Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 29 Aug 2015 14:42:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief, Seeking Accountability, Shatters Myth of Lifetime Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 21:21:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142000 Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stopped short of telling one his high-ranking Special Representatives: “You’re fired.”

If he did, he was only echoing the now-famous words of a U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is best known for frequently dismissing his staffers, using that catch phrase, in a long-running reality TV show.

Following the alleged outrageous rape of a 12-year girl by peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) — adding to 11 other cases of sexual abuse in the battle-scarred country — the secretary-general unceremoniously forced the resignation of his highest-ranking official, Babacar Gaye of Senegal.

The dismissal has been described as “unprecedented” in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

As U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “It is not something that I have seen in terms of Special Representatives in the field in the 15 years that I’ve been here, an action taken like this by a Secretary‑General.”

An "Unprecedented" Sacking

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS firing of a Special Envoy is exceptional.

In this particular case, the Secretary General made his point in an unprecedented manner.

In previous cases, he said, a Secretary General would send a discreet message about the need to resign “for personal reasons” or transferred elsewhere until a contract expired.

Envoys usually have different, more limited contracts than regular staff.

For a long period, and in order to build a dedicated international civil service that would withstand taking instructions from those other than the Secretary General, a “career contract” was offered, normally after five to 10 years of proven competence.

Appointment and Promotion bodies jointly selected by the Administration and staff would review and ensure a valid transparent competitive process.

“I had served for years as Chairman after Kofi Annan left to take over Peacekeeping,” he said.

Regrettably, these bodies were abolished after Annan became Secretary General --apparently to give senior manager more leeway in selecting their own staff.

Also contractual arrangements were changed mainly under pressures that sought to influence staff policy attitudes.

That substantive shift eroded the spirit of International Civil Servants who habitually were drawn from the widest cultural and geographic backgrounds, demoralising the existing staff and leading to weakening the main base of the Secretary General's authority.

But in a bygone era, U.N. jobs, like most dictatorial Third World presidencies, were for life – until you hit the retirement age of 60 (or 62 now, and 65 in the future).

The most that would happen for any infractions is a U.N. staffer taking early retirement – either gracefully or disgracefully.

The rule is best exemplified in a long running anecdote here of a secretary, enraged at her boss, who picked up her typewriter and threw it at him, many moons ago. But because she held a life-time job, so the story goes, she couldn’t be fired from her job.

However, the end result was a memo from the human resources department to all divisional heads at the U.N. urging them to nail all typewriters to their desks.

The story may be apocryphal but it reflected the long standing professional lifestyle at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River.

Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “I cannot recall a political appointee being fired.”

The usual practice, even for incompetent assistant secretaries-general (ASGs) or under-secretaries-general (USGs), has been to let their contracts lapse, or ease them out by retiring them or moving them sideways to a non-job, he said.

“Cases of staff being terminated are very rare and usually for disciplinary reasons. However, there have been cases where contracts have not been renewed, usually citing performance difficulties, but which we believe to have been abusive circumstances. But it’s thankfully rare,” said Richards.

Where there is a big concern going forward is the General Assembly’s approval of a new mobility policy under which appointments and moves of D-1 and D-2 staff – both at director levels — will be managed by the Secretary-General’s office (making them virtually political appointments and not regular staffers).

“This could have serious repercussions as those who don’t toe the line could be threatened with a move to an undesirable duty station,” he added.

In closed-door consultations with the 15-member Security Council Thursday, the secretary general said: “I cannot express strongly enough my distress and shame over reports of sexual exploitation and the abuse of power by U.N. forces, police or civilian personnel.”

With respect to the allegations and cases in the Central African Republic, the time had come for a strong signal that leaders will be held responsible, he said.

“This is why I asked for the resignation of General Babacar Gaye despite his long and illustrious service to the United Nations.”

Ban said an effective response demands accountability — individual, leadership, command level, as well accountability by the Organisation and by Member States.

“In the case of peacekeeping missions, accountability begins at the top, with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and carries through each level of management and command.”

On Friday, he convened an extraordinary meeting of his Special Representatives, Force Commanders and Police Commissioners in all 16 peacekeeping missions to send the unequivocal message that they are obligated – every day and every night – to enforce the highest standards of conduct for all.

He also said it is critical that Troop Contributing Countries take swift action to appoint national investigation officers, conclude investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.

It is squarely their responsibility to ensure justice and to communicate to the Secretariat the results of their actions.

“All too often this is not done quickly enough – and in the most frustrating cases, it is not done at all,” Ban said.

