Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Tue, 29 Jul 2014 05:04:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:07:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135791 The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

New legislation recently passed in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) outlawing polygamy has been welcomed by experts in the country as an initial step forward in the battle against high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality and the spread of AIDS.

“If polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence,” Dora Kegemo and Dixie Hoffman of the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IPS. “So banning polygamy under this new law will help to empower women.”

The Civil Registration Amendment Bill makes it compulsory to register all marriages, including customary ones. Marriages involving more than one spouse, however, will not be recognised. The government believes this move will also help to increase the registration of births in a country where an estimated 90 percent of the population do not have birth certificates.

Formal identification of children is urgently needed to begin improving a range of human rights and child protection issues in PNG, such as child labour and trafficking. It is estimated that children make up about 19 percent of the labour force here. Two years ago, a study in the capital, Port Moresby, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that 43 percent of children surveyed were engaged in commercial sexual exploitation.

Until the law was passed, customary marriages, including polygamous ones, which are common in rural areas, were not officially recorded. Polygamy is particularly prevalent in the mountainous highlands region where men have traditionally taken up to five or six wives in order to increase agricultural productivity and better manage the domestic responsibilities of large extended families. Studies over the past decade suggest that an estimated 25 percent of unions in the highlands are polygamous.

But Jack Urame, director of the Melanesian Institute in the Eastern Highlands, who personally supports the government’s move to ban polygamy, says that its practice today has changed under the influence of the cash economy and western notions of commodity wealth.

In the past, “only the big men or the leaders and those who had the economic strength to take care of the women would have many wives,” he explained. But now the practice is prone to greater abuse when men use cash to acquire multiple wives as a means of displaying monetary wealth.

These marriages do not last, Urame said, and when they break down children are affected. “Many children who come from such broken marriages are disadvantaged and this contributes to the many social problems [we face].”

Domestic and gender violence affects up to 75 percent of women and children in this island state and is associated with adultery, financial problems, alcohol abuse and polygamy. Many cases involve the abuse and neglect of wives, as well as children, when a husband enters into further relationships.

Following a visit to the country in 2012, Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, reported that “the practice of polygamy also creates tension between women within the same family and has led to cases of violence, sometimes resulting in murder of the husband or additional wife or girlfriend.”

Urame believes that banning polygamy will help to combat family violence and gender inequality, while Kegemo says wider laws preventing violence against women are needed as well.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of polygamy on the spread of HIV/AIDS. While no specific study has been conducted on connections between polygamy and the disease, Peter Bire, director of the National AIDS Council, highlighted that high-risk behaviours could not be ignored.

“What we know is that multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, in a context of low and inconsistent condom use, are important contributing factors,” he told IPS.

Another factor is that “sex outside of polygamous marriages is common and, because of the gender inequality problem in PNG, it is usually the husbands who can be blamed for being unfaithful,” he stated, adding that promiscuity puts wives at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The national HIV prevalence in people aged 15-49 years is estimated at 0.8 percent of the population, rising to 0.91 percent in the highlands region. HIV-positive cases in the country increased from 3,446 to 31,609 in the decade to 2010 with men comprising 37 percent and women 61 percent.

Bire said that, while the country’s HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, more comprehensive human rights laws, especially ones to better protect women, are needed to help fight the disease.

But “as with many laws and policies in PNG, implementation remains a challenge,” he continued.

In rural areas, where more than 80 percent of the population live, geographical barriers, such as dense rainforest and rugged mountains, as well as wider corruption, are factors in the limited development of the country’s infrastructure and outreach of government services, including law enforcement.

Despite these hurdles, many are hopeful that small steps like the recent polygamy law will eventually bring a better deal for women.

(END)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global ‘tipping point’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Jul 13 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135459 A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Michelle Brané
SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border.

The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been closely monitoring this population since 2011. Through our research, we concluded over two years ago that without major changes in U.S. aid or foreign policy to the Central America region, the United States would continue to receive more vulnerable migrants due to the humanitarian crisis developing in the region.

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

Organised crime, forced gang recruitment, violence against women, and weak economic and social systems are all contributing to the pervasive insecurity in these countries.

The flow of refugees fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has not only continued, but has increased dramatically and rapidly as violence in the region has escalated.

And refugees are not only coming to the United States. The United Nations has found that asylum requests in the the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have skyrocketed by 712 percent since 2009.

While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.

Particularly concerning about the recent surge is that the children making the perilous migration journey are now younger than in years past. It has become common for children as young as four to 10 years old to be picked up and arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Additionally, a higher percentage of the children are girls, many of whom arrive pregnant as a result of sexual violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted research with this population and found that 58 percent of the children interviewed raised international protection concerns.

Children also come to the United States with their parents. Since 2012, the number of families arriving at the southern border of the United States has increased significantly. The vast majority of these families are made up of women with very young children and are fleeing the same violence and insecurity driving the refugee children.

Our country has a long and dedicated commitment to human rights, due process and the assurance that individuals who arrive at our borders seeking safety are not turned away without addressing their claims.

Under international and domestic law, we have an obligation to properly screen and provide protection for unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims and asylum seekers who arrive at our borders.

In recent months, however, the government has been unprepared and overwhelmed by the numbers of children and families in need. Rather than addressing the issue in a manner that is in line with our American ideals and recognising it as a regional refugee situation, the Obama administration is looking for a quick fix and compromising our values and the lives of women and children in the process by responding as though it were an immigration issue.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent announcement that it will drastically expand detention of families and will expedite the processing of asylum cases.

Harsh detention and deportation policies endanger the well-being of children and families, present a risk that individuals with legitimate claims to asylum and other forms of protection will be summarily returned to countries where their lives are seriously threatened, and do not work as a deterrent against future migration.

Additionally, the administration has proposed to roll back laws that are in place to protect children, in order to quickly and with no due process, deport kids back to the dangers they escaped.

This humanitarian refugee crisis is a complex human tragedy and needs both short-term and long-term attention. It requires a holistic approach that prioritises additional resources for addressing the root causes of this crisis, strengthening protection in the region, and reinforcing our protection and adjudication of claims, not blocking access to protection and sending women and children back to the dangerous situations they are fleeing without adequate due process.

The United States must not compromise its long-standing commitment to humanitarian principles in the hope of finding a quick solution.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Programme at the Women’s Refugee Commission. This article was originally published by New America Media – a network of ethnic news organisations in the U.S., and is reproduced here by arrangement with them.

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A Third Term for DR Congo President Expected to Wreak Social Havoc http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/poverty-and-gender-violence-will-escalate-if-dr-congo-constitutional-revision-allows-president-to-serve-third-term/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-gender-violence-will-escalate-if-dr-congo-constitutional-revision-allows-president-to-serve-third-term http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/poverty-and-gender-violence-will-escalate-if-dr-congo-constitutional-revision-allows-president-to-serve-third-term/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 08:12:38 +0000 Badylon Kawanda Bakiman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135328 Rose Fungulana, a 53-year-old farmer, fears that if DRC President Joseph Kabila is allowed to serve a third term of office, there will be a rebellion that will increase the risk of sexual assault against women. Courtesy: Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

Rose Fungulana, a 53-year-old farmer, fears that if DRC President Joseph Kabila is allowed to serve a third term of office, there will be a rebellion that will increase the risk of sexual assault against women. Courtesy: Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

By Badylon Kawanda Bakiman
KIKWIT, DR Congo, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Proposals to review the Democratic Republic of Congo’s constitution to permit President Joseph Kabila to seek a third term of office, if accepted, will only plunge the Congolese further into poverty and insecurity, experts warn.

“More than 60 percent of Congolese live on less than one dollar a day. Our compatriots are struggling to access our natural resources. DRC risks [looting] of stores as it was in 1991 in Mobutu [Sese Seko’s reign],” Raymond Kitako, a civil society leader in DRC, told IPS. Mobutu ruled the country for 31 years in a reign that was synonymous with corruption. In 1991 people looted stores and shops as the economy plunged.

Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by current President Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001. Joseph Kabila replaced his father as head of state and was later elected president in 2006 and 2011.

“If this decision is applied, it places the country at risk for a serious political crisis,” Kitako added.

Article 70 of the constitution specifies that the presidential mandate of five years is only renewable once. And article 220 of the constitution specifically states there should be no review of the constitution when it comes to the presidential mandate. However, the ruling coalition Presidential Majority was said to be discussing the possibility of reviewing the limits placed on the term of office.

“If the presidential [term] is reviewed, the DRC will register a step backwards of 60 years. We don’t like it,” said Vital Kamerhe, Joseph Kabila’s main political opponent and chairman of the opposition Union for Congolese Nation, during a meeting with journalists.

