Inter Press ServiceGender Violence – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 20 Nov 2017 17:17:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 The Weinstein effect: The Global Scourge of Sexual Harassment & Exploitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/weinstein-effect-global-scourge-sexual-harassment-exploitation/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 13:46:06 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152877 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

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The Weinstein effect: The Global Scourge of Sexual Harassment & Exploitation

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against rape in Bangalore, India. 2014. STRINGER/REUTERS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 3 2017 (IPS)

When the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA’s) Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, detailed an incident involving the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for The New York Times in their eyepopping investigation into decades of alleged sexual harassment, it came as a shock to many.

So now we know.

What started as a Hollywood scandal featuring a powerful man and a string of young women whose lives he had the power to shape has turned into a global shockwave revealing a staggering scale of harassment, misogyny and violence.

Frankly, though, the fact that this problem is too big to sweep under the frayed edges of the world’s carpet has come as a surprise to only half the population. The other half knows what it is to have to fend off inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances while fearing that doing so may jeopardise their careers.

Consider this. One in three women has experienced sexual harassment, violence, assault or rape in their lifetime. These statistics have been out there for years, but it took the Weinstein story to bring them into public consciousness.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, with some national studies suggesting the figure may be as high as 70 per cent.

Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at, with current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends being the most common perpetrators. Around 700 million women alive today were married as children. Of those women, more than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before the age of 15.

Misogyny is deeply ingrained across the world. It feeds into a sense of entitlement by men that legitimises sexual harassment and sometimes violence. In some parts of the developing world the culture of entitlement and gender inequality is so pervasive that women themselves buy into it. The World Bank Gender Data Portal shows that 76.3 per cent of women in Mali and 92.1 per cent in Guinea believe a man is justified in beating his wife if she goes out without telling him, neglects the children, refuses sex, burns the food or argues with him.

From Hollywood via the corridors of power in Westminster to New Delhi and Nairobi, we face a gender inequality crisis on an epic scale. Sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue.

Sometimes the sheer size of a problem may engender a sense of hopelessness. Many people feel that climate change or poverty, for example, are just too big to solve; that the individual is powerless in the face of such scale and complexity.

But this is not the case here. There are things we can and must do. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls.

How?

There are five key frontiers for behaviour change.

The first is home. In too many families across the world boys are more valued than girls, and an attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ excuses much aggression, exploitation and injustice. Husbands must set an example of respect for their wives. Parents must raise their sons to value girls and to respect their rights and autonomy. A girl’s body is her own. A boy has no right to comment on it or touch it uninvited, no matter what a girl might be wearing, or where she is.

The second front for action is education. Schools must teach respect and gender equality to both sexes. An organisation that does just this is No Means No Worldwide, which partners with local organisations in Kenya and Malawi to work in schools. Girls are taught assertiveness and boundary setting, which is backed up with physical self-defence training. But boys are a crucial part of the scheme too. Dramatic changes in boys’ attitudes to girls and sex have been seen after only six sessions, and rape cases have fallen by 50% in some areas of Nairobi after the training.

The workplace is the third area for action. Victims of harassment or assault must be able to report their experiences without fear of retaliation on their careers. Workplace expectations and procedures must be clear and transparent, and action following a report of inappropriate behaviour must be equally clear and transparent. Impunity that has lingered too long, aided and abetted by patriarchy, must no longer prevail.

Fourth, when inappropriate behaviour becomes criminal behaviour, women must feel confident that reporting sexual crime will not add to their trauma. Police forces in many parts of the world have no special training in dealing with victims of sexual abuse and assault, and many do not take it seriously. They deserve to be treated with sensitivity and respect, and need to know that police will investigate their cases and arrest perpetrators.

Finally, justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station.

Most survivors of sexual harassment, violence and exploitation are far from the glitz of Hollywood. Many are poor and ill-educated. Countless are growing up in cultures where their life chances are severely diminished simply by virtue of their gender and circumstance.

If the Weinstein story and its aftermath have shown us anything, it is that sexual exploitation and harassment is part of everyday experience for girls and women no matter where they live in the world.

This has to stop and we as men have to be at the vanguard of change. #HeForShe

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Follow him on twitter.

This article was originally published by Thomson Reuters, and was published with express permission from the writer

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UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:59:52 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152823 A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented. But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief […]

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Sweden and the UN. We build peace. Credit: Jonas Svensson, Swedish Armed Forces

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2017 (IPS)

A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented.

But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325.

Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Officer/International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, (GNWP) told IPS that despite all the ballyhoo following the resolution, the percentage of women in peacekeeping “is incredibly low”.

In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. As of August 2017, women constituted only 3.7 % of military personnel; and 9.4 % of police personnel.

“This is beyond shocking. If we are going to use this as an indicator to assess the achievements of UNSCR 1325, we are failing miserably,” she declared.

Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told the Security Council last week although women’s absence from peace tables is no longer easily brushed off as normal, it is still commonplace.

“Every year, we track women’s overall participation in peace processes that are led by the UN. We track the inclusion of gender expertise and gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements, and the requirement to consult with women’s civil society organizations. In all of these indicators, we performed slightly worse than a year ago.”

At the Myanmar Union Peace Conference in 2016—before the current crisis—there were seven women and 68 men among the delegates. And recent peace talks on the Central African Republic hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio did not include a single woman.

Six years into the Syrian civil war—and in spite of significant efforts by the UN and the Special Envoy—women’s participation in the peace talks is still inadequate, and often limited to an advisory role. This political marginalization extends beyond peace talks, she declared.

Only 17 countries (out of 193 UN member states) have an elected woman Head of State or Government. This includes only one post-conflict conflict country, Liberia, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency has just ended after two terms, following democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

“That is something to celebrate,” she added. Meanwhile, the proportion of women parliamentarians in conflict and post-conflict countries has stagnated at 16 per cent in the last two years.

Focusing on another neglected aspect, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS there has to be some element of institutional or state responsibility for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in UN peacekeeping missions.

She said it cannot just be “a soldier” — after all “a government” sent the soldier to the peacekeeping mission, so that government must bear responsibility for egregious behavior.

Second, “we have to be more honest about the ‘grayness’ of exploitation. Poverty and the need for food and water can induce ‘consent’ – so it can be abusive and exploitative but technically not illegal, if it involves an adult.”

Finally, for over 20 years we have heard the common refrain that “it is difficult to find women in militaries”. Why not have a radical re-think regarding the recruitment of women into peacekeeping forces?

It is not only about equal opportunities for jobs that pay better than others, but also about deep personal empowerment, and of course prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

“How do we do it?”, she asked. “Why not have regional women’s peacekeeping institutes where women can come and get the basic military training needed, as well as skills specific to peacekeeping?”.

There are plenty of countries that export women for domestic work, which entails poor pay and exposure to abuse. Why not support them to become peacekeepers? Their salaries would be higher and their skills could be useful once they return home, she argued.

Cabrera Balleza told IPS the benefits of having more women in peacekeeping are numerous and very tangible. Female peacekeepers serve as role models, they inspire women and girls to assert their rights and to take on leadership and non-traditional positions, including as part of the security sector.

“They are also more sensitive to the needs of female ex-combatants, women refugees, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. No doubt, women peacekeeping personnel are critical to the success of peace operations”, she noted.

She also pointed out that it is easy to criticize the UN for this dismal failure to achieve gender parity in peace operations.

“However, we need to examine the source – and those are the (193) Member States. There are very few women in UN peacekeeping because the sources are shallow. Discriminatory recruitment and hiring polices as well as unsafe work environment within the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) prevent women from joining police and military institutions”.

This, she said, is symptomatic of the major obstacles in implementing Resolution 1325– initiated by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh when he presided over the Security Council in October 2000– and the supporting women-and-peace and security resolutions.”

She also pointed out that the underrepresentation of women in peacekeeping is mirrored by the under-representation of women in peace negotiations; by the lack of women in decision-making and governance positions; by the absence of women in the design of disarmament programs; by the lack of funding for women’s peacebuilding work.

The problems are multi-pronged: they are political, economic, social and cultural. Hence the solutions should also be multi-pronged and holistic.

The call for a holistic and coherent strategy to implement Resolution 1325 and the supporting resolutions is not new, she added.

The three reviews in 2015, namely the Global Study on UNSCR 1325; the High Level Peace Operations; the Peacebuilding Architecture Review all highlighted the need to address the fragmentation in the UN system in order for peacebuilding efforts to be successful.

Needless to say, the global policy decisions and the efforts to find coherence in the work of the UN should be informed by the voices of women in conflict affected communities and translated into localization initiatives.

“Let’s all roll up our sleeves, buckle down to work and take 1325 out of New York, and bring it to local communities. Only then can we fulfill the promise of this ground breaking international policy,” she declared.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Naraghi Anderlini said when she started working in peacebuilding over 20 years ago, the United Nations was coming under fire because multinational forces working as peacekeepers in Cambodia had sexually abused women and girls and spread HIV/AIDS and other diseases among local populations.

In the many years since, UN peacekeepers have been accused of doing the same in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, and beyond. In 2014, peacekeepers from France and Georgia were implicated in incidents of sexual violence against young children in the Central African Republic.

In 2016, following investigations, the UN reported 41 cases of abuse involving peacekeepers from Burundi and Gabon, including eight paternity cases and six filed on behalf of minors.

With the arrival of Antonio Guterres as the new UN secretary general and Sweden’s presence in the Security Council in 2017, the issues have again gained traction, said Naraghi Anderlini.

As a champion of a “feminist foreign policy,” Sweden has made the Women, Peace, and Security agenda a priority at the UN, she noted.

As Guterres and the Swedish delegation noted, a better balance of women and men in peacekeeping forces would enable greater access to communities while increasing transparency and accountability among the forces themselves and reducing levels of sexual abuse.

“If this seems farfetched, it is worth imagining a scenario where UN peacekeepers are 100 percent female. Incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse likely would disappear altogether. Yet little effort has been put into increasing the number of women,” she declared.

Meanwhile, Sweden has been a staunch supporter of UN peacebuilding and assumed the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission in 2015 while maintaining a long tradition of participating in UN peace operations.

According to the Swedish government, more than 80,000 Swedish women and men have taken part in UN peacekeeping to date. From the very first group of Swedish military observers, who participated in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in 1948, to Sweden’s current engagement in the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Sweden’s commitment has remained firm.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Adolescent Health Congress Skirts Issue of Abuse, Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 11:34:43 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152795 Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were. In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be […]

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Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEW DELHI, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were.

In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be considered fit for marriage."It makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions.” --Gigi Phaladi

“I am so glad that in Botswana we do not have hyenas, but we face other forms of sexual violence such as stepfathers molesting stepdaughters and giving them HIV,” says Phaladi, founder of Pillar of Hope, a project that counsels, educates and trains local adolescents to tackle these challenges.

Violent Crimes Left Out

Last week, Phaladi attended the 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health which was held in New Delhi and focused on different health aspects of youth in the age group of 10-24. Speaking to an audience that included diplomats, bureaucrats, researchers, doctors and activists, Phaladi stressed that if the problems of adolescents were to be truly addressed, they had to be involved in the process.

Talking to IPS on the sidelines of the Congress later, Phaladi said that there were adolescents who experienced the most heinous and violent crimes across the world such as sexual assaults, trafficking, violent social norms and religious practices of violent crime.

Aside from HIV, beating, molestation, and sexual exploitation at schools by teachers – the challenges faced by adolescents were multiple. But the adolescents directly affected by the violence and crime were not included in the process to address them.

“You see, the laws in these countries are not firm enough to protect the adolescents from these crimes. So, it’s not just a health issue, but a governance deficiency and we need to talk about this at such events, from the adolescents themselves,” she said.

