Inter Press Service » Gender News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policy Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English! Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?


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Women’s Empowerment Will Accelerate Kenya’s Economic Prosperity Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:09:58 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed, CBS, EAV, EHG is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya.]]> Amb Amina Mohamed, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade flanked by Siddharth Chatterjee, the UNFPA Representative to Kenya and Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya in Moyale, Northern Kenya on 07 December 2015. Credit: @UNFPAKen

Amb Amina Mohamed, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade flanked by Siddharth Chatterjee, the UNFPA Representative to Kenya and Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya in Moyale, Northern Kenya on 07 December 2015. Credit: @UNFPAKen

By Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
Nairobi, Kenya, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

When President Barack Obama made his first visit to Kenya as US President in July 2015, one of the poignant messages he left was an exhortation for communities to shun cultures that degrade women and girls.

“Imagine if you have a team and don’t let half of the team play. That makes no sense,” he said, referring to the denial of opportunities for women to fully participate in development.

The president’s message could not have been more pertinent, coming as it did when the country, like most of Africa, is thinking how to reap a ‘demographic dividend’ – or boost in economic productivity – from its declining fertility rate and growing youthful population.

This occurs if the number of people in the workforce increases relative to the number of dependents.

Countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong also called the “Asian Tigers” lifted millions out of poverty by lowering the dependency ratio. Individuals and families were able to make savings which translated into investment and boosted economic growth. Combined with robust policies in education, health, employment and empowerment of women, they were able to capitalize on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

With over 70 percent of Kenyans aged below 30, we are at the cusp of a demographic dividend. For this dividend to become a reality, Kenya will have to surmount some formidable challenges, none more exigent than the empowerment of its women.

This youth bulge is “a window of opportunity”, which shuts in an average period of 29 years. We have to take advantage of it and understand that there’s nothing pre-ordained about a youth bulge producing a growth dividend.

The magnitude of the challenges Kenya faces was brought home through some sombre statistics in the just-released 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS). One emerging trend is the increasing role of women as stewards in Kenyan families, with one out of every three households in Kenya being headed by a woman.

This might not be of much concern were it not for another statistic from the KDHS: half of Kenyan women only have primary school education, meaning that their potential for participating in socio-economic processes is hampered, and their families are on the whole fated to the lower rungs of demographics.

In a new drive to change this narrative around the world, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon has established the first high-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which will take the lead in developing strategies and plans for closing economic gender gaps around the world.

Any strategies for enjoying the demographic dividend that do not prioritise the education and health of women will be futile. In Kenya, the train may not even leave the station if half the country’s women have only a rudimentary education and many do not have access to sexual and reproductive health services nor are empowered by understanding fully how family planning works.

The KDHS also confirmed that awareness of birth spacing and family planning rises with levels of education: fertility rates decrease from 6.5 among women with no education to 4.8 among women with some education and further to 3.0 among women with a secondary or higher education.

The survey showed that some counties in Kenya that had the lowest proportion of literate women also had the highest fertility rates, some as much as double the national rate which of 3.9.The pay-off from smaller families is in the all-round physical and cognitive development of children and, by extension, the workforce. In Kenya, this is a workforce that is mainly agrarian, and about 60 percent female.

Globally, it is estimated that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as US$28 trillion (equal to 26 percent) would be added to the global economy by 2025.

Where women are healthy and educated, not only their families, but entire nations flourish as we have seen with the “Asian Tigers”. Conversely, where women are not empowered the demographic dividend will not be realised.

Kenya must focus on eliminating gender inequalities, not only in the health sector, but in traditional social norms and attitudes that effectively under value women’s roles.

These are norms that keep girls out of classrooms and women away from the workplace, and are often expressed through violence. The 2014 survey indicated the extent of violence with about four in ten women aged between 15 and 49 stating that their husband or partner had been physically violent towards them.

We all need to listen to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s message at last September’s global meeting on gender equality in New York, where he stressed that “development cannot be rapid and resilient, unless it is also inclusive and equitable…given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must, not an option”.


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Rabbit Farming Now a Big Hit in Zimbabwe Tue, 02 Feb 2016 15:43:35 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo 0 Women’s Rights First — African Summit Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Despite the enormous challenges facing Africa now, the leaders of its 1.2 billion plus inhabitants have decided to spotlight the issue of Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in their 26th summit held in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January this year. Why?

In an interview to IPS, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission (AUC), explains that time has come to act to alleviate the multitude of barriers to gender equality: “These include, among others, economic exclusion and financial systems that perpetuate the discrimination of women; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables either as lead mediators or part of negotiating teams of conflicting parties,” she argued.

The African Union believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights can empower the continent, she added. Asked about women’s social, economic and political role in the continent, the Director of Women, Gender and Development says that Africa is at a turning point emerging as “one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2 per cent-11 per cent.”

“Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation,” explained the Director.

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Women’s socio-economic disadvantages are reflected in pervasive violence, gender inequalities in earned income, property ownership, access to services including health and education as well as time use. To date, women in Africa, like women elsewhere, have not been included as full, equal and effective stakeholders in processes that determine and impact on their lives, Kaba Wheeler said.

“For example, women continue to have less access to education than men; they have less employment and advancement opportunities; their role and contribution to national and continental development processes are not always recognised nor fully rewarded; and they continue to be conspicuously absent from crucial decision-making positions,” she elaborated.

Kaba Wheeler also explained that the focus on these rights is an opportunity for the AU to take stock of how far it has come in addressing some of the impediments to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

This is also meant “to assess the extent of implementation of its gender and women’s rights instruments, consolidate the gains already made over the years and consider future priority areas of action to accelerate the effective and efficient implementation of commitments made on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ” she stated.

Kaba Wheeler recalls that the theme for the 26th African Union Summit in January 2016 derives from the declaration of 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights, with a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women,” as this year marks “important milestones” in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

“Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.”

Regarding the main reasons why African women still face such huge hurdles, Kaba Wheeler cited a number of factors that create barriers between the present condition and gender equality in Africa: “Key amongst those is that African culture is largely patriarchal. Because of this, family control and decision-making powers belong to males. Since decision-making powers belong to males, the ability to make policy as well as the power to influence social norms also belongs to males.”

Consequently, she adds, “the male policy makers often maintain a firm grip on the traditional, gender-specific roles. This creates a sort of self-serving cycle, from which Africa is not yet free. Not unlike the women in many western states, the traditional role of women in Africa is that of the home-maker.”

As for women’s political participation in Africa, Kaba Wheeler explained to IPS that a huge progress has been made in the participation of women in politics since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.

