Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 20:35:44 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140799 An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

"We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody." -- Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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When Kenyan Children’s Lives Hang on a Driphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140785 Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 23 2015 (IPS)

Acute watery diarrhoea is a major killer of young children but misunderstanding over the benefits of fluid treatment is preventing many Kenyan parents from resorting to this life-saving technique and threatening to reverse the strides that the country has made in child health.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, released in April this year, reports that the country’s under-five mortality rate fell to 52 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014, down from the 74 deaths in 2008-09, but still far from the 32 per 1,000 live births targeted under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).“Parents must … understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea” – Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics, University of Nairobi

The primary treatment for acute watery diarrhoea is rehydration, administered intravenously in the most severe cases of very young children suffering from shock after losing excessively high quantities of body fluids. A fluid bolus – or rapid liquid dose – delivered directly through an intravenous drip allows a much faster delivery than oral rehydration.

However, notes nurse Esther Mayaka at the Jamii Clinic in Mathare, Nairobi, “parents of children brought to hospital with acute watery diarrhoea are refusing to have them put on [drip] fluid treatment and this is a major concern because diarrhoea is a leading killer among children and giving fluids is still the main solution.”

She told IPS that the ongoing rains and floods in many parts of the country “have created a comeback for diseases like cholera whose most telling sign is watery diarrhoea which needs to be managed with fluids.”

In February this year, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, issued a cholera outbreak alert following an increase in cases of acute watery diarrhoea in several counties, including Homa Bay, Migori and Nairobi.

According to Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Nairobi, the reluctance to resort to drip fluid treatment has arisen due to misunderstanding generated by a Fluid Expansion As Supportive Therapy (FEAST) study in 2011 to establish whether the bolus technique was the best practice to use among children diagnosed with shock.

The FEAST study, which was conducted among children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, found that fluid boluses increased 48-hour mortality in critically-ill children with poor blood circulation or shock in these resource-limited settings in Africa, but Irimu told IPS that the study excluded diarrhoea and only studied illnesses associated with fever, such malaria and sepsis.

“Parents must therefore understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea,” she said.

The Kenya Paediatric Association is also trying to set the record straight and, in a statement shared with IPS, the association reiterated that “diarrhoea complicated by severe dehydration is one of the biggest killers of children globally.”

According to the paediatrics association, the FEAST study excluded children with diarrhoea and dehydration because “the value of giving fluids in this group is well known. Giving appropriate fluid therapy is essential.”

Prof Irimu told IPS that the FEAST study had led to a revision of the ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’, Kenya’s national guidelines for paediatric care, and clauses that address the treatment of diarrhoea were also revised.

Previously, a child diagnosed with shock as a result of diarrhoea would be given fluids in three cycles, every 15 minutes depending on the response. Now, the child receives the fluids in two cycles and if there is no response, health providers are advised to proceed to slower fluid administration where the child is given the amount that the body needs, depending on the level of dehydration.

Meanwhile, the country continues to make strides in dealing with HIV/AIDS – another critical health issue covered by the MDGs – among children. Studies show that the number of children with HIV aged between 18 months and 14 years fell from 184,000 in 2007 to 104,000 in 2012, according to the most recent Kenya Aids Indicator Survey.

However, Prof Joseph Karanja, a reproductive health and HIV/AIDs expert in Nairobi, says that the country can still do better because “through available antiretroviral drugs as a preventive measure among HIV positive mothers, HIV transmission to the infant can be reduced to as low as one percent.”

Dr Pauline Samia, a paediatric neurologist and a board member of the Kenya Paediatric Association, says that there is also a commitment to address conditions that challenge the management of HIV among children such as epilepsy.

“Though research in this area is limited, an estimated 6.7 percent of children with HIV also have epilepsy, with at least 50 percent of children with HIV having central nervous system problems such as delayed development, behavioural challenges and convulsions,” she observes.

Regarding progress in other MDGs, some progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of underweight children less than five years of age, one of the goals set for eradicating extreme hunger and poverty.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reports that not only has childhood malnutrition declined significantly, from 35 percent in 2008 to the current 26 percent, but the prevalence of underweight children also decreased from 16 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2014.

On the front of improving maternal health, the survey says that while maternal mortality remains high at 488 deaths in every 100,000 live births, in the past five years more than three in five births (61 percent) took place in healthcare facilities, a marked improvement compared with the 43 percent in 2008.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Ethiopia’s First Film at Cannes Gives Moving View of Childhood, Genderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:11:45 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140769 A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

By A. D. McKenzie
CANNES, May 22 2015 (IPS)

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape. These are the three stars of Lamb, a poignant film directed by 36-year-old Yared Zeleke and Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

The film was warmly received at its premiere this week, with the director and cast receiving applause. It is slated for general French release later this year, Zeleke said.“I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother ... I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me” – Yared Zeleke, director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first film at Cannes

Shot in the highlands and forests of northern and central Ethiopia, Lamb tells the story of nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) and his beloved pet, a sheep named Chuni. The animal follows Ephraim around like a devoted dog, and plays the role of best friend, albeit one who can only say “ba-ah”.

When the film begins, we learn that Ephraim has lost his mother in an ongoing famine and, in order to survive, his father has decided to take him to stay with relatives in a remote but greener region of their homeland, an area of intense beauty but increasing poverty. Ephraim will have to stay there while his father seeks work in the city, not knowing when he can return.

The relatives are an intriguing bunch. There’s the strict farmer uncle who thinks Ephraim is too girly (the boy likes to cook), his wife who’s overworked and worried about her small, sick child, a matriarchal great aunt who tries to keep the family in line with a whip, and an older girl cousin – Tsion – who spends her time reading and with whom Ephraim eventually bonds.

Soon after arriving in their midst, Ephraim is told by his uncle that he will have to learn what boys do: he will have to slaughter his pet sheep for an upcoming traditional feast.

The news pushes Ephraim to start devising ways to save Chuni, and that forms the bulk of the storyline, while the film subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Throughout it all, the magnificent rolling hills are there, watching.

We learn in passing that Ephraim is half-Jewish through his mother, whom the relatives refer to as “Falasha people”; but Zeleke says that this is not at all meant to signal division, because Ethiopians generally do not identify themselves by religious affiliation. In fact, the Christian relatives all seem to have admired the mother.

They attribute Ephraim’s skill at cooking to her teaching, and some of the most moving moments are centred on food – feeding and being fed by a loved one.

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of ‘Lamb’, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, and another striking element is how sympathetically women are portrayed, although Zeleke told IPS that this was probably done more “semi-consciously” than on purpose.

“A lot of the writing process for me is intuitive,” he said in an interview. “But I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother whom I’m named after and who was known for her great storytelling. I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me.”