Unfortunately, violent crimes like sexual slavery, hyenas, molestation at schools or breast ironing – another crime reported widely from Western Africa – were missing from the Congress on Adolescent Health, as were issues of cross-border sex trafficking of adolescent boys and girls in Asia and community-backed forced prostitution of young women in India. Mental health was discussed as a generic issue, but rising cases of mental illness in militarized and conflict zones were also missing.

Lack of Studies and Data

A big reason behind this could be lack of any data, said Rajib Acharya, a researcher from Population Council of India, a New Delhi-based NGO researching population issues across India. Acharya just conducted a study of 20,000 adolescents aged 10-14 in two states of India – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Presented at the Congress, the study showed, among others, severe levels of anemia among the adolescents. According to the study, 1.2 million and 2.8 million are severely anemic, respectively, in these two States.

But it took four months and a team of 50 researchers to interview the adolescents on nutrition and sexual and reproductive health.  Three weeks were spent on training the researchers, and analyzing the data took another four to five months. To generate data on multiple issues would mean multiplying the investment of this time, effort and money, Acharya reminded.

He also said that if the issue was complicated, sensitive and involved  traveling to conflict zones, it was less likely to be taken up for research as gathering credible date would be incredibly hard.

Forums like the Congress should ideally be utilized to bring on the hard-hitting issues related to adolescents,  said Thant Aung Phyo, a young sexual and reproductive healthcare activist in Myanmar. Pointing out the severe restrictions on adolescents in accessing abortion care, Phyo said, “The rigid government policies and social traditions that restrict the rights of adolescents need to be brought up and discussed at forums like this.”

Myanmar is currently caught in a human rights  disaster where over a million Rohingyas had been forced to flee their homes, taking refuge in neighboring countries including Bangladesh, India and Thailand.  The refugees included hundreds of thousands of adolescents who are living in trauma, poverty, fear and uncertainty.

Decribing their suffering as “unfathomable” and “unprecedented”, Kate Gilmore,  Deputy High Commissioner of the UN Human Rights Commission, says that refugee and migrant adolscents  across the world must be provided  free and regular healthcare as a right.

“Migrant adolescents must have access to healthcare without the fear of being reported, detained and deported,” Gilmore said.

Improving World’s Largest Adolescent Program

India, home to the world’s largest adolescent population (253 million), launched  an adolescent-specific program in 2014 – the first country in the world to do so on such a scale. Titled Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (KRSK), the program aimed at improving health and nutrition of adolescents besides protecting them against violence and injuries.

It is currently run in 230 of the country’s 707 districts,  but even after three years, there was  little data available on the program’s impact. The data presented at the event by the health ministry of India at the Congress only specified the facilities built by the government so far (700 adolescent health clinics) and services provided (training over 20,000 adolescents as peer educators).

However, the selection of the peer educators and the skills of the field workers had been questioned by experts from the non government sector.

“The peer educator component is the most controversial aspect of the program. The skill of the workforce on the ground is also questionable,” observed Sunil Mehra, one of the pioneers on adolscent health in India and head of Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child which coorganised the Congress.

Agreed Rajib Acharya: “If we spoke with community level  health workers, we would see  that only 5 or 6 out of  every 30 or 40 knew what they were supposed to say or do to adolescent patients.”

On Saturday, however,  the ministry  announced certain changes  to improve the RKSK program and monitor certain services  Said Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner (Adolescent Health) at the minsitry, the government would “now make the program  promotion and prevention-centric and monitorable”.

The ministry would particularly monitor its  Weekly Iron Folic Supplementation (WIFS) programme  on digital platforms to tackle anemea among adolescents. A special toolkit called “Sathiya” was also launched at the World Congress on Friday for better peer education. The Toolkit—available both in print and online – focused on six broad themes of the RKSK such as integrated child health , sexual and reproductive health, injuries and violence, nutrition, substance abuse and mental health.

Leveraging the Traditional  System

There are other instituions and systems that  India and other countries could make better use of  to address the “wicked problems” faced by the adolescents, reminded  Anthony Costello, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Promoting greater interaction among adolescents of different age and sex is one. Involving parents in learning of the health issues of adolescents is another. Talking of difficult and disturbing issues like breast ironing, rape, trafficking is yet another. We need to use all of these,” Costello told IPS.

Gigi Phaladi added that traditioonal and religious leaders  also must be roped in to talk about adolescents. In Botswana, she said, pastors in churches were urged to talk of gender violence, HIV and other gender-based crimes.

“People were surprised to hear their religious leaders talk about sex etc, but they also started paying attention. The general feeling among people was ‘if the pastors do not feel hesitant to talk about these issues, why should we?’ So, it makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions,”she said.

The three-day (Oct. 27-29 ) 11th Congress on Adolescent Health, which had 1,200 participants from 65 countries, concluded on Sunday.

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Historic Resolution on Women & Peacekeeping Remains Mostly Unimplementedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:24:02 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152792 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

At the 26 October launch of GNWP’s (Global Network of Women Peacebuilders) manual “No Money, No NAP” on dedicated budgetary allocation to fund the implementation of the 1325 National Action Plans, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka characterized UNSCR 1325 as the most unimplemented resolution of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN

Representing the UN Secretary-General, his Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribiero Viotti said at the Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security on 27 October that “…seventeen years since the passage of resolution 1325, our own implementation remains too often ad hoc. While there is a clear recognition of the relationship between gender equality, women’s participation and stability and resilience, too little is being done to operationalize this understanding.”

I agree with both of them in a big way particularly bearing in mind that adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture.

We need to understand that 1325 by itself envisages a broad-based conceptual transformation of the existing international policies and practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of the Security Council’s support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements.

I am referring to the concept of security based on current strategic power structures rather than on human security which highlights the security of the people. That change itself remains very distant.

Here I would mention enthusiastically a dedicated woman, Peace and Security Program which was launched last week at New York’s prestigious Columbia University. Led by 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate dynamic Leymah Gbowee, this Program has identified all the key areas which need special attention, particularly emphasizing the human security dimension and grassroots level experiences in WPS agenda. I wish her and the Program all success!

Apart from that I find there four areas where greater progress was possible during last 17 years:
One, in real terms, National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 68 out of 193 UN Member States have prepared their plans – what a dismal record after 17 years.

Leymah Gbowee launches WPS Program at the Columbia University, as its Executive Director

There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There needs to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs.

Two, I would say that special attention should be given to building awareness and sensitivity as well as training of the senior officials within the UN system as a whole with regard to 1325. That will create a foundational culture of recognizing women’s equality of participation as essential.

Three, another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.

Four, what role the Secretary-General should play? I believe there is a need for his genuinely active, dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325. Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries for the implementation of 1325 if their leaders received a formal communication from the S-G suggesting a date for submission of respective NAPs?

Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up in the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism – at the next CEB meeting. DPI needs to have an information and awareness raising strategy for 1325 – mainstreamed in its work – not as an event and anniversary oriented publicity.

UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and the whole UN system at the country level and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of national action plans.

In short, through implementation of 1325, we want complete and real, practical, functional, operational equality between women and men to end the cycle of all forms of extremism which continue to sabotage humanity’s quest for sustainable peace and development.

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Stopping Child Marriage Foreverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stopping-child-marriage-forever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stopping-child-marriage-forever http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stopping-child-marriage-forever/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 06:58:47 +0000 Shahiduzzaman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152788 The mother moved in like a tigress to save her cub. In 2015, when her 13-year-old daughter Shumi Akhter was about to be married off, Panna Begum pleaded with her husband, Dulal Mia, to cancel the marriage he’d arranged for their daughter. Panna argued vehemently that Shumi was just a child and it was wrong […]

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Akhter and her mother, Panna Begum, who saved her from being married off at the age of 13. Credit: Shahiduzzaman/IPS

By Shahiduzzaman
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

The mother moved in like a tigress to save her cub. In 2015, when her 13-year-old daughter Shumi Akhter was about to be married off, Panna Begum pleaded with her husband, Dulal Mia, to cancel the marriage he’d arranged for their daughter.

Panna argued vehemently that Shumi was just a child and it was wrong for her to be married off at such a tender age. Dulal was adamant, countering that it was tradition and custom and his responsibility as a father to give his daughter away in marriage. He was furious with Panna for objecting, but she wouldn’t back down.

“I don’t agree with you because I know the reality, the legal age of girls’ marriage and consequences of child marriage. Please don’t try to kill the future of my daughter. If you proceed any further on this matter then I’m even ready to split from you to ensure my daughter’s future,” Panna warned her husband.

The Dulal family lives in Noler Char of Hatia UpaZilla, Noakhali, a southern coastal district of Bangladesh.

Panna never went to school and was herself a victim of child marriage. Fortunately, just a week before her daughter Shumi’s wedding, Panna participated in a sensitization meeting on women’s rights issues organized by Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha(SSUS), a local NGO. As soon as the meeting ended, she reached out for support from the participating NGO representatives and others to stop her daughter’s marriage. And she succeeded.

In the chars (accreted coastal land) of Noakhali district, where the Bangladesh government with the assistance of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Netherlands are implementing a project titled the Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP IV), the story of Panna’s efforts and success in averting a disastrous child marriage is well known and widely appreciated.

The CDSP IV aims to reduce poverty and hunger among poor people living on newly accreted coastal chars by providing more secure livelihoods.

Shumi Akhter runs her sewing machine. Credit: Shahiduzzaman/IPS


Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (SSUS) is one of the four partner NGOs working with the CSDP IV to promote understanding of the social issues in the project areas. SSUS took responsibility to help the young Shumi learn skills that would eventually help her to earn money.

Within a couple of days following Panna’s appeal for help, the NGO admitted her into a CDSP IV month-long training on tailoring. She did well and she received a sewing machine free of cost. The training helped build her confidence. Within a short period Shumi became a popular tailor for the villages in the neighbourhood. Now she is earning between 50 and 70 dollars per month.

Her father Dulal Mia now says, “My decision was wrong. God saved us. I am sorry for causing such tension in my family. Like my wife, now I am also campaigning against child marriage.”

Today, at 16, Shumi is a major contributor to the family income. “I am dreaming of a better life. My parents and the villagers are with me. I will make my own decision about my future,” she stated confidently.

The other partners of CDSP IV are BRAC, Dwip Unnayan Songstha(DUS) and the Society for Development Initiatives (SDI).

Some 25 years ago, this correspondent visited the same char lands to report on the ‘Life of Char People’. At that time poor and marginal people who were victims of river erosion and natural disasters in various costal districts were trying to settle in this area. None of them aware of their basic rights, simply struggling for survival each day.

Those people were highly influenced in their outlook and were entrenched in taboos. Attitudes toward women and girl children were critically narrow. Over 95 percent of the girls were victims of child marriage. Women were strictly restricted in their movement outside their homes. They were bound by rules set by their husbands. In fact, the situation of women and girls was the worst in char areas compared to other parts of the country.

Then-local government officials and NGOs activists said low literacy rates and social insecurity of the families were the principal causes of the high rate of child marriage. Another important cause was that girls and young women in remote areas were vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse. To avoid incidents of abuse and rape and to ensure safety and security of their daughters, parents took the initiative to give away girls in marriage as early as possible.

Those days are now in the past. Md. Hanan Mollah of SSUS said, “All credit goes to CDSP IV. It has broken the barrier and women are more socially secure and empowered, and their rights on assets have been established. They are now the major mainstream workforce in the area. Their contribution makes our rural economy vibrant.”

Although child marriage has been reduced drastically, many families continue the practice by producing fake birth certificates.

