Inter Press Service » Gender Violence Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 26 Dec 2014 17:03:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Force Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Lyndal Rowlands

A new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) beginning on Dec. 24 represents a historic moment in global efforts to keep weapons proliferation in check.

Nounou Booto Meeti, programme director at the Centre for Peace, Security and Armed Violence Prevention, told IPS that in her own home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the uncontrolled trade of arms has contributed to human rights violations including rape and the recruitment of child soldiers."We’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it." -- Allison Pytlak from Control Arms

Meeti has actively campaigned for a global ATT, including advocating for the inclusion of a gender-based violence criterion.

The criterion is especially important for countries like the DRC where rape and sexual slavery has been used to systematically terrorise village after village.

Meeti emphasised that women, men and children are all affected by gender-based violence. In the DRC, when a village is attacked the men are often killed so that the women who are alive will not be able to defend themselves, she explained.

The Arms Trade Treaty, if implemented properly, will require states selling weapons to not only consider if the weapons are going to a country where there are systematic violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, but also how likely it is that those weapons will end up there through diversion from another country.

Meeti urged all countries to do their best to put the ATT into practice “so that we can see the reduction of armed violence, the reduction of armed conflict and the end of gender-based violence.”

She said that it has taken a long time to get to this point because there are a lot of interests in the global arms trade, which is an industry that earns billions and billions of dollars primarily for a small group of arms producing countries.

She added that “the transparency within the ATT will influence the reduction of military expenses in favour of development.”

The proliferation of weapons in countries like the DRC and the free flow of weapons into the ‘wrong hands’ has been allowed to continue because of an almost complete lack of international regulation of the arms trade.

According to Amnesty International, there are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons.

Meeti said that they had shown that there was no management of government stockpiles of weapons in the DRC, making it easy for arms to be diverted to the wrong hands. Porous borders meant that weapons could easily be brought in from any of the nine countries that share borders with the DRC.

She said that non-state actors also had ready unregulated access to arms, funded by the DRC’s vast resource wealth and international actors with interests in exploiting those resources.

Allison Pytlak from Control Arms told IPS that the ATT is “about introducing responsibility into the arms trade, not about trying to stop the trade of arms.”

The treaty also asks “all parties involved, especially the arms dealers, to think twice about where their weapons are going,” Pytlak said.

She said that the ATT aims to fix problems like states receiving weapons after they had stopped acting responsibly.

“Syria is a good example, we’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it,” Pytlak said.

Pytlak also said that weapons often end up in the ‘wrong hands’ through diversion, corrupt officials and theft from insecure government stockpiles.

“A lot of guns start out on the legal market and then end up on the illegal market,” she noted.

“By having export licensing officials who have a second thought about, where are these weapons really going to go? It looks a little bit unstable there, or there’s a history of diversion there, if they start thinking twice about that, the source might dry up and diversion will cease,” she said.

Only the first step

The Arms Trade Treaty covers everything from small arms and light weapons to warships, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles and missile launchers. The treaty also covers ammunition and parts and components.

Millions of new weapons and 12 billion bullets are produced each year, while over 800 million guns already exist in the world.

The entering into force of the ATT on Wednesday with 61 ratifications and 130 signatures is only a small, albeit notable, step in the right direction.

Two thousand people die from armed violence every day. Armed violence is also fuelling the global refugee crisis, with over 26 million people around the world displaced due to conflict.

Arms affected countries are predominantly also lower income countries, and may struggle to implement the treaty.

Pytlak says that one current option being explored is the possibility of using Official Development Assistance (aid) to help lower income countries with the costs of implementing the treaty.

A new report from Chatham House says that the indirect impact of the arms trade on development includes the diversion of funds from healthcare to defence, increased unemployment and decreased educational opportunities.

In a statement Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as historic.

“Ultimately, it attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations,” Ban said.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Seeking Closure, Bougainville Confronts Ghosts of Civil War Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:10:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Australia, Dec 21 2014 (IPS)

Thirteen years after the peace agreement which ended a decade-long civil war in Bougainville, an autonomous island region of 300,000 people located east of the Papua New Guinean (PNG) mainland in the southwest Pacific Islands, trauma and grief continue to affect families and communities where the fate of the many missing remains unresolved.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government, identifying this as a barrier to progressing post-conflict reconciliation and development, introduced a policy in September to begin helping families answer questions and find closure.“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified." -- Nick Peniai

“This is very important for reconciliation,” Nick Peniai, head of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Department of Peace and Reconciliation, told IPS.

“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified” and “reconstruction will become meaningful to families after they have reunited with their loved ones.”

Patricia Tapakau, a community leader in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, agreed, saying that the new policy received her full support.

There is no accurate data about the human loss which occurred during hostilities between the PNG military and indigenous militia groups involved in a local uprising in 1989 that succeeded in shutting down the Panguna copper mine, formerly operated by the Australian company, Bougainville Copper Ltd.  But some estimates of the death toll run as high as 20,000.

The mine, a major revenue earner at the time for the PNG government, was at the centre of local grievances about loss of customary land, environmental devastation and increasing inequality. The conflict continued following a government blockade of the islands in 1990 until a permanent ceasefire in 1998.

Today many families on the islands continue to search for their missing loved ones, reports the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The endless uncertainty about their fate is keeping the memory and suffering of the war alive in communities and inhibiting people’s confidence in a better future.

“We need reconciliation from one end of the island to the other….we need to restore the relationship with the bodies that have rotted in the jungle by bringing them back to their villages and giving them dignity by doing a proper burial,” a community leader from Guava village near the mine was quoted in a report by Jubilee Australia.

But, according to Peniai, it has only recently become feasible to publicly address this sensitive issue.

“It could not have been possible to get information on missing persons soon after the brokering of peace 13 years ago due to fear for the lives of those with the information, and the same on the part of those who were responsible for the killings in the event of being exposed.  The families of missing people were also not attempting to investigate for the same reason of fear,” he explained.

Conditions are more conducive to this occurring now, Peniai believes, with people willing to freely discuss the issue and some improvements to the law enforcement sector, which is supporting public confidence.

The United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance supports international human rights laws that place an obligation on warring parties, including governments, military forces and armed groups, to take all possible measures to search for and return missing persons, or their remains, to next of kin.

In Bougainville, the new policy will address the humanitarian needs of affected communities, but exclude bringing perpetrators to justice and claims for compensation.  Implementation will include seeking information about victims’ whereabouts, identifying burial sites, exhumation and forensic identification of remains before their return to relatives for burial.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will be on hand to assist the Bougainville Government and its partners with advice and expert support as the policy is rolled out.