In fact, she says, 15 African states rank in the top 37 amongst world classification for women’s participation in national parliaments with more than 30 per cent: Rwanda (63.8 per cent) , Seychelles (43.8 per cent), Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Namibia (41 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent ), Burundi (36.4 per cent ), Uganda (35 per cent) , Algeria (31 per cent) , Zimbabwe (31.5 per cent), Cameroon (31.3 per cent), Sudan (30.5 per cent ) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).

But while Rwanda is the world leader in women’s parliamentary representation, it is lagging behind when it comes to women in executive positions. It is overtaken by Cape Verde, which has the highest number of women occupying ministerial positions in Africa. Out of 17 government ministers in Cape Verde, 9 are women, amounting to 52.9 per cent representation, Kaba Wheeler adds.

“It should also be noted that out of 54 African Heads of State and Government, three are women – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the Interim President of the Central Africa Republic, Catherine Samba Panza.”

In this regard, Kaba Wheeler explains that the AU envisions a 50 per cent representation of women in decision-making and member states are expected to use that as the yardstick. On that note, the AU adopted the gender parity principle at its first summit in 2001.

“To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five women and five male commissioners and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority, ” according to Ms Wheeler.

The AU recognises that, with women being half of the African population, achievement of gender parity would create a ripple effect through many sectors of society as more women would be inspired to aim for leadership positions.

“Not only would having women in leadership positions lead to a better quality of life for women themselves, but also for their families in general and children in particular. There can be no true democracy in a country where women are underrepresented in decision making positions,” she emphasised.

But while acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life.

In some AU member states, she adds, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses.

“In Africa, structural impediments to gender equality are embedded within the constitutional texts, containing provisions that specifically subjugate constitutional equality to religious principles or exclude family and customary law from constitutional non-discrimination.”

Although many of the same constitutions articulate a commitment to gender equality, the exclusion of personal or customary law from constitutional protection can severely undermine that commitment to equality, because many issues that commonly affect women are located within the legal spheres regulated by these customary and personal legal systems, Kaba Wheeler underlined.

Asked to further develop on the situation of African women whose role is key in the field of food production, agriculture and food security, Kaba Wheeler explains that their contribution does not match the benefits they derive from the sector in general and little investment is directed to benefit them.

“While African women produce more than 60 per cent of agriculture, constitutes over 50 per cent of the rural population and remain the main custodians of food security, there is very little investment in their lot to yield commensurate results, tap their resources and help them unleash their potential.”

Although they spend 80 per cent of their time either in agricultural production and auxiliary process including informal sector business, their contribution to food production, family care and welfare activities as well as in the informal sector is not captured in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unaccounted for in the Statistics of National Accounts, says Kaba Wheeler.

“In addition to women not owning land, they have no access to agricultural infrastructure including land rights, modern farming technology, farm inputs, credit, extension services and training. Majority of them have no access to physical infrastructure also because they are based in rural areas with no access to good roads, water, electricity among others.”

In that regard, she adds, even when they produce agricultural crops, they lack access to markets and loose most of their outputs between the farm and the market through wastage, or sell their produce to middle men at a throw away price due to the high transportation costs.

“Because of the majority of women do not own land, they produce the bulk of the agricultural produce as tenants on the land they still have no land rights on the land and also no inheritance rights.”

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa.

According to the Seventh Report of the AUC Chairperson on the Implementation of the AU-SDGEA (Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa), African women own roughly 1 per cent of the land, despite farming and producing most of the food from the land.

Dual application of laws-customary and civil/common laws, conflict of various laws, as well as inadequate harmonisation of family laws- in relationship to marriages and inheritance, land rights, and property laws is a major issue across Africa, Kaba Wheeler explains.

On the other hand, the lack of equal opportunity in education, particularly higher education is responsible for the low levels of women in the job market, including in the formal agricultural sector… Most of the women in the job market occupy low cadre job which earn little income compared to their male counterparts, says Ms Wheeler.

As a result, women have no disposable income and are not able to accumulate any savings and generate investible income. Majority of them are therefore, predominantly in the agricultural sector where they are predominantly involved in producing food for the family and the meagre income they generate from selling surplus food does not lift them from poverty. Women constitute the majority of people in our continent who live below US $1 a day.

Regarding women’s health, Kaba Wheeler explains that in Africa, gender related challenges manifest themselves in various ways including with unacceptably high maternal, new born and child morbidity and mortality: “Maternal health status is indeed a key indicator not only of the status of women but also of the health status (and well being) of society as a whole. The 2012 Status Report on Maternal New born and Child Health of the AU Commission noted that globally, more than half a million women die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. ”

Some specific data: 99 per cent of these deaths were identified to occur in developing countries, of which 50 per cent occur in Africa (specifically outside the North African region). For every death, at least another 20 women suffer illnesses or injuries related to childbirth or pregnancy.

“The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa (excluding North Africa) is 1 in 22 women, compared with about 1 in 8,000 women in the developed world. Furthermore evidence abounds that 80 per cent of those deaths could be prevented by simple, low-cost and quality interventions.”


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Combating HIV among Teens Mon, 01 Feb 2016 07:39:10 +0000 Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

High HIV rates among teens call for interventions on a war-footing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah and Jeffrey Moyo
NAIROBI, Kenya / HARARE, Zimbabwe, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Keziah Juma is coming to terms with her shattered life at the shanty she shares with her family in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera slum where friends and relatives are gathered for her son’s funeral arrangements. While attending an antenatal clinic, Juma who is only 16 years discovered that she had been infected with HIV. “I went into shock and stopped going to the clinic, that is why they could not save my baby and I have been bed-ridden since giving birth two months ago,” she told IPS.

Juma’s struggle to come to terms with her HIV status and to remain healthy mirrors that of many teens in this East African nation. Kenya is one of the six countries accounting for nearly half of the world’s young people aged 15 to 19 years living with HIV. Other than India, the rest are in Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Mozambique, according to a 2015 UNICEF report Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS.

Yet in the face of this glaring epidemic, Africa’s response has been discouraging with statistics leaving no doubt that the continent is losing the fight against HIV among its teens. Julius Mwangi, an HIV/AIDS activist in Nairobi told IPS that some countries such as Kenya seem to have chosen “to bury their heads in the sand in hopes that the problem will go away.”Despite government statistics indicating that the average age for the first sexual experience has increased from 14 to 16 years among Kenyan teens, this has done little for the country’s fight to combat HIV among its young people.

The Ministry of Health’s fast track plan to end HIV and AIDS shows that only an estimated 24 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 years know their HIV status. Still in this age group, only about half have ever tested for HIV. Mwangi attributes the country’s high HIV rates among its teens to lack of practical interventions to address the scourge. He referred to the controversy over the Reproductive Health Bill 2014 which provided a significant loophole for young people less than 18 years to access condoms and other family planning services, but was rejected.

