Inter Press Service » Gender Identity http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Mon, 21 Apr 2014 09:53:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 India’s Women Lose the Election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-women-lose-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:54:54 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133789 “Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India. Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist […]

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A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Apr 21 2014 (IPS)

“Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India.

Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPI-M), is contesting from Barrackpore, a constituency in the eastern Indian state West Bengal.“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined." -- Jyotsna Chatterji, the Joint Women’s Programme

She is among a few women contesting. Political parties, even those vociferously supporting reservation for women in Parliament, have failed to put up on average even one woman for every 10 males contesting India’s 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

Women candidates are only seven percent among 3,355 candidates in the first five phases of the nine-stage election, says the Delhi-based public interest organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), that is campaigning for greater transparency and more inclusive representation in Indian elections.

Women activists looking at state-wise trends expect no improvement by way of inclusion of women in the final phases of the election.

Women constitute 388 million, or 47.6 percent of the 814.5 million voters eligible to vote in the election running from Apr. 7 to May 12.

“When our presence is not considered important in the Parliament, when decisions about our future are taken without consulting us, why should we cast our votes to elect another group of politicians who do not believe in the cause of women empowerment in this country,” says Ranjana Kumari from the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined,” Jyotsna Chatterji from the non-profit Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) tells IPS.

In the 15th general election in 2009, 556 women out of 8,070 contestants from 363 political parties  were given tickets to contest, according to data from the Election Commission. That was just 6.9 percent of the candidates, making representation in this election hardly better. Fifty-nine women – 10.9 percent – won. This was the highest number of women contestants and winners since 1957.

A 1996 Women Reservation Bill (WRB) proposing reservation of a third of the seats to women in the lower house of Parliament and in state legislatures has been stymied by various political parties for more than 18 years now. Women groups pushing for greater representation, for whom the failure to pass the WRB has remained a political raw nerve since, blame this on the entrenched patriarchal mindset of male politicians.

If enacted, 180 berths in the Lok Sabha would be reserved for women. Political parties opposing the WRB say a quota within the quota should be given to women from backward communities. Dalits and tribal communities already have 120 seats reserved in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 17 women got elected under this quota.

“Many political parties had agreed to the WRB’s stipulation about voluntarily giving 33 percent tickets to women members, legal quota aside,” says Chatterji, who spearheaded the reservation movement in the late1990s with a group of other activists. Political parties have fallen far short of this.

Given women’s visibly increased participation in professional spheres, public debates, and also increased voting in elections, women groups say they had hoped political parties would walk the gender talk and give at least 15 to 20 percent tickets to women, recognising the major socio-political changes under way.

“Nothing is going to change in women’s representation unless the [Women’s Reservation] Bill is passed,” says Ali.

The three main political parties – the ruling Congress party, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely expected to form the new government, and the few months old Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) have all promised in their manifestos to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill if voted to power.

“Unless certain attitudes are overcome it is useless to expect individual parties to put up more women candidates, and moreover where no party is obliged to do it,” Malini Bhattacharya, 70, twice member of Parliament and former member of the National Commission for Women, tells IPS.

Ruth Manorama, 62, Dalit women’s rights activist, who heads the National Alliance of Women, and is contesting from the Bangalore South constituency on a Janata Dal (Secular) party ticket, is more optimistic. “To give a bigger role to women in political decision making, we need to go step by step,” Manorama tells IPS.

Others argue for bolder change. “Political party structures and the election process itself need drastic change if women are to participate in large numbers,” says Tapashi Praharaj of AIDWA. “Women’s winning ability is consistently under question, without however attempting to build them up.”

“The huge funds required to fight an election today is another obstacle for women to contest elections,” says Chatterji. The government raised spending limits for a candidate in this election to seven million rupees (116,000 dollars).

Chatterji says while male leaders argue they cannot find suitable women candidates, there are many eligible women who have not caught the eye of political parties.

More than two million women have served in decision-making bodies in India’s local governments, or panchayat raj, under the 33 percent seat reservation since 1993. In some states that quota has been raised to 50 percent. Urban local bodies too have reserved seats for women. These quotas have created a significant mass of grassroots women leaders.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has a mere 11.4 percent women in both houses of Parliament, compared to the world average of 21.8 percent. Afghanistan has 27.6 percent women in Parliament and Pakistan 18.5 percent, according to 2014 data from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

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When Not To Go To School http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=go-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:24:01 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133774 In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle. According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of […]

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A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle.

According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of age to miss around five days of school every month, or around 50 school days every year.“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets."

The country’s Supreme Court had ruled in 2011 that every public school has to have toilets. But a pan-India study, ‘The Learning Blocks’, conducted by the NGO CRY in 2013, shows that 11 percent of schools do not have toilets and only 18 percent have separate ones for girls. In 34 percent of schools, toilets are in bad condition or simply unusable.

Atindra Nath Das, regional director of CRY East, told IPS, “Children do not have safe drinking water, schools still do not have their own building and toilets are missing. No wonder 8.1 million children in India are still out of school.

“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets,” he said.

A 2010 report by the U.N. University Institute for Water, Environment and Health noted, “Once girls reach puberty, lack of access to sanitation becomes a central cultural and human health issue, contributing to female illiteracy and low levels of education, in turn contributing to a cycle of poor health for pregnant women and their children.”

According to India’s 2011 census data, national sanitation coverage is 49 percent but the rural figure is worse, at 31 percent.  It is even lower for Dalits or socially marginalised communities (23 percent) and tribal people (16 percent).

Lack of sanitation facilities is still a stumbling block for the effective spread of health and education programmes in many parts of rural India.

Mahila Jagriti Samiti (MJS), an NGO working in Jharkhand, an economically backward state in eastern India with a large tribal population, has been conducting awareness programmes on the use of sanitation, but is not very happy with the results.

Mahi Ram Mahto, director of MJS, told IPS: “We have done 300 sanitation programmes, even helping to build toilets in homes with funding from government agencies, but only 15 to 20 percent of the beneficiaries use them.”

Without a cistern for flushing, the toilets pose a problem, he says. “People have to carry water in buckets from a common water source like a hand pump or a pond; most households do not have taps. They say they might as well go to the open field.”

In 1999, India launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan or Total Sanitation Campaign, a community-based programme, under which it gives an equivalent of about 80 dollars to a household to set up a toilet. But many poor people say that is not enough and still defecate in the fields or by railway lines.

The campaign has “provisions for toilet facility and hygiene education in all types of government rural schools (up to higher secondary or class 12) with emphasis on toilets for girls.”

But provisions alone do not help, activists say.

Access to water for toilets is a major problem in many rural schools in the eastern state of West Bengal, says Vijay K. Jha, honorary controller at the state branch of Sulabh International. The NGO leads one of the world’s biggest and most successful sanitation programmes.

“We have worked in 50 schools in Murshidabad district of India’s eastern state West Bengal, providing infrastructure and running awareness programmes on hygiene. Plans are afoot to extend the work to 100 more in the near future,” Jha told IPS.

Despite separate toilets for girls, the results are not satisfactory. As in the case of Jharkhand, non-availability of water hinders toilet use. Most schools do not have water pipes running up to the compounds.

Diara Hazi Nasrat Mallick High School in Murshidabad district, where Sulabh has constructed a separate toilet, is a typical example.

Alaul Haque, the school headmaster, told IPS, “We are happy that this facility has been built. But girls still have to bring water from the tubewell because there’s no water pipe connection in the school yet.” Half of about 300 students at the school are girls.

Another institution in the same district, Gayeshpur High School, has the same complaint. “With around 300 girl students in our co-ed school, we need at least two toilets. We were happy that the toilet has been built, but it still lacks flowing water,” headmaster Prasanta Chatterjee told IPS.

The government scheme under which NGOs take up the work of building toilets does not include providing water pipes – a task that depends on local agencies.

Girl students during the menstrual cycle are advised not to carry heavy objects like buckets filled with water; so they avoid school altogether during those days if there is no easy access to water in the toilets.

Under India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, which recognises the right of children to free and compulsory education till the completion of elementary school, provision of proper toilets as part of school infrastructure is mandatory, says S.N. Dave, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) specialist at Unicef Kolkata.

Dave told IPS: “West Bengal being in a riverine area, water is not much of a problem. But there is scope for improvement in terms of better coordination between agencies.”

Some states like Kerala in the south and Sikkim in the northeast fare better.

According to a Planning Commission study in 2013, Sikkim had the best performing gram panchayats (village councils) and maintenance of sanitation facilities, having achieved 100 percent sanitation.

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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Anger Rises Over Racism in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-rises-racist-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:14:24 +0000 Bijoyeta Das http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133195 L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears. Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so […]

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A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

By Bijoyeta Das
NEW DELHI, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears.

Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so excited. But suddenly a group of men surrounded me. ‘How much do you charge for a night?’ they asked. I yelled, ‘Get away,’ but they pinched my cheek and touched my back,” she tells IPS."We want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists.”

Others giggled, some laughed aloud. A few snapped photos with their cell phones. “Chinki, chinki,” they kept teasing as she fled into a metro station. ‘Chinki’ is an offensive reference to the East Asian features of many people from India’s northeast.

Khino is one of thousands of youngsters who migrate each year from the eight northeastern states to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other cities in their quest for “higher education and better opportunities.” She works at a business process outsourcing centre in the capital’s satellite city Gurgaon.

“Enough is enough. They call us ‘chinki’ everyday, assault and harass us. What is this? Just discrimination or racism?” she asks.

According to activists and student groups, people from the northeast have harrowing experiences across India. They are regularly subjected to verbal taunts, slurs, jokes, physical and sexual assaults as well as cheating by landlords and employers.

For years, complaints have been piling up and the fury has been simmering. Matters came to a head this January when Nido Taniam, the 19-year-old son of a legislator from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, was killed.

A student in Punjab state, Taniam was visiting Delhi. He had stopped at a store to ask for directions when shopkeepers made fun of his dyed blonde hair. This led to a brawl, and he was seriously assaulted. The next day he succumbed to his injuries.

Taniam’s death led to widespread protests across India. Many from the northeastern community are now campaigning for an anti-racism law to deal with apparent hate crimes. The North East India Forum against Racism (NEIFAR) was formed in February.

Phurpa Tsering, spokesperson for NEIFAR, tells IPS that their short-term demand for fast-tracking all pending cases of hate crime has been accepted.

“In the long run we want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists,” says Tsering, who is from Arunachal Pradesh and is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A spate of recent attacks on people from India’s northeast has stirred disconcerting questions.