“When the Secretariat does receive information about the actions taken in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, I am frustrated by what appear to be far too lenient sanctions for such grave acts affecting men, women and, all too often, children.”

A failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity, he warned.

“That injustice is a second blow to the victims – and a tacit pass for the crimes we are trying so hard to end.”

Referring to the firing of the Special Representative, Dujarric told reporters: “As you know, the Secretary-General did not take this action based on one particular case.”

He took it based on the repeated number of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct that have taken place in the Central African Republic.

“According to our numbers, we had 57 allegations of possible misconduct in the Central African Republic reported since the beginning of the mission in April 2014. And that includes 11 cases of sexual abuse, possible sexual abuse. Those cases are being investigated,” he added.

Deployed in early 2014, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, known by the French acronym MINUSCA and headed by the dismissed Gaye, has been trying to defuse sectarian tensions across that country.

More than two years of civil war and violence have displaced thousands of people amid ongoing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, according to the United Nations.

In addition, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group, continues to operate in the south-eastern part of the country.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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U.N. Launches Second Abuse Probe of Peacekeepers in CARhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:39:47 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141978 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It was two a.m. on Aug. 2 as peacekeeping forces from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) searched for a criminal suspect in the PK5 Muslim enclave of the capital city of Bangui.

As one house was searched, the men were taken away, the women and crying children were brought together by yelling troops, and a 12-year-old girl hid in the bathroom out of fear, according to accounts by the girl and her family."It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them." -- Joanne Mariner

The girl was allegedly dragged out of the bathroom by one of the blue-helmet troops, where she says she was groped, taken behind a truck and raped. A medical examination later found evidence of sexual assault.

“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty International.

One of her sisters recalled: “When she returned from the back of the courtyard, she cried ‘mama’ and fainted. We brought her inside the house and splashed water on her to revive her.”

“I had her sit in a pan of hot water,” the mother explained — a traditional method of treating sexual abuse.

Amnesty International heard about the incident almost immediately, and spent the past week conducting an intensive investigation.

If the allegations prove to be true, it would not be the first incident of misconduct and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). In May, leaked documents showed that high-level U.N. staff knew of sexual abuses by soldiers in CAR and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

The documents showed that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea were implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports. In June, the U.N. set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe the allegations.

In addition to the alleged rape of the 12-year-old girl, the more recent incident included the fatal shootings of two civilians, a young boy and his father.

Balla Hadji, 61, and his son Souleimane Hadji, 16, were struck by bullets in front of their house. Balla was apparently shot in the back, while Souleimane was shot in the chest. A neighbour who witnessed the killings told Amnesty International that “they [the peacekeepers] were going to shoot at anything that moved.”

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon announced that the U.N. envoy to CAR, Babacar Gaye, had resigned his post.

“The initial response of the U.N. was very lackadaisical,” Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Joanne Mariner, told IPS. “It wasn’t until we issued a press release and it got international attention that suddenly the system kicked in and action was taken.”

“It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them. They are not trained well enough to carry out their duties in the appropriate way.”

She noted that “The U.N. has no power to prosecute them, and that does create a structural tension. It’s the U.N.’s responsibility to put pressure on its Member States to prosecute these individuals.”

“We have not seen the U.N. being vigilant or active enough on these issues. There has been much more talk than real action,” Mariner said. “We are just trying to make sure that the UN is doing what it should be doing.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said, “I want to be clear that this problem goes far beyond one mission or one conflict or one person. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response.”

He said sexual abuse and exploitation in Central African Republic would be investigated further by a high-level external independent panel, and he urged victims to feel safe in coming forward.

“I have been often asking Member States to provide more female police officers, because many victims feel very shamed in coming out to bring these crimes, so we really need to have these victims come out.”

“I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Those who work for the United Nations must uphold our highest ideals,” Ban said, adding that the forces are not completely accountable to the U.N., but to their home countries.

“I want Member States to know that I cannot do this alone,” Ban added. “They have the ultimate responsibility to hold individual uniformed personnel to account and they must take decisive preventive and punitive action. They should be brought to justice in accordance with their national laws.”

“Before [troops] are being deployed, [Member States] should educate and train them properly for the importance of human rights and human dignity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141961 The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Widowhood in Papua New Guinea Brings an Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 23:23:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141956 Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

It has only been six months since Iveti, 37, lost her husband of 18 years, but already she is facing hardship and worry about the future.

Similar to many married women in the rural highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state of seven million people, she stayed at home to look after their two children, a daughter aged 11 and a son now in his early twenties, while her husband’s income paid for the family’s needs.