Families of those who have disappeared “may have psycho-social needs which require medical attention, even years later, this is an important need in Bougainville,” Gauthier Lefèvre, Head of Mission for the ICRC in Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

“Many may also have difficulties making ends meet economically or be in a vulnerable position within society due to absence of their usual support networks.”

The humanitarian organisation supports similar efforts to reconcile families in other post-conflict zones, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Iran and Iraq.  It emphasises these measures are vital to helping people overcome anger and mistrust. If unaddressed, this burden can be passed on to a younger generation who are at risk of inheriting a sense of humiliation and injustice.

The Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-governmental organisation, claims that unaddressed trauma has been a direct factor in high levels of alcohol and domestic abuse and violence against women, including rape, on the islands since the end of the ‘Bougainville crisis.’

During the three months of April, July and August 2010 alone, local police received reports of 84 sexual offences, 261 cases of domestic violence and 16 of child abuse.

Returning the remains of loved ones “is unfinished business on the road to healing, forgiveness, rehabilitation and reconstruction of whole communities” in the autonomous region, claims the OHCHR.

It “will bring closure and even psychological healing to families of missing persons and in some cases resolve legal issues linked to landownership and inheritance,” Lefèvre said.  He added that such efforts “certainly have an impact on human and social development in post-conflict zones.”

Peniai believes there will be benefits for human development “in the sense of establishing national unity, as a truly reconciled society is likely to be more stable.”

The peace process in Bougainville since 2001 has been assisted by the United Nations and international aid donors, but the autonomous region still faces immense development challenges. Life expectancy is 59 years and the under-five mortality rate is 74 per 1,000 live births, compared to the global average of 46, reports the National Research Institute.

In Central Bougainville, where the conflict originated, 56 percent of people do not have access to safe drinking water and 95 percent lack access to sanitation, according to World Vision.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripoli Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.


From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Georgia Confronts Domestic Violence Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:11:23 +0000 Giorgi Lomsadze Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

By Giorgi Lomsadze
TBILISI, Dec 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The issue of domestic violence is moving to the forefront of public attention in Georgia after a series of killings of women at the hands of their respective spouses or ex-spouses made headlines in local mass media.

While no quick fix exists for the spike in violence, observers believe that changing the way police respond to abuse complaints is a good place to start.

When 22-year-old model Salome Jorbenadze phoned the police earlier this year in the western town of Zugdidi, she was hoping to receive protection against her abusive former husband. But all she received was a lecture from two policewomen about what a woman has to do to pacify an embittered ex, a source familiar with the case told”For many, being a man means to show that you've got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.” -- Naniko Vachnadze

Jorbenadze went on to complain to an in-house police-oversight agency. But no restraining order was issued against her former husband, Sergi Satseradze, a police officer. He later shot Jorbenadze dead in a crowded Zugdidi park on Jul. 25.

Twenty-four other women are estimated to have met similar fates this year. One analyst studying the trend asserts police have repeatedly failed to act on women’s reports of receiving threats from their former or current spouses.

“Such cases show that the state is failing to fulfill its ultimate human rights commitment: protecting the lives of its citizens,” said Tamar Dekanosidze, an attorney specialising in human-rights law at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a civil-rights watchdog.

English teacher Maka Tsivtsivadze also reported death threats she was receiving from her former husband, but he only received a verbal warning from police. Her Oct. 17 murder, taking place in broad daylight inside a centrally located university building in the capital, Tbilisi, shocked city residents.

The number of such killings is believed to be a record for a single year, but the way the police categorise such murders muddies the picture. A killing involving a man and his current or former wife is almost always classified as an unintentional, rather than premeditated murder – even in one 2013 case when an ex-husband fired 24 shots at his ex-wife, Dekanosidze said.

The misclassification of many killings skews official crime statistics and also leads to less severe sentences for those convicted of crimes. Premeditated murders carry a seven-to-15 year prison sentence; death from bodily injuries, six to eight years.

Prosecutors and police did not respond to requests for comment.

Tsivtsivadze’s case may be a tipping point for change. Amid a recent series of protests and rallies designed to heighten awareness of domestic violence, officials have acknowledged that Georgia has a femicide problem. It has set up an ad-hoc commission to collect recommendations from civil society groups and international experts on how to tackle gender-based violence.

UN Women, the United Nations agency that focuses on women’s issues, has advised that simplifying procedures for issuing restraining orders could help. The organisation’s Georgia branch has suggested allowing police to issue a restraining order even without court approval, and using bracelets “to control compliance,” said Irina Japaridze, who runs a gender-equality programme for UN Women.

At the same time, many recent public discussions have tried to put Georgians collectively on the couch to try to gain insight into the motivations behind the violence. Social psychologists worry about a copycat-killing effect, but Georgian society’s patriarchal norms are broadly seen as the root of the problem.

“I think we generally have very wrong ideas about what it means to be a man,” commented Naniko Vachnadze, a female graduate student at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs in Tbilisi. ”For many, being a man means to show that you’ve got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.”

Thirty-four percent of 2,391 respondents in a 2013 poll run by the UN Women programme said that violence against women “can be justified in certain domestic circumstances, such as neglect of maternal duties or other family cares,” Japaridze said.

Men are often given the benefit of the doubt for such behaviour, an attitude that can result in psychological abuse, Vachnadze said. “Many husbands are telling their wives not to go to work, not to visit friends, stay home and raise the kids,” she elaborated.

The perception of a husband’s role can continue even after a divorce. Many Georgians see an ex-wife leading an independent life as a humiliation for the man.

As elsewhere in the macho Caucasus, male and female frequently are not seen as created equal. The tradition of parents passing on property exclusively to a male heir still exists; a female fetus tends more often to lead to an abortion.

Other underlying psychological issues are believed to contribute to abuse – namely, the traumatizing post-Soviet experience of wars, lawlessness and economic collapse, as well as stress associated with the fast pace of societal change over the past two decades. Some see the violence even as a manifestation of men’s reaction to urban Georgian women’s increasing public prominence, whether as entrepreneurs, politicians, civil-society figures or, even, car drivers.

“Although we say that we live a very traditionalist society, many cultural changes have happened in recent years and it is clashing with ossified views on gender roles,” commented prominent art critic and feminist activist Teo Khatiashvili.

Tackling the cultural aspects of violence against women may be a far greater challenge than improving the police response, but Georgia, as a signatory of the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, has international commitments to do so.