Raymond Kitako, a civil society leader in DRC, said if DRC President Joseph Kabila is allowed to serve a third term of office, it would result in a serious political crisis. Courtesy: Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

Raymond Kitako, a civil society leader in DRC, said if DRC President Joseph Kabila is allowed to serve a third term of office, it would result in a serious political crisis. Courtesy: Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

For Kamerhe, “Burundi’s example where members of parliament refused to review the constitution [after being asked to do so] by President Pierre Nkurunziza must be a lesson to the presidential majority in DRC.”

Ernest Malonda, a member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress, told IPS that if the president was allowed to seek a third term of office, “DRC will lose its national unity. Congolese will not circulate freely. Bandits called ‘Kuluna’ will become very numerous and the people will suffer.”

“Where have you seen a country at war receive economic investors?” asked Germaine Tangolo, an economist.

Many here remember the rebellion of 1997 where more than six million Congolese died when Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu. And they don’t want to relive it.

“The war will start and as a consequence so will sexual violence and gender-based violence as people look for natural resources,” feared Rose Fungulana, a 53-year-old farmer.

She said that in the 1997 war, her 23-year-old sister was raped by Mobutu’s soldiers in eastern DRC.

A 2013 report published by Ministry of Gender, however, shows sexual violence remains very high in the country, as “29,354 cases of sexual violence and gender-based violence were registered in seven provinces of DRC from 2011 to 2013.”

Fungulana worries that women will be even more at risk should there be a rebellion against the president serving a third term of office.

Jean Claude Katenda, president of the African Association for Human Rights in DRC, told IPS that the “people will contest the results and people will die [protesting against it]. It’s dangerous for the democracy. Corruption will circulate.”

However, Luzanga  Shamandevu, spokesman of presidential majority, denied this would happen and said that they would accept the outcome if the constitution was reviewed.

However, some are willing to take their chances with a changed constitution.

“I don’t understand why political opposition and Presidential Majority are divided! Let us see what the country will become if the Congolese constitution is reviewed,” Simon Kapalay, a teacher at Kikwit, in the southwest of DRC, told IPS.

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OP-ED: Surging Violence Against Women in Iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:12:09 +0000 Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfeld http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135216 Iraq’s latest surge in sectarian violence threatens to unleash a wave of new violence against women. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge

Iraq’s latest surge in sectarian violence threatens to unleash a wave of new violence against women. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge

By Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfeld
SAN FRANCISCO, Jun 27 2014 (IPS)

Shortly after their conquest of Mosul, young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Iraq’s second-largest city, taking “women who are not owned” for jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad.

From Jun. 9-12, women’s rights activists documented 13 cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DAIISH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the 13 women, four of them committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.“The political process that the U.S. government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.” -- Yanar Mohammad

The dispatches from Mosul are just one account of the extreme violence that has plagued Iraq since Sunni ISIS militants seized control over large portions of the country. Being awoman in Iraq was difficult before the current conflict. But the current wave of militarisation threatens to make life even worse.

“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammad, co-founder and president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and [ISIS'] way of dealing with things is to kill.”

Now military leaders are handing guns to young, untrained, undereducated, and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.

“When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street, or take the bus, we experience harassment,” added the Global Fund ally, who remains anonymous due to security concerns. “But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions.’”

Sectarian violence slows women’s progress

With a death toll of 1,000 and rising since the beginning of June, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organisations to scale back their programmes.

The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article 79 of the Jaafari Personal Status Law— a law which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and 15 for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now it takes everything the organisation has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.

“We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardised, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar Mohammad. “We went from legal work and improving rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety.”

The tangled web the U.S. wove

Such extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, reflects Yanar Mohammad, who is “sick and tired” of Western pundits on TV saying there is no hope for Iraq.

“The mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing Iraqi people,” said Yanar Mohammad. “The political process that the U.S. government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.”

The damage comes in the form of, among other things, a generation that didn’t have access to education.

“This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say,” said Yanar Mohammad. “They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their Imam. … Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide and it’s frightening.”

Refugees flee to Kurdish region

As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, over 300,000 people have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where the United Nations and relief organisations have set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.

“It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” says a Global Fund ally in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelter, food, and clothes.”

While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan include Shia, Sunni, and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians has been strongest due to the infamous brutality of ISIS.

“Christian women in the areas controlled by ISIS are forced to wear hijab or face death,” said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. “They must pay a protection tax, or jizyah to ISIS to stay safe.”

If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it over and over again since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and during the first and second Gulf War.

“We know what has happened to women in Iraq — a lot of murders and violations — and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent,” said the Global Fund ally in Erbil. “There is nothing they haven’t done to us, which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation.”

Zahra Radwan is the programme officer for Middle East & North Africa at Global Fund for Women and Zoe Blumenfeld is the communications manager at Global Fund for Women. They are both guest columnists at Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

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Mexico Rape Victims Face Prison Time for Self-Defence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/mexico-rape-victims-face-prison-time-for-self-defence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-rape-victims-face-prison-time-for-self-defence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/mexico-rape-victims-face-prison-time-for-self-defence/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 01:51:52 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135222 Yakiri Rubí Rubio, a young Mexican woman, was jailed for three months and is at risk of being sent back to prison for killing her rapist in self-defence. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Yakiri Rubí Rubio, a young Mexican woman, was jailed for three months and is at risk of being sent back to prison for killing her rapist in self-defence. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Jun 27 2014 (IPS)

“I just want all this to be over,” Yakiri Rubí Rubio, a young Mexican woman facing trial for killing the man who raped her in December 2013, laments to IPS.

The 21-year-old Rubio lives in the bustling neighbourhood of Tepito, one of the most dangerous areas of Mexico City.

On the evening of Dec. 9 she set out to meet her girlfriend when she was approached by two men in the street. They abducted her at knifepoint and took her on their motorcycle to a hotel, according to Rubio’s statements throughout the investigation.

She testified that both men beat her, then one of them, a 90-kilogram 37-year-old called Miguel Ángel Anaya, raped her while his brother, Luis Omar Anaya, went out for a smoke. Rubio fought her attacker and wounded him in the abdomen and neck with his own knife. Miguel Ángel fled the hotel on his motorbike, bleeding.

“Thousands of women have been raped and then killed, and their killers walk free. But a rape victim who defends her own life ends up in prison, while one of her attackers is at liberty." -- journalist and activist Lydia Cacho
Rubio also ran out of the hotel and asked some police officers for help. Bleeding and half naked, she got to a branch of the Public Prosecutor’s Office three blocks away.

While her various wounds were being treated, including a 14-centimetre gash on her arm, Luis Omar Anaya arrived and accused her of murdering his brother in a lovers’ quarrel, a specious argument according to her defence lawyers, since Rubio is a lesbian.

Rubio was charged with homicide, an offence punishable by 20 to 60 years in prison, and sent to a facility for women who have already been convicted and sentenced.

Three months later a judge reclassified her offence as “legitimate self-defence with excessive violence”, and set bail at 10,000 dollars. Her family paid this sum, with great difficulty; she was freed pending trial and had to appear weekly in court.

Now she lives shut up in her home, because of the constant threats she and her family receive. She only goes out in the company of her parents.

“She went from one kind of prison to another,” said Marina Beltrán, who raised Rubio since she was six months old, and was present at the interview with IPS.

Luis Omar Anaya denied taking part in the abduction and said he was at his home, a short distance from the hotel, when his brother arrived, at death’s door.

On Monday Jun. 23 Anaya petitioned a federal judge to revoke Rubio’s conditional release. The appeal must be decided within 90 days. IPS tried to interview Anaya’s lawyer, without success.

The entire legal process has thrown a protective cloak around the Anaya brothers, including subsequent fabrication of evidence against Rubio.

In the view of organisations working for the defence of women’s rights in Mexico, Rubio has become a symbol in the fight against machismo in the justice system, where the norm is to disparage the complaints of women who have been raped.

“Thousands of women have been raped and then killed, and their killers walk free. But a rape victim who defends her own life ends up in prison, while one of her attackers is at liberty,” wrote journalist and activist Lydia Cacho.

This case, at least, has shown all the defects of the justice system where rape is concerned.

The Land of Femicide

In Mexico, a country of 118 million people, an average of 6.4 women are murdered every day. Half of these are femicides, that is, gender-related murders motivated by sexism or misogyny.

The term femicide emerged from the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, in 1993.

In Chihuahua the murder rate for women is 15 times higher than the world average.

But the problem has grown. Between 2006 and 2012 alone, femicides in Mexico increased by 40 percent, according to the report “From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.”
Every year 15,000 rapes are reported in Mexico, but only 2,000 come to trial and less than 500 result in a conviction, according to the 1985-2010 report on Violence and Femicide in Mexico by parliament and government agencies and U.N. Women.

The real situation is much worse because only 12 to 15 percent of women and girls who are raped report it, according to information presented by Amnesty International in July 2012 to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Amnesty International is not aware of the existence of any proof that the number of rapes is falling or that trials and convictions with sentencing are rising, the organisation said.

In Rubio’s case, officials at the Public Prosecutor’s Office took nine days to open an investigation into the rape and refer the case to the special prosecution service for crimes of violence against women.