Protesters point out that the identity of mainland India often excludes the northeast, a region often described as far-flung, remote and conflict-ridden. They say northeasterners are frequently stereotyped as morally loose women in skimpy skirts who are sexually available, or good-for-nothing men who are drug addicts or insurgents.

About 86 percent of people from northeast living in Delhi have faced discrimination, according to research by the North East Helpline and Support Centre based in New Delhi. Alana Golmei, the founder, says they receive 20-30 calls a month, and most complain about non-payment of salaries and assaults.

“We have become immune to people calling us chinki, momo, Bahadur, Nepali, chow-chow, king-kong [terms alluding to their physical appearance],” she says. When she calls to negotiate with employers and landlords, she is told she is an outsider. “A strict anti-racism law will give us more negotiating power.”

But can a piece of legislation battle racism?

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive to punish anyone who calls a northeasterner ‘chinki’ with up to five years in prison under the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The SCs and STs comprise some of India’s most socially marginalised people.

Golmei calls this an “emotional, stray reaction” with little effect – there have been no convictions so far. Many in the northeast are not categorised as SC or ST.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, wants an amendment and expansion of this Act. “New laws are difficult to make and difficult to push through,” he tells IPS.

Support for anti-racism law depends on a crucial question: if a man from northern or eastern India is beaten up in western India, it is called regionalism; so is it racism when someone from the northeast is attacked?

Hazarika, who is from Assam in the northeast, tells IPS, “We want it to include everybody in the country and all cases of discrimination on the basis of appearance, language, gender, food and attire. Only face is not enough.”

But opinion is divided.

Senti Longchar, assistant professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, points out that people from states like Bihar or Assam look the same as anyone from northern India. “Discrimination against them is regionalism but name-calling and attacks on those with a Mongoloid face is racism.”

India signed the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1967. But Longchar cites a Washington Post infographic that uses World Values Survey data to show India and Jordan are the most racially intolerant countries.

Racist hate crimes are only one end of the spectrum of discrimination that people from the northeast encounter, says Kadambari Gladding, spokesperson for Amnesty International, India. She says they are also denied goods and services. “Non-discrimination is not a concession, but a right,” she adds.

Instead of a pan-India law, NEIFAR is advocating legislation specific to the northeast that will deter racist attacks on those with East Asian features, and include positive aspects such as preferential treatment, awareness campaigns, sensitisation of police and inclusion of the northeast’s history in textbooks.

NEIFAR is researching anti-racism laws in other countries, particularly Bolivia, to push for a model that suits India, says Id Gil, a Manipur native who studies in Delhi and works for the forum.

He tells IPS, “Every racial remark has the potential to kill somebody, as we have seen in Nido’s case.”

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Stateless in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/stateless-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stateless-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/stateless-nepal/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 09:16:51 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132590 Around 4.3 million of Nepal’s 27 million population lack citizenship documents, rendering them stateless, says a report by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), which works to promote and protect the interests of Nepali women. Today in Nepal one cannot register birth, file for a change of address, buy or sell land, acquire […]

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Arjun Kumar Sah is engaged in a long struggle for citizenship. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Arjun Kumar Sah is engaged in a long struggle for citizenship. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

Around 4.3 million of Nepal’s 27 million population lack citizenship documents, rendering them stateless, says a report by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), which works to promote and protect the interests of Nepali women.

Today in Nepal one cannot register birth, file for a change of address, buy or sell land, acquire a passport, open bank accounts, sit for higher-level examination, register to vote or even get a mobile phone card without citizenship documents."Our constitution and law are essentially saying a Nepali man can marry anyone and his child will be Nepali but if a woman marries a foreigner, her child will have problems getting citizenship."

“Citizenship identification is the fundamental piece of document which connects an individual to the state. Without it a person has no proof of existence,” says lawyer Sabin Shrestha of FWLD.

In 2006, Nepal had passed the Citizenship Act, which guaranteed Nepali citizenship to children born to a Nepali mother or a Nepali father. Nepal’s 2007 interim Constitution and a 2011 Supreme Court directive backed the Act.

But in 2012, things became tougher. The Constituent Assembly members drafted a new provision, which stated that Nepali citizenship would be granted only to those who could prove that their mother and father both were Nepali citizens.

Getting citizenship through the mother, however, is particularly difficult.

“Difficulty in getting citizenship through the mother is not the only reason why millions of Nepalis are stateless. But acquiring citizenship through the mother is still extremely difficult,” Shrestha told IPS.

Nepal went from requiring citizenship of just the father before the 2006 citizenship law was passed, to that of either mother or father, and to meeting widely enforced requirements now for both mother and father. However, this requirement has not been fully written or passed.

Besides, the, 2006 citizenship law provisions often get lost when they reach the Chief District Officer (CDO) level. The CDO can in effect grant citizenship to whoever he pleases.

Arjun Kumar Sah, 24, was born in Nepal to a Nepali mother and Indian father and has lived in the country all his life. When Sah turned 16, he applied for citizenship but was told that he couldn’t because his father is not Nepali. After the Citizenship Act was passed in 2006, Sah went back to apply through his mother’s name but was denied again.

Early last year Sah filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Home Ministry, the District Administration Office and the Office of the Prime Minister demanding citizenship through his mother. “The Supreme Court sent a letter asking the three why I have not been granted citizenship even though my mother is Nepali, but it has been nine months and I am yet to receive a reply,” Sah tells IPS.

If a Nepali man marries a foreign woman, their children get citizenship based on descent. However, when a Nepali woman marries a foreigner, their children can only get naturalised citizenship. That is, when a Nepali woman marries a foreign man, their child is not given citizenship by descent. The same rules don’t apply when a Nepali man marries a foreign woman – so getting Nepali citizenship still depends very much on what nationality the father is.

“Nepal’s Constitution and law have made getting citizenship through the mother a conditional right, attaching citizenship to a Nepali father and making the role of women useless,” lawyer Sushama Gautam tells IPS.

Advocate Dipendra Jha, who is fighting Sah’s case, says the new provision is regressive, and against the spirit of democracy and the idea that all citizens are equal.

“If we look at it from the gender angle, you see a huge disparity – our constitution and law are essentially saying a Nepali man can marry anyone and his child will be Nepali but if a woman marries a foreigner, her child will have problems getting citizenship. What kind of equality is that?”

Deepti Gurung has two daughters. She wants to register their birth so they can become citizens, but every time she is at the local ward office or at the CDO office, they ask her to identify the father.

“I raised my daughters by myself, I cared for their needs, I worry about their future, and the father abandoned them when they were young. So why is the government trying to bring him back in the picture?” Gurung asks. She says that not providing citizenship through mother is the biggest form of violence against women.

Gurung argues that a lot is left to the discretion of the CDO. When a Nepali citizen comes of age, the village committee recommends him or her to the district administration office, and the CDO eventually authorises and grants citizenship. “A lot depends on how sensitive the CDO is to that particular case,” says Gurung.

Activists say there may be more people being denied citizenship in little pockets, especially in southern Nepal because of the open border and cross marriages between India and Nepal, but citizenship is a national problem.

“It is especially prevalent among economically disenfranchised families,” says Jha. “Sah’s father never applied for citizenship because he ran a small business and didn’t really need government services but his children are living in a different world where citizenship documents are needed to access all kinds of services.”

Sah is studying for a Masters in Business Administration in Kathmandu. “I am graduating soon, how will I find a job without citizenship papers?” Sah asks.

The number of stateless people is growing every year. “This problem is multiplying because stateless people are giving birth to children who simply cannot apply for citizenship,” says FWLD’s Shrestha.

Discussions in Nepal around citizenship often get linked to issues of sovereignty and national security, especially in relation to Nepal’s open border with India.

But, asks Jha, “Should we be worrying about another country taking over Nepal when we have 4.3 million stateless people inside our own country that we don’t know what to do with?”

Srijana Chettri of the Asia Foundation, Nepal, argues, “You have to think about the risks and vulnerabilities that a stateless person faces – whether it is trafficking, exploitation, abuse or fraudulent migration.”

After months of political uncertainty, Nepal elected a new Constituent Assembly in November 2013 to write the Constitution. Activists say this is the right time to lobby for change in the rigid regulations regarding citizenship.

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Labour Anger Simmers in Cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/labour-anger-simmers-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=labour-anger-simmers-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/labour-anger-simmers-cambodia/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 08:50:00 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132397 An uneasy calm prevails in Cambodia after the government crackdown on protests by garment workers in January. With public gatherings banned and charges framed against 23 union leaders and activists, labour discontent may not be spilling on to the streets, but it is simmering. Prime Minister Hun Sen has now called for removal of the ban on […]

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Workers at a lunch break in front of factories supplying H&M in Phnom Penh. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS.

Workers at a lunch break in front of factories supplying H&M in Phnom Penh. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS.

By Michelle Tolson
PHNOM PENH, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

An uneasy calm prevails in Cambodia after the government crackdown on protests by garment workers in January. With public gatherings banned and charges framed against 23 union leaders and activists, labour discontent may not be spilling on to the streets, but it is simmering.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has now called for removal of the ban on public assembly.“This is a critical juncture for garment workers and trade unions to use their leverage as a voting bloc to pressure both parties for better wages."

“The government should not be suppressing the demonstrators if they want to prove that Cambodia is a democratic country,” Phorn Sreywin, a 26-year-old garment worker, told IPS.

She has the support of the Workers Information Centre (WIC), which supports women in the garment industry, but voices asking for higher minimum wages in this impoverished Southeast Asian country appear to have been muffled for the time being.

“There should never have been a ban as this contradicts the Constitution and treaties ratified by Cambodia,” Naly Pilorge, Director of the human rights NGO LICADHO, told IPS by e-mail.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), 93 percent of which comprises foreign business owners, mostly from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, has cited the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention number 87 to claim that workers have no “right to strike”.

“Freedom of association cannot be used as an excuse to get away with illegal behaviour and undermine a government’s ability to govern,” said a statement on GMAC’s website, alluding to the protests of Jan. 2-3 by garment workers, which led to military action.

GMAC claims that the strike by garment workers was violent.

“A multiplicity of unions in the workplace continues to create challenges, including but not limited to an increasing mass of unrepresentative unions, infighting amongst unions on the factory floor to gain popularity, misrepresentation of membership numbers due to double counting, and inability to engage with the unions constructively,” it said.

Activists, however, say that this amounts to intimidation by GMAC.

International trade unions around the world have protested in front of Cambodian consulates in support of the country’s garment workers.