In fact, Bangladesh has many successes in social sectors, but sadly it has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world. According to UNICEF, “52 percent of country’s girls are married before the age of 18. Early marriage causes girls to drop out of education and limits their opportunities for social interaction.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reported that child marriage in Bangladesh is deeply destructive to the lives of married girls and their families; it pushes girls out of school, leaves them mired in poverty, heightens the risk of domestic violence, and carries grave health risks for girls and their babies due to early pregnancy.

Marriage of girls before the age of 18 and men before 21 is treated as child marriage, which is strictly prohibited by law in Bangladesh. It is a punishable offence for the organisers of child marriage including parents, registering entities and related persons.

“I can say confidently that child marriage in the area has reduced more than 90 percent after the CDSP IV project was launched. Often, when we receive information, our local officials including myself rush immediately to stop such marriages at any cost. A couple of months ago we intervened and stopped a child marriage when the couple were about to sign the marriage contract,” said Khondaka Rezauil Karim, Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi (sub-district Executive Officer).

“It is true some child marriages are still happening but within the next 12 months that will be stopped forever because by this time 100 percent birth registration will be completed, which is important for any marriage registrar to check the age of both male and female before registering the marriage.

“Several police camps and investigative centers and ground communication have been established in the areas to ensure peace and security. Now, police can rush within 30 minutes to any part of the chars to tackle the situation. Combating violence against women, promoting women’s empowerment and their rights based issues are our priority tasks,” Rezaul Karim said.

Deputy Team Leader of CDSPIV Md. Bazlul Karim said, “We have introduced multiple social programmes and support to stop child marriage effectively and promoting empowerment of women. ‘Legal and Human Rights’ programme is one of them, where an initiative has been taken to sensitize and raise awareness of the people by educating them on the country’s seven basic laws including Muslim and Hindu family laws, land law, inheritance law and constitutional rights. It also includes legal literacy classes, raising awareness about legal rights, and empowering the poor, especially women, both legally and socially by encouraging them to take legal action.”

“Around the project area, 984 groups are working on these issues. They are also acting like defenders on rights based issues. Now we are receiving complete information on the violation of rights and intolerance against women. And nothing is overlooked. So since the project started we were able to stop 93 child marriages,” he said.

The project is also providing life skill training and various kinds of support to young women, widows and destitute women. Tailoring training is one. So far the project has trained up 125 women and distributed 125 sewing machines free of cost. Each of the recipients are now earning a decent wage and helping their families. Credit is also being made available for small businesses, agro-based farming and livestock.

Achieving gender equality and empowerment of women are the most important goals of the project. Women’s position in their communities has improved remarkably. They are participating in all sorts of developing activities, including constructing roads, cultivating lands and agro-based farming.

The project officials and the NGO activists said that at the beginning it was very difficult to reach women. Their husbands were not cooperative at all, but with time they realized that empowering women only strengthened their own welfare.

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Ending the Male Monopoly on Peace: Women Still Need More Seats at the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 06:29:41 +0000 Shaheen Chughtai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152743 Shaheen Chugtai is Oxfam’s Global Women, Peace and Security Policy Lead

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Women participate in an event in Morocco organized to support and encourage women running for local election and to encourage voting. Credit: Ellie Kealey / Oxfam

By Shaheen Chughtai
NEW YORK, Oct 26 2017 (IPS)

Whether targeted by perpetrators of sexual violence, oppressed by ideological extremists, or uniquely threatened by the bombing of hospital maternity units, women often bear the brunt of conflicts. Yet when it comes to peace negotiations, women too often don’t have a seat at the table. The continuing reality that men, particularly armed men, enjoy an almost exclusive role in peace processes defies both logic and evidence.

It is now 17 years since UN resolution 1325 was adopted – the first Security Council resolution to establish the so-called women, peace and security agenda, which aims to uphold women’s rights in war and roles in peace.

Ahead of the Open Debate on Peace and Security at the UN, it is the time reflect and double down both on what promises are left unfilled, as well as what progress has been made – there are examples of both.

There have been some positive signs of headway, as seven subsequent UN Security Council resolutions have helped strengthen policies and norms worldwide over the past decade. Almost 70 countries have national action plans to put women, peace and security aims into practice.

This year, renewed peacekeeping and peace enforcement mandates for Western Sahara, Sudan and Somalia included new language on the importance of women’s participation. Hopefully this trend will continue with South Sudan’s peacekeeping mandate renewal just around the corner.

And just weeks ago, the US Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act. Among other aims, the act makes it US policy to promote the meaningful participation of women in efforts to address conflict overseas. But crucial gaps remain – not least, the routine exclusion of women from peace processes.

Why does this matter? Because women missing from peace talks means world leaders are missing opportunities to save countless lives and stabilize an increasingly fractured world.

Analysis of various conflicts and peace processes worldwide shows that when women able to bring crucial perspectives and experiences from civil society and local communities, the chances of peace agreements being reached and sustained rises dramatically.

Worldwide, women already play crucial roles in resolving disputes in their families and communities, and identifying challenges and solutions that influence social cohesion and stability. Tapping into that experience and expertise, a peace that reflects the needs and aspirations of the whole population, benefits everyone, male and female, and is more likely to last.

That simple logic should drive a paradigm shift in international diplomacy to prevent and resolve conflicts. Wars not only take and destroy lives. It is estimated that the total monetary cost of violence and conflict around the world was $13.6 trillion in 2015.

But instead, we hear excuses. Time and time again, key members of the UN Security Council stubbornly stick to strategies that not only struggle to resolve conflicts but offer only hollow rhetoric about supporting women’s participation.

All speak loudly in favor of women’s rights and role inside the UN Security Council chamber, but for the rest of the year leading governments routinely prioritize other interests when it comes to international diplomacy. The standard group photograph of male delegates at any of the major peace talks on Syria or Yemen gives us a damning snapshot of just how far we still have to go.

When the US Security Council Resolution 2242 was adopted, mandating the UN to double its female police representation and reaffirming support for women in civil society, it enjoyed historic support. Unfortunately, in the time since, there has been very little action to back it up.

Friday’s Security Council annual debate will be a chance to reflect on the advances and challenges that have emerged since the adoption of Resolution 2242 and for members to recommit to back up their words with actions.

Several key areas of UN reform would also help: improving the number of women in senior UN positions, including in conflict missions, strengthening gender capacity in peacekeeping missions and assessments, and drastically increasing funding and other support for local women’s organizations.

Addressing these specifics will signal progress, but above all, we need a radical shift in mindsets and priorities to accelerate progress, with support for both the quantity and quality of women’s involvement in peace processes and political decision-making a key objective.

In a world seemingly frayed by growing divisions, with conflicts on the rise and record numbers of people forced from their homes, the continued male monopoly on resolving and preventing conflicts is not just anachronistic – it is a danger to us all.

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Lack of International Action on Rohingya Crisis Called a “Disgrace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 22:29:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152655 As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively. Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world. The UN warns that up to […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2017 (IPS)

As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively.

Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The UN warns that up to one million—representing the entire Muslim population of Rakhine state—could flee to the neighboring nation by the end of the year if the crisis continues.

Rohingya refugees have provided the outside world with glimpses of their horrific experiences, from villages being burned and attacked to women being raped by Burmese soldiers.

One 26-year-old Rohingya woman recounted her story to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) rapid response team, deployed to Bangladesh to assess the situation on the ground, stating:

“I woke up at 3 a.m. and my house was on fire. There was chaos, everyone was running everywhere, they were shooting to kill us, they took women and dragged them away to rape them. They did not spare anyone—even children were beaten and tortured…I have tried for a long time to live in peace, even during difficult times, but this attack was horrible.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the government’s campaign against the minority a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” while others have said that the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Those that are able to reach Bangladesh often arrive to no food or shelter and are at risk of disease outbreaks as the resource-strained South Asian nation struggles to cope with the influx.

Despite the evidence for the scale of violence and suffering, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has largely remained silent on the crisis while divisions in Security Council (UNSC) have prevented decisive progress towards any measure.

With no end in sight, IPS spoke to the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Idriss Jazairy about the crisis in Myanmar, as well as his frustrations and appeals for action.

Q: What is your response to the crisis in Myanmar and what is the Geneva Centre doing to help end the crisis?

I have sent, to all members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a letter appealing to them to organize a special session on the desperate situation of the Rohingyas that have been pushed back from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

I have not received one single answer.

About 650,000 people have been pushed out mercilessly—all of their property has been burned or destroyed, many have disappeared in large numbers, women have been raped, children have been killed—and nothing happens.

I know in terms of politics there are all sorts of elements that need to be taken into account, but there comes a time when a situation of a violation of human rights exceeds certain proportion, whatever the politics, we should speak up.

Otherwise it shows that, in the UNHRC, politics have definitely taken precedence over values and this would be the beginning of the end of this Council.

It would be enough to have 16 states taking the initiative for a special session to take place.

Can’t we find, in the whole of the membership, a few others that claim they are sensitive to human rights to respond and take this initiative?

In 2007, the UNHRC held a special session on Myanmar because there were some peaceful demonstrations that had been exposed to violent responses by the military.

The situation today is 100 times worse, so I cannot imagine why there isn’t a similar reaction.

Q: Do the atrocities in Myanmar amount to crimes against humanity or even genocide?

I am not qualified to say but I believe that some more qualified than myself have talked at least about ethnic cleansing.

It is a case of ethnic cleansing but no one has responded to my appeal for a special session which would in fact have had a dual purpose—first, to impose, under UN control, a return of these people that have been brutally thrown out of a country in which they were born and lived for generations and secondly, to come to the help of Bangladesh which is one of the poorest countries that finds it difficult to face these financial consequences of the mass arrival of refugees.

We therefore have a double moral obligation.

The lives of all 650,000 people who have lost their homes—doesn’t that justify just a one-day special session when we have special sessions about every other country, every other crisis in the world?

I do not understand that. My multilateral faith in human rights is being undermined.

Q: If such a special session were to happen, what are you hoping would result from that?

A recognition of the right of the Rohingyas to go back to their land, including a recognition of their status of citizens.

I am aware that this [crisis] is the consequence to a great extent of British colonizers who would take some labor from what was then India and bring them over to Myanmar to work.

The source of the problem goes back centuries but you can’t redo history. These people have been there for generations, sometimes hundreds of years.

There must be a proper law that gives them the right to citizenship—citizenship should not be based on race.

Bangladesh should also be given compensation and people or victims themselves must be given compensation for what they have undergone.

It is true that there has been a group of violent protestors that have carried out some unacceptable violent actions like attacking police stations and we would not condone these actions.

But let us have a commission of inquiry that looks into all the issues and submit an official report, including to determine the nature of the crimes in this awful situation.

Q: If the crisis continues, should the international community take more drastic measures? Some are pushing for an arms embargo or targeted financial sanctions, what are your thoughts on that?

I have always been hesitant about sanctions.

Myanmar was exposed to sanctions and then the sanctions were removed. Neither did they improve their performance when the sanctions were on nor obviously since the sanctions have been removed and it has now become even worse.

So for me, this is not a question of just sanctions.

It is a grave issue—I understand the Secretary-General raised the issue four times in the Security Council (UNSC)—and I hope that the international community and UN system can join forces in addressing every aspect of this situation.

But the UNHRC not having a special session on this now is a disgrace.

Q: What is your response to the current divisions within the Security Council on the crisis as both Russia and China cite issues of sovereignty and ask to exercise “patience”?

This is why I say: I understand the politics behind these issues but I do feel that the situation has reached such a peak that there must be action.

The UNSC provides the politics, and the UNHRC provides the ethics. But where are the ethics now?

Idriss Jazairy is the former Algerian Ambassador and has long worked with the UN and other organizations.