She was not examined by a gynaecologist, nor was she given psychological care or contraceptive pills, as the law in the federal district of Mexico City requires.

Mexican Official Standard 046, in force since 2005, states that in the case of rape, institutions providing medical care “must offer emergency contraception immediately and up to 120 hours after the event” and are obliged to “provide medical abortion services.”

Failure to do so is another form of machismo, defence lawyer Ana Katiria Suárez, who is acting pro bono for Rubio, told IPS. She said the category of “excessive force” in legitimate self-defence is mostly used against women rape victims.

The main precedent for this case occurred in February 1996 in the state of Mexico, largely occupied by Greater Mexico City. On leaving a party, a young woman shot and killed her friend’s boyfriend who attempted to rape her.

A judge ruled then that, since his blood alcohol level was extremely high and hers was not, the aggressor was not responsible for his actions while she was in control of hers.

“Excess violence in legitimate self-defence is absurd!” Rubio’s mother complained. “How can you defend yourself a little bit?”

The nuance is decisive. Had the judge not ruled excessive violence when the offence was reclassified, Rubio would have been exonerated; but if she is found guilty of excessive violence, she will have to pay her rapist’s family more than 28,000 dollars for “damages.”

In contrast, Rubio’s rape complaint is at a standstill because the federal district prosecution service considers that the aggressor has paid in full. The prosecutors have not considered reparations for the harm done, or regarded the participation of the second attacker.

Six months after the rape, Rubio and her family are battling on two fronts: in the legal sphere, for her to be acquitted of murder and for reparations to be made, and on the personal level, to live without fear and get their lives back.

During this time her parents have given up their jobs and her brothers and sisters have left school. The family is receiving psychological support, and Rubio has had to learn how to deal with the press.

“At first it was dreadful, I would start crying because every time I had to talk about what happened I would relive it over again. Now I don’t cry any more. I just want it all to be over,” she said.

She also wants to go back to studying. “I used to prefer working. But now I would like to study law to help other women who are going through the same thing I did, but don’t have a lawyer like mine,” she said, finally summoning up a faint smile.

(END)

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India’s ‘Temple Slaves’ Struggle to Break Free http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/indias-temple-slaves-struggle-to-break-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-temple-slaves-struggle-to-break-free http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/indias-temple-slaves-struggle-to-break-free/#comments Sun, 22 Jun 2014 14:42:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135118 Joginis dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Joginis dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NIZAMABAD, India, Jun 22 2014 (IPS)

At 32, Nalluri Poshani looks like an old woman. Squatting on the floor amidst piles of tobacco and tree leaves that she expertly transforms into ‘beedis’, a local cigarette, she tells IPS, “I feel dizzy. The tobacco gives me headaches and nausea.”

At the rate of two dollars for 1,000 cigarettes, she earns about 36 dollars a month. “I wish I could do some other job,” the young woman says longingly.

But no other jobs are open to her in the village of Vellpoor, located in the Nizamabad region of the southern Indian state of Telangana, because Poshani is no ordinary woman.

She is a former jogini, which translates loosely as a ‘temple slave’, one of thousands of young Dalit girls who are dedicated at a very young age to the village deity named Yellamma, based on the belief that their presence in the local temple will ward off evil spirits and usher in prosperity for all.

Poshani says she was just five years old when she went through the dedication ritual.

First she was bathed, dressed like a bride, and taken to the temple where a priest tied a ‘thali’ (a sacred thread symbolising marriage) around her neck. She was then brought outside where crowds of villagers were gathered, held up to their scrutiny and proclaimed the new jogini.

“Women here now see the jogini system as a violation of Dalit people’s human rights." -- Kolamaddi Parijatam, a rights activist in Vellpoor.
For several years she simply lived and worked in the temple, but when she reached puberty men from the village – usually from higher castes who otherwise consider her ‘untouchable’ – would visit her in the night and have sex with her.

Poshani says she was never a sex worker in the typical sense of the word, because she was never properly paid for her ‘services’. Rather, she was bound, by the dedication ritual and the villagers’ firm belief in her supernatural powers, to the temple.

The only time of year she was considered anything more than a common prostitute was during religious festivals, when she performed ‘trance’ dances as a divine medium through which the goddess Yellamma spoke.

But the majority of her nearly three decades of servitude was marked by violence, and disrespect.

Although a strong anti-jogini campaign in Vellpoor is making strides towards outlawing the centuries old practice, women like Poshani have little to celebrate. Though she relishes being free from sexual bondage, she struggles to survive on her own with no home, no land and a debt-burden of 200,000 rupees (about 3,300 dollars), which she borrowed from a local moneylender.

Visibly undernourished, Poshani represents the condition that most mid-life joginis find themselves in: sexually exploited, trapped in poverty, sick and lonely.

A cultural tradition or a caste-based system of exploitation?

According to official records, there are an estimated 30,000 joginis – also known as devdasis or matammas – in Telangana today. An additional 20,000 live in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh.

In both states, over 90 percent of the joginis are from Dalit communities.

Temple prostitution has been legally banned in the state of Andhra Pradesh since 1988. Under the law, known as the Jogini Abolition Act, initiating a woman into the system is punishable with two to three years, and with a fine of up to 3,000 rupees (33 dollars).

But this is too soft a law for so heinous a crime, says Grace Nirmala, a woman’s rights activist based in the state capital Hyderabad. Nirmala, who heads an organisation called Ashray (meaning ‘shelter’), has been working for over two decades to rescue and rehabilitate jogini women.

“[Joginis] live away from their families and have no rights […],” Nirmala tells IPS. “Her life is completely ruined. For that, the punishment is a couple of years of jail time or a few thousand rupees in fines. How can this be justified?”

She added that most policemen in the state are not even aware of the law, which makes it hard to abolish the practice completely.

Superstition also plays a major role in keeping the tradition alive, with many villagers believing that joginis possess divine powers.

“Sleeping with a jogini […] is a way to invoke that supernatural power and please the goddess,” Nirmala explained. “In many families, if there is a nagging problem, the wife will ask her husband to go and sleep with the village jogini so that it will go away.”

Others, however, believe that India’s deeply entrenched caste-system is responsible for perpetuating this systematic abuse of so many thousands of women.

According to Jyoti Neelaiah, a Hyderabad-based Dalit rights leader, “The jogini system is not just a violation of women’s rights but a also of human rights, because it’s always a Dalit woman who is made a jogini and those whom she serves are always from a dominant caste.”

She tells IPS the whole system is, in fact, a “power play” by which dominant social groups oppress the weaker, more marginalised members of society.

In Telangana, for instance, some of the biggest supporters of the jogini system are members of the wealthy, land-owning Reddy caste, as well as Brahmin priests.

Kolamaddi Parijatam, a social activist who has been mobilising rural women against the jogini system for the past six years, including those in the village of Vellpoor, which is home to 30 joginis, shares Neelaiah’s analysis.

She refutes the theory put forward by various organisations and even scholars that the practice of dedicating women to the local temple has deep cultural roots and should therefore be preserved.

Given that Dalits comprise nearly 17 percent of the population of the newly created state of Telangana, activists say that villages like Vellpoor are well placed to lead the movement for legal reform.

“Women here now see the jogini system as a violation of Dalit people’s human rights,” Parijatam tells IPS. “So whenever anyone says that the jogini system is a cultural tradition, they ask: ‘Then why not make a non-Dalit woman a jogini?’”

Local efforts gain steam

Enraged at the government’s inability to clamp down on the practice, local women have doubled up as vigilantes in a bid to rescue women from the dedication ceremony.

“Dedications of joginis typically occur between the months of February and May when people in our region celebrate the festival of the goddess Yellamma,” Subbiriyala Sharada, head of an all-jogini women’s group in Vellpoor, tells IPS.

“Our group strictly monitors the celebrations and if we get to know a girl has been dedicated to the goddess, we immediately call the police.”

Having been apathetic to the plight of joginis for decades, police are gradually beginning to act in accordance with the law, largely due to pressure from local activist groups. However, their progress is very slow, and activists carry the lion’s share of the burden of reporting violations of the law and ensuring the arrest of perpetrators.

But this, too, only solves part of the problem, because as soon as the dedication ritual is performed, the girl will continue to live with the stigma – remaining vulnerable to sexual slavery – until she is either properly rehabilitated, or until the end of her life.

Activists are currently lobbying the Indian government to divert resources from its ‘Special Component Plan’ – which provides social and economic support to marginalised communities in the form of vocational training, financial loans and alternative livelihood opportunities – to the rehabilitation of joginis, who have long been excluded from government assistance schemes.

Their inclusion as legitimate recipients of aid would significantly reduce the burden on most jogini women, who struggle – among other things – to raise their children in a safe environment.

According to Neelaiah, children of joginis risk verbal abuse and alienation in the community if their mother’s identity is revealed. Girl children are particularly vulnerable, as they face the double risk of being trafficked or forcible dedicated to the deity in their mother’s place.

