing realities poor women live with in the face of climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change,” according to Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim.”

“We take these things for granted but it limits women and girls and affects their vulnerability in the face of climate change,” she noted, adding that these day-to-day threats of climate change are only set to increase “if we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population, which, in this case, is women.”

Women’s groups have been active in pushing for gender to be included in the negotiating text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and according to Kate Cahoon of Gender CC, “we’ve seen a lot of progress in negotiations in the past decade when it comes to gender.”“Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home”

However, this week in Bonn, where the UNFCCC is holding a series of meetings, there has also been growing concern that issues central to supporting vulnerable women have been side-tracked, and may be left out or weakened by the time the U.N. climate change conference takes place in Paris in December.

“We want to make sure that gender is not only included in the preamble,” said Cahoon, explaining that this would amount to a somewhat superficial treatment of gender sensitivity. “We want to ensure that countries will commit to having gender in Section C [general objectives].”

Ensuring that gender is included throughout the Paris agreement is essential to ensure that there will be a mandate for action on the ground, especially in the Philippines. This is the only way to ensure that Paris will make a change in women’s lives at the grassroots level.

“We want a strong agreement and it can only be strong if we account for half of the world’s population,” stressed Cahoon.

Meanwhile, Collantes noted that UN Women is working to ensure that women will not be seen as vulnerable but rather as leaders. She believes that we now need to highlight the skills and capabilities that women can use to support their communities in moments of disaster.

“Women are always portrayed as victims but women are not vulnerable,” said Collates. “If they are given resources or decision-making powers, women can show their skills and strengths.”

In fact, according to an assessment by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security as the climate changes.”

The women most affected by Typhoon Haiyan could not agree more.

“We are always seen as a group of people to give charity to. But we are not only receivers of charity. We can be an active agent of making our communities more resilient to climate change impacts,” a woman leader from the Philippine women’s organisation KAKASA said during the Road to Sendai forum.

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

According to Collantes, it must correct the lack of mention of women in the previous conventions, and it must also be coherent with the goal of gender equality, the Post-2015 Agenda, Rio+20, and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

“Without gender equality, the Paris agreement would be behind its time and will not validate realities women are facing today,” says Collantes.

For the three billion women impacted by climate change, we can only hope negotiators here in Bonn won’t leave them behind.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Latin American Scientists Call for More Human Climate Sciencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 23:47:49 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142232 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/feed/ 0 Strong Words, But Little Action at Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:08:47 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142214 The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief, Seeking Accountability, Shatters Myth of Lifetime Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 21:21:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142000 Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stopped short of telling one his high-ranking Special Representatives: “You’re fired.”

If he did, he was only echoing the now-famous words of a U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is best known for frequently dismissing his staffers, using that catch phrase, in a long-running reality TV show.

Following the alleged outrageous rape of a 12-year girl by peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) — adding to 11 other cases of sexual abuse in the battle-scarred country — the secretary-general unceremoniously forced the resignation of his highest-ranking official, Babacar Gaye of Senegal.

The dismissal has been described as “unprecedented” in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

As U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “It is not something that I have seen in terms of Special Representatives in the field in the 15 years that I’ve been here, an action taken like this by a Secretary‑General.”

An "Unprecedented" Sacking

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS firing of a Special Envoy is exceptional.

In this particular case, the Secretary General made his point in an unprecedented manner.

In previous cases, he said, a Secretary General would send a discreet message about the need to resign “for personal reasons” or transferred elsewhere until a contract expired.

Envoys usually have different, more limited contracts than regular staff.

For a long period, and in order to build a dedicated international civil service that would withstand taking instructions from those other than the Secretary General, a “career contract” was offered, normally after five to 10 years of proven competence.

Appointment and Promotion bodies jointly selected by the Administration and staff would review and ensure a valid transparent competitive process.

“I had served for years as Chairman after Kofi Annan left to take over Peacekeeping,” he said.

Regrettably, these bodies were abolished after Annan became Secretary General --apparently to give senior manager more leeway in selecting their own staff.

Also contractual arrangements were changed mainly under pressures that sought to influence staff policy attitudes.

That substantive shift eroded the spirit of International Civil Servants who habitually were drawn from the widest cultural and geographic backgrounds, demoralising the existing staff and leading to weakening the main base of the Secretary General's authority.

But in a bygone era, U.N. jobs, like most dictatorial Third World presidencies, were for life – until you hit the retirement age of 60 (or 62 now, and 65 in the future).

The most that would happen for any infractions is a U.N. staffer taking early retirement – either gracefully or disgracefully.