“There was always food to serve to my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market for 20 or 30 kina [seven to 10 dollars]." -- Iveti, a 37-year-old widow
“I worry about food; I worry about bills and the children. I worry about the relatives who come and visit to mourn with us, because we have to kill a pig [for a feast] or give them something. Who is going to come and say they have the money for all this?” Iveti frets as she sits in her modest home on the outskirts of Goroka, a town in Eastern Highlands Province.

She is surrounded by her children, and her husband’s mother and sister who also live with her.

“There was always food there to serve my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market. We get 20 kina (seven dollars) or 30 kina (10 dollars). Every two days we pay about 20 kina for the power and with the 10 kina (about 3.60 dollars) which is left, we buy a tin of fish.

“My daughter goes to school and we budget 4 kina (just over a dollar) for her lunch,” she continued.

There is a diversity of widows’ experiences in Papua New Guinea. Those who have completed secondary or tertiary education and have an independent source of income are in a strong socio-economic position to look after themselves and their children.

However, more than 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas where many women have limited access to education and employment.

Female literacy in the Eastern Highlands, for example, is about 36.5 percent. Gender inequality in the country is exacerbated by social practices, such as early and forced marriage, bride price and widespread domestic and sexual violence experienced by two-thirds of women in the country.

While there are no accurate statistics available about widows in Papua New Guinea, the national Widows Association claims that most have been in widowhood for between five and 30 years.

For women in the highlands, the risk of losing a husband is increased due to the prevalence of tribal warfare. Outbreaks of fighting between different clan groups can be triggered by disputes over landownership or pigs, the most prized livestock, or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed against a community.

And, in most cases, the death of a male warrior plunges the wife and children into a precarious existence.

Families are also being impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2010, 31,609 cases of the virus had been reported with the highest prevalence of 0.91 percent recorded in the Highlands, slightly higher than the national rate of 0.8 percent, which is estimated to have decreased to about 0.7 percent last year.

When a husband dies, the widow and children usually have the right to remain on the husband’s land and property. But this is often not the case if AIDS, which is accompanied by social stigma, has been the cause of death.

Agatha Omanefa, Women’s Project Officer at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to counselling and supporting families, told IPS that while extended families were traditionally very protective of vulnerable members, she had witnessed rising cases of brothers of the deceased husband making moves to claim the land.

When “the husband’s relatives come in to share the properties the widow becomes a loser with her children […]. Sometimes they come up with stories, history, such as: ‘you are from there, your husband is from here’ and then she [the widow] needs someone to support her to secure the land,” she explained.

“It is having a big impact on widows’ lives, especially when they have small children. So they often keep little food gardens to try and maintain the children’s welfare as well as themselves.”

Families in Papua New Guinea are traditionally large with up to eight or 10 offspring, and the struggle includes paying for children to complete education, especially to secondary level. Female headed households are several times more likely to be below the absolute poverty line, according to government reports.

But one of the greatest threats to a widow’s welfare is the risk of being accused of sorcery. In nearby Simbu Province, women aged 40-65 years are six times more likely than men to be blamed for using witchcraft to cause a death or misfortune in the community, reports Oxfam, and the consequences, including torture and murder, can be tragic.

“There is growing concern that sorcery accusations that lead to killings, injuries or exile are often economically or personally motivated and used to deprive women of their land or property,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, reported in 2013.

Widows with sons, however, have a source of protection.

“In our culture in the Highlands, when you have a son, no-one will chase you out, because you will gain strength from your son, but if a woman does not bear any child then she is more vulnerable,” Irish Kokara, treasurer of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Council of Women, explained.

President Jenny Gunure added that there was also a lack of awareness about women’s rights and the law at the village level, a situation the women’s council is working to rectify through a bottom-up education programme aimed at rural women, which was begun last year.

However, Kokara believes that the risk of violence will not diminish until the behaviour of young men, who often perpetrate such crimes as part of vigilante gangs, is addressed.

“It is the youths who take drugs, like marijuana, who are the ones burning the women and hanging them on trees. So we need to change the youths first, then we can change the community,” she declared.

In recent weeks widows across the country have called through the local media for the government to introduce legislation to better support recognition of their rights.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Ugandan Women Hail Partial Success Over “Bride Price” Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 09:35:48 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141897 A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

After years of a protracted battle against Uganda’s “bride price” practice, the country’s Supreme Court this week ruled that husbands can no longer demand that it be returned in the event of dissolution of a customary marriage but has stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional.

In a country in which most marriages are customary, women’s rights activists have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction for greater equality in the marriage relationship but had hoped that the court would rule the bride price – or dowry – itself unconstitutional.