These girl children are in special need of protection, she says.

Both Neelaiah and Nirmala are helping to send children of joginis to school, which they feel is the best way to protect them.

Fifteen-year-old Prashant, son of a former jogini named Ganga Mani, is one of the lucky ones who managed to complete the 10th grade and is now planning to enroll in a high school.

Mani, who is barely literate, is pinning all her hopes on her son for a better future. “One day he will become a big police officer. Our life will then change,” she tells IPS with a smile.

(END)

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Deserve More Than Just Talk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/survivors-of-sexual-violence-deserve-more-than-just-talk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sexual-violence-deserve-more-than-just-talk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/survivors-of-sexual-violence-deserve-more-than-just-talk/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 22:12:05 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134994 By Roger Hamilton-Martin
LONDON, Jun 13 2014 (IPS)

“States must make concrete commitments to enable and protect women human rights defenders, so that they can safely and securely carry out their work in support of victims of sexual and gender-based violence,” Amnesty International told the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict that wound up Friday in London.  “The commitments made during the summit need to be implemented quickly and with adequate resources. The survivors deserve more than empty talk,” said Stephanie Barbour, head of Amnesty International’s Centre for International Justice.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, hosts of the three-day summit, were joined by several hundred experts, NGOs and government ministers in London, while events were held in several locations around the world to raise awareness.

The summit featured a wide range of artistic creations, film screenings, musical acts and theatrical performances surrounding the experiences of women and men, girls and boys who suffer sexual violence in war.

One of the initiatives launched in London was a network for connecting survivors’ voices to global leaders, bridging the gap between activists on the ground and policymakers at a high level.“UN Women stands ready to support the international community in delivering on the promise of reparations as a means for substantive change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls affected by conflict and to reflect the needs of victims for both courtroom justice as well as comprehensive redress” – UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Malmbo-Ngcuka

The network, known as Survivors United for Action, is the first-ever global network of sexual violence survivors focused on rape and gender violence in conflict. It is supported and funded by The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.

The question of how to support survivors was an important focus of the Summit, especially how to alter the culture of stigma that often surrounds them. UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres spoke of “a culture gap, an impunity gap, and a support for survivors gap.”

Among others, he expressed the need for a less male-dominated culture in international organisations, governments, judicial systems and armed forces.

For its part, the United Nations released guidelines on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, advocating a gender-sensitive focus for reparations after conflict.

“Reparations are routinely left out of peace negotiations or sidelined in funding priorities, even though they are of the utmost importance to survivors,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Malmbo-Ngcuka.

“Stronger action is the need of the hour, and sexual violence in conflict is a front line concern for us,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “UN Women stands ready to support the international community in delivering on the promise of reparations as a means for substantive change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls affected by conflict and to reflect the needs of victims for both courtroom justice as well as comprehensive redress.”

“We need to move this agenda forward in order to ensure real change in the lives of survivors who have seen the horrors of sexual violence in conflict up close.”

Addressing the summit, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Sexual violence in conflict is one of the most persistent injustices imaginable.”

“There is no place for it in the civilised world,” remarked Kerry, as he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to end the practice with a pledge of funds for new programmes aimed at tackling impunity, and called for a rejection of peace agreements which provide amnesty for rape.

The U.K. government used the summit to launch its International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The document provides a best practice for those involved in recording evidence of sexual violence occurring in conflict, to better enable prosecutions to be brought and survivors to be helped.

“We hope this protocol will be part of a new global effort to shatter this culture of impunity, helping survivors and deterring people from committing these crimes in the first place,” William Hague wrote in the foreword to the document.

IPS spoke to Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General for the United Nations, who in the year 2000 was involved with instigating Security Council Resolution 1325, a key international legal document requiring member states in conflict to respect women’s rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and reconstruction after war.

Chowdhury emphasised the importance of including women in peace negotiations and in political discourse to achieve peace and development. “Women play a very key role in promoting the peace process,” he said.

“I have seen everywhere how women contribute not only to the lessening of conflict and reduction of tension in their own communities, but also to the economic and social development of their countries. To them, peace and development is a life and death struggle.”

Chowdhury described the difficulty of generating political will on issues such as the promotion of women’s engagement in politics. “Still only 46 of the 193 member states have completed a national plan to implement Resolution 1325,” he said.

Resolution 1325 requires equal participation of women at all decision-making levels.

William Hague closed the summit by putting pressure on governments to bring more women to negotiating tables and onto parliamentary benches.

“It is clear from this summit that we can bring together a whole army of people from around the globe, united in the common vision of putting an end to sexual violence in conflict. Now that this army has been put together, it will not be disbanded, it will go on to success,” he said.

“When we succeed in the future in returning to peace negotiations in Syria, there is no excuse for them not including the full participation of women.”

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Search for Nigerian Girls May be Impeded by Government’s Longstanding Lack of Coherent Strategy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/search-for-nigerian-girls-may-be-impeded-by-governments-longstanding-lack-of-coherent-strategy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=search-for-nigerian-girls-may-be-impeded-by-governments-longstanding-lack-of-coherent-strategy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/search-for-nigerian-girls-may-be-impeded-by-governments-longstanding-lack-of-coherent-strategy/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 09:23:32 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134966 A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Jun 13 2014 (IPS)

The search for the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, could be hampered by a series of policy and information flip-flops by the government, the latest one of them being a public disagreement on policy between the president and the military chief.

The extremist group abducted close to 300 school girls nearly two months ago on Apr. 14 in Chibok, northern Nigeria. The abduction triggered a global campaign and a massive social media movement under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The United States, United Kingdom, France and Israel have sent experts to Nigeria to assist in rescuing the girls.“If both sides say no force, no negotiation, that means no one is willing to do something. What we would like to see is all options are on the table- including negotiations." -- Ubong Ben, of Facts and Figures

Indeed the lack of clear policy could be the reason why on Monday Jun. 9, news broke here that suspected Boko Haram members seized at least 20 women from the Garkin Fulani community, a nomadic settlement near Chibok.

Details of the latest raid remain sketchy with neither the Nigerian military nor the government commenting on the attack. But local vigilantes and witnesses say armed men loaded the women onto trucks and drove away on Thursday, Jun. 5.

With the initial global spotlight on the Apr. 14 abduction receding, the government also appears to be back-peddling on its rescue effort.

But perhaps what could be considered the first government blunder came when the military claimed to have freed all but eight of the girls just two days after the Apr. 14 kidnapping. That claim was retracted after the head of the school, from where the girls were abducted, complained.

Since then, the government and local officials have faltered over the actual number of abducted girls, with the figure climbing from less than 100 to close to 300.

To date, the actual number is not certain, leaving many to use in-approximate descriptions like “more than 200 or nearly 300”.

However, on May 26 the army announced that it knew where the first group of abducted school girls were. But in the last week there have been no official updates from the government, and no news of breakthroughs. Officials merely say “efforts are ongoing, the government is doing all it can to free the girls.”

But this week critics accused the military is spending valuable time targeting the media as it seized newspapers and accused the press of undermining national security through its reporting of the abductions. The military, however, says its siege on the media is a “security operation”, and denies it has anything to do with news content.

But an apparent split between the president and the military chief over the choice tactics for the release of the girls could also be hampering the efforts to rescue them. This apparent split is seen here as underscoring a longstanding lack of a coherent strategy against a deadly group that has killed more than 12,000 over five years, according to President Goodluck Jonathan. 

The president has branded the group the “Al-Qaeda of West Africa”.

Nigerians gathered at Unity Fountain, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 30, 2014. They called on the country’s government to act quickly to find the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok secondary school in northeast Borno state on Apr. 14 by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Credit: Mohammed Lere/IPS

Nigerians gathered at Unity Fountain, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 30, 2014. They called on the country’s government to act quickly to find the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok secondary school in northeast Borno state on Apr. 14 by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Credit: Mohammed Lere/IPS

Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist and a leading Nigerian civil rights activist who leads the now famous #BringBackOurGirls daily protest in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, handed a grim warning about the conflicting remarks by Jonathan and his military chief, Alex Badeh, about whether to use force or negotiations with Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has offered to swap the girls in exchange for hundreds of its detained fighters; and has threatened to sell or marry off the girls if the government does not respond.

Jonathan vowed this month in a major televised speech to free the girls kidnapped in April.

But both sides must agree immediately on a tactic, said Ibrahim.

“If the military says they won’t use force, and the president says he has ruled out the negotiations with the group, then that is a dead-end because those are the only two options on the table,” Ibrahim told IPS. Even the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest itself was handled badly by the government when on Jun. 2, the FCT Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, banned the protests. However, the ban was overruled a day later by Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Abubakar.

Ibrahim said he would personally prefer negotiations with Boko Haram, an option that Jonathan has long ruled out.

