Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:25:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 OPINION: Tackling Human Vulnerabilities, Changing Investment, Policies and Social Norms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:38:58 +0000 Khalid Malik http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135724 By Khalid Malik
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

As successive Human Development Reports have shown, most people in most countries are doing better in human development. Globalisation, advances in technology and higher incomes all hold promise for longer, healthier, more secure lives.

But there is also a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today. Improvements in living standards can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump. Political threats, community tensions, crime and environmental damage all contribute to individual and community vulnerability.

The 2014 Report, on vulnerability and resilience, shows that human development progress is slowing down and is increasingly precarious. Globalisation, for instance, which has brought benefits to many, has also created new risks. It appears that increased volatility has become the new normal.

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

As financial and food crises ripple around the world, there is a growing worry that people and nations are not in control over their own destinies and thus are vulnerable to decisions or events elsewhere.

The report argues that human progress is not only a matter of expanding people’s choices to be educated, to live long, healthy lives, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. It is also about ensuring that these choices are secure and sustainable. And that requires us to understand – and deal with – vulnerability.

Traditionally, most analysis of vulnerability is in relation to specific risks, like disasters or conflicts. This report takes a wider approach, exploring the underlying drivers of vulnerabilities, and how individuals and societies can become more resilient and recover quicker and better from setbacks.

Vulnerability is a critical concern for many people. Despite recent progress, 1.5 billion people still live in multidimensional poverty. Half as many again, another 800 million, live just above the poverty threshold. A shock can easily push them back into poverty.

Nearly 80 percent of the world lacks social protection. About 12 percent, or 842 million, experiences chronic hunger, and nearly half of all workers – more than 1.5 billion – are in informal or precarious employment.

More than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by conflict. Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic are just some of the countries where human development is being reversed because of the impact of serious violent conflict. We live in a vulnerable world.

The report demonstrates and builds on a basic premise: that failing to protect people against vulnerability is often the consequence of inadequate policies and poor social institutions.

And what are these policies? The report looks, for instance, at how capabilities are formed, and at the threats that people face at different stages of their lives, from infancy through youth, adulthood, and old age.

Gaps in the vocabularies of children from richer and poorer families open up as early as age three, and only widen from there. Yet most countries do not invest much in those critical early years. (Sweden is a notable, good example.) Social spending needs to be aimed where and when it is needed most.

The report makes a strong call as well for the return of full employment as a central policy goal, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Jobs bring social benefits that far exceed the wages paid. They foster social stability and social cohesion, and decent jobs with the requisite protections strengthen people’s ability to manage shocks and uncertainty.

At the same time, these broader policies may not be enough. The report calls for more responsive institutions and laws to make societies fairer and more inclusive. Tackling long-standing discrimination against ‘structurally vulnerable’ groups such as women and the poor requires a renewed effort to promote positive norms, the adoption of special measures and supportive laws, and ensuring more equitable access to social services.

Countries acting alone can do much to make these changes happen – but national action can go only so far. In an interconnected world, international action is required to make these changes stick.

The provisioning of public goods – from disease control to global market regulations – are essential so that food price volatility, global recessions and climate change can be jointly managed to minimise the global effects of localised shocks.

Progress takes work and leadership. Many of the Millennium Development Goals are likely to be met by 2015, but success is by no means automatic, and gains cannot be assumed to be permanent. Helping vulnerable groups and reducing inequality are essential to sustaining development both now and across generations.

Khalid Malik is lead author of the Human Development Report and UNDP Director of the Human Development Report Office.

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OPINION: Empowering DR Congo’s Sexual Violence Survivors by Enforcing Reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:26:58 +0000 Sucharita S.K. Varanasi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135716 Rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena. Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

Rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena. Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Sucharita S.K. Varanasi
BOSTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Before a sexual violence survivor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has her day in court, she must surmount many obstacles. Poor or nonexistent roads and costly transportation may prevent her from going to a police station to report the crime, or to a hospital to receive treatment for the injuries sustained during the violence.

Inadequate training of law enforcement, limited resources for thorough investigations, and lack of witness protection may also compromise her case.

In the DRC, another impediment is a heavy reliance on traditional forms of justice. Sexual violence survivors are compelled by their families and communities to seek redress through traditional mechanisms because the process often leads to the survivor’s family receiving some type of compensation, such as a goat.

However attractive traditional justice may be for the family of those victimised, the survivor is rarely at the centre of the process. Understanding the various hurdles that a survivor must overcome in accessing the formal legal system is the first step in a survivor’s pursuit of justice.

Until recently, the international community has largely ignored the fact that even if survivors overcome many of these challenges and win their legal cases, they rarely receive reparations.

During a roundtable discussion hosted by Physicians for Human Rights, Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs earlier this year, experts identified reasons why survivors are unable to retrieve these hard-won reparations, and issued a set of recommendations that aim to help reverse this trend.

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi, a senior programme officer with Physicians for Human Rights says that in order to receive court-ordered monetary compensation, survivors of sexual violence in DRC must  navigate the onerous post-trial process alone. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi, a senior programme officer with Physicians for Human Rights.

In order to receive court-ordered monetary compensation, survivors of sexual violence must  navigate the onerous post-trial process alone – without counsel or support – and either pay upfront prohibitively expensive administrative fees and duties or collect and present difficult-to-obtain paperwork necessary to waive these fees.

Overcoming these obstacles can prove daunting – even insurmountable – for individuals who are well-resourced and connected, let alone for the majority of survivors who are financially indigent and disenfranchised.

The international community is finally paying apt attention to the fact that even if a survivor surmounts the many obstacles she faces in pursuing justice, it may never lead to compensation or to her perpetrator being brought to justice.

The roundtable participants, including key international stakeholders in the DRC, provided short-term recommendations to help survivors receive their judgments in hand. These include the training of judges on relevant Congolese laws to help survivors; direct international funds to help survivors navigate the post-trial process; engagement and education of community chiefs within traditional justice mechanisms about survivors’ rights and the need to direct survivors to the formal court system; and the strengthening and enforcement of penitentiary systems so that sentences are upheld and punishment can be a deterrent to committing such crimes in the future.

Long-term recommendations from roundtable participants included the need to marshal political will, creating both a sovereign mineral fund and a victims’ fund, and reforming the legal sector by creating mixed chambers and revising key pieces of legislation. Significantly, long-term strategies to support reparations for survivors must also take into consideration collective community responses for the many survivors who never report their violation or never engage in the justice process.

These recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but showcase a desire and commitment from international actors to help survivors receive monetary judgments.

Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured.

Enforcing monetary reparations justifies the hardship and difficulty of pursing justice in the first place for the survivors. The international community can help a sexual violence survivor move from a position of pain to power. The main question is whether we are willing to urge local governments and community leaders to make it happen.

Sexual violence survivors waiting to testify in a Congolese mobile court. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sexual violence survivors waiting to testify in a Congolese mobile court. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi is a senior programme officer, at the Programme on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones with Physicians for Human Rights. She travels and works in DRC and Kenya.

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‘Zero Tolerance’ the Call for Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:43:04 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135698 Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

By A. D. McKenzie
LONDON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

Heightening their campaign to eradicate violence against women and girls, United Nations agencies and civil groups have called for increased action to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

At the first Girl Summit in London Wednesday, hosted by the U.K. government and UNICEF, delegates said they wanted to send a strong message that there should be “zero tolerance” for these practices.

“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices,” Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, told IPS.“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices” – Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection

“FGM is an excruciatingly painful and terrifying ordeal for young girls. The physical effects can last a lifetime, resulting in horrific infections, difficulty passing urine, infertility and even death.”

Bissell said that when a young girl is married “it tends to mark the end of her education and she’s more likely to have children when she’s still a child herself – with a much higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth”.

“Without firm and accelerated action now, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer permanent damage,” she added in an e-mail interview.

At the summit, the United Kingdom announced an FGM prevention programme, launched by the government’s Department of Health and the National Health Service (NHS) England. Backed by 1.4 million pounds, the programme is designed to improve the way in which the NHS tackles female genital mutilation and “clarify the role of health professionals which is to ‘care, protect, prevent’,” the government said.

According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, some 130,000 people are affected by FGM in the United Kingdom, with “60,000 girls under the age of 15 potentially at risk”, even though the practice is outlawed in the country.

The prevention programme will now make it mandatory for all “acute hospitals” to report the number of patients with FGM to the Department of Health on a monthly basis, as of September of this year.

U.N. officials said that the Girl Summit was a significant development because it marked the importance of the issues addressed.

“International leaders came together in one place and said enough is enough,” Bissell said.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of intensified campaigns on the reductions in child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting over the past few years, the United Nations and other organisations have noted that the numbers of girls affected are in fact decreasing.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 has dropped by about half, from 34 percent to 18 percent over the last three decades, UNICEF says.

In South Asia, the decline has been especially marked for marriages involving girls under age 15, dropping from 32 percent to 17 percent.

“The marriage of girls under age 18, however, is still commonplace,” Bissell told IPS.

“In Indonesia and Morocco, the risk of marrying before age 18 is less than half of what it was three decades ago. In Ethiopia, women aged 20 to 24 are marrying about three years later than their counterparts three decades ago,” she added.

Regarding female genital mutilation/cutting, Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to one-third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation, while in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence of FGM has dropped by as much as half, Bissell said.

However, officials stressed that with population growth, it is possible that progress in reducing child marriage will remain flat unless the commitments made at the Girl Summit are acted upon. Flat progress “isn’t good enough”, Bissell told IPS.

Recently released U.N. figures show that, despite the declines, child marriage is widespread, with more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. UNICEF says that some 250 million women were married before the age of 15.

The highest percentage of these women can be found in South Asia, followed by East Asia and the Pacific which is home to 25 percent of girls and women married before the age of 18, UNICEF says.

Statistics also indicate that girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. In addition, teenage mothers are more at risk from complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; some 70,000 adolescent girls die every year because of such complications, according to the United Nations.

The statistics on female genital mutilation are also cause for international concern, with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saying that about 125 million girls and women have been subjected to the practice, which can lead to haemorrhage, infection, physical dysfunction, obstructed labour and death.

According to UNFPA, female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage are human rights violations that both help to perpetuate girls’ low status by impairing their health and long-term development.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin told IPS that a number of states have adopted legislation against female genital mutilation/cutting but that some perpetrators are still operating with “impunity”.

Participating in the London summit, Osotimehin said that certain governments were facing challenges within their own countries because of long-held cultural beliefs, but like Bissell, he said that the picture is not completely bleak, because civil society and grassroots organisations are amplifying their campaigns.