In Uganda, the bride price is the gift that is given as a token of appreciation by grooms to the families of their brides. Traditionally, it takes the forms of cows or goats, besides money, and some tribes have recently been demanding articles such as sofas and refrigerators among others.

The legal battle over “bride prices” started back in 2007 when MIFUMI, a non-governmental women’s rights organisation based in Kampala, filed a petition to Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have them declared unconstitutional.“Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman" – Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe

MIFUMI, whose work revolves around the protection of women and children experiencing violence and other forms of abuse, argues that if women are empowered they can rise above many of the cultural traditions, such as bride price, that hold them back, blocking their potential contribution to development.

The MIFUMI petition argued that the demand for and payment of bride price by the groom to the parents of the bride, as practised by many communities in Uganda, gives rise to conditions of inequality during marriage contrary to the country’s constitutional provisions which guarantee that men and women be accorded equal rights in marriage and its dissolution.

In 2010, however, the Constitutional Court ruled that the bride price was constitutional, with just one judge, Amos Twinomujuni (who has since died) dissenting, arguing that the main issue at stake was women’s equality and that the bride price was a source of domestic violence.

Undeterred, MIFUMI decided to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court and finally, in a 6-1 decision, the judges have ruled that the act of refunding the bride price is contrary to the country’s constitution regarding equality in contracting marriage, during marriage and in its dissolution.

Lead Justice Jotham Tumwesigye observed that it was unfair for the parents of the woman to be asked to refund the bride price after years of marriage and that it in any case it was unlikely that the parents of the bride would have kept anything involved in the bride price on hand for refunding.

Justice Tumwesigye further argued that one effect of the bride’s parents no longer having bride price goods or cash to refund could force a married woman into a situation of marital abuse for fear that her parents would be in trouble owing to their inability to refund the bride price.

Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe, one of the six judges, ruled that “refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.”

The judges of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to a mere market value.

Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI told IPS after the judgment that she was happy that ruling had partly struck off some of the cultural practice that has held women hostage in abusive marriages.

She said much as MIFUMI had wanted the whole issue of bride price totally abolished, the fact that court had ruled against refund was something to celebrate after 15 years of struggle against the practice.

“There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them,” said Awiidi.

Kampala-based human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, who has been the principal lawyer for the MIFUMI petition, told IPS: “We have not got everything we wanted but at least we know that people will start being cautious paying too much when they know there is going to be no refund when there is failure of the marriage.”

Rita Achiro, Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), told IPS that the ruling has shown that women of Uganda can use courts of law to fight against laws that oppress them.

Achiro also challenged the Ugandan government and Parliament to come up with a law to enforce the court decision, saying that demand for refund of the bride price will continue if government and Parliament do not enact a law criminalising bride price refunds.

She said there were precedents in which Ugandan courts had nullified laws discriminating against women but Parliament and government had failed to enact the laws needed enforce the judgments.

Achiro cited the March 2004 Constitutional Court ruling that struck down ten sections of the Divorce Law on the grounds that they contravened a clause in the constitution that guaranteed women and men equal rights.

Uganda’s Divorce Law had previously allowed men to leave their wives in cases of adultery, while women were not granted the same right because they had to prove their husbands guilty not only of adultery but also of a range of crimes including bigamy, sodomy, rape and desertion.

A panel of five constitutional judges unanimously upheld the view that grounds for divorce must apply equally to all parties in a marriage.  Women activists had hailed the judgment as a landmark ruling that would bring equality of the sexes but, eleven year later, no law has yet been enacted to enforce the ruling.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Half a Million U.S. Women and Girls at Risk of Genital Cuttinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:41:34 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141879 FGM is a taboo topic in many cultures. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Jaha Dukureh knows firsthand the barbaric effects of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Now a resident of the United States, she was mutilated as a baby in the Gambia in West Africa. Her sister bled to death after enduring the same procedure.

What was done to Dakureh is called “infibulation,” where the clitoris and the labia are removed and the vagina is sealed to insure a girl’s virginity until marriage."Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse." -- Paula Kweskin

Now a passionate advocate against FGM/C, Dakureh issued a call to arms on the eve of President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa, urging him to “play a historic role in the fight to eliminate FGM.”

“While the origins of FGM are ancient and predate organised religion, there is one thing we know for sure: its purpose is to control female sexuality and lessen a woman’s humanity,” she wrote in a powerful commentary for the Guardian.

In the last 15 years, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM/C in the United States has more than doubled, advocacy groups warn, calling for stronger measures to prevent this human rights violation.