Previous attempts by the military to conduct rescue efforts in other abduction cases have ended on a bloody note, with one involving the killing of an Italian and a Briton by their captors.

“The danger in the double speak is that it may not only send wrong signals to the terrorist group but may also push them into taking more vicious steps in their bid to bring the government to its knees,” Eric Ojo, of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa, told IPS.

Driven by a religious fundamentalist ideology, and an ambition to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram, whose name literally translates as “Education is Forbidden”, took the girls into captivity from a secondary school in Chibok where they were preparing for a final examination.

Nigeria’s senate president, two ministers, and another senior information official, have openly disagreed with the government’s line of action of either to swap detainees with Boko Haram, or to stick to the use of force.

Special Duties Minister Taminu Turaki, and the director general of the National Orientation Agency, Mike Omeri, have said that the government was prepared for talks.

Jonathan himself was quoted by Britain’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, as saying downright he would not consider a prisoner swap or negotiation with Boko Haram.

He was supported by senate president David Mark, the country’s number three, and Interior Minister Abba Moro.

However, government sources said secret negotiations that would have resulted in the exchange of detainees by both sides, failed to go through last month after the talks were called off by Jonathan.

Critics view the conflicting positions as typical of a government accused of lacking a response to a deadly group that threatens the country’s soul.

“The government must keep its house in order,” Ubong Ben, of Facts and Figures, a Nigerian accountability outfit, told IPS.

Ibrahim said the disagreement and dilly-dallying could prove harmful to the abducted girls.

“If both sides say no force, no negotiation, that means no one is willing to do something. What we would like to see is all options are on the table- including negotiations,” he said.

But some Nigerians analysts also believe the government may deliberately be distorting its information to confuse Boko Haram, while secretly exploring all options.

“It is a possible game plan,” said Joseph Fayeye of the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies.

“What is certain is that the government will also consider diplomatic steps that are not known to the public,” he told IPS.

 

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U.N. Releases Guidelines on Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-n-releases-guidelines-on-reparations-for-victims-of-sexual-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-releases-guidelines-on-reparations-for-victims-of-sexual-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-n-releases-guidelines-on-reparations-for-victims-of-sexual-violence/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 21:54:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134970 The village of rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena continues to be threatened by militia. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

The village of rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena continues to be threatened by militia. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 12 2014 (IPS)

When sexual violence – whether against men, women or children – takes place in United Nations peacekeeping missions worldwide, the world body has been quick to single out the perpetrators and expel them back to their home countries.

But the U.N. has little or no authority to prosecute offenders, mete out justice or ensure adequate compensation to victims.

The 193 member states, which provide thousands of troops for peacekeeping missions largely in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, are beyond the reach of the long arm of the law.

But at a summit meeting in London this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a set of guidelines titled ‘Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.’

These reparations include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition.

"People should have the right to silence if they so choose, but they also have the right to social justice [...]." -- Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
“A key element of reparation is that it should be proportional to the gravity of the violations and the harm suffered,” says the 20-page document.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS it would be useful to know how the United Nations plans to disseminate the guidelines so that its own staffers are trained in these issues.

“And what means do they have to ensure compliance?” she asked.

In other words, is this guidance just for optional use, or is this setting a baseline standard by which the United Nations must operate?

“What are the penalties for non-compliance? And how will they monitor this?” asked Anderlini, who is also a senior fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Centre for International Studies.

In its report, the United Nations also points out some of the flaws in the existing system.

In South Africa, for example, reparations to victims of sexual violence took the form of a one-off payment of approximately 4,000 dollars.

However, the policy failed to take into consideration both power differentials within families, as well as the historic lack of access to bank accounts among women.

“Local victims groups reported the money was often deposited into the accounts of male family member and women were given limited or no control over the resources,” the guidelines stated.

In some cases, tensions over how money should be spent in households lent itself to family violence, according to the United Nations.

Shelby Quast, policy director at the New York-based Equality Now, told IPS it is vital that reparations occur alongside development of a human rights-based legal framework that protects the rights of women and girls in the post-conflict and development periods.

“Because so much sexual violence is targeted toward adolescent girls, it is also important the variety of reparations – medical, psychological, financial, etc – pay special attention to the unique needs of girls at this particularly formative time in their lives,” she added.

Addressing the London summit on ‘Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict’, Zainab Hawa Bangura, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said: “Reparations are routinely left out of peace negotiations or sidelined in funding priorities, even though they are of utmost importance to survivors.”

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos cited a study by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which found that in one concentration camp near Sarajevo, 4,000 of the 5,000 male prisoners said they had been raped.

She said research in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) found that one in six of the men surveyed said they had experienced conflict-related sexual violence.

And a study in post-conflict Liberia found that among former combatants, 42 percent of women and 33 percent of men had experienced sexual violence.

“There are huge gaps in research, but we know that all sexual crimes are under-reported and those against men and boys in conflict are particularly difficult to quantify,” said Amos.

Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is also the executive director of U.N. Women, said stronger action is the need of the hour, and “sexual violence in conflict is a frontline concern for us.”

Anderlini, who has done extensive research on the subject and is armed with field experience, told IPS victims of sexual violence should have the right and ability to move beyond ‘victimhood’ and reclaim their lives.

To this end, they require physical and psycho-social care, access to justice, and educational and professional opportunities to rebuild their lives. They also need a socio-cultural context that accepts and respects them, she pointed out.

Anderlini also said justice for victims should not be limited to legal justice or stand-alone reparation programmes that depend on people coming forward.

“People should have the right to silence if they so choose, but they also have the right to social justice – meaning that the framing has to go beyond just reparation programmes to ensure that health, education, economic programming in conflict/ post conflict integrate and address the needs of people affected by sexual violence.”

For example, she said, health clinics and workers must be trained to deal with sexual violence issues in all these settings.

Educational and professional training and opportunities should be made available to sexual violence victims that also integrate a psycho-social dimension and group therapy support, said Anderlini, author of ‘Women Building Peace: What They do, Why it Matters.’

(END)

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Op-Ed: First Decolonisation, Now ‘Depatriarchilisation’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/first-decolonisation-now-depatriarchilisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-decolonisation-now-depatriarchilisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/first-decolonisation-now-depatriarchilisation/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 22:42:21 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134889 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

At the end of this week leaders of the Group of 77 and China will meet in Bolivia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the group.

From the original 77, this group now brings together 133 countries, making it the largest coalition of governments on the international stage. Promoting an agenda of equity among nations and among people, sustainable and inclusive development and global solidarity have been at the heart of the G77’s priorities since its inception. But none of it will be achieved without fully embracing the agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Bolivia to attend a historic international meeting in preparation for the G77 Summit, exclusively dedicated to women and gender equality. More than 1,500 women, many of them indigenous, packed the room, full of energy. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, was also present – a testimony to his commitment and leadership to this critical agenda.

At this meeting, a message emerged, loud and clear. If we want the 21st century to see the end of discrimination, inequality and injustice, we must focus on women and girls – half the world’s population, which continues to experience discrimination every day and everywhere. The 20th century saw the end of colonisation. Now the 21st century must see the end of discrimination against women.  From decolonisation, we must move to depatriarchilisation.

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, speaks at a press conference on the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, speaks at a press conference on the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

This meeting took place at a critical time and in a significant place. Latin America has lived through its own struggles against discrimination and oppression. In a continent that used to be marked by striking inequalities and violent dictatorships, a vibrant movement has emerged to put the region on the path of social justice, democracy, and equality. In Bolivia there is a constitutional law against violence against women and a law against political violence, making it a pioneer in the region and beyond.

This hope for a brighter and more just future must now spread to the world as a whole, and the G77 can play a defining role. The elaboration of the Post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is coming to a critical point. The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is about to complete its work and member states will finalise the new development agenda in the course of next year.

This coincides with the 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the landmark international framework to achieve gender equality and women’s rights. Beijing+20 provides us with an opportunity to drive accelerated and effective implementation of the gender equality and women’s rights agenda and to ensure that it is central to the new development framework.

We need to take full advantage of these processes and their interconnections to ensure that gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment feature prominently in the new development agenda and to accelerate implementation.

We have a historic opportunity and a collective responsibility to make the rights and well-being of women and girls a political priority; both globally and within every country. To this end, the new framework must adopt a comprehensive, rights-based and transformative approach that addresses structural inequality and gender-based discrimination.

This comprehensive approach must include targets to eliminate discrimination against women in laws and policies; end violence against women; ensure the realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls throughout their life cycles; and the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work.

Now is the time to put the full political weight behind passage of long-pending legislation to eliminate discrimination against women and promote gender equality.

Now is the time to allocate the resources to fund services for victims and survivors of violence against women.

Now is the time to strengthen national data collection and undertake a time use survey to better understand unpaid care work or a survey on violence against women.

Now is the time to make public spaces safe for women and girls.

Now is the time to improve rural infrastructure to strengthen women’s access to markets and help tackle rural feminised poverty.