Trade unions have also condemned GMAC for stating that it condoned the military action on striking garment workers Jan. 3 that killed four of them, left one missing and seriously injured over 30.

“The response from the Cambodian government is very oppressive,” said Pranom Somwong, a labour activist and consultant for the Clean Clothes Campaign who helped organise a protest in Bangkok in front of the Cambodian consulate.

She also told IPS that factory owners were “confrontational” vis-a-vis the unions. “Denying workers the right to freedom of assembly and the right to a living wage is unacceptable,” she said.

In the days leading up to the protest, the Labour Ministry had approved an increase in the minimum wage for garment workers, from 80 to 95 dollars a month. But trade unions and workers protested, saying it was not enough to live on, and demanded a monthly minimum wage of 160 dollars.

Labour activists are now being threatened with loss of job or with lawsuits, Sophea Chrek, interim coordinator for WIC, told IPS.

Tola Moeun, head of the advocacy organisation, Community Legal Education Centre, explained that factory owners have threatened labour leaders with lawsuits. “Yang Sophorn (president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions) was sued by suppliers (factory owners) for mobilising workers to strike,” he pointed out.

He highlighted another problem.

Despite 90 percent of garment workers being women, men tend to lead the labour unions, partly owing to the combative environment. “Women do not feel confident in their positions or are not provided enough opportunities to grow, especially due to their poor wages and short term contracts,” he told IPS.

Thida Khus, Executive Director of SILAKA, an organisation that trains women, believes women workers hold the key to shaping their work environment.

“Women workers need to lead and use their natural leadership quality to deal with the environment, using better negotiation skills with the thugs in factories, with the government and with the elites who are looking after their bosses’ interests,” Khus told IPS.

Labour researcher Dennis Arnold has written a report detailing how the bargaining power of workers in Cambodia weakened under the 2005 WTO free trade agreement (FTA).

He found that, prior to the agreement, most workers in registered factories had long-term contracts with holiday pay benefits, including sick and maternity leave. But afterwards the contracts became short-term, covering just three to six months, and with no benefits. Factory owners said western brands preferred flexibility in their contracts but the shift also made factory workers easier to manage.

There are an estimated 400,000 workers in registered factories, but if those in unregistered factories, and workers who are part of the supply chain were to be included, the number would be around 600,000, he says.

Arnold told IPS that the elite siphon off money through “bribes, bureaucracy and corruption”, contributing to the already high cost of production, and this is used by factory owners as a reason for not raising wages.

“This is a critical juncture for garment workers and trade unions to use their leverage as a voting bloc to pressure both parties for better wages,” Arnold said. “This is part of broader efforts to redistribute wealth and power in favour of workers – and you see very clearly the deep resistance to this by GMAC and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).”

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) is completely on board.

Mu Sochua, CNRP’s elected lawmaker and Director General of Public Affairs, told IPS, “Strong trade unions, strict implementation of the labour law (against short-term contracts) and ILO conventions must be upheld and the government and global brands should be allowed no excuses to delay negotiations for living wage.”

A spokesperson for H&M, one of the largest brands sourcing from Cambodia, told IPS on e-mail that the company plans to work towards a living wage “by 2018”.

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Women On The Move, And In Danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-move-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:13:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132189 It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap. Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door […]

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Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
HYDERABAD, India, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap.

Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door and sped towards a forest on the outskirts of the city. The men tied her hands and raped her for four hours. Then they dropped her at her place and left after threatening to hurt her family if she reported the crime late last year.“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help."

Nearly 25,000 rapes took place in India in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About half of these sexual assaults took place in buses, taxis and three-wheeler autorickshaws. A month before the engineer was raped in Hyderabad, a court had sentenced four men to death for raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, on Dec. 16, 2012.

A judicial committee assigned to recommend ways to curb violence against women in India suggested improvements in public transport vehicles after the Delhi incident.

Thirteen months and many more rapes later, the Indian government devised a plan in January to implement some of those recommendations. With an initial fund of 15 million dollars, the plan includes installing GPS trackers, closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and emergency phone call facilities in all public transport vehicles in 32 cities that have a population of one million or more.

According to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), the government proposes to “establish a unified system at the national level and state level in 32 cities of the country with a population of one million or more, over a period of two years.” The plan has been “formulated with the purpose of improving safety and protection of women from violence by using information technology.”

The government move is seen by many as a constructive step.

“This could be the first step towards making roads more secure for women,” Kirthi Jayakumar, a Chennai-based lawyer and founder of Red Elephant, a non-profit organisation raising awareness against gender violence, tells IPS. “It will benefit women in two ways – making their spaces safer and also making more jobs available for women – as surveillance will require a workforce in its own right.”

Jayakumar suggests that the government must create a strong workforce studying video feeds from these cameras.

Defunct surveillance gadgets and poor police vigilance has always been a security concern in India – one reason why some women’s rights activists are sceptical about the road safety scheme.

Rapid population growth and expansion of cities pose a big obstacle to the success of any vigilance and surveillance mechanism, says A.L. Sharada, programme director at Population First, one of the main partners of the United Nations Population Fund in India. Unless the government regulates urban development, violence against women on roads is unlikely to come down, she says.

“Road safety is not about making a few vehicles smart,” Sharada tells IPS. “It’s about making roads safe for women to go out at any time of day or night with confidence. To do that we need better governance, better policing and also a good community-based support system for women. Without these, you can’t change the scenario.”

Sharada cites the example of Mumbai, that has seen a spate of sexual assaults against women on the road of late. “The government has installed CCTVs at most crossroads. But most of these cameras are either defunct or of poor quality. Also, the police patrolling is so inadequate that women are molested and attacked even in broad daylight. Where is the mechanism to ensure that the gadgets are in working condition?”

Some also point to a “gaping hole” in the road safety plan such as the exclusion of trains, used by millions of women every month. There are widespread reports of women being molested, raped and even murdered on trains.

A recent victim was a 23-year-old engineer from Machlipatnam, a city 340 km from Hyderabad. On Jan. 16 her body was found by a road outside Mumbai where she worked for a leading software firm. She had reportedly boarded a train from Hyderabad to Mumbai 12 days earlier.

“Whether in city trains or metros, there are so many instances of horrific violence against women,” says Sandhya Pushppandit, a documentary filmmaker and activist at Akshara, a Mumbai-based NGO. In 2008, Akshara had co-launched India’s first emergency helpline for victims of gender violence aiming to provide an ambulance within 10 minutes of a call.

“But our trains have no helplines and emergency call buttons. One can pull a chain and bring the train to a halt, but this in itself doesn’t guarantee either the victim’s safety or the arrest of the criminal. Besides, in a small public transport vehicle like the auto-rickshaw, the emergency call button might well be deactivated by the rapist,” Pushppandit tells IPS.

One solution, says Anu Maheshwari of Young Leaders Think Tank, a New Delhi-based youth policy research group, is to address the factors that trigger fear among women on the move.

Maheshwari shares some insights from a recent survey that the think tank undertook in 18 Indian states: “From the data we collected, 90 percent of sexual assaults on public transport happen in poorly lit areas. In most cases, the driver of the public transport vehicle violates traffic rules such as jumping the signal or allowing more passengers than the law permits.

“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help. So improving road infrastructure, strict implementation of traffic laws, trust building and sensitisation of the police force have to be an integral part of any road safety scheme.”

But, says Sharada, while laws can only lay down rules, they can’t change mindsets. “To achieve the latter should be a matter of immediate concern for our thinkers.”

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill Puts U.S. Aid at Risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 00:41:54 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132093 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s authorisation of the Parliament’s so-called “kill the gays” bill has led Washington officials to announce a review of U.S. aid to the African country. While the new law no longer provides the death penalty for LGBT people, as it did when parliament first introduced it, it escalates existing penalties on homosexuality, […]

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A scene from the award-winning documentary "Call Me Kuchu", which follows the fight of courageous LGBT rights activist David Kato and his friends against the rampant homophobia in Uganda. Credit: Katherine Fairfax Wright

A scene from the award-winning documentary "Call Me Kuchu", which follows the fight of courageous LGBT rights activist David Kato and his friends against the rampant homophobia in Uganda. Credit: Katherine Fairfax Wright

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s authorisation of the Parliament’s so-called “kill the gays” bill has led Washington officials to announce a review of U.S. aid to the African country.

While the new law no longer provides the death penalty for LGBT people, as it did when parliament first introduced it, it escalates existing penalties on homosexuality, allowing the state to imprison people for life if they engage in “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated instances of gay sex between consenting adults or acts involving minors, disabled, or HIV-positive people.Lively claimed that gays were responsible for the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and asserted that they were now targeting Uganda by trying to “convert” Ugandan children.

The European Union, the United Nations and the Catholic Church have all strongly condemned the new law, which escalates existing penalties for homosexuality.

“Now that this law has been enacted, we are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programmes, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday.

Some European countries, including Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, have already halted financial aid to Uganda in protest, while others, like Austria and Sweden, are similarly reviewing their aid commitments. Prominent U.S. policymakers are calling on the United States to temporarily cut off the 456.3 million dollars in aid to Uganda that Congress has appropriated for the coming fiscal year.

“We need to closely review all U.S. assistance to Uganda, including through the World Bank and other multilateral organisations,” U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said Tuesday. “I cannot support providing further funding to the Government of Uganda until the United States has undergone a review of our relationship.”

Ugandan health and sanitation programmes in particular rely on foreign aid support, especially when it comes to combating HIV/AIDS. Uganda has an HIV prevalence rate of 7.2 percent, a rate that is roughly doubled for men who have sex with men.

“We are also deeply concerned about the law’s potential to set back public health efforts in Uganda,” Kerry said, “including those to address HIV/AIDS, which must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner in order to be effective.”

As the new Ugandan law prosecutes organisations aiding LGBT individuals, a high-risk group for HIV transmission, Uganda’s actions could have an adverse affect on Ugandan organisations that partner with and receive funding from PEPFAR, the United States’ flagship anti-AIDS programme.

“From a purely operation standpoint … we know that the law itself has specific ramifications for PEPFAR assistance,” Timi Gerson, the director of advocacy for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a development organisation with operations in Uganda, told IPS. “They’re going to have to look at how this law is going to impact its ability to run those programmes.”

Gerson is hesitant about freezing all aid to Uganda, however.

“AJWS doesn’t support the cutting of fundamental aid to those countries. We don’t support stopping aid to ordinary Ugandans,” she said.