The rule is best exemplified in a long running anecdote here of a secretary, enraged at her boss, who picked up her typewriter and threw it at him, many moons ago. But because she held a life-time job, so the story goes, she couldn’t be fired from her job.

However, the end result was a memo from the human resources department to all divisional heads at the U.N. urging them to nail all typewriters to their desks.

The story may be apocryphal but it reflected the long standing professional lifestyle at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River.

Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “I cannot recall a political appointee being fired.”

The usual practice, even for incompetent assistant secretaries-general (ASGs) or under-secretaries-general (USGs), has been to let their contracts lapse, or ease them out by retiring them or moving them sideways to a non-job, he said.

“Cases of staff being terminated are very rare and usually for disciplinary reasons. However, there have been cases where contracts have not been renewed, usually citing performance difficulties, but which we believe to have been abusive circumstances. But it’s thankfully rare,” said Richards.

Where there is a big concern going forward is the General Assembly’s approval of a new mobility policy under which appointments and moves of D-1 and D-2 staff – both at director levels — will be managed by the Secretary-General’s office (making them virtually political appointments and not regular staffers).

“This could have serious repercussions as those who don’t toe the line could be threatened with a move to an undesirable duty station,” he added.

In closed-door consultations with the 15-member Security Council Thursday, the secretary general said: “I cannot express strongly enough my distress and shame over reports of sexual exploitation and the abuse of power by U.N. forces, police or civilian personnel.”

With respect to the allegations and cases in the Central African Republic, the time had come for a strong signal that leaders will be held responsible, he said.

“This is why I asked for the resignation of General Babacar Gaye despite his long and illustrious service to the United Nations.”

Ban said an effective response demands accountability — individual, leadership, command level, as well accountability by the Organisation and by Member States.

“In the case of peacekeeping missions, accountability begins at the top, with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and carries through each level of management and command.”

On Friday, he convened an extraordinary meeting of his Special Representatives, Force Commanders and Police Commissioners in all 16 peacekeeping missions to send the unequivocal message that they are obligated – every day and every night – to enforce the highest standards of conduct for all.

He also said it is critical that Troop Contributing Countries take swift action to appoint national investigation officers, conclude investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.

It is squarely their responsibility to ensure justice and to communicate to the Secretariat the results of their actions.

“All too often this is not done quickly enough – and in the most frustrating cases, it is not done at all,” Ban said.

“When the Secretariat does receive information about the actions taken in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, I am frustrated by what appear to be far too lenient sanctions for such grave acts affecting men, women and, all too often, children.”

A failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity, he warned.

“That injustice is a second blow to the victims – and a tacit pass for the crimes we are trying so hard to end.”

Referring to the firing of the Special Representative, Dujarric told reporters: “As you know, the Secretary-General did not take this action based on one particular case.”

He took it based on the repeated number of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct that have taken place in the Central African Republic.

“According to our numbers, we had 57 allegations of possible misconduct in the Central African Republic reported since the beginning of the mission in April 2014. And that includes 11 cases of sexual abuse, possible sexual abuse. Those cases are being investigated,” he added.

Deployed in early 2014, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, known by the French acronym MINUSCA and headed by the dismissed Gaye, has been trying to defuse sectarian tensions across that country.

More than two years of civil war and violence have displaced thousands of people amid ongoing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, according to the United Nations.

In addition, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group, continues to operate in the south-eastern part of the country.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Clan Wars Increase Displacement, Hinder Development in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:27:46 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141993 Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The charred foundations are all that is left of the homes that made up Kenemote village in the mountainous Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

For the past four and a half months a tribal war has raged between four clans of the Kintex tribe who are armed with high-powered guns, as well as bows and arrows. Nine people are dead, including a small boy, and most dwellings have been burned to the ground, while women and children are traumatised.

“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety.” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote
“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety,” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote, told IPS.

Fighting erupted at the beginning of April after one clan accused another of using poison or sorcery to cause a death in the community. The victorious clan, still brandishing their weapons, are encamped among the ruins. The other three clans, numbering three quarters of Kenemote’s population of 1,500, have fled and are staying in squatter settlements in the nearby town of Goroka or with relatives scattered in other villages.

“We want peace when we see the houses burning and properties destroyed, but the other clans’ people continue to come and provoke us. It will take years to recover the loss we have gone through, so we want peace, but we don’t know who can bring this peace,” Chief Lim Nareo declared to IPS on Jul. 30.

A police mediation team and the Eastern Highlands branch of the Red Cross are attempting to broker a ceasefire. But until that happens, Chief Nareo’s people won’t leave the area because of the risk of further attacks, and those displaced are unable to return.