In Lamb, Tsion – played by the smouldering Kidist Siyum – is shown as smart and knowledgeable, but her love of reading is considered useless by the family because it does not get the back-breaking household chores done. Ephraim’s ability to cook and sell samosas on the market is seen as more helpful, drawing attention to some of the burdens of childhood in poor countries.

Tsion is eventually pushed to make a sad choice, leaving Ephraim more alone than ever, but the film ends on an upbeat note, with the possibility of acceptance. A simple and unforeseen act of kindness towards Ephraim by Tsion’s abandoned suitor might trigger most viewers’ tears.

As a first feature, Lamb is a glowing success for Zeleke, who grew up in central Addis Ababa and went on to study film-making at New York University, after a first degree in natural resource management and an attempt at a Master’s in agri-economics at a Norwegian university.

“I always wanted to work with Ethiopian farmers, and to tackle the biggest issue facing our country, but in the end, I made up a film about them instead,” he told IPS.

With his credible story and the feel of authenticity, the director shows that he knows his culture and people, while the loving attention to the landscape and the tight focus on his characters also reveals confidence and vision.

Members of the cast equally turn in a fine performance.  Amare Rediat is affecting and sincere as Ephraim, with his huge expressive eyes, and Siyum has a coiled energy that conveys the frustration of a bright girl expected to marry and “breed” quickly because that is her only fate.

Produced by Slum Kid Films – an Ethiopia-based company that Zeleke co-founded with Ghanaian producer Ama Ampadu and which works to support the country’s film sector – Lamb was shown in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category. This section highlights daring, innovative, off-beat works, and Zeleke’s film certainly fits the bill.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140745 Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 13:23:26 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140725 Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140687

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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African Women Mayors Join Forces to Fight for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:45:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140678 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 18 2015 (IPS)

When some 40,000 delegates, including dozens of heads of state, descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year, a group of African women mayors plan to be there and make their voices heard on a range of issues, including electrification.

The mayors, representing both small and big towns on the continent, are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy.

“In my commune, only one-fifth of the people have access to electricity, and this of course hampers development,” Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal in Cameroon, told a recent meeting of women mayors in Paris.“As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope” – Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal, Cameroon

Mbock Mioumnde was one of 18 women mayors at last month’s meeting, hosted by Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and France’s former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who now heads the Fondation Énergies pour l’Afrique (Energy for Africa Foundation).

Organisers said the meeting was called to highlight Africa’s energy challenges in the run-up to COP 21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and which has the French political class scrambling to show its environmental credentials.

Mbock Mioumnde told IPS in an interview that clean, renewable energy was a priority for Africa, and that political leaders were looking at various means of electrification including hydropower and photovoltaic energy and, but not necessarily, wind power – a feature in many parts of France.

“We plan to maintain this contact and this network of women mayors to see what we can accomplish,” said Mbock Mioumnde. “As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope.”

Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office of Paris mayor, said she wanted to support the African representatives’ appeal for “sustainable electrification”, considering that two-thirds of Africa’s population, “particularly the most vulnerable, don’t have access to electricity.”

Currently president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), Hidalgo said it was essential to find ways to speed up electrification in Africa, using clean technology that respects the environment and the health of citizens.

The mayors meeting in Paris in April also called for the creation of an “African agency devoted to this issue” that would be in charge of implementing the complete electrification of the continent by 2025.

Present at the conference were several representatives of France’s big energy companies such as GDF Suez – an indication that France sees a continued business angle for itself – but the gathering also attracted NGOs which have been working independently to set up solar-power installations in various African countries.

“I’m happy that women are organising on this issue. We need solidarity,” said Hidalgo, who has been urging Paris residents to become involved in climate action, in a city that has come late to environmental awareness, especially compared with many German and Swiss towns.

“The Climate Change Conference is a decisive summit for the planet’s leaders and decision-makers to reach an agreement,” Hidalgo stressed.

Climate change issues have an undeniable gender component because women are especially affected by lack of access to clean sources of energy.

Ethiopian-born, Kenya-based scientist Dr Segenet Kelemu, who was a winner of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, spoke for example of growing up in a rural village in Ethiopia with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“I went out to collect firewood, to fetch water and to take farm produce to market. Somehow, all the back-breaking tasks in Africa are reserved for women and children,” she told a reporter.

This gender component was also raised at a meeting May 7-8 in Addis Ababa, where leaders of a dozen African countries agreed on 12 recommendations to improve the regional response to climate change.

The recommendations included increasing local technological research and development; reinforcing infrastructure for renewable energy, transportation and water; and “mainstreaming gender-responsive climate change actions”.

The meeting was part of a series of ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)’ workshops being convened though June 2015 in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East. The CVF was established to offer a South-South cooperation platform for vulnerable countries to deal with issues of climate change.

In Paris, Hidalgo’s approach includes gathering as many stakeholders as possible together to reach consensus before the U.N. summit. With Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, Italy, she also invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a gathering in March.

The mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo’s office is now working on a project to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21, a spokesperson told IPS. The stakes are high because the French government wants the summit to be a success, with a new global agreement on combating climate change.

Borloo, who was environment minister in the administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, used to advocate for France’s “climate justice” proposal, aimed at giving financial aid to poor countries to combat climate change.

Calling for a “climate justice plan” to allow poor countries to “adapt, achieve growth, get out of poverty and have access to energy,” Borloo was a key French player at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that conference ended in disarray. The question now is: will a greater involvement of women leaders and mayors make COP 21 a success?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Murders of Gays Raise the Question of Hate Crimes in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:16:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140666 “Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

During the events surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, it emerged that a young transsexual had recently been killed in the city of Pinar del Río near the western tip of this Caribbean island nation.

While efforts to combat discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) are stepped up in Cuba, this segment of the population remains vulnerable to harassment and violence – and even death.

The Apr. 26 murder of Yosvani Muñoz, 24, which is under investigation, as the legal advice office of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) confirmed to IPS, raised questions about a sensitive and little-known issue in Cuba: hate crimes.

IPS asked experts and members of the LBGT community about the causes of killings of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), of which no official statistics have been published, but which have been reported periodically since 2013 by word of mouth, or in blogs or alternative media outlets.

Hate crimes include verbal abuse, threats, physical assaults and homicides motivated by prejudice based on questions like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic group or religion.

“We are fighting hate crimes together with the Interior Ministry (which the police answers to),” CENESEX director Mariela Castro said in exclusive comments to IPS. Castro is the most visible face of the national campaign in favour of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A thorough expert analysis is needed to determine what kind of killing it was because not all crimes involving LGBT persons as victims are motivated by hatred,” Castro, a sexologist, explained during the May 5-16 events surrounding the Day Against Homophobia.

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In Havana and the eastern province of Las Tunas, this year’s activities, focused on the right to work, had the support for the first time of Cuba’s trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de Cuba and the blessing of protestant pastors for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples.