Among other high-level positions, he has been the President of UN agency IFAD and the Chief Executive of a consortium of international organizations ACORD.

In 2015, Jazairy was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

A ministerial-level pledging conference is set to be held in Geneva on 23 October to help meet the most urgent needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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Good Men Should Not be Quiet Spectators in Sexual Assaultshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/good-men-not-quiet-spectators-sexual-assaults/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-men-not-quiet-spectators-sexual-assaults http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/good-men-not-quiet-spectators-sexual-assaults/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 14:34:52 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152628 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

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Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 20 2017 (IPS)

The pain and anger of more than a million people who tweeted #MeToo in the last week have crowded social media with personal stories of sexual harassment or assault.

This virtual march of solidarity marks both the urgency of finding a shared voice and the hidden scale of assault that did not previously have a register. When women are almost invisible, when they are not really seen, it seems that people do not have to care what happens to them.

Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: IPS

This online outcry is important because it is giving voice to acts that are public, but that are silenced and neutralized by convention. It is a cruel privilege to be able to harass a girl or a woman with impunity, but in so many cases this is the norm.

What we are seeing currently, as women build and reinforce each other’s accounts, and as men join in to acknowledge their role, is a validation of the rightness of speaking out. We are seeing also the strength in numbers that comes from accumulated individual experiences that are characteristically undeclared.

As the crowd builds of those telling their story, we see a picture of real life begin to emerge. A critical mass is growing that proves how much goes wrong when people can act with impunity in a culture of silence.

The online wave joins the other mass movements collectively expressing women’s activism: the Latin American ‘ni una menos’ marches to protest violence against women and particularly against the least privileged; the women’s marches that took place across the world earlier this year in support of women’s rights and other freedoms; and the marches in Poland and Ireland against abortion bans.

The blanket of silence has also shielded perpetrators of assaults on LGBTI communities and others who are more vulnerable for reasons of ethnicity, poverty, or age. These women are the ones most affected, least visible and have the most to gain from the collective strength of voices building peer pressure and culture change.

After all, it was Tarana Burke, a New York community organizer serving young women of colour who originated ‘me too’, and her friend Alyssa Milano who picked it up and became the catalyst for the billions who have now been reached by its message.

The full and free participation of women in society, in politics, and in the workplace is essential for women’s voices to be heard and for their rights to be respected. The more women there are who take on senior representation roles across public and private sectors, the more opportunities there are for change in the culture of invisibility and impunity, where more powerful men are able to prey on women. Sexual and all other forms of harassment at work, home and outside the home are not acceptable and must not be ignored.

Casual indifference, and people saying “it’s nothing” have to stop. The number of men who have joined this campaign is promising but far from being enough (30 per cent in one report). It has already been too long that permissive blindness is the norm.

This is about both women and men changing their response to acts of sexual aggression and acting in solidarity to make it visible and unacceptable. Good men should not be quiet spectators.

We need to have all women empowered to speak, their rights and bodies respected, and behaviours established and entrenched as normal that let no one off the hook. No more impunity.

We salute the thousands of women who have been fighting against all violations of women’s and girls’ rights and call for renewed investment in the fight to end all violence against women.

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Despite Odds, Women Gain Stature in African Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:47:43 +0000 Kwamboka Oyaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152510 Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena. Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim […]

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Launch of the African Women Leaders Network in New York. Credit: UN Photos

By Kwamboka Oyaro, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena.

Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

For most African women, however, the political terrain is too rough to navigate. Few make the journey, perceiving that their male colleagues would try to undermine them. In their effort to take up leadership positions, qualified African women can expect to confront gender-based attacks, including being labelled “prostitutes” or “concubines”. Sometimes they are sexually harassed, and they often contend with men seeking sexual favours as preconditions for support.

Propositions from senior male office holders as a precondition for entry into the field are unacceptable, says former Nigerian senator Uche Lilian Ekwunife. She adds that this is a tactic men have used for years to discourage women from entering the political fray.

Ms. Ekwunife recollects her 2011 re-election campaign for Nigeria’s House of Representatives, when her opponent superimposed her head on a naked body and sent the picture to YouTube “just to demean my person.” Luckily, that childish slur backfired, and Ms. Ekwunife easily won the election to the legislative body.

Four years later, when she sought election to the senate in 2015, her experience was less pleasant. Although she was re-elected to become one of six women out of the 109 senators in Nigeria’s upper law-making body, her political journey was short.

The courts nullified her election after she had been in the senate only six months. She believes that her election’s nullification was politically motivated, even though there was the issue of her switching political parties at the last minute.

Ms. Ekwunife’s experience is not unique among women political hopefuls in Africa. For example, just two days after activist Diane Shima Rwigara declared her intention to run for the presidency in Rwanda’s general election in August this year, social media was awash with purported nude pictures of her. Her candidacy was disqualified by election officials.

In neighbouring Uganda, a member of the opposition Zainab Fatuma Naigaga and some male colleagues were arrested on their way to a political rally in October 2015. But it was only Ms. Naigaga who was stripped naked by abusive police officers, while the men were left alone.

In Kenya, MP Millie Odhiambo Mabona was analysing the country’s Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 in Parliament when a commotion on the floor degenerated into a free-for-all brawl.

Ms. Mabona says she was assaulted by two pro-government MPs. “That day I was in a dress and these men kept pulling it up while I pulled it down. They went ahead and tore my panties,” Ms. Mabona told Africa Renewal in an interview.

One of the accused male MPs was quoted in the local dailies, saying, “I slapped her because she wanted to assault the deputy speaker. That was great disrespect.” The MPs later passed the bill on security laws.

Women facing sexual harassment must call the men’s bluff, says Ms. Mabona. “If they threaten me with exposing my sexual encounters, I tell them I would also expose those that I went out with.” Ms. Ekwunife, taking a different tack, says “women need to focus and ignore these distractions.”

Besides issues relating to their bodies and their private lives, African female politicians, most of the time, begin their career in politics later in life, and start from a position of disadvantage of having to balance family and work. They also tend to have less money than their male counterparts to spend on campaign expenses.

Shauna Shames of New Jersey’s Rutgers University-Camden, writing about “Barriers and solutions to increasing women’s political power,” notes that “when money dominates politics, women lose out. With women having persistently lower incomes for many reasons, they are far less likely than men to be in the social and business networks that pour money into political campaigns.”

Major political parties rarely nominate women for elected positions during primaries because of the belief that women stand a slim chance of winning against men. In Kenya, for example, all the leading parties nominated men as presidential candidates for the August 2017 elections.

Sometimes a political party will attempt to curry favour by nominating women, yet will not fully back the female politicians to win elections, explains Ms. Ekwunife.

Women candidates are more vulnerable than their male counterparts to electoral violence, including physical attacks on the candidates themselves, their families or supporters, from the campaigns to election time, says Ms. Mabona.

The Kenyan government pledged to enhance security for women aspirants in the lead-up to the August 2017 general election. The cabinet secretary for interior security, the late Joseph Nkaissery, in June announced the government’s intention to protect women candidates, but also told them to be “tough,” without explaining what he meant, leaving pundits to infer a tacit approval for women to be violent.

Ms. Mabona herself witnessed raw violence early this year during her political party’s fiery primaries in her Mbita Constituency in western Kenya. Her bodyguard was killed and her house was burned down.

Will the ground be level anytime soon for women politicians in Africa? Dismas Mokua, a political analyst with Trintari International, a Nairobi-based public relations firm, says women in Africa have made some impact in politics but could do better. Most societies are patriarchal and don’t expect women to take up leadership positions, explains Mr. Mokua.

“Running for a public office requires resources. A lot of women candidates may not have the requisite finances,” says Mr. Mokua. Against all odds, the time is now for Africa’s visionary female politicians to join politics and change the narrative.

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information.

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Up to 100 Million Girls Vulnerable to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 21:59:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152452 Over 20,000 girls are married before the age of 18 every day around the world as countries continue to lack legal protections, according to a new study. Concerned over the lack of progress, Save the Children and the World Bank teamed up to research child marriage laws around the world and found a dismal picture. […]

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Rohingya Refugee Women Bring Stories of Unspeakable Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-refugee-women-bring-stories-unspeakable-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugee-women-bring-stories-unspeakable-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-refugee-women-bring-stories-unspeakable-violence/#respond Tue, 10 Oct 2017 12:26:28 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152409 Yasmin, 26, holds her 10-day-old baby, who she gave birth to in a crowded refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district bordering Myanmar. Three weeks ago, when she was still in her home in Hpaung Taw Pyin village in Myanmar, she was raped by a group of soldiers as houses burned, people fled and […]

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Women and children who escaped the brutal violence in Myanmar wait for aid at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Parvez Ahmad/IPS

Women and children who escaped the brutal violence in Myanmar wait for aid at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Parvez Ahmad/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Oct 10 2017 (IPS)

Yasmin, 26, holds her 10-day-old baby, who she gave birth to in a crowded refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district bordering Myanmar.

Three weeks ago, when she was still in her home in Hpaung Taw Pyin village in Myanmar, she was raped by a group of soldiers as houses burned, people fled and gunfire shattered the air.“I have been working as a human rights activist for the last 20 years but never heard of such an extreme level of violence." --Bimol Chandra Dey Sarker, Chief Executive of the aid organisation Mukti

With sunken eyes, Yasmin told IPS how she was beaten and raped in her ninth month of pregnancy by Myanmar soldiers. Yasmin’s village was almost empty when she and many of her neighbours were violated. Only a few dozen women and children remained after the men had fled in fear of being tortured or killed.

“On that dreadful evening an army truck stopped in our neighbourhood, and then came the soldiers raiding homes. I was alone in my home and one of the soldiers entering my thatched house shouted to invite a few others to join him in raping me.”

“I dare not resist. They had guns pointed at me while they stripped me to take turns one by one. I don’t remember how many of them raped me but at one stage I had lost consciousness from my fading screams,” she said, visibly exhausted and traumatized by the horrific ordeal.

Yasmin’s husband was killed by the Myanmar army on September 4 during one of the frequent raids, allegedly by state-sponsored Buddhist mobs against the Muslim minority in their ancestral home in Rakhine state.

Bandarban, a hilly district, and Cox’s Bazaar, a coastal district, both some 350 km southeast of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, are hosting the overcrowded Rohingya camps. The locals here are no strangers to influxes of refugees. Rohingyas have been forced out of Myanmar since 1992, and Bangladesh, as a neighbor, has sheltered many of them on humanitarian grounds.

However, the latest Rohingya exodus, following a massive government crackdown that began last August, has shaken the world. The magnitude of the atrocities carried out by the military junta this time is beyond imagination. Some describe the persecution as ‘genocide,’ which Myanmar’s rulers deny.

To add to the communal violence, dubbed ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, the military junta intensified physical assaults and soldiers have been sexually harassing innocent, unarmed Rohingya women alongside the regular killings of men.

The reasoning is obvious: no one should dare to stay in their homes. Many believe it’s a pre-planned operation to clear Rakhine state of the Rohingya population, who Myanmar does not recognize as citizens.

One Rohingya man, who managed to reach the Bangladesh border in mid-September, told IPS, “They have indeed successfully forced the Rohingya men out while the remaining unprotected women were a headache for the military junta, as killing the unarmed women would expose them to international criticism. So they chose a strategy of frightening the women and children – apply physical assault and sexual abuse, which worked so well.”

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees enter Teknaf from Shah Parir Dwip after being ferried from Myanmar across the Naf River. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees enter Teknaf from Shah Parir Dwip after being ferried from Myanmar across the Naf River. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

IPS spoke with many of the agencies, including the United Nations and local NGOs, working on the ground to provide emergency services such as food distribution, erecting shelters, organizing a safe water supply and hygienic latrines and, of course, healthcare.