Parliament is expected soon to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that stipulates that a failure to address domestic violence constitutes a human-rights violation. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has underlined that Georgia does not shy away from such definitions.

“Respect for women is a lasting tradition in Georgia and the increased acts of violence against women are incompatible with this tradition and are extremely shameful,” he said on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Editor’s note:  Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to’s Tamada Tales blog. This story originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rape Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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OPINION: Stand in Solidarity with Courageous Women’s Human Rights Defenders Tue, 02 Dec 2014 22:35:29 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and has extensive experience in international diplomacy and the protection of human rights.

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Almost two decades ago, in Beijing, 189 countries made a commitment to achieve equality for women, in practice and in law, so that all women could at last fully enjoy their rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

They adopted a comprehensive and ambitious plan to guarantee women the same rights as men to be educated and develop their potential. The same rights as men to choose their profession. The same rights to lead communities and nations, and make choices about their own lives without fear of violence or reprisal.

Credit: OHCHR

Credit: OHCHR

No longer would hundreds of thousands of women die every year in childbirth because of health care policies and systems that neglected their care. No longer would women earn considerably less than men. No longer would discriminatory laws govern marriage, land, property and inheritance.

In the years that followed, the world has witnessed tremendous progress: the number of women in the work force has increased; there is almost gender parity in schooling at the primary level; the maternal mortality ratio declined by almost 50 percent; and more women are in leadership positions.

Importantly, governments talk about women’s rights as human rights and women’s rights and gender equality are acknowledged as legitimate and indispensable goals.

However, the world is still far from the vision articulated in Beijing. Approximately one in three women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Less than a quarter of parliamentarians in the world are women.Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

In over 50 countries there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. Almost 300,000 women and girls died in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Approximately one in three married women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

In many parts of the world, women and girls cannot make decisions on their most private matters – sexuality, marriage, children. Girls and women who pursue their own life choices are still murdered by their own families in the dishonourable practice of so-called honour killings.

All of our societies remain affected by stereotypes based on the inferiority of women which often denigrate, humiliate and sexualise them.

Today we have the responsibility to protect the progress made in the past 20 years and address the remaining challenges. In doing so, we must recognise the vital role of women who defend human rights, often at great risk to themselves and their families precisely because they are viewed as stepping outside socially prescriptive gender stereotypes.

We must recognise the role of all people, women and men, who publicly call for gender equality and often, as a result, find themselves the victim of archaic and patriarchal, but powerful, threats to their reputations, their work and even their lives.

These extraordinary individuals – women’s human rights defenders – operate in hostile environments, where arguments of cultural relativism are common and often against the background of the rise of extremist, misogynistic groups, which threaten to dismantle the gains of the past.

Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

Consider the recent example of a newspaper publishing naked photos of a woman, claiming she was a well-known activist – an attack designed to shame this defender into silence. In other places, when women claim their right to affordable modern methods of contraception, they are labelled as prostitutes in smear campaigns seeking to undermine their credibility.

Online attacks against those who speak for women’s human rights and gender equality by so-called “trolls” – who threaten heinous crimes – are increasingly reported.

These attacks have a common thread – they rely on gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched discriminatory social norms in an attempt to silence those who challenge the age old system of gender inequality. However, these defenders will not be silenced, and we must stand in solidarity with them against these cowardly attacks.

This is why my office has decided to launch a campaign to pay tribute to women and men who defy stereotypes and fight for women’s human rights. The campaign runs from Human Rights Day, Dec. 10 this year, to International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, 2015. We encourage everyone to join the ranks of these strong and inspiring advocates, on social media (#reflect2protect) and on the ground.

As we approach the 20-year anniversary of Beijing, discrimination and violence against women, and the stereotypes that confine them into narrowly fixed roles must end. Women have the right to make their own decisions about their lives and their bodies.

Guaranteeing and implementing these rights are non-negotiable obligations of all states. Women human rights defenders were instrumental in securing the ambitious programme laid out in Beijing. Their work, their activism and their courage deserve our recognition, our support and our respect.

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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U.N. Chief, Under Fire, Moves Closer to Gender Parity Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:58:40 +0000 Thalif Deen Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named an international panel to review peacekeeping operations last October, the announcement was greeted with bitter criticism because it lacked even a semblance of gender balance: only three out of 14 members were women.

And perhaps adding insult to injury, the announcement was made on Oct. 31, the 14th anniversary of the historic Security Council resolution 1325 which underlined the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

“The timing of your announcement is a slap in the face to women working for peace the world over,” complained Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, and Paula Donovan, both co-directors of AIDS-Free World.

In three strongly-worded letters to the Secretary-General, Lewis and Donovan said: “In one stroke, you have succeeded in making a mockery of Resolution 1325.”

“In one stroke,” the letter further added, “you have repudiated the importance of gender equity in the appointment of high-level panels.”

And in one stroke, “you have declared to the world your view that there are no women to be found anywhere – not in politics, academe, diplomacy, civil society, or among Nobel laureates – who are qualified enough to satisfy the requirements of a panel on peace operations.”

The fallout was almost instantaneous – and mostly positive.

Firstly, the appointment last month of a new 10-member high-level panel on a technology bank for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) reflected a 50-50 gender parity: five men and five women.

Secondly, on Monday, the secretary-general, apparently responding to criticism, also doubled the number of women in the U.N. panel on peacekeeping: from three to six.

The three additional women to the Panel are: Dr. Marie-Louise Baricako from Burundi, Dr. Rima Salah from Jordan and Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka.

In addition, Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh, the current under-secretary-general for the Department of Field Support and an original member of the panel, will serve as vice-chair following her retirement from the United Nations on Feb. 1, 2015.

A statement released Monday said “the Secretary-General is confident the addition of three eminent women and the role Ms. Haq will play as Vice-Chair will not only bring gender balance to the panel, but also enrich its work, particularly on issues relating to women, peace and security.”

Asked for his comments, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, long considered the prime initiator and “father of the 1325 Security Council resolution”, told IPS: “It is welcome news – at least as a step forward towards our goal of 50-50 equality.”

He said listening to the voice of civil society is considered meaningful in making U.N. decision-making more broad-based and people-oriented.

When the initial criticism surfaced, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I guess this is one case where we have to just make a very sincere apology.

“We try as hard as we can to get the right gender balance and the right regional balance for these very large panels, and sometimes it’s a question of availability,” he added. “But when we make a mistake on that, you’re absolutely right, that’s a low number, and well have to do better.”

Chowdhury said: “Personally, I believe a woman should have been made the co-chair and not vice-chair of the Peace Panel.”