For the past two years, the Red Cross has devoted enormous quantities of resources to helping people caught up in ongoing fighting in at least four of the province’s eight districts, providing temporary shelter, access to medical care, water and food supplies.

Meanwhile, in a province of about 579,000 people, the local police say they are trying to address at least 30 separate conflicts.

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Age-old conflicts bring new challenges

The human toll and suffering due to tribal fighting has escalated in the last 20-30 years with greater access to modern high-powered weapons. Today international and local gun smuggling networks provide villagers with a supply of M-16s, AK-47s, 0.22 rifles and grenades.

Many highlanders claim that guns are needed for their personal security and that of their businesses and communities because of lack of reach of the state, particularly law enforcement, in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s population live.

However, guns have also become a major symbol of status and power for men and youth.

The consequences are increasingly tragic, Robin Kukuni of the Eastern Highlands Red Cross said, because most villagers “haven’t had any firearms training, so they just fire their guns indiscriminately and a lot of women and children are dying.”

Traditional warfare has existed in Papua New Guinea, home to a population of 7.3 million and an estimated 1,000 different ethnic and linguistic groups, for thousands of years.

Hostilities can be triggered by disputes over land, pigs (the most prized livestock animal), or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed by one clan against another.

Even after 40 years of modern statehood, most citizens are still bound by clan allegiances, and customary ways of dealing with disputes remain paramount, particularly in rural communities.

But today conflicts are also complicated by grievances over access to royalties, benefits and compensation associated with resource extraction projects in the country, whether mining, gas extraction or logging. And the ritualised nature of traditional combat, which included rules such as a ban on violating women and children, has given way to guerrilla tactics with worsening atrocities fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

The long-term impacts include protracted internal displacement, in many cases for up to 10 years.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates there are about 22,500 people displaced within Papua New Guinea as a result of tribal warfare and natural disasters. But the International Committee of the Red Cross believes the true figure could be more than five times that estimate, or more than 110,000 people.

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women peacemakers take on warring tribes

Lilly Be’Soer, leader of Voice for Change, a women-led non-governmental human rights and sustainable livelihoods organisation involved in conflict resolution in nearby Jiwaka Province, emphasises that the process of peace mediation, reconciliation, resettlement and integration is a very long one.

In 2012, Voice for Change brokered a peace agreement in the province between two clans of the Kondika tribe who had been warring since 2009 when a clansman was killed during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Be’Soer says that a number of strategies contributed to the success of their peace negotiations following four previous attempts by other parties, which failed.

But a significant breakthrough was made when the organisation brought together and mentored women from the displaced communities, so that they could speak in public to gatherings of the men, village chiefs and police about their hardships, such as increasing poverty and insecurity.

Ultimately they “told the men [who had been fighting] that this situation has happened and you have caused this problem […]. This was one of the strategies we used that impacted and moved the men, who then said they would move forward [and support peace],” Be’Soer recounted.

But resettlement of the 500 people who were displaced due to hostilities is an ongoing challenge.

“When we were interviewing the [displaced] women, the bottom line was that they wanted to go back to their husbands’ traditional land, because when you are on your husband’s land you have a certain status and security. And the women felt that if they continued to live on other people’s land, the land might not be available for their sons,” she continued.

After lengthy consultations between all the stakeholders, an agreement between the displaced people and those occupying their land was reached. The resettlement plan entailed a set of conditions to be adhered to by both clans, such as vacation of the occupied territory within six months and a ban on either clan being derogatory toward the other.

But “the conditions were not honoured and then law enforcement [of the conditions] didn’t work,” Be’Soer said.

The suffering is now prolonged for the displaced families.

According to Be’Soer, “Children are very [badly] affected; they don’t have proper meals and are unable to go to school. The women cannot walk around freely and it is very difficult for them to access money and food.”

And there are heightened risks of sexual violence against women, a grim reality in a country that is ranked 135 out of 187 nations for gender inequality.

“The men in the host communities are the main perpetrators; or the man who is taking care of the family, he might want the daughter and you don’t have security,” Be’Soer said.

A second attempt at returning the families will be made within the next month, but, even if that succeeds, there are further cultural obligations to be met before the process is complete.

“In the final stage compensation has to be paid for the people who have been killed. Once this has been done in about four or five years, then the clans will have to find enough pigs to slaughter to give to the people they stayed with when they were displaced. So it takes a long time, another four, five, or even ten years,” Be’Soer told IPS.

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be'Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be’Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Small-scale wars incur large costs

The cumulative cost of both the destruction and displacement from dozens of small-scale clan wars occurring across the country includes the undermining of human development and entrenchment of hardship and inequality in rural families and communities.