“I wouldn’t talk about cutting aid, I would talk about shifting aid. I think the real question is how you would do that on the ground in light of the situation, so that has to be first and foremost in the [U.S.] review.”

U.S. evangelical influence

Some pro-LGBT advocates are more ambivalent about U.S. aid funding in Uganda, however. They point to an unacceptable trend of U.S. funding being administered by socially conservative Christian groups that have long espoused an anti-LGBT agenda, creating an environment where anti-LGBT legislation enjoys widespread support.

U.S. funding often ends up in the hands of conservative religious groups via a complex system of grants, sub-grants and further sub-grants awarded by sub-grantees.

“[The conservatives] are doing a lot of excellent work when it comes to services like orphanages and very good, well-funded schools,” Rev. Kapya Kaoma of Political Research Associates, a social justice advocacy group, told IPS.

“The conservative schools have very good libraries, unlike other schools, but have books that present a conservative angle regarding Ugandan politics. That is an advantage for them.”

Kaoma noted that organisations headed by people like Martin Ssempa, a vehemently anti-LGBT Ugandan pastor, have received 60,000 dollars in sub-grants from organisations receiving U.S. PEPFAR funds. (Ssempa also opposes the use of condoms.)

“I hear these calls to suspend aid and I am conflicted about that,” said Kaoma. “I don’t think that’s the best way to go, as suspending aid only hurts the poor and not the rich. Museveni won’t lose a single thing.”

Instead, he advocates sanctions on Ugandan individuals responsible for the law – and on U.S. evangelicals who he says have fuelled Uganda’s anti-LGBT movement.

“The alternative is selective sanctioning targeting the people who are responsible, all the anti-gay speakers,” he said.

“If they can be sanctioned, there can be a law that says no money can move from any U.S. organisation to an [anti-LGBT] group in Uganda – then they will start feeling the pinch. If they cut aid, it could just increase hatred against LGBT people as retaliation.”

Kaoma said that he is particularly eager to prevent certain individuals from entering Uganda. He lists prominent U.S. evangelicals such as Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, Don Schmierer and Lou Engle as having directly influenced Uganda’s anti-LGBT law.

In March 2009, Lively held a conference for Ugandan political, clerical and civic elites, where he spoke to them about the “gay agenda”. Lively claimed that gays were responsible for the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and asserted that they were now targeting Uganda by trying to “convert” Ugandan children.

Kaoma attended and filmed the 2009 conference, featuring Lively, Brundidge and Schmierer. A week later, Ugandan parliamentarians circulated the first draft of recently enacted law.

“The original bill reads like Scott Lively speaking again,” Kaoma said.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights, a U.S.-based watchdog, is currently representing Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, as it sues Lively in a U.S. court for his alleged influence on the legislation.

Lively has conducted similar anti-LGBT activism throughout Africa as well as in Ukraine and Russia.

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Uganda’s Human Rights Record Plunges With Signing of Anti-Gay Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 09:00:28 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132017 Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24. One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only […]

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Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24.

One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only thing [left] is to try my best and [leave the country] for a safer place.”

“There’s no one who says I want to become gay, especially here in Uganda. You’re just born with it. You do not choose,” he added.

What the Anti-Homosexuality Bill says:

Under the new law, the penalty for same-sex conduct is now life imprisonment.

The “attempt to commit homosexuality” incurs a penalty of seven years as does “aiding and abetting” homosexuality.

A person who “keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality” also faces seven years’ imprisonment.

The law also criminalises the “promotion” of homosexuality. A person could go to prison simply for expressing a peaceful opinion. Local and international nongovernmental organisations doing advocacy work on human rights issues could now be at risk of criminal sentencing of up to seven years.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The new bill, officially named the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, strengthens existing punishments for those caught having gay sex and prescribes jail terms up to life for “aggravated homosexuality” — including sex with a minor or where one partner is HIV positive. The bill also includes the “offence of homosexuality” – this is where a person convicted of homosexuality is liable to life imprisonment.

Human rights lawyer John Francis Onyango, who has represented many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans, said he had “definitely” seen an increase in arrests of LGBTI people since the bill was passed by parliament on Dec. 20.

“And also many gay persons are living in apprehension about their security, their freedom and capacity to associate,” he told IPS, adding that he was currently representing the LGBTI community in court on a number of cases. Before the signing of the anti-gay bill into law, this East African nation already had some laws against those caught having gay sex.

Museveni defied international condemnation by signing the bill during a packed public ceremony at State House on Feb. 24.

It took many by surprise as Museveni said only late last week that he would put the legislation on hold while he sought advice from U.S. scientists on whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture.

But member of parliament Sam Okuonzi, who chairs the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, told IPS that Museveni had been under “tremendous pressure” from a growing chorus of MPs, religious leaders and locals to sign the bill. ”There is nothing that has united this country so completely and so strongly as this bill,” he said.

MP Stanley Omwonya told IPS after Museveni had approved it: “It’s really (about) preserving our culture. We want our people to be morally upright.”

Human rights activists have long vowed to challenge the law in court, arguing that it violates international human rights standards and is unconstitutional. Ugandan gay rights activist and winner of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, Frank Mugisha, tweeted: “Signing the anti-gay bill Museveni scores at his own goal post – we shall challenge this law & the old law.”

In another post he said “@YKMusevenii knows we shall over turn this law in the constitutional court & with our determination we wont stop at nothing.”

Onyango said that the “the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also raises broader concerns about mainstream human rights organisations, about their shrinking space for operation of the civil society organisations (CSOs).” According to the bill, if an NGO “promotes homosexuality” then it can be closed and its directors or leaders prosecuted.

In a statement released on Monday, Feb. 24, Human Rights Watch said Museveni had dealt a “dramatic blow to freedom expression and association in Uganda.”

Just over a week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Museveni that enacting the legislation would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda”. In the past Obama has sent U.S. troops as advisors to Uganda to help the country fight the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and track down its leader, Joseph Kony. The LRA has been responsible for mass murder, rape and kidnapping in Uganda’s north.

Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, the European Union and South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu also released statements or spoke out over the anti-gay bill, with some warning there may be aid cuts if it was brought into force.

According to one report on Feb. 24, Norway and Denmark immediately said they were freezing or diverting aid while Austria said it was reviewing assistance. Canada, the White House and the United Nations released a strong statement condemning the law. The EU said approving the legislation was “draconian” while the United Kingdom said it was “deeply saddened and disappointed”.

Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist Adrian Jjuuko told IPS that the country should brace itself for aid cuts. But he stressed that Uganda needed “sanctions that don’t affect the common person but rather the people passing the law.”

“There are some aspects of aid that could be cut, rather than other aspects of aid. You wouldn’t cut aid that goes to healthcare, you can’t cut aid that goes to education,” said Jjuko, who is the executive director of NGO Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“Maybe in terms of military spending and things like that…if that’s the kind of aid that’s cut, that’s the cut that will be felt because it goes directly to the president, his personal interests and ambitions, rather than the people of Uganda.”

He said that to cut aid over the issue of the anti-gay bill alone would be like turning a blind eye to other human rights violations in Uganda.

“The gay issue is not the only issue in this country,” Jjuuko said. “Seen as a whole issue, Uganda’s human rights record is going down.”

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Growing Inequality Mars 20 Years of Women’s Progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 22:34:31 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131649 As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives. The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to […]

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Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives.

The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights, and equal access to education for girls."This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.” -- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

“We must work with governments to address issues of inequality, which is I think the greatest determinate in terms of the MDGs,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS.

“We expect that as we move into the post-2015 conversation, the evidence we have today will ensure that member states will see that if they are going to make progress…we must put people at the centre of development.”

Since 1994, the year of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo when 179 governments committed to a 20-year Programme of Action to deliver human rights-based development, UNFPA has identified significant achievements with regard to women’s rights and effective family planning, but also a dramatic increase in inequality.

Maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50 percent and more women than ever before have access to both contraception and family planning mechanisms, supporting a decrease in child mortality. Furthermore, women are increasingly accessing education, participating in the work force and engaged in the political process.

Nevertheless, a gross disparity remains between the developed and developing worlds. In a press conference, Dr.  Osotimehin indicated that while the global average likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is one in 1,300, this increases to one in 39 when evaluating developing nations specifically.

The report also notes that 53 percent of the world’s income gains have gone to the top one percent of the global population, and that none of these gains have gone to the bottom 10 percent.

It focuses on root factors of these problems and the central influences on women and girls’ ability to make choices about their lives. Child marriage and education are two main factors in this respect.

Source: UNFPA

Source: UNFPA

“It is important to underscore the fact that once girls don’t go to school, once they are married too early and once they have children as children, they cannot be equal to men, and they cannot have the same political and economic power as men,” explained Dr. Babatunde.

The effect of these factors is not limited to the success of the individual. They are also important for the development of nations as a whole.

“Education and access to health, if they are properly planned, allow people to live longer, and add value to the development of the country,” Dr. Osotimehin told IPS.

UNFPA does not work alone on these issues. Other organisations also collect information and cooperate to address problems associated with population and development.

“The report is very important for us because it both reflects what we have done and suggests a way forward that we like to think we have helped to inform,” Suzanne Petroni, senior director of gender, population and development at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), an organisation which works to identify the contributions and barriers facing women across the world, told IPS.

In 2000, all U.N. member states at the time signed on to the MDGs, all of which are directly addressed in the second ICPD report. They are to be succeeded by the SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 1994 Programme of Action was not limited to women’s rights. It also sought to address the individual, social and economic impact of urbanisation and migration, as well as support sustainable development and address environmental issues associated with population changes.

“Ensuring that we have a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of what governments have committed to…that is actually the most important thing going forward,” Dr. Osotimehin stressed to IPS. “We now need to make the commitments count on the ground.”

A key theme in the report is that in areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the world’s youth are located, there is a massive opportunity for societies to capitalise on their resources and accelerate their development.

But governments must invest in their populations through education, healthcare, access to entrepreneurial opportunities and political participation.

“Civil society, the media, young people and women’s groups can actually work to, in a very positive way, see what [governments] are doing right, and point out where things are not going well…we are seeing that happen around the world,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

“This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.”

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South Africa’s Law to Stop Hate Crimes Against Gays http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:41:05 +0000 Melany Bendix http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131630 “Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”. By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on […]

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Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

By Melany Bendix
CAPE TOWN, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

“Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”.

By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on “correcting” her sexual orientation through rape.“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.” -- Thembela

“They do it because they hate what we are, because they feel threatened by us,” said the 26-year-old filmmaker for the local documentary television series “Street Talk”

“I live with my partner and we live alone. Many guys in my neighbourhood know this and at any time they can come and kick down our door and rape us. They usually come in gangs and we would be powerless to stop them,” she told IPS.