“Our message for girls who are affected by these practices is that they have support – moral, psychological, physical and emotional support,” he told IPS. “We also want to send a message that those who are affected should advocate to try and stop these practices.”

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said it was significant that the summit saw commitment from the African Union and the deputy prime Minister of Ethiopia, as well as from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID). The Government of Canada and several other financial supporters also made commitments.

For the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the pledges show support for the message of “zero tolerance” of child marriage and FGM that her organisation wishes to send. They are also a strong signal that the practices can be ended in a generation, she told IPS.

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Focus on Child Marriage, Genital Mutilation at All-Time High http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:41:50 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135704 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained  by civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

As Tuesday’s major summits here and in London focused global attention on adolescent girls, the United Nations offered new data warning that more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation, while more than 700 million women alive today were forced into marriage as children.

Noting how such issues disproportionately affect women in Africa and the Middle East, the new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) surveyed 29 countries and discussed the long-term consequences of both female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue.” -- Ann Warner

While the report links the former practice with “prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death,” it mentions how the latter can predispose women to domestic violence and dropping out of school.

“The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts. And let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate [FGM] and child marriage.”

Despite these ongoing problems, Tuesday’s internationally recognised Girl Summit comes as the profile of adolescent girls – and, particularly, FGM – has risen to the top of certain agendas. On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a legislative change that will now make it a legally enforceable parental responsibility to prevent FGM.

“We’ve reached an all-time high for both political awareness and political will to change the lives of women around the world,” Ann Warner, a senior gender and youth specialist at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), a research institute here, told IPS.

Warner recently co-authored a policy brief recommending that girls be given access to high-quality education, support networks, and practical preventative skills, and that communities provide economic incentives, launch informational campaigns, and establish a legal minimum age for marriage.

Speaking Tuesday at the Washington summit, Warner added that there has been “a good amount of promising initiatives – initiated by NGOs, government ministers and grassroots from around the world – that have been successful in turning the tide on the issue and changing attitudes, knowledge and practices.”

Advocates around the world can learn from these efforts, Warner said, paying particular attention to the progress India has made in preventing child marriage. Still, she believes that a comprehensive global response is necessary.

“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue” of FGM and child marriage, she said. “With 14 million girls married each year, a handful of individual projects around the world are simply not enough to make a dent in that problem.”

U.S. action

The need for better coordination and accountability was echoed by Lyric Thompson, co-chair of the Girls Not Brides-USA coalition, a foundation that co-sponsored Tuesday’s Girl Summit here in Washington.

“If we are going to end child marriage in a generation, as the Girl Summit charter challenges us to do, that is going to mean a much more robust effort than what is currently happening,” Thompson told IPS. “A few small programmes, no matter how effective, will not end the practice.”

In particular, Thompson is calling on the United States to take a more active stand against harmful practices that affect women globally, which she adds is consistent with the U.S Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

“If America is serious about ending this practice in a generation, this means not just speeches and a handful of [foreign aid] programmes, but also the hard work of ensuring that American diplomats are negotiating with their counterparts in countries where the practice is widespread,” she says.

“It also means being directly involved in difficult U.N. negotiations, including the ones now determining the post-2015 development agenda, to ensure a target on ending child, early and forced marriage is included under a gender equality goal.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. government announced nearly five million dollars to counter child and forced marriage in seven developing countries for this year, while pledging to work on new U.S. legislation on the issue next year. (The U.S. has also released new information on its response to FGM and child marriage.)

“​We know the fight against child marriage is the fight against extreme poverty,” Rajiv Shah, the head of the United States’ main foreign aid agency, stated Tuesday.

“That’s why USAID has put women and girls at the centre of our efforts to answer President Obama’s call to end extreme poverty in two generations. It’s a commitment that reflects a legacy of investment in girls – in their education, in their safety, in their health, and in their potential.”

Global ‘tipping point’

Of course, civil society actors around the world likely hold the key to changing long-held social views around these contentious issues.

“Federal agencies, in a position to respond to forced marriage cases, must work together and with community and NGO partners to ensure thoughtful and coordinated policy development,” Archi Pyati, director of public oolicy at Tahirih Justice Center, a Washington-based legal advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Teachers, counsellors, doctors, nurses and others who are in a position to help a girl or woman to avoid a forced marriage or leave one must be informed and ready to respond.”

Pyati points to an awareness-raising campaign around forced marriage that will tour the United States starting in September. In this, social media is also becoming an increasingly important tool for advocacy efforts.

“Technology has brought us a new way to tell our governments and our corporations what matters to us,” Emma Wade, counsellor of the Foreign and Security Policy Group at the British Embassy here, told IPS. “Governments do take notice of what’s trending on Twitter and the like, and corporations are ever-mindful of ways to differentiate themselves … in the search for market share and committed customers.”

Wade noted within her presentation at Tuesday’s summit that individuals can pledge their support for “a future free from FGM and child and forced marriage” via the digital Girl Summit Pledge.

Shelby Quast, policy director of Equality Now, an international human rights organisation based in Nairobi, reiterated the importance of tackling FGM and child marriage across a variety of domains.

“The approach that works best is multi-sectoral… including the law, education, child protection and other elements such as support for FGM survivors and media advocacy strategies,” Quast explained. “We are at a tipping point globally, so let’s keep the momentum up to ensure all girls at risk are protected.”

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Gaza Under Fire – a Humanitarian Disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:05:54 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135676 Following an Israeli airstrike, Palestinian youth inspect the building their families lived in. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Following an Israeli airstrike, Palestinian youth inspect the building their families lived in. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

As a result of over two weeks of Israeli bombardment, thousands of Palestinian civilians have fled their homes in the north of Gaza and sought refuge in schools run by the UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

Among the worst affected are Gazan children who have been forced to live in constant fear and danger, according to Dr. Sami Awaida, a specialised child psychiatrist for the Gaza Mental Health Programme – a local civil society and humanitarian organization that focuses on war trauma and mental health issues concerning children and adults in Gaza.“Children in Gaza have already suffered from two recent violent and shocking experiences in 2009 and 2012 … This trauma now re-generates previous pain and shock and also leads to a mental state of permanent fear and insecurity among children here” – Dr. Sami Awaida, a specialised child psychiatrist for the Gaza Mental Health Programme

Describing the impact of the current trauma, Awaida told IPS:  “Children in Gaza are suffering from anxiety, fear and insecurity because of this war situation.  The challenge we now face as mental health practitioners is ‘post-traumatic disorder’.”

“This means that children in Gaza have already suffered from two recent violent and shocking experiences in 2009 and 2012,” he continued. “This trauma now re-generates previous pain and shock and also leads to a mental state of permanent fear and insecurity among children here.”

Since Monday July 7, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to a severe military assault and engaged with the Palestinian factions in a new round of violence.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has so far reported 230 Palestinians killed; most of them are entire families who were killed in direct shelling of Palestinian houses. Meanwhile, the number of injured has risen to 2,500. Many of the injured and the dead are children.

Hospitals in Gaza are currently suffering from a severe shortage of medical supplies and medicines. Ashraf Al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Gaza Ministry of Health, has called on the international community “to support hospitals in Gaza with urgent medical supplies, as Israel continues its military attacks, leaving more than 800 houses completely destroyed and 800 families without shelter.”

Since Israel began its current offensive against Gaza, its military forces have been accused of pursuing a policy of destroying Palestinian houses and killing civilians. Adnan Abu Hasna, media advisor and spokesperson for UNRWA in Gaza, told IPS that “UNRWA has officially demanded from Israel to respect international humanitarian law and the neutrality of civilians in the military operation.”

He added: “UNRWA stresses the need to fulfill the obligations of the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to immediately stop violence, due to the increasing number of children and women killed in the Israeli striking and bombardment of Gaza.”

Assam Yunis, director of the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, spoke to IPS about the stark violations of human rights and the urgent need for justice and accountability. “The current situation is catastrophic in every aspect,” he said.

“Human rights abuses are unbelievable and these include targeting medical teams and journalists, in addition to targeting children and women by Israel.  This points to clear violations of international law as well as war crimes.  Israel must be held legally accountable at the international level.”

Analysing the situation, Gaza-based political analyst and intellectual Ibrahim Ibrash says he believes that “Israel will never manage to end and uproot both Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance from Gaza. On the other hand, the Palestinian militant groups will never manage to destroy and defeat Israel.”

He told IPS that the consequences for the Palestinians at the internal level after this military aggression ends will be critical, including “a split between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority; many people will be outraged with the Palestinian leadership, and this of course will leave Gaza in a deplorable state.”

This critical crisis in Gaza comes against a backdrop of a continued blockade imposed on the territory by Israel, widespread unemployment, severe poverty, electricity cuts, closure of borders and crossings since 2006, destroyed infrastructure and a stagnant Gazan economy, combined with a lack of political progress at the Israeli-Palestinian political level.

The real truth that no one can deny is that the civilian population, including women and children, in Gaza are the real victims of this dangerous conflict.

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Stunting: The Cruel Curse of Malnutrition in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:59:26 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135646 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
RASUWA, Nepal, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Durga Ghimire had her first child at the age of 18 and the second at 21. As a young mother, Durga didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of her own health during pregnancy.

“I didn’t realise it would have an impact on my baby,” she says as she sits on the porch of her house in Laharepauwa, some 120 kilometers from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, nursing her third newborn child.

It is late in the afternoon and she is waiting expectantly for her two older daughters to return from school. One is nine and the other is six, but they look much smaller than their actual age.

“They are smaller in height and build and teachers at school say their learning process is also much slower,” Durga tells IPS. She is worried that the girls are stunted, and is trying to ensure her third child gets proper care.

A recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report shows that Nepal is among 10 countries in the world with the highest stunting prevalence, and one of the top 20 countries with the highest number of stunted children.

“Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.” -- Peter Oyloe, chief of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara (‘Good Nutrition’) project at Save the Children-Nepal
UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five.

“Nepal’s ranking […] is worrying, not just globally but also in South Asia,” Giri Raj Subedi, senior public health officer at Nepal’s ministry of health and population, tells IPS.

A 2013 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) done by Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) says while the number of stunted children declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2011, it is still high above the 30 percent target set by the U.N..

“Stunting is a specific measure of the height of a child compared to the age of the child, and it is indicative of how well the child is developing cognitively,” says Peter Oyloe, chief of party of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara, or ‘Good Nutrition’ project at Save the Children Nepal.