According to data from the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. research group, a staggering 506,795 girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

“It’s important this subject is no longer taboo,” Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney who produced a film called Honor Diaries that deals with the problem of FGM, told IPS. “It needs to be discussed at every level so that it can be addressed and eradicated. When it’s swept under the carpet, women and girls are revictimized by the silence and inaction.”

“Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse.”

The top 10 metropolitan areas where girls and women are at highest risk of female genital mutilation include New York, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The PRB notes that FGM/C, which entails partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth.

Most girls at risk are in found in sub-Saharan Africa. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, for example, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. But the practice is not limited to developing countries.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone the procedure, according to a report released in July by City University London and Equality Now.

In the United States, the PRB says, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters abroad to be cut — so-called “vacation cutting” — spurred the passage of a law in 2013 making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting.

“We urge the U.S. to provide a public update on its plans to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels,” Shelby Quast, policy director at Equality Now, said last month.

She added that having specific laws in each state would prompt state schools, hospitals and clinics as well as local law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to step up prevention efforts and act swiftly in FGM cases.

“People in [the U.S.] don’t want to think it happens here. But their daughters might be sitting next to a best friend who can be subjected to a violent, cultural procedure,” she told NPR. “If it were cutting the nose or the ear off — something everyone could see — there’d be a different response. We can’t continue to hide this away.”

The U.S. Congress had already passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice, which has grown in part because of increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2000 and 2013, the PRB says, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million. Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013.

“This is a barbaric and completely unnecessary practice that causes devastating physical and psychological damage for countless girls and women in the United States and countries across the globe,” said Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Raheel, a human rights activist, is among several Muslim women featured in Honor Diaries, a documentary breaking the silence on FGM and other abuse against women and girls in honour-based communities.

Edited by Thalif Deen

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sahrawi Women Take to the Streetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 23:04:59 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141640 (From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

(From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Ten women are gathered to discuss how to transmit Sahrawi culture and tradition to the younger generations. As usual, it´s a secret meeting. There is no other way in the capital of Western Sahara.

Rabab Lamin chose the place and the date for this latest meeting of the Forum for the Future of Sahrawi Women, an underground organisation yet seemingly far from being disorganised.

“We set up the committee in 2009 and today we rely on 60 active members, an executive committee of 16 and hundreds of collaborators,” Lamin, the mother of a political prisoner, tells IPS.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own" – Aza Amidan, sister of a Sahrawi political prisoner
“Our goal is to fight for the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people through peaceful struggle,” adds the 54 year-old woman, before noting that she was born “when the Spaniards were here.”

This year will mark four decades since Spain pulled out of Western Sahara, its last colony, leaving the territory in the hands of Morocco and Mauritania. While Rabat claims that this vast swathe of land – the size of Britain – is its southernmost province, the United Nations labels it as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation.”

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat controls almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast.

Only a tiny desert strip on the other side of the wall built by Morocco remains under Sahrawi control. That´s where the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was announced in 1976, a political entity today recognised by 82 countries.

The most immediate consequence of Sahara´s frozen conflict was the displacement of almost the entire Sahrawi people to the desert of Algeria. Those who dared to stay still suffer the consequences of their decision:

“Since the Moroccans took over our land we have only faced brutality,” laments Aza Amidan, the sister of a political prisoner. “We are constantly harassed and beaten; they raid our houses, they arrest our men and women, even kids under 15.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own,” says Amidan. The 34-year-old activist stresses that the founder and current leader of the Forum, Zukeine Ijdelu, spent 12 years in prison.

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

In a report issued two months ago, Amnesty International labels the practice of torture in Morocco as “endemic” while underlining that Sahrawi political dissidents are among the main targets. The NGO also accused the Moroccan government of “protecting the torturers, and not the tortured.”

Sahrawi activists claim that one of the main tasks of this women´s organisation is to support, “both morally and economically”, those who have suffered prison or their relatives. Amidan gives the details:

“We gather money among the community for those women as they are always the ones who suffer most. Whether it´s them who are arrested or their husbands, it´s them who have to sustain their families.”

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities refused to speak to IPS on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Assimilation

At 62, Fatima Hamimid is one of the senior veteran activists of the Forum. She says torture is “something that can one can cope with.” But there are other grievances that are seemingly “irreparable”.

“Today’s workshop sought to raise awareness among the new generations over the cultural assimilation we´re being subjected to at the hands of Rabat. Morocco seeks to deny our mere existence by either erasing our history or including it into their own.”

The most eloquent proof of such policies may be the total absence of Hassaniya –the Arabic dialect spoken by Sahrawis – in the education system or the administration.