The activities involved a festive conga line and demonstration with signs and banners, video clips, and debates on the rights of LGBT persons to information, freedom of thought, access to justice, personal safety, and violence-free lives.

The situation in Latin America

In Latin America only Uruguay specifically mentions hate crimes in its legislation, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have laws against discrimination that take into account aggravating circumstances in certain crimes, and some Brazilian states have anti-discrimination clauses in their local constitutions.

Because of the lack of official figures, non-governmental organisations compile information that is not systematised.

The Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua documented some 300 hate crimes against the LGBT population, especially trans women, in Central America from 2009 to 2013. In Mexico and Brazil the number of crimes targeting this population group is high.

In Cuba, the Ibero-American and African Masculinity Network is the only organisation that has published the results of investigations, without explaining the methods used to compile the information. It reported that in 2013 it heard about “more than 40 murders of homosexuals” killed in the same circumstances as the cultural figures Velázquez and Díaz.

They preceded the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is observed on May 17 because on that date in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) general assembly removed homosexuality from the global body’s list of mental disorders.

Castro said “theft and common crime are more frequent aspects in murders of homosexuals, according to the data presented to us by the DGICO (criminal investigation bureau),” which receives advice from and collaborates with CENESEX.

“There might be a hate crime murder once in a while, but they are very few,” she said.

The sexologist added, however, that “the number of hate crimes is not completely clear because of the lack of a specialised institution dedicated to classifying them….and this classification is important because the old term ‘crime of passion’ hides gender violence, violence between men, and violence between couples.”

Violent crime is generally surrounded by silence in this island nation of 11.2 million people, and killings of LGBT individuals are no exception. The 1987 penal code does not specifically recognise hate crimes, or sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in murders.

The law provides for sentences of 15 to 30 years in cases of homicide, and the death penalty is still on the books, although it has not been applied since 2003.

“MSM are at greater risk of being killed than women,” Castro said, citing the results of DGICO investigations regarding a category of men that includes gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“Part of the gay population does not perceive the danger when they irresponsibly choose sexual partners, without information,” she said. “They seek out young men who work as prostitutes, some of whom are criminals and try to rob them, and even kill when they defend themselves.”

Along with its work raising awareness to prevent HIV/AIDS, CENESEX warns of other risks posed by irresponsible sexual practices in gay meeting and recreational places or community social networks.

Oneida Paz, a 59-year-old manager, has not heard of murders or rapes of lesbians, a population group she belongs to. “Violence among women can exist, but it’s not common,” she said. “I do have friends who have been injured, because they were married to men who beat them when they got into a relationship with another woman.”

CENESEX said the number of murders of MSM in 2013 and 2014 was high. At that time the issue came to the forefront because of the deaths of two high-profile openly gay cultural figures, who died in strange circumstances, according to activists.

The local media, which is entirely state-owned, gave ample coverage to the violent deaths of choreographer Alfredo Velázquez, 44, in September 2013 in the eastern city of Guantánamo, and theatre director Tony Díaz, 69, found dead in his Havana home in January 2014. But they only mentioned their careers in the arts.

“I haven’t seen statistics and I’m no expert, but the murders I know about were ruthless. We’re killed for some reason, like theft or vengeance, but also because we’re gay,” said Leonel Bárzaga, a 33-year-old chemical engineer who told IPS about the murder of his friend Marcel Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, a 28-year-old gay professional, was stabbed 12 times on Jan. 6 in his central Havana home. “The police haven’t shared the results of their investigation yet,” said Bárzaga, who preferred not to discuss the specific motives for the murder.

Veterinarian Manuel Hernández, 41, said “I haven’t heard of murders of gays. But verbal attacks are definitely common in small towns, and in the workplace there’s a lot of discrimination,” above all in the rural town where he lives, Quivicán, 45 km south of Havana.

“It wouldn’t be crazy to talk about ‘hate crimes’ against LGBT persons in Cuba,” said Jorge Carrasco, a journalist who investigated gay gathering places in the capital in 2013. “That’s a term used by the Cuban police, in fact, and it’s not a product of paranoia. But I know as little about them as any other Cuban.”

Based on his interviews conducted in lonely outlying parts of the city, like the Playa del Chivo, a beach frequented by MSM to talk, arrange meetings and have sex with strangers, Carrasco explained by email that “many criminals go to those places to steal, and there have been murders. That’s why the police patrol them.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Saving a Generation, Within a Generationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/saving-a-generation-within-a-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saving-a-generation-within-a-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/saving-a-generation-within-a-generation/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 00:12:54 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140650 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) addresses the high-level event of Every Woman Every Child titled “Saving Lives, Protecting Futures” on Mar. 10, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) addresses the high-level event of Every Woman Every Child titled “Saving Lives, Protecting Futures” on Mar. 10, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS)

Leaders from over 30 countries have come together for a two-day retreat May 14 and 15 at U.N. headquarters to reinforce their commitments to improve the health of women, children and adolescents around the world.

Government delegates, CEOs, civil society leaders, private sector partners, global advocates and U.N. agencies are meeting to respond to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for action for the U.N. Every Woman Every Child global movement, ahead of the U.N. Summit to Adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda held in September.

Opening the retreat, Ban said, “These new commitments need to demonstrate how the global health community, countries and multi-stakeholder partners can align, be fit for purpose, and forge new partnerships to deliver results. Now is the time to renew our pledge to every woman, every child, everywhere.”

The group’s goal is to come up with new strategies and mobilise action to support women, children and adolescent health, including them in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

It is also an occasion to discuss the political support of world leaders for the updated version of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, the new roadmap which will be launched at the U.N. General Assembly in September, with a draft five-year implementation plan, in order to end all preventable deaths of women, children, and adolescents by 2030 and improving their overall health and well-being.

“Women, children and adolescents are the most powerful drivers of transformative and sustainable change,” commented Ban, adding that “Within a generation we have the historical opportunity to create a world where women, children and adolescents not only survive preventable causes, but thrive to their fullest potential.”

The Every Woman Every Child movement put into action the original Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health roadmap on how to enhance financing, strengthen policy and services for vulnerable women and children.

In March 2015, the movement published a Progress Report on the lessosn learnt from promoting a Global Strategy, and highlighting the key principles for the next version of the Global Strategy for the 2016-2030 SDGs.

Since its creation in 2010, Every Woman Every Child has been the fastest growing international movement in the history of public health, with 400 commitments to improve health of women and children around the world made by 300 partners, underlined Ban.

According to the movement, some 34 billion dollars in resources has been disbursed, translating into concrete action on the ground such as prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, access to oral rehydration therapy, improved maternal, prenatal postnatal care and vaccinations.

Overall, remarked Ban, “Maternal and child death rates have fallen in all of the 49 countries targeted by the movement.”

