Inter Press Service » Gender News and Views from the Global South Sat, 28 Nov 2015 08:29:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “París Is Not the End of a Climate Change Process but a Beginning” Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Nov 27 2015 (IPS)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says the climate summit in Paris “is not the end of a process but a beginning,” and that it will produce “an agreement that, although insufficient with respect to the original goal, shows that people believe it is better to move ahead than to stand still.”

In this exclusive interview with IPS, held shortly before Bachelet headed to the capital of France, the president reflected on the global impacts of climate change and stressed several times that the accords reached at the summit “must be binding,” as well as universal.

On Monday Nov. 30 Bachelet will take part in the inauguration of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will run through Dec. 11. At the summit, the 196 countries that are parties to the treaty are to agree on a new climate accord aimed at curbing global warming.

The president also said the Paris summit will have a different kind of symbolism in the wake of the terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives: “It sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated,” she said.

Q: Latin America is a region where the countries face similar impacts from climate change. But it is negotiating with a fragmented voice. Has the region missed a chance for a leadership role and for a better defence of its joint interests?

A: Sometimes it is very difficult to achieve a unified position, because even though there are situations that are similar, decisions must be taken that governments are not always able to adopt, or because they find themselves in very different circumstances.

We belong to the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) in the negotiations on climate change, along with Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. All of these countries did manage to work together, and we have a similar outlook on the question of climate change.

The countries in this region are not the ones that generate the most emissions at a global level. And above and beyond the differences we may have, the important thing is that we will all make significant efforts to reduce emissions and boost clean energies and other mechanisms and initiatives.

Q: Will the COP21 manage to approve a new universal climate treaty?

A: COP21 is not the end but a beginning of a process where the countries will turn in their national commitments [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS)]. After that will come the mechanisms to assess the implementation of these contributions, and, from time to time, propose other targets, which would be more ambitious in some cases.

This will be the first climate change summit, after the Copenhagen conference [in 2009] where no accord was reached even though the Kyoto Protocol was coming to an end, where we will be able to reach some level of agreement.

It might not be the optimal level; apparently the contributions so far publicly submitted by the states parties would not achieve the objective of keeping global warming down to two degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, it is a major advance, when you look at what has happened in the past.

That said, what Chile maintains is that the contributions should be binding, and we are going to back that position which is clearly not supported by everyone.

Q: So you include yourself among those who believe Paris will mark a positive turning point in the fight against climate change?

Chile’s contribution

Q: Chile carried out a much-praised citizen input process for the design of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS), to be included in the new treaty. But media and business sectors were not pleased with some of the voluntary targets that were set. Will this hinder implementation?

A: Not everyone always agrees, we’ve seen that in different processes. I hope that awareness grows, and that is a task that we also have, as government. Climate change is a reality, not an invention, which will have disastrous consequences for everyone, but also for the economy.

For us it is indispensable, on one hand, to reduce emissions by 30 percent, by 2030. There are some who believe our commitment falls short, but it is what we can commit to today, understanding the economic situation that the country and the world find themselves in. It is a serious, responsible commitment. And obviously, if the economic situation improves, we will set more ambitious goals later.

On the other hand, Chile has an adaptation plan that includes, among other things, the reforestation of more than 100,000 hectares of native forest and an energy efficiency programme.

A: Yes, in the sense that a concrete, definitive agreement will be reached.

But it is, I insist, the start of a path. Later other, more ambitious, measures will have to be adopted, to further reduce global temperatures.

Q: Will the treaty currently being debated include the financing that the Global South and Latin America in particular will need in order to help prevent the planet from reaching a situation that is irreversible for human life?

A: I have a hope that the Green Climate Fund will grow and give more countries access to technology and resources. In this region we will always have the contradiction that we are considered middle-income countries, and thus we are not given priority when it comes to funding, while at the same time our economies are often unable to foot greater costs. And on the other hand, we are the smallest emitters [of greenhouse gases].

This is why in Chile we have set two targets, one without external support and the other with external financing, to reduce emissions by 45 percent. But there is also a possibility of financing through cooperation programmes for the introduction and transfer of new technologies to our countries, which will allow us to live up to the commitments.

Q: As the first executive director of U.N.-Women [2010-2013], you helped establish the idea that women must be taken into account in climate negotiations and actions, because they bear the impacts on a day-to-day basis and are decisive in adapting to and mitigating global warming. What is the central role that women should have in the new treaty?

A: There are a number of day-to-day decisions made by women, which have an influence. For example, energy efficiency is essential when it comes to reducing emissions, and it is often a domestic issue, in questions such as turning off lights, for example.

But in many parts of the world women are also the ones hauling water or cooking with firewood, especially in the most vulnerable areas.

So the importance of women ranges from these aspects to their contribution as citizens committed to the fight against climate change, with the conviction that a green, inclusive and sustainable economy is possible, and to the political role of women at the parliamentary and municipal level, where they are working hard for the adoption of measures and to ensure a livable planet.

Q: As president, and as a Chilean, what worries you most about the current climate situation? What would you see as the highest priority?

A: There are many things that worry me about climate change, ranging from severe drought and flooding to islands that could disappear under water – in other words, how natural events linked to climate change affect the lives of people.

I’m also concerned about two things that are essential for people: clean drinking water and food, two elements that can be profoundly affected by climate change. We have seen that there are areas of the country where people depend on rationed water from tanker trucks.

This not only affects the daily lives of people but also, in agricultural areas, it affects production and incomes. And think about the marvelous variety of fish and seafood that we have in our country, which depends on the temperatures in our oceans.

All of this could be modified. It is all very important, and ends up affecting people’s lives.

Q: Paris was the victim of a Jihadist terrorist attack on Nov. 13, which left 130 people dead. Did these attacks affect the climate surrounding the summit? Will the participation by the heads of state and government also serve as a response to the terrorism?

A: More than 160 heads of state and government have confirmed their attendance at the Paris conference, which sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated.

We are going to Paris first, because the issue to be addressed and discussed is important, but also because we are sending a message that we will not tolerate this kind of action and that we will continue moving forward in the defence of the values that we believe are essential. And we will give a hug of solidarity to our sister republic, France, to President François Hollande and to the French people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki

Samuel Musyoki is currently the Country Director of Plan International Zambia and the Chair for 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme.

By Samuel Musyoki
LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

The long-awaited African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage is here.

It presents an opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we need to do differently if we want to step up our efforts towards ending child marriage, an issue close to my heart.

I’ve seen what being a child bride can do to a girl.

I have five sisters, three of whom were married as children. As such, my sisters did not get a good education. They gave birth at an early age and now they are faced with challenges and limited opportunities. Now I am a father to three girls. I want a different life for them and for all the other girls growing up across Africa – and the rest of the world.

The summit, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is taking place in Lusaka this week. It follows the launch at the May 2014 Africa Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa of the campaign to end early and forced child marriage.

Both the campaign and summit are significant for a continent, home to an estimated 7 million child brides.

While we have made good progress working in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and national levels to influence policy and legal changes, more needs to be done at the grassroots level.

Long-term engagement with communities is key if we want to end child marriage across Africa.

Child rights organisation Plan International is dedicated to tackling child marriage and we’ve learnt time and time again, the perception of this issue is almost universally negative.

Yet why does it still happen?

Marriage for a 14 year old girl should not be seen as the only option for parents or for children. That’s fundamentally flawed.

If we want to make a difference, we need to look at how governments and civil society can change with communities to help them realise the impact of child marriage. We need to work with girls to help them understand the value of education and the benefits of the life they can have if they stay in school. But transforming attitudes and practices that have become acceptable over time requires investment in innovative approaches that draw on and build on the knowledge of all relevant actors at policy and grassroots levels.

Plan International has been working against child marriages alongside community-based organisations, regional traditional leaders, media and national governments. By creating local and regional platforms to raise awareness, to discuss and to take action, the pressure is building up to eliminate early child marriage in Africa.

Focusing on Southern Africa, Plan International´s “18+ Programme” on ending child marriages in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique has been engaging with and transforming communities and societies. It contributed significantly to convince the Malawian Parliament, which recently passed a law to declare 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.

Now, more than ever, is the time to bring all actors together and tackle the issue of early child marriage across the continent. After all, we can neither keep the promise of the African Children’s Charter, nor attain the new Sustainable Development Goals if young girls and women continue to suffer early child marriage.

Progress is being made and it’s heartening to seeing discussions taking place across the board. It gives us hope that it is possible to end child marriage within a generation.