Now is the time to showcase champions of gender equality, to recognise role models that have overcome stereotypes and helped level the playing field for girls and women in all areas, in politics and business, in academia and in public service, in the home and the community.

Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that true freedom from colonialism will not be achieved unless each and every citizen is free, equal and is able to realise his or her potential. The 21st century must see the end of the centuries’ old practice of patriarchy and gender discrimination, and unshackle women and girls so they can fully enjoy their human rights.

When the G77 meets later this week at its 50th anniversary commemorative Summit, I have high hopes that they will make this defining agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment a centerpiece of their global development and freedom project for the next 50 years.

(END)

*Lakshmi Puri is the deputy executive director of U.N. Women, based in New York.

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OP-ED: Violence Leaves Women, Girls, and Young People on the Edge in South Sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-violence-leaves-women-girls-young-people-edge-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-violence-leaves-women-girls-young-people-edge-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-violence-leaves-women-girls-young-people-edge-south-sudan/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 14:55:04 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134378 Emily Deng hopes she will deliver her baby safely at Juba 3 POC camp, South Sudan. Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, regional director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Region, says humanitarian crises are reproductive health disasters, especially because pregnancy-related deaths tend to soar during this period. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund

Emily Deng hopes she will deliver her baby safely at Juba 3 POC camp, South Sudan. Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, regional director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Region, says humanitarian crises are reproductive health disasters, especially because pregnancy-related deaths tend to soar during this period. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund

By Julitta Onabanjo
JUBA, May 19 2014 (IPS)

As with many conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies around the world, those who suffer the most are women, young girls and children. The current terrible crisis in South Sudan is no exception. 

When I visited the country recently, I met women and girls, some with babies strapped on their backs, living in very poor conditions in protection camps within United Nations bases in the capital city of Juba. Walking through the camps, I also met young people, many of whom are now seeing their dreams of a better life being shattered by the violent conflict.

Many shared their stories freely with me. What is clear is that the jubilant songs sung during the country’s independence only a few years ago have now been replaced by the voices of agony and anguish of families torn apart by the violence as well as the protracted political crisis since the early 1990s.

In a report released on May, 8 the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) noted that the “conflict has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and children in South Sudan to sexual violence.”  Sexual and gender-based violence is not new in South Sudan – but the scale has been exponential due to the conflict and the absence of protection for the most vulnerable, who are women and children. We all know that cases of gender-based violence are under-reported during times of peace, and much more so in conflict situations. Yet even one case of sexual violence is one too many.

In far flung camps, there are reports of rapists targeting women and girls as they attempt to fetch firewood, look for food or fetch water for their families. Some have been killed as a result and many are too afraid to report their violation.

Worse still, the ability of survivors of sexual violence to receive services during the precarious situation has severely diminished. Consequently, most incidents of sexual violence could not be reported to health actors, nor documented or verified through medical reports, says the UNMISS report.

And that is not all. Humanitarian crises are reproductive health disasters, especially because pregnancy-related deaths tend to soar during this period.

A South Sudanese woman receives a reproductive health kit after delivering her baby. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund

A South Sudanese woman receives a reproductive health kit after delivering her baby. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund

South Sudan has the world’s worst maternal mortality ratio of 2,054 deaths per 100,000 live births.  Prior to the crisis, the country’s fertility rate was nearly seven children per woman. It is estimated that 80,000 pregnant women living in affected areas (and thus 2,800 births every month) will require care by the end of December 2014.

Conflict in South Sudan: A Human Rights Report

All parties to the conflict have committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women of different ethnic groups. Credible information suggests that sexual violence took place in connection with the occurrence of human rights and humanitarian law violations before, during, and after heavy fighting, shelling, looting, and house searches.

Women of nationalities of neighbouring countries were also targeted. The forms of sexual violence used during the conflict include rape, sometimes with an object (guns or bullets), gang-rape, abduction and sexual slavery, and forced abortion. In some instances, women’s bodies were mutilated and, in at least one instance, women were forced to go outside of their homes naked.
Source: UNMISS

Furthermore, an estimated 12,000 women will likely experience complications and require care, while 4,000 births are likely to require emergency Caesarean sections. Without adequate care, this number could increase considerably.

As a result of the crisis, two thirds of the health facilities in the areas affected by the conflict are reportedly closed or operating at limited capacity. In Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states, the state hospitals that usually provide emergency obstetric care services are not functional. Alternative facilities at the periphery have either been looted or destroyed and/or health staff members have fled due to insecurity.

There are very few skilled birth attendants or equipment available for comprehensive obstetric care. Pregnant women, who are cut off from basic services and healthcare, are therefore particularly vulnerable in this conflict situation.

But amidst the crisis there is considerable resilience and hope. At one U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)-supported makeshift maternity tent I had the privilege to visit, I was humbled to meet international voluntary midwives who were working with minimum resources to ensure mothers could deliver their children safely.

As a woman and as a mother, I was moved to tears by the smile on a young woman’s face as she breastfed her newborn baby for the first time, in a  makeshift tent. It is our collective humanity that must prevail and make a difference in the lives of the women of South Sudan. We can’t afford to abandon them and leave them to their own devices.

There is an urgent need to support government and other actors to accelerate the provision of lifesaving maternal and neonatal health information and services, without which many pregnant women and their babies are at high risk of death or disability. We also need to address the gender-based violence taking place during this conflict, despite the challenge of reporting experienced by many survivors.

The world cannot afford to ignore what is going in South Sudan. It is a humanitarian tragedy unfolding right in front of our eyes.

Our hope is that the upcoming meeting of donors in Oslo will be able to generate the necessary resources to address the care and dignity of South Sudanese women and girls. We also hope that constructive political dialogue among all actors will speedily return the country to a path of peace that is desperately needed RIGHT NOW.

While the need to promote peace and security for overall development is urgent, ensuring care and dignity for each and every woman and young girl, those most affected in crisis situations, is equally urgent.

The innocent eyes of those women and girls I saw in the protection of civilian sites are on all of us. The question is, how long will we keep them on the edge?

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OP-ED: Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It! http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-empowering-women-empowering-humanity-picture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-empowering-women-empowering-humanity-picture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-empowering-women-empowering-humanity-picture/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 11:21:34 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134364 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, May 19 2014 (IPS)

Nearly 20 years ago, the world came together in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. There, 189 governments adopted a visionary roadmap for gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

More than 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists pictured a world where women and girls had equal rights, freedom and opportunity in every sphere of life.We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment firmly at the centre of the global agenda.

While much progress has been made in the past two decades, no country can claim to have achieved equality between men and women. It is time for the world to come together again for women and girls and complete this journey.

UN Women is launching a year-long campaign to re-energise the vision laid out at the Beijing Women’s Conference. Our goal is straightforward: renewed commitment, strengthened action and increased resources to realise gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights. We call it: Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

The Beijing Declaration laid out actions to address 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls across the globe.

Governments, the private sector and other partners were urged to reduce women and girls’ poverty, ensure their right to access education and training, safeguard their health – including their sexual and reproductive health, protect women and girls from violence and discrimination, to ensure that technological advances benefit all, and to promote their full and equal participation in society, politics, and the economy.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remains the most comprehensive global agreement on women’s empowerment and gender equality. If only it had been implemented!

Notwithstanding, today we can celebrate progress. More girls are going to school. More women are working, getting elected, and assuming leadership positions. But in all regions of the world, and in all countries, women continue to face discrimination because they are female.

We see it every day. In pay inequity and unequal opportunities at work… in stubbornly low representation of women leaders in the public and private sectors… in the continuing scourge of child marriage, and in the pandemic of violence experienced by one in three women globally – a number greater than the population of Europe.

Perhaps even more startling is the fact that if the Beijing negotiations occurred today, they would likely result in a weaker agreement. We all have a responsibility to keep pushing ahead for full implementation, because every time a woman or girl is held back by discrimination or violence, humanity loses.

Since the Beijing Conference, irrefutable evidence has accumulated showing that empowering women empowers humanity.

Picture it!

Countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns to shareholders. Parliaments with more women consider a broader range of issues and adopt more legislation on health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support. Peace agreements forged by female and male negotiators last longer and are more stable.

Studies show that for every one additional year of education for women, child mortality decreases by 9.5 percent. Equalising access to resources and services for women farmers would boost output and eliminate hunger for 150 million people. A billion women will enter the world economy in the next decade. With equal opportunities, their impact on our future prosperity will be a global game-changer.

We can and must turn this picture to reality. Right now, every country is working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and to define a new global development plan.

We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment firmly at the centre of the global agenda. It is the right thing to do, and the best thing for humanity.

Men and boys, who have been silent too long, are beginning to stand up and speak out for the human rights of women and girls through initiatives like UN Women’s #HeForShe campaign. We call on all men and boys to join us!

Nearly 20 years after Beijing, I believe the world is ready to implement its vision of equality for men and women.