However, Hamimid also points to other issues such the explicit ban over the Sahrawi traditional tent, the harassment  women wearing their distinctively colourful garb often have to face, or the prohibition of giving names that recall historical Sahrawi dissidents to their children.

“This is yet another reason that drags us to the streets to organise and take part in demonstrations,” notes Hamimid. Peaceful protests, she adds, are another important axis of action of this group.

But it is neither easy nor free of risks. In its World Report 2015, Human Rights Watch denounces that Rabat has “prohibited all public gatherings deemed hostile to Morocco’s contested rule.”

The New York-based NGO also points to the “large numbers of police who blocked access to demonstration venues and often forcibly dispersed Sahrawis seeking to assemble.”

Under such circumstances, Takbar Haddi chose to conduct a hunger strike for 36 days in front of the Moroccan consulate in Gran Canaria (Spain), which ended with her hospitalisation in June.

Haddi is still asking the Moroccan authorities to deliver the body of her son, Mohamed Lamin Haidala, stabbed in February in Laayoune, and that both the circumstances of the crime and the alleged lack of an adequate health assistance be investigated.

The activist´s close relatives in Laayoune told IPS that the family had rejected an economic compensation from Rabat in exchange for their silence.

“Some people think that being free is just not languishing in prison, or not suffering torture,” explains Hamimid, while she serves the last of the three cups of tea marking Sahrawi tradition. “We, Sahrawi women, understand freedom in its full meaning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141594 The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Women in Sport – Scoring for Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:59:12 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141550

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The Women’s World Cup has shown people everywhere what women athletes are all about: skill, strength, unity and determination. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the winners – the team from the United States – and to all others who participated. You are inspiring millions of women and girls around the world to pursue their goals and dreams.

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Women are far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history. The Women’s World Cup, as just one example, reached tens of millions of viewers, breaking television ratings records. The teams in that event were doing more than adroitly blocking a pass or scoring a goal.

They were challenging stereotypes and demonstrating women’s leadership and other abilities that can readily translate into many other domains. Perseverance and team spirit, among other values, can take women far in business, politics, scientific research, the arts and any other field.

As inspiring as the Women’s World Cup is, however, it also reminds us that gender inequalities still plague professional sports. For example, the women were required to play on artificial turf, which is often regarded as more physically punishing than natural grass – the surface favoured by athletes and provided when male teams play.

And there is the name itself—the World Cup is assumed to be for men, while women require the qualifying “Women’s” to describe their event.The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

Women players also face a huge pay gap. The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

The winning women’s team received two million dollars in prize money, whereas the winning men’s team took away 35 million dollars. The losing U.S. men’s team was still awarded 8 million dollars—four times as much as the champion U.S. women’s team.

Similar pay gaps occur across other professional sports – with the exception of tennis, which since 2007 has awarded equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments. That should be the model to which all other sports aspire. All sports federations should close the gap and put women and men, in this and all other respects, on an equal playing field.

Deeply entrenched, discriminatory notions of women’s diminished status, whether the issue is a playing field or a paycheck, harm individual women and girls. They are denied their rights and blocked from achieving their full potential. Such norms also undermine sport itself, tarnishing notions such as fair play and open competition.

It is time to overturn the barriers and stereotypes, because every step to do so is a step towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Many women athletes, especially in sports not traditionally considered “feminine”, lead the way, with grit and grace.

Sports programmes have been successful in reducing restrictions on mobility and social isolation that many women and girls experience, particularly those who live in poverty, and who might otherwise be mainly confined within their communities and families.

Through sport, women and girls can find safe places to gather, build new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and pursue new opportunities, often in the process becoming more engaged in community life.

Governments, the United Nations, civil society, the sport movement and others have recognized the contribution of sports to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls. Now is the time to act on this recognition.

Women and girls should be encouraged to explore sports, and anyone who would like to participate should be able to do so. In some cases, this may require increased investments; in others, a rebalancing of resources to ensure equal opportunities for men and women, girls and boys.

Sport and the pursuit of gender equality can be mutually reinforcing — through the creation of role models, the promotion of values and powerful outreach. Both can generate a dream and drive people to strive for change, unleashing tremendous benefits for individuals and for our societies at large.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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South Sudanese Girls Given Away As ‘Blood Money’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/south-sudanese-girls-given-away-as-blood-money/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:26:38 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141530 By Miriam Gathigah
TORIT, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan , Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

So extreme are gender inequalities in South Sudan that a young girl is three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to reach the eighth grade – the last grade before high school – according to Plan International, one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world.

