Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 03 Aug 2015 08:42:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 ‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:51:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141818 Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World Population to Hit 8.5 Billion by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/world-population-to-hit-8-5-billion-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-population-to-hit-8-5-billion-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/world-population-to-hit-8-5-billion-by-2030/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 10:46:25 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141796 Mothers and their children gather at a community nutrition centre in the little village of Rantolava, Madagascar, to learn more about a healthy diet. Credit: Alain Rakotondravony/IPS

Mothers and their children gather at a community nutrition centre in the little village of Rantolava, Madagascar, to learn more about a healthy diet. Credit: Alain Rakotondravony/IPS

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

The global population has now reached 7.3 billion. In the last 12 years, the world has added approximately one billion people, and in the next 15 years this is expected to occur again.

The United Nation’s new global and regional population estimates and projections entitled “World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision” predicts the population will reach 8.5 billion in 2030, a further 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100.

Nine per cent of the world’s population lives in the 21 “high-fertility” countries, where the average woman would have five or more children in her lifetime. Of these 21 countries, 19 are in Africa and two are in Asia.

It is estimated that over half of this population growth will occur in Africa  – even if there is a substantial reduction of fertility levels which population growth is highly dependent on. Africa also has the highest adolescent birth rate: 98 out of 1,000 women.

Africa will “play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world’s population over the coming decades,” says the report.

In the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), of which 27 are in Africa, the population is projected to double or even triple in most of the countries. Countries which are predicted to increase at least five-fold by 2100 include Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The least developed countries are much less likely to develop unless the challenges of population growth are properly dealt with, it says.

The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries makes it harder for their governments to “eradicate poverty and inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand education enrollment and health systems, improve the provision of basic services and implement other elements of the post 2015 sustainable development agenda.”

In least developed countries, steep reductions in fertility are expected. The goal is for women and families to achieve their desired family size by investing in reproductive health and family planning.

The report stresses the necessity of ensuring reproductive health, access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice is necessary, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Women’s lack of support from their partners or communities is also a deterrent, and it is common for family planning to be discouraged.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/#comments Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141752 Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 25 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Strengthen Tax Cooperation to End Hunger and Poverty Quicklyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 16:57:47 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141653 Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

By the end of this year, the 15-year time frame for the Millennium Development Goals will end, with good progress on several indicators, but limited achievements on others.

But public interest has already moved on to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

Despite uneven success with the MDGs, the level of ambition has risen, with SDG1 seeking to eradicate poverty and SDG2 to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, all by 2030. Last week, the Addis Ababa Action Accord began with: “Our goal is to end poverty and hunger.”

Almost four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas, which have less than half the world’s population. Hence, raising rural incomes sustainably is necessary to achieve the first two SDGs.

Ending poverty and hunger sustainably will need a combination of social protection and ‘pro-poor’ investments.

As food costs 50 to 70 percent of the World Bank’s poverty line income, poverty and hunger are intimately inter-related, although poverty and hunger measurement generates different numbers.

Agricultural investments generally have the biggest impact on reducing poverty, all the more so, if pro-poor, as well as designed and implemented well. Yet, while farmers themselves are the major source of agricultural investments, most formal financial institutions discriminate against them, especially smallholder family farmers, landless tenants and labourers, with little bankable collateral to offer.

Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030. Most developing countries have long suffered high unemployment and underemployment, with youth unemployment growing rapidly. With current economic prospects uncertain, especially after the recent slowing of the world economy, and widespread insistence on fiscal austerity and economic liberalisation, things are likely to get worse.

With sufficient political will and fiscal resources, poverty and hunger can be ended very quickly with adequate, well-designed and sufficient social protection, in fact, well before 2030. (This is why the G77 group of developing countries insisted last week on strengthening the U.N. committee on international tax cooperation — surely of interest to most developed countries as well.)

The world can currently produce enough food to feed everyone, but most of the hungry simply do not have the means to access enough food.

Social protection can not only ensure adequate food consumption, but also enable investments by those assisted to enhance their nutrition, health and other productive capacities, thus raising their incomes and, in turn, further increasing investments to expedite the transition from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, in which they have been trapped, to a more virtuous cycle free of want.

According to a recent World Bank report, a billion people in 146 low (LICs) and middle income countries (MICs) currently get some form of social protection. Yet, 870 million of the world’s extreme poor – most recently estimated at 836 million for 2015 – remained uncovered, mainly in the countryside. Not surprisingly, the greatest shortfalls are in the LICs.

In the LICs, 47 percent of the population are the extreme poor, with social protection covering less than a tenth of the population. In the lower MICs, social protection reaches about a quarter of the extreme poor, but half a billion remain uncovered. In the upper MICs, about 45 percent of the extreme poor is covered by social protection.

Last week, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and his counterparts from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presented their new estimates on investments for sustainable hunger and poverty eradication by 2030.

While some may quibble over details, they made the compelling case that ending hunger and poverty in a sustainable way is eminently viable, feasible and affordable, costing about 0.3 per cent of world economic output in 2014. Most MICs can afford the needed financing, but most LICs face serious fiscal constraints and will need budgetary support and technical assistance.

Enough social protection could end hunger and poverty very quickly, but it is not sustainable without higher earned incomes for those of the extreme poor able to work. An early big investment push will reduce longer term financing costs besides providing a much needed boost to aggregate demand in the face of the world economy’s ongoing economic doldrums.

The joint proposal by the Rome-based U.N. agencies not only shows that with the requisite political commitment, we can end hunger and poverty very quickly while creating the conditions for keeping both permanently in the catacombs of history.