A key objective of Security Council’s history-making resolution 1325 is to achieve women’s equality of participation at all decision making levels, he added.

Also, it makes sense to have the two top persons of the panel representing two different geographic regions of the world, said, Chowdhury,, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative.

Donovan of AIDS-Free World told IPS the secretary-general’s actions came a bit closer to matching his rhetoric.

“But his claim that an 11-to-6 ratio of men to women was enough to ‘bring gender balance’ were the words of a leader who is either obdurate or uncomprehending,” she added.

Gender parity could have been achieved with a stroke of his pen; instead, he chose to keep women in the minority at 35 per cent,
she added.

“His actions raise some hope, a great deal of concern, and a clear warning about the need for constant vigilance and unrelenting pressure by proponents of women’s equal rights,” said Donovan.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times U.N. bureau chief, told IPS the persistence of AIDS-Free World in focusing wider outrage over the startling imbalance of the original panel on peacekeeping has paid off in a remarkably short time – by U.N. standards.

And the elevation to vice-chair of Ameerah Haq, one of the U.N.’s most qualified and effective officials over a nearly four-decade career, will go a long way in remedying the situation, said Crossette, currently the U.N.correspondent for The Nation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

She singled out Haq’s services in conflict and post-conflict countries which gives her a broad global vision.

To take one example from the new panel members – Radhika Coomaraswamy has been not only the U.N.’s point person on violence against women and the perils facing children in armed conflict, but also director of the International Center for Ethnic studies in Sri Lanka.

She held that position during an intense period of terrorism that cost the life of her predecessor in that position, Neelan Tiruchelvam, the country’s leading human rights lawyer, said Crossette.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS, “Our sincere hope is these appointments will not become two isolated efforts to please the complainers.

“We want a 50-50 representation not just this one time but all throughout the decision-making structures of the United Nations, ” she said.

She said those appointed should consult and connect with civil society, and there should be a mechanism for regular consultation with civil society, as part of the terms of reference of all key panels and committees and key positions in the United Nations.

She also called for a vetting mechanism for the selection of members of key panels and committees and key positions in the U.N. with a civil society representation.

“The problem with many high-level appointments in the U.N. is that they are based on political influence of some member states. They are pet nominees of influential member states who get the appointments – and that is why we have unqualified people in some of these positions,” she declared.

“We in civil society have delivered the message like a broken record. We’ve been telling the U.N. for years to walk the talk, and lead by example on matters of gender equality. I sincerely hope this will be the real tipping point,” she noted.

Meanwhile, in a statement released Tuesday, AIDS-Free World had the last word: “An 11-man, 6-woman panel, with a man as chair and a woman as vice-chair, does not bring gender balance by anyone’s reckoning.”

The High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will be monitored closely by civil society, the group said, and transparency will be expected in every aspect of its work.

“The Secretary-General must do better,” it declared. “The world’s women will hold him to account.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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As Wars Multiply, U.N. Takes a Hard Look at Peace Operations Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:46:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands U.N. Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

U.N. Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Finding ways to better integrate the two arms of U.N. Peace Operations – Special Political Missions and Peacekeeping Operations – will be one of the priorities for a new review panel headed by Nobel Peace Laureate and former president of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta.

The review panel will look at how combined U.N. Peace Operations can respond to demands from the international community for increased responsiveness and effectiveness.“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.” -- Jose Ramos-Horta

In light of recent reports of incomplete or untruthful reporting from U.N. Peace Operations, such as the investigation into an alleged mass rape in Tabit, Sudan, another pressing issue for the panel will be transparency and accountability.

In an interview with IPS, Ramos-Horta explained that the review was not a fact-finding mission but that serious events that happen on the ground “illustrate the need for serious thinking and changes, in the whole of the peacekeeping and political missions.

“The U.N. cannot be seen to shy away from reporting to the powers that be what happens on the ground. Because in not doing so we add to impunity,” he said.

The 14-member Panel on Peace Operations was announced on Oct. 31 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and quickly drew criticism for only having three female panel members. In response, an additional three female panel members were announced Monday.

The low representation of women on the panel, particularly initially, was considered incongruous with the U.N.’s public talk about greater participation from women in its peacebuilding activities.

Ramos-Horta told IPS last week “it is acknowledged that there is significant discrepancy, and as I understand there are well-placed, well-argued criticisms in regard to this imbalance.”

Ramos-Horta said that utmost in the thinking of the panel will be the protection of women and children and the role of women in dialogue and peace agreements.

One of the new panel members is Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who is expected to help ensure the panel works together with plans for implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325.

This may represent some recognition of the need to move towards action after several years of talk on women’s role in the peace building agenda.

Ramos-Horta told IPS that the panel will work closely with U.N. Women and will listen to civil society and representative women’s groups more so in regions where they suffer the brunt of conflicts.

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Balancing act with finite timeline

That the panel is also missing members from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan, where seemingly intractable conflicts have caused significant challenges for U.N. Peacekeeping in recent years, is another area for concern.

Ramos-Horta’s own experience with U.N. Peace Operations includes in his home country of Timor-Leste and in his recent role as U.N. Special Envoy to the Special Political Mission in Guinea-Bissau.

Consultation with representatives from countries at the receiving end of peace operations could help to identify new ways to control these conflicts that in some cases seem out of control.

Ramos-Horta said that one of the reasons that difficult conflicts have continued is in part due to a lack of local leadership and cooperation from local governments. For this reason, more consultation with representatives from these countries may be strategically wise.

But it is likely the the panel will feel that it is more pressed to focus on consulting with the governments of major troop and fund contributing countries, as well as the African Union and the NATO as the two other sources of multilateral peacekeepers.

Considering the spiraling scale and cost of U.N. Peace Operations, this will certainly be a priority for the review.

During the interview, Ramos-Horta also discussed the absence of a standing army or training camp for U.N. peacekeepers that would be ready to respond when crises erupt.

Ramos-Horta said that his own country of Timor-Leste had to turn to bilateral support in 2006, because the U.N. was unable to provide immediate assistance when violence re-ignited.

However, although a standing army may be able to bring conflicts under control faster through a faster response time, it would undoubtedly also provide new challenges in terms of financing.

Although one role of the panel will be to review peace operations in light of the changing nature of conflict, Ramos-Horta had a measured view of modern conflict.

He said it was important not to forget the horrors of past wars, such as the killing fields of Cambodia or the Iran-Iraq War.

Indeed, notwithstanding the complexity and severity of contemporary conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, the average number of people killed by war each year has decreased since the end of the Cold War.