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Uganda, Tanzania Need Gender Sensitive Climate Change Policies Thu, 26 Nov 2015 09:24:57 +0000 Wambi Michael 0 Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban Thu, 26 Nov 2015 07:19:14 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Uganda Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 Open Defecation to End by 2025, Vows UN Chief, Marking World Toilet Day Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:39:07 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The state of the world’s toilets reveals the good, the bad and the ugly – but not necessarily in that order.

As the UN commemorated its annual World Toilet Day on November 19, a new study says, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the rich nations of the developed world has access to a toilet.

The study, released by the UK based WaterAid, points out that Canada, UK, Ireland and Sweden are among nations with measurable numbers still without safe, private household toilets.

Russia has the lowest percentage of household toilets of all developed nations, while India, the world’s second-most populous country, holds the record for the most people waiting for sanitation (774 million) and the most people per square kilometre (173) practising open defecation.

The report highlights the plight of more than 2.3 billion people in the world (out of a total population of over 7.3 billion) who do not have access to a safe, private toilet.

Of these, nearly 1.0 billion have no choice but to defecate in the open – in fields, at roadsides or in bushes.

The result is a polluted environment in which diseases spread fast. An estimated 314,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal illness which could be prevented with safe water, good sanitation and good hygiene.

Still, the tiny South Pacific island of Tokelau has made the most progress on delivering sanitation, holding number one position since 1990, followed by Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan.

Nigeria has seen a dramatic slide in the number of people with access to toilets since 1990 despite considerable economic development.

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, has the worst household access to sanitation in the world, followed closely by Niger, Togo and Madagascar, according to the study.

WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost says just two months ago, all UN member states promised to deliver access to safe, private toilets to everyone everywhere by 2030.

“Our analysis shows just how many nations in the world are failing to give sanitation the political prioritisation and financing required. We also know that swift progress is possible, from the impressive advances in sanitation achieved in nations like Nepal and Vietnam.”

No matter where you are in the world, everyone has a right to a safe, private place to relieve themselves, and to live healthy and productive lives without the threat of illness from poor sanitation and hygiene.

“On this World Toilet Day, it’s time for the world to make good on their promises and understand that while we all love toilet humour, the state of the world’s sanitation is no joke,” said Frost.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says lack of sanitation, and particularly open defecation, contributes to the incidence of diarrhoea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause malnutrition.

“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed.”

In a report released Wednesday, the 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), calls for the mainstreaming of sanitation.

The focus should widen beyond the home – because toilets are needed in schools, clinics, workplaces, markets and other public places.

“Prioritize sanitation as preventive medicine and break the vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, especially affecting women and children.”

And “get serious about scaling up innovative technologies along the sanitation chain and unleash another sanitation revolution, as key economic and medical enabler in the run-up to 2030, and make a business case for sanitation by realizing the resource potential of human waste.”

Additionally, it says, “de-taboo the topic of menstrual hygiene management, which deserves to be addressed as a priority by the UN and governments.”

In its report, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to fund, implement and account for progress towards the new UN Global Goals on sustainable development.

Goal 6 – water, sanitation and hygiene for all – is fundamental to ending hunger and ensuring healthy lives, education and gender equality and must be a priority.

“Improving the state of the world’s toilets with political prioritisation and long-term increases in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene, by both national governments and donor countries like the UK.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the central role sanitation plays in sustainable development.

“The integrated nature of the new agenda means that we need to better understand the connections between the building blocks of development.”

In that spirit, he said, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition. He said poor sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of disease and malnutrition.

Each year, too many children under the age of five have their lives cut short or altered forever as a result of poor sanitation: more than 800,000 children worldwide — or one every two minutes– die from diarrhea, and almost half of all deaths of children under five are due to undernutrition.

A quarter of all children under five are stunted, and countless other children, as well as adults, are falling seriously ill, often suffering long-term, even lifelong, health and developmental consequences.

Parents and guardians carry the cost of these consequences. Women in particular women bear the direct brunt, he noted.

“Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, progress is too little and too slow,” Ban complained.

By many accounts, sanitation is the most-missed target of the Millennium Development Goals.

“This is why the Call to Action on Sanitation was launched in 2013, and why we aim to end open defecation by 2025,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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“Jasmine Revolution” Challenges Male Domination of Tea Trade Unions Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan 0 Gay Cruising Spots a Challenge for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Cuba Fri, 13 Nov 2015 22:21:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 13 2015 (IPS)

When night falls, young men can be seen sitting on a dismantled bus stop on a remote hill far from the centre of the Cuban capital. Later they climb uphill to have sex with other men in the thick forest.

“On my way home from work, I go by that place, and I always see people gathered at the old bus stop,” 36-year-old biologist Daniel Hernández told IPS. The spot he was talking about is near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood.

“People have lost their inhibitions. I can see they’re more out in the open in that area, where everyone knows why people go there. They’re not so afraid anymore,” said Hernández, who is himself gay and says he has occasionally gone there and to similar gay cruising spots in Havana.

Remote, isolated spots in Cuba’s cities, like forests, coastal areas or abandoned buildings, are colonised at night by men seeking quick anonymous sex with other men.

These cruising spots, known here as “potajeras”, represent a challenge for the work of prevention of HIV/AIDS, say activists, researchers and men who have sex with men (MSM) who spoke to IPS.

“I have witnessed unprotected group sex. All kinds of people go there, and not everyone has an awareness about the epidemic,” said Hernández, who described the potajeras as “key to the spread” of HIV/AIDS.

In his view, gay meeting places are necessary, but “not the remote spots that exist, where people are extremely unprotected due to the risk of infection and violence.”

The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is low – just 0.1 percent, or 19,500 people – in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, up from 16,479 in late 2013.

MSM make up 70 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. But women represent a growing proportion: 21 percent today, up from 18.5 percent in 2013, according to official figures.

Curbing the slow steady growth of new cases is a challenge that requires a greater prevention effort in this socialist island nation where healthcare is free and universal, including antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that on Jun. 30, Cuba became the first country across the globe to receive World Health Organisation (WHO) validation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“In health promotion interventions we emphasise the risks of having sex in a place without minimum conditions,” said Avelino Matos, coordinator of community work with the MSM-Cuba Project, a network of 1,800 volunteer health promoters who have been working for 15 years to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable segment of society.

In these remote areas, “there’s no light and people are nervous, so it’s impossible to negotiate the use of a condom,” Matos told IPS.

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The project, which falls under the umbrella of Cuba’s National Center for the Prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS and is active in all 15 provinces, monitors MSM cruising and gathering spots, with an emphasis on the 49 municipalities that have top priority because they have the highest HIV/AIDS rates.

Matos described gay hangouts or socialising places – by contrast with cruising spots – as public spaces where MSM gather to meet each other, chat, and arrange dates.

He said the project’s health promoters are present around the country, although the ones in the capital are the best-known.

According to Matos, the project’s prevention work does get results, and today is using new strategies, targeting gay meeting spots in parks and on city street corners and in the growing number of gay bars, cafes and private parties.

But he lamented that they barely reach the potajeras, although in some provinces ingenious interventions have been carried out.

In the daytime, activists hang bags of condoms on tree branches, for example, in cruising spots in the central province of Villa Clara and the eastern provinces of Holguín and Granma.

And in a shantytown in the western province of Mayabeque, the project provided training in health promotion to two-seater bicycle taxi drivers, the form of transportation used to reach the cruising spots. The drivers were also given condoms, to hand out to their passengers.

Matos said it is difficult to reach bisexual men with HIV/AIDS prevention messages, because they face more prejudice than homosexuals. “That’s why they are less likely to admit to their sexual orientation; many hide their meetings with men and maintain relationships with women,” he said.

Homophobia is a major factor contributing to the spread of HIV and others STDs in the cruising sites.

“These are places in the here and now. But with this I don’t mean that everyone who engages in cruising has unprotected sex,” said Jorge Carrasco, a young journalist who in 2013 reported on the main cruising spots in Havana, such as the Playa del Chivo beach and areas around the Calixto García Hospital.

“Because of the anonymity, a lot of sick people feel better there, because they can have quick sex without the need to talk about their lives with the other person,” said the 25-year-old reporter, who defends these places as “cultural spaces” that are legal under Cuba’s current laws.

Carrasco warned of other dangers in these places, where assaults and even murders are reported, as well as police abuses. “The police, instead of only arresting the thieves, also arrest the homosexuals,” said the reporter, who recommended more training for the national police.