Despite the poor compromise in Addis Ababa, quick real progress to enhance countries’ fiscal capacities through more effective international tax cooperation under U.N. auspices can be the third Financing for Development conference’s biggest contribution to this effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sahrawi Women Take to the Streetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 23:04:59 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141640 (From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

(From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Ten women are gathered to discuss how to transmit Sahrawi culture and tradition to the younger generations. As usual, it´s a secret meeting. There is no other way in the capital of Western Sahara.

Rabab Lamin chose the place and the date for this latest meeting of the Forum for the Future of Sahrawi Women, an underground organisation yet seemingly far from being disorganised.

“We set up the committee in 2009 and today we rely on 60 active members, an executive committee of 16 and hundreds of collaborators,” Lamin, the mother of a political prisoner, tells IPS.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own" – Aza Amidan, sister of a Sahrawi political prisoner
“Our goal is to fight for the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people through peaceful struggle,” adds the 54 year-old woman, before noting that she was born “when the Spaniards were here.”

This year will mark four decades since Spain pulled out of Western Sahara, its last colony, leaving the territory in the hands of Morocco and Mauritania. While Rabat claims that this vast swathe of land – the size of Britain – is its southernmost province, the United Nations labels it as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation.”

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat controls almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast.

Only a tiny desert strip on the other side of the wall built by Morocco remains under Sahrawi control. That´s where the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was announced in 1976, a political entity today recognised by 82 countries.

The most immediate consequence of Sahara´s frozen conflict was the displacement of almost the entire Sahrawi people to the desert of Algeria. Those who dared to stay still suffer the consequences of their decision:

“Since the Moroccans took over our land we have only faced brutality,” laments Aza Amidan, the sister of a political prisoner. “We are constantly harassed and beaten; they raid our houses, they arrest our men and women, even kids under 15.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own,” says Amidan. The 34-year-old activist stresses that the founder and current leader of the Forum, Zukeine Ijdelu, spent 12 years in prison.

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

In a report issued two months ago, Amnesty International labels the practice of torture in Morocco as “endemic” while underlining that Sahrawi political dissidents are among the main targets. The NGO also accused the Moroccan government of “protecting the torturers, and not the tortured.”

Sahrawi activists claim that one of the main tasks of this women´s organisation is to support, “both morally and economically”, those who have suffered prison or their relatives. Amidan gives the details:

“We gather money among the community for those women as they are always the ones who suffer most. Whether it´s them who are arrested or their husbands, it´s them who have to sustain their families.”

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities refused to speak to IPS on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Assimilation

At 62, Fatima Hamimid is one of the senior veteran activists of the Forum. She says torture is “something that can one can cope with.” But there are other grievances that are seemingly “irreparable”.

“Today’s workshop sought to raise awareness among the new generations over the cultural assimilation we´re being subjected to at the hands of Rabat. Morocco seeks to deny our mere existence by either erasing our history or including it into their own.”

The most eloquent proof of such policies may be the total absence of Hassaniya –the Arabic dialect spoken by Sahrawis – in the education system or the administration.

However, Hamimid also points to other issues such the explicit ban over the Sahrawi traditional tent, the harassment  women wearing their distinctively colourful garb often have to face, or the prohibition of giving names that recall historical Sahrawi dissidents to their children.

“This is yet another reason that drags us to the streets to organise and take part in demonstrations,” notes Hamimid. Peaceful protests, she adds, are another important axis of action of this group.

But it is neither easy nor free of risks. In its World Report 2015, Human Rights Watch denounces that Rabat has “prohibited all public gatherings deemed hostile to Morocco’s contested rule.”

The New York-based NGO also points to the “large numbers of police who blocked access to demonstration venues and often forcibly dispersed Sahrawis seeking to assemble.”

Under such circumstances, Takbar Haddi chose to conduct a hunger strike for 36 days in front of the Moroccan consulate in Gran Canaria (Spain), which ended with her hospitalisation in June.

Haddi is still asking the Moroccan authorities to deliver the body of her son, Mohamed Lamin Haidala, stabbed in February in Laayoune, and that both the circumstances of the crime and the alleged lack of an adequate health assistance be investigated.

The activist´s close relatives in Laayoune told IPS that the family had rejected an economic compensation from Rabat in exchange for their silence.

“Some people think that being free is just not languishing in prison, or not suffering torture,” explains Hamimid, while she serves the last of the three cups of tea marking Sahrawi tradition. “We, Sahrawi women, understand freedom in its full meaning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Homosexuality Will Never Be Eliminated. How About Eliminating Homophobia?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 19:34:22 +0000 Neela Ghoshal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141631 A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

By Neela Ghoshal
NEW YORK, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

A report published in June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, could help reshape understandings of human sexuality – if African policymakers take the time to consider the report’s findings.

Contrary to widespread belief amongst African lawmakers and ordinary citizens, homosexuality is neither a Western import nor a matter of choice. These are some of the findings the panel of African scientists revealed after reviewing hundreds of studies on same-sex attraction.Same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

But some African politicians seem too busy fomenting panic around homosexuality to pay attention to the facts, by, for example, spreading false claims that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing same-sex marriage on Kenya and Nigeria.

Desperate to distract voters from real, unresolved problems, such as poverty, insecurity and corruption, many African politicians like to raise the specter of homosexuality as a mortal danger. In the name of protecting society, “traditional values,” or children, they pass deeply discriminatory laws.

Nigeria, under former president Goodluck Jonathan, slapped 10-year prison sentences on anyone who even “indirectly” demonstrates a “same sex amorous relationship.” In Uganda, before its Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on procedural grounds last year, a landlord who didn’t evict a gay or lesbian tenant could have been convicted for maintaining a “brothel.”