Oyloe adds, “Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Child health and nutrition experts argue that, while poverty is directly related to inadequate intake of food, it is not the sole indicator of malnutrition or increased stunting.

Saba Mebrahtu, chief of the nutrition section at UNICEF-Nepal, says the immediate causes include poor nutrient intake, particularly early in life. Fifty percent of stunting happens during pregnancy and the rest after infants are born.

“When we are talking about nutrient-rich food […] we are talking about ensuring that children get enough of it even before they are born,” says Mebrahtu. The time between conception and a child’s second birthday is a crucial period, she said, one of rapid growth and cognitive development.

Thus it is incumbent on expecting mothers to follow a careful diet before the baby is born.

Basic education could save lives

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, lives a few doors down from Durga. Separated by a few houses, their approaches to nutrition are worlds apart.

Ghimire breast-fed her 18-month-old daughter exclusively for six months. She continues to make sure that her own diet includes green leafy vegetables, meat or eggs, along with rice and other staples, as she is still nursing.

She gives credit to the female community health-worker in her village, who informed her about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

In preparation for her daughter’s feeding time, Ghimire mixes together a bowl of homemade leeto, a porridge containing one-part whole grains such as millet or wheat and two-parts pulses such as beans or soy.

“I was only using grains to make the leeto before I was taught to make it properly by the health workers and Suaahara,” she says.

However, making leeto was not the most important lesson Ghimire learned as an expecting mother. “I had no idea that simple things like washing my hands properly could have such a long term effect on my daughter’s health,” she says.

Even seemingly common infections like diarrhoea can, in the first two years, put a child at greater risk of stunting.

“That is because the nutrients children are using for development are used instead to fight against infection,” says Mebrahtu emphasising the need for simple practices such as proper hand washing and cleaning of utensils.

If children are suffering from infection due to poor hygiene and sanitation they can have up to six diarrhoeal episodes per year, she warns, adding that while “children recover from these infections, they don’t come back to what they were before.”

Fighting on all fronts

Food insecurity is one of the biggest contributing factors to stunting in Nepal. Rugged hills and mountains comprise 77 percent of the country’s total land area, where 52 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people live.

Food insecurity is worst in the central and far western regions of the country; the prevalance of stunting in these areas is also extreme, with rates above 60 percent in some locations.

Thus experts recognise the need to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts.

“Our work in nutrition has proven again and again that a single approach to stunting doesn’t work because the causes are so many – it really has to be tackled in a coordinated way,” says UNICEF’s Mebrahtu.

In 2009 the government conducted the Nutrition Assessment and Gap Analysis (NAGA), which recommended building a multi-sector nutrition architecture to address the gaps in health and nutrition programmes.

“The NAGA study stated clearly that nutrition was not the responsibility of one department, as was previously thought,” Radha Krishna Pradhan, programme director of health and nutrition at Nepal’s NPC, tells IPS.

Nepal is also one of the first countries to commit to the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which recognises multiple causes of malnutrition and recommends that partners work across sectors to achieve nutritional goals.

Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP).

Public health experts say MSNP is a living example of the SUN movement in action and offers interventions with the aim of reducing the current prevalence of malnutrition by one-third.

Interventions include biannual vitamin D and folic acid supplements for expectant mothers, deworming for children, prenatal care, and life skills for adolescent girls.

On the agricultural front, ministries aim to increase the availability of food at the community level through homestead food production, access to clean and cheap energy sources such a biogas and improved cooking stoves, and the education of men to share household loads.

MSNP’s long-term vision is to work towards significantly reducing malnutrition so it is no longer an impending factor towards development. The World Bank has estimated that malnutrition can cause productivity losses of as much as 10 percent of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to three percent of a country’s GDP.

At present the Plan is in its initial phase and has been implemented in six out of 75 districts in Nepal since 2013.

(END)

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India’s Great Invisible Workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-great-invisible-workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135610 Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

According to census data released this month, a whopping 160 million women in India, 88 percent of who are of working age (15 to 59 years), are confined to their homes performing ‘household duties’ rather than gainfully employed in the formal job sector.

Dubbed India’s ‘great invisible workforce’, this demographic is primarily involved in rearing families within the four walls of their homes.

This asymmetry in the workforce, experts say, reflects illiberal economic policies as well as complex social dynamics, which scupper the chances of women in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’ to realise their full income-generating potential.

The odds are heavily stacked against women in this vast country of 1.2 billion. Though more women are going out to work, India primarily remains a nation of stay-at-home wives who play a pivotal role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security.

Small wonder, then, that India ranks an abysmal 101st in a 136-nation survey titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2013, which tracks international progress in bridging the gender gap worldwide.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.” -- Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist
The index measures the “relative gaps between women and men” across countries in four key areas – health, education, economics and politics. With so many million women out of the workforce, India’s overall ranking reflects lopsided government policies that are failing to harness the full potential of a key demographic.

“The stay-at-home woman syndrome is a shocking loss to the country as well as to the women themselves,” says Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.”

Even though women achievers have earned admiration and respect in Indian society, gender-stereotyping results in most women facing a clash between work and family life, especially when they have to prioritise one over the other.

Despite a boom in the education sector, Indian women also remain less educated than men even though they make up nearly half the population.

The literacy rate for Indian women hovers at around 65 percent as per the 2011 census, compared to over 82 percent literacy among men.

This is an overwhelming reason for Indian women’s unemployment, say analysts.

Most Indian women comprise part of the country’s sprawling ‘informal’ sector‘, defined by the absence of decent working conditions as specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lax labour laws and insufficient or insecure wages.

According to a 2011 ILO report, 83.8 percent of South Asian women are engaged in so-called ‘vulnerable employment’ that can in most cases be defined as casual labour or sporadic employment such as the manufacturing of garments and other handmade items produced within the worker’s own home.

Indian women workers represent a considerable share of this segment, which has expanded substantially over the last 20 years, researchers say.

While the percentage of women employed in the informal economy remains high, the number of Indian women engaged in formal, secure and recognised labour is still minimal. Only 14-15 percent of workers in the formal sector are women, a number that has remained stagnant for several years.

India also lags far behind the world’s average when it comes to female representation in management, with women occupying a miserable two to three percent of administrative and managerial positions nationwide.

According to Dr. Manasi Mishra, head of research at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a New Delhi-based think tank, “Indian women usually tend to drop out at mid-career-level positions as they prioritise personal commitments and find it difficult to balance organisational demands, career aspirations and family commitments.”

Also, despite valiant efforts to build gender diversity in the workplace, corporate India still has less than five percent of women at top management and board levels. Only 50 percent of the women who graduate from business schools enter the workforce, says a CSR survey entitled ‘Women Managers In India – Challenges & Opportunities’.

The persistence of an invisible glass ceiling in the workplace and the prevalence of stereotyped gender roles also contribute to lower representation of women in higher-level positions, Mishra says.

“Society and organisations should work in synergy to prevent [women from dropping out] on the journey from education to employment,” she stressed.

Unfortunately, the problem is not specific to India. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, women make up about 48 percent of the overall public sector workforce, but represent less than 20 percent of public sector leadership across the G20 countries the consulting firm studied.

Diversity, according to the index, is crucial to delivering more effective governance and increased economic competitiveness.

Ernst & Young also found that the ratios of women in leadership roles vary widely. Over half of Germany’s public sector workforce is female (52 percent), but only 15 percent of women have leadership positions.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, women make up 42 percent of the public sector workforce, but only three percent are leaders.

Russia, with the highest number of women represented across the public sector (71 percent), has just 13 percent female representation in leadership roles.

Here too, India languishes at the bottom of the pyramid with only 7.7 percent of its public sector leaders being female.

Experts say there is an urgent need for gender-sensitisation.

“The precondition for any effective social security policy aimed at women,” explains Amitabh Kumar, head of the media and communications division at CSR, “is the provision of economic security through ownership rights, and the securing of women’s right to resources such as land, housing, energy and technology.

“As long as the State takes no effective measures to ensure these very basic rights for women, we can’t expect even those social security policies aimed at women to have any effect.”

For the time being, it appears that India’s great invisible workforce will remain in the shadows until the government makes a determined effort to bring these women into the light.

(END)

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What Selfies Have in Common with the SDGs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/what-selfies-have-in-common-with-the-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-selfies-have-in-common-with-the-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/what-selfies-have-in-common-with-the-sdgs/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 17:03:20 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135598 A teenage girl surfs the internet at a resource centre in Nairobi. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

A teenage girl surfs the internet at a resource centre in Nairobi. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

“My cousin was a very successful and distinguished student. She said that she finished high school with excellent grades and enrolled in college, but a month later, her parents forced her to leave school and burned all her books and studying material. So, the girl set fire to herself.”

As gruesome as this particular story’s outcome may be, such a narrative – in which a female student pursues education and subsequently faces generational resistance – is common in the anonymous storyteller’s home of Iraq.The Middle East and North Africa lead the world in both their population of active Twitter users and number of registered YouTube accounts.

Yet thanks to the digital STOP-GBV (gender-based violence) campaign launched by AMAR U.S., an international peace-building non-profit, women who witness or experience human rights violations such as this one are now able to share their stories via social media platforms.

Christopher Kyriacou, the chief executive officer of AMAR U.S, says that social media has allowed his group’s women’s rights initiative to “blossom”, such as through the remarkable youth participation in AMAR’s Facebook pages.

“Many students undertake the responsibility of searching and investigating cases of gender-based violence and discrimination, and select the topics to be discussed during the lectures,” Kyriacou said, citing the testimony of a STOP-GBV project manager.

He adds that the Facebook pages allow students to “publish articles and pictures related to the issue [of Gender-Based Violence]…and participate in the dissemination of these subjects.”

AMAR’s digital dialogue represents just one instance of how technology’s presence has expanded in the world’s historically voiceless regions.

According to a 2013 Infographic collected by Squared Online, a UK-based digital marketing initiative, the number of social media users in the Middle East and North Africa is projected to increase 191 percent from 2011 to 2017. The study also notes how the Middle East and North Africa lead the world in both their population of active Twitter users and number of registered YouTube accounts.

It is this trend that has prompted many international development organisations to harness the rise of technology and social media in their respective education, public health and human rights initiatives.

Given that the theme of this year’s recently-celebrated World Population Day is to “’invest in the youth,” the international community has increasingly recognised the importance of using innovative digital techniques to engage the world’s enormous cohort of 15-to-35 year-olds – the largest ever- in their democracy-oriented agenda.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N.’s Population Fund (UNFPA), said in a statement that if young citizens are “skilled and informed”, then they can “contribute more fully to their communities and nations.”