Everyone who spoke to this correspondent said literally every woman, except the very old and young, has had experiences of either being molested or experiencing an extreme level of abuse like gang rape.

Survivors and witnesses shared brutal stories of women and young girls being raped in front of their family members. They described how cruel the soldiers were. They said the soldiers showed no mercy, not even for the innocent children who watched the killings and burning of their homes.

Bimol Chandra Dey Sarker, Chief Executive of Mukti, a local NGO in Cox’s Bazaar, told IPS, “I have been working as a human rights activist for the last 20 years but never heard of such an extreme level of violence. Many of the women who are now sheltered in camps shared their agonizing tales of sexual abuse. It’s like in a movie.”

Kaniz Fatema, a focal person for CODEC, a leading NGO in coastal Cox’s Bazaar, told IPS, “Stories of sexual abuse of Rohingya women keep pouring in. I heard women describing horrific incidents which they say are everyday nightmares. How can such violence occur in this civilized world today?”

“Although women are shy and traumatized, they speak up. Here (in Bangladesh) they feel safer and so the stories of abuses are being submitted from every corner of the camps,” she said.

The chief health officer of Cox’s Bazar 500-bed district hospital, where most of the wounded are being treated, told IPS, “At the beginning we were providing emergency treatment for many Rohingya refugees with bullet wounds. Now, we are facing a new crisis of treating so many pregnant women. We are registering pregnant women and admitting them almost every day despite shortages of beds. Many of these women complain of being sexually harassed.”

An attending nurse at the hospital who regularly treats the sexually abused women, said, “Many women still bear marks of wounds during rape encounters. It’s amazing that these women are so tough. Even after so many days of suffering, they keep silent about the agonies and don’t complain.”

The UNFPA is offering emergency reproductive healthcare services in Bandarban and Cox’s Bazaar, where aid workers shared similar tales from women who suffered torture and gang rape at gunpoint.

“It is so horrifying,” said a field worker serving in Ukhia upazila in Bandarban, adding, “I heard of a young girl being raped in front of her father, mother and brother. Then the soldiers took the men out in the courtyard and shot them.”

Faisal Mahmud, a senior reporter who recently returned to the capital from Rohingya camps, also said he spoke to many victims of rape. “Most of them I spoke to were so traumatised they were hardly able to narrate the brutality. I could see the fear in their faces. Although I hardly understand their dialect, a translator helped me to understand the terrifying tales of being stripped naked and gang raped.”

Mohammad Jamil Hossain trekked through the deep forests, evading mines and Myanmar border guards who look for men to catch and take back.

“The systematic cleansing will not end until every member of Rohingya population is evicted and forced out of the country,” he said. “The whole world is watching and yet doing nothing to stop the killings.”

Shireen Huq, founder member of Naripokkho, Bangladesh’s leading NGO fighting for women’s rights, told IPS, “I was shocked and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people, mostly women and children, fleeing Myanmar and entering Bangladesh. The media had reported widespread atrocities, mass rape, murder, arson and brutality in the state of Rakhain.”

“Women arriving at Nayapara through Shah Porir Dwip were in a state of shock and fatigue. Many of them were candid about the julum (a word used to mean both torture and rape) they had undergone, about being raped by several military,” she said.

“We must ensure appropriate and adequate care for the refugees, especially all those who have suffered sexual violence. They need medical care, psycho-social counseling and abortion services.”

“Agencies working in the Rohingya refugee camps estimate that 50,000 women are pregnant. Several hundred deliveries have already taken place. Round the clock emergency health services must be made available to deal with the situation,” Shireen said.

More than 501,800 Rohingya have fled the Buddhist-majority country and crossed into Bangladesh since August 25. Densely populated refugee settlements have mushroomed around road from Teknaf to Cox’s Bazar district that borders Myanmar divided by Naf river. About 2,000 of the refugees are flooding into the camps every day, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

IOM has appealed to the international community for 120 million dollars between now and February 2018 to begin to address the humanitarian crisis.

“The refugees who fled Rakhine did so in the belief that they would find safety and protection in Cox’s Bazar,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, in a statement on October 4. “It is our responsibility to ensure that the suffering and trauma that they have experienced on the way must end.”

Meanwhile, witnesses say there are still thousands of refugees in the forest waiting to cross over the Bangladesh border, which has now been officially opened. Many can be seen from distant hilltops, walking with whatever belongings they could take.

“I was really struck by the fear that these people carry with themselves, what they have gone through and seen back in Myanmar,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told Reuters in a camp recently, where refugees live under thousands of tarpaulins covering the hills and rice paddies.

“Parents killed, families divided, wounds inflicted, rapes perpetrated on women. There’s a lot of terrible violence that has occurred and it will take a long time for people to heal their wounds, longer than satisfying their basic needs,” Grandi said.

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Need for Inclusive Peace Efforts in South Sudan: No More ‘Compassion Fatigue’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:56:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152359 “Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year […]

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An Oxfam staffer helps a woman at UN House in Juba carry home some of the emergency supplies she has just received. Credit: Anita Kattakhuzy/Oxfam

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

“Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year of Peace and Prosperity.’

A mere two years after its split from Sudan, a country plagued by decades-long of ethnic-based civil war between Arab and non-Arab tribes, the independent state of South Sudan erupted in conflict when President Kiir, a Dinka, accused his then vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup.

Amid heightening political tensions, violent skirmishes flared up in the nation’s capital of Juba in mid-December 2013 between loyalist soldiers from both parties. South Sudan has been mired in conflict ever since – much to the dismay of its citizens who hadn’t imagined they would carry the torch of war into their new republic.

Three months into a peace agreement signed by both parties in August 2015, the conflict reached a boiling point in December 2015 when President Kiir dissolved South Sudan’s 10 regional states and established 28 new states, resulting in a surge of violence beyond the capital, to several areas of the country.

A transitional government formed by both parties in April 2016, with the peace agreement as a precursor, failed to temper the violence as clashes continued country-wide. Further, President Kiir’s appointment of General Gai, Machar’s political ally, as his new vice president inflamed Machar and his loyalists, resulting in a split within the opposition – thus fueling the conflict.

A government ceasefire, declared after Machar fled the capital, crumbled shortly thereafter.

With lengthy, arduous peace efforts failing and confidence in ending the conflict flailing, South Sudan is facing its gravest humanitarian situation in years.

“This is the last chance of salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…we must resolve now, both individually and collectively, to do more to end this conflict,” said Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, while addressing the UN Security Council last week.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced by the South Sudan conflict. An estimated 830,000 have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, according to Oxfam America.

Harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, forced recruitment of child soldiers, widespread sexual violence and restricting movement of UN peacekeepers by both sides characterize the conflict in South Sudan, according to prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“In over 30 years working in South Sudan, Oxfam has never responded to such dire needs under such difficult conditions,” said Oxfam America’s president, Abby Maxman, speaking on South Sudan at the UN.

Asked about the country’s grim situation, Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response, told IPS that, “with the conflict hitting many parts of the country simultaneously, with more access to advanced firepower, with a collapsing economy, with food insecurity and famine on the rise and, most especially, with no resounding commitment from the international community, South Sudan is more vulnerable than it has ever been.”

The suffering of communities in South Sudan has reached unprecedented levels.

“The situation is South Sudan is dire but not hopeless…when a situation is seen as hopeless and when the rhetoric surrounding it makes it seem ‘too complex’ and diminishes on-the-ground efforts, compassion fatigue arises,” said Gottschalk.

Though it is the responsibility of the significant parties in South Sudan to root out the source of the problem, it is the duty of the international community to navigate a peaceful outcome for the sake of 12 million South Sudanese who have not given up.

“We have not given up on them and we have not forgotten them…they have a friend and advocate in the US,” said Haley.

The UN, African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recently agreed to pool their efforts to support the revitalization of the political process in South Sudan.

The primary goal in mind, for this joint communiqué, is to adequately represent all significant parties and encourage them to focus on the full implementation of the August 2015 Peace Agreement, under a permanent ceasefire.

“This is the last chance at salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…the different parties to the conflict must use the next several weeks to commit themselves to this process and to conclude it,” said Haley.

Before undertaking these well-intended collective measures, it is important to understand the nature of the conflict in South Sudan.

“To get the country back on its feet, we must first recognize this conflict for what it is and what it isn’t…it’s not a tribal conflict, because ethnic identity doesn’t determine allegiance on the ground, it’s not a military conflict, because civilians, not soldiers, are bearing the brunt of the violence…in many ways it’s not even a political conflict, because that would imply that it’s about competing visions for governing this nation…what it is, is a hostage situation,” said Maxman.

In July this year, the AU Commission, South Sudanese officials, and UN representatives met in Juba to discuss the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan, envisioned under the 2015 Peace Agreement, and agreed on plans to finalize the court’s statute by August, according to Human Rights Watch.

Notably, South Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As such, its leaders can only be held accountable by the ICC through a request from the Sudanese government or a referral by the UN Security Council.

Though a lack of accountability is a conflict-accelerant, a more immediate focus is required in the inclusive peace efforts geared towards helping the people in South Sudan.

“It’s high time we throw our lot in with the hostages, not the hostage-takers,” said Maxman.

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Non-violence and lasting peace are key to secure the long-term stability of the Arab regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/non-violence-lasting-peace-key-secure-long-term-stability-arab-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=non-violence-lasting-peace-key-secure-long-term-stability-arab-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/non-violence-lasting-peace-key-secure-long-term-stability-arab-region/#respond Mon, 02 Oct 2017 10:26:17 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152306 International Day of Non-Violence – 2 October 2017

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International Day of Non-Violence – 2 October 2017

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
Geneva/Dubai, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim is calling on the international community to address the surge of extremist violence exacerbating the volatile security situation in the Arab region. This appeal was made by Dr. Al Qassim in relation to the commemoration of the 2017 International Day of Non-Violence observed on 2 October 2017.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The Arab region is witnessing yet again a wave of extremist violence owing to the proliferation of local and international conflicts. Armed conflicts and internal upheavals in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have resulted in the displacement of millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the surge of extremist violence and armed conflict which undermine the long-term stability of the Arab region,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman warned against extremist violence and related external military interventions in the Arab region which “provide fertile ground for terrorist groups to spread and justify its heinous and deadly ideology in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. “

In order to address the volatile security situation in the Arab region, Dr. Al Qassim appealed to “countries in the West and in the Arab region to work together to defeat all extremist and violent groups causing destruction and death in societies in the West, the Middle East and North Africa alike. All societies – regardless of religious beliefs and geographical location – are targets of the poisonous ideology of such extremist and violent groups.”

Dr. Al Qassim also noted that military victory over terrorism will “only bring a short-term solution to the Arab region as building lasting and sustainable peace requires addressing inter alia the root-causes of conflict, injustice, inequality, poverty and lack of social development.” He therefore stated that “the international community must provide an enabling environment allowing countries in the Arab region – affected by conflict and violence – to rebuild their societies through reconciliation, dialogue, respect for human rights and non-violence.”

He further noted that the spirit of the great Statesman of the Global South – Mahatma Gandhi like his African counterpart Nelson Mandela – should serve as an example for international decision-makers in promoting peace and justice in every corner of the world. In this regard, he stated that “the 2017 International Day of Non-Violence – observed today in commemoration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi – is an opportunity for world society to commemorate the non-violent ideology of a world Statesman who believed in promoting peace and justice worldwide.”

