Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 04 Mar 2015 01:54:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 For Women in Asia, ‘Home’ Is a Battlegroundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:01:56 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139463 All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Nearly half of the four billion people who reside in the Asia-Pacific region are women. They comprise two-thirds of the region’s poor, with millions either confined to their homes or pushed into the informal labour market where they work without any safeguards for paltry daily wages. Millions more become victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery.

Others find themselves battling an enemy much closer to home; in fact, for many women the greatest threat is inside the home itself, where domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is a daily occurrence.

Half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence. -- Asia Pacific Forum (APF)
UN Women says that women in Asia and the Pacific retain one of the world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, much of it concentrated within a single home or perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner.

In the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea, for instance, 58 percent of women claim to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in relationships, while 55 percent say they were forced into sexual encounters against their will.

In Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, 66 percent of women report the use of violence by intimate partners; 44 percent suffered the abuse while pregnant.

In East Timor, one in four women experience physical violence at the hands of a partner every year and 16 percent of married women report being coerced by their husbands into having sex.

Any number of reasons could explain this grim reality. According to the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), “Women in the region experience some of the lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the world.”

Even those who have jobs earn less than their male counterparts, with a pay gap for women in the region ranging from 54-90 percent, despite the existence of laws supposedly guaranteeing ‘equal pay for equal work’.

A complete absence of legal provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace means that between 30 and 40 percent of working women in Asia and the Pacific report experiencing verbal, physical or sexual abuse, APF says.

The organisation also found that half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence.

In this legal vacuum, men face almost no consequences for their actions and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle.

It also means that government data on abuse are, at best, extremely conservative estimates, since most women do not report violent incidents – either from fear of reprisals or because of a lack of faith in the legal system to deliver any solutions.

In India, for example, the most recent government household survey found that 40 percent of women had been abused in their homes; but an independent survey backed by the Planning Commission of India puts the number closer to 84 percent.

In Indonesia, where the police recorded over 150,000 cases of violence against women in 2009 – 96 percent of which were incidents involving a husband and wife – activists estimate that just one out of 10 cases actually gets reported; meaning the real number of survivors of domestic violence is at least nine times higher than official figures indicate.

Last year the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) reported that 2013 was one of the worst years for women, with the highest number of reported incidents of violence.

Citing statistics from the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the Commission stated that 14.4 percent of married women, and 37 percent of separated or widowed women, experienced spousal abuse.

Four percent of all women who have ever been pregnant have suffered violence at the hands of a partner, while three in five abused women report long-lasting physical and psychological impacts of the violence or battery.

Policy-makers say tougher implementation of laws partially accounts for the increased number of reported incidents, which saw a 49.5 percent rise from 2012.

The same could soon be true in China, where the recently released draft of the country’s first anti-domestic violence law was hailed by civil society as a step towards stemming rampant abuse – physical, sexual and psychological – in millions of households.

Data from the government-run All-China Women’s Federation show that some 40 percent of women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their relationships, while just seven percent of battered women report the violence to the authorities.

U.N. agencies say a dearth of laws against marital rape in the region has fostered a sense of impunity among husbands. In 2012, UN Women found that only eight countries across Asia and the Pacific had laws that specifically criminalised marital rape, leading millions – including women – to feel that men were justified in sexually or physically abusing their wives.

Too often, the legal system operates in ways that leaves women out in the cold and allows perpetrators of violence to walk free.

Courts are largely inaccessible to women in rural areas; legal fees and the price of forensic examinations are cost-prohibitive to women who are not in control of their own finances; and male biases within the police force means that law enforcement officials are largely unsympathetic to the few who dare come forward to report abuse.

Furthermore, women in Asia are woefully underrepresented in the legal system. While UN Women reports that a “quarter of judges and around a fifth of prosecution staff in East Asia and the Pacific are women […] South Asia lags behind, with women making up just nine percent of judges and four percent of prosecution staff.”

These numbers are even more dismal in the police, with women in South Asia comprising a mere three percent of the police force, a figure that rises to just nine percent for East Asia and the Pacific.

Home to four of the five fastest-growing economies in the world, Asia’s shining visage is darkened by the shadow of misery its women face in their own homes.

Absent the implementation of robust laws, sustained efforts to improve women’s representation at all levels of government and genuine measures to ensure women gain a sturdy economic foothold in all countries in the region, experts say it is unlikely that domestic violence will decline.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139284 No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 

“No.”

“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“HeForShe” Campaign Moves to the Next Stagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 23:25:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139228 Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

It launched in a blaze of social media glory with a viral speech that rocketed around the world, and five months on from the launch of U.N. Women’s groundbreaking HeForShe campaign, the real work is well underway.

The campaign, designed to recruit men and boys as key players in the gender equality movement, burst into life in September 2014 with a passionate speech from British actress Emma Watson on the floor of the United Nations in New York City.