A vast majority of South Sudanese girls will have been victims of at least one form of gender-based violence in their young lives, but those living in Eastern Equatoria State face a particularly abhorrent practice which is a tradition among at least five of the state’s 12 tribes – being given away as ‘blood money’.

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women and Youth Organisation, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit:  Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“When a person kills another person, the bereaved family expects to be given ‘blood money’ as compensation,” Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, told IPS.

Most tribes demand compensation when a life has been taken in one of the regular conflicts over cattle and pasture, revenge killings and other inter-village conflicts, and although 20 to 30 goats is what many tribes demand in form of compensation, Olweny explained that “most families can either not afford or are unwilling to pay so much, and prefer to give away one of their girls as compensation.”

According to child protection specialist, Shanti Risal Kaphle, “a young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace.”

Kaphle explained that the girl’s life is negotiated “without her information and consent and is subject to violence, abuse and exploitation.”

The practice of girl child compensation has not escaped the eye of the government, which set an estimated 500 dollars as the amount for compensation for a life, but tribe people still prefer to be given a girl, saying that the figure set by the government is too little.“A young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace” – child protection specialist Shanti Risal Kaphle

Experts say that a girl is also preferred as compensation by a bereaved family because she can either be married to one of their own without having to pay a bride price, or she can be married off when she turns 12 and attract a herd of goats.

Many of the girls handed over as compensation are often as young as five years. They are expected to forget their birth families and start afresh, severing all contacts with their natural families once the exchange has been concluded.

At this point their lives can take a dramatic turn for the worse through multiple abuse. These girls may be “subjected to child labour, and to sexual, physical and emotional abuse – to escape this hell, more of them now prefer to commit suicide,” said Olweny.

Residents here say that customary laws which perpetuate and rubber stamp these forms of abuse are seen to play a vital role in conflict resolution because they are considered cheap, accessible and the decisions are made on the basis of customs they are familiar with.

Kaphle said that customary laws and decisions are also perceived as more amicable and less time-consuming.

However, girl child compensation is just one of a multitude of abuses that the girl child in South Sudan faces.

The state of Western Bahr El Ghazal, for example, has a notorious tradition of widow compensation which has seen many young girls denied an opportunity to go to school because they are forced into early marriages.

Linda Ferdinand Hussein, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Women’s Organisation for Training and Promotion, explained how this tradition works.

“When a man’s wife dies for whatever reasons, the man can demand to be given back the bride price that he had paid.” This price varies from one family to the next “but most families are unwilling to pay back the bride price so they give the man one of the deceased wife’s younger sisters as compensation.”

Four years after South Sudan won its independence and became the world’s youngest nation, child protection specialists like Hussein are raising the alarm. “Gender-based violence against young girls continues to be perpetrated in a variety of ways in both peacetime and during conflict,” she said.

A report released Jun. 30 by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) revealed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups recently carried out a campaign of violence against the population of South Sudan, which was marked by a “new brutality and intensity” and included the raping and then burning alive of girls inside their homes.

A report released last year by leading humanitarian organisation CARE, titled ‘The Girl Has No Rights’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan, highlighted the extreme injustices faced by young girls in the country.

These injustices continue to serve as obstacles towards accessing education and later exploiting the opportunities that life presents for those who have gone through school.

According to Plan International, 7.3 percent of girls are married before they reach the age of 15 years and another 42.2 percent will have been married between the ages of 15 and 18. And, although 37 percent of girls enrol in primary school, only around seven percent complete the curriculum and only two percent of them proceed to secondary school.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Humanitarian Emergencies Lend Urgency to World Population Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:47:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141483 A group of young Somali girls at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A group of young Somali girls at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of World Population Day, the United Nations is fighting a virtually losing battle against growing humanitarian emergencies triggered mostly by military conflicts that are displacing people by the millions – and rendering them either homeless or reducing them to the status of refugees.

The number of forcibly displaced people has risen to a record number – almost 60 million at the end of 2014, according to the latest U.N. figures.“Governments and electorates are increasingly loath to accept large numbers of people who are in great need, ethnically different and may pose threats to social stability.” -- Joseph Chamie

But that number will continue to rise through 2015 – judging by the unprecedented number of refugees fleeing their home countries, and mostly crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safe havens in European countries.

“Among these, most women and adolescent girls face particular threats as a result of the absence of health and other essential services that they need,” says U.N. Under-Secretary-General Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

“The complex emergencies we are responding to include protracted conflicts, made worse by poor or failed governance, the consequences of climate change, and the engagement of extremist groups claiming territory, resources and power,” he points out.