In Eastern Highlands, life expectancy is about 55 years and the under-five mortality rate is 73 per 1,000 births, compared to the capital, Port Moresby, where life expectancy is estimated at 59 years and there are some 27 deaths of under-five infants per 1,000 births.

Looking to the future, Kukuni at the Red Cross believes there is a need to prevent the escalation of violence in the first place, adding, “The village courts and community leaders could do more to stop a conflict in the early stages before it grows bigger.”

Voice for Change also emphasises the importance of aiming for generational change by educating the country’s youth to fully understand the long-term impacts of violence on their lives and empowering them with the ability to intervene and implement alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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U.N. Launches Second Abuse Probe of Peacekeepers in CARhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:39:47 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141978 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It was two a.m. on Aug. 2 as peacekeeping forces from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) searched for a criminal suspect in the PK5 Muslim enclave of the capital city of Bangui.

As one house was searched, the men were taken away, the women and crying children were brought together by yelling troops, and a 12-year-old girl hid in the bathroom out of fear, according to accounts by the girl and her family."It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them." -- Joanne Mariner

The girl was allegedly dragged out of the bathroom by one of the blue-helmet troops, where she says she was groped, taken behind a truck and raped. A medical examination later found evidence of sexual assault.

“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty International.

One of her sisters recalled: “When she returned from the back of the courtyard, she cried ‘mama’ and fainted. We brought her inside the house and splashed water on her to revive her.”

“I had her sit in a pan of hot water,” the mother explained — a traditional method of treating sexual abuse.

Amnesty International heard about the incident almost immediately, and spent the past week conducting an intensive investigation.

If the allegations prove to be true, it would not be the first incident of misconduct and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). In May, leaked documents showed that high-level U.N. staff knew of sexual abuses by soldiers in CAR and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

The documents showed that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea were implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports. In June, the U.N. set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe the allegations.

In addition to the alleged rape of the 12-year-old girl, the more recent incident included the fatal shootings of two civilians, a young boy and his father.

Balla Hadji, 61, and his son Souleimane Hadji, 16, were struck by bullets in front of their house. Balla was apparently shot in the back, while Souleimane was shot in the chest. A neighbour who witnessed the killings told Amnesty International that “they [the peacekeepers] were going to shoot at anything that moved.”

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon announced that the U.N. envoy to CAR, Babacar Gaye, had resigned his post.

“The initial response of the U.N. was very lackadaisical,” Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Joanne Mariner, told IPS. “It wasn’t until we issued a press release and it got international attention that suddenly the system kicked in and action was taken.”

“It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them. They are not trained well enough to carry out their duties in the appropriate way.”

She noted that “The U.N. has no power to prosecute them, and that does create a structural tension. It’s the U.N.’s responsibility to put pressure on its Member States to prosecute these individuals.”

“We have not seen the U.N. being vigilant or active enough on these issues. There has been much more talk than real action,” Mariner said. “We are just trying to make sure that the UN is doing what it should be doing.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said, “I want to be clear that this problem goes far beyond one mission or one conflict or one person. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response.”

He said sexual abuse and exploitation in Central African Republic would be investigated further by a high-level external independent panel, and he urged victims to feel safe in coming forward.

“I have been often asking Member States to provide more female police officers, because many victims feel very shamed in coming out to bring these crimes, so we really need to have these victims come out.”

“I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Those who work for the United Nations must uphold our highest ideals,” Ban said, adding that the forces are not completely accountable to the U.N., but to their home countries.

“I want Member States to know that I cannot do this alone,” Ban added. “They have the ultimate responsibility to hold individual uniformed personnel to account and they must take decisive preventive and punitive action. They should be brought to justice in accordance with their national laws.”

“Before [troops] are being deployed, [Member States] should educate and train them properly for the importance of human rights and human dignity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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HRW to Honour Six Human Rights Defendershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:45:04 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141973 2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

By Jaya Ramachandran
BERLIN, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Governments around the world are obliged to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, according to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.  But reality is far removed from international covenants.

This is evidenced yet again by the valiant struggle for human rights in Malaysia, war-torn Syria, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, and in Uganda. Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced earlier this week that it is honouring four “courageous and tireless advocates for human rights” with the 2015 prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The four leading voices for justice in their countries, include: Nisha Ayub, an impassioned human rights defender on transgender rights in Malaysia; Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist exposing the detention and torture of journalists in war-torn Syria; and Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist dedicated to fighting for human rights in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Ismayilova is currently behind bars and on trial on bogus tax and other charges brought in retribution for her reporting.

Yet another champion of rights is Nicholas Opiyo, an eminent human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights organisation Chapter Four Uganda. He has been working untiringly to defend civil liberties in Uganda.

