Inter Press Service » Gender Identity http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:27:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0 Fearing Violence, LGBT Refugees Rarely Seek Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/feed/ 0 AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145610 A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

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Youth Leaders Push for More Progressive Action to End HIV AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 23:26:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145592 Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet their concerns about sexual education, and discrimination of key populations were ignored at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS.

Although the overall number of AIDS-related deaths is down 35 percent since 2005, estimates suggest that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents are actually rising.

In fact, AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.

Young people’s vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by a lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services and by exclusion from decision making processes.

At the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS this week, Member States adopted a new political declatarion focusing on the Fast-Track approach to fighting HIV and ending AIDS by 2030. Fast-Track is driven by the 90–90–90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation."

But youth delegates say that issues of stigma, discrimination, and sexual education were not given the importance they should have in the declaration since youth were not included in the negotiations.

“The concept of 90-90-90 is amazing, but in practice without access to sexual education or participation of key populations and young people, the goals are unrealistic,” said Peter Mladenov, one youth representative from Youth Peer Educational Network.

At the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, there were 20 young people representing different organisations.

“Unfortunately, all youth representatives were excluded from the negotiations on the high level meeting on Aids political declaration,” said Mladenov.

“Our wishes were not heard and the rights were not promoted since in the final document we did not see any sexuality education, or mentioning of key populations.”

Mladenov is an expert on youth policies and has been a youth advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Rights  and Comprehensive Sexual Education for the past 10 years. At the age of 14, he was invited to join a class on sexual education in school which he says changed his life and began his journey with sexual health and reproductive rights advocacy.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV / AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation.”

“Sex ed is not only about the sex, it is about the informed choice of each young person, understanding the changes in your body, a young girl having the right to say no to marriage at age 15, an instrument to prevent child abuse or female genital mutilation.”

Mladenov says sexual education can help end stigma and discrimination.

“It is nice that we are progressing, same-sex marriage is approved in different countries and shows that the world is changing for the better. But there is still a long way to go, people with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. When someone discriminates against a person it is usually because they are afraid of something, which is why sexual education is so important.”

Another youth leader attending the meeting was Annah Sango from the HIV Young Leaders Fund Board:

“Sexual rights really are human rights, because when it comes to talking about my body and my health and well being, it is not an issue of a statistic, but what I live each and every day,” said Sango.

“It is every young person’s need and right to be in your own country, and be able to know you have access to health and to know that the justice system is working for you, not against you.”

Sango grew up seeing how disadvantaged young people are, and how sometimes culture, society and tradition play a very crucial role in the lives of young people as much as the economic aspects. When asked what she would have wanted in the declaration, she said it was important to ensure that countries aren’t allowed to hide behind culture and religion, and rather have an open mind to the issues in their countries. She also said that member states should have given clear-cut strategies to address some of the pertinent issues facing young people.

Sango is also Advocacy Officer for the African Network of Young People living with HIV (AY+) which heavily advocates for Comprehensive Sexual Education and supports young people to dispel disinformation which drive stigma and discrimination.

“We cannot talk about AIDS whilst excluding young people and key populations. At country level, the agreement needs to reflect the face of HIV: young people that face violence, the millions of young people that have died because of their sexuality, the reality of teenage pregnancies, and of adolescents who are dying because they cannot be identified.”

Sango also said the negotiations for the declaration were very exclusive of youth voices, however she is optimistic that in the future youth will be included at the national level.

“I am confident that whatever goals, whatever agendas we are working towards, we will be able to achieve them if we include the right people to lead and champion the agenda,” said Sango.

Mladenov was also optimistic that about young people’s participation.

“Many people say that young people are the future, but that is not correct – we are the present, and we should be the ones who drive the sustainable development agenda to its accomplishment.” Mladenov told IPS.

“Although we don’t have what we want in the political declaration, we have the will, the power, and motivation to do it. The youth working on the local and national level should not be afraid to take up the floor, to go to their ministries, to demand that they involve youth as equal partners in implementing the declaration.”

“We should not forget that these people were elected by us, they are accountable to us, not vice-versa. If we have more governments really involving young people, we can achieve sustainable development.”