Over this same period, the scale of U.N. Peace Operations has increased.

Ramos-Horta said that there are now greater expectations on the international community to act quickly in response to conflict.

“Civil society has more access to information and demand action from governments, that’s why you see today much greater demand and pressure on the international community to act,” he said.

“I wish that in my own country [Timor-Leste] from 1975 onwards there had been digital media and there had been international outrage from the very beginning as it is now happening in regard to Central African Republic, for instance, or in regard to Iraq, Libya, Syria conflicts”, he said.

“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.”

One way of making Peace Operations more efficient is to also look at conflict prevention measures.

To this end, Ramos-Horta said that one of the aims of the review will be to look at how to better finance the Special Political Missions, the arm of U.N. Peace Operations that aims to reduce the need for peacekeepers by stemming conflicts at their source.

Currently the funding available to Special Political Missions, of which there are currently 11 worldwide, is limited.

While peacekeeping has it’s own separate, ballooning, budget that currently stands at seven billion dollars for the 2014-15 financial year, the secretary general has to find funds for the Special Political Missions from the already cash-strapped U.N. General Budget.

At the end of the day, the limited financial capacity of the U.N. to do the work the international community expects of it may be the greatest priority for the panel, despite the other practical considerations it will have to make.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @lyndal.rowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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HIV Prevention is Failing Young South African Women Mon, 01 Dec 2014 13:07:39 +0000 Nqabomzi Bikitsha Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Nqabomzi Bikitsha

When she found out that she had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Thabisile Mkhize (not her real name) was scared.

She knew little about the virus that had been living in her body since birth and did not know whom to ask. Her mother had just died and she lived with her grandmother in rural KwaZulu Natal, where the HIV prevalence is the highest in South Africa, at 17 percent.

Today, at the age of 16,  Mkhize is an enthusiastic peer educator at her school,  discussing HIV prevention, safe sex and sexual rights. “I want young women to be safe, to make healthy sexual choices,“ she told IPS.South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection

South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection.

They account for one-quarter of new HIV infections and 14 percent of the country’s 6.4 million people living with HIV, according to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’.

Alarmingly, HIV incidence – the number of new  infections per year – among women aged between 15 and 24 is more than four times higher than among their male peers.

Professor Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, director for research at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) in Johannesburg, describes the factors that put young women at higher risk.

“Structural drivers – gender, social and economic inequalities – interact in a number of ways and influence behaviour such as choice of sexual partner and condom use,” she said.

Explaining that young women find it difficult to protect themselves against HIV, she noted that they “end up with controlling partners and fail to negotiate condom use or are forced to have sex.”

Tumi Molebatse, a 20-year-old student from Soweto, is an example. Years ago she had an HIV test and would like to have another with her boyfriend of two years, or at least to have safe sex.  “But my boyfriend will think I am cheating on him if I ask for condoms,” she told IPS.  “He supports me financially so it’s better to not bring it up.”


• 6.3 million people live with HIV
• 469,000 total new HIV infections per year
• 113,000 new HIV infections per year among women 15-24
• 11% HIV prevalence among girls aged 15-24
• 32% HIV prevalence among black African women aged 20-34
• 72% of women aged 25-49 have tested for HIV

Source: South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.
Molebatse’s dilemma is one familiar to many young women who feel powerless to request the use of condoms or for their partner to test for HIV.

In South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world, relationships with older men often pen the way for young women’s social mobility and material comfort.

According to Kerry Mangold from the South African National AIDS Council, inter-generational and transactional sex increase the risk of infection because older men have higher HIV rates than young men.

“It’s not rare to see a young girl sleep with an older man for food or a little bit of money,“ said Mkhize. “Young women aspire to have nice things in life but they don’t have money, they don’t have jobs, and they go for partners who can provide those things.”

According to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’, one-third of girls aged between 15 and 19 reported a partner five years or more their senior.

Risk and choices

“At its most extreme, gender inequality manifests as gender-based violence,” says Delany-Moretlwe.

In South Africa, young women who experienced intimate partner violence were 50 percent more likely to have acquired HIV than women who had not suffered violence, according to the UNAIDS Gap Report.

Despite decades of awareness campaigns, less than one-third of young women know how to prevent HIV.

Mkhize says that many girls hear about sex and HIV from friends and teachers, and often  the information is wrong. “I know girls who believe you cannot get HIV if you boyfriend has just come back from circumcision school and so they have sex without a condom,” she told IPS.

Mangold would like to see “an enabling environment for young women to make their own choices and reduce their risk.”

Since last year, the ZAZI initiative has been trying to do just that. A sassy campaign, ZAZI (from the Nguni words for “know yourself”) builds knowledge around sexual health through social media, video clips, poetry readings, street murals, music and fun activities that boost girls’ sense of self-worth.

“We hope to discourage them from opting for relationships with older men for material gain and give them confidence to negotiate condom use,” ZAZI advocacy manager Sara Chitambo told IPS.

ZAZI’s motto is “finding your inner strength”. On its website, girls can look up practical advice on what to do if they are raped, where to find contraception and how to prevent HIV.

(Edited by Mercedes Sayagues and Phil Harris)

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OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informed Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Risks Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agenda Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Men Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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25 Years After Rights Convention, Children Still Need More Protection Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:21:55 +0000 Susan Bissell Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Susan Bissell

Next week marks 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a historic commitment to children and the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history.

The CRC outlines universal rights for all children, including the right to health care, education, protection and the time and space to play. And it changed the way children are viewed, from objects that need care and charity, to human beings, with a distinct set of rights and with their own voices that deserve to be heard.Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

My career with UNICEF began the same year the CRC was adopted, and I have seen profound progress in children’s lives. Since 1989 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been reduced by nearly half. Pregnant women are far more likely to receive antenatal care and a significantly higher proportion of children now go to school and have clean water to drink.

We must celebrate these important achievements.

But this anniversary must also be used to critically examine areas of children’s lives that have seen far less progress and acknowledge that millions of children have their fundamental rights violated every day.

Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

These crises and events are stunning in their scope and depravity, and in the depth of suffering our children endure. As upsetting as they are, they play out alongside acts of violence against children that happen everywhere and every day.

Twenty-five years after the adoption of the CRC, we clearly must do more to protect our children.

Our children endure a cacophony of violence too often in silence, and too often under an unspoken assumption that violence against children is to some degree tolerable.

Our children endure it in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of the long-lasting physical, psychological, emotional, and social consequences they suffer well into adulthood because of such violence.