Judith Sijeny, a nominated Member of the Senate who sponsored the Bill, says that the proposed piece of legislation was rejected in its original form on grounds that it was encouraging sexual immorality among young people. Sijeny said in addition to providing information on HIV prevention and treatment including advocating for sexual abstinence, the Bill was also “providing a solution by encouraging safe sex.” “Statistics are providing a very clear picture that teenagers, including those living with HIV, are engaging in sexual activities,” she said.

Government statistics show that one in every five youths aged 15 to 24 had sex before the age of 16 years. A revised version of the Bill, which will constitute Kenya’s primary health law for now, states clearly that condoms and family planning pills are not to be given to those under 18 years of age.

While other African nations like Kenya have chosen to be in denial, leaving their young populations vulnerable to early deaths due to HIV, others such as Zimbabwe have vowed to take the bull by its horns. Last year, the Zimbabwean government in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the Condomise Campaign where they distributed small-sized condoms to fit 15-year olds in a bid to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This is despite this country’s age of consent to sex pegged at the age of 16!

The Condomise Campaign may, however, have come too late for several Zimbabwean teenagers like 16-year old Yeukai Mhofu who is already living with HIV after she was raped by her late stepfather. Regrettably, Mhofu said she may already have infected her boyfriend.“I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend at school and I am afraid I might have infected him. Although I was aware of my HIV status after my rape ordeal by my late stepfather, I succumbed to pressure from my school lover after he kept pestering me for sex and I feared to disclose my status to him because I thought he would hate me,” Mhofu told IPS.

For many Zimbabwean teenagers like 15-year old Loveness Chiroto still in school, the government move to launch condoms for teenagers has left her relieved at the fresh prospect of young people like her to survive the AIDS storm. “Now with government and UNFPA taking a position that we should use condoms, I’m personally happy that as young people we have been given the alternative on how to soldier on amidst the HIV/AIDS scourge,” Chiroto told IPS.

But irked by the Condomise initiative gathering momentum, many adults have vehemently castigated the idea. “Our children need strict grooming in which they are strongly taught the hazards of engaging in premature sexual intercourse; condoms won’t help our young people because even grown-up people are contracting HIV with condoms in their pockets,” Mavis Mbiza, a Zimbabwean mother of two teenage girls
in High school, told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) legislator and parliamentary portfolio committee on health chairperson, Ruth Labode, is however at variance with many parents like Mbiza. “Is there a difference when an adult is having sex and when a teenager is having sex? If teens are sexually active, condom use for them may be a necessity, I agree because there is also need for such young persons to be protected from STIs as well,” Labode said.

The UNFPA senior technical advisor, Bidia Deperthes went on record saying this Southern African nation’s teenagers from 15 years of age needed to be catered for in the condom distribution as some of them had become sexually active.

Statistics show that 24.5 per cent of Zimbabwean women between the ages 15 to 19 are married and is proof of teenagers being sexually active, which justifies the distribution of condoms to Zimbabwe’s teenagers according to UNFPA. An official from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care speaking on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, agreed with UNFPA. “We are highly burdened with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) even amongst teens, so condoms are very important in reducing new infections of HIV and STIs,” the health official told IPS. In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, expanding the scope of several existing children’s rights and explicitly granting new ones.

The Act gave to children 12 years and older a host of rights relating to reproductive health, including access to condoms, this at a time SA’s persons aged 15–24 account for 34 per cent of all new HIV infections. In 2014, at Botswana’s Condomise Campaign launch in conjunction with UNFPA, the organisation’s representative there, Aisha Camara-Drammeh emphasised that condoms were equally crucial for the African nation’s teenagers. “This is an exciting and yet a very crucial moment for us as UNFPA and our stakeholders – including the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and indeed the young people themselves – to be witnessing the inauguration of this campaign in Botswana. Ensuring access to condoms is a prerequisite for the Sexual and Reproductive Health of young persons,” Drammeh had said then.

According to the UNFPA then, Botswana’s young people were faced with numerous challenges which included high-risk sexual behaviour leading to high teenage unwanted pregnancies, high incidences of HIV infections, low comprehensive knowledge on SRH and HIV and limited access to SRH services and commodities. With condoms use rife amongst Botswana’s young people, the country is witnessing declines on new HIV infections, with the 15–24 year olds’ HIV incidence declining by 25 per cent, according to UNFPA. Even further up in Malawi, in 2013, government there moved in to launch the first-ever national HIV/AIDS prevention drive through a Condomise Campaign seeking to promote and increase condom use among teenagers there.


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Bali holds Family Planning Conference Amidst Many Unmet Needs Wed, 27 Jan 2016 07:10:53 +0000 Stella Paul 0 Spanish Member of Congress Causes Controversy after Breastfeeding in Parliament Mon, 25 Jan 2016 18:01:04 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

A member of the Spanish Congress, Carolina Bescana, of the anti-austerity Podemos Party, created a controversy last week when she took her six-month old baby to work and openly breastfed him during a session. The delegate was widely criticized by almost all parties for her action and the event has spurred a lively debate on the image of mothers who juggle motherhood with their jobs.

In 2006, socialist Manuel Martin established a kindergarden where congresswomen and men could leave their children while they attended congress sessions. It is a paying service, with the capacity to take 45 infants but that the congresswoman decided not to use, instead bringing her baby into a working session, and making the point for mothers generally about having children in the workplace:

“It is time to bring the reality that is on the streets into official institutions, so that this Chamber is more representative of our country,” Ms Bescansa declared. “We need to encourage that certain tasks stop being a private affair that women need to deal with confidentially in the invisibility of their homes.”

Podemos was condemned by all parties. Socialist Carme Chacón, who was criticized when she was the Minister of Defence for traveling to Afghanistan in the last months of her pregnancy, deprecated her colleague.

“Honestly, it was not necessary. I feel badly because there are many female workers in this country who cannot do this. It’s a bad example (for women) because there have been many efforts to allow women in Congress, who do not have maternity leave, to breastfeed their children, as I did, without everyone seeing”, said Chacón.

The idea, however, was to set an example of the difficulty that thousands of women face in juggling their private and professional lives and to highlight the need to share responsibilities and rights between both men and women.

“In this country, there are millions of mothers who unfortunately cannot raise their children as they would like, who cannot go to work with their children as if it was something normal,” Bescansa said to reporters ” I think that the fact that coming to parliament with a breastfed baby makes the news says a lot about this country. That means we need to give more visibility to this.”