“Young people should be the agents of change, they should be the ones who push their governments to do something for them because they already agreed to with this declaration.”

“I dream for a day when I will not hear about a person coming from an LGBT community who is harassed, or a young woman or girl who is somehow violated, or a young person is excluded.”

IPS also spoke to Sharonann Lynch, HIV/Tuberculosis (TB) policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign.

“In many countries where MSF works, young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, are most at risk of contracting HIV,” said Lynch. “For example, in Lesotho, the prevalence of HIV will multiply by 5 in the next 7 years among adolescent girls from the age of 15 to 22. So the question for the region is what can we put in place as soon as possible to provide life-saving treatment as well as prevention.” Lynch told IPS.

“Youth are critical to combat stigma by creating more visibility. Young people can combat stigma by being out about their HIV status, demanding not only a voice but also acceptance in their communities. But governments need to make sure they take steps to reduce stigma and discrimination as well.”

 

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A Triple Threat in the Fight Against AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:28:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145554 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/feed/ 1 Transgender in Pakistan: A “Forgotten People”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 13:04:08 +0000 Alec Forss and Humaira Israr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145423 Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

By Alec Forss and Humaira Israr
ISLAMABAD, Jun 3 2016 (IPS)

At an open market in the district of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, Miss Bindiya Rana, 35, starts another day at work selling clothes. Living in one of the poorer parts of the city, like many others here she faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. Yet, of strong build with dyed hair and wearing heavy make-up, she and others like her face a bigger challenge than most.

Part of the transgender or hijra community, social stigma and discrimination make them outcasts in Pakistan’s highly conservative society. While there are no official precise figures on the number of transgender or third-gender people living in the country, estimates range from 80,000 to 350,000-500,000, with perhaps 60-70,000 in Karachi alone.

From a lower middle-class family, Rana first became aware of her identity as a child. In public she dressed like a boy, but alone in her room she would wear girl’s clothes, lipstick and practise dancing. After running away from home for two months, her parents gradually came to accept her identity. Most are not so lucky. Shunned by their families, many have no option but to join close-knit hijra communities led by older gurus who take on the role of ersatz guardians, offering them protection.  

With few completing formal education, employment opportunities are limited. Many have to endure ridicule by dancing openly in the streets or at weddings to scrape by a living, or resort simply to begging. Others are involved in sex work with little education about safe sex and the dangers of HIV.

Vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse, they also have to bear the humiliating attitude of police officers, doctors at hospitals, and public officials, complains Rana. Reports of beatings and other forms of violence directed against them are commonplace.

On May 25, a transgender individual by the name of Alisha died in a hospital in Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after succumbing to gunshot wounds, with some blaming delayed medical care for her death after other patients allegedly complained and doctors debated whether she belonged in the male or female ward. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, it is the fifth reported case of violence in the province against transgenders this year.

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Times wrote that, “In the light of apathetic attitude and its justification by hospital authorities, it would not be farfetched to conclude that an abhorrent form of apartheid mentality prevails in Pakistan in which transgenders elicit such contempt that their lives are not given even an iota of value.”

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Pakistan’s hijras have faced a long battle to be accepted as full citizens with equal rights according to the country’s constitution. In 2012, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court decreed that they be issued with computerized national identity cards, thus for the first time officially listing their existence as a legal third gender.

“We were in seventh heaven,” said Rana of the decision conferring many of the same rights, such as voting, property, and inheritance, as other citizens.

However, the National Database and Registration Authority, charged with issuing the cards under the Ministry of Interior, initially dragged its feet, requesting that they undergo humiliating medical examinations first.

“We came out onto the streets protesting and managed to overturn the decision,” said Rana.

Nevertheless, more than four years on, many still do not have cards. One of the main obstacles is that cards can only be issued to those with biological parents or those officially adopted with proper documentation. For those who have been ostracized by or run away from their families (or simply did not know them as they joined hijra communities when very young), this proves an impossibility. Furthermore, the gurus are not considered to be parents by the registration authorities.