However, he said, “Some 800 women still die each day from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. (Young people) are more vulnerable to HIV infection, sexual violence and harmful practices. […] Too many newborns do not survive even their first 24 hours of life.”

The renewed Global Strategy movement will place new attention on young people’s needs and inequalities, improving health systems and services worldwide, and on new effective ways to respond to humanitarian crises, said Ban.

“By investing in the potential of women, children and adolescents today, and over the next 15 years, we can save a generation within a generation – and benefit generations to come. But the opportunity and responsibility to act belongs to our generation, now,” Ban concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Let’s Talk Menstruation. Period.http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:28:16 +0000 Chris Williams and Kersti Strandqvist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140647 Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve the SDG targets. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve the SDG targets. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Chris Williams and Kersti Strandqvist
NEW YORK, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Every month, more than two billion women around the world menstruate, and yet the topic is still shrouded by a veil of silence. While some girls celebrate their period as the first step into womanhood, many girls in developing or emerging countries are shocked and ashamed of their monthly cycles.

Recent studies have found that over 70 percent of girls in India had no idea what was happening to them when they started their first period; 50 percent of girls in Iran believe that menstruation is a disease; and over 50 percent of girls in Ethiopia miss between one and four days of school per month due to menstruation.In every country, the veil of silence around menstruation contributes to discrimination that can hold women back in their personal lives and professional careers.

Even in the United States, where menstruation management is taught in schools and girls typically have access to the necessary resources and infrastructure, the topic remains a taboo, preferably not addressed in polite circles. Real-life examples abound.

In March, Instagram twice removed a photo of a fully clothed woman with two visible spots of blood, because it violated their ‘community guidelines.’ In January, tennis star Heather Watson shocked the world by ascribing her Australian open defeat to ‘girl things.’

In every country, the veil of silence around menstruation contributes to discrimination that can hold women back in their personal lives and professional careers.

It is time for the global community to break its silence on menstruation so that women and girls can discuss the topic without shame, and reap the rewards for their health, education and quality of life.

The taboo surrounding menstruation is a barrier to equal participation and opportunities for women. More importantly, this neglect of a woman’s need to manage their menstruation inside and outside the home is a violation of a host of human rights – in many countries, menstruating women are banned from praying, cooking, or sleeping near their family.

Current research shows that menstrual education in every country continues to provide girls with mixed messages; on the one hand it is a normal, natural event, however girls are also taught that it should be hidden.

This taboo on female development has also had unintended consequences for U.S. aid priorities – according to development experts, the U.S. government will remain reluctant to fund education initiatives in developing or emerging countries until there is a proven link between toilets in schools or menstrual management education to an improvement in attendance rates or performance in school.

The countdown has begun to the United Nations release of the Sustainable Development Goals, and women’s empowerment is expected to take center stage as a cross-cutting issue that will lift the development of society as a whole.

Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve these targets.

The ambitious goal of ensuring equality for women and girls requires a multi-stakeholder approach, with collaboration from communities, government, U.N. agencies, private sector, academia, NGOs, media and others. It is time for all sectors to work together to ensure that menstruation is far higher on the development agenda.

By leveraging public-private partnerships, a unique combination of funding can ensure that market research from the private sector can efficiently contribute to the effectiveness of aid and investment.

This week, the global movement to break the silence on menstruation comes to the U.S. as Team SCA, an all-women crew of sailors participating in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, docks in Newport, Rhode Island. The team is promoting the message of women’s empowerment.

With support from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a U.N. body dedicated to achieving safe sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable through community-led approaches, Team SCA has participated in several menstrual hygiene management training sessions during the race.

Practical, sustainable change for women and girls can be achieved through research, innovation and education. Governments, community leaders, opinion leaders, and global citizens must speak out to change attitudes, upend customs that restrain menstruating women and girls, and promote basic education about periods.

Menstrual hygiene management is only the beginning but it is a critical first step… we need to break the silence across the female lifecycle, from puberty to menopause to old-age.

Eliminating these taboos is an international responsibility, and an opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, by increasing awareness of this monthly global human rights violation, as well as holding an open and honest discussion about its own taboos.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pregnancy and Childbirth Still Kill Too Many Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 17:01:16 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140632 A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 14 2015 (IPS)

In spite of strides in social progress, Latin America’s maternal mortality rates remain unacceptable, and many of the deaths are avoidable, occurring partly because of neglect of the prescriptions provided by experts: preventive action and health promotion.

Juan Reichenbach, a regionally renowned Argentine expert on maternal and child health, has hands-on experience of the problem with mothers and their infants, as a paediatrician and the national director of Motherhood and Infancy (2008-2009).

“If I had to formulate a simple maxim, I would say: Tell me where you were born and I’ll tell you whether or not you will survive,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“The main agents of change are prevention and promotion,” said Reichenbach, who is now a professor at Universidad Nacional de La Plata, where he is chief resident and supervises junior resident doctors at a children’s hospital.“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America." -- Juan Reichenbach

“In other words, the health of mothers and their children needs to be treated as a fundamental right,” he said.

“Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013,” a United Nations report published in 2014, revealed that the maternal mortality rate fell by 40 percent in Latin America over the stated period.

In spite of this drop in the maternal mortality rate, 9,300 women lost their lives in the region in 2013 due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the report said.

On average, approximately 16 women die every day in Latin America and the Caribbean from maternity-related complications, according to April 2015 figures from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America,” Reichenbach said.

According to Bremen De Mucio, of PAHO’s Latin American Centre for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health (CLAP), “relevant and valuable” progress has been made, but the maternal mortality ratio remains at an “unacceptable” level.

The fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for improving maternal health calls for reducing the 1990 maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the end of 2015, as well as providing universal access to reproductive health.

“Continuing to promote human development is the key. And this goes beyond the health sector alone. Effective work to improve the social determinants of health has more impact than isolated health interventions,” De Mucio told IPS.

Reichenbach, for his part, said: “We will only make progress towards achieving the MDGs by educating people about human dignity and the right to life, which are not quantifiable aims.”

The main risk factors for maternal fatalities in Latin America could be reduced “almost to zero,” according to De Mucio. These risk factors are hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, haemorrhage and infections.

According to PAHO, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among women aged 20 to 34, and half of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, in a region where voluntary termination of pregnancy is illegal in the majority of countries.

“About 700,000 babies are born every year in Argentina, and there are an estimated 500,000 abortions. The number of abortions goes unrecognised and unexamined by the health system, and is the tip of the iceberg of maternal mortality,” Reichenbach said.

He said that 35 percent of maternal deaths in his country are preventable with, for instance, proper monitoring during pregnancy.