For the proponents of these laws, Obama is the latest bogeyman, with one Kenyan politician suggesting that if Obama so much as mentions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during his upcoming visit to Kenya, this might tear Kenya’s “social fabric.”

But the panel of well-respected African scientists roundly dismissed claims that homosexuality is imported, finding the prevalence of homosexuality in African countries “no different from other countries in the rest of the world”.

The panel concurred with a previous a finding by Ugandan scientists that “homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” When these Ugandan scientists presented their report to President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014, he shamelessly ignored their conclusions, claiming their report justified the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The recent report notes that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

Likewise, an approach to sexuality and gender that is in line with international human rights law will not open the floodgates to waves of Africans “converting” to homosexuality. Indeed, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, known to be particularly open to sexual diversity, have no higher rates of homosexuality than any other countries in the world.

The scientists find that “… studies such as this show that young people can be friends with LBGTI youngsters without fearing (or their parents fearing) that they will ‘catch’ same-sex attraction from their friends. Such ‘transmission’ of sexual orientation simply does not happen.”

Nor should policymakers worry that LGBT people are a threat to children. The fear that gays are recruiting and abusing children is often offered to justify cracking down on homosexuality. However, the panel found “no scientific evidence to support the view” that LGBT people are more likely to abuse children than anyone else.

Instead, the panel, having examined studies of child sexual abuse, concluded that “most of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.” Rather than scapegoating homosexuals, the report suggests, governments should identify and hold accountable the real child abusers.

When given an opportunity to speak for themselves, LGBT people often emphasise that they were aware of their sexual or gender identity from an early age. Similarly, heterosexual people often develop romantic feelings toward the opposite sex from early childhood—they don’t “choose” those feelings, nor can they change them.

In examining the scientific literature, the panel says that, “Overall, the surge in recent confirmatory studies,” including those of twins and of similarities in chromosomes across a population group with a particular trait, “have reached the stage where there is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation.”

If sexuality has a biological basis, the scientists ask – and if there is no evidence that LGBT people “recruit” or otherwise harm children – what could possibly be the justification for punishing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity?

African policymakers should ask themselves the same. And rather than wringing their hands about a US court decision on marriage equality, or tearing their hair out over purely hypothetical comments that Obama may or may not make, they should look at the very real social harms caused by homophobia and transphobia.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which, like the South African and Ugandan scientists who produced the report, can hardly be dismissed as Western – passed a resolution in 2014 condemning widespread violence on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The commissioners expressed “alarm” that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.” They cited “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.”

The commission calls on African countries to end all violence and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ASSAf report goes a step further in concluding that “As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.”

As the study shows, same sex attraction and gender variance have always existed and nothing will change that, no matter how many repressive laws are passed, how many LGBT people are raped, murdered, imprisoned, expelled from schools or evicted from their homes.

Instead of trying to “eliminate” LGBT people, why not begin taking steps to eliminate violence and discrimination against them?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Panel Lays Out Vision of “Just Security”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-lays-out-vision-of-just-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-lays-out-vision-of-just-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-lays-out-vision-of-just-security/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 18:27:35 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141600 By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Amid a range of new and old challenges, from climate change to gender equality and war crimes, a new report by the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance emphasises the need to reform the U.N. system.

Highlighting a vision of “just security”, the report titled “Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance” provides reform proposals to address key global challenges at the intersection of justice and security. It is based on three thematic categories: state-fragility and violent conflict, climate and people, and the interconnected global economy.

The 12 reforms suggested in the report range from U.N. conflict mediation, empowerment of women, implementation of the responsibility to prevent, protect and rebuild, climate governance and green climate technology to a reform of the U.N. Security Council and the creation of a parliamentary advisory body for the U.N. General Assembly to encourage civic participation.

The Commission was co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

Albright, who spoke at Tuesday’s launch event, pointed to major shortcomings of the current U.N. system, including the workings and composition of the Security Council and a deficit of democracy shown by a lack of civil society involvement. She said the aim of the report is to present concrete ideas for solving these problems.

According to the former U.N. ambassador, last week’s veto of the Security Council resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 as “genocide” is a “sign that the international system in this regard is not keeping pace with our problems”.

“The work of the Commission is about Security and Justice. In Srebrenica, there was a breakdown of security and actions at the U.N. show how hard it still is to achieve justice.”

On the other hand, she said, examples such as the concept of “responsibility to protect” show that the U.N. is able to “[adjust] itself to changed situations”.

The report was released amidst ongoing international debates on the post-2015 development agenda, including the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September and the Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris in November and December.

In this political context, the goal of the report is to ensure key challenges to global governance such as rising numbers of political conflicts within states, fragile states, forced displacements, migration crises, continued discrimination of women, especially in terms of education, employment and reproductive health, climate change and environmental degradation are being given appropriate consideration by the international community.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141594 The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Female Commandos Ready to Take on the Talibanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141564 One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

For years, Robina Shah has dreamed of joining the police force.

Ever since her father, a police constable, was killed in a 2013 Taliban suicide attack in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she has longed to carry on his legacy.

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us. We are fearless.” -- 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of an elite female military academy in northern Pakistan
Such a dream was not easily realised here in the heart of tribal Pakistan, where life for many residents has been suspended between militants and the military since 2001, when extremists fleeing the U.S. invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border and establishing a home base in this mountainous province.

Last year, however, Shah was offered the chance to make her wish a reality when the local government launched a five-month training programme for a small squad of women commandos.

The decision to draft women into KP’s beleaguered armed forces came on the heels of last December’s terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 145 people dead, including 132 students between eight and 18 years of age.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killing spree, claiming it as an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched against militants in North Waziristan in the summer of 2014.