But to tackle the issue, no interim arrangement has been devised by the establishment. The continued non-provision of cards means that many continue to be deprived of full civil rights as well as enrolment in the Benazir Income Support Program (social security program) and free National Health Program.

Other attempts to improve the status of hijras through affirmative employment policies and increasing opportunities have also proven insufficient, poorly paid, or even derogatory. The regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to employing hijras for debt collection by instructing them to dance outside debtors’ doors and so shame them into paying up. “It was very humiliating for us,” explains Rana.

Despite the progress made, Rana remains frustrated at the lack of support and hostile attitudes. One of five transgender candidates in Pakistan’s general elections in May 2013 (the first time in the country’s history that hijras could run), she ran and lost as an independent candidate to Sindh Provincial Assembly.

“Instead of supporting me, people mocked me in every way possible,” she says.

Determined to improve the plight of Karachi’s hirja, she established her own NGO in 2009 called Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan, which seeks to provide shelter, employment, basic skills training, and even a telephone helpline. “We are the forgotten people,” she says, but “I will fight for our equal rights until the end.”

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LGBT Communities Silenced in HIV Reduction Effortshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:54:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145413 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/feed/ 0 Young African Women More Vulnerable to HIVhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 04:14:20 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145400 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/feed/ 0 County Governments in Kenya Must Take Lead in Fight for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145222 Ms Tarja Fernandez, @fernandeztarja, is the Ambassador of Finland to Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1, is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

By Ambassador Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 2016 (IPS)

The 3rd Devolution Conference that took place in Meru, Kenya between 19 and 21st April was an opportunity to discuss how the post-2015 development agenda will be localized and how county governments will deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that devolution is vital in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this is beautifully aligned to Kenya’s own Vision 2030, which is to create a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya with a high quality of life by 2030.

Devolution is all about inclusion and participation. Devolution is therefore also an opportunity to champion gender equality.

So the SDG goal number 5, is about, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the key drivers of sustainable development. Half of the population should not be left behind. Inclusion of women and girls must be at the core of the development plans will accelerate potential for economic growth and well-being of the societies at large.

In order to address gender and other inequalities county governments need to know about them.

As was evident with the Millennium Development Goals, data derived from national surveys tend to miss the marginal numbers and thus downplay serious regional disparities, as the averages used in reporting progress mask the suffering of many.

For instance, while national data indicates that Kenya’s total fertility rate is 3.9, parts of the country have a total fertility rate of up to 7.8. This represents women who have limited decision making power about when or if they should have children, for reasons ranging from lack of family planning information and services to religious and cultural practices.

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS, 2014) indicates that the national prevalence of female genital mutilation is 21%. However, among the communities where the practice is still intractable, the rates go up to 98%.

Clearly, there are populations whose concerns are going unheeded.

It is the voices of such populations that county governments have an opportunity to amplify as they seek to find relevance for the SDGs.

How can this be done? By providing opportunities for women of all ages to participate in county planning and budgeting processes. Being aware of their rights and listening to their needs. Building county governments’ capacities to analyze gender issues and address them in the County Integrated Development Plans. Sensitizing men on the benefits of providing more space for women to participate decision making, both at home and in public spheres of life. Moreover, including men consistently in discussions related to gender equality.

For gender responsiveness to be met, the equity principle must underlie the identification of priorities, planning, budgeting and service delivery. Collecting county disaggregated data will be a key to identification of development needs, and culturally acceptable solutions. In addition, community participation will be crucial to ensuring that the voices of women and girls, the youth and the marginalized, will no-longer be left unheard.

Counties now have the opportunity to identify their own priorities and to design service delivery mechanisms suitable for local needs. Each county in Kenya has its own unique challenges and circumstances, but also the resources to solve its problems. Respecting and utilizing valuable local traditions that do not violate human rights can be a rich resource from which development plans can draw knowledge, legitimacy and participation.

Though recent surveys such as the DHS 2014 have quality data from the regions, the counties themselves need a lot of support to generate, access and utilize disaggregated data with measurable indicators. As observed recently by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, tackling inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Changing entrenched gender inequalities is, however, not an easy task. There are deep social, economic and cultural forces that drive stereotyping and discrimination and these will not disappear without deliberate actions.