It is not the first time a European politician has taken a stand by bringing their children into parliament. Iolanda Pineda, of the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia took her baby in 2012 into Spain’s upper house of parliament, and Licia Ronzulli, a former Italian member in the European Parliament, has frequently taken her daughter to sessions.

The issue has opened a debate on the role of women both professionally and privately. Breastfeeding, which is a natural part of childbearing and caring, is still seen in many places as obscene and something to be done in private.

It is important to mobilize at all levels of society in order to change the shame associated with breastfeeding and to incorporate it as part of the natural daily tasks of women both in public and in the workplace.


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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women


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Tanzania: Girls Struggle to Avoid Forced Marriage, Yearn to Learn Thu, 21 Jan 2016 07:18:54 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Africa, Only If It Bleeds It Leads? Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:03:17 +0000 Baher Kamal Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women.  Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women. Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Egypt, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

Africa is clearly one of the most negatively impacted regions in the world, not helped by the increasing trend of the mainstream media to focus on tragic news, following a self-imposed rule: “if it bleeds it leads”.

Famine; hunger; malnutrition; indebtedness; piracy; wars; massacres; tribal fights; terrorist attacks; Boko Haram; Al Qaeda Maghreb; IS; western military interventions; corruption; human rights abuses, and repeated operations of humanitarian assistance, among others, are pure adrenalin for most media outlets.

Africa also jumps to the top of the headers when it comes to announcing massive oil purchases by China. Western politicians and media tend to denounce the lack of human rights in the Asian giant.

Regardless of what and why, the very fact is that this continent seems sentenced to be the source of negative news.

Not that all these facts are entirely false—Africa has indeed been the scene for a lot of “bad news”.

Meanwhile, a number of experts, analysts and activists attempt to systematically remind us of the deep roots laying beneath most African dramas.

This is the case of centuries-long colonialism; slavery; massive depletion of natural resources by voracious multinational corporations; big sales of western weapons to parties in conflicts; extensive land grabbing and the heavy impact of climate change caused far away from Africa by industrialised states, just to mention some.

Yet, their voices have never received the attention they deserve. And when they have this attention, it was temporary and did not produce any effective action to help put an end to all the problems.

Against this backdrop, the African continent has been moving ahead in spite of the recent strong falls seen in international markets of its main sources of income, such as oil, commodities and minerals.

An Agenda 2063 for Africa

When in 2013 the leaders of 54 African countries adopted Agenda 2063 to achieve socio-economic transformation of the continent in half a century, they probably did not expect that the market value of some key resources would fall so sharply in a very short period of time.

Nevertheless, this vast continent extending over 30,221.000 km2, home to 1,2 billion people speaking up to 2,000 different native languages, is taking several steps to move forward.

For instance, the theme of the 26th Summit of heads of African states (Addis Ababa, January 21-31, 2016) is human rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.

In fact, African women face seven major challenges: economic exclusion; financial systems that perpetuate their discrimination; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence; harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables, among others.

The Addis Ababa based African Union Commission (AUC) underlines that “Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.”

Top Aspirations

Seven top African Aspirations shape Agenda 2063. These aspirations “reflect our desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want,” AUC underlines.

The aspirations as defined by the AUC are:

Aspiration 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

“We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent.”

Aspiration 2
: An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.

Since 1963, the quest for African Unity has been inspired by the spirit of Pan Africanism, focusing on liberation, and political and economic independence. It is motivated by development based on self-reliance and self-determination of African people, with democratic and people-centred governance.

Aspiration 3: An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Aspiration 4
: A peaceful and secure Africa.

Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education.

Aspiration 5: An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics.

Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and diaspora’s will be entrenched.

Aspiration 6: An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.

“All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors”

Aspiration 7: Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.

“Africa shall be a strong, united, resilient, peaceful and influential global player and partner with a significant role in world affairs. We affirm the importance of African unity and solidarity in the face of continued external interference including, attempts to divide the continent and undue pressures and sanctions on some countries.”

Whether the continent will manage to achieve all these objectives or not is something that belongs to the future. The point is that the aspirations of a whole, huge continent have never made the main headlines in western mainstream media.


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Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women Mon, 18 Jan 2016 17:13:01 +0000 Baher Kamal Participants in the African Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in Addis Ababa | Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Participants in the African Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in Addis Ababa | Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Egypt, Jan 18 2016 (IPS)

Economic exclusion; financial systems that perpetuate their discrimination; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence; harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables, are the major standing barriers to achieving gender equality in Africa.

These challenges are now top on the agenda of the “8thAfrican Union Gender Pre-Summit on 2016 African Year of Human Rights,with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women” taking place in Addis Ababa on 17 – 21 January.

The event is preparatory to the 26th African Union Summit which will bring together the heads of states and governments of the 54 African countries in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January. Significantly the Summit‘s theme is Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women.

More than 600 Million Women in Africa

Women represent more than half of the 1,2 billion African population living on a total of 30.2 million km2 and speaking up to 2,000 different native languages.
More than 50 percent of Africa’s population is under 25 years of age.

Due to the numerous armed conflicts in the continent-which is home to nearly half of the 42 ongoing conflicts – African women are in charge of the majority of households and are key food producers, and they represent more than 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, in addition to playing a major role in managing poultry, dairy animals, fisheries, aquaculture, and the marketing of handcrafts and food products.

The pre-summit event relies on a strong participation of civil society organisations, and includes an experts meeting of the Specialised Technical Committee on Gender and Women Empowerment, and a closed session of African ministers, among others, and will culminate with a joint meeting of all parties and stakeholders.

Both the pre-summit and the summit coincide with “2016, the African Year of Human Rights, with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”.

Enormous Human Rights Challenges

According to the African Union Commission (AUC), the continent continues to face enormous challenges with regards to the respect, promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights, which if not urgently and adequately addressed, may erase the human rights gains recorded over the preceding decades.

“These challenges include, but are not limited to: inadequate allocation of resources to human rights institutions, lack of capacity, insufficient political will, unwillingness by States to surrender sovereignty to supranational monitoring bodies, unwillingness by some States to domesticate international human rights treaties.”

These challenges also include “persistent violence across the continent which result in destruction of life, property and reverse human rights gains, widespread poverty, ignorance and lack of awareness, the effects of colonialism characterized by human rights unfriendly laws, bad governance, corruption and disregard for the rule of law.”

Why Now?

According to the AUC, “the year 2016 marks important milestones in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.”

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, it adds.

“The African Women’s Decade is the AU’s implementation framework which aims to advance gender equality through the acceleration of the implementation of global and regional decisions on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, which is described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.