Non-violence and lasting peace are key to securing the long-term stability of the Arab region and to promoting a sustainable future. On the commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence, let the spirit of Gandhi guide the efforts of decision-makers in achieving this goal and in bringing justice, to all countries and in particular to those that suffer most in the Arab region,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Civilians ‘Direct Targets’ as Conflict Spreads in Central African Republichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:18:08 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152066 Rape, torture, pillage, murder and forced displacement by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) rebel forces are the new horrifying realities faced by communities in Basse-Kotto, Central African Republic, according to the prominent London-based human rights group Amnesty International. The UN peacekeeping force in the region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission […]

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A UN peacekeeper on patrol in Bria, Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

A UN peacekeeper on patrol in Bria, Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

Rape, torture, pillage, murder and forced displacement by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) rebel forces are the new horrifying realities faced by communities in Basse-Kotto, Central African Republic, according to the prominent London-based human rights group Amnesty International.

The UN peacekeeping force in the region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), tasked with civilian protection, has been unable to curb these systematic abuses, Amnesty says.

“Civilians are not accidental victims in this conflict, they are direct targets…if the UN’s mandate in the Central African Republic is to mean anything, civilians must be better protected,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser, Joanne Mariner.

Many Central Africans are increasingly cynical about MINUSCA’s capacity to conform to even a limited civilian protection mandate, according to Mariner.

Referring to MINUSCA’s mandate, Mariner told IPS that the UN should review troop capacity, training, resource allocation and use of rapid reaction forces in hot-spots all over the country.

Notably, MINUSCA has saved the lives of many Central Africans, according to Amnesty International. However, with troops stretched thin and public confidence in the mission thinning, “MINUSCA’s failures are putting thousands of people in danger,” said Mariner.

The Basse-Kotto prefecture, one of the 14 prefectures in the landlocked African nation, has witnessed a surge in atrocities since early May 2017, when the UPC brutally attacked civilians in Alindao town resulting in at least 130 suspected dead.

In the four months since, the death toll is estimated to have climbed to several hundred, according to credible sources, says Amnesty International.

With tens of thousands having fled the violence and more than 100,000 displaced since the conflict exploded in April 2017, Basse-Kotto is reportedly characterized by ghost towns and nearly empty villages.

Significantly, the Basse-Kotto region had remained largely unaffected by the country’s fragile security situation up until the string of attacks in May in the towns of Alindao, Nzangba and Mobaye.

Asked about the spread of major fighting into this region of the country, Mariner told IPS, “The government maintains little to no control in most areas outside Bangui, the country’s capital, giving rival de facto armed groups leeway to expand their power and territory.”

Skirmishes between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance and predominantly Christian anti-balaka militias plunged the nation into a civil war when Séléka forces overthrew former President François Bozizé in March 2013. His successor, Michel Djotodia, the country’s first ever Muslim president, assumed power for a year before stepping down in January 2014.

As a result, the Séléka rebel alliance split into various factions, such as the UPC, and each faction began a de facto terror campaign in different regions of the country- targeting civilians.

Successive ceasefire agreements since 2014 have failed to stabilize the country, which has a population of about 4.5 million people.

Muslim UPC forces target Christian civilians perceived of supporting opposing armed groups, while Christian anti-balaka militias target Muslim civilians under the guise of ‘self-defense’, according to Amnesty.

Mariner told IPS that both Muslim and Christian communities are “lumping together the atrocities committed by armed groups with the civilian population.”

“The problem is now the Muslim population versus the Christian population…we don’t want a religious conflict; we absolutely refuse it, but there’s very clearly an inter-communal conflict,” one of Alindao town’s religious figures told Amnesty.

Asked about the religious nature of the conflict, Mariner told IPS that the conflict is sectarian-based rather than religious-based.

“The armed groups attack civilians because they see them as supporters of a rival armed group and not based on any religious doctrine or ideology…religion is merely a dividing line between the different groups,” said Mariner to IPS.

The increasingly sectarian nature of the violence is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the current crisis, according to Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher- Balkissa Ide Siddo.

The level of anger and hatred as well as the desire to humiliate and degrade has reached unprecedented levels in the country, as witnessed by the UPC’s use of rape as a systematic weapon of war in Basse-Kotto.

At least 600,000 people are currently displaced within the country, the highest number since August 2014, and another 438,700 are refugees in the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to Amnesty.

Emergency action is needed in Central African Republic to prevent further imminent atrocities, Mariner told IPS.

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To Be a Nigerian Migrant in Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/nigerian-migrant-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigerian-migrant-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/nigerian-migrant-italy/#comments Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:16:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151870 Bako* (24), a Nigerian migrant, stares at newcomers at an old, local Roman bar. Extremely polite, he asks for money. If you offer to buy him some food instead, he immediately accepts. Interviewed for IPS by Laurent Vercken, the young Nigerian migrant tells his story: originally from Kuje district, Southern province of Abuja, Nigeria, he […]

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IOM helps stranded Nigerian migrants return home from Libya. Credit: IOM

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 31 2017 (IPS)

Bako* (24), a Nigerian migrant, stares at newcomers at an old, local Roman bar. Extremely polite, he asks for money. If you offer to buy him some food instead, he immediately accepts.

Interviewed for IPS by Laurent Vercken, the young Nigerian migrant tells his story: originally from Kuje district, Southern province of Abuja, Nigeria, he has been living in Italy since the beginning of 2013 and moved to Rome shortly later.

That year, Bako docked at Lampedusa Island from Libya after a perilous sail trip through the Mediterranean Sea and a never-ending road travel through the northern African deserts, that began in Abuja, Nigeria.

The eldest of a large family of 4 brothers and 2 sisters, Bako decided to take on him the medical expenses of his father who suffers deep-vein thrombosis affecting his right arm.

So, at the early age of 20 the young man grabbed his ID card, all the money needed for the very long and arduous, unknown trip north and left the place where he was born and where he had lived until that moment: the village of Kuje, in the Southern district of the Nigerian capital city.

“After several days spent in the Lampedusa transit camp, I managed to get to the big Italian city of Rome early in the 2013 summer, hoping for a better chance to find a job and a regular residence permit, which he finally obtained in 2015 with a validity of only one year.”

Martha, a former paediatric nurse, travels around northeast Nigeria as part of IOM’s mental health teams. She offers counselling and workshops for adults, and runs games for children. Credit: IOM

Now nearly five years after Bako had the courage to leave his home country, he has still not found a decent job to contribute financially to help his family and ensure their livelihood.

The first residence permit granted to him by the Italian Government expired in 2016.

However, Bako is still longing for a better future, trying to survive the long days, accepting small jobs of gardening or cheap casual labour while still asking for money outside a local bar on a busy street of a European capital city, which also saw a lot of its own citizens migrate in the same search for a better future.

Like most Nigerian migrants, Bako is an honest, hard worker, willing to find a decent job, no matter what kind, to help him survive and send as much money as possible to his large family and, above all, cover his father’s expensive medical treatment.

 

“Lucky” Kingsley

Another Nigerian migrant, Kingsley* (35), has had better luck. “I am happy now! Three years ago, I managed to reach Italy after a long, really dangerous voyage through Morocco and then Spain,” he tells IPS.

After two long years of working as an undocumented summer fruits collector, loader at a small moving company, street vendor of CDs and handicrafts, among other jobs, Kingsley married an Italian young woman and they now have two children and, most importantly, a permanent resident permit.

Bako and Kingsley are just two of tens of thousands of Nigerian migrants trying for better luck in Italy.

Being males, they consider themselves lucky.

Nigerian female migrants face a much worse, dramatic fate.

 

The Tragic Fate of Nigerian Migrant Women

According to credible Italian sources, around 50 per cent of Nigerian migrant women and girls –in Rome in particular and in Italy in general–, are forced by smugglers and human traffickers to work as sex slaves.

IOM helped more than 1,770 stranded Nigerian migrants return safely from Libya this year. Credit: IOM

“I know of a girl, really a baby (14 years) who has been forced to sleep with more than 20 men a day… every day,” says to IPS Esther* who has also been obliged by her raptors to work as a prostitute in Rome’s outskirts.

Joy* approaches IPS with a mix of fear that she might be reported to Italian police for being an undocumented migrant working as a prostitute, and also some hope that she could be helped to escape prostitution.

“We have being victims of many peoples: first those who convinced us in Nigeria that they would take us to Europe, safely, and find a decent job here,” she tells. “They took us with tens of other migrants in a horrible voyage to Libya.” See Migrants – The Increasingly Expensive Deadly Voyages

“There, many of us women and girls have been victims of brutal, inhumane sexual abuse on the hands of smugglers and traffickers who would sell many of us to nationals to abuse of us,” adds Joy*. See: Millions of Women and Children for Sale for Sex, Slavery, Organs…

Esther and Joy’s cases are not unique. Their plights have been documented and denounced by international humanitarian organisations and the United Nations bodies. See: African Migrant Women Face “Shocking Sexual Abuse” on Journey to Europe

Nor are theirs just a couple of isolated cases affecting migrants from their home country.

 

Nigeria, Top Nationality

It is in fact estimated that around 51 per cent of migrants worldwide are women and girls, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Italy: La Tratta di essere umani atrraversola rotta del Mediterraneo centrale” (Trafficking in human beings through the central Mediterranean route).

In the case of women, it adds, exploitation and abuse are above all sexual, representing 72 per cent of all cases, followed by labour exploitation (20 per cent).

According to IOM Italy, in 2016, the top nationality of migrants reaching the country via sea was Nigeria, with a notable increase in the number of women (11.009 compared with 5.000 in 2015) as well as of unaccompanied children, with over 3.000 compared with 900 in 2015.

It also estimates that around 80 per cent of Nigerian migrants arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 have been victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation either in Italy or in other European Union countries. Nigerian migrants women and unaccompanied children are among those at highest risk of falling prey to smugglers and traffickers.


Stranded Nigerian Migrants Return Home from Libya

The UN migration agency continues meanwhile to help stranded Nigerian migrants return home from Libya.

In just one case, it helped 172 stranded Nigerian migrants –110 women, 49 men, seven children and six infants– return home to Nigeria from Tripoli, Libya on 21 February.

“We had nothing in Nigeria – no house, no food,” explained 21-year-old Oluchi*, who together with her husband and mother decided to travel to Italy. Oluchi and her family were arrested and jailed in Libya, IOM quoted as an example.

Now, she was returning home with her son to Nigeria. “The dream of Europe is actually a nightmare,” she said.

So far in 2017, IOM Libya helped 589 stranded migrants return to their countries of origin, of whom 117 were eligible for reintegration assistance.

 

Where to Go?

Difficult question, if you only consider the fact that eight years of Boko Haram violence has forced more than 1.8 million people from their homes, leaving belongings, communities and lives behind across Nigeria’s North East.

The United Nations estimated that Boko Haram has abducted at least 4,000 girls and women in Northeast Nigeria, far exceeding the nearly 300 girls taken from their school in Chibok in 2014, sparking the UN viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign and drawing attention to the conflict.

Many say they were forced to witness killing or suffered sexual violence, the UN migration agency reports, adding that Boko Haram has also used children as suicide bombers and has forcibly recruited countless boys and men to commit violent acts.

To get a wider picture, also consider the rising social inequalities and the high youth unemployment rates in this oil-rich country of around 130 million inhabitants. Two facts that by the way are common to several other African countries who additionally suffer severe impact of climate change and man-made disasters that they have not caused.

*All migrants’ names have been changed to protect their identity.

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Lebanon Joins Jordan and Tunisia in Fight Against Rapists Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/lebanon-joins-jordan-and-tunisia-in-fight-against-rapists-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lebanon-joins-jordan-and-tunisia-in-fight-against-rapists-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/lebanon-joins-jordan-and-tunisia-in-fight-against-rapists-impunity/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2017 10:59:26 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151776 The top United Nations human rights official hailed the repeal of laws in Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan that used to allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. “To punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her – there is no place in today’s world […]

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Lebanon Joins Jordan and Tunisia in Fight against Rapists Impunity

Credit: OHCHR

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 23 2017 (IPS)

The top United Nations human rights official hailed the repeal of laws in Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan that used to allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims.