These actions by all counties are a key approach to nationalizing the SDGs, reducing inequalities, especially gender inequality, while unlocking the potential that women have for delivering sustainable change.

At the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14th-24th March 2016, President Kenyatta was among the 80 leaders that made commitments to advance gender equality and ensure equal opportunity. He said, “I’m convinced that our nations and the world stand to gain tremendously if we continue to embrace that progress for women is progress for us all. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it is the right thing to do.”

As development partners in Kenya we are committed to work with Government of Kenya and the county authorities to advance gender equality and empowerment.

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Religious Leaders Can End Harmful Cultural Practices & Advance Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 15:51:44 +0000 Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144992 Dr Seth Berkley, @Gaviseth is an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Siddharth Chatterjee, @sidchat1 is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

By Dr Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 2016 (IPS)

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges.

In Northern Nigeria, a former global epicenter of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunization, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months, a development that brings us significantly closer to eradicating this terrible disease.

A profound realization has lately emerged among health professionals about how well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges. Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions.

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners, to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.

Religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services, and whose wholesome health is so central to survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, access to health by women is largely determined by cultures and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning the women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, but the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples; evil manifestations of a society determined to control women.

The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in some regions, women such as North Eastern Kenya, total fertility rate is 7.5. National averages of such indicators often substantially mask the disparities between socio-demographic groups and regions within the country.

The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is therefore the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

It is in such hard-to-reach areas in Kenya that the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with its partners are working with religious leaders to bring positivity and hope into the lives of communities, to put them in good stead to play a full role in development.

The faith leaders are being engaged in dispelling misconceptions about the religious basis for harmful practices, and re-emphasizing messages about the dignity of women.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, nearly as many as childbirth, with the vast majority in developing countries. Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which Gavi is now helping to make available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help, by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls.

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, in abandonment of FGM and early marriage, in fewer women being struck down by cancer and in uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organizations have not only been moral pillars in the community, but they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalized. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures.

This article was published first by Reuters

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Musicians Champion LGBT Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:24:20 +0000 Lydia Matata http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/feed/ 0 Debunking Stereotypes: Which Women Matter in the Fight Against Extremism?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/debunking-stereotypes-which-women-matter-in-the-fight-against-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debunking-stereotypes-which-women-matter-in-the-fight-against-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/debunking-stereotypes-which-women-matter-in-the-fight-against-extremism/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 21:12:06 +0000 Sanam Naraghi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144503 Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)]]>

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
WASHINGTON DC, Apr 6 2016 (IPS)

Violent extremism is the topic du jour, as government officials are busy developing plans of action on “preventing or countering violent extremism” (P/CVE). In these plans there is dutiful reference to engaging “women”. The more progressive mention gender sensitivity.

But scratch the surface, and it is clear there is widespread misunderstanding of what this means or how to do it. So they tend to slide back into an age-old axiom: women are victims, perpetrators, or mothers.

But this perception misses some of the most important women involved in P/CVE: women human rights defenders and peace activists working in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria not only countering extremism but providing positive alternatives and challenging state actions.

The simplification of women to victims and perpetrators is akin to the virgin/prostitute dichotomy that has littered history for centuries. The Yazidi girls epitomize the horrendous victimhood of women, while the teenagers in the UK joining ISIS, and the girls implicated as Boko Haram ‘suicide’ bombers, personify the perpetrator. It seems that, in the male-dominated world of security experts, men determine which women matter.

Their real fascination is with the women fighters especially ‘jihadis’. They are either evil because they have transgressed unsaid but deeply riven norms of femininity and joined ISIS. Or they are the ultimate symbols of self-empowerment, brave enough to fight, and heroic, like the women in the Kurdish militias. Yet women becoming fighters is neither news nor shocking.

Throughout history, a minority of women have joined armed liberation movements (and national armies). Like many men, they are attracted by the larger cause or vision, or for revenge and justice (as with some Kurds and now Yazidis), to feel the sense of belonging and protection. Daesh promises respect, agency and responsibility for women feeling stifled in traditional homes.