Our children endure it in spite of most countries’ national laws and international law and despite 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Earlier this year UNICEF released the largest-ever global compilation of data on violence against children. The figures are staggering and provide indisputable evidence that violence against children is a global phenomenon, cutting across every geographic, ethnic, cultural, social and economic divide. The data shows violence against children is tolerated, even justified, by adults and by children themselves.

As we reflect on the last 25 years, we must also look forward and commit to doing things differently. Now, more than any other point in history, we have the knowledge and ability to protect our children, and with this ability comes the obligation to do so.

First, children need protection from the crises that play out in the public eye, like conflicts in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and others.

We also need programmes that work at preventing and responding to the everyday, hidden violence. Initiatives like a programme in Turkey that reduced physical punishment of children by more than 70 percent in two years. Or child protection centres in Kenya that respond to thousands of cases every year. Or a safe schools programme in Croatia that cut the number of children being bullied in half.

Countries must also strengthen their child protection systems – networks of organisations, services, laws, and processes – that provide families with support so they can make sure children are protected.

And finally, as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders must prioritise child protection as we look towards 2015 and beyond.

As a long-serving UNICEF official, and more importantly as a mother, I want for children everywhere what I want for my own daughter – a world where every child is protected from violence.

The 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides an opportunity to recommit to the promise we made to children, and take the urgent action needed now to protect them from harm.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women’s Safety Schemes Go Mobile in India Fri, 14 Nov 2014 16:49:44 +0000 Sujoy Dhar Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Sujoy Dhar
NEW DELHI, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

It was 9:45 pm when 23-year-old Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi, who was traveling home in a rickshaw, pressed a button on her smart phone that sent out emergency alerts to two of her closest friends.

Immediately, two frantic calls followed.

“I am safe,” Chaudhury assured her distressed friends. “I was just checking that the app works.”

She uses VithU, a mobile phone app developed by Channel V, which was launched in November last year in India in the aftermath of the horrific rape-murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus in the Indian capital on Dec. 16, 2012.

The smart phone app is activated by tapping twice on an icon on the screen, which instantly sends the following message to pre-loaded emergency contacts: ‘I am in danger. I need help. Please follow my location’, along with details of the sender’s whereabouts.

“Fortunately I have never faced a situation where I felt the need to use it,” Chaudhury tells IPS. “But I think it is important to have it. I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial.

“We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions,” she explains.

After ‘Nirbhaya’

"I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial. We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions." -- Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi
While dime-a-dozen safety apps are now available in India, mostly launched by mobile phone companies and other private groups, the Government of India plans to launch a safety app of its own later this month, as an auxiliary service to the existing 181 helpline for women, which was started after the fatal Delhi bus rape.

“This new app will also facilitate pre-registering of crimes based on perceived threats,” says Khadijah Faruqui, a women’s rights activist and human rights lawyer who is heading the 181 Helpline.

Safety apps are just one of many responses to the 2012 gang rape, which sparked massive protests around this country of 1.2 billion, with scores of people taking to the streets to demand tougher laws, increased security measures, sensitization of the police force and stronger government action to tackle sexual violence against women.

Lawmakers and politicians responded to the tragedy by pushing out the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013, which incorporates various sexual crimes into the penal code, and promises stiffer penalties for offenses such as stalking, voyeurism or harassment.

The government also established six new fast-track courts to hear rape cases, and experts say there has been an explosion in public debate about women’s safety.

Still, millions of women continue to live in fear, while the frequency and brutality of rapes appears unchanged despite tougher laws.

The latest figures provided by India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2012 point to 24,923 rapes per year, while police reports from various cities show an alarming rise in assaults in 2013-2014.

India’s financial hub, Mumbai, which used to be considered a safe place for women, witnessed a 43-percent rise in the number of reported rapes this year compared to the previous year, according to the city’s police.

Meanwhile, the capital city saw an alarming five-fold rise in sexual assaults in 2013, police records say.

An abundance of apps

Against this backdrop, many women have welcomed the rise in innovative solutions to the constant threat of sexual violence.

For instance, Microsoft India recently released the safety application called ‘Guardian’ for Windows phones, which allows users to select a ‘track me’ feature that enables friends and family to follow the person in real-time using cloud services, among others.

The app also comes with an SOS alert function and a feature that allows the user to record evidence of an attack.

According to Microsoft-IT India Managing Director Raj Biyani, “It is a robust personal security app with more safety features and capabilities than any other comparable app available to Indian smart phone users today.”

Then there is Circle of 6, which won the 2011 Apps Against Abuse challenge sponsored by the Obama Administration and works by offering users a number of icons that send the user’s selected ‘circle’ messages for help, interruption, or advice.

Originally designed to guard against date rapes in the United States, the app’s developers saw a 1,000-percent rise in the number of downloads in India after the Nirbhaya tragedy, prompting them to translate the app into Hindi and tailor it to fit the Indian context.

According to Circle of 6–New Delhi, the app has been programmed in both English and Hindi and it has been designed in a gender-neutral manner.

Says Nancy Schwartzman, a representative of the team who created Circle of 6, “Administrations should make Circle of 6 a priority and should invest in the future of safety with this technology. Circle of 6 is […] a smart and efficient way to centralize both social and emergency communications.”

The app creators said the hotlines have been pre-programmed so that they are in sync with the 24/7 women’s hotline of New Delhi and the women counseling and support service run by the NGO Jagori.

A user of the app, who feels uneasy to contact the police, can also reach out to the Lawyer’s Collective, a leading public interest legal service provider.

Government gets on board

Taking its cue from private initiatives by IT firms and advocacy groups, the government is now pouring resources into the issue of women’s safety.

Under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the finance ministry approved proposals aimed at streamlining police, mobile and legal services in the country, resulting in the creation of a fund worth one trillion rupees (about 16 billion dollars) to be used exclusively on projects aimed at enhancing women’s safety.

For example, a proposal by the ministry of home affairs, designed in consultation with the ministry of information technology, calls for integration of the police administration with the mobile phone network to rapidly trace and respond to distress calls.

The ministry of information technology also plans to issue instructions to all mobile phone manufacturers to introduce a mandatory SOS alert button to all handsets.

The scheme will be launched in 157 cities in two phases.

Yet another project – known in its initial stage as ‘design and development of an affordable electronic personal safety device’ – being undertaken by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) aims to roll out a self-contained safety system in the form of a wristwatch.

India’s ministry of road transport and highways has proposed a scheme that will cover 32 towns, each with a population of over one million people, where public transportation vehicles will be fitted with GPS tracking devices to enhance law enforcement’s ability to respond to attacks.