The four 2015 honourees and two 2014 recipients of the award, Father Bernard Kinvi from the Central African Republic and Dr. M.R. Rajagopal from India, will be honoured at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners held in more than 20 cities worldwide in November 2015 and March-April 2016, Human Rights Watch said on Aug 10.

Ayub will be honoured in Amsterdam; Bader in London and Paris; Ismayilova in Munich and Geneva; and Opiyo in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Father Kinvi will tour North America and will be honoured at dinners in New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Toronto. Dr. Rajagopal will be honoured in Hanover.

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on Feb. 12, 2009.

Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on Rwanda, the 1994 genocide, and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch annual award honours her outstanding commitment to, and defence of, human rights. It celebrates the valour of people who put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination, and oppression, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Alison Des Forges Award honours people who work courageously and selflessly to defend human rights, often in dangerous situations and at great personal sacrifice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honourees have dedicated their lives to defending the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141961 The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

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

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Widowhood in Papua New Guinea Brings an Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 23:23:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141956 Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

It has only been six months since Iveti, 37, lost her husband of 18 years, but already she is facing hardship and worry about the future.

Similar to many married women in the rural highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state of seven million people, she stayed at home to look after their two children, a daughter aged 11 and a son now in his early twenties, while her husband’s income paid for the family’s needs.

“There was always food to serve to my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market for 20 or 30 kina [seven to 10 dollars]." -- Iveti, a 37-year-old widow
“I worry about food; I worry about bills and the children. I worry about the relatives who come and visit to mourn with us, because we have to kill a pig [for a feast] or give them something. Who is going to come and say they have the money for all this?” Iveti frets as she sits in her modest home on the outskirts of Goroka, a town in Eastern Highlands Province.

She is surrounded by her children, and her husband’s mother and sister who also live with her.

“There was always food there to serve my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market. We get 20 kina (seven dollars) or 30 kina (10 dollars). Every two days we pay about 20 kina for the power and with the 10 kina (about 3.60 dollars) which is left, we buy a tin of fish.

“My daughter goes to school and we budget 4 kina (just over a dollar) for her lunch,” she continued.

There is a diversity of widows’ experiences in Papua New Guinea. Those who have completed secondary or tertiary education and have an independent source of income are in a strong socio-economic position to look after themselves and their children.

However, more than 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas where many women have limited access to education and employment.

Female literacy in the Eastern Highlands, for example, is about 36.5 percent. Gender inequality in the country is exacerbated by social practices, such as early and forced marriage, bride price and widespread domestic and sexual violence experienced by two-thirds of women in the country.

While there are no accurate statistics available about widows in Papua New Guinea, the national Widows Association claims that most have been in widowhood for between five and 30 years.

For women in the highlands, the risk of losing a husband is increased due to the prevalence of tribal warfare. Outbreaks of fighting between different clan groups can be triggered by disputes over landownership or pigs, the most prized livestock, or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed against a community.

And, in most cases, the death of a male warrior plunges the wife and children into a precarious existence.

Families are also being impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2010, 31,609 cases of the virus had been reported with the highest prevalence of 0.91 percent recorded in the Highlands, slightly higher than the national rate of 0.8 percent, which is estimated to have decreased to about 0.7 percent last year.

When a husband dies, the widow and children usually have the right to remain on the husband’s land and property. But this is often not the case if AIDS, which is accompanied by social stigma, has been the cause of death.

Agatha Omanefa, Women’s Project Officer at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to counselling and supporting families, told IPS that while extended families were traditionally very protective of vulnerable members, she had witnessed rising cases of brothers of the deceased husband making moves to claim the land.

When “the husband’s relatives come in to share the properties the widow becomes a loser with her children […]. Sometimes they come up with stories, history, such as: ‘you are from there, your husband is from here’ and then she [the widow] needs someone to support her to secure the land,” she explained.

“It is having a big impact on widows’ lives, especially when they have small children. So they often keep little food gardens to try and maintain the children’s welfare as well as themselves.”

Families in Papua New Guinea are traditionally large with up to eight or 10 offspring, and the struggle includes paying for children to complete education, especially to secondary level. Female headed households are several times more likely to be below the absolute poverty line, according to government reports.

But one of the greatest threats to a widow’s welfare is the risk of being accused of sorcery. In nearby Simbu Province, women aged 40-65 years are six times more likely than men to be blamed for using witchcraft to cause a death or misfortune in the community, reports Oxfam, and the consequences, including torture and murder, can be tragic.

“There is growing concern that sorcery accusations that lead to killings, injuries or exile are often economically or personally motivated and used to deprive women of their land or property,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, reported in 2013.