“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.”

Horrific reports of corrective rape are rife in South Africa, but just how many women and men have been raped and even murdered due to their sexual orientation is still unknown.

It is this dearth of data on hate crime that the country’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development hopes to address with the “Policy Framework on Combating Hate Crimes, Hate Speech and Unfair Discrimination”.

The policy is the foundation for what will later become law and aims to “send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa,” according to Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery.

He said the new law would create a separate criminal category for hate crimes.

Although it was created in direct response to the increase of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in South Africa, the policy covers all forms of hate crimes, including xenophobic and racist attacks and hate speech.

During a briefing in late January, Jeffery said the policy framework had been “largely finalised” and would be released for public debate “shortly”.

Cobus Fourie of the South African Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told IPS that having hate crimes as a separate category would shed light on how serious the issue was.

Ingrid Lynch, research, advocacy and policy coordinator for the Cape Town-based LGBTI lobby group Triangle Project, said the new legislation would meet the “desperate need” to monitor the extent of LGBTI-related violence and hate crimes.

“Without a crime category that recognises the influence of homophobic prejudice in violence against LGBTI people, we have no hope of systematic data collection and monitoring of the problem,” she told IPS.

“What we currently know is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Law Cannot Change “Hateful Attitudes”

While lauding the policy as a “symbolic” move to recognise and protect marginalised individuals’ plight, constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos cautioned that law alone will “not change people’s hateful attitudes”.

He pointed out that South Africa already had several progressive laws protecting the rights of LGBTI people, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage. However, in practice these laws do little to protect LGBTI people increasingly faced with violence and victimisation.

“It will take much more than a new piece of legislation to address hate crimes,” added Lynch, who said “being able to experience [constitutional] rights continues to be the main challenge for LGBTI people in South Africa.”

Sibusiso Kheswa, advocacy coordinator for Gender Dynamix, the first African organisation focusing solely on transgender rights, argued that it was pointless introducing new laws, however well intended, if the criminal justice system could not implement them effectively.

Kheswa told IPS the root of the problem was that the system was “not victim friendly”, starting with the South African Police Service (SAPS) – a victim’s first point of contact.

Lynch agreed and said her research had found that LGBTI survivors of assault and rape are “typically confronted with humiliation, dismissal and even direct victimisation by the police because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Kheswa said this resulted in victims not reporting crimes out of “fear of secondary victimisation by the police and other players in the criminal justice system”.

“‘It would be a mistake to think that we can achieve better outcomes for survivors of LGBTI hate crimes within a broken criminal justice system,” warned Lynch. “We need structural transformation of the entire system, along with specific attention to LGBTI concerns.”

Education is Key

Fourie and de Vos both believe that education is key to reducing hate crime against LGBTI people in the long term.

“There should be far more vigorous education against prejudice, from basic school level right up to the government departments,” said de Vos. “But for that to happen you need political will.”

Johan Meyer, health officer for Johannesburg-based LGBTI advocacy group OUT, was upbeat that there was a good measure of political will behind the policy framework.

“There is always concern that the hate crime law might be like South Africa’s other progressive laws that are supposed to protect LGBTI people.

“But I do believe that in this case things are different, since there is real and committed involvement on national level from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as from the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority,” he told IPS.

Back in Gugulethu where Thembela and her partner triple bolt their doors and seldom venture out at night for fear of being attacked, she too is hopeful that the fledgling law will one day allow her to live free of fear.

“If we had our own law to protect us, a law that really punishes these guys for raping us, it might make them think twice. And if they think twice, maybe they will stop and I can stop being scared all the time.”

*Surname withheld to protect identity.

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India’s Gay Voices Crackle to Life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indias-gay-voices-crackle-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-gay-voices-crackle-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indias-gay-voices-crackle-life/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 09:25:51 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131418 It is Wednesday afternoon in Bangalore, known as India’s tech city for being the hub of information technology companies. In her small four by four-foot studio, Vaishalli Chandra, channel manager of QRadio which is dedicated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, is in conversation with Ankit Bhuptani, a 21-year-old gay youth from […]

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Chandni, a LGBT community member in Bangalore, tunes in online to Qradio. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Chandni, a LGBT community member in Bangalore, tunes in online to Qradio. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
BANGALORE, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

It is Wednesday afternoon in Bangalore, known as India’s tech city for being the hub of information technology companies. In her small four by four-foot studio, Vaishalli Chandra, channel manager of QRadio which is dedicated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, is in conversation with Ankit Bhuptani, a 21-year-old gay youth from Mumbai.

“I was 15 when I realised I was gay and it made me feel as though I had sinned against god. I began to condemn myself,” Ankit reveals. “But then I came to accept myself the way I am.”

Chandra, a straight person, smiles and calls out to her audience: “Yes, social acceptance is important and it begins with you accepting yourself. So let’s talk about that.”“We need no validation from others…our community is enough to validate itself.” -- Shaleen Rakesh

Thanks to opportunities to network, unburden themselves and celebrate, radio is clearly emerging as the choicest media of the LGBT community in India.

Priyanka Divakar hosts a show for the queer community titled “Yari Ivaru (who is this person?)”, aired on Radio Active, a Bangalore-based community radio station that started in 2010 that broadcasts on an FM channel, rather than through the Internet. Divakar comes from the same LGBT community that her programme is for.

Born a man, Divakar underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman after suffering for years what most LGBT people face in India: lack of civil rights, social ostracism, stigma and mockery. Gay sex is a criminal offence in the country.

Both Chandra and Divakar firmly believe that their shows increase freedom of expression by giving LGBTs a platform to be themselves. Guests here talk about their identity struggle, the reaction of their families to their sexuality and the opposition of society.

“Most of the time, parents themselves disown children after coming to know of their sexual identity. This drives them straight into a world of economic, social and emotional insecurity and it results in their joining the sex industry, begging or other criminal activities,” Divakar says.

But not all stories are bitter and sad. Some also share a happy message.

Shaleen Rakesh of New Delhi recalls on radio the day he told his mother he was gay. “She said that she wanted to hug me; it made her very happy to see me coming out of the closet about my sexuality.”

Besides sharing stories of the past, the community also uses radio shows to discuss the future, especially plans to end discrimination against the community.

Radio, says transgender activist Kalki Subramanium of Chennai, clicks with the young working class, to which most of the LGBT people belong.

“The radio these days [is] a new avatar; you can see young people listening to the radio when they are travelling to work or when they are at work. It is easy to access and doesn’t cost a lot,” says Subramanium who is an award-winning social worker and founder of Sahadari, a non-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in India.

Abhijay, a graphic designer in New Delhi who fears that revealing his last name might cost him his job, agrees with Subramanium. Abhijay often tunes into QRadio which he finds “very good at encouraging a person struggling with his/her sexual identity to open up.”

However, nearly five months after its launch, he feels the radio risks being repetitive, and ought to take up more serious issues like police atrocities, discrimination of LGBT people at the workplace and also lack of decent work opportunities.

“Look, identity is not the only issue we gay men have. What about the consequences of coming out in the open? How shall we deal with that? How to deal with discrimination everywhere?”

Akkai Padmashali, an LGBT rights activist from Sangam, a Bangalore-based NGO, says that access to QRadio is limiting, since a listener must have a stable Internet connection. There must be ways to reach out to those living on the other side of the digital divide.

Padmashali, who is planning to host a new show on QRadio, would like to see a “large number of community radio stations all across the country that address LGBT issues.”

But more stations would require more funding – a thorny issue. According to Chandra, QRadio received some of its funding from the United Nations Development Programme, but “sustainability remains a serious issue.”

Some point to a deficit of trust between aid agencies and the alternative media. Priya Darshi, a Hyderabad-based community member, says he had planned to set up a community radio station, but it didn’t happen as “nobody was willing to support a group of strange people talking about rights and rules.”

Padmashali says “the moral responsibility [of funding] should lie on the Indian state.” She has met with many political leaders and ministers in recent months, including Manish Tiwari, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, whom she describes as “very sympathetic to the LGBT community.”

Subramanium, on the other hand, feels that besides aid agencies and the government, the corporate sector should also invest in radio for the LGBT community.

“There are a number of private radio channels which have great funding by the corporate houses. The fund shortage exists only in community radios. But dialogue and sensitisation can help build new partnerships. Corporate social responsibility could very well include funding radios that promote gender rights,” she says.

Both Padmashali and Subramanium, however, say that despite financial and technical constraints, radio for LGBT people is here to stay.

Subramanium, who often promotes gender rights on a community radio station run by the students of Pondicherry University, says: “Despite the support shown by mainstream media, most of our community members remain misunderstood and unheard. There is a great yearning in the LGBT community today to break the silence and be heard. Radio is the greatest tool to do that.”

Meanwhile, over QRadio, the voice of Rakesh echoes: “We need no validation from others…our community is enough to validate itself.”

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Surviving Zimbabwe’s Anti-Gay Laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 04:55:03 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131381 Matthew Jacobs* has been married for two years but his wife doesn’t know that he is also in a relationship with someone else. If his secret were discovered, it could result in him ending up in jail. His crime? Being in a same-sex relationship. Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex relations. Even though the new constitution guarantees rights […]

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Pink waste bins donated by the Sexual Rights Centre, which supports gays and lesbians, sparked a furore in conservative Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pink waste bins donated by the Sexual Rights Centre, which supports gays and lesbians, sparked a furore in conservative Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

Matthew Jacobs* has been married for two years but his wife doesn’t know that he is also in a relationship with someone else. If his secret were discovered, it could result in him ending up in jail. His crime? Being in a same-sex relationship.

Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex relations. Even though the new constitution guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination, it is silent on specific rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. And it is risky, if not deadly, to be gay and lesbian in Zimbabwe – a country where such relations are beyond taboo."Sexual rights are a matter of life and death, the challenge is to access safe spaces where people can live their lives." -- Mojalifa Mokoele, SRC spokesperson

“What could I do? I had to get married because it was expected of me [even though] I had a relationship with another man. I have [to live] this double life to survive,” Jacobs tells IPS.

Jacobs is just one of many homosexuals who are forced to live a double life in this southern African nation as they try to avoid stigmatisation, discrimination and arrest. It is no secret that Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is a fervent critic of homosexuality and has made a number of homophobic statements over the years. In July 2013, he criticised South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu for supporting LGBTI rights and said: “Never, never, never will we support homosexuality in Zimbabwe.”