There is little discussion of the complexity of women’s experiences who may be simultaneously victims and perpetrators. For example, research on young women (many under 18) traveling to Syria, reveals a strong dose of online sexual grooming in the communications between them and their recruiters.

The media’s labeling of Boko Haram female ‘suicide bombers’ obscures the fact that many are young girls, who may have been brain washed or had no power to stop bombs being strapped to their small bodies.

Female victims are finally being recognized because it would be downright indecent if they were ignored. But as with victims everywhere, they are spoken about, but not given the chance to speak for themselves or provided with the necessary care to cope with the trauma or given the opportunity to continue with their lives.

The results are plain to see. Some Yazidi girls were subjected to virginity tests by Kurdish authorities. Many are committing suicide. It is as if the label of ‘rape victims’ is etched into their foreheads in perpetuity.

Reference to mothers as the panacea against extremism is the latest trend. Mothers, we are told, wield enormous influence. They can hold back their children and inform the police. Their influence is indeed noticeable but they can wield it both directions. In Pakistan, for example, an extremist radio-sheikh railing against state corruption and sympathetic to women’s concerns offered a vision of a purer Islamic society, and successfully targeted rural mothers, who sent their gold bangles to pay, and their boys to fight for the Taliban.

Now policy makers in Washington, London, Baghdad and New York want to mobilize an army of mothers to fight their cause. But they want mothers who do not challenge them. The motherhood paradigm packages women in apolitical and non-threatening ways according to traditional, and even biological norms of femininity — it is the image of the lioness protecting her cubs.

Of course there is overlap between the concerns of parents and those of the state. But by pressing them to act as frontline whistleblowers, governments are using women. As one Iraqi woman notes, “the government wants women to mop up their mess.” Not surprisingly from England to Iraq, many mothers find the overtures of governments offensive.

The simplification of women, excludes one critical group: women who become civic activists fighting for rights, peace and justice. They may be mothers, but their motivations and actions are not limited to their own children. They understand that extremism is growing because of deeper socio-economic and political problems. They see firsthand, how poor governance and state oppression fuel grievances and radicalization, especially when moderate civic activism and dissent are quashed.

They also know that simply ‘countering’ extremism is not enough: What is needed is a positive alternative to address the grievances and aspirations of those most vulnerable to the lure of extremist movements. From Pakistan to Nigeria, they are doing it. Many are working in their communities, developing tailored approaches to engage youth and religious leaders, not just women.

They address the wider ecosystem, combining religious teachings rooted in co-existence and non-violence, critical thinking, economic skills and socio-cultural activities. Among young men, they generate a sense of personal pride, offer belonging to groups that contribute to improving their community.

Women activists also understand the interconnectivity between the local, national and international levels. They provide acute analysis and uncomfortable truths of the impact of Western military policies on their communities. They bear witness to the consequences – good and bad- of US and European training of their police and military forces. They have the courage to criticize bad national and international policies, and the creativity to offer an alternative vision for their societies.

In fighting for their vision, they put themselves at profound risk. As the Iraqi woman notes, “When we try to mobilize civilians to hold the state accountable or transform our communities, the government accuses us of regime change.”

Do women’s peace and rights activists raise uncomfortable truths? Of course they do; because they are committed to eradicating the intolerance and violence in their communities – whether it is perpetrated by non-state extremists or by states. They are in it for the long haul, for a simple reason: The threats they face are existential to their way of life.

The international community stands at an important juncture. As the P/CVE action plans and policies are being developed, policymakers can limit them to victims, perpetrators or mothers, or they can recognize the agency, vision, and leadership of women who are courageously taking a stand against these ideologies.

This would require not only listening to women, but also heeding their advice gleaned from the experience of working and living in their own communities for decades. For many policy makers, this may be just too threatening.

(End)

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Not Enough Women At the Peace Table, Say Arab Activistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/not-enough-women-at-the-peace-table-say-arab-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-enough-women-at-the-peace-table-say-arab-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/not-enough-women-at-the-peace-table-say-arab-activists/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:22:35 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144229 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2016 (IPS)

“When it comes to peace talks, women have a special stake,” said Gloria Steinem while discussing current peace talks in the Middle East.