The Harry Potter star’s speech has since been seen by millions around the globe, as the HeForShe launch and Watson’s remarks went viral worldwide.

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said at the U.N.

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals… How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

HeForShe asks men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality, to address inequality and discrimination faced by women worldwide. The overarching goal is gender equality by 2030.

U.N. Women presented a campaign update to the U.N. on February 9, outlining its accomplishments so far: billions of media impressions; millions of dollars donated; over 200,000 men pledging their support to the movement; and the new “Impact 10x10x10” program to bring on governments, universities and corporations as partners, recently launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.” -- Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women

“Once men start questioning the dynamics of gender inequality, men take responsibility for changing them, alongside women,” the U.N. Women briefing heard.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor at U.N. Women and head of the HeForShe campaign, called it a “rallying call” and “solidarity movement for gender equality.”

“We need to shift the way things have been done. A new approach was needed, there is a need for men to be part of this dialogue,” she told IPS.

“This is something that can’t just be for women alone to solve. It’s about men recognizing this is their struggle too.”

Just five months old, HeForShe is arguably already one of the most well recognised gender equality campaigns to ever exist, but women’s groups hold mixed opinions on the goals, ideology and value of the movement.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS she was concerned that, ironically, men were seemingly being valued more than women in this gender equality campaign.

“The concern is that it is very easy for women’s voices to be usurped. That in shifting the focus to men, you run the risk of making women invisible again,” Gerntholtz said.

“There needs to be a conscious effort to keep women’s voices front and centre of these campaigns.”

She spoke of attending women’s rights conferences and summits where the entire panel of speakers were men, without a single female voice.

“Even in the U.N., with explicit decisions to look for gender parity in a discussion, I’ve been to events and panels that are all men. [HeForShe] might run the risk of replicating these risks of inequality and disempowerment,” Gerntholtz said.

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women, said HeForShe was a good starting point but was not the miracle cure for gender equality.

“The campaign does not address all the aspects of equality that need to be addressed. It simply says, feminism is good for men and for women, and that’s indisputable,” she told IPS.

“I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.”

Gerntholtz was skeptical of HeForShe’s broad goal “to end gender inequality by 2030,” as outlined by said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“What are the indicators of gender equality that we are talking about? Is it access to education, participation in government and the corporate sector, a reduction in the number of women experiencing violence? The difficulty in an aim like that is it is very vague,” Gerntholtz said.

“It is important, what we use as markers on the road. It is an ambitious goal.”

When asked by IPS what indicators HeForShe would measure when assessing gender equality, Nyamayaro did not point to any specific examples.

“We’re looking for parity across every single level of society, whether in the home, workplace or community,” she said.

“We’re looking for lasting, concrete change… action from the grassroots, bottom up.”

Nyamayaro pointed out the Impact 10x10x10 project as HeForShe’s next substantial action, where she hoped meaningful change could be accomplished.

A one-year pilot initiative, the project will “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” according to a release from U.N. Women.

“Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions,” the release continues.

Nyamayaro said 10x10x10 would be a key part of HeForShe’s upcoming agenda, with further plans to be unveiled on International Women’s Day in March and a big one-year anniversary celebration in September.

“A lot needs to be done at the government and corporate level, and in terms of universities, with half the world’s population under 30 and the amount of violence on college campuses, we thought we could really do something there,” she said.

While Gerntholtz made clear her reservations over HeForShe, she said she generally supported the campaign’s goals.

“The women’s movement has been moving towards understanding that we need to include men and boys in the solution. We can’t just see them as perpetrators of violence, but as partners in eradicating violence,” she said.

“Using Emma Watson helps popularise feminism and makes it a legitimate choice for young men. It’s important she reaches the next generation, who will hopefully take leadership roles.”

O’Neill said the National Organisation for Women looked forward to tracking the progress of HeForShe.

“It’s really all hands on deck. We need all the help we can get,” she said.

“We need the U.N. to be loud and strong for women’s equality. HeForShe is one part of what’s needed, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshbutler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israeli-arrest-campaign-targets-palestinian-children/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 11:28:59 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139195 Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian  youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Nasser Murad Safi, 15, was shot by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition breaking his leg during stone-throwing clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS)

Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.

Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.

The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation."[Palestinian] children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member" – UNICEF

Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).

According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.

However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.

In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, bears the scars after his skull was fractured by the back of a gun as Israeli soldiers were arresting him. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.

IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.

One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.

“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.

Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.

The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.

Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.

“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.

Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.

Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.

“Two children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who are accused of committing the same act, such as stone throwing, will receive substantially different treatment from two separate legal systems,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a recently released report titled ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank’.