With this goal in mind, he is enthusiastic about the potential of technology to help provide young people with a voice, calling it “unethical” for such a large youth population to be neglected in the democratic process.

“We believe the possibilities with technology are enormous, and thus we see an urgent need to work with those in technology,” UNFPA’s Osotimehin told IPS. “We see people in international communities who have not yet been to school, but are carrying around smart phones … In 1999, Nigeria had only 400,000 landlines, whereas today there are more than 100 million cell phones.”

In order to unite this global tech explosion with its focus on youth, the UNFPA has launched a “selfie campaign”, in which young people from around the world can submit self-taken photographs of themselves to social media platforms using the tag #WPD2014.

The symbolic meaning behind this digital petition, which is scheduled to run through September, is to give young people a central role in crafting the United Nations’ post-2015 global development agenda.

“When you are isolated from global meetings like the U.N. General Assemblies to which your governments go to as member states … your selfies are saying you want to be in the picture of future development frameworks,” Laurent Zessler, a UNFPA representative, said as she premiered the campaign to youths in Fiji.

In addition to providing a medium for youths to share their stories and advocate for a role in future U.N. decision-making, technology has also facilitated the faster and more widespread transmission of practical information to youths.

A prime example of this strategy is the Text to Change (TTC) campaign, which is described as a social enterprise that “sends and receives information via mobile telephony in emerging countries.”

Josette de Vroeg, communications manager of the Netherlands-based campaign, said TTC was conceived on the premise that “every citizen in this world should have access to information, no matter if you’re rich or poor.

“We send participants the right personalised message at the right time, providing them with crucial information at the moment when they need it most,” de Vroeg told IPS. “The main objective is reducing infant and maternal mortality.”

Noting how TTC has been particularly effective in providing important health information to young pregnant women in Tanzania, de Vroeg concluded that, with the help of partners such as the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tanzania Ministry of Health, more than 30 million free text messages have been sent out and 500,000 women have participated.

With the initiative’s presence now in 16 countries, de Vroeg added that TTC is currently running “the biggest interactive SMS campaign ever.”

“Over 80 percent of the African people now have access to a mobile phone. That’s why this is the most important medium for making a connection,” de Vroeg told IPS. “TTC connects organisations with their hard-to-reach target group, via mobile.”

Asked about how the campaign’s target populations have reacted to such an innovative technique, de Vroeg said that the feedback has been nothing but positive, with TTC’s beneficiaries saying that the text messages have helped them run businesses, learn about HIV, and improve their self-esteem.

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Pakistani Rights Advocates Fight Losing Battle to End Child Marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:53:22 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135594 Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

At first glance, there is nothing very unusual about Muhammad Asif Umrani. A resident of Rojhan city located in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, he is expectantly awaiting the birth of his first child, barely a year after his wedding day.

A few minutes of conversation, however, reveal a far more complex story: Umrani is just 14 years old, preparing for fatherhood while still a child himself. His ‘wife’, now visibly pregnant, is even younger than he, though she declined to disclose her name and real age.

The young couple sees nothing out of the ordinary about their circumstances; here in the Rajanpur district of Punjab, early marriages are the norm.

Girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family. -- Sher Ali, a social activist in Rojhan city
Umrani’s father, a small-scale farmer, tells IPS he is “proud” to have married his son off and “brought home a daughter-in-law to serve the family.”

Similar sentiments echo all around this country of 180 million people where, according to the latest figures released by the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (2012-2013), 35.2 percent of currently married women between 25 and 49 years of age were wed before they were 18.

According to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, seven percent of all boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan.

Families like Umrani’s are either blissfully unaware of, or completely indifferent towards, domestic laws governing childhood unions.

Intazar Medhi, a lawyer based in Lahore, tells IPS that the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 – which prohibits girls under the age of 16 and boys under the age of 18 from being legally wed – is one of the least invoked laws in the country.

While the Act is in force in every province, and was recently amended by the government of Sindh to increase the legal marriage age of both boys and girls to 18, it is hardly a deterrent to the deeply embedded cultural practice.

For one thing, violators are fined a maximum of 1,000 rupees (about 10 dollars), what many experts have called a “trifling sum”; and for another, the law doesn’t extend to the many thousands of ‘unofficial’ marriage ceremonies that take place around the country every day.

In a country where 97 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, few nikahs (marriage agreements under Islamic law) are registered with an official state authority.

Scores of married couples live together for years without any documentary evidence of their union, with many families preferring to avoid legal formalities.

It is thus nearly impossible for government officials to estimate just how many such ‘illegal’ unions are taking place, or to dissolve contracts that entail nothing more than the presence of a religious person and witnesses for the bride and groom.

Some advocates like Intezar believe the problem can be rectified by following the example of the Sindh province, whose amendment of the 1929 Act upped its punitive power to include a three-year non-bailable prison term and a 450-d0llar fine for offenders.

He thinks setting 16 as the official marriage age – the same age at which Pakistanis receive their Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) – will make it easier for law enforcement officials to take action against those responsible for marrying off young children.

The government, he says, must also take steps to ensure timely birth registrations as millions spend lifetimes without any documentary proof of their existence.

Tradition trumps law enforcement

But for Sher Ali, a social activist based in the same city as Umrani’s family, a single law will not suffice to clamp down on a centuries-old practice that serves multiple purposes within traditional Pakistani society.

For instance, he tells IPS, girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family.

Various tribes also have different standards for determining an appropriate marriage age. For example, Sher explained, in some regions like the Southern Punjab, a girl is deemed ready for marriage and motherhood the day she can lift a full pitcher of water and carry it on her head.

In a country where the annual per capita income hovers at close to 1,415 dollars and 63 percent of the population lives in rural areas, girls are considered a burden and cash-strapped families try to get rid of them as early as possible.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to ending child marriages is the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), an unofficial parliamentary advisor, which also wields tremendous power to influence public opinion.

When the Sindh government announced its plans to extend the marriage age, CII Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani denounced the move as an effort to “please the international community [by going] against Islamic teachings and practices.”

Comprised of prominent religious scholars, the Council has repeatedly urged the parliament to refrain from setting a “minimum marriage age”. Though parliament is not legally bound to any suggestions made by the body, many allege that the extent of its political power renders any ‘advice’ a de facto order.

Indeed, repeated assertions by religious groups that puberty sanctions marriage has led to a situation in which girls between eight and 12 years, and boys in the 12-15 age bracket, find themselves husbands and wives, while their peers are still in middle-school.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from Malaysia, Dr. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi – who is known as a moderate and had to leave the country after receiving several death threats from extremists – said that since Islam does not specify an exact marriage age, it is up to the government to draft necessary laws to protect the rights of its citizens.

He fully supports the implementation of a law that only allows legal unions between people who are old enough to run a household and bring up children.

“Such laws are not at all in conflict with the teachings of the religion,” he insisted.

Qamar Naseem, programme coordinator of Blue Veins, an organisation working to eliminate child marriages, pointed out that such a law is not only a domestic duty but also an international obligation, since the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution against child, early and forced marriages in 2013.

Supported by over 100 of the world body’s 193 members, the resolution recognises child marriage as a human rights violation and vows to eliminate the practice, in line with the organisation’s post-2015 global development agenda.

Various studies have documented the impact of child marriage on Pakistani society, including young girls’ increased vulnerability to medical conditions like fistula, and a massive exodus from formal education.

Experts say Pakistan has the highest school dropout rate in the world, with 35,000 pupils leaving primary education every single year, largely as a result of early marriages.

Slowly, thanks in large part to the tireless work of activists, the tide is turning, with more people becoming aware of the dangers of early marriages.

But according to Arshad Mahmood, director of advocacy and child rights governance at Save the Children-Pakistan, much more needs to be done.

He told IPS there is an urgent need for training and education of nikah registrars, police officers, members of the judiciary and media personnel at the district level in order to discourage child marriages.

Effective laws must be coupled with the necessary budgetary allocation to allow for implementation and enforcement, he added.

“People will have to be informed that child marriages are the main reason behind high maternal and newborn mortality ratios in Pakistan,” he concluded.

(END)

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U.N.’s New Development Goals Must Also Be Measurable for Rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:45:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135580 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations is on the verge of releasing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – perhaps 17 or more – to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will run out by the end of 2015.

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda which, among other things, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030."Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?" -- Jens Martens

Neelie Kroes of the European Commission says the new development agenda is being described as “the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations in its entire history.”

But Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS that in general, the current list of proposed goals and targets is not an adequate response to the global social, economic and environmental crises and the need for fundamental change.

The proposed SDG list, he pointed out, contains a mix of recycled old commitments and vaguely formulated new ones (such as the goal 1.a. to “ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources to provide adequate and predictable means to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.”).

According to some development experts, the world’s rich nations have mostly failed to meet their obligations on MDG target 8 which called for a “global partnership for development” between developed and developing nations.

As the Geneva-based South Centre points out, “The SDGs should not be a set of goals for only developing countries to undertake as a kind of conditionality or new obligations.”

The Rio-plus-20 outcome document, adopted at an international conference in Brazil in 2012, specifically said the new goals should be “universally applicable to all countries,” including developed countries.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The OWG is currently holding its 13th – and perhaps final – round of negotiations ending Friday, after which a report is to be submitted to the General Assembly in August.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

Until then, said one senior U.N. official, “there may be plenty of deletes and inserts.”

Martens told IPS governments should not repeat the mistake of MDG 8 on “global partnership”, which was formulated so vaguely it did not imply any binding commitments for the North.

“What we need instead are measurable goals for the rich,” said Martens, who has been monitoring the last 12 sessions of the OWG.

He said any post-2015 agenda must address the structural obstacles and political barriers that prevented the realisation of the MDGs, such as unfair trade and investment rules (including the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism) and the problems of tax evasion and tax avoidance by TNCs and wealthy individuals.

“Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?” he asked.

Among activist groups, there was widespread criticism that water and sanitation was not a “stand alone goal” in the current MDGs but only a secondary goal under Goal 7 on “environmental sustainability.”

Nadya Kassam, global head of campaigns at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS, “We believe water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal for the post-2015 framework, and we are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”

She said it is unthinkable that water, sanitation and hygiene could not be included – they are critical to so many other outcomes such as good health, education and economic growth.

U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson has made the importance of sanitation clear, with his campaign to end open defecation, which WaterAid strongly supports.