• Between 1990 and 2013, Latin American countries reduced maternal mortality by an average of 40 percent, much less than the MDG target of 75 percent by 2015. However, 11 countries managed to reduce the rate by more than the regional average: Uruguay (-67 percent), Peru (-64 percent), Bolivia (-61 percent), Chile and Honduras (-60), Dominican Republic (-57), Guatemala (-49), Mexico (-45), Ecuador (-44), and Brazil and Haiti (-43 percent).

• The countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region are Uruguay (14 per 100,000 live births) and Chile (22 per 100,000 live births).

• The highest maternal mortality rate occurs in Haiti, with 380 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Source: Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division.

Argentina’s national guidelines stipulate at least five health clinic check-ups for low-risk pregnancies, but in practice expectant mothers attend on average “less than 2.5 times, and the first visit is usually delayed. Some women arrive at a public hospital in a critical state when they are seven months pregnant,” Reichenbach said.

“Buying a computerised tomography scanner is not the solution; the real answer lies in adequate living conditions, education, employment, decent housing and access to health services,” he said. “Large maternity hospitals generally only intervene as a last resort to fix things after they have gone seriously wrong.”

In his view, the key is to take action at the primary level of health care, including providing an adequate sanitary environment and inclusion in a health system “that pays attention to patients’ daily problems,” reaches remote locations and conducts door-to-door visits in high-risk areas.

Serious cases should be detected promptly and referred to maternity facilities with essential obstetric and neonatal equipment, such as an operating theatre, blood bank, cardiopulmonary resuscitation apparatus and ambulances equipped to deliver emergency care.

Inter-disciplinary teams are needed where doctors are “just another member of the team,” alongside obstetricians, nurses, social workers and community health workers whose work is “much more closely linked to the local area and to people’s health,” he said.

Reichenbach said an “equitable” distribution of doctors is essential to serve marginalised populations, like indigenous peoples, who are “in the first ranks of the dispossessed,” and intra-regional migrants.

In Argentina, for example, there is one doctor per 80 inhabitants in Buenos Aires, while there is only one per 3,000 people in El Impenetrable, a vast forested region in the northern province of Chaco.

“If health is viewed as a right, it follows that every child, mother, teenager and elderly person – including the most impoverished – must be healthy, and that is not so difficult to achieve,” he said.

Health policies should address issues such as geographical remoteness, lack of infrastructure and cultural factors that prevent the spread of sexual and reproductive education.

“We are talking about pregnancy, but we also have to look at whether the pregnancy is wanted within the family, or whether it is an accident, caused by lack of information or by cultural factors, so that a 30-year-old mother ends up having seven or eight children,” he said.

Ariel Karolinski, a consultant for PAHO in Argentina, told IPS that for the past 20 years “the maternal mortality ratio has remained constant at about 40 per 100,000 live births,” although there are wide internal disparities.

However, between 2010 and 2012, for the first time Argentina achieved a fall in the maternal mortality rate with a “relative reduction of 22 percent,” he said.

Karolinski attributed this to programmes like Plan Nacer and Sumar, which expanded public health coverage for mothers and children and targeted the provinces with the worst health indicators, and to cash transfer schemes for pregnant women that are conditional on attending for prenatal check-ups and getting their children vaccinated.

Within Latin America, similar policies have allowed countries like Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay to reduce their maternal mortality rates by over 60 percent.

De Mucio stressed that in Bolivia and Peru there were “favourable repercussions from a pluricultural focus applied during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.” In Peru, additionally, large numbers of maternity waiting homes for women living far away from health centres have been set up.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, changes in “the law on abortion (available up to the 12th week of gestation since 2012) have contributed to virtually eradicating deaths from this cause,” he said.

However, “it should not be forgotten that the economic boom” has contributed to improving living conditions, a change which is “directly related to the reduction of maternal mortality,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Campaign to End Sexual Violence Targets Civilian Peacekeepers Firsthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 20:25:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140614 Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2015 (IPS)

“We can really argue as much as we want but if we put ourselves in the skin of victims, we just have to do something to stop this.”

This was Graça Machel’s appeal at the launch of Code Blue, the campaign to end impunity for sexual violence by United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping personnel Wednesday.“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing." -- Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

Machel, a renowned human rights advocate, spoke of her own dismay when researching the landmark U.N. study ‘The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’.

“We came across, eye to eye, women and girls who had been abused by U.N. peacekeeping personnel – it was shocking to us,” Machel said.

Peacekeeping is about more than military peace but also about bringing peace in people themselves, Machel said.

Her sentiments were shared by a panel of international leaders, including Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander for the U.N. mission during the Rwandan genocide; Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General; Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund; and Paula Donovan Co-director of AIDS-Free World, the organisation spearheading Code Blue.

The panel implored the United Nations and world leaders to act, and called for a truly independent Commission of Inquiry, with unobstructed access to U.N. records and correspondence, and full subpoena power.

Mahel called for the response to cut through the complex technicalities that raised many questions from the media present at the launch.

The problem is truly complex, with different jurisdictions and immunities applying to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of cases.

One issue discussed at the forum was Code Blue’s decision to first focus on civilian personnel. The founders of Code Blue argued that this is an important first step to addressing the overall problem.

IPS spoke with Dr Roisin Burke, author of the book ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by U.N. Military Contingents,’ who said that while she agreed that the “jurisdictional vacuum” surrounding civilian personnel needed to be addressed, she also hoped that Code Blue would equally tackle sexual abuse and sexual exploitation by both military and civilian personnel.

“The vast majority of U.N. operations, 70-80 percent of the people who are deployed are military, so you’ve got hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed across the world,” Burke said.

“Per person, it’s happening more with civilian personnel, the problem is that doesn’t mean that in terms of numbers that it’s happening more.”

The panel also discussed the problems among military personnel, which Code Blue plans to address after first tackling the problem of bureaucratic delays around immunities impairing investigations into civilian personnel.

Lt. General Dallaire also discussed the problems associated with investigating allegations against military personnel who continue to fall under the jurisdiction of their home country.

“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing,” said Dallaire.

“There is far too much centralisation and taking away the ability of those in the field to be able to do the investigation in a timely fashion,” he said.

The panel disagreed with the idea that troop contributing countries will be less likely to send troops if their troops risk prosecution for sexual abuse.

“I come from Bangladesh, the largest troop contributing country. Bangladesh will welcome very much setting the standards high,” Chowdhury said.

Dallaire also agreed that this argument did not hold up and that it was holding the U.N. to ransom.

The first problem Code Blue plans to address though is immunity for civilian personnel. Donovan said that it was often not possible to substantiate allegations against civilian peacekeepers because bureaucracy gets in the way.

“The first step that kicks off the bureaucracy is immunity,” she said.

Immunity is not meant to cover sexual exploitation and abuse because personnel are only covered by immunity during their normal functions as a U.N. staff member. However, Donovan said that there are significant delays because each individual case has to be reviewed by the secretary-general before immunity can be waived. During this time evidence is eroded and witnesses disappear, making a successful investigation almost impossible.