“The Israeli child will be afforded the extensive rights and protections granted to minors under Israeli law. His Palestinian counterpart will be entitled to limited rights and protections, which are not sufficient to ensure his physical and mental wellbeing and which do not sufficiently meet his unique needs as a minor,” said the report.

Moreover, in many cases, the criminal law applying to Palestinian minors is stricter and even more severe than the one applied to Israeli adults.

“If Malak al Khatib had been arrested for violent activity as an Israeli child she would have received certain rights. These were denied to her for being Palestinian,” ACRI spokesperson Nuri Moskovich told IPS.

Decades of ‘temporary’ Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.

“A series of military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers,” said ACRI.

“By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military legal law – military orders that have been issued by Israeli generals since 1967.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Mass Rapes Reported in Darfur as Conflict Escalateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 17:08:54 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139099 A displaced mother and her child inspect the remnants of their burnt house in Khor Abeche, South Darfur. Apr. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

A displaced mother and her child inspect the remnants of their burnt house in Khor Abeche, South Darfur. Apr. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

More than 200 Darfurian women were reportedly raped by Sudanese troops in one brutal assault on a town in October 2014, with the conflict in war-torn Darfur escalating to new heights.

A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday claimed up to 221 women in the town of Tabit, in northern Darfur, were raped over a 36-hour period between Oct. 30 and 31.“Three of them participated in the attack, and two said they had orders to rape. Their attacks were more or less a pre-emptive strike on the town for allegedly supporting rebel groups." -- HRW's Jonathan Loeb

Several hundred Sudanese government troops were said to have looted the town, severely beat men and boys, and sexually assaulted women and girls.

Jonathan Loeb, the report’s author and a fellow in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS that HRW investigators were forced to conduct secretive phone interviews with victims and witnesses, as Sudanese forces blocked all access to the town. Even in the aftermath of the October attack, Loeb said United Nations peacekeepers, aid workers, human rights investigators and journalists were denied access.

“The only time they let anyone in, it was in circumstances not remotely close to a real investigation,” Loeb said.

“People did take real risks to talk to us. Some only wanted to speak after they obtained a new phone card or number that wasn’t registered to them, and some only spoke once they were outside the town.”

Witnesses and victims told of brutal beatings and whippings, as well as repeated rapes. They reported Sudanese forces claiming the attack was in retribution for the disappearance of a soldier from a nearby army base.

“[The soldiers] made us lie with our faces down and they said: ‘If anyone [lifted] their head it would be shot off. And if you don’t find our missing soldier you will be food for termites,’” a man called Idriss told HRW.

Khatera, a woman, explained the systematic nature of the Sudanese attack.

“Immediately after they entered the room they said: ‘You killed our man. We are going to show you true hell.’ Then they started beating us. They took my husband away while beating him. They raped my three daughters and me,” she said.

“Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one. One helped beat and the other raped. Then they would go to the next girl.”

Loeb said investigators had several theories on the reason behind the attack.

“We don’t know for certain, but from the victims’ perspective, they were being collectively punished for the soldier going missing. They were accused of abducting or killing him,” he said.

He said other possible reasons for the attack included discouraging rebel forces from using Tabit as a meeting point before attacking the Sudanese base. Four Sudanese defectors told HRW the base had received intelligence that a rebel commander was to soon arrive in Tabit.

“Three of them participated in the attack, and two said they had orders to rape. Their attacks were more or less a pre-emptive strike on the town for allegedly supporting rebel groups,” Loeb said.

Dan Sullivan, director of policy and government relations with activist organisation United To End Genocide, said the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated in recent months.

A U.N. panel reported over 3,000 villages were destroyed by Sudanese forces in 2014, with almost 500,000 people displaced.

“It is bad, and it’s getting worse. The sad truth is, we’re seeing the highest levels of violence and displacement since the height of the Darfur genocide almost a decade ago,” Sullivan told IPS.

“A lot of people have been displaced consistently over a long time. There’s lawlessness, tribes fighting over gold reserves, and the government of Sudan continues to drop bombs in direct violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. There just hasn’t been any enforcement of violations.”

Both Sullivan and Loeb attributed a recent surge in violence to a newly created militia force, the Rapid Support Force (RSF). Sullivan said the RSF was formed largely of former members of the Janjaweed, the Sudanese counter-insurgency force accused of killing tens of thousands of Darfurians during the genocide.

“They are a reconstitution of the Janjaweed, the men on horseback with guns. It’s the same people, but now they’re in this new force and supported by the government of Sudan,” Sullivan said.

Loeb said it was unclear whether the Sudanese government had directly ordered, or had knowledge of, the Tabit atrocity, but said the government at least played a role in the attempted cover-up.

“We’re able to state the soldiers reported they were given orders by a senior commander, and another travelled from the regional capital to participate. We’re not sure how far up the chain of command these orders came from,” Loeb said.