To commemorate “these important milestones,” the AUC reports, the African Union Heads of State and Government at their 25th Ordinary Summit in June 2015 in Sandton, South Africa, declared 2016 as “the Africa Year of Human Rights, in particular, with focus on the Rights of Women”.

“Considering that 2015 was declared the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”, the 2016 theme marks the second consecutive year that gender equality and women’s empowerment are adopted as the highest priority on the continental agenda, “ AUC underlines.

What For?

The overall objective of the Gender Pre-Summit is to bring together voices of key actors in the gender equality and women’s empowerment arena, to update and discuss critical developments in the field, assess the extent of implementation of commitments, especially the Declaration on 2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well as the Mid-Term Review of the African Women’s Decade, the AUC reports.

It also aims at identifying future priority areas of action including the implementation of the 2016 year of Human Rights with a focus on the Rights of Women, and call for greater acceleration in the effective implementation of commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The pre-summit event is expected to culminate with a document/communiqué including concrete decisions to be presented to the AU Summit of Heads of State and Government, for consideration and adoption.


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Maternal and Child Health Key to Kenya’s Economic Growth Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:08:18 +0000 Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms Mette Knudsen is Denmark’s Ambassador to Kenya. Follow her on twitter: @metknu. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1]]> Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

Ms Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya visits a maternal health facility in Mandera County on 06 November 2015. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin the Executive Director of UNFPA looks on. Credit: @UNFPAKen

By Ambassador Mette Knudsen and Siddharth Chatterjee
Mandera County, Kenya, Jan 18 2016 (IPS)

On Friday, 06 November 2015, we had the honor of meeting the First Lady of Kenya Ms Margaret Kenyatta, a tireless advocate for “every woman and every child”, during the launch of the Beyond Zero campaign in Mandera County, North-Eastern Kenya, a place which 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.

Two out of every three cases of maternal deaths occur in areas affected by a humanitarian crisis or in volatile onditions, such as the North-Eastern region of Kenya where increasing focus is being put on giving pregnant mothers a real chance of surviving childbirth.

Some 6 out of every ten maternal deaths occur in this region. Poor education, little use of contraceptives, traditions such as marriage, that tend to derail women’s self-determination, together with inadequate health services have kept led to these very poor health indicators.

What we realized was that almost every child born in the region is really a throw of the dice, a hit-or-miss proposition that local communities face with stoicism, but a situation that development agencies are increasingly determined not accept.

For just over a year now, UNFPA has worked with the H4+ partners (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN Women and UNAIDS), to find ways not only to save lives at childbirth but also to meet related challenges of reproductive health in the six counties of Kenya that have the most maternal deaths.

The government of Denmark supports UNFPA’s programmes globally and in Kenya this support is based on a Denmark-Kenya Country Programme 2016-2020 that seeks to give momentum to Kenya’s Vision 2030.

The policy’s thematic programme on health specifically identifies operational support for primary health care facilities at county and national government levels as well as support for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Danish government is committed to supporting UNFPA to further ongoing work in Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, Lamu and Migori counties to deliver a comprehensive package of services in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

Denmark has pledged US$ 6 million to help the six counties give greater focus to adolescent girls and young women, through targeted and evidence-based interventions in multiple sectors. Of key concern will be addressing drivers for early sexual activity among adolescent girls and boys, early childbearing and early marriage, and advocating for keeping girls in schools.

In a demonstration of how collaboration in development work can be done effectively, various private sectors partners have joined these efforts in the six counties, that are already showing positive results.

There is reason for optimism that we can expand the supply of quality services; that we can innovate for delivering cost effective interventions for family planning, emergency obstetric care, postnatal and newborn care.

Though it is the right thing to do, this partnership is not driven by morality but concrete evidence that reducing maternal and newborn deaths is the smartest investment for changing the fortunes of poor economies.

Our observations show that complex operations are not required to make a real difference; simple interventions such as ensuring more women give birth through a skilled attendant greatly increase chances of survival for mother and baby.

It is about convincing communities to eschew practices such as early marriage and others that invariably occur without girls’ consent, robbing them of their childhood, forcing them out of school, trapping them in poverty, and putting them at a higher risk of potentially dangerous pregnancies and childbirth.

It is about empowering women to plan whether and when to have children, thereby giving them a better chance to complete their education, increase their earning power and reducing poverty.

It is also about exploiting local resources, working with structures that local communities are comfortable with. In Wajir County for instance, local community health volunteers have been trained to identify pregnant women within clusters of some 10 000 people, linking them to local health facilities to receive antenatal care.

The volunteers provide health education to pregnant mothers on the importance of antenatal care, the importance of recognizing danger signs during pregnancy, during delivery and in post-delivery.

Already, deliveries under skilled care are increasing, assisted also the Kenyan government’s free maternity care scheme.

Global data indicates that the highest benefits from reducing unintended pregnancies would be seen in the poorest countries, with GDP increases ranging from one to eight percent by 2035. There are few interventions that would result in such wide-ranging impacts.

Sure as we are about the steps needed to move forward, it is, however a window that will not remain open forever and the urgency of the moment cannot be over-emphasized.


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Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Teen Mother Fights the Odds and Wants to be a Nurse Fri, 15 Jan 2016 07:03:42 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri 0 2016 Potential Landmark Year for Women Leaders in US and UN Tue, 12 Jan 2016 08:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is hoping 2016 will be a landmark year for gender empowerment – not only for the world body but also for the United States.

“The empowerment of women is real,“ says UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden. “It is a remarkable moment where key candidates for the next President of the United States (POTUS) and for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations (SGUN) are women.”

But will this be a political reality or a floating fantasy?

Asked about history-in-the-making, UN Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, told IPS: “Yes, it will be historic and game changing –if and when that happens, because it would be the first time ever since the founding of the UN and the USA.”

First and foremost, she said, imagine the symbolism of the POTUS and the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country, largest democracy and economy of the world and a consistent advocate and global leader on gender equality and women’s rights and women’s empowerment, being a woman?

“Similarly imagine the symbolism of the United Nations — the World Government, peacemaker and peace builder, standard-setter and upholder of human rights, including that of women and girls, and of sustainable development and climate action, leader in humanitarian action — being a woman,” said Puri, who is also deputy executive director of UN Women.

She said it would be a signal not only to the US government and the people but also to the patriarchal political systems in the world that have to deal with a Woman POTUS.

Also imagine, she noted, what electricity will be generated by a woman SGUN in the UN system – in the Secretariat, and among member states and civil society. And their agendas and representation.
She also said that two world women leaders could go beyond symbolism for the gender equality agenda– which is huge in itself— and change the realities for women and girls around the world.