After nearly 15 years on from the MDGs, the original goal on water to halve the proportion of people without has been reached globally. Yet coverage in sub-Saharan Africa remains poor, with 36 percent of the population still living without this essential service.

Kassam said access to sanitation is lagging the furthest behind, and at the current rates of progress, it would take sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, over 150 years just to reach the existing goal of halving the proportion of people without.

“So water, and in particular sanitation, need to be of central importance going forward,” she said.

Martens said it is a positive signal that the current draft list of proposed SDGs contains a goal on reducing inequality within and between countries.

“It will be of utmost importance that this goal does not get lost in the final phase of the negotiations,” he stressed.

However, it would not be sufficient to just have a single goal on inequality — each SDG should have targets and indicators on distribution and inequality, Martens said.

Meanwhile in a statement released Monday, Reporters Without Borders said there was “heated discussion and opposition from certain OWG members such as Russia, Cuba and China” on a proposed SDG covering media and information.

The protection of the right to information is in danger of being weakened or disappearing altogether, to be replaced by a vague reference to freedom of expression, the statement added.

At the Millennium Summit held in New-York in September 2000, 189 U.N. member-states adopted the Millennium Declaration based on the outcomes of several international conferences of the 1990s, including population, human rights, the environment, habitat and social development.

A year later, in August 2001, the U.N. Secretariat released the eight MDGs.

But the goals were devised not by governments through an open debate but by a working committee drawn from several U.N. bodies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (MF), the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The goals were not the object of a formal resolution of the U.N. General Assembly.

The eight MDGs included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Time to “Drop the Knife” for FMG in The Gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 11:23:18 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135524 Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Jul 13 2014 (IPS)

Women’s rights activists in the Gambia are insisting that more than 30 years of campaigning to raise awareness should be sufficient to move the government to outlaw female genital mutilation (FMG).

The practice remains widespread in this tiny West African country of 1.8 million people, but rights activists believe that their campaign has now reached the tipping point.

Two years ago, GAMCOTRAP, an apolitical non-governmental organisation (NGO) committed to the promotion and protection of women and girl children’s political, social, sexual, reproductive health and educational rights in The Gambia, and one of the groups behind the anti-FGM campaign, sponsored a draft bill which has been subjected to wide stakeholder consultations.

Several previous attempts to legislate against FGM have failed, with no fewer than three pro-women laws having had clauses on FGM removed from draft bills. But activists now appear determined to make the final push and hope that when introduced this time round, the bill will go through.“We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women ... if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem” – former circumciser Babung Sidibeh

The time has now come for final action, says Amie Bensouda, legal consultant for the draft bill. “There can be no half measures. The law has to be clear. It’s proposed by the law that FGM in all its forms is prohibited. This discussion cannot go on forever. The government should do what is right.”

“The campaign has reached its climax,” Dr Isatou Touray, executive director of GAMCOTRAP, told IPS. “A lot of work has been done. I am hopeful of having a law because women are calling for it, men are calling for it. I know there are pockets of resistance but that’s always the case when it comes to women’s issues.”

“In 2010, we organised a workshop for the National Assembly,” she continued. “They made a declaration, pledging to support any bill that criminalises FGM. I am happy to report that, since 2007, more than 128 circumcisers and 900 communities have abandoned the practice. This trend will continue to grow.”

Seventy-eight percent of Gambian women undergo FGM as a ‘rite of passage’. However, after more than three decades of the anti-FGM campaign in Gambia, a wind of change is blowing, sweeping even conservative rural communities.

Sustained awareness-raising programmes have resulted in public declarations of abandonment of FGM by hundreds of circumcisers. Babung Sidibeh, custodian of the tradition in her native Janjanbureh, the provincial capital of Central River Region, 196 kilometres from Banjul, was one of them. The old woman assumed the role after the death of her parents, but she has since “dropped the knife”, as no longer practising FGM is known here.

Sidibeh did so after receiving training in reproductive health and women’s rights. “Soon after we circumcised our children in 2011,” she told IPS, “Gamcotrap invited me for training. I was exposed to the harm we’ve been doing to our fellow women. If I had known that before what I know today, I would never have circumcised anyone.”

With a tinge of remorse, she added: “We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women. That’s why I told you that if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem.”

Mrs Camara-Touray, a senior public health worker at the country’s heath ministry confirmed to IPS that her ministry has since taken a more proactive role on FGM.

She explained: “The ministry has created an FGM complication register. We’ve also trained nurses on FGM. Until recently, when you asked most health workers about the complications that can arise with FMG, they would say it has no complications. That’s because they were not trained. Since 2011, we’ve changed our curriculum to include these complications. After we put the register in place, within three months, we’d go to a region and see that hundreds of complications due to FGM had been recorded.”

In March, Gamcotrap organised a regional religious dialogue that sought to de-link FGM from Islam. Touray said that the workshop was a prelude to the introduction of the proposed law in parliament.

“Islamic scholars were brought together from Mali, Guinea, Mauritania and Gambia,” she told IPS. “We had a constructive debate and it was overwhelmingly accepted that FGM is not an Islamic injunction, it’s a cultural practice. It was recommended that a specific law should be passed and a declaration was made to that effect.”

However, there is resistance in some quarters. An influential group of Islamic scholars, backed by the leadership of the Supreme Islamic Council, continue to maintain that FGM is a religious injunction.

With a large following and having the ears of the politicians, these clerics have in recent times also intensified their pro-FGM campaign.

“It will be a big mistake if they legislate against FGM,” Ebrima Jarjue, an executive member of the Supreme Islamic Council, told IPS.

“Our religion says we cut just small. We should be allowed to practise our religion. If some people are doing it and doing it bad, let them stop it. Let them go and learn how to do it. If circumcising the girl child when she’s young is causing problems, then let’s wait until she grows up. That’s what used to happen.”

Meanwhile, the Women’s Bureau, the implementing arm of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, is hesitant about legislating against FGM.

“As far FGM is concerned, the position of the Women’s Bureau is that there’s need for more sensitisation and dialogue to push the course forward,” Neneh Touray, information and communication officer of the Women’s Bureau, told IPS. She declined to comment on whether the bureau thought that the bill was premature.

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Future of Rwanda’s Orphans Still Uncertain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:24:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135504 Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KIGALI, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

Every day, 14-year-old Deborah wakes up in an orphanage, goes to school, and comes home to an orphanage. It does not matter when or for how long she leaves the orphanage, she always knows she’ll be back.

“This is where I live, this is my home,” says the teen, sitting at a wooden desk with other children at the Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage. She has been intensely colouring in a nativity scene of one famous family – Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Deborah had both her parents for only three years, before her mother died. Her father passed away two years later. Both had AIDS. Her four sisters and brothers also live at Gisimba Memorial Centre, in the Nyamirambo quarter of the Rwandan capital.“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional” – communications consultant Annet Birungi

The original Gisimba orphanage was founded by Peter Gisimba and wife Dancilla, and began taking in children, orphaned through a variety of circumstances, in the 1980s. The couple died in the late 1980s. When the orphanage was renamed the Gisimba Memorial Centre in 1990, it was home to 50 children and had reached its capacity.

That was until the 1994 genocide when up to 700 people took shelter in Gisimba. “People were sleeping in the dormitories, outside, everywhere, as long as they were together,” coordinator Elie Munezero tells IPS.

Close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during those bloody 100 days.

Today there are about 125 young people living at the orphanage. “All generations,” explains 50-year-old Munezero. “Babies, infants, adolescents, young adults.” The youngest is two years old. The two eldest are 30. About 40 percent are aged under 16.

Deborah and the other siblings are just some of the estimated 2,171 children today languishing in 29 orphanages across the east African country, says Annet Birungi, a communications consultant for Rwanda’s National Commission for Children (NCC) and UNICEF.

Nine years in an orphanage, in Deborah’s case, does not shock Birungi. She points out the alarming results of the National Survey on Institutional Care, conducted in 2011-2012 by Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) and groundbreaking NGO Hopes and Homes for Children (HHC). It found thatabout 13.6 percent children living in institutions had been there for more than 15 years.

Staying in institutional care can scar children for a lifetime, with those aged between 0-3 years especially vulnerable.

“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional,” says Birungi, adding that “abuse, neglect, physical and sexual violence, isolation and marginalization are common in orphanages.”

Before colonial rule, there was a culture of treating “every child as your own”, notes Birungi. “Children were for the community and when a mother died, it was a responsibility of aunties and grandparents, family friends to take care of the orphan (s).”

The atrocities of 1994 are said to have left at least half a million children without parents. During and after the genocide,women informally took in children from the opposite ethnic group. Mothers were encouraged to be a “malayika mulinzi” (“guardian angel”). Systems of “kinship and foster care” operated, even if informally.

At the same, this was when most of the orphanages that exist today appeared but most of them lack exit plans for children who have grown up in them.

Meanwhile, the belief that children are better off in institutions than in families has also kept some children in care, says Birungi, and while there is no denying that some centres are able to provide shelter, food, clothing, health and education, they cannot offer the love of a family.

Today, there is no power and no water in Gisimba. Both have been cut off because the bills have remained unpaid, says Munezero. “Nothing is good,” he adds in despair.

A major issue with children being cared for in institutions is that some may still have living members of their family.  “You could be calling a child an orphan but he’s not,” Munezero admits.

The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), an independent, not-for-profit, institution has reported that the majority of so-called “orphans” adopted from Africa by foreigners have at least one parent still alive.

International adoption was temporarily suspended by Rwanda in August 2010, to allow the country work on implementation of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which calls on states to consider national solutions before international adoption.

Birungi says the government wants to revive the culture of “treating every child as your own”. NCC is currently working with HHC to reintegrate those living at Gisimba back into families.

An NCC-trained psycho-social team is in the final stages of the reintegration process and Gisimba will be transformed into a primary school to benefit children in the surrounding area, according to Birungi. On July 10, HHC announced that the first of five children had been moved out of Home of Hope, another Kigali institution.

HHC’s country director in Rwanda, Claudine Nyinawagaga, says a number of alternative care services are available for children in the country, including “kinship care”, when a young person is placed with extended family, neighbours or friends.

But national adoption is yet to be fully implemented and since HCC started the closure of the first Rwandan institution in 2011, only one child has fully undergone the domestic adoption process. NCC-drafted guidelines on domestic and international adoption are awaiting approval by Rwanda’s Cabinet.

“Several meetings with local authorities revealed that the general population and local authorities do not have enough information about adoption,” Nyinawagaga tells IPS. “This is likely to be addressed through the approval of the adoption guidelines, and the sensitisation of the community.”