“We know the government at a variety of levels was complicit in the cover-up, and stopping the investigation going forward.”

Loeb said the commissioner of the locality threatened victims and witnesses with violence or death if they spoke to the U.N or journalists.

“There was significant government involvement, an government-orchestrated cover-up. But exactly how high it went, we don’t know,” he said.

The HRW report calls for the U.N. to make greater interventions into the conflict to protect at-risk Darfurian citizens, as well as for a formal investigation into the Tabit incident.

“Citizens in Tabit are extremely vulnerable. They are living in the same houses where the rapes happened, and Sudanese soldiers are a constant presence. We’re recommending the U.N. mission on the ground establish a permanent presence and base in the town,” Loeb said.

“The Security Council should demand that happen. The incident also requires further investigation by an international body. We say the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be best placed.”

Sullivan said the conflict in Darfur would continue until real structural and political change happened in the region. He said current Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, in power since 1989 and indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for the campaign of mass killing and rape, would retain power for the foreseeable future.

“It comes down to accountability. The guy in charge at the beginning of the genocide [Al-Bashir] continues to be president. He’s wanted on charge of genocide, but is set for election again and win again in April,” Sullivan said. “This cloud of impunity is a major part of allowing the attacks to continue.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Plight of Women and Girls in Zambezi’s Floodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 18:53:12 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138974 Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

By Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2015 (IPS)

The flooding of the Zambezi River has had devastating consequences for three countries in Southern Africa. The three worst affected countries are Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

Livestock has drowned, crops have been submerged or washed away and infrastructure has been badly damaged.Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery.

Worse still, hundreds of lives have been lost – and the dignity of women and girls is on the line.

In Malawi, an estimated 638,000 people have been affected and the president has declared a state of disaster. About 174,000 people have been displaced in three of the worst affected districts out of 15 districts hit by floods.

A total of 79 deaths have been reported and about 153 people are still missing. Data disaggregated by age and sex are not readily available, however, it is estimated that about 330,000 of the 638,000 displaced people in the camps are women and close to 108,000 are young people.

The situation is also critical in Zimbabwe. According to preliminary assessments, approximately 6,000 people (1,200 households) have been affected, of which 2,500 people from 500 households are in urgent need of assistance. An estimated 40-50 per cent will be women or girls. More than ten people have drowned while many more have been injured, displaced and left homeless.

In Mozambique, almost all 11 provinces have experienced extensive rainfall. The central province of Zambézia was the worst hit – a bridge connecting central and northern Mozambique was destroyed by the floods in Mocuba district. Niassa and Nampula provinces were also seriously affected.

These three provinces are already among the poorest in the country, and for the most vulnerable – women, girls and children – the impact of flooding can be devastating.

Around 120,000 people from 24,000 families have been affected. The death toll due to flooding, lightning and houses collapsing has risen to 64, while more than 50,000 people from 12,000 families are in need of shelter. Others have fled to neighbouring Malawi. At least 700 out of an estimated 2500 people have been repatriated to date.

Mozambique has a recent history of recurrent floods. UNFPA is supporting the government and other partners to scale up efforts to safeguard the dignity of women and girls. This includes the positioning of reproductive health kits, hygiene kits and promoting gender-based violence prevention.

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Health and reproductive health needs

As with most humanitarian situations, women, girls and children are usually the worst affected. In Mozambique, for example, close to 1,000 orphans and over 100 pregnant women and girls require urgent attention.

Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery. This is a scenario that countless pregnant women are facing.

In addition to efforts by partners to address the food and infrastructural security needs of the people, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and erosion of dignity, and deserve adequate attention.

In Malawi, about 315 visibly pregnant women were identified in the three worst affected districts. Between Jan. 10 and 24, 88 deliveries were recorded by 62 camps in the worst affected districts. Twenty-four of these deliveries were among adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years, as reported from Phalombe, where fertility rates and teenage pregnancies are generally high.

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Women living in camps for displaced people are fearful of gender-based violence, including rape and other types of sexual abuse. Several cases of gender-based violence have already been reported. In one of the districts, a total of 124 cases were brought to the attention of authorities.

The design of the camps and the positioning of toilets are said to be contributing to these cases. A woman from Bangula camp said: “The toilets are far away from where we are sleeping. We are afraid to walk to the toilets at night for fear of being raped. If the toilets could be located close by, this could assist us.”

Personal dignity and hygiene is a major challenge for women and young people, especially for adolescent girls. A teenager from Tchereni camp in Malawi said: “I lost everything during the floods. My biggest challenge is how to manage my menstrual cycle.”

It has been reported that women and girls are sharing sanitary materials, which seriously compromises their health and dignity.

Urgent action

In order to address the  sexual and reproductive health needs of affected populations, UNFPA Malawi has recruited and deployed full time Reproductive Health and Gender Coordinators to support the authorities with the management of SRH/HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) issues in the camps.