Amaya Álvarez, a legal adviser at the governmental National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), told IPS that “the largest number of legal complaints by the homosexual and transgender population in the meeting places are in response to the interaction with law enforcement bodies like the police.”

For that reason, she said, CENESEX organises awareness-raising workshops for police officers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Maternal Deaths Decline by 44 Percent, Says New Study Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:10:31 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When world leaders adopted a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a summit meeting in September 2000, one of the heavily-publicised goals was the commitment to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by the end of 2015.

But an equally important goal– that drew less attention– was Goal number Five aimed at improving maternal health – and reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio, by the end of 2015.

A new report, released Thursday, focuses specifically on maternal deaths, which have fallen by 44 per cent since 1990— described as a significant improvement, but still falling short of total success.

World-wide, maternal deaths dropped from about 532,000 in 1990 to an estimated 303,000 this year, according to the report, the last in a series surveying progress under the MDGs.

This equates to an estimated global maternal death ratio of 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 385 in 1990, says the joint report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank Group and the UN’s Population Division.

Maternal death is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth or within 6 weeks after birth.

Despite global improvements, however, only nine countries achieved the MDG 5 target of reducing the maternal death ratio by at least 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

Those countries include Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, Mongolia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste.

Despite this important progress, the maternal death ratio in some of these countries remains higher than the global average, says the report titled ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015’.

“The MDGs triggered unprecedented efforts to reduce maternal mortality,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health.

“Over the past 25 years, a woman’s risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes has nearly halved. That’s real progress, although it is not enough. We know that we can virtually end these deaths by 2030 and this is what we are committing to work towards.”

Achieving that goal will require much more effort, according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA.

“Many countries with high maternal death rates will make little progress, or will even fall behind, over the next 15 years if we don’t improve the current number of available midwives and other health workers with midwifery skills,” he said.

“If we don’t make a big push now, in 2030 we’ll be faced, once again, with a missed target for reducing maternal deaths.”

The report also points out that ensuring access to high-quality health services during pregnancy and childbirth is helping to save lives.

Essential health interventions include: practising good hygiene to reduce the risk of infection; injecting oxytocin immediately after childbirth to reduce the risk of severe bleeding; identifying and addressing potentially fatal conditions like pregnancy-induced high-blood pressure; and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services and family planning for women.

“As we have seen with all of the health-related MDGs, health-system strengthening needs to be supplemented with attention to other issues to reduce maternal deaths,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.

“The education of women and girls, in particular the most marginalized, is key to their survival and that of their children. Education provides them with the knowledge to challenge traditional practices that endanger them and their children.”

By the end of this year, about 99 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths will have occurred in developing regions, with sub-Saharan Africa alone accounting for two in three (66 per cent) deaths.

But that represents a major improvement: sub-Saharan Africa saw a nearly 45 per cent decrease in maternal death ratio, from 987 to 546 per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2015, according to the report.

The greatest improvement of any region was recorded in Eastern Asia, where the maternal death ratio fell from approximately 95 to 27 per 100,000 live births (a reduction of 72 per cent).

In developed regions, maternal deaths fell 48 per cent between 1990 and 2015, from 23 to 12 per 100,000 live births.

Besides poverty and hunger, the MDGs also included goals to eliminate HIV/AIDS, provide adequate shelter, promote gender equality, achieve universal education, protect the global environment and build a global North-South partnership for development.

At a summit meeting in September, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a successor to MDGs, with the objective of meeting these new goals by 2030.

The SDGs have a target of reducing maternal deaths to fewer than 70 per 100,000 live births globally.

Reaching that goal will require more than tripling the pace of progress – from the 2.3 per cent annual improvement in maternal death ratio that was recorded between 1990 and 2015 to 7.5 per cent per year beginning next year.

“The SDG goal of ending maternal deaths by 2030 is ambitious and achievable provided we redouble our efforts,” said Dr. Tim Evans, Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group.

“The recently launched Global Financing Facility in Support of Every Woman Every Child, which focuses on smarter, scaled and sustainable financing, will help countries deliver essential health services to women and children,” he said.

The writer can be contacted at

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From Bangladesh to Bihar Wed, 11 Nov 2015 22:47:23 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Times are a-changing for Bihar, a state popularly described as a state of mind. The recent elections have brought back Nitish Kumar as the chief minister for the fifth time. Since his first innings as a developmental CM from 2005, he has transformed Bihar from being an archetype of India’s backwardness to one of its fastest growing states. Besides improving governance, he has also politically empowered women in that benighted state. Not surprisingly, the women’s vote was decisive for his electoral success. He now has the historic opportunity to shift gears towards sustainable gender-based development.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Towards this end, Bihar’s CM has to look only eastward towards Bangladesh to know the limits of the possible. The landslide vote in his favour has opened up possibilities that many thought didn’t exist before. Lawlessness, misrule and rampant corruption of successive regimes in the past that ensured a dismal track record in development have been banished for now. Stirrings of change will be felt, above all, in law and order. Better governance is bound to change the narrative of development, especially on what he wants to do in primary education, especially for the girl child. What about public health?

To encourage more girls to attend school, the state administration provided free bicycles for school-going children. This resulted in an uptrend in female literacy rates, rising over 20 percentage points between the two decennial census years, 2001 and 2011. This was much more than was observed in the case of males in that state or nationally, for that matter. Promoting greater gender parity in school enrolment thus has been a consistent objective of Nitish Kumar’s stints in office as CM. The priority must now include drastically reducing the numbers of girls without access to schooling.

Kumar’s thrust on education must continue with greater vigour as there is a vast unfinished agenda. When his government first took office in 2005, there were 2.4 million children out of school. This has now been halved to 1.2 million in 2014 according to the “National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children in the Age 6-13 in India” done for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, a flagship government scheme for the universalisation of elementary education. This works out to a higher percentage of 4.9 per cent than the 3 per cent of 204 million school-going children at an all-India level.

The fact that Bihar is still a poor state amidst potential plenty – it has a much higher percentage of its rural population in poverty – cannot be an argument for not pushing the limits of development. Bangladesh is also poor when compared to India, but that hasn’t prevented it from improving the socio-economic conditions of women. According to the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, due to the official focus on women in Bangladesh, a much higher proportion of workers such as school teachers, family planning workers, health carers, immunization workers and even factory workers are women as are in garments.

Bihar (and even India) of course has a long way to go to catch up with the higher rates of female labour force participation in Bangladesh. This measures the number of women above 15 years of age who are engaged or are willing to be engaged in economic activity as a share of women’s population above 15 years of age. In Bihar, this is a lowly 9 per cent as against 57 per cent in Bangladesh. A factor that makes it easier for Bihar to encourage more women to work is that the CM has already politically empowered them since 2006 to participate in decentralized administration at the panchayat or village level.

Despite the best agro-climatic conditions, this state is the bastion of semi-feudal agriculture and there is a preponderance of marginal holdings with low productivity. The relations of production act as barrier on technological change. While beefing up rural infrastructure is imperative, technological change will not take place unless the relations of production also change. The hope is that with better governance, a difference can be made on the poverty front that is essentially one of low agricultural productivity. To plug gaps in development works, the CM has made a beginning by appointing more teachers, doctors, engineers, policeman and officials. Tapping the latent energies of women can help him realise these objectives more efficaciously.

While Bihar no doubt has the advantage of faster growth to impact rural poverty, Bangladesh has managed to achieve much more on human development despite slower growth than India. In 1990, the life expectancy at birth was higher in India but that position rapidly reversed in the next couple of decades. Between 1990 and 2014, it rose by 12 years from 59 to 71 years in Bangladesh. They thus have a life expectancy that is four years longer than Indians or Biharis, for that matter. The huge gains in health are reflected in the dramatic reduction in infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

These are the prospects ahead of Bihar’s developmental CM. He needs to accelerate the pace of progress on education and health so that the workforce of the state has the best prospect of taking advantage of the so-called demographic dividend of a predominantly young population. All these possibilities have suddenly opened up with his fifth innings as CM. With a mandate for governance and development, he faces the challenge of converting these possibilities into probabilities and transforming lives of 108 million people in Bihar through improvements in gender-sensitive social sector spending.

The last thing the people of Bihar need is another regime that will trigger another caste war and plunge the state into darkness and anarchy as happened in previous decades. However, there is change in the air. There is hope that this state can economically empower its women as it has done politically. That it can also reap the dividends that its eastern neighbouring country has achieved in bringing about a many-sided improvement in human development in the fastest possible time. Bihar must leverage its faster growth to ensure better outcomes in sustainable development.