Widows with sons, however, have a source of protection.

“In our culture in the Highlands, when you have a son, no-one will chase you out, because you will gain strength from your son, but if a woman does not bear any child then she is more vulnerable,” Irish Kokara, treasurer of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Council of Women, explained.

President Jenny Gunure added that there was also a lack of awareness about women’s rights and the law at the village level, a situation the women’s council is working to rectify through a bottom-up education programme aimed at rural women, which was begun last year.

However, Kokara believes that the risk of violence will not diminish until the behaviour of young men, who often perpetrate such crimes as part of vigilante gangs, is addressed.

“It is the youths who take drugs, like marijuana, who are the ones burning the women and hanging them on trees. So we need to change the youths first, then we can change the community,” she declared.

In recent weeks widows across the country have called through the local media for the government to introduce legislation to better support recognition of their rights.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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South African Women’s Day Highlights Need for More Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 17:10:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141950 By a Global Information Network correspondent
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

Recognition of the indispensable role played by women in defeating apartheid was the focus of countless speeches, film showings and even fashion shows as the country paused this week for National Women’s Day, a public holiday.

Women’s Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu kicked off the activities with a speech on Pan African Women’s Day, celebrated on the last day of July.

“This year marks 59 years since the 1956 Women’s march to the Union Buildings where women protested against the pass laws which among other things restricted their freedom of movement,” she began.

“The march by 20,000 women challenged an oppressive system that deepened inequalities in terms of race and gender, and contributed to the current triple challenges of inequality, unemployment, and poverty.”

The Minister urged citizens to “take a journey” beginning from the era of Manthatise (the female warrior), Princess Mnkabayi, Princess Mantsopa, Queen Modjadji, Charlotte Maxeke and her ilk through to the generation of 1956 and beyond.

“This journey depicts the leadership role that these foremothers provided in the various stages of the evolution of our society and links it to the 21st Anniversary of the democratic South Africa and the impact of the policies of the country in changing the quality of life of South African women.”

Women have made major strides and are no longer “at the bottom, almost slaves,” observed the former ANC leader Dr. Ruth Mompati, who passed earlier this year in May. “Now women are in Parliament, at all educational levels, holding positions in business.”

Still, more needed to be done, she said at the time. “We should ask what our country should be doing – particularly a country that has been liberated by both men and women.”

Media activist Gugulethu Mhlungu picked up the challenge, citing a report released by President Jacob Zuma during his National Women’s Day address.

“Earlier this week, the 2015 Women’s Report confirmed what we already knew,” she said. “Women in South Africa are still, on average, paid 15 percent less than men in the same positions. And that’s a conservative estimate.

During Women’s Month, she said, the issue of gender inequality is seen as a special cause and worse, it gives men a free pass.

“Much like Youth Month, where only black youths are expected to do something about fixing society, the work of ending female oppression in South Africa is largely seen as the work of women themselves.

Even the Department of Women’s theme for 2015 – Women united in moving South Africa forward – suggests this is a job just for the women. “It’s catchy and has the right sentiment – but for another year we will focus on what women must do, which women are already doing.”

Pres. Zuma, in his speech, acknowledged the legacy of white privilege which still discriminates against black women today.

“If we are to succeed economically as a country, women must participate at both the micro and macro levels of the economy. They must not be relegated to micro operations and the informal economy as has been the case.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ugandan Women Hail Partial Success Over “Bride Price” Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 09:35:48 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141897 A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

After years of a protracted battle against Uganda’s “bride price” practice, the country’s Supreme Court this week ruled that husbands can no longer demand that it be returned in the event of dissolution of a customary marriage but has stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional.

In a country in which most marriages are customary, women’s rights activists have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction for greater equality in the marriage relationship but had hoped that the court would rule the bride price – or dowry – itself unconstitutional.

In Uganda, the bride price is the gift that is given as a token of appreciation by grooms to the families of their brides. Traditionally, it takes the forms of cows or goats, besides money, and some tribes have recently been demanding articles such as sofas and refrigerators among others.

The legal battle over “bride prices” started back in 2007 when MIFUMI, a non-governmental women’s rights organisation based in Kampala, filed a petition to Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have them declared unconstitutional.“Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman" – Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe

MIFUMI, whose work revolves around the protection of women and children experiencing violence and other forms of abuse, argues that if women are empowered they can rise above many of the cultural traditions, such as bride price, that hold them back, blocking their potential contribution to development.

The MIFUMI petition argued that the demand for and payment of bride price by the groom to the parents of the bride, as practised by many communities in Uganda, gives rise to conditions of inequality during marriage contrary to the country’s constitutional provisions which guarantee that men and women be accorded equal rights in marriage and its dissolution.