UNFPA has also distributed pre-positioned Reproductive Health kits as well as drugs and medical equipment to cater for clean deliveries, including by Caesarean section, and related complications of pregnancy and child birth in six districts and two central hospitals in the flood-affected areas.

Over 300 prepositioned dignity kits were distributed and 2,000 more have been procured, over half of which have already been distributed to women of child-bearing age in some of the most affected districts to allow the women to continue to live with dignity in their state of crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for CHF 2,7 million to assist Malawi Red Cross to step up emergency response activities, including a detailed needs assessment of the affected regions, the procurement of non-food items, the procurement and distribution of shelter materials, and the provision of water and sanitation services.

A similar process was applied for Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with the aim of saving more lives by providing immediate assistance to those in need.

But as partners working together to address the numerous problems that confront the affected populations – and warnings of more risks of flooding – we cannot neglect the plight of women and girls.

In humanitarian situations especially, the dignity and reproductive health and rights of women and girls deserves our full attention.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Teenage Girls in Argentina – Invisible Victims of Femicidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:11:55 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138894 On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

The murder of a young Argentine girl on a beach in neighbouring Uruguay shook both countries and drew attention to a kind of violence that goes almost unnoticed as a cause of death among Argentine adolescents: femicide.

In most Latin American countries, the lack of broken-down official data on femicides – a term coined to refer to the killing of females because of their gender – makes it difficult to identify the victims by their ages.

But in the case of Argentina, some independent reports, such as one by the local non-governmental organisation La Casa del Encuentro, have begun to make it clear that not only are there more gender-motivated killings, but the number of victims under 18 is increasing.

“Between 2008 and 2014 we saw the number gradually rising, and this has to do with gender violence among young unmarried couples or sexual abuse followed by death,” the NGO’s executive director, Fabiana Túñez, told IPS.

A report by the “Adriana Marisel Zambrano” Observatory on Femicides documented 295 cases in 2013 in Argentina, a country of 42 million. Between 2008 and 2013 there were 1,236 gender-related murders of women, equivalent to one femicide every 35 hours.

Other Latin American countries

In Mexico, a country of 122 million people, the Network for Children’s Rights (REDIM) reported in December that 315 girls and teenage girls were murdered in 2013.

“Cases of violence against women in Mexico have been on the rise,” reported REDIM, which complained about a lack of actions by the government to prevent domestic violence. “Much of the increase is among girls and adolescents who are victims of violence that in many cases ends in femicide.”

In El Salvador, population 6.2 million, the national police registered 261 femicides in the first 11 months of 2014, 28 of them girls or adolescents 17 or younger.

In Panama, meanwhile, with a population of 3.9 million, three out of 10 victims of femicide are minors, according to the office of the public prosecutor.

From 2009 to 2014, 343 women were killed in Panama, and 226 of the murders were classified as femicides.

According to the Observatory, in that six-year period, 124 adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 18 were victims of femicide – an average of 21 a year – according to statistics gathered from newspaper reports. But the real number could be much higher, because in a number of cases the victim’s age was not reported.

The release of the report coincided with a case that shocked the nation: the murder of 15-year-old Lola Chomnalez, who went missing on Dec. 28 while on vacation in her godmother’s house in a Uruguayan beach town.

“They found the dead body of the Argentine girl who went missing in Uruguay,” feminist activist Verónica Lemi wrote in Facebook under her pseudonym Penélope Popplewell. “They keep killing us and there are still people asking what one of us was doing walking alone on the beach. You hear on TV: the killer saw a pretty young girl and took advantage of the situation.

“If we have to be protected, carry pepper spray or be accompanied just to take a walk on a beach, then women are not free,” she wrote with indignation. “If we act like we have the same rights as men, we increase the risk that we’ll be killed just because we’re women.”

Sometimes the perpetrators stalk their victims on the street: outside of a discotheque, or on their way home from school or university. But in most cases the victims know their killers.

According to Túñez of La Casa del Encuentro, half of all femicides involve sexual abuse followed by murder. The other half are associated with violence among couples, cases that are often referred to by the media as “crimes of passion.”

The local statistics are in line with a global tendency. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that three out of 10 adolescent girls suffer violence at the hands of their boyfriends.

The causes, according to Túñez, are the same as in adults. “The male perpetrator controls, dominates, has jealous fits. And the adolescent girls who are in the first stages of idealising love believe they can change things but they start to get caught up in a big spider web from which they find it impossible to escape later.”

She stressed that it is necessary to raise awareness among adolescent girls to “denaturalise” this kind of behavior.

“It’s not normal for boyfriends to be overly jealous, for girls not to be able to go out on their own, for their boyfriends to control their movements, snoop on their cell-phones, insult them or hit them,” Ada Rico, co-founder of La Casa del Encuentro, told the local media.