So, for the time being, Deborah remains in an institution.

“I like singing and drumming,” she says, when asked what she likes doing in her spare time. “We have a small choir that I’m in.”

Despite her plight, she is ambitious and looking forward to her future: “to work in an industry, and make fruit juice and yoghurt.”

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Pakistan: Where Mothers Are Also Children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 09:17:35 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135486 Most South Asian nations struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Most South Asian nations struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Pakistan, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

If 22-year-old Rashda Naureen could go back six years in time, she would never have agreed to get married at the tender age of 16.

“Looking back, I know I was not ready for marriage,” she told IPS. “How could I have been, being merely a child myself?”

With only a third-grade education, Naureen became a mother at 17 and got a divorce soon after she delivered.

According to Naureen’s mother, Perween Bibi, who works for a small daily wage as a cleaning woman in Pakistan, “I have two more daughters [in addition to two sons] and we gave Rashda away in order to have one less responsibility on our hands.”

Nearly 7.3 million teenage girls become pregnant every year -- of these, two million are aged 14 or younger.
But the opposite turned out to be true. Today Bibi and her husband, who is a private chauffeur, must now find a way to provide for their grandson in a family of seven struggling to survive.

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the story is that Naureen’s pregnancy could easily have been avoided.

“Before marriage my best friend urged me to take contraceptive pills, but I refused to listen to her,” Naureen confessed.

“Even my husband, who had been forced to marry me by his parents, said we should wait, but I didn’t pay any heed; I thought having a child immediately would cement our relationship, and my husband would begin to love me,” she said forlornly.

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed, Pakistan country director of Pathfinder International, a non-profit organisation working to improve adolescent and youth access to sexual and reproductive health services in more than 30 countries, says that early pregnancy is not uncommon among teenage brides.

In fact, having a baby is a way of proving one’s fertility, and the values of adolescent pregnancy are “protected by women and girls themselves,” he told IPS.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly 7.3 million teenage girls become pregnant every year – of these, two million are aged 14 or younger. Meanwhile, an estimated 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die each year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 percent more likely among infants of adolescent mothers than among mothers aged 20 to 29.

Infants who survive are more likely to have a low birth weight and be premature than those born to women in their 20s.

The problem is particularly pronounced in Pakistan, a country of 180 million people where 35 percent of married women between the ages of 25 and 49 years were wed before the age of 18, according to the latest figures in the 2012-2013 Pakistan Demographic Health Survey.

Experts say one of the main reasons behind the widespread occurrence of chid marriages and early pregnancies is a lack of education.

Naureen agrees, saying her disrupted education stands out as a glaring “missing link” in her early development

Dr. Farid Midhet, who heads the USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Programme (MCHIP) in Pakistan, says there is a strong link between teenage pregnancy and female illiteracy.

“Together these contribute to high infant and child mortality and morbidity, high fertility, illiteracy in general, and production of children who are a burden on society,” he told IPS.

He added that this exacerbates poverty, which in turn fuels a vicious cycle of militancy, crime and social unrest.

Pathfinder International’s Ahmed believes a strong conservative current in Pakistani society – where 97 percent of the population identifies as Muslim – also conspires against the girl child, making early marriage and adolescent pregnancy a foregone conclusion for thousands of girls.

“Early marriage and not getting permission to attend school are the two main indicators of conservative forces here,” he stressed, adding that the “fear of backlash from conservative forces” has resulted in a glaring lack of positive initiatives within the public sector to tackle the problem.

This, despite the fact that study after study has shown that countries that improve school enrollment rates for girls also see a decline in adolescent child-bearing.

Asked how to tackle the health crisis caused by teenage motherhood, Zeba Sathar, country director of the Population Council of Pakistan, answered immediately that she would first and foremost invest in girls’ education.

“Globally proven strategies include keeping adolescent girls in schools, using economic incentives and livelihood programmes, offering life skills, informing families and communities about the adverse effects of adolescent pregnancy, and mobilising them to support girls to grow and develop into women before becoming mothers,” Sathar told IPS.

A regional problem

The phenomenon is not exclusive to Pakistan, with several other countries in the region experiencing equally challenging situations.

Most South Asian nations, like Pakistan, struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say.

But this is easier said than done, as laws surrounding the ‘official’ marriage age are difficult to enforce and complicated by traditional societal values.

According to a 2013 report by the UNFPA entitled ‘Motherhood in Childhood’, India and Bangladesh remain among the countries where a girl is most likely to be married before she is 18.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka, on the other hand, show much lower rates of pregnancies among women aged 15 to 19.

The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)’s World Population Prospects report states that the adolescent fertility rate among women in the 15-19 age group is 87 per 1,000 women in Afghanistan, 81 in Bangladesh, 74 in Nepal, 33 in India, 27 in Pakistan, and just 17 in Sri Lanka.

India’s eastern state of Bihar had the worst score card for child marriage. Referring to a survey of more than 600,000 households conducted for India’s health ministry between 2007 and 2008, Sathar said nearly 70 percent of women in their early twenties reported having been married by the age of 18.

Bangladesh does not fare any better. One in 10 teens has had a child by the age of 15, while one in three girls gets married by the age of 15.

But numbers, according to Ahmed, do not tell the whole story.

“Early childhood marriages and fertility rates may be four times higher in Bangladesh than in Pakistan, but the former experiences higher aspirations [among women] for better education and gainful employment than Pakistan,” he stated.

Bangladesh’s Population Reference Bureau’s 2013 Data Sheet on Youth states the female labour force participation in Bangladesh is 51 percent, compared to just 20 percent in Pakistan.

Additionally, the percentage of women in secondary education in Bangladesh was 55, while in Pakistan it was just 29.

For women like Naureen, staying in school could have spared her a lifetime of pain.

“I would not have been married and become a mother at such a young age; I would have had time to think about what I was getting myself into… I would have been just a little bit wiser,” she said.

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Reproductive Rights to Take Centre Stage at U.N. Special Session http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:23:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135488 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues negotiations on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for its post-2015 development agenda, population experts are hoping reproductive health will be given significant recognition in the final line-up of the goals later this year.

At the same time, an upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly in mid-September may further strengthen reproductive rights and the right to universal family planning."Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women's lives." -- Gina Sarfaty

Gina Sarfaty of the Washington-based Population Action International (PAI) told IPS, “We are at a critical juncture for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).”

As the conversation around the next set of SDGs begins to heat up, she said, “Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women’s lives.

“The stakes are high, and the need for action is paramount,” cautioned Sarfaty, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist and research associate at PAI.

World population, currently at over 7.2 billion, is projected to increase by 3.7 billion people by 2100. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries, with 64 percent concentrated in just 10 countries, according to PAI.

In eight of these nations – Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia – an important driver of population growth is persistently high fertility.

The remaining two countries accounting for the world’s increase – India and the United States – are those with already large populations and high net migration.

The ongoing negotiations for SDGs take place against the run-up to the upcoming special session of the General Assembly commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

The special session, to be attended by several heads of state, is scheduled to take place Sep. 22 during the 69th session of the General Assembly.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS the principles set at the ICPD in 1994 are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

“But we need to act strong and fast to realise the Cairo vision and achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including family planning,” he added.

The special session presents the perfect opportunity for governments, at the highest level, to recommit to its success and to renew their political support for actions required to fully achieve the goals and objectives of its Programme of Action and achieve sustainable development, he said.

This will also place the Cairo principles firmly in the post-2015 development agenda, said Dr. Osotimehin, a former Nigerian minister of health.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS the September meeting represents an opportunity for world leaders to assess progress made over the past 20 years against the goals and strategies developed in 1994, identify any remaining gaps in performance that require increased attention and investment, and realign their efforts moving forward.

“This is a very important session for all of us working on sexual and reproductive health since it provides a critical forum for reaffirming and unifying international commitment to ICPD goals and for making an added push to do more on areas and in countries where we are lagging,” she said.

Asked why there wasn’t a follow-up international conference, perhaps an ICPD+20 on the lines of the Rio+20 environment conference in 2012, Mane said the Cairo Programme of Action developed a very forward-looking agenda and set the bar high for the international community 20 years ago.

She said its goals are still relevant and actionable, and the agenda is unfortunately not yet finished.

“My sense is that having a follow-up conference in such an environment was seen as neither strategic nor a good use of resources,” Mane said.

The upcoming special session “is intended to heighten focus on the goals established in the 1994 Programme of Action, stimulate discussion around what we will do to complete the unfinished agenda, re-engage on commitments already made and also push for more.

“I would hope the upcoming U.N. session will highlight the need to include sexual and reproductive health and rights upfront as a core component of the Sustainable Development Goals as the Open Working Group continues to develop its proposal,” said Mane, who oversees sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing nations on an annual budget of over 100 million dollars.

Asked about the current status of world population growth, PAI’s Sarfaty told IPS that despite the fact that mortality has declined substantially, women in sub-Saharan Africa currently have more than five children on average, representing a modest decrease from the average of 6.5 children they had in the 1950s.

Compared to Latin America and Asia, she said, a slower pace of fertility decline has characterised sub-Saharan Africa, with stalls and even reversals along the way.

Of 22 countries where recent survey data is available, 10 are transitioning towards lower childbearing while 12 are currently experiencing fertility stalls.

“Therefore, the expectation that fertility will steadily decline in Africa, as the U.N. projects, will not hold without concerted policy and programme effort,” she warned.

The polar opposite fertility scenario is happening in the high income countries with low levels of fertility.

It is estimated that 48 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where women have fewer than 2.1 children on average in their lifetimes, she pointed out.

While fertility rates in these countries may be below replacement level, their need for family planning does not disappear, she declared.

Sarfaty said family planning use continued in Iran, for example, after the government discontinued its funding of family planning programmes in an attempt to encourage higher birth rates.

In addition to being ineffective, restricting access to family planning also restricts the right of a woman to determine her family size, she added.

Meanwhile, in a report released Thursday, the United Nations said the world’s population is increasingly urban, with more than half living in urban areas today and another 2.5 billion expected by 2050.

With nearly 38 million people, Tokyo tops U.N.’s ranking of most populous cities followed by Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.

The largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria: three countries accounting for 37 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050.

By 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers, China 292 million and Nigeria 212 million.

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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135484 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

In Latin America, young people are the main link in the chain of poverty leading from one generation to the next. Civil society groups, academics and young people themselves say it is imperative to strengthen the connection between education today and decent employment tomorrow.