Today we launch a Beijing+20 campaign that will focus on progress, highlighting champions and effective work being done for gender equality. Every country will produce a report on the state of their women and girls, 20 years on. The campaign calls upon leaders and ordinary people alike to recommit and act to turn the vision of the Beijing platform into reality.

From Sweden, where in June people will gather to protect the human rights of women and girls, to September’s Climate Summit in New York, where women heads of State and activists will assert women’s role in protecting our environment, to India, where men and boys will make a show of force for gender equality in November.

And on International Women’s Day on Mar. 8, 2015, people in every country will make their voices heard for a better world.

Together we must achieve equality between women and men. There is no time to waste!

Empowering women, Empowering humanity. Picture it!

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Women’s Executive Director.

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Nigeria’s Nightmare Gives New Momentum to IVAWA http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/nigerias-nightmare-gives-new-momentum-ivawa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigerias-nightmare-gives-new-momentum-ivawa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/nigerias-nightmare-gives-new-momentum-ivawa/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 00:51:18 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134297 A moment of silence in held in Washington, DC May 6th for the 234 missing Nigerian school girls who were abducted by Boko Haram on Apr. 14. Credit: Senate Democrats/cc by 2.0

A moment of silence in held in Washington, DC May 6th for the 234 missing Nigerian school girls who were abducted by Boko Haram on Apr. 14. Credit: Senate Democrats/cc by 2.0

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, May 15 2014 (IPS)

Amidst intensifying concern over the fate of more than 200 girls abducted by a radical Islamist group in northern Nigeria, at least 100 representatives of various activist groups Tuesday pressed the U.S. Senate to approve legislation designed to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls and discourage child marriages around the world.

Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators last week, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) would use existing foreign aid to achieve the bill’s major aims and mandate greater coordination of existing U.S. government programmes that address gender-based violence.A 10 percent reduction in child marriages could lead to a 70 percent reduction in infant mortality, according to the activist group Girls Not Brides.

“If passed, it would mean there would be enduring legislation and policy in place by the U.S. government towards violence against women that would not be based on the politics of any particular administration,” Jacqueline Hart, vice president for strategic learning, research, and evaluation at American Jewish World Service (AJWS), told IPS.

AJWS, an international development and human rights group, helped organise the activist lobbying.

IVAWA is no stranger on the Hill; its previous version was shelved as a result of right-wing Republican concerns that it could be used to support abortions and other women’s reproductive rights. The latest version was introduced in the House of Representatives late last year, where it was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Gender-based violence is one of the world’s most prevalent human rights abuses, and has one of the greatest degrees of impunity surrounding it, according to the activist groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

At least one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to U.N. Women.

“This Act makes ending violence against women and girls a top diplomatic priority,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a press statement.

“The world has just seen an appalling example of women and girls being treated as property and political bargaining chips in Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 school girls and is threatening to sell them into slavery and forced marriages.

“Sadly, this is not a viewpoint limited to terrorist leaders: the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) says one in nine girls around the world is married before the age of 15, a harmful practice that deprives girls of their dignity and often their education, increases their health risks, and perpetuates poverty.”

Child brides in rural Senegal at work. Marriage before the age of 18 is a generally common practice in Senegal, with 16 percent of young women getting married and give birth before reaching 15. Credit: Issa Sikiti da Silva/IPS

Child brides in rural Senegal at work. Marriage before the age of 18 is a generally common practice in Senegal, with 16 percent of young women getting married and give birth before reaching 15. Credit: Issa Sikiti da Silva/IPS

Indeed, in addition to supporting programmes designed to support national legislation criminalising violence and abuse of girls and women, to provide training to police, prosecutors, and judges to handle such cases, and expand health facilities for women and girls, the bill would support projects aimed at offering girls and women more choices in life, particularly in education and economic opportunity, particularly in countries where early marriage is commonly practiced.

About 14 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year, according to Girls Not Brides. The largest proportion of early marriages occurs in Africa’s Sahel region.

In Niger, some 75 percent of girls are married early, followed by the Central African Republic and Chad. Early marriages occur in every region of the world, with the largest number in India.

According to UNIFEM, 64 million girls are child brides worldwide.

Early marriages inflict abuse on girls and women in many ways, from sexual violence to poor health.

They also increase the chance of physical or sexual abuse in a relationship. In Ethiopia, 81 percent of child brides describe their first physical experience as forced.

The issue is also tied to development. A 10 percent reduction in child marriages could lead to a 70 percent reduction in infant mortality, according to the activist group Girls Not Brides.

The lobbying day on Capitol Hill followed a policy summit hosted Monday by AJWS that featured new research on early marriage undertaken by Nirantar, an Indian feminist resource group.

The research, not yet formally published, focuses less on the appropriate age for marriage than on the role played by the institution of marriage in India’s social structure.

“When we talk about early marriage, it is always the early part we talk about, but what about the marriage part?” asked Archana Dwivedi, deputy director of Nirantar. “What is magic about the age 18?

“We often used child marriage as synonymous for forced marriage, but that is not the case,” she told IPS. “All marriages under 18 are not forced, and all marriages above 18 are not chosen. Imagine a gay boy married to a girl or a lesbian girl married to a man? It can be equally, if not more traumatic, because marriage is also license to have sex.”

Focusing on the age of 18 also diverts attention from girls over 18 who are still suffering the consequences of marrying young, she said. Although often overlooked, these consequences extend beyond the physical health of the women.

“There is too much focus on maternal health, which reinforces the patriarchal thinking that women are there to reproduce healthy children….What about her mental health, how she feels? After marriage, all the opportunities in her life are a given…there is nothing left in life to dream of or desire.”

Dwivedi argued that organisations working to end child marriages need to apply different indicators in assessing the effectiveness of their work.

While many organisations report how many early marriages they helped prevent or delay, they often fail to address the necessity of changing social and cultural attitudes about early marriage, as well as the institution itself.

Acceptance of conventional explanations for early marriage, such as blaming it on poverty, is unlikely to change long-prevalent attitudes.

Focusing on expectations surrounding marriage itself, on the other hand, will more likely lead to a broader range of choices for girls and women and thus empower them.

“Even in urban upper class families, a parent will spend half the family’s money on the education of the son and half on the marriage of the daughter,” she said.

“The attitude is that parents think marriage is the only viable solution for girls…Parents are working with the best intentions to help get their child settled, not doing it to ruin their lives, but to stabilise them. But there’s something wrong with our idea of stability.”

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Nigeria Abductions Grab the Spotlight http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/nigeria-abductions-grab-spotlight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigeria-abductions-grab-spotlight http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/nigeria-abductions-grab-spotlight/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 00:11:26 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134187 A moment of silence is held May 6, 2014 in Washington, DC for the 234 missing Nigerian school girls. Credit: Senate Democrats/cc by 2.0

A moment of silence is held May 6, 2014 in Washington, DC for the 234 missing Nigerian school girls. Credit: Senate Democrats/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, May 9 2014 (IPS)

The fate of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the violent Islamist Boko Haram group from the northern Nigeria town of Chibok in mid-April has become something of a public sensation in the United States since the beginning of the month.

Politicians and activists are calling for strong action by the U.S. to help the Nigerian government locate and rescue the girls, while the main television network have been leading their periodic news summaries and nightly newscasts with the latest information on the kidnappings for the past week.“The question is not so much one of inattention but one of tardiness in recognising that this is a sensational story." -- Andrew Tyndall

And Boko Haram, whose leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened in a widely viewed video earlier this week to sell the girls into slavery, has emerged from a state of almost-total obscurity – despite the growing concern about its violence and links to other radical Islamist groups in North Africa and the Sahel among Africa specialists in and outside the government — to a remarkable notoriety among the general public on this side of the Atlantic.

“The media didn’t pay attention to the story when it first happened,” noted Emira Wood, an Africa specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies here. “Now you have [First Lady] Michelle Obama tweeting a photo of herself displaying the hashtag #BringBackOur Girls and Angelina Jolie speaking out about it.”

“Nigeria is not something on the radar of most American news organisations or the consciousness of most Americans, who, after all, would be quite hard-pressed to even locate Nigeria on a map,” according to Steven Livingston, a political communications expert at George Washington University, who credited Nigeria’s civil society groups and their use of social media for thrusting the story into the global spotlight.

“In this case, the story is easy to understand at an emotional level, especially for parents, and, after all, Boko Haram are not good guys, so you don’t have to understand a lot. You can just sign on and feel good about it,” he told IPS.

In that respect, he noted, the story is similar to the “Kony 2012” phenomenon, a 30-minute internet video seen by tens millions of viewers here and designed to promote stronger U.S. military efforts to capture the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that has terrorised parts of Uganda and central Africa for more than a decade.

Even before the Kony 2012 campaign, the administration of President Barack Obama had deployed some 100 combat-equipped troops to the region in a multi-national campaign to track, disrupt, and ultimately capture Kony and his top lieutenants. Unsurprisingly, he is coming under pressure to take similar action to rescue the kidnapped girls.