Still, an app alone cannot solve the massive problem of violence against women in India, with an average of 57 cases of rape reported every day, according to an analysis of government data by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

According to Jasmeen Patheja, founder of a student-led project at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore known as Blank Noise, the “solution is not in the app itself, but its function and role and space for intervention.”

But Rimi B. Chatterjee, a writer and activist based in Kolkata who also teaches English in the prestigious Jadavpur University, which is leading a viral protest against the molestation of a girl student on campus in September this year, is skeptical about the effectiveness of the apps.

“I am personally not sure about their efficacy and I fear that they can actually be launched by companies to bank on the insecurity of women to make money. So I have never advised my students to use them,” says Chatterjee.

“The solution to women’s safety is in the counselling and training of men and not in development of apps. The problem is not with the women, it lies with men and their mindset, as young men are learning to disrespect women from their seniors,” she says.

However, according to Faruqui, an app like the one to be launched in connection with the 181 Helpline on Nov. 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the aim will be to address the gaps in the existing apps and ensure that a woman in distress can find timely assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hope Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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Women Challenged by Rising Extremism and Militarism Thu, 06 Nov 2014 18:37:02 +0000 Thalif Deen A woman and child at Za’atri refugee camp, host to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by conflict, near Mafraq, Jordan. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

A woman and child at Za’atri refugee camp, host to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by conflict, near Mafraq, Jordan. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen

Ongoing military conflicts in the strife-torn Middle East – specifically in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Palestine – have resulted in widespread civilian casualties, impacting heavily on the most vulnerable in besieged communities: women and children.

The biggest death toll has stemmed from the civil war in Syria, currently in its fourth year, followed by casualties from the devastating 50-day Israeli air attacks on Gaza last August.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the battlefields of Syria, has estimated the number of women killed at over 6,000 and the number of children at more than 9,400, by the end of August (with total deaths of over 190,000 since 2011).

The United Nations has described the killings in Gaza as “appalling”, with over 2,200 Palestinians dead, of whom 459 were children and 239 women (compared with 64 Israeli soldiers, two civilians and one foreign national).

Against this backdrop, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) is holding a five-day conference in Turkey, scheduled to conclude Nov. 11, which will focus on two of the biggest challenges facing women, particularly in the Middle East: extremism and militarism.

“This past year, our counterparts have faced incomprehensible challenges, including politically and religiously motivated violence, extreme economic hardships and closure of public spaces,” says ICAN.

The participants in the meeting include over 50 women activists from 14 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Tajikistan, Libya and Yemen.

Stressing the importance of the meeting, ICAN co-founder Sanam Anderlini told IPS it’s the first time women from the region are gathering to talk about their experiences since three major developments in the Middle East: the rise of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Israeli bombings in Gaza and the Tunisian elections.

And most importantly, the meeting will focus on women’s perspectives, vision and strategies on the present crisis – and also propose solutions for dealing with the spread of both extremism and state militarism, she added.

In a statement released this week, ICAN also pointed out that women continue to be excluded from international decision-making arenas and the media – despite provisions in the landmark U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Meanwhile, the low representation of women (three out of 14) in a new U.N. blue ribbon panel on peacekeeping operations has generated strong criticism.

Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, complained about the marginalisation of women in an important panel, to be chaired by former president of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos Horta.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, both Lewis and Paula Donovan, who are co-directors of AIDS-Free World, said:
“This pattern must be reversed. The gender equity you profess to espouse can only be achieved by the appointment of eight additional women to the panel.

“If a panel of that size seems too unwieldy, some of your appointees must be asked to relinquish their seats to qualified women in order to achieve balance.

“If you leave things as they are, this panel will become a testament to the yawning, unbridgeable hypocrisy between U.N. performance and U.N. rhetoric,” the letter said.

Asked for his comments, an apologetic U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I guess this is one case where we have to just make a very sincere apology.

“We try as hard as we can to get the right gender balance and the right regional balance for these very large panels, and sometimes it’s a question of availability,” he said. “But when we make a mistake on that, you’re absolutely right, that’s a low number, and we’ll have to do better.”

Last week was the 14th anniversary of Resolution 1325, which was adopted on Oct. 31, 2000, stressing the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security and urging, first and foremost, increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.

Asked if 1325 has had any impact in terms of women’s security in war zones, Anderlini told IPS that it varies from country to country. In South Sudan, for example, the NGO Non Violent Peace Force has trained all-female teams to be deployed around the country.

In the Philippines, she said women demanded and established an all-women civilian ceasefire monitoring team.

“It makes a difference because they pay attention to the security of civilians making sure people have safe humanitarian passage,” Anderlini said.

She said by and large the United Nations and member states really haven’t done as much as they could. For example, she said, India has deployed an all women unit of peacekeepers to Liberia. Other countries could do the same.

The United Nations could also give priority deployment to countries with a higher percentage of women peacekeepers and police officers.

“It would certainly help reduce the risk or actual incidence of sexual abuse of local women by peacekeepers,” Anderlini added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Ending Violence Against Women – A Global Responsibility Tue, 04 Nov 2014 13:11:13 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri

Addressing violence against women, in all of its forms, is a global imperative and should be one of the international community’s top priorities, including in forthcoming intergovernmental processes, such as the post-2015 development agenda.

There are numerous international frameworks and instruments, already in existence, that define the obligation of member states to prevent and respond to violence against women.It is critical to ensure that accountability mechanisms are in place; that funding for implementation is adequate, predictable and sustainable; and that the means of implementation are strengthened.

These include the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women; outcomes of global conferences, in particular, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Cairo Programme of Action; and many resolutions, agreed conclusions and statements of intergovernmental bodies, especially the General Assembly, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Human Rights and subsequently Human Rights Council, and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Committee’s General Recommendation 19 are also key components of this global normative framework.

More recently, in 2013, at its 57th session, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted the milestone agreed conclusions on the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls,” which apart from representing normative progress and commitment, constitute a global plan of action.

The creation of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), with its normative support, operational and coordination functions, further demonstrates the commitment to the rights of women and the achievement to the goal of gender equality at the global level.

However, the translation and full implementation of these global norms into national laws, policies, and measures remain uneven and slow. This is clear from the prevalence of all forms of violence against women seen throughout the world.

The focus of prevention and response to violence against women should therefore be on strengthening the implementation of existing global policy frameworks and in ensuring accountability mechanisms are in place.

We must look critically at existing global policy frameworks and instruments, and identify gaps that prevent the existing framework from achieving its expected results and ways to enhance accountability.