For over a decade the armed forces have very nearly exhausted their options in their dogged attempts to ride the northern provinces of extremist groups. Everything from air raids to ground operations have been tried and failed, with heavy losses on both sides.

“In the last nine years alone,” KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani told IPS, “we have lost over 5,000 policemen [in battles] with the outlawed TTP.”

Shaken by the school massacre last year, the province has stepped up its game against the militants. “We have raised the number of personnel from 70,000 to 90,000, and also become the first province in the country to have female commandos,” he added.

Bringing women into a profession dominated by men is a bold move, not least because militants in the area have made it very clear that a woman’s place is in the home.

But for the local force, it is the next logical step in the fight against extremism: it sends a clear message that women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts, and enables the police to navigate ‘delicate’ situations in counterterrorism field operations, such as inspecting women in potential terrorist compounds, or easily searching the homes of suspected terrorists where female relatives might balk at the arrival of male officers.

Following an intensive training session at an academy in KP’s remote Nowshera District that ended on Jun. 16, the 35 female commandos now stand ready to head out onto the frontlines.

Five grueling months of rising at five am and training until nearly midnight has turned this elite squad into a force to be reckoned with, experts say. Decked out in conservative dress, even in scorching weather, the women learned to handle anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers.

But even more than their training, their grit springs from years of living under the shadow of militancy in a country that has witnessed some 50,000 terrorist-related deaths in the last decade alone.

Women have often borne the brunt of the conflict, including enduring the Taliban’s systematic attacks on girls’ education and a deadly campaign against women health workers. Furthermore, of the many thousands of people displaced by both government and militant campaigns, women refugees are among the worst impacted by a lack of food, health and sanitary facilities.

“It is a matter of pride to defend our people against aggression,” 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of the academy, told IPS. “Our people need us to help them stay safe from violence.”

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us,” she said in a determined voice. “We are fearless.”

Though small in scope, the pilot scheme has inspired officials both in and outside the province to expand its reach.

According to Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain, the government should consider preparing a “pool of women commandos for the whole country.”

“It’s high time the government gave women more facilities and introduced benefits to draw women to the police force,” he told IPS.

Indeed, education and employment opportunities for women in the province, home to 22 million people, are extremely limited. Women comprise just 40,000 out of 740,000 employees in the health sector, and female doctors number just 600, compared to 6,000 men.

Pakistan’s latest Economic Survey revealed that women are highly overrepresented in the informal sector, performing the bulk of the country’s unpaid domestic labour and engaging in a range of other menial low-paid jobs such as cooking and cleaning.

Meanwhile, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts stands at less than two percent. Experts say these dismal numbers are the combined result of social stigma, religious conservatism and strict familial obligations that keep women bound to their home and out of the job market.

Even those who actively seek work are often disappointed – between 2010 and 2011, for instance, an estimated 200,000 women in KP were unemployed despite expressing a wish to secure a job.

Against this backdrop, the entry of women into the upper echelons of the armed forces represents a monumental step forward for gender equality, and could even spill over into other spheres of life.

Noor Wazir, who ran the military training programme, told IPS that “graduates will be imparting their training to women in other districts and we hope to have hundreds of female commandos in a few years.”

He added that women would not only be stationed on military front-lines, but could easily be deployed at polling stations during elections, in hospitals for additional security or in market places that have long been targets of terrorist attacks, and where women are often loathe to go without a male escort.

Whichever direction the government chooses to take this successful programme, the women involved tell IPS it has been a life-changing experience.

Prior to their graduation in June they had heard whispered doubts as to their ability to complete the taxing course, or withstand the demands of a military lifestyle.

Now, even the skeptical fathers of these young women have come around to the idea that female commandos can handle the task every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Speaking to IPS in an exclusive phone interview, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, “Hats off to the courageous KP policewomen. We salute and praise them. It is highly encouraging that women are ready to cope with the challenges posed by terrorism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Why Women Peacemakers Marched in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 18:07:24 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141543

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, explains why thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea in May, and describes how the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other is one of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marked the 62nd anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. The temporary ceasefire has never been replaced with a peace treaty and the demilitarised zone (DMZ) continues to divide the country.

The DMZ with its barbed wire, armed soldiers on both sides, and littered with thousands of explosive landmines, is the most militarised border in the world.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Seventy years ago, as the Cold War was brewing,  the United States unilaterally drew the line across the 38th parallel – with the former Soviet Union’s agreement – dividing an ancient country that had just suffered 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation.

Koreans had no desire to be divided, or decision-making power to stop their country from being divided; now, seven decades later, the conflict on the Korean peninsula threatens peace in the Asia-Pacific region and throughout our world.

One of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation is the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other. In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important and many families have been painfully separated for 70 years.

Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years (1998-2007) between the two Korean governments, when some families had the joy of reunion, this has stopped due to a souring of relationships between North and South Korea.

Through sanctions and isolationist policies put in place by the International community, the North Korean people and their economy have also continued to suffer.

While North Korea has come a long way from the 1990s when up to one million died from famine, many people are poor, and feel isolated and marginalised from South Korea and the outside world.“I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships”

As members of the one human family, and in order to show human solidarity and empathise  with our North Korean family, to bring global attention to the ‘forgotten’ Korean war, and to call for an engagement with North Korea and a peace treaty,  a group of international women came together to visit North/South Korea and walk across the DMZ.

On May 22, 2015, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the two-mile-wide DMZ from North to South Korea.