Steinem, a prominent activist, joined the 60th annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as part of Donor Direct Action, an NGO connecting women’s rights activists to donors.

Partnering with Karama, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on violence against women in the Arab region, the two organisations highlighted the need to include women not only in politics, but also in peace processes in conflict nations.

“Women should not be in the corridor, but actually at the table,” Karama founder Hibaaq Osman told delegates.

According to the International Peace Institute (IPI), between 1992 and 2011, just 2 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators in peace processes were women.

However, in conflict, women continue to bear the brunt of causalities, gender-based violence and livelihood insecurity.

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, little has been done to enforce and implement it.

No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

In an effort to include more women, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura established a Women’s Advisory Board, the first of its kind.

Though it is a monumental step towards women’s participation in peace talks, Mouna Ghanem, the founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum and member of the Women’s Advisory Board, stated that this is only the first step.

“This is not what we are aspiring for. What we are aspiring for is not only participation,” Ghanem told reporters.

“We are aspiring to be the decision makers, and we have a long way to go,” she continued.

The ongoing Syrian negotiations, which are on their fifth day in Geneva, have invited two parties to the table: Assad’s government and the main opposition bloc High Negotiations Committee (HNC). Though the Women’s Advisory Board will express their concerns and provide recommendations to the delegations, it is unclear how much influence they will have.

While criticising the lack of female decision-makers, Ghanem asked: “Why are [men] making the future of Syria? Why aren’t women also making the future of Syria? Are we going to let those who destroyed Syria and committed huge human rights violations to women and children…are we going to let them decide the future of Syria?

She added that the two-party negotiating system will not bring the best interests of Syrians, especially women.

Sahar Ghanem, the head of Civil Society Organisations Affairs Unit in the Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office, painted an almost identical picture, noting that the Yemeni peace talks also did not include women. She disclosed that women were “sacrificed” from the talks in order to bring the two reluctant parties together to negotiate.

Instead, in October 2015, a coalition of Yemeni women met with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to consult on the political situation.

Director of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace Zahra’ Langhi noted that mediation must go beyond just the representation of women, adding that the UN-led mission failed to do this.

“They can bring some women in a segregated track and tick the box and say ‘we have women’, but women were not respectively engaged in the process,” she told IPS.

“The peace [the UN peace envoy] aim to achieve is fragile peace…it is a peace that does not engage local communities that women are the heart of,” she continued.

Langhi also asserted that in order to have sustainable peace, a ceasefire is insufficient, and they must tackle with the root causes of the conflict.

Among the causes are militarisation and the arms trade which, in Libya, has contributed to the systematic violence against civil society representatives, especially women.

Since the country’s revolution in 2011, there has been a wave of seemingly politically-motivated assassinations. In June 2014, prominent human rights lawyer and politician Salwa Bugaighis was shot to death in her home.

A month later, Fariha al-Barkawy was gunned down in broad daylight. In February 2015, civil society activist Intisar al-Hassairy was found dead in the trunk of her car.

“Because of the militarization and the assassination of these women, other women…decided not to be part of civil society anymore,” Langhi told IPS.

Echoing similar sentiments was Syrian Women’s Advisory Board representative Ghanem who said that the international community is simply giving Syrian refugees a “painkiller” without addressing why they are refugees in the first place.

“We should ask what the disease is and the disease is distributing arms to all these groups who are fighting in Syria,” she stated.

The three women highlighted though it is important to have a 30 percent quota for women in politics, the inclusion of more women in peace talks must involve investing in local communities. This will lead to long-lasting “sustainable” peace, they remarked.

Research from the Philippines and Colombia has shown that including women and men in peace processes significantly increases the likelihood of reaching and sustaining an agreement.

Citing the case of Liberia, where a group of women began a nonviolent campaign for peace which effectively ended the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, Steinem pointed to the power of women in matters of peace and security, stating: “Now if they could make such a difference outside the room and away from the peace table, imagine what women could do in the room and at the table if we were half of every group.”

Though a new administration has been established after more than a year of UN peace talks, violence persists in the country and the peace deal remains weak.