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Analysis: Is Empowerment of Women a Will-o’-the-Wisp? Tue, 10 Nov 2015 16:49:57 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok_ul

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha

Few dispute that women’s autonomy and betterment of their lives are moral imperatives. But whether these are also key to economic development is contested.

In an admirably cogent article, Esther Duflo (2013) evaluates a bi-directional relationship between women’s empowerment and development. Although somewhat overemphatic about the role that development alone can play in driving down gender inequality, she highlights that affirmative action has an important role, too. Amartya Sen, in several influential writings, however, has forcefully argued that continuing discrimination against women can hinder development. We are inclined to this view as “masculinity” is unrelated to development.

Dominance and control over women are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal. Masculinity is characterised by two factors — namely, “relationship control” as a behavioural attribute and “attitudes towards gender equality” as an underlying value. Behavioural changes are, however, slower than changes in male attitudes (UNFPA, 2014).

Women’s empowerment is defined “as improving the ability of women to access the constituents of development—in particular health, education, earning opportunities, rights, and political participation” (Duflo, 2012).

Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls are enshrined in SDG 5. This is an ambitious goal. The litany of sub-goals is impressive but daunting. These include ending of all forms of discrimination against all women and girls; elimination of all forms of violence against them in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation; ensuring their full participation in opportunities for leadership in political, economic and social spheres; universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; and equal rights to all economic resources including land.

Duflo argues that gender inequality is often greater among the poor, both within and across countries. Moreover, within countries, gaps between boys and girls persist in poorer and more isolated communities. But economic growth, by reducing poverty and expanding livelihood opportunities, has the potential for reducing gender inequality.

Are girls treated differently than boys? Yes, but only during crises. In India, for example, the excessive mortality rate of girls, relative to boys, spikes during droughts. So, in extreme circumstances, improved access to health services would disproportionately help girls, even if parents do not change their behaviour toward them. This flies in the face of mounting evidence of female foeticide, infanticide and pervasive neglect of girls in education, and wage disparities in some of the more affluent northern states in India. In fact, the selective abortion of female foetuses, usually after a first born girl, has increased over the past few decades, and has contributed to a widening imbalance in the child sex ratio. Cultural taboos prevent women from reporting, for example, gynaecological disorders unless they become acute. So we are far less sanguine about improved access to health services as a by-product of growth –a somewhat dubious proposition in itself – benefiting girls and women disproportionately.

At all level of incomes, women do the majority of housework and care and, correspondingly, spend less time in market work. Constrained in these ways, they are more likely to be engaged in informal but hardly remunerative home-based enterprises. So if economic development frees their time, they are more likely to switch to more productive activities. But this overlooks the imperfections of credit markets that deny them credit for being not creditworthy. Besides, social norms restrict their mobility.

Are labour market outcomes likely to be more favourable? A recent World Bank study (2015) is far from reassuring. It reports that in the workplace, females earn between 20 per cent and 80 per cent lower average wages than do males, depending on the country. Evidence from India’s Labour Bureau is more definitive. The data show that there has been little progress in terms of parity of salaries for men and women for equivalent work. Even more alarming is the fact that, in some spheres of activity in rural areas, the divide has widened. As of 2013, the discrimination in wages paid to women tends to be higher in physically intensive activities (such as ploughing and well-digging), but lower in the case of work such as sowing and harvesting.

So development alone will not accomplish much –indeed, much less than conjectured by Duflo – in empowering women. She doesn’t of course overlook the case for affirmative action to ensure greater participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres. But she remains sceptical of women’s empowerment contributing substantially to development as women are not always the best decision-makers.

Let us consider two examples from her research in which women made a positive contribution to development.

In an earlier but highly influential study (with Chattopadhyay) of Panchayats (village councils) in two Indian states, headed by women elected through quotas, it is demonstrated that these Panchayats invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the expressed development priorities of women. In West Bengal, for example, where women complained more often than men about water and roads, the Panchayats invested more in water and roads. In Rajasthan, where women complained more often about drinking water but less about roads, the councils invested more in water and less in roads. Whether such choices would have been made in the absence of quotas for women heads of Panchayats is highly unlikely. Besides, there may be dynamic gains through changes in male attitudes towards women as decision-makers. Questions, however, remain about complaints by women as a preference revelation mechanism in a rural setting, as also about women Panchayat heads’ autonomy or ability to ignore or circumvent investment allocation priorities handed down from “above”.

In a test of whether income in the hands of women of a household has a different impact on intra-household allocation than income in the hands of the men, she found that pensions received by women in South Africa translated into better nutrition for girls. In contrast, no such effect was found when the pension was received by a man and no corresponding effects were obtained for boys.

Duflo is, however, far from convinced that women generally make the best decisions for development and thus there is a real risk of exaggerating their contribution. The fact that returns on loans given to women to run small enterprises are lower (or even zero) relative to those run by men is not conclusive evidence of women entrepreneurs’ inefficiency. This is a muddled inference for two reasons: as noted by her, women are often compelled to engage in home-based but hardly remunerative enterprises by their family responsibilities and binding time constraint. Relaxation of not just this but other constraints enhances their returns substantially.

A recent World Bank study (2015), as a synthesis of empirical evidence, is illuminating.

Women running subsistence-level firms are prone to external pressures to divest some of the cash from loans or grants to relatives or household expenses.

Evidence shows that women’s demand for saving accounts is high. A review of nine randomized field experiments in countries covering different regions (including Kenya, Philippines, Nepal and Guatemala) shows that savings are a promising way to improve rural women’s productivity. In Western Kenya, for example, women with access to savings accounts invested 45 percent more in their businesses and were less prone to sell business assets during health emergencies.

Capital in-kind (e.g. a physical asset such as livestock) works better than in cash to nudge women to keep the money in the business rather than to divert it for household use or pass it on to relatives.

Many of women’s additional constraints can be overcome by simple, inexpensive adjustments in programme/intervention design.

A two-month grace period versus immediate repayment requirements for poor urban women borrowers in Kolkata, India, significantly raised long-run (three-year) business profits by encouraging risk taking.

Women enjoy greater autonomy if they are able to use mobile money services to conduct financial transactions in private, receive reminders to save and obtain information on prices in real time without having to travel long distances.

Panel household survey data for Bangladesh, covering a twenty-year period, show a beneficial effect, greater for females than for males, of 20-year cumulative microcredit borrowing on household per capita income and the reduction of extreme poverty.

Business skills matter. A vocational training programme in slums in New Delhi imparting skills in tailoring enhanced employment, self- employment and earnings of women but attrition rate was high due to lack of child care support and distance.

In conclusion, the evidence supports the view that economic development and women’s empowerment reinforce each other. If women’s empowerment is a by-product of development, it is just that. That women’s empowerment is a major driver of development is contested but highly plausible.


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Opinion: From Despair to Hope – Fulfilling a Promise to Mothers and Children in Mandera County Mon, 09 Nov 2015 23:04:48 +0000 Ruth2 Ruth Kagia is a Senior Adviser in the Office of the President of Kenya. Follow her on twitter:@ruthkagia. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1]]> The First Lady of Kenya, Governor Ali Roba and the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Osotimehin, in Mandera County.  Credit: UNDP Kenya

The First Lady of Kenya, Governor Ali Roba and the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Osotimehin, in Mandera County. Credit: UNDP Kenya

By Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

Mandera in northeastern Kenya, has often been described as “the worst place on earth to give birth.” Mandera’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, almost double that of wartime Sierra Leone at 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births.

But Mandera also demonstrates what can be achieved with strong political leadership and strategic partnerships. Just under a year ago, on December 2, 2014, we were part of a team from the United Nations, World Bank, charities and the Office of the President of Kenya that undertook the two-hour flight to Mandera to determine what could be done to address this critical development bottleneck.

Minutes before take-off, news came through that 36 Kenyans had been brutally murdered in Mandera by the Somali militant group al Shabaab.

No official briefing could have better highlighted the challenges of the task ahead. Rather than acting as a deterrent, it strengthened our resolve and we continued with our journey.

Marginalization combined with internecine conflicts, pockets of extremism, poor human development and cross border terrorism have trapped so many of Mandera’s people in poverty and misery. In addition, women and girls are subjected to cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which contribute to high school dropouts and complicate delivery.