Chowdhury told IPS he believed the U.N. should no longer hide behind legal difficulties and should take the moral high ground in these situations. He added that addressing sexual exploitation and abuse was important if the U.N. was serious about involving more women in peacekeeping operations.

An internal expert report leaked by AIDS-Free World earlier this year said that there is considerable under-reporting of these cases.

Sowa spoke passionately, saying it was heartbreaking this issue had to be discussed, “when the U.N. becomes the protector of predators instead of the prosecutor of predators, that destroys me because I believe in the U.N.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Definition of ‘Rape’ Cannot Change with a Marriage Certificatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:40:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140594 A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 12 2015 (IPS)

“I was brutally raped thrice by my husband. He kept me under surveillance in his Dubai house while I suffered from severe malnutrition and depression. When I tried to flee from this hellhole, he confiscated my passport, deprived me of money and beat me up,” recalls Anna Marie Lopes, 28, a rape survivor who after six years of torture, finally managed to board a flight to New Delhi from the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Today, Lopes works at a non-profit in India’s capital, New Delhi, and is slowly picking up the shards of her life. “Life’s tough when you have to start from scratch after such a traumatic experience with no support even from your parents. But I had no other choice,” Lopes tells IPS.

"Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” -- Amitabh Kumar, the Centre for Social Research
Her story is different from that of thousands of Indian women only in that it has a somewhat happy ending. For too many others who are victims of marital rape, escape is not an option, keeping them trapped in relationships that often leave them broken.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over 40 percent of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age have been beaten, raped or forced to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouses.

In 2011, a study released by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based non-profit, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, the survey stated, adding women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When violated, women typically approach family members rather than the police.

Given this ominous and entrenched social reality, the present government’s reluctance to criminalise marital rape on the grounds that marriage is “sacred” in India has fuelled an intense debate.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) last week that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, could not be “suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty […] religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society.”

Human rights campaigners are up in arms about this statement, claiming that in addition to it affirming the country’s patriarchal mindset, it besmirches India’s reputation as a liberal and equitable democracy.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” asked Amitabh Kumar of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“A rape is a rape, and […] infringes upon the victim’s fundamental rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Currently, marital rape, defined as forceful sexual intercourse by a husband without the consent of his wife – leading to the latter being physically and sexually battered – is governed by Section 375 of India’s Penal Code.

The law expressly states that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided the latter is not under 15 years of age, does not constitute rape.

Though the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship, legal eagles say it offers only civil recourse, which cannot lead to a jail term for the abusive spouse.

Following the gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, the groundswell of public angst in India led the then-ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to set up a commission tasked with reforming the country’s anti-rape laws.

 

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The three-member Justice Verma Committee recommended that sexual violence between spouses be considered rape and be punishable as a criminal offence.

However the government, which at the time was helmed by the Congress Party, dismissed the committee’s suggestion by arguing that such a move would wreck the Indian institution of marriage.

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” said a report by lawmakers submitted to parliament in 2013. The government eventually cleared a new sexual assault law, one that did not criminalise marital rape.

Experts say the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is toeing a similarly conservative line to its predecessor.

BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi stated last week, “We will give prominence to our institutions,” suggesting that the government has little intention of acting on the recommendations of the Verma Committee, or demands from civil society.

In January this year, the Supreme Court rejected a woman victim’s petition to declare marital rape a criminal offence, arguing that nationwide legislation couldn’t be tweaked for one person.

Even now, the legal community is splintered over the merits and demerits of criminalising marital rape.

While senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas have publicly endorsed the government’s viewpoint that the law must not be changed, others beg to differ.

“The institution of marriage is an integral part of Indian culture. But this has not stopped us from bringing in the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Soumya Bhaumik told IPS.

“If a husband can be tried for murdering his wife, why can’t he be tried for raping her? The entire concept of consent or definition of rape does not change with a marriage certificate.”

Bhaumik also referred to documented cases of husbands or even wives forcing themselves upon their spouses, leading to not just physical but mental and emotional trauma as well.

“The current Domestic Violence Act treats such episodes as civil cases. This means that erring spouses are issued restraining orders or the aggrieved party is given a protection order. However, there is no provision for putting the guilty party behind bars,” he stated.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife.

Marital rape has already been criminalised in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, most European nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Bolivia.

This places India in a tiny global minority – along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – which refuses to criminalise this form of assault.

Some experts feel that the Indian government’s reservations over the issue may stem from fears about a communal or religious backlash. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that it is a wife’s foremost duty to have sex with her husband.

This entrenched attitude, as well as a lack of economic independence, acts as a barrier for women who might otherwise come forward to report the crime.

“Most women don’t come forward to complain about such rapes as they fear that jail for the breadwinner will spell doom for family and kids,” Winnie Singh, executive director of Maitri, a Delhi-based non-profit that works for the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, told IPS.

“According to our research, conviction has been less than one percent in such cases.”

Singh also blames a cumbersome legal process that puts the onus on the woman to prove that a rape has occurred, something that few women are willing to take on given low conviction rates.

According to a report by Aashish Gupta of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported.

Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, reveals Gupta’s report.

Experts like Singh feel that in such a scenario, sensitisation and mass education are vital to bringing about awareness and ensuring justice for the victims.

“Stepping up rehabilitation efforts as well as large-scale visual campaigns by the government and human rights organisations involving all stakeholders are the only ways to safeguard women from this heinous crime,” she stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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NGOs Urge Commission of Inquiry to Probe Sexual Abuse in U.N. Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:31:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140599 Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

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

A rising tide of sexual abuse in U.N. peacekeeping operations has triggered the launch of a high-level campaign to end the continued attacks on women and children and an urgent call for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry.

The latest “horrible” sexual attacks have been attributed to French peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) although U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said they were “not under the command and control of the United Nations.”"The truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional." -- Paula Donovan

“We do hope that anyone who engaged in the atrocious activities involving children in the Central African Republic face justice and are prosecuted,” he told reporters last week.

Paula Donovan, co-director at AIDS-Free World, who helped break the story of a long-suppressed report on sexual abuse in CAR, told IPS: “From confusion and ineptitude on the ground, to cover-ups at the highest levels of the U.N. in New York, Member States must subject U.N. peacekeeping to a rigorous, entirely independent commission of inquiry with complete access to documents and staff.”

Until that happens, any new polices or procedures will fail, just as the current policies and procedures do, in their implementation, said Donovan, a former executive officer at the U.N. Children’s agency UNICEF and regional advisor, East and Southern Africa.

Last year, there were more than 50 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of U.N.-supported field personnel, although the actual number is said to be far higher.

But the existence of diplomatic immunity is said to allow perpetrators to go unpunished and avoid legal constraints.