On her Facebook page, “Acción Respeto: por una calle sin acoso” (Operation Respect: for harassment-free streets), the 26-year-old Lemi tries to “denaturalise” this “aggressive, sexist culture” whose worst expression is femicide.

“On one hand we have the progress made with respect to women’s rights, but on the other, in terms of idiosyncracies, we are still living in a very ‘machista’ or sexist society in Argentina, where saying something embarrassing to a 15-year-old girl on the street is ok because it means they like you,” the activist told IPS.

“The supposed sexual freedom goes only so far,” she added. “Because every time a girl is abused, the media and commentators say ‘she must have been a little slut’. When a woman exercises her sexual freedom she’s considered a whore.”

Lemi said it is necessary to combat in society “the man-woman relationship where the man is dominant and the woman is submissive, and to counteract the culture of blaming the victim.”

“There is so much violence against women, not just physical, but also in language, at a symbolic level. Violence against women continues to be justified. In that context it is only logical that femicides are committed,” she said.

Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Justice and Gender Team (ELA), said the apparent increase in the number of femicides could be linked to greater media coverage.

“There is greater visibility, which is why we hear about more cases and deaths, when it’s too late to turn to the authorities,” she told IPS.

Argentina is among the Latin American countries where the most progress has been made in raising awareness on gender equality and women’s access to education and decision-making positions.

In 2012, the Argentine legislature passed a law that stiffened the penalties for gender violence, although it does not include the category of femicide, as in the case of legislation passed in other countries in the region.

The Argentine law provides for life in prison when the murderer is the victim’s current or ex husband or boyfriend, or when the woman is killed for gender-related reasons.

“Progress has been made in terms of insertion in the labour market, in education…but that in itself is not enough to change the ‘machista’, patriarchal culture,” Gherardi said.

The director of ELA said there were shortcomings in implementation, oversight and evaluation of public policies such as the Comprehensive Sex Education law, which takes gender aspects into account.

“I would like to see political leaders, women and men, engaging in meaningful discussions about the violence, above and beyond grand gestures, when appalling things happen,” Gherardi said.

She stressed the fundamental role played by the media in the fight against sexist violence, and added that there are media outlets and journalists who send out messages “that counteract gender stereotypes and others that perpetuate them, putting women in humiliating roles.”

“There are an enormous number of situations of subtle day-to-day violence, before things reach the stage of beatings or femicide,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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India’s ‘Manual Scavengers’ Rise Up Against Caste Discriminationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/indias-manual-scavengers-rise-up-against-caste-discrimination/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 10:15:30 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138529 A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

A Dalit woman stands outside a dry toilet located in an upper caste villager’s home in Mainpuri, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The village has witnessed major violence against those who have tried to leave the profession of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Watching Bittal Devi deftly weave threads of different colours into a vibrant patchwork quilt, it’s hard to imagine that this 46-year-old’s hands have spent the better part of their life cleaning toilets.

Born in Sava, a village in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, Devi is from a community that, down the centuries, has worked as ‘manual scavengers’.

A caste-based profession, it condemns mostly women, but also men, to clean human excreta out of dry latrines with their hands, and carry it on their heads to disposal dumps. Many also clean sewers, septic tanks and open drains with no protective gear.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.” -- Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, an NGO working to end the practice of 'manual scavenging'.
They are derogatorily referred to as bhangis, which translates into ‘broken identity’. Most of those employed are Dalits, who occupy the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy and are condemned to tasks that are regarded as beneath the dignity of the upper castes.

“I started doing this job when I was 12 years old,” Devi recalls. “I would accompany my mother when she went to the homes of the thakurs (upper castes) in our village everyday to clean their toilets.

“We would go to every home to pick up their faeces. We would gather it with a broom and plate into a cane basket. Later we would take the basket to the outskirts of the village and dispose [of] it.”

They cleaned 15 toilets each day, which earned them 375 rupees (a little over six dollars) per month, plus a set of old clothes from the homes they worked in, gifted once a year during the Diwali festival.

Devi remembers that she was unable to eat during the first week. “I would throw up every time my mother placed food in front of me”. Harder still to bear, were the taunts of her upper caste classmates.

“They would cover their noses and tell me that I smelled. I, along with the other children from my caste, was made to sit away from the rest of the students.” She eventually dropped out of school.

There was no question of refusing to do the work. “From birth I, like the other children from my community, was told that this was our history and our destiny,” says Devi. “This was the custom followed by our forefathers which we had to continue with.”

Caste-based discrimination or untouchability was banned in India in 1955 and several legislative and policy measures have been announced over the decades to end the cruel and inhumane custom of manual scavenging.

As recently as September 2013, the government outlawed employing anyone to clean human faeces.