With the current race for nominations for the upcoming US presidential elections in November, there are two women candidates among half a dozen men: former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat; and Carly Fiorina, a Republican and former chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard.

As the campaign continues at a feverish pace, there is widespread speculation that Clinton will emerge as the Democratic candidate for the presidency at the Democratic convention on July 25.

At the United Nations, there is an intense campaign for a woman to be elected Secretary-General – which will be a historic first in the 70-year-old Organisation which has been routinely headed by men since its founding.

The list of declared and undeclared candidates include: Michelle Bachelet, current president of Chile and former executive director of UN Women; Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director-general of the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, a vice president of the European Commission.

The two Bulgarians are likely to be in the forefront, because under a system of geographical rotation, the post of secretary-general should now go to an Eastern European.

The others singled out as potential candidates include President Ellen Johnson of Liberia; Christine Legard of France and head of the International Monetary Fund; and Alicia Barcena Ibarra of Mexico, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

But the final winner may well be out of the current list of candidates.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who finishes his term end December, has repeatedly said it’s high time for the secretary-general to be a woman. The new SG will take office January 2017.

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of the New York-based Equality Now, told IPS 2016 could well be a landmark year for the political participation of women.

“We could realistically see a woman leader of the UN because of the many qualified women around the world who could fill the position of Secretary-General, and a more transparent selection process that we and our partners have been advocating for.”

She said a woman at the helm of the UN could contribute greatly to achieving global peace and security, and transform attitudes, behaviors and social norms for how women and girls are valued and treated around the world.

“This would further help to break down glass ceilings for women, while girls will also be able to see that there are no limits to what position they can aspire. A female US president is also a strong possibility and one that would send a very important message too,” Hassan declared.

Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), told IPS 2016 could be historic for women and girls—but only if countries follow through on the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda and in the Beijing Platform for Action—the agreement forged two decades ago to fulfill women’s rights.

“We still have a long way to go,” she cautioned.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, was more skeptical.

“It’s time to separate the facts from false claims,” she told IPS.

UN SG Ban Ki-moon says he has appointed an unprecedented number of women leaders in the United Nations (source: SG’s foreword to the Global Study on UNSCR 1325).

However, in an article circulated in December 2015, Karin Landgren, a visiting fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, reports that last year’s selections for the senior most level of UN staff have skewed nearly 92 per cent male, she pointed out.

Between 1 January and 10 December 2015, 22 men and only two women were appointed as UN undersecretaries-general.

Moreover, Landgren’s article pointed out that in 2015, six women undersecretaries-general were replaced by men, further undercutting the goal of building female leadership within the UN.

“With such claims from current leadership, which is predominantly male leadership, I will stick to the old adage ‘to see is to believe’.”

It’s also sad to think that having a woman president is still a novelty in the US. The absolute necessity of women’s leadership and participation in decision-making is already an establish fact and not a novelty act—-in many countries, she argued.

UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2122 emphasizes women’s leadership and participation in decision-making as well as the protection of women’s human rights as critical elements of international peace and security.

“I would stress that these are at the core of any civilized society and functioning democracies. They are requisites for sustainable development; and they are a requirement in successful humanitarian operations,” said Cabrera-Balleza.

Women’s leadership and participation in decision-making will not only contribute to good governance. It will redefine governance and power.

She said the campaign for a woman UN Secretary-General is a commendable effort.

“To have a woman SG in the UN should have happened decades ago not after 70 years! However, I would underscore that it should be the RIGHT woman!,” she declared.

She said the right woman is someone who would challenge the conventional definition of power and authority.

“And it is someone who is not beholden to big campaign contributors, political parties or permanent members of the Security Council. It is someone who is deeply connected to civil society and is beholden only to the people, the 99 % whom she is supposed to serve.”

The writer can be contacted at

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India Needs to “Save its Daughters” Through Education and Gender Equality Fri, 08 Jan 2016 07:42:22 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 Detained, Female and Dying: Why Prisons Must Treat Women’s Health Needs Thu, 07 Jan 2016 13:40:46 +0000 Joanna Baker This is one of a series of posts by the author on her research in 2013-2015 among women’s prisons and prison communities in Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia, with DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture. Find it published as a comparative report, and four individual studies. Her other posts cover issues from violence to prison conditions.

“Gradually our lives are deteriorating, and we aren’t free to do anything about it. You think: ‘there lies my future’. You see death coming slowly and there’s nothing you can do.” – Inmate, Zambia]]>

This is one of a series of posts by the author on her research in 2013-2015 among women’s prisons and prison communities in Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia, with DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture. Find it published as a comparative report, and four individual studies. Her other posts cover issues from violence to prison conditions.

“Gradually our lives are deteriorating, and we aren’t free to do anything about it. You think: ‘there lies my future’. You see death coming slowly and there’s nothing you can do.” – Inmate, Zambia

By Jo Baker
LONDON, Jan 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a grim fact that prisoners in most countries suffer from poorer health than non-prisoners, and that their right to health is not always protected. But for certain groups these rights can be even more elusive. Such is the case for women.

Jo Baker

Jo Baker

For me, this was starkly illustrated during a visit to the clinic of a large women’s jail in the southern Philippines. Here, a very thin woman lay curled and still on a narrow wooden bench. Her hands were cradling her taut, bloated stomach, her eyes tightly closed. The nurse explained that she was an addict, arrested while heavily pregnant for drug possession (a sentence that keeps the country’s women’s jails lamentably stocked), and that her baby had died days earlier in a government hospital because of a condition related to her drug use, after a complicated labour. Being understaffed and short on medicine and beds in the prison, the best treatment she could offer the woman on her return, as she faced her withdrawal, post-labour pain, grief, separation from family, and possible years awaiting trial, were paracetamol, kind words and a bench. Hers would be a particular and gendered kind of purgatory.

In speaking with imprisoned women and healthcare practitioners across five countries, our research team commonly found harmful responses and barriers to healthcare that existed because the inmates were women. These included women who were imprisoned in Jordan while recovering from brutal gender-based violence (including honour crimes and rape), without adequate treatment or rehabilitation; women who prepared for and recovered from childbirth in dirty rooms with little more than substandard prison rations, water and soap; and women who were isolated and punished because of attempts to self-harm or commit suicide. “One girl used the edge of a seafood shell on her wrists,” recounted an inmate in the Philippines. “They scolded her. If you want to die, go ahead, do it now!”

These responses are of course unlikely to be particular only to these countries.