In 2010, however, the Constitutional Court ruled that the bride price was constitutional, with just one judge, Amos Twinomujuni (who has since died) dissenting, arguing that the main issue at stake was women’s equality and that the bride price was a source of domestic violence.

Undeterred, MIFUMI decided to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court and finally, in a 6-1 decision, the judges have ruled that the act of refunding the bride price is contrary to the country’s constitution regarding equality in contracting marriage, during marriage and in its dissolution.

Lead Justice Jotham Tumwesigye observed that it was unfair for the parents of the woman to be asked to refund the bride price after years of marriage and that it in any case it was unlikely that the parents of the bride would have kept anything involved in the bride price on hand for refunding.

Justice Tumwesigye further argued that one effect of the bride’s parents no longer having bride price goods or cash to refund could force a married woman into a situation of marital abuse for fear that her parents would be in trouble owing to their inability to refund the bride price.

Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe, one of the six judges, ruled that “refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.”

The judges of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to a mere market value.

Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI told IPS after the judgment that she was happy that ruling had partly struck off some of the cultural practice that has held women hostage in abusive marriages.

She said much as MIFUMI had wanted the whole issue of bride price totally abolished, the fact that court had ruled against refund was something to celebrate after 15 years of struggle against the practice.

“There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them,” said Awiidi.

Kampala-based human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, who has been the principal lawyer for the MIFUMI petition, told IPS: “We have not got everything we wanted but at least we know that people will start being cautious paying too much when they know there is going to be no refund when there is failure of the marriage.”

Rita Achiro, Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), told IPS that the ruling has shown that women of Uganda can use courts of law to fight against laws that oppress them.

Achiro also challenged the Ugandan government and Parliament to come up with a law to enforce the court decision, saying that demand for refund of the bride price will continue if government and Parliament do not enact a law criminalising bride price refunds.

She said there were precedents in which Ugandan courts had nullified laws discriminating against women but Parliament and government had failed to enact the laws needed enforce the judgments.

Achiro cited the March 2004 Constitutional Court ruling that struck down ten sections of the Divorce Law on the grounds that they contravened a clause in the constitution that guaranteed women and men equal rights.

Uganda’s Divorce Law had previously allowed men to leave their wives in cases of adultery, while women were not granted the same right because they had to prove their husbands guilty not only of adultery but also of a range of crimes including bigamy, sodomy, rape and desertion.

A panel of five constitutional judges unanimously upheld the view that grounds for divorce must apply equally to all parties in a marriage.  Women activists had hailed the judgment as a landmark ruling that would bring equality of the sexes but, eleven year later, no law has yet been enacted to enforce the ruling.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Half a Million U.S. Women and Girls at Risk of Genital Cuttinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:41:34 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141879 FGM is a taboo topic in many cultures. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Jaha Dukureh knows firsthand the barbaric effects of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Now a resident of the United States, she was mutilated as a baby in the Gambia in West Africa. Her sister bled to death after enduring the same procedure.

What was done to Dakureh is called “infibulation,” where the clitoris and the labia are removed and the vagina is sealed to insure a girl’s virginity until marriage."Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse." -- Paula Kweskin

Now a passionate advocate against FGM/C, Dakureh issued a call to arms on the eve of President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa, urging him to “play a historic role in the fight to eliminate FGM.”

“While the origins of FGM are ancient and predate organised religion, there is one thing we know for sure: its purpose is to control female sexuality and lessen a woman’s humanity,” she wrote in a powerful commentary for the Guardian.

In the last 15 years, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM/C in the United States has more than doubled, advocacy groups warn, calling for stronger measures to prevent this human rights violation.

According to data from the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. research group, a staggering 506,795 girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

“It’s important this subject is no longer taboo,” Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney who produced a film called Honor Diaries that deals with the problem of FGM, told IPS. “It needs to be discussed at every level so that it can be addressed and eradicated. When it’s swept under the carpet, women and girls are revictimized by the silence and inaction.”

“Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse.”

The top 10 metropolitan areas where girls and women are at highest risk of female genital mutilation include New York, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The PRB notes that FGM/C, which entails partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth.

Most girls at risk are in found in sub-Saharan Africa. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, for example, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. But the practice is not limited to developing countries.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone the procedure, according to a report released in July by City University London and Equality Now.

In the United States, the PRB says, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters abroad to be cut — so-called “vacation cutting” — spurred the passage of a law in 2013 making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting.

“We urge the U.S. to provide a public update on its plans to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels,” Shelby Quast, policy director at Equality Now, said last month.