The delegation included feminist author/activist Gloria Steinem, two Nobel peace laureates,  Leymah Gbowee and myself, coordinator Christine Ahn (whose dream it was  to cross the DMZ) and  long-time peace activists, human rights defenders, spiritual leaders and Korean experts.

During our four-day  visit to North Korea, before crossing the DMZ on May 24, we had the privilege and joy of meeting many North Korean women.

At a peace symposium in Pyongyang, we listened as North Korean women spoke of their horrific experiences of war and division, and listened as some of our delegation shared how they had mobilised to end conflict and build peace in their communities.

We also participated in huge peace walks in Pyongyang and Kaesong, with the participation of many thousands of North Korean women in beautiful traditional Korean costumes. The women carried banners calling for the reunification of families and of Korea, a peace treaty and no war.

The walks were deeply moving, especially in Kaesong where families came out onto their balconies to wave as we passed.

I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships.

North Koreans told us that Korean people are one people. Though they have different political ideologies, they speak the same language, have the same culture, and share a painful history of war and division.

Policies of isolation have not solved any problems and our delegates believe that a new approach of engagement and a peace treaty is necessary.  

Our walk brought renewed attention to the importance of world solidarity in ending the Korean conflict, particularly since the 1953 armistice agreement was signed by North Korea, (South Korea did not sign) China and the United States on behalf of the U.N. Command that included sixteen countries.

It helped highlight the responsibility of the international community, whose governments were complicit in the division of Korea 70 years ago, to support Korea’s peaceful reconciliation and reunification.

The challenges of overcoming Korea’s division became apparent in the complex negotiations over our DMZ crossing between North and South Korea, as well as with the U.N. Command, which has formal jurisdiction over the DMZ.

Although we had hoped to cross at Panmunjom, the ‘Truce Village’ where the armistice was signed, we decided, after both South Korea and the U.N. Command had denied our crossing, that we would take the route agreed by all parties in the spirit of compromise lest our actions further strain already tense North-South relations.

In Seoul, we met with some opposition. Although we did not meet with any heads of state or endorse any political or economic system, maintaining a neutral stance throughout, it was apparent that divisions within South Korea itself were manifested in some of the ideologically divided forms of reception and reactions that we witnessed.

We recognise that our international women’s peace walk is only a beginning and we will continue our focus on increasing civilian exchanges and women’s leadership, highlighting the obligation of all parties involved to decrease militarisation and move towards a peace treaty.

We therefore urge increased engagement at every level – civil, economic, cultural, academic and governmental – and especially citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in peacebuilding, as an alternative to full military conflict, which is not an option. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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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Opinion: Women in Sport – Scoring for Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:59:12 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141550

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The Women’s World Cup has shown people everywhere what women athletes are all about: skill, strength, unity and determination. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the winners – the team from the United States – and to all others who participated. You are inspiring millions of women and girls around the world to pursue their goals and dreams.

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Women are far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history. The Women’s World Cup, as just one example, reached tens of millions of viewers, breaking television ratings records. The teams in that event were doing more than adroitly blocking a pass or scoring a goal.

They were challenging stereotypes and demonstrating women’s leadership and other abilities that can readily translate into many other domains. Perseverance and team spirit, among other values, can take women far in business, politics, scientific research, the arts and any other field.

As inspiring as the Women’s World Cup is, however, it also reminds us that gender inequalities still plague professional sports. For example, the women were required to play on artificial turf, which is often regarded as more physically punishing than natural grass – the surface favoured by athletes and provided when male teams play.

And there is the name itself—the World Cup is assumed to be for men, while women require the qualifying “Women’s” to describe their event.The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

Women players also face a huge pay gap. The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

The winning women’s team received two million dollars in prize money, whereas the winning men’s team took away 35 million dollars. The losing U.S. men’s team was still awarded 8 million dollars—four times as much as the champion U.S. women’s team.

Similar pay gaps occur across other professional sports – with the exception of tennis, which since 2007 has awarded equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments. That should be the model to which all other sports aspire. All sports federations should close the gap and put women and men, in this and all other respects, on an equal playing field.

Deeply entrenched, discriminatory notions of women’s diminished status, whether the issue is a playing field or a paycheck, harm individual women and girls. They are denied their rights and blocked from achieving their full potential. Such norms also undermine sport itself, tarnishing notions such as fair play and open competition.

It is time to overturn the barriers and stereotypes, because every step to do so is a step towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Many women athletes, especially in sports not traditionally considered “feminine”, lead the way, with grit and grace.

Sports programmes have been successful in reducing restrictions on mobility and social isolation that many women and girls experience, particularly those who live in poverty, and who might otherwise be mainly confined within their communities and families.

Through sport, women and girls can find safe places to gather, build new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and pursue new opportunities, often in the process becoming more engaged in community life.

Governments, the United Nations, civil society, the sport movement and others have recognized the contribution of sports to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls. Now is the time to act on this recognition.

Women and girls should be encouraged to explore sports, and anyone who would like to participate should be able to do so. In some cases, this may require increased investments; in others, a rebalancing of resources to ensure equal opportunities for men and women, girls and boys.

Sport and the pursuit of gender equality can be mutually reinforcing — through the creation of role models, the promotion of values and powerful outreach. Both can generate a dream and drive people to strive for change, unleashing tremendous benefits for individuals and for our societies at large.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Get to Zero, Stay at Zero” – The Comprehensive Plan to End Ebolahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola/#comments Sat, 11 Jul 2015 10:51:17 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141542 By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2015 (IPS)

“The threat is never over until we rebuild,” Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma stressed at an Ebola Recovery Conference Friday in New York.