A longstanding proposal, going to back to 2008, for an international convention to punish those accused of sex crimes in U.N. operations overseas never got off the ground.

But against the backdrop of the current campaign, called Code Blue, the proposal may be revived, even though it could be shot down by developing countries who provide most of the soldiers in the 16 peacekeeping operations currently under way, with an estimated total of 106,595 military personnel and 17,000 civilian staff.

The largest contributors of peacekeepers include Bangladesh (9,307 troops), Pakistan (8,163), India (8,112), Ethiopia (7,864) and Rwanda (5,575), according to the latest U.N. figures.

Asked whether an international convention will deal more effectively with sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. staff, police and experts on mission (who are currently covered by the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities), a sceptical Donovan told IPS “jurisdictional issues are incredibly complex in peacekeeping operations.”

“But the truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional,” she declared.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS the proposed convention is long overdue.

“If not now, when?” she asked. “It’s time to close the accountability gap. We have addressed this point in our recent international security sector workshop.”

She said: “I am hopeful about this convention and we will advocate for its adoption and ratification. We, in civil society, are always hopeful—as that is one of our sources of strength amidst growing conservatism among governments and as a result, repression of civil society.

“At the same time, we are also realistic as we have our ears close to the ground. We know what is happening. The information we receive is not filtered—unlike what U.N. headquarters and government missions receive.”

So, realistically speaking, she had doubts that troop contributing countries (TCCs) will actually support such a convention—except maybe the European countries and Canada.

However, these are not the biggest troop contributing countries. The biggest TCCs are in the developing world, she pointed out.

“We should do active lobbying with the big TCCs and show them that the convention will be useful to them—it can serve as a guide for Member States to monitor their troops; and in investigating and prosecuting troops who have committed crimes,” she added.

A 2008 report of the ‘Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Accountability of U.N. Officials and Experts on Mission’ said “some delegations reiterated the view that it was premature to discuss the possibility of negotiating an international convention on the topic, as had been proposed by the Group of Legal Experts, and as had been subsequently supported by the Secretariat in its note.”

It was argued, the report said, that it was necessary to understand the actual impediments to prosecution, before embarking on the negotiation of a convention.

Some delegations expressed support, in principle, for a convention requiring member states to exercise jurisdiction over their nationals participating in U.N. operations.

The report further added: “It was noted that while bilateral agreements existed in the area, they provided incomplete coverage and did not usually address judicial cooperation between States and the United Nations.”

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the TCCs should also put themselves in the shoes of the recipient countries. Don’t they want to see accountability if crimes are committed against their own people?

“I am also hoping that this convention would include mandatory training on U.N. Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, 1820 and supporting resolutions on women, peace and security (WPS). The TCCs should be mandated to train their troops prior to deployment and debrief using the WPS resolutions as guide after deployment.”

She said the United Nations also has a Conduct and Discipline Unit under the Department of Field Support that maintains global oversight of the state of discipline in peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

“However, I once had a discussion with a Conduct and Discipline Officer in a peacekeeping mission and we asked him if they are integrating UNSCR 1325 in their training and he had no clue what I was taking about,” she said.

The U.N. is committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse but its Member States are not. The convention will bring some coherence, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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‘Je Suis Favela’ – Bringing Brazilian Books to the Frenchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/je-suis-favela-bringing-brazilian-books-to-the-french-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=je-suis-favela-bringing-brazilian-books-to-the-french-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/je-suis-favela-bringing-brazilian-books-to-the-french-2/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 09:19:50 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140519 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Long before the attack in Paris that inspired the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”, a young French publisher had released a collection of stories titled je suis favela about life in Brazilian slums.

In an ironic twist of history, sales of the collection have taken off since Jan. 7, when gunmen targeted the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 people dead.

French publisher Paula Anacaona

French publisher Paula Anacaona

Some readers apparently thought the je suis favela stories were an attempt to shed light on the situation of marginalised communities in France, but instead they learned about marginalised populations in South America, where similar forces of exclusion may push young people into crime.

“We can all learn from what is happening elsewhere in the world, because we’re all affected by similar social and economic issues,” says Paula Anacaona, the publisher of je suis favela and founder of Éditions Anacaona, whose mission is to publish Brazilian books in France.

Educated as a translator of technical texts, Paris-born Anacaona, 37, became a literary translator and publisher by chance. On holiday in Rio de Janeiro in 2003, she happened to start chatting with a woman who revealed she was a writer and who promised to send her a book.

Back in Paris, Anacaona received the book two months later and “loved it”, as she told IPS in an interview. She translated the work, written by Heloneida Studart and later called Le Cantique de Meméia, and managed to get a Canadian company to publish it.“To understand the favela, you have to understand the grandparents who came to the cities from rural areas, often with nothing and unable to read or write” – Paula Anacaona, founder of Éditions Anacaona

Studart, who died in 2007, was also an essayist, journalist and women’s rights activist, and the book caught the attention of French-speaking readers in several countries.

Other writers got in touch, and Anacaona found herself becoming a literary translator. But by sending out the works to publishing companies, she was also taking on the role of agent, a time-consuming task.

“With all that was involved, I thought why not publish the books myself?” she recalls. She set up Éditions Anacaona in 2009 and decided to focus initially on literature from and about the ghetto or favela in Brazil, because “no one else was doing it.”

The first published book under her imprint was le Manuel pratique de la haine (Practical Handbook of Hate), a very violent and dark work set in the favela and launched in 2009.

Two years later came je suis favela, published in 2011. Anacaona selected the writers for the collection, choosing authors from both the favela and the “middle class” and translating the works written in Portuguese into French.

Her motivation, she says, was to try to change perceptions of those considered to be living on the fringes of society. The cover of je suis favela features a young black woman sitting on a balcony and doing paperwork, possibly homework, with the city in the background.

“As you can see, she’s not dancing, so this isn’t about stereotypes,” Anacaona says.

Cover of ‘je suis favela’

Cover of ‘je suis favela’

The book has since been published in Brazil, with the title Eu sou favela, giving Anacaona a certain sense of accomplishment. “In Rio, twenty percent of the population lives in the favela, so the book is relevant to many readers,” she says.

In France, where there has been national soul-searching since the Charlie Hebdo attacks – with Prime Minister Manuel Valls calling the social exclusion of certain groups a form of “apartheid” – the book provides insights into the reasons and consequences of marginalisation, albeit from a distance of 8,620 kilometres.

“French readers have responded to the book because people really are trying to understand the space we all share and the reasons for radicalisation,” says Anacaona.

Now representing more than 15 authors, she has widened her company’s scope to include “regionalist” authors such as the late Rachel de Queiroz and José Lins do Rego, from the northeast of Brazil, who wrote about characters outside urban settings.

“To understand the favela, you have to understand the grandparents who came to the cities from rural areas, often with nothing and unable to read or write,” Anacaona says.