Engaging key stakeholders such as civil society organisations as well as the public is critical in enhancing the accountability of member states but also establishing a “bottom-up” approach to addressing violence against women.

This is what UN Women aims to do with the 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20).

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action identified Violence against Women as one of its 12 critical areas of concern, and the review and appraisal of the Platform for Action is a key opportunity for the international community to not only acknowledge the progress made in the past 20 years but to also assess the remaining gaps and challenges in its implementation, including violence against women, to feed the lessons learned into the post-2015 development agenda processes.

UN Women has developed several good practices in engaging other stakeholders to hold member states accountable on their commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of women, in addition to our norm setting and knowledge building, and programmatic work in 81 countries.

UN Women has established global, regional, and national level Civil Society Advisory Groups, has worked through the U.N. Secretary-General’s “UNiTE campaign,” and the newly established “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!,” and the “HeForShe” Beijing + 20 campaigns to engage the global citizenry on ending violence against women.

Moving forward, it will be crucial to continue to engage on the post-2015 processes. We are pleased to see that in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals transmitted to the General Assembly by the Open Working Group included, for the first time, ending violence against women as a target under the transformative and comprehensive goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

However, we must continue to work to ensure that this transformative goal is supported by strong indicators to enhance the monitoring, accountability and implementation by member states in the final post-2015 development agenda.

In addressing such a complex phenomenon, which is embedded in gender inequality and harmful gender stereotypes, more needs to be done, beyond the adoption of additional international instruments and national legal and policy frameworks. It is critical to ensure that accountability mechanisms are in place; that funding for implementation is adequate, predictable and sustainable; and that the means of implementation are strengthened.

A revitalised global partnership and political will can make the difference in ensuring the right of women and girls to live a life free of violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Another Women’s Treaty? Implement Existing One, Say NGOs Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:40:05 +0000 Thalif Deen Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Can violence against women be prevented or eliminated with a new international treaty signed and ratified by the 193 member states of the United Nations?

Rashida Manjoo of South Africa, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, told the General Assembly last week the absence of a legally binding agreement represents one of the obstacles to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality."I'm all for the practical measures...but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

“A different set of laws and practical measures are urgently needed to respond to and prevent the systemic, widespread and pervasive human rights violation experienced largely by women,” she told delegates.

But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took a more cautious approach to a new treaty.

Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS, “In principle, the idea of stronger and more specific legislation is a good one.”

Clearly, laws, norms and policies are critical to shifting practices and changing attitudes.

“However, we know they are not enough. There are many countries — from the United States to members of the European Union and beyond, such as Pakistan — where laws exist, but violence against women continues in many spheres of life in diverse forms and at horrendous rates,” she said. “So legislation has to come with other pillars and elements to ensure effective implementation.”

Dr. Palitha Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, told IPS there needs to be substantial international support, not only for a treaty text to be eventually adopted, but even for negotiations to commence – perhaps following a U.N. resolution.

“The promoters of a treaty will have to convince the international community there is a real need for such a legal instrument,” he said.

He pointed out this will involve ensuring the existing international legal instruments are inadequate to address the issues that the promoters of a new treaty seek to address.

“While gender-based violence, or any other form of violence, is to be unreservedly condemned, this would pose a challenge for the promoters of a treaty on gender-based violence,” said Ambassador Kohona, who is Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

“It is also well known that while laws can be useful for modifying social and community attitudes, it would take more than an international instrument to bring this abhorrent behaviour to an end.”

He said humanity must stand up and condemn violence, in particular gender-based violence, “and we are experiencing too much of it in our world today.

“As one philosopher observed, we inhabit this planet only for a short period. Why hurt another during this brief existence?” he added.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, told IPS the elimination of violence against women is already well-covered in the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its General Recommendations, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in 1979.

“Why do we need another law?” she asked. “I do not see any added value in having another treaty on the same issues. If anything, we run the risk of undermining CEDAW that women around the world fought for. It already has almost universal ratification.”

Cabrera-Balleza said there is no point lobbying governments again. “And with many conservative governments in power, there is very little chance to get another law ratified,” she added.

Furthermore, the current international instruments we have that promote and protect women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality were mostly achieved through the global conferences of the 1990s.

“We don’t have that global momentum anymore. There will never be a World Conference on Women again in the same magnitude and impact as the 1995 Beijing Conference,” she said. “I’m all for the practical measures…but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation.”

ICAN’s Naraghi-Anderlini told IPS: “We cannot deny the cultural or ‘religious’ backlash against the so-called progressive agenda on women’s rights.”

In societies where patriarchal norms are dominant – and that’s pretty much everywhere – and women are considered to be men’s property, the social conservatives can easily tap into traditions and cultural norms to generate a backlash against increasing women’s rights.

“We are seeing external forces (e.g. Saudi-based religious ideology, the Catholic Church, etc) being proponents of more conservative rulings and practices,” she pointed out.

At a minimum therefore, new laws have to come with tailored messaging – via respected outlets – be that media, law enforcement, recognised and respected national figures or community or religious leaders, to challenge those norms.

She said there has to be effective training and equipping of the local law enforcement/services to be able to implement the new legislation (e.g. provide care for victims, protection for those who come forward etc) – and police officers have to be held accountable for their actions or inactions or transgressions.

It would also be interesting and innovative to see a grounds-up accountability mechanism introduced, she said.

For example, she said, would the United Nations be willing to support a Women’s Security Campaign where local women’s organisations/groups are given the technical/financial and political support needed to reach out to police/law enforcement/local community leaders and together devise a charter that binds the authorities to ensuring they protect women from violence?

And will the national police force and its local chapters be willing to sign up to a charter in which they promise to protect women who are reporting cases of violence, promise not to violate/rape/harass etc. witnesses/victims, prevent further violence, etc.?

“If they agree to sign such a charter, than it is a social compact made with local actors who can hold them accountable. If they don’t or they try to water-down the conditions, it is indicative of a deep lack of political will or commitment to women’s security,” she declared.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Manjoo told the General Assembly last week that despite progress, there is continuing and new sets of challenges hampering efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women.

This she pointed out, is largely due to the lack of a all-inclusive approach that addresses individual, institutional and structural factors that are a cause and a consequence of violence against women.

Making a case for a new treaty, she said that with a specific legally binding instrument there would be a protective, preventive and educative framework reaffirming the international community’s assertion that women’s rights are human rights and that violence against women is a pervasive and widespread human rights violation, in and of itself.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuses Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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