On May 9, the west African country of Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) after 14 long months battling against the disease. However, two months later,  in only one week ending Jul. 5,  there were 30 confirmed Ebola cases reported in West Africa, three in Liberia, nine in Sierra Leone, and 18 in Guinea, according to the United Nations.

Koroma said that Ebola is a “stubborn enemy” which tends to keep showing its face.

“The battle now is to get the few cases down to zero, and getting our countries and the whole world to stay at zero,Koroma asserted.

During the one-day high-level conference, the presidents of these three west African countries came together at the U.N. headquarters in New York along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Zimbabwe’s President and Chair of the African Union, Robert Mugabe, as well as many other key actors to focus international attention, share recovery plans and raise funds.

In the sub-regional recovery plan there is a strong focus on rebuilding the health institutions, which were already fragile before the epidemic, according to the World Bank’s latest reports, with 4,022 more maternal related deaths of women per year predicted  in West Africa because of the  loss of health workers due to Ebola.

President Mugabe said that “we cannot afford to be complacent” because the underlying causes of the diseases’ exacerbation still exist.

Although there is emphasis on health, the recovery plans are comprehensive, focusing on  issues from water, and sanitation, to gender, youth and social protection; and even information and communication technology.

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf  speaking on behalf of the Mono River Union (MRU), the intergovernmental institution comprising the three countries  — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia —  stated that the plan is fully aligned with development plans, with a focus on “empowering our communities who were determined to protect their lives and their livelihoods”, cash transfers to local communities being a central part of the plan.

Sirleaf stated that 4 billion dollars was the amount needed for the next two years to implement the sub-regional plans, however over 5 billion dollars was promised during the pledging segment of the conference.

Both Mugabe and Sirleaf  called on the international community for a debt cancellation of 3.16 billion for the three countries, and Mugabe called on the private sector, especially those involved in extracting natural resources, to be socially responsible and engage in building economic resilience in their countries.

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South Sudanese Girls Given Away As ‘Blood Money’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:26:38 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141530 By Miriam Gathigah
TORIT, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan , Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

So extreme are gender inequalities in South Sudan that a young girl is three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to reach the eighth grade – the last grade before high school – according to Plan International, one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world.

A vast majority of South Sudanese girls will have been victims of at least one form of gender-based violence in their young lives, but those living in Eastern Equatoria State face a particularly abhorrent practice which is a tradition among at least five of the state’s 12 tribes – being given away as ‘blood money’.

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women and Youth Organisation, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit:  Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“When a person kills another person, the bereaved family expects to be given ‘blood money’ as compensation,” Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, told IPS.

Most tribes demand compensation when a life has been taken in one of the regular conflicts over cattle and pasture, revenge killings and other inter-village conflicts, and although 20 to 30 goats is what many tribes demand in form of compensation, Olweny explained that “most families can either not afford or are unwilling to pay so much, and prefer to give away one of their girls as compensation.”

According to child protection specialist, Shanti Risal Kaphle, “a young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace.”

Kaphle explained that the girl’s life is negotiated “without her information and consent and is subject to violence, abuse and exploitation.”

The practice of girl child compensation has not escaped the eye of the government, which set an estimated 500 dollars as the amount for compensation for a life, but tribe people still prefer to be given a girl, saying that the figure set by the government is too little.“A young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace” – child protection specialist Shanti Risal Kaphle

Experts say that a girl is also preferred as compensation by a bereaved family because she can either be married to one of their own without having to pay a bride price, or she can be married off when she turns 12 and attract a herd of goats.

Many of the girls handed over as compensation are often as young as five years. They are expected to forget their birth families and start afresh, severing all contacts with their natural families once the exchange has been concluded.

At this point their lives can take a dramatic turn for the worse through multiple abuse. These girls may be “subjected to child labour, and to sexual, physical and emotional abuse – to escape this hell, more of them now prefer to commit suicide,” said Olweny.

Residents here say that customary laws which perpetuate and rubber stamp these forms of abuse are seen to play a vital role in conflict resolution because they are considered cheap, accessible and the decisions are made on the basis of customs they are familiar with.

Kaphle said that customary laws and decisions are also perceived as more amicable and less time-consuming.

However, girl child compensation is just one of a multitude of abuses that the girl child in South Sudan faces.

The state of Western Bahr El Ghazal, for example, has a notorious tradition of widow compensation which has seen many young girls denied an opportunity to go to school because they are forced into early marriages.

Linda Ferdinand Hussein, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Women’s Organisation for Training and Promotion, explained how this tradition works.

“When a man’s wife dies for whatever reasons, the man can demand to be given back the bride price that he had paid.” This price varies from one family to the next “but most families are unwilling to pay back the bride price so they give the man one of the deceased wife’s younger sisters as compensation.”

Four years after South Sudan won its independence and became the world’s youngest nation, child protection specialists like Hussein are raising the alarm. “Gender-based violence against young girls continues to be perpetrated in a variety of ways in both peacetime and during conflict,” she said.

A report released Jun. 30 by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) revealed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups recently carried out a campaign of violence against the population of South Sudan, which was marked by a “new brutality and intensity” and included the raping and then burning alive of girls inside their homes.

A report released last year by leading humanitarian organisation CARE, titled ‘The Girl Has No Rights’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan, highlighted the extreme injustices faced by young girls in the country.

These injustices continue to serve as obstacles towards accessing education and later exploiting the opportunities that life presents for those who have gone through school.