“The region’s youth is a subject in its own right, with great symbolic power. It is probably the age group that generates the richest range of identities and cultural expressions,” Martin Hopenhayn, head of the social development division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country." -- María Fernanda Tejada

One in four Latin Americans is aged between 15 and 29, according to the Santiago-based ECLAC. This makes it a young continent, “but not for long,” Hopenhayn said.

The population aged 0-15 has fallen markedly in the region, so in 20 years’ time it will have an ageing society.

“That’s why it is very important to invest now in young people, because in 20 years’ time we are going to need the non-aged population to be much more productive,” Hopenhayn said.

But investment in youth is relatively low in Latin America, especially when public and private investment in post-secondary education is compared with emerging countries in southeast Asia, or with European countries.

“Young people are the main link in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Hopenhayn said. This transmission will determine whether young people currently becoming economically independent will re-experience “the income poverty and job insecurity of previous generations, that is, of their parents,” he said.

The key mechanism to interrupt this intergenerational transmission is to improve the connection between education today and employment tomorrow, he said.

Investing in youth

The United Nations highlights that the present generation of youth worldwide is the largest in history, totalling 1.8 billion young people, most of whom live in the developing countries of the South.

Consequently, UNFPA is seeking to build awareness about the urgent need to increase resources devoted to youth. Its theme for World Population Day, celebrated this Friday Jul. 11, is “investing in young people.”

“We must reduce the gap in educational attainments between poor and non-poor young people,” by focusing investment on education for lower-income sectors, he said.

According to ECLAC figures, only 28 percent of young people aged 20-24 from the poorest 20 percent of the population have completed their secondary education; while among the richest 20 percent, about 80 percent have completed secondary education.

“At present, completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for a young person moving into the world of work and a lifelong career to have real expectations of achieving well-being and social mobility, and overcoming poverty,” Hopenhayn said.

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos, a brother and sister who have set up a small fruit distribution business of their own near the University of Costa Rica, in San José, are well aware of this fact.

Ángel, 21, finished his studies as a hairdresser in December 2013 and began working in January 2014. When his 22-year-old sister and her partner separated, the brother and sister started to distribute fruit in local beauty salons.

“Perhaps the main barrier is that if you are experienced and older, it is difficult to get a job, and if you are young, in spite of all your energy, it’s also difficult, but here (in the salon) they have offered me good opportunities,” Ángel told IPS.

Neither of them has started university and Guadalupe has not finished secondary school. In Costa Rica, with its 4.8 million people, 22 percent of young people work in the informal economy, which Ángel and Guadalupe intend to leave.

In Mexico, 37 million people are aged 15-29, out of a total population of 118 million. Nearly 26 percent of this age group are neither studying nor working, and almost 45 percent of them live in poverty.

“I am worried about the lack of opportunities and the prospect of unemployment,” 18-year-old María Fernanda Tejada told IPS. In August she will start studying internatioal relations at the Autonomous University of Mexico, in the capital city.

“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country,” added Tejada, who is the eldest of four children.

In Santiago, 19-year-old Daniel Hurtado is studying medicine, in spite of the social expectation that he would probably work “in a call centre, or as a supermarket packer, in construction or as a waiter,” his father Hugo, himself a waiter, told IPS.

A wage earner in Chile, which has a population of 17.6 million, earns an average of 500 dollars a month, and generally has no chance to send children to university, where medical studies cost between 900 and 1,200 dollars a month. “It’s a gruelling effort,” said the father. “But we are breaking through the barrier,” said the son.

In Hopenhayn’s view, intervening in education is the best means to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, because it is a mass phenomenon that is socially recognised, and has a major impact on the world of work.

According to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty, which contravenes their human rights, enshrined in international treaties.

The study, published in 2012, says that the poverty and extreme poverty rates among young people aged 15-29 in the region are 30.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Together with under-15s, this group is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.

Employment opportunities are limited for young people, who have an unemployment rate of 15 percent, while for those aged over 30, unemployment is only six percent.

Another factor is the high rate of informal employment in the region, which particularly affects young people.

“For instance, in Chile between 45 and 50 percent of workers are in informal employment, but in the 15-29 age group, 60 percent are informal workers,” sociologist Lucas Cifuentes, a researcher with the Work, Employment, Equity and Health programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS.

He said, “undoubtedly employment is the lynchpin of social development,” and added that “it is impossible to overcome poverty without decent, dignified and protected work.”

In Hopenhayn’s view, recent years have brought about major institutional progress in youth policies, moderate progress in terms of investment in young people, and insufficient progress in investment in young people’s education.

While waiting for that to materialise, Latin American societies continue to seek their own alternative solutions to problems like inequality, and young people demand – in some countries, on the streets – investment to break the transmission of inequality in their generation.

With additional reporting from Emilio Godoy in Mexico City, and Diego Arguedas in San José.

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135478 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

By Adebayo Fayoyin
JOHANNESBURG, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

An African proverb says “a child that we refuse to build today will end up selling the house that we may build tomorrow.”

The moral of this is clear. Unless we invest in our children and young people today, they might become a threat or a burden in the future.As the international community commemorates World Population Day on July 11, Africa’s growing youth population should be recognised as a ‘powerful force for change’ that requires greater investment today.

Judging by the current challenges confronting young people, the extent to which African countries are investing in the youth is unclear.

More young people

According to the Africa Regional Review for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the continent is experiencing substantial demographic shifts, which have seen about 21 million persons a year being added to the population since 1994.

Africa has the youngest population and will remain so for decades in a rapidly ageing world. By 2050 “the median age for Africa will increase to 25, while the average for the world as a whole will climb to about 38”.

The fertility rate on the continent is decreasing gradually and the new generation of young people will probably have fewer children than their parents. This demographic shift will also mean fewer elderly people and children to support than previous generations.

Undoubtedly, demography will greatly shape Africa’s position in the global markets for labour, trade and capital.

The phenomenon is what economists call a ‘demographic dividend’, which they argue is a one-time window of opportunity to create wealth and economic growth.

The future they want

But failure to invest in this demographic also comes with its own challenges.

Maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS are the two main causes of death among young women aged 15 to 24 years in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly everywhere, adolescents are inhibited from freely exercising their right to, for example, comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women's rights. Credit: UNFPA

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women’s rights. Credit: UNFPA

In many African counties, more than 40 per cent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married by age 18. Also in the countries with high child marriage rates – Niger, Mali, CAR, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon and Libya – many girls are married off by age 15.

That is why investment in Africa’s youthful population from multiple angles, and primarily from the public and private sectors, is essential for realising the demographic dividend.

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

In his message for the World Population Day commemoration, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim says “we know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges”

Africa’s largely youthful population makes up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders and their challenges can no longer be ignored. Getting the best from the increased youth bulge in Africa can only be assured when appropriate health and development plans, policies and programmes are put in place and adequately implemented.

Adebayo Fayoyin is the Regional Communications Advisor for the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office.

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Shea Harvesting Good for Income, Bad for the Environment in Ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:14:43 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135472 40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
TAMALE, Ghana, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

The shea tree, a traditional African food plant, represents a major source of income for women in Ghana’s Northern, Upper West and Upper East regions, but they are helping to destroy the very resource that gives them money by cutting it down to produce charcoal.

An estimated 900,000 rural women are involved in the shea sector in northern Ghana, mostly collecting the tree’s fruit to transform it into butter. Shea butter production contributes about 18 million dollars annually to the country’s economy.

One such woman is 40-year-old Alima Asigri from Bagrugu, a community in the Karaka district of the northern region of Ghana, who, together with her four children, is fully engaged in the harvesting of shea fruit which she turns into butter for eating and cooking because it is rich in vitamins A, E and F. The butter is also used as a body cream.

On average, the family produces more than 20 kg of butter every two weeks during the peak season from April to August, earning 1,100 cedi (394 dollars) which go towards the family’s upkeep and the children’s educational needs.“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource [shea] is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season” – Alima Asigri

Today, the shea tree is increasingly being used for its wood and not its fruit. “We also cut shea trees and process its wood into charcoal. The charcoal business is booming because of buyer demand for charcoal from shea trees rather than ordinary trees. They believe it is robust, lasts longer and is cheaper than liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),” Asigri explained.

A United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report on ‘Woodfuel Use in Ghana: An Outlook for the Future’, indicated that about 69 percent of all urban households in Ghana use charcoal for cooking and heating, and the annual per capita consumption is around 180 kg.

According to the report, total annual consumption is about 700,000 tonnes, 30 percent of which is consumed in the country’s capital Accra. Fuel wood accounts for about 71 percent of total primary energy supply and about 60 percent of final energy demand. An estimated 2.2 million families depend on charcoal for household chores and some 600,000 small-scale enterprises depend on fuel wood or charcoal as their main sources of energy.

However, this is taking its toll on the country’s trees. In an interview with IPS, Iddi Zakaria, Coordinator of Shea Network Ghana (SNG) recalled that some 40 years ago in the Salaga district of the Northern Region, shea trees covered the entire area but now, due to constant usage and no conscious attempt  to replant, the natural resource has been depleted.

“It used to be a taboo to cut shea and other economic trees. One needed to seek permission from the chief’s palace before, but it’s different now”, he said.

He noted that a recent study by the Savanna Alliance research company had revealed that Act 571, which established the Forestry Commission of Ghana as a corporate body and mandated the commission to protect and regulate the utilisation of forest and timber resources, failed to include shea, dawadawa and baobab trees.

“The policy and institutional shortfall in the management and conservation of the sector has led to continued harvesting of shea trees indiscriminately for fuel wood and charcoal,” Zakaria told IPS, adding that even though laudable efforts are being made by stakeholders to reap the benefits from the shea sector, the future sustainability of the raw material is questionable.

“What players are asking of government are legal reforms to protect resources,” he said.

Ebenezer Djaney Djagletey, Northern Regional Director of the Forestry Commission confirmed that shea trees are not among the protected tree species listed in the forestry regulations.

Djagletey said that he was concerned about the depletion of resources due to activities such as infrastructure development, sand weaning, bush burning and farming, all of which involve the clearing of vegetation.

“Some 80 out of 100 sacks of charcoal produced are from the shea tree, the other 20 come from the neem tree and the dawadawa tree, the fruit of which is used as a cooking spice”, he said.

To discourage people from using charcoal and other fuel wood, the Ghanaian government has announced plans to distribute 50,000 six-kilogramme gas cylinders and cooking stoves to some rural areas under its Rural Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Promotion programme. According to

Ghana’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum Armah Kofi Buah, 1,500 cylinders have already been delivered.