“To punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her – there is no place in today’s world for such hideous laws,” on 22 August said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

He welcomed the stand that lawmakers in Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan have taken towards eliminating violence against women and ensuring that perpetrators of such violence are held to account.

“To punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her – there is no place in today's world for such hideous laws,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
According to the UN High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR), on 16 August, Lebanon voted to repeal article 522 of its penal code, a law that exempted from criminal prosecution a person accused of rape who agreed to marry the victim.

Two weeks earlier, Jordanian lawmakers also voted to abolish a similar provision – article 308 of its penal code.

In Tunisia, on 26 July, the Parliament adopted a law on eliminating violence against women and eliminating impunity for perpetrators, recognising that violence against women includes economic, sexual, political and psychological violence.

The Tunisian law will come into effect next year. Tunisia has also established two human rights institutions this year dealing with human trafficking and improving the enjoyment of individual liberties and equality.

“These are hard-won victories, thanks to the tireless campaigns over the years by human rights defenders – in particular women human rights defenders – in Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan,” underscored High Commissioner Zeid.

He noted, however, that in Lebanon, article 505 of the Penal Code continues to allow those accused of having sex with a minor to go free if they marry their victims, while article 508 allows for marital rape, and called for the article to be repealed and for marital rape to be criminalised.

Salma Nims, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Photo: Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Salma Nims, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Photo: Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Jordan

In the case of Jordan, the law until now allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim for a minimum period of five years. However, the Parliament of Jordan on 4 August voted to abolish the so-called “rape law” of the Penal Code, UN Women, informed.

“The abolishing of article 308 is an important victory for the women’s movement in Jordan,” said Wafa Saed Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and Member of the Parliament (MP), currently serving as head of the Women’s Caucus and Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women the UN specialised entity reported.

The law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of violence, for example, by amending the article 227 of the penal code, which pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim. The passing of the law follows several years of advocacy efforts led by Tunisian civil society and national institutions, in collaboration with international organisations, including UN Women.

“My engagement began in 2013, when I started advocating for the abolishment of this article, along with a group of other parliamentarians while serving in Jordan’s 17th Parliament. I started this action because of my strong belief in the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in our national laws, as I believe that Jordanian women are citizens with equal rights and duties.”

 

 “Continued Drama, Fear and Abuse”

Emphasising the “continued trauma, fear and abuse that rape survivors endure when forced to marry their rapists,” civil society, parliamentarians and other actors formed a dedicated coalition in 2015. Together, they demanded the adoption of better legal measures to protect survivors of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and to punish the perpetrators to end impunity, adds UN Women.

“It is important to introduce the concept that marriage is not the only option for rape survivors,” added Mustafa. “Survivors should know that they can receive adequate physical and psychological support, that they can become financially independent and be reintegrated into the society.”

More than 200 activists and representatives of the civil society attended the discussion in Parliament on 2 August and circulated an online petition, which gathered 5,000 signatures from the public in one day, in support of this legislative reform, according to UN Women.

“Also invaluable was the contribution of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the national women’s agency, headed by Princess Basma bint Talal, who is as well the UN Women’s National Goodwill Ambassador in Jordan.”

The unfailing advocacy efforts of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the joint action of the civil society and the continuous commitment of the women’s movement at all levels in the past years have paved the way for this historic reform, and continue to sustain the advancement of the women’s empowerment in Jordan,” said Ziad Sheikh, UN Women Representative in Jordan.

Violence against women - Young Tunisian women. Photo: UN Women

Young Tunisian women. Photo: UN Women

Tunisia

For its part, Tunisia made new strides by passing its first national law to combat violence against women, on 26 July this year.

The long-awaited legislation, which passed with 146 votes out of 217 and zero abstentions, takes a comprehensive approach by combining measures for prevention of violence and support for survivors, UN Women reports.

“As a Tunisian woman, I am very proud that this law has been adopted. This is the climax of the steps that began through the adoption of the Code of Personal Status in 1956,”said Naziha Labidi, Minister of Women, Family and Childhood.

The new violence against women law adopts a broad definition of violence. In addition to physical violence, the law recognises other forms of violence against women and girls, including economic, sexual, political and psychological.

It also provides for new protection mechanisms that will enable survivors to access the necessary services and legal and psychological assistance.

Furthermore, the law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of violence, for example, by amending the article 227 of the penal code, which pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim.

The passing of the law follows several years of advocacy efforts led by Tunisian civil society and national institutions, in collaboration with international organisations, including UN Women.

“Prior to this law, the only progressive legislation that promoted gender equality was the Code of Personal Status, which abolished polygamy, established the minimal age for marriage, introduced the requirement of mutual consent of both parties for a marriage, and created a judicial procedure for divorce.”

 

50% of Tunisian Women Experienced Violence

Pointing to several recent studies, including the national survey on violence against women in 2010, which estimated that nearly 50 per cent of Tunisian women have experienced violence in their lifetime, Member of Parliament, Bochra Belhaj Hmida said: “This is why the establishment of a legal framework against violence was needed.”

She also stressed on the importance of education within the family and from an early age to prevent such violence, adds UN Women.

 

This story updates Jordan Abolishes Law Allowing Rapists to Avoid Prosecution

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Jordan Abolishes Law Allowing Rapists to Avoid Prosecutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/jordan-abolishes-law-allowing-rapists-to-avoid-prosecution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordan-abolishes-law-allowing-rapists-to-avoid-prosecution http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/jordan-abolishes-law-allowing-rapists-to-avoid-prosecution/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:06:41 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151763 In just three weeks time, two Arab countries adopted major steps to combat violence against women, with Jordan abolishing a law allowing rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, while Tunisia adopting its first national law to prevent gender-based violence and provide support to survivors. In the case of Jordan, the law until now […]

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Violence against women - Young Tunisian women. Photo: UN Women

Young Tunisian women. Photo: UN Women

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 22 2017 (IPS)

In just three weeks time, two Arab countries adopted major steps to combat violence against women, with Jordan abolishing a law allowing rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, while Tunisia adopting its first national law to prevent gender-based violence and provide support to survivors.

In the case of Jordan, the law until now allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim for a minimum period of five years. However, the Parliament of Jordan on 4 August voted to abolish the so-called “rape law” of the Penal Code.

Jordan becomes the third county in the region, after Morocco and Lebanon, to abolish the use of marriage to avoid rape prosecutions, the United Nations specialised body, UN Women, informed.

“The abolishing of article 308 is an important victory for the women’s movement in Jordan,” said Wafa Saed Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and Member of the Parliament (MP), currently serving as head of the Women’s Caucus and Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women the UN specialised entity reported.

The law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of violence, for example, by amending the article 227 of the penal code, which pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim. The passing of the law follows several years of advocacy efforts led by Tunisian civil society and national institutions, in collaboration with international organisations, including UN Women.

“My engagement began in 2013, when I started advocating for the abolishment of this article, along with a group of other parliamentarians while serving in Jordan’s 17th Parliament. I started this action because of my strong belief in the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in our national laws, as I believe that Jordanian women are citizens with equal rights and duties.”

In recent years, the advocacy to abolish Article 308 has been growing into a strong front, led by national and international organisations, justice sector professionals, journalists and women’s rights activists, adds the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

 

“Continued Drama, Fear and Abuse”

Emphasising the “continued trauma, fear and abuse that rape survivors endure when forced to marry their rapists,” civil society, parliamentarians and other actors formed a dedicated coalition in 2015. Together, they demanded the adoption of better legal measures to protect survivors of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and to punish the perpetrators to end impunity, adds UN Women.

“It is important to introduce the concept that marriage is not the only option for rape survivors,” added Mustafa. “Survivors should know that they can receive adequate physical and psychological support, that they can become financially independent and be reintegrated into the society.”

More than 200 activists and representatives of the civil society attended the discussion in Parliament on 2 August and circulated an online petition, which gathered 5,000 signatures from the public in one day, in support of this legislative reform, according to UN Women.

“Also invaluable was the contribution of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the national women’s agency, headed by Princess Basma bint Talal, who is as well the UN Women’s National Goodwill Ambassador in Jordan.”

The unfailing advocacy efforts of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the joint action of the civil society and the continuous commitment of the women’s movement at all levels in the past years have paved the way for this historic reform, and continue to sustain the advancement of the women’s empowerment in Jordan,” said Ziad Sheikh, UN Women Representative in Jordan.

UN Women has been a steadfast supporter of the Jordanian National Commission for Women and Jordanian civil society in their advocacy efforts.

In 2016, it also organised a dialogue on the issue between Jordanian and Moroccan parliamentarians, since Morocco had successfully abolished similar discriminatory provisions from its laws.

Violence against women - Salma Nims, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Photo: Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Salma Nims, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Photo: Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Violence against Women in Tunisia

For its part, Tunisia made new strides by passing its first national law to combat violence against women, on 26 July this year.

The long-awaited legislation, which passed with 146 votes out of 217 and zero abstentions, takes a comprehensive approach by combining measures for prevention of violence and support for survivors, UN Women reports.

“As a Tunisian woman, I am very proud that this law has been adopted. This is the climax of the steps that began through the adoption of the Code of Personal Status in 1956,”said Naziha Labidi, Minister of Women, Family and Childhood.

The new violence against women law adopts a broad definition of violence. In addition to physical violence, the law recognises other forms of violence against women and girls, including economic, sexual, political and psychological.

It also provides for new protection mechanisms that will enable survivors to access the necessary services and legal and psychological assistance.

 

No Impunity for Perpetrators

Furthermore, the law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of violence, for example, by amending the article 227 of the penal code, which pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim.

The passing of the law follows several years of advocacy efforts led by Tunisian civil society and national institutions, in collaboration with international organisations, including UN Women.

“Prior to this law, the only progressive legislation that promoted gender equality was the Code of Personal Status, which abolished polygamy, established the minimal age for marriage, introduced the requirement of mutual consent of both parties for a marriage, and created a judicial procedure for divorce.”

UN Women supported the development of advocacy tools, including guidance for parliamentarians on the international standards to combat violence against women and an article-by-article analysis of the draft law, which was then submitted by the UN System to the Assembly of People’s Representatives (Tunisian Parliament).

50% of Tunisian Women Experienced Violence

Pointing to several recent studies, including the national survey on violence against women in 2010, which estimated that nearly 50 per cent of Tunisian women have experienced violence in their lifetime, Member of Parliament, Bochra Belhaj Hmida said: “This is why the establishment of a legal framework against violence was needed.”

She also stressed on the importance of education within the family and from an early age to prevent such violence, adds UN Women

UN Women Maghreb is proud to have contributed to every step of this great success—from the very first drafting [of the law] in 2014, to the challenging debates that ensued. The law marks a major step towards achieving gender equality in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, UN Women Representative in Maghreb Multi-Country Office.

“I would like to stress the incredible mobilization, tenacity and perseverance of Tunisian civil society in this process. The sustainable and long-term dialogue and partnerships that we built with them since 2014 is undoubtedly a key factor of this success, ” she added.

While passing of the law marks a significant step in the right direction, translating it into practice through appropriate implementation measures and resources will be key to making a tangible difference to women’s lives, according to the UN Women.

“Some mechanisms are already in place to assist the process—for example, five Tunisian Ministries (Social Affairs, Justice, Women, Family and Children, the Interior and Health) adopted and signed multi-sectoral protocols in December 2016.”