Civil society activist and chief executive officer of the Habakkuk Trust, Dumisani Nkomo, tells IPS while every citizen is entitled to dignity, privacy and the enjoyment of all rights, in a conservative country like Zimbabwe, homosexuality is still hard for many to accept.

“I do not believe gays or lesbians should be discriminated against or should be persecuted because, like everyone else, they are human beings,” Nkomo says.

“In our conservative country, when pushing such an agenda one is bound to be ostracised. What anyone does in their bedroom is not any of our business, but once you bring something private into the public domain it becomes a problem,” Nkomo says.

It is a concern that motivated the establishment of the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), a Bulawayo-based human rights organisation working with the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men (MSM) women who have sex with women (WSW), sex workers and the broader community to promote sexual rights.

SRC programmes officer Nombulelo Madonko tells IPS that the centre has documented cases of harassment of commercial sex workers, lesbians and gays by the police.

“When people talk about sex workers and gays, they forget that these are people, mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, fathers and men. Because of their orientation they have become faceless [and] they now have no rights,” says Madonko.

The SRC believes sexual rights, sex and sexuality should be part of the public discourse and not taboo because there is nothing shameful about consensual sex and sexual acts amongst adults.

According to the centre’s spokesperson, Mojalifa Mokoele, there is wide ignorance about sexual rights in Zimbabwe.

“The constitution in Zimbabwe is silent on sexual relations but criminalises gay/lesbian marriage. Not all gays and lesbians want to get married, but we do want our relationships to be acknowledged and recognised. All they want is to live their lives to the full, but that is too much to ask for in a society that is quick to judge and slow to accept,” Mokoele tells IPS in an interview at his offices.

“Sexual rights are a matter of life and death, the challenge is to access safe spaces where people can live their lives, but politicians have used the issue of gays … what they have said has become law and has become right,” says Mokoele.

Being lesbian or gay has an added burden when it comes to accessing other rights such as legal representation, education and medical care.

“How do I explain to a nurse about the painful tear in my backside without being asked how I got it in the first place?” Gideon Jones* tells IPS. He says that despite these challenges his family is aware of his status and comfortable with it. They are supportive and are encouraging him to pursue his ambition of being a poet.

Sian Maseko, SRC director, tells IPS: “Sexual rights are human rights and no one should be persecuted for who they love.”

Members of the the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have represented the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), a local LGBTI rights organisation, in legal cases.

GALZ chairperson Martha Tholanah was arrested in 2012 and faced charges of running an “unregistered” organisation after the police raided the group’s offices and confiscated electronic equipment and various documents. In January, the Zimbabwe High Court ordered that the seized equipment be returned and that GALZ was not a private voluntary organisation and therefore not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act.

“It is worrying that some authorities in Zimbabwe are [being increasingly] homophobic towards GALZ and people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI),” ZLHR spokesman, Kumbirayi Mafunda, tells IPS.

“Any harassment and persecution based on sexual orientation is a monumental tragedy and also a violation of international human rights law,” he says.

* Names changed to protect identity of sources.

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Suicide Brings Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community Out of the Closet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 00:14:30 +0000 Shahin Abbasov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131287 The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan is prompting the country’s LGBT community to become more assertive in fighting for civil rights. Isa Shakhmarly, the head of the Free LGBT non-governmental organisation, died on Jan. 22, using a rainbow flag to hang himself in his Baku apartment. He was 20. In a suicide note, […]

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Shakhmarli is laid to rest the day after his suicide. Credit: Free LGBT

Shakhmarli is laid to rest the day after his suicide. Credit: Free LGBT

By Shahin Abbasov
BAKU, Feb 7 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan is prompting the country’s LGBT community to become more assertive in fighting for civil rights.
Isa Shakhmarly, the head of the Free LGBT non-governmental organisation, died on Jan. 22, using a rainbow flag to hang himself in his Baku apartment. He was 20. In a suicide note, he faulted Azerbaijani society at large for pushing him to take his life. “This world… is not able to hold my colours,” the note stated.“Isa has died, but his fight for equality of all people in Azerbaijan will continue.” -- Javid Nabiyev

The LGBT community until now has kept a relatively low profile in socially conservative Azerbaijan. But Shakhmarly’s death catalysed Azerbaijani activists to take public action. On Jan. 27, over 20 activists held a news conference in Baku to announce plans for a signature drive for fresh legislation to protect sexual minorities, and for an outreach campaign and a hotline that could provide psychological counseling. They also designated Jan. 22 as a “Day of Pride in Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community.”

The Jan. 27 news conference marked the first such event held in Baku by LGBT activists, and took place without incident. A flash-mob event in downtown Baku area to memorialise Shakhmarly also did not experience any disturbances.

In planning their civil rights campaign, LGBT activists intend to capitalise on the fact that Azerbaijan will assume the chairmanship in May of the Council of Europe, one of the continent’s leading human-rights watchdog organisations.

“We will use this opportunity to demand further reforms in this area,” said Javid Nabiyev, a friend of Shakhmarly and the leader of Nefes (Breath), an LGBT non-profit organisation.

On Jan. 24, the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on LGBT rights, Robert Bedron, issued a statement of concern about Shakhmarly’s suicide.

The civil rights campaign in Azerbaijan is fraught with the potential for civil tension to spill over into confrontation, similar to that which occurred in neighbouring Georgia last May. Homosexuality has not been a criminal offence in Azerbaijan since 2000, and the constitution proclaims the “equality of all people.” But most Azerbaijanis are not accepting of public displays of same-sex relationships or identity. Gay clubs do not exist.

“We are not accepted by society — by parents, relatives, neighbours, classmates and so on,” Nabiyev declared at the news conference. “Some people avoid us, while others show open intolerance.”

Shakhmarly’s friends claim that the young man lived alone – an unusual status in this communal society – since his family did not accept his homosexuality. His suicide did not appear an impromptu decision; the day before his death, he reportedly paid off all of his debts.

A member of parliament who asked not to be named suggested that new legislation, as proposed by the LGBT activists, would do little in practice to gain LGBT Azerbaijanis a greater degree of mainstream social acceptance.  “The law cannot change people’s attitudes. Better educational work is needed,” the MP said.

Azerbaijan’s legislation already is in sync “with European [Council of Europe] standards for LGBT-rights’ protection,” asserted the MP, who works on social-welfare issues. “There is no need to approve a new law.”

Parliament will not discuss any bill on the topic, he predicted.

LGBT activists directed their public frustration more at society than at officials, but causes for concern about the government do exist. While several LGBT-rights groups exist in Azerbaijan, none have been registered officially as non-governmental organisations, including Shakhmarly’s Free LGBT group.

Although no official record of violence against sexual minorities exists, police do not always listen to complaints about prejudice or harassment, commented Free LGBT activist Gulnara Azimzade. She said going to the police was “often useless because the police attitude toward us is often humiliating.”

The government has not commented on Shakhmarly’s death or responded to the activists’ remarks contained in his suicide note.  Azerbaijani media reports about Shakhmarly’s suicide and subsequent events have tended to be either sympathetic or neutral. But the mood is different online, where many social-network and forum users, particularly those stressing their Islamic beliefs, have left aggressively homophobic denunciations of Shahkmarly and other members of the LGBT community.

Similar hostility was on display at Shakhmarly’s funeral in the strongly conservative Baku suburb of Bina. Some residents threw stones at Shakhmarly’s friends and their cars as a protest against burying a gay man in the local cemetery. The burial occurred only after a Bina mullah stated that a person’s past cannot prevent his interment.

For LGBT activist Nabiyev and others, thrown stones and name-calling won’t deter them from agitating for their rights. “Isa has died, but his fight for equality of all people in Azerbaijan will continue,” Nabiyev said.

Editor’s note: Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Dalit Women Face Multiplied Discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 07:35:23 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131103 Maya Sarki, a resident of Belbari in eastern Nepal, was returning home one summer evening last year when she was attacked. She was forced down on the ground and her attacker attempted to rape her. She screamed. Locals came to her rescue and the attempt was thwarted. Sarki recognised the voice of her attacker as that […]

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Protests over discrimination against Dalits in Nepal are delivering little. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Protests over discrimination against Dalits in Nepal are delivering little. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Feb 3 2014 (IPS)

Maya Sarki, a resident of Belbari in eastern Nepal, was returning home one summer evening last year when she was attacked. She was forced down on the ground and her attacker attempted to rape her.

She screamed. Locals came to her rescue and the attempt was thwarted. Sarki recognised the voice of her attacker as that of a neighbour and filed a police complaint.

The next day Sarki was met by a mob, led by her alleged attacker, at the village market. She was called derogatory names, her clothes were torn, and soot was smeared on her face. She was garlanded with shoes, beaten, and paraded around town. After the incident, Sarki fled the village.

In Dailekh in western Nepal, Sushila Nepali, 28, was raped by a local schoolteacher for years. She was forced to abort twice, but got pregnant again and gave birth to two children. Disowned by her family, Nepali has been living on the streets and begging for shelter and food.“Dalit women are at the bottom of the caste and gender hierarchy in Nepal."

Sarki and Nepali are from different parts of the Himalayan nation, but what is common between them is their caste group – both belong to the socially marginalised Dalit community. Sarki’s attacker and Nepali’s rapist were both high caste Hindus.

There are an estimated 22 Dalit communities in Nepal. Researchers and Dalit organisations say they make up 20 percent of the country’s 27 million population. Dalits are considered to be at the bottom of Nepal’s 100 caste and ethnic groups.

They bear a much bigger burden of poverty, with 42 percent Dalits under the poverty line as opposed to 23 percent non-Dalits.

After a long political impasse, Nepal went back to polls in November. After two long months of negotiations, new assembly members are now finally sitting down and writing a new constitution. But experts say even in the new assembly, the Dalit community is the most under-represented, with only seven percent, or 38, of the 575 Constituent Assembly members being Dalit.

Rajesh Chandra Marasini, programme manager at the Jagaran Media Centre, an alliance of Dalit journalists formed to fight caste-based discrimination, worries that Dalit related issues would, once again, not get priority in the new constitution.

“I am concerned that the new Dalit assembly members would take the party line and become a mere physical presence,” he told IPS. “I fear that Dalit advocacy would become an afterthought.”

Nepal’s Civil Code 1854 had legalised the caste system and declared the Dalit community as ‘untouchable’. In a Hindu hierarchical structure, such a label dictates where Dalits can live, where they can study and where they can socialise.

In 1963, caste-based discrimination was abolished in Nepal and the National Dalit Commission was formed. In 2011, the Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act was passed.