However, Collins Kyei Boafoh, an outreach specialist with ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) described the government policy as a “bad” policy and expressed scepticism about the initiative because of periodic increases in the price of LPG.

“The question is who refills the gas cylinder when it is finished. It cost about 10 cedi (3.59 dollars) to buy gas and relatively few rural folk have enough money and will opt for charcoal or fuel wood instead of gas,” he said.

He advises the government and development partners to support women with alternative livelihood skills, such as soap-making, and build more shea processing centres with guaranteed prices for shea butter to reduce the charcoal business.

Alima Asigri in Bagrugu could be one of the women to benefit if such support were to materialise and she is already aware of the harm her activity is causing to the environment.

“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season,” she told IPS. “Besides, thanks to the shea business, I have been able to educate my first son through university education and he’s now doing his further studies in Belgium.”

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Putting Population Management in Pacific Women’s Hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:09:27 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135296 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11. ]]> Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

Populations of many Melanesian countries in the southwest Pacific Islands region are expected to double in a generation, threatening regional and national efforts to improve low economic and human development indicators.

Arnold Bani, executive director of the Vanuatu Family Health Association in the capital, Port Vila, believes that if reproductive health issues are not addressed in the next 10-15 years the result “will be a disaster for the country.”

Vanuatu, an archipelago of 82 islands located west of Fiji, has a population of 247,262 growing at 2.4 percent, compared to a global average of 1.1 percent. Similarly, the growth rate of Papua New Guinea’s population of seven million is 2.1 percent, as it is in the neighbouring Solomon Islands, home to 550,000 people.

“Mostly the extended family provides people’s basic needs and care...So if a woman makes a decision about family planning alone there will be a fight in the family.” -- Helen, a resident of Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila
As the international community prepares to mark World Population Day on Jul. 11, experts here say an important factor will be empowering women in decisions about family planning and, with a high rate of teenage pregnancies in the region, bringing about behaviour changes in the younger generation.

The task is not easy, given strong cultural and social pressures to have large families.

“Mostly the extended family provides people’s basic needs and care,” Helen (not her real name), a mother in Port Vila, where the contraceptive prevalence is 38 percent, told IPS.

“So if a woman makes a decision about family planning alone there will be a fight in the family.”

There are practical reasons for having numerous children, explained Alec Ekeroma, president of the Pacific Society for Reproductive Health in Auckland, New Zealand.

“Large families are akin to an insurance policy for family survival,” he told IPS. “More children will assist with rural subsistence livelihoods, more children means some will survive past infancy, while care for parents is seen as a duty of the children, especially in countries where there are no social services.”

But Helen said that providing for the needs of large families is a struggle in a country where the average monthly income is around 300 dollars.

The nation’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has decreased since the 1960s from seven to four, while in Papua New Guinea it is 3.8 and in the Solomon Islands 4.1, in contrast to a TFR of 2.1, which indicates a stable population.

Regional experts believe that contraceptive use, which ranges from 35 percent in Papua New Guinea to 22 percent in Kiribati, well below the global average for less developed countries of 56 percent, must be improved.

A report published by Reproductive Health journal last year claims that increasing contraceptive prevalence in Vanuatu to 65 percent by 2025 would create a sustainable population, reduce high risk births by 54 percent, adolescent births by 46 percent and the average number of unintended pregnancies by 68 percent from 76 to 12 per 1,000 women.

Greater contraceptive use and smaller families could also save women’s lives. There are an estimated 110 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in Vanuatu, increasing to 120 in Tonga, 130 in Kiribati and an estimated 733 in Papua New Guinea.

But delivering reproductive health services to predominantly widely scattered rural island populations is a challenge given the limited infrastructure, transport services and skilled health care workers in provincial areas.

Low education and the influence of traditional health healers in rural communities are also factors,Rufina Latu of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Vanuatu added. Even when family planning is available, use can be inhibited by misconceptions, such as fear of side effects or fertility decline, religious opposition and illiteracy. A survey by the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) in Vanuatu’s main Shefa province estimates literacy is as low as 27 percent.

Leias Cullwick, executive director of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, said that a major concern for women is gender inequality and the norm of husbands determining the size of families. Fear of widely prevalent gender violence also impacts women’s behaviour.

“Health services data indicate that many women prefer contraception with long-acting depo-provera injections, so that their husbands would not know,” Latu added, claiming that it is not uncommon for husbands to hold the myth that their wives are having affairs if they are using contraception.

Gender inequality is also a factor in Vanuatu’s high adolescent fertility with 66 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. Across the Pacific Islands, one quarter of girls in this age group enter motherhood.

The Vanuatu Ministry of Health confirmed there were national strategies to improve services to adolescents. An estimated one third of urban youth lack basic knowledge about reproductive health and many are reluctant to access reproductive health services, leading to high-risk behaviour.

Engaging young people is an urgent priority given the negative impacts of pregnancies on young girls’ lives, such as low educational attainment, poverty and maternal mortality. The risk of death for mothers aged below 15 years in low and middle-income countries is double that of more mature women, reports the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Efforts to increase understanding of population issues must include the whole community, Bani advocated, with chiefs and community leaders better informed about family planning to play a role in wider social acceptance.

Latu emphasised that population and reproductive health education for everyone needs to start in early childhood and “family life education should become a compulsory part of school curriculums at all levels.”

“A more enabling environment for women’s empowerment to develop can be better achieved if men and spouses are also engaged” in the task of social change, she added.

Cullwick suggested that male nurses in Vanuatu be trained in male-to-male advocacy about gender equality and family planning.

“With the high rate of illiteracy you cannot print and distribute leaflets, you need a man to talk to others, to generate a dialogue and make them understand what women go through,” she explained.

(END)

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Zimbabwean Girls Venture into Technological Innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zimbabwean-girls-venture-into-technological-innovation/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 05:56:22 +0000 Mary Kashumba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135467 Moselyn Muchena, one of the girls being given a chance under the TechWomen initiative. Credit: Mary Kashumba/IPS

Moselyn Muchena, one of the girls being given a chance under the TechWomen initiative. Credit: Mary Kashumba/IPS

By Mary Kashumba
HARARE, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

For 22-year-old Moselyn Muchena, a final year computer science student at the University of Zimbabwe, it seemed obvious to create a mobile application offering easy access to services in the local catering industry, largely because of the huge number of female entrepreneurs in that sector.

“The kinds of problems these women are going through inspired me to come up with an innovative application for the industry called ORDER NOW, through which they can [post] their menus and specials, as well as their location and the prices of items.

“The application is also interactive, allowing customers to share [their reviews] on other social networks platforms … and it offers a platform for feedback, which is vital for businesses,” Muchena told IPS. The app also allows for advertising.“We want to tap into the creative and innovative base of 52 percent of the population. Imagine what the world has lost in innovation due to the lack of or fewer women in these creative spaces” – TechWomen Zimbabwe

“I am grateful to get this opportunity to create a culinary application that can be used by restaurants, where mostly women dominate the field,” she said, adding that she hoped her app will have a global reach.

According to Farai Mutambanengwe, president of the Small to Medium Scale Enterprises Association of Zimbabwe, women dominate the catering industry in Zimbabwe. He told IPS that while the association had no actual analysis “on the number of women who are in the culinary industry compared with men, generally women continue to grow in dominating this field.”

Muchena sees herself as paving the way for other girls to enter the fields of science and technology. “Being the only girl doing computer science in my class, I used to feel like an outcast and it took me time to blend in to become part of the class and not ‘the woman’ in the class. I said to myself I would also pave the way for young girls who aspire to have a career in technological innovations.”

The young innovator is just one of over 100 girls and women aged between 10 and 23 who are creating innovative technologies to address community problems in Zimbabwe. They are part of a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs initiative called TechWomen, a programme designed to empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Referring to her own experience in developing her software, Muchena pointed out that there was an urgent need for investors in the field of science. “Our plight as young science entrepreneurs is that there are no investors willing to engage youths who are coming up with innovations.” However, lack of investment in the science sector has dwindled as a result of a restrictive economy.

According to a 2008 report in the Economic Reform Feature Service  of the Centre for International Enterprise (CIPE), “the education system in Zimbabwe has long suffered from an insufficient focus on teaching practical skills, limited access to higher education opportunities, and unequal access for girls to specialised fields such as science.”

“Successful educational reform is a necessary step to create the basis for sustained economic growth and requires the involvement of all stakeholders, ranging from families and civil society into national and local governments as well as the private sector,” said the report.

National Zimbabwean statistics for 2012 show that the number of women who enrolled in faculties of engineering, computer science and science technology at university level were 17 percent, 35 percent and 22 percent respectively in 2009. A year later, women’s enrolment in these faculties were 17. 5 percent, 39 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Chemical technologist Aretha Mare, one of the members of TechWomen Zimbabwe, founded by five Zimbabwean women who graduated from the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen initiative, told IPS that its vision is to see gender parity, or 50 percent representation of women in all STEM professions.

“We want to tap into the creative and innovative base of 52 percent of the population,” says TechWomen Zimbabwe. “Imagine what the world has lost in innovation due to the lack of or fewer women in these creative spaces.”

Mare said that under the TechWomen initiative, “the women act as role models, mentors and teachers, creating a networking platform and peer-to-peer interaction with sharing of knowledge to keep them motivated and sharing of opportunities, thus avoiding the leaky pipe where a few women who pursue STEM careers also switch careers or leave due to frustrations in the workplace.”

According to Mare, “the girls’ programme aims to expose girls to STEM fields through experiential learning, where they identify problems, use STEM to solve them, recalibrate and ideate again. We try to do it in hands on, fun and engaging way.”

“We believe we are causing a revolution, transitioning Zimbabwe into a tech power house through girls and women as we target girls from marginalised backgrounds (both in school and out of school), some of them with no prior computer experience and most with limited access to technology. So far we have trained over 100 girls,” she added.

Meanwhile, under its Strategic Plan (2011-2015), Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in partnership with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has embarked on a massive programme to revive science teaching in the country. The programme is being funded through the Education Development Fund (EDF), a multi-donor funding mechanism.

The programme has already distributed 2,449 sciences kits and is currently working on the re-training of more than 5,000 science teachers from the 2,336 secondary schools in the country on the safe use and maintenance of the equipment in the kits.

For Muchena, it all comes down to convincing parents and the government to strive to ensure that talent is given a chance. “I encourage parents and the authorities to understand that sometimes it is not about the academic aspects but about realising a child’s ability and nurturing it into something big.”

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