Similarly, the peace deal between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels is on the verge of collapse as negotiations continue to stall.

Syrian peace talks also teeter following disputes with the HNC and the Kurdish party who plan to announce a federal system in the Northern Kurd-dominated region of the country.

End

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UN Says it Shattered Glass Ceilings Creating a Carpet of Shardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/un-says-it-shattered-glass-ceilings-creating-a-carpet-of-shards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-says-it-shattered-glass-ceilings-creating-a-carpet-of-shards http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/un-says-it-shattered-glass-ceilings-creating-a-carpet-of-shards/#comments Tue, 08 Mar 2016 23:38:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144127 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

In the 1960s, when gender discrimination was widespread at the United Nations, there was a story doing the rounds of a woman candidate who had applied for a mid-level professional job in the UN Secretariat.

She was armed with a Master’s Degree from an American university and perhaps eminently qualified for the job she was seeking. But at the end of the interview, she was asked: “But can you type?”

In a chauvinistic male-dominated Secretariat of a bygone era, women were being stereotyped and earmarked mostly for secretarial jobs while the men held all, of most, of the decision-making jobs in the UN hierarchy.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited a famous memoir, appropriately titled “Never Learn to Type,” written by Dame Margaret Anstee, a former senior UN official.

Anstee, who served at the United Nations for over four decades (1952–93) was the first woman to break the glass ceiling and rise to the rank of Under-Secretary-General (in 1987) and appointed head of a UN peacekeeping mission.

At that time, Ban said, most of the jobs available for women was that of a secretary, endlessly pounding on typewriters (and perhaps picking up coffee from the cafeteria for their male bosses).

“So you have to know how to type,” said the Secretary-General, who described Anstee’s book as “quite inspiring and moving.”

But the United Nations has come a long way since the days of gender discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s: a landmark international conference on women in Mexico in 1975 and the adoption in December 1977 of a General Assembly resolution declaring an annual “UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.”

The secretary-general claimed he appointed the first-ever female Force Commander of UN troops and pushed women’s representation at the upper levels of the Organization to “historic highs.”

Women are now leaders at the heart of peace and security — a realm that was once the exclusive province of men, he noted.

“When I arrived at the United Nations (in January 2007), there were no women leading our peace missions in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of all United Nations missions are headed by women — far from enough, but still a vast improvement.”

“I have signed nearly 150 letters of appointment to women in positions as Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General. Some came from top Government offices with international renown, others have moved on to leadership positions in their home countries. All helped me prove how often a woman is the best person for a job.”

To ensure this very real progress is lasting, he said, the UN has built a new framework that holds the entire United Nations system accountable.

“Where once gender equality was seen as a laudable idea, now it is a firm policy. Before, gender sensitivity training was optional; now it is mandatory for ever-greater numbers of United Nations staff. In the past, only a handful of United Nations budgets tracked resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment; now this is standard for nearly one in three, and counting,” he said.

“I changed the landscape,” he said last week.

Still, the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN, has elected only three women Presidents: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006). The rest, 67 in all, were men.

But there hasn’t been a single woman as UN Secretary-General since the founding of the Organization over 70 years ago. Currently, there is a campaign to ensure that the next UN chief be a woman. But whether this will be a political reality is anybody’s guess.

In a message on International Women’s Day, March 8, the Secretary-General warned women still continue to be victims of the world order (or disorder).

“Maternal mortality is one of many preventable perils. All too often, female babies are subjected to genital mutilation. Girls are attacked on their way to school. Women’s bodies are used ss battlefields in wars. Widows are shunned and impoverished.”

He said “we can only address these problems by empowering women as agents of change.” For more than nine years, he said, “I have put this philosophy into practice.”

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and biases of the past so women can advance across new frontiers,” he added.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the UN’s post-2015 development agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals include a specific goal to achieve gender equality.

This goal aims to end discrimination and violence against women and girls and ensure equal participation and opportunities in all spheres of life. Important provisions for women’s empowerment are also included in most of the other goals.

In conjunction with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, more than 90 governments have answered UN Women’s call for action to “Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

She said heads of State and Government have pledged concrete and measurable actions to crack some of the fundamental barriers to the achievement of gender equality in their countries.