On the ground, however, these measures have proved ineffective, the main reasons being that policies are not properly implemented, people are unaware that they can refuse to work as manual scavengers, and those who do resist face violence and the threat of eviction.

Women unite for change

According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which works towards the elimination of caste-based discrimination, there are an estimated 1.3 million ‘manual scavengers’ in India, most of them women.

Civil rights groups say that often women are victims twice over. Not only are they are looked down upon by the upper castes, they are also forced to do the work by their husbands who find it degrading, but expect the wives to continue with the custom.

Bittal Devi’s neighbour, Rani Devi Dhela, also started working as a manual scavenger at the age of 12, an occupation she continued with in her marital home, as her husband was unemployed.

She enrolled her four children in the village school, hopeful that education would change their future. Reality dawned when her 11- year-old daughter came back home in the middle of the day, sobbing.

“She had worn a new set of clothes to school and the upper caste children and teachers taunted her for showing off,” Dhela tells IPS.

Her daughter was told to clean up another child’s vomit and the school toilets. “When she refused they told her that this was her future as she was a bhangi’s daughter and that by attending school she should not entertain any illusions about herself.

“A teacher even threatened to pour acid into her mouth. That was the day I realised nothing would change unless I challenged these people. I put the cane basket down for good and decided that I would rather starve to death,” she adds.

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

At a rally in New Delhi, Dalit women burn baskets used to collect human waste as a sign of protest against the caste-based practice of ‘manual scavenging’. Credit: Shai Venkatraman/IPS

It was a battle that Dhela found herself all alone in. The upper castes ganged up on her and her community failed to extend support. Worse still was the reaction from her husband and in-laws, who beat her up.

“The thakurs burned down our hut and told my husband they would throw us out. But my children supported me,” says Dhela.

Eventually so did a few other women, including Bittal Devi. Together, they travelled to a nearby town, to the office of the NGO Jan Sahas, which has been campaigning against manual scavenging for over 17 years.

“We had been trying to get the community in this village to stop manual scavenging but they were too scared to resist,” Sanjay Dumane, associate convenor of Jan Sahas, tells IPS. “After what happened to Rani Devi [Dhela], some of them decided to fight back.”

But there was fierce resistance from the village police who not only refused to register a complaint, but also advised the women to accept their place in society.

It was only after they approached police authorities at the district level that action was taken.

“A platoon of police vans came into the village with senior officers who warned the upper castes that they would be jailed if they were found violating the law on manual scavengers,” says Dumane.

An uphill battle

As of early February 2014, manual scavenging is no longer practiced in Sava village. “Some of the upper castes have chosen to boycott us,” says Dhela. “They don’t invite us to their weddings or for festivals. But my children and husband are proud of me and that makes me happy.”

“A lot of people tell me ‘You had no right to leave the profession’,” adds Archana Balnik, 28, who campaigned to put an end to manual scavenging in her village of Digambar in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. “But I want to change my future and that of the children in my village.”

Most of the women who have quit have found work in road and bridge construction projects. A few have enrolled in Dignity and Design, a low-cost, community based initiative launched by Jan Sahas in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh for the rehabilitation of women liberated from manual scavenging.

“We provide training in basic skills like tailoring and embroidery and have set up units for manufacturing bags, purses and other products,” Aashif Shaikh, founder of Jan Sahas, tells IPS.

“We hope to set this up across India with the support of the government and private sector.”

Women like Bittal Devi and Rani Devi Dhela are the ambassadors of Jan Sahas, which claims to have liberated over 17,000 women from manual scavenging across different parts of India.

Changing attitudes across the country, however, is an uphill battle. The recent India Human Development Survey report highlighted how deeply entrenched notions of caste purity are in contemporary Indian society, with a fourth of Indians practicing untouchability.

“There are signs of change especially in the younger generation, which is more educated,” says Shaikh, whose NGO conducts awareness campaigns in colleges and schools.

“One human being carrying the shit of another on their head is not the problem of that woman or that community alone. It’s the struggle of the people of this country and together we can abolish this.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Child Sex Crimes: Uruguay’s Ugly Hidden Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 15:38:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138522 A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

Karina Núñez Rodríguez was only 12 when she was forced into prostitution. Now age 50 and a mother of six, she is an outspoken fighter against sexual exploitation of children and teenagers in Uruguay, a country reluctant to recognise this growing scourge.

Her mother’s surname, Rodríguez, “has everything to do with what I am,” she says, explaining that her grandmother was also an exploited child. Karina proudly says she broke this family burden when her youngest daughter turned 12 as a smiling girl ready to go to high school.“There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime." -- Karina Núñez Rodríguez

It was an assurance that her own children have a bright future, even though Karina still makes a living selling her body.