Thus far, Obama has authorised dispatching up to 10 U.S. military and intelligence personnel to set up a “coordination cell” to work alongside Nigerian security forces as well as advisers from other countries whose offers of assistance have reportedly been accepted by President Goodluck Johnson.

U.S. officials have also said Washington has deployed surveillance assets to the region where the girls may have been taken, including northern Nigeria and neighbouring areas of Cameroun, Chad, and Niger where Washington maintains a drone base.

Some lawmakers, however, are calling for stronger action. “More can be done by this administration,” said Republican Sen. Susan Collins, told CNN Wednesday. “I would like to see Special Forces deployed to rescue these young girls.”

Similarly, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that sending advisory team should be “just the first step” and that she would “support whatever actions are necessary to locate, capture and eliminate the terrorists responsible for this reprehensible act.”

All 20 women senators signed on to a letter calling for tougher actions against Boko Haram. Several of them re-introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act in the Senate Thursday, a bill that would make gender-based violence prevention and response a top priority for U.S. diplomats and aid programmes.

As noted by Wood, the story was initially ignored by the mass media here and made its first appearance on network news only last Thursday, more than two weeks after the abduction, according to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the ‘Tyndall Report’, which tracks weeknightly news coverage by the three major U.S. television networks.

“The question is not so much one of inattention but one of tardiness in recognising that this is a sensational story,” he told IPS.

“It’s a general rule that sub-Saharan stories — especially those in which Americans are not involved — are under-covered by the mainstream national newscasts. However, in this instance, that general rule should not have applied,” especially given the involvement of a violent Islamist group allegedly tied to Al Qaeda in an action aimed at denying girls their right to an education – the abductees were kidnapped from a boarding school where they were taking exams.

“The issue of girls’ education in Muslim societies has already proved itself as an attention-grabbing story,” he added, noting the lavish media attention received last year by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who led a global campaign for girls’ education after recovering from an attack by the Taliban.

Since last week, however, “the story has absolutely taken off and gotten the intensity of coverage that it should’ve gotten from the word ‘go’,” he told IPS.

Since last Thursday, he said, the story has received 32 minutes of coverage on the three networks – or more than 10 percent of their total coverage. After narrating reports from here, two of the networks sent reporters to Nigeria this week. That compares with 12 minutes total coverage of Kony 2012 in that year.

That total is still just over half the coverage given to the dominant story out of sub-Saharan Africa so far in 2014 – the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the white South African track star accused of murdering his girlfriend.

The Pistorius case also received a total of 51 minutes of U.S. network news coverage last year, making it second-biggest story out of the region in 2013, after coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death and funeral. But, Tyndall noted, the Nigerian story appears poised to continue drawing media attention for the foreseeable future.

Both Livingston and Wood expressed concern that all of the media attention and clamour for stronger action could prove counter-productive, especially if it results in direct U.S. military action. Livingston noted that it could “feed into the Boko Haram narrative that the Nigerian government is just a puppet of the Western oil interests, the U.S., and the British.”

Wood noted that Washington’s decision to add the group to its terrorist list late last year actually helped boost their profile among the disaffected and poor youth in the region. “A more militarised response could make things worse, both in rescuing the girls and in failing to deal with the root causes of the crisis,” she said.

Meanwhile, right-wing forces also sought to take advantage of all of the attention. In a FoxNews column published Wednesday, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton stressed that the kidnapping offered a “grim reminder” of the threat posed by radical Islam, claiming that the administration had ignored its growth across North Africa and the Sahel.

The neo-conservative Weekly Standard assailed former secretary of state (and likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for allegedly resisting earlier recommendations by lower-level officials to put Boko Haram on the terrorism list.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Divisions over Gender Complicate Development Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/divisions-gender-complicate-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=divisions-gender-complicate-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/divisions-gender-complicate-development-agenda/#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 13:23:05 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134152 A Kopal gender sensitisation meeting in Uttarkashi district, India, ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Credit: Nitin Jugran Bahuguna/IPS

A Kopal gender sensitisation meeting in Uttarkashi district, India, ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Credit: Nitin Jugran Bahuguna/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, May 7 2014 (IPS)

As the U.N. focuses on refining its Post-2015 Development Agenda, divisions surrounding issues of population and development continue to plague consensus on a universal way forward.

“People have to be at the centre of development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS. “I think we are beginning to see a greater commitment [of governments] to deliver on gender parity, girls rights, issues of gender-based violence and girls education.”“I don’t think that many of these big problems are going to be resolved by exchanging documents and meeting at conferences. It’s going to be what we do on the ground." -- UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Following the 2014 U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD), an annual gathering where member states, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other members of civil society discuss and define goals on population and development, serious divisions emerged regarding issues of sexual health, sexual education and gender.

“The balance of this resolution remains heavily skewed towards peculiar interests of certain developed countries, as evidenced by undue emphasis on selected rights over the real development priorities,” said Fr. Justin Wylie, attaché for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N., on Apr. 12, following the adoption of the CPD outcome resolution.

“I refer in particular to the heavy focus on sexual or reproductive mores,” he said.

The sentiment that particular issues had a negative effect on the conduct of the conference was also expressed by member states with views in support of U.N. priorities.

“We were disappointed that certain contentious issues remained the focus of the conference at the expense of discussing more productive topics to improve the health of global populations,” Nicolas Doire, spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFAIT), told IPS.

While UNFPA may not agree with the views of everyone at the CPD, the agency does understand the political nature of such conferences and the need for inclusive, plural dialogue in adopting the platform on population and development.

“The issue of sexuality, the issue of sexual reproductive health and [reproductive] rights evokes all kinds of things … apart from the politics,” Osotimehin told IPS. “We’ve always had conservatism around our issues.

“If we don’t bring people together in order to construct an action platform that brings all of the groups together, we are not likely to achieve the adoption,” he said.

For Dr. Osotimehin, a human rights-based agenda is essential because it was the foundation for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. That being said, he also recognises that over the last 20 years, the world has changed.

“Today there are more non-state actors and some of the countries are more vocal than they were before, so we are dealing with a new set of constituencies,” he said. “But if you don’t address rights … you are not going to make the kind of progress we want to see and match the investments.”

Many girls in rural areas of Pakistan say they dropped out of primary school either because there were no secondary schools in their villages, or because they were not within safe walking distance. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Many girls in rural areas of Pakistan say they dropped out of primary school either because there were no secondary schools in their villages, or because they were not within safe walking distance. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Linking population and development

The U.N. Programme of Action of the ICPD Beyond report, released on Feb. 12, outlined the progress made on issues of population and development since the 1994 Cairo Conference.

A primary finding of the report was that where girls have the power make choices in their lives, from reproductive rights to education, they can add significantly to the economic capacity and development of their country.

That is why UNFPA has identified inequality as the primary impediment to developmental goals and defined the adolescent girl as the “face of development.”

“Imagine that you can give her the education she needs to protect her rights … ensure that she can access contraception when she needs to, ensure that she can get good quality jobs, ensure that she can marry when she wants to marry, ensure that she can participate politically. Then, you just changed the world,” Osotimehin told IPS.

This is not to say that ground level cultural needs are not recognised. It is important to engage in dialogue with communities, he said, in order to understand what they need, not only what their needs are believed to be.

Taking action

The U.N. has identified the imperative for direct action on population issues in addressing the associated developmental problems.

“I don’t think that many of these big problems are going to be resolved by exchanging documents and meeting at conferences. It’s going to be what we do on the ground,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, U.N. under-secretary-general and the executive director of U.N. Women, told IPS. “Activism, activism, activism.”

With this is mind, international conferences do provide legitimacy from which actors can work.

“It does help activists on the ground when something has been agreed to [in the conferences], because there is something to hang onto. So you also want those victories. But I think that we must not fool ourselves and think that [with a piece of paper], the problems have been solved,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Beyond 2015

Looking to the ICPD conference in September, the key work ahead will be to reduce divisions and promote implementation.

“The fact that we have a document and that everybody has signed it does not mean that the problem has gone away. Those that feel they have lost will not necessarily implement what is there because it has been agreed to,” Mlambo-Ngcuka told IPS.

Moving the agenda’s focus away from controversial issues to incorporate the range of connections population issues have on development is one strategy UNFPA and other members of the international community are looking at.

“Integration should be big in the next development agenda,” Osotimehin told IPS. “We need to create linkages between one thing and the next … so were actually driving a development agenda.”

“We are focused on building consensus around initiatives that are proven to have the greatest impact,” said Doire.

The importance of a dynamic approaching to developmental challenges is central to the U.N. strategy as it works to build an agenda that includes contested subject matter.

“We need to bring all of the issues to bear when we talk about [population], so that it doesn’t get caught up in the old debates and questions,” Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the U.N. Foundation, told IPS. “It’s about your country’s economy [and] your country’s environment.”

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