International standards (including the Bangkok Rules) now recognize that because women commonly face certain risk factors and backgrounds, they require a gender-specific framework for healthcare. More women than men suffer from particular diseases, including HIV, hepatitis and some cancers. They have differing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs, including those relating for example, to birth, abortion and the menopause. They are more susceptible to particular mental health problems. Studies have found self-harm in prison to be up to ten times higher among women than among men, and suicide to also be proportionally higher. This list goes on.

Women (especially those in conflict with the law) are also, crucially, more likely to have been victims of sustained gender-based violence and sexual abuse. Yet prisons, which are increasingly taking in women, are rarely equipped to respond to these forms of trauma. As I was told quietly by one prison healthcare worker, gesturing to a courtyard of around 20 women. “Almost all the women here are mothers, and a lot have maltreatment and molestation in their histories. I can look around and count more than ten women who have been raped. Some have been prostituted by their families. Then drug use comes in and makes it a vicious cycle.”

These and other cultural factors lead to a different sense of shame, which can also work as a barrier to healthcare. For example inmates in Jordan, Zambia and the Philippines told me that they often avoided reporting urinary tract infections and SRH problems to male health staff. Yet some prisons for women don’t employ female doctors, and these issues remain unrecognized, and sometimes debilitating.

My research findings with DIGNITY (see our comparative study here) therefore stress the urgent need for every prison and place of detention to follow a framework for healthcare that is gender-responsive and trauma-informed – one that treats women’s specific health needs, and trains staff accordingly. In just a few facilities did we find gestures towards this.

But not all gender-sensitive health responses are medical. The traditional prison model – designed as a harsh criminal justice response to violent men – remains the basis for many institutions detaining groups that are neither violent, nor male. In the facilities where women told me of harsh disciplinary structures, negative relationships between staff and inmates, and their isolation from caring relationships, they tended to report very low morale, forms of depression, and other signs of serious struggle, such as self harm and hunger strike. This was markedly different in facilities (such the one described here in Albania) that connected the women with the outside community – particularly their children – and gave them tools to cope, learn, communicate and prepare for the future.

Meanwhile, exercise is known to be important to health and morale, and is a right of prisoners under international law (see the Mandela Rules). Yet only in one of five countries, the Philippines, were detained women encouraged and able to exercise every day. In the other countries, exercise and sports facilities of some kind were common only in prisons for men.

Many of our findings on health fell in line with those observed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in her 2013 report on women’s incarceration, and they indicated clear and harmful examples of discrimination. Yet in reviewing issues raised by UN treaty body reports, we found women’s health to largely be a gap: UN experts are not giving this area consideration.

The human rights of these women entitle them to better, and must be championed, internationally and in their own countries. As once said by Dostoevsky, society must be judged by the way that it treats its prisoners. Or rather, and as told to me by one mother and survivor of domestic violence, sentenced to life in a Zambian prison: “If you’ve offended, certain things you must accept. But I don’t deserve to pass through some of these things. I came to prison healthy. I’m not intending to leave sick.”


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Wrong Time of the Month: a Rights Gap for Developing Countries’ Girls Thu, 07 Jan 2016 10:23:11 +0000 Gina Din and Siddharth Chatterjee Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communication and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> 0 2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 2) Mon, 04 Jan 2016 10:34:41 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

Against the backdrop of escalating extremism and conflict globally, 2015 also marked the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security (WPS ) with a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their essential role in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peace building. The landmark UNSC resolution 2242 (October 2015) calls for effective and accelerated implementation of the WPS Agenda by all actors.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It resolves to systematically integrate resolution 1325 and its implementation in its own work, to dedicate periodic Council consultations on country situations to WPS implementation review to ensure Security Council missions take into account gender considerations and women’s rights.

It also reinforces the UN’s WPS Architecture and emphasizes UNWOMEN’s coordination and accountability building role. In the light of violent terrorism’s targeting and impact on women and girls human rights, WPS will be a cross-cutting subject in all thematic areas of work of the Council including on countering terrorism.

The Climate Agreement adopted at the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris 2015 was a breakthrough. It specifically commits all Parties when taking climate action to respect, promote and consider their obligations on human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment and to ensure that their adaptation and capacity building policies and actions are gender responsive.

This, and the fact that there are 50 COP decisions on gender responsive climate action to implement, signals commitment that all aspects of climate action including mitigation, finance and technology development and transfer, data and monitoring and the implementation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) will be gender responsive.

UNWOMEN organized a number of Global Thematic Beijing plus 20 and 2030 Agenda events and carried out a Step it up for Planet 50/50 by 2030 Advocacy Campaign. The climactic event was on 27 September in New York. Alongside the Agenda 2030 Summit, UN Women convened with the Government of China—the first ever—Global Leaders’ Commitment Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

It was co-chaired by President Xi Jinping of China and the UN Secretary-General, and later by UNWOMEN Executive Director with other heads of state. 140 countries participated and nearly 70 Heads of State and Government vowed to “step it up” by taking concrete actions to implement the Beijing Platform and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women and girls. Since then, other heads of state and governments have made commitments, which are now reflected on the UNWOMEN website and in a Book of Commitments and being tracked and followed up.

UN Women convened a Forum of private and Philanthropy leaders to galvanize support for implementation of Beijing and SDGs especially SDG5 and raise resources. Three major Civil Society meetings were convened in 2015 – Intergenerational Dialogue, Thought Leaders Meeting and the Global Dialogue to strategize on translating the enormous normative and advocacy gains made into impact on the ground and on dealing with challenges they face. Both civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector are critical actors and partners in the journey towards achieving the SDGs.

Beyond these milestone events, three other intergovernmental fora evoked highest level political commitment to gender equality with consistent advocacy and substantive support by UNWOMEN. The G7 Summit in Elmau under the Presidency of Germany and Chancellor Merkel committed to focus on expanding and supporting economic empowerment opportunities for women in developing countries, the G20 under the presidency of President Erdogan of Turkey launched the Women 20 Engagement Group, held a W20 Summit and the G20 Antalya Summit adopted a comprehensive action plan for women’s economic empowerment participation and leadership.

At the initiative of President Coleiro Preca of Malta, the first ever Women’s Forum was launched at the Commonwealth Summit to foster cooperation in implementing gender equality commitments. 2015 was a pivotal year for global resolve to act for the unqualified normative success of the Gender Equality Project, with member states, civil society, and private sector making profound commitments at the highest level.

Looking ahead, it is imperative that we “localize” the SDGs, and other normative commitments. Localization demands that all development strategies, policies and programs, constitutions and laws of all countries be aligned with the gender equality commitments in the SDGs and they be made central to all aspects of decision-making, and implementation. UNWOMEN’s Flagship Programme Initiatives seek to support this localization.