The government has been focused in its resolve to change the narrative in Mandera and in other historically disadvantaged parts of Kenya. The introduction of free maternity services, for example, has increased the number of Kenyan women giving birth under skilled care from about 40 to 60 per cent since 2013.

Together with the government, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya mobilised private sector partners to develop innovative strategies to improve maternal and child health, especially in the six counties with the highest maternal and child health burden: Lamu, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit and Migori.

On October 13, we launched a Community Life Centre in Mandera with the technology company Philips. The centre, equipped with solar lighting, fridges, lab and diagnostic equipment, will provide better healthcare services for about 25,000 people.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin has given a very clear message that UNFPA must help the hard to reach and the most vulnerable. With this resolve, UNFPA, together with the World Bank, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, supported by the Ministry of Health, mobilized 15 million dollars to improve maternal, child and adolescent health services in the six counties in March 2015.

These efforts were given a major boost on November 6, 2015, when Kenya’s First Lady H.E. Margaret Kenyatta handed over a fully-kitted mobile clinic to Mandera. The First Lady launched the Beyond Zero campaign in 2014 to reduce maternal and child mortality in Kenya.

Dr. Osotimehin flew in from New York for the event, and was joined by the ambassadors of the European Union, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The First Lady said: “For too long, the prospect of childbirth in Kenya, to thousands of women, has been tantamount to a death sentence. No one should die giving life.”

Dr Osotimehin said: ‘‘When we invest in strengthening the health system from the community to the facility, when we invest in strong referral systems and complementary basic services, we save women’s lives but we also underwrite our future as humanity.”

Maternal health is a perfect illustration of the fact that the process of development is multi-dimensional. Poor maternal health affects women, their children and their communities. It affects nutrition, human development, population dynamics and it undermines the quality of the labour force.

When you improve maternal health, you create healthy families, strong communities and strong economies.

Like the tentative steps of an infant beginning to walk, these may seem modest achievements in the face of the significant challenges in these remote counties. The counties require structural changes which can lead women out of poverty, eliminate gender inequalities and build stronger health systems.

The partners’ grit and the commitment demonstrated by the government together with leaders like the First Lady and Mandera County Governor Ali Roba give reason for optimism that these challenges can be overcome.

Improving maternal health is not only achievable, it is a goal worth reaching.


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Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goals Fri, 30 Oct 2015 22:46:44 +0000 Princess Sarah Zeid

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

By H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.


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Opinion: Women on Reproductive Strike Thu, 29 Oct 2015 19:05:00 +0000 Joseph Chamie

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

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Women are having fewer than two children on average in 83 countries, representing nearly half of the world’s population. And in some countries, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, average fertility levels are now closer to one child per woman than the replacement level of about two children (Figure 1).

Largely as a result of women’s reproductive decisions, the populations of 48 countries are projected to be smaller and have older age structures by mid-century. Looking further ahead, the prospects for those countries are compounded over time resulting in even smaller and older populations by the close of the century.

For example, if Japan’s fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman were to remain unchanged, its current population of 127 million would be 64 million by 2100 with more than 40 percent of the Japanese aged 65 years and older. Similar demographic outcomes occur in many other countries when low fertility levels remain unchanged, such as Germany, Italy, Russia and South Korea (Figure 2).
Based on the demographic trends observed over the last five decades, once birth rates fall below the replacement level, especially when less than 1.6 births per woman, they tend to stay there. And even if birth rates were to increase somewhat, the pool of women of childbearing age in many of the low fertility countries is shrinking, resulting in fewer babies being born.

Although relatively little supporting empirical research exists, countries tend to view demographic decline and population ageing as critical concerns. They believe those demographic trends will have serious repercussions on national interests affecting economic growth, military defence, cultural integrity, pensions and health care, especially for the elderly.

Some governments, including Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, have concluded that intervention efforts are needed to raise their country’s birth rates in order to stem the projected decreases and rapid aging of their populations. Most recently, those twin demographic concerns have led China to announce that it is abolishing its one-child policy in favour of a two-child policy per couple.

However, despite government policies, considerable financial expenditures and various pronatalist initiatives, including national conception day, family night, “love cruises,” match-making, economic incentives, promotion of motherhood and appeals to patriotism and civic duty, efforts to raise fertility back near the replacement level have generally failed to convince women to have more children. In many low fertility countries birthrates have remained well below replacement for decades.

There are many factors or reasons why fertility levels have fallen below replacement and continue to persist at low levels. Marriage as a valued social institution has declined with divorce and separation becoming more common and acceptable. Also, marriage is no longer being viewed as just for reproductive purposes.

Opportunities for education, employment, mobility and financial independence, together with effective contraception, permit women to delay or forgo motherhood altogether. In many developed countries, especially in Europe, 10 per cent of women in their forties are childless and even in some, such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the number is close to 20 per cent.

Also instead of marriage many women and men are choosing to cohabitate, thereby avoiding legal issues, social responsibilities and long-term commitments. Even if they subsequently decide to marry, many are content to continue with their partner just as a couple.

Growing numbers of young women as well as men are choosing personal self-fulfillment and career development rather than centring their lives on family and children. After years of being without children, many have become accustomed to an urban life style, higher social and economic status and unrestricted freedoms.

Women also report that they have no children because they are not able to find a suitable partner who would be willing to share equally in parenting and household chores. For example, when asked if she wanted to have a child, one young Japanese woman replied, “No, because in order to have a baby I’d have to marry a baby.”

Also, many young couples find that they cannot live on one person’s income alone and therefore both are obliged to work. The additional costs of children plus the need to save for longer years of old age place increased financial demands on household income as well as exerting powerful brakes on childbearing.

Another compelling factor accounting for low fertility in many countries is the lack of sufficient support and social services for those with children, especially single-parent families. That issue has become particularly salient given the fact that the majority of women are no longer simply mothers but are working mothers.

The demands of employment, career development and parenting combined with the costs of childrearing have also created “the hurdle of the second child.” Given those pressing circumstances, especially as childcare still falls largely on women, many mothers are reluctant to have a second child. Even if some women decide to cross the second-child hurdle, comparatively few are willing to consider having three or more children.

Some women as well as men have limited their fertility due to concerns about global overpopulation and its damaging consequences on the natural environment. They are convinced that the world would be a better and more sustainable place to live with low birthrates, which would in turn lead to a smaller future global population.

Government policies and schemes to encourage women to have more births in order to stem population decline and ageing have also encountered resistance and objections about unwarranted government interference and meddling in women’s lives. In Germany, for example, the recent introduction of a childcare allowance for stay-at-home mothers was harshly criticized for discouraging women to pursue careers as is widely promoted and expected of men and fathers.

Will governments be successful in persuading women to call off their reproductive strike and have significantly more children, thereby perhaps raising fertility rates to near the replacement level? It seems highly doubtful.

Based on their current behaviour and what they’re reporting, women in low fertility countries are not likely to increase their reproduction for the sake of the nation, limited financial incentives or other governmental pronatalist schemes. Most young women have decided not to return to the traditional, restrictive reproductive roles that their mothers and grandmothers followed. Consequently, for the foreseeable future, birthrates in low fertility countries are likely to remain below the replacement level.


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Opinion: Imagine a Rape-Free Delhi Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:31:20 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

Delhi’s shame is that it’s the rape capital of India. The recent brutal rape of minors only underscores the tragic fact that nothing has changed since December 16, 2012 when a 23-year old physiotherapy student was gang-raped in a moving bus and triggered a nationwide outrage.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The massive protests that shook the capital and metropolitan India were considered by sociologists as a tipping point as there was pent up anger against the breakdown in law and order and governance. The recent incidents have only thrown up a sordid blame game between Delhi’s government and Centre while rapes in the capital have trebled since 2012.

For all the talk of reforms of the criminal justice system and swifter justice, the appeals of the four accused against the death sentence in the December 16 rape case are still pending in Supreme Court. In the lower courts, the conviction rate in rape cases is a lowly 23 to 27 per cent, which only emboldens rapists that they need not fear the law of the land.

The 77,000 strong Delhi Police, however, claim that in most cases rapists are brought to justice. But they were too busy providing security for the India-Africa Forum summit to escort the rapist in the infamous Uber rape case of December 2014 to the fast track court to decide his quantum of punishment.

Policing is as much the problem as the solution. So is the ruling political class. On national TV channels, they insist that rapists must be hanged. The Madras High Court is sure that castrating the rapists of minors will fetch magical results. But the ruling dispensation is more worried that such crimes take attention away from Delhi’s claims of being a world-class destination for tourism or a diversion from its efforts to sell the India story. “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism,” stated a minister of the NDA government. Although he retracted his statement, the damage was done.