Her company’s contemporary writers include the award-winning Tatiana Salem Lévy, named one of Granta’s Best Young Brazilian Novelists, and the stand-out Ana Paula Maia, who began her career with “short pulp fiction” on the Internet and now has numerous fans.

Both writers were part of the contingent of 48 Brazilian authors invited to this year’s Paris Book Fair, which took place from Mar. 20 to 23.

Billed as “un pays plein de voix” (a country full of voice), Brazil was the guest of honour, and the writers discussed topics ranging from the depiction of urban violence to dealing with memory and displacement. Anacaona had a central role as a publisher of Brazilian books, with her stand attracting many readers.

Brazilian writer Ana Paula Maia. Credit: Marcelo  Correa

Brazilian writer Ana Paula Maia. Credit: Marcelo Correa

She has translated and published two titles by Maia – Du bétail et des hommes (Of Cattle and Men) and Charbon animal (Animal Coal) – which focus on characters not normally present in literature. Maia writes about a slaughterhouse employee and a worker at a crematorium, for instance, in an unsentimental manner with minimal dialogue and almost no adjectives.

“She really can’t be categorised,” says Anacaona, who adds that despite Maia’s fashion-model appearance, the writer identifies with those living on the margins because she grew up among people who did not fit into the mainstream.

Both publisher and writer bear a resemblance and even have a name in common, and Anacaona acknowledges that she is attracted to Brazil and its literature because of her own mixed background – her French mother is white and her South American father is of African descent.

“In Brazil, it’s possible to be both black and white, and that’s something that is important to me,” she says.

As for the books, she has recently published a boxed set of 14 Brazilian plays, with the translation sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, in an attempt to make Brazilian theatre more known in France.

There is also a second favela collection, titled je suis toujours favela (I am still favela), that includes literature as well as journalistic and sociological articles about the slums.

Between the first and second collections, Anacaona says she has found that the “favela has changed so much”, which she credits to the impact of policies to diminish inequality, launched by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva  – perhaps a lesson for France and other countries.

Edited by Phil Harris 

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Latin America’s Social Policies Have Given Women a Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 23:41:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140512 The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Although they do not specifically target women, social policies like family allowances and pensions have improved the lives of women in Latin America, the region that has made the biggest strides so far this century in terms of gender equality, although there is still a long way to go.

Luiza Carvalho of Brazil, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that can be seen in each report by her agency.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Carvalho said in an interview with IPS during the global conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015”, held in the Argentine capital from Wednesday May 6 to Friday May 8.

The advances made in Latin America, Carvalho said, “were not so much a result of economic policies; on the contrary, they were the result of social policies, which although not necessarily specifically aimed at women, ended up benefiting them a great deal, directly and indirectly.”“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality. -- Luiza Carvalho

Latin America’s successful cash transfer programmes include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance, Ecuador’s Human Development Bonus and Mexico’s Prospera.

Other measures that have had a positive impact were the improvement of the minimum wage, which did not include a gender perspective but benefited women, who are disproportionately paid low wages. That bolstered their purchasing power and as a result their decision-making capacity and “their control over some domestic matters,” Carvalho said.

The same was true of initiatives aimed at protecting informal sector workers, and the creation of non-contributory pensions, among which Carvalho mentioned those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

As a result of the various cash transfer programmes, “there is no doubt that extreme poverty was reduced throughout Latin America,” she said. “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”

But she argued that these programmes have a handicap: they put an emphasis on the responsibility of women as mothers.

“The conditions set are for women,” she said. “Women have to help children stay in school, women have to get their children vaccinated. And those conditions do not reinforce a more responsible role for men in child-rearing.”

“If we want to go beyond these achievements, policies should be focalised,” said Jessica Faieta, the U.N. Development Programme’s regional director, referring to what she called “second-generation social policies.”

“These should be policies directly targeting the inclusion of women in development gains, which have not reached everyone,” Faieta told IPS.

She said women – especially rural, indigenous and black women – stood out among the “excluded groups”.

Faieta stressed that inclusion of women has a positive impact on poverty eradication.

For her part, Carvalho described it as a “virtuous circle” of development.

Faieta said: “It has been proven that including women brings broader returns. Employing more women and paying them more equal wages has benefits that go beyond women, to their families.”

“Latin America understands that clearly. So much that we are seeing the expansion of these programmes in Africa and their introduction in Asia, which are replicating Latin America’s positive experiences,” said Carvalho. To shore up that process, the UNDP and Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) are currently working on systematising the regional initiatives.

“There is a very significant possibility of South-South cooperation,” Faieta said.

Prominent participants at the opening day of the global conference in Buenos Aires included U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark of New Zealand.

The meeting organised by the UNDP, U.N. Women and the Argentine government drew delegates from different regions, to reflect on persistent and new challenges facing girls and women living in poverty around the world, 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Among the challenges seen at a regional level, Carvalho mentioned the still-high maternal mortality rates, violence against women, and its most serious expression: femicide or misogynist or gender-related murders.

“Of the 28 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in our region,” she pointed out.

She attributed that phenomenon to “the failure of governments to respond with prevention measures, an entrenched ‘machista’ culture, a view of women as property or as part of a man’s private collection, and legal questions that block women’s access to land or credit.”

“Economic empowerment of women” is another pending challenge in Latin America, Faieta said. Despite the advances made in the region, “women still suffer the most from unemployment. And women are still paid less for the same work,” she pointed out.

Nevertheless, the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”, launched Apr. 27 by U.N. Women, reflects the progress made, stating that between 1990 and 2013, the biggest increase in women’s participation in the labour market occurred in Latin America.

During that period, their participation rose from 40 to 54 percent – although it remained far below men’s participation, which stood at 80 percent.

With respect to the persistent gender pay gap: the report adds that while women earn on average 24 percent less than men globally, in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 19 percent.

And in all Latin American countries that carry out time use surveys, women dedicate two to five times as much time as men to unremunerated work.

Other achievements were the political inclusion of women, in the region with the largest number of female heads of state and government.

Eleven countries passed laws establishing quotas for women’s political participation; 26.4 percent of lawmakers are women; and on average 22.4 percent of government ministers are women – the highest proportion of all regions, although still not high enough for an inclusive democracy, Faieta said.

“It is clear that conditional cash transfers won’t fix everything,” Carvalho clarified. “For that reason other policies must also be implemented.”

That includes specific gender policies as well as macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies.

Carvalho criticised cuts in social programmes “that affect society as a whole but especially women because they undermine education and health policies, and others that increase their domestic burden.”

“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s minister of social development, Alicia Kirchner, during the conference opening ceremony.

Clark, the UNDP chief, said that in the global Post-2015 development agenda, to be defined in December, it is essential to guarantee that all policies contain a gender perspective.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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