According to Plan International, 7.3 percent of girls are married before they reach the age of 15 years and another 42.2 percent will have been married between the ages of 15 and 18. And, although 37 percent of girls enrol in primary school, only around seven percent complete the curriculum and only two percent of them proceed to secondary school.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Parliamentary Elections with Gender Parity in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/parliamentary-elections-with-gender-parity-in-venezuela/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 14:26:15 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141507 A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A Venezuelan woman gets ready to cast her ballot at a voting station in Caracas mainly made up of women in the last presidential elections, on Apr. 14, 2013. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

More women could be elected to the Venezuelan legislature, but the new rule on gender parity for the upcoming parliamentary elections has been caught up in the political polarisation that has had this country in its grip for years.

“This rule was long in coming, and is the product of decades of struggle and sacrifice by hundreds of women,” Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), said at the presentation of the new regulation on gender parity. “We are moving towards the construction of a better democracy,” she added.

The single-chamber National Assembly for the 2016-2020 period will be elected on Dec. 6, after years of severe political polarisation fuelled, since Nicolás Maduro became president in 2013, by falling oil prices, devaluation, inflation and shortages of basic goods.

The new gender parity regulation adopted by the CNE was quickly caught up in the clash, although women from both sides of the political spectrum celebrated the fact that Venezuela had joined the “club” of Latin American nations with gender quotas in parliamentary elections.

“Women’s rights are already a matter of state in Venezuela, thanks to our struggles and to the comprehension of (late) President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the driving force behind the 1999 constitution,” a member of the Latin American Parliament, Marelis Pérez Marcano of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), told IPS.

This oil-producing nation first adopted a gender quota – reserving at least 30 percent of candidacies for women – in the 1997 parliamentary elections. But the rule was revoked by the 2000 electoral law and replaced by CNE calls for gender parity.

As a result, the current 165-seat legislature consists of 137 men and 28 women (17 percent) – a proportion that puts Venezuela in 18th place in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

In top place in this region is Bolivia, where women comprise 53 percent of the lower house of parliament and 47 percent of the upper house. At least 10 other Latin American countries have gender quotas for parliamentary elections. And one of them, Argentina, was the first country in the world to adopt such a law. Colombia also has a 30 percent quota for high-level public posts.

Venezuela’s new rule stipulates that political parties must present an equal number of male and female candidates and must alternate them on their lists, both for members of parliament and alternates.

When a precise 50/50 parity is impossible in one of the 24 electoral regions, then at least 40 percent of the candidates must be women.

Elsa Solórzano of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a catch-all coalition of 27 opposition groups and parties, complained about the timing of the new regulation and argued that it violated several constitutional clauses.

She said the regulation, officially implemented on Jun. 29, came a month after the MUD held primary elections supervised by the CNE itself. The coalition is now holding debates on how to rearrange the lists of candidates.

Furthermore, she noted, Article 298 of the constitution establishes that the electoral law “cannot be modified in any way” in the six months prior to elections.

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

Supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela outside of the legislature in Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of Raúl Límaco

“The trick was the political maneuvering, not the substance of the rule: parity. And it’s obvious that it was the doing of the CNE, not of we women who were ignored when we demanded in a timely fashion the right to be elected,” activist Evangelina García Prince, minister of women’s affairs in the 1990s and a member of the Venezuelan Observatory of the Human Rights of Women, told IPS.

Virginia Olivo, president of the non-governmental Observatory, said that in this country there is “a low level of political representation for women, with a parliament that is below the regional and global averages.”

Statistics provided by the IPU indicate that women represent 24.5 percent of lawmakers in Latin America and 20 percent globally.

According to the 2011 census, 39 percent of the seven million mothers in this country of 30 million people are heads of households. And of the mothers who are on their own, 10 percent are adolescents.

Olivo pointed out that, although no precise statistics are available, most of the nine million people living in poverty in Venezuela live in these female-headed households. As another illustration of the inequality faced by women, she noted that women earn 82 percent of what men earn for the same work.

Defending the new gender quota, Lucena said that since February she has been talking with female opposition leaders about the gender parity rule that was being drawn up.

But “these individual conversations don’t mean the MUD was formally informed,” said Vicente Bello, one of the coalition’s electoral affairs officials.

But another opposition leader, Isabel Carmona, president of the Democratic Action party, which governed the country several times in the 20th century, supported the regulation, arguing that “the rights protected by the justice system are not subject to political bargaining.”

“This measure affects the cultural roots of power, because culture in Latin America has made machismo a symbol of power. We are starting to dismantle that, because no one who has a privilege has the generosity to give it up,” Carmona said.

Margarita López Maya, a historian and political scientist, said “the unexpected decision to require gender parity for the candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections reveals, once again, the governing party’s interest in generating an atmosphere of uncertainty and uneasiness to disrupt the important elections that will take place on Dec. 6.”

Her warning is based on the fact that the five members of the CNE – four of whom are women – are pro-government, and only one, the only man, is considered a supporter of the opposition. The rule was approved with the votes of the four female members.

Leaders from across the political spectrum say that if the opposition, which for now is ahead in the polls according to the main polling companies, wins a majority in the legislature, it would launch a transition process that could push the PSUV and President Maduro, Chávez’s political heir, out of power.

But, said Lucena, the electoral authority’s new rule “refers to the candidates that the political parties will offer, but it will clearly be the voters who will decide, with their votes.”

During much of Chávez’s time in office, women headed up the rest of the branches of government: the legislature, the judiciary, the electoral authority, the attorney general’s office, the comptroller-general’s office and the ombudsperson’s office.

Women are also a majority in the judiciary and have been cabinet ministers since 1967. In 1979 the country had its first women’s affairs minister, and in 2013 a woman admiral was defence minister.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Q&A: “If We Don’t Close the Poverty Gap, the 21st Century Will End in Extreme Violence”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:24:03 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141499 Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Implementation of the ambitious post-2015 development agenda which will be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations depends to a large extent on funding.