She added that having specific laws in each state would prompt state schools, hospitals and clinics as well as local law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to step up prevention efforts and act swiftly in FGM cases.

“People in [the U.S.] don’t want to think it happens here. But their daughters might be sitting next to a best friend who can be subjected to a violent, cultural procedure,” she told NPR. “If it were cutting the nose or the ear off — something everyone could see — there’d be a different response. We can’t continue to hide this away.”

The U.S. Congress had already passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice, which has grown in part because of increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2000 and 2013, the PRB says, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million. Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013.

“This is a barbaric and completely unnecessary practice that causes devastating physical and psychological damage for countless girls and women in the United States and countries across the globe,” said Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Raheel, a human rights activist, is among several Muslim women featured in Honor Diaries, a documentary breaking the silence on FGM and other abuse against women and girls in honour-based communities.

Edited by Thalif Deen

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U.N. Taps Private Sector to Fund Development, Advocate Social Causeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-taps-private-sector-to-fund-development-advocate-social-causes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-taps-private-sector-to-fund-development-advocate-social-causes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-taps-private-sector-to-fund-development-advocate-social-causes/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:56:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141877 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

When the United Nations seeks outside financial assistance either for development needs or to advocate social causes, it invariably turns to the private sector these days.

Perhaps the most demanding is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal to private investors to help the United Nations reach its 100-billion-dollar target per year to battle the devastating consequences of climate change.“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.” -- Mariarosa Cutillo of Benetton

But critics have urged the United Nations to double-check the credentials of some of these companies — on issues such as human rights, fair wages, child labour and environmental record — before deciding to collaborate.

Still, on a more modest scale, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) received over 135 million dollars in funds from the business sector between 2009 and 2013 for some of its projects relating to water, energy, healthcare, agriculture and finance and information technology.

A South African company called Mediclave has provided sterilising machines that decontaminate used medical equipment and waste, such as syringes, personal protective suits and gloves, used in treating communicable diseases.

In Liberia, a Japanese company, Panasonic, has distributed its first batch of 240 solar lanterns to health workers in Monrovia, allowing them to work at night.

The UNDP also has a partnership with Svani Group Limited, a Ghanaian vehicle dealership, which has provided over eight armoured vehicles deployed to the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

And more recently, the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), created under the aegis of the Department of Public Information (DPI) has collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues”, including racial intolerance and xenophobia.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton, a global fashion brand based in Italy.

Benetton has also teamed with U.N. Women in its intense campaign to eliminate gender violence worldwide.

Nanette Braun Chief, Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women, told IPS Benetton’s UnHate Foundation has been supporting U.N. Women in its advocacy on ending violence against women for the past two years through advertising and social media campaigns.

“We hope to expand the partnership and collaboration in the future,” she added.

Asked about Benetton’s role in advocating U.N. causes, Mariarosa Cutillo, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Benetton Group in Milan, told IPS the main reason is “because, first of all, this is an integral part of the DNA of our company, which has always been in the frontline – often in provocative and very progressive ways – on social issues, including the fight against any form of intolerance and discrimination.”

She pointed out this approach has been consolidated through social projects and communication campaigns, and has been translated also through the establishment of the UnHate Foundation.

Since 2011, the Foundation representing one of the arms of the company has developed social programmes to fight against hate in all its forms, while supporting youth leadership.

“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.”

With the UnHate news initiative, in partnership with UNAI/DPI, “we activated youth and gave them a possibility to concretely develop projects on human rights and development.”

Cutillo also cited “another outstanding example of successful support and activation of youth promoted by UnHate Foundation, which is the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ initiative through which the Foundation financed 100 projects and start-ups submitted and implemented by youth coming from all over the world in 2012.”

Unemployee of the Year celebrated young people’s ingenuity, creativity, and their ability to create new smart ways of addressing the problem of unemployment.

In general, she said, “putting people at the centre of our activities is one of the key points of Benetton Group sustainability strategy, of which UnHate Foundation is one of the assets.”

She described it as an example of private/public partnership that can work in an innovative way, by activating new generations and giving them the means to become leaders of change.

Asked if Benetton is planning to get involved in any other U.N. sponsored events in the future,

Cutillo told IPS: “We are presently exploring further joint possible collaboration programmes for the future with UNAI/DPI.”

She also said Benetton has a record of 20 years of cooperation, in different ways, with the United Nations.

More than ever before, “Benetton finds the United Nations as a most crucial partner within the stakeholders’ engagement of our present sustainability strategy.”

She said she sees partnerships with U.N. agencies as “a mutual growth process in our respective roles, where we can bring an active contribution to the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by putting in place partnerships that can bring an innovative approach and a real, concrete impact.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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