In Uruguay, a countless number of children, mostly girls, have their childhoods stolen, to be sold for a pack of cigarettes, a cell phone card, food, clothes, shelter or plain cash. Some are exploited by their own relatives, others by by neighbours or organised criminal networks.

One grocer threw dance parties in her shop on the paydays of local rural workers and lured the men with 12 year-old-girls from the neighbourhood. The girls would spend the night drinking alcohol and having sexual relations with adults on the premises of a nearby chapel.

A 74-year-old owner of a hotel in a beach resort paid for the travel of a 15-year-old girl, who lives hundreds of kilometres away, to have sex. Afterwards, despite sending money to her pimps, the man avoided punishment by claiming he didn’t know she was underage.

A provincial high-ranking public official organised a party with teenagers, alcohol and cocaine in a government facility, and was caught drunk while driving away with one of the girls.

And a network of lorry drivers and the fathers of two victims forced girls into sexual encounters with drivers in three different towns.

These types of cases hit the news almost twice a week. Authorities established Dec. 7 as the national day against sexual exploitation of children. But they still have no accurate statistics on this crime, punishable by up to 12 years in prison under a 2004 law. Adult prostitution is legal and state-regulated.

There are as many as 1.8 million children exploited in prostitution or pornography worldwide, according to Ecpat. Nearly 80 per cent of trafficking is for sexual exploitation and over 20 percent of the victims are children.

From 2010 to September this year, the judiciary heard 79 cases involving 127 defendants. Only 43 were convicted, according to a report published by the judicial branch.

But police reports are increasing. In 2007, there were just 20. In 2011, the number jumped to 40, in 2013 there were 70, and last year there were more than 80.

“Each case is not just one boy or girl. It can involve four or five,” says Luis Purtscher, president of the National Committee for the Eradication of Commercial and non-Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teenagers (Conapees). Perpetrators outnumber victims. “In a single night, a girl can have five or 10 sexual partners,” he says.

“Being a problem whose underlying causes are the power of capitalism to seize territories and the male workforce migrations, we could hypothesise that when both the economy and the mobility grow, child sex crimes also rise in places colonised by investors,” says Purtscher.

In the last five years, Conapees has trained 1,500 public servants, including teachers, social workers, police officers and prosecutors. “We have 3,000 extra ears and eyes skilled somehow to detect and report,” he adds.

Gender violence plays a role. On a list of 12 Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal, Uruguay has the highest rate of killings of women by a former or current partner, states a recently released report by the regional Gender Equality Observatory.

To graphically illustrate the depth of the problem, Conapees published an advert in the press: ‘Very young girls’, followed by a phone number. It received 100 calls the first day and 500 the first weekend.

Karina became an activist after witnessing the suffering of girls subjected to “breaking-down practices” in brothel-bars: torture, forced and collective penetrations and beatings, “aimed to create such a bond of fear between the victim and her exploiter that she can stand night after night in a corner in Europe without even thinking to go to the police.”

Her record includes 27 crime reports to authorities. “I was instrumental in nine indictments, and I’m honoured by people who trust me and give me more evidence.” She checks the facts and relies on a network of eight friends in different cities. “Thank God we have WhatsApp,” she says with a smile.

In 2007, she and other colleagues created Grupo Visión Nocturna (Night vision group) to promote an independent stance on health-related issues and demand respect for sex workers.

Shortly after reporting to a small city’s police station that three girls were about to be trafficked in 2009, a supposed client picked her up. They travelled 20 kilometres away from town. “There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime,” she recalls. Karina has been threatened and fears she could be killed at any time.

Making public accusations is dangerous, yet the crime and the victims are not hidden. Belgian photographer Susette Kok visited many sites in an exhibition and book and portrayed 27 adults –24 women, two transgender women and a young man— who were child victims and now, invariably, are sex workers.

“I found the exploitation easily. It is all over the place,” says Kok, who was assisted by Karina’s knowledge and web of contacts.

The “little house of love”, a group of dilapidated and unroofed walls, the floor covered with used condoms, is just next door to a church in Fray Bentos, in the southwest of Uruguay. An oxidized “container of passions” – situated in a sports field and, again, next to a church at the entrance of the western city of Young— has the door open when it is vacant.

Dozens of places like it are scattered through the area: a bench in a communal football field, a huge tree by a bridge, ironically known as “ecological sex”, shacks, clubs and “waitress bars”.

In west Montevideo, bus stations, parks, canteens and even private houses are sites of child sex offences, according to the survey “An open secret”, authored by Purtscher and other seven experts who interviewed more than 50 sources.

The area is attracting major investment and a predominantly male workforce, which could worsen the situation, but it does not have mechanisms to assist the victims. Nor does the country as a whole. A governmental programme established in 2013 is underfunded and counts just two teams.

This slow official response exasperates Karina. “When a child is exploited,” she says, “we cannot wait.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138402 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
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

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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