No doubt, these small incidents in Delhi and elsewhere in India have impacted tourist footfalls. More than the loss of a fistful of dollars, however, they point to a pervasive failure of development on the gender front. This is reflected in the imbalanced sex ratio as there is a lesser number of women per 1,000 men. This ratio is one of the lowest in Delhi. Does any of this have a bearing on the higher incidence of sexual offences against women when compared to states where there the gender ratio is more balanced? Interestingly, social scientists have noted a robust inverse relationship between the sex ratio and murders and other violent crimes in India.

In states with an adverse sex ratio, a higher incidence of murders was observed. A better sex ratio was associated with fewer murders. Many years ago, Philip Oldenburgh termed the states in the country with the worst sex ratios ­ mostly in the north and northwest of India­as “the Bermuda Triangle for girls.” In sharp contrast, a more affirmative link between gender relations and crime was observed in the southern state of Kerala which has the highest sex ratio in the country and some of the lowest crime rates, not only of murders but others as well, according to the research of Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.

Can this reasoning extend to sexual crimes against women, including rapes? Using the latest numbers of the National Crime Research Bureau, Delhi clearly is an outlier as it has one of the lowest sex ratios and the highest incidence of sexual offences in the country by a substantial margin in 2014. The crime rate, defined as the incidence of criminal sexual offences per 100,000 women, is the highest at 86.96 in the national capital. Although this is highly suggestive, the relationship across 35 states and union territories in the country is observed to be only mildly inverse and not significant. In other words, it is only broadly true and doesn’t tell the full story.

Kerala, with the best gender balance, indicates why this is so as it has a crime rate against women that is higher than the national average. In fact, seven out of the top 10 states with the highest sex ratios also had a higher incidence of sexual offences against women than the national average. Research is now re-appraising the so-called Kerala model of development which indicated the possibilities of higher social development at low levels of per capita income. How does one reconcile this model with the growing gender-based violence, mental illness and the rapid incidence of dowry and related crimes in the state? Kerala is no safe haven for women.

According to a fascinating paper by Mridul Eapen and Praveena Kodoth of the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, “changes in the structure and practices of families in the past century have had wide-ranging implications for gender relations… alterations in marriage, inheritance and succession practices have… weakened women’s access to and control of inherited resources… the persistence of a gendered work structure have limited women’s claims to ‘self-acquired’ or independent sources of wealth.” With their weaker position, can domestic violence, declining property rights and serious mental illnesses be far behind?

What is happening in Delhi is only a concentrated expression of what is occurring in the country. Doing whatever it takes to ensure gender parity, including in the police force, is desirable. Killing the girl child at birth has to stop at all costs. Family and societal values that favour sons over daughters, too, must change. A dark and troubling truth is that women, including minors, are mostly raped by members of the family and known people like neighbours and relatives. There is a need to have child protection services, including provision of crèches for working mothers – especially of the poorer sections of society – so that minors are not left unattended. Ultimately, it is only the vigilance of a gender-sensitised citizenry that will minimize rapes.


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Opinion: The Unlikely Chance of a Serious Human Rights Debate in Cuba Mon, 19 Oct 2015 17:00:10 +0000 Louise Tillotson

Louise Tillotson is a Cuba researcher at Amnesty International.

By Louise Tillotson
MEXICO CITY, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

Nearly a month since Pope Francis ended his historic visit to Cuba, any hope that authorities would loosen control on free expression in the country is fading as fast as the chants that welcomed him.

At the start of his tour, Pope Francis said Cuba had an opportunity to “open itself to the world.” He urged young people in the country to have open minds and hearts, and to be willing to engage in a dialogue with those who “think differently.”

Cubans listened, but the government didn’t.

Instead, the Cuban authorities continued to prevent human rights activists from expressing their dissenting views.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent organization, in 2014 there was an average of 741 arbitrary detentions each month.

Last month, during the Pope´s visit, the number increased even further, with 882 arbitrary detentions registered.

Activists Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and María Josefa Acón Sardinas, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a dissident group, are three of the activists detained. They were arrested on 20 September after they crossed a security line in Havana as they attempted to talk to the Pope and have been held in prison since then.

They are believed to be charged with contempt (“desacato”), resistance (“resistencia”), violence or intimidation against a state official (“atentado”) and public disorder (“disorden publico”). If convicted, they face prison sentences of between three and eight years.

The crackdown seems to have escalated since the Pope left the country.

On Sunday, 11 October, hundreds of human rights activists and dissidents, including members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and of the group Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were arbitrarily arrested and detained on their way to peaceful protests organized across the country calling for the release of the activists and prisoners of conscience. The Patriotic Union of Cuba is one of the organizations reporting the highest number of detentions.

One activist recently told me how a bus carrying him and 29 other people was stopped on the way to the city of Santiago de Cuba by 40 police officers.

“They took us off the bus one by one and threatened us with blows and imprisonment. I was taken in a jeep and left somewhere remote and had to walk for various miles to get home,” he said.

According to José Daniel Ferrer, General Secretary of UNPACU, four homes of social leaders were recently robbed or vandalized.

Another activist said he was hit after being arrested: “An official told us we all had to shut up or the police could take out our teeth if it was necessary,” he said. He said the police only stopped hitting him when they saw lots of blood.

Also on Sunday, in Havana, 60 Ladies in White were arrested. Some said they had been beaten, and detained for hours after a peaceful march that lasted less than 10 minutes. “The march started at 1.30pm and was stopped at 1.40pm,” Berta Solar, leader of the group told me.

The mother and grandmother of prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado Machado, a graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” also joined the Ladies in White. Danilo´s mother said: “There were lots of police, who picked up the Ladies in White in buses. They picked them up so no one would see them protest.It left me traumatized to see how they dragged the women.”

For many, Pope Francis´ visit to Cuba was a sign of hope for freedom of expression in the country. But the recent crackdown on those who think differently shows that the same old tactics of repression are still being used to stifle dissent.

Cuba is undoubtedly at a crossroads when it comes to the protection of human rights. The Cuban government has long said it promotes the rights to education, healthcare and that it has made some advancements for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

But it is impossible to comprehensively assess the wider human rights situation in Cuba when the fundamental right to peacefully express a view is tightly controlled and independent monitors are unable to enter.

As long as Cubans are only allowed to disagree in spaces controlled by the government, but not on the streets, and while the right to protest is severely restricted, a wider discussion on human rights remains an unlikely reality.


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Kenya: Transforming Mandera County’s Deadly Reputation for Maternal Health Mon, 19 Oct 2015 06:31:04 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

Photo Credit: @islamicrelief

By Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

For many women in Mandera County – a hard to reach, insecure and arid part of North Eastern Kenya – the story of life from childhood to adulthood is one about sheer pain and struggle for survival.

As little girls, they undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful carving out of the external genitalia that leaves them with lifelong physical and psychological scars.

Most girls will be married off when barely into their teens, forcing them to drop out of school, their immature bodies thrust into the world of childbearing.

As a result, Mandera – just a two-hour flight from the dynamic, modern East African hub of Nairobi – has maternal mortality ratio of 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate that surpasses that of wartime Sierra Leone (2000 deaths per 100,000 live births) and far above Kenya’s national average (448 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Mandera is an example of a marginalized community rife with internecine conflicts, pockets of extremism, poor human development and cross border terrorism, where residents are trapped in poverty, misery and desperation. Cultural norms like status of the women, FGM and child marriage makes it worse. Among the poor, inequities hurt women and girls most.

However, things are looking up. Kenya’s decision to devolve government, putting much more power in the hands of local authorities, is having an impact on the ground. Indicators such as number of health facilities offering basic maternal and child health, and the number of women giving birth in a health facility, are improving.

Just as critical to these improvements is the recently established private sector’s coalition to transform the health landscape of this county, long considered a lost frontier. The goal of this coalition is to develop new products and service delivery models, like community life centers (CLCs) to improve maternal and new-born health among most vulnerable populations in Kenya.

An inter-agency team consisting of the Office of the President of Kenya, Ministry of Health, Kenya Red Cross, UNOCHA, Save the Children, technology company Philips, Amref, Safaricom, GlaxoSmithKlein and UNFPA, visited Mandera on 13 October 2015 with the ambassadors of Turkey and Sweden to Kenya, to launch a Ministry of Health-UNFPA–Philips innovation partnership.