“We draw strength from this solidarity as we face world events such as severe population displacement, extreme violence against women and girls, and extensive instability and crises in many regions.”

“To arrive at the future we want, we cannot leave anyone behind. We have to start with those who are the least regarded. These are largely women and girls, although in poor and troubled areas, they can also include boys and men.”

She pointed out that women and girls are critical to finding sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty, inequality and the recovery of the communities hardest hit by conflicts, disasters and displacements.

“They are at the frontline of the outbreaks of threatening new epidemics, such as Zika virus disease or the impact of climate change, and at the same time are the bulwark to protect their families, work for peace, and ensure sustainable economic growth and social change.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Uneducated Women Entrepreneurs Defeat Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/uneducated-women-entrepreneurs-defeat-poverty-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uneducated-women-entrepreneurs-defeat-poverty-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/uneducated-women-entrepreneurs-defeat-poverty-2/#comments Mon, 22 Feb 2016 07:34:53 +0000 Aliya Bashir http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143943 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/uneducated-women-entrepreneurs-defeat-poverty-2/feed/ 0 The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143683

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

(End)

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Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143099 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/feed/ 0 Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142244

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, a group of artists, students, and individuals in the Philippines committed to working towards social change, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. Karunungan, who is also a climate tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator project, is in Bonn for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings currently taking place there.

By Renee Juliene Karunungan
BONN, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

After surviving the storm surge wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013, women in evacuation centres found themselves again fighting for survival … at times from rape. Many became victims of human trafficking while many more did anything they could to feed their families before themselves.

Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home.

At the Road to Sendai conference held in Manila in March, women’s leaders shared their traumatic experience. For many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

When typhoons come, women’s concerns rest with their children, but they remain uncertain of what to do and where to go. These are some of the crushing realities poor women live with in the face of climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change,” according to Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim.”

“We take these things for granted but it limits women and girls and affects their vulnerability in the face of climate change,” she noted, adding that these day-to-day threats of climate change are only set to increase “if we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population, which, in this case, is women.”

Women’s groups have been active in pushing for gender to be included in the negotiating text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and according to Kate Cahoon of Gender CC, “we’ve seen a lot of progress in negotiations in the past decade when it comes to gender.”“Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home”

However, this week in Bonn, where the UNFCCC is holding a series of meetings, there has also been growing concern that issues central to supporting vulnerable women have been side-tracked, and may be left out or weakened by the time the U.N. climate change conference takes place in Paris in December.

“We want to make sure that gender is not only included in the preamble,” said Cahoon, explaining that this would amount to a somewhat superficial treatment of gender sensitivity. “We want to ensure that countries will commit to having gender in Section C [general objectives].”

Ensuring that gender is included throughout the Paris agreement is essential to ensure that there will be a mandate for action on the ground, especially in the Philippines. This is the only way to ensure that Paris will make a change in women’s lives at the grassroots level.

“We want a strong agreement and it can only be strong if we account for half of the world’s population,” stressed Cahoon.

Meanwhile, Collantes noted that UN Women is working to ensure that women will not be seen as vulnerable but rather as leaders. She believes that we now need to highlight the skills and capabilities that women can use to support their communities in moments of disaster.

“Women are always portrayed as victims but women are not vulnerable,” said Collates. “If they are given resources or decision-making powers, women can show their skills and strengths.”

In fact, according to an assessment by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security as the climate changes.”

The women most affected by Typhoon Haiyan could not agree more.

“We are always seen as a group of people to give charity to. But we are not only receivers of charity. We can be an active agent of making our communities more resilient to climate change impacts,” a woman leader from the Philippine women’s organisation KAKASA said during the Road to Sendai forum.

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

According to Collantes, it must correct the lack of mention of women in the previous conventions, and it must also be coherent with the goal of gender equality, the Post-2015 Agenda, Rio+20, and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

“Without gender equality, the Paris agreement would be behind its time and will not validate realities women are facing today,” says Collantes.

For the three billion women impacted by climate change, we can only hope negotiators here in Bonn won’t leave them behind.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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