The theme of this year’s World Population Day – “Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies” – is aimed at highlighting the special needs of women and adolescent girls during conflicts and humanitarian disasters.

According to the United Nations, the number of people requiring critical relief has more than doubled since 2004, to over 100 million today, over and above the 60 million displaced people.

Current funding requirements for 2015 stand at a staggering 19.1 billion dollars compared with 3.4 billion dollars in 2004.

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS the focus of the 2015 World Population Day, which will be commemorated on July 11, is both timely and appropriate given that a record number of more than 60 million men, women and children have been displaced from their homes.

Although the current number of people displaced is at a record high, it will likely increase to substantially higher levels in the coming years as the political unrest and civil conflicts remain unresolved and become more widespread, he noted.

“The forced displacement of millions of men, women and children has created a humanitarian crisis that is challenging countries in every region of the world.”

Chamie said the many services needed by the vulnerable people, including food, shelter, clothing, health care, schooling and safety, are overwhelming the capacities of governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Unfortunately, the international community has not been able to agree on a comprehensive solution to the crisis, he pointed out.

“Governments and electorates are increasingly loath to accept large numbers of people who are in great need, ethnically different and may pose threats to social stability.”

Chamie said economic uncertainties, record government deficits, high unemployment and concerns about national and cultural identity are contributing to growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

According to a report by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released last week, the large majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe during the first half of this year were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, making the Mediterranean crisis primarily a refugee one.

The report said one third of people arriving in Italy or Greece were from Syria, whose nationals are almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection.

The second and third most common countries of origin are Afghanistan and Eritrea, whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee status.

There was an 83 per cent increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from January to June — 137,000 compared to 75,000 in the same period last year, according to UNHCR.

The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April of this year, when more than 1,300 people drowned or went missing in a single month, compared to 42 last April.

In a statement released here, UNFPA said women and adolescent girls who are caught up in humanitarian emergencies also face much greater risk of abuse, sexual exploitation, violence and forced marriage during conflicts and natural disasters.

In addition, many women who survive a crisis become heads of household, with the sole responsibility of caring for their children.

They often have to overcome immense obstacles to provide health and care for children, the sick, the injured and the elderly, and bear the heaviest burden of relief and reconstruction. As a result, they may neglect their own needs as they care for others, UNFPA said.

One of the priorities of UNFPA is to empower and safeguard the well-being of women, adolescent girls, and young people and address their specific needs and concerns.

“We work closely with governments, the United Nations system, local partners and others on disaster preparedness to ensure that reproductive health is integrated into emergency responses.”

“On this World Population Day, we call on the international community to redouble efforts to protect the health and rights of women and girls”, the agency said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141462 Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women’s Groups Say Gender Equality is a Must for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/womens-groups-say-gender-equality-is-a-must-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:41:30 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141290 By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of negotiations on the political declaration for the United Nations Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Women’s Major Group (WMG) calls on governments to define a transformative agenda to ensure just, sustainable and rights-based development.

The goal of the event “No Sustainable Development Without Equality”, held on Tuesday, was to launch 10 Red Flags reflecting concern about gender equality and human rights and highlighting the areas that need to be strengthened to achieve a truly transformative agenda.

“Gender equality and human rights are cross-cutting priorities but they have never received enough recognition,” said Eleanor Blomstrom, WMG Organising Partner and Program Director of Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

“If we want the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be successful, these issues must be fully recognised as critical priorities,” she added.

Women and girls comprise the majority of people living in poverty, experience persistent and multidimensional inequalities, and bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of financial and environmental crisis, natural disasters and climate change.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), girls account for the majority of children not attending school; almost two-thirds of women in the developing world work in the informal sector or as unpaid workers in the home. Despite greater parliamentary participation, women are still out numbered four-to-one in legislatures around the world.

Gender equality and the full realisation of the human rights of girls and women of all ages are cross-cutting issues themselves but they’re also essential for poverty eradication and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nurgul Djanaeva, WMG Organizing Partner and President of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, stressed the importance of keeping the private and public sector accountable, especially on gender equality, in order to achieve gender equality and sustainable development.

“There must be regional, national and global reviews and constant data collection and analysis. Likewise, all the results need to be measured,” she said.

“Transparent and inclusive processes, as well as effective monitoring and evaluative mechanisms, are a must here. A lack of accountability tools is considered as a violation of human rights”, she added.

Speakers at the event also put special emphasis on the key role played by feminist organisations at both the grassroots and international levels, as well as the urgent need for international cooperation and public-private partnerships to achieve gender equality and therefore sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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