Yet, Dalits continue to be marginalised.

“Violence against the Dalit community is ignored or often goes unreported and unnoticed in Nepal,” said Padam Sundas, chair of Samata Foundation Nepal, a research and advocacy organisation that works for the rights of the marginalised community in Nepal.

Dalits are still barred from community activities such as worshipping in same temples as higher caste Nepalis. The higher castes don’t eat the food touched by members of the Dalit community or even use the same community tap that Dalits use for water. And women are the worst affected.

“Dalit women are at the bottom of the caste and gender hierarchy in Nepal,” said Bhakta Bishwokarma, president of the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation (NNDSWO), which works to eliminate caste-based discrimination in Nepal.

“Dalit women’s suffering is triple-fold – society discriminates against them because they are women, then they are discriminated against because they belong to the Dalit community, and within their own community they suffer all over again for being women,” Bishwokarma told IPS.

Women’s rights activists say Dalit women are the most vulnerable.

“If you study the cases of women who are accused of being ‘witches’, they are usually Dalit women. They are the ones to be trafficked easily, they are the ones who work in terrible conditions,” said Durga Sob of the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) that works closely with the government on Dalit gender issues.

Activists say when Dalit victims of violence want to file a police complaint, they are discouraged.

“They are told that getting the law enforcement authorities involved would disturb social harmony, and victims are encouraged to informally reconcile,” said Bishwokarma. “No one is held accountable for any discriminatory acts against Dalits.”

News of the attack on Sarki received wide media coverage, and the attack and was severely condemned. A few days after the story broke activists gathered in front of the offices of Nepal’s policymakers and organised a protest. It saw a handful of women’s rights activists and allies standing with banners, demanding that the government act.

“The activists stood there for a few days, handed a memorandum to the government and the issue died down,” said Bindu Thapa Pariyar of the Association for Dalit Women’s Advancement of Nepal (ADWAN).

Researchers say there are major reasons why Dalit issues don’t get noticed.

“We have all kinds of acts and laws in place, but they are never implemented and even when we have tried to implement them, victims don’t get justice,” said Sob of FEDO.

She recommends that the legislation be made simple and local law enforcement authorities be trained, so they understand the rights of Dalit people.

Some activists say the Dalit movement has lost its momentum.

“We cannot think of Dalit activism with a ‘donor supported project implementation’ approach,” said Pariyar of ADWAN. “When the project money runs out, we move on but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have achieved what we set out to do.”

In Sarki’s case, for instance, there were issues of her rehabilitation, psychological trauma counselling, the safety of her family and her safe return home.

“Rights activists need to think long-term, a protest only nudges policymakers, real work happens with the victims in the field,” said Pariyar.

She calls for a stronger leadership in Dalit advocacy.

“The Dalit lawmakers may be under pressure from their parties, but we need watchdogs outside the assembly so that we can keep pushing them to make the right decision,” said Pariyar.

“If we don’t push now, when a new constitution for the nation is being written, we will never do it,” she said.

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Political Duels Collapse Into Sexist Squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 02:55:30 +0000 Marwaan Macan-Markar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130864 Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.” The favourite target of the vitriol spewed […]

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Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)

Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.”

The favourite target of the vitriol spewed by the opposition-led agitation is Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first woman prime minister. The 46-year-old leader of the governing Pheu Thai Party has been called all sorts of abusive names by the opposition that has occupied five busy intersections here.“Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics."

It is such words that prompted reflection by Supaa, who is from Samut Sakhon, a province that borders the Thai capital. She was here to join tens of thousands of protestors on the streets and on Blue Sky, the television station that amplifies the views of the opposition Democrat Party.

“They are very emotional, the speeches,” she told IPS. “But it is not right to talk about sexual stuff.”

Many like her have been witness to how the original rallying cry – against government corruption, abuse of parliamentary majority and disrespect of the country’s revered monarch – has morphed into demagogy.

Those making the speeches are from Thailand’s educated class that is being tapped by Suthep Thaugsubana, former Democrat Party deputy chief and leader of the street agitators. The political veteran of over 30 years is eyeing them for his pool of “good people” to serve in his non-elected “People’s Councils” that, he believes, should govern the country for at least a year.

The open comments at the Bangkok rallies, and the rapturous applause they receive, have prompted some soul-searching in the Southeast Asian kingdom about the spectre of ugly sexism in the male-dominated political landscape.

It has taken a while, but Thailand’s mainstream women’s rights groups have finally broken their silence.

“When a network of women’s rights groups issued a statement denouncing a medical doctor for his ugly sexist attacks on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, I admit I felt quite relieved,” wrote Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist on social justice issues with the English language Bangkok Post. Going by her weekly commentaries, she is certainly no fan of the Yingluck administration.

“For a long time I’ve been wondering why women’s rights groups have remained silent about the slew of degrading, sexist tirades made against Ms. Yingluck by various detractors.”

Among the few groups that have raised the red flag are the Coalition of Democracy and Sexual Diversity Rights. It has berated the “use of sexist, misogynist and denigrating language” as a political weapon. “The continuation of this rhetoric of violence, discrimination and hate cannot be permitted,” it said in a statement.

Yingluck’s rise as the country’s first woman leader has served as a reality check for Thailand’s feminist and women’s rights advocates. The latter gave her a cold shoulder when she led the Phue Thai Party to a thumping win at the July 2011 general elections to become, at 44, the youngest prime minister in 60 years.

Her position, they argued, was not the result of her own doing but the machinations of her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the twice-elected former prime minister who was deposed in a military coup in September 2006. Statements by Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, did not help.

When he plucked Yingluck out of her career as a businesswoman and nominated her to head the Phue Thai weeks before the poll, he publicly declared that the younger Shinawatra was his “clone”.

The typical display of Thaksin’s arrogance was grabbed by the largely Bangkok-based women’s groups known for being closer to the Democrats, who have not won a parliamentary majority in 20 years.

“How can we be proud? The whole world knows it’s about Thaksin,” commented a leading figure at the Gender and Development Research Institute in a newspaper report, under the headline, “Thailand’s first female PM no victory for feminism”.

“It is worth noting that while many leading Thai feminists are lukewarm at best or dismissive at worst at Yingluck’s sudden rise to power, men seem more willing to withhold judgement at this early stage,” Kaewmala, a prolific Thai blogger who comments on social issues, wrote at the time. “As most observers are tentative of the kind of leadership Ms. Yingluck will offer, her current support comes more often from men.”

By August last year, when Yingluck marked her second anniversary as premier, she was receiving kudos for a non-confrontational and consultative style of leadership that had managed to usher a sense of normalcy on Bangkok’s streets. Comparisons were made between her elected administration and the two-and-a-half-year administration that preceded her – a coalition government led by the Democrats that came to power through a backroom deal hatched by the powerful military.

The Democrat administration was tainted by the bloody showdown on Bangkok’s streets in May 2010 during a clash between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military. It left 91 people dead, at least 80 of them civilians, and more than 2,000 injured.

Yingluck’s beleaguered administration has avoided a hawkish response, enabling the would-be revolutionaries rallying to topple her government to lay siege on many government buildings. Confrontations with the riot police, clashes between the agitators and pro-Thaksin sympathisers, sporadic shootings and grenades lobbed at rally sites have resulted in nine deaths, with over 550 injured since November.

But what is really different since the 2010 showdown on Bangkok’s streets is the “sexist war” – perhaps reflecting the growing frustration of the agitators and a new low in Thailand’s political turmoil that has steadily divided the country since the 2006 coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic at the Southeast Asian Centre at Kyoto University in Japan told IPS, “Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics. It has intensified since Yingluck become prime minister. I have never seen anything like this, on this scale.”

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, Unsigned but Still Effective http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:23:51 +0000 Faith Lokens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130496 Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has reportedly refused to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that would mean life in prison for people convicted of homosexual acts. But many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) people in the East African country, and NGOs trying to help them, say many have been suffering discrimination for years and […]

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Homosexuals in rural Uganda lack condoms and lubricants for safe sex. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Homosexuals in rural Uganda lack condoms and lubricants for safe sex. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Faith Lokens
KAMPALA, Jan 21 2014 (IPS)

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has reportedly refused to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that would mean life in prison for people convicted of homosexual acts.

But many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) people in the East African country, and NGOs trying to help them, say many have been suffering discrimination for years and it is getting worse.

“People think it [the bill] is already law,” Judith, who asked not to be identified for her safety, told IPS.  “Whether the bill is passed or not, we are suffering.”

Judith, 25, is an HIV positive former sex worker, a man trapped inside a woman’s body, who turned to sex work for financial survival after her parents suspected she was gay when she was 16 and threw her out of their village home.

For her, the rejection has already started. Judith claims she was discriminated against in early January at the clinic she regularly visits in Kampala.

Judith, who was diagnosed HIV positive in 2008 and has a dangerously low immune system and gonorrhoea, says the doctor told her that other patients were complaining because the clinic was treating a “gay”.

“‘Don’t come back,’ that’s what she told me. ‘Patients are complaining that we are working on homosexuals. It’s not allowed here in our culture. I’m a Christian,’” Judith recalled.

“I felt very bad and almost cried but I’m used to it [the slurs]. I was speechless, I left immediately,” she told IPS.

Judith says that most Ugandans do not understand the idea of being transgender.

“Here, people don’t know anything about trans [sexual] issues. They just know gay and lesbian,” she says.

The way Judith was treated is “not surprising”, Enrique Restoy, a senior advisor on human rights at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, told IPS.

“We have been receiving reports of HIV services being denied to men who have sex with men and transgender people in Uganda for years,” said Restoy.

He said that the passing of the draconian bill by parliament on Dec. 20 sent a “devastating signal to every citizen that it is okay to discriminate and stigmatise people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“The bill has been eroding the human rights of LGBTI people and driving them away from essential HIV services ever since it was tabled in parliament in 2009,” he added.

In his view, the legislation contravenes human rights conventions and political commitments on the HIV response signed by Uganda. In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all member states committed to passing laws to protect populations vulnerable to HIV.

However, in recent years, Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi have proposed or approved homophobic legislation.

In a statement, the alliance said the bill would have “a disastrous impact on the HIV response.” The U.N., European Union and United States also criticised it.

HIV prevention in jeopardy

Uganda’s bill called for life in prison for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”, which includes same-sex acts with children or by anyone who is HIV positive.

According to one report, the bill made it a crime to “promote” homosexuality, which could include offering HIV counselling to gays.