These protocols constitute a set of procedural guidance and mechanisms to improve coordination among frontline service providers under these sectors to better serve survivors of violence, whose needs often encompass a full range of services, from justice to health and housing. Representatives from the five Ministries also meet every month to jointly follow up on individual cases of women survivors.

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“I’ll Tell You a Story” – Violence Against Women in Peruhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/ill-tell-story-violence-women-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ill-tell-story-violence-women-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/ill-tell-story-violence-women-peru/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 10:57:28 +0000 Andrea Vale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151566 Domestic violence is alarmingly prevalent in Peru. Not only is it statistically more common than in other, more progressive cultures, but Peruvian women tend to accept it as simply a ‘part of marriage.’ It was therefore both surprising and understandable that the domestic violence classes at a women’s center in the Cajamarca region, observed throughout […]

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Poor women from the Andes highlands queuing up for aid in a village in Peru's Puno region. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Poor women from the Andes highlands queuing up for aid in a village in Peru's Puno region. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Andrea Vale
LIMA, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

Domestic violence is alarmingly prevalent in Peru. Not only is it statistically more common than in other, more progressive cultures, but Peruvian women tend to accept it as simply a ‘part of marriage.’

It was therefore both surprising and understandable that the domestic violence classes at a women’s center in the Cajamarca region, observed throughout the summer of 2016, were always crowded and bustling, teeming with adult women and teenage girls."Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her." --Cecilia

“A lot of women don’t speak out against domestic violence because they aren’t as educated, they don’t know about it as much,” one woman called out during class one afternoon. Her fellow classmates all nodded. “Their husbands will insult them and hit them, and the women believe that it’s their fault, that they deserve that kind of treatment.”

One of the class attendees, Cecilia, was reluctant to speak after initially offering to do so, instead staring down at her skirt while her friend sitting next to her, Yolanda, asked, “Are you ready to talk about it?” To which Cecilia quietly replied, “No.”

(Surnames have been omitted to ensure confidentiality.)

When asked if she or anyone she knew has had experience with domestic violence, Yolanda’s eyes immediately darted to Cecilia.

“Many of my friends have experience with it,” she said in Spanish.

When asked if she thinks that some women don’t object to being subjected to domestic violence because they think it’s simply a part of marriage, or a part of the larger culture, Yolanda whispered to Cecilia, “Come on, tell them, tell them.” Cecilia, however, did not answer.

In many Peruvian families, men’s education takes priority over that of women. According to a report by the United Nations, only 56.3% of women in Peru have received at least some secondary education, as compared to 66.1% of men. According to UNESCO, only 6.3% of adult males in Peru are illiterate – as compared to 17.5% of females.

As with almost any aspect of society, education makes a huge difference, but especially so when it comes to domestic violence. According to a study carried out by Princeton University, the less education you have, the higher your chances of being domestically abused are: 42.04% of women with no education at all, and 42.80% of those with primary school education had been abused – compared to 28.93% of those with tertiary, college or more.

“Mothers teach their boys to not do women’s work, that they don’t cook and clean and that’s the woman’s job,” another woman chimed in during class one afternoon, “If the women doesn’t cook and do women’s chores, then they’ll be abused. They won’t be able to get out of it because they don’t have any education, they don’t have any resources.”

All of the women in the class fell into one of two camps. Some wore jeans and tank tops. Others wore traditional long skirts, button down shirts and cardigans. Some were timid – some were not. The ones who spoke openly, condemning Machismo Culture and lecturing the others on the importance of marrying your best friend, were wearing leggings. The ones with waist-length braids and farming boots stayed quiet.

Contributing to that Machismo Culture is the reality that Peru is a sometimes vision-bending fusion of the Old existing alongside the New. While many in Peru drive cars, have cell phones and wear modern clothing, the simultaneous perseverance of a rural lifestyle that feels like going back in time offers fertile soil for that outdated, patriarchal society to take root in.

Consequently, domestic violence is more prevalent among rural women, as is their willingness to put up with it.

“It’s even worse in the rural areas. There, women are just expected to stay in their homes and that’s it,” Yolanda said. “The women from out in the country are quiet. They don’t talk, they don’t say anything. They were raised in that home. Their father hits their mother, and when they get married they get hit. They see it as normal.”

According to the Pan American Health Organization, physical violence within domestic abuse – as opposed to emotional, sexual or verbal violence – is “used much more frequently on women with fewer economic resources” in Peru.

According to the World Health Organization, the lifetime prevalence of physical violence by an intimate partner is 50% in urban areas of the country, as opposed to 62% in rural areas. And there, more than other countries, domestic violence often becomes fatal.

According to the Peruvian publication La Republica, there have been 356 feminicidios, or ‘women-icides’ in the country within the last 4 years, with an additional 174 attempted feminicidios. What’s more, judges have been markedly lenient in their punishments for perpetrators, with almost half receiving less than 15 years in prison, and two receiving less than seven – that is, if they end up being convicted, which only 84 were.

After staring over periodically at Yolanda while she spoke, and visibly reacting to one of Yolanda’s answers, Cecilia became willing to speak. When asked if she knew any stories of domestic violence, she stared down into her lap for a long silence, then nodded.

“Yes. I could tell you a story,” she said.

She proceeded to describe in detail the situation of a ‘relative’ who happened to be the same age as herself – twenty-nine.

“She got engaged to this man … He is always telling her that he loves her, and that he wants her, all the time right?” Cecilia said. “And always saying how much he loves her, and how he’s willing to give her everything, right? But in reality, I can see that it is not good.

“When he tells her that he needs her, she’ll go and be with him. But she is alone. He says that he loves her so much, and that’s why he doesn’t want her to work. He says she should only dedicate herself to her child. She has a daughter, and because of that she can’t work.

“Every instant the phone rings to call her, he asks, ‘Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?’ And he’ll find her.”

She finished, “He forces her to stay with him. She tries to leave, but he’s there always, always behind her, listening and waiting for her. Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her. She has tried to get out, but he’s forcing her. Because right now she lives more in fear, out of fear that he’s going to kill her if she were to have another partner.”

Cecilia’s hesitancy to speak – whether or not she actually was talking about a “relative” – says leagues about her situation, and that of all the women facing the Machismo Culture in Peru. It’s difficult to grapple with an issue that is in many ways tied into the larger economic, political and historical storylines that have resulted in the perseverance of a rural, anachronistic culture.

The education they are receiving at classes like the one taught at the women’s center is a necessary start – but only if paired with empowerment, so that women like Cecilia can know that they don’t have to be afraid to tell their stories.

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UN Appoints Experts to DRC’s Kasai to Probe Harrowing Rights Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:27:16 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151462 The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appointed a team of three international experts yesterday to collect information and raise awareness about grave atrocities in the ongoing conflict in the remote Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Central Kasai has been mired in a conflict between government forces […]

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By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appointed a team of three international experts yesterday to collect information and raise awareness about grave atrocities in the ongoing conflict in the remote Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Security Council observes a moment of silence in memory of two UN experts who were killed recently while monitoring the sanctions regime in the Kasaï Central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council observes a moment of silence in memory of two UN experts who were killed recently while monitoring the sanctions regime in the Kasaï Central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Credit: UN Photo

Central Kasai has been mired in a conflict between government forces and local militias called Kamuina Nsapu since August 2016. The conflict, which has escalated in recent months, garnered international attention when two U.N. experts in the region were killed in March 2017.

The conflict intensified in the run up to the elections of December 2016, when government security forces clashed with demonstrators who contested the president’s bid to stay in power beyond his term ending in 2016, and killed 50 people. Hundreds were jailed, and media outlets were banned.

Ever since, the situation has only become worse.

Newer armed groups like Bana Mura have emerged to fight the Congolese army and police. They have carried out brutal attacks against targeted civilians of Luba and Lulua ethnic groups, killing hundreds and burning villages. Small children have been gravely wounded from machete attacks, and pregnant women have been cut open.

Victims have speculated that members of the Congolese army have also been part of these horrific killings.

Today, as many as 3,300 people have died, and 1.3 million people have been displaced within the country. In Angola alone, more than 30,000 people have been registered as refugees as thousands more stream into the central African country every day. Some 42 mass graves have been documented by the Joint Human Rights Office.

The atrocities committed against civilians have put pressure on the UN, which adopted the UN Human Rights Council resolution on June 22, 2017.

In the resolution, the Council expressed its grave concerns about the recurrent violence and the “recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence, destruction of houses, schools, places of worship, and State infrastructure by local militias, as well as of mass graves.”

The Council puts the newly appointed team in charge of collecting information, determining facts and circumstances, and to forwarding “the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the conclusions of this investigation in order to establish the truth and to ensure that the perpetrators of deplorable crimes are all accountable to the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The team includes Bacre Ndiaye, a Senegal national, Luc Côté, a Canadian who has worked on human rights violations in the DRC, and Mauritania’s Fatimata M’Baye.

A comprehensive report with the findings will be presented in June 2018, at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

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Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=educating-children-one-radio-wave-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/educating-children-one-radio-wave-time/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 20:40:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151366 Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region. “Boko Haram […]

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'Kidnappy' is one of the fears that Nigerian children shared as part of UNICEF's Education in Emergencies exercise. Thousands of young girls have been kidnapped and held for year by Boko Haram since the start of the insurgency in 2009. Credit: UNICEF

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2017 (IPS)

Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario.

Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region.

“Boko Haram has disrupted the lives of 1.3 million children with a radical insurgency that has burned villages, displaced people, and created a culture of fear,” said UNICEF’s Crisis Communications Specialist Patrick Rose.

Now entering its eight year, Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has intensified and spilled over in the Lake Chad region, displacing over 2 million people across four countries.

The group has particularly targeted education, destroying more than 900 schools and forcing at least 1,500 more to close.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee. Boko Haram has also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into its ranks.

Such targeted attacks and destruction have created an education gap in crisis-affected areas, especially where displaced communities have fled to.

“Short of going through and building new schools in all of those communities when we don’t know how long this conflict is going to last, we tried to develop ways that we could reach these children and deliver some sort of educational routine that will keep them at least learning,” Rose told IPS.

Created with support from the European Union (EU) and in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, UNICEF’s radio education programs serve as an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in the two countries unable to access schools.

It includes 144 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

The curriculum also includes a child protection component such as psychosocial support, guiding teachers to create a space for children to share their experiences and learn how to manage their fears.

“When you have children who have been deeply disturbed by displacement, many of whom have witnessed the murders of their own families, and you create a situation in which they are expected to spend eight hours a day in a classroom that isn’t engaging at all with the reality that they are encountering outside, you get a fundamental dissonance and ultimately low engagement,” Rose said.

As part of its Education in Emergencies initiatives, UNICEF works closely with communities to identify the risks they face as individuals and schools as a whole.

In one such workshop about fears, one girl wrote “kidnappy,” reflecting the deep distress and risk of kidnapping that young girls face.

Not only does the radio program have the potential to decrease the likelihood of kidnapping as children listen from home, but it also creates a “positive” space that addresses children’s realities.

Discussions are underway with the governments of Cameroon and Niger to make radio courses certified, allowing children to receive a certification and pass the school year.

Rose called the approach to the complex crisis “unique,” as it moves from a focus on individual countries to a multi-country response.

He also highlighted the potential for the radio education program to be replicated in other regions of the world.

In 35 crisis-affected countries, humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises have disrupted the education of 75 million children between the ages of 3 and 18.

“In the same way that radio played a key role in the Cold War and reaching people around the world with messages, it is the same sort of situation here—radio doesn’t respect the borders of conflicts,” Rose concluded.

Ongoing insecurity has impeded humanitarian response in the Lake Chad basin, leaving children’s needs largely unmet.

UNICEF has so far received 50 percent of a 38.5-million-dollar appeal to meet the education needs of children in the region.

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