The UNFPA and Philips CLC project is expected to bring quality primary healthcare within reach of about 25,000 people through small improvements that enhance the functionality of health facilities like 24-hour lighting that will allow facility deliveries to take place and sick children attended after dark. If successful, this initiative could be scaled-up and transform maternal and child health in Mandera county.

Mandera has long remained out of bounds for most international UN staff and diplomats due to insecurity. Hopefully the visit by the Turkish and Swedish ambassadors , who are ardent advocates of the rights of women and children, will pave the way for more visits to all the country’s North Eastern counties which face similar challenges.

The ambassadors spoke of their countries’ commitment to work with the county to change the narrative, especially to advance the rights and wellbeing of all women and girls.

The broader partnership, which also includes Huawei, Kenya Health Care Federation and MSD, together with the United Nations’s H4+ partners, will focus on the six counties with a high burden of maternal mortality: Wajir, Marsaibit, Lamu, Isiolo, Migori and Mandera.

The main activities in these six counties will include strengthening supply chain management for health commodities, increasing availability and demand for youth-friendly health services, capacity building for health professionals, youth empowerment and research. These activities be complemented by the results-based financing supported through the Health Results Innovation Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.

It is also in line with the full-scale Kenyan government commitment to reduce maternal deaths and the new polices of free maternity care and user fee removal.

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta once remarked that “I am deeply saddened by the fact that women and children in our country die from causes that can be avoided. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is why I am launching the ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ which will bring prenatal and postnatal medical treatment to women and children in our country.”

The dividend from healthier women will be a more educated and healthy society, with more economic opportunities and reduced exclusion which will engender peace and hopefully reduce the drivers of violent extremism.

It will be a major score for Mandera towards fulfilling the vision of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which is about empowerment and participation of women, ending discrimination and the scourge of harmful traditional practices like FGM and child marriage.


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Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Families Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
SUCRE, Bolivia, Oct 17 2015 (IPS)

The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes.

“The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of the women didn’t have work – they had no skills, they washed clothes for others or sold things at the market,” Lucrecia Toloba, secretary of “productive development and plural economy” in the government of the southeastern department of Chuquisaca, told IPS.

Her hair in two thin braids and wearing traditional native dress – a bowler hat, a short, pleated skirt called a pollera, and light clothing for the mild climate of the Andean valleys – Toloba, a Quechua Indian, is an educator who now runs the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme in the region.“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals." -- Alberta Limachi

In her modest office, she explains that women are at the centre of the programme, which brings them recognition from their families and communities, diversifies their families’ diets, and offers them economic independence through the sale of the vegetables they grow ecologically in the city, which at the same time benefits from healthy, diversified fresh produce.

Five km away, on the outskirts of the city, women in the neighbourhoods of 25 de Mayo and Litoral, who belong to the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, met IPS with a basket of fresh produce from their gardens, including shiny red tomatoes, colourful radishes and bright-green lettuce.

A total of 83 poor suburban neighborhoods in Sucre are taking part in the project, which has the support of the national and departmental governments and of the .

The initiative has 680 members so far, said Guido Zambrana, a young agronomist who runs the Urban Garden Project.

The lunch we are served is soup made with vegetables grown in their backyard gardens, accompanied by tortillas made with cornmeal mixed with flour from different vegetables. Fresh produce is also grown in greenhouses built throughout the hills of Sucre, 2,760 metres above sea level and 420 km south of La Paz, the country’s political centre.

The women have learned how to grow vegetables and how to improve their family’s food security, Tolaba explained.“We want to reach zero malnutrition,” she said.

In Sucre temperatures range between 12 and 25 degrees Celcius. But in the greenhouses, built by the families with support from the government, temperatures climb above 30 degrees.

Sometimes, the temperatures marked by the thermometers in the greenhouses spike and the windows have to be opened. The greenhouses have roofs made of transparent Agrofil plastic sheeting and walls of adobe. They are built under the guidance of technical agronomist Mery Fernández.

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The luscious leafy chard and lettuce in the greenhouse of Celia Padilla, who came to Sucre from an indigenous village in the neighbouring department of Potosí with her husband in 2000 and settled in Bicentenario, a neighbourhood in a flat area among the hills surrounding the city.

Padilla, who also belongs to the Quechua indigenous community like most of the women in the association, joined the project with a garden of just eight square metres last year, and is now thinking about building a 500-square-metre greenhouse.

Greenhouse figures

On average, according to FAO statistics, each greenhouse run by the Sucre association produces some 500 kg of fresh produce a year, in three harvests. And an average of 60 percent of the food grown goes to consumption by the families, while the rest is sold, either by the individual farmers, collectively, or through the association.

A total of 17 different kinds of vegetables are grown, nine in each garden on average. The women and their families provide the land and the labour power in building the greenhouses. Besides planting and harvesting they select the seeds and make organic compost, in this sustainable community project.

The Bolivian organisers of the programme say each greenhouse can produce an average income of at least 660 dollars a year.

Her husband, a construction worker who does casual work in the city, is pleased with the idea of expanding the garden by building a greenhouse. Their home garden provides the family with nutritional food and brings in a not insignificant income through the sale of fresh produce to neighbours or at market.

With the earnings, “I buy milk and meat for the kids,” Padilla told Tierramérica, holding bunches of shiny green chard in her hands.

Water for irrigation is scarce, but a local government programme has donated 2,000-litre tanks to capture water during the rainy season and store it up for using in drip irrigation.

The chance to improve the family diet generated a good-natured dispute between Alberta Limachi and her husband, who came to this city from the village of Puca Puca, 64 km away.

The couple, who own a 150-square-metre plot of land on the outskirts of the city, had to decide between a family garden or using the space to build a garage. Limachi, one of the leaders of the urban producers, won the argument.

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals,” she told Tierramérica, after proudly serving a snack of green beans and fresh salad.

“I don’t ask my husband for money anymore, and we don’t spend anything on vegetables,” Padilla said, pleased to help support her family. Her garden is well-known in the neighbourhood because she grows lettuce, chard, celery, coriander and tomatoes, and her neighbours come knocking every day to buy fresh vegetables.

A committee made up of associations of farmers and consumers monitors and certifies that the fresh produce is organic and of high quality, José Zuleta, the national coordinator of the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme, told Tierramérica.

“The women grow their food without (chemical) fertiliser, using organic compost that can return to the soil, which means their production is sustainable,” Yusuke Kanae, an agronomist with the FAO office in Sucre, commented to Tierramérica.

Kanae, originally from Japan, offers the women technical know-how and simple practices such as converting a creative variety of containers – ranging from a broken old football to plastic television set packaging – into improvised pots for growing vegetables.

“Even if it’s just 20 bolivianos (slightly less than three dollars), the women can help buy notebooks and shoes,” said Kanae, to illustrate the importance of the women’s contribution to the household, which chips away at what he described as “sexist” dependence, while putting them in touch with their indigenous cultural roots.

Kanae also supports the introduction of organic vegetables in the city, and has encouraged the owners of the Cóndor Café, a vegetarian restaurant, to buy products certified by the women as organic.

Visitors to the restaurant enjoy substantial dishes prepared with the vegetables from the women’s peri-urban gardens, which combine Japanese and Bolivian cooking, and cost only three dollars a meal.

The manager of the restaurant, Roger Sotomayor, told Tierramérica that he enjoys supporting the family garden initiative. “We want to encourage environmentally-friendly production of vegetables,” he said, stressing the high quality of the women’s produce and the fact that the cost is 20 percent lower than that of conventional crops.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Will the SDGs Serve to Bridge the Gender Gap? Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:53:17 +0000 Paloma Duran SDG Fund Gender

By Paloma Duran

Increasingly gender equality, rooted in human rights, is recognized both as a key development goal on its own and as a vital means to helping accelerate sustainable development. And while the field of gender has expanded exponentially over the years, with programmes focused exclusively on women and girls and greater mainstreaming of gender into many development activities, a range of challenges remain.

Women are still facing unequal access to economic and environmental resources. They often face numerous barriers linked to clear discrimination as well as bear the burden of low wages or unpaid work, and are susceptible to gender-based violence.

So despite the significant advances for women, the fact is that unless women and girls are able to fully realize their rights in all facets of society, human development will not be advanced. The year 2015 is a crucial time to further equality and if the new post-2015 development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at the front and also at its centre.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. All the goals are intrinsically interrelated and interdependant – and ideally gender will be adressed and mainstreamed amongst all goals. SDG 5 calls on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The proposed targets include ending violence, eliminating harmful practices, recognizing the value of unpaid care, ensuring that women have full participation – and equal opportunities – in decision-making, and calling for reforms to give women equal access to economic resources. The new post-2015 agenda is a universal idea with high hopes to “leave no one behind,” but to make this a reality, we must keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments.

The Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) has placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of its efforts to acceleterate progress towards the SDGs. By directly empowering women and by bringing a gender perspective to all development work we can build a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

Stemming from the comitments established in 1995 at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the SDG Fund adopted a dual strategy for advancing gender equality to support both gender-targeted programmes while simultaneaously mainstreaming gender as a cross-cutting priority. Gender mainstreaming entails transforming existing policy agendas by integrating a gender perspective into all policies and programming.

There is no set recipe to creating programmes that will solve gender inequality and perhaps it would be good if there was one single universally applicable and empirically proven method for achieving gender equality in every country around the world. A multi-dimensional issue such as gender inequality is deeply rooted in economic and cultural structures of society and it requires comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, one needs to explore the issue in the specific context of the country in question to effectively improve the quality of life for women and girls everywhere.

The private sector, together with NGOs and governments, are key actors in addressing the variable causes of gender inequality. In other words, achieving equality and empowerment for women is a challenge that requires the synergistic intervention of multiple actors.

For example, the Fund is working in Bangladesh, where women are employed at the lower end of the productivity scale. Labor force participation of rural women is only 36.4 per cent compared to 83.3 per cent of men. Creating employment and income generating opportunities for women as well as enhancing women’s access to social protection will help reduce gender disparities which are exacerbated by women’s poverty and vulnerability.

The SDG Fund programme entitled “Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities” is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), local governments and private partners with the overall goal to assist 2,592 women from ultra-poor households. As part of a pilot programme, women are trained in maintenance or rehabilitation of key community assets, public works and community service activities.

Furthermore, the programme is targeting 2,600 women in Kurigram District which has the highest incidence of poverty in Bangladesh. In particular, it aims to assist those who are alone because they are divorced, have been abandoned by their husbands or widowed and/or with low economic status including those with no assets or forced to beg due to poverty. The results will be replicated, targeting 1,900 women, in Satkhira district and the government is further committed scale-up this pilot in a further 20 districts. Overall, the 18 month programme is designed to:

– Helping primary beneficiaries permanently move out of poverty.
– Support human capital with activities to boost knowledge, skills, and confidence.
– Enhance economic inclusion with vocational skills training linked to viable job placement.
– Provide livelihoods options that are resilient in the face of climate change.
– Encourage wage saving or issued as a graduation bonus.
– Facilitate partnership linkages with small and medium enterprises and public-private partnerships to hire participant women after the programme ends.
– Integrate social protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
– Enhance good local governance and develop the capacity of local government institutions.
Gender equality is often seen as the key to addressing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals and accelerating global development beyond 2015. There is strong evidence that closing gender gaps accelerates progress towards other development goals. Poverty, education, health, jobs and livelihoods, food security, environmental and energy sustainability will not be solved without addressing gender inequality.

Urgent action is needed to empower women and girls, ensuring that they have equal opportunities to benefit from development and removing the barriers that prevent them from being full participants in all spheres of society. In the words of UN Women’s Executive Director, “equality for women, is progress for all” and so let us embark on this journey together.


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Youngster Uses Technology to Fight Teen Pregnancy in Honduran Village Wed, 14 Oct 2015 22:53:28 +0000 Thelma Mejia Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 14 2015 (IPS)

Four years ago, Cinthia Padilla, who is now 16, learned how to use a computer in order to teach children, adolescents and adults in this isolated fishing village in northern Honduras how to use technology to better their lives.

Now she is using her expertise in an online e-learning platform aimed at reducing teen pregnancies in her remote village and neighbouring communities.

Her father, Óscar Padilla, is the community leader who radically changed life in Plan Grande by bringing it round-the-clock hydroelectricity, as well as a project for the conservation and protection of the Matías River basin. His daughter learned a great deal accompanying him to village meetings from an early age.

“My dad would tell me: ‘Stay home little girl! What are you doing here?’” she told IPS. “But I would ignore him because I liked listening to the adults. That’s how I learned, with a computer project that came to the village, and today I teach kids and adults in my free time how to use programmes like Word, Excel and others that help them in their work and studies.“I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young,” Javier Alexander Ramos, eight years old

“I started out with a used computer that a businesswoman from the capital gave me four years ago. So far I have trained more than 60 kids and a number of adults. It hasn’t been easy, because who was going to believe in a girl?” said a smiling Cinthia, who is in the first year of secondary school.

Thanks to the skills of this young girl who dreams of becoming a systems engineer to help her community develop and use technology to protect the environment, the 500 inhabitants of Plan Grande discovered the advantages offered by the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Thanks to what they have learned from Cinthia, local fisherpersons have improved their financial skills when selling their catch and purchasing products.

She also launched the e-learning platform to raise awareness among and educate adolescents to prevent teen pregnancy, with the support of the Sustainable Development Network, a civil society organisation that boosts technology use in communities in this impoverished Central American nation of 8.8 million people.

The success of the initiative drew the interest of Noel Ruíz, the mayor of the municipality of Santa Fe, where Plan Grande is located, and of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

With a 50,000 dollar grant from the SGP, the e-learning project will be expanded throughout the entire municipality of Santa Fe and the neighbouring Balfate, starting in 2016. The users will be students and teachers.

In Plan Grande, which is operating as a pilot programme for the platform, the schoolteachers are enthusiastic about the project because teen pregnancy is frequent in this region inhabited mainly by members of the Garifuna ethnic group – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe.

The National Assembly of Afro-Honduran Organisations and Communities estimates that 10 percent of the country’s population is black.

“This will open kids’ minds and help them not make the mistake of getting pregnant due to a lack of sex education,” Julissa Esther Pacheco, the teacher in Punta Frijol, a hamlet next to Plan Grande, told IPS.

“They have taught us how to use it, even though we don’t have Internet, with interactive educational programmes created to help youngsters learn about their bodies,” she said.

In Punta Frijol, just over three km from the centre of Plan Grande, Pacheco teaches 22 children in grades one through six in the rural schoolhouse. She divides the children by grade and teaches some while the others do homework.

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Pacheco says the children have been very open to the programme “and are motivated because they know life isn’t all peaches and cream.”

Eight-year-old Javier Alexander Ramos told IPS: “I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young.”

His remarks drew laughter from his fellow students and the parents who had gathered at the school to tell IPS about their expectations for the project, in a demonstration of the importance that local residents put on telling their story, and of their support for the initiative.

Javier said he dreams of a country that is “better educated, in peace and safe, like Plan Grande. I would like to be a congressman when I grow up, to help in so many ways here, and that’s why I like to study. I enjoy learning how to use the computer because although we don’t have our own computers we learn with the ones in the school, which we all share.”

Because of Plan Grande’s location, some 400 km from the capital of Honduras on the Caribbean coast, and only reachable by boat, there are few educational opportunities and locals depend on fishing and subsistence agriculture for a living, while some move away or find seasonal work elsewhere.

Teen pregnancy is frequent in the municipality of Santa Fe, which includes three villages and nine hamlets.

According to Health Ministry and United Nations figures, Honduras has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America: one out of four adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 have given birth.

The birth rate is 108 per 1,000 teenagers in that age group, according to official statistics.

To support the transformation that Cinthia has begun to bring about, Santa Fe Mayor Ruíz came to Plan Grande in September to lay the first stone in what will be a computer lab for the e-learning platform, set to open in January 2016.

“These are very neglected communities, but what they are doing in Plan Grande deserves support; the computer lab will have Internet and other appropriate technologies because we want adolescent girls to one day say: today I’m ready to be a mother,” he told IPS.

Cinthia broke in to say: “Young people here are losing their fear of expressing ourselves, and with this platform we’re going to teach them how to take care of themselves, and how to use the social networks.

“When the SGP proposed this idea, I was the first to say yes because they helped us before to bring electricity, they taught us the importance of nature, and now they’re going to help us educate people so our dreams as young people aren’t cut short at such a young age,” she said.

This remote village of poor fishing families on Honduras’ Caribbean coast has become a national reference point for community-run, clean self-sustainable energy.

And now they want to become an example to be followed in the prevention of teen pregnancy, led by a 16-year-old girl who has also launched a campaign for donations to her village of computers, whether new or used – because she has learned how to fix them as well.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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