Member states will need to remain faithful to the prioritization of gender equality in 2030 Agenda and follow an ‘all of government’ and ” all of society ” approach, including a strong role for gender equality mechanisms to help drive evidence-based implementation and gender responsive monitoring of the SDGs and transparent consultative mechanisms, which include the women’s movement and civil society. Also gender data requirements will require significant investments and capacity-building of statistical systems. Transformative Financing for gender equality must be deployed.

It is unfortunate that patriarchy is too deep rooted and pervasive to be immediately vanquished by these normative resolves. Instances of horrific inhuman treatment, violence and denial of basic rights of women and girls – the mob lynching of Farkhunda and stoning to death of Rokhsahana, the kidnapping and enslavement of Chibok girls, the rapes and sexual assault of young women in schools, campuses, in public places, at work and behind domestic walls the brutal targeting and coerced coopting of women and girls in the refugee camps and conflict zones for sexual exploitation and violent extremism by terrorists, continue to sear our conscience.

All the more reason that we cannot fail to make this normative leap also a giant leap in changing the reality for 3.5 billion women and girls of the world. The remarkable normative unity of purpose and self-belief that a gender equal world is mission possible must now be translated into a giant leap of action in every country, city and village, in every community and household and within each of our minds and hearts.

There is now an unparalleled opportunity to finish what has been languishing for centuries – to end discrimination and violence against women and to acknowledge women’s equal right to dignity and humanity.


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2015 – A Giant Leap for Womankind (Part 1) Fri, 01 Jan 2016 12:52:43 +0000 Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri

2015, the final year of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), heralds the beginning of the most critical fifteen years for the realization of the new Sustainable Development Agenda that the international community launched along with renewed Climate Change and Financing for Development (FfD) compacts.

Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

It also marks a historic conjunction in the realization of the Gender Equality Project – perhaps the most important for humanity in the 21 century. The UN at 70 signaled that it is integrally and unequivocally committed to realizing it.

Great strides were made in the prioritization of women’s human rights through the encompassing lens of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all the UN’s defining normative endeavors in 2015. Women’s economic, social and political rights, their security and integrity, and their voice, participation and leadership were placed at the core of its ambition to ‘Transform the world” and “leave no one behind”.

Realizing gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only regarded as a moral imperative but also as “crucial” to achieving the first ever set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other related intergovernmental compacts including those on peace, security, and humanitarian action.

The 20 Year Review of Beijing Platform for Action on Women

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing with national, regional and global reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). UN Women mobilized Member States, UN System entities, private sector, civil society, youth and media through high impact knowledge generation, norm setting, advocacy campaigns, programmes on the ground, coordination and strategic partnerships to join this introspection and call for action.

The 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) undertook a global review of progress made in implementing BPA and based its report card on a record 168 national reports and regional reviews. The verdict – there has been progress, but it has been uneven and unacceptably slow. Change has not been deep and irreversible and a gender financing gap persists.

Despite significant advances – in laws to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls, in educational enrollment, labour force participation, women’s access to contraception, in declining rates of harmful practices, and gains in women’s representation in national parliaments – twenty years on, many of the same structural barriers remain in force globally. These barriers needed to be comprehensively addressed in Agenda 2030.

Violence against women is a global epidemic taking different forms. The majority of the world’s poor are women. Gaps persist in education, labour force participation, wages, income, social protection, unpaid care work and domestic work. Inequality in corporate, parliamentary and government participation and leadership is big. No country has achieved substantive gender equality.

The review also concluded that at current slow pace it will take another century to achieve gender equality. It underlined the need to fast forward change or ” hurry history ” as feminists would say, to overturn the patriarchal systems and structures that have undervalued women and girls for centuries, stripped them of equal rights, and denied them and humankind the opportunities to realize their full potential.

The Political Declaration adopted by Member States at the 59th session of CSW reaffirms their political will to tackle these challenges and remaining implementation gaps and structural barriers. They vowed full, accelerated and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform and to strengthen laws and policies and their implementation, to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes; to significantly increase investment to close the gender resource gap including through prioritization in official development assistance (ODA) and in domestic resource mobilization; to strengthen data, monitoring and accountability on implementation; and to strengthen national gender mechanisms.

The valuable role of civil society and women’s organizations was acknowledged and commitment made to support them including by providing a safe and enabling environment. These commitments are carried forward and reiterated in the 2030 Agenda and FfD outcomes.

Transformative Financing of gender equality Commitments

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, adopted this year at the World Conference on Financing for Development pledges to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment and to mainstream it including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of all financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It commits to sound policies, enforceable legislation and “transformative actions” at all levels.

UN Women’s “Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” involving significantly increased investment in gender equality from all sources and at all levels, and prioritized and targeted allocation as well as mainstreaming” garnered wide support. The urgency of these unprecedented resourcing commitments have now been framed against the 2030 deadline.

Agenda 2030 – gender equality at the Center

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with gender equality at its center represents a significant and hard-earned victory for advocates of gender equality including UNWOMEN. We welcome the recognition that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”.

The universal framework’s trifold and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development – the economic, environmental and social – and its strong references to human rights, ending discrimination, violence and inequality is important for all women and girls, individuals and countries – developed and developing.

The giant leap is that the 2030 Agenda positions the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational framework for sustainable development -“a normative motherboard” with all gender goals and targets transformed into sustainable development ones! There is an overarching commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap, to strengthen support for gender equality institutions at all levels, to systematically mainstream gender perspectives into the implementation of the Agenda, and determination to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence including through engagement of men and boys.

A strong stand-alone SDG 5 to achieve –not just promote –gender equality and empower all women and girls has been secured. Gender equality is also integrated across 11 other SDGs including on poverty, hunger, health, education, water and sanitation, employment, just and peaceful societies, sustainable cities, and economic growth. Data and follow up and review are to be gender sensitive.

SDG 5 itself has six transformative targets – on ending all forms of discrimination, on all forms of violence against women and harmful practices like child marriage , female genital mutilation (FGM), on equal participation and leadership in economic, political and public life, on valuing and reducing women’s unpaid care work and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection and shared responsibility within the household, and on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Economic empowerment through access, ownership and control over resources, legal reform and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are critical means of implementation.

As a desperate migration crisis rocked the world, the 2015 Global Forum on Migration and Development in Istanbul also focused on women’s concerns and role. It affirmed that the Addis Accord and SDGs enable the mainstreaming of migration into development–that SDG 5 fully apply to women migrants–constituting over 50 percent of all migrants–and that both source and destination countries should act to promote those rights at all ends of the migration spectrum.

(To be continued)

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