This could affect local groups, supported by the alliance and other donors, which provide HIV prevention and counselling advice to gay people.

Statistics on gay men and HIV are hard to find but, according to a survey funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, of 455 men who have sex with men in Kampala, they are at “substantially higher risk” of contracting HIV than the general adult male population.

A 2009 study by the School of Public Health at Makerere University on men who have sex with men in Kampala found that their HIV infection rates were almost twice as high, 13 percent, as the national average of seven percent.

Dr Sam Okuonzi, a medical doctor and member of parliament, calls homosexuality an “abnormality”, but says only those who “promote, encourage and glorify it” should be punished.

He is adamant that the bill would not prevent HIV positive homosexuals from using health services.

“Any prohibitive provision to that effect must have been removed or will be removed,” he told IPS. “This should enable all HIV/AIDS patients to access medical treatment without fear of prosecution.”

Okuonzi observed that the views of his constituents in Vura County in Arua District, in northern Uganda, are “more extreme” than his own.

During a recent trip to Soroti in Eastern Uganda, Judith found that LGBTI people in rural areas face even more of a battle when it comes to accessing health services and enduring discrimination.

“They don’t have condoms, they don’t have lubes [lubricants], they’re chased from their homes,” she said.

Despite feeling unwelcome, Judith believes the doctor in Kampala is not homophobic: “There is pressure from other people. She wants to keep her job. This bill has affected us a lot.”

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Rebuilding Lives Skilfully http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/rebuilding-lives-skilfully/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rebuilding-lives-skilfully http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/rebuilding-lives-skilfully/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 08:34:01 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129745 Farhat Bibi, 43, was left to fend for her three young sons after her husband was killed in a bomb attack in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) three years ago. A few days later, she landed at a camp for people displaced by violence. “The camp proved to be a blessing in disguise,” she […]

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Women who lost their menfok in terror attacks develop new skills to rebuild their lives. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Women who lost their menfok in terror attacks develop new skills to rebuild their lives. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Dec 27 2013 (IPS)

Farhat Bibi, 43, was left to fend for her three young sons after her husband was killed in a bomb attack in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) three years ago. A few days later, she landed at a camp for people displaced by violence. “The camp proved to be a blessing in disguise,” she says.

“It helped me learn skills and now I earn enough to buy clothes, food and fulfil the other needs of my children,” she recalls. She embroiders clothes and makes cushions, bags, wicker baskets, bracelets and other ornaments, earning around 150 dollars a month.

“I am also teaching these skills to other tribal women,” Farhat Bibi tells IPS.

The works of 100 displaced women like her were showcased at an exhibition here titled ‘Hunnarmande Guthey’ (skilful fingers). The colourful array of products on display belied the tragic past of the hands that made them.Most of the women displaced from Orakzai Agency due to military action have lost their men and desperately need help."

The show was organised by the NGO Centre of Excellence for Rural  Development (CERD) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It presented handicrafts made by women from Kurram Agency in FATA who now live at the New Durrani Camp, home to 29,607 displaced families.

Violence has played out in FATA, bordering Afghanistan, ever since Taliban militants moved there after the fall of their government in Kabul in 2001. As a frontline ally of the U.S. in the war on terror, Pakistan has carried out military operations there.

CERD coordinator Kashif Islam, citing UNHCR statistics, says about two million people have been displaced from FATA. “Women constitute 50 percent of the displaced population. They need vocational training to empower them,” Islam tells IPS.

Caught in the conflict, many FATA residents have fled to the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“We have been imparting training to 200 women every month in Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Most of the women displaced from Orakzai Agency due to military action have lost their men and desperately need help,” Islam says.

He says women widowed by the conflict in FATA are the main beneficiaries of their UNHCR-sponsored endeavour. “We hold exhibitions every month to seek markets for these handicrafts which depict the skill and creativity of displaced FATA women,” he tells IPS.

Visitors to these shows are left marvelling at the creativity and grit of these women. Most of them are illiterate. Many of them were worried and depressed when they arrived at the camps, but they have learnt to look ahead.

Jamila Bibi, a 33-year-old woman from North Waziristan Agency, is one of them. She was devastated when her father was killed by a stray bullet. But the camp gave her courage.

She learnt embroidery, sewing and other skills and now supports her two sisters, a brother and a widowed mother. Sitting at a stall displaying her wicker baskets and trays, Jamila Bibi says had she not come to the camp, she would have been begging on the streets.

“I supply handicrafts to a nearby market. It has brought respectability to our lives as we are no longer dependent on charity and handouts by NGOs,” says Jamila Bibi.

Saeeda Gul, a CERD trainer, says the displaced women are trained before being provided raw materials.

“They come to three community centres near the camps where they learn to make things with wicker,” says Gul. “The women are very happy with their newly acquired skills because it helps them earn a living in a decent way,” she says.

Most of the women start from scratch, picking up the skills at the community centres.

Shukria Khan, a trainer, says “We just help them make the products in a more professional way and give them three months of training, besides raw materials.” The women are required to be at the community centre for four hours every day.

Khan says the women show a keen interest in fine-tuning their skills and making good quality handicrafts.

And the efforts don’t go unrewarded.

Aziz-ur-Rehman, a local businessman, says he displays the handicrafts at his showroom. “The items reflect the creativity and skills of tribal women and mostly manage to find buyers,” he tells IPS.

It is heartening to see that these women haven’t given up despite the harsh reality of their lives, he says. “The training has brought dignity to their lives. They are more empowered now.”

Buyers lap up these handicrafts because they are high on aesthetics and are inexpensive, he says. “Some items like handmade clothes also sell out fast.”

Kashmala Shah, a tribal woman from Kurram Agency who benefited from the programme, has now opened her own centre where she is training 30 women.

Shah says the displaced women now hope for a better future for themselves and their families. She tells IPS, “I lost my father and brother in the conflict but that doesn’t mean I should sit idle and wait for charity. It is a big opportunity and we are seizing it.”

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Women Advance in Distant Islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-advance-distant-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 07:34:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129676 Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands […]

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By Catherine Wilson
BUALA, Solomon Islands, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands is demonstrating that women leaders can drive development progress and win voter support.

Sikilabu did not have the same campaign funds as male candidates when she stood in the 2006 provincial election. But her unwavering commitment for more than a decade to bringing tangible improvements to rural lives that were blighted by hardship and lack of development paved the way for her landslide victory against six male candidates.

“To me, politics is helping a family to a better life, helping the family who are hungry, the elderly, the disabled, assisting communities to build toilets, providing access to solar energy,” Sikilabu told IPS in the Solomon Islands. “It is about really touching people’s lives.”

In a nation of more than 900 islands covered in dense tropical rainforest with few roads and widely scattered villages, the challenges of campaigning were enormous. Touring communities involved sleeping in the bush, swimming across flooded rivers and travelling by canoe in stormy weather.

It was the first time that remote communities in Isabel Province, which has a population of about 30,000, witnessed women bidding for election. Although society in Isabel is matrilineal, Sikilabu explained that habitually “boys are sent to school and that’s the beginning of this idea that women are not important in decision-making committees or meetings.”

While equality is enshrined in the constitution, broad acceptance of women in political power is yet to become a reality.

The World Bank reports there has been little progress in increasing women’s political representation in the Pacific region over the past decade. In the Solomon Islands only two women have been elected to the national parliament since Independence in 1978, Hilda Kari in the 1980s and recently Vika Lusibaea. In the 2010 national election, women contested 21 of 50 seats, but only received 4 percent of the vote.

On entering the provincial assembly with one other woman, Beverley Dick, Sikilabu perceived a public “desperate for change” and knew it was vital to achieve real outcomes during her first term in office.

“I said to the people, when I’m elected I will improve the things you are facing as problems in the communities,” Sikilabu said.

Water, energy, sanitation and health are some of the basic service needs in the province. Sikilabu strove first to provide electricity to the estimated 1,500 people in 16 remote communities in her ward or electorate.

“After my first four years, I had supplied solar energy systems to every family in every household in every village,” she said. “The children have light, so they can sit in the evening and do their homework. Now their pass marks are getting higher.”

Building and repairing rural health clinics that will serve more than 4,000 people is another achievement.

“Women have babies in their canoe, on the beach and children die from malaria,” Sikilabu said. “In the past we have had men leaders who haven’t done anything to address this problem.”

From the capital, Honiara, she coordinated the shipping of building materials, plumbing equipment, toilets, solar panels and water tanks to the Isabel islands to expedite work on the new clinic in Sigana ward and one under repair in Japuana ward.

“When the new clinic is open, most women will be within walking distance,” Sikilabu said. “Currently they have to paddle their canoes for up to three hours.”

Helen and Patlyn from Gurena village on the main Santa Isabel Island claimed that the efforts of local women leaders had also improved sanitation, housing and agricultural livelihoods through access to farm tools and more productive crops.

Today Isabel is home to two of the total six women in provincial governments in the country.

Through their leadership, “more social problems have been addressed and our voice is being heard on important issues, such as mining and logging,” Judy Tabiru, president of the Isabel Provincial Council of Women in Buala added.

Sikilabu has announced her candidature for the 2014 national election, and her achievements have attracted the attention of four political parties that are keen to have her join them.

However she is adamant that more elected women are needed to influence government policies and social change in a nation ranked 143 out of 187 for human development. For this to happen, addressing persistent gender inequality, in a country where female literacy is an estimated 14 percent, and increasing women’s economic and leadership capacity is critical.

“If we choose women who are educated, automatically they will have the confidence if they are elected to parliament,” Tabiru emphasised. “But for women in the provinces, they have to be trained in public speaking; they have to get more confidence.”

Isabel’s Ministry of Community Affairs conducts village training to develop female participation in decision-making and encourage their public advocacy on important community issues.

National Councils of Women, intergovernmental organisations and international donors also support women’s political aspirations in the region. In August Sikilabu spent time with the deputy speaker of the Victorian State Parliament, Christine Fyffe, as part of a regional mentoring exchange programme organised by the Australian Government’s Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project.

Temporary special measures, in the form of 10 reserved parliamentary seats for women, were proposed in 2008 in the Solomon Islands, but did not gain cabinet approval. Yet Sikilabu believes they are required.

“There are men and women who do not support temporary special measures. They feel it is giving special treatment to women, but in Malaita Province the women’s situation is different to mine in Isabel, so we are not all the same,” she said.

She emphasised it was also a responsibility of currently elected women to ensure that others followed in the future.

“We have to impact more women coming into government by being passionate, coming out in public and talking more and being seen to be addressing issues.”

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