Amidst preparations for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) to be held from July 13 to 16, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, discussions centre on “innovative financing mechanisms” as stable and predictable instruments to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) and fill funding gaps at a time when global growth is flagging and most donor countries are facing increasing budgetary pressure.We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Conceived in the early 21st century in the context of the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the idea behind the concept is to “invisibly” raise important amounts of income to correct imbalances and provide funding for the most urgent development needs such as eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of education and global health. The mechanisms involved range from government taxes to public-private partnerships.

A prominent innovative finance example is the global health initiative UNITAID. UNITAID is funded primarily through a one-dollar solidarity levy on airplane tickets. The income raised is spent on global measures to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A more recent example is the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). It is currently seen by governments as both a tool to curb financial speculation and a mechanism to raise considerable revenue – which could be used to finance for development. Ongoing plans on an EU FTT to be implemented in 11 willing EU countries might prove as the next step in innovative finance.

In an interview with IPS, Philippe Douste-Blazy, U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of Innovative Financing for Development, chair and founder of UNITAID and former French foreign minister, shares his insights on the FTT and innovative finance mechanisms shortly ahead of the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this year.

Q: Which role does innovative finance play in the context of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda?

A: 2015 is a historic year because three great international conferences will take place which are vital for the future of the world:  the Addis Ababa conference on Development Finance, the General Assembly of the United Nations where the international community will launch the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 on climate change in Paris.

In all three cases, the scenario will be the same: a magnificent political agreement but without any financial means to back it up. I want to sound the alarm! If we fail to find innovative financing now, at a time when the world has never had so much money but the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening, the 21st century will end in extreme violence.

Q: Financing for development requires considerable financial resources. Is the FTT a suitable tool to raise the necessary funding compared to other innovative finance tools?

A: Finance is currently one of the least taxed economic sectors. It is absolutely surprising when you know the terrible impact this sector had on international development because of the 2008 economic crisis. Implementing a painless percentage tax on financial transactions could generate hundreds of billions worldwide and as a result, be positively decisive on the fight against extreme poverty, pandemics and climate change.

We are now living in a completely globalised world and those threats are upon every citizen of the world. Globalised activities and exchanges should then contribute to international solidarity. That is what we had in mind with President Chirac and President Lula when we implemented the solidarity tax on plane tickets.

People are travelling more and more, so levying a small portion of the price of their tickets offered the opportunity to improve the access to life-saving treatments all around the globe. FTT follows the same logic. Financial needs are considerable and we need to take the money where it is. Innovative financing tools shouldn’t be positioned as rivals, they should instead be seen as complementary.

Q: UNITAID invests the funds raised by means of global solidarity levies to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. What are your results at UNITAID in combating these diseases?

A: First, UNITAID’s investments helped create the market for some key more effective HIV treatments in 2007, by bringing the prices down from 1,500 dollars/year to under 500.

Second, through support to the Global Fund and UNICEF, UNITAID contributed to the delivery of over 437 million of the best antimalarial treatments, helping the global community to reduce deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Third, a 40 percent price reduction for the cartridges of an important new test for tuberculosis (GeneXpert) was negotiated for 145 countries, along with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has saved over 70 million dollars within two years for the global community and has enabled a significant contribution to the 30 percent annual increase in detection of drug resistant TB cases.

Q: Could you tell me about your planned new project UNITLIFE? What is it about and at what stage are the preparations for this project?

A: We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Faced with this scourge which decimates generations, destabilises societies and severely penalises nations, notably in Africa, we have the duty to imagine a response combining efficacy and solidarity: this is why we want to launch UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE is based on a simple principle: allocating to the fight against malnutrition an infinitesimal part of the immense riches created by the use of extractive resources in Africa in such a way that the globalisation of solidarity matches the globalization of the economy. So far six African Heads of State accepted such a principle. As UNITAID is hosted by the WHO, UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF.

Q: How does a future FTT implemented in the 11 European countries need to look in order to be beneficial and effective? How do you assess for instance the examples of the French or Italian FTT?

A: French and Italian FTT are really disappointing. They are not fulfilling the expectations neither in terms of regulation nor about revenues. It seems that French and Italian governments were just concerned by the defence of their financial sectors.

The exemptions that are organised are preventing the tax from touching the most speculative transactions. Derivatives, market makers, intra-day and high frequency trading are not taxable with the two models whereas they’re the most dangerous.

Furthermore, it’s in taxing these instruments that a FTT would levy the most resources. For the same reasons, a European FTT that wouldn’t be applied on foreign shares will be highly disappointing. Instead of being scared of the reaction of financial sectors, the 11 political leaders must show real ambition and design a strong FFT with a broad scope and preventing loopholes.

Q: How can you make sure that a certain percentage of the money raised by the tax will be spent on development?

A: Seventeen percent of the French FTT is already allocated to climate and pandemics. President Hollande said he will allocate a part of the European FTT to the same causes; let’s hope that the portion will be bigger!

[Spanish] Prime Minister Marianno Rajoy also committed to allocate a part of the revenue to international solidarity but so far these are the only declarations we have. It would be really interesting to see the eleven

Heads of State committing together on a joint allocation to international solidarity. Using the FTT revenue to finance multilateral funds like the Global Fund, the World Health Organization  or the Green Fund would be the best way to be sure the money raised is actually spent on development.

And today when I see those tens of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, which is becoming the world’s biggest cemetery, I want to underline that the only solution to massive immigration from poor to rich countries is to provide what we call Global Public Goods (food, potable water, essential medicines, education and sanitation) to every human being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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